Dismemberment and identity-formation in the Medieval and Early Modern English imaginary

Bain, Frederika Elizabeth
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2014]
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This study examines medieval and early modern English instances and representations of dismemberment in terms of their varying symbolic meanings and their related categories of identity-formation. It examines contexts within which making meaning and marking humanness through bodily fragmentation are realized, including gender categories, human versus animal nature, and questions of religious and ethnic identity and social status. The study spans the period between the late eleventh and the late seventeenth century and encompasses a considerable generic range, including hagiography, chronicles and other histories, polemics and sermons, travel narratives, medical and midwifery manuals, and cheap print ballads and accounts of contemporary events. Close readings are given of medieval romances, legends, and religious drama, and of Shakespearean and other early modern drama and poetry, examining their treatment of the bodily fragmentation of their characters in light of the theoretical arguments presented. Dismemberment may be seen as falling at one end of a continuum of bodily alterations performed, or described as being performed, in order to create meaning through the body or to manifest or concretize meaning assumed to inhere in it. This dissertation begins by examining the foundational somatic metaphors that shape representations of cultural institutions and practices. It then reads modification of the body, including by means of its fragmentation, as an intuitive corollary of the view of the body as a repository of symbolic meaning, at the same time acknowledging the practical effects on the body of ideas about the body. It argues that membership within categories both mediates and is mediated by dismembering practices: bodily partition is associated not only with detaching limbs from bodies but also detaching individuals from identity groups, with exclusion from and inclusion within membership. Undergoing dismemberment coded as merited may mark characters as deficient, illustrating through their bodies a moral or spiritual lack, while performing dismemberments coded as unwarranted might lead to a similar judgement. The dissertation ends with a focus on questions of legitimate and illegitimate violence, particularly retributive violence in the form of state-ordered execution, and these questions' implications for the formation of social, ethnic, and religious identity.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2014.
Includes bibliographical references.
dismemberment, fragmentation, Shakespeare, violence, somatic metaphor, partition, punition, punishment
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). English.
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