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Reinventing Rule: The Queen’s Two Bodies in Clemence of Barking’s Vie de Sainte Catherine

Authors
  • Ni, Yun1
  • 1 Harvard University, Department of Comparative Literature, 16 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA , Cambridge (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Neophilologus
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Nov 02, 2018
Volume
103
Issue
1
Pages
5–21
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11061-018-9582-8
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Clemence of Barking’s Vie de Sainte Catherine, a twelfth-century Anglo-Norman rendering of Catherine of Alexandria’s Latin vulgate passio, uses the well-known trope of the king’s two bodies to imagine a Christ-centered rule of a philosopher-martyr queen, who alludes to the murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket. I use Ernst Kantorowicz’s (1957, reprinted 2016) political theology to demonstrate that the Vie both resonates with and qualifies the concept of Christ-centered kingship and Law-centered kingship in twelfth-century England. Catherine offers a model of Christ-centered kingship based on the queen’s two bodies against a misconceived Law-centered kingship embodied in the tyrant Maxentius. Idolatry and iconoclasm serve as key tropes in the text’s exploration of sovereign violence. When the ruler’s whims replace divine justice in a Law-centered kingship, the living body of the sovereign has to depend on the dead idols for its ultimate claim of vivacity. The sovereign becomes “bare life” himself, which echoes Agamben’s (1998) symmetry of the sovereign body and homo sacer.

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