Writing animals, speaking animals: the displacement and placement of the animal in medieval literature
This thesis examines the way the absence of moral consideration of the animal in Christian doctrine is evident in Middle English literature. A fundamental difference between the theology and literature of the medieval period is literature's capacity to present and theorise positions that cannot, for various reasons, be theorised in the official discourses provided by commentators and theologians. Patterns of excluding the animal from moral consideration by Christianity are instigated with the rejection of the ethics of late Neoplatonism. Highlighted by Neoplatonists, and evident in the stylistic differences in reading scripture and philosophy, is an early Christian ideological predisposition toward purely humanocentric concerns. The disparity between a definite Hellenic ethic of the animal and its absence in Christian thought is most evident in the contrast between an outward looking Neoplatonic understanding of creation, and the closed matrix of scholastic interpretative thought. Influential textual representations of the universe require that creation is interpreted through a fideistically enclosed system of signs. The individual must have faith before approaching knowledge. The animal is placed into a system dominated by the primacy of faith in God, which paradoxically produces the predetermined answers supplied by Christian doctrine and selective scriptural and doctrinal suppositions. In literary texts, the animal provides an obvious method of Christian debate. Contemporary theological values, such as the doctrinal commonplace of comparing man with animal in the corporeal context highlights the uncomfortable similarity to, yet prescribes that man aspire to distance himself from, the animal. The primacy of man and the importance of his salvation, is a doctrine which countermands the theocentric basis of Christian theology, in which God is understood as a presence in all his creation. Such conflicting perspectives result in animals in medieval literature being used to test theological and philosophical parameters, illustrating the inadequacy of sharp theological boundaries, and demonstrating the ability of literary expression to escape that which has already been enclosed.