The Rhetoric of Feminine Virtue

by Jessica C. Murphy

Holly Crocker, The Rhetoric of Feminine Virtue: Fashioning Femininity, Stabilizing Masculinity, 1350-1603, PhD Diss. TN: Vanderbilt, 1999.

This dissertation title gave me a near heart attack when I was working on my dissertation prospectus. At the time, I planned to write about feminine virtue from 1350 to 1650. But, then, I changed my period to 1529-1650 and my focus a little bit.

I am not sure why Crocker did not make this into a book; it’s quite interesting.

Here’s the abstract: This dissertation traces connections between conduct materials for women and works by Chaucer, Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare. I argue that these authors use a model of feminine exemplarity to clarify or confirm the noble status of a male character. Although some female characters expose deficiencies in a male character’s gendered performance, these texts diffuse these potential threats to masculine stability by deploying the rhetoric of feminine virtue. Women become the measure of masculine worth, and a woman’s performance of femininity, these texts suggest, becomes an important component of masculine status. Focusing particularly on The Book of the Duchess, Troilus and Criseyde, The Faerie Queene, and The Taming of the Shrew , I situate my argument in relation to cultural expectations which seek to control the category of exemplary femininity to stabilize the positions of both women and men in late medieval and early Renaissance cultures.