Cornering the Snarket: Sarcasm and Snark in Medieval Literature and Cultures

full name / name of organization: 
Alan Baragona and Elizabeth Rambo

From the litotes of Old English poetry to the layered ironies of Chaucer, the subtle ironies of the Provencal trobairitz, and the less subtle insultatis of the milites characters in medieval drama, the rhetorical trope of ironia is well-trod territory. However, sarcasmos, the "flesh tearing" subset of ironia, is notoriously difficult to identify in a written text, because it relies so much on the tone of a speaking voice. However, there are instances in medieval texts where the combination of circumstance and word choice makes it absolutely clear that the speaker, whether a character or a narrator, is being unambiguously sarcastic.

We are soliciting essays about literature in any genre and every language of the European Middle Ages that identify and analyze instances of such unambiguous sarcasm. Essays should address questions such as what clues the writers give us that sarcasm is at work, how prominently sarcasm appears in particular cultures or specific genres, whether it shows up mostly in the mouths of characters or of narrators, what role it plays in building character or theme, and how sarcasm conforms to the Christian milieu of medieval Europe.

We are also looking for essays on significant historical instances of sarcasm from any period or culture in the European Middle Ages, including political, social, and legal history. Essays should address how sarcasm was identified and what attitudes were towards it, what its importance was to the particular historical incident or to the cultural mores of the time and place, and what the social, political, or legal consequences were that led to its being preserved in the records.

Please send an abstract of your proposed essay to and no later than July 15, 2014.