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Reading desire: men desiring men in Malory
Halmstad University, School of Education, Humanities and Social Science, Contexts and Cultural Boundaries (KK).
2014 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

There is no doubt that, in Malory, the knights’ sexual desire is directed towards women: much of the text covers the stories of the great lovers Launcelot and Tristram. In this paper, I argue that it is possible, especially for today’s readers, to read Malory from a perspective of same-sex desire. There are three main reasons for this: the usage, between knights, of the language of a feudal world, the eroticisation of dominance and submission, and the marginalisation of one of the most explicitly desiring characters. Malory’s knights interact in the language of feudal bonds: they swear to be each other’s knights always, and to be true and loyal – in fact, the language used between knights often differs little from that used between courtly love couples. Courtly love borrowed its discourse from feudal bonds, eroticising it in the process. When feudal discourse is then used for feudal purposes – such as the swearing of one knight to another – the erotic charge of courtly love is retained, colouring the feudal bonds with desire. The interaction of knights with ladies and their interaction with each other are couched in very similar language, thus making it possible to read both as erotic. As I have argued elsewhere, many medieval texts eroticise dominance and submission, with the man as dominant in marriage, but as submissive in courtly love. So do many modern texts: the eroticisation of dominance and violence is of course not an unknown phenomenon in the contemporary world. In the light of this, much knightly interaction, which is aimed at determining a hierarchy of better/lesser knight, can also be read as expressing desire, for the top position but also for the knight currently holding that position: the lesser, defeated knight desires the winner, and shows such desire through the feudal language which – as mentioned above – carries an erotic subtext. In the story of Palomides, a reading of same-sex desire in the text is particularly possible. To readers who themselves occupy a marginalised position in society, for example due to sexual orientation, the marginalised character might offer a natural target for identification. Palomides is already marginalised due to his ethnicity and religion, making him a potential representative of other marginalised groups. Furthermore, Palomides explicitly desires Tristram’s company, and this is referred to in parallel with his desire for Isoud, using similar language. Palomides’s desire for Tristram is also expressed as a desire to defeat him or be defeated by him, thus linking the desire to eroticisation of dominance and submission. As Palomides is characterised by both his marginalisation and his desire, it is easy to read his desire itself as marginalising, deviant in a heteronormative world. For today’s reader, then, it is possible to read Malory’s text as containing desire not only between men and women, but between men, relying on a subtext of same-sex desire and eroticisation of dominance and submission even in overtly heterosexual characters.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
Keywords [en]
desire gender Malory
National Category
Specific Literatures
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-27136OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-27136DiVA, id: diva2:766482
Conference
XXIV Triennial Congress of the International Arthurian Society, University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania, 20-26 July, 2014
Available from: 2014-11-27 Created: 2014-11-27 Last updated: 2018-03-22Bibliographically approved

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Hildebrand, Kristina

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
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