Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Wilcox, Jonathan

Second Advisor

Stewart, Garrett

First Committee Member

Lavezzo, Kathy

Second Committee Member

Sponsler, Claire

Third Committee Member

Durham, Meenakshi Gigi


My dissertation applies narrative theory and ordinary language philosophy to two major works bookending medieval English literature: Beowulf and Le Morte Darthur. Capitalizing on the descriptive power of narrative theory's lexicon, I outline the aesthetics, rhetoric, and other effects on the reader when these medieval writers depict transgressive movements--theoretically termed metalepsis--across borders in the story world, and over boundaries separating that world from our own. I often find that spatial transgressions, as they are visualized in narrative terms, entail or simultaneously occur with a breakdown of the fourth wall separating fiction from its audience. Malory's Sir Lancelot crosses into a spiritual world in pursuit of the Holy Grail only to arrive at an awareness of his existence as narrated fiction. My dissertation argues that moments like this, first analyzed through narrative theory, challenge the reader to recognize the fictional character's force of life, and in so doing expand the imagination to reconsider those metaphysical distinctions that have long rendered the nonhuman inferior. Those distinctions are unnecessary and often senseless, I argue.

The ethics of reading fiction that I propose seeks the acknowledgment of limits to knowledge, to what we can claim to know about literature, its characters, and, indeed, our fellow human beings. Given that they are constructed by our ordinary language use, fictional characters are the essence of the other. Fictions, then, and as Stanley Cavell would agree, serve as testing grounds for our capacities of acknowledgment. I argue that both the Beowulf poet and Malory fashioned fictional worlds that preserve a secular heroism from potentially hostile contexts. In the process, these medieval narratives show us that fictional characters move us as a matter of ordinary language--our ordinary interactions with narrative: they play a significant role in our lives that cannot be reduced to any particular theory. There is no need for recourse to ontological, or theological, frameworks to invest them with some unutterable or mysterious meaning. They matter as a matter of course.


acknowledgment, beowulf, malory, metalepsis, narrative theory, ordinary language philosophy


viii, 203 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 183-203).


Copyright © 2015 Michael Paul Sarabia