I am responding briefly to Jeffrey's recent question: Are heroes "more" masculine [than other men]?"
Martial heroism (as distinct, say, from martyrdom) is *one* course open for the realization of masculinity, but it seems in the narrative tradition to preclude many others. The hero is not long associated with personal wealth, does not often assume the ruler's power, does not necessarily stand in favor with supernatural powers, is not often gifted with exceptionalities other than those related to the battlefield (e.g., intelligence) and, most tellingly, is often without either long personal life or long family life in the form of descendants. In the most extreme reductions he even kills his own son. Altruism is always accompanied by the imperative of personal honor. This transient heroic masculinity has its longest and truest life in distilled form, in posthumous glory usually conveyed in an artistic medium.
The many dead-ends of heroism, the short but glorious life, the absence of heritage passed on other than in the exemplary mode, do not mean that the hero is wasted, for often he wins temporary freedom, sometimes accompanied by wealth, for his people. But in many respects the martial hero is not life-affirming (even in other ways than in his function as elite killer) and then stands at a far remove from the regenerative and nurturing role of the female. Thus it seems to me that martial heroes are not more masculine than other men, but only differently and narrowly so.
Will Sayers email@example.com
In a posting last week, Bill McCarthy referred to Enkidu as an example of a giant who accompanies a male companion. Actually, Enkidu was not a giant. I've just finished translating the Pennsylvia tablet, which narrates the Old Babylonian version of the story. In column 5, when the prostitute leads Enkidu into the city of Uruk and they arrive at the city square, the people who gather remark about Enkidu, "He is one whose physique is equal to Gilgamesh. The stature is short (but) very strong of bone." Gilgamesh himself was a very large individual, but not so much so that one would call him a giant. - David Greenberg, Sociology Dept. New York University, 269 Mercer St., Rm. 402, New York, NY 10003.
Such beheading scenes constitute a narrative coming of age: they serve as a public demonstration that a protagonist has come into his personal or political idenity as hero -as a man powerfully aligned with a specific formulation of masculinity. These scenes usually have a specific audience in mind; in romance it's the _juvenes_, the young knights for whom the genre is instructional, indoctrinating. The display of the severed head is at once an assertion of masculinity and an admission of its constructed nature - of the possibility of other masculinities, of a different gendering of behaviors.
(I could go on - giants are a specialty of mine - but it's early, and I haven't even had coffee yet).
David's post, by the way, raises a question that has appeared before and has not yet been addressed: why are heroes physically marked as different (usually through greater than avergae size)? Are their "buddies" similarly marked?
1. Hugo Buchthal, _Historia Troiana: Studies in the History of Mediaeval Secular Illustration_ (London and Leiden, 1971), with 56 plates, examines especially the miniatures in two Venetian manuscripts of Guido's _Historia destructionis Troiae_; some motifs seem to be derived from the BL Cotton _Genesis_ (possibly stolen from Byzantium when in 1204 the Doge Enrico Dandolo diverted the fourth Crusade to sack it). The Guido miniatures represent a consolidation of the ecclesiastical/ducal policy for the aggrandizement of Venice, appropriating Trojan antiquity and heroism to lend lustre to its political agenda. Geoffrey of Monmouth established a similar vogue for chronicles of England, and the Arthurian romance of SGGK is located within an epic heroic framework by initial and concluding references to the siege of Troy.
2. Philippa Maddern, "Honour among the Pastons: gender and integrity in fifteenth-century English provincial society", _Journal of Medieval History_14 (1988), 357-71, contrasting male and female honour systems, decides that they "were literally mutually exclusive a woman who gained masculine honour was thereby dishonoured". However, in provincial domestic life as represented in the Paston letters, women were "intimately involved in the practice of honour", which was not necessarily chivalric, but involved things like care for and protection of dependants, and indeed "became attached to the growing value for individualism, privacy and the welfare of each person's heart and soul."
3. Ecclesiastical influence obviously had a considerable effect on modifying secular heroic ideas. Etienne de Bourbon's version of a much-repeated exemplum depicts Richard I, England's most heroic King, in what by ecclesiastical standards would be a most unheroic exploit: he sends for a nun whose beautiful eyes have captivated him, whereupon she tears them out and bids him take them rather than her soul. (For variants see Jacques de Virty, ed. Crane, No. 57 and notes.) Her heroism is clearly of a different order from his. Since the story is at least as early as the _Vitae Patrum_, we can absolve the historical Coeur de Lion of any part in the event.
4. Bed becomes a location of non-performance in religious stories lauding chastity as a virtue to be pursued, sometimes heroically against almost overwhelming temptations. _The Golden Legend_ ch. 113 records the story of a hermit tempted by the Devil disguised as a naked woman; he exorcises her by dropping a priest's stole over her head, whereupon she suffers instant putrefaction like a character out of Edgar Allen Poe. Richard Rolle had not a reanimated corpse but a ghost to deal with: when he made the sign of the Cross she "waxe wayke" and faded away (EETS 20, p. 6). In Crane's de Vitry No. 246, a lewd woman, real enough, attempts to seduce a holy hermit by exposing her feet and legs at his fire; he burns his fingers in the candle one by one to remind himself of the fires of hell, and she dies of fright, but is resuscitated by his prayers next morning when her friends come to gloat over his expected moral demise.
****************** BSLEE@Beattie.uct.ac.za ****************** Brian S. Lee Department of English University of Cape Town Rondebosch, 7700 South Africa
Prodded by a few recent queries for further bibliography, I would like to say a few words here about (post)modern theories of gender, and about the essentialism vs. constructivism debate. A caveat: my take on gender theory is both biased and (to a degree) idiosyncratic. I welcome further postings from the participants of Interscripta on the subject.
Essentialist theories of gender argue that identity originates from within, and, in the struggle over who one becomes, they privilege the individual psyche over exterior (societal) forces. This school of thinking tends to be heavily psychoanalytic. For Freud, the set of behaviors we call gender originates in an unchanging psycho-ontology, or in a model of human development that locates itself outside of the cultural moment in which it arises, claiming to transcend all temporality and retain explanatory power at any moment of history. Recent constructivist theory has cast serious doubts on the wide claims of such interpretive mechanisms, arguing instead that concepts like "gender" and "subjectivity" cannot pre-exist their origin in some system of power, and may be understood only by recontextualization into the sociocultural matrix where they originated and which they literally incorporate (1). Many of the Foucauldian constructivists have gone so far as to argue that a concept of individuality was unavailable (i.e., not yet formulated) prior to the Enlightenment; most medievalists know better. I agree with Nancy Partner that the dynamics of a social system are best understood by a double reading, "one addressed outward to society, and one inward to the psychodynamics of the individual." (2) At the same time, however, I do not accept her characterization of constructivist theory as envisioning a "social processing [of "helpless infants"] so relentlessly immanent and enveloping as to resemble processing in a waffle iron" (p.428). Culture delimits the space in which subjectivity (of which gender is only a part) is allowed to flower and recognize itself (or not); but all systems of laws, even powerfully implemented networks of cultural control, are susceptible to disruptions in their matrices of power, to deliberate law-breakers or those on whom the mechanisms of inculcation have failed. Were it otherwise, cultural change would be literally inconceivable; the alignments of power that regulated desire in ancient Athens would continue to enforce a polarized regime of sexuality there today. "Individuality" and "subjectivity," like "gender" or "culture" or "society," are terms in constant flux, negotiating or moving between definitions and limits; the movement occurs in that space where the power of the social matrix ("culture") encounters the potentially resistant or subversive potency of one its constituent points (the "individual").
"Culture" and "the individual" are, of course, contested concepts - a phylogenic/ontogenic pairing in constant need of mutual redefinition. Both are terms subject to tremendous change over time, but neither is dispensable as part of a "double reading" analysis of past and present. While an eternal human ontology is unlikely to exist, and although terms like "human nature" are inseparable from the cultural moment which embeds them, I nonetheless believe that we are tied to history by frustratingly intertwined cords of similarity and radical difference. We may never untie the knots that bind us to history, or individuals to the culture that produced them, but we can loosen them a little, and at least begin to understand something about origins.
Without adopting the unreflective reflexes of some essentialist argument, we can still grant that gender performance tends (over time) to be fluid, to be unrestricted by biology, and to strive to attain for itself a certain measure of "plenitude." That is, the body may be sexed as "male" or "female" within a given time and culture, but this determination will not prevent that body at certain historical moments from (potentially) adopting or inventing an array of functions and powers that may have been constructed as biologically (or medically or ethically or theologically) impossible. The phallus is detachable; so is the womb.
This impulse to plenitude is part of a larger "will to power": the body (social and private) desires to have available to it the fullest range of possible potencies (3).
Or at least that's how I see it.
(1)The literature on the essentialism vs. constructionist debate is extensive. A good starting point is the work of David Halperin, one of the most vocal supporters of the latter; see especially _One Hundred Years of Homosexuality_ (New York and London: 1990) and the collection of essays he has co-edited, _Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World_, ed. David Halperin, John J. Winkler, and Froma Zeitlin (Princeton, NJ: 1990). Other important contributions to the field include John Winkler's _Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece_ (New York and London: 1990); _Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy_, ed. Edward Stein (New York and London: 1990); Teresa de Lauretis, "The Essence of the Triangle, or Taking the Risk of Essentialism Seriously: Feminist Theory in Italy, the U.S., and Britain," _differences_ 1 (1989), pp.3-58; Jonathan Dollimore, _Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault_ (Oxford: 1991); and Donna Haraway, _Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature_ (New York: 1991), pp.127-48.
(2)Nancy F. Partner, "No Sex, No Gender," _Speculum_ 68 (1993), p.429. Partner is following the formulation of George Devereux, _Ethnopsychoanalyis: Psychoanalysis and Anthropology as Complementary Frames of Reference_ (Berkeley, CA: 1978). Her survey of the essentialism vs. constructivism debate is far more complete than this capsule summary.
(3)It should always be kept in mind that saying NO to power of any kind is always a (potentially empowering) possibility, as Kaja Silverman maps out in _Male Subjectivity at the Margins_ (New York: 1992).
---Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
From: Clare Lees <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The phallus is detachable; so is the womb." Thanks, Jeffrey for one of the most memorable quotes of this debate. Wombs of course were thought to wander in the medieval period, but I don't think that was your point this morning. How far can we go in our attempts to deny/eradicate sexual difference?
Thanks too for your summary of the essentialist/constructivist debate, which is, as you say, certainly partial (dare I say, anti-essentialist? pro-constructivist), but as I'm sure you'll be the first to admit hardly a summary of the many different theories of gender that have been examined over the last twenty years or so. This current InterScripta debate has been co-terminous with the arrival of proofs of a collection of essays that I am editing, with the assistance of Jo Ann McNamara and Thelma Fenster for the University of Minnesota Press, due out this coming spring, and entitled--wait for it-- _Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middles Ages_. It includes: Jo Ann McNamara on the question of the restructuring of the gender system, 1050, 1150--the "Herrenfrage""; Vern Bullough on medieval medical definitions of masculinity; Clare Kinney on the hero and his disappearing/re-appearing body in _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_; Sue Stuard on the emergence of the institution of the husband; Stan Chojnacki on patrician bachelors in renaissance Venice; John Coakley on mendicant interactions with saints (male and female); Harriet Spiegel on the "male animal" in Marie De France's Fables; Chris Baswell on men in the _Roman d'Eneas; Louise Mirrer on "other men" in Castilian frontier literature; and my own study of men and _Beowulf_. A number of these essays, but by no means all, started life as conference papers at a conference on Men in the Middle Ages held at Fordham University, 1990 (itself a follow-up to an earlier conference on women).
You will see from this brief list of the book's contents that many of the topics of this debate are touched on in the book, whose premises parallel the kinds of concerns and issues raised by various participants in our discussion--the shifting social parameters for defining masculinity (what I have been known to call, loosely, the big "p's"--power, potency, patriarchy, politics); the importance of the notion that masculinity is a relative term, relative not only to women but to "other" men; concepts of heroism, and so forth. But also touching upon topics yet to be addressed, such as the institutions (if we can call them that) of the husband and the bachelor. One of the points to emerge from these various articles for me is the conviction that not only is the study of men in this period very much in its infancy--with many questions and areas of investigation yet to be defined--as this debate too confirms, but also the indebtedness of many of our current areas of research to feminist theory (of whatever brand), particularly those scholars who have worked in women's history, from whom many of our concepts seem to be inherited.
This is one reason why I am a little nervous about Jeffrey's summary of the admittedly enormous area of gender theory: feminists have been pointing out the connections between power and/or powerlessness and gender for a long time now, not just in the recent constructivist discussions.
Over the past 10 days or so, I have been busying myself with the index to the book, and delighted each day to discover InterScripta debating precisely the kinds of topics I have been listing: it is great to know that there is so much electronic interest in a topic that has been slowly making the conference rounds in recent years (I think not only of the Fordham 1990 conference but sessions at last year's MLA on medieval men that generated quite an attendance). Clearly, the book, like the debate here, will be instrumental in mapping out current areas of thought and pointing to future topics. One revelation of the index, thus far, is that there exists the category Orgasm (female), but not the category Orgasm (male): a point that astonished me initially in a book supposedly about men. The more I pondered the missing male orgasm, with the help of several network contributors' comments about how we should not place too great an emphasis on sexuality in the definitions of masculinity, the more it has become clear to me that what the Index does is reproduce one well-known ideology about gender, which I might formulate as follows--women have sex; men gender. I stress that this is only an idea I am floating here, but I'm newly struck by how all the different ways of constructing medieval masculinity (masculinities), vitally important research as it is, can sometimes work to obscure an equally important insight--that all these definitions are predicated on sexual difference.
I therefore return to my opening question and reformulate it: how far can we elide sexual difference in our discussions of gender and masculinity and what is at stake in our attempts to do so?
Clare A. Lees, University of Pennsylvania.
From: "Daniel F. Melia" <email@example.com>
Will Sayers acutely points out the very limited vision of masculinity present in many famous heroic stories (and, perhaps, commented upon in Homer's Odyssey with a non-standard war hero, though since the form here is the _nostos_, "return song" we are probably in anther traditional genre anyway). I think that Will is pointing her to a kind of ontology and sociology of the hero [let's call him the "Beowulf Type" for the moment].
One of the great problems of societies with warrior castes (as most of the epic-producing ones seem to have been at some point) is what to do with these hyper-masculine types when they are not doing their thing on the battlefield.
We see the problem worked on in stories like that of Horatius who is disciplined after defeating the Curiatii for having murdered his nubile sister who was mourning her dead fiance (one of the dead Curiatii) [see Livy, Early Hist. of Rome] and in the Cattle Raid of Cooley in which the young Cuchulainn is halted by the sight of naked women when returning from a cognate triple-slaying and has to dunked in 3 vats of water to cool his heroic ardor. If the society values (needs) this particular kind of narrow hypermasculinity, it seems also to need a powerful representation of the shortcomings, dangerousness, sadness, futility etc. of the same hypermasculinity [loaded term I know--read with care here]. The same figure of socially frustrated heroic masculinity exists, I think, in lone gunslinger figures (Bogart in Casablanca?), Marshall Dillon (never even asks Kitty out). The "lucky at war, unlucky at love [=every other useful aspect of male social roles however defined] paradigm of masculine representation seems situated in a firm historical matrix and always available in western culture (at least) for representation of the "sacrificial hero". The story pattern is established as a social necessity and survives as a social necessity.
Dan Melia's comment on "hypermasculinity" made me think of the _fabliau_ _La dame escoillee_ (The Castrated Woman). The "hero" in it, a count, who's sole virtues seem to be a displaced warrrior ethic within a deformed version of courtly society, reaffirms his masculinity through the mock emasculation of his mother-in-law. The operation reacalls a madman version of Caesarian birth: the woman has her "balls" removed. Without going into the gory details, I wonder what this tale might lead us to conlude about masculinity.
ejb Edith Benkov FAX: (619) 594-5293; VOICE: 594-6491; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A few words in response to Clare's helpful recent post:
"The phallus is detachable; so is the womb." That sentence is actually taken from a longer work-in-progress of mine that examines fantasies of male maternity, especially as embodied by the tropes of nation building in early English historiography (The Trojan Brutus inseminates a virginal, supremely fecund land with his men, and gives birth to a nation; the Greek princess Albina tries the same thing and is impregnated by the devil with incestuous giants). This myth of masculine parthenogenesis (of complete male self-sufficiency) has physical as well as metaphoric manifestations; psychoanalytic work on male "pregnancies" is extensive, and the theme appears frequently in folklore and fabliaux. (The case of Edward Bayron, the pregnant nurse from the Philippines, was covered by both the New York Times and the Weekly World News). During the Middle Ages, the myth of the autogenic masculine body separated gender from corporality, severing biological function from sexuality in a way that we are accustomed to seeing only in the virtual worlds and theoretical speculations of our own fin-de-siecle. The human body loses the limitation of sex - provided the "human body" is (as Clare has rightly pointed out) equivalent to "the male body."
Am I an anti-essentialist? I've been called worse, but I think my critical methodology bridges the two sides of the gender debate. To go back to Jim Earl's discussion on "Subjectivity" (which has had an unacknowledged but excellent effect on "Masculinities"):
"The individual" might be a fairly new concept (depending on what is meant by the word), but "subjectivity" in one form or another is at least as old as written history, part of the ancient narrative of individuation within indoctrination. Subjectivity (the wide rubric which gender is part of) must be the result of the difficult negotiation between what has been traditionally called the unconscious ("If it is not radically other and it does not resist, it is not the unconscious") and the sociocultural, which occupies itself with circumscribing the realm in which subjectivity can be known, and know itself. Constructivist meets psychoanalyst where the unconscious meets the social; neither school of theory must be robbed of its "determinate specificity," but neither school of theory is self-sufficient. As with the pregnant man, that autogeneity is a fantasy.
(Quotations from the introduction to _Male Trouble_, ed. Constance Penley and Sharon Willis [Minneapolis: 1993], p.x, where the editors grapple with this same problem of validity within a "double reading").
Reply To: jjcohen@husc
Jeffrey has invited us to consider saints' lives in our quest for medieval masculinities and the biographies of martial and spiritual hero offer many interesting points of consonance and dissonance mounted on the structure of numerous paradigmatic similarities. In this brief posting, however, I would call attention only to the Irish conception of three color-coded martyrdoms: white, red and _glas_ 'grey-green-blue'. (Dan Melia will provide swatches on request.) ;-)
The white martyrdom is exile, the red, physical injury or death (relatively rare in the Irish experience of conversion, it would seem), the _glas_, penance. The white martyrdom, which appears to be valorized above the others through the color symbolism and sequence of listing, is, I believe, understood as more meaningful if we think of the experience of Irish monks on the continent as missionaries and cultural emissaries. For the medieval Irishman this would have involved the surrender of the protective, supporting and self-valorizing networks of 1) legal liability and privilege, and tribal law generally, 2) kinship, and 3) native culture and vernacular language. I sense a falling volitional scale in the three martyrdoms: from free choice, to heroic acceptance, then imposition. Thus human will comes at the head of the list. This may have its counterpart in the martial (especially the romance) hero who 'goes looking for trouble', but very often the conventional hero is in the red zone, playing out a game whose rules have been devised by others and being caught 'in the fix' of making the hard choice between, say, kin and honor, that these circumstances force on him.
Is the masculinity of the pacifist superior to that of the solider?
Will Sayers email@example.com
From: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Reply To: firstname.lastname@example.org
I would like to reply (finally) to James Goldstein's excellent post on the Alliterative Morte Arthure [5 Nov].
James was interested in the way that the poem negotiates gender "in regard to passionate friendship between warriors" - the Heroes and their Buddies topic - and advanced our discussion by underscoring the pain and loss necessary to the expression of that passion (indistinguishable, finally, from agression). In one particularly memorable line James likens Arthur to the Giant of Mont Saint Michel, a "masculine body out of control" who keeps a "kyrtill" fashioned from the beards of subjugated kings. Arthur punishes the giant with a double dismemberment: castration (the giant is a rapist who splits maidens open with his lust); and decapitation (the promised end of all giants, and a powerful moment of identity-formation for the hero).
So far, nothing unusual: giants always die this way. The hero's defeat of the monster demonstrates that his own contruction of masculinity is properly aligned with the norms that drive the narrative; the beheading of the giant is the exorcism of all that is inimical to the heroic code, to the rules of (sexual and political) control that pass for full manhood.
Yet the giant of Mont Saint Michel is no ordinary romance giant. True, he receives the traditional narrative condemnation by encoding almost every negative attribute a monster is capable of embodying, especially in his boundless appetite and racial alterity; but this reflexive rejection is subtly eroded by conflating him with Arthur, and by the text's taking a perverse delight in the celebration of his atrocious excess. The Alliterative Morte suggests that the defeat of the giant is not always a banishing, not always a transference of power with a simultaneous reversal of its moral valence; in Arthur's case, monstrousness and heroism are states not wholly predicated upon difference.
Even the giant's sexual lack of control, genetic to the monster of romance, is here for the first time part of a political wildness - an aggressive violation of boundary that does not stop at the physical body. The giant is, like Arthur, a king. He controls fifteen realms, demanding as yearly tribute the beards of his vassal regents (an act Arthur will reproduce with the envoys of Lucius later in the poem). The presence of the "kyrtill" fashioned from this trimmed away hair erodes the morality of Arthur's vision of forcibly uniting disparate realms into a British empire; the giant's monarchal achievement reifies the goal of Arthur's own ambition. Further, the giant wants nothing more than to add Arthur's beard to this garment of forced subjugation: his role as twin, as _speculum_ of what Arthur might be (or become), is made evident by the cord of desire which binds him to the British king.
The gruesome feast of male children has a parallel in Arthur's elaborate feast of "ungrazed" meat back home. Repeated phrases link the two verbally. At the end of their long battle, the king and the giant are physically entwined, to the point at which they can separated only by death; Kay thinks it is Arthur who has been overcome.
I could go on, but I've made my point: the giant will continue to have an ambiguous life within Arthur, and toward the end of the narrative it becomes difficult to tell the two apart. Late in the campaign, for example, after the battles have degenerated to self-aggrandizement and corrupt excuses for looting, an extended visualization of the devastation of war appears, undermining the endeavor which the British king has declared to be his culminating achievement:
Walles he welte down, wondyd knyghtez, / Towres he turnes and turmentez the pople; / Wroghte wedewes full wlonke, wrotherayle synges, / Ofte wery and wepe and wryngen theire handis, / And all he wastys with werre thare he awaye rydez -- / Thaire welthes and theire wonnynges wandrethe he wroghte! ["He tore down walls, wounded knights, razed towers and tormented the people; he made nobles widows (cf. James' post on Arthur and widowhood!), who lament their fate, often curse and weep and wring their hands, and he wastes all with war, wherever he rides -- their belongings and habitations he completely destroys!]
Read "the giant" instead of "Arthur" for the text's "he" and the description seems no less appropriate, so completely doesthe king become his own foe. As James has said, such is the fate of heroic masculinity.
Edith Benkov refers to the fabliau of _La dame escoillee_ in an interesting brief posting, wondering what it may tell us about masculinity. At the risk of overstating the obvious, this seems a wonderful text to cite as evidence for that fluidity of gender discussed in previous postings, and of the detachability of the phallus, its migratory quality. For it is clear (to me, at any rate) that the jongleor has portrayed, without having the psychoanalytic term to hand, a fantasy of the phallic woman: the assertive mother-in-law (and a wife who threatens copying her behavior) who must have her body reorderedor brought back within the patriarchal household. The gory details that Edith omits (the mock castration involves smuggling in some bull testicles for 'removal' in a staged surgical operation) may suggest that not only gender, but the more basic category of species is also fluid and negotiable. Although I'm not prepared to develop such an argument, I believe that Donna Haraway's work would offer fruitful suggestions along these lines; I wonder if this discussion might want to consider gender norms in the context of species ones. Perhaps Eugene Vance's _From Topic to Tale_, with its reading of Chretien's Yvain and its relation to the scholastic 'topic' to the effect that 'all men are animals' might provide useful suggestions too.
The following, with its spatial image, is a doodle, not intended to have the comprehensiveness of theory but only to stimulate.
For medieval western Europe, women passively carry a sex identity while men are actively engaged in gender. Male sex is the 'default', if we continue with this image, in the sense that its possession is not a matter for concern since attention is turned to the more important issue of gender realization. Women are marked, not least by the Church, with the sign of deviant sex (non-male and variously virginal, reproductive, maternal, socially destabilizing, voracious) and this marking limits the types and degree of gender realization that are possible. Gender is then contained by female sex and the force is centripetal. For the man, male sex, like superior physical strength, is the given, the point of departure in the elaboration of gender; movement is centrifugal. In the construction of gender, the archetype may be supplied by society, as in the case of aristocratic youth. The individual must try to live into and up to the norms of the hero (ideal) and soldier (pragmatic), or effect an accommodation with other sanctioned models, as when the younger well-born son takes holy orders and may then develop into either a 'spiritualized' churchman or secularized one. Power lies as the objective of the many masculine paths to self-realization, regardless of the socio-economic level of the male agent. It may lie in the command or quasi-ownership of other men, in their fear, or in personal glory. Even sanctity generated its own, at times unwilled, power, as recognition of the sin of vanity and the striving for humility repeatedly illustrate.
Will Sayers email@example.com
Reading through recent postings I have been struck by the number of issues raised which are also explored in Malory's Morte Darthur. For example, Dan Melia's observations on "hypermasculinity," society's need for it within the warrior caste and the problem of what to do with it when there is no war. is expored through the figure of Gawain, who keeps himself busy and embarrasses Arthur in peacetime by pursuing the vendetta against the house of Pellinor and by casually abducting maidens (Caxton's Book VIII, ch.41)
The questions of the relationship between heroism and sanctity (I can't remember who first raised it), the institution of the 'husband' and the degree to which we are eliding sexual difference in our discussion of masculinity (these two raised by Clare Lees), all come together in Malory's construction of what is a distinctly late medieval (and possibly also distinctly English) type of knight, the true or 'verray' knight, who acknowledges and actuallly tries to maintain three loyalties at once: to God, to his lord and to his lady. This type is represented in significantly different ways by Lancelot, Gareth and the Grail knights, the differences having mostly to do with how they deal with the last of these three, given the first two. Loyalty to God requires chaste behaviour, and so does loyalty to lord, if the lady in question is his wife, and therefore 'true' knights have a problem dealing with their sexuality.
One solution is simply to renounce it, as the monks do, in particular the crusading monks of the High Middle Ages and this is what all of Malory's Grail knights do, sooner or later; Galahad appears to be too young even to be aware of his sexuality; but Percival is old enough to be severely tempted by the fiend disguised as a beautiful lady and is saved only by the grace of God. On the other hand, the more mature Bors, who has had one sexual encounter in his life, during which he begot Helayn le Blank, finds it not at all difficult to refuse a lady, even to save her from suicide (MD XVI.12).
The youthful, pre-Quest Lancelot is like Galahad, refusing love "peramours" with apparent ease for "drede of God" (and the concomitant fear that he will be unfortunate in battle). However, he makes clear that the sinfulness of illicit sex is not all he's worried about, when he refuses marriage just as resolutely. According to him, marriage entails having to "couch" with one's wife and give up the life of "armys and turnamentis, batellys and adventures" altogether (MD VI.10). In the very next book, the experience of his protege, Gareth, bears him out. By marrying his true love, Dame Lyonesse, Gareth solves the problem of expressing his sexuality without sin, but as a consequence he disappears from the world of knight errantry.
The more mature Lancelot is troubled by his sexuality. First he is tricked into giving up his virginity to beget Galahad, which makes him so furious that he draws his sword upon the young Elaine (MD XI.3). Then he is led into her bed again, thinking her to be Guinevere, and so commits fornication and mental adultery, a triple betrayal of God, lord and lady which costs him his sanity (MD XI.7). Finally, after repenting his earlier sins during the Grail quest, he is tempted by Guinevere herself and succumbs to the sin of adultery "in dede" during the "Knight of the Cart" episode (MD XIX.6). I believe that Malory invented the "Healing of Sir Urry" episode which follows primarily in order to assure his readers that Lancelot has repented this sin, also (for which there is some indication in his pious and penitent behaviour in Meleagant's prison, MD IX.8) and found been found worthy by God of performing a miracle, healing Sir Urry by the laying on of hands.
The ultimate proof of Lancelot's sanctity is the manner of his death, which is very like that of the most popular of English saint-heroes, Guy of Warwick. Both men die literally in the odour of sanctity and their souls are borne to heaven by flights of angels.
These two saint-heroes have much else in common, too. Both achieve sanctity in part because of penitential quests, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Guy and the quest for the Holy Grail for Lancelot. Both also achieve sanctity in part because of heroic acts performed in the service of God and country, including treason trials by battle (i.e. judicial duels, or judgments by God). Finally, both men end their lives as hermits, after bidding farewell to the women they loved.
To me the most interesting parallel between the two herosaints is that both come to see themselves as sinners because their love for a woman has driven them to seek vainglory, i.e. to do great feats of arms for the sake of her love rather than for God's sake. Realizing this sin (Guy 7398-7408) makes Guy a pilgrim to Jerusalem two weeks after his marriage to Felice. It is the same sin which Lancelot confesses in Malory's version of the Grail quest:
"...all my grete dedis of armys that I have done for the moste party ws for the quenys sakae, and for hir sake wolde I do batayle were hit ryght other wronge. And never dud I batayle all only for Goddis sake, but for to wynne worship and to cause me the bettir to be beloved, and littill or nought I thanked never God of hit" (MD XIII.20).
Is it a sign of lower libido or higher capacity for sexual restraint that both men should find the first sinful consequence of their love to be pride, or vainglory, rather than lechery? I certainly wonder about the strength of Guy's libido, given how easily (only one swoon) he leaves his bride of two weeks, never to return as her husband. On the other hand, sexual desire seems to become a big problem for Lancelot only after his initiaion into the delights of making love with Elaine. Soon afterwards, Malory tells us, Lancelot's love for Guinevere becomes "more hotter", i.e. more passionate. And near the end of their lives, after she has become a nun and he realizes that they will never be married, he still asks for a parting kiss (which she refuses).
What appears to be a significant difference between Guy and Lancelot, that Guy marries and Lancelot does not, is in fact only an accident of circumstance. Both men fall in love, promise to be faithful and subsequently refuse all other offers of marriage, no matter how impossible their chances of ever being able to marry their lady may seem (I have discussed Lancelot's pattern of refusal of marriage in "Malory's Lancelot: 'Trewest Lover, of a Synful Man'," Viator 12(1981):409-56). As the son of the steward in Felice's father's baronial household, Guy's chances of ever being found an acceptable husband for her are slim, indeed, while Lancelot's chances of ever being able to marry Guinevere appear to be nil. Had Guinevre been free to marry, when Lancelot first fell in love with her, we must assume that he would have married her and made Gareth's choice of lordship rather than remain a bachelor in knight's service; indeed, much later, after the death of Arthur, he tells her that even then he would have taken her back to his own kingdom as his queen, had she been so "disposed". On the other hand, had Guinevere been free to marry when she and Lancelot were both young, there would have been no life of adventure as a Round Table Knight, no story.
Four centuries after Chretien first explored the conflict between chivalry and love, it was still not possible to reconcile heroism in the martial sense with a mutual love relationship between a man and a woman, not even a 'living-in-sin' relationship, as Isode's criticism of Tristram's easy acceptance of their domestic life together at Joyous Garde suggests ("A! se how sir Trystram huntyth and hawkyth, and cowryth wythin a castell wyth hys lady, and forsakyth us [knights of the Round Table]," MD XII.11). It was much easier to make him a saint than a married man.
Partly, of course, this is a narrative problem -- no adventures, no story. Romances of courtship got around this by making the knightly adventures necessary to winning the love of a woman and the author of Guy of Warwick does this for the first two-thirds of his long romance. But it may also have been a a problem unique to late medieval English aristocratic culture which re-visioned marriage in courtly, romantic terms as the ideal consummation of "true love." [Can anyone out there tell me if this re-vision appears in late fourteenth-century and fifteenth-century French romance as well?]
Of course, this romantic re-vision of marriage also happened to accord with Christian teaching regarding the indissolubiblity of marriage and the moral duty of the marriage partners to pay each other the "marriage debt"' -- i.e. give sexual satisfaction in order to avoid the greater sin of adultery. But it meant that romancers which represented marriage in addition to, or instead of, courtship were obliged to go against Christian doctrine regarding the "marriage debt" in order to continue providing a plot filled with adventures. The author of Guy of Warwick justifies Guy's abandonment of his wife by the higher duty to repentance, but Guy's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which takes up most of the last third of the romance, is also the occasion of great adventures to narrate. On the other hand, Chaucer's Franklin's Tale is, I think, unique in its refusal to narrate Arveragus' adventures in England, concentrating instead on the marital crisis which his leaving his wife was expected to generate.
Marriage was necessary to those among the knightly class who inherited great lands and therefore were obligated to provide legitimate heirs. Guy's marriage to Felice serves the practical end of providing an heir to his wife's father's earldom. In this respect it is not unlike Lancelot's one-night stand with Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles, which provides King Pelles with an heir who wiill "achieve" the Grail. On the other hand, Lanceot's refusal to marry in order to be true to Guinevere means that he never provides an heir to his kingdom (the importance of which is underlined during their final parting scene, when Guinevere urges Lancelot to return to France, to marry and get an heir).
Malory cannot imagine a married hero any more than the author of Guy of Warwick could. Guy can fight great battles as a pilgrim, but as a married man, he can only go hunting. Unlike a pilgrim, a married man has responsibilities which cannot be reconciled with a life of knightly adventure, tournaments and battles. He has to "couch" with his wife because to refuse the marriage debt is a sin (Guy overcomes this by appealing to a higher duty to do penance for past sins); he has to train his son in the virtues and skills appropriate to his station in life (Guy leaves this task in the hands of his faithful folower, Heraude); and he has not only to maintain and protect his family but also, if he is a lord of great lands, provide judicial process to his tenants and counsel to his king (Guy's father-in-law presumably takes care of these responsibilities of the great magnate). Malory's "true" knights [so called because they are both devoutly Christian, ie. "true" to God, and also lovers "true" to their ladies] accept without question that it is their duty to "couch" with their wives and give up the life of adventure. Gareth marries Lyonesse and takes on the responsibilities of lordship, giving up the life of adventure. Lancelot is spared this fate only by falling in love with a woman he cannot marry.
I think we can safely say that the "husband" was clearly a social necessity, but not yet a social institution in the late Middle Ages, at least not in the upper-class culture which continued to admire the martial feats of knightly heroes. James Brundage, in Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987) suggests the institution of the husband began with Italian humanist writers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, who "described the married man as the ideal human type and marriage as the foundation of social order" (p.496). That sounds to me as bourgeois as the urban culture which produced the first Italian humanists.
In Malory's time, as in Chretien's, marriage was still extremely difficult to achieve for a young man who was not an heir to great lands and so needed to make his way in the world on the tournament circuit or in the service of the king. But Malory portrays Lancelot (in a major departure from his French source) as heir to the kingdom of France. In other words, he portrays him as a man who ought to have stayed home, governed his kingdom, married and provided a legitimate heir to his throne rather than come to England to achieve knighthood and then remain to serve in Arthur's fellowship after the English king had become Holy Roman Emperor. I have sometimes thought that Malory emphasizes Lancelot's sanctity at the end of his story because he has rewritten it so thoroughly in the spirit of self-sacrifice. For love of Arthur, Lancelot renounces the lordship of France and for love of Guinevere he renounces marriage and the possibility of providing an heir for his kingdom. There can be no doubt of the magnitude of Lancelot's love, given the way Malory represents him grieving at the tomb of his lord and lady, but Malory leaves it to his readers to infer the magnitude of Lancelot's selfsacrifice.
It seems to me that this cultural consciousness of the sacrifices men must make in order to provide "social order" is a major difference between the late medieval knight-hero (and Malory's Lancelot is arguably the last knight-hero to be produced in what can still be called medieval England) and the Dark Age warrior-hero. Moreover, this consciousness has been generated in large part, I believe, by the greater emphasis placed in late medieval courtly literature (and society?) upon the rewards and pleasures of a man-woman relationship based on mutual admiration and desire.
The third week of the Interscripta discussion of Medieval Masculinities has brought another fine harvest of posts. The relationship between heroism and the construction of masculinity has received continued scrutiny, but now we find ourselves factoring in a third term: sanctity. We're covering wide swaths of new ground, but being careful to continue mapping the places we've been along the way: exhausting, rewarding work!
In characteristic style, Will Sayers began the week with a rich discussion of the fate of heroes. "The many dead ends of heroism," he wrote, "the short but glorious life, the absence of a heritage passed on other than in an exemplary mode" sets the masculinity of the hero apart, making it more "narrow" than that of the ordinary man. Will raised an important issue that many of the week's posts took up: why do heroes end up as they do? What constitutes satisfactory closure in a heroic narrative? Dan Melia explained the problem in terms of social utility: what does a society do with its warriors when they are no longer fighting? He concluded that "If the society values (needs)...hypermasculinity, it seems also to need a powerful representation of its shortcomings."
In my post on giants, beheading, and gender assertion I looked at the fate of the young romance hero: how a youth passes into paradigmatic manhood as an exemplum intended for imitation - heroic narrative a method of social control. Later, following James Goldstein, I looked at what this scene had become in the Alliterative Morte Arthure: Arthur's fate is to live too long, so that his heroism declines into the kind of monstrousness that he used to define himself against. Beverly Kennedy, on the other hand, looked at less anti-heroic narratives and explored what happens when the hero's fate is not a decline: she was especially helpful in showing us the prickly relationship between heroes and marriage. In the romances I was speaking of in my post of giants, the narrative always ends at the point at which the hero's (adult) identity is revealed, and he settles down with his new wife; Beverly brough us beyond that easy terminus by examing Guy of Warwick (who leaves his wife after 2 weeks to become, essentially, a saint) and Lancelot (who never marries, and [therefore?] essentially becomes a saint - "It was much easier to make him a saint than a married man"). Monogamous sexuality and heroism (at least by the late Middle Ages) don't seem to mix; to settle down - to stop moving - is, for the hero, to die. Heroism, we see, is performative: it derives from action, and is always to be proved. Sainthood is its crown once, in death, it stops.
Brian Lee connected the heroic to the hagiographic by exploring how ecclesiastic influence can have a transformative effect on narratives of heroism: the libido of Richard I, "England's most heroic king," is rebuked by the object of his desire's putting out her eyes ("Her heroism is clearly of a different order from his" - it's no longer "heroism," I would say, but "sanctity" - ecclesiastically sanctioned heroism). (Would someone, I wonder, like to post on the transformations of heroism and erotic love in the "Queste del saint Graal"?) Will examined Irish martyrdoms, and aligned them along a "heroic" axis according to how much individual volition (power?) is involved.
Finally, I composed two posts on current gender debates, outlining the constructivist vs. essentialist controversy. I argued for a double reading: one that allows powerful cultural forces to delimit the space in which gender is expressed, and the power of the individual and the unconscious to resist. Clare Lees shared her experiences editing a collection on Medieval Masculinities with us; reminded us of the contributions of many years of feminist criticism to the current debate (It bears keeping in mind that this discussion would have been impossible without the work of these critics); prodded us to examine categories like "bachelor" and husband"; and made the perceptive statement that, in discussions of gender, there is a tendency to reinscribe the ideology that "woman have sex while men have gender." (Will usefully amplified this observation, and reconnected it to power - a term that has become of central importance in our discussion of gender.) Clare ended with a question that we still need to address: "How far can we elide sexual difference in our discussions of gender and masculinity, and what is at stake in our attempts to do so?"
The topics we are now exploring are heroism; heroism and sanctity; sancity and masculinity; gender and sexual difference. I will now also open the floor to any other related topics that the partcipants in our virtual colloquium would like to introduce.
Thank you to this week's participants. It's difficult enough to find the time to compose any kind of post at this time of year; but the material we have seen become part of the discussion so far has been of consistently high quality and rich in insight.