Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Middle English, Romance, Vulnerability

Major Advisor

Fiona Somerset

Associate Advisor

Anne Berthelot

Associate Advisor

Sherri Olson

Field of Study

Medieval Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Current scholarly approaches to Middle English romance often emphasize the exceptionally noble, beautiful, and strong nature of the protagonist’s body as an essential element of the genre. However, I contend that a desire for recognition present in Middle English romances concerned with disinheritance emphasizes how communities of bodies are constructed through an acknowledgement of their shared vulnerabilities, rather than delivered from danger through the intervention of exceptional individuals. As a result, I contend that three Middle English romances: Havelok the Dane, King Horn and Of Arthour and of Merlin portray vulnerability as a social phenomenon. Therefore, I examine Havelok the Dane, King Horn, and Of Arthour and of Merlin alongside their earlier Anglo-Norman and Old French analogues in order to highlight adaptations made by the Middle English texts, and I examine the significance of those adaptations in light of Judith Butler’s work on vulnerability as a social construct held in common between bodies. Havelok and Horn present conservative narratives that end by restoring power to a community that reinforces the boundaries for violence to take place among the martial bodies of the nobility. Of Arthour and Merlin presents a critique of the more conservative narratives of Havelok and Horn through Merlin, a clerical figure that manipulates the vulnerability of women’s bodies explicitly outside of a martial environment to establish the rise of Arthur. Protagonists from these texts disrupt models of exceptional bodies by either gathering vulnerable bodies together to persist politically or exploiting bodies as a way to sustain themselves.

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