Becoming Male: Dressing and Cross-Dressing in Medieval Literature and Culture

“Transvestism is a space of possibility structuring and confounding culture: the disruptive element that intervenes, not just a category crisis of male and female, but the crisis of category itself”, argues Marjorie Garber in her work Vested Interest (17). The course deals with what Susan Crane calls “the performance of self” in medieval texts from a broad range of genres – epic, romance, drama, hagiography, and chronicle.

We will read and analyze parts of The Wonders of the East and Beowulf, encounter excerpts from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and talk about the “female men of God”. In addition, medieval stories on “wolves that were pants” and the law case of John Rykener, a male prostitute in 14th century England, will be part of the syllabus.

The focus is set on the representation of clothing as a site of body and culture, performance and circumscription, regulation and resistance. Next to the literary base, we will consider what clothing signifies in Medieval culture, will encounter historical famous cases of cross-dressing, work on ideas to regulate dress codes and focus on the question how the transvestite not only troubles categories of sex and gender, but also confuses categorizations of race, religion, class and period.