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