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Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500–1700$
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Adam Fox

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199251032

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199251032.001.0001

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Old Wives' Tales and Nursery Lore

Old Wives' Tales and Nursery Lore

(p.173) 3 Old Wives' Tales and Nursery Lore
Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500–1700

Adam Fox

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the significance and history behind the phrase ‘old wives' tale’, and women's stories in the 16th- and 17th-century England. The fable and folklore and the medical remedies and kitchen recipes were the product of centuries of transmission in written as well as oral form. The phrase ‘old wives' tale’ symbolized erroneous and superstitious rubbish which needed to be stripped away from the essence of truth. Telling stories was central to womens' role as the instructors of children and entertainers within the home. During the latter part of the 17th century, the efficacy of story-telling in inspiring awe and subjection in children was widely criticized and considered to be a hindrance to advanced thinking on education. In the early modern England, female culture was considered trivial and erroneous and at worst dangerous and corrupting.

Keywords:   female culture, old wives' tale, story-telling, truth, education

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