Woman as Termagant in The Towneley Cycle
Freier, Mary P.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 2 (1985)
The woman characters in the cycle plays are usually interpreted as termagants or saints, and the quality of these characterizations is usually denigrated as merely stereotypical, with the emphasis on presenting women negatively. However, a close and dispassionate reading of the Towneley Cycle shows that women are neither more nor less negatively presented than are men, and that the critics, in their zeal to convict others of misogyny, have in fact been reading with double standards. Most critical attention has been paid to Noah’s wife in Noah and Gill in The Second Shepherds’ Play. But little critical attention has been paid to the other woman characters in the cycle, characters who ought to be important to any interpretation of women’s roles in these plays or any production of the cycle. These women include the Virgin Mary, the mothers of the slaughtered innocents, and Mary Magdalene. These women have been virtually ignored as women, although the mothers of the innocents have been commented upon as part of the grotesque in medieval comedy (Billman 413-414).