The Traffic in Medieval Women: Alice Perrers Feminist Criticism, Feminist Criticism, and Piers Plowman
A comparison of the figure of Mede with the documented life of Alice Perrers demonstrates against the tendency to interpret either the allegorical female figure or a generalized idea of medieval woman as a determinate category. The ambiguity of Perrers’s marital status in her defense against parliament suggests that the distinction between a femme sole and a femme couvert, the latter constituting a form of “civil death,” was not always contingent on her relationship to particular men. Though Perrers may have attained her position of influence at court by becoming a sexual commodity, she was able to transform this symbolic capital into real political power. In the same way, Mede is abstracted in PPl as an object of exchange, though not completely, since she is not merely the gift, the woman whose marriage is at the king’s disposal, but a giver of gifts herself, and the king’s counsellor. Mede’s willingness to imagine herself in the masculine role of the King’s marshall (B.3.197-204) nearly succeeds, until Conscience is able to fragment her personification into the two kinds of Mede, once again reducing her to the object of disputation.