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Abstract

Most scholars today have retreated from reading into the Pardoner's body in favor of more figurative readings that emphasize his lack of masculinity, and such lack is then linked to his dejection and despair. Other, more affirming readings center the Pardoner's performance, which allows him to model any sort of body desired through figuration. While such positions dominate and older theories like Beryl Rowland's proposal of an intersex Pardoner are dismissed, in fact, an intersex reading might be a more life-affirming interpretation, not only in terms of reframing the Pardoner's body as manifesting variation as opposed to lack, but also being more inclusive. The reception of Rowland's work shows a reluctance to consider intersex bodies and to incorporate our understanding of intersex today. Much medieval studies scholarship is invested in figurative 'hermaphrodities'--a term offensive today yet maintained in medieval scholarship--while the reality of intersex people's literal bodies is elided, an erasure that is to the detriment of medieval studies. Reexamining the Pardoner through the history of science gives this Chaucerian character back his body and recenters marginalized bodies both then and now.

Acknowledgments

I would like to give special thanks to Georgiana Donavin of Westminster College for encouraging me to submit this piece to Accessus and for being a superb editor, to Diane Cady of Mills College for her insightful feedback on a previous draft, and to one of my anonymous readers for helpful suggestions.