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LegalismAnthropology and History$
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Paul Dresch and Hannah Skoda

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199664269

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199664269.001.0001

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Legal Performances in Late Medieval France

Legal Performances in Late Medieval France

(p.279) 9 Legal Performances in Late Medieval France

Hannah Skoda

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines how the image of law was taken up by ‘popular culture’ in medieval France. The process and imagery of formal law can provide a striking means to display or work out forms of right and wrong in non-legal settings, much as non-legal considerations of drama and story-telling now obtrude on the rituals of modern law courts. In medieval France, though, there seems to be a progression. The chapter examines a transitional phase in French legal history (c.1100–c.1500) through the prism of literary reactions to legal change and legalism as a series of rules, increasingly state-centred, claiming to be fixed and to be aligned with moral and religious precepts. It is striking that so much literature of the period, appealing to a wide audience, took legalism as its key theme, and even more striking that in doing so, it focused upon many of the elisions which are problematized in this volume's chapters. If legalism has often been promoted as allowing clarity and justice, it also presents a spectacle and a moral quandary. Indeed, it is precisely the generalizing claims of legalism, reducing human life to forms and rules, that make fear of ‘law in action’ a common complement of desire for law in theory.

Keywords:   law, popular culture, French legal history, legalism, rules

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