Charismatic Performances in Medieval Literature

Charismatic Performances in Medieval Literature

Lecture by Irina Dumitrescu

Given at Tel Aviv University on December 25, 2018

My talk begins with a brief discussion of the term “charisma”, describing its historical development and the limitations of scholarly definitions that focus primarily on positive qualities. I then suggest ways of thinking about charisma that emphasize its complex union of superhuman and vulnerable qualities in a single individual, and discuss some of the questions I am currently asking about famous, fascinating, or enchanting people in historical texts.

For the rest of my lecture, I describe the charismatic performances depicted in Peter Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, and two anonymous fourteenth-century romances, Emaré and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I touch on the use of models to bolster charismatic authority, the contrast between power and frailty, the workings of fame, and the use of props, clothing, and hair in charismatic performances.

You can learn more about Irina Dumitrescu’s research on her website or by following her on Twitter @irinibus

Top Image: Temptation of Sir Gawain by Lady Bercilak: Cotton Nero A. x, f. 129

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Smartphone and Tablet users click here to sign up for
our weekly email