Monday, February 9, 2009

The fair maiden

This female archetypal character can be found throughout literature including most fairytales, although the real meaning is often trivialized in most fairytale readings. The fair maiden is strongly represented within the literature of Early Modern England as a precious, innocent who must be protected from men, by other men. In Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece, the title character's chastity and integrity come under close scrutiny when she is raped. The fact that she is a chaste woman who has never been unfaithful to her husband is of no consequence to the public, who will now view her as a wanton woman. Lucrece eventually commits suicide upon realizing the bleak future that she will likely face. This was the case for most women during the Early Modern period. Rape ruined a woman, there was no question about it. It sullied her reputation and could even make her husband doubt her loyalty.
This weeks assignment included a ballad entitled "The Lady and the Blackamoor", which was meant to demonstrate the stereotypes associated with Africans during the early modern period. Of course it also blatantly demonstrated the stereotypes associated with the women of the period as well. The ballad tells the tale of an African servant who rapes the lady of the house and murders the entire family as an act of revenge on the man of the house for his tyranny.
The lady of the house is of course constructed as a helpless chaste woman. The ballad states that she was "a virgin of great fame" prior to marrying her "noble" husband. This ballad ends with the murder of all involved and the suicide of the perpetrator, conveniently leaving no loose ends. Most cases from the period would not have ended so conveniently. The woman had she lived, would have faced a much more brutal inspection by those who would insist that rape must be proven. She would have been expected to run through the town publicizing the event and allowing herself to be inspected by those who would want to see her wounds. She also would likely face the threat of the man who committed the crime, and his accusations of her lustful nature. Regardless of the outcome of any trial (if the case was ever heard), the raped woman's reputation would never be clear, and there would always be doubt surrounding the circumstances.

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