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Roman de Silence (Heldris de Cornuälle)

13th century French romance featuring a cross-dressing female knight. The story directly addresses issues of gender identity as innate versus performative. In one episode, she is the object of a queen’s adulterous desire.

LHMP entry

While the academic “queer studies” movement has analyzed a great many “high culture” works in literature and art, looking for evidence of same-sex impulses, this approach has been less useful for (or perhaps less interested in) an understanding of the ordinary lives of average people who might have had those same impulses. For this purpose, identifying lesbian motifs in works like the Roman de Silence or interpreting nuns’ adoration of vulva-like images of the wounds of Christ as homoerotic is somewhat beside the point.

A survey of unmarried female characters in medieval French courtly romances. The article begins with a consideration of the character of Silence (see Roche-Mahdi 1999) who, having been raised as a boy for inheritance purposes, debates whether to retain the social privileges of a male role. The focus of Silence’s story is on her exploits in a male role and her eventual return to a female role at the resolution is perfunctory. Using this as a starting point, Krueger explores representative scenarios involving characters who have adventures as women.

Chapter 3

This chapter compares similarities and differences in a related group of stories from both French and Arabic sources that use cross-gender disguise as a bridge to the possibility of same-sex relations. The French tales and their Arabic counterpart share enough themes and tropes to suggest a common inspiration, but the attitudes of the characters and the resolutions reflect their respective cultural differences.

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historical