What is the role of women in the plays of Hroswitha of Gandersheim?

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Hroswitha is famous for creating a series of plays which are recognised as being primarily didactic and focusing on the trials and sufferings of women for their faith. In particular, a key concern is that of chastity, which is presented as being a spiritual force that has the ability to make those that ascribe to it holy. We need to remember that contextually, Hroswitha's works were written in response to the plays of Terence, which were notorious for their use of ribald humour and frank sexual references. Therefore, in contrast to such patriarchal presentations of women which depicted women as nothing more than sex objects to satisfy the lustful urges of men, Hroswitha populates her plays with strong female characters who show themselves to be moral, upright and virtuous.

Dulcitius, for example, is set during a period of Christian persecution and explores the martyrdom of three virgin sisters who faced punishment for their faith. They meet their death because of their refusal to recant but also their determination to remain chaste. Hroswitha therefore seems to want to deliberately explore and present an alternative view of women and of sex, where women are characters in their own right and chastity is a virtue that is to be upheld.

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