From Boys to Men to Hermaphrodites to Eunuchs: Queer Formations of Romance Masculinity and the Hagiographic Death Drive in Amis and Amiloun

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


Medieval romances illustrate the ways in which culturally dominant paradigms of sexual identity structure and confine human relationships, thus exposing their audiences to sexuality’s often coercive ideological force.1 Anna Klosowska remarks that “romance is, to a good extent, a narrative that legitimates a symbolic order, a narrative that… legitimizes institutions,”2 and sexuality serves as a primary measure of romance’s ideological complicity with legitimating dominant modes of authority. The power of normative sexuality thus lies in its inextricable links to dominant modes of discourses, including those of politics, theology, and literature. An agonistic genre, romance narratives frequently depict knights fighting one another in battles and tournaments to prove their relative merits vis-à-vis one another and thus to win the praise of their female beloveds. Through the romance’s combination of the amatory and the martial, readers readily discern the ideological function of romance sexuality in that these narratives teach men the necessary values of masculinist and heteronormative western culture, including bravery, strength, honor, and fidelity. A corresponding critical lesson in this regard is that knights need both enemies and women if they are to define themselves as sufficiently masculine.


Alpha Male Heterosexual Marriage Death Drive Courtly Lover Ideological Force 
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  1. 1.
    As Tony Davenport trenchantly observes of the genre of romance, “Romance is notoriously difficult to define, largely because there is so much of it that it spills over and needs subcategories and overflow tanks. The central medieval sense is of narratives of chivalry, in which knights fight for honour and love” (Medieval Narrative [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004], p. 130). Given the vast field of medieval romance as outlined by Davenport, the goal of this chapter is to contextualize the ways in which Amis and Amiloun, a romance of male brotherhood, differs narrativally from more typical romantic plots. I return to the question of genre and the ways in which it functions with romance sexuality throughout this chapter. Additional studies of romance include Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Derek Pearsall, Arthurian Romance: A Short Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003); D. H. Green, The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150–1220 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert, eds., The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance (Harlow, England: Longman, 2000); Roberta Krueger, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Douglas Kelly, Medieval French Romance (New York: Twayne, 1993); and Eugene Vinaver, The Rise of Romance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Anna Klosowska, Queer Love in the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 40.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ruth Mazo Karras, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), p. 25. See esp. “Mail Bonding: Knights, Ladies, and the Proving of Manhood,” pp. 20–66.Google Scholar
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    In terms of a lexicon describing sexuality in the Middle Ages, I use the terms heterosexual and homosexual to refer respectively to those acts and actors featuring members of the opposite sex and to those featuring members of the same sex. (See the discussion of queer critical lexicons in the Introduction, pp. 7–10.) I do not use these terms to indicate any sense of modern identity politics or subject formation. Despite the vast differences in views of sexuality between the medieval and the postmodern eras, sexuality nevertheless serves as a tool of ideological indoctrination and regulation in both time periods, and romances provide an appropriate venue for analyzing the ways in which medieval sexualities regulate narratival identities.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Beyond Amis and Amiloun, additional examples of medieval romances featuring two knights who have sworn brotherhood to each other include Eger and Grime and Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. Romances such as Guy of Warwick, Athelston, and King Horn also depict a homosocial world of deep male friendships, yet these eponymous protagonists do not share the stage equally with their various male friends. Another subset of homosocial romances include narratives such as “The Tale of Balyn and Balan” in Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, in which the brothers are united through consanguinity. For a discussion of the brotherhood oaths depicted in such texts, see Alan Bray, The Friend (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003), esp. “Wedded Brother,” pp. 13–41.Google Scholar
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    Bray, The Friend, p. 40. Additional studies of homosocial brotherhood include Michael Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Reginald Hyatte, The Arts of Friendship: The Idealization of Friendship in Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1994); and Laurens J. Mills, One Soul in Bodies Twain: Friendship in Tudor and Stuart Drama (Bloomington, IN: Principia, 1937). See also C. Stephen Jaeger, Ennobling Love: In Search of a Lost Sensibility (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), for his study of the ways in which homosocial love could tame culturally nonnormative sexualities in the Middle Ages: “Ennobling love had to manage sexuality, hold it in its place by severe discipline” (p. 7).Google Scholar
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    Amis and Amiloun survives in four manuscripts, Auchinleck (Advocates Library, Edinburgh), BM Egerton 2862 (British Library), Bodleian 21900 (Bodleian Library), and BM Harley 2386 (British Library). Auchinleck is the basis for the editions both of MacEdward Leach (Amis and Amiloun [London: Early English Text Society, 1937; reprint, 2001]) and of Edward E. Foster (Amis and Amiloun, Robert of Cisyle, and Sir Amadace [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1997]). Studies of the Auchinleck manuscript include Laura Hibbard Loomis, “The Auchinleck Manuscript and a Possible London Bookshop of 1330–1340,” PMLA 57.3 (1942): 595–627; Timothy A. Shonk, “A Study of the Auchinleck Manuscript: Bookmen and Bookmaking in the Early Fourteenth Century,” Speculum 60 (1985): 71–91; and Ralph Hanna, “Reconsidering the Auchinleck Manuscript,” New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies: Essays from the 1998 Harvard Conference, ed. Derek Pearsall (York: York Medieval Press, 2000), pp. 91–102 and his “Reading Romance in London: The Auchinleck Manuscript and Laud misc. 622,” London Literature, 1300– 1380 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 104–47.Google Scholar
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    The basic plot of Amis and Amioun is cognate with the French romance Ami et Amile. For a plot summary of the French version of the narrative, see William Calin, “Women and Their Sexuality in Ami et Amile: An Occasion to Deconstruct?” Olifant 16.1–2 (1991): 77–89, at p. 77. For comparative studies of the French and English versions of the tale, see Susan Dannenbaum, “Insular Tradition in the Story of Amis and Amiloun,” Neophilologus 67 (1983): 611–22 and Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 117–28.Google Scholar
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  14. 21.
    Amiloun serves as the Duke’s “chef steward in halle,” in contrast to Amis’s enemy, the “chef steward of alle [the Duke’s] lond” (206). It is potentially confusing for the reader to disentangle these two chief stewards, but it appears that the author distinguishes between them in their respective domains of interior household and exterior lands.Google Scholar
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    Sheila Delany, “A, A, and B: Coding Same-Sex Union in Amis and Amiloun,” Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance, ed. Nicola McDonald (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 63–81, at p. 68.Google Scholar
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    Saul Nathaniel Brody, The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974), p. 147. See also pp. 159–73 for a discussion of leprosy in Amis and Amiloun. Other studies of medieval leprosy include Carole Rawcliffe, Leprosy in Medieval England (Suffolk, Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006); Paul Remy, “La Lèpre, thème littéraire au moyen age,” Le Moyen Age 52 (1946): 195–242; and Peter Richards, The Medieval Leper and His Northern Heirs (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1977).Google Scholar
  21. 33.
    Although Child Owaines may not yet be a man within courtly circles, his beauty elicits great praise from other men (1909–20, 1969–80). As with Amis and Amiloun earlier in the text, the reader again sees the ways in which male beauty, as appreciated by other men, establishes a man’s worth, honor, and masculinity.Google Scholar
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© Tison Pugh 2008

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  • Tison Pugh

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