Event Title

Travestied Words, Illegible Genders: Transvestism and Interpretation in the Old French Fabliaux

Presenter Information

Stefanie Goyette, Harvard University

Location

Panel 10: Kearney 312

Start Date

27-10-2012 8:30 AM

End Date

27-10-2012 10:00 AM

Description

The Old French fabliaux, which are short, comic stories dating primarily to the thirteenth century, are notorious for their open depictions of sexual behavior and their crude language. However, scholars since the 1980s have also argued for the importance of conservatism in this corpus. The stories insist that individuals not “denature” themselves in terms of gender or class, and consistently return characters to their “proper” station in life. In my paper, I show that such conservatism is a defining feature of fabliaux that depict transvestism, both in cases where gender disguise is discovered, and swiftly remedied or punished, and in cases where it goes unnoticed.

“The Bleeder (La Saineresse),” along with several other fabliaux, stages “denaturing” and disguise as a problem of interpretation. In “La Saineresse,” a man disguises himself as a female doctor in order to gain access to his lover’s home. The lover’s husband fails to recognize that the doctor is a man. The moral blame for the switching of gender designation is placed not on the false doctor, but on the husband who fails to see and to properly interpret. Furthermore, the husband’s visual failure is doubled by a linguistic one. After the bleeder’s visit, the wife describes in thinly veiled terms the “treatment” she has received, and the husband fails to interpret her metonymic use of language. Thus, vision is equated with language, and particularly with female speech, both of which are capable of fooling the unwary viewer or interpreter. Finally, I show that the figure of the interpreter is a mirror for the audience, which is made equally responsible for the interpretation of language and gender.

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Oct 27th, 8:30 AM Oct 27th, 10:00 AM

Travestied Words, Illegible Genders: Transvestism and Interpretation in the Old French Fabliaux

Panel 10: Kearney 312

The Old French fabliaux, which are short, comic stories dating primarily to the thirteenth century, are notorious for their open depictions of sexual behavior and their crude language. However, scholars since the 1980s have also argued for the importance of conservatism in this corpus. The stories insist that individuals not “denature” themselves in terms of gender or class, and consistently return characters to their “proper” station in life. In my paper, I show that such conservatism is a defining feature of fabliaux that depict transvestism, both in cases where gender disguise is discovered, and swiftly remedied or punished, and in cases where it goes unnoticed.

“The Bleeder (La Saineresse),” along with several other fabliaux, stages “denaturing” and disguise as a problem of interpretation. In “La Saineresse,” a man disguises himself as a female doctor in order to gain access to his lover’s home. The lover’s husband fails to recognize that the doctor is a man. The moral blame for the switching of gender designation is placed not on the false doctor, but on the husband who fails to see and to properly interpret. Furthermore, the husband’s visual failure is doubled by a linguistic one. After the bleeder’s visit, the wife describes in thinly veiled terms the “treatment” she has received, and the husband fails to interpret her metonymic use of language. Thus, vision is equated with language, and particularly with female speech, both of which are capable of fooling the unwary viewer or interpreter. Finally, I show that the figure of the interpreter is a mirror for the audience, which is made equally responsible for the interpretation of language and gender.