Thirteenth-Century Echoes Today: 'Le Roman de Silence' and Queer Medieval Studies




Wolffe, Alexander J.

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University of Victoria


'Le Roman de Silence' is a thirteenth-century French Romance written by Heldris de Cornuälle, which survives today in a single manuscript. The text follows the life of a disinherited child named Silence and explores tensions between Nature and Nurture through their unstable gender. I examined this story for its Queer representations which directly counter the idea that the Middle Ages were entirely straight or cisgender and opens opportunities for Queer scholars to recontextualize our own histories. I am using the term ‘Queer’ however, contemporary labels cannot be accurately applied to history (fictional or otherwise) as we do not know how individuals would have described themselves; these labels are products of specific sociocultural circumstances, and the modern conception of Queerness as an identity did not exist in the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, a lack of language or larger community does not negate the existence of people we would now call Queer, or transgender, in the past.



queer theory, transgender studies, Le Roman de Silence, Heldris de Cornualle