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Durham University

Department of English Studies


Academic Staff

Publication details for Professor Neil Cartlidge

Cartlidge, Neil. (2004). 'The Battle of Shrovetide: Carnival against Lent as a Leitmotif in Late Medieval Culture'. Viator 35: 517-542.

Author(s) from Durham


This essay is concerned with the ways in which medieval writers and artists depicted the imagined conflict between Carnival and Lent—a metaphorical contrast that, as it happens, has often been appropriated by modern critics writing about the Middle Ages, most notably by Mikhail Bakhtin. Such an appropriation is not entirely unjustified, for it is an idea prominent in medieval culture, and perhaps even more prominent than Bakhtin’s work actually demonstrates. Yet in a critical context the use of this imagery tends towards a rigid reductiveness that is sharply at odds with the richly complex and varied ways in which it appears in late medieval art and literature. In order to illustrate this point and to give an impression of the large field of texts at issue, the article provides a necessarily selective survey that briefly addresses in turn: a pair of letters attached to Guido Faba’s (Latin) Rota Nova; the Old French poem La Bataille de Caresme et de Charnage; some dramatic texts in both French and German; and, finally, Pieter van Brueghel’s famous painting “The Battle between Carnival and Lent.” In the end, this article suggests, modern analysts of late medieval culture have been too ready to accept this metaphorical dichotomy as a selfsufficient account of the medieval world, and too slow to acknowledge the sophistication and self-consciousness with which medieval writers and artists themselves employed it.

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