Dr Bonnie Millar from the University of Nottingham opens the Approaches to Facial Difference volume. Bonnie is Research Assistant in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham. She specializes in late medieval courtly literature, and has published numerous books and articles.
Dis/enabling Courtesy and Chivalry in the Middle English and Early Modern Gawain Romances and Ballads
This paper seeks to examine courtesy and chivalry in the Middle English and Early Modern Gawain romances and ballads in the context of dis/enabling facial disfigurement. Dis/enabling personal stories, tales of surmounting physical difference, recuperation, and normalcy, are used to incapacitate the Arthurian court in the loathly lady tales, “The Wedding of Dame Ragnell” and “The Marriage of Dame Ragnelle and Sir Gawain” and to facilitate more pragmatic forms of courtliness and chivalry, whilst dis/enabling discourses of beauty and ugliness are key to the depiction of Guinevere’s mother as a deformed wretch in “The Awntyrs off Gawain” when she warns of the dangers of materiality. In all cases facial disfigurement is emphasised and generates revulsion and fear in onlookers and the court, and this troubling of the Arthurian world allows disruptive voices traveling from beneath the surfaces and the edges to emerge, potentially rupturing and transforming the chivalric and courtly spaces of Arthurian society.
Keywords: England; medieval; literature; Arthurian; chivalry; deformity; women
Appearing in Approaches to Facial Difference: Past and Present (Bloomsbury: 2018). While you wait, check out other medieval material on our blog.