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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of audience expectations and genre in St. Erkenwald Park, Laureen Diane


St. Erkenwald is an alliterative Middle English poem thought to have been composed toward the end of the fourteenth century. Among modern critics of Middle English literature the poem has been generally regarded as an inferior work or has been relegated to relative obscurity as a second-rate work of the Gawain-poet. One possible reason for the indifferent reception St. Erkenwald has received from scholars may be due to the seeming difficulties which beset the poem, of which the most important is the lack of an appropriate generic context. If the poem lacks a suitable generic identity, part of the problem may lie in the way in which genre has been previously defined by modern critics. The solution proposed in this study is to redefine the concept of genre in terms of the reception-aesthetics of Hans Robert Jauss, that is, in terms of the expectations of the medieval audience. Chapter One of this study examines the problems facing the modern reader of St. Erkenwald as they have been identified by Erkenwald scholars. The aim of Chapter Two is to redefine the concept of genre and explore the theories of Jauss's Rezeptionsasthetik which can then be applied to the poem. The types of possible expectations are reconstructed in Chapter Three by examining roughly contemporaneous works which the audience could reasonably be expected to know. In Chapter Four St. Erkenwald is re-evaluated in terms of the reconstructed expectations in order to determine in what ways these expectations are fulfilled, changed, or subverted, thereby providing the means to evaluate the generic identity of the poem.

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