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Articulating Premodern Male Homoeroticism

  • Richard E. Zeikowitz
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Three chivalric texts from the fourteenth century describe intimate interactions between knights. In his Book of Chivalry, Geoffroi de Charny describes the ritual bathing and dressing of novice knights who are about to be knighted. After the knights bathe and cleanse themselves of sins and lie down on a bed (presumably naked), “Puis doivent venir les chevaliers au lit pour vestir yceulz…. Puis les doivent vestir li chevalier de cotes vermeilles…. Et puis leur apportent les chevaliers chauces noires et les enchaucent” [Then the knights should come to the beds to dress those to be knighted…. Then the knights should robe them in red tunics…. Then the knights bring black hose and put them on those to be knighted].1 In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Troilus, who is grateful to Pandarus for his help in wooing Criseyde, “with al th’affeccioun / Of frendes love that herte may devyse, / To Pandarus on knowes fil adown.”2 On the third night of the exchange of winnings in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain “acoles…the knyght [Bertilak] and kysses hym thryes, / As saverly and sadly as he hem sette couthe.”3 In none of these three scenes does the narrator qualify or explain the intimate interaction between knights that he is describing. Apparently fourteenth-century readers would know how to read these scenes. But, do we? Because the narrators do not appear to be uncomfortable describing male-male intimacy, twenty-first-century readers who assume that late medieval chivalric society is heteronormative may conclude that these encounters are not erotically charged.

Keywords

Historical Narrative Fourteenth Century Medieval Text Heterosexual Relation Male Reader 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
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  31. 65.
    Two texts I examine, the French Prose Lancelot and Ramon Lull’s Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry were actually written in the thirteenth century. I include them because they were both very popular in fourteenth-century England. William Calin maintains that the Prose Lancelot was “the most important single romance of the Middle Ages” and notes that “[w]hen Chaucer and Gower allude to Lancelot or Tristan, they allude to the prose cycles of the thirteenth century, not the verse classics of the twelfth, which had gone out of fashion” (The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994], p. 139). Richard W. Kaeuper notes that Lull’s work “was undoubtedly the most popular medieval vernacular manual for knights” (Kaeuper and Kennedy, The Book of Chivalry of Geqffroi de Charny, p. 25). It was translated into French in the fourteenth century and into English (by William Caxton) in the fifteenth century.Google Scholar

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© Richard E. Zeikowitz 2003

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  • Richard E. Zeikowitz

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