Honour v Shame in Medieval Literature

Hence, in conclusion, fitting in with prevalent sentiments among medieval European societies, the three works of literature are treatises on honour and shame. Particular attention is given in these works to the importance of honour for those born into nobility. Though set in different kingdoms and different eras within medieval Europe, there is no wavering of the centrality of honour or its lack thereof to a person’s social standing. In this context, it is not an exaggeration to claim that honour is seen as bigger than life itself. People who have been shamed and disgraced have very little to fall back upon in a closely knit social setting where personal reputation is critically important. Moreover, what we have seen across the three works is how individuals will make great sacrifices to preserve their honour. There are also the exceptions in the form of Iseult and Ganelon who had compromised their honour due to lack of moral scruples. And they were fittingly avenged for this digression by the collective consciousness of their respective societies – members of courtly chambers and their peers.


* Davenport, Tony. Medieval Narrative: An Introduction. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004.

* Lambdin, Robert Thomas, and Laura Cooner Lambdin, eds. Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Machan, Tim William, ed. Medieval Literature: Texts and Interpretation. Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1991.

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