Imagining Inheritance from Chaucer to Shakespeare

Alex Davis

320 Pages | 11 Illustrations

Oxford, 2020:02   9780198851424   £60.00 (\9,960)


Table of Contents:

Introduction: Imagining Premodern Inheritance
Part I. Fictions of the Will
1: 'A Very Perfect Forme of a Will': The Fictional

2: Out of Bounds: Testamentary Fiction From The Tale

of Gamelyn  to As You Like It
Part II. Natural Philosophy
3: Petrified Unrest: Succession and Descent in

Lancastrian Verse
4: The Home-Bred Enemy: Inheritance and Constancy

in Tudor and Stuart Writing
Part III. World Histories
5: Heavenly Inheritances
6: The System of the World: Inheritance, Money,



Impossible bequests of the soul; an outlawed younger son
who rises to become justice of the king's forests; the

artificially-preserved corpse of the heir to an empire; a

medieval clerk kept awake at night by fears of falling; a

seventeenth-century noblewoman who commissions copies

upon copies of her genealogy; Elizabethan efforts to eradicate

Irish customs of succession; thoughts of the legacy of sin

bequeathed to mankind by our first parents, Adam and Eve.

This book explores how inheritance was imagined between

the lifetimes of Chaucer and Shakespeare. The writing

composed during this period was the product of what the

historian Georges Duby has called a 'society of heirs', in

which inheritance functioned as a key instrument of social

reproduction, acting to ensure that existing structures of

status, wealth, familial power, political influence, and gender

relations were projected from the present into the future. In

poetry, prose, and drama—in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

and his Canterbury Tales; in Spenser's Faerie Queene; in

plays by Shakespeare such as Macbeth, As You Like It, and

The Merchant of Venice; and in a host of other works—we

encounter a range of texts that attests to the extraordinary

imaginative reach of questions of inheritance between the

fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Moving between

the late medieval and early modern periods, Imagining

Inheritance examines this body of writing in order to argue

that an exploration of the ways in which premodern

inheritance was imagined can make legible the deep

structures of power that modernity wants to forget