Table of Contents
2. The Virgin and the Harlot
3. Unfaithful Women
4. Bribable Women Who Sell their Bodies
In this essay I am going to argue that women in Medieval representations in film are always represented as archetypes and as victims. The audience is confronted with typical feminine archetypes like mothers and wives, virgins and harlots, but also with witches, exotic beauties in distress and holy fools who are all at one point or the other victims of society, violence or men. Being confronted with social injustice or their inferiority to men a great number of the presented women sell their bodies or act immorally and unfaithfully.
In order to proof my thesis I will begin by analyzing the conflictive archetypes of the virgin and the harlot in Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) and the Pagan and the holy fool in Andrej Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1969). From there I will go on and show several other archetypes like the unfaithful women, women selling their bodies and (alleged) witches by referring to Bergman’s Seventh Seal (1957), Robert Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac (1974), Leslie Megahey’s The Hour of the Pig (1993) and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Name of the Rose (1986).
2. The Virgin and the Harlot
According to Holland Bergman’s The Virgin Spring “contains a full complement of feminine archetypes, the Virgin-Harlot, the Mother, and the Crone” (Holland 107). I will concentrate on the contrast between the virgin Karin and her stepsister Ingeri, both being victims in their own way.
The virgin Karin is presented as “soft and blond, naive and cajoling”, being the wealthy parent’s pampered darling (Mishler 117-118). When entering the woods, where she is later raped and murdered, she is wearing “clothing traditionally associated with the Virgin, blue, red, and gold skirts, blue shoes with roses and pearls on them” (Holland 104). By raping and murdering her, the two men make Karin a victim. They not only take away her life, but also steal her chastity and her rich clothing (ibid).
According to Holland and Mishler Karin can not only seen as the victim of the two wild men, but also of her parents. Holland suggests that the father unconsciously wished to do what the herdsmen did to Karin, to penetrate “his inhibition” (ibid. 107). For this he refers to the “almost sexual tone of the father’s love for his daughter” (ibid). This affection does not stay unnoticed by the jealous mother, who later admits that she resented her daughter’s relationship with her husband (ibid). In order to compensate this jealousy she spoils Karin, whereas her husband’s strictness towards Karin is his over-compensation for his affection for her (ibid). According to Mishler love in the farmers’ family “is not bestowed generously”, but bestowed tactically (Mishler 118). He points out that there is a competition between Karin and her mother over the father’s love and attention. But at the same time the mother “is a rival with her husband for the girl’s affection” (ibid). Consequently the couple make Karin “the central object of desire for her rivalrous parents” as well as “a self-alienated participant in a triangular struggle fueled by its own disastrously progressive dynamic” (ibid).
Karin’s antithesis is her “dark, slatternly stepsister [Ingeri] whose illegitimate pregnancy contrasts with the virgin’s chastity” and her pagan belief to Karin being a Christian (Holland 104). Mishler on the other hand perceives Ingeri as a “dark and surly servant girl” who for him is “the bastard daughter of the farm’s cook” (Mishler 117). Whatever her status is, Ingeri is a victim in many ways. First of all she is a victim of society, which does not tolerate her being unmarried, but pregnant. Therefore she is despised by her family, who even hides her in the house (Holland 105). Moreover she is despised by Simon, the father of the child, who does not even look her way anymore but talks and jokes with Karin instead (Mishler 117). This incident is one of the reasons for Ingeri’s jealousy of Karin and “her resentment of the virgin’s wealth and purity” (Holland 107). Furthermore Ingeri like Karin almost becomes the victim of a man, when the troll-like man tries to rape her in his hut (ibid. 106).
In Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev two females are most striking, the pagan woman (who can be seen as the harlot) and the deranged girl, the holy fool (who can be seen as the virgin). These two females, as already Karin and Ingeri, represent the contrast between Pagan and Christian belief and consequently the contrast between sensuality and innocence. The pagan woman, who later saves Andrei, is presented as wild, animal-like and sexually dangerous. She is depicted as “sinful” when approaching Andrei only in a sheepskin coat and “[kissing] him passionately on the lips” (Johnson 3). Later he is embarrassed by her naked body, when she swims by their boat, after being attacked by the Duke’s retainers for her pagan belief (ibid).
In contrast to her is the retarded Durochka (Russian expression for ‘Fool’), who inspires Andrei with her innocence to paint a feast. After Andrei saves Durochka from being raped by a soldier, he keeps her with him at a monastery for many years. In a scene set in winter she, similar to the pagan woman earlier, is depicted as “animal-like” (ibid. 5), while searching for food in the snow. When a group of Tartars arrive at the monastery, Durochka “is fascinated by the Tartar leader’s armor” (ibid). For her it probably symbolizes wealth and not to suffer from hunger anymore. Eventually she “rides off willingly with the Tartars” (ibid) to become the leader’s eighth wife. It seems to me as if she leaves Andrei for wealth and food and hence can be regarded as unfaithful. Durochka appears again at the raising of the bell “now well dressed” in white on a horse and “apparently normal” accompanied by a boy, smiling (ibid. 6).
Another holy fool might be the mute girl from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal who “has attached herself to Squire” after being “saved by him from a hate-filled defrocked seminarian” (Gervais 51). The movie ends with her enlightened face speaking her only words “It is finished”, referring to the word of Christ (Kiening 257).