Major Department



College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2019

Honors Major Advisor

Alyssa Park

Thesis Mentor

Michael E. Moore


This thesis explores the agency of women in Medieval Iceland through the examination of the Icelandic sagas. The Icelandic sagas are one of the most impressive bodies of literature to emerge from Medieval Europe. The sagas offer a trove of social information and a look into the society of Medieval Iceland. These narratives tell the story of the people of Iceland during the first 160 years of settlement, beginning in AD 870. While their focus is on the struggles of men, the sagas do not ignore women. In Medieval Iceland, women had no judiciary standing and relied on men for safety, status, and property. However, the sagas do not paint a picture of powerless women. The sagas show that women influenced situations by using the strict honor code of Iceland to their advantage. Because of men’s concern with maintaining their honor, a woman could goad a man into action by shaming and threatening his honor and masculinity. Men would then perform acts that the women themselves were not allowed to perform. The purpose of this research is to explain the speech acts and the context of these situations, as well as argue that this behavior actually happened and was a way for Icelandic women to influence situations. This thesis looks at three instances when a woman employed this technique: when she felt humiliated or wronged, when she wanted to further her own interests, or when she wanted to avenge the death of a kinsmen.


sagas, Iceland, masculinity, women, literature, social

Total Pages

44 pages


Copyright © 2018 Sarah Lauer