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Wood was an essential material in the Middle Ages, but trees – and human relationships with them – are too often ignored. Using trees as a lens through which to view medieval romance can provide us with a new perspective on the genre, on medieval gender norms, and on human relationships with the material non-human. This article focusses on the trees in the Middle English Sir Orfeo in order to interrogate how Orfeo’s identity is linked to trees and wooden objects. Although Orfeo’s harp is the most obvious wooden marker of his identity, the ympe-tree in Orfeo and Herodis’s orchard, the hollow tree in which Orfeo hides his harp while in the wilderness, and the ympe-tree as it appears in the Otherworld each mark different stages of Orfeo’s characterisation. Finally, Orfeo himself becomes a tree through metaphor when he returns to his kingdom. By exploring each of these trees in turn, this essay will show how the text can be read as one that breaks down binaries and hierarchies through its arboreal imagery, even if only briefly.
Ecocriticism, Masculinity, Middle English romance, Middle English Breton Lays, Materiality, Identity
Copyright © 2020 the author(s)
Howarth, Danielle "Making it Through the Wilderness: Trees as Markers of Gendered Identities in Sir Orfeo." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 56, No. 1 (2020) : 84-106.