The Prosthetic Hinge: Saints, Kings and Knights in Late Medieval England
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This project takes an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from modern prosthesis theories, disability theory and studies, as well as psychoanalysis, to think again about prosthesis and prosthetic embodiment across the romance-hagiography axis. My dissertation explores the literary representations of three medieval social bodies and their experiences with prosthesis: the saintly body, the sovereign body, and the aristocratic/knightly body. The main objective is to show how the experiences of these differing social bodies with prosthesis challenge the ideology of the whole, normal, fleshly body, and, rather, offer the body as a malleable concept—as always already prosthetic. In my first chapter, I analyze the Life of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, written by the Cistercian Abbot Philip of Clairvaux in 1267, and translated into Middle English in the fifteenth century, which bears witness to the miraculous nature of the virgin Elizabeth’s somatic mysticism. I then turn to study the meaning of the hand (primarily) and foot in the body of a young child prince and martyr through the narrative of their loss and replacement in the vitae of Saint Melor. This chapter examines what I believe to be the earliest known medieval hagiographic representation of actual prosthetic body parts in the fourteenth-century Latin and Anglo-Norman vitae, composed in England, of the little martyr prince. I then conclude with a study of the formation of the knightly body and identity in the fourteenth/fifteenth-century Middle English romance of Amis and Amiloun, where I consider how the two titular knights’ bodies are constructed and connected vis-à-vis armour as prosthesis. Even though actual prosthetics did exist in the Middle Ages, I claim that, in literature, prosthesis is particularly elaborated in relation to these three social bodies, because it helps to reveal the ways in which these types of identities are imagined as tied into bodies or manifested through bodies. A saint’s body, a king’s body, and a knight’s body all have particular sociocultural ideologies attached to them that I believe prosthesis accentuates.