Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature

Article excerpt

Dorothy Yamamoto, The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). xii + 257 pp. ISBN 0-19-818674-- 6. L45.00.

Dorothy Yamamoto begins by relating her book to recent work in medieval studies that focuses on the dialogue and symbolic exchange between individuals at the centre and margins of conventional society, and on the role of boundaries and marginal spaces in the formation of social and personal identity. Yamamoto provides an `analytical overview' of a number of sites exhibiting a particular kind of marginality, the boundary of human and animal (P. 7). Whilst Yamamoto acknowledges the structuralist binary that human identity is constituted by one's difference from animals, she stresses that the relationship between centre and margin (i.e. human and animal) is characterized by a `dynamic instability': animals are afforded human traits and humans exhibit animal behaviour or physical form (pp. 8-9). Yamamoto explores this marginal space.

The first chapter uses an examination of twelfth- and thirteenth-century bestiaries to set out the `ground rules' for thinking about the intercourse between the worlds of human and animal explored in the rest of the book; for example, how the animal world is conceived as a system mirroring human attributes and capacities. The bestiary, writes Yamamoto, speaks just as much about the human body as it does about animal bodies (p. 17): animal bodies are manipulated and decoded to ventriloquize a chosen message, in the immediate case to provide inscriptions of human vice and virtue. …

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