Exeter Book

Lamenting or Complaining?: Female Authority in The Wife’s Lament College

In Book II of Troilus and Criseyde, the character Pandarus states: “Wommen are born to thraldom and penance, /and to been under mannes governance.”(Chaucer, line 286-7) Extracted from an exchange between the maiden Criseyde and her uncle, Pandarus, the passage speaks volumes on contemporary views on romance, and the ways in which those views were influenced by prevalent attitudes towards women. The highly ambiguous Germanic poem The Wife’s Lament, though it precedes Chaucer considerably, documents the position of a subjugated woman that experiences exile from her husband, his kin, and her own kin. In consultation with Elaine M. Treharne’s publication, Writing Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature: Approaches to Old and Middle English Texts, the poem breaks convention with traditional literary representations of female figures. Treharne establishes a framework for “feminine romance” in Middle English poetry, a form of aesthetic expression that favored masculine heroes and chivalric concepts of male identity. A woman, however, dictates The Wife’s Lament, and advocates for divorced or abandoned women a message of grief and suffering; this language is regarded by scholarship as the conveyance of “lamenting”. In Carol Parrish...

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