Female Humanists in Renaissance Italy
Arcangela Tarabotti like many young girls in Renaissance Italy had parents who could not afford a sufficient dowry to purchase their daughter a good marriage. In order to protect their honor and her virginity they sent Tarabotti away to a convent against her will. Here she lived out the rest of her unhappy life as a nun. What sets her apart from other girls of similar circumstance is that she became one of the few female humanist writers#. The story of Tarabotti and the other female humanists I will discuss in this chapter demonstrates not only the oppression of women in Renaissance society but also how women found ways to work around their circumstances. To fully understand this aspect of Renaissance society it must be understood from many viewpoints. Therefore I will discuss family loyalty, sexuality, education, and finally the roles of these rare female humanists as daughters, nuns, and widows.
Family loyalty was one of the strongest influences in Renaissance society, because obligation to one’s family was considered a duty. It shaped the lives of women through manipulation of marriage which often oppressed their freedom. Women were often used as marriage pawns, serving as a means of creating ties and alliances between powerful families. Therefore prominent families married off only enough daughters as necessary to form business and political alliances. Since marrying off a daughter required a dowry, daughters were seen as taking away from the family’s wealth in contrast to men who received dowries through marriage. That is why most often the rest of the unmarried daughters faced the same fate as Tarabotti and were sent to convents. Convents were seen as a way to preserve virginity and therefore the families honor. Tarabotti’s work “Monastic Hell” is based on this phenomenon and, reflects the resentful attitude of women oppressed by family loyalty. Meanwhile, her other work “Innocenee Undone” reflects the resentment felt against a patriarchal society. In it she attacks men for being cruel and inhuman and, argues that women are the stronger creatures. She supports her argument by referencing the bible#. It is clear from these works the overwhelming power that family loyalty and the protection of family honor played in the lives of young women of Renaissance society. Furthermore it proves that this sense of loyalty through manipulation of marriage served as a tool of oppression for women.
As I discussed above preserving the virginity of one’s daughter was a reflection on the family, which brings me to my next point on women and sexuality. The stress on women’s virginity can be seen in the title of Lauro Quirini’s letter to Isotta Nogarola “Greetings to the most noble and most eloquent virgin Isotta Nogarola.” The fact that he addresses her as virgin shows the importance Renaissance society placed on maintaining one’s purity. Women were viewed as having a promiscuous nature and, therefore were married...