Chastity : a literary and cultural icon of the French sixteenth-century court
This thesis considers the Renaissance understanding of the virtue of chastity within the French court, countering the view that the Renaissance courtier perceived chastity to be simply an attribute properly assigned to women as a protective virtue. From within a context of Renaissance moral paradigms, religious and secular, this study demonstrates how the French nobility championed individual perfectibility and denounced passion, embracing reason as paramount moral virtue and valorizing social codes of conduct as signs of rational activity. The rational control of the body in a social context was perceived to be necessary to the smooth- running of the State, and this control was symbolically represented as 'chastity', being grounded upon principles of self-restraint familiar to women, who were nominally pre-eminent in this area of behaviour. Such an analysis informed the discourse of Perfect Love played out at court, in which a chaste female beloved stood as an icon of universal concord. Through her perfect status she induced a publicly chaste conduct in her lover, whose pursuit was rational and stabilizing to the social milieu. This 'chaste' game was a fiction which had little relevance to private morality, but was concerned with exhibiting chaste harmony to the public gaze. It exalted the female form as an icon of the purified social body, thereby bestowing symbolic control upon woman. This study also explores the extent to which the Renaissance noblewoman was a prisoner of her own corporeal nature within this chaste discourse of love. She was influential by reason of the sexual purity attributed to her, but precariously so, because her very sexuality risked the accusation that her real 'virtue' lay not in her purity, but in her dissimulation of desire.