‘To speke of phisik’: medical discourse in late medieval English culture

Leahy, Michael (2015) ‘To speke of phisik’: medical discourse in late medieval English culture. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

The increased availability and circulation of practical writings on medicine in the vernacular in late medieval England resulted in a new cultural lexicon heavily informed by medical learning. This achieved purchase through the blending of a technical, Latinate vocabulary, rooted in a scholarly European medical tradition, with a one informed by Christian practices and ritual. This thesis identifies how medical language provided a constitutive and malleable register that proved amenable to diverse appropriations. A prominent instance of this was the susceptibility of medical knowledge to metaphorical deployment: authors of religious texts could elucidate the abstract theological concepts of sin and salvation by anchoring them in the ailing or diseased body. In another sense, the supreme physiological knowledge which medical learning nominally afforded could provide a means of visualising the soul. The tendency of medical writers to offer normative ideals of the body, as well as of temperament and character, accorded with religious authors’ concerns of the regulation of sinful behaviour. Furthermore, medical language offered literary authors a means both to advance and undermine the idea of a language that could itself be health-inducing. In pursuing the mutually generative interactions between medical, spiritual, moral and literary discourses, this thesis analyses a wide range of late medieval writings: they include medical or other technical writings by John Arderne, Guy de Chauliac and Bartholomaeus Anglicus; literary works by Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Henryson; mystical works by Richard Rolle and the Book of Margery Kempe; hagiographies and sermons; and monastic rules and customaries. It demonstrates the sweep of themes and concerns that medical discourse could be applied to, including piety, romance, morality, incarceration, charity, satire and theology. It attests to the productive and significant place of medical language in medieval English culture and its constitutive role in the development of English literary language.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2015 14:27
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2016 12:47
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/133

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