The marginalized figure of the dwarf and the leper

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Abstract

In light of recent efforts to apply the theoretical concepts developed within the framework of Disability Studies to medieval literature, this article examines how marginal figures, such as lepers and dwarfi, are treated in representative works of the Tristan tradition and in a late medieval prose novel, Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbriicken's Konigin Sibille. While lepers or dwarfs have traditionally been evaluated only in light of medical history or folklore, they ought to be considered also as individuals who suffer from being ostracized or marginalized. In fact, the various authors of Tristan romances and Elisabeth present, at first sight, rather regular characters who operate quite successfully within courtly society. At closer consideration, we can also realize that either the leper or the dwarf could emerge as an intriguing but nefarious individual who is utilized by the ruler and other aristocrats to endanger the lovers' happiness, demonstrating a remarkable lack of compassion and a willingness to pursue a violent strategy against the protagonists. The importance of those marginal figures within the literary context rests in the realization how much courtly, medieval, society also knew of many individuals who were disabled and handicapped and yet able to operate quite efficiendy, which makes the old term 'handicapped' truly inappropriate, and this already for the Middle Ages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)675-696
Number of pages22
JournalStudi Medievali
Volume58
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History

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