March 28, 2011
Gawain: Masculinity vs. Homoerotism
In the romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain shows his masculinity by standing up for his king, King Arthur, and showing his knightly chivalric virtues. What exactly the audience does not know or some even may know is that in addition to those duties, male sexual performance was a major key to being male (Bullough). It was part of their duty to keep their female partners happy and satisfied, unless they did so, they failed as men. Thus, how did Sir Gawain retain his masculine identity while abstaining from sex? While Beowulf’s heroism stems from his physical courage and his attack on horrendous monsters, Gawain’s heroism arises from appearing elegant, beauteous, and showing chivalric virtues. Sir Gawain was surrounded by father figures his whole life which created a superego that required Gawain to repress his sexual desires toward women, according to Sigmund Freud (Griffiths). During that time, these father figures were testing his ability, if he really was worthy of becoming a courtly knight by abstaining from sex. Therefore, the only way Gawain could accomplish and maintain his masculine identity was to show that he really could abstain from sexual activities and appear elegant. As the poem unravels, we perceive Gawain exchanging kisses with the Lord’s wife, and the Lord, and we begin to question if Gawain actually appears to be homoerotic or is he simply returning the kisses from Lord’s wife. As we further read the poem in Norton Anthology of English Literature, we see that Gawain was simply returning the kisses to the Lord from his wife because he felt that was the right thing to do. Since this poem was written in the fourteenth century, the kisses exchanged with the king may or may not be erotic kisses as Gawain was simply returning the kisses to the Lord from his wife and was not actually in love with him. There is no question of homoeroticism in Sir...