Hali Meidenhad

Hali Meidenhad
(Hali Mei´ ?had)
(ca. 1200)
   The prose tract entitled Hali Meidenhad (Holy Maidenhood) is a homily intended chiefly to encourage young women to enter religious life by dissuading them from matrimony. The treatise, written in the West Midlands in England between about 1190 and 1225, survives in two manuscripts, both of which also contain the text of the piece known as SAWLES WARDE, and some of the SAINTS’ LIVES that belong to what is known as the KATHERINE GROUP.
   The sophisticated style of Hali Meidenhad, characterized by the use of native phrases and alliterative passages, has been compared to that of the ANCRENE WISSE, but unlike that moderate and humane text, Hali Meidenhad reflects an extreme and abusive tone that is contemptuous of the very idea of marriage. As such it is in the tradition of JEROME’s fifth-century tirade Against Jovinian, who had dared argue that the celibate life was not necessarily superior to matrimony.
   The author bases his homily on a single text, Psalm 45.10: “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house.” From here, he fashions his argument as a struggle against the devil himself, who hates virginity because it was through the Virgin Mary that he lost his sovereignty over humankind. Young women should not pursue earthly marriage, but rather the much more spiritually satisfying marriage with Christ, the fruit of which will be virtue rather than children. The author paints a sometimes sardonically humorous, sometimes disgusting picture of marriage, from the woman’s suffering indignities in bed to the discomfort of pregnancy to the annoyances of housework. Most striking is the author’s description of a woman’s plight in an abusive relationship, which he seems to regard as not atypical:
   His looking at you terrifies you; his hateful merriment and his rude behavior make you shudder. He chides you and bickers with you and scolds you shamefully; he mocks you as a lecher does his whore; he beats you and mawls [sic] you as his purchased slave and his family servitor. Your bones ache, and your flesh smarts; your heart swells within you from sore mortification, and your face flushes outwardly from anger. (Dunn and Byrnes 1973, 101)
   The homily holds out one escape from this kind of life: the convent—marriage to Christ, the perfect spouse.
   The blessed maiden who as God’s daughter and the spouse of his Son has excluded herself completely from such servitude need not endure anything like this. So, blessed maiden, forsake all such sorrow in exchange for an exceptional reward, as you ought to do without any payment. (103)
   ■ Bennett, J. A.W.Middle English Literature. Edited and completed by Douglas Gray. Oxford History of English Literature, Vol. 1, part 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
   ■ Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse. “Hali Meidenhad, an Alliterative Homily of the Thirteenth Century.” Available online. URL: http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/c/cme/cme-idx?type=header&idno=HMaid. Accessed February 2, 2005.
   ■ Dunn, Charles W., and Edward T. Byrnes, eds. Middle English Literature. New York: Harcourt, 1973.
   ■ Furnivall, F. J., ed. Hali Meidenhad. Revised by Oswald Cockayne. Early English Text Society 18. 1866. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1922.
   ■ Millett, Bella, ed. Hali Mei´?had. Early English Text Society 284. London and New York: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1982.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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