Medieval Ableism and Bad Friends

There are many issues of equality that we think of as “modern” problems. Most people know that sexism has been around for as long as humans have; but what many people, myself included, don’t think about is the ableism that has always lingered in society. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever really considered how ableist ideals existed in the past. Hoccleve’s Complaint is an interesting view into how we have always viewed different bodies as being lesser than the “average” one.

Something that particularly interested me about this piece was Hoccleve’s friends and their change of heart. At first they’re very empathetic and want to help him, even offering to find a cure for his unnamed illness. “They promised pilgrimages for my health and undertook them themselves, some on horseback and some on foot — may God reward them for it — to get me my cure” (43-49). This is something that, really, any good friend would offer to do. No one wants to see someone they care about suffer.

However, mere paragraphs later, Hoccleve recalls how his friends abandoned and outcast him. “All my old friendships were shaken off: no one wanted to make conversation with me” (64-70).

This change of heart is very confusing to me. I can’t seem to place what may have caused it. It could be that his mental health began to deteriorate as a result of his illness, or did his illness leave and then return, causing them to feel differently about him?

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