Competing Desires

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


Philip Culbertson makes the following observation regarding intimacy between heterosexual men in the late twentieth century: “Because men have been taught to be uncomfortable with male friendship, men mask their fear by making sure their heterosexual status is clearly proven in public, by reaffirming marriage as more important than friendship.”1 This modern concept of male heterosexual friendship, which overlooks or minimizes the intensity of same-sex relations, often informs readings of chivalric texts. Vern Bullough notes that in the later Middle Ages, young knights often developed close relations with one another: “[u]sually, the young noble youth was incorporated into a group of friends who were taught to love one another as brothers…and whose every waking moment was spent in each others company.”2 He goes on to point out that these young men often stayed together for many years until at around the age of thirty they were supposed to marry. But since eligible women were not always available, Bullough maintains that some men continued their close friendships and “it is quite possible that they turned to each other for friendship, encouragement, and even sexual relief.”3 While recognizing the importance of male bonds in chivalric society, Bullough also implies that knights chose one another as intimate companions out of necessity rather than preference. As we shall see, this is not always the situation in literature.


Exchange Partner Heterosexual Relationship Male Friendship Triangular Configuration Internal Mediation 
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  1. 1.
    Philip L. Culbertson, “Men and Christian Friendship,” in Men’s Bodies, Men’s Gods: Male Identities in a (Post-)Christian Culture, ed. Björn Krondorfer (New York: New York University Press, 1996), pp. 161–62 [149–80].Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Vern L. Bullough, Sexual Variance in Society and History (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976), p. 399.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987) 2.330–31. All quotations unless otherwise noted are from this edition. Subsequent quotations will be cited in the text by book and line number.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    B. A. Windeatt points to other instances in this scene where Pandarus switches to the familiar personal pronoun and suggests that they all have a persuasive effect (Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde: A New Edition of “The Book of Troilus,” ed. B. A. Windeatt [London: Longman, 1984], p. 171 n1396). For instance, Pandarus assures Criseyde: “For me were levere thow and I and he/Were hanged, than I sholde ben his baude, / … / I am thyn em; the shame were to me, / As wel as the, if that I sholde assente/Thorugh myn abet that he thyn honour shente (2.352–57).” There is a difference though between using familiar address to reassure and using it to denigrate.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Elaine Tuttle Hansen, Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 154. Although I agree that the courtly words Troilus addresses to Pandarus indeed homoeroticize the moment, we should not overlook the erotic positioning of the two men.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Giovanni Boccaccio, The Filostrato of Giovanni Boccaccio, ed. and trans. Nathaniel Edward Griffin and Arthur Beckwith Myrick (New York: Octagon, 1978) 3.56.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), p. 2.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, p. 10. Freud theorizes the interrelationship between love and hate: “love so constantly manifests itself as ‘ambivalent,’ i.e. accompanied by feelings of hate against the same object. This admixture of hate in love is to be traced in part to those preliminary stages of love which have not been wholly outgrown, and in part is based upon reactions of aversion and repudiation on the part of the ego-instincts which, in the frequent conflicts between the interests of the ego and those of love, can claim to be supported by real and actual motives.” He goes on to explain: “When a love-relationship with a given object is broken off, it is not infrequently succeeded by hate, so that we receive the impression of a transformation of love into hate…. [W]hen this happens, the hate which is motivated by considerations of reality is reinforced by a regression of the love to the sadistic preliminary stage, so that the hate acquires an erotic character and the continuity of a love-relation is ensured” (Sigmund Freud, “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” in General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Rieff [New York: Macmillan, 1963], pp. 102–03 [83–103]).Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Martin Blum, “Negotiating Masculinities: Erotic triangles in the Miller’s Tale,” in Masculinities in Chaucer: Approaches to Maleness in the Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde, ed. Peter G. Beidler (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1998), p. 40 [37–52].Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, The Freudian Subject, trans. Catherine Porter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), p. 191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 22.
    Freud refers to cases where a younger brother is jealous of his older brother: “during early childhood feelings of jealousy derived from the mother-complex and of very great intensity arose against rivals, usually older brothers. This jealousy led to an exceedingly hostile aggressive attitude against brothers (or sisters) which might culminate in actual death-wishes, but which could not survive further development. Under the influence of training—and certainly not uninfluenced also by their own constant powerlessness—these feelings yielded to repression and to a transformation, so that the rivals of the earlier period became the first homosexual love-objects” (Sigmund Freud, “Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality,” in Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, ed. Philip Rieff [New York: Macmillan, 1963], pp. 158–59 [150–60]).Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review, 1975), pp. 171, 173, and 174 [157–210]. See Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969).Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, ed. A. C. Cawley and J. J. Anderson (London: Dent & Sons, 1976), 11.1388–89. Subsequent quotations will be cited in the text by line number.Google Scholar
  14. 40.
    Patricia Clare Ingham, “Masculine Military Unions: Brotherhood and Rivalry in The Avowing of King Arthur,” Arthuriana 6.4 (1996): 29 [25–44].CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Richard E. Zeikowitz 2003

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