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Durham e-Theses
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The Transformation of the Sleeping Corpse Motif
in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

FENNELL, RACHEL (2021) The Transformation of the Sleeping Corpse Motif
in Medieval and Early Modern Literature.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis traces how the enchanted sleep motif common to both ATU 410 (Sleeping Beauty) and ATU 709 (Snow White) exists in the Bible and hagiography, before charting its subsequent appearance in medieval and early modern literature. Categorising the enchanted sleep and its various facets as the motif of the ‘sleeping corpse’, this thesis considers how two fairy tales, which appear to model Victorian patriarchal ideals of female passivity and male agency, have complex earlier iterations that undermine and subvert many of their contemporary core problematic tenets. Chapter One explores how the sleeping corpse motif can be considered analogous to the presentation of deceased saints in hagiography, examining how a sleeping corpse can also be an active, powerful, and often deadly member of a community. Chapter Two explores the motif in medieval romance, including in the first recorded written version of Sleeping Beauty and its subsequent European versions, where the motif is often used as part of rape narratives. Chapter Three examines how Elizabethan pastoral romance presents the male sleeping corpse as a product of the failure to self-govern passion, whilst Chapter Four explores how Shakespeare uses the motif to unpack ideas of familial loss and reunion, though not restoration. Finally, Chapter Five demonstrates how Jacobean revenge tragedy rejects past iterations of the motif in favour of using the sleeping corpse to portray murder and necrophilia on stage. Drawing together a vast and original corpus of genres and time periods, this thesis offers new ways of understanding two traditionally maligned fairy tales, as well as demonstrating how the motif speaks to our desire to pause time, delay the inevitability of death, and obtain a type of immortality.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Mar 2022 09:43

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