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Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature$
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Lesel Dawson and Fiona McHardy

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474414098

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474414098.001.0001

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Introduction: Female Fury and the Masculine Spirit of Vengeance

Introduction: Female Fury and the Masculine Spirit of Vengeance

(p.1) Introduction: Female Fury and the Masculine Spirit of Vengeance
(p.iii) Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Lesel Dawson

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter examines revenge narratives in relation to gender, asking whether depictions of vengeance reinforce conservative gender roles, interrogate the ‘masculine’ values that society prizes, or establish new ways of conceptualizing women and men. It demonstrates that while revenge is frequently conceptualized as a quintessential masculine activity, it is simultaneously seen to unleash the female Furies and the violent, ‘feminine’ emotions that threaten a man’s reason and self-control. It surveys scholarly debate about female avengers, asking whether they should be interpreted as honorary men, heroes in their own right, monstrous inversions of gender norms, or conduits through which male subjectivity is formed. The chapter also examines grief, demonstrating how women use lamentation in ancient Greek literature and medieval Icelandic sagas to express grievances, directing revenge action and, at times, influencing wider political events. It argues, however, that female lamentation becomes discredited in later periods and detached from the revenge process. In early modern literature, for example, the revenger is typically also the mourner, whose grief inhibits the revenge process. The change in lamentation’s status and function has wider implications for women’s roles and for the gendering of the male revenger.

Keywords:   revenge, vengeance, gender, grief, lamentation, ancient Greek literature, Icelandic sagas, early modern literature, female avengers, Furies

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