Troubling Gender and Genre in The Trials & Joys of Marriage
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, vol. 11 (2003) No. 1
The subject of gender has been the focus of a considerable amount of scholarship in the West in the last fifteen years. Feminist medievalists in particular have done much to disclose the dynamics of gender, particularly in relation to the dominance of masculine discourses in medieval European culture. Many have focused on the nature and operation of such discourses identified as chivalric, ecclesiastical, and legal as reinforcing the androcentric structures that undergird key social and political institutions.) A brief perusal of the Medieval Feminist Forum bibliography, the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and various other online bibliographies of recent work on women’s roles, men’s roles, constructions of sexuality, and marriage in the Middle Ages provides further evidence of recent work in this area. Others have looked to Chaucer’s work to provide readings that illuminate masculine puissance and its relation to the roles that women play in various kinds of power games.)
Genre is as troubling a matter as gender in the Middle Ages particularly when unstable or newly emerging categories or even well-established ancient categories could become something else or could resist easy identification. So, for instance, a text that might be considered a romance could also present itself as Breton lay; an epic could appear to be a chanson de geste, a history could be a romance, a homily could be a “merry tale,” a fabliau could be moral exemplum, and a work of advice could be satire or scientific treatise. In other words, any medieval genre could contain within it motifs resembling something else yet at the same time retain its membership in a large generic family. The term “genre” itself suggests communal or kinship affiliation. Related to the Latin genus for “kind, species, or class” it defines a group of like individuals or family members; related to genere, gignere, “to beget” or in the passive “to be born” genre connotes the potential for generation, regeneration, growth and change (Cohen 267). Derived from the same root as “gender,” “genre” is etymologically akin, its relatedness literally embodied in the word.