This dissertation argues that Middle English lyric is uniquely successful at connecting readers and hearers with our own bodies and with the bodies of medieval textual subjects. This effect occurs on the levels of content, form, and tone, although my emphasis is primarily on the formal components through which the connection is achieved, and my evidence is drawn largely from formal analysis of the songs. The methods through which the lyrics connect us with our bodies are sophisticated and include especially the carefully managed use of the linguistic category of deixis; nuanced, intentional portrayal and evocation of affect, or physically demonstrated emotion; and implicit and explicit reference (via form and content respectively) to the ways in which lyrics were literally embodied by medieval subjects through danced performance. I argue that Middle English lyrics construct and maintain the “I” of an uttering subject while also reinforcing an embodied sense of self in the text’s reader or hearer. The corpus of surviving lyrics uniquely demonstrates how language, subjectivity, the body, and poetic form are related, speaking to the profound utility of verse (both in the medieval period and today) in constructing a sense of self and in relating to and empathizing with others.
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