Date of Award

Spring 4-10-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Rosemary O'Neill


This thesis project considers the efficacy of the dead as a source of consolation for the medieval reader, and argues that these texts create fear and anxiety within the medieval reader’s mind by bringing the dead forward in unnatural and uncomfortable scenarios. When the dead person returns to the standard afterlife, the text diffuses the anxiety and, in the process, reinforces the importance of this afterlife framework. This project is structured as a survey of medieval literature about death and the dead, focusing on four specific genres: Purgatory visions, ghost stories, the danse macabre, and the ars moriendi. For primary materials, I consider Sir Owain, The Vision of Tundale, A Vision in a Trance of John Newton, and A Revelation of Purgatory by an Unknown, Fifteenth-Century Woman Visionary for Purgatory visions; The Gast of Gy, The Awntyrs off Arthure, and St. Erkenwald for the ghost stories; John Lydgate’s the Dance of Death for the danse macabre, and How to Learn to Die and The Arte & Crafte to Know Well to Dye for the ars moriendi. For my key theorists, I consider Philippe Ariès’s framework of death attitudes outlined in Western Attitudes Toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present to navigate complex and contradicting attitudes toward death; Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque and the grotesque body explored in Rabelais and His World to examine issues of embodiment, popular culture and hegemonic resistance, and the carnival culture; while Bakhtin helps articulate the specific images chosen, I turn to Wolfgang Iser’s The Act of Reading and reader-response theory to explore how a reader constructs and interprets these images.

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