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Unit information: The Invention of the Renaissance Woman in 2017/18

Unit name The Invention of the Renaissance Woman
Unit code ITAL20029
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rhiannon Daniels
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The querelles des femmes was a series of literary debates concerning the nature of women and their position within society that took place across Europe in the pre-modern period. This unit considers some of the key Italian contributions to this debate, using selections of texts composed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and culminating in a study Castiglione’s Cortegiano, an international ‘bestseller’ from the tradition. We will consider not only what these texts tell us about male views of women, and the wider philosophical, theological, and social issues raised by the discussions, but also reflect upon male concerns with their own gendered position. The Italian querelles will be put into literary context through the study of fourteenth-century antecedents, including Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris, a catalogue of the lives of famous women which directly influenced many of the Renaissance treatises. Throughout the unit we will also consider wider related issues such as female education, female patronage, the nature and power of Renaissance courts, and the impact of the printing press on the success of texts and their readerships. Aims: - to develop skills in literary analysis and critical thinking through the study of key texts associated with the Italian querelles des femmes - to develop an understanding of gender relations in late medieval and Renaissance Italy, as well as wider contextual issues relating to education, patronage, courts, and print culture - to develop an understanding of the relationship between texts and authors within Italy, and some background knowledge of the broader European context

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to: - analyse critically the texts studied - demonstrate a good understanding of the relationship between the texts and the context in which they were produced - evaluate the similarities and differences between literary representations of women and historical constructions of gender

Teaching details

Lectures and seminars

Assessment Details

1500 word commentary (25%) 2500 word essay (75%) The commentary will require students to demonstrate the skills of close analytical reading while the essay will require students to show a sophisticated understanding of the set texts in relation to the context of production with particular regard to issues of gender. Students will be required to draw selectively on secondary material to relate these issues to the broader cultural climate in which the texts were produced.

Reading and References

Pamela Benson, The Invention of the Renaissance Woman: The Challenge of Female Independence in the Literature and Thought of Italy and England (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992) Conor Fahy, ‘Three Early Renaissance Treatises on Women’, Italian Studies, 11 (1956), 30-55 Joan Kelly, ‘Did Women have a Renaissance?’, in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. by Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), pp. 137-64 Margaret King, ‘Book-Lined Cells: Women and Humanism in the Early Italian Renaissance’, in Beyond their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past, ed. by Patricia A. Labalme (New York: New York University Press, 1980), pp. 66-90 Stephen Kolsky, The Ghost of Boccaccio: Writings on Famous Women in Renaissance Italy (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005) Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)