How can one know if a woman is honourable? In medieval culture, female honour
rested most heavily on one thing: sexual continence, or chastity. But how could
one be absolutely sure if a given woman was chaste? Practising Shame
demonstrates how, in the literature of later medieval England, female honour is
a matter of emotional practice and performance – it requires learning how to
‘feel’ in a specific way. In order to safeguard their chastity, women were
encouraged to cultivate hypervigilance against the possibility of sexual shame
through a combination of inward reflection and outward comportment. Often termed
‘shamefastness’, this practice was believed to reinforce women’s chastity of
mind and body, and to communicate that chastity to others through a combination
of conventional gestures. At the same time, however, medieval anxiety concerning
the potentially misleading nature of appearances rendered these gestures suspect
– after all, if good conduct could be learned, then it could also be
counterfeited. Practising Shame uncovers the paradoxes and complications that
emerged out of the emotional practices linked to female honour, as well as some
of the unexpected ways in which those practices might be reappropriated by male
authors. Written at the intersection of literary studies, gender studies, and
the history of emotions, this book transforms our understanding of the ethical
construction of femininity in the past and provides a new framework for thinking
about honourable womanhood now and in the years to come.
himself be guided by lust, not listening to the divine message, is akin to a beast. 37 With beasts is associated violence, which goes together with the absence of reason. Violence towards women, or at least towards one’s wife, is therefore presented as unacceptable. Hincmar goes as far as to present an extreme version, if not a caricature, depicting husbands who send their wives to be slaughtered by the cook, whereas their duty is to save and purify their wives, just as Christ did with the Church. 38 The representation of masculinity no longer had any need to depend
sedium”: ein bislang übersehenes Werk Hinkmars von Reims in der Centuriatoren-Handschrift ÖB Basel O II 29’, in A. Mentzel-Reuters and M. Hartmann, eds, Catalogus und Centurien: Interdisziplinäre Studien zu Matthias Flacius und den Magdeburger Centurien (Tübingen, 2008), pp. 211–31.
165 Corcoran, Chapter 7.
166 Depreux, Chapter 8.
167 Isaïa, Chapter 9.
168 Devisse, Hincmar, II, pp. 1129–36.
169 See e.g. R. Stone, Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingian Empire (Cambridge, 2011); West, ‘Lordship’; G. Calvet, ‘ Cupiditas , avaritia , turpe lucrum
dependent upon his tale, along with its framing ‘Prologue’
and ‘Epilogue’, for our impression of him. It is
particularly significant that in the ‘Epilogue’ to the tale, the
Host compliments the Nun’s Priest on his handsome masculinity
– his big neck, his large chest, his bright eyes and his ruddy
complexion – all of which suggest to the Host that, were the
Nun’s Priest a layman, he would, like Chauntecleer
body, the passive, coldness and wetness, went a whole series of
associated binary oppositions which are personified by Chauntecleer and
Pertelote in the ‘Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ and by
Alisoun and Jankyn in the ‘Wife of Bath’s
importance of practising shamefastness, and to cultivate in them a hypervigilance concerning the possibility of disgrace.
Here, however, the implicit invitation to ponder what might have happened to Virginia and Lucretia, had they lived, also raises the question of why death and dishonour are the only options for honourable women faced with the possibility of sexual shame in these texts. I will argue that the key to the issue lies in how medieval literature depicts the relationship between ‘hardy’ masculinity (reflected
‘Victorian and modern views on masculinity [that] have influenced the critical reception and interpretation of male tears in the corpus of Old English literature’, as Kristen Mills argues; ‘examples of weeping men are often ignored or viewed as aberrant, while instances of women's weeping are taken as normative behaviour’.
In response to this tendency, in the first section of this chapter I would like simply to acknowledge the many sad men who inhabit Beowulf : the catalogue below serves as a monument. Even the main
relationship to masculine ideals of behaviour is more complicated still. For if hardy masculinity tended towards boldness and aggression, clerkly masculinity was believed to be distinguished by a certain ‘maidenly shamefastness’ (to which the Host's mocking treatment of the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales makes reference). As will become clear, however, while Hoccleve's self-presentation in La Male Regle may be drawing on this clerkly ideal, it also explicitly draws on the familiar conventions of feminine shamefastness in an effort to disarm the target of Hoccleve
Troubling race, ethnicity, and masculinity in Beowulf
reading and listening, it is anxiety that gathered so many audiences around Beowulf for so long a time. The purpose of this chapter, then, is to probe some of the points in the poem that trouble certain audiences in order to understand the ways in which these communities function emotionally in relation to the text. In particular, I pursue this work of emotional archaeology by tracing anxieties around masculinity, ethnicity, and race that found their expression in Beowulf – and that different audiences have projected on to it, first in Beowulf's sexualized encounter
Featuring essays from some of the most prominent voices in early medieval English studies, Dating Beowulf: studies in intimacy playfully redeploys the word ‘dating’, which usually heralds some of the most divisive critical impasses in the field, to provocatively phrase a set of new relationships with an Old English poem. This volume presents an argument for the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa, while offering a riposte to anti-feminist discourse and opening avenues for future work by specialists in the history of emotions, feminist criticism, literary theory, Old English literature, and medieval studies alike. To this end, the chapters embody a range of critical approaches, from queer theory to animal studies and ecocriticism to Actor-Network theory, all organized into clusters that articulate new modes of intimacy with the poem.