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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Body Satyrical: Satire and the Corpus Mysticum during Crises of Fragmentation in Late Medieval and Early Modern France

  • Author(s): Flood, Christopher Martin
  • Advisor(s): Carron, Jean-Claude
  • et al.

The later Middle Ages and early modern period in France were marked by divisive conflicts (i.e. the Western Schism, the Hundred Years' War, and the Protestant Reformation) that threatened the stability and unity of two powerful yet seemingly fragile social entities, Christendom and the kingdom of France. The anxiety engendered by these crises was heightened by the implicit violence of a looming fragmentation of those entities that, perceived through the lens of the Pauline corporeal metaphor, were imagined as corpora mystica (mystical bodies). Despite the gravity of these crises of fragmentation, each met with a somewhat unexpected and, at times, prolific response in the form of satirical literature. Since that time, these satirical works have been reductively catalogued under the unwieldy genre of traditional satire and read superficially as mere vituperation or ridiculing didacticism. However, when studied against the background of sixteenth-century theories of satire and the corporeal metaphor, a previously unnoticed element of these works emerges that sets them apart from traditional satire and provides an original insight into the culture of the time.

French humanists were convinced of a significant, etymological relationship between the literary form satire and the mythological satyr, a notion still debated today. This assumed connection informed the sixteenth-century concept of satire in several ways, but the most important relates to the common image of the satyr's hybrid physical composition. Imposing this image of hybrid corporality upon the metaphorical corpora of the Catholic Church and kingdom of France, certain satirists subtly posited within their corrective satirical works a hybrid mystical corporality that would have permitted continued union as an internally diverse social body. I designate this emphasis on continued social corporality communicated by satire the satyrical.

This dissertation has for goal the definition and examination of the satyrical as a literary and social phenomenon from its emergence in the late Middle Ages to its pinnacle during the Renaissance and concomitant Protestant Reformation, and rapid decline at the end of the sixteenth century. This is accomplished by means of a thorough analysis of the evolution of satire as a general literary mode, from its origins in Antiquity to the Renaissance, and individual examinations of representative works from the periods in question as they relate to their historical contexts.

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