Men and women struggling for control of marriage and sexuality; narratives that focus on trickery, theft, and adultery; descriptions of sexual activities and body parts, the mention of which is prohibited in polite society: such are the elements that constitute what Nicole Nolan Sidhu calls a medieval discourse of obscene comedy, in which a particular way of thinking about men, women, and household organization crosses genres, forms, and languages. Inviting its audiences to laugh at violations of what is good, decent, and seemly, obscene comedy manifests a semiotic instability that at once supports established hierarchies and delights in overturning them.
In Indecent Exposure, Sidhu explores the varied functions of obscene comedy in the literary and visual culture of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. In chapters that examine Chaucer's Reeve's Tale and Legend of Good Women; Langland's Piers Plowman; Lydgate's Mumming at Hertford, Troy Book, and Fall of Princes; the Book of Margery Kempe, the Wakefield "Second Shepherds' Play"; the Towneley "Noah"; and other works of drama, Sidhu proposes that Middle English writers use obscene comedy in predictable and unpredictable contexts to grapple with the disturbances that English society experienced in the century and a half following the Black Death. For Sidhu, obscene comedy emerges as a discourse through which writers could address not only issues of gender, sexuality, and marriage but also concerns as varied as the conflicts between Christian doctrine and lived experience, the exercise of free will, the social consequences of violence, and the nature of good government.
Note on the Fabliaux Introduction. Obscenity in Medieval Culture and Literature
PART I. FOURTEENTH-CENTURY PIONEERS Chapter 1. Comedy and Critique: Obscenity and Langland's Reproof of Established Powers in Piers Plowman Chapter 2. Chaucer's Poetics of the Obscene: Classical Narrative and Fabliau Politics in Fragment One of the Canterbury Tales and The Legend of Good Women
PART II. FIFTEENTH-CENTURY HEIRS Chapter 3. The Henpecked Subject: Misogyny, Poetry, and Masculine Community in the Writing of John Lydgate Chapter 4. "Ryth Wikked": Christian Ethics and the Unruly Holy Woman in the Book of Margery Kempe Chapter 5. Women's Work, Companionate Marriage, and Mass Death in the Biblical Drama
Conclusion. Lessons of the Medieval Obscene Notes Bibliography Index Acknowledgments
Nicole Nolan Sidhu is Associate Professor of English at East Carolina University.
"Indecent Exposure offers a field-changing and astute discussion of literary engagements with obscenity in Middle English literature. Although Nicole Sidhu's monograph focuses on fourteenth- and fifteenth-century obscene comedy in Middle English, it also provides a contextualization of this discourse in other European vernaculars and in a variety of literary and visual contexts, such as manuscript illuminations and devotional texts, sermons in particular."—Studies in the Age of Chaucer
"[A] thoroughly fascinating study..Sidhu's book is an insightful and well-grounded look into how obscene comedy does more than provoke laughter in the works of fourteenth-and fifteenth-century authors."—Comitatus
"Nicole Nolan Sidhu has written a compelling book that delivers what its title promises: an engaging and ground-breaking investigation which intersects the rhetoric of obscenity, gender, and political theory in Middle English literature… In its entirety, the book is captivating and provides important insights and considerable analysis. Containing essential understandings of the political valence of medieval obscenity, the study’s innovative approach is certain to delineate new research directions and will appeal to an engaged and cross-disciplinary audience with an interest in gender and media issues."—Parergon
"In the current moment, characterized by prominence of obscenity in American political discourse and the use of satirical comedy as the most widespread form of political critique, Sidhu's analysis of the workings of obscene comedy is timely indeed . . . Indecent Exposure belongs on the bookshelf of not only medievalists interested in vernacular literary studies, humor, political resistance, and gender and sexuality studies, but also readers interested in the long history of media studies and social change."—Digital Philology
"Fresh and provocative, Indecent Exposure is a substantive and original work that promises to change the way we think about obscene comedy in medieval texts."—Eve Salisbury, Western Michigan University
"Nicole Nolan Sidhu reorients how we think about the category of 'obscene comedy' by focusing on how it provides late medieval English authors with a new political language. This allows them to work within the purview of dominant ideologies while at the same time pursuing alternative questions or insurgent critiques of these same ideologies."—Glenn Burger, Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Winner of the Best First Book Award from the Southeastern Medieval Association