Masculinity, Violence, and the Medieval Romance
Prof. Eileen Joy


Figure 1. Captain Kilgore (Robert Duvall) from Apocalypse Now

"Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to the victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. . . . Perhaps all men, by virtue of being born, are destined to suffer violence; yet this is a truth to which circumstance shuts men's eyes. The strong are, as a matter of fact, never absolutely strong, nor are the weak absolutely weak, but neither is aware of this. They have in common a refusal to believe they belong to the same species. . . . The man who is the possessor of force seems to walk through a non-resistant element; in the human substance that surrounds him nothing has the power to interpose, between the impulse and the act, the tiny interval that is reflection. Where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence."--Simone Weil (from "The Iliad, or The Poem of Force")

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an Angel in apprehension, how like a God: the beauty of the world; the paragon of Animals; and yet to me, what is this Quintessence of dust?"--Hamlet (from Shakespeare's Hamlet)

"[Men are the] crap and slaves of history."--Tyler (from Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club)


Arthur and his knights are the most popular male heroes in the Western tradition, from the Middle Ages to the present. What might account for their cultural staying power? In order to begin to try to answer this question, we are going to focus primarily on the genre of Arthurian romance within the French and German medieval traditions, but we are also going to study the development of the chivalric mentality in literature and thought, as well as its cultural impact, from the Middle Ages to modern times. Although the bulk of the readings deal with twelfth through fourteenth centuries stories revolving around the mytho-historical British court of Arthur, we will also delve into Icelandic saga, Wagnerian opera, modern cinema, and contemporary memoir in order to also investigate the changing nature of masculinity over time, as well as the connections (perceived, real, and otherwise) between masculinity and violence. In order to enhance our critical investigations, we will have extensive additional readings in literary theory, philosophy, history, myth and folklore studies, anthropology, cultural studies, classical studies, sociology, psychology, gender and sexuality studies, and sociobiology.

As this is a graduate seminar-style course, preparing for and participating in class are vitally important to your ultimate success, and therefore, your contribution to in-class discussions as well as your attendance record will be factored into your final grade. Although I will provide much guidance and commentary, the students are essentially the discussion leaders of this course. As this is also a reading-intensive course, not keeping up with the reading could be extremely detrimental to your progress and final evaluation.

REQUIRED TEXTS (available at University Bookstore in Morris University Center)

Chretien de Troyes. Arthurian Romances. Trans. William W. Kibler. Penguin Classics, 1991.

Grettir's Saga. Trans. Denton Fox and Hermann Pálsson. Univ. of Toronto Press, 1974.

The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. Penguin Classics, 1999.

The Song of Roland. Trans. W.S. Merwin. Modern Library Classics, 2001.

Gottfried von Strassburg. Tristan. Trans. A.T. Hatto. Penguin Classics, 1960.

Brad Land. Goat: A Memoir. Random House, 2003.

*MANY of the readings for the course are articles that have been placed on Electronic Course Reserve (these are indicated on "Schedule of Events" below)


1 CRITICAL PAPER, 15-20 pages (60%)

A two-part project: an annotated bibliography and a critical research paper. You are expected to develop your own topic and approaches; introduction of secondary texts, critics, media, and ideas is encouraged. This critical essay should deliver an original critical perspective and consistent argument relative to any aspect of one of the medieval literary works we read during the semester. Ideally, this paper should not only examine in analytical depth one of the works we have read, but should do so within the critical context of intellectual ideas encountered in additional readings and/or discussed in class. To help you get started, go here for a working bibliography of sources relevant to the subjects under discussion in this course.


To facilitate class discussion, you will write ONE short response (roughly in the neighborhood of 2 typed pages) to each week's readings. It is up to you to decide which reading (or readings) to respond to, and in what manner. These short reading responses begin on Tuesday, January 25th, and no reading response is due on the day you give an oral presentation, nor on the day when the annotated bibliography is due. For more detailed guidelines on these short papers, go here.


You will make ONE oral presentation on one of the additional critical readings. These will be readings that are in addition to those assigned to the entire class each week (they are indicated by an asterisk [*] on the Schedule of Events). These presentations should be prepared to fit within a twenty-minute time scheme, and it would be a good idea to rehearse them ahead of time, and to also have some kind of detailed handout that can be passed out to your fellow students. On the day you give your oral presentation, it is not necessary to write a reading response.


I do not accept late assignments. Period. If there is an extraordinarily good reason for needing an extension on a due date, let me know in advance, and I will be kind.


Attendance, promptness, and participation are essential to success in college courses. Faculty members recognize that unexpected occasions may arise when a student must be absent from class, but my general attendance policy is that if you are absent more than the number of required class sessions per week (in this case, that would be more than 1 session), I have the option of lowering your final course grade by one letter grade for each additional session missed. Furthermore, if absences become excessive (more than two weeks' worth of sessions), the SIUE Registrar, at my request, reserves the right to withdraw you administratively. For more information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Class Attendance Policy. Failure to attend class in a responsible and committed manner may thus be grounds for failure in or administrative withdrawal from the course.


Any student found engaging in an act of academic dishonesty will be promptly dismissed from the course with a grade of "F." By "academic dishonesty," I mean PLAGIARISM (the act of representing the work of another as one's own), which the University considers a grave breach of intellectual integrity. All definitions, terminology, concepts, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source must be identified and given credit in any essay or exam you write--whether it be for the English department or any other department. For more detailed information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Plagiarism Policy.


A 90-100
B 80-89
C 70-79
D 60-69
F under 60

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (subject to revision as semester progresses)

ECR=Electronic Course Reserves

(readings indicated with an asterisk--*--are designated for oral presentations)

Tuesday Jan. 11 Introduction to Course
View: Hero (film)
Tuesday Jan. 18 <Icelandic Saga>
Grettir's Saga
Brittan, "Masculinity as Competitiveness" (ECR)
Blazina, "The Indo-Europeans" (ECR)
Lorenz, "What Aggression is Good For" (ECR)
**no response paper due this week**
Tuesday Jan. 25 Grettir's Saga
Miller, "Feud, Vengeance, and the Disputing Process" (handout)
Braudy, "The Warrior as Barbarian" (ECR)
Lorenz, "Ecce Homo" (ECR)
Jennifer *Fisher, "Violence, masculinity, and the law in classical Athens" (ECR)
Tuesday Feb. 1 <Arthurian Romance & Chivalry--Backgrounds>
Monmouth, "Arthur of Britain" (ECR)
Lacy & Mancoff, "Origins" (ECR)
Frantzen, "Violence and Abjection" (ECR)
Blazina, "Chivalry" (ECR)
Bill *Bennett, "Military Masculinity in England and Northern France c. 1050-c. 1225" (ECR)
Brian *Zeikowitz, "Chivalric Bonds and the Ideals of Friendship" (ECR)
Tuesday Feb. 8 <Chretien de Troyes--Arthurian Romances I>
"Eric and Enide" & "The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot)"
Courtly Love Study Guide
Medieval Society (includes notes on knights and chivalry)
Burns, "Refashioning Courtly Love: Lancelot as Ladies' Man or Lady/Man?" (ECR)
Cohen, "Masoch/Lancelotism" (ECR)
Janella *Belsey, "Adultery in King Arthur's Court" (ECR)
Josie A. *Bullough, "On Being a Male in the Middle Ages" (ECR)
Tuesday Feb. 15 <Chretien de Troyes--Arthurian Romances II>
"The Knight with the Lion (Yvain)" & "The Story of the Grail (Perceval)"
Fisher King Mythology
The Holy Grail (history, texts, and images)
Chad *Greenberg, "Feudalism" (ECR)
**no response paper due this week**
Tuesday Feb. 22 <Wagner's Parsifal>
View: Parsifal, Acts II & III (opera by Richard Wagner)
Parsifal Synopsis and Libretto
Frappier, "Perceval or Le Conte du Graal" (ECR)
Jung & Franz, "The Central Symbol of the Legend: The Grail as Vessel" (ECR)
Alex Ross, "The Ring and the Rings" (New Yorker article)
Elizabeth *Richard Wagner (background & controversy)
Tuesday Mar. 1 <Marie de France>
The Lais of Marie de France (read all)
Dunton-Downer, "Wolf Man" (ECR)
Belsey, "Desire in Theory: Freud, Lacan, Derrida" (ECR)
Catherine *Belsey, "Postmodern Love" (ECR)
Josie T. *Zeikowitz, "Competing Desires" (ECR)
Tuesday Mar. 15 <Arthur on Film>
View: Excalibur (dir. John Boorman)
Cohen, "Chevalrie" (ECR)
**no response paper due this week**
Tuesday Mar. 22 <The Grail in Vietnam>
View: Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
**no response paper due this week**
Paper Topic/Annotated Bibliography Due
Tuesday Mar. 29 <free-for-all discussion & catch-up evening>
Tuesday Apr. 5 <Strassburg's Tristan>
Tristan (read all)
Harris, "God, religion, and ambiguity in Tristan" (ECR)
Rasmussen, "The Female Figures in Gottfried's Tristan" (ECR)
Rebecca *Schulz, "Bodies That Matter: Heterosexuality before Heterosexuality in Gottfried's Tristan" (ECR)
Tuesday Apr. 12 <Chansons de Geste--The Song of Roland & War>
The Song of Roland (read all)
Song of Roland Background/Study Guide
Kinoshita, "Pagans are wrong and Christians are right" (ECR)
Frantzen, "The Making of a Knight: St. Edmund" (ECR)
Amy *Blazina, "Psychology's Myth of Masculinity" (ECR)
**no response paper due this week**
Tuesday Apr. 19 Brad Land, Goat
**no response paper due this week**
Tuesday Apr. 26 View: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (film)
Critical Paper Due