The ‘English’ Knight: Creating Medieval Transnationalism in Sir Beves of Hamtoun

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Abstract

The Middle English romance Sir Beves of Hamtoun attempts to portray the heroic deeds and feats of its protagonist, Beves, as signifiers of his ‘English’ identity. In order to do so, the narratorial frame of the poem situates Englishness as a characteristic of birth rather than one of action, yet it is clear within the poem that actions are what define a knight. Beves's actions, then, run counter to the implicit claim of the frame. Beves of Hamtoun presents the potential for medieval transnationalism despite its attempts to assert a definitive Englishness. Beves enacts a transnational identity through his interactions with Saracen culture and his eventual marriage to the daughter of the Saracen King Ermin, which leads to a union of English Christian and Saracen and then, eventually, to two sons who are lineally English and yet culturally Saracen. By its end, the narrative demonstrates that identity cannot be determined by birth, nor can it be contained by political borders. Rather, Beves and his heirs are examples of a medieval transnationalism that exists before the modern conception of nation and political identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12382
JournalLiterature Compass
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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