I was supposed to be an English major, but I majored in Medieval Studies by accident. I just kept taking literature classes I liked, and it turns out I liked writing papers about the many levels of satire in a dude farting on another dude’s face (If you never studied medieval literature then you are missing out on some top notch fart humor).
My friend and I were watching a dubious medieval period piece with not–so–subtle homoerotic undertones, and she asked me if real medieval literature was ever even a tiny bit gay. Well, my friend, HAVE I GOT SOME NEWS FOR YOU. You can go to Google Scholar for the latest academic debates about the deeper symbolism of dudes smooching, but what you need to know is that these dudes smooched a lot.
Source: the motherfucking BBC
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
This is one of the best-read Arthurian legends, mostly because 1) it’s been translated into modern English by some people you might have heard of, like JRR Tolkien, and 2) there’s plenty of action and not too much exposition re: beard-related abnormalities and horse superpowers, which tend to be the focus of earlier Arthurian stories. If you’ve somehow missed it, here’s a rough summary.
King Arthur is having a Christmas feast, as one does when one is the king, when a giant green-skinned guy on a green horse rides into his hall. RUDE. Said giant suggests a friendly Christmas game: someone gets to hit him with an axe, and then he gets to hit that person with an axe one year later. They hadn’t invented Cards Against Humanity yet, ok? It was a primitive era for party games.
Gawain takes him up on this, because why not, and cuts his head off with one stroke. The green knight picks up his severed head, says, “See you next year!” and peaces out.
One year later, Gawain rides off to meet up with the knight and ends up at the castle of the Lord and Lady Bertilak. Lord Bertilak is about to go hunting, and he tells Gawain that he’ll give him whatever he catches if Gawain trades him whatever he gets in the castle. Gawain agrees to this, because agreeing to shady deals from strangers is apparently his favorite thing to do.
Lord Bertilak goes out hunting while Sir Gawain lies around in bed. Lady Bertilak comes in and begs him for a kiss; Gawain finally caves and gives her one so she’ll stop asking. Lord Bertilak comes back with some deer he killed, and Gawain trades him this:
And he clasps his fair neck his arms within,
and kisses him in as comely a way as he can:
‘Take you there my prize, I received no more;
I would grant it all, though it were greater.’
‘That is good,’ quoth the lord, ‘many thanks therefore.
This may be the better gift, if you would tell me
where you won this same prize by your own wits.’ (Source)
The same thing happens on the next night, with two kisses:
‘Now Gawain,’ quoth the good man, ‘this game is your own,
by a firm and fast promise, as in faith you know.’
‘That is true,’ quoth the knight, ‘and as surely true
is that all I got I shall give you again, by my troth.’
He clasped the lord at the neck and gently kissed him,
and after that of the same he again served him there.
Day three, the lady comes in with “her breast bare before, and her back the same,” pesters Gawain until he kisses her three times, and gives a him a magic belt. Then, that evening:
He met with the lord in the midst of the floor,
and all with joy did him greet, and gladly he said:
‘I shall fulfil the first our contract now,
that we settled so speedily sparing no drink.’
Then he clasped the lord and kissed him thrice,
as strongly and steadily as he well could.
‘By Christ,’ quoth the other, ‘you’ve found much luck
in transacting this trade, if your profit was good.’
‘You need not care about profit,’ quick quoth the other,
‘as I’ve promptly paid over the profit I took.’
‘Marry,’ quoth the other, ‘my own falls behind,
for I have hunted all this day, and naught have I got
but this foul fox fell – the fiend take such goods! –
and that’s a poor price to pay for such precious things
as you so have given me here, three such kisses
Then it’s time for Gawain to face the green knight, who pretends he’s about to kill him before revealing that–surprise!–he was Lord Bertilak all along, and the whole thing was a ruse to frighten King Arthur’s wife to death. He does not explain why it was necessary to 1) trick a dude into smooching him and 2) do this miles away from the queen, who has no idea this is happening.