the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of a text (S/Z [NY: Hill and Wang, 1974], p.4)The hypertext essay is a collaborative work, a space where author meets reader in a dynamic arena in which the one structures invisble paths and silently directive delimiters of experience while the other negotiates these roads according to both an unseen intention and a will to knowledge capable, perhaps, of finding other ways through the textual labyrinth, of mapping new journeys by reinventing meaning within a world always less solid than it appears.
Hypertext enables new scholarly methodologies, but it can also enact them. The fine line between word and performance (speech and action, langue et parole, conceptualiziation and incorporation -- I'm elaborating here by amplification, not by appositive binarism) blurs both in hypertext and, as the article which follows argues, in gender. The experience of gender is not all that different from the experience of a text connected by invisible anchors and hotspots that organize a potentially random event (reading, or being) into coherence ("meaning"). A simultaneous freedom and constriction inhere in both hypertextual spaces and gender codes: those unseen authorial hands that have structured the roads which construct the reading of a hypertext piece (and which, because self-erasing, can be approached as "authorial" only through obscured traces) can be compared to the unseen naturalizing processes that manufacture gender within a given society and sanction which paths of action have meaning, and which are random (meaningless) or monstrous (meaningful but dangerous, because challenging). Invisible powers lose their potency only when brought into the light. If you wish, you could download this discussion you are now reading in hypertext and examine its collected words through some other viewer, as a plain (ascii) text. Through this new optics you would suddenly see all of the strange symbols with which I have peppered the article: the little brackets that make this word appear with emphasis on your screen, and the string of code that empowers this word, if you touch it, to catapult you back somewhere you have already been. The forest of symbols that determine meaning within this language (html: hypertext mark-up language) would become visible, and after some work, comprehensible as a system. You might even be able to draw a complex map of what anchors lead to which destinations - of what words lead to what other groups of words, what texts connect to what other texts, what meaning structures lie buried deep within the hypertext. You would find that you are reading not a single text ( Medieval Masculinities) but an imbricated set of ten texts, almost simultaneously.
Gender works in similar ways. I'm not arguing for a simple structuralism here: the submerged schemata themselves are not natural, not givens, not even necessary as they are configured; meaning is potentially in flux even within a path of hypertext links, and the only claims I make about a writer's ability to authorize meaning (and about a society's ability to authorize gender) is that it is a dangerous project that doesn't always succeed, especially because it is and must be collaborative. Nor am I making claims about "author functions" other than to point out that even when the author is dead, the author's ghost survives in that limbo between power and powerlessness that bounds interpretation. The author of the text constructs a space of possibility by closing off other spaces; the social forces that construct gender work similarly, through a complex negotiation between what is envalued as orthodox and desirable, and what is marginalized as aberrrant or condemned to the unthinkable.
Gender, like hypterext, is multivocal: it contains an array of (potential) meanings, some of which will be amplified, some of which will remain silent. Hypertext enacts gender when the text is pluralized into texts, when a rhetoric of monologism is allowed to break into an experience of critical plenitude. Fifty-five voices contributed to the Interscripta discussion of medieval masculinities; one voice orders them into an article, but through intercollation with an archive and bibliography, each can also speak for itself.
As I sit at the keyboard, thinking about how best to initiate this discussion of Medieval Masculinities, I can look either at the blank spaces on my monitor, waiting for my words; or, by shifting my eyes slightly, at the quiet Cambridge street on which I live. In a few hours this street will be dark - and full of children in bright, plastic costumes. Tonight is their time to be something they are not. Adults, too, will be caught up in this fantasy: many of them will join this pan-American masquerade and don store-bought accoutrements to become temporarily someone else. Suppose that at the end of the night, made weary by parties and pranks and cross-dressing, this whole costumed crew comes home, takes off their disguises, and finds that underneath is not the Self they expected to find, but another costume draping the body. And suppose that under this alien identity is another, perhaps stranger one; and under the next, another. Years of costumes may have built up underneath, and as each one is peeled off like onion skin, the suspicion arises that there's nothing at the center, or that the center will never be reached (Jeffrey Jerome Cohen).The unsettling power of these images originates in their denaturalization of that chain of cause and effect which, according to a pervasive mythology of personal identity, links who we are with an immutable essence at the core of being. But how can we be so sure that this core exists, and even if it does, can we be certain of the extent to which it represents (or dictates, or even influences) the expression of who we are as sexed and gendered beings? Gender theorists have argued that the identity we unreflectively assume to be our own does not arise from some central, determinate self, but is rather a collection of behaviors, expressions, and material signifiers in which we are dressed by the cultural moment that enables our coming into being. Marjorie Garber has explored the ways in which categories like "male" and "female" can be reconfigured through the use of a few props -- a wig, high heels, press-on nails, trousers (Vested Interests); Thomas Laqueur has shown this same instability at work historically in the description and assignment of sexual anatomy (Making Sex). Judith Butler has insisted that gender identity and its signs "are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporal signs and other discursive means. That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality" (Gender Trouble, p.136). Femininity becomes a "masquerade" (Riviere); masculinity becomes a "spectacle" (Neale).
The virtual colloquium that began when these Halloween speculations were disseminated to several hundred electronic mailboxes across the world utilized contemporary insights into gender construction to better understand the Middle Ages. Because the topic is potentially so vast, the discussion was centered around (although not limited to) an inquiry into the relationship between medieval masculinity and heroic male identity. For heroism is a gendered realm that mandates, quite literally, the assumption of "the armour of an alienating identity" (as Lacan described the mirror phase); heroic masculinity is a cultural alignment of behaviors formulated to be adopted and promulgated - a powerful vision of masculinity that, in order to be offered as a mode of living, must also acknowledge its artificiality, its constructedness, its adoptability. By interrogating what it meant to be a hero in the Middle Ages, by examining how heroism's diverse paradigms were linked to the perception of manhood, we sought to determine what, in a medieval martial society, it meant to be and to become a man.
As should be clear from the preceding example, masculinity is not monolithic, but built from a collection of genders organized (sometimes unsuccessfully) into some sort of cultural coherence. According to the taxonomy inherited from Victorian reception of classical epic, the "traditional" ("masculine") hero is violent and aggressive; the "nontraditional" ("feminized") hero is thoughtful and wily, a deviser of strategies rather than a combatant. Achilles, the man of strength, embodies the first type, especially in his savagery toward Hector; Odysseus, the archer and the man of craft, embodies the second. This simple bifurcation (of an already bifurcated) gender has its obvious limits. What are we to make of Achilles' passions for Patroklus and for Troilus, or of Ulysses' rejection of both women and desire as he makes his way home to Ithaca? Achilles' desire is not feminizing - except within the restrictive terms of the Victorian classification scheme (where it creates a heterotaxis that destroys the symmetry upon which the whole system is predicated). The problem is one of cultural imposition and anachronism: masculinity and femininity, like hetero- and homo- sexuality, need to be amplified as cultural categories in order to make classical Greek notions of gender comprehensible (as David Halperin has shown). Gendered terms demand constant recontextualization back into the cultural moment that produces them; what was "non-traditional" for the scholars of a hundred years ago isn't necessarily so for us, or for the ancient Greeks. "Masculinity (-ies) may be more fruitfully understood as an array than as a difference" (Robert Stein): gender must be taken as a plurality, not as the binarism it deceptively presents. Hence in this discussion we examine medieval masculinities, plural, in order to grant the term its multivocality, its potential for disparate and conflicting voices.
Foucault has taught us the impossibility of separating the analysis of the body and its gendered meanings from the matrices of power which allow that significance to be articulated. Masculinity is as much a product of social as of somatic relationships: "the language of manhood (homo, vir, puer, etc.) is the principal language by which relationships of power are described in early medieval sources ... The language of masculinity ... is the language of martial prowess, property, and governance in a precarious political economy" (Greg Rose). Thus, in the early Germanic organization of male relationships that Tacitus called the comitatus (and which might better be labeled the Mannerbund [Joseph Harris]), manliness was measured in terms of proper domination and submission along an axis of ascending social power. Tacitus writes that men "cluster" around stronger men for protection in an unsteady world of challenge and aggression: "This retinue has its different ranks, established in accordance with the judgment of its leader. There is great rivalry among the followers as to who shall hold the first place with the chief. There is great rivalry as well among the chiefs as to who will have the largest and most valorous band of followers." Masculinity becomes a spectrum of acceptable gender behaviors, with the "weak" man finding his place in a life of happy subordination, and the "powerful/heroic figure" being responsible for the maintaining of this culture-specific formulation of male to male relationships. To read gender through its embedment in power, then, gender's topography must always be mapped within a cultural arena that includes the social, the political, the anthropological, the economic, and the historical: "effective masculinity was constantly on trial and ... the individual efforts of the would-be hero were continuously accompanied by glances temporally and spatially forward and back, above and below, right and left" (Will Sayers).
Even in medieval texts which seem to declare with Freud that "Anatomy is destiny," competing narratives of gender construction often lurk just below the reductive surface. In Liudprand of Cremona's writing, especially the Antapodosis and De Legatione Constantinopolitana, an obsession with male genitalia and the horror generated by its absence seems at first to argue for a simple biology to sex correspondence in his articulation of gender. Eunuchs appear in almost every chapter. Castration is the universal punishment for crimes against authority of any kind; the penis is the phallus here, so that the loss of one is the sign made flesh of the loss of the other. Sometimes these scenes of the missing member are merely humorous, as when Liudprand describes the lascivious Willa's boy-toy priest: "Those who turned the priest into a eunuch declared there was good reason for the love his mistress bore him: his tool, they discovered, was worthy of Priapus himself" (In this case the penis has little to do with the man, everything with the errant woman); sometimes they are puzzling, as when Liudprand presents a delighted Constantine with "four carzimasia, that being the Greek name for eunuchs who have had their testicles and penis removed;" sometimes castration is a rhetorical device that allows Liudprand to reduce his enemy to a feminized position (all the Greek bishops become, by a lapsus linguae which delights Liudprand, "capones"); but most often these vignettes are tense, and provoke what might be called gender-anxiety, as when the bishop doesn't know how to describe a Greek eunuch appointed leader of an army: "As general of this force...[the emperor] has appointed a man of sorts - I say of sorts because the fellow has ceased to be a male and has not been able to become a female... [He is] a gentleman of neither gender." Biology and gender seem here to be coherently aligned: a man without functioning genitalia is not a man. The body is a readable, reductivist text, and tells three possible stories according to what it has, once had, or always lacked.
But is it so simple? On closer examination, the relation of sex, gender, and the body in The Embassy to Constantinople is dictated by a narrative that is cultural rather than somatic. Gender for Liudprand has more to do with nationality than anatomy. That which is foreign becomes that which is deficient and (by a familiar leap of logic) that which is feminine. The nasty Byzantines who treated the author so poorly (who in fact feminized him, taunting him with the nickname "Holy Mother") become a nation of eunuchs: all missing a vital signifier of power and authority that Liudprand, no matter how beleaguered, always confidently possesses. The essence of true manhood resides for Liudprand back home. He is merciless in his transformative rhetoric of representation: from the feminine the Greeks slip into the monstrous, so that the Emperor becomes "a monstrosity of a man, a dwarf, fat-headed with tiny mole's eyes; ...disgraced by a neck scarcely an inch long; piglike by reason of the bristles on his head; in color an Ethiopian." Masculinity and femininity are terms that construct bodies personal and national. Edward Said has written about East-West relations along these lines in Orientalism: in Said's interpretation the East is depicted as seductive, enticing - ready to be conquered by the hypermasculine West. In Liudprand's vision the East is a culturally repulsive place, a deficient body made monstrous by the fact that it is fully neither masculine nor feminine, but something in between, something characterized by a lack simultaneously sexual and cultural. Reference to the material body alone simply does not sufficiently explain Liudprand's vision of gendered identity.
Just as masculinity cannot be disentangled from specific cultural configurations of the body in its imagined modi operandi, so too specific formulations of masculinity like heroism cannot be isolated from the complex of social relationships that imbue gender with meaning. Liudprand's narrative mixes national, personal, and gender identity into a generative broth that yields a rhetorically effective narrative; what he accomplished in parvo was taking place within a larger pattern of category dependency throughout the Middle Ages. Christian (male) identity, for example, was often defined by apposition with and opposition to Muslim "monstrosity." Detailed descriptions of supposed Saracen atrocities abound, often representing the Muslim intrusion into the Holy Land as a violation of the Christian body (forced circumcision, evisceration, dismemberment). Michael Uebel observed that "the body in pain is objectified [in these accounts], turned into a thing whose boundaries preventing undifferentiated contact with the external world are annihilated by the Saracens ... The threat posed to the national/religious body is that of the monster, whose existence is defined by the disruption of boundaries, by the mutation and opening up of the Christian corpus, and by the blurring of the crucial division between interiority and exteriority. The monstrous other disrupts the Christian universe and produces its limits - such is, perhaps, the paradox of otherness."
Yet the feminized body - regardless of anatomical sex - could also be the object of worship; in the case of the male body, this sacred value exists not despite its dual gendering but because of it. Caroline Walker Bynum's Jesus as Mother examines the veneration of a Christ who lactates rather than bleeds; the narrator of the prose devotional A Talkyng of the Loue of God (14th century) "imagines himself as the male lover of a female Christ," and as an infant being nursed (M. McCrillis). These feminized visions of Jesus' body coexisted with heroic representations, such as Langland's knightly Christ and the warrior-king of the Dream of the Rood (Norman Hinton). Further, tender emotions that at first do not seem consonant with the hypermasculinity of heroism are perfectly acceptable in their expression at certain culturally sanctioned times, notably at moments of loss.
That the hero grieves when his companion or his love has been taken from him signals the relational status of masculinity: because gender derives simultaneously from what one is ("being") and what one must not be (the abjected Other), meaning in gender is predicated upon contexts of activity and association. Identity, in other words, is partly or wholly contingent on community: social ties imbue the personal with its significance, not vice versa. As Laurie Finke puts it, "we can only construct male and female, masculine and feminine relationally. Neither has any meaning in and of itself, but only in relation to the other. Thus medieval masculinities can only be defined as they set themselves apart from medieval femininities." Will Sayers illustrates this dual relationality by reference to Celtic myth: "The male hero is defined by what he is and what he does, but in no less degree by what he is not. Yet the dividing line between male and female as realized in action cannot be unilaterally drawn by the hero himself. In a variety of ways, the male protagonist is held up to the scrutiny of the supernatural female and judgment is passed on his adequacy as hero ... Male identity and worth are not only won from but confirmed by the female whose essential Otherness is here allied with the supernatural, the monstrous, the marginal, the chaotic, as if only the female's elevation to a higher, or transfer to a different, category of being made possible the dialogue between non-peers." Elizabeth Rowe, who wrote at some length about the ways in which heroism may be historicized, applies this same rule to Malory, "who sets Lancelot's and Gawain's masculinities against Elaine's and Guenevere's feminities"; further, "Lancelot's spiritual instability - the one imperfection that prevents him from achieving the Grail - is connected not only with his political instability towards Arthur, but also with Malory's own political instability as a follower of Warwick, who switched his loyalties several times during the War of the Roses." Again, outside of the social and the relational, gender is meaningless.
This dependency of one category upon its other translates, in romance and in elegy, to a vision of masculinity in which the hero is hurled into a melancholic state of lack when his beloved is absent. Sir Orpheo loses his regnal identity when his queen is kidnapped by an adultery-minded elf; the king is restored from his wildman state only when he rescues his wife and can return to a wholeness of being found (in this poem) only in the sanctified union of marriage. The Black Knight of Chaucer's Book of the Duchess is haunted by the terrifying realization of the partiality of his identity when faced with the loss of the White Lady (Gayle Margherita, "Originary Fantasies and Chaucer's Book of the Duchess"). In the absence of their loves, both Orpheo and the Black Knight exhibit traits that in the chivalric worlds through which they move are gendered feminine, suggesting that when the complementary pair is broken through the death or absence of the beloved, the suddenly isolated masculine body temporarily moves toward a duality of gender that is to be received as affecting rather than troubling.
This evocative loss need not involve a vanished female lover, however. Bardic poets mourned the passing of their patrons "by characterizing themselves as widows"; we might wonder, then, "whether the elegist and keener was not gendered female, the pathetic theme and treatment dictating that the appropriate advantage point for comment be a feminine one" (Will Sayers). A similar reduction to metaphorical widowhood occurs in the Alliterative Morte Arthure when Arthur mourns the loss of his men on the battlefield (James Goldstein). Heroes often have close friends for whom they feel a passionate, sometimes even an eroticized or sadomasochistic attachment: this pairing is the "heroes and their buddies" topos. At times the friend seems to exist only to die or disappear, precipitating a fall into the kind of madness or mourning an absent female beloved might trigger (Achilles and Patroklus, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Arthur and Gawain, Amis and Amiloun, Lancelot and Galehaut). At other times the companion is a faithful sidekick or second in command who makes fuller the heroic possibilities of the man whom he lovingly follows (Aeneas and fidus Achates, Brutus and Corineus, Kjartan and Bolli, Erec and Guivret, Yvain and his anthropomorphic lion). A third possibility is for the friend to embody what is traditionally thought of as the feminine (Freud called it the pre-oedipal), ordinarily as part of a Laurel and Hardy or Odd Couple kind of pairing. In romance, a hero might adopt a giant as his page or squire (Bevis of Hampton and Ascopart, Guillaume d'Orange and Rainouart). The out-of-control body of the giant contrasts with the normative masculinity embodied in the hero. The giant is indoctrinated into chivalry as a way of promulgating an orthodox code of gender behavior; his mistakes are to be laughed at, exorcised. The rebuke to improper masculinity as represented by the male grotesque in comedy is not far removed from the rebuke conveyed by the defeat of the monster in more somber narratives like Beowulf; the line between friend and enemy, like the line between masculinity and femininity, is a fine one indeed, and is (not surprisingly) also demarcated through the incorporation of gender. We can go further: in extreme cases the line between species, supposed to be foundational, may become "fluid and negotiable" - as in La Dame escoillee or Yvain (James Goldstein).
The problem, of course, is that knights with "troubled" sexualities are always more interesting than their orthodox counterparts. In Malory's Morte Darthur, Sir Gareth marries his true love Lyonesse and disappears from view, while Lancelot continues his problematic relationship with Guenevere and remains central to the narrative until its end (Beverly Kennedy). A counter-current in heroism acknowledges the inherent danger of potently distilling aggressive impulse into a single figure who can potentially turn against what he is supposed to protect. As Daniel Melia puts it, "One of the great problems of societies with warrior castes ... is what to do with these hypermasculine types when they are not doing their thing on the battlefield." From this anxiety an impulse arises to move the hero outside the circle of culture once his function has been executed - once the enemy has been defeated, or the time of war has come to an end. Perhaps the problem is solved by having the hero live a short but spectacular life, so that "heroic masculinity has its longest and truest life in distilled form, in posthumous glory"; the many "dead-ends of heroism" (short life, absence of descendants, absence of ruling power or wealth) might indicate that "martial heroes are not more masculine than other men, only differently and more narrowly so" (William Sayers). The same delimiting impulse that promulgates codes of honor may invent, in times of peace, smaller spheres of action inside which masculinity might be contained: this domesticizing gesture seems to have been at work in the construction and valorization of the husband as a social institution among the upper classes late in the Middle Ages (Clare Lees, Beverly Kennedy). Thus Chretien's Yvain, like Erec before him, ends his brief but spectacular career of aventures happily married and residing in a castle in the suburbs. This check on heroism's widening gyre is itself potentially dangerous to martial masculinity: sometimes "men are represented as 'paying the price' for social order by having their internal behavior fatally constrained." Cuchulainn, under a geis not to eat dogmeat, pretends to swallow some to please his nurse; his hand and thigh are weakened from touching the food, and in the next battle he dies, a victim of "public obligations and private necessities" that he cannot reconcile (Dan Melia).
Heroism is always a difficult kind of masculinity: times change, and what cultures demand of their heroes change with the times. Sometimes the hero can adapt: hence we have Einhard's Charlemagne, the Charlemagne of the chansons de geste, and the Charlemagne of late romance. Arthur provides an even better example: as the identity he embodies metamorphosizes, he becomes the patron hero of the British, the Welsh, the Anglo-Normans, the English, the British empire, and American anglophiles successively. New heroes are invented as their elder counterparts age, taking time-bound masculinities with them to the grave; as Alcuin demanded of the monks of Lindisfarne, once the church bells have tolled the passing of Germanic warrior modes of living, then what hath Ingeld to do with Christ?
Sanctity may be difficult to separate from heroism, but the threats hagiography opposes to its protagonists elicit suffering and passive resistance as easily as active, violent vanquishment. Heroic narrative explodes with the latter: no action, no heroes. Orthodox heterosexual relationships (as embodied, for example, in the institution of marriage) and heroism therefore do not seem to mix; to settle down - to stop moving - is to die (or at least for the narrative, to end). Heroic masculinity is performative: a gendered identity that derives from feats of arms (or "feats of arms and love"), it is always to be proven in movement (wandering, errantry) through the world. Sanctity, which could be defined as ecclesiastically sanctioned masculinity, stresses the essential nature of identity: the eremitic saint discovers his true self by rejecting both community and sexuality. He turns inward to find a soul defined by its relation to God alone. Saint Antony's battles against devils in the psychological topography of the desert reveal the very different formulation of masculinity that he embodies. According to Athanasius in his Vita Antonii, one can wander into the wastelands and through interior struggle discover in the fullest sense who one truly is: through God and meditation to the soul, to the core of one's being. When a hero surrenders to this same antisocial landscape (usually in the form of a trackless forest), he becomes a wildman, an animal in human form. Yvain, Lancelot, Orpheo, Amadis, and Orlando all discover in their feral states that without a social context to imbue personal identity with a signification and without a communally sanctioned arena of performance, "things fall apart; the center cannot hold," masculinity loses its self-awareness and devolves into mere and senseless being.
Anthony's desert habitat is a geography of complete male self-sufficiency, as his less than cordial reception makes clear to the admirers who visit his isolated cave. The presence of a feminine body is a menace to the somatic and spiritual integrity of the ascetic male saint: the Legenda Aurea (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" (Brian S. Lee). The masculine body is imaged here as self-contained in its celibate holiness - perfectly whole, sanctified because noncontiguous with feminine corporality, identity, desire.
Such visions of fantastic male autonomy are germane not only to hagiography, but appear also in romance and medieval historiography. The French prose Queste del Saint Graal describes how Sir Bors refuses to sleep with a transcorporal devil (described as "so lovely and so fair that it seemed all earthly beauty was embodied in her"), and his steadfast assertion of autonomy banishes her shrieking back to hell. Brutus, the Trojan (an adjective now inseparable from images of virility and - opposite to its medieval connotations - nonreproduction) founding father of Britain, inseminates a virginal, supremely fecund land with his men, and gives birth to a nation; surely women were brought along with the refugees, but Geoffrey of Monmouth elides them from his narrative (History of the Kings of Britain). In later chronicle tradition, the Greek princess Albina attempts the same foundational gesture and is impregnated by an incubus with incestuous giants, a monstrous but reifying punishment for feminine presumption of heroic gender sufficiency (Des Grantz Geants). All borders are potentially permeable (cf. Laxdoela saga or Melusine, where gender has no correlation to foundational power), but in this particular fable that masquerades as history, only masculine bodies are eligible for autogeny; if the phallus is detachable, then so is the womb.
Hair, like clothing, is a slippery marker of such imbricated categories as sex, class, geographical origin, and social position (Steve Davis,); when Giraldus Cambrensis describes the Irish as "truly barbarous, being not only barbarous in their dress, but suffering their hair and beards (barbis) to grow enormously in an uncouth manner," he collapses "foreigner" with "sexually other":
"Moreover, these people, who have customs so very different from others, and so opposite to them, on making signs either with the hands or the head, beckon when they mean you should go away, and nod backwards as often as they wish to be rid of you. Likewise, in this nation, the men pass their water sitting, the women standing... The women, also, as well as the men, ride astride, with their legs on each side of the horse." (Topography of Ireland)
Material signifiers, further, are constituative: it is impossible to say if a man makes his clothing, or clothes have made the man. Wendy Pfeffer explained that in the Roman de Silence, the female protagonist is described at birth with feminine pronouns and adjectives (ele iert rich, l.2060); for reasons of inheritance she is raised as a boy, and when she departs from home "to become a knight a gender shift occurs in the narration (il meismes se doctrine, l.2385) and in direct discourse; Silence's father addresses his offspring as bials fils (l.2445)." Cucullus facit monachum. Paul Schaffer provided the example of Ide, the granddaughter of Huon of Bordeaux: fleeing her incest-minded father, Ide wears armor and performs deeds of prowess that earn her knighthood. Olive, daughter of the emperor of Rome, falls in love with her/him (the narrative itself uses a confusing mix of pronouns), they marry, Ide is about to be exposed as a sexual fraud, the Virgin Mary intercedes, and the hero(ine) is transformed into "a perfect man as all others be with out any difference." Within a year, Ide gives birth to a son, the deliciously named Croissant. The bodily metamorphosis only reifies a deeper change both signaled in and precipitated by Ide's cross-dressing.
In Laxdoela saga, Gudrun, angered by her first husband's slapping her, weaves him a shirt with a wide neck opening and, when he wears it, divorces him on the grounds that he dresses in effeminate (decolleté) clothing. She then urges Thord to divorce his wife Aud on the grounds that she wears men's breeches; he does so and marries Gudrun. Later Aud comes riding to Thord's house ("she was certainly wearing breeches then"), enters the bedroom, and gashes him with a short sword "across both nipples" (the part of the anatomy that men's clothing was not supposed to exhibit). Remarkably, Thord insists that Aud is not to be punished, "saying that she had only done what she had to." The anxiety over clothing as a marker of identity here indicates that it is an inaccurate or transmutable signifier - like the body itself. Thord believes that he deserves what he gets because he realizes that by pushing Aud into the masculine/strong category, he's entered the weak/passive/feminized role; the episode appears to be, as Carol Clover suggests, an example of "no [predetermined] sex, no [essentialized] gender." The point of such transformational narratives is less that sexual identity is unstable (even though it is), but that "'male' or 'masculine' are matters of convenience or convention only, at least in comparison to the more important categories 'true,' 'virtuous,' 'devout,' 'noble,' and 'gentle'" (Paul Schaffner). Silence, Ide, Thord and Aud remain continuous in their identities within these cultural categories, even if their sexed and gendered bodies shift.
The death of the hero also assures that, as a gender code, heroic masculinity will continue to be reinvented, replenished, reconstructed. Heroism divides into heroisms; masculinity splinters into masculinities; cultural categories built upon notions of "otherness" refuse to remain distinct, multiplying and imbricating. Medieval masculinities: circling through versions of heroism, visions of sanctity, ways of living within and fleeing from this world, we return to the plurality of gender with which we began. Although the path we have followed traced the steep ascent of larger-than-life versions of masculinity, if only because such giantism incorporates a ready visibility and a constant reminder of its own distinctness from the "natural,", we end as we began: with gender spread before us in a marvelous, multifold array. If we have learned anything along the way, it is simply this: although understanding medieval masculinities may be the goal of our inquiry, it will never be its full achievement. The investigation that stops moving, that settles down with comfortable answers in that castle in the suburbs will end its narrative and vanish; gender study, like its very object, must always be in performance in order to be alive.