Mutable Boundaries in the Medieval Literatures of the British Isles

Date of Completion

January 2012


This dissertation seeks to understand the multifaceted nature of the ways in which Welsh identity was represented and understood within Old and Middle English literary works. In so doing, it makes the argument that the construction of Welsh identity in medieval English literary works is uniquely tied to ambiguous spaces in the landscape, such as wastelands, borders, and marches. Thus the borders and boundaries described in the literature of medieval England from the Anglo-Saxon period to the late Middle Ages become spaces in which the construction of identity within these texts and within society as a whole takes place. Yet moreover, the mutability, flexibility, and ambiguity inherent within these spaces in Anglo-Saxon and later Middle English works shapes identities into equally mutable forms when Anglo-Saxon and Welsh figures come into contact with one another and with these spaces. In other words, it is paradoxically within the space that ostensibly separates the two that Anglo-Saxon and Welsh identities break down and become most blurred and ambiguous. ^ This project challenges current work on identity formation in medieval literature that has grown out of two main critical schools, postcolonial studies and spatial theory, by examining the key role of boundary spaces in the construction of Anglo and British identities in insular works of the Middle Ages. Focusing on literature troubled by the figure of the Briton, this project makes the case for the construction of a wider range of identities, arguing that boundaries depicted in insular medieval literature did not function as strict lines but rather became fluid spaces that held within themselves the potential for constantly shifting conceptions of groups and individuals. Individual chapters focus on the Old English poems Andreas (Chapter One), Guthlac A (Chapter Two), and Exeter Book Riddles 52 and 72 (Chapter Three), the works of Walter Map and William of Newburgh (Chapter Four), and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Chapter Five). The present form of this dissertation is conditioned by other considerations. Please contact the author for further information. ^