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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

c) Accessible Middle Ages

1) Medievalism in Canada

Margaret Jane Toswell

Texte intégral

1Although the study of medievalism is relatively young, its central tenet holds that current responses to the Middle Ages work through a double lens, to the Middle Ages themselves by way of a mediated perception of the Middle Ages established in the nineteenth century. That is, we see the Middle Ages through a glass darkly, through the Victorian period. This perception holds for the countries of western Europe and for Commonwealth countries and the United States, and for other countries strongly influenced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by western Europe. But, medievalism in Canada does not appear to follow this trajectory. Some elements of Canadian medievalism are highly influenced by American medievalism, especially American neo-medievalism, in video games, some television and movie projects, and other pseudo-medieval features of the modern world. However, the preponderant tendency in Canadian medievalism is direct access to medieval texts. For example, the Canadian/Icelandic co-production of a movie on Beowulf provided a modern version of the poem but one shot in the real world, while making the poem’s more fantastic features into a realistic presentation of Grendel and the fight between him and Beowulf, with even an attempt at a plausible reason for the conflict. Similarly, the Canadian poet and cultural figure Earle Birney prepared radio dramas based directly on a broad range of medieval texts (Beowulf, various of Chaucer’s texts, Gawain and the Green Knight, even some lesser-known fabliaux) which were very well produced and presented in prime time on the CBC (Canada’s public radio service, correlating best with the BBC in the United Kingdom). In Winnipeg, about forty years ago, a local poet reworked Beowulf into an opera, which was professionally presented by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and recorded under the baton of Victor Davies. There are many other examples. In this paper I consider this unusual interest in approaching the texts of the Middle Ages directly and speculate as to how and why this approach developed by looking at the history of Canadian medievalism from the early nineteenth century through to the present day.


Sir Gawain

Musical works

3Davies – Wylie, Beowulf


University of Western Ontario

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