Communication and Rhetorical Studies
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Janie Harden Fritz
Christine de Pizan, Middle Ages, Allegory, Symbolism, Exemplum, Feminist
Rhetorical studies are deeply concerned with the way that human beings use language and symbols to interact and persuade others to follow a particular point of view, or plan of action. In the male dominant culture of 15th century France, Christine de Pizan recognized the limitations of speaking as a woman in her own voice. Therefore, she directed her voice through a cadre of allegorical divine beings, most of whom were women. These allegorical mentors held the divine authority to profess the virtue of women, as Christine, the narrator, humbly listened. This was a time in history when few women were entitled to a voice in society, and female practitioners of rhetoric were not considered to be credible. Rhetoric was a field of endeavor that was strictly limited to men. This dissertation addresses the question: What are the implications of Christine de Pizan’s use of rhetoric to defend the honor of women, advocate for their right to knowledge, and to promote the betterment of her adopted country, France?
This dissertation explores the empowerment of women in the early 15th century through the rhetorical tropes of symbolism, allegory, and exemplum. For that reason, a close examination of the literary oeuvre of Christine de Pizan warrants a more prominent place in the conversation of medieval rhetoric. This is particularly true regarding Christine’s ability to engage literary symbolism as a way of circumventing a power structure that denied women a voice in that society. Because rhetoric in the Middle Ages was limited almost exclusively to men, for their own self-interest, this project argues how Christine successfully circumvented the limitations of a male patriarchal society to engage in the practice of rhetoric, not by outwardly teaching her theories, rather by focusing upon the more subtle use of tropes to project her persuasive voice to the French aristocracy, and later to exert an influence upon western intellectualism.
This project gives due consideration to the power of symbolism, allegory and exemplum, and Christine’s use of these tropes to influence the course of an historical narrative. This dissertation also addresses the question of how a secular woman writer in, by today’s standards, a misogynistic era succeeded in gaining cultural authority, and it deems relevant the influence of Christine de Pizan upon the late medieval conversation as it transitioned into the humanism of the Renaissance phase of early modernity.
Burk, K. (2021). Feminine Discursive Authority through Symbolism, Allegory and Exemplum: A Study of Christine de Pizan, a Rhetor of the Late Middle Ages (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1966