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362 Study Questions: "The Dream of the Rood" (Longman Anthology, Kevin Crossley-Holland translation)

Vocabulary: manuscript, Vercelli Manuscript, personification, prosopopoeia, kenning, hlaford, thegn, fame-shame culture, alliterative verse

Character Identifications: the dreamer, the Rood, Christ

Abbreviations: MS (Manuscript)

Introduction Questions: What is a rood? [Consult a dictionary if you need to.]
The only manuscript copy of "The Dream of the Rood" was found in what unusual location? The only other partial copy is found on what object in Dumfriesshire, Scotland?

Reading Questions: What does the narrator of "The Dream of the Rood" state he will describe in the opening lines?
As the speaker stares at the gold and gems, what begins to pour from the cross's right side? What change takes place to the "clothing and hue" that decorates the cross?
Who or what tells the dreamer the story of the cross in his dream?
What does the cross want to do when it first sees Christ approaching and again when "the hero clasped [him]"?" After stating this, what does the cross say it wanted to do (and could easily have done) to all the foes of Christ?
What command does the cross give the Dreamer in the conclusion of his tale?
How does the dreamer's emotional attitude change toward the cross by the last paragraph of the poem?

Lecture Questions: What do the five gems on the "triumph-tree" probably represent in Christian iconography? In medieval theology, what is the significance of the fact the poem's speaker says he was afraid when he first saw blood on the cross?

In medieval legends, who discovered the true cross after it had been hidden away and buried? What technique did this person use to force those hiding the cross to reveal its location?
The account of how "all creation wept" at the death of Christ recalls what Old Norse deity and his death?
The bit about the cross being taken out and shot full of arrows recalls the martyrdom of what Catholic saint?

Passage Identifications:

A: It seemed to me I saw a wondrous tree
soaring into the air, surrounded by light,
the brightest of crosses; that emblem was entirely
cased in gold; beautiful jewels
were strewn around its foot, just as five
studded the cross-beam. . . .
That was no cross of a criminal, but holy spirits and men on earth
watched over it there--the whole glorious universe.

B: The finest of trees began to speak:
"I remember the morning a long time ago
that I was felled at the edge of the forest
and severed from my roots. Strong enemies seized me,
bade me hold up their felons on high,
made me a spectacle."

C: "I saw the Lord of Mankind
hasten with such courage to climb upon me.
I dared not bow or break there
against my Lord's wish, when I saw the surface
of the earth tremble. I could have felled
all my foes, yet I stood firm.
Then the young warrior stripped himself, firm and unflinching."

D: "They drove dark nails into me; dire wounds are there to see,
the gaping gashes of malice; I dared not injure them.
They insulted us both together; I was drenched in the blood
that streamed from the Man's side after He set His spirit free."

Food for thought:

The images of Christ on the cross from the early medieval period around 1180. It comes from Treviso in Northern Italy, and it is typical of the Christ-images appearing before the Franciscan movement. Note the stern expression and the rigid, immobile body language. (It looks like Christ is going to hop off the cross at any moment and unload a can of celestial butt-whipping.) What is the early medieval artist trying to suggest about the nature of Christ?

Contrast that image above with an image of Christ appearing below. This one comes from the later medieval period after the Franciscan movement. Note the emphasis on human anatomy, the frailty and "feminine" weakness of the Christ figure. What is this late medieval artist trying to convey about the nature of Christ? How does this change in artistic depiction match the change in medieval culture from the early centuries toward the later centuries?

Which imagery is most appropriate for the Christ-figure appearing in The Dream of the Rood?



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