Vows, Boasts and Taunts, and the Role of Women in some Medieval Literature
English Studies, (1985)
In a paper entitled ‘The Taunter in Ancient Epic Thalia Feldman points out with skill and perception the useful function of taunters in epic tales as far apart in time and space as the Iliad of Greece and the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Men like Drances, Thersites and Unferth fulfill a special need in such societies, namely to probe the qualifications of an unknown ‘heroB, or to provoke the known hero into the kind of heroic act that the society needs at a given time.
In medieval literature at least, this provocation by ‘official taunters is only one way in which established or would-be heroes are prevailed upon to do great deeds, and here I should like to look at some of these related ways of accomplishing the same end. I also want to extend the discussion into later medieval literature (especially English literature), and to consider the role that unofficial taunters, particularly women, play in this practice in both heroic and romance literature.