Abstracts for Tuesday 2nd Febuary!

Kabir Chattopadhyay
PhD Student, School of English


‘Nature’s Bastards, Not Her Sons’: The Role of Mythology in Exploring Self-Governance and Agency in Milton’s Comus

John Milton’s masque Comus was written and performed at Ludlow Castle, Shropshire, in 1634 to celebrate the appointment of John Egerton as the Lord President of Wales. The masque narrates the journey of three children (played by Egerton’s own children) through a dark forest, where they get separated only for the youngest girl to be tempted by the sorcerer Comus, who transforms his victims into bestial human-animal hybrids. In the end, the victimized child wins her freedom from enchantment by the virtue of her “Chastity and Temperance”, and some guidance from an Attendant Spirit and her siblings.

Exploring intertextual links and allusions between Milton’s masque and traditions of folklore and mythology can lead to a number of fascinating discoveries, mainly regarding Milton’s restructuring of the ideas of chastity and goodness in terms of self-governance and individual agency. I am concerned with the way the forest is set up as an independent, alternative space, cut-off from society and human habitat, and the way this opens up the opportunity to explore the dynamics of power that operate within the conflict between temptation and resistance. As an alternate space, the forest gives autonomy not only to Comus, unheralded lord of the realm, but also to the girl child; in the absence of familiar authority in the unfamiliar ‘other’ place, she must exercise her own agency and strength of will to find a way out of her predicament. This strategy of characterization is in keeping with Maryann Cale McGuire’s classification of Comus as a “dissident masque”, focusing on the “primacy of the individual pursuit of enlightenment” (McGuire, 2008).

The role of mythology in exploring the girl child’s agency is of great importance, as Milton frequently refers to Classical and Christian mythologies and folk figures to construct the forest as his space of absolute ‘otherness.’ Drawing from the study of folk traditions and myth motifs by scholars like Vladimir Propp and Joseph Campbell (with particular attention to Graeco-Roman mythology), I shall discuss how the forest in all its ‘otherness’ sets up a background against which Milton engages with the idea of individual spirit and agency as the true source of what is ‘good.’


Joana Blanquer

PhD Student, School of English


‘Richness in variety: How Beowulf, Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum and the Hrólfs saga kraka Recreate Hrolf Kraki’

I will discuss the need to stop considering Beowulf and its parallels as interchangeable with the example of the Hrothulf/Hrolf material in the early 13th c. Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus and the 15th c. anonymous Hrólfr saga kraka in order to have an accurate appreciation of cultural exchanges. Since Panzer presented the folktale type 301b ‘The Bear’s Son’s Tale’ in 1910, critics have made the search for resemblances between Beowulf and Old Norse texts a priority by looking for a Germanic model but forgot they are different works. My premise is that these three works are close examples of the tension between fascination for and distance with the pagan past but shouldn’t be analysed as if they were the same text; they are creations in their own right. I will study the particularities of genre on the Hrothulf material and what they reveal of the relationship between Anglo-Saxon and medieval Scandinavian cultures. The mains points are the following; the Gesta Danorum is a history of the Danes written by an antiquarian clerk with a euhemeristic perspective and Hrólfs saga kraka is a saga resembling a romance through the transformation of the old gods from idols into magic figures. It has a fascinated and exotic treatment of the past, like Beowulf. Since we have a consensus on the number of parallels for this poem nowadays, taking their particularities into account would make the study of cultural exchanges in medieval Northern Europe even more compelling and even reveal more intriguing resemblances.





Staff-Postgraduate Seminar Tuesday, 26 January 2016

We’re welcoming everybody back to the second week of this term’s series of seminars from the School of English. We have an extremely interesting line-up this week. Here are the abstracts for Dr Miles Link’s and Clare Fletcher’s papers. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the Trinity Long Room Hub’s Neill Lecture Theatre at 17:00.



Dr Miles Link (Fudan University, Shanghai)


‘In Dreams: John Milton’s Night-Visions at the Dawn of Reason’

John Milton’s poetry often imparts important revelations through dreams: for example, the dream given to Eve by Satan and Adam’s dream of Eve’s creation in Paradise Lost, as well as Milton’s encounter with his “late espoused saint” in Sonnet 23, not to mention his frequent claims of nocturnal divine inspiration. This presentation argues that Milton’s treatment of dreams can be seen in parallel with seventeenth-century developments in philosophy. The ‘age of reason’ saw the end of the view that reason was infused with a divine signature, something in which all creation participated, and which indicated a godly order to the world. Instead the premodern way of organising the world by what Michel Foucault names ‘resemblances’, which had lasted as late as the time of Michel de Montaigne, was replaced by a world of distinctions: body and mind, mechanical and human, earthly and divine. The perspective of the world that replaced premodern reason was also bound up in the discourse of sovereignty and the state, as for example found in Thomas Hobbes.Yet rather than seeing Milton in opposition to these developments, we can see in Milton’s dreams a complement to seventeenth-century philosophy’s ideas of human reason: dreams articulate an interior subjective space, and establish the boundaries of individual sovereignty which society and statecraft must cross. However saturated they are in the poetic language of antiquity and Biblical law, in Milton’s dreams we can see the germs of our own contemporary ideas on consciousness, history, and method and praxis.


Clare Fletcher

‘Herba, Lapis, Sermo’: The Power of Language in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis

In Book VII of the 14th century poet John Gower’s major Middle English work Confessio Amantis, the character Genius introduces an extraordinarily lengthy section explicating the Seven Liberal Arts which were classified as the quadrivium and trivium. While each of the previous six books of the Confessio focuses on one of the seven deadly sins, Book VII is immediately different, for it does not discuss lechery, as expected, but is entirely dedicated to the Aristotelian education of Alexander the Great. In his section on the trivium, Gower includes a short segment on ‘Rhetoric’. The brevity of this passage seems to suggest that Gower thought the subject inconsequential as did early scholarship who deemed all of Book VII an irrelevant digression. However, the rhetorical piece is in fact textually longer than all of the other Liberal Arts except ‘Astronomie’ and is of substantial importance as it has the unique status of being the first known treatment of the subject of rhetoric in the English language. In the Latin heading to this section on rhetoric Gower writes that ‘Herba, lapis, sermo’ [Herb, stone, speech] are replete with virtue and strength but that, of the three, words are the most potent. This paper will argue that this passage expresses Gower’s strong notion of the unmitigated power of words with a particular emphasis on their material and bodily effects. It will further argue that it crucially reveals Gower’s anxieties about language, its correct usage, the role of rhetoric and the linguistic implications of the Fall from Paradise with the resulting gulf between thought and word. It will show that Gower is equally engaged in debates about linguistic felicity, inherited from the classical tradition, as were other great vernacular poets such as Chaucer, Dante, and Jean de Meun.


Special Guest Speaker Richard Pine!

As well as our normal seminar on Tuesday (more details to follow), we also have a special guest speaker next week!

Irish writer and critic Richard Pine will be presenting a paper entitled “Why We Enjoy Popular Literature” next WEDNESDAY at 5.30pm in the JOLY THEATRE in the Hamilton building.

Richard Pine is the widely celebrated author of many critical works focusing on a wide variety of topics and literary figures, including Oscar Wilde, Lawrence Durrell, Brendan Kennelly, and Brian Friel. He has worked for RTE, and written for The Irish Times and the Guardian.

This talk is open to everyone, and Mr Pine invites discussion and debate afterwards, so we hope to see lots of you there!

Our first seminar of Hilary Term 2016!

The Staff-Postgraduate Seminar Series is thrilled to announce the first talk in this term’s run, taking place on Tuesday, 19 January 2016 @ 17:00 in the Trinity Long Room Hub’s Neill Lecture Theatre.

Dr Ellen McWilliams, Lecturer in English Literature in the Department of English at the University of Exeter, will be presenting a paper entitled, ‘Looking for Irish America in the Writing of Mary McCarthy’.

We are very fortunate and honoured to welcome Dr McWilliams to the series and we look forward to this excellent talk, which will kick off the rest of the term!

See you there!