Troubling Gender and Genre in The Trials & Joys of Marriage*1)





Eve Salisbury






The subject of gender has been the focus of a considerable amount of scholarship in the West in the last fifteen years. Feminist medievalists in particular have done much to disclose the dynamics of gender, particularly in relation to the dominance of masculine discourses in medieval European culture. Many have focused on the nature and operation of such discourses identified as chivalric, ecclesiastical, and legal as reinforcing the androcentric structures that undergird key social and political institutions.2) A brief perusal of the Medieval Feminist Forum bibliography, the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and various other online bibliographies of recent work on womens roles, mens roles, constructions of sexuality, and marriage in the Middle Ages provides further evidence of recent work in this area.  Others have looked to Chaucers work to provide readings that illuminate masculine puissance and its relation to the roles that women play in various kinds of power games.3)

Genre is as troubling a matter as gender in the Middle Ages particularly when unstable or newly emerging categories or even well-established ancient categories could become something else or could resist easy identification. So, for instance, a text that might be considered a romance could also present itself as Breton lay; an epic could appear to be a chanson de geste, a history could be a romance, a homily could be a "merry tale," a fabliau could be moral exemplum, and a work of advice could be satire or scientific treatise. In other words, any medieval genre could contain within it motifs resembling something else yet at the same time retain its membership in a large generic family.  The term "genre" itself suggests communal or kinship affiliation. Related to the Latin genus for "kind, species, or class" it defines a group of like individuals or family members; related to genere, gignere, "to beget" or in the passive "to be born" genre connotes the potential for generation, regeneration, growth and change (Cohen 267).  Derived from the same root as "gender," "genre" is etymologically akin, its relatedness literally embodied in the word.4)

This is not to say, of course, that etymological kinship alone accounts for the many ways in which gender and genre operate together within sociohistorical and socioliterary contexts. Neither does it explain the dynamic interaction and merging of the two categories. Rather, the acknowledgment of this particular etymological relationship here is intended to demonstrate how the two categories function together inseparably. As Simon Gaunt has suggested in his investigation of the workings of gender and genre in French literature, genres "inscribe ideologies" that embody "social tensions and contradictions" that "invariably construct and represent gender"(16). 

My title, which alludes to Judith Butlers Gender Trouble, is intended to proclaim the interaction of gender and genre to be both troubled and troubling. And though Butler does not relate gender to genre in the way that Gaunt and other gender/genre theorists do, there are features of her theory that contribute to a broader understanding of how the transformation of genre occurs in Middle English texts. According to Butler, gender is "a category constructed through performance," a "doing" enacted by someone engaging in certain actions at certain times; these acts occur not as singular, freestanding events, but as a series of repeated acts or rituals reiterated under some kind of constraint, under the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of stigmatization and ostracism affecting the performance (63-65). Butler talks about gender performativity as acts, or perhaps more accurately, continuous reenactments of sexual identity by individuals who are subjected to a prohibitive society; she understands such performativity to be compelled by particular circumstances, surrounding social environments, and cultural forces in general.

Because genres are subject to some of the same influences that Butler describes for gender her theory applies here. Like gender, genre is affected by its contexts---by audiences, by collective attitudes, particular situations, the dynamics of the moment, as well as long-standing and firmly entrenched cultural values. Like gender, genre is acted upon, compelled to a performance of its identity, continuously prompted to be something else. By bringing the two theoretical perspectives together, by "troubling" gender and genre and by applying this recombinant theory to the texts named below not only do the performative dimensions and the nature of interaction of both categories become clear, but we can better identify and understand how the triggering mechanisms successfully induce or utterly fail to render change.

The texts I would like to talk about in relation to the capacity for generic change are Dame Sirith, Interludium de clerico et puella, The Wrights Chaste Wife, The Prohemy of a Mariage Betwixt an Olde Man and a Yonge Wife, and the Counsail, and two works of advice, How the Good Man Taght Hys Sone and How the Good Wife Taught her Daughter.5)  These texts represent Middle English literature of the late thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries and provide a glimpse of the complexities of social and sexual identity in relation to their subject matter. All of these narratives are about marriage and family relations, subjects of great concern in the late Middle Ages since marriage and family were imagined to be stabilizing social forces. Most of these texts pose a challenge to such facile assumptions, however, and attempt to disrupt normative social and sexual hierarchies upon which marital discourses are predicated. At the same time, some of these narratives appear to offer alternative possibilities--alternate social relations and sexual identities--for members of the audience so inclined. Yet the transgressive textual play is short-lived, limited to the moment of its performance; when the performance is over ultimately these provocative narratives lose their potency as potentially subversive texts.



Troubling Drama/Fabliau


The difficulty with which modern scholars have been able to categorize either Dame Sirith or the Interludium de clerico et puella with any certainty indicates the kind of trouble genre can cause.6) While scholars such as J. A. W. Bennett and G. V. Smithers determine Sirithto be an English fabliau, it can also be seen as pantomime or dramatic performance (77). Even the elements of plot, characterization, and theme that bind these works together in a direct linear relationship--from Dame Sirith to the Interludium--defy the evolutionary model of drama once posited as normative by medieval drama scholars. That these works can be both fabliau and drama in defiance of traditionally defined generic models or that they can perform one genre or the other, depending upon the social environment in which they are enacted, provides a means by which to test the theory outlined above.

Based as it is on fundamental elements of sexual deception and the inversion of social hierarchies particularly as constructed in marriage, fabliau lends itself to the kind of gender and genre performativity I am proposing. Often it targets wayward and foolish clerics, weak and foolish husbands, as well as weak and foolish young women. In Dame Sirith, the title character plays a go-between for a would-be lover named Wilekin and the married lady of his dreams, Margery. Sirith devises an elaborate ruse to convince the reluctantyoung wife whose husband is away to accept Wilekins indecent proposal, a strategy that calls for a performing dog as well as a convincing narrative. A mixture of mustard and pepper ingested by the dog makes it appear to weep while the accompanying narrative sets up the duping. Sirith presents the weeping dog to Margery telling her that the dog is Siriths daughter, who, having refused the amorous advances of a clerk, was magically transformed into the lacrimose creature standing before her: "Thenne begon the clerc to wiche / And shop mi douter til a biche"(line 353-55). The narrative is convincing and the desired result is achieved--the bawd successfully dupes the gullible Margery into an affair with her client.

Although there is no specific historical documentation of performances either of Dame Sirith or the Interludium, a strong case can be made for their dramatic potential, nonetheless. The theatricality of the scripts, the presence of dialogue, and the interaction of characters with each other as well as with a performing dog, provide the first level of proof. But perhaps the most compelling evidence for performance is the presence of distinct speech markers located in the margins of the manuscripts: C for Clericus (Wilekin), V for Uxor (Margery), F (Femina) for Dame Sirith. These speech markers are unmistakable cues for actors working with theatrical scripts.

Comparable speech markers in the Interludium suggest similar possibilities for the later work, though exactly what was meant by "interlude" is less certain since the term itself, according to Lawrence Clopper, has become a "catch-all expression for every kind of performance" (17). Indeed, the brief Interludium is written so convincingly as performance that it has been called the "oldest extant secular drama"in Middle English. Announcing itself as it does in Latin, it seems to identify with liturgical theater, but does not follow through with religious themes. Neither would it have been performed in the church at any time during the liturgical year. Instead, it might better be understood as a crossover genre that has left the church door behind since the interludes anticlerical satire clearly imagines a secular audience.

Most frequently, however, interludes were thought to have been performed as entertainment during ritual celebrations, feasts, and court gatherings as indicated at the beginning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for instance, when King Arthur calls for a "laykyn [playing] of enterludez" as part of the Christmas festivities of the Arthurian court. Indeed, interludes could be performed in a secular setting for a secular audience or altered and adapted as ecclesiastical entertainment.  As Sheila Lindenbaum points out: "the usual designations [for entertainers]---ministralli, histriones, mimi, and even interlusores"--- are cited in monastic records and often feast day celebrations that coincided with local secular festivities "made it appropriate to receive performers of folk drama and games [into the monasteries]"(414).  It is quite likely then that dramas/plays/fabliaux such as Sirith and the Interludium were performed for both secular and monastic audiences or mixed audiences of ecclesiastics and lay folk alike.

That interludes were subject to censure depending on those audiences and circumstances seems quite likely. Indeed, such courtly entertainments carried on well into the Tudor era where they blossomed into a recognizable genre. In the Tudor Royal Proclamations, for instance,  is a notice forbidding players to perform "any kind of interlude, play, dialogue, or other matter set forth in form of play, in any place, public or private," since plays were thought to "contain matter tending to sedition, and contemning of sundry good order and laws"(Louis 276-77). This proclamation, slightly later than the texts being addressed here, nonetheless represents a way in which prohibitions or public pronouncements as extraliterary forces could affect generic change by movingcertain genres into other venues of expression, by encouraging them to disguise themselves, or by freezing them into a fixed form.

There are a couple of significant differences between Dame Sirith and the Interludium that bear mentioning in view of my argument for the relationship between genre performativity and gender performativity. In Dame Sirith, for instance, Margerys character is a wife who has been left alone by her husband; in the Interludium she is a puella who is left at home while her parents are away. The difference seems slight, I admit, but alteration of the young womans marital status elides the marital infidelity so integral to Siriths trick. By transforming the wife into a girl the focus shifts from the gullibility of a young woman whose husband has left her home alone to a young woman whose parents have allowed her to fend for herself. Rather than defend her fidelity to her marriage as Margery would be expected to do in Sirith, the puella is expected to defend her chastity as well as the honor of her parents. 

But perhaps the more significant difference in the two narratives is the mention in Sirith of witchcraft, a reference conspicuously absent in the Interludium as the following parallel passages indicate:


Dame Sirith:

Blesse thee, blesse thee, leve knave!       dear lad

Leste thou mesaventer have,              misadventure

For this lesing that is founden            lie; visited

Oppon me that am harde i-bonden.         Upon; who; destitute

Ich am on holi wimon,                 a holy woman

On wicchecrafft nout I ne con,           witchcraft; know nothing

Bote with god men almesdede.           Except by; almsdeeds

Ilke dai mi lif I fede,                  Each day; sustain

And bidde mi Pater Noster and mi Crede.  repeat

(Lines 201-09)

Mome Elwis:

A son wat saystu? Benedicite!            what did you say

Lift hup thi hand and blis thee!          up your; bless yourself

For it es boyt syn and scam,

That thu on me hafs layt thys blam,

For hic am an ald quyne and a lam,       an old woman; am lame

Y led my lyf wit Godis love,

Wit my roc Y me fede,

Can I do non othir dede,

Bot my Pater Noster and my Crede.       Except

. .

For aly wyman am I on                 Holy woman; one

(Lines 63-71, 84)


After making the statement similar to the one in Sirith the parallel character in the Interludium, Mome Elwis, professes contrition for several lines before ending with the statement of her religious vocation "For aly [holy] wyman am I on [one]"(line 84). The bawds claims to be a "holy woman" are not uttered in conjunction with witchcraft as they are in Sirith. Rather, that particular word is absent and the play ends without a direct invitation to the audience to participate in the bawds business. The glaring absence of "wicchecraft" or any mention of occult magic found so prominently in the earlier Dame Sirith encourages us to ask why? Is it, as Judith Butler claims for gender performativity, that cultural forces compelling and controlling production have intervened, that there has been a prohibition and taboo controlling and compelling the production? Assuming that both female characters would have been played by male actors is it not also fair to assume that their gestures and proclamations are rendered far more suggestive than they might otherwise be? Even if the alterations can be construed as scribal or authorial, the answer, I think, is yes since both scribes and authors were subject to the same cultural forces.7)

Dame Sirithwould play rather well in a secular community, but in a monastic community the gender trouble it embodies would surely offend. The Sirith character critiques male ecclesiastics who, like Wilekin, stray from their vows, but her direct invitation to those clerics in the audience to participate in the performance obliterates the boundaries between representation and reality. And because female roles were often played by men, s/he becomes an orchestrator of heterosexual conquest as well as a purveyor of same-sex desire. Either and/or both roles address matters of sexuality profoundly troubled in the Middle Ages. By linking gender trouble to heterodoxy and transgressive sexuality we can see how this character (Sirith, Mome Elwis) might elicit censure.

The absence of the bawds gesture in the later Interludium as well as the absence of a direct reference to witchcraft, an allegation almost always linked to transgressive sexuality, suggests a close relation between heteronormative social regimes and heteronormative generic regimes. While the former regulates the status quo, the latter regulates sexual normativity. When speech acts such as those uttered by Sirith and later, Elwis, are enacted within a community already anxious about demarcations between orthodox ritual and occult practice those acts become larger than life, their meanings exaggerated even threatening. As Dame Sirith transforms into a new identity in the Interludium, as both narratives become relegated to the written page as examples of English fabliau, we can see genre performativity in action. If genre performativity can be understood as analogous to gender performativity then these narratives stand as markers of the inherent ambiguity and shifting generic identities of a textual corpus continuously subjected to scrutiny and regulation.



Troubling Fabliau/Exemplum


In fabliaux relegated to written form only such as Chaucers Millers, Reeves, and Merchants Tales such gestures and speech acts are threatening neither to social nor sexual hierarchies; the potential for understanding fabliau as a generic model for human behavior is thwarted by the laughter it elicits, an activity (at least in the English corpus), marked as transgressive. Even fabliaux such as those contained in the Gesta Romanorum are controlled by the moralization provided at the end of each piece. One narrative, for example, recounts the efforts of a discontent wife to murder her husband with the help of a necromancer and the  thwarting of those plans by a preternatural clerk. Lest the audience miss the allegorical message there is an interpretative guide at the end that provides each figure with a convenient metaphor: the wife becomes the flesh, the necromancer,  illicit desire, and the confessor, a saver of souls.8)  In Latin fabliaux such as Pamphilus and Galatea or the Disciplina clericalis by Petrus Alphonsus, the source of the "weeping bitch" motif in Dame Sirith, provocative materials could be controlled by language; written in Latin they were rendered unintelligible to a lay audience. Instead, the audience for these works was limited to the literati, the texts more often read than performed.

When compared to the Latin tradition the English fabliaux demonstrate some notable differences.  Not only is there an absence of an explicit moral directing interpretation of the text, but the moral is implicitly conveyed by the action. At other times there is authorial interjection in the form of a palinode or expression of concern about how the text will be received. Perhaps the most obvious difference of English fabliau is in relation to the pornographic characteristics of the French tradition and its notorious depictions of illicit situations and talking body parts. The English corpus, by comparison, appears to be bowdlerized, the pornographic impulses of the French genre made to conform to more decorous behaviors. According to Melissa Furrow,  English fabliau demonstrates a "strong tendency . . . to use trickery to put a stop to illicit behavior rather than to further it" (13).

This is certainly true in the case of The Wrights Chaste Wife where a young wife cleverly thwarts attempts on her chastity by three would-be lovers--a knight, a steward, and a proctor. When they appear one by one at her door while her husband is away, she lures them one at a time up the stairs to a trapdoor covering a pit forty feet deep into which they fall. There the three of them are comically emasculated by being made to engage in womens work during their involuntary incarceration. That this is an affront to a man is acknowledged by the proctor when he, the last of the three to fall into the pit, recognizes that the knight and his steward are already engaged in their assigned tasks:


The proctoure seyde, "What do ye in this yn        dwelling

For to bete thys wyfees lyne?"                   beat; flax

. .

"And I may see aryght,

For I lernyd never in londe 

For to have a swyngelle in hond

By day nor by nyght."

(Lines 469-70, 474-77)


That the "swyngelle," an implement used to beat flax or hemp into useable "lyne," resembles a sword adds to the gender comedy since the person engaged in this activity is the knight. That the proctor is so adamantly opposed to this kind of womens work marks a notable resistance toward crossing gender boundaries in this way.

Though neither a fabliau nor drama in the same sense that Dame Sirith is a fabliau or drama, nor a satire or play in the same sense that the Interludium is a satire or play, The Wrights Chaste Wife performs as fabliau in order to turn traditional social/sexual hierarchies upside down. The "wife" is not cast as an intellectual dolt as is the gullible Margery of Dame Sirith nor as the naive puella of the Interludium. Rather, she is clever and inventive in her execution of a plan to thwart her would-be suitors each of whom represents a certain social class. Like the wives of the narratives just named this wife is in the middle of a power struggle among men; she is a target for the lovers who would undercut the integrity of her absent husband, which in this narrative, exposes them to ridicule. The narrative allows the wife to attain sovereignty over men as she is literally elevated above the three dupes who proposition her indecently.

For Barbara A. Hanawalt, the poem so convincingly constructs a female voice that she claims femaleauthorship despite the fact that the poet--Adam of Cobsam--names himself toward the end of the narrative (Hanawalt 94-99). But just as genre can perform in various ways so too can a poet appropriate the identity of the feminine Other as Chaucer so aptly demonstrates with the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner. Rather than launching a search for a lost female poet, then, it seems far more reasonable to assume that this poet merely empathizes with married women in order to demonstrate the merits of chastity and everything the term might mean to his immediate audience: marital fidelity, mutually consensual abstinence between partners, and even fidelity of the sort that could be applied to several kinds of medieval relationships political, social, or religious. To be "unchaste"would be to exhibit disloyalty not only to a spouse but also to those for whom a knight, a steward, and a proctor would have had a moral and ethical responsibility.

Given this constellation of meaning for chastity it is easy to see why Adamof Cobsam so aptly controls the transgressive nature of the fabliau once the importance of the term is rendered evident. To defuse the subversive potential of the poem the poet shifts the focus from the wifes apparent sovereignty to the triumph of the wright whose ownership of a miraculous garland of roses (one that measures his wifes chastity by changing color)  has saved him from public humiliation. The poet has returned his fabliau to the realm of geste and in the process has corrected the social and sexual inversions played out so convincingly until then:


Here ys wretyn a geste of the wryght

That hadde a garlond well i-dyght,

The coloure wylle never fade.

                    (Lines 643-45)


The laughter elicited in from the tales I have mentioned so far depends upon their appeal to audience expectations; the comedy works because it ridicules normative social and sexual hierarchies. If these tales were directed toward an emerging middle class audience, as scholars have suggested, then poking fun at the upper classes and especially those who engage in the antics of courtly love would surely find eager reception.



Troubling Advice


In the Prohemy of a Mariage Betwixt an Olde Man and a Yonge Wife, and the Counsail, attributed to John Lydgate, laughter turns to sneering.9) The narrative takes the form of epistle written to the narrator/philosopher by his old friend requesting advice on whether he should marry a young woman. Using Chaucers Merchants Tale and a fabliau about December and his young wife July as exempla, the Philosopher sets about dissuading his friend from taking such drastic action so late in life. At one point in the narrative he quotes St. Pauls "it is better to marry than to burn" statement, perhaps a reason the work is in epistolary form. Certainly misogamous themes are evident in the speakers advice as he lists the negative views of women held by Jerome, Tertullian, and others.

To clarify his points the Philosophers exempla include a wife who has married seven times, a cautionary tale about what happened to January, and a similar narrative about an old man (renamed December) and a young woman (renamed July), who persuades him to marry, only to prove untrustworthy in the end. When December tells July frankly before they wed that he is impotent, she agrees to live with his condition. When he discovers the intensity of her desire in bed on their wedding night and asks her to recall their conversation, she reveals another plan---that he should procure a younger and more virile surrogate lover. Like January and all the other dupes of fabliau, the old man is made a fool by his own desire. To underscore that point Lydgate ends in a Chaucerian-like palinode, an envoy to all men in the audience who might make the same mistake:


Go, pety quaier, and war where thou appere, little book; beware

In aunter that thou tourne unto displesaunce just in case; displeasure

Of joly bodies, that labouren fer and neer

To bryng olde men to her mortal myschaunce

                                    (Lines 505-08)


The warning to the "little book" to beware of where it finds an audience suggests that it might fall into the hands of a hostile crowd as Chaucer acknowledges in the Legend of Good Women after having discovered that his portrayal of Criseyde was not well received. Indeed, when Lydgate mentions those "jolly bodies that labor far and near"he refers to women like July who, in this case, bring old men to their demise.

Like the other narratives I have mentioned so far Lydgates Prohemy defines itself as something else; advice literature performs as fabliau, which the explicit identification with Chaucers Merchants Tale makes clear. Yet, like Chaucer and Adam of Cobsam before him, Lydgate controls his fabliau when he changes it into a moral exemplum with a clear message: it is not wise for an old man to marry a young woman. Sexual excess in a system that views an age difference such as that between December and July as unnatural is to be avoided at all costs.





Troubling Advice


The genre of advice like those of fabliau, satire, and/or interlude is subject to identity change often accompanied by corresponding changes in gender; when women act as men or men act as women it is for the purpose of undercutting sexual stereotypes and rigidly defined gender roles. But how is it that we know there are such "stereotypes" in the Middle Ages? How do we know that these works challenge traditional categories established for the sexes?  An answer to these questions may be found in works of advice literature such as How the Good Wife Taught Hyr Daughter and How the Goode Man Taght Hys Sone. Like other works of advice, these texts convey rules for conduct and courtesy in a more privatized and direct way than either homily or treatise. Yet texts of advice are resistant to generic change; there are no temporary inversions of sexual hierarchies, no attempts to defuse gender conflict, no laughter. Instead, these texts delineate clear-cut gender roles for both boys and girls. Cast in terms of proverbial discourse and wisdom literature they retain their generic identity from beginning to end, reinforcing the status quo without engaging in free play or anything that might be construed as a challenge to customary practices and traditions.

Such didactic addresses to a son and daughter respectively by a parent of the same sex are rhetorically effective. The childs lessons are not delivered directly as verbal commands, but rather as tales told by other parents to their children.  How a Good Man Taght Hys Sone provides a parent with a means by which to convey the importance of good behavior as well as to provide a viable model for education. The intergenerational mentoring from father to son, from mother to daughter, locates domestic authority in the presiding parent which is then validated by the proverbial wisdom of Ecclesiasticus, the Book of Wisdom, and the Distichs of Cato. As if to ground themselves in the hegemonic realm of scriptural tradition both works enunciate a conventional exhortation to listen followed by an admonition to serve God; both address the avoidance of outspokenness, inappropriate social behavior, the importance of charitable acts, and choosing the right spouse; both advise paying attention to ones health, paying tithes, and retiring debts. However, the basic assumptions apparent from the start are that a girl will inevitably become a wife while a boy retains the option to marry and to engage in a range of activities associated with public life.

In what has now become an accepted fact among contemporary scholars--that women were associated with physical matter, and men with abstract thought in the literature of the Middle Ages--Anna Dronzek argues that gender-appropriate pedagogical strategies play out in these two texts (135-59). Indeed, many of the differences between the two are striking. For example, while boys are advised to avoid public office, quests, and vice, young women are advised to answer husbands meekly, avoid provocation, supervise the servants, stay at home, bake bread, and in general to be good household managers; they are to avoid grieving too long for the untimely death of a child, and reminded that their duty is to see to it that their daughters procure good husbands. In order to carry out these matrimonial expectations, girls are advised to cultivate good manners, a modest demeanor, and to avoid acquiring a bad reputation:


Be fayre of semblant, my dere doughter,            fair; appearance

Change not thi countenans with grete laughter         your countenance

And wyse of maneres loke thou be gode,   with regard to manners

Ne for no tayle change thi mode          gossip; your demeanor

Ne fare not a thou a gyglot were, act not as if you were a loose woman

Ne laughe thou not low, be thou thereof sore.       loud

(Lines 45-50)


While girls are warned about the consequences of laughter, which for them indicates sexual excess, in a similar admonition the boys are told that laughter could be equated with fools: "Lagh not to moche for that ys waste / For folys byn by laghyng knowe" (lines 67-68). There is no possibility for challenging the status quo whether playfully or not. Indeed, a sharp resistance to anything new is expressed overtly when boys are reminded to, "Let no newfangylnes thee pleese"(line 51). Not only is laughter prohibited, but the admonition against "newfangylnes"  tends to fix the work in its generic place. Just as surely as gender is regulated so too is genre.

Not surprisingly the genre of advice is less rigidly constrained in Chaucer. In the Treatise on the Astrolabe, for instance, the poet teaches his son, little Lewis, the wonders of the stars, using the same-sex pedagogy as depicted in the two narratives I just mentioned though with a difference. Chaucers pedagogical style is notably patient, his explanation of the workings of the astrolabe well-ordered, logical, and serious as he deals with a difficult subject in a way that a ten-year-old boy might understand. But what is striking about this work when compared to the advice literature I have touched upon is that it is an exercise in how to educate the mind of a child rather than an effort to regulate his body. Conspicuously absent in this treatise are the aphorisms of wisdom literature, repetitive refrains that indoctrinate the mind of the subject as surely as the rod indoctrinates the body. In this demonstration Chaucer risks his own feminization as he forgoes the harsh pedagogical techniques of the stereotypical medieval schoolmaster; instead, he encourages his son to learn by gentle persuasion and by parental example. There are no rules of conduct or courtesy taught by father to son here; no admonitions, no proverbial wisdom, no attempt to control the body of the child.  Rather, the boys mind is allowed to transcend his body as he engages with what is often referred to as the first scientific treatise in English.

Certainly Chaucer knew how gender performance worked in his society, and in fact contributed to the discourses we now consider to be gendered in some way. Other writers, as demonstrated by the works presented here, also knew how to exploit sexual difference for the sake of entertaining and teaching their immediate audiences; they knew how to elicit laughter in response to the antics of cultural stereotypes such as the overly aggressive woman, the foolish beguiled husband, the foppish courtly lover, the impotent old man. At the same time these works remind us that anatomy was, to a large extent, destiny, in the Middle Ages. Bodies often determined the social roles and the sexual identities that institutions such as marriage helped to normalize and regulate.

There is no doubt that in the realm of lived experience gender could be a vexed even a dangerous matter since prohibitions and taboos were set firmly in place. Yet, as I suggested earlier, there were opportunities for certain individuals to forge an alternate mode of life. For those who understood marriage as an abstract principle rather than as a set of physical obligations, gender stereotypes could be challenged and reconfigured to a certain extent. People who took religious vows, for instance, could circumvent human matrimony by acknowledging God as Bride or Bridegroom; married couples could equalize the marital hierarchy by agreeing to conduct their nuptial relationship in a spiritual rather than in a physical way; harsh pedagogical methods could be altered. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule, and challenges to traditionally defined gender roles took place more often in the pages of a manuscript than in actual life. Even then, however, the extent to which gender is a troubled matter in the Middle Ages can be measured only when we attempt to comprehend the trouble with genre.


(Western Michigan University)







Works Cited


Bennett, J. A. W. and G. V. Smithers, eds. Early Middle English Verse and Prose. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Clopper, Lawrence. Drama, Play, and Game: English Festive Culture in the Medieval and Early Modern Period. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Cohen, Ralph. "Afterword: The Problems of Generic Transformation," in Romance: Generic Transformation from Chretien de Troyes to Cervantes, ed. Kevin Brownlee and marina Scordilis Brownlee. Hanover and London: University of New England Press, 1985.

Dronzek, Anna. "Gendered Theories of Education in Fifteenth-Century Conduct Books," in Medieval Conduct, Kathleen Ashley and Robert L. A. Clark, eds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Furrow, Melissa. "Middle English Fabliaux and Modern Myth," English Language History 56 (1989).

Gaunt, Simon. Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Hanawalt, Barbara A. >Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender and Social Control in Medieval England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Lindenbaum, Sheila. "Entertainment in English Monasteries," Fifteenth Century Studies 13 (1988): 411-21.

Louis, Cameron, ed. Records of Early English Drama: Sussex. Toronto: Brepols and University of Toronto Press, 2000.

Salisbury, Eve, ed. The Trials and Joys of Marriage. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2001.









ABSTRACT


Troubling Gender and Genre in The Trials and Joys of Marriage


Eve Salisbury


This study begins with a two-fold premise: 1) that ideological messages are imbued in both gender and genre, and 2) that these two integrally related categories are affected by extraliterary forces. Judith Butlers theory of gender performativity is applied to the operations of genre in Middle English texts---Dame Sirith, the Interludium de clerico et puella, the Prohemy of a Mariage Betwixt an Olde Man and a Yonge Wife, and the Counsail, the Wrights Chaste Wife, and two works of advice, How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter, and How the Goode Man Taght Hys Son---in order to shed light on generic change and to illuminate the conditions necessary for genre to remain static and fixed. Ultimately, the essay argues that an understanding of generic change enables us to understand just how troubled gender could be in the Middle Ages.




Key Words: gender, genre, performitivity, transgressive, fabliau, trouble.


1)* I am grateful to Jongsook Lee for providing helpful commentary on this paper and the members of the Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea for providing an occasion to speak at the Fall 2002 International Conference at Seoul National University.


2) See, for instance, Desire and Discipline: Sex and Sexuality in the Premodern West, Jacqueline Murray and Konrad Eisenbichler, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996);  Becoming Male in the Middle Ages, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, eds. (New York: Garland, 2000); Conflicted Identities and Multiple Masculinities: Men in the Medieval West, Jacqueline Murray, eds. (New York: Garland, 1999); Sex and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance Texts: The Latin Tradition, Barbara K. Gold, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter, eds. (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997).


3) See, for instance, Susan Crane, Gender and Romance in Chaucers Canterbury Tales (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994); Angela Jane Weisl, Conquering the Reign of Femeny: Gender and Genre in Chaucers Romance (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995); Anne Laskaya, Chaucers Approach to Gender in the Canterbury Tales (Rochester: D. S. Brewer, 1995);  Catherine S. Cox, Gender and Language in Chaucer (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1997).


4) For useful discussions of this subject as it pertains to medieval literature see Kevin Brownlee and Marina Scordilis Brownlee, ed. Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrtien de Troyes to Cervantes (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1985), and Caroline D. Eckhardt, "Genre," in A Companion to Chaucer, ed. Peter Brown (London: Blackwell, 2000): 180-94.


5) All quotations are from The Trials of Joys of Marriage, ed. Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2002).


6) Although Butlers theory of gender addresses everyday life I am using it here to illustrate the performativity of texts played out in a prohibitive social environment.


7) I am not claiming a direct relation between passages since the Interludium is not a redaction of Sirith. Rather, I am saying that the modifications in the Interludium suggest corresponding modifications in audience, social context, and cultural forces increasingly sensitive to heresy and occult practices of any kind. Prohibition and taboo are implicit in the silent emendation of the later text.


8) The title of the narrative is "How a Wife Employed a Necromancer to Cause the Death of her Husband, and How he was Saved by a Clerk," in The Trials and Joys of Marriage, 165-68.


9) I will refer to the Prohemy as authored by Lydgate as if it were fact.