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The Anxious Hero: Dissecting Masculinities In Thirteenth–Century Medieval Iberian Literature

My dissertation examines the varying and converging constructions of gender and genre in four thirteenth–century medieval Iberian texts: Poema de mio Cid, Libro de Alexandre, Libro de Apolonio and Alfonso X’s Estoria de Espanna. Using a combination of medieval studies, historiography, theology, feminist theory, gender theory and cultural studies, I examine the constructions of masculinities within these texts and the role that these constructions play in the text’s genre. I contend that these texts bear witness to the anxious relationship between masculinity and power in the thirteenth century and aim to shape the reader’s/listener’s image of kingship/leadership and, in turn, hegemonic masculinity. They serve as a mirror for and of male leaders, a speculum principis for their thirteenth–century audience.

In each text, the male protagonist is a hero and, therefore, exemplary of what I term hegemonic masculinity. The self–fashioning of the hero’s masculinity, as manifest in the Fall/Redemption narrative structure, reveals itself to be anxious. I ground my argument in the medieval exegesis surrounding the Fall/Redemption trope and its ubiquity. In each chapter, I argue that this narrative structure serves as means of inculcating the ideals manifest in the anxious and exemplary hero. The heroes’ masculine bodies, manners and speech are culturally constructed entities coded by the discourse of these hero tales.

Their masculinities, as both culturally constructed and political tools, are part and parcel of the patriarchal structures of authority. The texts I examine are testimonies, specula, and each male author and character a witness, testis, to a process in which the conventions and protocols of medieval masculinity are indoctrinated as normative behaviors. Additionally, they are a means by which masculine authority, domination and control are maintained and propagated.

In the bodies of work I have examined, I conclude that each hero, in the performance of his gendered self, reinforces the superiority of masculinity, in general, and the specific iteration of masculinity that he himself exemplifies. The male hero in each of the works, through his words and actions, constructs a version of masculinity tied to power and a version of masculinity that is superior and/or divinely sanctioned.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 10:00am to 12:00am

Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 450, 37th and O St., N.W., Washington