Death and Dying in Literature
Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett
Chapter Seven: How Men Grieve: A Contemporary Allegory of the Grieving Process in Sir Orfeo
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How Men Grieve
A Contemporary Allegory of the Grieving Process in Sir Orfeo
REBEKAH M. FOWLER
Perhaps nowhere in medieval literature is the process of grief more beautifully rendered than in the Breton lay Sir Orfeo (ca. 1300). In this tale, Orfeo’s wife, Heurodis, is abducted by fairies, leading Orfeo to engage in actions that parallel the stages of grief established by both the attachment theory of John Bowlby in his volume Loss: Sadness and Depression (1980) and by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in On Death and Dying (1969). This essay argues that the story of Sir Orfeo can be read as an allegory for the process of grief by using the trappings of medieval romance to provide a literal context through which we might read both Bowlby’s and Kübler-Ross’s stages at the allegorical level. That is, the elements of this fourteenth-century story parallel the stages established by twentieth-century scholars of loss and grief. Mapping Kübler-Ross and Bowlby onto Sir Orfeo provides a compelling perspective on how medieval peoples similarly represent responses to loss, suggesting the timelessness of modes of grief. Furthermore, this mapping serves as a comforting reminder that grief does eventually subside and that life begins anew.
At the literal level, the events of the tale begin with the abduction of Queen Heurodis by the Fairy King with the warning that she must be prepared to go with the fairies...
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