Date of Graduation

5-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

William Quinn

Committee Member

Joseph Candido

Second Committee Member

Mohja Kahf

Keywords

Beowulf, France, Male, Medieval, Mourning, Sir Orfeo, The Song of Roland

Abstract

Frequently in medieval texts, writers make mention of men who cry, wail, and faint. However, in modern scholarship, these records of men who cry are often overlooked, and masculine mourning is a largely neglected feature. My purpose in this thesis is to explore some of the reasons for male tears and displays of grief in three works of medieval literature. While male mourning appears in hundreds of medieval texts and is a topic worthy of extensive exploration, I have narrowed my focus to three works: Beowulf, The Song of Roland, and Sir Orfeo. Although the three tales are written in different languages and centuries, every narrative includes central male protagonists who mourn. Namely, each story includes a weeping king, masses of weeping subjects, and a hero who learns to experience and display grief throughout the course of the tale. The kings Hrothgar, Charlemagne, and Orfeo emerge in the tales as figures embodying and bearing the grief of their entire people. Rather than being criticized as weak or effeminate rulers, all three of these sorrowful kings are honored by the poets and by their subjects. The mourning of the rulers is shown to be a clear portrayal of their commitment and care for their people and kingdoms. In response to the grief of the kings, the thanes, knights, and subjects publicly weep, demonstrating their loyalty by suffering with their sovereigns. In contrast, the heroic figures--Beowulf, Roland, and Orfeo--initially stand apart emotionally from the kings and other subjects in the texts. They maintain a focus on gaining glory through deeds of prowess, and their concept of suffering only acknowledges physical pain, disregarding emotional pain. However, the three heroes undergo a transformation as they personally encounter suffering and loss. By the end of each poem, the heroes display empathy by mourning, joining their sorrow with that of grief-filled kings and weeping subjects. In these three poems, male demonstrations of grief serve essential Social and political roles and are affirmed rather than being demeaned.

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