MA Texts and Contexts Week 9

For the first half of this term the seminars will focus on Gender and Performance as a topic. The Strand A seminar concentrated on masculinity, and competing views of its definition in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints and The Battle of Maldon. Ælfric’s Life of St. Edmund is a prose account of the saint and martyr King Edmund. Edmund chooses to thrown down his armour when faced with the threat of the Danes, thus creating a tension between sanctity and heroism. The Battle of Maldon, however, advocates violence and heroism. Yet both texts are idealised versions of historic events, with their models of masculinity adapted to suit the mode they are written in. What the texts have in common is their treatment of women. Both texts bypass the role of women in Anglo-Saxon society, and the women in the texts are only mentioned in passing. The text for Strand the B, however, was written by a women.  The Shewings of Julian of Norwich is an account of Julain’s mystical experience of the Passion of Christ. Julian’s vision is non-verbal so she concentrates on a vivid description of the visual. This is a very long and repetitive account of a singular idea. At times her narrative is also quite rambling, in contrast to the more straightforward revelations contained in religious lyrics. What I found most interesting about this seminar was the background reading and examining the transition from the Old English alliterative line to the stanzaic form of the Middle English lyric. It is also interesting to note the change in theme between these two periods. For example, the Anglo-Saxon The Dream of the Rood portrays Christ as a heroic young warrior. In Middle English devotional poetry the focus switches from the heroism of Christ’s battle with the devil to Christ’s love for mankind and his sacrifice. Christ becomes the central figure of the narrative.

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