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Same-sex Sexuality in Later Medieval English Culture

Same-sex Sexuality in Later Medieval English Culture

Tom Linkinen
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Same-sex Sexuality in Later Medieval English Culture
    Book Description:

    This volume investigates the state of same-sex relations in later medieval England, drawing on a remarkably rich array of primary sources from the period that include legal documents, artworks, theological treatises, and poetry. Tom Linkinen uses those sources to build a framework of medieval condemnations of same-sex intimacy and desire and then shows how same-sex sexuality reflected-and was inflected by-gender hierarchies, approaches to crime, and the conspicuous silence on the matter in the legal systems of the period.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-2286-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 7-32)

    The definition of sodomy from the first and the second editions of theOxford English Dictionaryrepresents a framework of same-sex sexuality that may sound “medieval,” yet the authoritative lexicon served its readers this piece of information a couple of decades, not a couple of centuries ago.² Such a definition is also an argument, pointing towards the unnatural in sexual acts between people of the same sex, and revealing the condemnatory approach to same-sex sexuality in our modern culture not so long ago. Similar arguments are relatively easy to find in medieval culture, be the source a theological treatise, an...

  4. I Framing condemnations: Sodomy, sin against nature, and crime
    (pp. 33-84)

    Sodomy and sin against nature were the two most commonly used concepts in referring to same-sex sexual activity throughout later medieval Europe, whenever the arguments concerning it were made explicit. Discussion about the subject using either of these concepts always involved a condemnation of the matter. The concepts of sodomy and sin against nature related to associations and connotations pointing towards all things wrong and bad; all the writing and reading and all the talk and shared understandings were framed not only in terms of disapproval and denouncement; they were always also accusations. Making sense of these framings as contexts...

  5. II Silencing the unmentionable vice
    (pp. 85-110)

    Major part of the textual evidence of late medieval English culture seems to be silent about sodomy and sin against nature. Imagining medieval culture and the medieval people, the silence may easily be understood as obvious. Most of the discussion in the past was, of course, centred around completely different matters than those considered here, but in examining theological treatises and commentaries, judicial documents, and laws and decrees, as well as, for example, mystery plays, the historian seems to find less than she or he probably presumes, and faces silence surrounding same-sex sexuality in the past. Little of the more...

  6. III Stigmatising with same-sex sexuality
    (pp. 111-148)

    Stigmatising and defaming may have been effectual ways of putting down one’s rivals and opponents. For those with weapons suitable enough, power struggles of the past may have been battles easily won. In this chapter I will examine the accusations of enemies and opponents of possible same-sex sexual activities and desires as one such suitable weapon in later medieval England. Some attacks were more successful than others. When such accusations were successful, they were most useful in defaming those attacked. Such accusations, often used together with other negative associations and stereotypes as purposely defaming processes, could create permanent marks on...

  7. IV Sharing disgust and fear
    (pp. 149-204)

    The opening quotation is fromFestialwritten in the early fifteenth century by John Mirk, who also wrote the handbookInstructions for Parish Priests. In this excerpt a medieval interpretation of a miracle from the hagiographical literary tradition, most famously fromLegenda aurea, has been rewritten. This quotation explicates a form of cultural fantasy-sharing condemnation against same-sex sexual acts and desires; all of those who had sinned against nature died from all over the world the night Christ was born. This articulation of the abhorrence concerning this particular sin provides ultimate evidence of the complete unfitting among God’s scheme of...

  8. V Sharing laughter
    (pp. 205-232)

    The diverse characters in Chaucer’s tales discuss a variety of subjects in different manners and ways, just as the other, “real” later medieval English people surely did, and like Chaucer’s characters, certainly a good part of them also “laughed and played.” As the quotation above from theCanterbury Talessuggests, discussions among more common people were probably filled with more laughter than there is to be found in all the treatises, manuals and chronicles more often studied. In this chapter I will scrutinise later medieval traces of laughter concerning same-sex sexuality. Laughing at the matter may have amused people, as...

  9. VI Framing possibilities: Silences, friendships, deepest love
    (pp. 233-300)

    In the last chapter of this study, the focus is on framing the non-condemnatory possibilities concerning same-sex sexuality in later medieval English culture. This aspect of the question comprises the other side of the story of the themes scrutinised at length in previous chapters, the side that escaped and at times even opposed the variegated judgements concerning same-sex acts and desires. After having considered how and why such matters were confronted and condemned, it is now time to add that the later medieval English past may have more to offer. Among the questions yet unasked are those concerning reclaiming possibilities...

  10. Conclusions
    (pp. 301-310)

    The aim of this study has been to achieve and offer the plurality of the later medieval English understandings of same-sex sexual acts and desires. I hope I have accomplished some of this self-set scholarly aim, and I am satisfied with the fragmented results; there are a number of stories instead of one. In the course of scrutinising questions ranging from sodomy to deepest love, one faces the ultimate ambivalence of the late medieval understanding of same-sex sexual matters, an understanding that included the opposite and paradoxical views as, on one hand, the most horrible sin and on the other,...

  11. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 311-312)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-330)
  13. Index
    (pp. 331-334)