Date of Award

5-6-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Edward Christie

Second Advisor

Scott Lightsey

Third Advisor

David Johnson

Abstract

Anglo-Saxon scholars generally define monsters within very narrow parameters: monsters are beings that are against nature and therefore not human. Examples of these Anglo-Saxon monsters include Grendel, Grendel’s mom, and the dragon from Beowulf. However, Old English poetry contains another type of monsters often overlooked by scholars: the monstrous human. Human monstrosities present fascinating hybrid figures that visually look like humans, but who display characteristics of monsters. Under Foucault’s punishment theory, these monstrous humans serve as spectator punishments who are transformed because of their crimes against society. By analyzing lexical descriptions and applying theoretical concepts, I argue that a new category of monster should be recognized in Anglo-Saxon literature.

Monstrous humans appear in both Anglo-Saxon biblical and heroic poetry. In the biblical texts Judith and Daniel, the main antagonists, Holofernes and Nebuchadnezzar, act as human monstrosities. They are characterized by their excessive vices, and through these vices, they lose their reason and ultimately their humanity. Similarly, in Beowulf, the bad king Heremod serves as a warning because his vice and evil actions lead him to be cast from the community and stripped of his humanity. Furthermore, Beowulf also illustrates human monstrosities since Beowulf and the Geats are depicted as dangerous, violent figures that are more monstrous than heroic when they are first introduced, which reflects the savage duality present within the warrior identity. Analyzing the texts through contemporary theoretical concepts also helps elucidate how monstrous humans function outside their societies. By using Kristeva’s theory of abjection, I examine how Holofernes both repulses and fascinates as a vice-ridden monster. Judith Butler’s performative identity theory applies to Heremod, who rejects his social role and therefore transforms into a monster, and to the armored Geats, who undertake monstrous violent acts as part of their performative warrior identity. Each of these texts explores the important relationship between humanity and monstrosity and how reason is the chief characteristic that keeps one from being termed a beast.

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