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    Illness and illegibility in Middle English medicine

    Socrates, Melanie (2023) Illness and illegibility in Middle English medicine. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Abstract

    This thesis investigates issues of legibility in a corpus of Middle English medical works. It considers the textual and vernacular translation of the body, and finds that this body is always partially resistant to words; medical writing, moreover, constitutes a discrete discourse, resistant to cross-genre reading, which uses language in distinctive ways. Looking at its emergence as a body of literature, this thesis finds that Middle English medical writing, new to the fourteenth century, draws on and yet deviates from established traditions, operates according to its own internal logic, and as such offers a new articulation of human ‘kind’. Chapter One determines that the body is depicted as textual, and should be read physiognomically and diagnostically by the practitioner, problematized by somatic instability. Chapter Two asks whether the body should be read in moral ways, and argues that ‘religious’ vocabulary in medical writing in fact frequently becomes resistant to moral interpretation: the body in this discourse can only be read medically. Chapter Three is also concerned with the idiosyncrasy of the lexicon. Medical Middle English is heavily Latinate, intermingling the ‘common’ and the academic; the body it articulates is new and hybrid, and through the use of Latin, writers control access to certain elements of human physiology – particularly ‘women’s secrets’. In Chapter Four the persistent epistemic gap between the body and the book is explored. Despite its inherent textuality and the adapted lexicon, some aspects of physical existence remain beyond words. Finally, Chapter Five considers the methods by which writers authorised their work. If both body and language are unstable, how can we trust medical instruction? Ultimately, illness both threatens somatic legibility and necessitates it; Middle English medical writing, although limited, empowers the vernacular reader.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Thesis
    Additional Information: Date of award confirmed as 2023 by registry.
    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.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2023 15:33
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 16:08
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/51098
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.18743/PUB.00051098

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