Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

Appropriating the Classical Underworld: The Otherworld and its Spectacle in Sir Orfeo by Blythe Hsing-wen Tsai

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Blythe Hsing-wen Tsai

National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan

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Appropriating the Classical Underworld: The Otherworld and its Spectacle in Sir Orfeo


In the Middle English Breton lay, Sir Orfeo (c. 1340), the Underworld transforms from its classical prototype of an ominous realm of shadows into the marvellous Otherworld. In this paper, I examine the Orfeo poet’s rewriting of Greco-Roman Orpheus tradition with a focus on the poet’s reception of the classical Underworld so as to explicate how frequently the poet makes use of romance elements to relocate the Underworld / Otherworld in a context blended with Celtic folklore and chivalric conventions. I argue that the Orfeo poet refashions the classical Underworld and formulates a world full of natural and artistic spectacle. More importantly, far from being a world of mournful shadows and the symbol of forever loss, the Otherworld in Sir Orfeo is a domain of light and hope where mortals encounter adventures, undergo trials, and return to the corporeal world in bliss and good faith.

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Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

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Thursday, 15 May, 2014 10:48 AM

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