'al hero iwilla' : violence and identity in Laȝamon’s Brut.

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All scholarship on Laȝamon’s Brut recognizes that the poem is extremely violent, but most of the studies that interrogate violence or peace in the poem limit themselves to wartime violence. This project attempts to widen the perspective and enable a nuanced view of why violence occurs, both in war and in other forms. To aid in this comprehension, I divide motivations for violence into possession of goods, dominance, revenge, and honor, and I point out patterns such as René Girard’s sacrificial crisis and Steven Pinker’s Moralization Gap. All of the motivations cohere, however, in a concern for identity, and to illuminate that dynamic, I turn to Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, and other phenomenologists. Through these lenses, I propose that understanding the uses of violence can help elucidate established scholarly concerns, such as how the text evaluates kings, constructs race, and imagines the possibility of peace. This study also contributes to the current state of scholarship by putting heavy emphasis on early episodes in the Brut, which establish patterns of violence and parameters for understanding the narrator’s evaluations of events. Only after such groundwork does this project arrive at the conclusion that Arthur is the best king, but that his justified imperial project still leaves Britain vulnerable. Several strands of the text imply that the tragedy of Arthur’s rule results from conflicts inherent in the Britons’ self-conception and methods of attaining peace. In this way, the critique of the Britons that the poem offers reaches all the way down to its basic imagination of who the Britons are and how they use violence to organize their society.

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Laȝamon. Brut. Violence. Identity. Phenomenology. King Arthur. Kingship. Emmanuel Levinas. Jean-Luc Marion. René Girard. Steven Pinker. War. Peace. Honor. Race.
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