Proseminar: The Virgin Mary and the Role of Women in Medieval England

Enseignant(s): Dutton Elisabeth
Cursus: Bachelor
Type d'enseignement: Proséminaire
Langue(s) du cours: Anglais
Semestre(s): SA-2019

The Virgin Mary was a powerful figure in the medieval church.  Her authority came from her position as ‘Mother of God’, but she was considered also to be the first Christian believer, an example of faith and submission.  During the medieval period, she became also an ideal of beauty and virginal purity, and writers praise her with the language of love lyric.  Her image develops alongside that of the lady of courtly romance; desired but always sexually unavailable, she can nonetheless be petitioned by her devoted servants and can intercede on their behalf with God. 

            How did the literary construction of Mary relate to medieval women?  The contradictions of her presentation as ideal virgin and ideal mother make her a difficult role model.  The increasingly aristocratic image which is created for her, though lacking scriptural authority, appears socially conservative.  Nonetheless, writing by and for women suggests that she was a beloved figure, spiritually important to them in various ways.  This course will examine constructions of Mary in poetry, prose and drama, as well as in medieval art, and the evidence we have of women’s responses to the ‘Mother of God’.


  • Knowledge of the different genres of medieval literature
  • Familiarity with the scriptural and apocryphal Marian narratives
  • Understanding of medieval ideas about motherhood and virginity
  • An appreciation of issues of gender in relation to medieval texts
  • Appreciation of the relationship between the language of romance and the language of medieval devotion
  • Increased familiarity with late Middle English language