Medieval Literature


The Queer Premodern:  Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Literatures

Course Description

Queer theory tends to focus on modern texts, perhaps because of the philosopher Michel Foucault’s (in)famous declaration that in the West, ‘homosexuality’, as an identity, is a nineteenth-century invention.  If we accept Foucault’s premise, then what might queerness look like in the long medieval period, before the emergence of this form of identity?  In this seminar, we will discover that sexuality in the premodern period is an unstable concept, which most often emerges as it intersects in unexpected ways with other categories, including racial, national, religious, class, and gender identities.  We will make this discovery by reading a variety of texts dating from the tenth to fifteenth centuries that crisscross genres, whether drama, prose, or poetry, including Hrotsvit of Gandersheim’s version of St. Pelagius, the drama ‘Son of Getron’, the thirteenth-century romance Silence, portions of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and The Book of Margery Kempe for example.  By studying such a wide range of literary texts, we will see that ‘queering’ texts can serve as a deconstructive tool, enriching our understanding of early literature.  In turn, depictions of premodern sexualities challenge us to reexamine some of our own, along with queer theory and gender studies’, assumptions about sexuality, gender, and history.

In this course, students will write two short response papers, participate on the class blog, which will be hosted on Laulima, as well as write a final research paper.


Book List

Chaucer, Geoffrey.  The Canterbury Tales.  Jill Mann, ed.  New York:  Penguin Classics,         2005.

Foucault, Michel.  The History of Sexuality.  Volume One:  An Introduction.  Robert Hurley, trans. New York: Vintage, 1978.

Putter, Ad and Myra Stokes, eds. The Works of the Gawain Poet.  New York: Penguin     Classics, 2015.

Silence:  A Thirteenth-Century French Romance.  Sarah Roche-Madhi, ed. and trans.           Michigan:  Michigan University Press, 1999.

Staley, Lynn, ed.  The Book of Margery Kempe.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.