Wilson, R.M. Comedy and Character in the Icelandic Family Sagas

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  • Author: Wilson, R. M.
  • Title: Comedy and Character in the Icelandic Family Sagas
  • Published in: Medieval Literature and Civilization: Studies in memory of G.N. Garmonsway
  • Editors: D. A. Pearsall, R. A. Waldron.
  • Place, Publisher: London: Athlone Press
  • Year: 1969
  • Pages: 100-28
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Wilson, R. M. "Comedy and Character in the Icelandic Family Sagas." Medieval Literature and Civilization: Studies in memory of G.N. Garmonsway, pp. 100-128. Eds. D. A. Pearsall, R. A. Waldron. London: Athlone Press, 1969.

  • Key words: characterization, humour (persónulýsingar, skop)


Contents

Annotation

Humour in the Icelandic family sagas tends to be grim, often manifesting itself in the “heroic jests” that characters utter when facing great danger or even on the point of death. Wilson suggests that such jests become a saga convention and are witnesses to a “different sense of humour in a different age and rougher environment” (p. 104). Where characters are comic, they often exhibit a specific vice that would have been despised in the society the sagas depict, such as avarice, boasting, cowardice and stupidity. In some cases, major figures in family sagas also exhibit comic tendencies, and while tradition likely dictates at least some of the humour, a saga’s author may have specific comic intentions when developing the character of a protagonist. Humour in Egill Skallagrímsson’s verses directed at his own physical appearance may well be part of a tradition, but the author also subtly characterises Egill as avaricious by carefully positioning remarks on money or episodes concerning treasures that either Egill receives or desires.

Lýsing

Húmorinn í Íslendingasögunum er iðulega svartur, og kemur oft fram þegar persónur sýna „hetjulund" andspænis hættu eða jafnvel yfirvofandi dauða. Wilson segir að þessi tilsvör hafi orðið hefðbundinn þáttur í sögunum og sé til marks um „annars konar skopskyn, á öðrum tíma, við aðrar og grimmari aðstæður" (s. 104). Þegar um sé að ræða skoplegar persónur þá hafi þær oft tiltekna persónugalla - svo sem aurasýki, sjálfshól, heigulshátt og heimsku - sem menn hljóti að hafa fyrirlitið í því samfélagi sem sögurnar lýsa. Í vissum tilvikum megi líka finna skoplegar hliðar á aðalpersónum Íslendingasagnanna og þó að stundum megi rekja grínið til bókmenntahefðarinnar þá geti persónulýsing slíkra aðalpersóna einnig borið vott um skopskyn höfundarins. Húmorinn í kvæðum Egils Skalla-Grímssonar, sem beinist oft að líkamlegu útliti hans sjálfs, má hugsanlega rekja til bókmenntahefðar en þó er ljóst að höfundurinn dregur upp mynd af aurasýki Egils með vel völdum og vel staðsettum athugasemdum um fé, sem og lýsingum á því þegar Egill ýmist þráir auð eða öðlast hann.

See also

References

Chapter 55: ennis ósléttur: "No doubt the wry sense of humour and jesting pleasure in his own ugliness, shown by Egill Skallagrímsson in his poems and verses, also owes something to tradition. On the other hand, the author is probably to be credited with some of the comic elements in Egill’s character. These arise mainly from one of the basic vices of heroic society – he is incurably avaricious. Since Egill is also essentially unselfconcious the author can make the avarice humorous by the casual air with which at various times he makes the point" (pp. 121-22).

Links

  • Written by: Katelin Parsons
  • Icelandic translation: Jón Karl Helgason
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