The negotiation of gender and power in medieval German writings
Doctor of Philosophy, Germanic Studies, The University of British Columbia (1998)
Drawing on insights from feminist scholarship and gender studies, this thesis offers a new reading of selected medieval German texts with a special emphasis on the negotiation of gender and power. All three parts of the thesis demonstrate how the use of modern theories helps us to re-examine a medieval text’s implications and ethical values, and to reconsider traditional views of the text. Part One focuses on the discussion of gender boundaries. Didactic and fictional texts, such as Thomasin von Zerclaere’s Der welsche Gast and Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s Frauendienst, show that violations of gender boundaries and the questioning of the traditional power relationship between the genders are crucial to the textual negotiation of masculinity and femininity. As I demonstrate in Part Two, the unequal relationship between men and women is especially important for the system of male homosocial bonding underlying medieval society. Examples of the physical and symbolic exchange of women and their favours are offered by didactic texts, such as Marquard vom Stein’s Der Ritter vom Turn, and fictional texts, such as the Nibelungenlied. Aspects of this exchange are not solely related to medieval marriage practices, but are also reflected in courtly rituals, such as “frouwen schouwen” (watching the ladies). The importance of the conventionally beautiful female body as an object of exchange becomes obvious in Part Three, where I examine encounters between Christian knights and women defying the norms of feminine beauty. Here I focus on female figures that are defined as “doubly Other”: both in their relationship to the masculine Self, and in their relationship to the ideal of medieval Christian femininity. Texts such as Wolfdietrich B and Der Strieker’s Die Konigin vom Mohrenland show how the negotiation of gender and power assumes a new dimension in light male encounters with Wild Women, heathen women, “supernatural” women and old women, where the male partner often has to struggle to uphold his privileged masculine position.