Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English Department

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

Following the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, both the medieval Church and secular authorities in Europe invested heavily in the regulation of purportedly deviant bodies and behaviors. For the next three centuries, marginalized individuals such as criminals, religious women, and people with mental illnesses were increasingly limited by ecclesiastical and judicial powers. This dissertation demonstrates how late medieval literary texts in a variety of genres employ the theme of asylum as a way to reposition these individuals as agents who are necessary for the maintenance of social welfare. For example, the English outlaw ballads Robin Hood and the Monk and The Tale of Gamelyn contain tacit arguments for the continuance of sanctuary law and the protection of criminal bodies; the ballads imply that these bodies are mechanisms through which local communities can express political discontent. In Le Livre de la Cité des dames, Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies becomes an allegorical refuge for women who are limited by patriarchal convention. Christine challenges contemporary antifeminist texts—most notably, the papal decretal Periculoso—by refiguring the female body as necessarily unmanageable due to its role in enabling the spiritual salvation of humankind. The unnamed hermit in Ywain and Gawain creates an eremitic refuge space for Ywain, a knight with a non-normative mind, by caring for his physical needs without trying to change his mental state; the hermit also invokes negative theology to show Ywain how to become an aid to the vulnerable. Because some scholars have interpreted these works as didactic warnings against social deviancy, this dissertation offers a reparative reading of the function of deviancy in these texts and, by extension, the function of particular types of alleged deviance in late medieval Europe. The dissertation concludes with a reminder that, although these texts support the preservation of deviants, the characters in these texts are not protected because they are inherently valuable, but because they are somehow useful to the normative. This is to say, these texts are not necessarily early humanist arguments for altruism, though they do signal a widespread resistance to authoritarian abuse of the marginalized.

Committee Chair

Richardson, Malcolm

Available for download on Thursday, July 08, 2027

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