Suffering, Servitude, Power: Eco-Critical and Eco-Theological Readings of the Exeter Book Riddles

Corinne Dale

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Humanity is a dominant presence in the Exeter Book riddle collection, significantly more so than it is in other early English riddle collections, and it is shown actively shaping, changing, and interacting with the physical world. The Exeter Book riddles engage with issues of exploitation, degradation and suffering and use their playful literary context to portray and, at times, reassess the roles of mastery and servitude that humans and nature have assumed in the post-lapsarian world.

In this thesis, I set out to explore the depiction of the non-human world in the Exeter Book Riddle collection, investigating humanity’s interaction with, and attitudes towards, the rest of creation using the fields of eco-criticism and eco-theology. Much scholarly attention has been given to what the riddles have to say about human society and culture, about heroism, service, sex and war, but very little has been said regarding the point-of-view of the natural world. I argue that there is a programme of resistance to anthropocentrism at work in the Exeter Book Riddle collection, whereby the riddles challenge human-centred ways of depicting and interpreting the created world. Depictions of the marginalised perspectives of sentient and non-sentient beings such as trees and animals are not just a characteristic of the riddle genre, but are actively used to explore the point of view of the natural world and the impact humanity has on its non-human inhabitants.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Neville, Jennifer, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • eco-criticism
  • eco-theology
  • old english riddles
  • anglo-saxon
  • exter book

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