In the Book of Margery Kempe, the famed and controversial mystic Margery Kempe inflicts herself with scars – scratching on her chest and a bite on her hand – marking the borders of her body with signs that reveal the dangers of her pre-conversion life and that latent threat that may remain. In this paper, I will discuss theories of ‘reading skin’ and the various implications of reading Margery Kempe’s skin: her skin as legendary and the scarring as stigmata, with its various connotations that develop across the medieval period and in modern scholarship.
Published in 1485, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur is a chivalric romance text reflecting late medieval attitudes and values, illuminating contemporary ideologies of social situations involving disability in the chivalric community. In Le Morte Darthur, Laura Finke observes that ‘violence provides the foundation for an elaborate structure of exchange which determines hierarchies among men; it functions as a form of what anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu refers to as symbolic capital.’ By examining the text, it is possible to ascertain medieval ideas and responses to disability through the character’s reaction to their own and other’s infirmities caused by violence. These attitudes, in turn, illustrate the development of societal views regarding disability, thereby pushing the boundaries of what societies consider ‘normal’.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has received a great deal of ecocritical attention, yet studies have overlooked the elemental complexity of the poet’s world. Though Gawain travels through a forested Wirral, the poet associates this landscape more with water/air than earth. As Gawain navigates the forest, our eyes are directed to the sky when we are told of the ‘mony bryddez’ therein, and the forest floor is ‘misy and myre’: a wetland more pool/stream than detritus/duff (MED, mīre, n., 2). My paper examines this elemental association, arguing that Gawain’s association with water/air distinguishes him from the Green Knight, who is associated with earth/fire. This separation begins metaphorically, but it is also literalized, most interestingly in Gawain’s humoral ecology. When Gawain cries, we are reminded of how humankind impacts the world by literally becoming the world through an exchange of fluids. Here the poet extends the familiar Green Knight/earth assemblage to Gawain/water; each character becomes a unique elemental body that challenges boundaries between human and more-than-human worlds, and realizes the imaginative potential of integrative ecologies.