Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-century Seinte Marherete: Archetypal, Semiotic, and Deconstructionist
This story of the virgin martyr, St Margaret of Antioch, tells how a dragon from hell swallows her, hoping to obliterate both body and her memory. But the virgin refuses to be destroyed. She triumphantly burst through the dragon's back and proclaims herself a champion. In that moment, the contentional dragon story is summoned, and yet it is fundamentally redrawn. This book traces the implications of this overturning, where meaning explodes and refuses to be contained. The study is a dialogue with a medieval text and with literary theory itself; it reveals our assumption about the medieval world and about the ways in which we ascribe meaning. Through three literary methodolgies--archetypal, semiotic and feminist deconstructionist theory--this wide-ranging study reveals the layers of meaning inherent in the portrait of the virgin as heroic dragon-slayer. Here is a woman who identifies with Christ as harrower of hell, who demonstrates the strength of the medieval romance hero or saint, who subverts the power of pagan authority through her welcoming of suffering, who is contained and exposed by the power of language. Each of these distinct layers is valid, but proves to be partial. Language is, like the virgin, ultimately excessive. The virgin is at once pure, powerful and monstrous, a figure who fascinates because she resists final definition.
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