Literary constructions of women in French medieval literature respond to the various challenges and obstacles real women may have faced inmMedieval society. The behaviour of female protagonists is consistently measured against normative expectations that seek to keep women within a space controlled by their male counterparts and textual constructions systematically paint female protagonists who dare to rebel against the social order as subversive players. This paper will look at the reasons and ways women turn to violence. An analysis of violence by women from a socio-economic status as well as a study of how various literary genres express the topic of violence by women will help determine what type of woman uses what form of violence, how that violence is counteracted within the texts, and whether discourse and representation of violent women stretches societal boundaries and may provide a borderescape for female literary constructions in French medieval literature.
Boccaccio continued a gendered tradition that identified mythical women as prostitutes (meretrices). Citing a historical source like Palaephatus [apud Jerome/Eusebius], he euhemerizes the Sirens (GDG 7.20) as prostitutes who lured foreign sailors. He cites (4.61) another non-poetic source (Lactantius) to discuss Roman prostitute Flora. And he follows Theodontius (3.22) in categorizing Peristera as Venus’ libidinous daughter. Nonetheless, Boccaccio also provides a positive perspective on the Sirens as skillful musicians, Flora as a wealthy benefactor, and Peristera as a dove under Venus’ guardianship. This scholarly ambivalence has methodological parallels. In De mulieribus (50) he praises the Athenian prostitute Leaena, and in De casibus virorum illustrium (7.3) he defends Messalina.
The paper argues that the representation of male and female characters in three late medieval dream visions: The Assemblie of Ladies, The Isle of Ladies and Floure and the Leafe transcends the borders of the traditional medieval concepts of gender and sex. Female characters are shown in these poems to seek and receive other women’s assistance, which provides space for the renegotiation of the typical roles played by male and female lovers in the courtly tradition. Male characters, who are made to confront female suffering, lose their most aggressive traits and adopt characteristics identified with more feminine responses to love. Different forms of female alliances are portrayed as a complement to the traditional patterns of love or as their alternative, involving either the choice of chastity or the emotional association with other women.
Literary genres represent social hierarchies that pertain to a given society and gender, as a primary way of describing relations of power, is a pivotal element in their definition (Gaunt, 1995). What happens to gender categories when an overtly misogynistic text is subject to re-workings and re-writings that dim its generic border? This paper focuses on the textual tradition of the Old French Sept Sages and argues that the generic fluidity with which this textual matter has been re-appropriated and re-organised, producing several verse and prose versions, is relatable to the gender fluidity it manifests.