Date of Award

5-2013

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Sarah Harlan-Haughey

Second Committee Member

Richard Brucher

Third Committee Member

Laura Cowan

Abstract

The hunt is a persistent subject in medieval literature, but it often seems to resist easy interpretation. This thesis argues for a reading of hunting in medieval texts—especially verse—that understands them through structures of liminality first proposed by anthropologist Victor Turner to describe rites of passage. The liminal state associated with the hunt in medieval poetry has four characteristics: It is evoked by the hunt and given narrative structure by it; it is framed and enabled by the wild character of the landscape; it is characterized by a particular quality of ambiguity; and the identity—or some component of identity—of the liminal subject is at stake. The readings complicate Turner’s original structure by proposing layers of liminal states structured around an encounter within the hunt.

This thesis uses an interdisciplinary and ecocritical approach to define and frame these four characteristics of liminality encountered in medieval verse accounts of the hunt, with an emphasis on the construction of human and animal identities—and especially identities that blur that distinction in one way or another—as the ultimate object of liminality.

Equipped with those theoretical tools, the thesis turns to extended close readings of several poems— Wulf and Eadwacer (Old English), Bisclavret (Old French), Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (both Middle English)—to examine these liminal structures as they are instantiated in individual texts. Read in this way, the poems propose a liminality that questions human identity before ultimately reaffirming an altered and enriched humanity.

Share