Book Series Disputatio, vol. 12

Mortality and Imagination

The Life of the Dead in Medieval English Literature

Kenneth Rooney

  • Pages: 304 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:11 col.
  • Language(s):English, Old English, French
  • Publication Year:2012

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52431-3
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55780-9
  • E-book
  • Available

More than any single volume has so far attempted, Mortality and Imagination is devoted to the history and literary 'life' of the dead in medieval writing.


"(A) rich and informative study (...)" (John Scattergood, in: Óenach: FMRSI Reviews 5.2 (2013), p. 5)


There have been many books on the medieval culture of death, but this book is the first devoted to the use and representation of the dead in English medieval writing. Mortality and Imagination is a history of the literary ‘life’ of the dead — in their narrative, aesthetic, and ideological formulation — a theme which up to now has been explored only fragmentarily, available only in studies of particular genres. Kenneth Rooney’s book explores a wider range of texts and genres than has been attempted before, and reads the vernacular representation of the dead against the impact of one of the most intriguing cultural phenomena of the Middle Ages — the macabre — a rhetorical and artistic idiom designed to evoke the dead at their most horrifying. Tracing the models for the representation of the dead available to English writers, he offers fresh readings of texts both familiar and neglected, including sermons, tale collections, romances, drama, lyrics, and other genres in the period c.1100—1550. This book is a stimulating appraisal of the impact, in medieval insular contexts, of an international idea of great longevity and significance, and makes an important contribution to the study of death, belief, and society in pre-modern Europe.

Dr Kenneth Rooney is lecturer in medieval and renaissance literature in the School of English, University College Cork, Ireland. He has published widely on Middle English poetry and medieval romance.


List of Illustrations


Author’s Note

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Language, Tradition, and the Birth of the Dead

Chapter 1: Vile Bodies: The Cultural Life of the Corpse

Chapter 2: The Progress of the Dead: From Body to Revenant

Chapter 3: Farewell to the Flesh: Disembodying the Dead

Chapter 4: Grave Concerns: The Complaint of the Buried Body

Chapter 5: Romancing the Macabre: The Three Dead and their Legacy

Chapter 6: Death, Apostrophe: Embodying Death

Chapter 7: Dancing with Death: The Danse Macabre

Conclusion (Epitaph): A Handful of Dust