The Role of Women in English Literature: From Beowulf up to the Late Eighteenth Century
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Discuss the role of women in English literature, both as characters in works written by men and women and as authors in their own right, from Beowulf up to the late eighteenth century.
The role of women in English literature from Beowulf up to the late eighteenth century mostly represented the mores and gender expectations of the time. Exceptions were Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe who epitomized an intelligent and courageous woman and Grendall's mother in Beowulf who tried to attack the trolls. Judith too was a retelling of the story found in the Latin Bible's Book of Judith of the beheader of the Assyrian general Holofernes and also demonstrated a hardy, perspicuous woman. Whilst She Stoops to Conquer, also describes Kate an intelligent and self-determined heroine.
Women in the late medieval and middle Ages, however, generally seem to have been painted in one dimensional character and slanted according to expectations of class and time. The Canterbury Tales, for instance, portrayed various women each of whom slotted into a different class; each class had its corresponding expectations and women were supposed to abide by that. Women too was often seen in terms of object, as either something belonging to, or something to be fought over. The Wife of Bath , for instance, in her prologue argues that the feminine estates of "wife" and "widow" should be equally valued as that of "virgin "is. In that story the wife is both widow and wife, whilst the Prioress is a