When Jacques Derrida in Cogito and the History of Madness denounced Michel Foucault’s project of providing the madman with a voice as the ‘greatest merit but also the very infeasibility of his book’ on the basis of its reliance on the reason-dominated language of philosophical tradition, he could have irrevocably silenced those madmen that have been exclusionary prohibited from participating within our constitutively reasonable society. However, there are other types of language that escape the constitutive dominance of reason and periods of history that preclude the exclusion of madness by reason and thus allow the true voice of madness to be heard. The voice of madness is not merely awakened in Arthurian literature; it also reveals the performative construction of medieval identificatory categories, as madness functions as a transitory literary convention within the construction of Arthurian knightly identity.
In Wolfram of Eschenbach’s Parzival the young and naive Parzival sets forth for fame and fortune wearing a fool’s dress made by his mother. His clothing mirrors his manners. Due to Parzival’s foolish behaviour Lady Jeschute is being punished and humiliated without cause by her husband. She is no longer allowed to change her clothes. Parzival’s dress and Jeschute’s torn clothing are tantamount to a divestiture. The actions of Parzival, dressed up like a villain, lead to Jeschute becoming an outlaw herself. Lacking appropriate clothing she cannot take part in courtly society any longer. When eventually Parzival is able to prove her innocence, Jeschute’s re-entry into society is marked by being cloaked with her husband’s surcoat.
‘Mass illnesses – from syphilis to cholera, from the Black Death to leprosy – have been linked to otherness both historically and cross-culturally’ (Yardley, 2013). In R. Henryson’s poem The Testament of Cresseid (mid-15th century) the protagonist’s punishment for her blasphemy is leprosy. This makes her a symbol for sexually transmitted diseases (in accordance with medieval belief) and for the persecuted and marginalized victim. The dramatic physical changes Cressida undergoes, which mark the beginning of her conversion, also cause her estrangement from her previous life. In order to highlight the connotative value of the vocabulary chosen by the Henryson, this study focuses on the linguistic means chosen by the Scottish poet to describe Cressida’s downfall and her becoming ‘other’ both physically and psychologically.