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Cardiff’s @Mark_Truesdale reflects on his new book The King and Commoner Tradition

February 26, 2018

9780815364764Having shared the corridors of the Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy with Dr Mark Truesdale for a number of years, I was interested in how he thought his book had emerged from this milieu. @DrJ_Gregory

In this blog post Mark reflects on just that:

While studying for my MA at Cardiff University, I developed a keen interest in politicised readings of medieval outlaw tales while also being fascinated by the fools of early modern drama and their relationship with those in power. This left me rather torn as to what direction to pursue for my PhD. Fortunately, at this crossroads Stephen Knight introduced me to the ‘King and Commoner’ tale of King Edward and the Shepherd (c. 1400-1450) in which several of these interests seemed to intersect. Here was a comic tale of a forest-dwelling trickster who critiques the court’s abuses, poaches the king’s deer and encounters a disguised monarch. The late-medieval tradition it comes from abounds with incognito kings and commoner carnival feasting in upside-down worlds, interrogating class relations against a backdrop of court oppression and proto-panoptical surveillance.

Scouring archives and ballad collections over the following years, I discovered that this somewhat neglected tradition was surprisingly widespread, with tales stretching from the tenth century to the nineteenth century. It also boasts an extensive cultural influence that happens to include shaping the early Robin Hood tradition and providing the literary foundation for early modern disguised ruler plays (or more generally the ‘mingling of Kinges and Clownes’, as Sidney puts it); Shakespeare was a particularly enthusiastic fan, adapting the motif for several plays. My monograph emerged from this research. It explores the tradition’s fifteenth-century poems and sixteenth- to eighteenth-century ballads and chapbooks, charting its gradually morphing political character. It also provides extensive appendices to provide context, summarising the medieval tradition’s earlier incarnations and analogues, as well as some of its most notable appearances in early modern drama and beyond.

Cardiff University provided a perfect base from which to study. My research is indebted to a wonderfully supportive community of medieval and early modern academics, as well as departmental funds to present my research at a variety of conferences and visit libraries/archives elsewhere. At Cardiff, I was also lucky to have access to an extensive library manned by hugely helpful librarians. Within ENCAP, I am particularly grateful to Rob Gossedge and Stephen Knight for supervising my PhD thesis, but must also thank Carl Phelpstead, Helen Phillips, Megan Leitch and Martin Coyle, as well as many fellow postgraduate students for providing insightful and helpful comments or advice throughout the course of my research.

The King and Commoner Tradition: Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature was published this year in the Routledge series, ‘Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture’. Find out more from the Routledge website. Follow Mark on twitter at @Mark_Truesdale.

 

 

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