Male-Male Gazing

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


In chapter 4 I explored how some male readers might respond to chivalric texts’ tacit invitation to envision model knights. Although the conjured images might be based on actual knights the reader has seen, I focused on the imaginative visual process. In this chapter, I continue to explore homoerotic spectatorship in chivalric contexts, but now examine the visual dynamics of a knight looking closely at another knight using his corporeal sight rather than his imaginative faculty. In The Book of Chivalry, Charny advises novice knights to study actual model men-at-arms: “regarder les meilleurs…et a teles genz fait bon prendre exemplaire et mettre paine de faire les ouvres pour eulz resembler” [one should observe those who are best…. And it is good to take such men as examples and to strive to act in such a way as to resemble them].1 That chivalric treatises urge novice knights to study the physical bearing and skills of true men-of-worth—men who are living in the novice knights’ contemporary world—and to strive to be just like them suggests the existence of an economy of male-male spectatorship in late medieval chivalric society whereby men not only imagine other men but also gaze at “real” men. In recommending that a novice knight (or any interested spectator) direct his gaze at a model figure—one who apparently neither acknowledges nor returns the gaze of the observer—chivalric treatises are promoting unidirectional spectatorship. This does not however preclude a homoerotic interaction from occurring between the observer and the observed. Although film theory offers a useful language for studying eroticism in visual encounters, chivalric contexts problematize the gendered spectatorial positions that some film theorists delineate. As we shall see, male-male gazing blurs the distinction between activity and passivity.


Visible Object Film Theorist Imaginative Faculty Visual Dynamic Male Observer 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema, trans. Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), p. 48.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Cowie, Representing the Woman, pp. 169–70. A number of recent studies by film theorists examine the objectified male figure in films, some I have already drawn on; see Jackson, Strategies of Deviance; D. N. Rodowick, The Difficulty of Difference; Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins; and the collection of essays in Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema, ed. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (London: Routledge, 1993) and Masculinity: Bodies, Movies, Culture, ed. Peter Lehman (New York: Routledge, 2001). In drawing attention to potential homoeroticism in chivalric spectatorship, I am engaging in a project that parallels that of film theorists who problematize the heteronormative assumptions in classical film theory; for heteronormative readings of chivalric texts fail to recognize that observed knights could be erotic objects of a male gaze.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Sarah Stanbury, “Regimes of the Visual in Premodern England: Gaze, Body, and Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” New Literary History 28 (1997): 266 [261–89].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 10.
    For an in-depth study of ancient and medieval theories of vision, see David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976). See also Katherine H. Tachau, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham: Optics, Epistemology, and the Foundation of Semantics 1250–1345 (Leiden: Brill, 1988). For brief discussions, see N. Klassen, “Optical Allusions and Chaucerian Realism: Aspects of Sight in Late Medieval Thought and Troilus and Criseyde,” Stanford Humanities Review 2.2–3 (1992): 130–37 [129–46]; and Collette, Species, Phantasms, and Images, pp. 13–20.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Augustine, De trinitate XI.2.3; The Trinity, trans. McKenna, p. 318. For a discussion of Augustine’s theory of vision, see Margaret Miles, “Vision: The Eye of the Body and the Eye of the Mind in Saint Augustine’s De trinitate and Confessions,” Journal of Religion 63 (1983): 125–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 15.
    Roger Bacon, The “Opus Majus” of Roger Bacon, ed. John Henry Bridges (Frankfurt/Main: Minerva, 1964) 2: pt. 5.1, dist. 7, chap. 4, p. 52; trans. Lindberg, Theories of Vision, p. 115.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Bacon, Opus maius, 2: pt. 5.1, dist. 7, chap. 3, p. 52; trans. Robert Belle Burke, The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962) 2:470.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    David C. Lindberg, ed. and trans., John Pecham and the Science of Optics: Perspectiva communis (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970), pp. 30–31. Lindberg notes that “the Perspectiva communis served as more than an elementary textbook or source for university lectures. It was the basis, in the late fourteenth century, for several long technical commentaries—the Questiones super perspectivam of Henry of Langenstein (d. 1397) and a similar work by Blasius of Parma (written about 1390)” (John Pecham and the Science of Optics, p. 31). For a thorough examination of theories of vision and epistemology in the early fourteenth century, see Tachau, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Sarah Stanbury, “The Lovers Gaze in Troilus and Criseyde,” in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, “Subgit to alle Poesy”: Essays in Criticism, ed. R. A. Shoaf (Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Text & Studies, 1992), p. 229 [224–38].Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Miriam Moore righdy notes: “Criseyde is clearly the object of others’ gazes, as they ‘hir beholden in hir blake wede’” (“Troilus’s Mirron Vision and Desire in Troilus and Criseyde,” Medieval Perspectives 14.1 (1999): 155 [152–65]).Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Sarah Stanbury, Seeing the Gawain-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), p. 103. Stanbury notes the qualifiers “hit semed,” and “hem thoght,” and adds that in the case of the latter, its “placement…in the two-word ‘bob’ intensifies the qualifier, further pointing to the courts subjective judgment” (Seeing the Gawain-Poet, pp. 103–04).Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    The narrator’s attentive “touching” of the Green Knight’s “swange” has a homoerotic valence if we look at different meanings of the word. In her verse translation, Marie Borroff renders “swange” as buttocks (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation by Marie Borroff [New York: Norton, 1967]). The Middle English Dictionary defines “swange” (n) as “the middle of the body; the lower abdomen”; the second definition thus situates “swange” near the sexual organ.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Greg Walker, “The Green Knight’s Challenge: Heroism and Courtliness in Fitt I of Sir Gawain and the Green KnightChaucer Review 32 (1997): 112 [111–28].Google Scholar
  14. 40.
    Jackson, Strategies of Deviance, p. 143. Jackson elaborates on this transgressive action: “Embracing the specular mode of annihilation to assert one’s ‘identity’ as object of the other’s gaze suggests a subject type inconceivable within anaclitic subject politics: the narcissistic exhibitionist, expressed as a subject spectacle or intentional [i.e. deliberate] spectacle” (Strategies of Deviance, p. 142). Rather than readily submitting to an exhibitionist role, the male protagonist in a heteronormative film may construct it; see Steven Cohan, “Masquerading as the American Male in the Fifties: Picnic, William Holden and the Spectacle of Masculinity in Hollywood Film,” in Male Trouble, ed. Constance Penley and Sharon Willis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 203–32. See also the collection of essays in Screening the Male, ed. Cohan and Hark. For an explanation of the Freudian term, “anaclisis,” see Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, pp. 15–18; and Cowie, Representing the Woman, pp. 79–80.Google Scholar
  15. 44.
    Steven Shaviro, The Cinematic Body (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 170.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Richard E. Zeikowitz 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard E. Zeikowitz

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations