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Title: The text and context of the Malleus Maleficarum (1487)
Author: Wilson, Eric
ISNI:       0000 0001 3570 1518
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1991
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My dissertation is a study of both the historical background to and the literary content of the Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Institoris and J akob Sprenger, the archetypal witch-hunting manual of the late middle ages. I interpret the text as engaging in a highly specialized form of cultural semiotics, fabricating a category of social deviant - the witch - through the employment of discursive practices common to theological and inquisitorial literature. In this way the figure of the witch was rendered subject to the same forms of littary representation and political control as were a number of other marginalized social and religious minorities, including the heretic, the leper, and the Jew. Chapter One situates the Malleus within the historical context of the development of demonological literature and the socio-cultural stereotypes of the diabolic subversive, the text acting as the culmination of these trends at the end of the fifteenth century. Chapter Two discusses the lives and careers of the two reputed authors of the text, examining their activities in relation to developments in late medieval inquisitorial jurisprudence and curial politics. Chapters Three and Four highlight the witch-hunting activities of Institoris in southern Germany and Austria, and the text's resulting (mis)representation of popular notions of the witch and of witchcraft. . Chapters Five to Seven examine a · number of crucial literary traditions and practices utilized in the Malleus in achieving the transformation of the village "wise woman" into the diabolic heretic of formal theological speculation. Topics discussed include the teachings of Augustine and Aquinas on superstition and demonic causal agency, the Canon Episcopi and learned scepticism about the reality of maleficium, and the evolution of the concept of the Sabbat in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century inquisitorial writing. Central to all chapters is an emphasis upon the way in which the Malleus can be regarded as an active point of interface between popular and learned cultural perceptions.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Witch hunting; Middle ages