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4. City and Country, Wealth and Labour

Sarah Rees Jones

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland » England

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1300-1399, 1400-1499

Key-Topics city, country, elite, labor

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631219736.2007.00009.x


Cities are dynamic places. They are full of people, noise and movement. They are often seen as dangerous, immoral and frightening places, but at the same time they are places of opportunity and creativity. These conflicting emotions that the experience of city life evokes in us today are also to be found in the conflicting reactions to the relationship between city and country and the problems of wealth and poverty, labour and leisure in later medieval English culture and literature. In the travels of Margery Kempe, the provocative bourgeois wife, the English people are seen through the prism of their major cities and towns — of London, Canterbury, Norwich, Bristol and York, as well as Leicester and Lynn. In her Book these towns give shape to the nation, marking out its compass points and indicating the central points of both secular and ecclesiastical power, as well as the centres of prosperity and of exchange in both material goods and new ideas. Indeed the Book of Margery Kempe can be read as a debate about both the potentials and dangers of urbanization in early fifteenth-century England. Were towns and townspeople a source of prosperity and welcome innovation in the fifteenth century? Were they communities that should be cherished and promoted — as John Lydgate in his Troy Book had King Priam build and people New Troy (2.485–800). Or were towns and their traders dangerous ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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