Poetic Markers of Gender in Medieval "Woman's Song": Was Anonymous a Woman?

Research paper by Anne L. Klinck

Indexed on: 01 Jul '03Published on: 01 Jul '03Published in: Neophilologus


How does the gender of an author or a speaker manifest itself in medieval poetry? In addition to the obvious grammatical markers, are there other devices that might be called "poetic markers? This question is examined in the light of previous scholarship, and then with particular reference to five pairs of woman's voice love-complaints, two each from various cultural contexts. Two of the poems are by women, three by men, the rest anonymous. The gender markers which are not merely lexical or grammatical are culture- and genre-specific. Nevertheless, there are a few more general tendencies, notably the linkage of maleness with movement and violence, femaleness with detainment and enclosure. This contrast is not to be equated with activity versus passivity, however: most of these women speakers are self-assertive – those in the women-authored poems strikingly so. Interestingly, the most passive persona is to be found in an anonymous poem with transferrable voice: the speaker changed from female to male by manuscript alteration. Nothing can be regarded as a reliable test of authorial gender – but there are no indicators that would align the anonymous with the female-authored rather than the male-authored poems.