“A Guest is in the Hall”: Women, Feasts, and Violence in Icelandic Epic
The literature of medieval Iceland, regardless of genre, is united by several features, including narrative structures, emphasis on genealogy as a means of character delineation, and recognition of the importance of equal status of both parties for a marriage to succeed. Sagas make much of marriages as narrative devices because so much is embroiled in the arranging of the marriage: status, honor, and alliances derived from marriages shape the plots of many sagas, both positively and negatively.1 When women do not wish to marry the prospective grooms that their fathers have selected, but agree to do so anyway, albeit reluctantly, the setting is ripe for violence. Sometimes, these women reject the suitors because they deem them socially beneath them; other times, they object because their guardians have not consulted them. Honor is as important to women as it is to men in medieval Icelandic literature. The arrangement of a marriage, then, presents opportunities for perceived slights to honor; many insults derive from misalliances or thwarted expectations. Any perceived insult can have a devastating result, and it is all too easy for such an insult to lead to violence as a means of redressing that misalliance or thwarted expectation.
KeywordsSexual Theme Foster Father Narrative Device Drinking Vessel High Seat
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