Sex, Gender and Identity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
About this module
This module examines the construction of gender roles in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Concepts of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' continue to play a powerful role in twenty-first century culture, and cultural products of our own era continue to define and question what we might mean by 'being a man' or 'being a woman'. Early French texts also shape and problematise what is meant by 'masculine' and 'feminine', provocatively exploring the qualities which make an 'ideal man' and an 'ideal woman'. By studying these early texts, you will appreciate the importance of medieval models of courtly love and chivalry in developing many of the clichés and concepts which shape ideas (and pop songs) today, as well as grasping the specificity of how questions about gender are formulated in different periods. The module focuses on six major French texts, and is taught and examined in English.
The relationship between the sexes is a central concern in the module, since male and female voices (then, as now) define each other, through relations of love and sexuality, competition and conquest. You will be exposed to a variety of voices - male and female authors, and male- and female-gendered characters - who define gender in competing and conflictual ways. We will also consider how gender is intertwined with other aspects of identity, such as the religious; for example, an opposition developed between Christian and Muslim is central to the ideal of masculinity exemplified in La Chanson de Roland (an epic poem popular in the Middle Ages and read to troops in the trenches of the First World War). The Prise d'Orange and Aucassin et Nicolette both parody and challenge this paradigm through exploring the role of assertive female characters of Arab descent who reverse typical gender roles.
Gargantua, a sixteenth-century classic of comic literature, examines the creation of masculinity from a rather different perspective, featuring gross and bawdy scenes in the life of a young male giant; when Gargantua's territories are invaded by a dangerous megalomaniac, competing conceptions of masculinity prove to be bound up with questions about the ethics of war.
The Heptaméron stages the telling of short stories about love, sex, violence, intrigue and rape, with debates among the story-tellers concerning sexual mores. Finally, the love poetry of Pierre de Ronsard is deeply influenced by the poetic tradition of courtly love which still influences the way we conceptualize and talk about love today. Often, men and women are in fixed roles: the male lover is a servant to a distant and haughty noble lady. But attentive reading reveals that the poems ask searching questions about masculinity, femininity and love.
Teaching and Learning
Weekly lectures and fortnightly seminars. This module is capped at 100. Attendance will be monitored in all teaching sessions.
- 1000-word summative commentary (20%)
- 1500-word summative essay (30%)
- 2-hour written examination (50%)
Prescribed Texts for 2013-14
You should buy the following texts before the start of term. Please buy the editions specified (which have translations into modern French or English and/or useful notes).
- La Chanson de Roland (Livre de Poche "Lettres gothiques")
- La Prise d'Orange (Champions Classiques Moyen Age)
- Aucassin et Nicolette (GF-Flammarion)
- François Rabelais, Gargantua (Editions du Seuil “Points” edition with facing-page translation into modern French, ed. Guy Demerson, this edition only)
- Marguerite de Navarre, Heptaméron (GF-Flammarion edition preferred, ed. Simone de Reyff)
- Pierre de Ronsard, A Selection of Poems, Durham French Texts dossier, to be purchased from the School office
The texts will be studied in the following order: Roland, Prise d'Orange, Aucassin (in term 1); Gargantua, Heptaméron, Ronsard (in term 2).
Useful introductory reading includes the chapters by Gilbert and Kay in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature (available as an electronic resource from the library); Kinoshita, Medieval Boundaries, chapters 1 and 2; Lyons and McKinley, Critical Tales: New Studies of the Heptaméron; Coleman, Rabelais; Cave, Ronsard the Poet; Forster, The Icy Fire (chapter 1).
A full reading list is available on the module's duo site.
Dr Luke Sunderland (email@example.com) in Term I
Dr Kathryn Banks (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Term 2