Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9332
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Norris , Robin.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: In the Shadow of the Cross: "The Dream of the Rood" and Same-Sex Piety
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 295: "Old English Poetry I."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Dream of the Rood, Old English Poem Homosociality in Literature Literature- Verse Masculinity in Literature
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
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  • Abstract: The “Dream of the Rood” has long been considered a poem which blends Christian themes with pagan heroic elements in such a way that the cross itself becomes a retainer of the heavenly Lord Jesus Christ. More recently, Allen Frantzen's observations about the relationship between retainer and lord show that affection between men was not considered transgressive of heterosexual norms during the Anglo-Saxon period, although sex between men remained strictly forbidden. My argument is that the intimacy between Christ and the cross in The Dream of the Rood is an example of same-sex affective piety, with the poet employing a rhetorical strategy similar to that of writers during the later Middle Ages: to envision one's relationship to God in terms of an earthly relationship. One effect of this strategy is that other believers who accept the message of the cross are invited to enter into a relationship with God based on the lord-retainer model. Yet, when attempting to follow the old heroic code under a new, pacifist Lord, the cross faces a gender crisis which can only be resolved when male believers adapt themselves to a new code of masculine norms. Despite the difficulties of this transformation faced by the cross, heroic homosocial relationships remain key to Anglo-Saxon constructions of masculinity after the conversion; and the poet's unusual choice of a homosocial relationship, rather than the more common trope of a male God and female or feminized believer, reflects the centrality, significance, and normalized status of emotional intimacy between men in Anglo-Saxon culture. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Toronto
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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