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The Performance of Idleness in Late Medieval English Society: Work, Leisure and the Sin of Sloth

Martin, Emma (2017) The Performance of Idleness in Late Medieval English Society: Work, Leisure and the Sin of Sloth. PhD thesis, University of York.

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The crisis of labour in the post Black Death period has held the attention of historians for decades. Economic scholars concentrate on the rise in wages or how rising prices affected day to day living. Social historians examine how the crisis affected the relationships between social groups or the perception of the poor in the period. Legal historians focus on the introduction of national labour legislation, the first of its kind in England and how this legislation developed over the fourteenth and fifteenth century. However, at the crux of the socio-economic tensions of this period is the concept of idleness, the absence of productivity within the realm. This is what caused much of the contemporary reactions to the crisis but scholars have instead concentrated on the quantifiable effects that this idleness had on society, skipping over the illusive concept as an unquestioned rhetorical device. This is the lacuna that my research has aimed to fill. The thesis looks beyond idleness’s position as a sin or rhetorical device to enable us to understand how it was constructed and used as a social, cultural and economic concept. The thesis draws on a variety of source material, such as national and local legislation, session of the peace proceedings, devotional manuals, poetry, drama and many other forms of literature and administrative records. Lexicography is also used throughout to create more nuanced and contemporary definitions of the concepts at hand. This wide approach to source material has allowed me to view the concept of idleness and the perceptions of idle behaviour from a wide variety of perspectives. While this thesis engages with quite mature fields of scholarship, the research reshapes debates and findings to look at what is absent, both in scholarly discussion and contemporary accounts, by elucidating what people were not doing and what this contributes to our understanding of how medieval society viewed work, idleness and leisure.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Depositing User: Dr Emma Martin
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2017 13:38
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2017 13:38
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18723

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