The heroines of Middle English romance run counter to the standard medieval stereotypes of both antifeminism and the submissive wife. Their passionate faithfulness, along with a readiness to break the injunctions to silence and obedience, was taken as a secular ideal, carrying full authorial and audience approval: Shakespeare’s heroines are their descendants. Sexual desire was not simply the result of the Fall: what was at issue was how it was used, so that even in the case of women mystics, that meant not its absence, but the sublimation of its focus onto Christ.
Professor Helen Cooper FBA
Chaired by: Professor Jill Mann FBA, University of Cambridge
About the speaker:
Helen Cooper FBA is Emeritus Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge, a Life Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and an Honorary Fellow of University College, Oxford. Her publications include books on the Canterbury Tales, The English Romance in Time, and Shakespeare and the Medieval World.