Humour in vernacular hagiography from the tenth to the thirteenth century in England

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Kehoe Rouchy, Niamh Bridget
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University College Cork
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This thesis is the first sustained study of the execution and purpose of literary humour in vernacular saints’ lives circulating from the late tenth to the late thirteenth century in England. Although humour has often been acknowledged in hagiographic narratives as either a given standard or as a non sequitur, to date there exists no sustained study accounting for its presence. My thesis first identifies humour, then explores how humour was utilised in a preaching context, before determining how and why the execution and purpose of humour developed over the time period under consideration. I examine a selection of narratives translated by the tenth century monk and abbot, Ælfric of Eynsham, anonymous lives contemporary to him, and, lastly, a sampling of narratives from the earliest manuscript of the thirteenth century collection known as the South English Legendary. In order to identify literary humour this thesis applies modern theories of humour and also compares each English text to its Latin source, where available. To determine the purpose of humour in these narratives, I engage in close textual analysis as well as contextualising each narrative within its social and historical background. This thesis aims to further elucidate what the use of humour can tell us concerning audience expectation and changing constructions of sanctity, and by doing so seeks to further our understanding of how medieval societies deemed the use of humour appropriate.
Old English , Middle English , Humour , Anglo-Saxon saints' lives , Medieval English vernacular hagiography
Kehoe Rouchy, N. B. 2018. Humour in vernacular hagiography from the tenth to the thirteenth century in England. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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