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The discourse of power and the power of discourse: Vernacular literature and the poetics of power in Shem Tov's ``Proverbios morales''

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  • Literature
  • Comparative|Literature
  • Medieval|Literature
  • Romance
  • Political Science


The writers of 14th-century Castile offer a prime illustration of how texts can be used as instruments of power in the quest for political hegemony. In the Proverbios morales (Moral Proverbs) by Shem Tov (c. 1360-1365), the Toledan rabbi offers advice to King Pedro I (1350-1369) which is culled from an amalgam of erudition and personal experience. As a rabbi, businessman and scholar, his counsel was sought by two monarch, Alfonso XI (1325-1350) and his successor, Pedro I, to whom the Proverbios morales is dedicated. In this work, Shem Tov gives advice to the monarch and the members of his inner circle on the importance of temperance, moderation, and prudence in a time dominated by greed, envy, and excessive ambitions. This work would be the only one which he would write in the Castilian vernacular. In my study, I explore the possible political motivations of his decision to write in the vernacular, and how his receptive strategies depend on the changing nature of his relationship to the institutions of power and language (i.e. the Crown), and how this relationship in other writers (Don Juan Manuel in his El Conde Lucanor and Dante's De Vulgari Eloquentia). The receptive strategies of these authors' texts as well as their manner of representation, are evidence of the need to expand the cannon of converso studies to include non-converso authors such as Don Juan Manuel, the 14th Century being a period in which notions of centrality and marginality were constantly shifting. This study will also help situate Shem Tov's work in the context of a broader European phenomenon. ^

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