The Question of Identity and the Cloak in Emare

  • Caitlin Marissa Beecher Smith


This paper examines the Middle English, Breton lay Emare. In this literary discussion I posit that the magnificent cloak given to Emare, which becomes the main image of the poem, blinds the other characters to Emare’s true identity as a woman autonomous from said cloak. The cloak itself is given lengthy description but is never given authoritative meaning by the poet. The ambiguity of this image has been the focus of several author’s monographs (See Archibald, Arthur and Hopkins). The poet creates and destroys ‘sets’ of characters ensuring, in the end, that Emare is able to avoid incestuous advances and find her appropriate place with people who are not blinded by the passion that the cloak incites in them. The poem itself falls into the genre of Woman Falsely Accused and Cast Adrift, which were popular in the medieval period (See Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale), and addresses the issue of female identity in a male world.