## ## Studies in Medieval Literature
How do the things we own define us? How do they also give us power? In contemporary life, consumerism drives our economic life in such a way that we can only be included in social groups to which we aspire by purchasing outward and visible signs of membership in the group. For instance, one is not considered a true unless one purchases fan merchandise, such as team jerseys, commemorative hats, bumper stickers, tote bags, mugs, etc. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Western Europe and England in particular was transitioning to this kind of consumer based identity in their material culture. Economic historians often read this period unfortunately as merely the intervening time between feudalism and capitalism, somehow thinking that feudalism stopped and capitalism had not started yet. The truth, as with most things, is more complicated. This period saw a blending of the feudal code of land ownership defining one membership to a ruling class with a consumerist material identity, shown by the growing presence of liveries and badges as well as the need for aristocrats to involve themselves in some form of trade to augment dwindling rents. At the same time, merchants and artisans from the cities and towns are able now to buy the things that only nobles could afford in earlier centuries. Sovereign power shifts, because of the presence of money, to rich townsmen and women in urban spaces. This transition begins to appear in the literature of the period. In this course, we will begin by getting a vocabulary for sovereign power by reading Giorgio Agamben Homo sacer as well as other material on the economic transition of the period. We will read a work clearly in the feudal tradition that nonetheless equates material power with identity: Geoffrey of Monmouth History of the Kings of Britain. The balance of our texts, though, will come from the fourteenth and fifteenth century.