In the late fourteenth century the complex Middle English word "trouthe," which had earlier meant something like "integrity" or "dependability," began to take on its modern sense of "conformity to fact." At the same time, the meaning of its antonym, "tresoun," began to move from "personal betrayal" to "a crime against the state." In A Crisis of Truth, Richard Firth Green contends that these alterations in meaning were closely linked to a growing emphasis on the written over the spoken and to the simultaneous reshaping of legal thought and practice.
According to Green, the rapid spread of vernacular literacy in the England of Richard II was driven in large part by the bureaucratic and legal demands of an increasingly authoritarian central government. The change brought with it a fundamental shift toward the attitudes we still hold about the nature of evidence and proof—a move from a truth that resides almost exclusively in people to one that relies heavily on documents.
Green's magisterial study presents law and literature as two parallel discourses that have, at times, converged and influenced each other. Ranging deeply and widely over a huge body of legal and literary materials, from Anglo-Saxon England to twentieth-century Africa, it will provide a rich source of information for literary, legal, and historical scholars.
"A big, ambitious book, an important event in medieval studies."—Speculum
"A book to read for the wealth of fascinating detail, no less than for the clear and important argument."—English Historical Review
"This book has been eagerly awaited and it fulfills all the hopes that one had of it. Green's work is of the greatest importance for the understanding of a crucial period in the history of English writing and institutions, and a crucial shift in patterns of cognition."—Derek Pearsall, Harvard University
"This brilliant book is of fundamental importance for scholars of medieval English law and history as well as of English literature."—Literature & History
"The best book that has been written on medieval English literature in the last ten years"—Derek Pearsall, Modern Language Review