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Occupying Space in Medieval and Early Modern Britain and Ireland


Gregory Hulsman and Caoimhe Whelan

This collection offers a range of interdisciplinary viewpoints on the occupation of space and theories of place in Britain and Ireland throughout the medieval and early modern periods. It considers space in both its physical and abstract sense, exploring literature, history, art, manuscript studies, religion, geography and archaeology. The buildings and ruins still occupying our urban and rural spaces bridge the gap between the medieval and the modern; manuscripts and objects hold keys to unlocking the secrets of the past. Focusing on the varied uses of space enriches our understanding of the material culture of the medieval and early modern period. The essays collected here offer astute observations on this theme and generate new insights into areas such as social interaction, cultural memory, sacred space and ideas of time and community.
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The Wife of Bath in the Saddle: A Rereading of ‘Upon an amblere esily she sat’ (General Prologue, I 469) (Clare Fletcher)



The Wife of Bath in the Saddle: A Rereading of ‘Upon an amblere esily she sat’ (General Prologue, I 469)

In 1962 D. W. Robertson wrote that the Wife of Bath is ‘dominated by the senses or the flesh rather than by understanding or the spirit, by oldness rather than newness. In short, [she] is a literary personification of rampant “femininity” or “carnality”’.1 While Robertson’s views of the Wife have not gone unchallenged, it remains clear that the Wife’s carnality and corporeality have been – and still are – the subjects of more scholarly debate than any other pilgrim in The Canterbury Tales. Every aspect of the physical space the Wife occupies has been scrutinised in order to understand, interpret, and gloss Chaucer’s sole secular female pilgrim. Walter Clyde Curry’s 1926 work Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences had a profound impact on the interpretation of the Wife’s body and argues that she is best understood by reference to a range of sciences and pseudo-sciences including medicine, physiognomy, chiromancy, and metoposcopy.2 As a result, Curry divines a heightened state of sexuality in almost every part of her body3 and this interpretative legacy pervades numerous subsequent discussions of the ← 3 | 4 →Wife. Thus, in a similar vein, James Winny writes that ‘the references to her hips, legs and spurs, none of which the Prioress appears to possess, and the admission that the Wife is “gat-tothed”, all emphasise the physical nature of a woman whose clamorous...

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