Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MA English

Department

English

Advisor

Angela Weisl, Ph.D

Committee Member

Mary Balkun, Ph.D

Keywords

hybridity, Kudrun, Saga of Volsungs, Nibelungenlied, dragon, bi-gendered

Abstract

This paper examines anxieties about gender and gender in a thirteenth-century Old Norse text, The Saga of the Volsungs, and two Middle High German texts, the Nibelungenlied and Kudrun. All three exhibit a similar uneasiness about gender performance. In these epics, fears about gender fluidity are founded on the slaying of hybrid mythological creatures (dragons and griffons) and are perpetuated by various media: blood, tears, clothing, promises, and lies. These monsters threaten the established order within the text, a patriarchal order defined by feudal society. Once the hero defeats the monster—whose very essence is simultaneously an embodiment of the perceived order and stability of the patriarchy and the chaos and disorder of the matriarchy—the threat temporarily subsides only to reemerge in a new form due to the intimate relationship between the hero and the monster. The monster becomes a part of the hero’s new identity, a part that cannot be separated from the hero. And it is this bond that eventually displaces the hero and other characters within the text, leaving questions, doubts, and ambiguities surrounding their hybrid identities. Without a stable position within society (and within the text), these new, roaming hybrid characters must die, literally or metaphorically, for order to attempt to be restored.

Within the The Saga of the Volsungs and Nibelungenlied, two texts which have a similar narrative, the authors, or perhaps the scribes, both recognize and acknowledge the beauty of this outward expression of hybridity, particularly that of gender fluidity. And yet, they simultaneously express their fears and reservations, showcasing the potential chaotic and destructive power of these “unstable,” or rather “uncreated,” identities. In contrast to these two texts, the third text Kudrun condemns all forms of hybridity, for they pose a direct threat to the patriarchy. Only characters with stable identities (and by stable identities I mean identities that are created and accepted by the feudal society) are rewarded. These characters not only survive but are able to access alternative forms of power through their stability without negative repercussions. Kudrun, who embraces her role as a female, is able to amass and wield masculine power successfully despite her biological sex, even if only for a short time. Therefore, based on the final outcome of the Nibelungenlied, The Saga of the Volsungs, and Kudrun, the fear of these characters extends beyond just their physical hybridity within the text; it lies more so in the public performance of the hybridity, the performance of multiple gender roles simultaneously that destabilize the created order. These “monsters” challenge and disassociate biological sex and gender performance, leaving society to question, and potentially reevaluate, their gendered categories while exposing them to the possibility and beauty of an “uncreated” identity: an identity unaffected by societal influences.

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