Research Stream


Michael Ovens
The University of Western Australia

Andrew Lynch
The University of Western Australia

Robert White
The University of Western Australia

Jane-Héloïse Nancarrow (2016)
The University of Western Australia


The Forms of Things Unknown: Narrative Geometries in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

This project investigates the emotional significations of interpersonal space and movement in medieval and early modern narrative action, with a focus on narrative representations of interpersonal combat.


           The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
           Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
           And as imagination bodies forth
           The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
           Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
           A local habitation and a name.

                                William Shakespeare,
                                A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Despite a growing interest in the field of literary cartography there remains a tendency for critics to deny significance to narrative representations of bodily motion or to assign them a psychosexual meaning of questionable provenance. Grounded in cognitive psychological studies of interpretation, this project seeks to develop new digital humanities tools capable of helping modern audiences interpret the emotions of historic texts according to medieval and early modern hermeneutics of space. These tools make extensive use of augmented and virtual reality experiences as cognitive prostheses which mimic the lost functionality of medieval and early modern imaginations in order to embody the ‘forms of things unknown’ and give narrative actions both local habitations and names.

The primary foci of this project are the literary representations of interpersonal combat in medieval and early modern Europe. Many of these narrative sequences are deeply spatial in their description of the movement of blade and brawn, but their cultural and thematic significance remains out of reach for many modern audiences. By developing new digital tools for visualising the spatial dimensions of literature, this project aims to deepen our appreciation of these texts and our understanding of their influence on the modern world.


Ovens, M. Discourse in Steel: Aspects of Interpersonal Violence, Anxiety, and the Negotiation of Masculine Identity in Western European Literature, 1100–1600. PhD Dissertation (The University of Western Australia, 2017).

Articles / Chapters
Ovens, M. 'Thine Enemy: Virtual Reality, Interpersonal Combat, and Cognitive Psychology'. In Routledge Handbook of Digital Medieval Literature and Culture, edited by J. Boyle and H. Burgess (forthcoming, May 2017).

Ovens, M. ‘Masculine Identity and the Rustics of Romance’. Viator 47.1 (2016): 45‒66.

Ovens, M. ‘Violence and Transgression in Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, le Chevalier au Lion’. Parergon 32.1 (2015): 53‒76.

Easy, Effective, Exciting: Virtual Reality in Teaching and Learning', Wednesday 7 June 2017. Tickets available online here.

Image: Image from the fifteenth-century manuscript Cgm 582, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, fol. 91v.