IMC 2008: Sessions

Session 810: Bodily Functions in Late Medieval Literature and Art

Tuesday 8 July 2008, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Valerie Allen, Department of English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
Paper 810-a‘I frete, I fart, I fesyl fowle!’: Passing Gas on the Medieval English Stage
(Language: English)
Victor I. Scherb, Department of Literature & Languages, University of Texas, Tyler
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Performance Arts - Drama
Paper 810-b'For It's Only Bran and Filth': Hell and Excrement in a Late Medieval Farce
(Language: English)
Jeff Persels, Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures, University of South Carolina, Columbia
Index terms: Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Mentalities, Performance Arts - Drama
Paper 810-cTurning the Other Cheek: Scatology and its Discontents in Chaucer's Fabliaux
(Language: English)
Peter John Smith, School of Arts & Humanities, Nottingham Trent University

Paper -a:
A fart, although insubstantial, has an undeniable presence: ethereal, earthy, and evanescent. Stage effects associated with vicious characters could literally be explosive, and the word itself could denote violent horseplay and mockery, often with obscene overtones. Perhaps the commonest usage of the actual word on the medieval stage is as an expression of contempt, to describe someone or something as ‘not worth a fart’. This phrase, however, brings us back to the fart’s paradoxical nature, because articulating this proverb bestows value on the person or object. In short, my paper will examine the multiple meanings of the onstage fart.
Paper -b:
Andrieu de la Vigne’s Mystère de Saint Martin, staged in the Burgundian town of Seurre in 1496, features a five-hundred-line scatological farce, Le Meunier de qui le diable emporte l’âme en enfer. Strategically placed as comic cautionary tale, the farce comments on or somehow contributes to the altior sensus of the immediate, surrounding mystery as well as, perhaps, of an immanent, divine mystery. This paper seeks to take advantage of this privileged integration to re-examine the role of the scatological in common late-medieval notions of the sacred, particularly with regard to the representation of Hell.
While recent publications such as Jeff Persels and Russell Ganim’s Fecal Matters (2004) and Valerie Allen’s On Farting (2007) constitute a contemporary movement (pun fully intended) to describe the representation of scatology in literature, culture or the arts, they remain, to date, rare examples of a preparedness to discuss such material. This paper will consider the history of bowlderlisation of Chaucer’s fabliaux and reflect upon the current state of play. While its being part of a conference session on ‘Bodily Functions’ may appear to testify to the arrival of scatology as an academic subject, this paper will assert that it remains if not outside, then at least at the margins of traditional scholarly discussion.