Blum 1997 Bodies

Title Information

Author: Martin Blum

Title: Body Politics

Subtitle: Otherness and the Representation of Bodies in Late Medieval Writings

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, University of British Columbia

Year: September 1997

Pages: vi + 332pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 14th Century | English History | Representations: Literature / Geoffrey Chaucer

Full Text

Link: cIRcle [Free Access]

Link: Library and Archives Canada [Free Access]

Additional Information


»This thesis examines the use and function of the human body as a surface that is inscribed with a number of socially significant meanings and how these inscriptions operate in the specific late medieval cultural production. Drawing on Jauss's notion of the social and political significance of medieval narrative, I seek to determine how specific texts contribute to a regulatory practice by thematizing bodies that are perceived as "other," that resist or defy an imagined social norm or stereotype.
Each of the dissertation's four chapters treats a different set of notions about the human body. The first one examines Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale and The King of Tars as representations of ethnographic difference. I argue that the late Middle Ages did not have the notion of "race" as a signifier of ethnic difference: instead there is a highly unstable system of positions that place an individual in relation to Christian Salvation History. Robert Henryson's Testament of Cresseid is at the centre of chapter two thatexamines the moral issues surrounding leprosy as a stigmatized disease. Reading the text as a piece of medical historiography, I argue that one of the purposes of the narrative is to establish the link between Cresseid's sexual behaviour and her disease. A discussion of the homosocial underpinnings of late medieval feudal society, particularly in light of Duby's notion of "les jeunes," forms the basis of the final two chapters. Chapter three discusses Chaucer's Legend of Lucrece and the narrative function of rape as a pedagogical instrument with the aim to ensure the availability of untouched female bodies for a "traffic in women" between noblemen. Chapter four examines transgressive sexual acts as the objects of jokes in fabliaux, such as Chaucer's Miller's Tale. By using shame and ridicule as their main strategy, these texts, I argue, fulfil an exemplary function and act as a warning to young noblemen to maintain an erotic discipline as future heads of feudal houses and as an upcoming political elite.« [Source: Library and Archives Canada]


  Abstract (p. ii)
  Part 1. Introduction (p. 1)
  Part 2. "Al þis World Bitwixe Hem Delt": Other Bodies (p. 13)
    1. Ethnography and Otherness: Some Introductory Remarks (p. 13)
    2. The Story of Noah's Sons (p. 18)
    2.1. Biblical Exegesis and Scholiated Bible Histories, or Historienbibeln (p. 21)
    2.1.1. Biblical Paraphrase: The Wiener Genesis (p. 22)
    2.1.2. Peter Comestor: Historia Scholastica (p. 28)
    2.1.3. The Middle English Genesis, the Cursor Mundi, and Trevisa's Translation of De proprietaribus rerum (p. 35)
    2.1.4. The Historienbibel (p. 39)
    2.2. The Chronicle: Rudolf von Ems Weltchronik (p. 43)
    2.3. The World of The Book of John Mandeville (p. 49)
    3. Infidels, Pagans, and Wild Women: Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale and The King of Tars (p. 60)
  Part 3. "Wickit Langage": Leprosy and the Social Construction of Blame (p. 94)
    1.1. The Social and Historical Significance of Leprosy (p. 94)
    1.2. The Institutionalization of Leprosy in Historical Context (p. 98)
    2. Leprosy and its Social Function (p. 103)
    2.1. The Cultural Context: "Unclean, unclean!" (p. 103)
    2.2. Interpreting Disease (p. 111)
    2.3. Leprosy and its Diagnosis (p. 115)
    2.4. The Diagnosis as Text (p. 118)
    3. The Narrative of Leprosy (p. 121)
    3.1. Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid and the Question of Guilt (p. 121)
    3.2. Cresseid's Case History: A Medical Narrative (p. 140)
    3.3. The Other Story: Cures, Or the Cause Determines the Outcome (p. 156)
    3.4. "Thow suffer sall, and as ane beggar die": The Disease and its Social Consequences (p. 168)
  Part 4. Not a Pretty Picture: The Body Violated by Rape (p. 183)
    1.1. The Legal Background (p. 184)
    1.2. Social Concerns (p. 188)
    2.0. Lucretia's Two Bodies (p. 192)
    2.1. The Body as res publica (p. 192)
    3.0. The Medieval Context (p. 204)
    3.1. You Have Been Warned: Rules Of Conduct For Young Women (p. 204)
    3.2. "Thy faire body, lat yt nat appere, ... Lucresse of Rome toun:" Chaucer's Legend of Lucrece and the Pedagogy of Fear (p. 214)
    3.2.1. Of "clene maydens" and other Good Women: The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (p. 217)
    3.2.2. "The verray trewe Lucresse" (p. 228)
  Part 5. "Of Which That No Man Unnethe Oghte Speke Ne Write": Sexually Deviant Bodies in Moral Treaties and Fabliaux (p. 248)
    1.1. Unmentionable Vices (p. 248)
    1.2. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell:" Chaucer's Parson and Sins Against Nature (p. 251)
    1.3. The Prohibition of the Word and its Consequences: Hans Folz's Die Mißverständliche Beichte (p. 257)
    2. Mentioning the Unmentionable: The Sexual Politics of the Fabliaux (p. 265)
    2.1. Normative Subversion: The Authority of Laughter (p. 265)
    2.2 Historical Observations (p. 269)
    3.1. Dietrich von der Glezze: Der Borte (p. 276)
    3.2. The Narrative as Discipline: Chaucer's Miller's Tale (p. 287)
    The Treatise and the Fabliau (p. 310)
  Part 6. Conclusion (p. 313)
  Works Cited (p. 318)
    1. Sources (p. 318)
    2. Critical and Scholarly Studies (p. 321)

Wikipedia: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women

Added: November 9, 2013 | Last updated: February 1, 2014