Identifying, Understanding and Incorporating the Other: Cultural Encounters in Medieval Literature
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This dissertation illustrates the complex nature of Christian and Saracen relations by analysing fixed and fluid representations of cultural boundaries in three medieval tales. The first chapter discusses the Sultaness in Chaucer’s “Man of Law’s Tale”; responding to feminist critics, I portray the extreme actions she takes as necessary to the protection of her Saracen subjects from Christian conversion. Rather than regard the Sultaness from her familial position, as so many critics do, and define her as monstrous for murdering her son, I view her in terms of her political standing and use John of Salisbury’s Policraticus along with René Girard’s theory of sacrificial violence to interpret her actions as essential for the continuation of the Saracen culture. The second chapter contrasts opposing attitudes towards the possibility of integrating the other into Christian society in The King of Tars and Aliscans. The texts have yet to be read alongside each other by other scholars. This chapter is supplemented with scholarship by Siobhain Bly Calkin which discusses the ability to move between cultural and political groups, criticism by Susanne Conklin Akbari on crossing spiritual boundaries, and incorporates Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s understanding of the portrayal in late Medieval culture of biological otherness. The chapter concludes with a speculative account of the reasons why these two texts have such different views on assimilation.