Kyle Gaydo


Many might find the Middle Ages too far in the past to speak to the present; however, this paper aims to turn that idea on its head through its focus on a historically marginalized group of people. Concentrating on the thirteenth-century Old French poem Yde et Olive, this paper analyzes medieval Europe’s complex relationship between gender and ideas of the body. Yde, the titular character, lives a life of relative comfort with her father, King Florent of Aragon. Her life becomes terribly worse when her father admits to incestuous desires to marry her. Yde, horrified, escapes by putting on men’s clothes and stealing his horse. After escaping, she encounters many people who all mistake her for a man, which eventually culminates in her interaction with King Oton of Rome. There, Oton attempts to wed Yde to his daughter, Olive, not knowing Yde’s true identity. When he eventually finds out, he puts Yde and Olive to death, until an angel comes down and proclaims that Yde is now a man. As a part of the French tales depicting the legendary family of Huon de Bordeaux, Yde et Olive not only grapples with complex ideas of gender, but more fascinatingly, embraces that complexity. The poet uses female pronouns when talking about Yde in third person, and switches to male pronouns when she is in dialogue with others. Through a queer lens, this paper argues that Yde’s many transformations establish the fluidity that defines her queerness.