The Characterization of Monstrous Femininity in the Testament of Cresseid and the Awnytrs off Arthure
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This dissertation uses psychoanalytic theory to examine the similar portrayals of monstrous femininity in two Middle English poems, Robert Henryson’s the Testament of Cresseid and the Awntyrs off Arthure. In the Testament, Cresseid’s leprosy is interpreted through Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, suggesting that Cresseid experiences the abject to create a new identity as a leper. Rather than view Cresseid’s dream as an assembly of very real divinities who pass judgment over her sleeping body, I interpret the dream in a strictly physiological sense, arguing that Cresseid not only creates the judgment from her own conflicted psychology, but actively shapes her own destiny. Cresseid’s disease does not annihilate her identity, but gives her a significant position in society, because her status as a leper facilitates the economy of salvation. I continue with Kristeva’s theory to understand the characterization of the grotesque corpse of Gaynour’s mother in the Awntyrs off Arthure. Her rotting body is doubly abject, both as a corpse and a mother. While abjection provides a useful opening for discussing the portraits of Gaynour and her mother, Kristeva’s theory does not consider all women in the text, and only confirms misogynist stereotypes. To supplement Kristeva, I use Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of Jacques Lacan’s theory of desire to illuminate the text as a whole, and explain the role of the corpse in shaping the narrative.