Homoerotic Identifications

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

Abstract

In chivalric texts, whether chronicles, treatises, or romances, the narrator frequently describes an exemplary knight, implicitly inviting the reader/listener to imagine him.1 These texts motivate male readers who are novice knights—or who are merely enthusiastic spectators of knightly endeavors—to identify with model figures.2 Thus, inextricably linked to the discourse in chivalric texts celebrating the ideal qualities and successful exploits of perfectly built knights is one that engages the reader to identify with an imagined exemplary knight. Moreover, since chivalric texts often describe model knights in action, readers are prompted to imagine scenarios in which they in effect participate. Medieval theories of the imagination suggest that the mental images constructed and viewed by the mind’s eye can be quite vivid and potentially erotic.

Keywords

Europe Assure Hunt Hate Smite 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 2.
    Wendy Clein notes that Lull’s chivalric treatise, “in granting knighthood superior status…offers a picture of society that would be attractive to an aristocratic audience” (Concepts of Chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight [Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1987], p. 35). While all male aristocrats might not have wished to engage in an active chivalric life, they might have been enthusiastic readers. Charny’s treatise, according to Richard Kaeuper, had a wide audience. He maintains that it was intended “[to] reach all layers of power, status, and wealth within the body of knights…. [Charny’s] thoughts could potentially go to all those who lived honorably by the profession of arms, whatever their particular social substratum.” (Kaeuper and Kennedy, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny, 34.)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Thomas Aquinas, The Commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas on Aristotle’s De Anima, trans. Kenelm Foster and Sylvester Humphries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), p. 383.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Carolyn P. Collette, Species, Phantasms, and Images: Vision and Medieval Psychology in The Canterbury Tales (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001), p. 21.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Collette, Species, Phantasms, and Images, p. 21. Collette explains that “[i]n many ways phantasy in this psychology corresponds to our modern notion of imagination, the creative capacity of the mind that wills to draw upon stored material to combine, divide, and recombine it” (Species, Phantasms, and Images, p. 9). For additional studies of medieval faculty psychology, see E. Ruth Harvey, The Inward Wits: Psychological Theory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (London: Warburg Institute, 1975) and Murray Wright Bundy, The Theory of Imagination in Classical and Medieval Thought (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1927).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Aristotle, De memoria et reminiscentia, quoted in Richard Sorabji, Aristotle on Memory (Providence: Brown University Press, 1972), p. 51.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Augustine, De trinitate, ed. W. J. Mountain and Fr. Glorie, Corpus Christianorum, series Latina, vol. 50–50A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1968), VIII.6.9; Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1963), pp. 257–58. For a thorough study of Augustine’s theory of reading, see Brian Stock, Augustine the Reader: Meditation, Self Knowledge, and the Ethics of Interpretation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996). I will be drawing heavily on Augustine’s theories of imagination and memory, and although he is not contemporary with the period I am concentrating on, his ideas strongly influenced later medieval writers. As David C. Lindberg points out: “because of his immense authority, Augustine came to be consulted on all sorts of matters to which he had addressed himself only incidentally; on the theory of vision in particular, later medieval writers frequently quoted Augustine when his view paralleled their own” (Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976], p. 89.)Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Steven F. Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 9.
    Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, Patrologiae cursus completus, series Latina, ed. Jacques Paul Migne, vol. 34 (Paris, 1844–65), XII. 12.25; Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, vol. 2 (New York: Newman Press, 1982), p. 193.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Augustine, Epistolae secundum ordinem temporum nunc primum dispositae, prima classis, Patrologiae cursus competus, series Latina, ed. Jacques Paul Migne, vol. 33 (Paris: 1844–65), VII.2.4; Saint Augustine, Letters, trans. Sister Wilfred Parsons, vol. 1 (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1951).Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Richart de Fournival, Li Bestiaires d’Amours, quoted in Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge Univesity Press, 1990), pp. 341 n10; 223.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Augustine, De trinitate XI.4.7; The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 309. Hill’s translation more accurately expresses the eroticism in Augustine’s example than McKenna’s. Compare McKenna’s translation: “And I recall someone telling me that he was wont to perceive in his thoughts the form of a woman’s body, so distinct and as it were solid, that even his genital organs were aroused, as though he had experienced intercourse with her” (p. 324).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Chandos Herald, Life of the Black Prince, ed. Mildred K. Pope and Eleanor C. Lodge (Oxford: Clarendon, 1910), ll. 63–66; trans. Richard Barber, The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince: From Contemporary Letters, Diaries and Chronicles, Including Chandos Heralds’s Life of the Black Prince (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), p. 86.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in The Sexual Subject: A Screen Reader in Sexuality (1975; repr. London: Routledge, 1992), p. 24 [22–34]. For Freud’s early ideas on scopophilia, see Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachey (New York: Basic Books, 1962); for his later analysis, see “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” in General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Macmillan, 1963) pp. 83–103.Google Scholar
  14. 30.
    Paul Willemen, “Voyeurism, The Look, and Dworkin,” in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader, ed. Philip Rosen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 212–13 [210–18]. Willemen argues against the traditional claim made by film theorists that male spectators merely identify with the male protagonist as a mediator “in order to get at a desired woman.” He offers the example of male buddy films where “the suggested homosexual gratification appears in direct proportion to the degree women are humiliated in/eliminated from the diegesis” (“Voyeurism, The Look, and Dworkin,” p. 213).Google Scholar
  15. 31.
    Steve Neale, “Masculinity as Spectacle,” in The Sexual Subject, p. 281 [277–87]. Neale is drawing on D. N. Rodowick’s essay, “The Difficulty of Difference,” Wide Angle 5 (1982): 4–15.Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    Earl Jackson Jr., Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), p. 173.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Teresa de Lauretis, The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 98. For DeLauretis’s in-depth study of female-female spectatorship, see pp. 81–148. For a collection of essays on this topic, see How Do I Look: Queer Film and Video, ed. Bad Object Choices (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Le Livre de Lancelot del Lac, ed. Sommer, vol. 3: 11. 37–39, p. 34; 11. 5–11, p. 35; Sir Lancelot of the Lake, trans. Paton, pp. 76–77. “Tor” and its slightly later form, “torel” is, according to the Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Français, ed. Alain Rey, 2 vols. (Paris: Le Robert, 1992), derived from the Latin form, taurus, thus denoting “mâle de la vache” or “bull.” Could the narrator then also be admiring Lancelot’s power and virility?Google Scholar
  19. 36.
    Some chivalric texts—or, at least certain moments in chivalric texts—may discourage readers from focusing on the body beneath the armor. Kathleen Coyne Kelly notes that the excessive violent acts performed on vulnerable male bodies in the Morte Darthur “threatens a construct of masculinity as whole and inviolate, impervious to dissolution.” And thus “[t]o ‘see’ the male body in the Morte Darthur, for the masculine gaze to actually experience this body and to pull it up into consciousness, precipitates both a psychic and social crisis: such unmediated viewing exposes the instability of the phallic body” (“Malory’s Body Chivalric,” Arthuriana 6.4 (1996): 54; 56 [52–71]). Knights wounding one another can however afford pleasure to the reader, as I will explore later in this chapter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 37.
    Elizabeth Cowie, Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 39.
    Diana Fuss, “Fashion and the Homospectatorial Look,” Critical Inquiry 18 (1992): 737 [713–37].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 40.
    Mary F. Wack, “Imagination, Medicine, and Rhetoric in Andreas Capellanus’ ‘De Amore,’” in Magister Regis: Studies in Honor of Robert Earl Kaske, ed. Arthur Groos, Emerson Brown Jr., Giuseppe Massotta, Thomas D. Hill, and Joseph S. Wittig (New York: Fordham University Press, 1986), p. 105 [101–15].Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    The heteronormative agenda of courtly love is clearly expressed by Andreas Capellanus: “love cannot exist except between persons of the opposite sexes. Between two men or two women love can find no place, for we see that two persons of the same sex are not at all fitted for giving each other the exchanges of love or for practicing the acts natural to it” (The Art of Courtly Love, trans. John Jay Parry [New York: Columbia University Press, 1960], p. 30). Among the English mystics, Margery Kempe and Richard Rolle come easily to mind regarding, respectively, heterosexual and homo-erotic encounters with Christ.Google Scholar
  24. 43.
    Rupert of Deutz, Comm. in Math. 12, quoted in Peter Dinzelbacher, “Über die Entdeckung der Liebe in Hochmittelalter,” Saeculum 32 (1981): 197 n94 [185–208]. My English translation draws on both Dinzelbacher’s German translation and Mary Wack’s English translation (Mary Frances Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and Its Commentaries [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990], p. 24).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 46.
    Jean Laplanche and Jean Bertrand Pontalis, “Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality,” in Formations of Fantasy, ed. Victor Burgin, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan (1968; repr. London: Methuen, 1986), p. 26 [5–34].Google Scholar
  26. 47.
    Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 268 n7.Google Scholar
  27. 48.
    Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 173. Silverman offers a provocative reading of Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle”; see pp. 170–74.Google Scholar
  28. 49.
    L’Ordene de Chevalerie, Raoul de Houdenc: Le Roman des Eles; The Anonymous Ordene de Chevalerie, ed. and trans. Keith Busby (Amsterdam: Utrecht Publications in General and Comparative Literature, 1983), 11. 126–28; 137–39. I have emended “Hue” in Busby’s translation to “Hugh.” Although the Ordene was written in the early thirteenth century, fourteenth-century readers would most likely have been familiar with it. Maurice Keen notes that “[i]t achieved widespread popularity and men continued to refer to its authority even in the later fifteenth century. It was copied into numerous manuscripts, and appears often in company with other material interesting to knightly readers” (Chivalry, p. 6).Google Scholar
  29. 50.
    Terrell Scott Herring, “Frank O’Hara’s Open Closet,” PMLA 117 (2002): 422 [414–27].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 56.
    Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (1976; repr. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), p. 89.Google Scholar
  31. 57.
    Jean Laplanche and Jean Bertrand Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Norton, 1973), p. 402.Google Scholar
  32. 62.
    It is certainly possible that female readers could likewise form sadomasochistic identifications with male protagonists, especially when one considers the writings of female mystics focusing on the wounded body of Christ. See, for instance, Karma Lochrie, Margery Kempe and Translations of the Flesh (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  33. 63.
    Quoted in Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins, p. 201. For an in-depth discussion and commentary on the entire beating fantasy, see D. N. Rodowick, The Difficulty of Difference: Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference & Film Theory (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 66–94. For Freud’s text, see “‘A Child Is Being Beaten’: A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversion,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth, 1953–74), 17:175–204.Google Scholar
  34. 64.
    For a different reading of masochism in a medieval romance, see Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Masoch/Lancelotism,” New Literary History 28 (1997): 231–60. Drawing on Deleuze’s separation of masochism and sadism, Cohen examines masochism in the realm of Lancelot’s relationship with Guinevere in Chretien’s Lancelot. He maintains that the text “asks what it is like to embrace domination—to take the place simultaneously of servant, vassal, lover, artist with an enthusiasm that not only erodes the distinction among these roles, but also through its unwavering obedience to a hierarchized system of power threatens, at last, to topple whatever architecture it under-girds” (“Maosch/Lancelotism,” 232).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 65.
    Stanzaic Morte Arthur, in King Arthurs Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure, ed. Larry D. Benson (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1986), 11. 269 and 272. Further quotations will be documented in the text by line number.Google Scholar
  36. 68.
    Quoted in Teresa de Lauretis, Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Richard E. Zeikowitz 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard E. Zeikowitz

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations