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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

The Knight and the Witch: Powers of Disguise in the Medieval World

5th October 2011, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, Durham, Jamie McKinstry & David Varley

A Late Summer Public Lecture organised by postgraduates in the Department of English Studies.

This is a joint presentation comprising of two shorter lectures:

Who are you again?: Disguise and Dressing-Up in Medieval Romance

Jamie McKinstry

Disguise is a distinctive feature of medieval chivalric romances and characters often operate under false identities as they journey through the narrative landscapes. The lecture will examine some of the more unusual disguises used in romances such as beggars, hunters, wolves, children, and swans to emphasise the inherent entertainment created from such temporary “transformation”. It will be suggested that the various uses of disguise greatly increase the creative possibilities of a romance and functioned as an expectation in the genre: the hilarious Dame Sirith, a late thirteenth century romance pastiche, employs disguise very much in this way as a vehicle for narrative development, audience engagement, and the impish, childish delight when all is not quite as it first appears.

Handbags and Gladrags: Crossdressing for Power and Profit in Old Norse Myth and Legend

David Varley

This lecture will explore the concept of crossdressing in Old Norse mythology and saga literature. In the society of Medieval Iceland, crossdressing (or to be accused of such) was a profoundly shameful act: not only was it grounds for divorce, but prolonged feuds could blow up over it, sometimes leading to the wholesale massacre of entire families. There is, however, another social aspect to the literary representation of crossdressing: it is ambiguously related to the practice of ‘seiðr,’ a notionally feminine type of powerful magic. This paper will initially examine the connection between ‘seiðr,’ gender, power and clothing , and will draw upon literary and archealogical sources to provide a sketch of how crossdressing was recieved and percieved in the ‘real’ world. Having established the great extent to which this debate is integrated into the everyday working of normal society, the focus will shift to the divine world, focusing on the way Odin,Thor and Loki, the three most prominent deities of the Old Norse pantheon, negotiate with the concepts of gender and power in their own crossdressing escapades.

Contact late-summer.lectures@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.

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