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The Image of Medieval Woman

Author(s): Marjorie D. Wade


Source: Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring, 1978), pp. 48-51
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of German
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soStefan,p. 3.
51Stefan, p. 4.

A shorter
versionof thisarticlewas presentedat theWomenin GermanConferenceat MiamiUniversity,
1976.A specifictextlist
Oxford,Ohio, inSeptember,
forthiscoursewithan extensivebibliography
has been publishedby ERIC(ED
1977. Fortextsuggestions,
136 589),July,
see also Edna Huttenmaier
Spitz,"GeroftheTwentieth
An Introductory
manWomenWriters
Coursein English
Century:
9, No. 1 (1976), 30-39.
Translation,"
Unterrichtspraxis,

52

The Image of MedievalWoman


MarjorieD. Wade

48

In response to student demands, California State University,


Sacramento, makes a provision for experimental offeringswithin the
framework of the University's General Education program. By
definition,these experimental courses are "specially designed courses
which differfrom the traditional offeringsand which are specifically
designed to increase student involvement and to help make their
education more relevant." Enrollmentis limitedto not more than thirty
students in each section of an experimentalclass. This is intended to
give the students a more active role in the class by increasingtheirparticipation throughdiscussions and reports,thus providingthem greater
opportunityto shape theirown educational experience. All such special
courses must be submitted to the UniversityCurriculum Committee
and the General Education Committee for approval; approved courses
have a limited tenure of two semesters.
Under this provision the Department of German/Classics/Russianhas
proposed several new courses in English translation, which have
proven to be among its most successful effortsin attracting new
students. Concurrent with the celebration of InternationalWomen's
Year, the topic proposed in 1975 was "The Image of Medieval Woman."
The course was an examination of the roles and positions of women in
medieval society as depicted in Middle High German literature.The
class was open to all undergraduate students. There were no
prerequisitesand no knowledge of German was necessary.The lectures
and discussions were in Englishand the readings in Englishtranslation.
The firsttime the course was offeredthe class enrollmentrequired that
two sections be offered. High enrollment was maintained, and continued student interestmade it necessary forthe course to be given for
a thirdsemester. It is being considered as a permanentaddition to the
Department's traditional offerings.
D. WADE,Assistant
Professor
ofGermanat California
StateUniversity
MARJORIE
in Sacramento, received the Ph.D. from the Universityof Michigan.

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The textlistforthecourse included:Tacitus,TheAgricolaand theGermania, trans.by H. Mattingly


(Baltimore:PenguinBooks,1970); The
Nibelungenlied,trans.byA. T. Hatto(Baltimore:PenguinBooks,1969);
Gottfriedvon Strassburg,Tristan,trans.by A. T. Hatto (Baltimore:
PenguinBooks, 1967); Wolframvon Eschenbach,Parzival,trans.by
Helen M. Mustardand CharlesE. Passage(New York:VintageBooks,
Service of Ladies, trans.by J. W.
1961); Ulrich von Liechtenstein,
Thomas(Chapel Hill: University
of NorthCarolinaPress,1969); German and ItalianLyricsof the Middle Ages,trans.by Frederick
Goldin
(GardenCity,N. Y.: AnchorBooks,1973).WiththeexceptionofService
ofLadies,thesetextsare all readilyavailablein paperbackeditions.Supcan be puton a library
reservelist.Therehavebeen
plementalmaterials
recent
on
the
of
many
publications
history women which are useful
and readilyavailable.
The course combined lectures,the readingof the above texts,class
discussions,and special reports.Each studentwas requiredto giveone
oral reportto the class, to writea one-hourmidterm
twenty-minute
and a two-hourfinalexamination.
The firsttextassigned
examination,
was Tacitus'Germaniaof98 A.D. ThisaccountoftheGermanicwoman
and herpositionin the primitive
discussions
societyyieldedstimulating
and affordeda well-chosenbackgroundforthe studyof attitudesand
A basic unvalues foundin the laterMiddle HighGermanliterature.
of the historicalperiodwas efficiently
achieved by several
derstanding
49
lectureson the earlyMiddle Ages.
introductory
In theNibelungenlied,thefirst
epic to be read,thestudentsexamined
the actions and argued the motivationof everycharacter,scene by
of Kriemhild
the enscene. The powerfulcharacterization
dominating
for a course specificallydirected
tire epic is particularly
interesting
towarda studyof women.The changesthattake place in Kriemhild's
and her fate
character,her.overshadowingof the heroicmale figures,
produced livelyclass discussionsand widelydiffering
interpretations.
the
The contradictory
natureof Brunhildpromptedquestionsregarding
of the Germanicpeoples. The aura of
ancientlegendsand mythology
in theVolsungaSaga sets
thecharacterofBrynhild
mystery
surrounding
her in sharpcontrastto the queen of Iceland in the Nibelungenlied
The significant
differences
betweenthe two women figures
tradition.
of bothBrunhild
and the respeccontributeto a deeper understanding
tive societies reflectedin the two works. The Volsunga Saga is,
however, not as accessible in a good Englishtranslationas the
Nibelungenlied,and any discussionof this materialdepends on the
resourcesof the instructor.
The clashingethicsoftheheroicand courtlyliterature,
so evidentin the
to thecourtly
Nibelungenlied,providedthe impetusforthe transition
literature
of the HighMiddleAges.Severalclass periodswere devoted
and the pervadingpoliticaland social into the subjectof Christianity

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fluenceof themedievalchurch.Lectures,
discussions,and reportswere
coordinatedto considerthe influenceof the monasteriesand abbeys
and to examinewomen's positionin the churchand societyin their
varied roles as nuns, abbesses, and feudal ladies. Excerptsof the
historiesand dramasof Hrotsvitha
of Gandersheimwere read in class
and providedunique examplesof the literary
skillof a tenth-century
woman writer.As part of a project,a studentdirecteda dramatic
Callimachus. Lectureson Arabiclove
readingin class of Hrotsvitha's
churchteachingsabout women,clericaleducation,and thecult
poetry,
of the Virginintroducedlyricpoetry.Selected lyricsof representative
Minnesingerswere read in class, and the varied styles,attitudes,
and personalities
of bothpoetsand the ladiesdepictedwere
situations,
discussed.
The two courtlyepics,Tristan
and Parzival,presentthewhole spectrum
of women in the societyof the HighMiddle Ages. Isolde's personal
dilemmaand her tragicmarriageeliciteda sympathetic
responsefrom
emotions.The
manystudentsand at the same timestirredconflicting
proudand independentIsolde providesa strongcontrastto the elder
powersof healingand second sightseem to
clueen,whose mysterious
the primitive
woman of Tacitus'Germania.Branganeserves
personify
to demonstrate
theidealsofcourtlyloyalty
and was seen bytheclass as
the verymodel of truestfriendship.

50

Wolfram'scast of women characterscontrastsvividlyto thatof Gottfried's.A studyof Wolfram'sidealized women charactersmirrors


the
and
multiplecontrastsin the medievalworld: Eastand West; Christian
heathen;the feminineroles of devoted mother,the faithful
wife,the
idealized lady, precocious child, experienced teacher, sorrowful
of literary
character
recluse,accusingharridan.Despite the restrictions
Wolfram's
women
characters
show
types,
particularstrengthas individualsand vitality
in theirrelationships.
In class discussionsstudent
reactionsto the varied personalities,
individuals,and typeswere exand livelyexchanges.The finaltext
ploredwithfrequently
surprising
studiedwas Ulrichvon Liechtenstein's
Serviceof Ladies,a personalaccount of a knightwrittenin 1255. The epic, richin comic elements
which foretellthe decline of the standardsof the precedingera,
contrastin styleand attitudeto the earlierworks.
providesa striking
Liketheepics and lyricpoetryoftheGermanMiddleAges,itportrays
a
livelypictureofwomen,theirrolesand positionsin a changingsociety.
The range of subjects for reportswas for all practical purposes
unlimited.Some students selected historicalsubjects: Eleanor of
of
Acquitaine,Marieof Champagneand theCourtsof Love,Hrotsvitha
Gandersheim,and Hildegardof Bingen.Others preferredthematic
studies,such as the role of women in particularsegmentsof society.
Studieswere done on the contributions
of women to art,music,and
as well as to medicineand healing,and on theirassociations
literature,
withmagic,alchemy,and witchcraft.
Othersstudiedmedievalrecipes

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and cooking,social mannersand etiquettein the Middle Ages,dress,


were the lives
illuminating
marriagepractices,and laws. Particularly
of women saints,a studyof women as depicted in medievalartand
and a presentationon heraldry.In conjunctionwith our
literature,
the
of
daily lifeand duties of women in the Middle Ages,one
study
class periodwas devotedto slidesof medievalcastles.Aerialviewsand
floorplans supplementedexteriorviews fora thoroughstudyof the
physicalsetting.
and flexibility
ofthisexperimental
The open format
and theinprogram
creased studentcontributionhave been successfullyused to lend
to
varietyto the departmentalprogramand, even more importantly,
stimulateinterestin the Germanlanguageand literature.
* CaliforniaState University,
Sacramento

51

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