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Title: Improper Translations: Naming and Vernacular Poetics in Medieval England
Authors: Dalton, Emily Jean
Advisors: Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: Chaucer
Marie de France
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Subjects: Medieval literature
English literature
French literature
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Medieval English writing is haunted by a legacy of multiple origins and of multilingualism. A divided literature, Middle English resounds with the echoes of other languages: one need only turn to John Gower’s long poems in Latin, French, and English, to perceive the significance of each of these languages to the literary culture of fourteenth-century England. This complex layering of literary history emerges audibly in proper names borrowed or translated from non-English texts: the strangely hybrid name of Morgan le Fay, for example, who figures in such works as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, registers both the Welsh and the French ancestry of English Arthurian romance. The dissertation explores the ways in which the act of naming becomes a focal point through which medieval vernacular writers ask what it means to write literature in English. Drawing on discussions of naming both in contemporary philosophy and in medieval reflections on language found in logical and philosophical writings of the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries, I examine problems of naming in one Old French text written in England and three Middle English texts: the lais of Marie de France, the alliterative poem St. Erkenwald, the romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Chaucer’s dream-vision The Book of the Duchess. I argue that explorations of naming in these texts illuminate the late medieval cultural preoccupation with situating Englishness in relation to its French, Celtic, and classical antecedents. The project seeks to consider more deeply what it means to be an English writer in the multilingual culture of late medieval Britain by bringing together a set of materials that has yet to be read in these terms, revealing an archaeology of English literature that takes into account its linguistic multiplicity. It also opens up new perspectives on contemporary discussions of English as a world language: while its conflictual relationships with other languages have occasioned much recent discussion, less often considered is the fact that English has always been traversed by other languages and traditions, and that this unique positioning is a feature as much of its medieval as of its modern history.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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