Queer Castration, Patriarchal Privilege, and the Comic Phallus in Eger and Grime

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


While the outlook of Amis and Amiloun is retrospective, probing the tale’s roots in hagiography for the saintly chastity necessary to free its protagonists from the queer, Eger and Grime stresses the comic possibilities of the romance tradition.1 This f ifteenth-century Scottish romance similarly reveals narratival discomfort with its heroes’ fraternal relationship, yet it seeks to rehabilitate them from the homoerotic undertones of their friendship through the regenerative force of heterosexual marriage. Illustrating a model of hermaphroditic knighthood similar to Amis and Amiloun in that the two brotherly protagonists cannot coexist as males fully invested with patriarchal authority, Eger and Grime, however, divests its eponymous protagonists from the aspersions of compulsory queerness through the generic prefiguring of romantic comedy rather than through the return to hagiography.2


Male Body Courtly Community Heterosexual Marriage Ideological Power Patriarchal Authority 
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  1. 1.
    Eger and Grime survives in two manuscripts, the Percy and the HuntingtonLaing editions. For comparisons of the two editions, see James Ralston Caldwell, ed., Eger and Grime: A Parallel-Text Edition of the Percy and the Huntington-Laing Versions of the Romance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), pp. 20–51; Antony J. Hasler, “Romance and Its Discontents in Eger and Grime,” The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance, ed. Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert (Harlow, England: Longman, 2000), 200–18, at p. 202; and Matthew McDiarmid, “The Metrical Chronicles and Non-Alliterative Romances,” The History of Scottish Literature: Origins to 1660, Vol. 1, ed. R. D. S. Jack (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1988), p. 34. The Huntington-Laing manuscript, with 2860 lines, is almost twice as long as the 1474 lines of Percy. Antony Hasler summarizes that “[Huntington-Laing] presents a fuller and more—though by no means wholly—coherent narrative. Some of [Percy’s] readers have nevertheless found it tersely suggestive rather than messily over-packed” (p. 202). In this study, I focus on the Percy version of the narrative, primarily because its terse style complements its sardonic perspective on male patriarchal privilege. Documentary evidence details that Eger and Grime was performed for King James IV in April 1497. This date does not tell us the time of the poem’s composition, but it nonetheless provides a useful point for contextualizing its historical circumstances (Caldwell, Eger and Grime, pp. 6–12).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mabel Van Duzee outlines points of congruency between Eger and Grime and such other medieval narratives as Amis and Amiloun, Saduis and Galo, and Pwyll (A Medieval Romance of Friendship: Eger and Grime [New York: Burt Franklin, 1963], pp. 18–40).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Marcel Gutwirth, Laughing Matter: An Essay on the Comic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 164.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Grime describes Palyas as his brother (“ ‘I haue a brother that men call Palyas, /a noble squire & worthye is’ ” [523–24]), but it is never explicitly revealed whether Palyas is a brother by blood (like Eger’s older brother) or by oaths (like Eger and Grime’s relationship). Brotherhood is the central model of homosocial fidelity in this romance, but its parameters and permutations are at times surprisingly nebulous. Certainly, though, Grime’s relationship with Palyas in no way undermines the primacy of his fraternal relationship with Eger. (Quotations of Eger and Grime are cited parenthetically and are taken from Caldwell, ed., Eger and Grime, which transcribes both the Percy and the Huntington-Laing editions. Unless otherwise noted, all citations refer to the Percy manuscript.)Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    For a brief review of medieval primogeniture and its disenfranchising impact on younger sons, see Frances and Joseph Gies, “The Aristocratic Lineage: Perils of Primogeniture,” Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), pp. 186–95.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    Judith Halberstam, “Shame and White Gay Masculinity,” Social Text 23.3–4 (2005): 219–33, at p. 220.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    Women’s position in medieval society and marriage is a vast topic. Representative works that inform my analysis include Helen Jewell, Women in Dark Age and Early Medieval Europe, c. 500–1200 (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Kim M. Phillips, Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, 1270–1540 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003); Mavis Mate, Women in Medieval English Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Robert Edwards and Vickie Ziegler, eds., Matrons and Marginal Women in Medieval Society (Suffolk, UK: Boydell, 1995); Emilie Amt, ed., Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook (New York: Routledge, 1993); Constance Rousseau and Joel Rosenthal, eds., Women, Marriage, and Family in Medieval Christendom (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1998); Christopher N. L. Brooke, The Medieval Idea of Marriage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Georges Duby, Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages, trans. Jane Dunnett (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988); and Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages, trans. Chaya Galai (London: Methuen, 1983).Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    In medieval romance, the need for a son to inherit his family’s estate and to continue the family dynasty often casts daughters in the position of unwanted or problematic heirs. For example, this cultural preference for sons catalyzes Silence’s transvestism in Roman de Silence. Studies of the connection between Roman de Silence and patriarchal inheritance customs include Christopher Callahan, “Canon Law, Primogeniture, and the Marriage of Ebain and Silence,” Romance Quarterly 49.1 (2002): 12–20; and Sharon Kinoshita, “Male-Order Brides: Marriage, Patriarchy, and Monarchy in the Roman de Silence,” Arthuriana 12.1 (2002): 64–75 and her “Heldris de Cornuâlle’s Roman de Silence and the Feudal Politics of Lineage,” PMLA 110.3 (1995): 397–409.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    As noted in chapter 5 regarding the construction of the courtly lady, Jacques Lacan argues that she “is as arbitrary as possible in the tests she imposes on her servant” and that she thus represents a “terrifying, inhuman partner” (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959–1960, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Potter [New York: Norton, 1992], p. 150). Like Belisaunt in Amis and Amiloun, Winglaine similarly serves as an arbitrary obstacle to Eger’s attainment of masculine privilege..Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    Studies of the connection between romance and the novel include Caroline A. Jewers, Chivalric Fiction and the History of the Novel (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000) and David H. Richter, The Progress of Romance: Literary Historiography and the Gothic Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996). Primary sources can be found in Ioan Williams, ed., Novel and Romance, 1700–1800: A Documentary Record (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1970).Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    The influence of medieval romance on later dramatic traditions is well documented. For bibliographic sources, see J. Paul McRoberts, Shakespeare and the Medieval Tradition: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1985), esp. pp. 87–94. The connection between medieval romance and comedy has been widely studied, as in E. Talbot Donaldson, The Swan at the Well: Shakespeare Reading Chaucer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), esp. pp. 30–49, and Michael Hays has recently linked chivalric romances to tragedy as well, in his Shakespearian Tragedy as Chivalric Romance: Rethinking Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003).Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    Harriet Hudson, ed., Four Middle English Romances: Sir Isumbras, Octavian, Sir Eglamour of Artois, Sir Tryamour (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1996), p. 118.Google Scholar

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