The gendered-object-use of magical and non-magical objects allows me to examine the separation of power in a selection of medieval texts. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th), The Twelve Lais by Marie de France (Anglo-Norman, ~1170), The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (Middle English, late 14th), and The Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes (Old French, ~1170-1190) provide a set of Arthurian romances written between the late 1100s and late 1300s.1 For consistency, I am using A. S. Kline’s English translations, available as part of the Open Access Poetry Archive, Poetry in Translation. As a corpus, these texts explore conventions of Arthurian legend, medieval myth, and medieval romance.

Objective Perspective

It is important to note the further distortion text-mining can add to medieval literary scholars’ analysis whose work with multiple editions and translations add distance to the original texts before digitization occurs. In the introduction to Meeting the Medieval in a Digital World, Matthew Evan Davis, Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel, and Ece Turnator discuss the nexus between digital tools and medieval literature. Importantly, “renewal has become a key part of how we have dealt with the realm of the digital: its technologies, tools, and methodologies” (Davis et al.). Using digital tools to examine medieval texts is an important part of the field’s growth, as old texts are reexamined through the use of new digital tools (Davis et al.). With medieval texts, the physical conditions of extant copies are constantly in degradation. From preservation to literary analysis, digital literary tools have become vital to medieval literary studies, however, they insist an understanding of the tools themselves becomes a vital part of the analysis (Davis et al.).

Further, they caution, “the significance of having a technical understanding of the tools used to facilitate digital scholarship as well as the necessity of maintaining a critical distance regarding the ways that those tools intervene in our understanding of the text” (Davis et al.). Moving forward, with my digital literary scholarship, I will recognize the potential loss that comes with “the digitization, transcription, and dissemination of virtual facsimiles and cultural heritage items” (Davis et al.). I will define my corpus, manipulations, and tools to fully proceed with caution while examining digitally translated text. An understanding of digital tools alongside traditional medieval studies discourse will be vital to the success of my object study.

Gendered Objects

In the introduction to Medieval Women and Their Objects, Jenny Adams and Nancy Mason Bradbury take a gendered approach to objects and assert taking a material view of objects as sites of gender analysis allows scholars to look at women’s relationship to objects (Adams and Bradbury 1-3). While they are introducing new scholarship in the field, it is important to note the references to “the work of Robin Fleming, who shows how objects can testify with surprising eloquence about the lives of ordinary women and children in early medieval Britain” because her ability to use objects to interpret “very early medieval women’s lives sets a high bar for scholars who work in the later medieval period” (Adams and Bradbury 4). These medieval literary scholars look for the appearance of physical objects and their descriptions in the text. 

Following this approach, I will consider the descriptive contexts of objects in the text to understand gender in the corpus data. In medieval romances, historical objects like clothing, home objects, arms, and armor in the text can have gender and magical context. Magic appears throughout the Arthurian romances as new interpretations of the tales redefine characters and events. Materialist object studies unpack the tension between gender representation in my corpus and the historical objects themselves to reveal the gendered power dynamics of Courtly Love.

The Texts

It is important to note, ​​my dataset comes entirely from A. S. Kline’s Open Access Poetry Archive Poetry in Translation listed from 2007 through 2019. The English-translated data set a single common frame of reference for the following analysis.

TitleAuthorDate TranslatedOrig Lang.Collection
Sir Gawain and the Green KnightUnknown2007Middle EnglishSir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Twelve LaisMarie de France2019Breton, Anglo-NormanThe Lay of Guigemar, The Lay of Equitan, The Lay of Le Fresne (The Ash Tree), The Lay of Bisclavret (The Werewolf), The Lay of Lanval, The Lay of Les Deus Amanz, The Lay of Yonec, The Lay of Laaustic (The Nightingale), The Lay of Milun, The Lay of Chaitivel (or The Unfortunate One), The Lay of Chevrefoil (or Woodbine), and The Lay of Eliduc
The Canterbury TalesGeoffrey Chaucer2007Middle EnglishGeneral Prologue, The Knight’s, Miller’s, Reeve’s, Cook’s, Man of Law’s, Wife of Bath’s, Friar’s, Summoner’s, Clerk’s, Merchant’s, Squire’s, Franklin’s, Physician’s, Pardoner’s, Shipman’s, Prioress’s, Thopas’, Melibee, Monk’s, Nun’s Priest’s, Second Nun’s, Canon’s Yeoman’s, Manciple’s, and Parson’s Tales and Prologues
The Arthurian RomancesChrétien de Troyes2018Old FrenchÉrec and Énide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot (Or The Knight of the Cart), and Perceval (Or The Story of the Grail)
The Breton Lai Corpus1

My analysis will be influenced by the bias of Kline’s English translation. However, the patterns in the word count analysis trace back to the choices of a single translator who will provide consistency across the corpus. It is important to note the texts were written in different locations and separated by two centuries but influenced by contemporary oral tradition. In The Singer Resumes the Tale, Albert Bates Lord notes public performers like Troubadours shared these tales in the course of their travels, often giving them some element of local content (1-2). Further, in William W. Kibler’s “Introduction” to The Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes, he notes the courtly romance was inspired by “the love lyrics of the southern French Troubadours. In their poetry love becomes art and an all-subsuming passion” (13). The traditions of oral storytelling impact both the content and genre conventions of the corpus. Kibler further argues in Courtly Love, “The lady becomes a person to be cherished, a source of poetic and personal inspiration, rather than simply a pawn in the game of heredity” (13). Ultimately, the Courtly Love originating from the oral storytellers who influenced the written Breton lais impacts gendered-object-use throughout the corpus.