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wives, medieval Germany, courtly romances, medieval verse


In some secular medieval literature married life increasingly gained respect and literary traction, as illustrated by the rise of genres such as verse narratives (fabliaux, mæren, novelle, tales), early prose novels, didactic literature, and Shrovetide plays. In that world we encounter many discussions about the proper relationship between husband and wife, about the individual’s role within society, and also about economic and financial aspects that had a large impact on private life, and hence also on the gender relationship. The phenomenon of female agency within marriage, which this paper will investigate, comes to the fore in more texts than we might have suspected so far. The question that I will pursue here pertains to a married woman’s range of options to determine her own destiny and to push for her own decisions in order to preserve her chastity, her honor, but then also her economic well-being, and this in a specifically patriarchal society. To illustrate and support this thesis, I will take into view Hartmann von Aue’s Erec (ca. 1170/1180), the anonymous Mai und Beaflor (ca. 1280), and the verse narratives Der Borte by Dietrich von der Gletze (Glesse, Glezze), Ruprecht von Würzburg’s Von zwei Kaufleuten, and Heinrich Kaufringer’s Die unschuldige Mörderin (all from the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries).