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Title: The problem with practicality : rethinking late medieval English medical recipes, 1375-1500
Author: Bower, Hannah
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 5562
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis explores the validity of seeing late medieval vernacular remedies as more than just utilitarian texts. Until now, most commentators have argued, or assumed, that medical recipes were conceptualised by their earliest writers and readers as texts solely designed to serve a curative or therapeutic purpose: they have looked for physical evidence of use in the manuscripts; connected particular codices to specific medical practitioners; discussed the scientific principles behind the efficacy that some remedies may have had, and explored whether specific types of cure, such as charms, were deployed by specific types of medical practitioner. My thesis does not dispute that many remedy collections were put to practical use, but argues that writers and readers conceptualised recipes in a range of other ways too. An introductory chapter explores the types of people who engaged with medical knowledge and the way recipes portray them. Then, Chapter Two uses codicological evidence, such as scribal organisation and reader annotation, to suggest that some writers and readers derived pleasure, pride or satisfaction from the acts of producing, possessing and reading remedy books, rather than using them. The next two chapters explore - first in verse (Chapter Three) and then in prose (Chapter Four) - the remedies' formal, phonetic, and linguistic features, considering the ways that they fulfil, impede or overshadow the texts' practical purpose. In this section, I also compare the ways in which the language and figurative devices used in recipes work in other kinds of writing, in order to develop a more precise understanding of the connections and distinctions between discourses. The last part of the thesis focuses on thematic connections between recipes and other text-types. In Chapters Five and Six, recurring motifs and similar attitudes to time, wonder and transgression suggest reciprocal imaginative exchanges between remedies, romances and fabliaux. Chapter Seven examines unexpected parallels between serious and parodic remedies, arguing that this blurred boundary creates interpretive challenges for readers. In these final three chapters, I hope to draw attention to an interpretive element overlooked in the recipes: the texts do not just contain instructions to be translated into real-world referents and actions; they can also bring words, forms, and ideas into play with one another, eluding straightforward interpretations as resolutely as literary texts.
Supervisor: Wakelin, Daniel ; Turner, Marion Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature, Medieval ; Recipes ; Manuscripts, Medieval ; Medicine, Medieval