“Clamor Validus” vs. “Fragilitas Sexus Feminei”: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim on the Agency of Women
Date of Award
Master of Arts
Dr. Eve Salisbury
Dr. Lofton Durham
Dr. Rand Johnson
Medieval, Latin, virginity, drama, Hrotsvit
Masters Thesis-Open Access
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.
Jansen, Caroline, "“Clamor Validus” vs. “Fragilitas Sexus Feminei”: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim on the Agency of Women" (2017). Masters Theses. 1129.