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When you start university there are certain questions that you can guarantee people to ask you. Everybody hates these questions, yet everyone asks them: What are you studying? Where are you living? Where are you from? But when you reach the last stretch of your final year these questions get replaced by even worse ones: What is your dissertation about? What degree grade do you think you’ll get? What are your plans for the future?

As for my plans for the future I am continuing studying at the University of Kent for a Masters degree in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and I even managed somehow to gain a scholarship to do so, but as for the rest of my life I am still uncertain, no 5 year plan for me.

My predicted degree grade is a whole other jar of pickles. I want a First, most of my coursework is at a First, but I am terrible at exams, and by terrible I mean astonishingly bad. So it is going to be a close one, probably a 2:1, which is not too shabby, but if all the stars align correctly then maybe a first. Fingers crossed.

There’s those two terrible questions handled. It is the first one however, the dissertation question, which I dread the most. This isn’t because I don’t like my dissertation, or because it’s a complicated subject, it is simply because everyone who asks it immediately wishes they hadn’t.

So what is my dissertation you wonder? Well…

The title is: Monsters, Marvels, and the meaning of Morte

Dissertation f.52v

16thC Frontispiece to the alliterative Morte Arthure
Lincoln MS 91 f.52v

That isn’t the dreaded part, most seem to be genuinely intrigued by the title, it is when I start explaining the topic that their eyes become glazed and they lose all interest

“ummm it’s about a fourteenth century alliterative poem and how it interacts with medieval culture”

I absolutely loved writing my dissertation, and personally find the subject so enthralling I could have written another 10,000 words on it. I found every chapter of it frustrating because I couldn’t find enough words, enough pages, to fit in everything I had to say. I felt like everything was an overview, too superficial to do justice to the text itself or its surrounding subjects.

The alliterative Morte Arthure is a multifaceted text and embodies within it so much of medieval culture that the 4,000 line poem seeps with suggestive symbols, images and motifs. Although there are numerous other angles from which the text could have been analysed, I focused on how the poem, through its monsters and marvels, were evocative of, or interacting in, a sphere of the supernatural which Robert Bartlett identifies during the medieval period circa 1000-1500.

I came to the conclusion that the alliterative Morte Arthure is a lengthy enhancement of the sources from which it originates, intentionally amalgamating various sources, not just those of the chronicles, but of classical texts, the bible, the bestiary, medieval dream visions, and hagiography. The text accrues meaning from all of these sources and mines them for monsters and marvels, creating an enriched, complex and meaningful text in the process, it is a startling synthesis of the supernatural themes and motifs that achieved such an extensive popularity and endurance within the medieval period, and it is thus a worthy text of historical and cultural study.

I handed in my dissertation exactly a month ago today, submitting it half an hour before the deadline (the earliest I have ever handed in an assignment), yet I couldn’t have written this post any sooner. I needed a good break from it, to remove myself from it after spending months thinking about it, reading it, and yes, even dreaming about it. I am now waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers for my grade which is released on the 18thJune, when I will also find out the answer to my degree grade. So that will be question 2 all sorted which just leaves the final question to figure out.

In the meantime, anyone that wishes to read my dissertation can do so. Simply click here and you shall have the product of my blood sweat and tears for your personal reading pleasure and judgement. I welcome any feedback or comments and I hope that somebody else, anybody else, will find this subject as enthralling as I do.

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