"Ladyes, damesels, and jantilwomen": female autonomy and authority in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur

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Moloney, Karen Christine
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University College Cork
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Popular medieval English romances were composed and received within the social consciousness of a distinctly patriarchal culture. This study examines the way in which the dynamic of these texts is significantly influenced by the consequences of female endeavour, in the context of an autonomous feminine presence in both the real and imagined worlds of medieval England, and the authority with which this is presented in various narratives, with a particular focus on Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur. Chapter One of this study establishes the social and economic positioning of the female in fifteenth-century England, and her capacity for literary engagement; I will then apply this model of female autonomy and authority to a wider discussion of texts contemporary with Malory in Chapters Two and Three, in anticipation of a more detailed study of Le Morte Darthur in Chapters Four and Five. My research explores the female presence and influence in these texts according to certain types: namely the lover, the victim, the ruler, and the temptress. In the case of Malory, the crux of my observations centres on the paradox of the capacity for power in perceived vulnerability, incorporating the presentation of women in this patriarchal culture as being vulnerable and in need of protection, while simultaneously acting as a significant threat to chivalric society by manipulating this apparent fragility, to the detriment of the chivalric knight. In this sense, women can be perceived as being an architect of the romance world, while simultaneously acting as its saboteur. In essence, this study offers an innovative interpretation of female autonomy and authority in medieval romance, presenting an exploration of the physical, intellectual, and emotional placement of women in both the historical and literary worlds of fifteenth-century England, while examining the implications of female conduct on Malory’s Arthurian society.
Middle English literature , Sir Thomas Malory , Le Morte Darthur , Female tradition in medieval romance , Medieval English romance , Feminine influence , Women , Fifteenth century , Guinevere , Morgan le Fay , Nenyve , Female authority , William Caxton , Knights of the Round Table , Chivalric culture , Arthurian studies
Moloney, K. C. 2014. "Ladyes, damesels, and jantilwomen": female autonomy and authority in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.