Symptomatic Subjects: Diagnosis, Mimesis, and Narrative in Middle English Literature


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation considers medical discourse in practical and poetic texts written in English between 1375 and 1475, the period in which systematic knowledge of the human body became for the first time widely available to a lay audience. It argues that the discourse of medieval medicine was uniquely appropriate for negotiating tangled causal chains because it had to coordinate systems of internal and external cause as well as material and moral, physical and metaphysical determinations. Authors in the emergent tradition of English-language poetry recognized the new lexical and narrative resources of medicine, turning this practical discourse to their own literary ends, to represent situations in which multiple sources of agency and influence ambiguously affected an individual’s fate.