Women in circulation : tracing women and words in medieval literary economies
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The dissertation centers on representations of women in the genres of romance, pastourelle and fabliau and explores how female characters are often more than the formulaic renditions of a singular masculine view would have them be. I base my argument on instances of social and verbal influence possessed by female characters in genres that represent three distinct classes of medieval society. Although this study is by no means able to offer a thoroughly exhaustive consideration of all classes and statuses that women in the Middle Ages inhabited, the noble lady of the romance, the shepherdess of the pastourelle and the bourgeois women of the fabliau present important examples of medieval women. Furthermore, this dissertation considers the social influence of literary women in light of the historical and cultural trends that would have affected real women in the Middle Ages. In considering these different portrayals of female characters, I argue for a dynamic representation of women that exceeds a passive and rigid place in medieval literature, particularly one that is centered immovably in a mindset of misogyny. The varied faces of medieval women will not be the only the fragments of misogynistic representation, but a multiple and divided self that is powerful in its resistance to the limits of categorizations of gender. When these female characters speak, they do so not from the same mouth, but from an abundance of mouths. In direct opposition to a constructed unity of representation, the feminine self is multiple and divided. In the fluid representation of women in medieval texts, even through the voices of their male authors, medieval women break through the reflective mirror to reveal glimpses of the feminine that is anything but marginal.