Women as Sexual Predators in Medieval German Literature
I examine the representation of women as sexual predators within medieval German writing. Whilst literary scholarship has devoted considerable attention to transgressive male sexuality, there has been no systematic investigation of rape and sexual harassment perpetuated by women, and no questioning of the ways in which female sexual transgression differs from its male counterpart. An investigation of this area offers a rich and diverse new way in to the exploration of perceived norms of gender and sexuality in medieval writing, as well as the way in which they are challenged and undermined.
The majority of my examples will be drawn from romance, but I will also be considering mæren, Minnesang, sermons and other more overtly didactic forms of writing (c.1170-c.1380). I analyse the following women: the wild women in Wirnt von Gravenberg’s Wigalois and in Wolfdietrich; Queen Pluris in Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s Lanzelet; the Dwarf Queen in Friedrich von Schwaben; Candacis in the Strassburger Alexander; the female voice in ‘Ich stuont mir nehtint spate’ (Der von Kürenberg); the Princess in Diu halbe birne, Meliur in Partonopier und Meliur; the frisky old woman in Neidhart’s ‘Ein altiu diu begunde springen’.
In order to develop a critical framework that incorporates the concepts of sex, gender, victimhood, co-dependency, objectification, and exploitation, I will draw both on medieval discourses of gender normativity, and on modern feminist scholarship and gender theory. With my project, I aim to participate in this wider discussion of female sexuality and female transgression, as well as contributing to the literary interpretation of medieval German texts. I ask whether the fact that these are all examples of masculine discourse imposes a certain uniformity on their presentation of aggressive female sexuality and, if not, how one accounts for variations in perspective.