The Hague, KB 71 A 24 fol. 77v and fol. 31r, courtesy of Koninklijke Bibliotheek, http://www.kb.nl/manuscripts/
Recent scholarship concerning medieval identity and race has begun to reconsider the way in which social categorisation functioned, often highlighting the fluidity and artificiality of established boundaries. Studies such as those of both Kinoshita and Akbari have profound implications for medieval French and Occitan literature that have not, as yet, been fully investigated: if medieval society was much more of a melting pot of cultures, races and even religions than has been previously assumed, then what are the implications of this for the way we think about identity and its representation in medieval literature? Even if boundaries between countries and peoples were fluid, how easy was it to actually change identity by moving between groups, or to redefine one's own identity? Such questions have large-scale consequences for how we view medieval identity in general, as this instability would suggest that identities are rather less coherent than we often assume when studying and writing about medieval texts. Questions of potential shifts in identity will therefore be addressed, involving a reconsideration of the extent to which identity is self-constructed or externally imposed. This will also involve discussion of theoretical material relating to subjectivity and identity formation. Such a consideration of medieval notions of identity and racial categorisation may even challenge our modern understanding of the evolution of cultural difference and the interdependence of race and religion.
To achieve this I will be focussing upon representations of the Saracen as a racial or religious 'other' across a variety of medieval French and Occitan texts, framing these representations within their specific literary contexts. Above all, my thesis will concentrate upon the way that such representations are able to be manipulated by characters, whether consciously or otherwise; this will also necessarily include an analysis of the scope for identity to be altered, or shifts across social boundaries to be achieved. I will investigate the three most important genres of Old French literature: romance, epic and religious texts. The main way in which I will be addressing the divisions made by previous scholarship is by incorporating religious material into my thesis, where Saracens, being relatively minor characters, have been sorely neglected. In short, although I will be including a study of relatively well-known themes, (such as the conversion of the Saracen queen), I am attempting to incorporate less familiar occurrences of such topoi, which will create a more well-rounded picture of Saracen (and thus racial-religious) identity.