Representation and Design

Tracing a Hermeneutics of Old English Poetry

By Pauline E. Head

Subjects: Medieval Studies
Series: SUNY series in Medieval Studies
Paperback : 9780791432044, 166 pages, February 1997
Hardcover : 9780791432037, 166 pages, February 1997

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations



1. Locating the Reader: Perspectives in Old English Poetry and Anglo-Saxon Art

2. Peripheral Meanings: Frames in Old English Poetry and Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Illumination

3. Images of Storytelling: The Presence of the Past in Old English Poetry

Afterword: Tracing Signs of Elusion




Examines Old English poetry from the point of view of its interpretation, drawing on Anglo-Saxon pictorial art as a model for the interaction of representation and design.


Representation and Design examines Old English poetry from the point of view of its interpretation, beginning with the assumption that Anglo-Saxon concepts of reading were probably very different from those that dominate our own literary culture. The book insists on the semantic interaction of representation and design, two aspects of Old English poetry that traditionally have been examined separately, and draws on Anglo-Saxon pictorial art as a model throughout. It disputes the conventional dichotomy that interpretation makes between content and form; redefines content as a particular mode of representation—a reflection of texts and ideologies; and recognizes form as complex and meaningful design so that the "two" no longer can be distinguished in the process of interpretation.

The author examines a range of texts—Beowulf, The Wanderer, the Exeter Book riddles, manuscript illuminations, and the sculpture of the Ruthwell cross—in order to consider the place of the reader, the frame, and the past in Anglo-Saxon representation. Through this process, she traces a fluidity of signification and suggests that an Anglo-Saxon aesthetic would be both complex and enigmatic.

Pauline E. Head is Associate Professor of English at York University.


"This book offers new insights into poems and issues at the heart of Old English literature. Readings intelligently informed by postmodern theory are increasingly in demand in the field. The reading of the Ruthwell cross in relation to the Dream of the Rood is particularly supple and sensitive, and will change my classroom presentation of this poem forever. " — Jon Wilcox, University of Iowa