Date of Award

5-1-2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Netzley, Ryan

Abstract

This dissertation examines male bereavement in medieval literature, expanding the current understanding of masculinity in the Middle Ages by investigating both the authenticity and affective nature of grief among aristocratic males. My focus is on the pattern of bereavement that surfaces across genres and that has most often been absorbed into studies of lovesickness, madness, the wilderness, or more formalist concerns with genre, form, and literary convention, but has seldom been discussed in its own right. This pattern consists of love, loss, grief madness and/or melancholy, wilderness lament/consolation, and synthesis and application of information gleaned from the grieving process, which is found is diverse texts from the twelfth century romance of Chrétien de Troyes' Yvain to the fifteenth century dream vision/consolatio Pearl. A focused study of how bereavement is represented through this pattern gains us a deeper understanding of medieval conceptions of emotional expression and their connections to gender and status. In other words, this project shows how the period imagines gender and status not just as something one recognizes, but also something one feels. The judgments and representations of bereavement in these texts can be explained by closely examining the writings of such religious thinkers as Augustine and Aquinas, who borrow from the neo-Platonic and Aristotelian schools of thought, respectively, and both of whom address the potential sinfulness and vanity of excessive grief and the dangers for this excess to result in sinful behavior. This latter point is also picked up in medical treatises and encyclopedic works of the Middle Ages, such as those of Avicenna and Isidore of Seville, which are also consulted in this project. The medieval philosophical and medical traditions are blended with contemporary theories of gender, authenticity, and understanding, as well as an acknowledgement of the psychoanalytic contributions of Freud and Lacan. Through these theories, I explore the capacity for the men in these texts to move beyond the social strictures of masculinity in order to more authentically grieve over the loss of their loved ones, which often constitutes a type of lack. However, my purpose is not to view losses as lack, but rather, to see them as a positive impetus to push beyond the limits of social behavior in order to realize textually various outcomes and to suggest the limitations of such socially sanctioned conventions as literary forms, language, rituals, understanding, and consolation to govern the enactment of grief.

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