Revel, Reiving, and Outlawry: Regulating the Body Politic in Late Medieval Popular Literature
My dissertation explores the creation and management of the body politic in the late medieval popular imagination, and does so by examining in particular the exclusions, injuries, and (re)incorporations which constitute the terms of the community’s existence. I conceive of the body politic as a Galenic body, which reorients my critical focus to balance and internal function, rather than infection and protection, which currently dominate academic discussions of embodiment. Within a Galenic framework, some forms of violence can be seen as “care of the self,” an attempt to bleed off excess and distemper. This begs the question: is it possible to escape the violence of the law, to refuse a place in the body politic within those terms—to be totally exempt from the law? To explore this question, my dissertation looks at the auto-immunitary force of the sovereign ban in a wide range of popular literature, from Chaucer and Langland to outlaw and Border ballads. This autoimmunity is built into the structure of the body politic because the law is constituted by a ban of part of the social body which yet remains within it. Outlawry, in other words, produces a chronic affliction in the service of purging an acute crisis. I argue that expulsion and purgation are fantasies which these texts can only half-indulge because society’s waste never truly leaves the system.
Medieval Literature; Medieval history; Law; biopolitics; Autoimmunity; ballads; Geoffrey Chaucer; Outlawry; William Langland
Zacher, Samantha; Galloway, Andrew Scott
Ph. D., Medieval Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis