Date of Award

6-2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Medieval Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Eve Salisbury

Second Advisor

Dr. Lofton Durham

Third Advisor

Dr. Rand Johnson

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access

Abstract

Hrotsvit of Gandersheim has generated interest among scholars of gender and sexuality due to her status as a woman and writer of Latin legends, epics, and plays in the Ottonian Empire. As the only prominent female playwright of her time, Hrotsvit presents an intriguing, complex treatment of female characters and their sexuality, particularly her plays, which rework both well-known lives of female saints and the tropes of the Roman playwright Terence’s comedies. One issue that has not been fully addressed, however, is the gendering of the heroines populating Hrotsvit’s plays—while some scholars refer to the characters as “overcoming femininity” others describe their heroic actions as manifesting an embracing of their femininity. However, these scholars do not seem to define fully what they consider to comprise the characters’ femininity, sometimes merely referring to “feminine weakness” as the defining trait of the gender, a very reductive treatment of how Hrotsvit and her medieval audience likely viewed gender. In this paper I analyze the gendering of Hrotsvit’s women in her plays during their trials and martyrdoms, and place it among the current scholarship on medieval female spirituality and chastity by analyzing the Latin diction and images used to describe the heroines of the plays. I argue that Hrotsvit imbues her female characters with agency and spiritual strength even while the female characters embrace bodily and spiritual femininity.

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