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THE LOATHLY LADY AND THE MARGINS OF THE MIDDLE AGES

by Jones, Samantha A.

Abstract (Summary)
The loathly lady is a character whose special knowledge and social position combine with her physical undesirability to mark her as marginal. The loathly lady is Other-in part simply because she is female-but more than her gender, her physical constitution and lack of societal connectedness illustrate the multiple, systematic oppressions inherent in medieval culture. The loathly lady knows a secret which is crucial to the central courtly culture; in every case she possesses knowledge which the patriarchal society, or at least one of its members, needs in order to survive and thrive. This study examines the loathly lady in Beowulf, the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, The Clerk's Tale, and several grail quest romances, especially Perceval and Parzival. In Beowulf, Grendel's mother serves as the prototypical loathly lady, a character much beyond the boundaries of acceptable society; her battle with Beowulf is central in that Beowulf cannot integrate Grendel's mother's knowledge of female physicality, motherhood, and the lore of the past. Because he wins the battle yet loses this war, Beowulf's dynasty ends with him, and with his death, his kingdom is jeopardized. The Wife of Bath, the old woman of her story, and their continental grail quest counterparts serve as the core of this study-the marginality combined with the alternative wisdom these characters possess define the loathly lady motif. Lastly, Griselda of the Clerk's Tale adds the twist of marginality based in social class, a stigma which needs to be overcome in order for her message to be heard.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:

School:University of Cincinnati

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:middle ages women loathy lady wife of bath griselda

ISBN:

Date of Publication:01/01/2001

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