ICMS 2025: Exploring Complaint in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period - Traditions and Transformations of Complaint

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Krista Telford (UNC Chapel Hill) & Mounawar Abbouchi (UGA) | International Congress on Medieval Studies 2025
contact email: 

Complaint is as easy to identify in medieval and early modern literature as it is challenging to define. One need not look far in premodern literature to find a figure railing against Fortune, a forsaken woman grieving her loss, or a character critiquing the injustices of society in mournful, sometimes bitter, tones. A polymorphous literary form, complaint can function as satire, prayer, and elegy; yet it is also a distinct form, sometimes described as a mode or a genre.Though complaint is inextricably linked to grief, the role it plays in grief management has been shown to vary greatly, sometimes working to temper or mobilize a character’s grief and at other times paradoxically multiplying it. An understanding of the traditions, rhetoric, categories, and narrative functions of complaint can offer us varied readings of plaintive texts and works containing plaintive moments. More broadly, we are interested in how complaint as a mode or genre can help us think about a larger history of emotion, about premodern and modern constructions of emotion, and about the continuum and evolution of the two.

This panel seeks to explore how complaint fits into medieval theories of emotion and the history of emotion; how complaint works generically, narratively, and rhetorically in premodern texts; and complaint’s relationship(s) with grief, mourning, and loss. We invite papers exploring medieval and/or early modern complaint, including broad analyses of patterns and traditions of complaint, complaint as it relates to grief and premodern constructions of emotion, as well as closer readings of plaintive texts. 

We welcome papers that explore, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Patterns, traditions, connections, and categories of complaint

  • Complaint in Old English texts 

  • Complaint in the writings of late medieval and early modern writers, such as Chaucer, Kempe, Gower, Hoccleve and Spenser

  • The relationships and overlaps between complaint and satire, prayer, or other forms

  • Rhetoric of complaint

  • Complaint’s place in premodern theories of emotion

  • Complaint’s place in a broader history of emotion 

  • Complaint and grief

  • Complaint and anger 

  • Complaint and social justice 

  • Complaint and self-expression 

  • Iconic figures of feminine grief 

  • Classical receptions 

  • Ovid’s Heroides and its descendents

Deadline for Submissions: September 15, 2024

Official proposals to ICMS sessions must be made through the Confex proposal portal. Proposals to this session can be made using this direct link to the session: https://icms.confex.com/icms/2025/paper/papers/index.cgi?sessionid=5978Please follow the ICMS guidelines and instructions for submission: https://icms.confex.com/icms/2025/cfp.cgi 

For information about the International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 8-10, 2025), see https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress