This article investigates the sonic landscapes of medieval revolt, with particular focus on the relationship between the written description of sound and the oral culture that produced these sounds. To illustrate this, the article treats in particular the “murmur” and the “clamor,” as well as the bell or tocsin, in chronicle and other sources of late medieval France, Flanders, and England. Because writing in the preprint culture of the Middle Ages was dominated by intellectuals generally sympathetic to power-holding elites, the relationship of writing to orality mirrored that of the dominant classes to the subordinate ones often engaged in acts of resistance. While written sources echoed the potent sonic expressions of challenge and discontent that originated in a vibrant oral political culture, at the same time they exploited the ephemerality of sound in contrast to the written word to domesticate this discontent for a more muted critique of the powerful.
1 January 2015