Chaucer’s use of adapted motifs includes in The Canterbury Tales a sense of overlay landscape akin to earlier Insular Otherworld narratives. In tandem with works of the Gawain poet, this could be seen as part of an early development of Northrop Frye’s Elizabethan ‘green world’ comedy trope. But current developments in environmental philosophy and neurophenomenology suggest further how these 14th-century texts can be a resource for those working in environmental literary criticism, shaping empathy for other beings textually through a dynamic sense of landscape, and presenting non-objectified views of nature rooted both in early Christianity and arguably a type of postcolonial resistance to both Anglo-Norman feudalism and emerging capitalism.
The Grendel-mere in the Old English poem Beowulf is an eerie and dangerous landscape, a body of water inhabited by monstrous creatures, surrounded by frosty cliffs and forest, haunted by fire on the face of the water. Between the 7th and the 15th centuries, such terrifying landscapes with these specific traits (dangerous bodies of water, monstrous inhabitants, cliffs and forest, unnatural weather involving fire and frost) appear in numerous texts, both Old and Middle English, belonging to diverse traditions: in Beowulf; in narratives about Alexander the Great; in visions of hell and purgatory; and in Arthurian history and romance. I will examine to what extent these strikingly similar landscapes in texts of various genres draw on several interlocking literate traditions, and to what extent they contain traditional themes and motifs, drawn from oral poetics.
Accounts of cannibalism in which Christian crusaders consume Saracen flesh have recently been discussed as metaphoric consolidations of colonial ambition and as articulations of nationalist sentiment. However, critics have failed to explore the implications of the trope of cannibalism – that is, the consumption and internalization of the Saracen Other – in light of cultural identity and difference. This paper examines the discourse of cannibalism found in the accounts of the First Crusade and in the Middle English romance Richard Coer de Lyon as a medium through which crusade narratives engaged medieval considerations of difference, and explores the extent to which cannibalism represents an ideological fissure that complicates the construction of cultural identity and threatens to disrupt the boundary between self and Other.