Congratulations to our recent PhD students

September 3, 2014 by Communications

Congratulations to Elizabeth (Beth) Watkins, Jaclyn Piudik and Justin Haynes who have successfully defended their PhD dissertations in summer 2014. Here’s some further information about their work.

Beth Watkins (defended in April 2014), French Romance and English Piety: Genre and Codex in Insular Romance. Supervisor: Suzanne Akbari; external examiner: Ardis Butterfield, Yale University.

This dissertation explores what the interplay of romance and religious literature in England from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries can reveal about the origins and development of medieval romance. Drawing upon codicological evidence, it favors a more fluid definition of romance that recognizes it as both a category of generic difference distinct from but also linked to the saint’s life, chronicle, or chanson de geste, and as a mode of translation that has its roots in the origins of the term romanz as a marker of linguistic difference used to distinguish French from Latin. It argues that the interconnections of romance and religious literature should be viewed as part of the process of translating or adapting a text, whether into a new language or for a new audience. The first section examines how French hagiographical works adopt motifs and themes associated with romance in the translation of their Latin sources. Chapter 1 focuses on Wace’s use of courtly imagery, expanded descriptions, and doubling in the Vie de Sainte Marguerite, Conception Nostre Dame, and Vie de Saint Nicolas and how these alterations to his source material anticipate qualities that would become features of the romance genre. The second chapter discusses the generic hybridity in Marie de France’s Vie Seinte Audree, in which allusions to the lais cast Saint Audrey as a mal mariée, and the Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, in which the emphasis on Owein’s status as a knight offers a suitable alternative to the religious life. The second section assesses the use of hagiographic and religious elements in romances. The third chapter traces the use of hagiography in three Anglo-Norman romances – the Roman de Horn, Roman de Waldef, and Gui de Warewic – to contextualize the significant generic shift that occurs in the attribution of saintly qualities to the hero Guy of Warwick in the latest of the three texts. Concentrating on the role of the relics, the final chapter looks at how the Middle English adaptations of the chanson de geste Fierabras reflect developments in devotional culture, England’s involvement in the Hundred Years War, and the rise of English as a literary language. The combination of codicological and literary approaches in this study foregrounds the processes of translation, adaptation, and transmission that operated in the literary networks of medieval England to broaden our understanding of medieval genres, as well as the place of French language, literature, and culture.


Jaclyn Piudik (August 2014), Hybridity in the Fourteenth-Century Esther Poems of Israel Caslari. Supervisor: Jill Ross; external examiner: David Wacks, University of Oregon.

The Scroll of Esther, one of the quintessential texts of post-exilic Jewish salvation, was particularly beloved in the European Middle Ages, when the narrative served as a model for redemption from persecution and as a reminder of the threat of expulsion which was part of everyday Jewish life. Among its many medieval adaptations is a pair of texts written by Israel ben Joseph Caslari, a fourteenth-century Jewish physician, living in Papal-ruled Avignon. Israel’s retellings of the Purim story are expanded and heavily embellished with material from Talmudic and apocryphal sources, medieval medicine and philosophy, and references to popular culture. He composed his first version in Judéo-Provençal, the southern French vernacular written in Hebrew characters; the second in Hebrew, not a translation, but an adaptation of its predecessor. As individual works, each is a rich intertextual landscape which offers a view into its socio-religious setting and reflects the meeting and melding of cultural influences. If one considers them together, this encounter becomes even more pronounced: the two versions come into conversation, embodying the tensions of their milieu, and of their author, a Jewish intellectual in a Christian-dominated society.

The texts are a tapestry of ancient religious legacy and medieval thought, woven from threads of Jewish tradition and secular learning, from medieval belletristic conventions, midrashic literature and medical writings. This dissertation explores issues of biculturalism and religious identity through Israel’s compositional strategies and his modifications to the Biblical story. It considers first the notion of hybridity in the works through the convergence of their author’s professional and religious concerns, in his treatment of gender and language as a representation of cultural boundaries and their transgression. It then examines the multiplicity of literary genres, both religious and secular, that inhabit and inform the texts, while engaging the question of their audiences as the Hebrew version prescribes.


Justin Haynes (defended in August 2014), Recovering the Classic: Twelfth-Century Latin Epic and the Virgilian Tradition. Supervisors: John Magee and David Townsend; external examiner: Joseph Farrell, Jr., University of Pennsylvania.

This dissertation considers how ancient and medieval commentaries on the Aeneid can give us new insights into four twelfth-century Latin epics—the Ylias by Joseph of Exeter, the Alexandreis by Walter of Châtillon, the Anticlaudianus by Alan of Lille, and the Architrenius by John of Hauville. Virgil’s influence on twelfth-century Latin epic is generally thought to be limited to verbal echoes and occasional narrative episodes, but evidence is presented that more global influences have been overlooked because ancient and medieval interpretations of the Aeneid, as preserved by the commentaries, were often radically different from modern readings of the Aeneid. By explaining how to interpret the Aeneid, these commentaries directly influenced the way in which twelfth-century Latin epic imitated the Aeneid. At the same time, these Aeneid commentaries allow us a greater awareness of the generic expectations held by the original readers of twelfth-century Latin epic. Thus, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of ancient and medieval perceptions of the Aeneid while exploring the importance of commentaries in shaping poetic composition, imitation, and reading. The first chapter presents evidence that the allegorical interpretation of the Aeneid, as presented by Servius, Fulgentius, and Bernard Silvestris, served as an important structural model for the plots of the Anticlaudianus and the Architrenius. The second chapter examines how the twelfth-century understanding of history and myth in the Aeneid influenced the Alexandreis and the Ylias. The final chapter explores how these medieval epics respond to the twelfth-century ethical reading of the Aeneid and suggests possible links to modern ‘pessimistic’ interpretations of the Aeneid, building on the work done by Craig Kallendorf in The Other Virgil and Richard Thomas in Virgil and the Augustan Reception.