The Rhetoric of the Body: A Study of Body Imagery and Rhetorical Structure in Medieval Literature

by Leech, Mary Elizabeth

Abstract (Summary)
In this study, my purpose has been to formulate a context in which the image of the medieval body can be better understood and appreciated. Chapter One sets up the context of medieval bodies within the medical understanding of the physical body and how metaphoric representation was shaped by classical rhetoric. Chapter Two covers how, specifically in Juliana, Andreas , and Guthlac B , the imagery of the saint’s body reinforces the hagiography’s rhetorical structure and Christian ideals. Chapter three examines Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, and how through their visions their bodies demonstrate the experience of a deep spiritual union with God. Female mystics move beyond the limitations set for women and claim authority in this relationship with God. Chapter Four examines the portrayal of bodies in Middle English romances, specifically The Squire of Low Degree and The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell . Dame Ragnell’s physical ugliness allows her to transgress the normal limitations of her station. Once she is transformed she immediately conforms to social expectations. In The Squire of Low Degree , the manner in which he is transformed from lowly squire to king is pivotal to his success. Chapter Five covers Chaucer’s Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, the Knight’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Parson’s Tale. Chaucer uses rhetorical devices with bodies in his works, but he changes the traditional nature of these bodies, giving them a new dimension yet one that still works within the medieval framework of literary and social types. By approaching body imagery in medieval literature through the perspective of poetic ornamentation and physical science as it was understood by medieval authors and audiences, a more complete view of the culture and concerns of the medieval world emerges.
Bibliographical Information:


School:University of Cincinnati

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:rhetoric and metaphor body imagery romance medieval chaucer hagiography mystics


Date of Publication:01/01/2002

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