Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9770
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Healey , Claire.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Strange Creatures: Masculinity in the Exeter Book Riddles
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, July 10-13, 2000, Session 301: "Groping in the Dark Ages: The Search for the Anglo-Saxon Body."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Body Exeter Book Literature- Verse Masculinity in Literature Obscenity Riddles, Literary Genre
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8- 9- 10- 11
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  • Abstract: Through a detailed examination of the depiction of the male body in the Exeter Book “Riddles,” I hope to indicate the extent to which the male body is elided from the texts, the relevance of this absence, and the possible historical context for it. The Exeter Book “Riddles” are perhaps one of the most marginalized bodies of texts within the Old English Corpus - they have been long derided as little more than children's games, folkloric remnants, or bawdy pub-games. This is even more true of the so-called "obscene" riddles, numbering 8-11 separate riddles (depending on interpretation) which have all too infrequently been examined for their ideological and political content. The study of masculinity in Old English literature is equally little pursued: there have been several recent publications, but the riddles remain as yet little more than an aside to the critical debate. However, given the "strangeness" of the obscene riddles, and of the male forms which they depict, further inquiry into their treatment of masculinity is absolutely paramount to an understanding of both Anglo-Saxon attitudes to the male body and the diversity of Old English literature. This paper considers attitudes towards the body in such riddles as “Soul and Body” and asks what the overall use of a riddling motif can suggest about attitudes towards how reality can be depicted through literature. It then discusses the obscene riddles, asking why they are called "obscene" in the first place, and what this can tell us both about the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Saxonists. In combination with the evidence from the riddles as a whole, it moves on to the question of how the male body is depicted in the riddles, with their emphasis on “wunder,” humour, disgust, age, virility, derision, and interaction with the female. What can this then tell us about the attitudes towards masculinity? These riddles are "strange creatures" indeed if produced by monks: what can this depiction of the male body tell us about the Benedictine Reform? [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of York
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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