Gender, the performance of whiteness, and Medieval/Modern posthuman bodies

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis draws comparisons between selected medieval protagonists and modern superheroes/heroines in comic books. It is a space where several different disciplines: medievalism, comics studies, medieval studies, and medievalism-ism, meet and make contact with one another. This thesis has four chapters in which I pair medieval characters with their modern counterparts. Each chapter begins with identifications of medieval allusions in superhero comics; these allusions are direct connections between the medieval and the modern. However, my aim in this thesis is not to look at how medieval elements are incorporated in comics, but to examine the shared interests between the two eras in terms of their portrayal of fictional ideologies. Through the lens of posthumanism and by using the concept of prosthesis, I examine how gender, race, artificial and natural boundaries are destabilised, which are manifested through the performances of my chosen characters and their narratives.
Chapter one studies the ways in which superheroism is performed by two fictional characters who are seen as the ones with perfect reputations: Gawain and Superman/Clark Kent. I look at how Gawain and Superman/Clark Kent manifest masculine ideals and how they struggle to perform according to these ideologies in spaces that have both familiar and foreign factors. Chapter two is about two flawed characters’ journeys to return home: Ywain/the Knight with the Lion and Bruce Wayne/Batman. Locations and environments play significant roles in their narratives, and they perform their masculine identities according to the places they are in. Chapter three looks at the becoming of superheroines: Saint Margaret and Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. In this chapter, their gendered performances and paths of self-becoming are explored in detail, with extra attention on how they perform heroism and femininity before, during, and after their first contact with men and masculinity. Chapter four tells the story of two transformed heroines: Mary Magdalene and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I explore their transformations in their narratives, as well as their transformations from marginal figures to popular ones.
After years of developments, all these characters’ identities have been conceptualised to serve political and economic purposes. All four comic
superheroes/heroines are direct products of capitalism and consumerism, which makes them commodities from their first appearances. The two medieval female saints are also closer to becoming commodities due to their cults and saintly traditions. As for the two Arthurian knights, though not able to generate significant capital on their own, both of them are recognisable names in Arthurian romance, which implies that they both remain to be relevant in the modern world through adaptations and remakings of their narratives.
Date of Award1 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSarah Salih (Supervisor) & Josh Davies (Supervisor)

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