Bodies of Knowledge: Premodern Science and the Person in Early English Poetry

Morgan, Anne, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Fowler, Elizabeth, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

This dissertation, Bodies of Knowledge: Premodern Science and the Person in Early English Poetry, considers how different kinds of knowledge—zoology, medicine, ethics, and theology—meet in early poetic narrative, creating a metadiscourse from which emerges a premodern conception of the person. The first chapter explores how Geoffrey Chaucer’s interest in bird taxonomy in The Parliament of Fowls leads to a critique of late-fourteenth century English political representation and prefigures his approach to estates satire in "The General Prologue." The second chapter tracks how “diagnosing” characters using humoral theory or astrology in retellings of inherited narratives, such as continuations of the story of the siege of Troy, became a standard literary approach in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The chapter has a special focus on the works of Chaucer and Robert Henryson. The final chapter considers how Edmund Spenser, living at a time when distinct disciplines begin to emerge and deviate from one another, tries and fails in Book II of The Faerie Queene to maintain a synthesis between a vision of personhood based on Aristotelian virtue ethics and one based in Renaissance natural philosophy.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Chaucer, Spenser, Henryson
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