Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation examines the dangerous appetites of heroic figures in medieval romance. Because chivalry professionalized the art of agricultural ravaging to sustain armies and wage war through food insecurity, medieval literature grapples with the knight’s capacity for violence through depicting his inability to regulate his appetite. The first two chapters describe how medieval romance copes with chivalric violence and the unpredictability of animal appetite in the knight. Chapter one examines medieval werewolf tales such as Bisclavret and Melion, in which knights become rational wolves and learn to control their animal appetites by acknowledging the social hierarchies under the sovereignty of a human king. The fantasy that knightly violence was regulated and controlled by patriarchal constructs soothed worries around martial power and the threats of nonhuman sovereignty working against human interests. The Church also provided regulating practices to curb bodily desire and see the knight’s body purified through fasting and solidifying the line between the human and the external world. Chapter two examines the symbolic function of fasting in Sir Gowther and Robert le Diable in order to investigate the culture of ravaging and self-regulation as it pertains to martial identity. The third and fourth chapters expand on this examination of the chivalric model by examining how kings use ravaging to convey their sovereignty over the nonhuman. I use Giorgio Agamben’s theory from The Open to articulate the triangulation of animals, humans, and the divine that existed in premodern imaginaries, applying this lens to the caesura found in Arthur in the alliterative Morte Arthure. Arthur’s entanglement with giants and dragons enhances his creatureliness and suggests that his animal appetite for ravaging at once affirms his sovereignty and ensures his downfall. This text serves as a useful comparison for Richard Coer de Lyon, where creaturely excess emerges not as a corruption of a king’s divinity, but as an enhancement. In premodern literature where the fantasies of human exceptionalism are still being formulated amidst a heightened awareness of nonhuman sovereignty, the chivalric practices of ravaging for self-advancement reveal a contradictory and self-destructive purpose.



Committee Chair

Richard Godden

Available for download on Thursday, March 20, 2031