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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Place, Space, and Identity in Six Old English “Comitatus Poems”
by Wolf, Keri Anne, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2010, 251; 3436496
Abstract (Summary)

Beginning with the premise that space is a culturally produced concept created when a society infuses place with social significance, this project investigates the portrayal of the comitatus in the six Old English poems of Beowulf the "Finnsburg Fragment," "The Wanderer," "The Seafarer," The Battle of Maldon, and The Battle of Brunanburh. It argues that the identities of the warriors and exiles in this set of poems are revealed in terms of the places and spaces they occupy.

In the first five texts, social space is localized in the enclosure of the hall. In Beowulf land is the site of the hall, but as portrayed in the poem, its value to the comitatus does not extend past its ability to host the social space of the mead hall. Likewise, in the Finnsburg events, Hengest attacks and kills Finn to fulfill an oath enacted in the hall of his lord, Hnaef. Unenclosed areas outside of the mead hall introduce the issue of movement and the ability to position or orient oneself in the absence of this stabilizing entity. Although the Wanderer and the Seafarer lack a hall, they still conceive of the hall as a social space and desire to be a part of such a community.

In the comitatus society portrayed in The Battle of Maldon, the "mentality of the hall" drives the men's actions when they elevate the formation and integrity of the shield wall over defense of the land. The Battle of Brunanburh, in contrast, concerns the broad extensions of place associated with a "homeland" and a possible developing attitude of territoriality not present in the other comitatus poems. The details of localized placement in the enclosure of the hall and the epithets linking thanes with the mead hall that are so prominent in the other poems are replaced by a geographical place in Brunanburh. This evidence suggests that as the Anglo-Saxons were developing into "Englishmen," they underwent a process of "mapping out" the land from which they derived their identity, conceptualizing it as a whole.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Osborn, Marijane
School: University of California, Davis
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Medieval literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Comitatus poems, Identity, Old English, Place
Publication Number: 3436496
ISBN: 978-1-124-35338-8
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