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“The Minstrel’s Song Of Silence”: The Construction of Masculine Authority And The Feminized Other In The Romance Sir Orfeo

“The Minstrel’s Song Of Silence”: The Construction of Masculine Authority And The Feminized Other In The Romance Sir Orfeo

Carlson, Christina M.

Comitatus Vol.29 (1998)

Introduction

Much of the scholarship written about the Middle English romance Sir Orfeo focuses on Orfeo’s identity as a poet and on the power inherent in his poetry, especially in its performative aspect. Robert Longsworth asserts that “the minstrel’s art is at once subject to the forces of change and capable of compelling change,” and also a source of order and stability: “Orfeo’s harp has throughout the poem the power to bring into harmony nature, society, and other temporal powers.” E.C. Ronquist argues that Orfeo’s poetry has the ability to make a moral impact, both within the poem itself and amongst its audience; he writes, “in the full strength of Orfeo’s art, he is able to make ethical requirements so the kingdom to which he returns will be more humane and stable,” and also, “the audiences all thus join the subjects of Orfeo, his power of admonition apparently still in effect. The poet-minstrel projected by this reading text seems capable of arousing action.” Finally, Roy Liuzza sees Orfeo’s song as a regenerative power. What is distressing about these otherwise positive readings of the significance of Orfeo’s poetry is that they tend to downplay the very
context within which Orfeo – the search for and rescue of Herodis. If the poem, as these scholars seem to think, is essentially about the powers of Orfeo’s poetry, then it is also completely reliant on the abduction and victimization of Herodis, which provide the impetus for the exercise of that power.

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