Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050-1230

By Zeikowitz, Richard E. | Medium Aevum, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050-1230


Zeikowitz, Richard E., Medium Aevum


William E. Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval literature: France and England, 1050-1230 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). xii + 298 pp. ISBN 0-521-83968-8. £45.00/$75.00.

William E. Burgwinkle offers an excellent, probing study of significant literary and monastic texts composed in England and France from the mid-eleventh century to the early thirteenth century. Drawing on contemporary theorists, such as Foucault, Lacan, and Zizek, Burgwinkle sets out 'to imagine' homophobic works by Peter Damian and Alain de Lille, as well as chivalric and courtly tales of the period, Outside of the disciplinary frameworks of their own age as well as our own rigid classificatory schemes' (p. 15). His innovative and lucid readings add to the growing body of scholarly work in queer medieval studies.

Burgwinkle's text is divided into two parts, 'Locating sodomy' and 'Confronting sodomy'. Part 1 begins with an overview of references to sodomy in theological and monastic texts. Burgwinkle takes great care to contextualize these references, relating the texts to the cultural environments in which they arose. Chapter ii examines, more thoroughly, three portraits of sodomy: De laude flagellorum by Peter Damian, the Policraticus by John of Salisbury, and chronicles of Richard the Lionheart. Most compelling is Burgwinkle's reading of Peter Damian which adds nicely to Mark Jordan's study of the Liber Gomorrhianus. Parsing a passage where God appears to be enjoying the spectacle of the repenting sinner, Burgwinkle makes a bold correlation between flagellations and S/M as interpreted by Leo Bersani. Regarding Richard the Lionheart, Burgwinkle's response to historians reluctant to accept Richard's homosexuality, that there is a 'curious convergence of Richard as ... a figure of hyper masculinity who excels at military arts ... and of Richard as a sodomite' (p. 82), is intriguing and might have been more thoroughly argued. …

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