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monica.c.wolfe
Dec 16, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
I’m still a bit torn on how to interpret Marie de France’s lai “Bisclavret.” It follows the expected form of the lai, depicting love as suffering for all parties involved, but it is also a very gendered tale in which male and female suffer due to gendered punishments. Are the punishments fair? Are they equal? What commentary on marriage and gender is being made in this text? Basically, the husband’s punishment (being turned semi-permanently into a werewolf) is inflicted upon him by his wife (and his wife’s new love interest) because he kept a secret from her. The secret—of his turning into a werewolf once a month, of course—was kept, however, in relatively good conscience; he was afraid of revealing this personal flaw to his wife and did not want to upset her. The wife’s punishment, later in the tale, is losing her nose (and bearing children with no noses), inflicted by the werewolf as punishment for keeping him from turning back into a human and abandoning him for another man. Both punishments affect physical appearance. Bisclavret’s unappealing appearance as a wolf, however, doesn’t do him much disservice; the king and knights still take him in and he enters into the homosocial bond that gives no value to appearance. He is valued and cared for just as much when he is a wolf as when he is a man. The wife’s change in appearance is different, though. Women’s appearances contribute greatly to their domestic lives (acceptance by the husband) and public lives (acceptance by female social circle), and the fact that her children were born without noses (and all of them female!) seems a far more serious punishment than that inflicted on Bisclavret. On one hand, I’d like to lay blame on the wife for such a harsh punishment toward her husband for keeping a rather harmless secret. On the other hand, the tale can be read as the wife’s inability to make choices regarding her love life without outside judgement and subsequent punishment. Is this a tale of warning for women who choose to leave their husbands more than it is a tale of warning for husbands not to keep secrets from their wives? Rather than being merely an amusing commentary on marriage, I feel like “Bisclavret” leans toward commentary on the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors of the wife in relation to her husband.
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monica.c.wolfe
Dec 16, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
I’ve been studying female autobiography for a paper related to another class, and was fascinated by The Book of Margery Kempe, which is much farther back in history than I’d originally thought I’d research in my discussion of contemporary autobiographical texts. Kempe’s Book is actually the first autobiography in the English language, which is pretty wild since the autobiography genre is generally dominated by male authors. Learning that the first English autobiography was written by a female changed the entire context of my discussion of the genre as a gendered one. I came back to the conclusion, however, that the autobiography is indeed an androcentric genre. First, we have to consider the fact that Kempe composed her work through male scribes. Historically, any time a dominant or majority group interjects into the transcription of a minority or dominated group’s story, it has been heavily tainted by the voice of the dominant, or the oppressor. We can see this in the Latin American testimonio, recorded by upper-class scribes, or indigenous people’s stories published through white Americans in the nineteenth century. So, how sure can we be that we’re hearing Kempe’s voice in a book that she didn’t physically write? A second point to consider is that she wrote her story in the context of a patriarchal religion. Her self-representation is based entirely on an attempt to earn validation from a male god and a patriarchal religious society. Do we see true representation of the female voice in this text? Or is Kempe’s account more of a seeking of patriarchal validation filtered through male scribes?
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monica.c.wolfe
Dec 16, 2018
In Heroes, Saints, & Lovers
The gender roles in this play are extreme, exaggerated, and, well, kind of hilarious. Once Joseph realizes that his wife is pregnant (and not by him), he begins to question her about infidelity. He asks repeatedly throughout the play who the baby’s father is, and every single time, he receives the same reply: Mary tells him that she has been faithful and that the child is of God’s will. Joseph doesn’t accept this answer but continues to use the same approach and ends up with the same results: he asks her the same question and she gives him the same answer. Mary’s story is confirmed by the maidens present in the scene. They echo Mary’s story, and Joseph devalues their statements in the same way he does Mary’s. Really, this is a drawn-out depiction of women’s voices going unheard in patriarchal society. The only character who is incorrect in assessing Mary’s pregnancy is Joseph, and every character in the play tries to convey the correct information to him, but to him, the women’s voices are erased; there is no way they could be correct. Only when a messenger of patriarchal religion (the angel) comes along does Joseph finally conclude that Mary and her maidens were correct and that Mary was not unfaithful to him. Throughout the entire play, every character takes a turn in asserting that Mary is pregnant with God’s child, but it only becomes verified and true when the patriarch, Joseph, voices it.
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monica.c.wolfe
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