Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sara Munson Deats, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elaine Treharne, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jay Zysk, Ph.D.


Postcolonial, Medieval, Henry V, Arthur, Beowulf


This project explores connections between hero and history, text and context. By engaging Postcolonial theories about the roles that invasion and oppression, play in developing national identity and how colonized people respond to such encounters in literature, I examine how experiences of invasion and hostile interaction as represented in medieval and early modern English literature influenced the creation of specific heroic values.

In my first chapter, I analyze The Battle of Maldon and Beowulf as exemplars of the Anglo-Saxon culture, observing that Byrhtnoth and Beowulf work as fictional embodiments of a fantasy of power: men of super-human strength and exceptional resoluteness who, through remarkable sacrifices, inspire men to accomplish phenomenal deeds of their own. Next, I explore Arthur in The Alliterative Morte Arthure and Le Morte Darthur, who embraces his hybridity, fluidly moving between the Anglo-Saxon warrior tradition and the French romance tradition. Last, I consider Shakespeare’s Henry V, which depicts a conquering hero who possesses the prowess and nobility of his heroic predecessors and the ability to succeed where they failed, securing England’s continental dominance. In each era, I contend that the authors created heroes on whom they could project a fantasized identity which defied the realities of their time, heroes who changed based upon the type of threat faced by England.

This study samples five hundred years of literature and uses this breadth to explore cross-periodic continuity, finding that the heroes of these texts respond not only to their historical context, but also to each other. This scope allows one to see how the emblem of the hero responds to the reality of the authors and audiences of these texts.

The figure of the hero develops over centuries, demonstrating that as the needs of the authors and audiences change, so, too, does the character who represents them. These literary figures provide a unique window into the culture and concerns of the authors and audiences during the medieval and early modern eras. They represent desire for strength, inspiration, glory and triumph. They reflect the agony of anxiety, vulnerability, defeat, and hopelessness. Most importantly, they reimagine, reframe, and redress reality.