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Communities in Translation: History and Identity in Medieval England

Hurley, Mary Kate

"Communities in Translation: History and Identity in Medieval England" argues that moments of identity formation in translated texts of the Middle Ages are best understood if translation is viewed as a process. Expanding on Brian Stock's idea that texts organize and define real historical communities, I argue that medieval translations--broadly considered as textual artifacts which relate received narratives--create communities within their narratives based on religious, ethnic, and proto-nationalist identities. In my first chapter, I assert that the Old English Orosius--a translation of a fifth-century Latin history--creates an audience that is forced to assume a hybrid Roman-English identity that juxtaposes a past Rome with a present Anglo-Saxon England. In chapter two, I argue that the inclusion of English saints among traditional Latin ones in Ælfric of Eynsham's Lives of the Saints stakes a claim not only for the holiness of English Christians but for the holiness of the land itself, thus including England in a trans-temporal community of Christians that depended on English practice and belief for its continued success. In my third chapter, I turn to Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale, and read it alongside its historical source by Nicholas Trevet in order to demonstrate Chaucer's investment in a multicultural English Christianity. These arguments inform my reading of Beowulf, a poem which, while not itself a translation, thematizes the issues of community raised by my first three chapters through its engagement with the problematic relationship between communities and narrative. When Beowulf's characters and narrator present an inherited narrative meant to bolster community, they more often reveal the connections to outside forces and longer histories that render its textual communities exceedingly fragile. Where previous studies of translation focus on the links of vernacular writings to their source texts and their Latin past, I suggest that these narratives envision alternative presents and futures for the communities that they create.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Dailey, Patricia A.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 20, 2014
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