Woman and the Feminine in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Module code: EN3124

  • How was the subject of woman, and the feminine, represented in medieval and Renaissance literature? 
  • Do images constructed by male authority reflect what it was like to be a woman during these periods? 
  • Did women actually identify with these constructions? 

In this module, which is strongly interdisciplinary in focus, we will explore how woman is represented as the object of desire and the subject of blame, not only in various literary genres, but also in the visual arts from the 12th to the 16th centuries. 

We will also explore why the invisible world of ideas came to be represented in art and literature by such abstract, feminine constructions as Wisdom, Justice, Fame and Fortune. We will examine the literary, intellectual and cultural stereotypes embodied by woman, and the feminine, which were based on the classical legacy and the teachings of the Christian tradition, but we will also discuss the actual position and activities of women in contemporary society. In so doing, we will consider the formation and development of gender roles that continue to affect society to the present day.

You will already be familiar with most of the authors discussed in this module, which builds on the knowledge and understanding of medieval and Renaissance literature you have gained in the previous two years.

Topics covered

  • Mapping the female body as a battleground in Ancrene Wisse
  • Feminine type and antitype in Langland's Piers Plowman
  • Death and the tropes of maidenhood in Pearl
  • The myth of the Random Muse and written authority in Chaucer's House of Fame
  • Images of female faithlessness in Henryson's Testament of Cresseid
  • Women who won't play Nature to literary Culture in The Floure and the Leafe
  • Images of female incontinence in Skelton's The Tunning of Elinour Rumming
  • Engendered concepts of Justice and the Other in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure
  • Feminine type and antitype in Spenser's The Faerie Queene