116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Female Characters Subverting Masculine Dominance by Leveraging its Performance

Paul Gaffney, Hiram College

This paper asks what fabliau cross-dressing reveals about the performance of masculine dominance in romance. Contrasting the romance Partonope of Blois with the fabliaux Berangier au Long Cul shows how two female characters use the performance of gender roles to drive their agendas. 

Proposal: 

This paper asks what fabliau cross-dressing reveals about the performance of masculine dominance in romance. Contrasting the romance Partonope of Blois with the fabliaux Berangier au Long Cul shows how two female characters use the performance of gender roles to drive their agendas. In Partonope of Blois Melior, the queen of Byzantium, arranges to becomes the patron of Partonope, grooming the young man to be her husband and a great knight. She does this covertly, through magic, misdirection, and the performance of chivalric femininity, in order to harness the agency of chivalric masculinity. Although Melior seems to acquiesce to male authority throughout the story, her clandestine workings show readers or hearers of the romance that she is the one who bends events toward her will. The ludic quality of the fabliaux allows them to transgress social norms in very different ways from the exaggerations of romances. In Berangier au Long Cul, Berangier’s unnamed wife gains control of their marriage by performing a masculine gender role better than her husband. Dissatisfied with Berangier’s indolent, cowardly knightliness, his wife disguises herself in a suit of armor and challenges Berangier, humiliating him and winning his subservience. Melior dominates the plot of Partonope of Blois in a more subtle way than the fabliau wife of Berangier au Long Cul but their approaches share a similar use of masculinity. Romance and fabliau, being almost two sides of the same coin, both show female protagonists using the general system of patriarchal system to further their particular, personal aims. Do these stories simply reinforce the stereotype of the guileful female or do they sometime show how traditional gender roles could be productively subverted or moved?

Topic Area: