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Ogling Ladies

Scopophilia in Medieval German Literature

Sandra Lindeman Summers

Publication Year: 2013

Sandra Summers investigates these two major variants of female voyeurism in exemplary didactic and courtly literature by medieval German authors. Setting the motif against the period’s dominant patriarchal ethos and its almost exclusive pattern of male authorship, Summers argues that the maternal gaze was endorsed as a stabilizing influence while the erotic gaze was condemned as a threat to medieval order.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-8

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-9

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pp. ix-x

An ogling woman featured in a recent television commercial: A mechanic in tight jeans is bending over a car engine while a woman standing across the street stares at his behind. In the next scene, the same woman appears in her living room with her husband, a balding, middle-aged man. She hands him a shopping bag containing the same jeans worn by the mechanic. She...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-10

In the European Middle Ages, people did not perceive looking as a harmless, passive pastime. To the contrary, the harm that a person’s gaze could cause was greatly feared; a stare was understood as an act of aggression. To be clear, the notion of the gaze as a destructive force predates medieval texts. Beautiful Narcissus, for instance, tragically loses his life because his eyes...

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1. “A lady should never look directly at a male visitor”

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pp. 11-20

To the medieval mind, the potential of the female gaze to subvert existing power structures was all too real, and attempts were made to contain and control it. Girls were taught from earliest childhood to avert their eyes and to avoid ogling or staring.1 Evidence of these preemptive measures survives in the form of educational manuals. The popularity of such texts is proven...

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2. “Wild glances”

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pp. 21-34

The male author of the Winsbeckin text depicts a conversation between a girl and her mother about how to navigate through life without running afoul of medieval society’s standards of decency.1 Recently published collections— for instance, Mark Johnston’s anthology Medieval Conduct Literature— have included the Winsbeckin text as a work of conduct literature. At...

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3. “The woman behind the wall”

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pp. 35-46

As we have seen in the previous chapters, some conduct writers take a critical stance toward the behavior of their contemporaries, while others condone generally accepted courtly conventions. Heinrich von Melk belongs to the former group. Like Hugo von Trimberg, Heinrich warns his readers of the dire consequences of improper and immoral conduct in his didactic...

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4. “He was as handsome as he could be!”

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pp. 47-67

In the previous chapters we saw how premodern authorities attempted to regulate the way women looked at men. Worldly and religious writers alike aimed to contain female gazing within a rigid framework of patriarchal structures. Do not stare! and Do not be caught staring! are the emphatic commands of texts such as Der Welsche Gast and Der Renner...

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5. “The most handsome knight that ever lived”

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pp. 68-87

To this day, more than eighty manuscripts of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival remain, proving that this text was immensely popular and widely read in the Middle Ages. In the following pages I examine how the representation of the female gaze in this poetic work affects the trajectory of the plot and simultaneously lends support to contemporary teachings on appropriate...

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6. “Lady, you saw it with your own eyes!”

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pp. 88-104

In this chapter I explore Hartmann von Aue’s Erec with a focus on the main female character, Enite, who is both object of the gaze and gazer herself. Since contemporary readers of medieval romance were to be both entertained and instructed, in what way was the example of Enite instructional? Were female aristocratic readers of the tale encouraged to emulate Enite...

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7. Knight or Eye Candy?

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pp. 105-121

The queen awakes from her nap and walks in on an informal gathering of knights who are listening to Kalogrenant recount an adventure. Even though there is nothing to see, the storyteller “projects” and reenacts the event, turning his audience into spectators. The sleepy queen suddenly finds herself in the traditional role of a noble lady watching knightly pursuit. This...

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pp. 122-126

Judith Bennett writes that “the power of patriarchy in our lives today rests, in part, on our failure to understand how it has worked in past times” (Ale 153). In the preceding chapters I offered my contribution to a better understanding of exactly how patriarchal society functioned in the European High Middle Ages, according to a broad selection of textual examples. What...

Appendix: English translations of Heinrich von Melk’s Von des todes gehugde and Der Stricker’s Die eingemauerte Frau

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pp. 127-152


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pp. 153-156


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pp. 157-172


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pp. 173-174

About the Author

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pp. 188-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045078
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044187

Page Count: 160
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013