In medieval society, gestures and speaking looks played an even more important part in public and private exchanges than they do today. Gestures meant more than words, for example, in ceremonies of homage and fealty. In this, the first study of its kind in English, John Burrow examines the role of non-verbal communication in a wide range of narrative texts, including Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Malory's Morte D'arthur, the romances of Chretien de Troyes, the Prose Lancelot, Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, and Dante's Commedia. Burrow argues that since non-verbal signs are in general less subject to change than words, many of the behaviours recorded in these texts, such as pointing and amorous gazing, are familiar in themselves; yet many prove easy to misread, either because they are no longer common, like bowing, or because their use has changed, like winking.

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