Man-Eaters: Cannibalism and Queerness in the Giant-Knight Encounters of the Historia Regum Britanniae, the Roman de Brut, and the Roman de Perceforest

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Abstract

This article offers new, queer readings of a series of encounters between knights and cannibal giants. Although situating them in their wider literary context, it focuses primarily on episodes from three texts in the same historiographical tradition, namely: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136-8), Wace’s Roman de Brut (c. 1150-55), and the Roman de Perceforest (c. 1330-44). Drawing on psychoanalytic and queer theory, I argue that the encounter with the cannibal giant troubles the heterosexual courtly subject due to cannibalism’s intimate relationship with queerness. Accordingly, close readings reveal these encounters, from wrestling matches to armed duels, as rich in homoerotic language and imagery. Yet, the medieval texts do not only corroborate and dramatize the theory of queer cannibalism; they move beyond it in ways that ask probing questions of medieval constructions of heterosexual subjectivity, namely in their striking representations of the knights all flirting back. Thus does cannibalism emerge from these analyses as a revealing commentary on heterosexuality and on its essentially melancholic structure, disavowing same-sex desires that can never be fully excluded.
Original languageEnglish
JournalExemplaria
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Nov 2017

Keywords

  • Queer theory
  • Cannibalism
  • Giants
  • Medieval literature
  • Old French
  • Medieval Latin

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