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IMC 2023: Sessions

Session 648: Beauty, Death, and the Feminine in Middle English Texts: Dangerous Desires?

Tuesday 4 July 2023, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Kenna L. Olsen, Department of English, Mount Royal University, Alberta
Paper 648-aBeyond the Death Drive: Criseyde's Desire for Nonexistence in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde
(Language: English)
Caitlin Mahaffy, Department of English Indiana University Bloomington
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Mentalities, Women's Studies
Paper 648-b'Criseyda, in widewes habite blak': Troy and the Feminine as the Eastern Other in Troilus and Criseyde
(Language: English)
Woo Ree Heor, Department of English, City University of New York
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Sexuality
Paper 648-cIn Ugliness There Is Beauty: On Correlation Between the Aesthetic Concepts in Middle English
(Language: English)
Natalia Cziganj, Faculté des Langues, Cultures et Sociétés, Université de Lille
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Mentalities

Paper -a:
In Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Troilus thrives on the trauma of his love for Criseyde, and he wishes to see that love culminate in a dramatic death. Criseyde, by contrast, curses the day that she was born. Her repeated wish to return to that state of nonexistence that preceded her birth reveals that she longs to be entirely separate from the social entanglements of the human experience, a desire that even death cannot grant her. As her ultimate wish is impossible, she, unlike Troilus, opts to adapt to survive her trauma rather than embracing self-destruction as a means of escaping it.

Paper -b:
Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde maps the precarious identity of Troy on its equally precarious and ambiguous heroine, Criseyde. Construed as the legendary birthplace of Europe, Troy in medieval historical imagination was a focal point where desire for and anxiety towards the past converge. Troy's Eastern, pagan identity coexists with the politically charged genealogy that connects the ancient city with the contemporary ruling class, which is further complicated by the gendered premise of the Trojan war. Criseyde embodies the sexual excess and treachery often inscribed upon the East, while testifying to the intrinsic fragility of the patriarchal economy that envelopes her world. Reading Criseyde as an Oriental woman much like Cleopatra and Dido in the Legend of Good Women, I argue that Chaucer's Trojan heroine is doubly subjected to fetishisation due to her connection to Troy and the East. I also argue that, due to their very nature as conduits of sex and desire, women in medieval Troy narratives often disrupt the system of sexual exchange that victimises them.

Paper -c:
Drawing on the recent findings in cognitive semantics and their application to Middle English studies, this paper explores the correlation between the concepts of 'beauty' and 'ugliness' in Middle English (ME) and aims to demonstrate that the relationship between the two aesthetic categories is complex and multifaceted and goes beyond that of simple opposition. The interdisciplinary study combines methods from corpus and cognitive linguistics with a historical analysis of socio-cultural factors to investigate the ME lexical fields of 'beauty' and 'ugliness' and the use of aesthetic terms in a database containing accounts of mixed aesthetic experience in Middle English texts.