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.
‘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’