‘Acting’ Objects in Medieval English Literature

Subproject by Jan-Peer Hartmann


The project focuses on objects in medieval English texts to which a degree of agency and autonomy is attributed that goes beyond the intentions of the fictional human agents that produce or use them. Usually, these artefacts are described as particularly valuable or imbued with magical powers. Yet their handling often becomes problematic: despite, and in many cases, because of the extraordinary properties with which they are endowed, the objects in question frequently prove useless or even fatal to their users. Such objects, which may be cursed or in some other way act against their intended purpose and thus ultimately conspire against their users or owners, obviously possess an active component. This raises the fundamental question of what distinguishes an object as object, and how it is different from animate nature.