“Lothly Thinges Thai Weren Alle”: Imagining Horror in the Late Middle Ages
Scholars including Noël Carroll have placed the terminus post quem of the horror genre at the eighteenth century. The exclusion of the medieval period persists for two central reasons: first, if horror literature is taken as arising from a set of recognizable tropes, then these tropes largely originate within Gothic literature; second, the fear of the supernatural exploited in horror literature is particularly calibrated to a post-1750 world in which monsters are considered a figment of the imagination. Whereas Carroll excludes the Middle Ages, H.P. Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) offers an avenue for interrogating the fashioning of horror within the Middle Ages. This chapter uses Supernatural Horror in Literature to bring modern theories of horror into conversation with medieval literature, particularly The Prick of Conscience (1350), a poetic treatise produced in high numbers in England, which uses memorable fragments of suffering and monstrosity to encourage penitence.