B1 5/29-7/6 MTWTH 1030 AM-1225 PM 04326 STERN MU-113
Mothers and Maidens: Gender and Reproduction in the Middle Ages
From Eve’s original sin to the Virgin Mary’s miracle birth, medieval literature frequently casts women as representational tropes—the innocent “virgin” and the sinful “whore”—types that some would argue still frame representations of women today. The figure of the mother adds yet another type to this mix, straddling the definitional boundaries of these feminine types. This conceptual use of women seems to suggest that these literary types, while certainly restrictive, also lend themselves to thinking more complexly about gender and its use as a tool for thinking in and about the Middle Ages.
Taking Mary’s role as a mother as our starting point, in this class we will consider representations of medieval mothers to trouble the split of feminine types into “virgin” and “whore.” Reading texts across a variety of genres, we will consider gender and reproduction as a lens for thinking about medieval culture more broadly as we pose the following questions: Are women as mothers a “type” or do they offer more complex ways to think about women? How did (and do) women read women in texts? Is medieval gender separable from reproduction or sexuality? Finally, can medieval notions of gender help us understand anything about discourses on gender today?
Readings may include selections from Augustine’s Confessions, Old English elegies, selections from The Canterbury Tales, the Lais of Marie de France, Pearl, Sir Gowther, The King of Tars, The Book of Margery Kempe, a smattering of Late Medieval drama, some contemporary interlocutors, and more!