Disorienting Orientalism: Finding Saracens in Strange Places in Late Medieval English Manuscripts
Author: Cawsey, Kathy
Source: Exemplaria, Volume 21, Number 4, Winter 2009 , pp. 380-397(18)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:This article explores the hybrid Viking-Saracen figure found in several late medieval English works. Drawing on manuscript illumination from works such as John Lydgate's Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund, alongside a range of medieval romances such as King Horn, Guy of Warwick, “The Man of Law's Tale,” and Gower's “Tale of Constance,” this work explores the traditional literary and artistic connection between the Northern pagans of England's past, and the Eastern Muslim enemies of late medieval Europe. By the end of the fourteenth century, when English was becoming dominant as a language and “Englishness” was gaining in importance, writers such as Chaucer and Gower began to find the traditional parallels between Anglo-Saxon pagans and Saracen Muslims problematic, and questioned why their ancestors converted to Christianity while the Eastern Muslims did not. Throughout the essay, religion, rather than race, emerges as of primary importance for these writers. Such analysis counters the work of recent scholars reading these texts as exemplary of “orientalist” attitudes in the Middle Ages.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Dalhousie University
Publication date: 2009-12-01