Seminar in Medieval Literature: Medieval Sex
Prof. Eileen Joy


Thursdays 6:00-8:50 (Peck Hall 2410)

Figure 1. The Garden of Pleasure, Roman de la rose, late 15th-century Flemish manuscript (British Library)

"Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries naturally to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power." (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction)

"How is it that in a society like ours, sexuality is not simply a means of reproducing the species, the family, the individual? Not simply a means to obtain pleasure and enjoyment? How has sexuality come to be considered the privileged place where our deepest 'truth' is read and expressed? For that is the essential fact: since Christianity, the Western world has never ceased saying, To know who you are, know what your sexuality is. Sex has always been the forum where both the future of our species and our 'truth' as human subjects are decided." (Michel Foucault, 1977 interview)


Sex and gender are intimately connected to each other throughout history, and the medieval era (roughly 500 to 1500 C.E.) played a critical role in the construction of modern Western sexual and gendered identities. It can be argued as well that many of our ideas about modern love originated in the narratives of medieval romance literature, where there is also a rich tradition of the creative subversion of traditional gender and sex roles. Located at the boundary between the biological and the cultural, human sexuality has been feared for its radical potential to disrupt various structures of human order- and meaning-making, and has been assumed to be a central key to understanding human nature and identity. Through readings of various medieval texts (literary and otherwise), as well as critical readings in body, gender, and sexuality studies, we will explore the critical role of sexuality in shaping the Western human subject and its radical powers for disrupting and transforming bodies and selves over time. By way of making some cross-temporal connections between the medieval world and our own, we will also read Jeffrey Eugenides's contemporary novel Middlesex and view some contemporary films that explore, in complex fashion, various themes of sexuality and sexual identity.

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. One final (but important) word: coming to class without the text will count as an absence.

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

Peter G. Beidler, ed. THE WIFE OF BATH. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996. ISBN# 0312111282.

Chretien de Troyes. ARTHURIAN ROMANCES. Trans. William W. Kibler. Penguin Classics, 2004. ISBN# 0140445218.

Jeffrey Eugenides. MIDDLESEX: A NOVEL. Picador, 2007. ISBN# 0312427735.

Marie de France. THE LAIS OF MARIE DE FRANCE. Trans. Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. Penguin Classics, 1999 (2nd edition). ISBN# 0140447598.

Wolfram von Eschenbach. PARZIFAL AND TITUREL. Oxford World Classics, 2009. ISBN# 0199539200.

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


1 CRITICAL PAPER, 18-20 pages (60%)

A two-part project: an annotated bibliography (due by mid-March) 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 argument in relation to at least one of the primary literary texts included on our syllabus, and it should situate its argument in the context of the histories and intellectual ideas (re: bodies, gender, sex, sexuality) encountered in course readings and class discussion, supplemented by additional secondary research. 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 short responses (roughly in the neighborhood of 2 typed pages) to weekly readings. It is up to you to decide which reading (or readings) to respond to, and in what manner. These short reading responses don't begin until after we've acclimated ourselves (typically in the third or fourth week of the course--see Schedule of Events below), and they are not due in the last few weeks of the course, in order to give you more time for your paper research and writing. It is expected that, in these responses, you will critically engage the texts (literary and/or otherwise) under discussion in relation to the ideas raised in class discussions and in relation to any ideas and/or texts encountered in other courses that might be relevant. These short responses will aid you in developing close reading skills and critical writing techniques that are crucial to your success with the longer critical paper, and it is imperative that these short responses NEVER do the following: a) merely summarize the reading; b) detail what you "like" or "don't like" about the reading, with no serious critical commentary; c) evaluate the author's skill as a writer according to your personal aesthetic criteria; or d) use the reading as a point of departure for a discussion of something that has nothing to do with the reading or discussions in class.


As stated above under "Course Description," participation is vital to your success in this course. Further, as a graduate-level seminar, the course is designed to have a primary emphasis on student-driven discussion. That means having a good attendance record, coming to class prepared to discuss the readings (with books and other texts in hand), and actively initiating and contributing to critically engaged conversations with your professor and peers.


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.


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 evening 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.


If you feel that you are entitled to special accommodations (for example, a volunteer note-taker, interpreter, special desk, or extra time on tests), please contact the Disability Support Services office in Rendleman Hall #1218 (Phillip Pownall, Director), or visit their website, and they will help you fill out the necessary paperwork.


ECR=Electronic Course Reserves

Wednesday Jan. 13 Introduction to Course
View: Breaking the Waves (film)
Wednesday Jan. 20 No Class -- Professor at Symposium
Wednesday Jan. 27 <Classical Appropriation: The Ur-Story>
The Anglo-Saxon Version of the Story of Apollonius of Tyre, ed. Benjamin Thorpe (ECR)
David Townsend, "The Naked Truth of the King's Affection in the Old English Apollonius of Tyre" (ECR)
Clare Lees, "Engendering Religious Desire: Sex, Knowledge, and Christian Identity in Anglo-Saxon England" (ECR)
Jacques Lacan (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Wednesday Feb. 3 <Anglo-Saxon Nymphomaniac and Cross-Dressing Saints>
"Death of Saint Mary of Egypt," from Aelfric's Lives of Saints, vol. 2, ed. William W. Skeat (ECR)
"St. Eufrasia, Virgin," from Aelfric's Lives of Saints, vol. 2, ed. William W. Skeat (ECR)
St Jerome, "On Marriage and Virginity" (Medieval Sourcebook)
  Joan Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis" (ECR)
  Ruth Mazo Karras, "Holy Harlots: Prostitute Saints in Medieval Legend" (ECR)
  *reading response due
Wednesday Feb. 10 <Interlude: Historie(s) of Sexuality>
Michel Foucault, "Scientia Sexualis" (ECR)
Thomas Laqueur, "Destiny is Anatomy" (ECR)
Joan Cadden, "Academic Questions: Female and Male in Scholastic Medicine and Natural Philosophy" (ECR)
  David Halperin, "Is There a History of Sexuality?" (ECR)
  *reading response due
Wednesday Feb. 17 <Chivalric Romance I>
Chretien, "The Knight with the Cart (Lancelot)" and "The Knight with the Lion (Yvain)" (Arthurian Romances)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Masoch/Lancelotism" (ECR)
Monday Feb. 22 @ 5:00 p.m. SPECIAL EVENT: Caroline Walker Bynum, "Weeping Statues and Bleeding Bread: Miracles and Their Theorists," Washington University in Saint Louis (Women's Building, Formal Lounge)
Wednesday Feb. 24 <Chivalric Romance II>
Amis and Amiloun: Introduction; Middle English Text; Modern Translation
Richard E. Zeikowitz, "Chivalric Bonds and the Ideals of Friendship" (ECR)
  *reading response due
Wednesday Mar. 3 <Marie de France>
The Lais of Marie de France
  William Burgwinkle, "Queering the Celtic: Marie de France and the Men Who Don't Marry" (ECR)
  Karma Lochrie, "Have We Ever Been Normal?" (ECR)
  Larry Benson, "Courtly Love and Chivalry in the Later Middle Ages"
  Andreas Capellanus; De amore (1184-86): excerpts
  *reading response due
Monday-Friday Mar. 8-12 No Class -- Spring Break
Wednesday Mar. 17 View: Far From Heaven (film)
Annotated Bibliography Due
Wednesday Mar. 24 <Chaucer I>
Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Prologue & Tale (Beidler book)
"The Bible on Marriage" (Medieval Sourcebook)
St Augustine, "On Marriage and Concupiscence" (Medieval Sourcebook)
Elaine Tuttle Hansen, "Of his love daungerous to me: Liberation, Subversion, and Domestic Violence in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" (Beidler book)
*reading response due
Wednesday Mar. 31 <Chaucer II>
    Chaucer, The Man of Law's Tale
    The Crying and the Soun: The Chaucer Audiofiles
    Chaucer's Language & Pronunciation
    Ruth Mazo Karras, "The Sexuality of Chastity" (ECR)
Wednesday Apr. 7 <Wolfram's Parzifal I>
Wolfram, Parzifal (Books 1-8)
Plot Summary: Parzifal
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Chevalrie" (ECR)
Wednesday Apr. 14 <Wolfram's Parzifal II>
    Wolfram, Parzifal (Books 9-16)
    James A. Schultz, "Chivalric Couples: Knights, Ladies, and Marriage" (ECR)
Wednesday Apr. 21 <INTERLUDE: Queer Optimism>

Visiting Poet-Scholar-Queer Theorist: Michael Snediker (author of Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicituous Persuasions)

WHERE: University Bookstore, Morris University Center

WHEN: 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday Apr. 28 <A Contemporary Intersex Fable>
    Eugenides, Middlesex
Friday May 7 (by midnight) Critical Paper Due (essay must be emailed to me at: eileenajoy@gmail.com as an attached Word document)