This article explores able-bodied subjects' affective response to people with disabilities, as manifested in the "tests" and trials used to ascertain the authenticity of those disabilities. When children drop hot coals on the esh of a deaf-mute to see if he can scream, or when a cleric tricks blind beggars into spending a coin they do not possess, more than simple cruelty is at play (though these actions are undeniably cruel). Through readings of selected texts from twelfth- through fifteenth-century France – including Chrétien de Troyes's Cligès, the Miracles de saint Louis by Guillaume de Saint-Pathus, the fabliau Les trois aveugles de Compiègne, and a ballade by Eustache Deschamps – I examine what vulnerabilities are being exposed, protected, or celebrated through the administration of these tests. I argue that medieval literary tests of disability reveal privilege to be both an embodied and an intellectual or epistemic state: the prospect of a feigned disability exposes an unsettling (because unresolvable) fragility in the mechanisms of knowing.


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pp. 47-68
Launched on MUSE
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