Performative Emotion and the Politics of Gender in the Nibelungenlied

  • Kathryn Starkey
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The Nibelungenlied is a heroic epic composed around 1200 in Middle High German that offers an account of the downfall of the Burgundians. The poem may be roughly divided into two halves. The first tells the story of a young Siegfried who is drawn to the seat of the Burgundian kings in Worms by their sister Kriemhild ’s legendary beauty. Siegfried soon becomes King Gunther ’s right hand man, taking the field for him in the Saxon wars, and helping him to win Brunhild as his wife. In return for his help, Gunther promises Kriemhild to Siegfried. But, Brunhild, having been misled to believe that Siegfried is Gunther ’s vassal, is perturbed at the match. She refuses to lie with Gunther on the wedding night until he explains why he has married his sister to his vassal. Siegfried helps Gunther again by slipping on a magic cloak, overpowering Brunhild in bed, removing her girdle and her ring, and rendering her powerless.


Female Character Emotional Display Medieval Literature Medieval Text Formative Emotion 
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  1. 2.
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© Sara S. Poor and Jana K. Schulman 2007

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  • Kathryn Starkey

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