Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview
relationship between liege man and lord is given greater depth by the imagery of the lover-knight and his lady. This imaginative context also supposes devotion and loyalty, though regardless of the reward. Hadewijch's experience however is one of paradox: minne is also an opposing knight. Indeed the rewards or favors obtained from ver minne 'Lady Love' are paradoxical, the highest pleasure being the greatest pain. I have argued that the use of gender-specific imagery and images of gender reversal in these texts suggest that Hadewijch is consciously manipulating imagery to create a language with which to reach her predominantly female audience. Her imagery makes theological points with power and subtlety; whether it also reveals anything about Hadewijch's subconscious feelings about her womanhood is outside the scope of this essay, and, in my view, necessarily speculative. The images and their imaginative context make statements about the nature of humanity, and about the element within the soul that is best able to reach God. The fluid movement between masculine and feminine imagery emphasizes the basic similarity of male and female before God. By using image language from a feminine perspective, Hadewijch not infrequently makes statements that appear startling. However, she uses gender-specific imagery and the imagery of gender reversal to illustrate theological points in essentially the same way that Bernard of Clairvaux does, and it is here that the influence on Hadewijch of the great Cistercian abbot can most clearly be seen. The startling effect of some of this imagery reflects more on the masculine perspective we have come to expect than on the heretical nature of Hadewijch's experience. To create an image language with which to address her female audience, Hadewijch combines images of reversal with a continuous awareness of the similarity of the position of men and women before their Creator and of the paradox inherent in any relationship between the soul and God.
Notes
1. See, for example, the essays in Gender and Religion, ed. Bynum, Harrel, and Richman.
2. For a recent discussion of the work of Hadewijch, Beatrijs of Nazareth, and Mechthild of Magdeburg, which subscribes to this theory of images, see Wiethaus, "Sexuality, Gender."
3. See, for example, Ricoeur, "Symbol Gives Rise"; Ricoeur, Symbolism of Evil.
4. See, for example, Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption.
5. An example of this is the development and eventual domination of the imagery of mother and child to describe the relationship between the soul and God. Motherhood has always been invested with an element of mystery and "otherness"

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