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Introduction: Sexuality and its Queer Discontents in Middle English Literature

  • Tison Pugh
Chapter
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

To adapt an immortal line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, some are born queer, some achieve queerness, and some have queerness thrust upon ‘em.1 In this book, my interests lie with those who have queerness thrust upon ‘em—the male agents and actors who, through their interactions and affinities with others, become marked with and/or compelled to embody queerness before being identified as normatively (hetero)sexual males.2 The construction of normative masculinity depends upon the possibility of the queer, as queerness provides the binary Other that normativity hierarchically opposes. Rather than flip sides of the same coin, queerness and normativity oscillate in respect to each other in the construction of sexual and ideological subjects. In this manner, queerness often constitutes a necessary tactic in disciplining certain male subjects into the prevailing ideological order.3

Keywords

Sexual Desire Sexual Identity Normative Masculinity Male Friendship Queer Theory 
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.
    William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: Norton, 1997), 653–713, at 2.5.126.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Men and women have historically faced different forms of social construction in relation to ideological normativity, and this study focuses on men to uncover the ways in which social privilege is granted and taken away from the privileged sex of patriarchal society. Queerness presents unique barriers to social privilege depending upon a wide array of social and cultural factors, and these conditions shift based upon the biological sex and its concomitant engendering of the agent in question. By addressing the ways in which men metamorphose through queerness into normativity, I hope to expose how ideologically sanctioned masculinity, in some instances, depends upon the enactment of queerness.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a theoretical conception of discipline, see Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Richard Sheridan, 2nd edn. (New York: Vintage, 1995), in which he observes, “Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise. It is not a triumphant power, which because of its own excess can pride itself on its omnipotence; it is a modest, suspicious power, which functions as a calculated, but permanent economy” (p. 170).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Describing medieval masculine normativity in regard to gender and (hetero)sexuality presupposes its existence, and such a phantastic construction of masculine identity calls forth deep debates about the nature of sexual identities in the medieval past. Studies of medieval sexuality, homosexuality, and queerness include Christopher A. Jones, “Monastic Identity and Sodomotic Danger in the Occupatio by Odo of Cluny,” Speculum 92 (2007): 1–53; James A. Schultz, Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006); Susan Schibanoff, Chaucer’s Queer Poetics: Rereading the Dream Trio (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006); Ruth Mazo Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing unto Others (New York: Routledge, 2005); Karma Lochrie, Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); Anna Klosowska, Queer Love in the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); William E. Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050–1230 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Glenn Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Richard E. Zeikowitz, Homoeroticism and Chivalry: Discourses of Male Same-Sex Desire in the Fourteenth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger, eds., Queering the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001); Francesca Canadé Sautman and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Same-Sex Love among Women in the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001); Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); Allen J. Frantzen, Before the Closet: Same-Sex Love from Beowulf to Angels in America (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Mark Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997); Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, and James A. Schultz, eds., Constructing Medieval Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Theresa Tinkle, Medieval Venuses and Cupids: Sexuality, Hermeneutics, and English Poetry (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996); Louise Fradenburg and Carla Freccero, eds., Premodern Sexualities (New York: Routledge, 1996); and my Queering Medieval Genres (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). This list is by no means exhaustive, but it points to the variety of discourses addressing intersections of sexuality and the medieval past. For a casebook of primary sources on medieval gender and sexuality, see Martha A. Brozyna, ed., Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages: A Medieval Source Documents Reader ( Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents: The Standard Edition, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 106.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Secular and religious authorities have historically enacted penalties for sexual transgressions, but such rules highlight the arbitrariness of the connection between transgression and punishment. For example, see Allen J. Frantzen’s illuminating study of the ways in which sexual acts were penalized differently depending upon the perceived identity of the sexual agent in his “Between the Lines: Queer Theory, the History of Homosexuality, and Anglo-Saxon Penitentials,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 26.2 (1996): 255–96. See also the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, for the ways in which the various justices respond to historical constructions of sex and sexuality (539 U.S. 558 [2003]. Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S. Ct. 2472; 156 L. Ed. 2d 508).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Leo Bersani, Homos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 113. Bersani posits the antisocial potential of queerness in this book, a theoretical position in contrast with queer utopianists. For an example of this debate, see Robert Caserio, Tim Dean, Lee Edelman, Judith Halberstam, and José Estaban Munoz, “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory,” PMLA 121.3 (2006): 819–28.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bersani’s stances on homosexuality, queerness, and culture opened up new frontiers in queer criticism. For example, Robert Caserio credits Bersani with “formulat[ing] what might be called ‘the antisocial thesis’ in contemporary queer theory” (“The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory,” p. 819).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Paul Smith defines the subject as “the term inaccurately used to describe what is actually the series or the conglomeration of positions, subject-positions, provisional and not necessarily indefeasible, into which a person is called momentarily by the discourses and the world that he/she inhabits.” Smith also distinguishes the subject from the agent: “The term ‘agent,’ by contrast… mark[s] the idea of a form of subjectivity where, by virtue of the contradictions and disturbances in and among subject-positions, the possibility (indeed, the actuality) of resistance to ideological pressure is allowed for” (Discerning the Subject [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988], pp. xxvii and xxxv). Within this framework, the subject is subjected by and into ideology, whereas the agent finds the potential to resist ideological inculcation.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Exodus International is the leading “reformation” ministry attempting to convince homosexuals of the sinful nature of their behavior. Such publications as Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel’s Coming Out of Homosexuality: New Freedom for Men and Women (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1993) and Jeff Konrad’s You Don’t Have to Be Gay: Hope and Freedom for Males Struggling with Homosexuality or for Those Who Know of Someone Who Is (Hilo, HI: Pacific, 1992) lionize heterosexuality as a cure for homosexual desires.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 47; his italics.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Scientific studies of homosexuality and its ubiquity throughout nature include Joan Roughgarden, Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); J. Michael Baily, The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism (Washington, DC: Joseph Henry, 2003); Edward Stein, The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999); Timothy F. Murphy, Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); and Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, The Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Biblical quotations are taken from The Holy Bible: Douay Rheims (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto, 2004). Other passages of biblical homophobia include Leviticus 20:13, 3 Kings 14:24, Romans 1:26–27, I Corinthians 6:9–10, and I Timothy 1:9–10. Studies of biblical depictions of sexuality include David M. Carr, The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Martti Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998), pp. 37–56; and Steven Greenberg, Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), esp. pp. 41–112.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ovid, The Erotic Poems, trans. Peter Green (London: Penguin, 1982), p. 182, ll. 523–24. The Latin reads “cetera lasciuae faciant concede puellae /et si quis male uir quaerit habere uirum” (Ars Amatoria, ed. A. S. Hollis [Oxford: Clarendon, 1977], p. 20, ll. 523–24). For a discussion of this passage and other Roman writers’ depictions of male effeminacy and sexuality, see Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 125–59.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Peter Damian, Book of Gomorrah: An Eleventh-Century Treatise against Clerical Homosexual Practices, trans. Pierre J. Payer (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982). See also Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy, pp. 29–66.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Distinguishing between homophobia and heterosexism enlightens the different ways in which ideological regimes enforce sexual discipline in a “carrot and stick” manner. Homophobia encompasses acts directed against queers and homosexuals, ranging from social ostracism to imprisonment and execution, whereas heterosexism entails the rewards and preferential treatment granted to heterosexuals, including social approbation enacted through ritual and law.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Biblical passages describing David and Jonathan’s love include I Kings 18:1–3, 20:12–17, and 23:18, and 2 Kings 1:23, 26. (In a modern Bible, I and II Kings are referred to as I and II Samuel.) For a recent study of David and Jonathan’s relationship, see Susan Ackerman, When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Martial, Epigrams: Volume III, ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 53. For analysis of Martial’s homosexual desires, see Williams, Roman Homosexuality, esp. pp. 32–33.Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), pp. 53–73, as well as David Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love (New York: Routledge, 1990); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), esp. pp. 157–67; and Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality (New York: Penguin, 1995) and Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001). Karma Lochrie’s “Have We Ever Been Normal” is particularly enlightening on this topic (Heterosyncrasies, pp. 1–25.). 29. Lochrie, Heterosyncrasies, p. xxiii.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 3.Google Scholar
  21. 35.
    Sanford Brown Meech, ed., The Book of Margery Kempe (London: Early English Text Society, 1997), p. 23. I have modernized thorn and yogh.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    Judith Bennett, “ ‘Lesbian-Like’ and the Social History of Lesbianisms,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 9.1–2 (2000): 1–24.Google Scholar
  23. 38.
    Studies of gender in the Middle Ages are numerous, and recent texts in the field include Lisa Perfetti, ed., The Representation of Women’s Emotions in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005); Virginia Chieffo Raguin and Sarah Stanbury, eds., Women’s Space: Patronage, Place, and Gender in the Medieval Church (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005); Leslie Brubaker and Julia M. H. Smith, eds., Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300–900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Peggy McCracken, The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); Rebecca L. R. Garber, Feminine Figurae: Representations of Gender in Religious Texts by Medieval German Women Writers, 1100–1375 (New York: Routledge, 2003); and Sharon Farmer and Carol Braun Pasternack, eds., Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages.Google Scholar
  24. 39.
    The passages in Genesis relevant to McNamara’s argument are as follows: “And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them” (1:27) and “And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam” (2:22).Google Scholar
  25. 40.
    Jo Ann McNamara, “An Unresolved Syllogism: The Search for a Christian Gender System,” Conflicted Identities and Multiple Masculinities: Men in the Medieval West, ed. Jacqueline Murray (New York: Garland, 1999), 1–24, at p. 1.Google Scholar
  26. 43.
    Studies of the ways in which medieval chivalry and conduct books construct identities include Richard E. Zeikowitz, Homoeroticism and Chivalry; Kathleen Ashley and Robert L. A. Clark, eds., Medieval Conduct (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2001); and Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows: Chaucer’s Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993).Google Scholar
  27. 48.
    Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 122; her italics.Google Scholar
  28. 49.
    Warren Montag, “ ‘The Soul Is the Prison of the Body’: Althusser and Foucault, 1970–1975,” Yale French Studies 88 (1995): 53–77, at p. 60.Google Scholar
  29. 50.
    Additional critiques of Althusser include Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989); Michel Pêcheux, Language, Semantics and Ideology (New York: St. Martin’s, 1982); Goran Therborn, The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology (London: Verso, 1980); and Paul Hirst, On Law and Ideology (New Jersey: Humanities, 1979).Google Scholar
  30. 51.
    Of these films, Some Like It Hot offers perhaps the queerest ending. Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) and Joe (Tony Curtis) end the narrative in heterosexual bliss, but Jerry (Jack Lemmon) must still fend off the advances of Osgood (Joe E. Brown). Jerry gives a litany of reasons why he cannot marry Osgood, declaring finally, “Well, you don’t understand, Osgood. I’m a man,” as he takes off his wig. Osgood cheerily responds, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” The queerness of this moment dilutes the otherwise heteronormative ending expected when a man returns from drag to “straight” attire, as depicted in the storyline of Sugar Kane and Joe.Google Scholar
  31. 52.
    Richard O’Brien, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Music from the Original Soundtrack of the Twentieth Century Fox Presentation of the Lou Adler/Michael White Production (Santa Monica, CA: Ode Records, 1975).Google Scholar
  32. 53.
    Peter Haidu, “Althusser Anonymous in the Middle Ages,” Exemplaria 7.1 (1995): 55–74, at p. 74.Google Scholar
  33. 54.
    Carla Freccero, Queer/Early/Modern (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), p. 5.Google Scholar

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© Tison Pugh 2008

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