All Roads Lead to Homosociality: The Role of Chivalry in Medieval and Modern Society

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Grace Margaret McDougall


This paper examines the role of chivalry in two of Marie de France’s lais, Guigemar and Bisclavret. One of the most studied authors of the Medieval period, Marie de France’s works reveal the values, anxieties, and societal dynamics of her time by both adhering to and pushing against literary norms. Guigemar and Bisclavret present near-perfect examples of knighthood, save for two flaws: Guigemar has no love for women, and Bisclavret is a werewolf. The treatment of these knights and their peculiarities reveals the strict expectations of masculinity and the risks of breaking from them. I pay particular attention to the importance of humility in chivalric masculinity and the ways in which their peculiarities affect their relationships, particularly with other men. When placed in conversation, these stories show that the main role of chivalry was to secure the relationships between men that formed the basis of Medieval society and that, for this reason, humility was one of the most important chivalric values. I argue that understanding the cultural history of chivalry is important for modern audiences because the concept of chivalry is still used by many groups to legitimize and promote their interests and continues to shape our perceptions of masculinity and gender dynamics. While what we think of chivalry has changed greatly since Marie de France’s time, the ends of chivalry remain the same—to promote the interests of those in positions of power.


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McDougall, G. M. (2020). All Roads Lead to Homosociality: The Role of Chivalry in Medieval and Modern Society. IU Journal of Undergraduate Research, 5(1), 24–29.