Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Marlene Hennessy

Second Advisor

Lynne Greenberg

Academic Program Adviser

Janet Neary


Disparate, deformed, and hybridized bodies of women have appeared in mythology and literature in myriad allegorical incarnations as representations of monstrosity. The monstrous serpent-woman hybrid form can be traced back quite far, though at the point when one reaches antiquity, literary examples meld into the religious, mythological, and folkloric. These hybrid beings also embodied meanings particular to their time and culture that work to distinguish them as literary characters, presenting a compelling case for the consideration of the hybridized and deformed figure as a threat to patriarchal systems. Contemporary readings through the lens of feminist, gender, and disability frameworks offer renewed insight into these figures. Jean D’Arras Histoire de Mélusine (1393) and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590) both contain serpent-woman hybrids who, through allegorical and symbolic meaning, offer insights ranging from the theological to the political, as well as to the implications of the use of deformity and hybridization of the female body–especially the mothering body–in medieval and Elizabethan/early modern literature. Spenser’s Errour and D’Arras’s Mélusine are explored here via constructions of narrative allegory, hybridity, teratology, and contemporary disability, gender, and feminist theory. Alice Lamy’s theories about nature’s infinite creative force is also mobilized to characterize these constructions and to act as a foundation to introduce a new archetypal figure: the Queer Mother, who represents a gender-hybridized, queer-mothering character. This figure acts as a portent of the fragility and inevitable obsolescence of patriarchal political and cultural frameworks.

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