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Abstract

As well as describing dishonor itself, the Middle English word ‘shame’ can refer either to the emotion resulting from an awareness of dishonor or disgrace, or to the anticipation of dishonor, the potential for disgrace to be experienced. Late-medieval English literature reveals the interrelation between the personal experience of shame and the way it is produced in relation to others, typically through such kinds of exposure as showing and telling. This essay draws attention to the complex ways in which shame is imagined in late-medieval English literature. It begins by considering the two major focal points of late-medieval shame studies so far: chivalric literature and Christian shame. After surveying the approaches that have been taken to date, it suggests new themes that deserve critical attention in these areas. The remainder of this essay points to other literary contexts in which we might investigate shame more closely. While chivalric and devotional texts are significant areas in which shame was imagined, medical, conduct, and advisory texts also engage with the concept of shame in important ways.