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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.

Albion: Change, Rebirth and Stagnancy in The Middle English Prose Brut Chronicle

16th August 2017, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Madelaine Smart

This free public lecture explored the roots of nationhood, took the audience back to the mythical land of Albion. A podcast of this talk is now available.

About this talk

The ‘Albina’ prologue has been attached to the Middle English Prose Brut Chronicle since its first appearance in the vernacular, providing an explanation for the island being named Albion and the origin of the race of giants dwelling there. These two hitherto unaddressed mysteries were expanded upon and formed into a short but complex pre-foundation narrative that became permanently attached to the Brut in its Anglo-Norman, Latin and Middle English forms. The prologue presents the daughters of a great King, who plot to kill their husbands, are banished in boats and wash ashore a barren island, where they found a nation, naming it Albion, after the eldest sister Albina. Short on men, the sisters then propagate with devils and spawn the race of giants that Brutus conquers on founding Britain, after his own voyage at sea. Beginning and ending with long sea voyages, steeped in biblical and classical symbolism of rebirth, the nation of Albion is a second chance for Albina and her sisters. They are given an opportunity to change and redeem themselves of their former wickedness in their new and untainted land. Yet, the arrival of Brutus at the end of the text, having been reborn at sea himself, makes it clear that the second chance Albion offered has been wasted; nothing has changed and the nation has failed and Brutus is required to re-baptise the land, naming it Britain, after his own name. But why do the sisters not use this second chance and change? Why do they allow their nation to become stuck in a primal and monstrous state? In this paper, I will explore the stagnant and uncivilised Albion in contrast to the civilised and celebrated nations of Dioclician's Syria and Brutus' Britain that precede and follow it, discussing ideas of change, rebirth and stagnancy.

About Madelaine Smart

Madelaine is a third-year PGR at the University of Liverpool, researching the Albina Prologue of the Middle English Prose Brut Chronicle. Working predominantly with manuscripts Madelaine’s research is centred on charting the evolution of the Albina narrative in its Middle English Prose Brut form, and the differing portrayals of Albina and her story. Madelaine will be giving a conference at the CMS Graduate Conference in York, on Storytelling, in June, looking at scribal interference in manuscript retellings of the Albina Prologue. Madelaine is also the lead storyteller for The Liverpool Players at the University of Liverpool and Five Gold Rings, a Liverpool based Storytelling and Theatre Adaptation Company.

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