Winning Women in Two Middle English Alexander Poems
For those who look to Amazons for medieval paradigms of women ’s self-determination, the Amazons who inhabit the fantastic world of The Wars of Alexander are a grave disappointment. Admittedly they are fully in control of their own bodies; but is it titillation or burlesque that they inhabit an island that topographically recalls the female body, with its single, “preue planke ” (1. 3868) [secret plank] whose access they limit?1 And while they are quick to challenge any man who ventures too close, their invulnerability depends upon their complete exclusion from the masculine honor economy of warfare. In fact, they exploit that exclusion, underscoring their position as enemies no man would consider worth fighting: “here warraid neuir with vs na wee bat wirschip achewid ” (WoA, 1. 3858) [Never has any man warred with us who achieved worship from it]. Pausing midway through his conquest of the world, Alexander is amused by their strategy and condescendingly offers them gold and some of his knights “to mary to 3oure maidens & make bam avaunced ” (WoA, 1. 3901) [to marry to your maidens and advance them on the social scale]. It is bad enough that he tenders to the Amazons the same social dependence upon male endowment and good marriages that they have supposedly escaped. What is worse is that they accept his gifts and reciprocate by offering Alexander unbroken horses, useless to him until their inevitable domestication. In fact, the Amazons of WoA are a parody of women ’s self-determination: isolated in their maidenhood, laughingly dismissed, and soon forgotten.
KeywordsFilial Obligation Actual Father Narrative Section Epic Hero Arthurian Romance
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- 2.Sarah Kay, “Introduction,” in Tlie Chansons de geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 1–21. Clare Lees usefully defines the concept of a masculinist poetics in “Men and Beowulf,” in Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages, ed. clare A. Lees et al (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), pp. 129–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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