Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-Century seinte Maheretearchetypal, Semiotic, and Deconstructionist

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This study investigates the implications of the portrayal of the virgin martyr as dragon-slayer. An initial reading of the thirteenth-century text of Seinte Marherete would suggest that Margaret’s power to burst through the dragon’s back, and her self-appellation as kempe, or champion, demonstrates the power available to the virgin to overcome hell and its temptations. While this is a valid reading, it is insufficient to account for the many layers of meaning woven into the text. The wide range of approaches and areas covered will make this highly original study of interest to those working in many disciplines, such as literary theory, medieval studies (romance studies, virginity studies, saints’ Lives), teratology, feminist historical studies, body inscription and early and medieval Christian theology.


“. . . an excellent piece of work, both in terms of its interpretation of a medieval text and its theoretical sophistication. It is engaging, astute, and thorough.” - Prof. Margaret R. Miles, Graduate Theological Union

“. . . [a] scholarly and critically sophisticated exploration into a complex topic, the significance of the traditional dragon story, read through a close analysis of the story of Seinte Marharete and a range of related material. - Prof. Stephen Knight, Cardiff University

“In her exciting and landmark study of the meaning of virginity both in biblical and romance stories, Cadwallader makes a major contribution to the feminist discourse on the concept of virginity and its related theme of the female body.” - Prof. Marie Turner, Adelaide College of Divinity

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Sarah Salih
Part I: The Archetypal Approach
1. Of Dragons, Virgins and Heroes
2. The Land, the Sea and the Creator
3. Christ and the Virgin
4. The Search for the Virgin
Part II: The Semiotic Approach
5. The Dragon, the Virgin and the Code
6. Confronting the Enemy
7. Purity Tested
8. Reversal as Redemption
Part III: The Deconstructionist Approach
9. Deconstructing the Construction
10. Desperately Seeking Hymen
11. The Monstrous Encounter
12. Conclusion: On Not Concluding
Table 1 Structure of Dianoia in the Bible and in Seinte Marherete
Table 2 Tagmemic Structure of Seinte Marherete and Analogous Virgin Martyr Legends
Table 3a Tagmemic Structure of the Dragon Story in Medieval Romance
Table 3b Tagmemic Structure of the Dragon Story in Medieval Hagiography: Missionary Saints
Table 3c Tagmemic Structure of the Dragon Story in Medieval Hagiography: Eremitic Saints

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