In the story of St. Margaret’s martyrdom, there are some really vivid depictions of violence. Most of this violence is directed at Margaret by Olybryus and enacted by others (his men, a pair of dragons). What do you think is the purpose of these vivid descriptions? Do you think that violence becomes a kind of object in the narrative? In what way might violence affect the traditional form of a saint’s life?
Within Saint Margaret, the violence takes the main stage with the majority of the story focusing on the torture imposed upon Margaret by Olybryus for her refusal to “upon [his] godys believe” (line 124). Each of these scenes of violence is prefaced with the threat from Olybryus and Margaret’s ultimate refusal. The most gruesome scene when the men “poure upon hyr hede / seething oyle and boyling lede” (lines 453-454), she denies their gods and “the holy crosse kepte hyr welle” (line 468). This torture and violence against Margaret takes on the form of a system and force she is continually fighting against. The use of the cross, as Margaret keeps with her in times of conflict such as with the dragon, takes on the feeling of a sacred object. She gains some power through having the object; she feels protected with it.
The traditional form of a saint’s life seems to involve some form of suffering and violence. This case takes that to a new level where Margaret is faced with extreme physical violence repeatedly. Suffering for the saints does seem to reflect the suffering that Christ underwent in some manner.
I thought back to the conversation we had last Thursday on martyrdom. The ultimate achievement of a saint would have been to suffer the most for God’s purpose. In this respect, the more gruesome Margaret’s torture was, the more respected she would have been for enduring. I think that the violence/her suffering could definitely be compared to an object. I think, though, that her faith is almost more of an object. She seems to physically cling to it. It’s more “real” to her than anything else happening. In lines 260-265 she says,
“My lord to me he is full kynd;
He schall never go out of my mynd.
If thi hope were of my flessche
To do thi wyll both herd and nessche,
To rente the flessch fro the bone,
Power of my saule getys thou non.”
Margaret’s faith, her soul, her being were the ultimate reality to her. She somehow, in this story, managed to transcend the events happening to her body and live in a different world with different rules and different “objects”. Her soul was her most valued object, even above her own body. Once the cross-weapon was introduced, we were given a more physical object to focus on.
Violence plays an important role in this saint’s life as a constant test of Margarete’s faith. In this way it is similar to Eustace’s testing through suffering loss. It also imitates the violence against Christ during his trial and crucifixion. Because many saints are martyrs, I think it is probably normal for there to be such violence. The immense suffering makes the story of martyrdom all the more powerful. The many chances which Margarete has for recantation and her subsequent refusal to deny Christ show the importance of this process of testing and suffering for Christ’s sake. Just as with Eustace, this saint’s life also ends happily with the death of the saint: “With joy and blysse and melody/ Thei bare hyr saule to hevyn on hye. / Before our Lord thei gan hyr bere;/To hym sche was leffe and dere” (588-91).
As people have pointed out, violence plays a graphic, important role that represents the martyrdom of the saints. St. Margaret suffers mirrors that of Christ, who ultimately sacrificed himself for the humanity’s greater good. Anything that helps a saint come closer to a Christlike being is seen as an honor. I like Kaleb’s idea of suffering and violence as a secondary ‘object’, or rather a descriptor of Margaret’s faith. When she suffers, her faith is being tested, as violence often does. The violence is a tool to show the power of Margaret’s faith and her soul, which is another ‘body’ within her that can withstand the pain being inflicted upon her physical body. This soul is a permanent, stalwart object that stands tall in the face of torture, which the physical body is forced to yield to. This demonstrates the power of God, the power of the faithful soul, and the impermanence of the physical body.