Characterization in Ælfric's Esther: a cognitive stylistic examination

Wilkins, Katrina M. (2018) Characterization in Ælfric's Esther: a cognitive stylistic examination. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis examines characterization in Ælfric’s Old English version of the biblical book of Esther, from the perspective of cognitive stylistics. This area of study uses concepts and methods from linguistics in order to better understand both how literature works and how language works. The study investigates explicit characterization cues, discourse presentation, semantic fields, and deixis to illuminate how Ælfric’s careful linguistic choices construct characters that remain true to their biblical exempla, make sense to his Anglo-Saxon audience, and underscore the doctrinal themes of the narrative.

Chapter 1 describes the textual history of Esther, from its origins to its reception in the early Middle Ages. This is followed by a discussion of the history of Ælfric’s version of the story and its treatment by scholars in the modern era. Chapter 2 outlines my methodology, based in cognitive stylistics, which draws on concepts from cognitive science and related fields to understand what happens in the reader’s mind during reading. In addition, I occasionally draw on corpus stylistics methods, and this is also described.

The results and discussion of this analysis form the bulk of Chapters 3 through 6. Chapter 3 focuses on explicit cues, those things that directly describe a character’s personality traits. Speech, thought, and writing presentation are the focus of Chapter 4, which examines how these modes of discourse are presented and how this presentation contributes to the characterization. In Chapter 5 I examine two semantic fields of particular importance in this text: emotions and food. Finally, Chapter 6 addresses two aspects of deixis: relational deixis and Deictic Shift Theory. Although, in all chapters, the analysis primarily focuses on the five main characters (Ahasuerus, Esther, Vashti, Mordecai, and Haman), other apposite characters are also discussed, including the Jews, the Persians, God, and even Ælfric.

This kind of cognitive stylistic analysis of Old English and other historical literature is doubly useful. First, it offers new and valuable insights into this literature. The present study, for example, notes minute linguistic details that offer significant characterization cues and also explains the peculiar sense of many Anglo-Saxonists (and other historians) that they know very well people whom they have never met. Second, such examination demonstrates that the chosen methods are robust enough to cope with literature much older than that normally engaged in modern stylistic studies. This not only verifies the utility of the methods, but also attests to the universal nature of their underlying principles.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Cavill, Paul
Lee, Christina
Keywords: Old English, Anglo-Saxon, medieval, Bible, Esther, Ælfric, stylistics, linguistics, literary linguistics, cognitive, character, characterization, characterisation, discourse presentation, emotions, food, semantic fields, deixis, relational deixis, Deictic Shift Theory
Subjects: P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 52051
Depositing User: Wilkins, Katrina
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2018 12:06
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2022 04:30

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