Saturday, January 19, 2008

Daniel Fusch: "The Unmiraculous Miracle"

Daniel Fusch
Editor, Dante’s Heart
Director of Research, Academic Impressions

The Discourse of the Unmiraculous Miracle: Touching for the King’s Evil in Stuart England


Doelman said...

This is a convincing argument, especially because of the attention to the rhetorical purpose of James' initial hesitation. There is something I should know but don't: to what extent were there similar royal rituals of healing in other nations that became Protestant, and what was the response there?

Daniel Fusch said...

That is a really penetrating question: thanks! There has been a lot of study of royal rituals of healing in contemporary Catholic nations, who were certainly not reticent about keeping up the ceremony. There's a wealth of material there - in art, as well. Take a look at Carlo Cignani's depiction of Francis I, for instance:

Yet I have not seen much on England's Protestant contemporaries, and I would not be surprised to find that they had either abolished or replaced the rite altogether, though that is definitely not a safe assumption to make. It does seem the clear next direction for research, doesn't it? I'll look into this!

Andrew said...

Hi, Dan --

A cogent, well-argued paper! I have 2 questions:

1.) You quoted Willis saying that some believed this kind of healing was "the product of a supernatural power inhering in the king's person." I expect that the king's healing was therefore connected to the doctrine of the king's two bodies that still enjoyed some popularity in the Stuart period (certainly Charles I liked it!). Presumably, the king's healing power was attributed to his spiritual or divine body. Can you expand on or speculate at this point on such a connection?

2.) Your essay recalls to me the moment in "The Lord of the Rings" when we read about the prophecy declaring that "the hands of the king are the hands of a healer." Tolkien was a Catholic, of course, and may have found the idea of ritual healing appealing as a Catholic and a scholar, so much so that it could have inspired the prophecy allowing the Gondorians to recognize Aragorn as king when he heals the wounded after battle, Of special interest here are Eowen and Pippin who are dying of "evil" wounds inflicted by the Captain of the Ringwraiths, and Faramir, who burns from a fever caused by the enemy's poison. Thus, Aragorn cures the "sickness of evil" when James I and his fellow monarchs could not. Yet, Tolkien gives no hint I can think of that his world ascribed to the doctrine of the king's two bodies. Quite the contrary. Aragorn's kingship is not based, I think, on a late medieval model encouraging the doctrine, but on earlier and more sober Anglo-Saxon and other "northern" views of kingship. Moreover, Tolkien intentionally excised nearly all suggestions of religions, including ritual, from his novel. Thus, it is difficult to call Aragorn's healing a ritual. It is rather something he simply does -- a very curious distinction in contrast to James' healing ritual.

That being said, what do you think is going with Aragorn's healing abilities and his kingship, and how does knowing about ritual healing practiced by Catholicism and an English king like James I influence an interpretation of "The Lord of the Rings?" Is it possible that Tolkien is offering a critique of the king's two bodies and reminding us of another definition of kingship at the same time that he creates a mythical origin in his Middle-earth for the healing ritual? How would this change the discourse about British kingship and Tolkien's fiction? Are there other possibilities here, too, that I have not considered?

Once again, you've provided us with a really interesting and provocative essay. Thanks!