Constructions of Gender in Medieval Welsh Literature
MA Dissertation, Aberystwyth University (2009)
The portrayal of men and women in medieval Welsh literature serves as a social tool by which to illustrate or instruct in ideal behaviour, and to demonstrate the consequences of refusing to fulfil one’s obligations in society. From the earliest ‘heroic’ poetry, where male and female are shown as distinctly opposite poles in the domestic and martial spheres, to the complex relationships of the Four Branches, literary characterisation is employed to address both the ideal and the failures of the social system. This literature is not strictly about the triumph of man, but of the balance of male and female power, the ties of family and obligation, and the importance of adherence to a social code in order to remain accepted by society. Through examining the historic poems of Taliesin, the Gododdin and the englynion cycles, the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, we can form a picture of the evolution of gender roles in early Wales, in which ways they remain constant and in which they shift over the course of the early middle ages.