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Demonic Possession, Vulnerability, and Performance in Medieval French Drama


Andreea Marculescu

Just like the modern hysteric, a figure that catalyzes clinical vocabularies confirming medieval theological anxieties, the demoniac has been considered an "anomalous" and "abnormal" manifestation of womanhood. Incapable of self-governance, both linguistic and corporeal, the medieval possessed is placed in the category of the pathological. The symptoms of possession are part of a multilayered discourse coined by medieval theologians, authors of exempla, hagiographers, and natural philosophers. The subjectivity of the demoniac becomes, thus, a fetishistic construction which allows medieval male intellectuals to ponder questions about demons, the supernatural, and the human body. Demonic Possession, Vulnerability, and Performance in Medieval French Drama advocates for an affective and ethical framework of reading the vocabularies of possession in which the demoniac’s convulsions, contortions, shrieks of pain, and snapshots of disarticulated language are not conceptualized as "pathological" but as a model of intercorporeality built around modalities of sensuous exchange between the bodies of both the possessed and of those whom she comes in contact with. Can we think of a corporeal agency of the "anomalous" body of the possessed independent of reason and articulated language? What happens when such distorted bodies enter zones of visual, haptic, and aural contact with abled-bodied individuals? Can possession be considered as a producer of a sensuous type of knowledge that alters the way sovereign subjects perceive themselves? Taking as primary sources a series of late-medieval French Passion Plays and hagiographical plays authored by poetic and religious figures such as Arnoul Gréban, André de la Vigne, Eustache Mercadé, and Jean Michel, this book argues that the lyrical capaciousness of the plays as forms of narrativized poetics allows us to understand demonic possession as a series of bodily narratives of pain, of healing, of witnessing, and, ultimately, of vulnerability.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Marculescu, Andreea, author. Title: Demonic possession, vulnerability, and performance in medieval French drama / Andreea Marculescu. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2018. Series: Medieval interventions: new light on traditional thinking; vol. 4 ISSN 2376-2683 (print) | ISSN 2376-2691 (online) Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017044488 | ISBN 978-1-4331-3077-9 (hardback: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4331-5063-0 (ebook pdf) | ISBN 978-1-4331-5064-7 (epub) ISBN 978-1-4331-5065-4 (mobi) Subjects: LCSH: Demoniac possession. | Demoniac possession—France. Women—History—Middle Ages, 500–1500. French drama—To 1500—History and criticism. Classification: LCC BF1555 .M37 2018 | DDC 133.4/26082—dc23 LC record available at DOI 10.3726/b12231 Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at

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