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What is a man? What groups together approximately half of the humans on this planet, in contrast to the other half? Jacqueline Murray states it bluntly, noting that the male genitals are “inextricably linked to a man's sense of self and his masculine identity.” Although this formulation may appear somewhat stark, it is not to be left aside, for the physical form upon which masculinity is enacted and thus reproduced must be taken into account in analyzing the intersections between masculinities (the cultural constructions of gender in relation to male bodies) and men. Beyond the physical presence of genitals on male bodies, men are also expected to perform sexually in the enactment of masculinity. Confronting these bald facts helps us to achieve the goals of masculinity studies, one of which is, as Murray states, to “reinsert men into the picture, men qua men, men in their historical and cultural specificity.” Thus, we see that penises – those floppy appendages, subject to irrepressibly awkward and sometimes invited tumescence – matter; they make men, and although we need not dip too deeply into psychoanalysis in this brief introduction, they also highlight fundamental biological differences between men and women that influence other factors of personal identity. In offering this volume of essays, Men and Masculinities in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, we hope to continue the ongoing process of understanding the ways in which gender and sexuality underpin (and at times undermine) human relationships.
With a title that is simultaneously declarative and descriptive, one might think we would have a confident answer to the guiding question of this essay: what are the pleasures of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde? This question remains difficult to answer, for reasons that pertain to the poem's construction of Troilus's masculinity out of the fracturing experience of suffering. At its basic level of plot and character, the tale of an arrogant and sulky bachelor who wins the fleeting love of a morally inscrutable widow through the oily machinations of her lascivious uncle seems an unlikely source of literary pleasure. With its formulaic structure, featuring love's debilitating desire, its momentary reward, and its inevitable loss, Troilus and Criseyde seems almost deliberately unappealing. For instance, Gretchen Mieszkowski argues in her feminist analysis of the text that “Male Chaucerians may be surprised to learn that reading Troilus and Criseyde for the first time is almost invariably a disappointment for a woman.” Of course, there arises no inherent discrepancy between a pleasureless narrative and a pleasurable reading experience, since, as Roland Barthes observes, “The text of pleasure is not necessarily the text that recounts pleasures.” If the same could be said for depictions of pain, then we might readily agree that Troilus's suffering potentially provides a source of pleasure in the poem. Taking pleasure from another's pain, however, is often regarded as socially suspect and ethically corrupt.
Issues relating to the male characters and the construction of masculinities in Chaucer's masterpiece of love found and love lost are explored here. Collectively the essays address the question of what it means to be a man in the Middle Ages, what constitutes masculinity in this era, and how such masculinities are culturally constructed; they seek to advance scholarly understanding of the themes, characters, and actions of Troilus and Criseyde through the hermeneutics of medieval and modern concepts of manliness. Throughout, they argue that Troilus and the other characters, including Criseyde, are subject to multiple and conflicting interpretations, especially in regard to the intersections of their genders with their sexual performances and their conflicted relationships to generic expectations for gendered conduct. Contributors: JOHN M. BOWERS, MICHAEL CALABRESE, HOLLY A. CROCKER, KATE KOPPELMAN, MOLLY MARTIN, MARCIA SMITH MARZEC, GRETCHEN MIESZKOWSKI, JAMES J. PAXSON, TISON PUGH, R. ALLEN SHOAF, ROBERT S. STURGES, ANGELA JANE WEISL, RICHARD ZEIKOWITZ.
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