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Title: Workers and artisans, the binders and the bound : craftsmen and notions of craftsmanship in Old English literature
Author: Alff, Diane Catherine Rose
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis analyses Anglo-Saxon conceptions of craftsmanship, and provides new interpretations for the notions of searo, orþonc and cræft in Old English literature. I argue that the texts discussing craftsmanship and craftsmen subscribe to an atemporal myth. This myth is not so much that of Weland the smith of Germanic lore, but rather a myth of the inculpating and redemptive power of craftsmanship, after a fall-and-salvation pattern. I show that, on the level of semantics, mirroring the above pattern, there are concurrent shifts in the meanings of two of the main terms for craftsmanship, and that notably searo is subject to pejoration in the process of transition from a poetic to a prose term, while cræft, on the other hand, witnesses a number of semantic changes to make it a versatile and uniquely positive expression of craftsmanship. Whereas orþanc is a neutral notion of craftsmanship that is bound to a concrete genre before being recast in the close environment of bishop Æthelwold‟s circle at Winchester in the tenth century, the semantic shifts in searo and cræft are testimony to broad cultural shifts in the representations of craftsmanship and in perceptions of the craftsman. The point of departure in Chapter One is with the artisans themselves, the craftsmen and skilled metalworkers – the actual makers of em>searo, orþonc and cræft. Taking the smith as the archetypal craftsman, I examine the manner in which this artisan-artist is depicted in Old English and Anglo-Latin literature. I argue that two strands can be distinguished, one depicting the craftsman as reprobate, and another exalting him. In subsequent chapters, semantic studies and new readings of three notions of craftsmanship illuminate the intricate ways in which these two strands interact across time, genre and medium of expression. In Chapter Two, searo is examined within the semantic field of binding to show that it represents a traditional expression of superlative craftsmanship associated primarily with the smith, and denoting status and quality in verse. In its pejoration as a notion of scheming and deceit, it retains its strong association with binding and becomes a mechanism for redemption by connecting with the Harrowing of Hell tradition. Chapter Three shows how orþanc evolves from a poetic term denoting ancient craftsmanship into an abstract notion of ingenuity, by charting its existence in the gloss corpus and relating it to the glossing of mechanica in later Anglo-Saxon England. It emerges as a hermeneutic term characterised by moral neutrality, with close connections to the Benedictine Reform movement. Chapter Four is the first segment of a two-part examination of cræft as a notion of craftsmanship. After evaluating the body of existing critical material, I assess our understanding of the term's polysemy before analysing its use as a concrete but somewhat antiquated notion of magical craftsmanship. Chapter Five provides an in-depth assessment of an alternative, much more widespread, Christianized usage of cræft as a notion of divine endowment. It shows how this notion is instrumental in several highly positive assessments of smiths analysed in Chapter One, and argues that it provides a platform for other craftsmen to distinguish themselves in a religious, orthodox way. In my conclusion, I show that the new readings of these notions are key to interpreting metaphors of poetic creation and creativity as used by authors such as Cynewulf.
Supervisor: Atherton, Mark Sponsor: Luxembourg Ministry of Higher Education ; University of Oxford
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; English and Old English literature ; Semantics