Dame Study’s Anatomical Curse: A Scatological Parody?
In this chapter, Gillespie considers L’s appropriation and adaptation of an image from the second recension of Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de la vie humaine. In the Pèlerinage, Grace Dieu tells the pilgrim that, in order to understand the mystery of the Real Presence, he will need to distrust the evidence of all his senses except the sense of hearing. The pilgrim’s eyes will have to be transplanted into his ears before he can see his staff (signifying faith) and satchel or scrip (signifying hope). In PPl B.10, Dame Study complains about over-ingenious theological speculation among clerics and laymen, which she links to an over-reliance on the senses. She recalls Grace Dieu’s image of the transplanted eye, wishing that the man who asks idle questions should have ‘his eiȝe … in his ers, and his fynger after.’ Gillespie reads Study’s complaint as an implicit rebuke to Will, who has come to prefer academic speculation over common sense, and as a prolegomenon to Will’s later encounter with Ymaginatif, where L will offer a more nuanced account of how the senses inform the intellect. Gillespie also explores the implications of L’s ‘scatological play’ with Deguileville’s image, as Study imagines the eye not in the ear, but in the arse. This, he says, may hint that the kind of piety Study recommends will ultimately prove unsatisfactory for Will. It might also suggest that L was aware of Deguileville’s ‘recuperative engagement’ with the Roman de la Rose: Deguileville’s Grace Dieu tells the pilgrim he will need to transplant his eyes into his ears in order to perceive his pilgrim’s staff and scrip, and, in the Roman de la Rose, the staff and scrip are metaphors for the lover’s phallus and scrotum. Gillespie reads this moment in PPl as an example of L’s ability ‘to synthesize precise verbal recollections with the broader cultural and imagistic contexts of his sources’ (p. 103).