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Hroswitha, and how her plays reflects the medieval-churchs wiew on women.


Hroswitha and her writings


The change from roman theatre to medieval theatre was a slow prossess. From early christian times, theatre was banned by the church, and it was first around the year 600AD theatre started to build up in a new form, with the churchs realization that theatre could be used as an asset. The church rejudged theatre, and started to see the possibillities of reaching out to more people through drama. Hroswitha(ca.0-70AD) was a canoness in the convent of Gandersheim in Saxony, wich enjoyed the status of an independent “state” under the direct protection of the pope. They lived in material prosperity, but the place was an oasis of knowledge, where Hroswitha learned to read and write latin and greek, latin she would use for her later writings. She took the epic form and composition from roman dramatists such as Terence, and wrote six plays on the living of christian saints. The abbeys were at that time a place of cultural and intellectual eminence. There is little evidence, about the presentation of her plays. If they were played out for and with the nuns in the convent, or only read out loud. But from the dialogues implicate that they were meant to be played, performed, in one way or another. Hroswitha is known to be the first saxon poet, dramatist and historian, as she wrote three books, published by Conrad Celtis in 1501. The book of plays consist of six plays, as did the book of legends. Six was a sacred number in the medieval, and the number of books, three, can be seen in union with the trinity. The union of father, son and the holy gohst, as one God. In her plays about the saints, she used the roman structure, but with a christian ideal. In her forword of the book, she writes that; though Terences products are of high quality in composition and form, the people reading them get their morals corrupted. So while Terence wrote about “free-minded”-women and their doings, Hroswitha tried to discribe the pure virgins high moral. The indoctrination of christian dogme, were meant to help the audience on their way to belief or support. She tried to make her writings understandable, touching on a individual level, as faith was a personal experience. Her plays have humor (better seen in Dulchius, as he goes into the kichen kissing pots and pans, coming out all black in the face) and the action of the plays are scattered in different locations. (in Pafnutius; in Thais home, in the convent, in the home of Antonius). This prinsiple of simultanian theatre, is a development from the greek and roman theatre, where the scenes were mostly located in the same place. Pafnuitus is one of her plays, wich describes the whore Thais, who is rescued from her sinful life, by the hermit Pafnuitus. He takes her to a convent, where she spends three years in a cell, whorshiping God. Hroswitha did not write about earthly love, wich princippally was looked upon as “unhappy” by the church. She showed the fear the woman had to go through to find the true love Heavens joy! ( “Pray not in words, but in tears... The more perfectly you humiliate yourself, the faster you will earn forgiveness.” Pafnuitus to Thais, page 115)


How the play “Pafnuitus” reflects the medieval-churchs view on women


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During the medieval period, the church was quite divided in their wiew on woman, and saw them as both equal and minor beeings. This diversity was approached philosophically and theologically by Augustin and Thomas Aquinas. Augustin separated the male and the female element in the soul, created by God. But god was not in the soul as a whole, only in the male element, wich with this superiour activity in its existence, controls the female element. This justifies the swift conversion of Thais, that Pafnuitus soul was superiour, and that Thais’ soul followed the superiour power. Thais was a christian before Pafnuitus came, but for him that made her sins ever worse. “You deserve to be damned even more, as you offended the Divine Majesty haughtily, knowing of Him before” Paf. p107. Thomas Aquinas had a theory on women defined as “sensualitas”, wich means that they were run by there senses more than reason. This identification again could lead to the image of woman as a temptation, and that the female sex was monsterous. Pafnutius was a man of the church, and to be a virgin in mind and action was central in the church. As he saw Thais as a threat to men (“.. And yet you sent many a man`s soul to hell” Pafn. p107) and mabye he saw her as a threat to himself also, he had to lock her up to get her away. From the th century there were actually women who lived shut in a cell, in the convent, who were called “reclusae”. These cells were often buildt together with the church, so that the woman could see the ceremonies, and there only connection with the world was through a small hatch. The praise of virgins was great in this period, so the church was not totally against woman. Hieronimus, a church man, said that “if a woman wants to serve christ more than the world, she will stop being a woman, and be called a man” (Comm.in epist.ad Ephes,111,5.P.L.6, 567) The author of a biography over Juliana of Cornillou, wrote that Juliana forgot her sex. She did not have to overcome the human weakness, but overcome her sex, and as that battle is more challenging, the victory is even more glorious. This is also seen in Thais, as she overcomes her lusts, and her female identity, living in a cell with her own “body fluids” for three years. She recieves the glory of God, and is reconciled with him. “That Thais be resurrected exactly as she was, a human being, and joining the white lamb may enter eternal joys” Pafn. p1. Thais gave up her lovers and matereal treasures, and Jakob of Vitry wrote how God benefits womens faithfullness to Jesus, and through their voulantary prosparity, gain the love and protection of God. How during a hunger that lasted for three years, where even rich people died of hunger, none of the holy women died, or was even forced to beg.


The plays by Hroswitha have got woman as the subject, but are not first and foremost about the woman. They seem to be more about God and his doings. The christian message plays the most prominent part, and the charachters are merely pieces to get the message through to the audience. Through the plays of Hroswitha, we get an image of what was important for the medieval-church, and how their perception of woman was.





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