Honors Program

Honors in English

Date of Award

5-2015

Thesis Professor(s)

Thomas Crofts

Thesis Professor Department

Literature and Language

Thesis Reader(s)

Thomas Crofts, Ana Grinberg, Ginette Blackhart

Abstract

It is undeniable that literature reflects much about the society that produces it. The give-and-take relationship between a society and its literature is especially interesting when medieval texts are considered. Because most medieval plots and characters are variants of existing stories, the ways that the portrayals change has the potential to reveal much about the differences between medieval societies separated by distance and time. Changes to the treatment of these recurring characters and their stories can reveal how the attitudes of medieval society changed over time. Perceptions of magic and attitudes toward its female practitioners, both real and fictional, changed drastically throughout the Middle Ages among clergy members and the ruling class. Historically, as attitudes toward women became more negative, they were increasingly prohibited from receiving a formal education and from gaining or maintaining positions traditionally associated with feminine magical power, such as healer, midwife, or wise woman. As the power of the Church grew and attitudes changed throughout the Middle Ages, women’s power in almost all areas of life experienced a proportional decrease. Using a combination of historical and literary sources, this paper will explore whether this decrease in power is evident in literary portrayals of magical female characters in medieval literature. Specifically, it will examine the agency and potency, or the intrinsic motivation and effectiveness within the story, respectively, of female characters within medieval narratives, comparing the characters to their earlier iterations. This research will offer a unique perspective on the roles of magical women in medieval literature.

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Copyright

Copyright by the authors.

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