Emotional connections to the young hero in Beowulf
This essay focuses on the audience’s emotional connections to Wiglaf, the young hero who helps Beowulf kill the dragon at the end of the Old English poem. Noting the surprisingly little attention that Wiglaf has received in the critical literature, Dockray-Miller uses lexical and connotative analysis to consider questions of gender and emotion around this character. As her chapter reveals, by the end of the poem, Wiglaf is no longer defined as young but has become lexically equivalent to Beowulf as an eorl (2908), completing his emotional growth and assuming the role of primary male in the world of the poem. Wiglaf enacts a traditional and cross-cultural ritual of mourning a (metaphorical) father, thus establishing himself as an archetypal figure with whom the audience can easily identify. This affective connection also endows Wiglaf with emotional attractiveness; his masculine appeal and social status are enhanced by his grief in such a way that Wiglaf's performance realigns the poem’s definition of heroic masculinity away from military stoicism and towards emotional association.
Beowulf translations by Seamus Heaney and Thomas Meyer
This chapter addresses questions about how well the dynamics of textual translation can speak to the dynamics of human intimacy, and how ‘extratextual’ intimacies determine or allow different modes of translation. The essay pairs two important Beowulf translations that at first glance appear among the most wildly divergent – those of Seamus Heaney and Thomas Meyer – teasing out a critique of customary critical and reviewing practices that (often tacitly) plot translations of Beowulf in terms of a false dilemma of ‘fidelity’ against ‘creativity’. Drawing on Leo Bersani, this essay views intimacy as ‘a process … that risks intense closeness and desire – all the feelings involved in an erotic relationship, without the actual sex – for the sake of discovery, revelation, and freedom’ that offers an alternative way to consider the relationships between source text, translation, and reader, that even translation theory innovators such as Lawrence Venuti tend to evaluate in terms of the source text alone.
Distinctly different from its counterparts among the digressions in Beowulf, the Finnsburg episode focuses on the experience and trauma of a single woman: Hildeburh. Her peace-weaving marriage into the Frisian court fails spectacularly, and the result is a proliferation of death and destruction, including the loss of both her brother and son. This essay utilizes Actor-Network theory to explore the ways in which the Finnsburg digression exposes human community-building impulses as fundamentally flawed and particularly challenging for women. The episode lays bare the ways in which human communities in Beowulf fail by foregrounding the relationship between human beings and non-human entities that are part of the wider collectivity in which humans are enmeshed. The essay thus reveals that Hildeburh herself, a subject-made-object in the logic of the poem, stands as a kind of witness to more than just the poem’s criticism of the heroic ethos. Rather, her suffering demonstrates the interconnectedness that is both the condition of humans in the poem and their tragedy.
What would it mean to ‘date’ Beowulf? And what do we learn when we try? This playful pun on one of the more controversial terms in the scholarship on this poem allows a consideration of the range of intimacies generated by it as well as a conditioning of both the poem and its scholarship. Accordingly, this introductory chapter seeks to get intimate with Beowulf, drawing on critical discussions of affect, queer historiography, and contemporary literary theory in order to form a kind of dating profile that serves as a conceptual framework for the various modes of intimacy in and with the poem that emerge throughout the volume. Dating Beowulf coheres as a project in presenting a new set of readings – both critical and personal – that aim to generate new avenues of discussion for an Old English poem too often mired in critical impasses, and this opening essay frames the conversation accordingly, highlighting the various couplings and methodological approaches on display, while articulating the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa.
Troubling race, ethnicity, and masculinity in Beowulf
Sometimes we find the deepest intimacy not in sex, friendship, communal joy, or grief, but in shared anxiety. Drawing on a constellation of scholars of gender, Critical Race theory, and indigenous studies, this essay pursues an emotional archaeology by tracing anxieties around masculinity, ethnicity, and race that found their expression in Beowulf. Re-examining well-known scenes in Beowulf in dialogue with a variety of sources including The Laws of Ine, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Exeter Book Riddles, and Guthlac A, the essay argues that such anxieties – and the poem’s anticipation of such anxieties in its audiences – register the ways that the Welsh and the Danes are gendered and racialized in early medieval English literature. Demonstrating the importance of this intersectional focus and re-emphasizing Geraldine Heng’s arguments for the need to use the term ‘race’ in discussions of medieval literature, the essay argues that Grendel and his mother may have functioned as a focus for anxieties about Welsh indigeneity as well as Danish invasions.
Beowulf casts a long shadow over the extant Old English corpus, and the heroic verse through which we view the poem obscures a broader perspective on homosociality in early medieval Germanic cultures. Although Beowulf tells Hrothgar that it is better to avenge a friend than to mourn too much, the poem is full of mourning men, including Beowulf and Hrothgar themselves. This chapter rereads Beowulf with a focus on grief, masculinity, and the many sad men who grieve within the text: for example, when Hrothgar mourns for Æschere and bids Beowulf farewell, when Beowulf imagines a grieving father before his own death, and at each of the four funerals in the poem, especially that of the hero himself. The chapter then concludes that our obsession with emotional repression is an artefact of Victorian medievalism, rather than a reflection of early English heroic culture or masculinity, which privileged empathy. In this, Norris brings insights from Critical Race theory, especially from the work of Richard Delgado, to bear on the poem.
Old English literature does not share the humanist narcissism that denies animals access to symbolic language. In Beowulf, Wiglaf’s messenger to the Geats comes close to translating avian speech in his conclusion to a harrowing series of predictions: ‘se wonna hrefn / … / earne secgan, hu him æt æte speow, / þenden he wið wulf wæl reafode’ (the dark raven … will tell the eagle how he surpassed him in eating, when he with the wolf laid waste to the slain) (3024–7). This boast is the only Old English ‘conversation’ among the beasts of battle, and only its outline reaches human ears, at the triple remove of space, time, and voice. Its explicit content eludes the messenger’s human audience, and its oscillating valences have vexed modern translators. This chapter examines the forms of interspecies connection that inhere in this shrouded moment, arguing that such intimacies – trafficking in the symbolic, never fully translatable to the human – can open up new ecocritical encounters with Beowulf and contribute to larger discourses of ecocriticism.
Playing black in late seventeenth-century France and Spain
This chapter examines the emergence and significance of the theatregram of
the African ambassador in 1660s French theatre, in plays like Le Mort
Vivant, by Edmé Boursault (1662), L’Ambassadeur d’Affrique, by Du Perche
(1666), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière (1670), and Le Mariage de la
reine de Monomotapa by Bel-Isle (1682). Reading this theatregram in
conversation with contemporary policies in the French Caribbean colonies, I
argue that African ambassadors on stage contributed to the development and
dissemination of a solidifying racial discourse in late seventeenth-century
France. A thorough examination of the transnational component in Boursault’s
play, more specifically, of the play’s all-out and multilayered Spanishness,
brings to light the play’s ambivalence towards the notion of hybridity. The
internal evolution of the theatregram between 1662 and 1682, however, marks
a departure from Boursault’s take: the later plays of the African ambassador
corpus are devoid of such ideological ambivalence. This denotes a hardening
of racial thinking over the course of those twenty years. Ultimately, that
approach promotes the integration of transnational foci and comparative
methods into early modern race studies.
This afterword places the volume and the research presented in it into the
context of the Theater Without Borders research collective and reflects on
recent developments of research in early modern theatre exchanges and
connections. Written by the co-editor of two previous volumes that came out
of the Theater Without Borders initiative (Transnational Exchange in Early
Modern Theater (2008) and Transnational Mobilities in Early Modern Theater
(2014), both edited by Robert Henke and Eric Nicholson), the afterword
highlights the continuities and developments in the methodologies of early
modern theatre and performance as a rich transnational phenomenon.
This chapter explores the ways in which Jews and Ottoman Turks participated
in theatre-making in early modern northern Italian cities, notably Mantua
and Venice. Embraced for their economic and commercial contribution, the
religiously and culturally distinctive minorities were also segregated into
separate living quarters, taxed as foreigners and visually branded in order
to clearly mark their difference. Despite the separation of minority
populations, the Turks, and to a greater extent the Jews were incorporated
in civic events and encouraged to participate in theatrical spectacles and
performances. The subject of Jewish and Turkish participation in theatrical
and civic performances has received little attention considering the vast
archival trace they left behind. This essay brings to light the Turkish
acrobatic performances which took place in Venice and in Prague and offers
an analysis of their importance in the context of civic rituals. In
addition, the chapter offers many examples of Jewish performances in the
Venetian and Mantuan context, including several never before mentioned
examples taken from the Mantua state archives.