Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters: A Trauma-Theory Reading of the Anglo-Saxon Poem

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters: A Trauma-Theory Reading of the Anglo-Saxon Poem

Article excerpt

Ted Morrissey, The Beowulf Poet and his Real Monsters: A Trauma-Theory Reading of the AngloSaxon Poem, with a Foreword by Steven Moore (Lewiston, On, Queenston, NY, and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2013). vii + 172 pp. ISBN 978-0-7734-4464-5. $49.95. This lively, entertaining monograph uses ?trauma theory', a branch of psychoanalysis sometimes applied to postmodern fiction, to offer a fresh reading of Beowulf Comparing the poem's digressive, non-linear style to the symptoms displayed by sufferers of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Ted Morrissey argues that Beowulf is a product of a ?trauma culture'. Chapter 1 outlines the origins of ?trauma theory' in psychoanalysis and makes the case for its applicability to literary criticism. Chapter 2 compares the Beowulf-poet's style with postmodern literary techniques. Chapter 3 identifies various sources of trauma in Anglo-Saxon culture, drawing enterprisingly on the overlooked Anglo-Saxon medical collections. Chapter 4 extends Jane Chance's anatomical reading of Grendel's mere as a womb-like image to the setting of the other two monster-fights: taking Hcorot as a kingly head, Morrissey reads Grendel as a recurring nightmare; his interpretation of the dragon's cave as an anus results in an amusing, though less convincing, scatological reading of the poem's ending.

The use of the medical collections as indicative of distinctively Anglo-Saxon concerns is problematic given their debt to classical tradition, and other Old English poetic texts which deal directly with trauma, such as the Exeter Book ? …

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