Literary Review

For my thesis topic I will be examining how Otherness breeds the Monstrous in Old and Middle English texts. In addition to this I will also be analysing the role of the monster in the society of the period I am studying. I still do not have a complete list of monstrous figures that I will use but I have been contemplating Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the monstrous races in the Wonders of the East, Judith, the Green Knight, and perhaps Guinevere’s mother. By researching a variety of different literary critics I hope that this will better inform me moving forward with my thesis. Some of the literary texts that I will be looking at are Old and Middle English an Anthology Edited by Elaine Treharne, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience Edited by J.J Anderson, Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf manuscript by Andrew Orchard, Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature by Dana Oswald, The Monstrous Middle Ages Edited by Bettina Bilhauer and Robert Mills, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics by J.R.R Tolkien, and Afternoon of Alterity: A codex of the Medieval and the Monstrous PDF. Each of these texts is extremely helpful and enlightening when examining my thesis topic as they refer to the different aspects I am exploring.

The reason that I am using texts such as Old and Middle English an anthology and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Peal, Cleanness, Patience is because these will essentially be the primary sources that I will be exploring. Elaine’s anthology provides a translation to the Old English Texts. This anthology is very useful as it has the translation of all the Old English Texts that I will be investigating along with the original Old English on the opposite page, so that it is simple for me to follow the translation. It also allows me to quote accurately in Old English. While Anderson’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience has the original Middle English language but has essential glossed words and endnotes at the bottom of the page to help explain terms or situations in the text that the reader would not readily understand.

In terms of Orchards Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf manuscript, he encourages the reader to be reflective in their reading of the monstrous framework that we encounter when studying the Beowulf manuscript. He provides intricate studies that display the changing Anglo Saxons outlook in relation to the monstrous by reassessing the monsters that we find in Beowulf against the early medieval environment and emerging churches study of the abnormal or monstrous. This aspect of the work is very beneficial to me in the way in which I approach how the monster functioned in medieval society. Orchard does construct a very sound case for the reader to read the monsters presented in the Beowulf manuscript in a wider framework in the medieval theme of monstrosity. This would be very important for me to examine when looking at my thesis topic as I can gain a greater understanding of this monstrous theme as a whole rather than limiting myself to just a few examples. Essentially this book is a great starting point for me in examining my thesis topic as it is an analysis of studied texts that deal with the monstrous.       

Another literary work that I believe would be very beneficial for me to examine is Dana Oswald’s Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature. The reason for this is because she investigates the medieval idea about both the body and the limitations of what we consider the human identity. This is extremely valuable for when I am addressing how otherness breeds the monstrous as Oswald is basically distinguishing between what was considered human and what was not. In this work we see some case studies on texts like the Wonders of the East, Beowulf and the Morte Arthure, which I will be researching for my thesis. She divulges that there is a change in the Old and Middle English outlook on how the body is gendered and sexed. Oswald reveals that the Old English texts would usually present the monstrous form by making it invisible in a sense, which is what we get with the figure of Grendel. The reader is never given a full physical description of him in the Beowulf poem. While the Middle English represent the monstrous form in a transgressive way, it oversteps the natural boundaries of what is deemed ethical. The reader sees this when we look at the ghostly figure of Guinevere’s mother in the Awntyrs off Arthure . This is a great way in which I can explore how the monsters had their otherness reflected in the way in which they were portrayed.

The edited work, The Monstrous Middle Ages, by Bettina Bilhauer and Robert Mills also has the potential to be of significant use to me. It is compiled from individual essays which examine how the monstrous formed the idea of medieval identity and a common intolerance for anything considered abnormal. In these essays the monster is used as an agent to explore a variety of questions about medieval society and people. As a result, the monster can be seen to represent the cultural strain of the medieval period rather than just being a figure of fear. This piece of work will aid me in both aspects of my thesis; it deals with both what makes something ‘other’ while also dealing with the society of the medieval period and the monsters function in that. J.R.R Tolkien’s work, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, also deals with the concept of human identity and the social concerns of the medieval people. Tolkien states that he believes Beowulf is meant to reflect man’s struggle on earth and his ultimate defeat. The monsters are presented as the outsider attacking man and all he has built.

In conclusion, these couple of literary works, which I have stated above, is only my starting point when looking at my thesis topic. They will give me a greater platform on which to build the ideas that I am already forming about the monstrous and its function.

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Blog Reflection

In this blog reflection I plan on discussing my English MA blog, which I named ‘Exploring Medieval and Renaissance literature’. The reason I gave it this title is because the MA I chose was Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance, it was something that I always loved during my undergraduate course and to be able to continue it into a Master’s degree was something I really enjoyed. My blog has a great variety in it, in my own opinion. It ranges from Old English subjects like ‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’ and ‘Parallels between Grettis Saga and Beowulf’, to Middle English topics like ‘Chaucer and authorship’ and ‘Arthurian women and the code of chivalry’, etc. I wanted to provide a snippet into the kind of topics that I found interesting while doing my MA degree. I believe that my blog shows the diversity in my interests in relation to this course. I knew that the problem I would have coming into this course was trying to narrow down my focus in order to pick out a thesis topic. In the end the blog was the perfect device for me to use in order for me to see what I truly loved. I will not be discussing all of my blog posts; I will only look at a few that I found particularly enjoyable to write.     

My first blog post was on ‘Chaucer and authorship’. This is one area that I have always found really interesting. I never realized that authors had concerns about whether or not their texts would be transcribed word for word the way they had originally written it before I studied Chaucer. I had always assumed that there would be no question that an author’s work would be copied exactly the way he wrote it. I was very surprised when we were informed that this was not the case in my first year of college. Texts that were written in French and Italian were copied word for word the way that they appeared to the scribe, as they were considered to be prestigious languages. English however, was not shown the same respect. This attitude is something that Chaucer wanted to fight against. He went about trying to establish himself as an author. He wanted to be the only one to have authority over his work. Chaucer’s fight to establish an author’s authority over his or her own work was a critical turning point during the period when Chaucer was alive, as this is the point in which everything in terms of English literature changed. It was never going to be the same as it was before Chaucer began his struggle to gain authorship for writers during the period. This was described to us in our first year as Chaucer’s watershed moment. The topic of Chaucer and authorship was brought up again this year but in a new way that I had not encountered before. This year we were introduced to one of his works, which was a letter to his scribe Adam. In this text we see Chaucer putting his stamp of authority on his work. I explain in my blog the way in which he achieves this by creating a distinction between the work of a scribe and the work of an author, “In this work Chaucer is emphasizing the distinction between authorial creation and mechanical scribation. According to some scholars, the Adam referred to in the letter is not an actual person; he is a construction that Chaucer uses in order to criticise the unreliability of scribes.”(‘Chaucer and authorship’) I have also concentrated on two specific words when I talk about Chaucer and authorship in my post; these words are ‘making’ and ‘rape’. This is another way in which I show how Chaucer creates a distinction between a scribe’s and an author’s work. The reason I focused on the word ‘making’ is because I wanted to stress that Chaucer wanted it to be known that this was a piece of work that he created and that whatever aspects that the scribes decided to add on only served to sully his work, “He uses the word “making” in relation to his work, he wants to highlight the fact that he has ‘made’ this work, that it is his creation. He compares scribes to an irritating annoyance that requires the author to “correcte and eke to rubbe and scrape” in order to repair his damaged work.”(‘Chaucer and authorship’) The other word that I concentrated on was ‘rape’. The reason for this is that I thought it was a very strong word for him to use in this context. The word rape has bad connotations for a modern day audience. They would read that the way that I had as, “By using such an extreme word as rape, Chaucer is trying to stress just how violated his work is by being tampered with by the scribe.”(‘Chaucer and authorship’) However, I have recently come to discover that this is not the extreme implication that he was trying to portray in this work. Rape in this context simply means tampered with. As a result of his scribes tampering, Chaucer develops his own style of writing whereby he creates an “interlocking structure which cannot be picked apart otherwise the work will fall apart”, (‘Chaucer and authorship’) and this is what prevents his scribe from tampering with his work. It is this new style that he introduces into English literature that becomes his watershed moment and what allows him to claim authorship over his work.

The next two blog posts that I put up were ‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’ and ‘Parallels between Grettis saga and Beowulf’. I will be looking at these together as they share a lot of the same themes. It was while I was writing these two posts that I came up with my thesis topic which is, examining how otherness breeds the monstrous and the function of the monster in the medieval society. While I was working on these posts I found that I could go on writing about it but I didn’t want to get carried away so I tried to find a reasonable spot to finish up on. Since first year I have always had a passion for the theme of the monstrous, it was something that had always captivated my attention during lectures. By writing and exploring these two posts I could see the true depth behind the monstrous figure that I don’t think that I fully appreciated before this. I wrote parallels between Gettis and Beowulf first and it was through examining these texts that I discovered the many layers that can be attributed to the monstrous figure. It is one of grotesque appearance, an outsider, something that is not known, and treated with disgust and distrust from the society from which they reside, “In both life and death we are given the image of a hideous and monstrous individual. This outward monstrous appearance could be seen to epitomize his inward resentment and malice. Grendel is also portrayed as a monstrous outcast. The reader is never given a full physical description of Grendel. Although as the poem progresses the reader comes across ways, in which he is referred to, such as,“a fiend…. ghostly demon…. creature…. wicked ghoul…”(lines 101, 102, 105, 133). These words reflect on how the people of the society in the poem viewed Grendel. It is obvious that he was seen as a monster in their eyes, not one of them.” (‘Parallels between Grettis Saga and Beowulf’) Through this examination, I discovered that the monstrous figure could be seen, as being othered, which I thought, was fascinating. I wanted to explore this concept more and so I moved on to write Otherness breeds’ monstrosity. The monstrous races from the Wonders of the East and Grendel from Beowulf are the figures I believed were perfect examples of how otherness breeds monstrosity. Grendel is othered from the very beginning of Beowulf as he is said to be of Cain’s lineage, “He is associated with the first evil human, Cain. Grendel is said to be a descendant of Cain, and as a result he has been ostracized from the mead hall and the society. In this way Grendel has been marked as a damned individual being described in one passage as,“a fiend in hell; this ghastly demon was named Grendel…” (Lines 101-102)”. (‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’)

 Another aspect that I focused on and that I really liked about the concept of the other is J.R.R. Tolkien’s belief in his work, Beowulf: the monsters and the critics, that men represent the light and that the monsters are the darkness that surrounds them trying to break through, “Tolkien expresses his belief in the Hall as being the center of light where man resides being surrounded by the darkness. From this darkness monsters dwell. The darkness holds the unknown. Grendel exists within this domain in Beowulf.”(‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’) This idea of men being the light and monsters the darkness has always intrigued me. I will discuss it fully a bit later in the essay when I come to talk about one of my other posts, which look at representations of nature. The idea that the unknown is more frightening than the known is another aspect that gripped me about how Grendel is othered. We as readers are never given a full physical description of Grendel throughout the entirety of the poem. He is an unknown being to us, as we cannot form a complete picture of him in our minds. Instead we rely on the tiny snippets of information that we can gather from the minute details we receive from the characters of Beowulf, “Although, as the poem progresses the reader is given little snippets on aspects of his appearance such as,“claw……snarling…….his eyes gleamed in the darkness, burned with a gruesome light.”. (‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’)What became apparent to me after I wrote this section was that if we are getting an incomplete description from the characters themselves and they too do not have a complete image of Grendel than perhaps he is an unknown creature to them as well. This type of ‘invisible’ being is one that promotes fear among the people as he can slip in and out without being seen by anyone, as no one knows what they are looking for. This unknown creature has the ability to be transformative if it has no one definitive shape and I like to think, looking back on it now, that this could be used to reflect human nature. We are a species that has the ability to have and portray a monstrous side to our nature, “People all have a monstrous side. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the monster and the man, as both are more than capable of doing truly monstrous things. This can be seen in relation to Grendel.”(‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’) I’d like to think that this is why Grendel is portrayed in this manner in Beowulf.

The monstrous races in the Wonders of the East, I find, are very creative. I did not go into as much detail as I could have when looking at the monstrous races like the Panotii and the Donastre as I did not want to run away with myself. I felt that a brief insight into the Wonders of the East was acceptable, as I only really wanted it as a comparison to what we find in Beowulf with Grendel. Where Grendel is an unknown creature in all sense of the word, the Panotii and Donestre are given full descriptions which place them in a kind of reality, as they are described in a way that is familiar and recognizable to the medieval people, “The Panotii are described as a race with big “fan” like ears. They were reported as being large enough for the panotii to sleep on and cover themselves with,“They spread one ear beneath them at night, and they wrap themselves with the other.” (Treharne pg 179). It goes on to describe a barbaric race, known as the Donestre, that are half soothsayer and half human that are well versed in all languages which allows them befriend humans and then cannibalise them,“…they eat all of him except for his head, and then they sit and weep over the head.” (Treharne pg 179)”. (‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’) What I thought was fascinating when I was examining this aspect of the other and the monster was that these descriptions reminded me of some of the native tribes that you would find in Africa and I made a note of that in my blog, “As a modern audience if we scrutinize the descriptions of the Panotii and Donestre, it becomes clear to us that these fit with descriptions of African tribes. Some tribes are known for acts of cannibalism while other tribes are known for partaking in body modifications such as lip discs and stretching their lips and ears. It can be assumed that these facts have been exaggerated in order to make these races more mythical and monstrous.” (‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’) The idea of someone looking at these foreign regions and embellishing the races that they encounter to make them more monstrous and exotic is something that I enjoyed and hope to explore more fully when it comes to my thesis.

One of my later posts that I took pleasure in writing was, ‘Representations of nature and its function in Old and Middle English’. Originally I was looking at the visions of the otherworld in Middle English texts like The Vision of Tundale and Sir Owain for this post. However, as I started reading through the texts I was intrigued to find how they were portraying the natural world and I began thinking that we don’t really see how nature is presented in Old English texts, so I decided that I would prefer to analyze how nature was represented differently in Old and Middle English and its contrasting functions, “The representations of nature is not merely used as an illustrative feature but rather as a method in which to understand and explain human issues and concerns, such as the monstrous, exile and religion. The function of the natural world can be seen to have contrasting and reflective purposes. In my own opinion, I believe that the nature in Old English represents the contrast while the reflective can be seen in Middle English.” (‘Representations of nature and its function in Old and Middle English’) This was around the same time that we needed to begin formulating an idea for our mini conference topic and I decided that this would be the perfect idea to use for it. What I discovered while researching how nature is portrayed in these texts is that in Old English the natural world is often seen in conjunction with the monstrous and not with man as I had assumed it would, “The descriptions we get of the natural world revolves around the hellish marshlands and in the underground cave in which Grendel and his mother inhabit…Nature was where they considered the barbaric and monstrous to reside. Nature is seen as alien and dangerous in relation to man. This type of environment is depicted as a threat that surrounds the human race. Grendel embodies the nature of the landscape, harsh, wild, vengeful and dangerous. He is a mirror image of the negative, destructive forces that nature represents.” (‘Representations of nature and its function in Old and Middle English ) The development from this dark, cold, stormy and desolate representation of the natural world towards a description of it being a place of lush green grass, vibrant colors, fruitful, and a land of plenty in the Middle English text of Pearl and the Vision of Tundale, “The natural elements of the landscape like the cliffs, trees and pebbles are depicted in a dreamlike and wondrous way. The trees are a vibrant indigo color with silver leaves, while the pebbles are portrayed as precious pearls. The mundane and ordinary are presented as surreal.” (‘Representations of nature and its function in Old and Middle English’) What captivated my attention about this surreal aspect was that it is this dreamlike landscape that lets the reader know that we are no longer on an earthly plane but that we have travelled to a divine, spiritual world. This is one concept that I loved exploring.

The last blog post that I will mention is, ‘Arthurian women and the code of chivalry’. Everyone is drawn in by the Arthurian legend, including myself, where we are presented with gallant knights, beautiful maidens, acts of courtly love, and of course the code of chivalry. Whenever we think about the Arthurian legend our mind goes straight to the stereotypical image of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, especially when it comes to the code of chivalry. What I wanted to use this blog to explore was the role of women in relation to the chivalric code. Most assume that women have a passive role in terms of the chivalric code but I do not believe that this is true. The freedom of the blog allowed me to explore this concept more fully. In my own opinion, I believe that women play an active role in chivalry as without them the text would not move forward, “However, the women’s primary role is that they act as catalysts for the action in the text. They are used to propel the text forward.” (‘Arthurian women and the chivalric code’) What I was able to discover was that the Arthurian women revealed the functional side of chivalry, “It is through them that both the knights and the reader are able to reflect upon the valiant acts that they have done…It is through Guinevere that we truly see the active role that women play in the chivalric code…She acts as a kind of moral compass for the knights and for Arthur, pointing them in the right direction when needed…By rewarding their efforts and showing her joy for their use of the chivalric values, it helps her to guide them down the true path of chivalry. On the other hand, it is also her duty to scold those who have not conceded to the values that the code promotes.” (‘Arthurian women and the chivalric code’) This blog allowed me to explore this concept in the way I wanted to, it gave me the freedom I needed and did not limit me.

In conclusion, the blog is a great tool for us as writers to reflect on what type of topics we enjoy and allow us to grow as writers by exploring the way in which we write. It provided us with a platform to express our interests in a different way. My experience with the blog was a positive one. Blogging is something that I had never done before and I think that it shows in my earlier posts. I was a bit more timid in the way I approached my topics. I was unsure of myself and what type of tone I should take when writing my blog. However, after I posted my first entry I gained a bit more confidence with each new topic that I wrote. I think my progression can be seen quite clearly as my posts get longer and more detailed as you move your way through them.

Bibliography.

Michelle2hayes.wordpress.com

Blogs:

‘Chaucer and authorship’

‘Otherness breeds monstrosity’

‘Parallels between Grettis Saga and Beowulf’

‘Representations of nature and its function in Old and Middle English’

‘Arthurian women and the chivalric code’

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Arthurian woman and the chivalric code

Many would believe that women in the arthurian legend were passive in their function in the chivalric code. In my own opinion, I believe that the women’s primary role is that they act as catalysts for the action in the text. They are used to propel the text forward.

As modern readers when we read the Arthurian romances the one aspect that we always associate with it is the chivalric code, which is embedded within the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The stereotypical role in which we place women in the Arthurian romances was that of the ‘damsel in distress’ in order to accompany the ‘knight in shining armor’. As a result of this one would see the function of the female characters simply as motivation for the knights to carry out acts of bravery such as taking part in jousts and tournaments in order to win a maidens favor. While also taking on more extreme acts of courage like riding off into battles and wars in order to protect and often save a fair lady. These are common occurrences that are seen throughout the Arthurian romances, so it is understandable that this is the only role that we would associate with women. However, I believe that one must look deeper at the female characters and the chivalric code in order to understand their true role and how this in turn influences the plot of the text. I accept that women do motivate the knights’ actions in regard to chivalry but I am not convinced that it is their sole function. Women played a productive and necessary part in the development of the chivalric code. Of course Guinevere and the other ladies of the Arthurian romances did not ride off into battle, but that does not mean that they had no influence on the code other than simply being the motivation behind it. The knights in the legend are used to portray the functional side of chivalry. They are described as heading out around Camelot on quests upholding the law, doing good deeds, and defending the weak and innocent,

“…[Arthur] charged them never to do outrage nor murder,…and to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy,…and always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen and widows succour; strengthen them in their rights, and never to enforce them, upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no love, nor worldly goods. So unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round”(Le Morte Darthur, pg 57).

They carry out the action, while the female characters can be seen to represent the intellectual side of the code. It is through them that both the knights and the reader are able to reflect upon the valiant acts that they have done.

It is through Guinevere that we truly see the active role that women play in the chivalric code. As Queen, Guinevere is often present when the knights are assembled at the Round Table and in turn she is privy to their successes and failures. She acts as a kind of moral compass for the knights and for Arthur, pointing them in the right direction when needed. It is her job to recognize and to create awareness to the brave and honourable acts that knights such as Sir Gawain, Sir Percival de Gales, Sir Bors de Ganis, and others have achieved in the search for the Sangrail. She understands that they must be praised for the just and gallant way in which they carried out the task that they were given despite not fulfilling it. Guinevere achieves this by rewarding knights who have upheld what the code instructs,

So the Queen let make a privy dinner in London unto the knights of the round table, and all for to show outward that she had as great joy in all other knights of the round table as she had in Sir Lancelot.”(Le Morte Darthur, pg 405).

By rewarding their efforts and showing her joy for their use of the chivalric values, it helps her to guide them down the true path of chivalry. On the other hand, it is also her duty to scold those who have not conceded to the values that the code promotes. Guinevere intervenes when Sir Gawain in his battle against Sir Galeron takes things too far and not showing mercy when it is needed. As a result she addresses Arthur to put an end to the battle,

As thou art Roye roial, richest of rent, And I thi wife wedded at thi owne wille- Thes burnes in the bataile so blede on the bent, They arn wery, iwis, and wounded full ille. Thorgh her shene sheldes, her shuldres ar shent; The grones of Sir Gawayn dos my hert grille. The grones of Sir Gawayn greven me sare. Wodest thou leve, lorde, make thes knights accorde, Hit were a grete conforde, For all that here ware.”(The Awntyrs off Arthure, lines 627-637).

By intervening in situations where the code is being disregarded she is keeping the knights from developing vices like pride, debauchery, and conceit. It is the female characters role to preserve and advance the chivalric code. Female characters step in when needed to prevent a knight from breaking from the code.

Malory, Thomas, Le Morte Darthur The Winchester Manuscript, Edited by Cooper Helen, Oxford University Press, 1998, pg 3-468.

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Representations of nature and its function in Old and Middle English

The natural world is usually invoked for a distinct purpose. The representations of nature is not merely used as an illustrative feature but rather a method in which to understand and explain human issues and concerns, such as the monstrous, exile, and religion. The function of the natural world can be seen to have both contrasting and reflective purposes. In my own opinion, I believe that the nature in Old English represents the contrast while the reflective can be seen in Middle English. 

In Beowulf the natural world is represented as a cold, harsh, dark, and desolate environment. The descriptions we get of the natural world revolves around the hellish marshlands,

“This ghastly demon was named Grendel, infamous stalker in the marshes, he who held the moors, fen and desolate strong-hold; the land of marsh monsters,” (Beowulf, lines 102-104)

and in the underground cave, 

“…a dangerous passage over the fen-waters, where mountain-stream under the darkness of the headlands descended downward…..over it hangs frost covered groves,…overshadows the water;” (Beowulf, lines 1359-1364)

in which Grendel and his mother inhabit.They are pushed out into the wilderness to the very boarders of what Anglo-Saxons would have considered the known and civilized. Nature was where they considered the barbaric and the monstrous to reside. Nature is seen as alien and dangerous in relation to man. This type of environment is depicted as a threat that surrounds the human race. Grendel embodies the nature of the landscape, harsh, wild, vengeful, and dangerous. He is a mirror image of the negative, destructive forces that nature represents.

The Seafarer and The Wanderer both deal with the figure of the exiled individual. The natural world in both of these texts is represented as a hostile, frigid wintery environment, with churning, wild seas. Nature operates as a mirror into the speakers emotions and their state of mind. The sounds of the roaring, crashing waves and the seabird calls are used in contrast to what they actually crave which is the companionship they took pleasure in within the Mead Hall,

“dwelt a winter on the ice-cold sea on the paths of the exile, deprived of dear kinsmen, hung round with icicles; hail flew in storms…the seagull singing in the place of mead-drinking.” (The Seafarer, lines 14-17, 22)

They crave the drinking, the laughter, and the male company of the Hall. The harsh, isolated natural world is not a suitable substitute for what they had experienced from society. Towards the end of The Wanderer, nature once again becomes a destructive force ‘attacking’ men and their man-made buildings, 

  Walls stand blown by wind, covered with frost, the buildings snow-swept.

This represents how nature has the power to destroy man and what they create. It reflects how powerless men are in the face of the natural world. These representations of nature give the reader the sense that men do not belong in the natural world. Where one looks on nature as tranquil and serene, in these texts it merely reflects the Anglo-Saxon fear and the emptiness that they associate with nature.

As for the Middle English Texts, nature is represented as bright, vibrant, surreal, reguvinitive, and divine. These texts seem to represent the divine through nature. The natural world has transformative quality which can be seen in the changing of seasons and regrowth of new plant-life. The spiritual in essence is transformative and perhaps this is why it is represented in literature by nature. The natural world is just one aspect of the poem that goes through the process of transformation. In the beginning the dreamer describes the process of regeneration in nature. The cycles in nature reflect human life cycles. The flowers bloom into brilliant vibrant colors as through the dreamers infant daughters death,

“With yellow flowers and blue and red, That shine so bright in   suns clear ray. Flower and fruit can ne’er be dead, Where that Pearl slipped into the clay, For grass will grow from seed once shed-” (line 27-31)

She has become part of the natural world itself. This can be seen as a kind of rebirth that we come to see later in the otherworldly garden. Through his sleep the dreamer is transported to an otherworldly garden. Nature is significant here as it soothes the dreamer upon him entering this spiritual place as it grounds him in a sort of reality, it is something that is recognizable to him, he can identify with his surroundings. Beautiful surreal descriptions of this spiritual garden.The natural elements of the landscape like the cliffs, trees and pebbles are depicted in a dreamlike and wondrous way. The trees are a vibrant indigo color with silver leaves, while the pebbles are portrayed as precious pearls. The mundane and ordinary are presented as surreal. This dreamlike landscape is what lets the reader know that we are no longer on an earthly plane but that we have travelled to a divine, spiritual world. The heavenly garden reflects the earthly one. The spiritual state is made real by placing it in a real world place. 

In conclusion, in the Old English corpus nature is represented in a negative light while in the Middle English texts it is usually represented in a positive light, especially when dealing with the divine. Nature serves different purposes in each of the texts. In the Old English texts the natural world is seen as a place for the monstrous and the individual who have been exiled from the society. Men appear to not be welcome in this sphere, the mead hall is their recognized sphere. In the Middle English texts nature represents the divine and spiritual. Nature is used as a way for the reader and character to recognize that they are in a spiritual place.  

Beowulf online translation: http://www.heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html

Old and Middle English c.890-c.1450, an anthology, Third edition, Edited by Elaine Treharne, Wiley-Blackwell, pg. 57-61, 63-67.

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Christ as a warrior figure

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Dream of the Rood, which was written in the early middle ages, Christ is constructed as a heroic warrior. In this medieval poem we are also presented with Christ’s crucifixion in a way that we have never seen before up until this point in time. The depiction that we get of Christ in this poem does not fit in with the original biblical descriptions of Christ’s crucifixion.

The poet does not refer to Jesus as Christ in this poem as others would have, instead he is referred to as the “young hero”, the “warrior”, and “my beloved hero”. Even the way in which Christ is depicted in relation to his crucifixion is different. Even as he moves towards the cross for his crucifixion, essentially walking to his death christ is portrayed as a resolute, brave and determined warrior, 

He stripped himself then, young hero-that was God almighty-

strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,

brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.

I trembled when the warrior embraced me; (Lines 39-42)

The way in which Christ is presented here in The Dream of the Rood is similar to the honor and bravery that is associated with the type of ideals that can be seen in the medieval heroic code. This heroic code can be seen to share some of the same ideals as the chivalric code. The ideals of the heroic code’s main concern is to praise the prowess and gallantry of the warrior. The warrior society revolved around a strong and resourceful leader who had his loyal retainers following him. He instilled this sense of loyalty in his warriors through his generous gifts that he would bestow upon them for their courage and bravery in battle. Weakness and passiveness was not looked upon by any means as something that was to be tolerated. Those who were cowardly in the face of battle were shunned and exiled from the society. Perhaps this is why Christ was not portrayed in the stereotypical biblical version where he approaches his crucifixion in a very submissive and passive way. The poet presents Christ as a gallant and fearless warrior in the face of his enemies,

brave in the sight of many,….They mocked us both together. (lines 41, 48)  

This image of Christ fits in with the heroic ideals of the medieval period. The poet changed the way in which Christ was portrayed in order for the divine figure to fit in with the values of the medieval culture.

 

Old and Middle English c.890-c.1450 an anthology third edition, edited by Elaine Treharne, wiley-blackwell, pg121-127.

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Making Manuscripts

A manuscript is any book or document that has been hand written by a scribe rather than being printed. All of the medieval texts that we study today, such as Beowulf, were originally presented on manuscripts. In my own opinion, I believe that manuscripts are beautiful pieces of artwork in their own right. Especially illuminated manuscripts as they use an assortment of very vibrant and brilliant ink colours. They are usually decorated with elaborate designs and miniature images which are commonly found in the boarders (marginalia) of the manuscript. Another feature of this type of manuscript is that the first capital letter is always adorned with some manner of decoration whether it be a design or miniature figure encompassing the letter. Illuminated manuscripts tend to deal with religious content so this is why the majority of the designs and images are of a religious nature. The process by which manuscripts were made is extremely interesting. It is a very time consuming and expensive process not only during the medieval period but even today.

Process:

Animal skin is used to make manuscripts, as it produces a tactile and durable material. Vellum and parchment are the two materials that were produced from the skins of sheep, calf, goat, camel, and sometimes even sealskin. The difference between parchment and vellum is that vellum is made from calf skin which creates a finer quality parchment. It is difficult to acquaint what material came from which animal. Nevertheless, sheep were the most commonly used besides calves as these animals were readily available.

The first step is to soak the animal skin in alkaline for a couple of weeks in order to break down the fat. When this is complete the skin is run over with a sharp curved knife known as a lunellum, in order to remove any remaining hair and fat. At this stage the skin is very tactile and malleable, so it is fitted to a type frame to stretch it out and dry the wet skin. Stones were then rubbed on it to remove any hardened matter and to smoothen it out. Once the surface is considered smooth, chalk is then rubbed into the skin. This is to help remove any remaining moisture and provides grip for the ink when it is applied to the parchment. At this point it is carefully cut out of the frame and shaped correctly. It is then folded in half along the spine of the animal, which is known as a folio. Any damage previously existing on the animal skin like tick bites or injuries can come out on the finished parchment. However, as a result of its durable nature the maker is able to repair these imperfections by creating patches to cover holes or by simply stitching tears. Even today when you are looking over manuscripts this type of repair work is still visible.

For each animal that was killed it only provided one page of parchment. This is an important piece of information because on top of the process being both time and labour consuming as well as expensive, by the end of it you have only produced one sizable piece of parchment. Subsequently this meant that whatever was written down was considered to be significant enough that the medieval people wanted it to be preserved for future generations. In order to create a manuscript a number of folio’s will be combined and bound together. A heavy cover was then placed onto the manuscript with clasps in order to keep the parchment within from losing its shape. Over time the parchment would revert back it its original animal form so the heavy cover and clasps were used to prevent this from happening.

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Parallels between Grettis Saga and Beowulf

The Grettis Saga is one of the Icelandic sagas that contains literary analogues, which is a story that bears similarities to another story, of the epic Beowulf. It is clear that there are parallel sections from both Beowulf and the Grettis Saga. These sections portray Beowulf and Grettir’s meeting with their respective monsters and the subsequent fights that take place afterwards.

Glam and Grendel can also be seen as parallel’s of each other. Both Glam and Grendel are depicted in monstrous terms. Glam is characterized as,

“a huge man and very strange looking, with glaring grey eyes and a head of wolf grey hair.”(The Grettis Saga, Chapter 32)

When he is killed his body is described as,

“dark blue in colour and swollen up to the size of an ox.” (The Grettis Saga, Chapter 32)

In both life and death we are given the image of a hideous and monstrous individual. This outward monstrous appearance could be seen to epitomize his inward resentment and malice. Grendel is also portrayed as a monstrous outcast. The reader is never given a full physical description of Grendel. Although as the poem progresses the reader comes across ways in which he is referred to, such as,

“a fiend….ghostly demon….creature….wicked ghoul…”(lines 101, 102, 105, 133)

These words reflect on how the people of the society in the poem viewed Grendel. It is obvious that he was seen as a monster in their eyes, not one of them.

Both Glam and Grendel are outcasts from the society in which they live. This stems from their anti-Christian attitude. In relation to Glam, he never attends church and makes it clear that he prefers the pagan traditions rather than the Christian ones. Even in death he resists the Christian tradition as ever time they try to move his body to the church it becomes so heavy that they are unable to move it. Even when they attempt to bring him to bring the priest to see the body it disappears. While Grendel is considered an outcast as he is supposedly the descendant of Cain, the first evil human.

“ruled for a time, since him the Creator, had condemned with the kin of Cain;”(lines 105-107)

As a result of being affiliated with Cain, Grendel is considered to be a damned individual who is cast out from the society.

There is also the parallel between the hero’s first meeting with the monster’s and the subsequent fight that follows. Both monsters terrorize the Hall in Heorot and Thorhall’s Farm in similar ways. Grendel terrorizes the Geats by showing up in the night and stealing men away.

“He then went to visit and see –when night came–……from their rest seized thirty thanes”(lines 115, 122-123)

While Glam also comes in the night to attack the men, furthermore he sits on top of the farmhouse roof making disturbing noises.

“Glam has been in the habit of straddling the roof or breaking the doors every night.”(The Grettis Saga, Chapter 32)

Perhaps the reason behind these nightly attacks by both monsters is in revenge for what they believe to be their unjust expulsion from the society.

It is clear in the details of the battles between both Glam and Grendel where we can see that the stories in this area are almost identical. The battles begin with the monster tearing the door off its hinges. Beowulf and Grittir demonstrate their superhuman strength throughout the battles, never lessening their advance on the monsters attack. Both monsters try to escape out of the halls so that they may gain the upper hand outside. However, it proves useless as the strength of the hero’s overwhelms the monsters, leaving Grendel fatally wounded and Glam has his head taken off by Grittir. By taking both battles and listing out how it progressed like I have here you can see that each stage is exactly the same in each case. The suggestion has been made that since these types of stories are associated with the oral tradition that it is possible that the authors would have been aware of the other story and that is perhaps why they would have similar scenes and characters.

Sources:

http://www.heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html

http://sagadb.org/grettis_saga.en (Chapter 32)

 

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