Award Date

5-1-2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Committee Member

Philip Rusche

Second Committee Member

Anne Stevens

Third Committee Member

Maile Chapman

Fourth Committee Member

Ralph Buechler

Number of Pages

83

Abstract

Incest appeared as a frequent motif of medieval literature. The tales ranged from inadvertent encounters, intentional acts and incest narrowly avoided through recognition. Stories served as cautionary tales warning the populous of one of the many sins of the flesh. Along with detailing the ecclesiastical and secular prohibitions against incest, I explore the reasons for the frequency of narratives and verse centered upon incest. Examining literature form the Anglo-Saxon period through the early Renaissance shows the popularity of the theme but also illustrates how the perceived consequences of incest changed from one period to the next. The genetic consequence of incestuous reproduction is well understood now but would not have been in medieval times, yet the practice carried a significant stigma. Though often difficult to fully decipher, the chosen texts highlight the medieval attitude toward incest and stand as a window into the sexual taboo during the Middle Ages.

Keywords

affinity regulations; consanguinity protocols; incest; incest in literature; medieval incest

Disciplines

English Language and Literature | Medieval Studies

Language

English


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