By Laura Theresa Mitchell
PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2011
Abstract: This dissertation examines the ways that books can show the place of magic in fifteenth-century English society. Specifically, I am interested in what was important about magic to people and how magic was used by people in the creation of their identities, both as individuals and within the community. As I explore these issues, I aim to demonstrate that magic freely co-mingled with non-magical texts in manuscripts. Furthermore, this mixing of magical and non-magical texts is a vital part of understanding magic’s role in the shaping of people‟s identities, both public and private.
Chapter one presents the results of a preliminary survey of magic in fifteenth-century English manuscripts. I clarify how I delineate between texts – magical and non-magical and between genres of magic. This chapter also uses a series of case studies to look at some of the issues of ownership that are dealt with in more detail in the later chapters of this thesis. Chapters two, three, and four look at individual manuscripts in depth. In Chapter two, I examine how a lower gentry household used their notebook to establish their place within a strata of the gentry that was increasingly interested in medical and scientific texts in the fifteenth century. Chapter three looks at the private notebook of an anonymous scribe and how its owner combines the ordinary and transgressive qualities of magic to create an identity for himself that is based on a quasi-clerical masculinity and the ludic qualities of magic. Chapter four concerns Robert Taylor‟s medical notebook, which he may have used as a part-time medical practitioner, and the insight it gives into the everyday concerns of medieval people. Chapter five is an examination of the book of an early fifteenth-century Cistercian monk named Richard Dove. Dove‟s notebook contains a copy of the Ars notoria, the only manuscript containing ritual magic that I study in this dissertation. I argue that Dove, unlike other monastic users of the Ars notoria, does not use the text for its spiritual benefits, but its material benefits as part of his desire to participate in a broader intellectual culture outside the monastery.