Book Series Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies, vol. 15

Performing the Middle Ages from 'Beowulf' to 'Othello'

Andrew James Johnston

  • Pages: 344 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2009

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52755-0
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57193-5
  • E-book
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"[...] there is more than enough in it to fascinate specialists in the texts and authors that Johnston traverses, as well as the wider community of scholars who continue to be troubled by the patronizing subordination of the early to the late."    (Ellen MacKay, in The Medieval Review, 4 December 2009)

"A sophisticated and highly suggestive piece of work, which offers a formidable counterpoint to a whole range of hoary generalizations."    (B. Parsons, in:Medium Aevum LXXIX, 2010, p. 133-134)

"Johnston's diligent and thorough book tries to challenge and modify all those ideological assumptions that seek to establish our understanding of modernity ex negativo [...]."    (Christoph Houswitschka, in Anglia. Zeitschrift für englische Philologie128/3, April 2011)


Performing the Middle Ages from ‘Beowulf’ to ‘Othello’ traces the dialogic nature of the relationship between the Middle Ages and modernity. Arguing that modern beliefs in the alterity of the Middle Ages stem from the Middle Ages’ own processes of self-representation, Johnston explores varieties of nostalgia through a wide selection of texts. This volume spans an extensive chronological period with a view to demonstrating how our notions of the medieval have been crucially informed by the past itself. The study is focused on works which stage that popular literary archetype — the nostalgic figure of the aristocratic warrior — and argues that it is this image that provides a structural model for so many modern perspectives on the Middle Ages. And yet, in the Middle Ages this model was being deconstructed as it was also being generated. By moving from the self-consciously archaic heroism of Beowulf to the scathing comment on chivalric narrative presented in Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’, Johnston’s analysis offers an intriguing insight into the way medieval texts engage in a continual aesthetic and ideological critique of their own cultural moment. Using Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Alliterative Morte Arthure as examples of an incisive critique of the cult of subjectivity and of a highly self-conscious desire for tradition, Johnston extends his analysis to the early seventeenth century, and explores the ways in which Shakespeare’s Othello brilliantly deconstructs the very concept of ‘Renaissance Man’. With its interest in issues of subjectivity, textual performance, and the ideological self-awareness of medieval culture, Performing the Middle Ages provides a scholarly and compelling investigation into the Middle Ages’ ability both to understand itself and to shape (post)modern notions of the medieval.



Chapter 1: Beowulf and the Mask of Archaism

Chapter 2: Performing Anti-subjective Subjectivity in Late-Medieval English Literature
Voyeurism and Narratorial Power The Cultural Politics of the ‘Knights Tale’
Effacing the Subject of Confession in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Chapter 3: History and Medievalism in the Alliterative Morte Arthure

Chapter 4: Othello and the Chivalric Origin of ‘Renaissance Man’