School of Culture and Communication - Research Publications

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    “Shamed be …”: historicizing shame in medieval and early modern courtly ritual
    TRIGG, STEPHANIE ( 2006)
    This essay explores the relationship between shame and honor in various texts and practices associated with medieval chivalry, and especially in The Order of the Garter. The meaning and significance of the motto of the Order–Honi soit qui mal y pense–is contested, but it emphasizes the close relationship between shame and honor in courtly society. The motto may not be an embedded coded reference to an unknown event; it may have been coined by Edward III to generate a sense of mystery appropriate to a courtly elite. An examination of selected literary texts (incluing Malory’s Works and Shakespere’s Henry VI, Part One) and historical documents describing the ceremonial rituals of heraldic degradation and courtly shame suggests a remarkable continuity in the understanding of courtly shame between the medieval and the early modern period in England. This continuity is ignored by several recent commentators on shame, who unconsciously rehearse and repeat the abjection of the medieval past in contrast to the renaissance understanding of shame.