Monstrosity in Old English and Old Icelandic Literature
Doctor of Philosophy, Department of English Language, Faculty of Arts, University of Glasgow, September (2009)
The purpose of this thesis is to examine Old English and Old Icelandic literary examples of monstrosity from a modern theoretical perspective. I examine the processes of monstrous change by which humans can become identified as monsters, focusing on the role played by social and religious pressures.
This study is concerned with the nature of the transgression of social and religious institutions that can lead to monstrous change, the process of human transformation into a monster. I use specific examples from the literature of Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Iceland in order to discuss the extent to which humans who break the conventions of society come to be identified as monsters as a result of their behaviour.
As modern theoretical approaches have demonstrated, there is fluidity between categories and what distinctions are made between humans and monsters are fragile. It is possible for someone who breaks a stringently upheld social taboo to be labelled as a monster. Even if there is no actual belief in monsters as a separate species or race of beings, there is often a desire to view such offenders as inhuman in an effort to dissociate the most egregious examples of anti-societal behaviour from the humans performing them.