A Little Glimpse Into What I’ve Been Working On….

So, in addition to teaching an online course and sleeping in (!!) this summer, I’ve been hard at work revising portions of my first monograph. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely closer to what I was hoping it would develop into. Close enough, that I feel comfortable sharing a tiny snippet. What follows is an excerpt from the introductory matter that offers a good general summary of the thinking that is going into this project. Hope you enjoy it!

[…] As I will show, all acts of violence conducted at a feast can be read as desperate acts, but we must be careful not to mischaracterize them as senseless or uncontrolled—as what the modern world calls, “crimes of passion”—solely because they are committed out of desperation. These acts are classifiable as desperate only because they are performed as a last possible means of getting the attention of those for whom the violence is intended and/or performed. The role of the feast as a spectacle itself ensures that any violent deed performed at the feast is calculated to draw attention—that is, to serve as a counter-spectacle to the feast—and this is an intentional choice on the part of the perpetrator of that violence. The feast is chosen as the scene for the violent deed because it is the surest place at which the most witnesses possible will be present, in addition to being a convenient gathering space for the perpetrator and his or her victims. Far from being senseless and uncontrolled crimes of passion, these violent altercations are calculated to have maximum, spectacular effect. They are done to be witnessed, in support of their doers’ goals of drawing attention to, and forcing a resolution to, a particular issue or conflict which is nearly always tied to a slight of personal honor or to a greater instance of actual or perceived injustice that has not been, and perhaps cannot be, satisfactorily redressed by any other means. When the governing systems by which a society operates are not sufficient to address the personal concerns and conflicts of its members—when, for instance, there is no real or perceived legal means by which one might achieve a sense of justice—the individual will take any opportunity presented to achieve some measure of justice for him- or herself. As this study illustrates, medieval writers understood the feast to be a highly ordered, carefully orchestrated event following prescribed rules of etiquette, and therefore the literary feast–like its historical counterpart, which I discuss in this introduction–serves as an ideal scene for locating unexpected violent outbursts that draw our attention to various unaddressed issues that we then must examine, understand, and critique.


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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