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Men and Masculinities in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

Men and Masculinities in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

Series: Chaucer Studies
Volume: 38
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Men and Masculinities in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde
    Book Description:

    Issues relating to the male characters and the construction of masculinities in Chaucer's masterpiece of love found and love lost are explored here. Collectively the essays address the question of what it means to be a man in the Middle Ages, what constitutes masculinity in this era, and how such masculinities are culturally constructed; they seek to advance scholarly understanding of the themes, characters, and actions of Troilus and Criseyde through the hermeneutics of medieval and modern concepts of manliness. Throughout, they argue that Troilus and the other characters, including Criseyde, are subject to multiple and conflicting interpretations, especially in regard to the intersections of their genders with their sexual performances and their conflicted relationships to generic expectations for gendered conduct. Contributors: JOHN M. BOWERS, MICHAEL CALABRESE, HOLLY A. CROCKER, KATE KOPPELMAN, MOLLY MARTIN, MARCIA SMITH MARZEC, GRETCHEN MIESZKOWSKI, JAMES J. PAXSON, TISON PUGH, R. ALLEN SHOAF, ROBERT S. STURGES, ANGELA JANE WEISL, RICHARD ZEIKOWITZ.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-661-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: The Myths of Masculinity in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 1-8)

    What is a man? What groups together approximately half of the humans on this planet, in contrast to the other half? Jacqueline Murray states it bluntly, noting that the male genitals are “inextricably linked to a man’s sense of self and his masculine identity.”¹ Although this formulation may appear somewhat stark, it is not to be left aside, for the physical form upon which masculinity is enacted and thus reproduced must be taken into account in analyzing the intersections between masculinities (the cultural constructions of gender in relation to male bodies) and men. Beyond the physical presence of genitals on...

  6. 1 “Beautiful as Troilus”: Richard II, Chaucer’s Troilus, and Figures of (Un)Masculinity
    (pp. 9-27)

    In his description of Richard II’s royal entry into London in 1392, Richard Maidstone, in his Concordia, lavishes praise upon the youthful king’s handsomeness and sex-appeal by likening him to Troilus:

    Iste velud Troylus vel ut Absolon ipse decorus, Captivat sensum respicientis eum. Non opus est omnem regis describere formam: Regibus in cuntis non habet ille parem. Larga decoris ei si plus Natura dedisset, Clauderet hunc thalamis invida forte Venus!

    (He himself, beautiful as Troilus or as Absalom, Captures the attention of the onlooker. It takes no effort to describe the king’s every feature: Among all earthly rulers he has...

  7. 2 The State of Exception and Sovereign Masculinity in Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 28-42)

    Troilus and Criseyde, though one of Chaucer’s most overtly political texts, nevertheless leaves an unanswered political question at the heart of its plot: where can sovereignty be located in this romance?

    Its characters variously attribute a metaphorical sovereignty to personified abstract forces such as love, fortune, and providence: “thilke sovereyne purveyaunce / That forwoot al withouten ignoraunce” (4.1070–71). The two lovers also claim to treat Criseyde’s desires as sovereign within the context of their love relationship: “ ‘O my Criseyde, O lady sovereigne’ ” (4.316), says Troilus, and Criseyde too reserves decisions about sovereignty to herself: “ ‘A kynges...

  8. 3 Revisiting Troilus’s Faint
    (pp. 43-57)

    With a crash that shattered the last manifestations of the notion that some inner core renders human beings male or female, an ancient concept of the self fell to the axe of Judith Butler, one of the most important theorists rewriting identity and sexuality today. Gender is the bedrock of personal identity in Butler’s conception, but, jettisoning conventional notions altogether, she argues that it is the acts of gender and only the acts of gender that constitute its reality. Gender emerges from the repetition of such acts. It is constructed in and through that repetition, with each iteration altering slightly...

  9. 4 What Makes a Man? Troilus, Hector, and the Masculinities of Courtly Love
    (pp. 58-72)

    A survey of the chivalric literature contemporary with Chaucer suggests it is largely true that by Chaucer’s time, “chroniclers and poets had long been recording elaborate – and contradictory – notions of what it meant to be a member of the knightly estate, notions such as that a true knight must be a lover as well as a soldier,” as Craig Berry argues.¹ Thus, for example, Geoffroi de Charny’s Book of Chivalry cites “Deeds Undertaken for Love of a Lady” as one method of winning “great honor” through “deeds of arms”;² yet Charny also argues that “All Honors Come from...

  10. 5 Masculinity and Its Hydraulic Semiotics in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 73-81)

    In one of its grandest gestures of homage to the classical tradition of Ovidian love literature, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde fixes the early depiction of its protagonist on the act of writing – but it is an act strangely overdetermined. Following some initial coaching by Pandarus to write a letter that is decisive yet not too rhetorically overwrought, Troilus ends up attempting to authenticate his letter by spilling his tears on the exterior of the letter, rather than on the sealed-up lines of inscription constituting the letter’s inner, i.e., communicational surface. Whereas Pandarus suggests that Troilus “biblotte” his script with...

  11. 6 Masochism, Masculinity, and the Pleasures of Troilus
    (pp. 82-96)

    With a title that is simultaneously declarative and descriptive, one might think we would have a confident answer to the guiding question of this essay: what are the pleasures of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde? This question remains difficult to answer, for reasons that pertain to the poem’s construction of Troilus’s masculinity out of the fracturing experience of suffering. At its basic level of plot and character, the tale of an arrogant and sulky bachelor who wins the fleeting love of a morally inscrutable widow through the oily machinations of her lascivious uncle seems an unlikely source of literary pleasure. With...

  12. 7 “The Dreams in Which I’m Dying”: Sublimation and Unstable Masculinities in Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 97-114)

    In his reading of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Slavoj Žižek argues that “In the network of intersubjective relations, every one of us is identified with, pinned down to, a certain fantasy place in the other’s symbolic structure.”¹ For Chaucer’s Criseyde, this fantasy place is the place of the courtly lady, the sublime object of courtly order, male desire, and homosocial associations. However, instead of silently accepting her pinning, Criseyde speaks. Further, Criseyde dreams. She dreams of disintegration and bodily annihilation. Of course, Troilus dreams of dying as well – and in fact, the poem grants him his dreams while denying...

  13. 8 “A Mannes Game”: Criseyde’s Masculinity in Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 115-131)

    In her provocative work Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam suggests that,

    far from being an imitation of maleness, female masculinity actually affords a glimpse of how masculinity is constructed as masculinity. In other words, female masculinities are framed as the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing.”¹

    In Troilus and Criseyde, Criseyde performs both traditionally defined femininity – located primarily in her anxiety, her beauty, and her inconstancy – and a female masculinity that shows itself in a series of moves that attempt self-preservation in a world defined by male masculinity’s...

  14. 9 Troilus’s Gaze and the Collapse of Masculinity in Romance
    (pp. 132-147)

    In creating his version of Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, Chaucer emphasizes the visual tropes of the romance genre and of the courtly lover throughout the work. The visual narrative, read through the lenses of courtly love, medieval optics, and modern theories of gazing and seeing, illuminates the interconnectivity of gender and genre in the text. The crucial moments of sight, in which Troilus loses masculine control over his gaze, force Chaucer away from both the romance genre and his source text. By juxtaposing romance and other genres, and through a metanarrative insistence on naming other genres, Chaucer attempts to solve the...

  15. 10 Sutured Looks and Homoeroticism: Reading Troilus and Pandarus Cinematically
    (pp. 148-160)

    Over the years, scholars have commented on the close friendship between Troilus and Pandarus, some suggesting that there is something more or less “erotic” about their relationship.¹ In articulating the implied homoeroticism of this relationship, scholars have left one methodological resource largely untapped: namely, film theory. Key interactions between Troilus and Pandarus in Book 1 can be read cinematically to elucidate the link between homoerotically charged visual dynamics and masculinity. By delineating unnarrated visual acts, one not only highlights the homoeroticism underlying the protracted encounter in Troilus’s bedchamber, but also finds the unstable power relations between the two friends. This...

  16. 11 Being a Man in Piers Plowman and Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 161-182)

    Critics are increasingly studying Chaucer and Langland together, since, as textual scholarship reveals ever more comprehensively, the poets were sometimes copied by the same scribes and in the same workshops and manuscripts.² A critical separation between the Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman is ever being bridged, and Chaucer and Langland are coming to be seen as London poets deeply engaged in the religious and social issues of their day. However, less work has been done to bridge the larger divide between Troilus and Criseyde and Piers Plowman.³ Why is there such a critical chasm between these two poems, despite the...

  17. 12 “The Monstruosity in Love”: Sexual Division in Chaucer and Shakespeare
    (pp. 183-194)

    This will not have been an historicizing essay.¹

    But it will be historical. It is mired in history. It is min(e)d in history. It recognizes that unity is a delusion – this is why there is history, history is always two or more. Where there is history, there is no unity.

    Separation is the psychogenetic crisis most particular to human males.² In over a century of heroic thinking (often opposed by unspeakable, inexcusable petty-mindedness), psychoanalysis (and the artists who have followed it³) have demonstrated in many ways that the male’s separation from the mother, from the different body that is...

  18. Index
    (pp. 195-200)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-203)