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Book description

What is literature made from? During the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, this question preoccupied the English court poets, who often claimed that their poems were not original creations, but adaptations of pre-existing materials. Their word for these materials was 'matter,' while the term they used to describe their labor was 'making,' or the act of reworking this matter into a new – but not entirely new – form. By tracing these ideas through the work of six major early poets, this book offers a revisionist literary history of late- medieval and early modern court poetry. It reconstructs premodern theories of making and contrasts them with more modern theories of literary labor, such as 'authorship.' It studies the textual, historical, and philosophical sources that the court tradition used for its matter. Most of all, it demonstrates that the early English court poets drew attention to their source materials as a literary tactic, one that stressed the process by which a poem had been made.


‘This is an exceptionally perceptive and well-grounded investigation into the poetics and poetic practices of a period whose writers left these things implicit. Cowdery subjects six authors to a forensic and illuminating level of scrutiny that frequently challenges the ways in which they have previously been understood, and does so with impressive lucidity. This is seriously impressive, groundbreaking work.’

Jane Griffiths - Associate Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford

‘Cowdery deftly outlines the contours of late medieval poetry’s engagement with both ‘matere’ - its themes, topics, preoccupations - and its habits of ‘makying’ - the characteristic ways that different writers treat both their subject matter and their own role as shaper of that matter. In doing so, he breaks new ground, arguing compellingly that to understand late medieval literary production fully, we must look at both diachronic and synchronic contexts for matter and making.’

Kellie Robertson - Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Maryland

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