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Medieval Gender Difference: The Male Figures of Marie de France

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The writing of the Medieval period has been influential for centuries yet is often simplified by caricatures of the brave knight and lovely damsel. Especially in terms of gender, this

The writing of the Medieval period has been influential for centuries yet is often simplified by caricatures of the brave knight and lovely damsel. Especially in terms of gender, this period in western history is particularly strict and binary. However, through unique authors such as Marie de France, a rare female writer of the period, we can see complex, yet subtle, presentations of difference that may be unexpected to some readers. Within the lays of Marie de France, I aim to analyze the feminized male figures of Lanval, Guigemar and Bisclavret as models of gender difference using a lens of modern gender theory, specifically the ideas of theorists such as Judith Butler and R.W. Connell. These male figures of demonstrate deviations from the standard medieval masculinity through androgyny and hyper-masculinity in ways unique for the period. The conventions of the Western medieval culture are then subverted by the supernatural, making the lays lasting examples of gender expression. Using modern theory, we can take a step back from previous historical periods and try to better understand the society and culture of that time and place. By examining these male figures of difference and medieval standards of masculinity of a context long past we can see how to grow and progress further in the modern day. Gender can be understood as a social construct even centuries ago, exemplified by the unique figures of difference presented by such authors as Marie de France. Keeping that in mind, we can reanalyze literature in innovative ways and continue to seek new understandings of gender and masculinity.

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Date Created
  • 2020-05

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Early Medieval English saints' lives and the law

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This dissertation examines the relationship between secular law and Old and early Middle English hagiography in order to illustrate important culturally determined aspects of early English saints’ lives. The project

This dissertation examines the relationship between secular law and Old and early Middle English hagiography in order to illustrate important culturally determined aspects of early English saints’ lives. The project advances work in two fields of study, cultural readings of hagiography and legal history, by arguing that medieval English hagiographers use historically relevant legal concepts as an appeal to the experience of their readers and as literary devices that work to underscore the paradoxical nature of a saint's life by grounding the narrative in a historicized context. The study begins with a survey of the lexemes signifying theft in the 102 Old English saints’ lives in order to isolate some of the specific ways legal discourse was employed by early English hagiographers. Specialized language to refer to the theft of relics and moral discourse surrounding the concept of theft both work to place these saints lives in a distinctly literal and culturally significant idiom. Picking one of the texts from the survey, the following chapter focuses on Cynewulf’s Juliana and argues that the characterization of the marriage proposal at the center of the poem is intended to appeal to a specific audience: women in religious communities who were often under pressure from aggressive, and sometimes violent, suitors. The next chapter addresses Ælfric of Eynsham’s Lives of Saints and discusses his condemnation of the easy collaboration of secular legal authorities and ecclesiastics in his “Life of Swithun” and his suggestion in the “Life of Basil“ that litigiousness is itself a fundamentally wicked characteristic. Lastly, the project turns to the South English Legendary’s life of Saint Thomas Becket. Rather than a straightforward translation of the Latin source, the South English Legendary life is significant in the poet's inclusion of a composite version of the Constitutions of Clarendon, demonstrating the author's apparent interest in shaping the reception of legal culture for his or her readers and emphasizing the bureaucratic nature of Becket's sanctity. In sum, the study shows that the historicized legal material that appears in early medieval English hagiography functions to ground the biographies of holy men and women in the corporeal world.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Same-soul desire in late Medieval England

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In this study, I explore to what extent an erotic orientation toward others’ spiritual characteristics, specifically with regard to “clean” souls, was strongly idealized in at least two medieval English

In this study, I explore to what extent an erotic orientation toward others’ spiritual characteristics, specifically with regard to “clean” souls, was strongly idealized in at least two medieval English locales, the central Midlands and the North Riding of Yorkshire. Where a hetero-genital orientation was pervasively considered proper with regard to erotic attraction then as today, I propose that, additionally, a desire to associate on a spiritual level with not only those of the same religion but also of like spiritual purity governed desire. As I will argue, this orientation to a spiritual sameness stemmed from a meme of preferred association in life with other Christians with clean souls. I refer to this desire for association with Christian sameness as a homo-spiritual orientation. As I will argue, this homospirituality was the primary basis of erotic desire portrayed and prescribed in the evidence considered in this study. In sum, I argue that fifteenth-century English ways of knowing and feeling desire, reflected in models of desire in romance poetry in these two locales, evidences an erotic orientation based on homospiritual lines of attraction. Moreover, in each area, the models of lay homospiritual erotics were preceded by and coincided with religious writings on the subject that contributed to an overall intellectual current.

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Date Created
  • 2017