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What gender roles are reflected in the sonnets of Petrarch?

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lehcir | Student | Valedictorian

Posted April 10, 2013 at 1:25 PM via iOS

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What gender roles are reflected in the sonnets of Petrarch?

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted June 9, 2013 at 10:59 PM (Answer #1)

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[The scope of your question was too broad for the limitations of eNotes format so required cutting down.]

She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death. (Petrarch)

If you understand that neither Petrarch nor the whole of Western culture would have been thinking in terms of "gender roles," and that "gender roles" is a uniquely contemporary construct that is being applied retroactively to a culture to which the concept would have been alien, then it may be possible to identify some gender role particulars in Petrarch's sonnets. Selecting one at random, we can examine it for indications of gender roles.

"Gender role" is defined as the public image of being male or female that is presented either intentionally or unintentionally. What we want to examine this Petrarchian sonnet for is how the male and female subjects present a public image.

In the first two lines we notice the female gender role presented of female as beautiful and noble. Her role is associated with "home." Her role as the ruling object of a male's heart in made in an allusion to Cupid's love aimed at a man's heart: "ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine."

In this poem, the female has died and her post-life gender role is presented as "divine." The female's love is presented as having the role of "light" and its loss is presented as being the loss of the role of shedding light even on the rocks of the earth.

The male gender role is presented as the one who weeps and is "crushed" with grief. What is implied is that the male role is the wise chronicler, the wise seer of truth. In a summating paraphrase of the public roles presented in the poem, it might be encapsulated this way:

The beauty whose role it is to shed light and nobility all around is gone, but the wise recorder of truth and reality, the one who can powerfully chronicle, remains to give "mournful breath" and to pen a wise philosophical understanding of death.

And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.

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