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Curfew as Form: On the Seven Sages of Rome

Sunday, July 21, 2024 at 11:27 pm

Part of the Doctoral Seminar ‘Projecting Poetry’

This event is part of the ongoing Doctoral Seminar ‘Projecting Poetry’ and will be held online on Zoom. To obtain the link, please register to the following Eventbrite link:

For further information, you can contact Ugo Mondini at ugo.mondini@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Speaker: Jordan K. Skinner, Doctoral Candidate, Princeton University, Department of English

In both medieval literature and law, we find a description of curfew as a judicial procedure that inscribed the whole of urban life into a choreographed aesthetics of control. Vivid descriptions of nightly curfew regulations appear in some of the most canonical authors of medieval and early modern literature: Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare, and John Milton each discuss this juridical device. The poets Cecco Angiolieri in Italy and François Villon in France were themselves intimately aware of this legal apparatus, seeing how they both received punishments for deifying it.

Indeed, while the earliest known legal statute containing mention of a curfew law in England dates to a number of thirteenth century Norman French statutes, the earliest recorded use of the word ‘curfew’ —or, rather, ‘corfu’—in the English vernacular is found in the Middle English version of the Seven Sages of Rome. This first poetic appearance, however, took the form of law. One of the tales in this frame narrative describes the “lawe” of “corfu” as a decree in which anyone—lords and servants alike—found roaming after the curfew bell had rung out would be seized, arrested, imprisoned overnight, taken before a judge in the morning, and driven through the town in a public display. The tale’s anonymous scribe astutely elaborates a fine-grained phenomenology of the curfew’s disciplinary power while also playfully uncovering the tantalizing pleasure that comes with the transgression of this nocturnal restriction.

Poetry in the Medieval World Network

Online registration closes 15 minutes before the start of the event. You will be sent the joining link within 48 hours of the event, on the day and once again 10 minutes before the event starts.


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Sunday, July 21, 2024
11:27 pm

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