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The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature$
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Dorothy Yamamoto

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198186748

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186748.001.0001

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Women and the Wild

Women and the Wild

Chapter:
(p.197) chapter nine Women and the Wild
Source:
The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature
Author(s):

DOROTHY YAMAMOTO

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186748.003.0010

Do female bodies participate in the dialogue about human identity initiated by the wild man? This chapter argues that women's potential ‘wildness’ is constrained by the bias of gendered representation (for example, in the portrayal of Heurodis in Sir Orfeo), with the idea of women's ‘adventure’ proving to be particularly problematic. The potential heroines Custance in The Man of Law's Tale and Josiane in Beues of Hamtoun are discussed in this light. A vital motif in many romances is that of women's absence: the periods when they are invisible to, or sequestered from, the male gaze. The final section examines the romance of Melusine, the shape-shifter, and employs this theme of ‘absence’ to answer the question posed by Jacques Le Goff: ‘What accounts for this tenderness towards a demonic woman?’.

Keywords:   women, shape-shifters, wild men, heroines, Sir Orfeo, Beues of Hamtoun, Melusine, Jacques Le Goff

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