In the Skin of a Beast: Sovereignty and Animality in Medieval France

University of Chicago Press
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In medieval literature, when humans and animals meet—whether as friends or foes—issues of mastery and submission are often at stake. In the Skin of a Beast shows how the concept of sovereignty comes to the fore in such narratives, reflecting larger concerns about relations of authority and dominion at play in both human-animal and human-human interactions.

Peggy McCracken discusses a range of literary texts and images from medieval France, including romances in which animal skins appear in symbolic displays of power, fictional explorations of the wolf’s desire for human domestication, and tales of women and snakes converging in a representation of territorial claims and noble status. These works reveal that the qualities traditionally used to define sovereignty—lineage and gender among them—are in fact mobile and contingent. In medieval literary texts, as McCracken demonstrates, human dominion over animals is a disputed model for sovereign relations among people: it justifies exploitation even as it mandates protection and care, and it depends on reiterations of human-animal difference that paradoxically expose the tenuous nature of human exceptionalism.
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About the author

Peggy McCracken is the Domna C. Stanton Collegiate Professor of French, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. Her many publications include The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature and The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
May 17, 2017
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780226459080
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Medieval
Literary Criticism / European / French
Literary Criticism / General
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero, Peggy McCracken explores the role of blood symbolism in establishing and maintaining the sex-gender systems of medieval culture. Reading a variety of literary texts in relation to historical, medical, and religious discourses about blood, and in the context of anthropological and religious studies, McCracken offers a provocative examination of the ways gendered cultural values were mapped onto blood in the Middle Ages.

As McCracken demonstrates, blood is gendered when that of men is prized in stories about battle and that of women is excluded from the public arena in which social and political hierarchies are contested and defined through chivalric contest. In her examination of the conceptualization of familial relationships, she uncovers the privileges that are grounded in gendered definitions of blood relationships. She shows that in narratives about sacrifice a father's relationship to his son is described as a shared blood, whereas texts about women accused of giving birth to monstrous children define the mother's contribution to conception in terms of corrupted, often menstrual blood. Turning to fictional representations of bloody martyrdom and of eucharistic ritual, McCracken juxtaposes the blood of the wounded guardian of the grail with that of Christ and suggests that the blood from the grail king's wound is characterized in opposition to that of women and Jewish men.

Drawing on a range of French and other literary texts, McCracken shows how the dominant ideas about blood in medieval culture point to ways of seeing modern values associated with blood in a new light, and how modern representations in turn suggest new perspectives on medieval perceptions.
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