The idealized lady in love poetry is frequently turned into a belle dame sans mercy, a cruel object of reproach for the lover's pitiful condition. At times, she is even portrayed as a monstrous Other, a Medusa or basilisk who has the power of life and death over the hapless lover. Beloved and terrifying, the serpentine Other with the deadly gaze serves both to reflect the alienation of the desiring subject and to mirror his ambivalence. This article examines representations of the woman as an idealized/demonized other or Other in a selection of early modern works where female figures are identified with such mythical creatures. According to legend, these serpentine monsters, whose gaze is said to petrify men, can only be vanquished with the aid of a mirror. Yet, not all treatments of these myths or figures are identical. Beautiful and hideous, heavenly and infernal, divine and monstrous, the lady as Medusa or basilisk is rife with contradictions. So much so, that it is difficult to arrive at one all-encompassing view of otherness in this regard. The brief survey of literary and theoretical texts examined in this study leads us to recommend a more nuanced approach and to suggest that the various types of otherness projected onto women in these early modern works might be viewed through the prism of Lacanian theories on otherness, which take into account multiple dimensions - namely, the Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real - that structure human subjectivity in "the mirror stage."


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pp. 285-300
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