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Queering Medieval Romance

Medieval romance famously celebrated “courtly love”—the ennobling passion of an aristocratic man for an upper-class woman. But just as deeply ingrained is the ideal of same-sex love between men. And despite—or perhaps because of—the Church’s misogynist bias, the culture shows a surprising openness to transgender phenomena. This class will explore two kinds of texts: those in which women masquerade as men, and those in which heterosexual love disrupts or is disrupted by the bonds of male affection. Texts will include Ovid’s tale of Iphis and Ianthe, in which two girls fall in love and marry; a pair of transgender saints’ lives; and the stunningly postmodern romance of Silence. After our study of ambiguous gender identities, we’ll turn to ambiguous desires, reading The Romance of the RoseAmis and Amiloun, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We’ll end with Chaucer’s “other masterpiece,” the magnificent Troilus and Criseyde. Set in ancient Troy, this romance features the bisexual Pandarus, who seems to be in love with both the hero and the heroine. Amis and Amiloun and Troilus and Criseyde will be read in Middle English, the other texts in translation.