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Hrotsvit of Gandersheim

Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Contexts, Identities, Affinities, and Performances

Phyllis R. Brown
Linda A. McMillin
Katharina M. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 360
  • Book Info
    Hrotsvit of Gandersheim
    Book Description:

    Hrotsvit was the first dramatist of Christianity, the first female Saxon poet, the first Germanic author to employ the Faust theme, and one of the first Western writers to compose a Christian epic. The essays inHrotsvit of Gandersheimexamine the historical, cultural, legal, and political contexts of Hrotsvit's works, locating her opus within the tenth-century aristocratic and clerical intellectual milieu.

    This collection contextualizes Hrotsvit's works with respect to heroic, sexual, domestic, behavioural, linguistic, theological, and hierarchical aspects of early medieval and patristic literary traditions. It also explores other literary texts that inform Hrotsvit's works and discusses the performance history and theatricality of Hrotsvit's plays.

    Hrotsvit's keen awareness of contemporary issues and her determination, within the parameters of monastic-aristocratic ideological constraints, to provide her readers with a rich variety of exemplary female heroes and acts of personal courage, offer twenty-first-century readers a powerful model of responsibility and agency.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7590-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Born in the fourth decade of the tenth century, Hrotsvit lived and wrote in Gandersheim Abbey, in Saxony, during the abbeyʼs golden age under Gerberga Iʼs rule. Her name, which she translates as ʻclamor validusʼ (Strong Testimony), expresses her poetic mission to glorify the heroes of Christianity, both secular and religious, and it echoes, perhaps even in a millennial, eschatological sense, the biblical identification of John the Baptist, the patron saint of her abbey, as ʻvox clamantisʼ (voice calling out or proclaiming). Her heroes are the Ottos and the whole Liudolf dynasty and the saints and martyrs of Christianity. Writing...

  4. Section 1. Constructing a Context

    • Hrotsvit of Gandersheim and the Problem of Royal Succession in the East Frankish Kingdom
      (pp. 13-28)
      JAY T. LEES

      TheGesta Ottonis, which tells the story of Saxon rule in Germany from the accession of Henry I to Otto Iʼs imperial coronation in Rome, is in many ways the most perplexing work of Hrotsvit of Gandersheimʼs literary oeuvre. It, even more than thePrimordia, her history of Gandersheim, calls for placement within a historical context. While the poems and plays appear as stories Hrotsvit uses for dramatic and didactic purposes, and thePrimordiatells a story close to the authorʼs own heart, theGestaversifies events of the recent past, events beyond the walls of Gandersheim. In this poem,...

    • The Iudex Aequus: Legality and Equity in Hrotsvitʼs Basilius
      (pp. 29-39)

      One of the stranger moments in Hrotsvit von GandersheimʼsBasiliusoccurs as Proteriusʼs servant brings the devil the ʻletter of introductionʼ from his magician. Satan complains, oddly enough, ʻ“Numquam christicole permansistis mihi fidi”’ (83), ‘“Never do you stay faithful to me, you Christians”’ (Wilson,Florilegium, 23); rather they take the benefits of his rewards and then run off to Christ, who promptly releases them from their obligations. Satan’s focus on Christian ‘faithlessness’ to the devil is one of the most telling evocations of a question Hrotsvit explores throughoutBasilius: what constitutes fraud versus faith in one’s obligations to others? when...

    • ʻWeighed down with a thousand evilsʼ: Images of Muslims in Hrotsvitʼs Pelagius
      (pp. 40-56)

      In the tenth-century world of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, the successful growth of Islam around the shores of the Mediterranean represents a worrisome but distant threat on the edges of Northern European consciousness. Two centuries earlier, the most northern advances of the Muslims had been stopped by Charles Martel but it will be another hundred years before Western Europe organizes a significant counterattack in the crusades. In the centuries between these two military encounters, Islamic culture receives little attention in the writings of Northern Europeans. Rumours of Islamic atrocities toward Christians — in the East, on the seas, and to the...

  5. Section 2. Forming Identities

    • Violence and Virginity in Hrotsvitʼs Dramas
      (pp. 59-76)

      ‘A key paradox of medieval hagiography,’ according to Shari Homer, is that ‘the bodies of female virgin martyrs are of primary importance in texts that purport not to be about the body at all.’¹ Other modern critics have noticed and sought to explain the hagiographers’ inconsistency in focusing upon the corporeal (‘breast, genital, gut, and all,’ as Sheila Delaney succinctly puts it)² while celebrating the spiritual. Such explanations often acknowledge the sado-erotic appeal of sexually charged material for its audience. While not all of Hrotsvit’s dramas are based upon the lives of female saints, they share with the saints’ lives...

    • Kids Say the Darndest Things: Irascible Children in Hrotsvit’s Sapientia
      (pp. 77-95)

      To judge from the frequency with which they appear in her work, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim is fascinated by children and childhood - its social dynamics, physical instabilities, and developmental possibilities. Many of her plays and legends focus on children and youth, the fragility of their lives, and the need to find meaning in their deaths, even the social necessity and theological exigency of their deaths. Hrotsvit’s resourceful, sassy, and irascible children are like the ‘litel clergeoun’ of Chaucer’sPrioress’s Tale, who sings incessantly and perhaps inappropriately where he ought not to. One of the best examples of Hrotsvit’s portrayal of...

    • The Construction of the Desiring Subject in Hrotsvitʼs Pelagius and Agnes
      (pp. 96-124)

      In his classic studyWomen Writers of the Middle Ages, Peter Dronke offers a particularly valuable insight into the writings of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: he notes that Hrotsvit’s works provide illuminating glimpses into her interior life if we read her attentively for ‘indirectly autobiographical moments,’¹ that is, for those moments when her irrepressible wit erupts into the text. What initially makes Dronke’s remark about Hrotsvit’s ‘autobiographical moments’ intriguing is the historical context in which she was working. As a tenth-century dramatist, hagiographer, and poet, Hrotsvit is writing two centuries before medieval people are supposed to have had the first intuitions...

    • Pulchrum Signum? Sexuality and the Politics of Religion in the Works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim Composed between 963 and 973
      (pp. 125-144)

      It is hard to argue that sexual politics are not at the centre of Hrotsvit’s writings. In her plot lines, virginity is taken, endangered, or defended; marriage vows are broken in adultery; sexual non-conformity is explored without shying away from necrophilia, anal intercourse, and fetishism. She herself claimed that sexuality motivated her to compose the major part of her works, her dramas. In a somewhat surprising rhetorical move, Hrotsvit argues that she read and composed plays about lewd women and lecherous men to celebrate Christ’s glory and strength:

      It is therefore instructive to tease out the meaning sexuality plays in...

  6. Section 3. Creating Affinities

    • Hrotsvitʼs Dramas: Is There a Roman in These Texts?
      (pp. 147-159)

      ‘Clearly there is little in these six plays which, from our point of view, can justly be called Terentian,’ writes Cornelia Coulter about Hrotsvit’s drama in a 1929 article.¹ Thus she restates with slight qualifications an earlier assessment that the only similarity between Terence and Hrotsvit is that they both wrote drama.² Today it is still widely accepted that Hrotsvit refers primarily to matters of form and style when she claims to write in a Terentian mode.³ On the contrary, I will argue that Hrotsvit’s plays also make use of the subject matter of Terence’s work in a systematic and...

    • Hrotsvitʼs Sapientia as a Foreign Woman
      (pp. 160-176)

      Until fairly recently the Catholic Church celebrated on 1 August the martyrdom of Faith, Hope, and Charity, daughters of St Wisdom. Evidence of two separate legends survives: that Pistis, Elpis, Agape, and their mother, Sophia, were martyred under the emperor Hadrian and buried on the Aurelian Way, and that another group, Fides, Spes, Karitas, and their mother, Sapientia, at some later time were martyred and interred in the cemetery of St Callistus on the Appian Way. As late as 1909, John F.X. Murphy wrote for theCatholic Encyclopedia, ‘the extent and antiquity of their cult and the universality with which...

    • Hrotsvit and the Devil
      (pp. 177-192)

      Hrotsvit is indisputably deeply concerned with confrontation between good and evil. Her preface to the plays makes this clear:

      Although the shameless acts of lascivious women and the lustful acts of lecherous men may not really drive Terence’s plots,¹ Hrotsvit’s focus on them contributes to her emphasis in the preface, plays, and legends on the theme of a modest but determined foe taking a stand against the powers of evil. Since in Western tradition the ultimate power of evil is the devil, variously referred to in literature as Satan and Lucifer among other names, and since he figures as a...

    • Hrotsvitʼs Latin Drama Gallicanus and the Old English Epic Elene: Intercultural Founding Narratives of a Feminized Church
      (pp. 193-210)

      According to Bede’sHistoria ecclesiastica(731), women played a crucial role in the founding of the English church by means of their endowment of women’s houses and their conversion of pagan Germanic husbands.¹ Recent scholarship on Anglo-Saxon women, particularly by Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing inDouble Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England(2001), has demonstrated the ‘patriarchal maternity’ of the early church, a church nurtured through the religious faith of women leaders and educators as agents, but with their voices recorded by male clerics.² For example, Hild, as abbess or mother, oversaw at Streonaeshalch or...

  7. Section 4. Conducting Performances

    • Hrotsvitʼs Literary Legacy
      (pp. 213-234)

      The literary oeuvre of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim lay in relative obscurity until the end of the fifteenth century. There are occasional references in twelfth- and thirteenth-century chronicles and biographies to some of her works, namely theGesta Ottonis, thePrimordia, thelegend Maria, and the dramasSapientiaandGallicanus.¹ However, it was the discovery of the Emmeram-Munich manuscript in the last decade of the fifteenth century and the publication of the first edition of Hrotsvit’s dramatic works by the ‘archhumanist’ Conrad Celtis (1459-1508) in 1501 that reintroduced the Benedictine canoness to the literary world.²

      The German humanists immediately embraced Hrotsvit...

    • ʻBring me a soldierʼs garb and a good horseʼ: Embedded Stage Directions in the Dramas of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim
      (pp. 235-250)

      Much has been made of the reading as opposed to the performance of the plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim during the tenth century.¹ Participants in the recent debate must contend with three difficulties: defining performance, whether it is a staged reading, mime, or fully staged drama; allowing the short plays to exist as a different kind of drama rather than requiring them to conform to guidelines of alien (classical) forms; and accepting that women might have participated in some sort of presentation within the confines of Gandersheim. In the preface to her plays, words suggest the dramas were meant to...

    • Dramatic Convergence in Times Square: Hrotsvitʼs Sapientia and Collapsable Giraffeʼs 3 Virgins
      (pp. 251-264)

      Hrotsvit of Gandersheim wroteSapientiaclose to the millennial year 1000, thereby creating an eerie association with American culture during the years preceding its own millennial 2000. One connection began in 1993, when Rudolph Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City largely on the strength of his promise to clean up festering areas of urban blight that were contributing to the image of New York City as a place of menacing drug and gang activity, of large numbers of panhandlers harassing tourists for money, and, in particular, of a Times Square that had sunk into the officially perceived filth...

    • Playing with Hrotsvit: Adventures in Contemporary Performance
      (pp. 265-282)

      In the fall of 1998, the chairperson of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Santa Clara University informed the faculty that a millennial symposium on Hrotsvit of Gandersheim would take place on our campus in February 2000. She asked if any of us would be willing to direct one of Hrotsvit’s six plays in conjunction with this singular academic event. As a junior faculty member who had just arrived at the university and whose area of academic interest lay in premodern theatrical performance, I offered to undertake the project. As with much theatrical phenomena, the ‘adventure’ of production begins...

  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 283-302)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 303-304)
  10. Index
    (pp. 305-313)