In fiction, according to Maurice Keen, an outlaw is a man who has been literally put outside the protection of the law, who ends up accepting the status of law. The penal code has been described as a “violent confession of failure” and “an admission of weakness on the part of the law itself” (Barlow 314). Similarly, Keen notes that the phrase of ostracism, as presented in medieval fiction, “implied an admission of weakness on the part of the law itself. You have resisted us, the law that was said in Outlawry, that is why we will deny you” (Keen 9-10). While legal ostracism has proven useful as an alternative to a fine or in response to serious crimes and reprehensible behavior, outlawry appears in fictitious reports as a marker of self-identity rather than as a trademark by authority. Trevor Dean points out that “what medieval historians have usually done with medieval police literature seeks correspondence with history” (Dean 145). In addition, “a number of literary outlaws, both in the Middle Ages and in the Modern, were based on real historical people,” including the protagonist of The Story of Gamelyn.1 Outlawry, Banishment and Exile have a long history that varies in duration and social context. The first forms of ostracism were deeply rooted in the participation of the community, characterized by arbitrariness. In order to contextualize my argument about the fictitious treatment of people who break the law, I will briefly outline the historical context of the Outlawry as a legal practice that influenced Chaucer`s time.
In addition, I will highlight how Outlawry`s fictitious representations differ from outlawry as a legal practice. Outlawry as a means of social exclusion took various forms, but the most widespread in England in the 14th and 15th centuries was a person`s explanation of being outside the protection of the law. In medieval England, there were various punishments, including exile and imprisonment. In a 2013 study, Melissa Sartore examines the complexity of ostracism in historical narratives and highlights the importance of exclusionary practices in law and governance in England from the tenth to the 13th century. The purpose of ostracism as a legal practice as a whole was “the root of many `pure` and `emotional` sentences, such as the death penalty and imprisonment” (Sartore 9). Criminal prohibitions are due to charges of treason, rebellion, conspiracy or other serious crimes. In cases of debt, civil prohibitions have generally been imposed. A law has lost all property, rights and often its life. The medieval code appears in historical, religious and legal texts from the late Middle Ages of England and is also presented in fiction, especially in the romantic narratives of Geoffrey Chaucer. Outlawry was a rule of law, which could be imposed. Chaucer sometimes found himself outside the law at various points in his life, a point to be taken into account in the study of Chaucer`s depiction of knights acting outside the chivalrous law. He populates his outlaw romances and illustrates the ethical, legal and social pretensions of their own time.
In Chaucer, knights can sometimes be outlaws, and when they are, they are often presented as follies or follies, leading them to a quest or action that must be accomplished before they can be reintroduced into society. Early critics Maurice Keen and Eric Hobsbawm defined what they saw in medieval literature as a prohibition, but Timothy S. Jones`s recent work renews the possibility of better studying the intersection of the sledy with medieval romanticism. The way people of the Middle Ages understood different psychological conditions and disabilities is reflected in the medical and legal documents of the time. The dubious behavior of criminals is often linked to madness, and in medieval fiction, outlawry is often linked to the theme of madness.