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FR7: Bodies in Space in Medieval French Literature

This paper is available for 2024-25.

To be embodied is to take up space, to exist in time, and to be part of a community. In this paper we explore a series of medieval texts and artefacts which shed light on how bodies were interpreted, imagined, included, and excluded in the Middle Ages. The lectures and supervisions are organised into four themes: Race and Place; Human, Animal, Monster; Bodies and Books; Gender.

Figures and narratives from the European Middle Ages have recently become misrepresented and appropriated by groups who wish to portray that era as a time of “purity”: in Race and Place, we show how misguided this move is by looking at the development of racializing discourse in medieval French literature. The word ‘monster’ derives from the Latin verb ‘to show’: the texts we read in Human, Animal, Monster show the beast lying at the heart of humanity, but also show the monstrosity of the human. While we may think of literature as a sign of uniquely human civilisation, the vast majority of medieval books are made from animal skin – this suggests that bodies and books can both offer opportunities for reading and interpretation. And in the Gender topic, we look at texts and traditions which open spaces to trouble the fixed ideas of binary gender on which medieval (and modern) literary culture can sometimes depend.

A course which encompasses romances, saints’ lives, bestiaries, and chronicles from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, Fr7 offers a chance to explore a broad range of medieval literature, as well as looking in detail at some aspects of medieval manuscript culture.


Topic 1: Race and Place

Topic 2: Human, Animal, Monster

Topic 3: Bodies and books

Topic 4: Gender

Preparatory reading: 

Please find the preparatory reading list here.

Teaching and learning: 

The paper is taught through weekly lectures during Michaelmas and Lent Terms; two revision seminars in Easter Term; and 10 fortnightly supervisions throughout the year.


The paper is assessed through a three-hour written paper, following the standard format for French Department papers, namely, answering one question from each of the three sections. Section A consists of broad questions to be answered using a range of texts chosen by the candidate; Section B questions are more specific, and are normally answered with reference to just one or two texts; Section C offers a selection of passages for commentary. Alternatively, students can choose to submit an Optional Dissertation. 

Course Contacts: 
Dr Miranda Griffin