This paper focuses on the decorative silk cloth, which is at the heart of the anonymous 15th-century Middle English poem Emaré. In the poem, the knowledge of silk-work connects the Christian princess Emaré with the Emir’s daughter as two aristocratic women performing aristocratic women’s work. In this presentation I explore the racialized dynamic of this cross-cultural and cross-confessional contact. Critics have placed enormous emphasis on the golden, bejeweled, and embroidered cloth, which the Emir’s daughter weaves and decorates and Emaré wears throughout her peregrinations. But what is missing in this scholarly discourse is a discussion of the racialized tension this conflation between the two women instigates. Within the codes of aristocratic vestimentary culture, the cloth constitutes a kind of social skin, externally available for interpretation. From the moment Emaré dons the robe, this intricate figural cloth becomes her second skin, delineating the outer extremity of her body and simultaneously marking her as otherworldly. And yet the poem’s incessant preoccupation with the body beneath the clothing calls attention to the very site of cultural contact between the woman who made the cloth and the woman who wore it. I read these various attempts at separating the Christian princess from her Saracen counterpart as distinctly racialized polarization. I argue that within the narrative economy of the poem, Emaré acts as a vehicle for the Emir’s daughter’s story, which is woven into the figural embroidery as an amatory autobiography without coopting the foreign culture which produced it. The decorative treatment of the cloth – the shine of its many gems and precious stones – renders the story unreadable to the uninitiated, who can only see it as somehow otherworldly; and it is this very quality that safeguards the complete evacuation of cultural difference.
This paper proposes an outline of the use of the Arabic language, its status and role as a narrative tool or as a linguistic concept. French writers not being familiar with Arabic usually resort to a deformation of real Arabic or to a completely fictitious language. I will therefore address the question of the process of integration of the Arabic language into French medieval literature. This study will be based on a broad corpus including the Jeu de Saint-Nicolas, the Livre de l’eschiele Mahomet, Jean de Mandeville’s Livre des merveilles du monde and Jean de Vignay’s translation of the Speculum historiale.
This paper centers on medieval Castile’s two examples of imaginary travel accounts, the Libro del conosçimiento and the Libro del Infante don Pedro de Portugal. I submit that by narrating fictitious journeys to real and legendary places, the writers were able safely to promote their own ideas regarding the moral and political state of the Latin Church. Although the writers had a stated desire to compile and transmit knowledge of the world, creating an ‘other’ world allowed them to criticize their own without the fear of reprisal they might have experienced had they declared their criticism in a more direct manner.