St Edmund, King and Martyr, (d. 869 CE) is not normally regarded as a saint synonymous with the maritime environment. Nevertheless, in John Lydgate’s Life of St Edmund and London, British Library, MS Harley 2278 the sea is integral to the entire story, shaping each significant moment of narrative transition, and functions effectively as a character in its own right. In this article I will demonstrate the variety of ways in which Lydgate evokes the maritime to both great narrative and symbolic effect, and explore how this contributes to his unique portrayal of the saint.
It also demonstrates the importance of centring the natural world and reading medieval texts of all genres from an eco-critical perspective. Adopting an ecocritical approach in which the sea itself is centred as a crucial maker and carrier of symbolic meaning in its own right therefore enables this important text to be read anew and thus makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the rhetorical richness of one of the major authors of the fifteenth century. It also furthers the growing ecocritical discourse pertaining specifically to medieval water studies, where recent publications have demonstrated the wealth of new insights which can gained from adopting what Glotfelty characterised as taking ‘an earth-centred approach to literary studies’ or, in this case, a thalassocentric approach.
"The Saint and the Sea: The Maritime Rhetoric of John Lydgate’s Life of St Edmund and BL Harley 2278,"
Medieval Ecocriticisms: Vol. 2, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/med_ecocriticisms/vol2/iss1/3