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Faculty Mentor

Elizabeth E. Tavares

Subject Area

English

Abstract

How was masculinity defined, and for whom, in medieval English epic? Employing Marie de France’s “Lanval” and the anonymous “Beowulf” as example cases, when examining the social role of gender rather than focus on sexuality as defined by genitalia, these poems flip the script. Wherein titular male-identifying characters swap social responsibilities with female-identifying foils; Beowulf and Lanval become “weaving” humans, while Lanval's lover and Grendel’s Mother take on the “weaponed” roles in order to protect the material existence of their communities. By examining these exchanges, as well as characters that embody the gender role that is expected of them, I argue that early medieval English epic consistently presented a vision of society where a critical part of maintaining healthy communities necessitated the inversion of gender roles.

Keywords

medieval literature, English poetry, Beowulf, Lanval, Marie de France, gender theory, sexuality studies

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