Apr 25: The Final Battle of the Tain

In the final scenes of the Tain, we see the tensions culminate in a final battle, as is the case in most of the other epics we’ve discussed in class. Medb tells Fergus that they have been put to shame, to which Fergus responds, “we have followed the rump of a misguiding woman. It is the usual thing for a herd led by a mare to be strayed and destroyed.” (251). How does this characterize the women of the epic versus the men – and how does this characterize Medb versus Morrigan? Would the epic work as well without them present?

Man Vs Wild: Animal Transformation in Medieval Literature

Man Vs. Wild: Animal Transformation in Medieval Literature

Throughout much of my reading of medieval literature, there have been a couple of concepts that repeat themselves frequently. One such concept lies in the idea of human-animal transformations, a phenomenon that we see repeated in a great deal of literature. I want to examine a couple of facets of this. Particularly, I would like to focus on the fact that women were not “allowed” to transform into animals of any sort, while men are often featured as central characters with this quality. What exactly does this mean? Are men “allowed” to transform into animals because this is seen as a manifestation of their truer selves, while women are discouraged from exploring this more primal side? Or is it a method of protection, where women are seen as too fragile to withstand such a transformation? What do the animals that men often change into – typically wolves – mean about the men in question? Is it an expression of their truer, purer selves? I would also like to examine what this means in terms of how medieval people felt about the body and the soul. There are a lot of concepts in the research I have conducted regarding duality and fragmentation of the human soul. The idea that there was not just one soul, and that it was not attached to any particular body, adds another layer of interest – do women only have one soul, and one body, while men have more than one? Animal transformation lends itself well to these ideas, particularly on the male-female contrast. Some of the works that I plan to use include select essays from Carolyn Bynum Walker, (a prominent scholar of medieval literature), from her book, Fragmentation and Redemption, which seeks to answer questions regarding animal transformation and the male-female dynamic at play. Primary sources I will be utilizing include Marie de France’s Yonec and Bisclavret, and several selections from Gerald of Wales’ History and Topography.

Jan 26: Eliduc

This lai addresses an aspect of love that we have not seen as strongly represented in Marie’s other works- the religious themes of the work play a large role in the plot. The ending in particular was an interesting resolution to the main conflict regarding romantic love. What does this say about how Marie viewed religious love versus romantic love? What does it say about the role of women in each?

Jan 24: Yonec and Bisclavret

A main feature of both lais is the concept of a woman feeling trapped in her marriage and turning to infidelity as a solution. While both situations vary greatly, the unfaithful woman is ultimately punished in the end of the story. What does this treatment of infidelity say about the general attitude, or perhaps Marie’s attitude, towards women and their part in courtly love rituals?