IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 1113: Disruptive Genders in Old and Middle English Literature

Wednesday 4 July 2018, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Lucy Allen, Newnham College, University of Cambridge
Paper 1113-aVeterans Inciting Queerness: The Specter of the Dead in Beowulf
(Language: English)
Christopher Vaccaro, Department of English, University of Vermont
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Old English, Philosophy
Paper 1113-bWomen and Cultural Memory in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women
(Language: English)
Huriye Reis, Department of English Language & Literature, Hacettepe University, Turkey
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Women's Studies
Paper 1113-cChaucer and Affirmation of Karma: A Case of Wife of Bath's Tale
(Language: English)
Koichi Kano, Department of Cross-Cultural Studies, Koeki University, Japan
Index terms: Archives and Sources, Language and Literature - Middle English, Law
Paper 1113-dGendering Memory: The Depiction of Women in Medieval Mystery Plays
(Language: English)
Zahra Alamri, School of Humanities - English, University of Dundee
Index terms: Gender Studies, Medievalism and Antiquarianism, Performance Arts - Drama, Social History

Paper -a:
Within the Germanic warrior code, the intersection of memory and virtue is an important one. Earlier codes of ethics place tremendous weight on remembering dead kin and avenging their murders. Derrida makes this point (Politics of Friendship) when referring to a pertinent remark in Aristotle’s Eudemian Ethics: ‘This is why we praise those who continue to love their deceased, for they know but are not known.’ Derrida calls ‘lovence’ that powerful bond one has for another where the beloved gives nothing back in return. In this most virtuous and apolitical friendship bond, the lover expects nothing in return since the beloved has no awareness that s/he is loved. The beloved may be living and unaware, or perhaps dead. The point is that the loving kin or friend continues to remember the beloved and even acts on his/her behalf. In the poem Beowulf, there are key moments in which the specter of the dead continues to ‘haunt’ the lover. One such occasion is in the episode where the eponymous hero recalls (or predicts) the renewed strife between the Danes and the Heathobards at the wedding ceremony of the princess, Freawaru. A veteran warrior spurs a younger man to anger through memories of dead kin. A similar situation is found in the vengeance of Grendel’s mother (herself a veteran of sorts), who is prompted by the specter of her dead son to keep the feud with the Danes alive. The ‘lovence’ of these survivors for those who are gone is heaped with virtue as Beowulf remarks to the Danish King Hrothgar: ‘Do not sorrow, wise man. It is better for each man to avenge his friend than to mourn greatly.’ (ll. 1384-1385). This paper seeks to better understand this ‘lovence’ within the social construct of the comitatus (its queering of gender/sex performance and its expression of a multi-cultural emotional phenomenon) through a closer reading of Beowulf.

Paper -b:
Women in Chaucer’s work are weary of cultural memory. Criseyde and Dido, for instance, express their vulnerability in the face of cultural preservation through books. This fear of the power of memory is linked to Chaucer the narrator’s conviction that books are the ‘key of remembrance’. This paper argues that the stories of women reconstructed to create a particular image of women in The Legend of Good Women are subversive of the dominant cultural memory. Reconstruction disrupts cultural continuity and presents a challenge to the reliability of cultural memory kept by the books.

Paper -c:
To date, scholars have discussed the Wife of Bath’s Tale from various viewpoints such as marital issues, feminism, the Arthurian legend, and especially the use of the loathly lady motif which can be found in the myths and legends all over the world. In the tale, Chaucer exploited the motif (what is most desired by women) in order to redeem the young knight who raped a maiden on the way back from hawking. Although the plot seems straightforward by the rule of King Arthur’s court and to reach the joyful finale, there are some preposterous incidents hidden behind this popular motif: ‘what happened to the violated maiden?’, ‘was it right that the young knight was saved by the claim of the queen and the ladies of the court?’, etc. The present paper explores Chaucer’s attitude towards human preposterousness caused by the fateful deeds and calamitous decision.

Paper -d:
Medieval anti-feminism was closely tied to the depiction of women in relation to a Christian ideal. The exploration of this subject in the drama of the Middle Ages can be seen in mystery plays in relation to Biblical narratives. It includes additional scenes and characters which highlight medieval attitudes towards women. In the case of wives, they are mostly presented as disobedient, and many critical readings state that the humour or moral of the work derives from husbands’ inability to discipline their wives, and ultimately bringing them under the control of their male, patriarchal, authority.┬áThis paper will examine the representation of women in medieval mystery plays.