Emily Russell

Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School

English Language and Literature

Committee Member

Dr. Christine Neufeld

Committee Member

Dr. Natasa Kovacevic


In this project, I consider four exempla from Robert Mannyng of Brunne’s Handlyng Synne: “The Tale of the Bloody Child,” “The Tale of the Sacrilegious Carolers of Colbek,” “The Tale of the Midwife Who Christened the Child Wrongly,” and “St. Gregory’s Tale of the Nun Who Spoke Naughty Words.” I read these exempla through the theoretical texts of Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, and Mary Douglas, as well as others, and conclude that speech acts, whether deviant or sanctioned, make identity at any level (de)constructable. I hope to show that while this is particularly noticeable against the historical and ideological backdrop of Mannyng’s day, linguistic differance always opens identity constructs. Language always poses a threat to individual, deific, and institutional identity, and so society attempts to control it through ritual. Complete symbolic quarantine, however, proves to be impossible, and so the unstable self must be written onto the physical space of the monstrous and grotesque body.