‘Shadow’ and Paradoxes of Darkness in Old English and Old Norse Poetic Language
PhD Dissertation, University of York, 2012
Abstract: This thesis confronts, explores, and attempts to meaningfully interpret a surprising nexus of stimulating cruces and paradoxes in Old English poetry and prose and Old Norse skaldic and Eddic poetry. The study focuses on the complex linguistic and literary manifestations of darkness, a complex and long-underestimated phenomenon for which the most appropriate term is ‘shadow’. Rather than operating with modern categories and traditional dichotomies (light/darkness), I attempt to approach the evidence on its own terms, working from the words, their collocations, and narrow contexts up to larger literary assessments. Furthermore, the comparative Old English/Old Norse approach can provide both contextualisation for the findings and control over what we can and cannot infer from them.
Reflecting these methodologies (presented in Chapter 1), the core part of the thesis (Chapters 2-5) unfolds from semantics and style to texts and literary traditions, alternating at both stages between Old English and Old Norse. Chapters 2-3 provide an in-depth examination of the formal and stylistic features and the immediate textual environments of ‘shadow’, enabling the reconstruction of semantic values and associations. In Chapters 4-5, I conduct close readings of the most relevant and revealing Old English and Old Norse texts. My case studies are further contextualised by enlarging the focus of enquiry and correlating the deployment of ‘shadow’ with questions of manuscript context, medium (prose/verse), form (skaldic/Eddic), genre (mythological/heroic/religious), and wider literary-historical links.
Chapter 6 brings together the evidence for the existence, nature, and function of a ‘shadow’ theme, or themes, in Old English and Old Norse poetic language. Evaluating the significance of the parallels between the two traditions as well as within them, I recontextualise ‘shadow’ in relation to chronology, history, inheritance, contact and influence, and society and culture. The findings also afford new perspectives that can reshape our understanding of the underlying poetics.