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Vision and Gender in Malory's Morte Darthur

Vision and Gender in Malory's Morte Darthur

Molly Martin
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Vision and Gender in Malory's Morte Darthur
    Book Description:

    "Skilfully blending analysis of medieval ideas of optics and vision with careful close readings of the text and deft use of modern critical theory, the author offers a fresh, exciting and insightful reading of the Morte. Of interest to all medievalists, and particularly fascinating for those working in the fields of Arthurian literature, medieval science and philosophy, and gender studies." Dorsey Armstrong, Purdue University. This first book-length study of vision in the Morte Darthur examines the roles played by sight - seeing and being seen - in the Morte's construction of gender, highlighting also the influence of the romance genre in this process. The discussion addresses several key figures: Gareth provides a paradigm of visible romance masculinity; Launcelot's and Trystram's adulteries introduce competing needs for both visibility and invisibility; Palomydes and other less acclaimed knights, and reactions to their shortcomings, confirm the model of visible gender; grail knights and Malory retain secular romance ideas of vision and gender on the religious quest; and the two Elaynes and Percivale's sister prove femininity more variable and less rigid than masculinity in the text. The book argues that visibility is crucial to Malory's conception of gender identity and, further, that masculinity and femininity are determined throughout the Morte by the romance genre. MOLLY MARTIN is Assistant Professor of English at McNeese State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-891-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Editorial Note
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction: Masculinity and Vision in the Morte Darthur
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book dissects the crucial relationship between vision and gender in Sir Thomas Malory’sMorte Darthur. I argue that defining and valorizing the male community of knights and its specific version of romance masculinity is a, if not the, primary concern in theMorte, and further, that the text foregrounds the role that visuality and especially visibility play in the negotiation of social and individual gender identities. In Malory’s text, the necessary production of masculinity relies on the intricate workings of vision – both seeing and being seen – via intromissive, or inward, lines of sight, which move from the imaged body...

  6. 1 “Beholdyng” Gareth: The Spectacle of Romance Masculinity
    (pp. 25-48)

    Throughout theMorte, Malory regularly addresses intromissive sightlines, the collapsed gaze, and their fissuring effects on masculinity by creating a spectacle of manly prowess. Within the smaller segments of theMorte, and particularly in the cases of visually motivated desire, the genre in Malory’s hands “corrects” its construction of masculinity, using the same model of intromissive vision, but replacing the image of the beloved women as the focal point with that of the masculine knight. The subversive inward visual patterns, which temporarily captivate the male viewer, are downplayed by quick and action-centric narrative and overshadowed by ensuing scenes of masculinity:...

  7. 2 Gazing at the Queen: Trystram and Launcelot
    (pp. 49-86)

    As much as Gareth and his tale prove to be a template for the effective manipulation of visual lines in the production of masculinity, the surrounding tales indicate that it is not a static model. On the contrary, the methods of making male gender identity visible in “Gareth” provide a common point of departure both narratively and critically for a discussion of the role of vision in the constructions of masculinity undertaken by and for other knights individually and as a community. The extended narratives of Launcelot and Trystram engage the visuality of gender in similar fashion, both employing and...

  8. 3 Seeing Unseen: Palomydes and the Failure of Masculine Display
    (pp. 87-117)

    Malory’s typical patterns of vision serve to valorize romance masculinity, the ideal performance of which dictates the direction of lines of sight. Malory’s romance interrogates and consistently confirms male identity through intromissive vision, introjective sightlines from the image to the viewer. Collapsed gazes, particularly those upon beautiful ladies, problematize the display of masculinity, but generally result in a shift in the locus of the image. As the narrative moves its eyes away from the female and refocuses on the male, it invites a spectacle of masculinity. Concomitant transfers of visual attention are forced on the audiences both within and without...

  9. 4 Romancing Religion: Competing Modes of Vision on the Grail Quest
    (pp. 118-147)

    The transition into “The Tale of the Sankgreal” marks a fairly abrupt shift in theMorte, as goals established for and by the Round Table knights, goals that are both individual and communal, become religiously motivated. These literal and figurative changes on the grail quest consequently effect a relocation of the methods of assessing the successes and failures of knights – or at least they should. However, modes of vision that governed the previous sections of theMortecontinue to hold sway despite the disjunction that arises between them and the overtly Christian principles of the quest. The ways in which...

  10. 5 The Female Gaze: Constructing Masculinity with and without Men
    (pp. 148-174)

    Thus far I have focused most attention on the way Malory’s men maneuver within the romance matrix of gazes, the way they see and perceive, and the way they produce their masculinity by reversing the lines of sight, locating themselves within others’ viewing space and intentionally attracting the audience members’ eyes. Women have played an integral, if secondary role, in that discussion. They have thus far been shown to participate as (often objectified) images that initially disrupt masculine performance, but ultimately incite it. Moreover, their engagement in the construction of masculinity as onlookers, as members of that evaluating audience, has...

  11. Conclusion: Malory’s Arthurian Visions of Masculinity
    (pp. 175-180)

    This study of the intersections of vision and gender in Malory’sMorte Darthurhas endeavored to show that a coherent romance model of seeing and being seen governs the actions of knights and ladies in the constructions of their gender identities. This investigation has followed the text’s many sightlines between images and viewers to highlight positive and negative impacts that intromissive vision has on the productions of femininity and especially masculinity. The dual fissures of sightlines and masculinity complicate medieval ideologies of gender, and the strict associations of male with masculine and female with feminine break down as the blurred...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-202)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-206)