The materiality of gender: space, vision, and the body in the middle ages.
This paper focuses on themes of space and the body to compare the interpretative models developed by researchers in archaeology, history and art history as scholarship has shifted from first to third wave feminisms. Studies of gender and space began in the 1980s by mapping of spatial locales that could be linked with the everyday activities of medieval men and women. In common with contemporary feminist studies in geography and architecture, the central aim was to make women in the past more visible and tangible. Aspects of gender and power were highlighted in discussions of the spatial segregation of religious and elite women, while the influence of anthropology was seen in studies of spatial movement, meaning and metaphor. Greater engagement with feminist phenomenology introduced a concern to reconstruct the spatial experience of the lived medieval body, while feminist film studies contributed the model of ‘the gaze’ that has influenced the gendered analysis of both visual and architectural media. Art historical studies of the medieval body have emphasised the representation of ideals, for example through the expression of feminine beauty and masculine power in funerary commemoration, and conversely the disruption of ideals through visual discourses at the margins. Historical approaches have probed the essential corporeality of medieval religion, with the sensory quality of female piety adopted as a key model across medieval studies. Archaeologists have concentrated on the medieval body in death, arguing that grave goods can be used to comment on gender identity in life, and proposing a fluidity of gender constructs that challenges binary categories of masculine and feminine. While to some extent disciplinary approaches have developed from the nature of respective source materials, clear differences are apparent in the models of gender that dominate: these include patronage versus agency; and representation versus performance.
Dr Elisa Moras
Sweet speech and bitter silence: praise and criticism of the ideal Welsh noblewoman.
This paper will consider the models of medieval gender presented in medieval Welsh court poetry, paying particular attention to the poets’ depiction of the ideal noblewoman. The Welsh language has a wealth of medieval praise poetry and lamentations that provide a vast and valuable source of information on what the society expected and demanded from its noblewomen. We can also see how these poems did more than merely praise women for maintaining these ideals of behaviour, they also set out and defined the model of the perfect noblewoman and encouraged women to fulfil these expectations and thereby become praiseworthy.
The paper will concentrate on the significance of women’s speech as a means of defining their nobility. It will consider the high praise for women’s ability to speak well and to converse agreeably and amusingly with guests at court, a quality that is also emphasised in female characters of Welsh medieval prose tales that were heard at court, and will trace the development of this symbol of female excellence from early saga poetry sung in the female voice and persona of Heledd. The paper will also draw attention to the role of women’s speech in the complaints and criticisms made by poets of noblewomen who withhold their words and fall silent.
By following references to women from early heroic poetry through saga poetry to the praise poetry to women of medieval courts we see the continuation of the concept of the female ideal, and also the parallel development and evolvement of the concept of the heroic male ideal.
Looking out and Looking in – some aspects of Philip of Novara’s model of feminine behaviour.”
Philip of Novara wrote his ‘Four Ages of Man’ in the mid-thirteenth century in the somewhat beleaguered crusader kingdom of Cyprus. His interest as an author derives not only from this text, but from an extensive work on the jurisprudence of the kingdom, as well as an extremely partisan history of the islanders under attack from the German Emperor Frederick II. From these works, it is possible to see Philip presenting some very different approaches to the subject of appropriate feminine behaviour. The ‘Four Ages’ has become notorious amongst historians of gender because of its frequently cited aphorism that women should not be taught to read or write. However, his strictures on the subject of looking and being seen are equally interesting, when set in the context of ecclesiastical models of behaviour and hagiographical topoi on the subject of modesty. This paper will explore some of those connexions and consider how a holy model of looking is translated in Philip’s work into a gendered model.
Matthew M. Reeve
A tale of men’s bodies: revisiting the knightly effigy
The thirteenth-century cross-legged knightly effigy has been the subject of much traditional iconographic enquiry: it has been seen as a sign of crusading zeal, as a representation of knights leaping forward to defend Christ at the end of time. The exemplary, model-like status of these monuments is evidenced in their rapid proliferation from the 1230’s onward, and they now stand as one of the definitive products of thirteenth-century English visual culture. Although new studies are beginning to explore the complex significations of masculinity (and femininity) in these monuments, some fundamental questions remain to be asked about the rise of this new form of monument and its contexts. This paper explores the relationship of these monuments to contemporary manuals of conduct and comportment circulated in France and England from the years around c. 1200 by clerics such as Daniel of Beccles and Robert Grosseteste. The cross-legged pose and the construction of masculinity can be readily understood within the contexts of recent codifications of gender and decorum in these manuals, where the crossing of legs signified aristocratic status. Other aspects of these monuments can also be understood through these new codifications, including dress and gesture. These observations lead to a broader discussion of the place of the knightly effigy as a plastic model of aristocratic comportment within the “civilising” of masculinity during the thirteenth century.
Oriental Femininities in European Representation, c. 1245-1500
It is well established that stereotypes of gender and sexualities are often employed as emblems of racial difference. Such perceptions help to fix the boundaries of race and culture. Medieval travellers, like those of early modern and modern eras, included descriptions of the sexual habits and gender characteristics of the foreign peoples they encountered. This paper focuses on the travel narratives of men who journeyed to the Far East – Mongolia, India, China and South East Asia – from the mid-thirteenth to late fifteenth centuries. Some of the men travelled as ambassadors, while others were missionaries or merchants.
Each of the travellers had his own cultural outlook and ‘way of seeing’. Their descriptions of the Asian women encountered give us some insight not only into how they perceived these oriental women, but their perceptions of femininity in general. I shall focus in particular on contrasting representations of Chinese and Mongolian women, examining the writings of Carpini, Rubruck, Hayton, Polo, Montecroce, Odoric, Mandeville,’ and Conti. Did Mongolian and Chinese women serve as paragons, pariahs or paradigms of femininity for these authors, and in what ways?
Resurrecting Women: Buddhist Discourse and Social Construction of Gender in Ch?j?hime’s Legend
Pictorial Buddhist narratives of female salvation enrich our understanding regarding the religious significance of women in medieval Japan and offer new insight into ways in which women are written into religious histories. Kamakura-period (1185-1333) versions of the legendary eighth-century noblewoman, Ch?j?hime, such as the Taima Mandala Engi Emaki focus on the heroine’s devotion to Amida Buddha and the miraculous creation of the Taima Mandala, a tapestry depicting the Pure Land Paradise. In contrast, Muromachi-period (1192-1573) versions of this story, as for example the Taima-dera Engi Emaki, add a new twist to this Buddhist tale of female salvation – that of Ch?j?hime as an ill-treated stepchild – and combine the heroine’s religious experiences with a ‘secular’ narrative of her childhood.
How does the ‘secular’ addition of the narrative of Ch?j?hime’s childhood experiences emphasize gender as a conditioning factor in the evolution of the texts and images that constitute her story as a ‘sacred’ Buddhist tale of female salvation in medieval Japan? This paper examines Ch?j?hime’s female agency both as ‘religious outcast’ and ‘social outcast’ by demonstrating how her narrative provided a niche for women in the literary, religious, and socio-historical arenas by illustrating the importance of texts and images as means of empowerment, oppression, and socio-cultural criticism. I will explore the dynamics of the inclusion/exclusion of women in religious histories at particular junctures and in specific social contexts which allowed for women to be written into histories as agents, and in doing so interrogate the writing of history that excludes in relation to that which includes.
Mnemonic Difference? Gender, Memory and Impossible Mourning in Troilus and Criseyde
I propose to examine the presentation of gender difference in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde through a focus on its models of memory. The poem suggests that Troilus and Criseyde remember differently: the knot of memory keeps Troilus tightly fastened to Criseyde in a form of impossible mourning, but Criseyde plays fast and loose with her man. Rather than assuming that we already know the models of gender that inform these different atttiudes, I want to take things back to the text and the context. We know that our modern categories of gender, sexuality, and the body do not work for the middle ages because those categories are largely nineteenth-century in origin. Terms like ‘heterosexuality’ and ‘homosexuality’ are almost meaningless in a medieval context because they depend on concepts of ‘normal’ that did not exist back then. Two recent studies have homed in on our discontent with these models. Karma Lochrie’s Heterosyncrasies argues that the multiple genders of the middle ages are subsumed under our current sexual classifications. And in his recent book on courtly love, James Schultz not only takes scholars to task for confusing certain accounts of medieval gender with sexuality but also points out that the ‘bodies that matter’ for courtly lovers are ‘bodies in which sexual difference does not matter’. These revisionist accounts call for us to be more attentive to the ways in which medieval literary texts figure gender. There is indeed a somatic (and gendered) basis of medieval memory practices. But does a sexually dimorphic model of gender difference underlie Troilus’s and Criseyde’s different memorial behaviours? Is it the case, as Schultz claims, that ‘the Middle Ages considered male and female bodies essentially the same’? And do the memory practices of the past cut across our binary models of medieval gender?
Senior Lecturer in Gender in English and Medieval Literature
Department of English, University of Wales, Swansea
Paragon, Pariah, Penitent, Prisoner: Constructing the Anchoress, Christina Carpenter
In an attempt to dispel the many myths and idealised accounts concerning the anchoress Christina Carpenter, this paper will examine the original bishop’s letters pertaining to her enclosure at the church in Shere, Surrey in 1329. By means of a close reading of these three letters and the placing of them within their contemporary socio-religious context, I will argue for the figure of this anchoress as subject to a series of male, discursive constructions during which Christina metamorphoses from paragon of female religiosity to social pariah and from penitent to eventual prisoner within her own anchorhold. I will also posit that such a discursive metamorphosis was configured as a means of enhancing the ecclesiastical and political power of the bishop John de Stratford who oversaw her enclosure and whose register recorded that power for posterity. Far from the anchorhold offering the type of female autonomy and gynaecentric authority for Christina Carpenter which has been presented by recent literary, cinematic and academic treatments of her, I will suggest that her body remained firmly policed by patriarchal governance, aided by those texts which helped to shore up its hegemony.
The Old English Judith – A “Woman for all Seasons” ? Different feminine gender roles in the depiction of the heroine.
In my paper I would like to explore different aspects of the feminine in the depiction of Judith in the Old English poem. I want to propose that within the figure of Judith a number of feminine gender roles are united, possibly echoing different stages of a woman’s life as well as different – ideal – role models available to women. I will argue that Judith appears in three distinctive roles in the course of the narrative: Initially she is depicted as a “damsel in distress”-type, threatened by the most gendered form of violence against women, namely rape. Subsequently, she represents a virago-figure, who, strengthened by faith, determination and God’s support, brandishes a sword to kill her opponent. Finally, she is shown in the role of the wise queen of her people, who incites men to do battle at the strategically appropriate moment and receives the booty from her troops after the defeat of the enemy army.
I will highlight questions of tension between appearance/ perception of the heroine and her self-perception. Furthermore, I will analyse the terms applied to Judith at different points of the poem and the way these contribute to her role-shifting.
Making a Monk of the Man: Masculinity in the Moniage Guillaume
In the Moniage Guillaume, the final text of the Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange to deal with the eponymous hero, shows how he decides to mend his ways and repent of a life of violence in order to make his peace with God before he dies. However, this move from knighthood to monkdom proves painful for several reasons. Guillaume is trying to switch between two models of manhood, but is unable to strip away all the elements of his chivalric identity and so cannot mould himself into the clerical model of masculinity.
This problematic switch between two models of gender is paralleled in the text’s own straddling of two genres. The text too seems to have difficulty in shedding its chanson de geste elements and moves awkwardly towards a model of penance closer to that of hagiography.
The Moniage Guillaume is also, I shall argue, trying to reconcile two conflicting models of time at work in the cycle as a whole. The first of these is linear time, which tells the hero’s life from birth to death, and the second is cyclical time, where the hero is associated with repeated acts of valour. Indeed, repetition presents itself as a problem, which threatens to thwart the closure of the text.
(De)constructing the Household: Gender, Status and Reputation in the Late Medieval Church Courts of York
This paper will rely upon extant material for the Consistory courts of York from 1300-1500, in order to uncover the impact of gendered expectations upon reputation and authority in the household. Concerns with reputation and authority in these case studies will be examined through the prism of household order. The extent to which gender identity and standing was constituted through the household and public perceptions of gendered behaviour will be considered.
Focusing on selected case studies, this paper will examine meanings and representations of estate, gender and sexuality amongst parties and deponents appearing before the York Church courts. In an intriguing late fourteenth-century defamation case, an outraged father and the family priest acted as joint plaintiffs to refute allegations that the priest, rather than the household servant, had impregnated the daughter. They both litigated in order to uphold their account of the daughter’s sexual favours. Concealing the scandal with a plausible account of appropriate gendered behaviour indicates that certain narratives were considered to be more acceptable, and possibly more readily believable, than others. A late fourteenth-century multi-party marriage case provides evidence of both plaintiff and defendant to undermine the opposing party’s credibility and reputation on gendered grounds. Further examples involving attacks upon reputation and authority in the household will be drawn upon. In particular, this paper will analyse how specific models of gendered behaviour lent credibility to the arguments presented both by the deponents and by the parties.
Single Women and Social Classification in Later Medieval England
It is typically said that medieval society classified men by social or occupational status, and women by sexual or marital status. Medieval women were thus virgins, wives, or widows; that is, married, formerly married, or awaiting marriage. So, who is the single woman in this model? The single woman has been viewed as a troubling and disruptive category. For some, it is because of the ‘sheer magnitude’ of the category, which could encompass life-cycle single woman (those who might marry), as well as life-long single women, and widows (e.g. Amtower & Kehler, 2003). For others, it is because the single woman sits outside patriarchal society’s strict classification of women as virgins, wives, and widows, with the single woman as never-married but sexually active or economically independent (e.g. Karras, 1999; Farmer, 1999). It thus appears that the category single woman can be used to shed light on but also to blur medieval models, such as a single/married binary for women or the tripartite division of women into maidens, wives, and widows.
My approach is to work from specific uses of the category single woman in order to uncover how various medieval texts used the category, whether the term used was the Middle English ‘sengle woman’ or ‘senglewoman’, the Latin ‘sola’ or ‘soluta’, the Anglo-Norman ‘feme seule’, or the law French ‘femme sole’. By thinking about how it relates to other categories, such as virgin, maiden, and widow, one can discover not only the concerns that brought the single woman into being in a given text, but those that led to the division of women into other categories.
Linda E. Mitchel
Sort-of Female, Sort-of Male: Widowhood and Categories of Gender in the Middle Ages
From the mid-twelfth century and Henry II’s invention of the writ of dower unde nichil habet, to the end of the thirteenth century and the effects of Edward I’s De Donis statute on the introduction of jointure as an alternative to common-law dower, widowhood became one of the most carefully defined legal categories in the growing corpus of Common Law. Indeed, the thirteenth century could be seen as one in which widows—especially those of the upper classes—became a privileged group in comparison to other women, while remaining somewhat more disadvantaged than their male peers. Could widowhood be legitimately categorized as a unique gender as a result? This is the topic of my paper.
While many historians have discussed widowhood as a legal category and as a social phenomenon, the assumption has always been that the patriarchal culture nevertheless considered all women to be in need of male control and guidance. My research has suggested that this assumption needs to be qualified significantly with respect to widows. I believe that identifying “widow” as a separate gender category from “girl/woman” is in fact a useful way to model the position of widows, especially in the medieval English kingdom, and that this model could be incorporated into discussions of gender throughout the European medieval world. I also believe that women were aware of the perception that, as they moved through life stages, their gender also changed, and exploited this perception to gain both economic security and an enhanced social-political position.
Thinking Women and Anglo-Saxon Studies: Commitment, Containment, Collaboration
I wish to start with two inter-related questions. First, does the category of ‘woman’ have any validity for the study of women, gender and sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England? This is a question that Gillian Overing and I explored several years ago in a article on misogyny: it came out of some thinking we were then doing about that long-lasting patristic, medieval, and early modern debate about women (the so-called Querelle des femmes) and the ways in which the evidence of Anglo-Saxon England seemed so ill-suited, so tangential to this question of women, or the ‘woman question’. We wondered whether it could be the case that ‘woman’ had not actually been brought to consciousness, had not yet achieved the status of a conceptual, cultural category in Anglo-Saxon England.
Our question then might be fruitfully rephrased for this conference now. Might the category of ‘woman’ fail to offer a model with which to explore gender and/or sexuality when it is brought to bear on a particular cultural and historical period? This, of course, leads directly to my second question. For, if there is no ‘woman’ to be thought of in Anglo-Saxon England, what impact does this have on the ways in which thinking women recover, reconstruct, and/or impose models of gender on this period? This apparent contradiction—the apparent impossibility of thinking women and Anglo-Saxon Studies at the same time—bedevils, in my view, the discipline, and it bedevils it in part because it has never been fully addressed.
The evidence for this unhappy view of the relation between gender studies and Anglo-Saxon studies is not hard to find. Books on women in Anglo-Saxon England remain dismally few; fewer still are studies of female sexuality, especially same-sex desire, in the period, although queer theory (particularly that brand of queer studies that considers Anglo-Saxon men) has had greater success; and the evidence for women’s literary production, engagement, patronage, agency, or even representation (which might be thought of as the easier of these topics to tackle) remains woefully scant, miserably inadequate, and in the case of many Anglo-Saxon texts, under-explored. Small wonder that few (no?) student anthologies take gender or women as a conceptual category central to literary and cultural analysis—as a category that helps us make sense of, make meaningful, this culture or its literature—when Anglo-Saxonists themselves don’t routinely link gender to aesthetics, literature, or culture.
Indeed, the Old English Newsletter still refuses to grant these categories any analytic worth (there is no section consistently dedicated to the review of books, articles, etc, on gender or sexuality in ‘The Year’s Work in Old English Studies’). And, in any case, there are, it seems, precious few ‘real’ women in Anglo-Saxon England worth thinking about. At least, this is the reply I get with dismaying regularity from scholars and beginning students alike when asked what I think of as the woman question for Anglo-Saxon Studies (how does thinking about women, or gender, or sex affect your analysis of x, y, or z in this period?). To go further and ask the queer question, where women are concerned, is to risk being met with an even deeper and largely silent resistance, though a number of women thankfully are now taking just such a risk (Watt, Weston, Farina—none of whom, notably, takes Anglo-Saxon as their primary specialism, but I’ll come back to this in a minute). By and large, however, any commitment Anglo-Saxonists might have to the study of women is far too often contained by the discipline’s scholarly models and habits of conceptualisation, analysis, and interrogation. Anglo-Saxonists are hardly known as the most radical scholars in literary studies, are they? As medieval feminists, Anglo-Saxon feminists can be desperately self-limiting and self-regulating.
The problem with the gender in Anglo-Saxon Studies, in other words, is that it causes far too little trouble, to paraphrase the title of a famous book.
And yet, women are clearly good to think with. The very absence of women in the cultural record (as opposed to the culture itself), Gillian and I have argued, need not necessarily mean that there were no ways in which gender signified or was used to produce culturally significant meanings in the Anglo-Saxon period. And thinking with women who work in other historical periods has often seemed to us, long collaborators ourselves (and probably in all the senses of the word), the most valuable way to think around and across those strategies of containment and resistance that our own discipline produces. Which brings me back to the point that the most radical impetus to thinking women in Anglo-Saxon England has come recently from those women scholars who do not think of themselves as mainly or only Anglo-Saxonists—scholars such as Watt, Weston and Farina.
This paper, therefore, will pit models of collaboration and commitment against those that limit and contain in order to explore their implications for a trans-disciplinary, multi-lingual and cross-temporal approach to the question of thinking women in Anglo-Saxon England.
Gillian R. Overing
Gender under Construction: Beowulf as a Generative Model
Beowulf is a deeply ambiguous, multivalent, and ambivalent poem; this paper looks at the poem’s habit of indeterminacy in terms of how it can generate possibilities for understanding gender in the world of the poem. I will focus primarily on the passage which involves Grendel’s mother, and the depth-charge of uncertainty that her presence effects in the narrative.
Some of the problems and questions this passage raises include the following: the entire engagement–by which I mean the preamble, the actual fight and then its report– of male hero and female monster mother entangles genders and bodies, but it’s hard to tell which is which and whose is what, or whose desire directs, coordinates or animates the narrative. The scene in the mere is awash with indeterminacy, involving the dissolution or criss-crossing of all kinds of boundaries; the body is rendered into fluids and parts, at once solid impenetrable passive matter and corrosive active agent; desire is fractured, or perhaps stretched, beyond certain modes of recognition. And is gender one of these? Was it previously recognized/coded in the poem? What is recognizable, knowable, distinguishable about gender during, or after Beowulf’s, and our encounter with Grendel’s mother, and what ramifications does it have for our understanding of gender distinction elsewhere in the poem? How is gender embodied, indeed identified, and how do genders and bodies describe or create or make possible, identities?
Beowulf infuses masculinity with the non- and super-human, as surely as Grendel’s mother infuses femininity with the monstrous, and the maternal. Indeterminate bodies both. It may be that this poem offers us ways to look at gender, indeed difference, in some unexpected ways. The persona and voice of the hero himself, and that of the poet/narrator are quite inconsistent in terms of any idea of progression to a norm, as it involves the ascendance of heteronormative or homosocial/homosexual social models. I shall argue that this very indeterminacy allows the poem to function as a generative, creative model where gender might be perceived more in terms of possibility, however terrifying, than definition, however reassuring.
Affirmation or Anachronism? Saints’ Lives, Anglo-Saxon Criticism and Lesbian Acts of Interpretation
Lesbian invisibility in medieval literary and historical studies is particularly striking in Old English criticism due both to the absence of a historical record and to queer/feminist readings (eg Gaunt, Lees and Overing) eliding the lesbian . At the same time medieval lesbian criticism tends not to go back to Anglo-Saxon period (eg Lochrie, Heterosyncracies), the exception being work on penitentials or female friendships etc (eg Frantzen, Weston). The use of the word ‘lesbian’ in this context seen as highly controversial: both anachronistic and/or presentist (when applied to the Anglo-Saxon women) and essentialist (when applied to twentieth and twenty-first century readers). Nevertheless, in this paper I argue that a ‘lesbian affirmative’ (to use Valerie Traub’s term) analysis remains necessary. Queer ‘theory’ is concerned with negotiating the boundary between historicizing same-sex acts and desires and (re-)reading strategies. Medieval lesbian studies in particular require ‘[radical] acts of interpretation’ (Sautman and Sheingorn). In this paper I want to think about how female gender transgression and same-sex desire is represented/rendered intelligible and simultaneously denied/rendered insignificant in OE literature; and what happens when we read Old English texts from a lesbian perspective. More specifically I want to do so by integrating insights from contemporary lesbian film theory to think about reading OE texts—here the lives of the women saints–as a lesbian.
Transvestite Female Virgin Martyrs: Paragons of Womanly Beauty
Anglo-Saxon literature is not known for being sexually explicit; at best, readers see hints of sexual status or gender identity. Nor is this literature known for its in-depth descriptions of appearance—we know that the uber-masculine Beowulf possesses the strength of thirty men in one hand, but we have no idea of the color of his hair. The same is true of the female virgin saints: we know only that they are beautiful. Specifically, these saints are “wlitig,” a term that means “beautiful, comely, fair” (Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary). This term, in its 200 occurrences in the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature, refers almost exclusively to women, animals, or scenery. It is also a term that is used in both of Ælfric’s transvestite saints’ lives to describe Saint Euphrosyne and Saint Eugenia not before, but after, they begin living as men to protect their virginity
I explore the model of gendered female beauty through an examination of the notion of “wlitig,” beauty that is clearly feminine. I argue that language tropes like this one serve as reiterative models for gender in Anglo-Saxon England. Though both Euphrosyne and Eugenia pass as male, Euphrosyne for over 30 years, their bodies remain in a curious state of beauty that is identifiable to readers as feminine. Through studying the function of the term “wlitig” in these saints’ lives, I argue that although these two women pass as men within their literary texts, their beauty outs them as women, and indeed model women (read: virgins) for readers.
Gendered Anthropomorphism and Performativity in William of Palerne
In William of Palerne, Alphons is transformed so completely as to cross species boundaries. It is suggested, however, that he has retained some of his human attributes despite this change. The werewolf retains his ‘witt’ – the human quality of reason. He has memories of his time as a human, specifically shown in his recognition of his stepmother and his relationship to her. Yet his corporeal performance has changed and it does not make sense to speak of his body as existing in the same form as it did before the transformation. Alphons’ understanding of his stepmother’s guilt shows that the monster stands in the same pseudo-parent/child relationship as did the man. The position of ‘stepmother’ is only intelligible in terms of heterosexual gendered humanity and, therefore, the opposite position of stepson must also be gendered. This relationship reinforces the gendering of the deviant female enchantress and the masculinity of her victim – a masculinity which is strong enough to survive her machinations. Gender is a constitutive part of identity and subjectivity, concepts that should be understandable in terms of the human. However, here we see a bodily performance that is bestial, yet gendered. It is not the case that, because the werewolf is anthropomorphized, we can read him as a gendered character. Rather, anthropomorphism itself is only made intelligible through gender. The werewolf enacts behaviour appropriate to gendered social roles therefore we see him as having ‘humanity’.
“Show [yourself] for shame a man”: infertility and the crisis of male identity in Middle English popular romances
This paper will examine how becoming a father was an essential part of establishing secular male identity. By looking at three popular romances – Octavian, Emaré and Chevelere Assigne – I will demonstrate how the problem of infertility undermines men’s ability to establish their adult masculinity, and how without proof of their ability to father children they remain themselves sons. The paper will consider how the dominance of the mother-in-law is a trope that underlines male inadequacy, and how the familiar killing or banishment of the overarching mother allows the son to establish his identity as a ruler – and father.
Fatherhood has as yet received little attention within the field of gender studies, and has not been considered as a key stage in the male life cycle beyond the sense of its importance in establishing an heir. What I seek to demonstrate is that, alongside this practical purpose, becoming a father was a vital part of male self-identity, and thus a central part of any model of the medieval man.
Abraham and the sadness of not being a bird: models of fatherhood and married masculinity in the later Middle Ages
Gregory of Nyssa could not, he claimed, look at the tableau of Abraham about to kill Isaac without being overcome with grief. This paper looks at the iconography of Abraham and explores the grief that late medieval authors expressed when they discussed his example as a father and a husband.
This paper looks at the uses to which the figure of Abraham was put in the later Middle Ages and especially within the contemporary case for marriage. Although Abraham might seem to be useful to those looking for positive role models for the married man and father, his example, as exegetes like Augustine and Jerome made clear, was superseded by that of the virginal Christ. Indeed, the exegetes and the medieval patriarchal clergy after them were keen to place an accent on Abraham as a surrogate, spiritual father rather than emphasizing his literal, carnal and biological roles. This paper examines his treatment in late medieval literature and in particular William Langland’s Piers Plowman to argue that there were new secular discourses in the later Middle Ages which were frustrated and saddened by the limits placed on Abraham’s exemplarity. In Piers Plowman in particular, Abraham acquires an extraordinary plasticity which demonstrates some of the lengths to which the poem’s author was prepared to go in order to recommend marriage as a righteous masculine paradigm. This paper will also look at the avian imagery in the same literary sources and show its intimate connection to the figure and treatment of Abraham within the marriage debate. It will conclude by discussing a palpable sadness (the sadness of not being a bird of my title) within the Christian subject, a sadness which is ubiquitous in discussions which compared and contrasted the states of marriage and virginity.