16 October 2019

BOOK: Jennifer JAHNER, Literature and Law in the Era of Magna Carta (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019). ISBN 9780198847724, £65.00

(Source: Wildy & Sons)

Oxford University Press is publishing a book on literature and law in the era of the Magna Carta.


Oxford Studies in Medieval Literature and Culture showcases the plurilingual and multicultural quality of medieval literature and promotes work that not only focuses on the whole array of subjects medievalists now pursue—in literature, theology, philosophy, social, political, jurisprudential, and intellectual history, the history of art, and the history of science—but also work that combines these subjects productively. It offers innovative and interdisciplinary studies of every kind, including but not limited to manuscript and book history, linguistics and literature, post-colonial and global studies, the digital humanities and media studies, performance studies, the history of affect and the emotion, the theory and history of sexuality, ecocriticism and environmental studies, theories of the lyric, of aesthetics, of the practices of devotion, and ideas of medievalism.

Literature and Law in the Era of Magna Carta traces processes of literary training and experimentation across the early history of the English common law, from its beginnings in the reign of Henry II to its tumultuous consolidations under the reigns of John and Henry III. The period from the mid-twelfth through the thirteenth centuries witnessed an outpouring of innovative legal writing in England, from Magna Carta to the scores of statute books that preserved its provisions. An era of civil war and imperial fracture, it also proved a time of intensive self-definition, as communities both lay and ecclesiastic used law to articulate collective identities. Literature and Law in the Era of Magna Carta uncovers the role that grammatical and rhetorical training played in shaping these arguments for legal self-definition. Beginning with the life of Archbishop Thomas Becket, the book interweaves the histories of literary pedagogy and English law, showing how foundational lessons in poetics helped generate both a language and theory of corporate autonomy. In this book, Geoffrey of Vinsauf's phenomenally popular Latin compositional handbook, the Poetria nova, finds its place against the diplomatic backdrop of the English Interdict, while Robert Grosseteste's Anglo-French devotional poem, the Château d'Amour, is situated within the landscape of property law and Jewish-Christian interactions. Exploring a shared vocabulary across legal and grammatical fields, this book argues that poetic habits of thought proved central to constructing the narratives that medieval law tells about itself and that later scholars tell about the origins of English constitutionalism.


Jennifer Jahner’s research focuses on the interaction of literary, legal, and textual cultures in the high and later Middle Ages, especially in Britain and France. She is the author of Literature and Law in the Era of Magna Carta, forthcoming from Oxford University Press, which explores the ways that literary training shaped political vocabularies and legal communities in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England. With Emily Steiner and Elizabeth Tyler, she is the editor of Historical Writing in Britain and Ireland, 500–1550, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. Her current research considers how multilingual book production in later medieval England made use of the burgeoning concept of the “experiment.” Research for this project is currently supported by a Graves/ACLS Award in the Humanities (2018–2019).

At Caltech, Jahner teaches courses on Geoffrey Chaucer, on poetry and theories of justice, on premodern sexualities, and on medieval romance. She is recipient of the ASCIT Teaching Award (2013) and the HSS Division Teaching Award (2015). In January 2019, she will join Studies in the Age of Chaucer as the book review editor.


Introduction: The Poetics of Jurisdiction
1: The Grammar of Sacrifice: Becket, Learning, and Libertas
2: Classroom Historicisms: Interdict and the Poetria nova
3: Inventing Magna Carta
4: Jurisdictional Formalism: Robert Grosseteste and the Pastoral Model of Governance
5: Conjuring England: Crusade, Violence, and Communitas
Coda: The Jurisdictions of Form

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