Disclaimer: In my thesis writing efforts I think it will be helpful for me to sort out my thoughts in a non-thesisy ways. My final thesis be filled with fancy words (I learned what encomiastic means today) and opinions backed by fact and good (hopefully!) analysis so my more personal motivations and thoughts and ah-ha! moments will be left out. This is sad, but ultimately very good for the quality of the thesis. So I apologize if this is boring, or random, or completely irrelevant to your life (you can stop reading now),tbut his is my blog, and why not share my thesis ponderings in a public forum?. My future thesis audience will minuscule anyway, so I might as well include my many faithful blog readers (Dad, Mom, Grandpa) on my thesis journey.
I'm writing my thesis on how female chastity is enacted as successful political strategy in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and Margaret Cavendish's short romance Assaulted and Pursued Chastity (what a romance, no?).
When I've brought up my thesis topic to friends and family so far, it's well, a conversation killer. I wish it weren't. It should be a conversation starter. But I'm only just now getting to the point where I can articulate my topic a little more coherently (wowza--I should be much further ahead in the thesis-game).
But the thing is, chastity is a BIG deal. As a Mormon, I put a lot of religious and personal stock into the importance of chastity even though sometimes talk of "chastity" can degenerate into Mormon religious jargon.Then try throwing chastity (the word) into everyday colloquial conversation and it becomes this sterile (punny!), antiquated, obsolete relic. Chastity? That's religious nutsiness and no-sex-education-in-schools. Which it isn't. It's better than that. But just last semester when I proposed a term paper topic to a professor (at BYU mind you) about how un-chaste women are treated in late Romantic literature I was gently mocked and asked if I supported chastity belts (see Men in Tights).
So yes, chastity is important to me and the ideas, concepts, and doctrines surrounding it are interesting, and. I believe, very relevant today. But definitely not in a creepy metal-underwear sense. And if I believe and personally accept what can currently be considered radical and restrictive ideas of abstinence before marriage, and fidelity within marriage, why not become a little more academically as well as religiously versed in the subject?
So moving back a few centuries (1550-1670ish), I've decided to examine literary chastity when chastity was extremely relevant not just religiously/spiritually but economically, politically, etc. Queen Elizabeth I--one of the first female rulers--does a whole lot of power maneuvering around her role as the Virgin Queen and (regardless of whether her virginity was bonafide) she has this extra power and potency she attributes to her presumed virginity. And then there's Queen Henrietta and King Charles who, (before, you know, his head was chopped off) backed the idea that a chaste, companionate marriage between husband and wife was an important symbolic precedent for a unified, healthy, thriving political body/kingdom. And these rulers used chastity (in its varying forms) to legitimize and maintain their power because hey, chastity was a BIG deal.
So against this historical backdrop I'm examining Isabella, the uber-chaste, rhetorically witty nun in Measure for Measure who refuses to sleep with the slimy Angelo despite enormous familial and political pressure to do so. And then there's Travellia, Cavendish's kick-a heroine who shoots her would-be-rapist, unsuccessfully poisons herself, and then runs off dressed up as a man and becomes a military general all in the name of preserving her chastity. (Disclaimer: Both stories end with marriage or presumed marriage of these heroic virgins. And yes, Travellia does end up marrying her reformed would-be rapist, but we'll get to that). But my biggest point (at the moment) is these women become powerful through their respective quests to preserve their chastity. And the idea that power--actual power in terms of spiritual, social, and political power--can come from keeping (and we'll slip into the Mormon here) the law of chastity? Well that's awesome.