Introduction to the topic of the essay

Introduction to the topic of the essay

• The relationship between the figure of the fool and the figure of death in relation to the fall of man.
• Why the fall of man is important
– The cause of mortality
– The original folly
– Nakedness, the first realisation of sexuality
– The legacy of Eve (female weakness, sinfulness, seductiveness, affinity with the devil) and how this affects the didactic message.

A brief definition of ‘illicit sexuality’ in the Middle Ages – Social norms, moral expectations, Biblical/Church influence/rules (eg. The attitude towards courtship (Hoffart), adultery, sex within marriage). The significance of this topic. Explanation of Vanity, which is central to this essay.

• The importance of the role model. The importance of the IDEAL. Moral ideals, religious ideals, the ideal of each ‘type’ of person. Categorising of the individual of males, females, children, prominent religious figures etc. do these texts reinforce the medieval class system?

• Criticism of vice may it be illicit sexuality, non piety, drinking, gluttony…

• There is an interesting link between the figure of the fool and the figure of death. This relates to the fall of man through which paradise and immortality were lost which is at the root of all foolishness. Therefore the fool is the reason why man dies and death is in turn the last consequence of folly. Therefore the fool becomes a symbol of the transitory nature of human life and the imminence of death. Picture of death dressed as the fool. The figure of death also appears in the Narrenschiff a few times and in chapter 94 the fool and death appear to be accomplices.

Introduction of the works:

• ‘Narrenschiff’ by Sebastian Brandt, first published in German in 1494 and subsequently translated into French and Latin. Brandt’s ‘Narrenschiff’ was reputedly the most influential publication in Europe until the publication of Goethe’s Werther in 1774.
• The ‘Totentanz’ emerged as a major theme in the iconography of the 15th century and was a form of moral and social education.
• The texts are closely related in subject matter, time and geography. Although the texts serve a similar purpose, as didactic texts, the approach differs with the grotesque and frightening use of figure of death and the satirical and sometimes humorous use of the figure of the fool.

Humanism and Catholicism: two approaches to the same end

The treatment of the moral ideal and how it varies from group to group: men, women, children, clergy, pious, sinful, poor, rich, foreign etc. What does the varying treatment of each social group show about the moral dynamics of medieval society? Are the texts written specifically to maintain church standards? Do they reinforce society’s ranking system.

Religious referencing. Direct re-telling of biblical stories. Depictions of the seven sins. Reinforcement of biblical teachings.

• Totentanz: simplistic, overtly religious, macabre, plays on the fear of judgment day as a means of control, uses role models of bad behaviour.

• Narrenschiff: satire as a device of teaching, the macabre does find it’s way into this text (the figure of death still features), well founded religious basis-ingrained into society, allegory…

The humanist movement is important in understanding the Narenschiff as the use of the Fool as a vehicle for moral and social teachings as opposed the use of saintly examples or scare tactics mirrors the social unrest and criticism of the church that was represented by humanism. Humanism can be defined as a belief in the high potential of human nature rather than belief in the religious or trandescendal values, values which had dominated didactic literature almost entirely until this time. The use of satire as a way to influence society’s behaviour and morals relates to humanism as it relies on human nature, through satire Das Narrenschiff subtley criticizes the church and the political system.

The Bible and the Fool

In the Bible the fool is defined as one who does not believe in the existence of God. He is given as an example for stupid or bad behaviour throughout the Bible. The most well know example of this is the parable of the rich fool who, after having a prosperous harvest has not enough space to store all his fruit and so pulls down his smaller barn to build a bigger one in which everything can be stored. The rich fool is happy that he will be able to eat, drink and be merry for many years but God says that he will die that night and what good will all of his possessions be then. It is stated “So is he that layeth trasure up for himself, and is not rich towards God.” This very sin is depicted in the Narrenschiff.

In Psalm 52, 2 it says “In his heart the fool says; there is no God.” This quote encapsulates the biblical image of the fool, one who denies the existence of God and is therefore in league with the devil. The Fool represents a world turned upside down, one that is against God.

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