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📙 “Fawty and Falce”: Sin, Sanctity, and the Heroics of Devotion in Late-Medieval English Literature by Benjamin Daniel Utter — free download


This project makes the case for the narrative usefulness and importance of imperfection by exploring the relationship between saints and heroes in late medieval English writing. It is easy to find examples of saints who are heroes (St. George slaying the dragon) and of heroes who become saints (Malory’s Lancelot dies with sweet smells emanating from his corpse, a sign of sanctity). But my project looks behind simple narrative and character function to address a deeper issue: what kind of hero/saint (or saint/hero) emerges from the later Middle Ages' pervasive skepticism about human perfectibility? Given that every medieval Christian was expected to grapple with knowledge of eternal accountability for sin, what are the limits of individual “greatness” and how are the saintly heroic and heroically saintly intertwined? My dissertation moves from knightly chivalry in the courtly romances Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, to the daringly nonconformist spirituality of a laywoman in The Book of Margery Kempe, to the feats of the folk anti-hero Robin Hood, celebrated in popular ballads, in order to trace the ways in which the heroic interpenetrates literary and religious writing. I argue that the late medieval heroic is characterized simultaneously by unity and rupture: it strives toward transcendent wholeness yet derives its vitality from a sense of fragmentation and frailty.

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