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Medieval Masculinities

Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages

Clare A. Lees editor
Thelma Fenster
Jo Ann McNamara
Volume: 7
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Masculinities
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays examines the ideals and archetypes of men in Medieval times and how these concepts have affected the definition of masculinity and its place in history. Contributors: Christopher Baswell, Vern L. Bullough, Stanley Chojnacki, John Coakley, Thelma Fenster, Clare Kinney, Clare A. Lees, Jo Ann McNamara, Louise Mirrer, Harriet Spiegel, and Susan Mosher Stuard.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8583-7
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Clare A. Lees
  4. Preface: Why Men?
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Thelma Fenster
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxvi)
    Clare A. Lees

    Medieval Masculinitieslooks at men in the Middle Ages from the perspective of gender studies. In consequence, it is a project that appears to be simultaneously a timely and a risky business, and for similar reasons. It is timely because the groundwork for men’s studies, laid out by social theorists, anthropologists, historians, and literary specialists in the last decade or so, offers medievalists theoretical insights and practical data with which to survey again the traditional study of men in the medieval period.¹ Building on such work,Medieval Masculinitieshelps to revise the emphasis on “hegemonic” males—the kings, princes, lawmakers,...

  6. Part I. Constructing Masculinities

    • CHAPTER 1 The Herrenfrage: The Restructuring of the Gender System, 1050–1150
      (pp. 3-30)
      Jo Ann McNamara

      Experience indicates that the masculine gender is fragile and tentative, with weaker biological underpinnings than the feminine.¹ It requires strong social support to maintain fictions of superiority based solely on a measure of physical strength. The assignment of social roles and status on the basis of biological sex has customarily been justified as resting on the bedrock of natural law, decreed by God and nature and therefore beyond the reach of historical change. This has hitherto made the gender system almost impervious to challenge. In recent scholarship, however, the immutable laws of nature have been exposed as mere creatures of...

    • CHAPTER 2 On Being a Male in the Middle Ages
      (pp. 31-46)
      Vern L. Bullough

      Medieval anatomical and physiological ideas of what constituted maleness were for the most part inherited from the classical period. Though medieval writers were willing to criticize classical authorities on specific points, many of the basic physiological concepts had a continuous life extending from the Greeks to modern times. In the medieval period, most of the anatomical and physiological theories were incorporated into Christian doctrine, where they had even greater influence on the medieval belief system than they would have if they simply had been confined to medicine. One of the basic assumptions of the classical writings on anatomy and physiology...

    • CHAPTER 3 The (Dis)Embodied Hero and the Signs of Manhood in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
      (pp. 47-58)
      Clare R. Kinney

      Recent examinations of the politics of gender in SirGawain and the Green Knighthave resulted in oddly question–begging accounts of this complex romance. In the process of illuminating the “masculinist” paradigms explicitly and implicitly constructed by the Gawain–poet and his twentieth–century critics, feminist readers are quite liable to reinscribe the very categorical imperatives they are interrogating. When, for example, Sheila Fisher argues that the poet represents the plots, games, and contracts initiated or presided over by Morgan and Lady Bertilak as threats to Camelot’s “dominant ideologies of feudalism and Christian chivalry,”¹ she takes it for granted...

  7. Part II. Men in Institutions

    • CHAPTER 4 Burdens of Matrimony: Husbanding and Gender in Medieval Italy
      (pp. 61-72)
      Susan Mosher Stuard

      If there is received opinion on husbanding as a determinant of gender for men in medieval times, I suppose it was supplied by David Herlihy in 1983 when he argued from art and literature that the last figure set into the constellation of holy child and devoted mother to form the ideal family was the self–denying husband, modeled upon Joseph. Herlihy saw Joseph’s entry into iconography as a relatively late medieval phenomenon; Joseph began to figure prominently in urban Italian art in the fifteenth century.¹ Yet Joseph’s bent and weary figure, relegated to the periphery of the scene, seems...

    • CHAPTER 5 Subaltern Patriarchs: Patrician Bachelors in Renaissance Venice
      (pp. 73-90)
      Stanley Chojnacki

      In a landmark article of the mid–1970s, Natalie Zemon Davis observed:

      We should be interested in the history of both women and men. . . . Our goal is to discover the range in sex roles and in sexual symbolism in different societies and periods, to find out what meaning they had and how they functioned to maintain the social order or to promote its change.¹

      Endorsing Davis’s suggestion, this essay explores the connection between two aspects of sex–role relationships in the governing patriciate of fifteenthcentury Venice. The first aspect concerns the impact on gender roles of changes...

    • CHAPTER 6 Friars, Sanctity, and Gender Mendicant Encounters with Saints, 1250-1325
      (pp. 91-110)
      John Coakley

      In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the mendicant orders had a major interest in making saints. In addition to sponsoring several successful candidates for papal canonization, they promoted literally scores of the new cults that attracted more purely local followings in Mediterranean, especially Italian, cities.¹ In those cities, as André Vauchez has shown, “the selection of saints conformed approximately to the composition of society,” in contrast to the model in northern Europe, which favored the ruling classes.² Thus the friars, uncloistered and committed to pastoral work, found their saints among the urban population with whom they had contact.³...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Male Animal in the Fables of Marie de France
      (pp. 111-126)
      Harriet Spiegel

      From its beginnings, the fable genre has been almost exclusively a masculine one—a means of transmitting patriarchal wisdom and culture. From classical times through the Middle Ages, the fable features prominently in the formal education of young males, and the fable itself presents narratives of parent instructing child, typically directed toward the proper behavior of those in power. It is remarkable then to find a woman fable writer in the Middle Ages; indeed, aside from Marie there are no known female fabulists from classical times through the eighteenth century. With Marie de France, writing in twelfth–century Anglo–Norman...

  8. Part III. Epic and Empire

    • CHAPTER 8 Men and Beowulf
      (pp. 129-148)
      Clare A. Lees

      Beowulfis an Anglo-Saxon poem about men — male heroes, warriors, kings — and yet the vision and limits of this world as a masculine one have rarely been examined. From the perspective of either feminist or nonfeminist criticism, the question of what it means to call the poem masculine, or its hero male, seems too obvious to merit attention. The foregoing comments from J. R. R. Tolkien and Gillian R. Overing invite assent, not investigation.¹ The masculinity ofBeowulf,in other words, forms a point of departure—a beginning—that is rarely factored into our interpretations.² I wish to turn our...

    • CHAPTER 9 Men in the Roman d’Eneas: The Construction of Empire
      (pp. 149-168)
      Christopher Baswell

      The Roman d’Eneas forms part of an important group of Old French texts, the so-called Romances of Antiquity, through which the narratives of Thebes, Rome, and Troy were progressively made available to a new audience of aristocratic readers who had little or no access to the Latin works in which the stories had first been transmitted to the Middle Ages. Renewed access to antiquity was all the more important because this readership saw itself as genealogically connected to the survivors of Troy and founders of Rome. Theromans d’antiquitéin turn were part of the fuller legendary history of the...

    • CHAPTER 10 Representing “Other” Men: Muslims, Jews, and Masculine Ideals in Medieval Castilian Epic and Ballad
      (pp. 169-186)
      Louise Mirrer

      The literary texts of medieval Castile provide a clear picture of the traits and attitudes considered ideal for men in the society. Aggressive behavior, sexual assertiveness, and menacing speech all figure prominently in these works as characteristic of “real” men. In popular as well as in learned texts, masculinity is proved not through biology, but through force, intimidation, and the use of threatening language.²

      The notion that manliness involves — much more than anatomy — acts of aggression is in fact at the heart of a well–known story by Juan Manuel (1282–1348), the medieval Castilian Christian writer and statesman. Juan...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 187-188)
  10. Index
    (pp. 189-193)