Beyond the Convention? Representation of Female Characters in Middle English Romances
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The paper presents literary images of medieval women in four Middle English romances, viz. King Horn, Sir Isumbras, Havelok the Dane and Sir Gawain and the Green Night. Its aim is to identify some conventional patterns of representation of female characters in the literary works classified as different subtypes of the genre of romance, namely ancestral romance (King Horn, Havelok the Dane), homiletic romance (Sir Isumbras) and Arthurian romance (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). After Sharon Farmer and other feminist critics, the concept of gender is interpreted as one of the major categories of difference in medieval English society. This argument is supported by the analysis of the construction of female characters in the romances in question. However, while it is important to remember that the society of medieval England was to a large extent male-governed and male-dominated, which is the reason for the apparent centrality of male protagonists in medieval English literature, the function of female characters in literary works of that period is not necessarily secondary. The paper focuses on the importance of women in presenting the protagonist’s genealogy and on selected strategies of representation, such as reversal of gender roles or marginalization of female characters. The essay attempts to demonstrate that the category of gender, as it is seen in the medieval texts, cannot be reduced to a simplified model of binary oppositions, since the romances also introduce the complexity of power relations and tensions between the sexes.
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