This project investigates the physical nature of what I call the martial body—most prominently represented as the armored knight—in late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English and Italian culture. Earlier studies assume that there is an innate link between elite masculinity, combat, and armor during this period. In contrast, I identify the martial body as a means by which some women and lower status men could occupy positions, express opinions, and exert influence in ways traditionally limited to the masculine martial elite. Marginalized individuals and groups used the trope of the martial body to justify rhetoric and actions that transgressed codes enforced by the hierarchical and patriarchal social structure. Incorporating methodologies from the history of medicine and warfare that derive from work with medical texts and the study of material objects like armor, my dissertation traces the construction of the martial body and its uses as physical construct and rhetorical trope in the Italian epic romances Orlando innamorato by Matteo Boiardo, Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto, and Gerusalemme liberata by Torquato Tasso and the English Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. The literary sources are complemented by inclusion of English and Italian anatomical and surgical texts, fencing treatises, and armor. Because of transmission patterns from Italy to England for medical knowledge, armor design, fencing technique, and literary genre, an attempt to study the martial body in England presupposes inclusion of Italian materials. The dissertation is structured so as to define the martial body moving progressively outward, so it begins by asking what the body is made of and then moves to an examination of the body’s surface before turning to the chief marker of the martial body, armor, and ends with a consideration of the martial body in combat. The first chapter investigates what the body was made of in the context of Galenic medical theory, Vesalian anatomical illustrations, and the allegory of the body in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The second chapter considers skin and hair in all the epic romances as transactional sites that function by subtle manipulations of color, hardness, and presentation. The third again uses all four romances and turns to the martial body’s most visible marker: armor. It focuses on armor as prosthesis for entry into the hypermasculine space of combat and the complications this poses for the always already inadequate wearer. The fourth uses English and Italian fencing treatises in an examination of combat in the romances. In doing so, I demonstrate that the martial body—the literal figure and rhetorical trope of elite martial masculinity—serves as a vehicle for some women and lower status men to access the very social spheres that seem most hostile to them in order to evade strict social control.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: English. Advisors: John Watkins, Shirley Nelson Garner. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 357 pages.
Fabricating the Martial Body: Anatomy, Affect, and Armor in Early Modern England and Italy.
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