The Formal Case: The Corpus
The medieval defence of women is liable to strike readers new to it as a glorious cocktail: common-sense observations about respect for mothers mixed up with bits of biblical discussion, encomia on the Virgin Mary, exempla of Amazon and other antique heroines jostling with those of women saints, bizarre claims about the creation of woman, blunt assertions of female virtue driven home with moral indignation against detractors, and a spicy dash of psychological speculation on the sexual or other frustrations of misogynists. In order to become attuned to ways in which these elements were harnessed together, this chapter surveys the relevant corpus of texts, up to a cut-off date around 1405. Equipped thereby with the basis for a generic description, we shall be in a better position to embark on discussion of origins and evaluation of the chief lines of defence. It is shown that by 1399 all sorts of issues latent in the formal case for women — questions about motivation, authority, consistency, subjectivity, and masculine hypocrisy — were clamouring for attention, and that Christine de Pizan was ready to rise to them. At the same time, the Epistre clearly sustains many topoi developed by precursors.
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