Goucher College Chaucer Seminars

Annotated Bibliography of Chaucer Criticism: 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2013

Note: The student authors retain all rights to their work, and should be cited when it is borrowed for fair scholarly use.  Readers are cautioned that the student authors are scholar-apprentices in medieval studies, and many were not writing with the intention of posting their work to the Internet.  Consider these like ongoing classroom conversations which may contain errors of fact or judgment.  

        For a list of bibliographies on subjects related to Chaucer, which might help you find new articles and book chapters to annotate, see the Chaucer Metapage list of Online Chaucer Bibliographies.

To cite an entry in MLA style:

Dill, Amy.  Annotation of Lois Roney, "The Knight."  Goucher College Chaucer Seminars Annotated  Bibliography of Chaucer Criticism: 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007.  2/12/99.  Available online at http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng330/annotated chaucer bibliographies.htm  Viewed: 01/09/2015

(Note that you must cite the date you viewed online sources because they can be edited after you saw them.)

Spring 2013

McGregor, Francine. “Abstraction and Particularity in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale.” The Chaucer Review 46:1-2 (2011): 60-73. Web. EbscoHost. Project Muse. 3/2/13. Available http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v046/46.1-2.mcgregor.html

Francine McGregor takes the character of Custance in Man of Law's Tale and examines it as an allegorical representation of abstract concepts “such as faith, constancy, virtue, and beauty” (61), as well as a particular character standing for itself only. She argues that the story combines both, a human struggle of Custance-the-character and wider struggle of Custance-the-idea which creates the plot, unlike other scholars who usually concentrate on either one or the other aspect of this tale. McGregor analyses various scenes from the story to show that Custance can be interpreted in both ways. As an example of Custance as an abstraction McGregor calls into mind the scene where Custance represents “the commune voys of every man” (64; RCH II 155) and is presented to the Sultan as an ideal. In contrast to that, the scene where Custance talks to her parents (66; RCH II 274-80) shows her as a person, as she recalls their familiar relationship and its particularities. Overall, McGregor argues that the tale does not favor one way of reading Custance over the other; rather it shows that both need to be consulted when examining Custance, in order to consider her within the universal category she represents as well as her specific circumstances.

McGregor’s argument benefits from involving both approaches of reading Custance instead of simply rejecting one or the other, especially given that, as she presented, there is evidence for both in the tale itself. I believe her approach should be tried on the frame narrative of The Canterbury Tales and not only on the stories within it, given that the characters as we explored them when reading the “General Prologue” seemed also to be both specific individuals as well as general types representing their estates and professions, and so far has been presented more as types but I assume that within the text they will develop more specific individual characteristics. On top of that, in the first two parts of “The Knight’s Tale” as we read it, Emelye is seen by Arcite and Palamon more as an ideal than a woman, as Palamon sees her as goddess Venus (RC I 1102) and Arcide accuses him of seeing her so instead of seeking her as a woman (RC I 1155-56), even though he himself does not know her as a person any better. It will be worth keeping an eye on the character of Emelye in the next two parts of the story to see whether she tries to show – or in fact create – her own specific identity aside from the abstraction everyone sees in her, and how that will inform the way the readers see her. I would also like to keep this approach in mind the next time I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch, where the character of Dorothea is also interpreted both as an individual as well as a representation of wider concepts. --Anna Lorencová, 2/6/2013

Burakov, Olga. “Chaucer’s The Cook’s Tale.” Explicator. 61.1 (2002): 2-5  Web. 

In this article Olga Burakov attempts to turn attention away from the fragmented status of the “The Cook’s Tale” and focus more on its religious undertones. She argues that though scholarship is usually concentrated on its mere status as a fragment it in fact “transcends the inferior position attributed to it in the past and transforms into an opening of the Genesis narrative of Adam’s Fall” (2). The article than goes on to argue that Perkyn Revelour and his desire for pleasure and debauchery is representative of Adam’s desire for knowledge, and in the same way that Adam eats the forbidden apple Perkyn performs the forbidden act of robbing the shop he works in. Burakov also contends that Perkyn’s master is similar to God in the way he is “an impersonal embodiment of the moral values” who “remains anonymous” (3). Though the article is fairly short Burakov does a sufficient job of supporting her theory, though it could be more fully developed.

This lacking in berth, however, is an asset to those looking for a starting point for research. A good jumping off point is created which other authors are able to build upon. In conjunction with scholarship on the tale as a fragment, a scholar could possibly develop a strong argument as to the intention of Chaucer with the tale. The Genesis aspect of “The Cook’s Tale” is also ripe for scholarship in relation to the rest of The Canterbury Tales. By examining how religious undertones run throughout the entire work, including “The Cook’s Prologue” and his interactions with others, it is possible to argue on Chaucer’s overall comments on religion, especially during his time.  –Kerry Michael, 2/4/13

Finlayson, John. "Chaucer's Summoner's Tale: Flatulence, Blasphemy, and the Emperor's Clothes." Studies in Philology 104.4 (2007): 455-470. Project MUSE. Web. 7 Feb 2013.

            The author begins the article by explaining a fundamental division between critical interpretations of The Summoner's Tale. Originally interpreted purely as a fabliau, as a straightforward, comedic extension of the conflict between the Friar and the Summoner, more recent scholarship has found evidence to suggest that The Summoner's Tale is also rife with with biblical allusion and complex theological critiques. According to Finlayson most modern critics agree that the commentary and allusions in this tale exceed the scope of the character of the Summoner. The article presents a division between a literal interpretation, which views the tale purely as fablieau (an interpretation to which the author does not seem to give much credence), and the "religious" interpretation. Ultimately, the article explains how Chaucer plays with the genre and structure of Boccacian comedy, particularly through his inclusion of the fart, by "put[ting] into skeptical play some of the ecclesiastical claims to temporal and spiritual authority" (469) through a radical and blasphemous parallel between the fart and God's gift of the commandments to Moses.

            Admittedly, a better analysis of John Finlayson's arguments in this article would require a much more thorough understanding of both the biblical foundations of Chaucer's tale, as well a historical understanding of medieval ecclesiastical structures and practices. Both of these topics would be extremely interesting and useful (perhaps even necessary) for fully understanding the conflict between the summoner and the friar. However, without having yet acquired this background, it is still possible to see how the author uses The Summoner's Tale as a means for examining some of the most important and fundamental interpretative issues in approaching Chaucer. The first of these issues is the juxtaposition of serious, dramatic, and courtly themes with bawdy satire and fart jokes. According to the author's interpretation, The Summoner's Tale not only juxtaposes these two characteristics by playing with the order of the tales, but also combines intelligent theological discussion with straightforward parody within the same story. The author brings up the second fundamental interpretive issue by explaining that critics have to come to a consensus in viewing The Summoner's Tale as not completely coinciding with the summoner as a character. This brings up the issue of the nuanced, complicated relationship between Geoffrey Chaucer, Chaucer-the-Pilgrim, the Summoner, and the Summoner's tale.—Hannah Dean, 2/4/13

Finlayson, John. “The Knight’s Tale: The Dialogue of Romance, Epic, and Philosophy.      The Chaucer Review 27:2 (2011): 126-149. Web. JSTOR. 3/6/13 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25095793

        John Finlayson takes a different approach in analyzing The Knight’s Tale by comparing it to the source material of Boccaccio’s Teseida. Finlayson argues that Chaucer makes several significant alterations including the characters of Emily and Theseus and his shortening of Teseida’s tale when adapting it into The Knight’s Tale. Whereas Teseida is more along the lines of a traditional epic, Chaucer’s variation of the story takes on the tone of a courtly romance. Finlayson concludes that Chaucer’s take on Teseida, makes The Knight’s Tale romance turned tragedy. He argues that this clashing between the romantic and hero-tragedy genres effectively goes against the ideal of “courtly romance” which was an ideal during Chaucer’s time.

        This article is relevant to our class for several reasons. First, one of the discussion points posted for The Knight’s Tale was concerning the genre of the tale. Finlayson argues that Chaucer breaks typical literary conventions by mixing the genres of romance, epic, and tragedy. Secondly, one of the ideas that we discussed in class was the significance of order of the stories in The Canterbury Tales. Finlayson argues that having an honorable character such as the Knight tell the first tale is purposely done. The fact that he tells a mixed genre tale foreshadows the non-traditional stories to come in The Canterbury Tales.—Troy Browne, 2/4/13

Delasanta, Rodney. “The Mill in Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 36.3 (2002): 270-276. February 7, 2013. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v036/36.3delasanta.html

          Rodney Delasanta explores the idea of the mill in Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale as an apocalyptic symbol that is simultaneously sexual and sacred. Delasanta points out that where other texts illustrate sexuality under the sacred, it is the sexual connotations that are more prominent within the image of the mill, and it is said sexuality that illuminates the apocalyptic scenario. One of major connotations is the idea of corn being ground into flour. The phallic image of the corn goes along with the later pun, “Ye, they sal have the flour of il endyng”(4174). The word “flour” can be construed as “flower,” or virginity, and the rape of Symond’s wife and daughter being the apocalyptic event.

            The sacred image that Delasanta offers is not just the mill itself, but the flour. A mill is used to grind flour, which is then used to create the wafers for Holy Communion, thus glorifying Christianity and the Catholic belief of transubstantiation. Speaking from the sacred standpoint, the apocalyptic happening comes from the fact that it is sexuality which is initially represented by the mill in the Reeve’s Tale rather than sacred belief, parodying the pilgrims’ religious journey to Canterbury.

            The ideas posed by Delasanta are interesting, and not ones that I might have come to on my own. The phallic imagery within the corn is prominent, and definitely enhances the fact that there are many other sexual jokes made within The Canterbury Tales. The sacred images are less so, but Delasanta’s inclusion of them is not incorrect, especially considering the time of Chaucer’s life and the Catholic beliefs that all of England lived by at the time. It is important to understand that the overall apocalyptic theme brought on by the mill is a parody, as sexual innuendos and stories are told multiple times within the course of the pilgrims’ journey. Delasanta’s article is a useful one, especially if one is able to see the sexual connotations being made, but is not able to see the full parody of religion being less prominent than sex while on a religious journey.—Raya Bichefsky, 2/4/13    

Morgan, Gerald. "Moral and Social Identity and the Idea of Pilgrimage in the General Prologue." Chaucer Review . 37.04 (2003): 285-314. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.


            In his article, Morgan examines the “General Prologue” of the Canterbury Tales in sections. Morgan addresses the aspect of Chaucer as a pilgrim and narrator, as well as his role in the real life court, and how these roles are intertwined.  He also looks at the basic class distinctions of the pilgrims, and then the not-so basic classes from before the modern capitalist class divisions. The identities and morals of the pilgrims are then examined in relation to the class that they belong to within the tale. 

            When looking at the pilgrims as groups or as individuals, Morgan acknowledges Chaucer’s medieval writing style, and the fact that these characters are written “outward,” as opposed to “inward,” with little uncover psychological background. This prevents the reader from making the mistake of believing that there is much more to the character than what Chaucer tells us, a common misstep for those analyzing more modern texts.

            While many other articles examine the caste structure of the pilgrims, Morgan breaks down these structures further than other articles I have found previously. He specifically explains that these are “pre-Edwardian” class structures that the pilgrims fall into, one again, to prevent the reader from making any modern assumptions. He looks at the divisions of “gentles” and “commoners” and then the subdivisions within each category, and how the pilgrims would be divided among the estates of the time. The ways of recognizing the classes amongst the pilgrims are also addressed, for example, Morgan explains the cost and detail of the wardrobe of many of the pilgrims, and how their clothing reflects their rank and wealth.

            The identities and values that come with these class distinctions are the final pieces of wisdom that Morgan imparts. The specific way that a person would worship god, or love another person was based entirely in where they fell on the food chain of medieval Britain at birth.  Morgan also reminds us that it is through Chaucer’s two pairs of eyes, one as the author, and then the pilgrim, that we learn about these people, so some of the aristocratic slant maybe included. –Lo Smith 2/4/13

Helterman, Jeffrey. “The Dehumanizing Metamorphoses of The Knight’s Tale.” ELH 38.4 (1971): 493-511. JSTOR. Web. 6 Feb. 2013.

            Helterman looks at “The Knight’s Tale” through the lens of metaphors and the power they have over characterization and reason within the text. He places this tale in a historical and highly influenced context, exploring Chaucer’s knowledge of Boethius and Ovid and how his reading of these authors affects his commentary in “The Knight’s Tale”. In a historical context, he then takes his conclusion of jealousy masquerading as love being what leads to war and bloodshed, and places this within the Knight’s background of fighting in the Crusades. With this we are given a sympathetic view of the Knight, a man haunted by his past, retaining his dignity while subtly hinting at man’s disharmony with nature. Helterman’s thesis lays in this historical and psychological journey through metaphors to illuminate what is read as a “natural” response through animalistic images, as quite the opposite – to be compared to a beast is lower than earthly, and nowhere near the divine.

            What drew me to this article was my keen interest in the role love plays within “The Knight’s Tale”. I was hoping to find a scholarly exploration of the so-called ‘love’ that Arcite and Palamon feel for Emelye. I believe this article is able to discuss just that without focusing solely on love, but on what surrounds it. Helterman describes the parallel between the Knight’s descriptions of Arcite and Palamon as beasts with the tale of Circe turning men into swine. With this discussion, Helterman is able to show the power of metaphor to expose meaning behind action. In terms of Arcite and Palamon, their love for Emelye is nothing close to a divine love, like that of Venus, but, instead a jealousy spurred out of unnatural action, something that ties these men to the earth, or even less than that. In denying their own nature, they cannot love divinely; they are lowlier than earthly beings. This idea resonates in his discussion of the Knight as a speaker, as well. He discusses the dehumanization of years of battle, and the toll it has taken on the chivalrous Knight. I had not even thought about how this tale could reflect upon the Knight’s time in the Crusades, besides his familiarity with warfare; this article did a great job at illuminating what this false love could mean in terms of the Knight, and his disheartened views due to years of battle. I feel that I will be keener in acknowledging the underlying themes of the other tales now that I am familiar in what ways I can connect to the speaker. –Molly Walner, 2/4/13

Eyler, Joshua R., and John P. Sexton. "The "Miller's Tale," Lines 3466-3499: Narrative Inconsistency And The First Fragment Of "The Canterbury Tales.." Anq 21.3 (2008): 2-6. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.

            As a proud deconstructionist, the title of this article intrigued me greatly; I’ve never known a Chaucer who makes glaring mistakes or forgets his own words, but this suggested that perhaps I had missed something.

            Eyler and Sexton draw us to a specific scene: John the carpenter and his knave Robyn bust down Nicholas’ door in order to investigate the state of his sanity. Though the text seems to state that the door is torn off its hinges and thrown to the floor, we soon see the door placed into its previous position so that Nicholas and John may have “pryvetee.”

            Eyler and Sexton then discuss both obvious options: either Chaucer forgot about the door’s unhinging or else didn’t care all that much (2). Both simple explanations did not satisfy the authors. “Indeed, the concern with physical and conceptual space so prevalent in the rest of the tale also underlies this brief scene in important ways.” They follow with their thesis, which is that this error reflects a thematic manipulation of space.

       Perhaps the most exciting revelation that came from this article was drawn from the General Prologue, which contained an allusion to this mishap. When describing the Miller, Chaucer states “Ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre, / Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed.” This fits perfectly into the authors’ assertion.

 Eyler and Sexton suggest that this door is a portal to privacy, one that both protects Nicholas’ treachery and blinds the carpenter. These two writers suggest that John and Robyn destroying the door was their attempt to shatter Nicholas’ private insanity. But he was sane the whole time, and consequently they failed. Just as the door is mysteriously re-mounted on the wall, Nicholas reestablishes his sanity with just a few words.

As “pryvetee” is such a major theme in the Miller’s tale, this deep look at a simple appearance of such privacy will surely be useful. This word appears in the Miller’s tale far more times than it appears in the rest of The Canterbury Tales combined. Such constant repetition creates a glaring question: what role must it play in this story? To follow, we must investigate what the lessons of the Miller’s tale say about the rest of the pilgrims, and thus how “pryvetee” applies to each individual.

      Thus, an article focusing on a specific incident that revolves around privacy or a lack thereof seems all to appropriate. We must seek out these brief mentions of major themes that, when looked at closely, appear far more significant and unique than expected. I am sure that such a lesson will apply to many tales beyond the Miller’s, although perhaps his drunkenness makes him more prone to phantom doors.

      This is something that likely would have gone totally over my head without some extreme close reading. It’s one of those simple mistakes that seem so unlikely that the brain automatically becomes convinced that it never happened. In reading this essay and being made aware that Chaucer may have left intentional mistakes for us to look out for, I am anxious to see if this opens a door (forgive the pun) to the rest of the class to investigate.—Craig Richie, 2/4/13

Eyler, Joshua R. and John P. Sexton. “Once More to the Grove: A Note on Symbolic Space in ‘the Knight's Tale’.” The Chaucer Review 40.4 (2006): 433-439. JSTOR. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Eyler and Sexton first point out that the grove in Theseus’ palace complex is said to be destroyed for the games, but then Arcite is buried there, in what is once again a garden. However, rather than assuming an error on Chaucer’s part, they suggest a more complicated relationship in which the chaos of discord between the cousins and Theseus’ inability to resolve it is highlighted in “the existence, destruction, and eventual reappearance of the grove” (433). Apart from their argument, the authors provide a brief review of other writings on the grove, which is useful for thinking of variations on scholarship about the topic. However, they retain that rather than order, chaos is a driving force in the work, and is present in the physical and symbolic space of the grove (434).

In its first appearance in the tale, the grove is where Arcite and Palamon first see Emelye and fall in love with her. Then, they attempt to fight each other for her hand here. Third, the mock battle that Theseus moderates is set in the grove, and last, Arcite is buried there. The authors underline the symbolic relationships between these different roles for the grove, and how each transformation of its use suggests something new about order and chaos, particularly in terms of this particular tale. They assert that the physical space of the grove, disappearing and reappearing as it does, is not as important as the symbolic role of the place where nothing is resolved (436). The authors also point out that the grove and lists are different places in Boccaccio’s version, which suggests that Chaucer was actively concerned with this space’s use (436-7).

Ultimately, this article is a very well thought out and well written piece that addresses not only the physical use of the grove in “the Knight’s tale,” but the symbolic implications of chaos defeating attempts at order. The summaries of other scholarship on the topic are also useful for one interested in other ideas on the topic, but the argument presented here is convincing. This piece could additionally be used for issues of chaos or of manipulation of space in other parts of The Canterbury Tales.       ---Faith Huete, 11 February 2013

J. R. Hulbert, "The Canterbury Tales" and Their Narrators” Studies in Philology , Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1948) 565-577

         J.R. Hulbert  presents us with the differing opinions of two scholars as to the credit given to Chaucer for realizing each narrator by his or her tale.  Hulbert brings us through their debate of the shorter and more ambiguous tales up through the tales that seem (at least to Kittredge, one of the arguers) to be self-explanatory.  Chaucer, of course, meant for these stories to illustrate their respective narrators and vice versa.  This seems completely impossible to argue. 

         It is, however, troublesome that at this turning point in the article Hulbert indirectly quotes Kittredge as claiming that “Of course it is true that the Miller was not capable of the brilliant description in his tale, or indeed that in the fourteenth century any person other than Chaucer could have developed even one of the stories mentioned in this paragraph with the artistry to be found in them.”  Hulbert continues by exerting his opinion of all the characters that he seems to believe he knows personally. He states that the Prioress did not have the “sincerity and depth of feeling” to have come through in her own tale, and that “a refinement and idealism which probably were foreign to her nature” proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Chaucer has indeed refined these tales and recognizes himself that these people are exactly as Hulbert ignorantly claims them to be.  Hulbert cites little evidence of the factuality of his claims past the argument between the scholars in the beginning.  He goes a step further later in the article by stating that some narrators have no bearing on their tales whatsoever.

        It may be true that any random miller could not have spoken as eloquently as we see in the Tales, or that the women in real life did not have in their nature the tools to express the tales of their own accord.  What Hulbert fails to recognize, though, is that from the beginning of Canterbury Tales the reader is taken into a world where it is very clear that the morals and characters are not necessarily totally congruent with what is happening in the current “real” world.  We must accordingly examine each character as if he or she lived uniquely within Chaucer’s world.  If the reader separates in any capacity the pilgrim from his or her tale, there is surely substance lost.  It is absolutely necessary for us to take each of the pilgrims a step beyond Chaucer the poet’s mastery, or we will surely miss that connection.  After all, in the story, Chaucer the pilgrim is a pretty lousy story teller. –Sara Austen, 2/4/13

 McNeil, Bruce J. “The Conflict in the Man of Law's Tale.” Journal of Pension Planning & Compliance 36:4 (2011): 1-20. Web. EbscoHost. 19/2/13. Available http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=55069690&site=ehost-live

Bruce J. McNeil’s main argument is that Chaucer satirizes the Man of Law and his profession in general. He supports this claim by examining the difference between the picture of this Man of Law as we get him from the “General Prologue” and his own introduction and prologue, and the story he tells. The difference between these two is apparent: the Lawyer’s tale is about “patience, morality, and perseverance” (2), while the Lawyer himself is presented as strongly materialistic, for example in the “General Prologue” when we learn about all his clothes and business skills (14, RC I 316-320) and therefore, according to McNeil, does not really understand the tale he is telling, and indeed would not tell it if he understood it. McNeil states that the Lawyer borrowed his tale from Nicholas Trivet, but changed the original version in order to get the audience to feel the emotions he wants; specifically, he manipulates the audience to feel more sympathy and pity for Constance through showing her more human-like than the original version of the story which made her look more spiritual and saint-like. An example of this is when she defends herself passionately when accused of murder: “If I be giltlees of this felonye/ My socour be, for ellis shal I dye!” (4; RC II 643-44). The Lawyer’s use of language that betrays his legal training in arguing cases, for example the often used exclamation “O” at the beginnings of lines, for example in “O firste moevyng, crueel firmament” (9, RC II 295), help the Lawyer with this goal as well. However, as McNeil argues, the Lawyer sometimes overstates it, and ends up sounding too unbelievable to actually stir the desired emotions in his audience. All this manipulation with the original story suggests the Lawyer’s insincerity and lack of understanding of the moral story he is telling. McNeil also supports his argument of the tale satirizing its narrator by pointing out how the General Prologue and the Lawyer’s introduction and prologue do the same thing, pointing out that Chaucer-the-Pilgrim says in the “General Prologue” about the Lawyer that “In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle/ That from the tyme of kyng William were falle” (14, RC I 323-24), which is virtually impossible as the Lawyer would have to remember or note down at least a hundred thousand cases, and proposing that actually ridicules the Lawyer instead of praising him. This all together leads to a conclusion that while there is a conflict between how the Man of Law is introduced and what story he tells, it can be explained by Chaucer’s attempt to satirize the Lawyer and his profession.

This essay has some considerable strengths and weak spots. It is definitely valuable to consider the tale within its frames and including the study of the narrator’s character instead of just treating it as a completely separate story. Moreover, McNeil notices the specific features of the Lawyer’s storytelling, separating him from the other pilgrims through noting his unique voice. On the other hand, while the arguments remain valid, this work could use some proper editing, as it is very repetitive (emphasis needed), which lowers the pleasure of reading it and makes it much harder to follow the actual argumentation. Moreover, McNeil’s main argument supporting his claim is that the Lawyer manipulates his audience’s emotions via making Constance more human, yet McNeil himself finds an instance where Constance compares her suffering to the one of the Virgin Mary when she saw her son killed before her (RC II 848) and hence associates herself with the Virgin. According to McNeil, this also works towards making the audience feel for Constance more (which you can link to the last article I annotated, by Francine McGregor), yet it is not in accordance with his main argument that the Lawyer does this through humanizing Constance – this is the opposite mean of achieving the same goal, which poses a problem that McNeil fails to acknowledge in his overall argument.

I was interested in this essay as the author has degree in both law and English and I was wondering whether he would offer some insight only a lawyer could give, but I did not find anything like that. Nevertheless, the argument McNeil presents is fairly persuasive, although as I mentioned before his essay needs some editing and polishing in order to present his argument more clearly and without needless repetitions. However, I think that the way he examines “The Man of Law’s Tale” is great and should be used in all the stories, as we cannot really understand any of the stories without properly examining its narrator and the way the story is told – for example, you can remember when Arnie pointed out the first person suddenly appearing in the Knight’s Tale, which only makes sense because the Knight is telling the tale. Yet there are many more levels that I cannot imagine uncovering and analyzing: if we consider all the frames, we get some editors presenting Chaucer-the-man writing as Chaucer-the-Pilgrim re-telling the story of the Man of Law: I wonder if intentions of all these writers and narrators could be analyzed and explained adequately! Finally, I would like to link this article to the one I annotated two weeks ago – Francine McGregor’s “Abstraction and Particularity in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale.” They could inform one another, McGregor reminding McNeil that Constance is presented both as a person and as an idea, and McNeil adding the dimension of the narrator’s and writer’s intentions to McGregor’s analysis. --Anna Lorencová, 2/20/2013

Liu, Yin. Rev. of Understanding Genre and Medieval Romance, by Kevin Whetter. The Medieval Review 9.11 (2009). Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

< https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/6581/09.11.11.html?sequence=1 >

            Although this article is quite short, it is nonetheless extremely useful for considering issues of genre in medieval literature, and gives a valuable review of Whetter’s book. Whetter in the larger text is arguing for a stronger definition of medieval romance. Liu summarizes his arguments, and includes his opinions on Whetter’s central points in a way that is both understandable and informative.

            Firstly, Liu commends Whetter for addressing the need for a stronger definition of romance and its importance in scholarship. He then describes and analyses the three sections of the book: the defense of the importance of understanding genre, an attempt at defining medieval romance, and a test of this definition against Malory’s Morte Darthur. Liu approves of the first section, agreeing that genres must be defined despite the tendency for hybridity and change: he presents genre as a sort of contract between author and audience of what is to take place in any given work. This definition of romance, described in the second section, is four-pronged: adventures must be voluntarily sought for their own sake, the lady must play a central role, love is a key motivating factor, and the protagonist gets a happy and victorious ending. While Liu does not disagree with the first three, he challenges the last criterion. He also contradicts Whetter’s thesis from the third section, that Malory’s work is a tragic-romance hybrid. Although he deems Whetter’s a “detailed and careful reading” of the work, he posits his own thesis about the use of romance in the text. He counters that instead of Malory’s work being a hybrid, it is a purposeful deflection of romance, because the gradual progression towards tragedy is an attempt to reflect the whole history of Arthur rather than a glossed over version, since “no one on this earth, not even a hero, lives happily ever after.” Here also is the first mention of Chaucer, in his use of romance conventions in Troilus and Criseyde in order to set the scene for tragedy.

            Another weakness Liu perceives in the book is its exclusive use of the epic as an alternative genre for comparison. He notes that epic also has a contentious definition, and criticizes Whetter’s comparative strategies. He suggests focusing more on other elements of the texts that Whetter only touches on for a more convincing analysis of the genres, particularly to avoid the possibility of losing primary source evidence in the sea of cultural bias that has affected scholarship over the centuries. Finally, Liu expresses discontent with what he describes as Whetter’s “master checklist” of elements for definition or exclusion as a romance. He alternatively suggests forming a gentler lineation of romance, exploring the tendencies and patterns within groups of works. Although he concedes that Whetter’s concept of hybrid genres recognizes the fluidity that can exist between categories, he calls for a less absolute method of definition, rather than one that allocates strict “membership.”

            This review, although quite brief, is an extremely helpful one. Not only does it give the reader well-rounded view of the original work, it also provides central information from the original text that could easily be cited directly from this source. In addition, Liu’s opposition of the romance and epic also makes it all the more applicable to an analysis of a Chaucerian Tale, even if it Liu does disapprove of this comparison on Whetter’s part. Although neither the book nor the review is focused specifically on Chaucer, the idea of genre is still central to an exploration of The Canterbury Tales. The definition of genre is a timeless discourse, and is surely one that Chaucer was challenging even in his own work. “The Knight’s Tale,” for example, is a hybrid between epic and romance, and an analysis of the (contentious) definition of both could reveal interesting interpretations of the text. In fact, reading a review of a book that attempts to define romance, that is, a response to a statement, models even more fully the discussion that surrounds ideas of genre in Chaucer. Many other tales adopt this genre-bending tendency, which suggests that Chaucer was both aware of and challenging strict ideas of genre. “The Cook’s Fragment,” for example, has not even been definitively described as a full tale, despite its completed story arc. This is yet another example of Chaucer’s awareness of convention that leads to a challenge of it. A final area of exploration could be this author-audience contract that Liu says genre puts in place. With the genre-bending that Chaucer seems to be interested in, it could be fruitful to explore how setting the audience up for one genre could influence their experience of it when it turns out to not adhere to that genre’s rules.  –Faith Huete, 21 February 2013

Stretter, Robert. “Rewriting Perfect Friendship in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale and Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum.” The Chaucer Review 37.3 (2003): 234-252. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. 

            The article I read for my first annotated bibliography pointed out the possibly that the characters Arcite and Palamon from the Knight’s Tale were meant to portray two sides of the knight’s character; I wanted to explore this but as I looked for articles, I encountered another possible essay topic concerning the pair or friends. Specifically, the relationship between them.

            In his article, Stretter explores the medieval tradition of writing male friendships, the “sworn brotherhood”, as he calls it. He provides definitions of a “perfect friendship” by Aristotle and Cicero. According to Aristotle, the perfect friendship “involves to men drawn together not by any hope of gain but by similitude and a love or virtue. True friends achieve such spiritual unity that their sepaprate identites begin to collapse” (236). Cicero places friendship, as well as wisdom, on the same level of importance as being gifts from the gods to humankind (236). In the Knight’s Tale, we see how strong of a bond Arcite and Palamon has.

            However, this bond is destroyed when Emelye enters their lives. Palamon sees her through his prison window and immediately professes his love for her to Arcite, to which Arcite explains that love is a greater force of power than friendship, as dictated by these lines: “Love is a gretter lawe…/ Than may be yeve to any erthely man” (I 1165-66). In other words, Chaucer changes the idea of traditional sworn brotherhood by having Arcite continue loving Emelye even though he knows that Palamon does as well. Stretter expresses his thesis clearly on the second page of his article: “The implication of Palamon and Arcite’s fragile relationship is that friendship is no match for sexual desire” (235). He argues that Chaucer is one of the first medieval writers who challenges the importance and the strength that chivalric brotherhood, whereas in other contemporary works such as Amis and Amiloun describes friendships between men as superseding everything else.—Jisun Lee, 2/22/13

Kuczynski, Michael P. ““Don’t Blame Me”: The Metaethics of a Chaucerian Age.” The Chaucer Review 37.4 (2003) 315-328. February 21, 2013. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v037/37.4kuczynski.html

            In our previous class we briefly went over Chaucer’s repetition of “Don’t blame me!” during various tales. In his article, Michael Kuczynski focuses on this aspect of the tales and examines it as a sort of biblical or moral reference, rather than just Chaucer the poet or one of his characters pushing the blame for the more offensive parts of the tales away from himself. Kuczynski explains that Chaucer’s “don’t blame me!” is something he would have heard in church during the more well-known psalms. “…“Blameth nat me” is a satisfactory English equivalent to part of one of the best-known Scriptures in the Middle Ages, the opening verse of both the first and third penitential psalms…: Domine ne in furore arguas me,” “Lord, in your anger, do not, [depending on the translator] reprove, chastise, or blame me.”  Kuczynski later suggests that Chaucer’s usage of this is not always to push the blame from himself, but rather is used as a means of taking responsibility as a poet for the crudeness of the tales of his fictitious pilgrims. Blame can be seen both as blaming someone in a negative light, and as taking the blame for a sin committed, as one would do during confession with a priest. In taking blame for one’s actions, said blame would then help to heal the moral wound caused by the sin. By having one of his characters say “blame me not,” Chaucer the poet takes responsibility for his words.

          Kuczynski also explains that Chaucer’s use of “don’t blame me” could be accompanied by biblical references, as was done in the General Prologue. “One rather expects some kind of biblical connection to appear in the Miller's Prologue apology, since one operates in the other two Canterbury Tales apologies: the long one towards the end of the General Prologue…and in the apology that precedes the Tale of Melibee.” It is interesting to consider Chaucer using this method to incorporate biblical connections or to take responsibility as a poet for his character’s words, when on the surface, many people see the words as simply a “don’t blame me, it’s not my fault!”

Kuczynski’s argument is a very interesting one, both in the manner of the religion of the time and in the possible reasons for Chaucer’s usage of the phrase. One could use his argument with any part of the Canterbury Tales in which the phrase occurs, as well as any part in which there is any sort of biblical reference made. It is certainly worth looking at within the General Prologue and The Miller’s Tale and could prove to be useful in other tales if Chaucer happens to exclaim again, “don’t blame me!” –Raya Bichefsky, 2/22/13

Delasanta, Rodney. The Mill in Chaucer's "Reeve's Tale"  The Chaucer Review 36:3 (2002): 270-276. Web. JSTOR. 2/21/13   http://www.jstor.org/stable/25096169 

Rodney Delasanta takes a religious approach when analyzing the Reeve’s Tale. He notes that the act of grinding flour into corn has often been associated with sex. Delasanta argues that despite the sexual overtones Reeve’s Tale carries sacred undertones. He believes that the mill in the tale is actually an allusion to the mystical mill used to create communion bread. For those that doubt the possible religious meaning of the mill, Delasanta reminds the reader that the journey to Canterbury is in fact a religious pilgrimage. In most forms of scripture mills are “usually associated with apocalyptic catastrophe” (5).  In particular, the gospels of Luke and Matthew’s account of the final days seem to connect with the Reeve’s Tale as it mentions two men sleeping in one bed and two men who will grind at the mill.

This review of Reeve’s Tale is significant to our class for several reasons. First of all, it allows us to analyze more than the raunchy overtones in the tale. While the religious references in the Miller’s Tale are more obvious, the meaning behind the mill in Reeve’s Tale is less overt. In addition, this review also makes a connection between the mill and the Wife of Bath. The Wife of Bath uses mill in a sexual context when calling upon her next lover, “Whoso that first to mille comth, first grynt”. When reading “The Canterbury Tales”, it is always important to consider the significance of the relationship between each of the tales. –Troy Browne, 2/22/13

Bertolet, Craig E. “’Wel bet is roten appul out of hoord’: Chaucer’s Cook, Commerce, and Civic  Order.” Studies in Philology. 99.3 (2002): 229 – 246. Web.

             Craig E. Bertolet’s expansive paper covers a multitude of issues having to do with the economic implications of both the Cook’s tale and the Cook himself. He points out that the Cook maintains a low level of urban society and that he is employed by a group who is ranked not much higher than him. There is also an important distinction which he points out, that the Cook “is perhaps the only pilgrim who comes on the Canterbury pilgrimage… because he has been hired for the trip” (229). The article goes on to argue that the cook and his tale depict the link between civic order and the maintaining of traditional economic processes, including apprenticeships. Another element of this is that tradesmen rely on a good reputation for success in business, thus they must behave well to maintain a good life for themselves. The Cook attempts to create a positive reputation for himself, however, his illness and Herry both oppose this. This idea of the need for reputation extends to the Cook’s Tale where the master has his home, livelihood, and reputation all ruined by his apprentices misdeeds. Bertolet also looks at what Perkyn is giving up by misbehaving in his apprenticeship: citizenship, financial success, and the respect of his fellow community members. He goes on to argue that, by tradition, Perkyn not only violates a professional relationship but also one akin to a surrogate father/son bond.

            Bertolet’s argument all comes down to the argument that “the bad apprentice, such as Perkyn, should be kept at a distance lest he corrupt the household: ask him to buy and sell but do not ask him to stay” (243). He alleges that by allowing citizens like Perkyn, as well as his compeer and the compeer’s wife, society is allowing for them to corrupt the whole community, as well as any guilds or organizations which they belong to. This is in the same way that Perkyn’s misdeeds and moral corruption infects the entirety of his master’s business and home.

            The article is effective in arguing the infectious nature of Perkyn’s corruption on his business and community. One of the failings in the paper, however, is that he only quickly addresses the issue of why the Cook, who would have had a similar experience with his education and who works in a field where reputation is everything. While Bertolet touches on the subject briefly at the end of the article, by observing that the Cook is prone to hyperbolas self-promotion throughout the tales, he does not go on to explore what the implication is of this type of person telling a story of a raucous apprentice. There is also an error of assumption within this article. Bertolet takes for granted that the tale is a fragment, assuming that there was the intention for more to the story. He seems to believe that Perkyn will be punished for his misdeeds in this ending, which distinctly endites him as the antagonist of the tale rather than the Cook possibly implying that one should enjoy engaging in revelry, since there will be no punishment for it.

            The aspect of economic criticism and investigating the link between the economic, social, and civic could be applicable throughout The Canterbury Tales. By looking at how economic customs maintain and enforce civic and societal control we can also question how the perversion of these customs can challenge the same structures. An example of this is looking at how the Wife of Bath’s tale of commidifying sex and marriage. By making her own money in this way she is challenging the tradition of marital property and inheritance while also fighting against female inferiority. The concept of economic and civil control and custom run throughout The Canterbury Tales as they do many works of literature, whether tales or their tellers choose to enforce or subvert these ideas and how they do this is important to interpreting the societal and class implications of the stories. The concept of reputation is also intriguing as an interpretive lens, especially in regards to the pilgrims. These pilgrims do not know each other, and perception and reputations can easily determine a person’s role in the group and how the other’s will treat him or her. Not only the pilgrims often try to control their own reputation by self-promoting but they also often try to attack others both through direct attacks and the characters and depictions in their stories. Overall, being able to critique The Canterbury Tales through economic, civic, reputation, and societal control lens opens up a large amount of paths for interpretation.—Kerry Michael, 2/22/13  

Beechy, Tiffany. "Devil Take the Hindmost: Chaucer, John Gay, and the Pecuniary Anus." The Chaucer Review 41.1 (2006): 71-85. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Feb 2013.

            In this article, Tiffany Beechy uses a comparison between Chaucer's "The Summoner's Tale," and John Gay's "An Answer to the Sompner's Prologue of Chaucer" (1717), as a means of examining and interpreting the greater significance of scatological references in medieval literature. Beechy raises an important question as to why Chaucer specifically choses the fart as the means of humiliating the friar in a satire on greed, as well as what the divvying of the fart in the second half of the tale signifies about the friar's greed. Beechy uses queer criticism to apply the term "Sodometric," or "[relating to] a subset of a culture's transgressive practices and relations" (72) to both "The Summoner's Tale" and John Gay's "Answer" because both texts "make use of the the anus as the site of evil and inversion, but also, more specifically, as the site of greed" (73). Through this observation, Beechy argues that Chaucer uses this implied connection between the anus, the fart, and filth to underscore the connection between money and filth in the case of the friar. Beechy also argues that in the second half of the tale, the continued value the friar places on the fart parodies the amount of arbitrary value the friar associates with moeny.

            The basic question that the author poses in the introduction to this article (essentially, "why a fart?") is both interesting and relevant to The Canterbury Tales as a whole. As we discussed during our last class, The Canterbury Tales contains many tales that don't involve any bawdy humor, but the tales people remember most often are the dirty ones. However, while Beechy's brief summary of the the cultural significance of the farting as something dirty as subversive for its association with the anus seems relevant to Chaucer's use of scatological humor in other tales, Beechy's other conclusions about the symbolic significance of the fart in this article are only relevant to the Summoner's Tale. In the Summoner's Tale, it is quite clear that the Summoner wishes to humiliate and belittle the friar by telling a story which depicts a friar as a greedy. Therefore, Beechy's application of the idea of "sodometries" as a means of explaining what Chaucer achieves by specifically choosing a fart to humiliate the friar makes a lot of sense. However, it seems unlikely that flatulence is meant to symbolize greed in The Miller's Tale. Unlike the Summoner, who clearly directs his tale toward the friar, the Miller is not responding directly to any of the other pilgrims (Chaucer may have intentionally juxtaposed the Miller's Tale with the Knight's Tale to emphasize the contrast between the two versions of love, but the tale itself does not address a knight and although the Reeve believes the tale makes fun of carpenters, the carpenter is not the recipient of the fart joke in the tale.) In the Miller's tale, the fart is not  connected with religion or money; it already exists within a sexual context.—Hanna Dean, 2/22/13

Crane , Susan . "Alison's Incapacity and Poetic Instability in the Wife of Bath's Tale." PMLA. 102.1 (1987 ): 20-28. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/462489>. 

            Susan Crane examines The Wife of Bath’s Tale as a piece of antifeminist satire as well as a romance, in the medieval sense. Crane looks at the elements that make up both, and how gender and power, both sexual and social, contribute to the genres. She also explains that tales of romance at the time tended to be in a narrative format, while anti-feminist satire tended to be non-narrative, but instead with glimpses of negative female tropes.

            Crane also explores how Chaucer’s storyteller, Alison (or Alys or Alyson) begins her tale in the anti-feminist satirical style, and then switches over to the romance. However, the romance is not the typical romance, but more of a weaponized romance, used to counter the arguments of antifeminist satire. The Wife, Alison, does not maintain a single style throughout her tale; she instead shifts between the two depending on the stage of her life she is discussing. In this way, she creates a narrative response to anti-feminist satire.

The economics and classes of people in Medieval England, specifically women are also addressed. The article claims that the Tale provides a source of information on the everyday lives of women at the time, including the rarity of the Wife’s push for autonomy in her own life. The power shifts, in the telling, as well as the story are also important to Crane’s thesis.

            The article rearticulates many points about The Wife of Bath’s Tale that have been addressed in other articles, some of which are assume to be common knowledge at this point. However, the article offers a citable source for these arguments. The discussion of the genres presents less of an argument, and more of an analysis of the stylistic shifts of Chaucer. Crane also helps to divide the when the Wife is responding to anti-feminist sentiments, and when she is indeed expressing feminist ideas, such as female sovereignty in a response to the idea of women as secondary, or female sovereignty because of her own independence.

            When it comes to the feminist critique of The Wife of Bath’s Tale, this article looks at the Wife’s reactions to antifeminist and patriarchal societal standards, rather than automatically categorizing her as a feminist character. It also explores the tale as a romance, but missing the key elements of romance, such as chivalry.  The tale also looks at Alison as not just a feminist, or a womanist, but as a human being with desires and concerns. The examination of her tale as cross genre is also helpful, as it then can be analyzed not only as a medieval romance, but also as a responsive text, reacting to contemporary texts and opinions.—Lo Smith, 2/22/13 

Mandel, Jerome. “Courtly Love in the Canterbury “Tales”.” The Chaucer Review 19.4  (1985): 277-289. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

            Jerome Mandel explores the disintegration of courtly love as expressed by characters in the Canterbury Tales.  He begins the article by discussing the different kinds of love apparent in the text: “Christian love, philosophical love, allegorical love, and courtly love” (278). Mandel narrows his focus to those associated with courtly love, a popular literary convention throughout the history of storytelling. He extensively discusses the lack of courtly love in the Reeve’s Tale, focusing on the objectification of the women as tools for revenge. He then discusses the Miller’s Tale, in which courtly love is parodied by Absolon who becomes a caricature of courtly love in his over-the-top form of wooing, while Alisoun counters him with her direct, down-to-earth language. This relationship further emphasizes the disintegration of courtly love and plays up the parody. Finally, Mandel explores the possibility of courtly love in the Knight’s Tale, which is quickly discredited due to the inconsequential nature of Emelye’s love.

Mandel explains, when discussing the Knight’s Tale, “by sharing the triangular structure of the courtly love relationship with all the other tales in this opening group of stories, they confirm the decay of courtly love as one of the unifying elements in the fragment” (282). In finding unity through disintegration and absence, Mandel is able to conclude that Chaucer is more concerned with feelings that “spring from the human heart,” not the fluffy, overused devices of the past (288).  In this way, Mandel helps us to understand Chaucer as a clever, yet realistic storyteller who focuses his attention on the concepts of friendship, loyalty, power, and order more so than that of courtly love.

Although he may not have meant it in this way, I believe Mandel has given us a feminist critique into the first section of Chaucer’s text. He is able to debunk the ideas of courtly love by reminding the reader that it takes two to tango. In all of these tales, the male enacts courtly love, and the female is either not expecting it, as in Reeve’s Tale, or completely denying it, as with Alisoun in her relationship with Absolon, and Emelye in her plea to Diana to remain a maiden for the rest of her days. In the tales, this so-called courtly love is portrayed as “antagonistic to happiness” (282). Although the males get what they want, excluding Absolon, the females must sacrifice themselves, and in almost all cases, their virginity. Mandel emphasizes that courtly love cannot exist without consent.

I feel as though Chaucer’s approach to courtly love mirrors Ovid’s power play in Metamorphoses. Ovid uses his words in order to challenge the divine order that was so blindly accepted by his audience – in writing about the gods, Ovid is able to control them and show their faults. This is similar to Chaucer’s depiction of courtly love – something that is so eagerly accepted by audiences of his era – as an absurd structure and unrealistic relationship. In playing with the conventions of courtly love and emphasizing its disintegration, Chaucer is able to engage his audience in a dialogue challenging something so imbedded in cultural and literary understanding. –Molly Walner, 2/22/13

Wentersdorf, Karl P. "The "Viritoot" Crux In Chaucer's "Miller's Tale.." Chaucer Review 44.1 (2009): 110-113. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.

            Wentersdorf’s short essay takes a look at the mysterious word “viritoot,” an undefined word that appears only here throughout all of Chaucer’s work. In context, Absolom is retrieving a hot-poker to enact his vengeance upon Alisoun and Nicholas. When demanding his tool, the blacksmith replies:

“Why rise ye so rathe? Ey, benedicitee!

What eyleth you? Som gay gerl, God it woot,

Hath broght yow thus upon the viritoot,

By Seinte Note, ye woot wel what I mene.”

 As far as my understanding goes, this is not a wholly uncommon problem in Chaucer’s work, words used only once with challenging context. Wentersdorf first looks into previous studies, which suggest the phrase could mean that Absolom is on the prowl, all a-flutter, or wielding an erection (III). As much of the nature of the Miller’s tale is rather racy, drawing a comparison between a hot-poker and a girl-seeking penis indeed not that shocking.

 While all of these conclusions appear logical, Wentersdorf’s assertion is that the phrase “upon the viritoot” “derives from the Latin ablative cum virtute” (IV), meaning “with courage.” He follows by giving examples of other slant-rhymes that Chaucer has used in previous works, asserting that “upon the viritoot” and “cum virtute” have that same pattern of close-but-not-quite rhyme.

            While this essay is indeed some extremely close reading, I found it interesting not only for its etymological research but for its relevance to the question of why Chaucer chose to follow the Knight’s tale with such an un-virtuous one. In the Knight’s Tale, virtue is central; in the Miller’s, it appears only in the blacksmith’s words. The only man that appears to be doing any sort of work (besides the door-ramming Robin) is the one to say upon “viritoot,” and he does so only to fuel Absolom’s evident rage. This brief appearance of a laborer mocking the Absolom’s ideals, of sexual frustration and revenge, alludes to a greater clash between classes. The idea of the hardworking peasants versus the educated and “chivalrous” is something that creates tension both in other tales and among the pilgrims and thus is something to keep an eye out for.

The Riverside Chaucer asserts that “viritoot” means on the prowl or in a whirl. If this is indeed the case, I believe that the blacksmith’s role becomes insignificant, just an object to give the hot poker out. In Chuacer’s work, these minor characters must play some sort of significant role; that is the artistry of his writing. Again, I return to Robin, who was incredibly insignificant in his description and characterization. While his appearance was no more than a few lines, he shares the Miller’s name and propensity for destruction. No character is minor, and thus we must seek to understand why anybody with a name has been included, and what it contributes to the greater meaning.

 I also cannot deny that, often times while reading Middle English, I glance over words that I do not immediately understand and do not have a definitive footnote. I am fairly sure that I am not the only one to enact such carelessness; indeed, the depth of this research allows me to conclude that 1. I should not feel so guilty, as some words require ages of in-depth research to define and 2. some words merely do not have a clear definition. Context is key in Chaucer.

--Craig Richie, 2/22/13

Lee, Brian S. “The Position and Purpose of the ‘Physician’s Tale’.” The Chaucer Review 22.2 (1987): 141-60. JSTOR. Web. 27 March 2013.

 Lee is making an argument for the importance and complexity of the “Physician’s Tale.” He starts out his argument by establishing that it is not as inferior as it has often been called, and that Chaucer purposely placed it between two “acknowledged masterpieces” for a particular reason (141). Firstly, he proves that what many have argued is a flat portrayal of the characters, particularly Virginia’s death, is in fact a conscious choice, since it is clear from other tales that Chaucer knew how to write complex characters. The narrative “problems” also do not serve to display the inadequacy of the Physician as a narrator, arguing instead that his “lofty moral idealism” is meant to contrast with the Monk’s tragic storytelling. Although this argument is plausible, Lee does not present enough evidence to prove this point. He mentions various strands of evidence from the “General Prologue” and the Tale itself, but does not cohesively connect them into a convincing argument. Nor does he provide a counter argument as to why this (inferior) tale is told the way it is, if it is not to communicate a subtext about the narrator. In the second section, Lee gives a valuable comparison between this Tale and Gower’s Roman de la Rose, its inspiration. Although not having read the original I cannot comment on its validity, the differences Lee notes between the two texts can be useful for a critical interpretation of Chaucer. He also draws parallels between Virginia and Chaucer’s Lucretia, although it is unclear to what effect. In the third section, Lee parallels the “Physician’s Tale” and the “Pardoner’s Tale,” strengthening the significance of both by interpreting them together. He also defends pairing it with the “Franklin’s Tale,” and posits the former as a response to the latter. He concludes that the “Physician’s Tale” draws attention away from the “Franklin’s” theme of justice to the question of “pitee.” In section IV, Lee explores Virginia’s role among Chaucer’s other female heroines. He notes that the abstraction in descriptions of her is an attempt to communicate her perfection without making her impossible. He also notes that Apius is her foil: he is as bad as Virginia is good. Finally, Lee makes a convincing argument defending the goodness of Virginius and proving that he does kill Virginia out of love rather than selfishness or hatred. This final point of the true dilemma that Virginius faces is the clincher of Lee’s argument and is the central tragedy of the tale. Lee concludes by focusing on the Host’s reaction to the tale, who is too upset to fully accept it and turns to humor to lessen his sorrow. He suggests that the Host needs not the Physician but the Great Physician, and since the Host represents all the audience, so do we all. However, this is a weak point to end an article of such a length on and I do not find it a compelling reason as to why the Physician tells this tale.

This article has several strong positive aspects and several negative ones. Lee presents useful comparisons between different texts and tales, which provide a deeper understanding of this tale and others. However, several points of his argument were quite weak and should have either been explained more thoroughly or eliminated. It seems that this article came at a point where the “Physician’s Tale” was not generally appreciated as a worthwhile text, and in this context I find that Lee did an admirable job in proving its worth. Deeper analysis of seeming inconsistencies in other tales (Miller’s door, Knight’s garden, Sir Thopas’ horrendous storytelling, etc.) heavily reinforces the idea that Chaucer was intending something with even the “weaker” aspects of this text, and they should be analyzed as critically significant rather than dismissed as failures. However, it seems that even he has not worked out all of the text’s complexities.—Faith Huete, 2/22/13

Boenig, Robert. "The Pardoner's Hypocrisy And His Subjectivity." Anq 13.4 (2000): 9-15. Web. Academic Search Premier. 3/27/13. Available http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=11530737-00af-484e-9288-9e11fc37651d%40sessionmgr4&hid=26

                Robert Boenig questions the assumption that the Pardoner in Canterbury Tales is a hypocrite, perceived by many scholars. His main argument is that Pardoner’s words are not a real reflection of his morals; rather, they are a reaction to the Wife of Bath’s previous performance. He presents a 14th century definition of hypocrisy based on a false pretense of holiness in front of people, another definition from the Parson’s Tale - “Ypocrite is he that hideth to shewe hym swich as he is and sheweth hym swych as he noght is” (X 393) - and one final one talking about false humility. He then points out that the Pardoner does not fit any of these definitions, as he is openly talking about his own hypocrisy on lines 407-422 and is not hiding anything, his past or his intentions regarding others. Boenig claims that Pardoner’s speech is more of a remorse for his past hypocrisy than an admission of present pretense.  He could almost be called a failed hypocrite, because he does not manage “to conceal the dungheap under the snow” (11) and seems eager to reveal his sins. However, Boenig claims that Pardoner concentrates on his own hypocrisy and failures in order to reveal the hypocrisy of the Wife of Bath, whose performance he is parodying. He points out seven similarities between the Pardoner and the Wife of Bath, among them the long prologues, a mysterious person in both tales, surprises for the young heroes, and so on. Various similarities suggest that the Pardoner is parodying the Wife.  Boenig interprets the fact that the Pardoner’s description in the “General Prologue” seems to support the view of Pardoner as a hypocrite by claiming that Chaucer-the-Pilgrim misreads his character, as he does others. Boenig concludes that if all the Pardoner is doing is mimicking the Wife of Bath, we are not left with much regarding his own character – we cannot really discuss and judge him as a character as we only see him as a parodist and nothing more.  

                I found this article really interesting because it brings up the question of what we actually know about the pilgrims – it seems like not much at all! If we do not learn a lot about the Pardoner from his own words as they only reflect the Wife of Bath (not that I completely agree with that, because it is important to note how he reflects her and to what end, which tells us a lot about him), and if Chaucer-the-Pilgrim is mistaken in his account of the character, how can we know what the Pardoner is “really” like? Alright, he is a character in a story, he is not real, but how are we supposed to read him then? Did Chaucer intend for the listeners of his stories to wonder about the characters and to never be sure what they are like?

                This article also explains why it is so important to consider the order in which we read the tales. Because, after the Knight, everyone seems to be reacting to the previously told story or stories, and this affects the subject they speak about as well as the way they do so. They are indeed mocking and parodying one another, and when we look at it from Boenig’s point of view, this leaves us wondering what tales we would hear if the characters were not reacting one to another – what would the Reeve tell if he was not reacting to the Miller, and how would we see him differently? This article really brings up the question of settings of the whole book and points out to me how differently we can view various things depending on the circumstances – the difference can be so big it completely changes the meaning of what we are interpreting. This is something we should really try to remember with all the tales. --Anna Lorencová, 3/29/2013

Willocks, Stephanie D. "Our Classrooms and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales": How to Make Them Work Together." The English Journal 85.7 (1996): 122-24. JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.             <http://www.jstor.org/stable/820526>.

            Stephanie D. Willocks analyzes the difficulty of teaching the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer to her students. Her students often have difficulty connecting with the text due to the language used by Chaucer. Her cure for modernizing The Canterbury Tales is to take a more modern outlook when analyzing the text. For her, one of the key details of the text is that the pilgrims are not identified by name, but rather by profession. Upon this observation, she asks her students open-ended questions about identifying people based on profession. For example, “Was Chaucer attempting to form stereotypes based on occupations?” (Willocks, 123). She then equates pilgrims with modern day professions such as doctors and coaches who maintain their position as part of their title. She then leads her students to analyze what current stereotypes are held about specific jobs and whether or not Chaucer’s pilgrims fit the stereotypes of the time, “After this discussion we then return to Chaucer’s prologue to see if we can find stereotypes or prejudices in his characterization” (123). Along with this she assigns a project where students are given pictures of people in various positions and then have to create a tale about them placing them in the position of Chaucer.

            Personally, I found this article to be very interesting because I want to one day teach secondary education. I think this article helps to refocus the analysis of authorial intent when reading The Canterbury Tales. In The Canterbury Tales it can be quite easy to lost in the various layers of storytelling between Chaucer (the author) telling a tale about the pilgrims who then tell their own tales some of which contain a tale inside a tale. With all of these layers it can be easy to analyze the intent of the individual pilgrims in telling each tale rather than Chaucer himself. The article also helps to further analysis by connecting both medieval stereotypes and modern day stereotypes in order to allow scholars to better relate to the text.—Troy Browne, 3/29/13

Fyler , John . "Domesticating the Exotic in the Squire's Tale."ELH. 55.1 (1988): 1-26. Web.   28 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2873109>.


            John Fyler examines instances of domestication of the exotic in the “Squire’s Tale,” by dividing looking at specifics of the tale.  He divides his article in 2 sections, each one addressing a different instance in the tale that Fyler examines.  He introduces his article by looking at the narrative device of incest in the tale, and other tales, and how Chaucer uses this in his works, as well as how it is used in other great works.

            In the first section of the article, Fyler looks at the gifts given to the protagonist as examples of possible “disenfranchisement” in the tale the Squire tells. He explores the possible meanings of the gifts, and looks at how the Squire describes these exotic objects in his story. Chaucer has the Squire unable find the words to even begin to describe the things that he is imagining for his tale, according to the article, and Fyler analyzes the language used in the tale. The language is examined in a structuralist sense, where phrases include two concepts that are direct opposition to one another outside of the context of the tale, however, they could be considered congruent in with regard to the Squire’s odd tale telling style.

The second section looks at various paradoxes, not just in the tale, but in Chaucer’s other writings and also in pieces that he may have had access to. One of these paradoxes is the exotic and the mundane in the telling of the tale. The article also looks at the instances of Love, in the tale, but also as a paradox. The Squire is even a source of paradoxical tension, as his position as a teller and also as a character are very different. The ultimate paradox determined by Fyler is that of romance and incest. The article is concluded with a brief look at how the observations of the Squire’s Tale can be applied to other tales told by the pilgrims. The Tale this is most often paired with the Squire’s Tale, the Franklin’s Tale is also examined briefly with this structuralist theory.

This article presents the parallel of the exotic and the domestic, as opposed to the more widely expressed idea that the tale is a plainly exotic interlude in the Canterbury Tales. The paradoxes help to begin a strucuralist analysis of the tale that reaches out of the text and into more of Chaucer’s writing style.  This article is mostly a structuralist piece, which is helpful when examining Chaucer without the grey areas, but also it helps to give an idea of how to examine other tales with a binary-based outlook.

The analysis of the binary of romance and incest is also explored in this article, which is something that without much effort, could be found in many of the Canterbury Tales. The categorization of this tale as a romance, without some of the main medieval romance necessities, or at least with substituted necessities also provide a curious starting point for an analysis of the romance, or in opposition, the analysis of the instances of incest with elements of  medieval romance taking place in Chaucer’s works. --Lo Smith, 3/28/2013

Pelen, Marc M. “The Escape of Chaucer’s Chauntecleer: A Brief Revaluation.” The Chaucer Review 36.4 (2002) 329-335. March 28, 2013. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v036/36.4pelen.html

Pelen argues that within the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, Chaucer’s point is about the fall and redemption of man, and that the Priest, in telling his tale, loses control of his own point. Scriptural themes have appeared within the Canterbury Tales before, such as a second flood in The Miller’s Tale. Pelen uses the section of the tale where the col-fox appears in Chauntecleer’s yard to explain the priest’s self-contradiction and loss of his own point. When the cock appears, the priest “declares [that he has] taken the counsel of his wife in ignoring his dream about the fox”(330). The priest begins by stating the destruction brought by women, the fall of Adam from Eve, but later contradicts himself in stating that women cannot be blamed and that any negative thoughts of women further mentioned are the words of the cock and not the Priest. Pelen explains this self-contradiction as an ironic but purposeful parody of the fall and redemption set in place by Chaucer. This irony set in place, Pelen argues, is typically seen in Chaucer and is done in this tale to illustrate that the priest loses control of his own argument due to his own personal interpretation of the fall of man.

            Pelen’s argument that Chaucer makes light of many Biblical stories can be used in other sections of the Canterbury Tales. Scripture comes up many times, considering the setting of a holy pilgrimage, and it is true that Chaucer often times does make light not only of Scripture but also of the occupations of the pilgrims, as is evident within the various tales. Using humor to prove a point about the occupation of one of his pilgrims is something that Chaucer does not only in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale but also in other areas throughout the tales as well. –Raya Bichefsky, 3/29/13

Bishop, Louise M. "Of Goddes Pryvetee Nor Of His Wyf": Confusion Of Orifices In Chaucer's Miller's Tale." Texas Studies In Literature & Language 44.3 (2002): 231. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.

Bishop takes the Miller’s Tale and, through comparative reasoning, asserts that the actions of Nicholas and Absolom, the Miller’s ignorance, and the descriptive techniques all play “with the concepts of bodily knowledge by alluding to divine genitalia” (231). She draws us to a passage from the Bible in which God permits Moses to see His “back parts (234), relating this to the closing scene in which Alison and Nicholas both present their rear-ends to Absolom.

One of the most important discussions in this play is the dual-meaning of “pryvetee” as both secrets and human genitalia. She iterates that the phrase “Goddes pryvetee” is used three times, with other derivatives of the word appearing seven additional times throughout the tale (232). That compared with an odd concern with bottoms—“Alison’s, Nicholas’s, John’s concern with Alison’s, Absolom’s preoccupation with Alison’s” (232)—creates a dynamic of two very important themes to the tale that seem to fit together.

Bishop discusses the importance of the senses in this article, specifically how sight controls how we interact with the other senses in describing them. Specifically, she draws us to Absolom kissing Alison’s behind, which includes “four of the five senses, from smelling and hearing the fart, to its capacity to blind, and then to the sensations of burning” (238). Taste appears earlier on.

Finally, Bishop really gets into the titular nitty-gritty: holes. She draws us to holes as they appear in architecture, in clothes, and on actual people and briefly describes how they have been confused in the text (238-9). She goes further by discussing how everybody confuses Alison’s “holes.” The Miller only thinks of one hole that could be hanging out the window (while anatomically, it would likely be two), Nicholas grabs her vagina but Alison speaks of her mouth, and the final exchange which confuses anuses with mouths (240)—these all play into this confusion.

There are two major points discussed in this article that have appeared in multiple stories and (I assume) will continue to appear in The Canterbury Tales. The first of these is the mystery of women. Bishop’s discussion of Alison’s orifices—her mouth, her vagina, and her anus—are done in a way as to point out that nobody seems to have any idea as to which is which. While this assertion is a comically exaggerated one, there is some truth to investigate in this lack of understanding.

In the Reeve’s tale, we discussed how ridiculous it is that the Miller’s wife would not have been able to feel the difference between this young student and her husband. The Wife of Bath, after hearing the tales thus far, feels the need to explain a woman’s body and how it can be used to control men. There seems to be a plethora of evidence to support that fact that most of the pilgrims on this trip know very little about women, at the very least in a feminist respect if not in an anatomical and personal one. Thus it becomes extremely important to closely investigate not only how female characters are portrayed in the tales, but who exactly is portraying them.

The second reason that I found this article both interesting and relevant is its focus on private parts and its mention of farting. Since we’ve just come off of a lovely academic discussion of passing gas, I thought it would be nice to bring the class back to an earlier instance of such bodily functions. When you consider the comparisons Bishop is drawing between the tale of Moses and God and the story of Alison showing her backside to Absolom and then farting in his face, the in-class discussion of gas as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit seems revitalized.

We must also always be thinking about genitalia. Gender issues and vulgarity are topics that constantly come up in class, and this particular article discusses both in a very intelligent way. They manifest in one way or another in almost every tale. If there is not an article out there that traces the appearances of vaginas and penises and asses in The Canterbury Tales, there should be.—Craig Richie, 3/29/13

Bloomfield, Morton W. “The “Friar’s Tale” as a Liminal Tale.” The Chaucer Review 17.4 (1983): 286-291. JSTOR. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.

Bloomfield looks at the “Friar’s Tale” through an anthropological lens, paying particular attention to anthropologist Van Gennep’s concept of “rite de passage,” which was later broadened to Victor Turner’s study of “liminality or the state of in-betweenness”  (286). Bloomfield applies these concepts to the Summoner’s position and suggests that he “unconsciously chooses his own fate” due to how he acts in this state of passing (287). Bloomfield argues that the Summoner’s relationship to the devil he meets, in which they act like “scientists or scholars, emphasizing their objectivity and rationality,” suggests that his passing into hell is deliberate choice (288). Because the Summoner is fully aware of the threshold that lies before him, in this case either heaven, hell, or purgatory, Bloomfield suggests that there is evidence that the Summoner has already come to terms of his own passing, and sees hell not as a bad thing, necessarily, just as a different world. Bloomfield goes on to explain the irony of the tale, exposed primarily by the Friar, in that he is telling this exemplum and all the while is “sure to be damned,” himself (289). In this way, the article explores the Summoner’s “rite de passage” to a different world in which he already has made a friend – a world that just happens to be hell.

Although Bloomfield presents many ways in which to dissect the tale and better understand the Summoner and his actions, the author tends to rely too heavily on summarization of the text, which distracts from analytical insight. We are often given strong claims, such as, “the summoner’s own stupidity or greediness or both cause him to pass the threshold into the next world,” but in order to back up this interpretation, all we have for support is summary (290). Bloomfield rarely ever uses direct quotes, and his claims and summaries are only buoyed in his brief anthropological introduction. I find his reading of the text extremely intriguing, and feel that his application of concepts such as passing thresholds and rites of passage really do add unique insight into the text, it just felt as though his thesis was not argumentative or questioning, rather a statement that cannot be countered.

That being said, I believe his ideas can be easily applied to other tales within the text, as well. This rite of passage can even be read as an overall motif of the Canterbury Tales, especially in the outer frame narrative that focuses on a pilgrimage – which is, in itself, a certain rite of passage. The pilgrims are crossing a threshold, both physically and socially, and we are able to see their unique passings in their speech. Each pilgrim exists in this “state of in-betweenness” that Bloomfield mentions in his article, and through their tales, we see their growth, passage, and journey (286). As we have read with the irony of the Friar, but we also see with the Knight, as he struggles with his return from war, or with The Wife of Bath, as she reveals her controversial lifestyle. We are experiencing a rite of passage with every single word that Chaucer puts before us.—Molly Walner, 3/29/13

Orth, William. “The Problem of the Performative in Chaucer’s Prioress Sequence.” The Chaucer   Review.42.2 (2007): 196 – 210. Web.  

            William Orth looks at the concept of performative speech within the Prioress sequence (portrait in the General Prologue, Prioress’ Prologue, Prioress’ Tale). Orth begins by defining the different definitions of ‘perform.’ It is noted that “the verb refers almost exclusively in Middle English to the finite product of a finite act” (196). However, the Oxford English Dictionary cites Chaucer’s use of the word in the Prioress’ Tale as the first time the word is used to mean “to do, go through, or execute formally or solemnly (a duty, public function, ceremony, or rite; a piece of music, a play, etc.) (OED qtd. Orth 196). This is important as Orth argues that the Prioress (and thus Chaucer) is very aware of the new idea of performativity and its relationship to ritual actions.

            Orth begins his investigation of performativity with the portrait of the Prioress in the General Prologue. He argues that in his descriptions of the Prioress Chaucer brings up the question of whether her actions are just learned habits from being around formal people or if she is rather performing a class role which is incongruent with her true place in society. This concern of performativity is also seen within the Prioress herself. Within her prologue the Prioress shows concern for the efficacy of performative actions. Orth claims that “the ritual of performing praise… is the ritual of the uttered performative” and the Prioress is clearly concerned with the effective utterance of praise so that it may accomplish its desirable effect (201). The article cites J.L. Austin’s How To Do Things with Words and his “conditions for the success of attempted performative utterances” to discuss her anxieties over efficacy (201).

            Concern for effective performance is also seen in the Prioress’ Tale. The child at the center of the tale does not understand the double purpose of the Alma which he is singing. Orth argues that it is meant to first praise the Virgin Mary and then ask for an action (her blessing). Since the boy is too young to fully understand these diverse aspects he is unable to effectively complete the performative action of the Alma. However, the article contests that his failure is redeemed in his death when he is able to move the entire congregation to lie on the ground in worship of the Virgin Mary. To this end it is argued that the grain which is laid upon his tongue “functions… primarily as a symbolic correction of the initial error that had marred the child’s living performance” (205).

            William Orth concludes his articles with a summary of his earlier claims and the final conclusion that “Chaucer was deeply interested both in theorizing performative acts… and in making dramatic their operation” (207). He also says that it is apt that Chaucer himself steps in after the Prioress’ Tale as “one would be hard pressed in all of the Canterbury Tales to find a more appropriate introduction for its author/poet/performer” (207).

            Overall, Orth puts forth a completely and successfully supported argument. His article includes both support from other scholarly works on Chaucer and also works on speech and language theory. The thesis which is presented appears to be original, as Orth points out in his introduction. It also sheds a light on Chaucer’s work from a unique perspective by analyzing it through language and speech rather than traditional literary analysis. The only part I found somewhat lacking with Orth’s article is the amount of technical language and theories which is including. My knowledge (and I would assume most undergrads knowledge) is lacking in this subject and I sometimes found it mildly difficult to follow the argument.

            The unique critical lens which Orth uses would be effective to look at other works of Chaucer. Orth even states that this is the only time he is aware of Chaucer using ‘perform’ with this intended meaning. I also think it would be very interesting to explore if the OED attributes anymore first usages to Chaucer and what this implies for the works that they are used in. However, the most intriguing critical application to the rest of Canterbury Tales is the way other pilgrims and characters ‘perform’ gender, class, etc. and use performative speech.—Kerry Michael, 3/29/13 

Whitney, Elspeth. "What's Wrong With The Pardoner?: Complexion Theory, The Phlegmatic Man, And Effeminacy." Chaucer Review 45.4 (2011): 357-389. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 29 Mar. 2013

            Elspeth Whitney begins by explaining that the General Prologue's description of the Pardoner has caused critics for many years to attempt to diagnose the Pardoner as everything from a eunuch, a hermaphrodite, a womanizer, an alcoholic, a cross-dressed woman, to a homosexual. Rather than try to fit the Pardoner into one a modern category of sex or gender, Whitney attempts to categorize him according to medieval theories. Specifically, Whitney uses "complexion theory," which linked a hot, dry complexion with moderation, self-control, and masculinity, while cool, wet complexions were associated with deceitfulness, excess, and femininity. Elspeth argues that Pardoner's long, yellowish hair, hairless face, ambiguous gender, and slothfulness associated him cool, wet complexion. These traits also make him phlegmatic, which was associated with sloth and gluttony. Elspeth also explains how the feminine characteristics associated with Pardoner's complexion were considered much more negative than those associated with hot, dry complexion.

            This article will be interesting to anyone who is interesting in queer interpretations of the text, and analyzing how gender and sexuality are constructed and categorized throughout history. The author is intelligent to look into medieval categorizations of gender and sexuality, rather than apply modern categories to the Pardoner; categories of sexuality are constantly and rapidly changing, and her conclusions seem well-supported and well-researched. However, the author does not explicitly apply her conclusions to the rest of the text. Her conclusions are interesting and reiterate the way in which physiological and psychological traits were inextricably linked during Chaucer's time, but they don't necessarily offer an offer means of reinterpreting the text. If the Pardoner's physical characteristics indicated effeminacy and sexual ambiguity in addition to moral depravity, what did these characteristics tell us about the Pardoner that is different than moral depravity indicated by the traits of the Cook or the Summoner? How does the effeminacy of the Pardoner in terms of medieval scientific traits allow us to view his tale or prologue differently? –Hannah Dean, 3/29/13

Malo, Robyn. "The Pardoner's Relics (And Why They Matter The Most)." The Chaucer Review 43.1 (2008): 82-102. Web. Academic Search Premier. 4/9/13. Available http://content.ebscohost.com/pdf9/pdf/2008/CHV/01Jul08/32846343.pdf?T=P&P=AN&K=32846343&S=R&D=aph&EbscoContent=dGJyMNLr40Seprc4v%2BbwOLCmr0uep7RSs6y4S7WWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGut1GxrbdMuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA

Malo argues that the Pardoner’s relics, while often overlooked by contemporary as well as medieval scholars, are important both for our understanding of his character and for illumination of the whole frame tale – the pilgrimage to Canterbury to see the relics of Becket. He makes quite a persuasive argument about relics’ importance and about the Pardoner’s role as “a parodic relic custodian,” satirizing this profession, and he shows how this all leads to “a discussion of institutional power and control” (84). Starting with the “General Prologue,” Malo points out that looking at the space given to the introduction of the Pardoner, almost half of it is taken by the relics. He then continues with a section about relics in general, explaining the difference between notable (larger body parts) and non-notable (smaller body parts or objects) ones, and observing that while non-notable relics were easily accessible and often carried around by their owners, the notable ones would be carefully stored and often impossible to see by common people. This is where the Pardoner comes in.

By creating a character who is modeled on historical relic custodians, but who carries and permits his audiences to see patently fake, non-notable relics, Chaucer works within a literary and historical tradition that was concerned with whether pilgrims and laypeople would get too close to relics on the one hand, and concerned on the other that, when pilgrims or other laypeople were offered the chance to get close to non-notable relics, the relics could well be fakes. By contrast, at least some notable relics believed to be genuine (such as Becket’s bones at Canterbury) were often jealously guarded and rarely exposed to the public-at-large. (86)

Malo explains that, unlike the relics owned by the Pardoner, the ones in Canterbury were notable and it was actually unlikely for these pilgrims to see them, as they would be enclosed in some sort of a reliquary and guarded carefully. The issue of accessibility – and the lack of access – often made the relics seem more holy and more important.  Since the really precious relics were not seen by the average people, their value was not within the objects; instead, it laid in the language used about any given relic and in the fancy and secure reliquary. Language and granting or not granting access to relics are the ways in which Chaucer’s Pardoner, as well as his European counterparts, try to persuade people around them that the relics they carry around are genuine an have religious value, even though in reality they do not. Malo shows how the Pardoner has a routine, a way in which he presents his relics in order to give them authenticity – “First I pronounce whennes that I come,/ And thane my bulles shewe I, alle and some.” and so on(94; RC VI 335-6). He never just shows his relics, he prepares the other pilgrims with words, making them believe that what they will see is indeed a relic. Since the Pardoner earns living by lying to people about objects that should be holy and are not, Malo argues that Chaucer uses him in order to parody the corruption of clergy in general as well as to show how power can be assumed by false claims of holiness – the Pardoner has the power not to show his relics to the pilgrims and hence supposedly refuse them to connect with the saints. Finally, Malo concludes that thinking of the Pardoner as a relic custodian, if satirized, can help us understand other readings of the Pardoner, and see how he embodies this frustration within the pilgrims, who might be journeying to Canterbury in vain, as they might be refused to see the notable relics there, in the same way the Pardoner might refuse them to see his relics on the way.

This article is really interesting, especially because it offers another level to otherwise fairly simplistic notion of the journey to Canterbury.  We have not pondered much over why individual pilgrims are going to Canterbury, but we have not at all talked about the possibility of them not achieving their goal; I assume that most people like me just thought that if Chaucer had time to finish The Canterbury Tales, he would let the pilgrims get to Canterbury, see the relics, return and choose a winner of their tale-telling competition. Now I just don’t know. It really reminds me of the Squire’s tale we discussed yesterday, as that also abruptly ended without delivering on what it promised, and now I get to question whether Chaucer was planning on delivering what he promised to do in The Canterbury Tales. So I find this fascinating from this point of view – could the pilgrims fail in the goal of their pilgrimage? And are there any implications in the existing part of The Canterbury Tales that that could be the case, any foreshadowing, not only in the Pardoner’s bits? I feel like I need to re-read the whole thing to see about that. Moreover, if we realize that the pilgrims were probably aware that they might not be allowed to see Becket’s remains, we can really change the way we interpret all of them, as they had to feel some frustration or fear, or (on the contrary) hope, that would probably project into the way they behave and the way they interact with one another – could someone be grumpy or disappointed in advance, and can we see that in anyone’s words or behavior? Overall, I was more than pleasantly surprised with this article; it opened some really substantial ways in which to regard and re-think the Tales, and that really is all I want from an article like that. --Anna Lorencová, 4/11/2013

Howard, Donald R. “Chaucer the Man.” PMLA 80.4 (1965): 337-343. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

            I realize that this article is a bit dated, but in searching for articles, I found this to be the most intriguing in terms of where we are in the course. As we enter the final stretch, I think it is important to look at not only the pilgrims and their tales, but also the frame narrative in which they all exist, and where Chaucer weaves these tales. In Howard’s article, we enter into an exploration of the author, himself, and the metamorphosis of the role that he enacts. Howard explains that the ways in which texts were digested was changing quite drastically in Chaucer’s time, and although he wrote “with oral delivery in mind,” the article explains that [Chaucer] viewed himself as a mere agent in a process of transmission and preservation” (339). The anonymity of the author was slowly dissolving, and Chaucer not only created a character for himself within the Canterbury Tales, but also created a character for his authorship. We see an example of this in the Man of Law’s Prologue, as the lawyer “mentions Chaucer by name and reels off an impressive bibliography of his works” (338).  

Howard illustrates the unique way in which Chaucer approaches this change in the idea of authorship and attitudes of readers: where most authors clung to anonymity in order to “whet the interest of [their] public,” Chaucer instead exemplifies the use of his name and “mask[s] his personality” (340). In this way, Chaucer stays one step ahead of the literary trends, and works within the system, as we have become familiar with through his tales, specifically those that involve a hierarchical structure. By projecting himself into the text, in more ways than one, Chaucer is exemplifying his skill as an author, and his malleability to the changing tides of readership. Howard explains in more detail the benefits of Chaucer’s presence within his own text: “such a narrator serves the artistic function of throwing attention on the subject matter […] and of course it is high comedy for the writer to adopt the mask of a fool when his artistry shows him to be anything but” (340). In this way we are able to appreciate Chaucer’s authorship even more, as it is important to place it within the context of a changing time for literature.

It is hard to place this within the text as of now, which is why I am looking forward to reading the final tales in Canterbury Tales. I think it is important to think about how Chaucer is not only entertaining his readers, but also challenging them in how they interpret a text. The readers cannot fully critique Chaucer because they do not know which Chaucer is the true author, as the article so perfectly states, he “mask[s] his personality” (340). Not only does Chaucer encourage dialogue and a deeper look into societal structures and the powers that influence how we live, but he is also encouraging analysis of how we read, and what we believe to be true both inside the text and out. –Molly Walner, 4/11/13

Hallissy, Margaret. "Widow--To--Be: May In Chaucer's 'The Merchant's Tale'." Studies In Short Fiction 26.3 (1989): 295. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.

Hallissy’s essay examines widowhood as a form of female empowerment, drawing attention to the Wife of Bath’s history and consequently pointing out May’s missed opportunity to ride her husband to death. She points out the only states a woman could be in during the Middle Ages: a daughter (under her father’s control), a wife (under her husband’s control), or a widow (under her own control) (295).

After briefly touching upon how likely it is for a woman to outlive her husband (296) and a subsequent lengthy look at why widows were so plentiful during the Middle Ages (296-98), Hallissy brings us back to the story to talk about the level of control May can over her still-living husband. She recalls Justinus’s warning to Januarie that marrying a young woman will bring him nothing be manipulation (300).

Hallissy goes on to talk about May’s last hope for a free life when Januarie dies: barrenness. If she bares an heir, then it will be entitled to Januarie’s money when he dies. Hallissy talks about the methods she uses to prevent and hope for such a fate. She mentions an old medical belief that a woman who is not feeling pleasure during sex is barren (303) as evidence to suggest that that is what May did in bed with her husband.

Several of the articles I have read have talked about female empowerment, and this is no different. It is something that is constantly in my mind as I read through Chaucer, and something I am profoundly impressed by when I acknowledge its presence. As we continue to read, this idea of widowhood must be something to keep in mind as a road to empowerment that seems less than ordinary in our time.

Additionally, this idea of the curse of pregnancy was both humorous and interesting to me. In truth, so much of a woman’s life is over when she gives birth. –Craig Richie, 4/11/13

Bradbury, Nancy Mason, Collette, Carolyn P. “Changing Times: The Mechanical Clock in Late Medieval Literature.” The Chaucer Review43.4 (2009) 351-375. February 11, 2013. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v043/43.4.bradbury.html

Nancy Bradbury and Carolyn Collette explain the multiple uses and illustrations of time in Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale. The article touches briefly on Chaucer in the beginning before delving into a history of clocks and time-telling of the fourteenth century. It is not until the reader reaches the subheading Chaucer Telling Time that any majorly significant connection is made to the tale itself, but the information prior is extensive and very helpful in understanding the exact significance that is later argued in the article. Bradbury and Collette argue that time in the tale is illustrated through the cock, Chauntecleer. They explain that, “every clock needs a keeper and the best keeper is attemprance,” Attemprance being the name of the widow who “keeps” Chauntecleer. The fact that Chauntecleer is a rooster is not by coincidence, given that a rooster crows to announce the presence of the sun each morning. They argue also that Chauntecleer is not just simply a clock, but a type of modem for all time rather than just the hours of the day. It is repeated several times in the article that, “time is either auspicious or fatal to human action” and that it is “saturated with social and cultural meaning”. The tale deals not just with time as the passing of a day, but as the passing of a life; past, present and future strung together, illustrating culture and providing morals.

While mentioning what Bradbury and Collette call “fable time,” they also mention canonical hours, which during Chaucer’s time, were widely known and followed. This also brings up a connection to the Miller’s Tale, in which Chaucer references clerical time during Nicholas and Allisoun’s trysts. In other tales as well as in the General prologue there may also be instances where time is mentioned and referenced, and is something that could be worth looking into further. It is interesting that canonical hours are connected in the article with the rooster Chauntecleer, given the connection made between the two at the very end of the article. Bradbury and Collette brings up the mechanical clock in Strasbourg, or the “Clock of Three Kings” that was adorned with religious icons and a statue of the Madonna and child, “to whom the Three Magi bowed each noon”. Also adorned on the very top of the clock was a mechanical rooster, an automaton that moved and crowed each day at noon as the Magi were bowing to the statue of the Virgin. It is an interesting connection, and causes one to wonder whether Chaucer knew of this statue or not.

This article provides a different look at Chaucer’s work as it focuses on the existence and passing of time, and in a way personifies time and mechanical clocks, just as they were becoming more widely known and seen. While the focus is admittedly on the Nun’s Priest’s Tale itself, it is also on the fourteenth century understanding of time and time-telling and keeping. –Raya Bichefsky, 4/11/13

Lynch, Katherine . "East Meets West in Chaucer's Squire's and Franklin's Tales." Speculum. 70.3 (1995): 530-551. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/2865269 .>.

            Lynch works from the “Marriage Group” idea of the order of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This grouping is based as a sort of conversation with the Wife of Bath, according to the article. Lynch focuses on the geographical location of the Franklin’s Tale and the Squire’s Tale, as well as the cultural geography of the tales.

            The Squire and Franklin’s tales are considered to be prime examples of Orientalism in medieval times. The author defines the East as a cultural and physical “other” to Western cultures, where sex and gender operate differently. The differences between the exotic and the oriental are also presented. The explicit “Eastern” influences and “othering” in the tale, such as origins of certain tropes and objects are Lynch’s main focus in this article.

Here Lynch makes the connection between the famous text One Thousand and One Nights, a frame narrative text filled with smaller tales, similar to the Canterbury Tales, though she does not assert whether or not Chaucer was familiar with this piece of literature. She claims that references to the Arabian text can also be found in “The Man of Law’s Tale” and “Melibee” as well. The various gifts give by the knight in “The Squire’s Tale” are also traced to their Eastern origins and explained in a less aesthetic, more factual method than in the tale.

            This article examines many of the binary oppositions present in the tale. The oppositions of East and West, masculine and feminine, natural and supernatural, the exotic and the domestic, and intentions and accidents are all recognized in the article.

            This article would be helpful to my fellow scholars who are looking at the “marriage group” interpretation of the tales. Even if that is not there focus, the article remains relevant for our research. While the theme of Orientalism isn’t overarching in all the tales, it is something that can be examined in the tales. The article can also be references when examining gender roles in the tales, especially gender roles in the context of a non-Western tale setting told through a Western lens. This article also presents a starting point for an object study of one of the knight’s gifts in the tale. --Lo Smith, 4/12/13

Farber, Lianna. “The Creation of Consent in the Physician's Tale.” The Chaucer Review 39.2 (2004): 151-164. JSTOR. Web. 12 April 2013.

            Farber explores what she deems to be the central question in Physician’s Tale: what might lead a woman to decide that death is preferable to a loss of virginity and agree to her own death. After introducing her own topic, Farber adeptly summarizes a handful of other critics’ views on the tale and concludes that all express a sense of disunity in the tale, which she attributes to purposeful changes on Chaucer’s part of the source text. She draws attention to their consistency and their common purpose of drawing attention to Virginia’s ideology that ultimately leads her to believe she should die. Farber does this by comparing the tale to its source narrative in Roman de la Rose and divides Chaucer’s changes into three categories: the discussion of Nature, of governesses and parenting, and the act of Virginia’s death. After exploring the text in greater detail under the umbrella of these three scenes, Farber concludes that this is a tale of a young woman who must die because “she accepts both her father’s understanding of her situation and his right to govern her” (159). This in turn places the onus on Virginius because despite being a good person, he is a bad father (or at least shows very bad judgment). The large factor set up by the Physician in the beginning of the tale is parental teaching, and it is Virginius’ teaching that causes Virginia’s death. This, she argues, is an allegory of politics and governance—how do you get people to agree with you and follow you? The story, more than about good judges and bad judges, is about who controls how we think and what power we think we have, because it is a result purely of Virginius’ judgment that Virginia accepts that she has only two options.

            Overall I am quite impressed with this article. Farber took on a lofty task in trying to prove cohesion and worthiness of a tale that has been dismissed as the opposite, and I find her argument very convincing. I only wish she had addressed the role of the Physician as teller. I understand that it would not be related to her central thesis; I am only curious about her thoughts on that topic since I approve so enthusiastically of her other thoughts on the tale. –Faith Huete, 12 Apr. 2013

Farrell, Thomas J. “The Prioress’s Fair Forehead.” The Chaucer Review. 42.2 (2007). Web.

Thomas Farrell uses this article to interrogate the common interpretation of Chaucer’s description of the Prioress’s forehead in the “General Prologue.” He argues that the assumption made by many critics is that the use of the word “spanne” implies a forehead of eight inches or over and that that is the measurement across her forehead from temple to temple. Farrell uses language genealogy to trace the use of the words “spanne,” “span,” and their Latin predecessors “palmus,” and “palma.” He points out that these terms most often indicate the expanse of a hand though the start and end points of that expanse vary throughout history. Despite any variation in the measurement of the hand Farrell claims that the measurement is never more than eight inches and that it reaching a full eight inches is rare. The article also uses common measurements of women’s foreheads to suggest that a length of even eight inches would be on the level of a possible deformity and would thus be unlikely.

 Farrell goes on to quote Hollinshead and Stephen Knight’s “Almoost a spanne brood” to support her argument that the forehead would almost definitely be measured vertically rather than horizontally which yet again makes the “spanne” measurement lose some of its shocking quality. All of these explanations lead to the ultimate conclusion that to judge the Prioress so critically based on the size of her forehead, as many critics do, is unreasonable and not supported by the textual evidence. Farrell ends his article by suggesting that critics take the single line with less weight and consider the possible sexist implications of Chaucer’s description of the Prioress when analyzing the portrait in the future.

            This article does a wonderful job of supporting its arguments for why the common assumption is incorrect. Farrell cites an array of different sources which span both Chaucer’s time and the eras before and after him. His evidence is both scientific and linguistic based and proves just how difficult definite definitions, especially of scientific and mathematical terms, of historical words are to obtain. The meaning of words is often extremely varied throughout geographical and historical spaces. This is perhaps the place where this article has the most ability to be applied to the rest of The Canterbury Tales. Exploring some of the assumed definitions of these words as they are provided in the footnotes may lead us to entirely different understandings of the text. It is sometimes too easy to rely on the scholars that have come before us for their expertise and we end up accepting their argument as fact rather than theory when creating our own arguments and we must question whether this sometimes weakens our understanding of a work.

The main failing in Farrell’s argument is that he does not spend as much time supporting his conclusion. While he does force the reader to question our split second criticism of the Prioress he spends not even an entire page exploring what this could mean or supporting his argument that Chaucer is possibly writing a sexist portrait of the Prioress and this is in fact the most interesting part of his paper and the part which I would most like to know more about.—Troy Browne, 4/12/13

Gaylord, Alan T. “The Promises in the Franklin's Tale” ELH , Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 331-365

            In Alan Gaylord’s article “The Promises in the Franklin’s Tale”, the author attempts to prove to us that, despite Kittredge’s earlier claims of the Franklin’s Tale being a depiction of Chaucer’s own ideal marriage, Chaucer is actually poking fun at the Franklin’s lack of understanding of love, vows, and promises.

            Though the argument stands up well as a whole, the most convincing part is when Gaylord pulls apart the concept of Dorigen’s promise to Aurelius, and how absurd it would be to take a promise such as that so seriously.  Gaylord cites the passage when Aurelius comes back to Dorigen out of “concern”, for her to uphold her promise, and explains “If this tightrope-treading, ostensibly ‘for thilke God above,’ strikes the objective reader as treading on nonsense towards absurdity, he may yet be assured that to the Franklin it is but punctilious gentility.”  Gaylord here has made it clear that through the seemingly exaggerated morals of the tale, one of the main points we are supposed to note is the Franklin’s naïveté on the matters of romance and honor.

            Though this article is about 40 years old, I found it interesting because it seems to support the claim that although the Franklin, as portrayed in GP is a man of relative good health and a substantial amount of money, may be totally uneducated when it comes to matters of love and promises.  Being a landowner, it is totally understandable here how the Franklin would honor words above everything, but as we as human beings know, in matters of love words play a less significant role.  Overall, I think this article and the passage cited in general is a good portrayal of how the Franklin attempts to turn matters of the heart into business transactions. –Sara Austin, 4/12/13

Spring 2007

Shaffern, Robert W. “The pardoner's promises: preaching and policing indulgences in the fourteenth-century English church.” The Historian 68.1 (2006): 17 pgs. 14 February 2007.  

            Robert Shaffern examines the historical evidence behind historians’ and poets’ claims that indulgence sellers were all little more than Vatican-endorsed con artists working to line the Church’s coffers. He starts by delineating a couple obvious examples supporting this viewpoint, namely, Chaucer’s shiftless con artist and William Langland’s shameless fleecer of the peasantry. Langland, Chaucer’s contemporary, used the prologue to Piers Plowman to accuse indulgence salesmen of “of impoverishing simple folk and usurping the position of priest.” Indeed, Shaffern argues, canon law of the Middle Ages “enumerated and condemned” pardoners for acting in a manner unbecoming of men associated with the Church, even if pardoners were laymen, by and large.

            The author, however, offers a counterargument that he feels proves not all pardoners were money-grubbing con artists. He cites Medieval church critic G.R. Owst, who still “presented evidence which suggested that the pardoners' ministrations were generally licit and recognized to be a great benefit to hospitals and churches,” namely, that the pardoners give their sermons to crowds on Sundays and “preach that they have many weak and impotent inmates, and display large Indulgences, and many things are given them--in truth, rightly enough” (qtd. in Shaffern). Shaffern points out that, in their time, pardoners benefited both the Church and its followers. They gave the Church the money it needed to fund its hospitals, and they gave peasants the belief that they would be absolved of spending more time in Purgatory as penalty for sin.

            Shaffern concludes that pardoners could not be as shiftless in selling their wares, as bishops of the time made sure that any preachers in their dioceses were licensed. Those hawking salvation without such a license were “under pain of excommunication.” He argues that Chaucer’s Pardoner, therefore, had to work extremely hard at his confidence game if for no other reason than wanting to avoid a run-in with the local authorities.

            The author’s research opens a fascinating new perspective on both Chaucer’s time period as well as at what, if anything, Chaucer was poking fun. Historically, the article points out that the faithful need not lose hope—perhaps the Catholic Church of a bygone era was not, as so many history textbooks feel, a looming force of corruption. Perhaps indulgences did, indeed, function as good-faith initiatives, contributing to services that would ultimately aid the meekest.

            From a literary perspective, the article also sheds light on Chaucer. Though certainly a man ahead of his time, the Canterbury Pardoner’s creator was not, most likely, a sort of Martin Luther prototype, heartily decrying the Church and its excesses. Given the nature of his Pardoner, however, he seems to have been able to pick up on the inherent flaws of the system, satirizing both the pardoners who worked so hard at their laziness, such as the Pardoner who boasts, “I wol nat do no labour with myne handes” (Chaucer 431), and attacking as well an institution that might hire the men in good faith but lose to avarice.

            That pardoners may not have been as bad as Chaucer makes them out to be indicates that he had a modern satirist’s talent for finding the worst-case scenario of an otherwise upright-seeming institution and making literary hay with it. As with the Knight’s Tale, where readers have no obvious indication for whether the tale really is supposed to be epic or whether it is a satire of an epic poem, the Pardoner could be Chaucer’s honest interpretation of what noble poetry should be. Shaffern’s research and the overall humorous overtones in The Canterbury Tales, however, suggest that Chaucer merely intended to poke fun at those elements of society which received more than their fair share of estimation.  –Bree Katz, 2/14/07

Farrell, Thomas J.  “The Style of the Clerk’s Tale and the Functions of Its Glosses.”  Studies in Philology 86.3 (1989):  286-309.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCOhost.  Julia Rogers Library, Baltimore, MD.  15 Feb. 2007 <http://search.epnet.com>

            First and foremost, I learned some new words.  One of them is philology.  Maybe I’ve heard it before now, but I certainly didn’t know what it meant.  You mentioned “glosses” during the last class and I knew what you were talking about, but I wasn’t familiar with that term either.  This article seemed like a good opportunity to find out more about them, especially why they are there.

            The author points out that they remain for a reason.  He says that they would have been omitted by now if they simply marked places Chaucer meant to revise or if he meant to return to them to make sure he had correctly translated the material he borrowed (287).  He explores the potential roles of the glosses.  He says the glosses “highlight important thematic material…and they focus attention on the style of the Clerk’s Tale…in contrast to that of its source” (290).  The examples he uses to demonstrate this seem logical and convincing.  He discusses the idea that the glosses draw attention to Chaucer’s individual style or meaning when he changes the words of Petrarch slightly or adds to them, which is interesting.  I feel like the article became less focused and convincing during the second half.   I also feel like I would have to know Latin to completely understand some of the author’s points. Shelly Haugrud, 2/15/07

Bowers, John M. "Three Readings of The Knight's Tale: Sir John Clanvowe, Geoffrey Chaucer, and James I of Scotland." Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34.2 (2004): 287-291. MLA International Bibliography. 15 February 2007. http://search.ebscohost.com.

            In Bowers’ examination of Chaucer’s version of the Knight’s Tale he explores the alterations that Chaucer made to Love of Palamon and Arcite.  He describes how the persona of the Knight telling the tale obscures “much of the homosocial content of the original free-standing version” (288).  Bowers claims that Chaucer downplays the friendship between Arcite and Palamon which Terry Jones claims was the central love relationship in Boccaccio’s version.

            Bowers suggests that the downplaying of homosocial loyalty in favor of a personal loyalty to the throne may reflect the changing political climate of England under Richard II.  His “political program after 1388-1389 meant accelerating this process of dispossessing the traditional warrior class and replacing it with a ‘courtier nobility’ located largely in his household with direct personal allegiance to the king” (289).              Bowers uses quotations from John Burrow and Eve Sedgwick to structure the concept that “The Knight’s Tale” helps reinforce gender stereotypes by relegating women to the realm of prizes or commodities; objects outside the realm of masculine society.  The paradigm of this patriarchal society is embodied in the figure of the Knight and, his son, the Squire, who create a line of succession; never mind that the Knight’s wife is completely absent.

            The social and political intrigue that Bowers discovers in the Knight’s Tale is quite fascinating.  The patriarchal themes in Chaucer’s version of the tale are blatant and unabashed.  Instead of being a tale about homosocial love forged in the bonds of war, Chaucer makes the story into a romantic quest for a mate to help perpetuate the soldiers’ familial lines.  This author’s reading of Chaucer is well supported by critical and historical evidence.  He deftly skirts the issue of presuming authorial intent, while hinting at possible explanations for some of Chaucer’s decisions.—Jacob Grover, 2/15/07

Bisson, Lillian M. “The Church In Turmoil: The Hierarchy and Heresy.” Chaucer and the Late Medieval World. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. 49-71. 

In this chapter, Bisson writes about the Church and its hierarchy during the fourteenth century.  The chapter begins by explaining that Chaucer was writing during a time when the plague epidemic was causing much of the laity to question the intermediary power of the Church against an enigmatic God.  In the history she details, Bisson highlights some of the tension and corruption within the Church as an institution.  When describing the roles of various clerics and their interaction with the laity, she also explains how officials, of both higher and lower order (the secular clergy), frequently abused their power.  The obvious corruption in the Church and of its clerics, Bisson says, contributed to a growing sense of anticlericalism.  However, people still maintained strong religious beliefs.  They distrusted the power of the clergy, not God, and, therefore, began to seek out ways to communicate with God directly. 

It was around this time, she explains, that the first anticlerical movement began in England, spearheaded by John Wyclif and his Lollard followers.  This movement specifically critiqued the Church’s wealth, the shortcomings of its representatives (the clergy), and its role in governmental affairs (50).  Wyclif also upheld the bible as the soul Christian authority, playing an important role in translating the bible into English, in turn, decreasing the laity’s dependence on the clergy by making the ‘source of Christian authority’ accessible to more people (58).  Bisson points out that many of the failings of Chaucer’s clerical characters in the Canterbury Tales are those that the Lollards were protesting.  She acknowledges that there is no hard evidence to support a connection between Chaucer and Wyclif, but does suggest that Chaucer’s treatment of his clerical pilgrims may have been an expression of his internal dialogue with this heretical movement.  Bisson also points out that many writers at the time took a satirical approach towards the clergy.

Through her discussion of the various roles of the clergy, Bisson draws attention to Chaucer’s characters that held positions under the Church, namely the Pardoner, Summoner, and Parson.  Citing other scholars in her argument, she explains how Chaucer’s depiction of the Pardoner and Summoner is rather satirical, pointing out their failings that are so obviously in opposition to what they should represent as Church officials.  This, she says, reflects Lollardy ideas.  However, the Parson, she explains, is cast in a surprisingly favorable light, he is devoid of the corruption so common to parsons at the time; this prevents one from making any definite associations between Chaucer and the Lollards.  Distancing Chaucer even further from Wyclif, Bisson notes that Lollards would be unlikely to make a pilgrimage such as the one Chaucer writes about. 

In this chapter Bisson makes only simple points and generalizations about some of the characters in The Canterbury Tales.  She often quots other scholars’ opinions, never really making an argument for one idea over the other, and she does not deal with any one tale in depth.  This chapter simply gives an overview students may find useful when seeking to understand the context in which Chaucer was writing and what influence that may have had on his work.  Students may come away with a better idea of how the clergy were supposed to act versus how they generally behaved. 

Bisson’s work may also help students understand why the characters in Canterbury Tales were going on a pilgrimage, (rather than seeking out a clergy member for spiritual guidance).  In a time when many people were doubtful of the efficacy of the clergy as intermediaries to God, it is not surprising that people took matters into their own hands by going on pilgrimages.  Such journeys gave them time for study and personal reflection, and they could appeal to God directly once they reached the site, rather than using a clergy member as an intermediary.  (While a Lollard may not make such a journey, ordinary lay people frequently did.)  Bisson never makes any strong claims about Chaucer and his relationship to the Lollards, although it does leave room for one to consider and question the descriptions of the clerical characters in The Canterbury Tales more closely. The entire chapter, however, feels more like an introduction to another scholarly work than an actual stand-alone argument.  It is useful only as a stepping-stone to create a foundation of understanding and as a starting point for doing more in depth research.—Leah Hoffman, 2/15/07

Donaldson, E. Talbot.  “Love, War, and the Cost of Winning: The Knight’s Tale and The Two Noble Kinsmen.”  The Swan at the Well: Shakespeare Reading Chaucer.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. 

This chapter examines Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale as the primary source for Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsmen (written in collaboration with John Fletcher, though Donaldson chooses to avoid as much as possible the scenes believed to be written by Fletcher).  As the prologue to The Two Noble Kinsmen asserts, the play is fundamentally a retelling in Elizabethan drama of The Knight’s Tale.  That their stories are same with no major differences is not under debate; it is the difference in details that provides the interest.

As Donaldson describes, Shakespeare sacrifices even the little character development that Chaucer provides for the male characters in favor of character development for Emilia and, more importantly, “a clear picture of the egotism of love destroying friendship” (58).  Donaldson points out that in Chaucer the two men are given somewhat different personalities, Palamon as the more rash and excitable and Arcite as the more contemplative.  In Shakespeare, even those slight differences are eliminated, and Palamon and Arcite become basically interchangeable.  Theseus, too, is a flatter character in The Two Noble Kinsmen: Shakespeare eliminates the thoughtful and just aspects of the ruler Chaucer portrays, and makes him a tyrant whose hand is only stayed by the pleading of a woman to whom he has promised anything she wants.

Emilia, on the other hand, is much stronger in Shakespeare than in Chaucer.  She is given scenes alone with her sister Hippolyta as well as among the other characters.  She expresses strong opinions about love and worries greatly about the loser of the contest, who must die, though she does not wish to marry the winner either.  In The Knight’s Tale, she is little more than an ideal figure, a plot device to provide the split between Palamon and Arcite.  Donaldson theorizes that Chaucer’s Knight, a man of war, understands women very little, and this is why the female characters are not given much treatment in the tale.

Examining another text with the same story as one of Chaucer’s tales certainly brings fresh insights.  It is interesting to note the ways in which Shakespeare chose to change Chaucer and, if one is focused on Chaucer’s end rather than Shakespeare’s, to question why Chaucer did not make those same choices and whether he would even have thought to do so.  It is obvious even with no basis for comparison that Chaucer’s Emelye is barely given consideration as a character; did Chaucer simply not see her as a real person within the story?  Did the Knight?  It is clear from the other tales that Chaucer has no bias against women or belief that they are less than complete human beings.  Or perhaps this is to show, in an even different way from Shakespeare, the way love destroys friendship—with the beloved as a mere plot device rather than an actual character.

The comparison to The Two Noble Kinsmen also brings up the fact that, while Chaucer barely differentiates Palamon and Arcite, he does do so more than Shakespeare does.  Donaldson says that he did not realize that Chaucer did so much until he compared the two texts, and I certainly did not realize it until I read this chapter.  Theseus, too, is a rounder character in Chaucer—at first I saw him as simply a stereotype of a good leader, but as I read about the differences between Chaucer’s Theseus and Shakespeare’s Theseus, I realized that Chaucer’s is actually a fairly complex character and embodies both the “kind” and “strong” aspects of a good leader, while Shakespeare’s is merely strong.

Donaldson frequently emphasizes that Shakespeare saw a “dark side” to the Knight’s Tale, and seems to believe that the Knight tells the tale as a light-hearted, somewhat humorous story.  I would not have read The Knight’s Tale that way, but in comparison to The Two Noble Kinsmen, it does seem to take on more pleasant, cheery qualities.  However, it is hardly a happy little story, and it is troubling that Donaldson does not explore his reasoning for reading the Knight as “good-humored” (51), while he is telling this story of friends torn apart by love, including such things as the gruesome imagery in the temples, which Donaldson makes a point of describing.—Kaitlyn Miller, 2/15/07

Taylor, Paul Beekman. "The Uncourteous Knights of The Canterbury Tales." English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 72.3 (1991): 209-218. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCOhost. Goucher Coll. Lib., Baltimore, MD. 14 February 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com>.

            In his essay, Paul Taylor addresses the similarities, and differences, between all the knights of “The Canterbury Tales” and the ideal and historical realities of knights.  According to Taylor’s research, the ideal knight was serving both God, in defense of the church, and love, in defense of womanhood.  He describes Chaucer’s tale-telling knight as both secular and religious, while those throughout the tales are fighting for love ideals.  However, in those fights for love, Taylor criticizes the knights for failing at the ideals of courtesy and he implies that Chaucer does this to address the reality of knights at the time.  In the world of the ideal knight, they fought for both women and the church because women, especially as virgins, were figures of the church and thus well worth protecting; the ideal knight was a bond between spiritual and worldly love.  In addition, knights were supposed to be good, but appropriate lovers and certainly not succumb to lust.  According to Taylor, in Chaucer’s world, the knight was expected to love within his social class, but he was also allowed to lust below that, as occurs in some of the tales.  As it turns out, the real knight, is not much like the ideal at all; rape, or as Taylor puts it “violent amorous pursuits”, were common among knights. 

            Taylor goes on to detail the different crimes of each knight in the tales, beginning with The Knight’s Tale.  He explains that, although Theseus is attempting to do a good thing by creating an orderly way to decide who shall marry Emelye, in doing so he completely disregards her feelings, as we know from her prayer.  Theseus uses Emelye to recreate a greater order he sees in the universe.  In The Franklin’s Tale, Taylor argues that a knight does the opposite, disconnecting and undoing order, while also ignoring a woman’s concerns and this exemplifies the tale’s confusion of love and knighthood.  In The Physician’s Tale, another knight disregards his daughter’s feelings, and life, by killing her to supposedly save his and her honor from a knight who wants her.  Taylor summarizes that in all three of these tales, women are made to succumb to a knight’s personal view of order.  In his next grouping, Taylor includes the Man of Law, the Wife of Bath, and the Merchant as tales that talk about ways of loving women.  For the Man of Law, a woman will not return a knight’s affection, and he commits a crime, accusing her.  For the Wife of Bath, a knight rapes a woman, taking away her virginity, a crime worse than murder.  Finally, the knight for the Merchant, he marries a young woman to serve his own lust, instead of the common good (God).  In this set of tales, although men have transgressed against the bodies of women, women are able to hurt the men in turn by forcing the knights’ bodies under their own will. 

Lastly, Taylor examines Sir Thopas and the Second Nun as examples of other-worldly love.  Sir Thopas dreams of a fairy-woman are equivalent to a love of the Virgin Mary and thus of God; however, the woman he dreams of is idealized only in his head and can never really exist-so he is both a good and bad knight.  The knights of the Second Nun’s Tale are created to chastise all those who have come before.  Taylor argues that, although some women do gain control over a knight, ultimately all of the knights in the tales have made women bend to their will.  He also points out that the one flaw all of these knights share which causes their “flawed service to love” is a lack of sense.  To conclude, he outlines the three errors in service to love that the knights make: subjecting women to men for order and honor, strong pursuit of women for pride of lust, and the quest for an ideal without an actual person. 

Taylor does a very thorough job of describing the characteristics of an ideal knight and a real knight in Chaucer’s time in an attempt to claim the poet was making some kind of commentary on the behavior of real knights.  At points, his outlines of the different tales are too lengthy, spending too much time trying to prove a simple point, while at other times, he spends very little time and does not prove his point satisfactorily, although what he says is true.  Where Taylor really fails is in proving his claim that Chaucer is writing stories about less than perfect knights as a comment on the much less than perfect knights in his reality.  This is a very interesting claim, and he actually lays out all of the pieces necessary for his argument in the essay, but he never takes the time to connect them for the reader.  Taylor presents a very interesting argument here, which could be used just to analyze the behavior of the knights in the tales, without his claim of Chaucer’s commentary.  This would also be a good piece to use for a feminist critique, without it actually being a feminist piece of work.  Anna Lehnen, 16 February 2007

Vaszily, Scott. "Fabliau Plotting Against Romance in Chaucer's Knight's Tale." Style. 31: 3 (Fall 1997) 523-42.                                                                       15 Feb. 2007. <http://lion.chadwyck.com/searchCritRef.do>.

            In brief, Vaszily uses the structural narratology of Roy Pearcy and Gérald Genette to prove the Marxist claim that Chaucer deliberately incorporates two instances of the French farce genre fabliau into �The Knight�s Tale� for the purpose of attacking the false consciousness of classism so prevalent in the courtly romance genre that fabliaux so often attack (2, 9). Vaszily credits Pearcy, who uses a grammar that Vaszily points out is highly similar to that of A.J. Gremias, with singling out �dominant� of the fabliau, the one component of the genre that governs all its other aspects (3) The fabliau�s �dominant� is that of a �duper� taking advantage of an ambiguous message in order to outwit a �dupe� who fails to understand the ambiguity. Vaszily reveals elements of this dominant to be present in two pivotal moments in �The Knight�s Tale�: Arcite�s refusal to honor his pledge to Palamon in Part One and Saturn�s intervention in Part Four. In both instances, the dupers, Arcite and Saturn, choose the overly literal interpretations of the messages they receive over the logical meanings in order to further their own interests (11, 15).

            I feel that the argument is decent, particularly in the discussion of the discrepancies between Chaucer and Boccacio  (15-17). A satirical stance would explain the presence of Theseus, whose intervention in Palamon and Arcite�s rivalry is quite ironic given his past.

            There are some holes in the paper. Jessie Dixon mentions in her annotated bibliography of the same article that the Knight places a spotlight on Theseus� nobility. Indeed, there are many instances of nobles being noble, from Ypolita and Emelye saving Palamon and Arcite from Theseus to Arcite�s dying wish to unite Emelye with Palamon (Chaucer 1748-54, 2796-97). I also think that Vaszily�s claim that the women�s cry at 2835-36 is not necessarily �as direct an expression as there is in Chaucer of the �hedonistic materialism�… so characteristic of fablieu� (10). Chaucer doesn�t give the specific class of the �wommen� who make this cry, but it does come in the passage describing how the whole of Athens falls into mourning over the death of Arcite, which means that these women could very well be of the lower socioeconomic that Vaszily claims Chaucer means to defend (Chaucer, 2829).       

             I also found myself particularly bothered by Vaszily�s need to put down the structualists whose theory he is borrowing: �Now that we are all poststructualists, perhaps we can use some structualist tools safely, without mistaking the approach for objective science� (5). I understand the need for critics to identify themselves to the branch of the literary critic community they align themselves with, but this comment still seems needless, and I feel that it damages the author�s credibility.

            Also see in this bibliography, Dixon, Jessie.  Annotation of Scott Vaszily, " Fabliau Plotting Against Romance in Chaucer�s Knight�s Tale."  Goucher College Chaucer Seminars Annotated  Bibliography of Chaucer Criticism: 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003.  2/12/99.  Available online at http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng330/annotated chaucer bibliographies.htm –Yvonne Rogers, 2/16/07

Rock, Catherine A. “Forsworn and Fordone: Arcite as Oath-Breaker in the Knight’s Tale.”  The   Chaucer Review 40.4 (2006): 416-432.       Project MUSE.  13 February 2007.    <http://muse.jhu.edu/search/search.pl>

            Rock’s primary thesis rests upon the supposition that readers view the conclusion of Knight’s Tale, more specifically Arcite’s grisly death and the eventual marriage between Palamon and Emelye, as “arbitrary.”  She argues that the pilgrim Knight, as the narrator, deliberately introduces Arcite and Palamon as indistinguishable characters to later contrast their underscoring differences in “issues of brotherhood, trouthe, and loyalty.”  The foundation of her thesis is that Arcite’s multiple lapses in these core medieval values account for his fate.       

            The crux of the romance, Emelye, presents the first marked individuality between the two sworn brothers.  Rock consults multiple sources to corroborate the gravity and legality of this oath of brotherhood, and it is essential to recognize that it is entirely absent from Boccaccio’s Teseida.  The oath would be recognizable and resonate with Chaucer’s medieval audience, but we must consider it a “significant” inclusion and examine its implications.  When Palamon first encounters Emelye, he reinforces this sacred oath by praying that Venus either help them both escape from their prison or take pity on them both.  In contrast, when Palamon directs Arcite’s attention to Emelye, Arcite is concerned only with his own desire.  Maurice Keen views this as his first transgression of his brotherly oath, which extended from physical protection of a brother to “all that affected his honour, his fortune, and his emotional entanglements.”

            One of Rock’s more compelling, though less developed, arguments follows as she illuminates Arcite’s defense that love is above the law in terms of positive and natural law.  Positive law is that which is “formally agreed to, imposed, legislated, made known, [or] written down,” which would include the bonds of knighthood and sworn brotherhood; natural law, however is driven by love and need.  Palamon is still operating under the subsets of positive law, in which Arcite is making the choice to defy their relationship.  However, natural law motivates Arcite because he thinks he cannot exist without her.  The power of this natural law recurs when the queen and her ladies convince the King that because the knights’ quarrel is one of love rather than war it is not apt to punish them with death.

            Aside from his failure to uphold his honor as a knight and sworn brother, Rock also argues that Arcite’s pride contrasted with Palamon’s relative humility in the face of their respective gods merits his horrific death.  Arcite, again aligning himself with Mars after the bout with lovesickness in Thebes, disrespects the god by attempting to win his favor by reminding him of his own flaws concerning his adulterous affair with Vulcan’s wife.  While Palamon and Emelye give their Venus and Diana, to whom they have been unremittingly faithful, two choices for the outcome of the battle, Palamon only prays for “victory.”  While she claims most scholars believe Arcite’s death is undeserved, Rock argues that it is a deep sense of faithlessness—exhibited by both his failure to uphold oaths and his vacillating allegiances throughout the tale that is responsible for his fate.  I agree that it is significant that Arcite must suffer to his death because it illustrates the irony of a once noble knight dying due to a seemingly chance encounter with Saturn, his folly in not praying for a merciful defeat as did Palamon, and it provides him with the possibility of redemption.  Since Arcite redeems himself to Palamon, does this imply that sworn brotherhood is still “indestructible,” yet innately human and flawed?     

            Rock’s attempt to provide a continuous lens with which to examine the characters of Arcite and Palamon is intriguing, particularly because it addresses and expands Chaucer’s earlier textual challenge to the reader to determine which knight is handed the worse fate.  While the central argument is convincing, the article however, falls somewhat short of expectations because the thesis is thematically and critically broad.  Thus, Rock often slips into unnecessarily detailed plot summarizations with a lack of development and organization in regards to the critical points that she seems to briefly illuminate and promptly abandon.  Though not a particularly compact argument, I would suggest this article to fellow Chaucer novices because, if read carefully, it will also catalyze wider critical arguments concerning the Knight’s Tale.

            For instance, Rock touches on the subtle and yet crucial inclusions that Chaucer made when adapting Boccaccio’s Teseida, but this issue potentially has greater implications for our reading of the Knight’s Tale.  While reading this article I also became interested in the possible mythological or literary predecessors to Arcite’s argument that because he was first to love Emelye as a woman rather than a goddess like Palamon, he reserves the right to pursue her in reality.  Rock’s closing arguments also have feminist implications about how Emelye is treated in the entire tale.  Arcite, by recommending marriage and listing Palamon’s worthy traits, directly to Emelye, is empowering her in a way that has been absent throughout the entire tale.  However, she also argues that Theseus undermines this potential power by first offering her as a tournament prize and later resolving she marry Palamon as a means for political harmony.  Though Rock introduces the possibility of a feminist reading, I am concerned that this viewpoint, if not carefully monitored, could be too anachronistic to medieval romance to yield appreciable results.—Jen Madera, 2/16/07

Blamires, Alcuin. “Chaucer the Reactionary: Ideology and the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.” The Review of English Studies 51.204 (2000) 523-539. JSTOR. Julia Rogers Library, Baltimore MD. 15 Feb. 2007 <http://jstor.org> 

            Blamires’ article attacks the idea that Chaucer’s “moral vision”is synomomous with democracy (523). Blamires aims to disprove the research of critics who believe that Chaucer was critiquing and ultimately disapproving of the politics of his time. The author writes that Chaucer was devoted to the “dominant” politics of his time, and attempted to shift the blame of the 1381 Rising from the aristocracy to the oppressed. The main characters addressed in the article are the Knight, Franklin, Plowman, Miller, and Reeve. Blamires believes that Chaucer created the Knight and Franklin as characters that ultimately glorify the upper class. He finds that the Plowman, Miller, and Reeve are scapegoats that caused any political uprising due to their greed and unethical behavior. The Reeve is the most highlighted character and the character that Blamires believes truly represents Chaucer’s political ideologies.

            Blamires dissects each of the above mentioned characters and provides Chaucer’s own political experience in relation to all five of those characters. The evidence he uses is almost entirely from the General Prologue. Blamires mentions the archetype of the overbearing man of power, and the moral upright plebeian, and claims that Chaucer ultimately swapped the two. The characters of the aristocracy( the Knight and the Franklin) are portrayed as upstanding citizens, while the Plowman, Miller, and especially the Reeve( men of much less power and stature) are portrayed as corrupt and power obsessed. Blamires concludes his article by stating this character portrayal is intentional, due to the investments that Chaucer had to the aristocracy of his time.

            I found this article to be quite useful in providing historical background for Chaucer and his works. It was interesting to me to read about the 1381 Rising, and the effects that it had on Chaucer, and in turn how it was represented in the General Prologue. The article also  provides an in depth analysis of characters that are not often mentioned in most criticism. I personally spent a long time trying to find a recent article that discussed the Franklin and his role in the entire work. This article provided me with about two pages of information on the duties of a franklin, and highlighted what Chaucer and a franklin had in common. While I did find the article do be useful, I am still some what skeptical of Blamires’ argument. I’m not that quick to believe that Chaucer wanted to oppress the lower class, and I still feel as if he critiqued all classes somewhat fairly. Either way , while there are some holes in Blamires’ argument, the article still contains a lot of useful information. –Kelly Rankin, 2/16/07

Jordan, Tracey. "Fairy Tale and Fabliau: Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale." Studies in Short Fiction 21.2 (1984): 87. Academic Search Premier. Goucher College Library, Baltimore, MD. 14 February 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com>. 

          While examining the Biblical references and utilization of a creation or “birthing” theme in The Miller’s Tale, Tracey Jordan establishes the tale’s main characters as sexually ambivalent.  Jordan claims this sexual ambivalence enables comparison of The Miller’s Tale to some forms of fairy tales.  The Miller’s Tale (by nature a fabliau) Jordan informs, can be likened to “animal groom cycle”-type fairy tales (87).  In these types of fairy tales, there is a transformation from “abhorred…to adored…made possible through some violent (sexual) act” (87).  In Jordan’s estimation, The Miller’s Tale exhibits an inverse form of this transformation, found in Absolon’s adoration of Alisoun that turns to hate after she tricks him into kissing her bare bum.  Thus concludes the first two paragraphs of Jordan’s article.  The balance of the seven pages is spent in discussion of the sexual ambivalence of the tale-telling Miller, John the Carpenter, his young wife Alisoun, her young Oxford-ian lover Nicholas, and Absolon, the feminine and well-dressed clerk harboring a deep affection for Alisoun. 

          Jordan describes sexual ambivalence as disinterest in the offerings of women.  Absolon is declared sexually ambivalent because of his natural disinterest in women; Jordan argues that Absolon’s “noble love for Alisoun” causes him to spurn all other women, and then is fueled by hatred for Alisoun to repudiate all women after his humiliation.  The pious and paranoid Carpenter in turn can be categorized as sexually ambivalent due to the fantastical nature of his love for his wife, his “ignorance of his wife’s sexual nature,” and the disinterest he shows in the overt advances Absolon makes on Alisoun right under his own window (91).  John, when he cuts his barrel free of the ceiling and falls to the ground, undergoes a “birthing” as a result of a creative plan that references Noah’s flood that Nicholas concocts to arrange a night with Alisoun.  There is an inversion of the Noah story’s moral as the “lecherous” Nicholas goes unembarrassed while the Carpenter suffers. The symbolic birthing is a result of the intellectual and creative Nicholas.

          Nicholas is not pointed out as sexually ambivalent, but rather as a sexual being.  Everything about him, from creativity to his music to his academics paint him as a sexual creature.  He gazes at the stars in trying to study God.  Alisoun is also considered a sexual creature, an exuberant physical presence that captures the interest of all three men.  However, her lack of dialogue in the tale embodies her character of more biological interest, with her ability as woman to “give birth” to the destruction of Absolon’s romantic love and John’s religious ideals, the placement of Absolon’s kiss and by sleeping with Nicholas.  In an article driven by finding the characters sexually ambivalent, Jordan’s descriptions of the sexual nature of the two lovers raise many questions as to the true focus of the article.

          Jordan’s classification of the Miller as ambivalent hinges solely, and I believe weakly, upon a belief shared with the Carpenter that man is not meant to know the ways of God and the folly of attempting to.  The Carpenter’s more intense lack of curiosity includes respecting his wife’s privacy, while the Miller does not.  Additionally, it seems improbable that a pilgrim such as the Miller, who tells a story where the sexually driven, prying scholar emerges victorious over the ignorant carpenter, could truly share in being sexually ambivalent.  Jordan’s classification of the Miller seems problematically succinct.

          The most glaring issue to be taken with this article is the complete non-presence of any discussion of The Miller’s Tale as a fabliau, and the limited comparison that Jordan’s shaky claims of sexual ambivalence allows toward a very specific type of fairy tale.  The lack of coherency between the title and the content would not be so problematic for me if something other than the desirable, animal nature of Alisoun were to be found in the discussion—the extant physical descriptions of her are suffice to classify Alisoun in such a manner.  Generally, this is Jordan’s largest problem.  Though interesting, Jordan’s main motifs seem disconnected and to not build to any conclusion; though the descriptions of birthing—in John’s fall, in Nicholas hatching a plan—are illustrated, they do not illustrate any point that reliance solely upon the religious references would not provide.  John can be compared to a reverse-Noah whether or not he’s “birthed” from a barrel, and Nicholas is clearly a sexually driven character whether or not the best verb to describe the creation of his scheme is “to birth.”  In addition to a few vague pronouns, after six pages without drawing solid connections or conclusions, the last line of the article is particularly frustrating as it seems to have zero relevance to any of the many, many tangents followed anywhere in the article.

          While structurally full of faults, Jordan’s logic is nothing if not creative.  Characterizing the players in any tale such that the tale may be compared to other genres—so long as something meaningful may be discovered—seems to have promise as an interesting method of analysis.  The article’s attention to the effeminate Absolon’s ready dismissal of all women may inspire a more historical reading of The Miller’s Tale with attention paid to gender, gender-bending, and homosexuality in both Chaucer’s life and times as well as the Canterbury Tales as a whole.  Further, the blatant sexuality and animal-like qualities of Alisoun in both the tale itself and Jordan’s characterization beg for a feminist evaluation of the text and comparison of feminist articles to Jordan.—Lisa Gulian, 2/16/07

O'Brien, Timothy.  “Troubling waters: the feminine and the Wife of Path's Performance,” Modern Language Quarterly. v. 53 n. 4(Dec1992), p. 37

            In his study of the Wife of Bath's tale Timothy O'Brien makes an association between the Wife of bath, her connection with water, and her connection to other tales from the Bible, Celtic tradition, and Ovid. He does this to encourage a more sympathetic reading of her character and to expose the patriarchial restrictions placed on women in the middle ages.

            The first thing he starts with is what Chaucer starts with, Alison's title as the Wife of Bath which he beleives Chaucer used not only to strengthen her characteristics (as Bath was a place that had a lot of buisiness in exporting cloth, therefore making it possible to have Alison be a succesful weaver)but to make a pun on her association with the more puritive and luxurious effects of water and to also associate her with the Celtic origins of Bath.

            Not only is her association with Bath seen as luxurious and puritive but it also effects the way she talks and thinks. O'Brien states that the use of two lines "As wolde God it level were unto me/ To be refresshed half so oft as he Solomon" and referring to "Jesus as the well of perfection that 'refresshed many a man'" are used to associate water with both sexual and spiritual desires. Having related women with water O'Brien beleives that the Wife of Bath also exposes the instinctual fear men have that women, like water (or vice versa), are a "shapeless, suffocating, engulfing force." Therefore women are obstacles for men and anything that is seen as an obstacle has to be marninalized in order to be dealt with. Which is an explanation of why women have been so marginalized in patriarchal societies.

            There are two things I had found most interesting in this essay.  One was about O'Briens note that in Chaucer's time there was a "greater emphasis on Scripture's sensus litteralis; like Alison in her sympathetic defense of and identification with the Samaritan woman, they permitted themselves a certain freedom in interpretation from authorative commentary."

            Another was on the Celtic story on the origins of Bath. It is very similar to the story the Wife of bath tells about the knight. In the Celtic story as well as Alison's story the knight gets rewarded with a beautiful wife after he agrees to marry the ugly hag she once was and also receives many rewards. However in the Celtic tale the old hag lives under the sea and one of the many rewards she gives the man who can stand her ugliness long enough to kiss her is able tog et water. Therefore suggesting that water has baptismal and sensual powers. And even though the women the knight meets in Alison's tale is not submerged in water we can assume that Chaucers tale would have had the same kind of meaning if it was taken from the Celtic tale.

            O'Brien ends his essay by stating that since water is associated with two meanings of purity and sensuality, women are held in the samekind of regard. They must either be completly pure or strictly sensual. This lack of a middleground, especially in patriarchal societies refelcts the marginalization and restriction of women which makes the Wife of Bath's character seem so wicked to her patriarchal fellow pilgrims even though she really is just trying break out of her marginalized state.—Colleen Desrosiers, 2/16/07

Richardson, Janette.  "The Facade of Bawdry: Image Patterns in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale."  ELH 32.3 (1965): 303-13.  JSTOR.  14 Feb. 2007.  <http://links.jstor.org>. 

                        In this article, Janette Richardson challenges the critical belief that Chaucer “Shipman’s Tale” is merely “typical fabliau zest” (303).  Richardson briefly defines fabliaux as bawdy French tales that emphasize immorality (often the moral corruption of the clergy) and someone is tricked without his or her knowledge.  It may have been more beneficial for Richardson to better explain this form; however, she seems to operate under the assumption that her readers are familiar with the term.  Apparently, several fabliaux appear within Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, all of which are extremely lewd and sexual in nature.  Richardson argues, however, that the “Shipman’s Tale” is not simply a depthless fabliau, but a carefully designed work of art that is a “mere façade of bawdry” (303).  Beneath the surface level humor is a much deeper level of moral insight that Chaucer presents by using figurative language. 

                        The article asserts quickly and affectively that the imagery in this tale centers around four main image clusters: animals, diet, sex, and trade.  The reader is explicitly told both that the author will be performing a close reading of specific images and what those images will be.  Richardson asserts that sexual metaphors and similes that are so “deceptively simple” really operate under a much larger and more significant irony (304).  The pattern that the four image clusters create serves to reveal the fallacy present in the mercantile worldview.  Richardson first attends to the most important image, trade.  One of the largest ironies in the “Shipman’s Tale” is that both the merchant and the monk, Daun John, use generosity and friendliness in ways that promote their own business ventures in order to turn a profit.  While the merchant’s intentions are honorable and the monk’s dishonorable, they form an “eterne alliaunce” that unites them as brothers.  This irony is more than palpable when Daun John uses his supposed friendship to “buy” the merchant’s wife sexually.  The article goes on to demonstrate how several images, including the “queynte world” that the merchant speaks of and the plow that represents how money has both profited and hurt the merchant, perpetuate a trade/sex metaphor. 

                        Richardson then discusses the animal and diet image clusters in the tale, explaining that animal images reveal the animalistic and sexual nature of people, while the diet images speak to their insatiable sexual appetites.  Thus, what the four main images do is make trade, diet (specifically, appetite), and sex so inseparable that together they simply represent the animalism of human beings.  Richardson is able to demonstrate this very nicely by presenting evidence in her article that follows the clear pattern that the image clusters themselves follow.  This is then what reveals the message (and Chaucer’s supposed moral judgment) of the “Shipman’s Tale”: What separates humans from animals is that they lack a spirituality that makes them function on a level above pure physical satisfaction.  Because trade has been clearly connected with sex and appetite, two undeniably animalistic qualities, it too is animal in nature and “not a preoccupation worthy of man’s proper state” (309).  Therefore, the entire mercantile lifestyle, and thus, worldview, is flawed.

                        Richardson then goes a step further, and perhaps too far, to show how Chaucer’s inclusion of religious images and mentions of God fully complete Chaucer’s “moral of the story.”  This section is longer than those previous and relies much less on textual evidence.  Overall, it suggests that the merchant, though he uses friendly deception in his business, yearns for substantial friendship in his private life, exemplified by his pact with the monk.  However, despite the meaningless practice of religion by the merchant, and others, within the tale (a speedy mass, oaths sworn to God, and prayer), the characters are missing a true sense of spirituality that would make their actions real.  Therefore, the true fallacy is blindness; the mercantile philosophy is flawed because despite good intentions, men are blind to the spirituality that is absent from their lives.

                        The main flaw of this article occurs in the final paragraph, when, after presenting this conclusion, Richardson goes on to reiterate that many critics have failed to recognize this moral level in the “Shipman’s Tale.”  She states that the clues necessary for uncovering this reading are present in the text and were placed there intentionally by Chaucer.  However, she then claims that if readers do not see this “deeper meaning,” Chaucer would only have one thing to say: “Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys” (313).  There appears to be an irreconcilable mix of New Criticism and Reader Response Criticism present within the article.

                        Richardson’s main reliance throughout the article is on basically New Critical close reading.  She examines specific images and presents their meanings and connections to one another as truths that establish an unquestionable pattern.  Although she states in the introduction that these figurative images and the heavy use of irony in the tale were designed by Chaucer the artist, she leaves him out of much of the early discussion.  Rather, Richardson sticks strictly to the text and carefully demonstrates ironies, double meanings, metaphors, juxtapositions, and patterns that support her argument.  The discussion is both clear and, in context, proves to be a valid argument presenting trade as a morally inferior human vice.  However, when Richardson extends her reading to include the ideas of Christianity and spirituality, her strong critical approach begins to fall apart.  It is here that she once again begins to refer frequently to Chaucer’s moral, not artistic, intentions.  The section includes far less textual evidence and operates under many assumptions, including that Chaucer condemned religious practice “for the sake of practice.”  She also condemns, and therefore suggests that Chaucer condemns, religion without spirituality.

                        This culminates at the end of the article when Richardson basically negates everything she has been saying by giving herself a loophole.  This reading is there, she says, but it’s not Chaucer’s fault (or hers) if the reader does not see it.  Now the argument is no longer about what the text is definitely doing, but about how the reader interprets what the text is doing.  What Richardson has been referring to as specific types of figurative imagery she now refers to as “clues.”  If the reader can find the clues, he can find the meaning.  By including this ending to the article, Richardson raises, at least in my mind, many doubts about what she has been arguing.  If these “clues” are only apparent to some readers, how do I know that it was Chaucer who put them in there?  Are there moral lessons in all of Chaucer’s fabliaux?  By mentioning all of these things, the author takes the reader out of an in-context, new critical situation in which the text speaks for itself, and into a confusing and less creditable area where if we readers do not pick up on this “it is our fault.”  Personally, I find Richardson’s argument to be both believable and provable, but her desire to cover her tracks and unwavering reliance on Chaucer as her supporter in this discussion make me question the article’s ability to stand up to opposition.  I suppose that’s the problem with trying to stick solely to New Criticism…--Laura Reese, 2/17/07

Robertson, Elizabeth. “The ‘Elvyssh’ Power of Constance: Christian Feminism in  Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 23:1       (2001): 143-180. 

In Robertson's article, she argues that while the Islamic world is presented as stereotypical and as the other, Constance is the otherness of the tale itself, not only by her Christianity, but by her class and gender as well.  Constance’s otherness, rather than being a sign of inferiority, makes her superior to any of the other characters in the tale.  “The Man of Law’s Tale” also demonstrates the “formation of religion itself as a category of difference intimately bound with one of the characteristic functions of Chaucer's writing itself—defamiliarization” (147). Chaucer employs other forms of difference—race, class, and gender—to reinforce the otherness of religious experience (147). 

The arrival of Constance effectively juxtaposes a different kind of otherness.  She becomes an embodiment of a foreign religion in foreign lands, and becomes the target of both desire (Constance’s husbands) and repulsion (the mothers-in-law.) Robertson argues that her otherness from gender combined with being a religious minority, creates the tale’s representation of apostolic Christianity as a threatening “elvish” force (160). Chaucer uses the category of religion to establish ideas of strangeness marked by repulsion and desire, falling into Edward Said’s theory of the Orient and orientalization, except as orientalization of the Christian world.

Unlike most feminist critics, Robertson’s view is that Constance is powerful, but unlike the Christian apologists, Robertson traces Constance’s problematic power to her gender.  Critics, such as Gail Ashton in her article, “Her father’s daughter: the re-alignment of father-daughter kinship in three romance tales,” determine Constance’s power in comparison to that of the other women in the tale, apart from the violent mothers-in-law.  These critics claim that Constance is left powerless in her submissiveness, which is in keeping with the ideal Christian woman. However, Robertson points out that Chaucer criticizes the mothers’-in-law power as corrupt and cruel by describing it as masculine (the Islamic mother-in-law is a “feyned woman” [l. 362] and Donegild as “mannysh” [l. 782].) Constance’s inaction and disgust with violence is more powerful and effective to the reader (and to those who convert) than an army that initiates mass destruction.

Robertson asserts that power should be not measured in terms of action and passivity; that Constance’s power and effectiveness are not as established in her actions so much as through her aesthetics.  Robertson takes examples of the foreign countries judging Constance as “so diligent, withouten slouthe,/To serve and plesen everich in that place,/That alle hir loven that looken in hir face” (l. 530-32), merely by Constance’s physicality.  Feminist critics might take this opportunity to argue that the aesthetic objectification of Constance, while powerful, is belittling.  However, the otherworldly sense of Constance’s powerful essence becomes a point to which Robertson does little justice. She cites Donegild’s description of Constance: “So strange a creature unto his make” (l. 700) and Donegild’s fabricated labeling of Constance as an elf (163), but Robertson dismisses any supernatural or elvish association with Constance, which would be ironic as an anti-Christian interpretation, if Constance were of a different spirit. Her “sexualization” as a wife and mother, her power through gesture and physicality, as well as the subdued incest with her father could dispel Constance as the Christian female ideal.

This article proves useful in examining Chaucer’s satire of rhetoric and employment of historical figures (Bertha, who married Aethelberht and restored earlier forms of Christianity for Anglo-Saxon England) as a basis for his tales.  His religious commentary on the loss of apostolic Christianity and the decay of institutionalized Christianity in his own time comes through as a consistent theme in Canterbury Tales (167). Likewise, the “law of man” is questioned in this tale, as the Man of Law fails to adequately articulate Constance’s experience religiously and as a woman (176).  By giving apostolic Christianity a female embodiment, Chaucer makes Constance’s world and values marginal, as if to reveal that his own values in Canterbury Tales for truth, justice, and a fundamental Christianity are marginal as well in his time.  Such racial and religious ideas comes in “The Squire’s Tale,” while feminist issues about a lack of power and otherness arise in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and the “Tale of Melibee.”—Rachel Bernstein, 2/17/08

Carter, Susan. "Coupling the Beastly Bride and the Hunter Hunted: What Lies Behind Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale." The Chaucer Review 37.4 (2003): 329-45. 

            Susan Carter analyzes the Wife of Bath’s Tale and Prologue in relation to other similar stories using archetypal characters and argues that Chaucer stands alone in his techniques to highlight the breaking down of gender roles.  She sees the hag in the Wife’s tale, and ultimately the Wife herself, as archetypal “loathly ladies,” a tradition from Irish literature among others, the “Irish Sovranty Hag and Dame Ragnel.”  However, she compares the traditional representations of the character to those on the Wife’s Tale and reports that gender issues are singularly prominent in Chaucer’s work.

            Carter analyzes the elements of the archetype: wilderness location, sexual veracity, power struggles, and supernatural powers.  All elements present in the tale, Carter begins to evidence the breaking down of gender roles uniquely in The Wife of Bath’s Tale.  She quotes Jill Mann as saying, "[t]he 'anti-feminist' elements . . . constitute the force behind the tale's challenge to male domination. When the knight surrenders to female 'maistrye', he surrenders not to the romanticized woman projected by male desire, but to the woman conceived in the pessimistic terms of anti-feminism." 

            The argument for destabilization of gender roles comes through Carter’s analysis of the story’s relationships with King Arthur.  First with the Fairy Queen and then with Queen Guinevere, females always seem to have power over him despite his status in English folk lore.  He is not the one to sentence the Knight; she is.  His men do not judge his response; a group of women do.  This view of a ruling body made entirely of Women questions gender roles drastically.

            I found this article interesting for many reasons.  On the surface, it was the fact that I think that the Wife of Bath is most interesting when read from a feminist point of view, but after reading the article I realized it was more than a feminist article.  Taking into account the archetypal character of the “loathly lady” adds historical depth to gender issues in my mind.  I did not realize that such role-challenging traditions already existed in literature.  That article also questions itself, leaving room for further research, by stating that the author does not know where Chaucer encountered the character type.  This is something we have discussed in class: keeping in mind Chaucer’s literary predecessors and influences.  I also feel however that Carter’s extension, although brief, of the archetype into the character of the Wife flattens her character.  To make her a mere recreation of a literary figure, though altered and unique, is still to make her a function of “auctoritee.”  Perhaps this is the evil behind reading an illiterate character through a literate author and a female character through a male author.  Or, perhaps her unknown adherence to literary form was in some way part of Chaucer’s grand scheme.—Jen Curtis!, 2/17/07

Baum, Paull F. “Characterization in the Knight’s Tale.” Modern Language Notes, 46.5 (1931): 302-304. JSTOR. Goucher Coll. Lib., Towson, MD. 28 February 2007. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0149-6611%28193105%2946%3A5%3C302%3ACIT%22KT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O

            Though the article is over seventy years old, its writer still provides one method of examining Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale” that may not occur to modern readers bent on examining the story line-by-line for deeper meaning in each one. Baum first examines arguments that preceded his, one arguing as to why Palamon and Arcite are seemingly interchangeable, one arguing that Palamon obviously has the higher ground. The author concludes that, in essence, both are wrong. Chaucer, he argues, “has weakened such characterization as Boccaccio gave his principal figures” (302) but then makes up for it by “emphasizing the necessitarian element of the story.” Baum slightly sides with the interchangeable Palamon-Arcite argument; however, he regards their lack of distinguishable characteristics as “lay figures of a highly picturesque and amusing game.”

            Baum then goes on to point out Chaucer’s oftentimes hyperbolic descriptions, such as Palamon being knee-deep in his own tears, both knights up to their ankles in blood, etc. as evidence of Chaucer’s subtle fun-poking at the Knight and, for that matter, at the entire noble class. Baum notes the distinction between Arcite’s “earthly love” and Palamon’s “heavenly love” (303), but also notes that this makes little sense, given that Palamon’s plea to Venus incorporates his desire to have an earthly heir. The author also notes that the kings each knight brought into battle did not fit the “earthly” versus “heavenly” characteristics assigned—Emetreus, the blond, champions “earthly” Arcite, while swarthy Lycurgus sides with “heavenly” Palamon. The final irony of this story, Baum feels, is the simple “situation knot” (304) in which a bloody chivalric battle is to determine the winner of Emily’s hand, but the knight who prayed to the correct god ultimately won.

            Viewing the Knight’s Tale, frequently argued as the only truly romantic tale in all of the Canterbury Tales, as a subtly comedic endeavor enhances both the tale itself and the stories other pilgrims tell. As a reflection of the specific tale, the overthrow of character development in favor of plot strikes the modern reader, at any rate, as a natural comedic device. Were we to look at satirists who came along after Chaucer, such as Swift or Wilde, we would probably notice that well-rounded characters took second place to one-liners and subtle barbs within the plot. Comedic influence in the tale also makes sense in light of its ending; the they-lived-happily-ever-after came about in the last ten lines of the Knight’s speech and was too quick to be satisfactory. Considering also that the Greeks, who provided the basis for this tale, were not known for their traditionally comedic endings, the Knight’s insertion of a perky “it’s all going to work out fine” certainly “sends us back to look for the smile behind [Chaucer’s] description of the worthy and perfect knight himself” (303).

            Granted, why would Chaucer have to be subtle when some of his later tales had humor that even modern readers (and “modern” even beyond the sense that Baum meant in 1931) would find humorous? The Miller’s Tale contains all the elements that would make a 2007 movie audience roll in the aisles: cuckoldry, practical jokes, literal ass-kissing, and a well-timed, juicy fart. The answer, I feel, lies in Baum’s explanation: “Chaucer was no doubt a serious and in many ways a great artist, but I fancy our efforts to explain his work would only amuse him” (304). The mark of a great artist, at least in the Renaissance period that Chaucer preceded, was the ability to handle many different arts. Besides, his simple placement of the Miller’s Tale right after this epic romance indicates another wink at his audience. Following the noble and good Knight’s Tale with the crass fabliau that the narrator even advises the more delicate members of his audience to skip tells us that the Canterbury Tales are not so much to be taken seriously. In the Knight’s Tale particularly, the point is not so much the characters or their noble deeds. According to Baum, the point was to subtly flay the story with satire. –Bree Katz, 2/28/07

Knapp, Peggy A. “Deconstructing The Canterbury Tales: Pro.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 2:1 (1986): 73-81.

In Knapp's article, she explores the contribution of deconstruction and its applicable strategies for The Canterbury Tales, using “The Miller's Tale” as a primary example.  Knapp says she does not see deconstruction as the final answer for the "development of discourse," but as a modern contribution to the long withstanding discussion about signs and symbolism with which medieval thinkers were intensely concerned (74).

Knapp begins with the centering of authorial intention.  She quotes Jacques Derrida to educate the deconstruction beginner on the limitations of the control of meaning by authorial intention.  Knapp believes the centering of authorial intention is applicable to medieval writers; she uses Saint Augustine's The Confessions as proof of the existence of a system of significance that humans cannot write or articulate through words. This is reminiscent of a theological/philosophical stance (Kabbalah standing out foremost) of language being a fallible form of communication (74-5).

Knapp employs “The Miller’s Tale” as an example of authorial intention within authorial intention within authorial intention.  John’s interpretation of Nicholas’s flood prediction is separate from the authorial intention of Nicholas, who thinks his scheme will succeed and without consequence.  Robyn the Miller allows Nicholas to succeed in the story, presumably for the Miller’s own intention of criticizing the higher classes for their exploitation of status. All of this, Knapp reminds us, is within Chaucer’s power and his own set of authorial intentions. Between the Miller’s depiction as both adoringly coarse and as part of the world’s emblematic system that is linked with biblical types, Chaucer’s intentions of the Miller’s character carry out “other levels of significance and […] are deduced from the interpretation of the text” (75).  Whether or not it impacts the argument of Chaucer’s true authority over the tale, it may also be worth noting that “The Miller’s Tale” is supposed to be related to us through Chaucer-the-pilgrim’s narration as well; perhaps adding even a fourth layer in this instance. 

Reference is another applicable mode of deconstruction for The Canterbury Tales through its ability to construct a system of likenesses and differences for the reader.  Paying particular attention to the characters’ feet, it is noted in the Tales that Absolon has ornate shoes; the Parson pays little attention to his footwear as he walks among his parish; whereas the Monk prefers to ride a horse instead of walking.  Knapp admits that references, binary opposites, and other types of deconstructive “code” may not be logical means for discovering all intertextual interpretations, but nevertheless, the deconstructive spirit struggles to do so (77-8).  Though deconstruction may not be the most satisfying perspective of Chaucer, this part of the argument have been better constructed by Knapp and defended by an actual deconstruction enthusiast.

To conclude her article, Knapp uses the thematic centering of “The Clerk’s Tale” to enforce Derrida’s argument that readers mistakenly employ minute details to create a theme that is used for the rest of the story.  In “The Clerk’s Tale,” Knapp transforms the Clerk and Janicula into the readers with different self-constructed themes of Griselda’s story (79-80). 

While Knapp seems uneasy with employing a deconstructive style for reading the Tales, she advocates giving the radical reading a chance among the more traditional readings that have been given so far. Knapp introduces the basics of the deconstructive reading style to the Tales; and possibly in more contemporary times, there is a stronger argument for using it on the Tales as a whole in terms of binary opposites (Griselda and the Wife of Bath, the Cook and the Knight) in terms of class, narrative style, and character. The deconstructive view would be particularly intriguing next to a historical approach, which would provide as a more comfortable context for the Tales.  It would be particularly interesting to dissect the authorial intentions behind “The Cook’s Tale,” and what would happen should a reader create a theme to apply to the tale.

Knapp uses Derrida as her sole reference for basic deconstruction, and Augustine’s Confessions as a medieval predecessor to deconstruction; perhaps using a diverse selection of references and contemporaries of deconstruction would help to advance her argument on deconstruction. Knapp’s tone of disbelief, inability to master deconstruction from a novice level, and her distance from deconstruction throughout the article make it hard to prove a solid, authoritative argument.—Rachel Bernstein, 2/28/07

Arner, T. D. “No Joke: Transcendent Laughter in the ‘Teseida’ and the "Miller's Tale.’”     Studies in Philology v. 102 no. 2 (Spring 2005) p. 143-58

            Arner contrasts Chaucer’s own “Knight’s Tale,” “Troilus and Criseyde and “Miller’s Tale” with Boccaccio’s “Teseida.”  He claims that “Miller’s Tale” is quite relevant to “Teseida” directly and associate’s the laughter of the townspeople as well as the laughter of the pilgrims with that of Arcita.  He further links Boccaccio’s story with Dante’s Paradiso, comparing Arcita’s laugh to the smile of Dante, a “signal of his contemptus mundi.”

            Arner continues to describe the placement of the “Knight’s Tale” at the beginning of The Canterbury Tales and the significance of placing it in a pagan context.  Chaucer does not leave room for a life after life within the pagan world; he reserves this for “Troilus” and interestingly for “The Miller’s Tale.”  In “The Knight’s Tale” “The philosophical attitudes expressed through the actions and speeches of Theseus serve not only to justify Arcite’s death and explain the world’s governing principle of order in an effort to comfort the grieving Athenians, but also to instruct the Knight’s audience how to interpret and evaluate the events of the poem.”

            After the Knight’s noble tale, not a voice is heard to “ne seyde it was a noble storie” until the Miller speaks up.  The Miller functions to follow “The Knight’s Tale” with the metaphysical laughter that Chaucer excluded from it.  Arner says that Chaucer uses the laughter of the townspeople to turn “personal tragedy [into] public comedy.”  He says that “’The Miller’s Tale is thus linked textually and philosophically to the Teseida through the very moment that ‘The Knight’s Tale’ fails to include.”  Likewise the Pilgrims’ laughter at the fabliaux comes from outside the tale and allows them to criticize the vanity of Absolon and Nicholas.

            Laughter as a method of transcendence is a concept that has always fascinated me. It is interesting that once The Canterbury Tale’s narrative returns from Pagan to Christian times, the concepts of nobility disappear, sin runs rampant, and everyone can laugh at it because they have hope for salvation and paradise through confession and penance.  The ordering of tales here is incredibly significant and clearly illustrates Chaucer’s genius as a poet.  He uses textual commentary as social commentary, to wonderful effect.—Jacob Grover, 2/28/07

Ortego, James.  “Gerveys Joins the Fun: a Note on Viritoot in the Miller’s Tale.”  Chaucer Review 37.3 (2003): 275-279.  Project Muse.  Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College, Towson, MD.  February 25, 2007.  <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

            This article explores the meaning and history of interpretation of the word “viritoot” in the Miller’s Tale, which Gerveys, the blacksmith, uses to describe Absolon.  According to the article, the word only occurs once in all of Chaucer’s known work, and due to the obscurity and ambiguity of the word its meaning has been debated over the years; most scholars seem to attribute to it some meaning similar to “moving quickly” or “turning.”  Others refer to the devil, fairy lore, or a child’s top.  Ortego explains that “modern editors and scholars have yet to agree on a definitive gloss of viritoot that satisfies both the etymological sense of the word and also the contextual and narrative significance of the verbal exchange” (276), and posits that this word is a small part that contributes to the overall “dirty joke” that is the fabliau.  Since “gay gerl” can be translated as “wanton woman” (276), Gerveys may have meant these words to be a sexual joke.  He also makes reference to an obscure saint, St. Neot, who, Ortego says, was known primarily for being physically small and weak.  Finally, the Miller refers to Absolon having “tow on his distaf,” and as Ortego explains, this is more than simply a phallic reference—having to carry a distaff loaded with tow was a common punishment for “persons guilty of crimes of sex and violence” (277) in Chaucer’s London.  Ortego argues that “viritoot” is a corruption of the Latin vertutis, with the connotation of “virility”—saying that Absolon is sexually frustrated.  Unable to fulfill his desires physically, Absolon takes the poker, a phallic symbol, to fulfill them metaphorically.

            This article was very interesting to me in that it explored the history and meaning of a single controversial word in the Canterbury Tales.  Benson has a textual note on the word “viritoot,” and briefly discusses the history, but in fact cites almost entirely different translations than Ortego does, including “early riser” and “peering.”  (Benson does agree with Ortego’s assessment of “tow on his distaf,” or rather it may be the other way around, as Ortego cites Benson, so his choices of very different scholars to cite on “viritoot” may have been deliberate.)  However, Benson does not connect that word to the dirty joke of the fabliau, and while I do not entirely agree with Ortego’s reading of it, even the possibility is yet more (perhaps unnecessary) evidence of Chaucer’s skill and sophistication as a poet—not to mention something additional to make the tale even funnier.

            While I do not contest the veracity of Ortego’s evidence, if only because I have no way to support or discredit it, I do find issue with his conclusion.  Simply, the combination of “wanton woman,” a corruption of a word meaning “virility,” and a reference to a physically impotent saint, do not necessarily add up to sexual frustration—and I certainly do not believe that the additional reference to “tow on his distaf” means that Absolon is a sexual predator.  The internal evidence of the text denies that: Nicholas is the one who physically approaches Alisoun and grabs her by the “queynte,” while Absolon merely stands outside her window and plays music in an attempt to woo her, only daring to come closer and ask merely for a kiss when her husband has gone for the night.  Moreover, while Absolon may not have given up love forever, he is quite clearly no longer interested in Alisoun sexually.  His problem is not that he is unable to fulfill his desires physically—he no longer has the physical desire, and feels perhaps that the extirpation of this desire must be revenged with a metaphorical fulfillment.  Actually, what disgusts him is nearness to his beloved’s genitals, and no phallic symbols appear until after he has lost the desire.  If anything, Gerveys may be suggesting that Absolon is and always has been sexually impotent; following on this, the Miller’s reference to “tow on his distaf” may mean that Absolon’s sexual desires have hidden depths of which even his friend is unaware, since Gerveys does not know him to have ever consummated them.—Kaitlyn Miller, 3/1/07

Leicester, H. Marshall. “Newer Currents in Psychoanalytic Criticism, and the Difference ‘It’ Makes: Gender and Desire in the Miller’s Tale.ELH 61.3 (1994): 473-499.

            As traditional psychoanalytic theory deals with making sense of the most complex aspects of the human psyche, it is perhaps appropriate that H. Marshall Leicester’s analysis of the Miller’s Tale using newer and infinitely more complex versions of psychoanalysis should also be tangled and long-winded. However, if one is able to get through the somewhat jumbled explanation of what Marshall considers to be new psychoanalytic theory and how she plans to use it, her analysis of the Miller’s Tale is quite compelling.

            In essence, Marshall argues that to interpret the Miller’s Tale through a traditional psychoanalytic reading—that is, to see it as a version of the Oedipus complex—is to ignore the inherent intricacies of the tale and its characters. She asserts that the tale is much more complex than traditional criticism would have it seem, particularly when it comes to social and gender roles, and uses a newer incarnation of psychoanalytic criticism in order to explore this multifaceted story.

 In Marshall’s reading of the text the Miller, as narrator, is stepping over social lines by defying the host and demanding to follow the noble knight in the tale order. As a transgressor of social boundaries the Miller is attached to the character of Alisoun who crosses traditional gender lines in a variety of ways throughout the tale.

Similarly, Alisoun is connected with Absalom through the parallel descriptions of the two of them. In Marshall’s assessment, the Miller’s characterization of Absalom also lands this would-be lover of Alisoun’s on the feminine side of the gender line—he seems to be more in love with being in love than desirous of having sex—and his anger at being tricked into kissing Alisoun’s ass stems not from emasculation, but from disillusionment in love.

            As Marshall sees it, the woman in this tale is far from being caged by the traditional social/gender role, though many aspects of her character and the tale could support that interpretation. For Marshall Alisoun is the most complex character and the rest of the tale’s population—John, Nicholas, and Absalom—are actually facets of her character. Alisoun exists in multiple versions and by realizing this the reader or listener is granted a much greater understanding of the psychology behind Chaucer’s work.

            This argument for the complexity of Alisoun’s character seems especially appropriate to Chaucer who was certainly not adverse to the idea of independent gender line skewing women (see the Wife of Bath). However, Alisoun cannot be a fully realized independent woman—her narrator, the drunken Miller, would likely not have been able to comprehend a completely independent female. Thus, the listener of the tale is obliged to read Alisoun’s true character through the men in the story.

            What is also interesting to me is, while keeping Marshall’s argument that the Miller is in some way challenging the Knight and social order by telling this tale, to consider the difference between the silent and chaste Emelye and Alisoun. Emelye follows all of the rules and Alisoun defies them…one must consider which man, the Knight or the Miller, had more experience with the nature of women.

Though this criticism may not be perfect, it certainly seems to hold more weight, in my mind anyway, than the traditional oedipal reading which involves viewing Alison as an object of fear and lust and not as a real character at all. Marshall’s view is refreshing, if a bit confusing, and is certainly applicable to many of the questions one might ask about the Miller’s Tale, such as: “Why is Absalom so girlie?” “Isn’t John really an okay guy?” and, most importantly, “Just what part of Alisoun did Absalom kiss?”—Rachel Conklin, 3/2/07

Bertolet, Craig E. “‘Well bet is a roten appul out of hoord’: Chaucer’s Cook, Commerce  and the Civic Order.” Studies in Philology 99 (2002): 229-246 25 Feb. 2007 <http://web.ebscohost.com/>.

In this well-written article Craig E. Bertolet tackles the Cook’s portrait in The General Prologue, The Cook’s Prologue and The Cook’s Fragment from a Marxist angle. He claims that they illustrate how civic order depended on trade and trade on solid reputations in the late fourteenth century. Although the Cook tries to build such a reputation, his disreputable character undermines his efforts (230, 246).

Bertolet first turns to Chaucer-the-Pilgrim’s portrait of the Cook in The General Prologue. What readers learn most about the Cook here is his repertoire of dishes and his culinary skills (230). Other than that, readers know nothing about him other than that he has a rather disgusting “mormal” or ulcer on his leg. As Bertolet notes and Anna Lehman seconds, the mormal casts a dubious shadow over anything that the Cook prepares whether he makes it “with the beste” or not, so it is a major disadvantage for somebody of his occupation (230-231). Bertolet interprets this mormal as a symbol of the Cook’s immorality: “[The mormal] is […] the only piece of the human known as Roger whom we see in The General Prologue, and it is corrupted and distasteful. Even though Roger hides behind his food, he cannot entirely conceal himself”(231). He ends by referring to Jill Mann’s claim that the mormal symbolizes the Cook’s gluttony, which comes to light in The Manciple’s Prologue (231).    

            Bertolet then compares the Cook’s portrait to other portraits in The General Prologue. Like the Cook, the Man of Law, the Physician, the Wife of Bath and the Guildsmen all depend on their reputations in order to survive. Ergo, they are obsessed with self-promotion (231-232). Bertolet also contrasts the Franklin’s hospitablity and appreciation of food for its use value with the Cook’s suspicious nature and treatment of food as nothing but a commodity (232-233).

Bertolet finishes his examination of the Cook with his analysis of The Cook’s Prologue. If the Cook were to be convicted of the charges the Host levels against him, the Cook would suffer greatly, not only because such shameful practices endanger lives, but also because they damage the guild’s reputation. In spite of this, the Cook seemingly admits to these crimes (235).

Bertolet believes that the Cook’s negative opinion of “herbergage” extends to the city shopkeeper. The wise shopkeeper, according to the Cook, never allows anyone into his or her private dwelling until he/she knows that the person is trustworthy. The risk to the family’s personal and professional reputations is too great to do otherwise (237). Bertolet believes the Cook expounds on this viewpoint in his cautionary tale. Perkyn betrays the victualler on both a professional and personal level.  He violates his apprenticeship contract with his master, destroys the shop’s reputation, and throws the victualler’s generosity in his face (239). Rather than let the selfish youth destroy his business and his status within the community, the victualler denies Perkyn London citizenship, one of the ultimate goals of apprenticeship (241-244). This, according to Bertolet, “[…] is an act that attempts to control the ungovernable elements of society by denying them membership to the power structures of society” (244). By having Perkyn end up with a crook who lives in a brothel, the Cook asserts that Perkyn’s crimes are just as felonious as theft and prostitution and should be punished likewise (245).

            Bertolet makes extensive use of both primary and secondary sources. He took no chance on overlooking evidence on account of its age, citing articles from as far back as the 1930’s. In particular I am impressed by his use of historical records. The many long footnotes yield fascinating information about medieval life. I also appreciate Bertolet’s writing style. It is professional yet easy to follow. I found it odd, however, that he went back and forth between referring to the Cook as “the Cook” and referring to him as “Roger.” I have been taught to always refer to a character by the name the speaker uses most often. I also found it worked against Bertolet as the given name humanized the character and therefore make it harder for me to see him as unsympathetic. In Bertolet’s defense, however, he could not ignore the name because it is a part of the text. After rereading the CT passages he cites, I found Bertolet’s argument to be logical. In particular, the Cook condemns Perkyn for having no more character than the larcenous compeer (I.4419). Bertolet’s use of The Manciple’s Tale also proves to be strong evidence. When the Cook falls off his mount, he is as pale and nasal-voiced as the dislikable Symkyn of The Reeve’s Tale whose suffering brings the Cook delight (IX. 19, 61; I. 4150-4151). The article is good work, and while it is not perfect, its reasoning is sound as far as I can tell.

            I feel as though Bertolet could have taken the article further than he did. If, as he claims, the Cook is an irresponsible character who believes that irresponsible business practices should be punished harshly, then the Cook, like the Reeve, is a hypocrite as well as a liar and a thief. After all, we learn in The General Prologue that the Reeve steals from his lord (610-612). Nevertheless, The Reeve’s Tale is about a thief’s punishment. Likewise, by agreeing to go on the pilgrimage with the Guildsmen and then shaming them with his public drunkenness, the Cook commits the very act that he damns Perkyn for. Furthermore, the Guildsmen prove themselves rather foolish when they hire a nit-wit cook with an apparently obvious skin condition for the sake of sign-exchange value. (Perhaps Chaucer places the Franklin’s portrait before the Guildsman’s and the Cook’s in order to show how the Guildsmen’s conspicuous consumption fails to impress the pilgrim: being a connoisseur and having a cook of his own, the Franklin would know whether or not the Cook was any good.) If this is Chaucer’s intention, then Fragment I is in part a meditation on the importance of knowing oneself.

            Finally, I am intrigued by the idea that the Cook’s portrait and Bertolet’s interpretation of it say as much about how people saw and still see the lower class as it says about the Cook’s shortcomings. Bertolet seems to forget that the Franklin is wealthy and powerful and therefore has the luxury of enjoying his food while the Cook does not. Today, the Franklin would be savoring Oysters Rockefeller at Tavern on the Green with his friends while the Cook would be dunking McDonald’s fries in hot oil. Moreover, the brevity of the Cook’s description seems compatible to me with what people of higher socioeconomic class often end up seeing of the people who serve them. When we go through the line at Subway or Chipotle or Pearlstone, how often do we notice nothing more about the people who serve us other than what they do and their most prominent physical features? Probably more often than we would like to admit. I know it is true of me. --Yvonne Rogers, 3/2/2007

Thomas, Susanne Sara. "The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in the Wife of Bath's Tale." The Chaucer Review 41.1 (2006): 87-97.

Thomas’s article is a break down of the Wife’s tale in deconstructionist terms.  She walks the analysis through the tale, pointing out places where meaning is indeterminable.  She points out several contrasting meanings, her most powerful argument being the constantly shifting definition of the word “sovereyntee” in the text. She also flips positive and negative roles to create a question over the privileged position.   Her deconstructionist approach actually favors the contrasting reading and suggests at the end that the knight has not developed at all, nor has he met with a desirable outcome.

In her exploration of the general meaning of the word “sovereyntee” she points out that the knight does not desire knowledge of sovereyntee and in fact enjoys his ignorance.  She ends up defining the word at some point as being the master of one’s own desires.  An interesting point about that is that the knight is in no way in control of his own desires.  In fact, his desires are what put him in the position of punishment in the first place.  By giving the wyf power to decide what he wants, he is letting her define his desires and therefore not only giving her the freedom over her body and mind, but also over his own desires and therefore him in all ways.  This, however, is only one definition presented of the word sovereyntee, as she cites several other definitions from the text and other sources.  One of these definitions is “territory under the rule of a sovereign, or existing as an independent state.”  Though she does not offer this connection, under her reading the knight is the property of the wyf, who is described as a sovereign.  Perhaps this means that he does have some form of sovereyntee.          

In flipping the roles of positive and negative, she suggests that the wyf makes this reversal for the reader by saying that the message of the poverty sermon is “if you redefine your value system—so that negatives become positives—then you will find me desirable” (90).  In this she makes the wyf’s desirability not a question of the wife, but of society’s definition of what is desirable.  She also questions the “bath of bliss” reading of the ending in two ways.  She says that the seemingly desirable, meek woman has turned into a monstrous sovereign with the ability to change shape, a frightening thought.  She also suggests that the bath of bliss is only upon seeing her beauty and not a statement about the future of the marriage.  She also points out the reversed role of the poor wyf- who has power in court- and the knight- who, though he assumingly would have some pull, does not.

Thomas concludes that the Knight’s desires are given to the wyf, making him her property and giving up any and all freedom he had.  She promises him a happy life in vague terms of “goodness” which will assumedly be defined by her, as she is in control of the Knight’s desires.

I think that this article is very interesting for it’s reversal of roles and ideas that the Knight not only remained a static character but also lost freedom through the tale.  Her deconstructionist approach seems to be a little inconsistent at points, as she tries to prove lack of meaning at some points and contradictory meaning in others.  For example, while she asserts that the text offers no discernable definition for sovereyntee, she makes definitive statements about sovereyntee.  Though she offers several of the wyf’s views on sovereyntee in addition to other accepted definitions, she still passes judgment on the sovereyntee of characters in the tale.  She accepts one definition of sovereyntee over others with little explanation and then continues to analyze the entire tale according to that.  She decides that the knight does not have sovereyntee though even her title describes the term as indefinable. 

      Another problem with the article is the fact that she moves in more or less chronological order.  She references the knight’s love of ignorance and aversion to learning in the beginning, but does not connect it to the end where she discusses his failure to learn from the experience.  It may be that I just had trouble, but I felt as if this made her argument difficult to follow at some points and hard to summarize. 

As far as usefulness, I feel as though this article does have a few good points, which I may be able to use in my presentation. I will most likely refer to the definition of sovereyntee and the confusion it causes in the text.  The knight’s role in the tale is as well a part of this article that proves interesting.  Though he is a minor character, she mentions in passing that the wyf is simply an illusion to emphasize his inability to change and learn.  Though I would not reference such a small detail of the article, it does call his role and character into question with issues that may be quite interesting.  This article is not the best example I could find of deconstruction of this tale, but it offers several points that are interesting and illuminating.—Jen Curtis!, 3/2/07

Edwards, Robert R. “Source, Context, and Cultural Translation in the “Franklin’s Tale.” Modern Philology 94.2 (1996) 141-162. JSTOR. Julia Rogers Library, Baltimore MD. 26 Feb, 2007 <http://jstor.org>                  

            Edwards disputes the popular argument that Chaucer’s inspiration for the “Franklin’s Tale” is solely based on  Menedon’s story from Boaccacio’s Filocolo. The author believes that the pure volume of the text (about five books) gives good reason to believe that Chaucer might not have read it that closely. Thus, Edwards believes that “The question of Chaucer’s needs to be reopened by returning to the texts and manuscripts”(142). In the article he does not argue that Menedon’s story had some influence on the “Franklin’s Tale”, he believes that it is a combination of the story and the “cultural questions that frame it”(142). Thus he believes that the “Franklin’s Tale” is actually a cultural translation, and in the article he analyzes numerous texts to prove such.

            The article continues on, giving a deep analysis of the history of Filocolo, pointing out some of the similarities between the text and Chaucer’s work. After Edwards points out the influence Boaccacio had over Chaucer he states “ the social world portrayed in the Franklin’s Tale ....is the domain that Chaucer moves from a literary to a cultural translation”(154). Edwards analyzes the social worlds and visions of the two to attempt to figure out what Chaucer is saying about his culture through the “Franklin’s Tale.” Edwards concludes the article stating that the tale is a commentary on Chaucer’s thoughts on the social ranking and aristocracy of his time. In the end he believes that the tale was created by a “nostalgia” for the world that existed in Boaccacio’s writing.

            I found the article to be somewhat useful, but overall I think Edwards has a tendency to contradict himself. At the start of the article he makes it clear that he does not agree with critics who believe Menedon’s story is the basis for the “Franklin’s Tale.” However as the article continues he retracts this statement saying  that it is the story and the cultural aspects contained in it that Chaucer used in his work. He then goes on to talk about how these cultural aspects speak to Chaucer’s expression of social relations. Since I am doing my presentation on the “Franklin’s Tale” I found Edwards insights on the characters and social relations to be quite useful. Some of Edward’s insights on Chaucer’s opinions on the aristocracy seemed to be either off base, or to obvious.  Therefore while the article has some useful ideas, the argument is far from ground breaking and the end result is rather weak. –Kelly Rankin, 3/2/07

Delasanta, Rodney.  "The Mill in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale."  The Chaucer Review 36.3 (2002): 270-6.  JSTOR.  28 February 2007.

            In this article, Delasanta, like many critics seem to have done with Chaucer’s fabliau, uses symbolic imagery to reveal the Christian undertones running beneath the comical and sexual Reeve’s Tale.  He asserts that the mill at Trumpington is not only the setting of the tale, but an apocalyptic image that has religious origin and purpose.  Throughout the article, Delasanta relies on Chaucerian, historical, and biblical evidence to back up his claim, choosing to highlight the mill/apocalypse image tradition and let the Reeve’s Tale speak for itself.  In this sense, Delasanta performs a sort of Structuralist exploration of the image, placing it, and by extension, the Reeve’s Tale, within the pattern of apocalyptic mill imagery.

            He begins by mentioning the image of the flood in the Miller’s Tale, which sets up a foundation of religious allusion in The Canterbury Tales; specifically, the idea of apocalyptic message and the lack of attention paid to it by modern Chaucer critics.  Because of the modern focus on New Historicism, Marxism, Feminism, Deconstruction, “et al.,” Delasanta asserts that “any theological topic” is overstepped by critics looking for something more than Christianity within the text (270).  However, the “comic incongruities” in the Miller’s Tale and the Reeve’s Tale (and all the fabliau) must not be overlooked as essential to the artistry of Chaucer’s Tales.

            While the Miller, a “neo-Noah” figure, does not experience a cleansing flood entirely comparable to the Great Flood, his “non-flood” has the same consequences: it destroys a world of corruption.  The difference is that Chaucer’s story includes a comedic, sexual level while maintaining an encompassing undertone of Christianity, an idea many critics choose to classify as “immiscible juxtaposition” (272).  However, Delasanta believes that the religious implications are the real message, only revealed by the sexual.  Grinding corn into flour has long been analogous with the sexual act of procreation, he explains.  In the Reeve’s Tale, as payment for Symkyn stealing John and Alain’s flour, they de-flour him by literally “deflowering” his daughter.  Delasanta includes a passage from the tale (lines 4035-45) rich in sexual connotation about “grinding.”  He briefly but smartly acknowledges the sexual double entendre that is obvious to current Middle English scholars and would have been unmissed by Chaucer’s contemporary readers/audience.  But then, wisely, the article gets into its central argument by extensively exploring the sacred possibilities of the mill image.

            Despite the bawdy sexuality of many of Chaucer’s tales, one must not forget, says Delasanta, that at the end of the road, and the end of the game, lies the holy shrine at Canterbury, the reason for the journey.  This is, after all, a pilgrimage, and a journey that is theoretically made solely because of religious devotion.  Says Delasanta, “the Chaucerian dirty story often depends for its own larger narrative glory on the unspoken paradigm of the pious fable” (272).  Here he mentions the Structuralist idea that poetry (literature) seeks to reconcile opposites.  In Chaucer, the sexual and the sacred are not “immiscible,” but artistically reconciled opposites.

            Delansanta first catalogs many Christian artistic and architectural representations of the mill.  One church, the Bern Cathedral in Switzerland, depicts a mill churning out communion wafers.  The article then goes on to connect the mill to specific apocalyptic ideology, quoting both Old and New Testament passages, including Matthew, who Delasanta claims that Chaucer would have been very familiar with (274).  His conclusion is that in a biblical context, the mill is usually associated with apocalyptic catastrophe.  In Luke’s version of the end of the world, Luke says, “In that night there shall be two men in one bed.  One shall be taken and the other shall be left.  Two women shall be grinding together [at the mill]” (17:30-35, 274).  The connections between this passage and the Reeve’s Tale are quite obvious and more than coincidental, and Delasanta allows the information to speak for itself, rather than explaining all of the double meaning and similarities to the tale to the reader.

            The article returns to the Reeve’s Tale in its final paragraph, when Delasanta asserts that while the tale ends with a comical doom rather than a catastrophic end-of-the-world doom, the same overall effect remains: the destruction of a “world” of corruption, the Miller’s world.  Delasanta acknowledges that another essay could and would need to be written in order to provide other Chaucerian examples of apocalyptic imagery within the literature; however, he does cite that in much medieval literature, the image of a mill appears at the end of days, or during catastrophe, meaning that this image would have been no secret to both Chaucer and his audience (275).  The mill in the Reeve’s Tale, he concludes, in undoubtedly an “apocalyptic symbol which transforms fabliau and points comedy in a direction entirely consonant with pilgrimage” (275).

            When I read this article for the first time, my only prior knowledge of its content being the title, I found myself easily accepting Delasanta’s (who was admittedly, which helps, not the first to suggest this idea) interpretation of the mill in the Reeve’s Tale.  Because he incorporates so many examples and, I think, proves the consistency of both the sexual and sacred mill images in literature, there really can be no contest that this tale, and the Miller’s Tale, has underlying apocalyptic messages.  This stems originally from the usage of mills in the Bible.  As Delasanta argues, Chaucer the medieval citizen has knowledge of this symbol, while Chaucer the artist uses it for a purpose. 

            Delasanta stresses the idea that modern critics pay little attention to the apocalyptic typology.  I believe that this is because the “pattern” of the mill image is no longer as prominent a part of our modern literary structure.  In the Middle Ages, when Christianity could not be separated from anything, including literature, because of its transcendence over life, imagery could clearly be interpreted in its Christian way.  The mill, in Chaucer’s time, has sexual connotations and sacred connotations that were inherent in the society.  Chaucer, the artist, was able to take his inherent knowledge and use it to form a story with several layers of meaning.  In the same way, critics are able to use current trends to find meaning in The Canterbury Tales, yet supposedly pay little attention to the older apocalyptic image.  I think the discrepancy lies in the time difference (including the fact we don’t really have the typical “mills” anymore) and the de-emphasis in our modern world on Christianity.  However, the mill image is obviously still very much valid and present in the overall blueprint of literature and Christianity, it just needs to be dug out and brought into a modern knowledge base in order for readers to find its significance.

            Not only has Delasanta provided the information, I think he does a convincing job of explaining why the Reeve’s Tale can and must be interpreted according to the pattern and implications of the medieval and biblical mill.  The setting was no accident, and neither was the connection between the Miller and Reeve’s tales.  The Canterbury Tales operates on multiple levels of meaning and artistry; the sexual and sacred reconciliation of the mill in this tale is merely one of them.—Laura Reese, 3/2/07

Casey, Jim. “Unfinished Business: The Termination of the Cook’s Tale.” The ChaucerReview. 41.2 (2006): 185-196. Project MUSE. Goucher Coll. Lib., Baltimore, MD. 24 Feb. 2007. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v041/41.2casey.html>. 

        In this article, Casey presents some very interesting information and new insights into the debate surrounding the abrupt ending of the Cook’s Tale.  He begins by referencing Douglas Gray’s list of reasons for the shortened tale: there was more, but it was lost, Chaucer was prevented from finishing the tale, or Chaucer decided not to finish the tale.  However, Casey does not see this as a full list of possibilities; he includes the idea that the Cook’s Tale is perfect as is, and works as part of Fragment I. 

         Casey states that many critics have looked for a source of the tale, or at other outside sources to discover why it is short, but he feels that it is necessary to look to the tale itself to discover an answer.  Casey cites John Hines to refute the usage of “thematic closure,” saying that these arguments do not complete the story.  Continuing to examine other criticism, he looks to Frank Kermode’s statement that all books must have endings and Michaela Paasche Grudin’s assertion that Chaucer expected this type of closure, as he writes in Troilus and Criseyde.  Casey then contradicts this, citing Rosemarie McGerr, who says that open-ended stories did exist in the Middle Ages.

      Casey switches tactics, turning to the manuscripts and the Hengwrt scribe’s note.  He presents M. C. Seymour’s argument that the last pages of the Cook’s Tale were lost.  However, this is not enough for Casey who turns, finally, to his own argument that the ink of the manuscript tells us more.  The scribe’s note at the end of the Cook’s Tale is written in the same ink that the second Fragment is and that appears nowhere else in the manuscript.  Therefore, the scribe must have written the note before, during, or after writing Fragment II.  Casey turns, again, to Seymour and his argument that by the time the scribe wrote the Ellesmere manuscript, he knew more of the tale existed, but was unable to find it.  Turning to Linne Mooney’s argument that Chaucer knew the scribe and was familiar with him, Chaucer would have told the scribe to remove the note, giving us evidence that he had written more.

      Casey finally delves into his own argument that Chaucer made the Cook’s Tale just as it is, short and abrupt.  When the host request’s a tale of the Cook later, it first appears that he is saying the Cook has not told another tale.  However, Casey argues that the host is mocking the Cook and his lack of ability to tell a story.  Casey examines the host’s statements to the Cook (saying that he had sex, referring to London, saying a thief stole from him) and concludes they are references to Perkyn from the Cook’s Tale.  These references imply that Chaucer intended to keep the Cook’s Tale, just as it exists.  The assertions of the tale’s incomplete finish ignore the fact that the final lines, as Larry D. Benson says, are an appropriate ending couplet.  Casey closes by noting that no matter what he writes, this debate will most likely never be concluded. 

      The main weakness of this essay is that Casey spends the majority of his time writing about other criticism.  Although he should certainly draw upon other writers, especially with this open debate, he ends up not spending much time talking about his own opinions and ideas and instead talks about the ideas of others.  However, this does serve to make this an extremely useful article for learning the background behind the debate over the end of the Cook’s Tale.  One of the real strengths of Casey’s writing is that he draws upon Chaucer’s works, looking to Troilus and Criseyde as well as The Canterbury Tales to find evidence to support his claim.  By doing this he moves beyond the debate based on the physical aspects of the manuscripts and into the only evidence we have from Chaucer himself.  One of Casey’s other faults in his writing is the simple order of the evidence he presents.  For example, when discussing the manuscript debate, he appears to assume certain information about the scribe, which is only later proved by citing Mooney.  Overall, Casey presents a very informative and useful account of the debate over the abrupt ending of the Cook’s Tale, yet he only allows himself a small place in the argument.—Anna Lehnen, 3/2/07

Bukakov, Olga. "Chaucer's the Cooks Tale." The Explicator 61 (2002): 2-5. Wilson Web. Goucher College, Baltimore. 27 Feb. 2007 <http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com>.

            In Chaucer’s The Cooks Tale Olga Bukakov makes a link between the Cooks Prologue, Tale, and Genesis. Saying that the Cook’s bad moral behavior and Perkyn’s “fall from grace” correlate to the theme of defying higher authority and Adam’s fall from grace in Genesis. However in this essay she only makes the correlation between the two texts but does not explain how this correlation makes a difference in how one is supposed to read the Cooks Tale.

            Bukakov also does not seem to prove her thesis that the Cooks tale is not supposed to be read as a “ ‘degenerative movement’ ” in Fragment A but as “an opening of the Genesis narrative of Adam's Fall”, because she does not explain anything about the rest of Genesis and how it relates to the other Canterbury Tales.

            She does do a fair job in making strong connections between the story of Adam’s fall and the Cooks tale; in connecting the garden of Eden to the Victualers shop, the forbidden apple to the stolen money box, and the end of the story when Perkin is thrown out of the shop and has to live with a prostitute to Adam’s fall from the garden of Eden and living with Eve (a sinful woman) outside of paradise. She even makes the case for allowing the absence of an Eve like character because of a statement the Cook makes in his prologue that ‘ther is no theef withoute a lowke" ( 1.4415).” (A statement she did not even include in the essay, instead she puts it as a note, and which she does not fully explain.)--Colleen Desrosiers, 3/2/07

Kline, Daniel T. “‘Myne by right’: Oath Making and Intent in The Friar’s Tale.”     Philological Quarterly 77.3 (1998): 271-293. Humanities and Social Sci Retro                (WilsonWeb).  Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College. 28 February 2007        <http://hwilsonweb.com>.

In this article, Kline focuses on the role of oath making in The Friar’s Tale.  He contends that the tale is not simply a “theological exemplum” as many critics argue (screen 1).  Rather, he sees the exchange of vows, oaths, and pledges, (of an economic, legal, and religious nature), as a reflection of the changing social and economic climate of Chaucer’s time.  He explains that, in fourteenth century England, society was shifting slowly from rather rigid feudal and religious hierarchy to a more flexible, individualistic system where temporary social contracts could be made outside of the hierarchy.

Kline describes how different oaths and contracts shape the narrative of the tale. He begins by explaining how Friar Hubert is characterized in the General Prologue as a manipulator of language and his hierarchical status, setting the tone for his tale.  Kline continues with the Friar’s Tale itself.  He explains how the tale opens with the language of contracts when the summoner and demon-bailiff make an oath of brotherhood that turns into an informal contract when the promise of goods is exchanged.  In the next scene, the carter exclaims a series of religious oaths “which reveal the carter’s normative spirituality and introduces the legal parameters of intent” (screen1).  The discourse of law enters into the final scene when the summoner, due to the widow’s pledge, is held to his initial oath with the demon.  Kline explores the various oaths of each character in the tale, but focuses primarily on the fate of the summoner.  He maintains that the summoner’s fate in the tale is a result of his unsuccessful negotiation of two main discourses: his trust in his own economic and social contract with the demon, and the demon’s existing hierarchical obligations.  This, and the other oaths in the tale, says Kline, embodies the cultural tension surrounding the changes in the social and economic atmosphere as new forms of legal alliances began to supercede traditional feudal relationships. 

Having not yet read The Friar’s Tale, it is difficult to assess the author’s argument fully.  However, I found Kline’s analysis to be quite thorough.  Kline does not rely fully on the work of other scholars, but maintains a good balance between research and his own insight into the text.  He also refers to the text itself quite frequently to support his argument.  His article, though, takes a bit of a winding path.  The discussion of the tale and its oaths is mixed in with his discussion of the societal norms of the time.  Had he fully discussed the historical context of the tale before going into the details of the text, it may have been a bit easier to follow his logic.  However, students wishing to gain greater insight into the nature of the oaths made in The Friar’s Tale may find this article useful.  Students may also gain prospective from considering The Friar’s Tale in a social and legal context, not simply a theological one.  The information about religious and feudal hierarchies of the time may also be useful when examining other tales, especially those pertaining to church representatives or officials. 

(One aspect of Kline’s article that I question is his focus on the summoner in The Friar’s Tale.  While other characters’ oaths and behavior are noted, Kline spends most of the article examining the summoner’s situation.  Again, because I have not yet read the tale I cannot tell if this focus was appropriate or not.)—Leah Hoffman, 3/4/07

Allman, W.W. and Hanks, Thomas D.  “Rough Love:  Notes Toward an Erotics of the Canterbury Tales.”  The Chaucer Review  38.1 (2003):  36-65.  4 March 2007 http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v038/38.1allman.html

            This article is interesting from beginning to end and is perfectly suited to me as it does not contain Latin!  One of the article’s main points is that love is usually portrayed in violent ways in Canterbury Tales.  The authors propose that “Love in the Knight’s Tale….reflects stab wounds” and suggests that the blood Emelye sees dripping from the fire she builds as a sacrifice to Diana represents “defloration” (40).   Those ideas don’t seem far-fetched and I can agree with the authors.  Their ideas of the meaning of the buttocks burning in the Miller’s Tale are a little bit stranger.

They note “both Martin Blum and David Lorenzo Boyd have recently argued, “hende Nicholas becomes feminized by the final actions of the tale as he puts himself in the position of receiving a kiss from a man, then suffers penetration with a hot coulter in a parody of homosexual rape.  The earlier-feminized Absolon here asserts his masculinity in a sexually violent act characterized by penetration…” (42).   Absolon certainly is asserting his masculinity in a violent manner, but I am not convinced that Nicholas’ butt being branded can be labeled a “parody of homosexual rape.” 

One of the authors’ most interesting points is that Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale contains more sexual violence than its French sources.  They say the verbs used in the French tales are not as suggestive of stab wounds as Chaucer’s verb “priken” (44).  This is something I am certain I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t read this article.  I don’t know that this means Chaucer had some issues with violence against women or if he just thought it made intriguing writing. 

 Another well-argued point is that Malyne’s ability to talk after what happens to her downplays the violence and makes readers more likely to think of it as something other than rape.  They contrast this with what happens in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, when people within the tale agree that a rape has occured.  They point out that, whereas Malyne spoke, this woman “has no words, indeed, is obliterated…” (49). On my own, I focused on how bizarre it was that Melanye talked to her rapist, on what she said.  This article brought my attention to the importance of the fact that she spoke at all, and made me think about what that means and how it manipulates readers.

Usually, the authors argue, women are victims and men are perpetrators of violence. The article can be summarized best, perhaps, with the following quote:  “The Canterbury Tales…consistently represents erotic love as a violent and bloody deed featuring men as agents and women as recipients” (54).—Shelly Haugrud, 3/4/07

Aloni, Gila. “Extimacy in the Miller’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review. 41.2 (2006): 163-184. Project MUSE. Goucher Coll. Lib., Baltimore, MD. 27 Feb. 2007.       <http://muse.jhu.edu/search/search.pl> 

            To introduce the foundation of her thesis, Aloni turns to the text itself, the Miller’s Tale, and catalogues that the words “pryvetee, privy, and prively” occur thirteen times.  She proposes that the thematic role privacy plays in the tale requires that readers approach it more critically than simply a “separate category connected with the concept of intimacy and opposed to the category of the public” (163). To succinctly describe the deconstruction of these binaries in the Miller’s Tale, Aloni borrows Jacques Lacan’s term extimité (or extimacy). Aloni paraphrases Lacan’s structure of extimacy as “the presence of what is Other at the place thought to be most intimate” (163).  Further emphasizing the deconstructive nature of this structure, she includes Jacques-Alain Miller’s assertion that “Extimacy is not the contrary of intimacy.  Extimacy says that the intimate is Other—like a foreign body, a parasite.”  In her sophisticated thesis, Aloni offers two primary arguments.  Initially, she illuminates the Miller’s Tale by viewing physical spaces and relationships through the lens of extimacy.  In supporting her thesis she also provides evidence of the structure of extimacy throughout the Fragment One tales, and she uses the structure as an interpretive tool with which to expound upon the “degenerative mode” many critics extrapolate from the pattern of Fragment One.       

            Physical, or architectonic, spaces are a crucial element in the structure of extimacy because they are often in constant flux between the ‘private’ and the ‘public.’  In the most physical application of this idea, Aloni describes the Miller’s house as an agent of this binary deconstruction because “[it] is supposed to keep the Other outside, yet actually contains that Other” (164). In addition, John’s “jalous” nature creates the need for him to keep Alisoun, his possession, a private entity, and it leads him to mistakenly believe that in sheltering her she will remain his.  Not only does the possibility of another man within his own house not enter into his reasoning, but John also discounts the possibility that it is the Otherness within Alisoun that causes her infidelity.  To abstract the idea of space, she turns to recent scholarship on the female body as a source of deconstructing the binaries of the public and private.  She points to Thomas J. Pharrell’s observations on language in Chaucer’s time: “the nouns ‘pryvete’ or ‘privates’ could be used to reference the anus, the vagina, the uterus, and the penis (in either its sexual or excretory function” (166).  Aside from providing a critical background that of course mentions the fabliau version of ostentatio gentintalium in regards to the allusion to “Goddes pryvetee,” she also overviews a variety of criticism with the implied conclusion that the otherness represented by female genitalia is an apt example of extimacy because it represents the possible source of fear and innate otherness in the most intimate or private arena.  Orifices (both bodily and within a house), the major source of confusion in this tale, represent the structure of extimacy through their nature—that “inside and outside are continuous,” rather than opposites (166).

            In applying the idea of extimacy to relationships, Aloni focuses on the pairings of the husband/wife and landlord/tenet, and male/female, and the analysis of space is key to her understanding of relationships. In an astute observation that has implications wider than simply an application to this tale, she states “The very concept of a tenant is a category that disturbs the distinction between inside and outside, and the existence of a tenant enables Chaucer to question the notion of a stranger within” (170).  Sound, in the form of Nicolas’s music, persistent knocking, or Absalon’s wooing is a sharp reminder that these characters (and thus relationships) exist within a space where the notion of privacy is easily made public.  Though John could intrude on Nicolas’s ‘privacy’ by breaking down the door, he is frustrated by his inability to “get inside Nicolas’s mind, to take him ‘out of his studiyng’” (172).  In truth, Nicolas, the tenant, carefully constructed this picture of desired privacy in order to lure his landlord into this plot that facilitates infidelity.  This scene represents the extimate structure as it applies to the physical space and the ambiguity of John and Nicolas’s seemingly binary relationship.     

            Because of the interconnectedness of Fragment One and the broad implications for the structure of extimacy, it would be somewhat critically negligent for Aloni to abandon her thesis at this point. Instead, she continues to make connections to each of the tales as well as broader implications for the Fragment as a whole.  She finds the commonly accepted idea of the degenerative mode of Fragment One as a “progressive transition from order in the first tale to chaos in the last tale” to be inadequate to describe its nuances (164).  Her own assertion is that “central to Fragment I is an increasing exposure of the structure of extimacy and man’s inability to control woman” (164). The Knight’s Tale, under the conditions of courtly love, represents a female that is wholly inaccessible and defined by her “distance from her male desirers . . . her unconsumability” says Jacques-Alain Miller.  The subsequent Miller’s Tale uses the erotic triangle to parody the courtly, romantic structure of its predecessor.  Aloni argues that the Reeve’s Tale and the Miller’s Tale derive their sameness not in the architectural or plot similarities, but from their structure of extimacy.  Suggesting that the “distorted mirror effect” created by the doubling in the Miller’s Tale (two students rather than one and two women with sexual transgressions) means the two tales should be read as one, Aloni continues to map the path of Fragment One in terms of extimacy and man’s control over women.  In the fragmented Cook’s Tale, the ultimate example of extimacy and lack of man’s control over woman, love is represented as that between a “married prostitute and her numberless clients” (175).

            Aloni’s does a commendable job of presenting a convincing and evocative argument that extended its scope from the original target while maintaining a sense of cohesion.  She also avoids the common pitfall of over-summarizing and simplifying Chaucerian language by including brief textual quotes rather than relying on her own interpretation of events.  This allowed for more focus on her critically relevant observations and a New Critical allegiance to the text blended with the deconstructive tones.  One could argue that Aloni includes an excess secondary sources, but she uses them deftly, usually to explicate a concept succinctly, introduce counter-arguments, or to credit her own ideas, rather than as a crutch for her weaknesses.  The strength of Aloni’s thesis comes from her ability to expand it and so lucidly analyze the structure of the Fragment as a whole without reducing the individual complexities of the tales themselves, particularly the Knight’s Tale

            While Aloni already addresses clearly how her thesis can be applied to the other tales, I think the structure of extimacy has implications reaching farther than she noted. She touches on the tension between the cook and the host in her observation that “the very concept of a tenant is a category that disturbs the distinction between inside and outside” (170).  Indeed, the structure of extimacy has subtle implications about how we will read the subtext of the Canterbury Tales, the pilgrims themselves.  On a journey facilitated by the host, in which they are traveling in close quarters with the boundaries of privacy doubtlessly being constantly redefined, it will be interesting to see who acts as the “Other” by upsetting social order or delving too deeply into another pilgrim’s “privacy.” The structure of extimacy is relevant in the very nature of storytelling—the public exposure of what is the formation of most private thoughts and interpretations and how the “Other” operates within this—perhaps by interjecting or “quite” your tale. –Jen Madera, 3/4/07

Arner, Timothy D. "No Joke: Transcendent Laughter in the Teseida and the Miller's Tale." Studies in Philology 102.2 (2005): 143-158. Academic Search Premier. Goucher College Library, Baltimore, MD. 21 February 2007. http://search.ebscohost.com.

          In his article, Arner demonstrates Chaucer’s preference for tension over resolution through his inclusion and exclusion of Arcite’s laugh in his three translations of Boccaccio’s Teseida: Troilus and Criseyde, Knight’s Tale, and Miller’s Tale.  He creates this argument by examining the use of laughter in the Miller’s Tale, and contrasting it with the laughter in Troilus and the lack laughter in Knight’s Tale. 

          In Boccaccio’s Teseida, Arcite’s spirit leaves his body and rises to the eight sphere of heaven.  From his elevated vantage point Arcite looks down upon his funeral and laughs at the earthly limitations of those he’s left behind, and the lavish, pagan form their mourning has taken.  Through this laughter, tension is created with the reader at the ridicule of pagan hero funeral rites because the reader is denied the restoration of order typically created by hero funerals.  Chaucer used Boccaccio’s Teseida as the source of his Troilus.  In the last stanza of the Troilus, the narrator laughs at the pain in the world from the joy of heaven.  Like Teseida, there is a disparagement of the world’s vanity from above, mimicking the tension that allows each story to transcend its pagan background in a time of Christianity.  Each of these stories allows a “proper” Christian reading since they disparage the pagan earth and elevate heaven.  The tension created by the laughs in these two stories leaves them open to alternate interpretations by different readers, which can be thought of as a disorderly situation.

          The Knight’s Tale follows the plot of both Teseida and Troilus up until the death of Arcite—in the Knight’s Tale, Arcite’s laugh is omitted.  This is asserted to be a result of the noble Knight seeking to give his tale a sense of symmetry that emphasizes honor and security; as the pilgrim highest in social rank, these are qualities of great importance to the Knight, and their emphasis reflects his desire to seek and destroy potential disorder.  This turns out to be the failing of the Knight as a story teller—his anxiety to tell the best possibly tale confines him as he modifies the root tale of Arcite and Palamoun, constantly interrupting himself in order to keep the pilgrims focused on the earthly components of the tale.  Omission of Arcite’s laugh prohibits the transcendental Christian reading possible in Troilus and Teseida that can identify the vanity of earthly existence.  The absence of the laugh also eliminates alternate interpretations of the tale, highlighting the Knight’s need for order, and both the reader and the pilgrims receive the Knight’s tale with complacent acquiescence.

          Arner also praises Chaucer for his mastery of the fabliau—the Miller’s Tale is not derived from any one source, but rather draws on three different themes: the misdirected kiss, the Bible story/mystery plays implied by the Noah’s flood story line, and cuckolding.  Additionally, within its comedic fabliau structure, the bawdy Miller’s Tale parodies the courtly romance in the Knight’s Tale, and we see the crude, socially inferior Miller “quite” the noble Knight, primarily through inclusion of the laughter the Knight omits.  Arner says that though the “quiting” is usually attributed to the Miller, it is Chaucer’s translational decisions from Teseida to Troilus to Knight’s Tale to Miller’s Tale that leads to this success.

          The almost awkward silence invoked by the ending of the Knight’s tale is quickly disturbed as the Miller begins his tale: if the Knight is repressed in his tale-telling through omission of the laugh, the Miller’s tale is the opposite; as fabliau production of laughter is at the heart of the teller’s purpose.  Arcite’s laugh is incorporated into Miller’s Tale twice.  The first laugh occurs as the town folk laugh at John’s fall, ridiculing the madness of his actions after being so thoroughly tricked by Nicholas.  From a perspective unclouded by Nicholas’s lies, the town folk turn his humiliation into public comedy.  There is again laughter as the pilgrims laugh at the vanity not only of John, but also Absolon and Nicholas from their position outside the story.  These laughs represent the transcendental laughter that creates the tension in Teseida that is formed by this destabilization of the tale.  Adding to the destabilization of the Miller’s Tale is the chaotic manner in which the fabliau ends.  Rather than the order or symmetry the Knight employs, the Miller gives a brief recap of the frantic scene he’s recounted.  Leaving the reader and the pilgrims in the heat of the moment, as it were, invites discussion and interpretation, as seen in the pilgrims diverse reactions.  The tale-telling success of the Miller, therefore, is a result of Chaucer’s inclusion of Arcite’s laugh, and thus inclusion of tension and disorder, in translating the Teseida.

          I thought that this was a wonderfully presented argument.  I feel that the close attention the Arner paid to the use or omission of Arcite’s laugh in each text was appropriate and valid.  I agree that its presence creates tension that will prompt different readings of the tales, especially regarding each reader’s opinions concerning pagan beliefs and Christianity.  I also agree that disorder is created by inclusion of the laugh, and that the Knight effectively squashes chaos by omitting it—as Arner states, this is due to Chaucer’s masterful translations of Teseida.

          However, I do not believe that it is sufficient to merely use Arcite’s laugh alone as barometer of Chaucer’s success.  While manipulation of Arcite’s laugh gives rise to three different tales, Chaucer cannot make merely this one translational decision.  There must be a myriad of small translational decisions that Chaucer makes as he transcribes Boccaccio, the sum of which are what make his work so novel.  His ability to filter Boccaccio for both solemn, serious as well as bawdy, boisterous tale-telling cannot be defined by laughter.  Having not read either Troilus or Teseida, I do not know the original tone of the work Chaucer translated into Knight’s Tale or Miller’s Tale, but I believe that there could be aspects of Chaucer’s personality gleaned by tracing the different attitudes toward the same core story in each tale. 

          I also think that Chaucer’s framing of the Knight and Miller’s stories as highly structured and fabliau offer great insight not only on to the personality of the tellers, but as commentary on the social norms of Chaucer’s time.  The Knight clings to order despite his disheveled and unkempt appearance, while the Miller freely boasts of his drunkenness and indulges his churlish character without remorse.  When I try to imagine the intended audience for such a tale, it is very different from that I see listening to the Knight.  As the first two members of the undisputable first fragment, it is hardly conceivable that one tale would be preformed to one type of audience while the next to a different audience.  This calls to question availability of work such as Chaucer’s to the different levels of society, as well as if all classes of people would be hearing the tales at the same time.  This would be very interesting if as tensions rise between the pilgrims over offense tales the same tensions could have been expected to arise in the audience.  Furthermore, how these different ranks would interpret what they were hearing would also influence the degree to which a peasant versus a squire would be affected by the presentation of The Canterbury Tales.-- Lisa Gulian, March 2, 2007

Boenig, Robert. “The Pardoner’s Hypocrisy and His Subjectivity.” ANQ 13.4 (2000): pp. 9-15. EBSCOHost. Goucher College Lib., Towson, MD. 4 Apr. 2007. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=3785183&site=ehost-live

            Evidently, “The Pardoner’s Tale” has fascinated many a critic, and Robert Boenig is no exception. Here, Boenig examines the veracity of previous assertions that the Pardoner acts in a hypocritical manner by first cheerily describing the tricks of his questionable trade, telling an outstandingly moral tale, and then using the very same tricks he depicted so well earlier to try and sell his ‘relics’ to the other pilgrims at the end of his tale. Boenig first examines fourteenth-century Franciscan monks’ definition of hypocrisy: “Hypocrites are like fake beggars who…move their lips in pretended holiness, in order to receive something from the passersby, but when they are gone they dissolve into laughter” (qtd. in Boenig 10). The Pardoner, however, does not do this, or so claims Boenig. The Pardoner does not dissolve into laughter; he ends his tale in silence.

            If, then, the Pardoner is not such a hypocrite, Boenig asks, what is he trying to accomplish with this strange sequence of events? According to this critic, the Pardoner is not exactly trying to advance his own ends—he is instead parodying the Wife of Bath. Boenig argues that the Pardoner pokes fun at the Wife by paralleling her language in both prologue and tale—where she talks about the joys of sex in her prologue, he discusses the joys of money. Both have a wise, older character in their tales; the Wife of Bath’s preaches her cause, marriage, and the Pardoner preaches his cause, money. Both reference drinking, though the Pardoner goes against it where the Wife admits wine and dance excites her. Boenig then argues that the Pardoner’s silence at the end of his tale is a result of “[t]he control he loses at the end…over his audience” (14), as he failed to make said audience understand that he was merely parodying the Wife of Bath.

            As Boenig points, there certainly are many similarities between the Pardoner and the Wife of Bath. Both are essentially sermonizing, and both confess to love of something sinful—the Wife loves sex, the Pardoner loves money. Given that the “Pardoner’s Tale” does take such an interesting turn, however, in that he uses the exact tricks of the trade he earlier decried, Boenig’s explanation does provide a convenient explanation for places where critical favorites Wife of Bath and Pardoner vary in their message. Since the Wife seems to argue for drinking and jollity where the Pardoner essentially condemns it, an explanation that had the Pardoner responding to the Wife in such a preachy fashion logically connects the two. After all, of all the sins the Pardoner could have focused on—of the Seven Deadly Sins, the Pardoner only directly addresses “avaricia” and “luxuria” (14), the exact same sins of which the Wife is herself guilty.

            Accepting Boenig’s argument would also put the Pardoner’s interruption during the Wife’s prologue in a new light. The Pardoner may have interrupted the Wife to deflect her message, then used his own chance to speak as an opportunity to call her out on her message, since her prologue could be read as threatening by many of the men present. Since the Pardoner has much-discussed “sexual irregularities” (11), Boenig’s argument still meshes with that of critics who argue that the “Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale” is a way for the Pardoner to prove himself—if he attacks the Wife of Bath even indirectly, as Boenig believes, he somehow defuses any emasculating influences she may have left on the group. The Host’s and audience’s misreading of his intentions, then, would still leave him feeling like less of a man than he might like. Taking Boenig’s argument for its worth still fits with readings on the Pardoner’s sexual ambiguity; it simply puts the Pardoner’s protests in another context. –Bree Katz, 4/4/07

Carter, Susan. “Coupling the Beastly Bride and the Hunter Hunted: What Lies Behind     Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review.  37.4 (2003): 330-345.
            Susan Carter’s dissection of the anachronistic feminist tone of The Wife of Bath’s Tale starts by examining the origins of the tale for clues of similar tones.  In the Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid and Corca Laidhe, Carter finds the forest as a destabilization of gender roles; the Loathly Lady is as chaotic and violent in her control over the knight/hunter as the forest is.  Whichever source Chaucer pulled the tale from, he uses the tale to relate to the Wife’s preoccupation with “heterosexual commerce,” as Carter explains as desire, frustration, and pleasure influence power relations (332).  Therefore, Chaucer turns around the sexual roles—as well as the meaning of “sovereignty” when the knight transforms from a sexual predator to a sexual victim of the hag.

            Carter does well to point out the feminization of King Arthur’s court, as he turns over the case of the knight to Guinevere and it is the women in the court who beg king for control of this instance and judge the knight’s response.  Carter then supposes that the Loathly Lady restores the knight’s empowerment for bed to further enhance her own pleasure. Other instances of female domination include the refusal of the hunter/knight’s penetration into the feminized forest and the Loathly Lady anticipating the knight’s predilection as she prepares for him to become a base sexual object. Yet it is only with the hunter/knight’s fulfillment of bliss that the story can end.

            While most of Carter’s conclusions seemed pretty well supported, I struggled with Carter’s unpacking of Christian symbolism combined with the pagan representation of the Loathly Lady; for Carter she appeared to embody both as a Christian login framed by the Loathly Lady’s “pagan-goddess prowess” (337).  While Carter seemed to believe that the Loathly Lady’s words, “I koude amende al this,/If that me liste, er it were dayes thre” (1106-07) suggest Christ’s three-day resurrection and the folkloric penchant for the number three, the fact that the Loathly Lady changes before three days would dispel that association. Presuming that they had consummated their marriage at night, the Loathly Lady’s transformation at night time would likely be in keeping with pagan ties to the moon and lunar calendar. Therefore, the Christian three-day logic and “pillow sermon” that the Loathly Lady delivers appears to be inconsistent with the flesh/physical medium of the tale; which is an argument Carter makes as well. 

            Carter’s use of the New Critic’s paradox is well-established; Carter argues that the Loathly Lady can fluidly move from polar opposites in gender restrictions and roles for her own purposes, as revealed in the bedroom scene when the Loathly Lady can become more submissive for role-playing and intimacy’s sake. However, we do not necessarily get the same sense of enjoyment from the knight, who’s simply relieved that he now has a beautiful wife.  Whether or not she transforms back into the Loathly Lady and if the knight can contend with her frequent metamorphosis is never seen. –Rachel Bernstein, 4/5/07

Rigby, S. H.. “The Wife of Bath, Christine De Pizan, and the Medieval Case for Women.” The Chaucer Review 35.2 (2000): 133-165.

            S.H. Rigby presents Chaucer’s Wife of Bath as a classic example of the different modes of reading medieval texts, explaining that Alison has been interpreted as both a beacon of feminism and the very worst type of woman in Medieval society (and everything in-between). Rigby acknowledges that the difficulty of interpreting the Wife of Bath comes from the complexity of Chaucer’s works and the fact that there is evidence for all interpretations of Alison within the text.

            Rigby’s mode of interpretation of Alison of Bath makes use of a real life Medieval feminist, Christine De Pizan. Rigby explains that Pizan, a contemporary of Chaucer’s (though there is no evidence of their having had direct contact), shares many of the views of Medieval society as Alison of Bath, such as the hypocrisy of men. However, although there is a certain parallel between the outlook of the fictional Wife and the real life Pizan, their views are far from being completely coincident—in fact though they have frequently been compared the two are more different than the same. Unlike the bawdy Wife, Pizan was highly moralistic, defending women’s intellect (if not their rights) on the grounds that women have as much potential as men to act morally and rationally.

As Rigby tells readers, Alison of Bath is not only a problem when compared with misogynistic Medieval standards, but also when viewed against the standards of a Medieval feminists like Christine de Pizan: Alison commits just about every sin which Pizan says women must abstain from in order to “prove their moral worth so as to refute the misogynist charges made against them.” (139) Among other things that go against Christine’s rules for women, Alison is lewdly sexual, commits adultery, makes a mockery of the Church by using it to achieve social status, etc. Furthermore, Christine’s brand of feminism had very little to do with changing women’s role in society—women ought to do what they’re supposed to do, according to Pizan—but rather focused on achieving a sense of intellectual and moral equality with men.

            In Rigby’s evaluation of the Wife vs. Christine, Alison wins the hearts of modern readers, while Pizan attempted to win the minds of the established authority of her time. This is an important distinction for Rigby when it comes to reading Chaucer and deciphering the meaning of complex characters such as the Wife of Bath: In Rigby’s mind it is our modern sympathies which lead us to erroneously interpret the Wife’s defense of women literally rather than ironically. What is more, Rigby says that although readers are quick to latch on to Chaucer’s satirical treatment of other characters, such as the Monk and Friar, the Wife is somehow frequently exempt from this reading. With Chaucer’s use of satire and Pizan’s moralist defense of feminism in mind, Rigby determines that the Wife of Bath is meant to be read ironically—a harpy who by her very attempt to defend her sex makes a mockery of it.

With so much of the criticism on the Wife of Bath polarized into the feminist/whore camps, it is interesting to read an analysis of the Wife which compares her to a real-life Medieval feminist. It is especially interesting to note the marked differences between these two women, differences which seem to validate the ironic interpretation of the Wife more than a textual reading alone. By citing a flesh-and-blood historical source, rather than simply saying ‘from what we know of women at the time’, Rigby is able to make this argument far more compelling than it frequently appears.

Rigby’s argument is thorough, taking into account the similarities between Pizan and the Wife as well as the many marked differences. Rigby’s account of the Wife’s part in the Canterbury tales is systematic in defense of this point and the article would be useful for anyone writing about the role of the Wife in the tales, conflicting interpretations of Alison of Bath, or simply an investigation of the role of women in the Canterbury tales as they relate to the Medieval world.

With all of this in mind, Rigby still plays into the hands of the polarizing views of the Wife. Rather than presenting Alison as, perhaps, one account of women in the medieval world, Rigby pushes the reading of her portrait into a wholly satirical realm. This seems counterintuitive to Rigby’s own statements about the complexity of Chaucer’s writing—complexities which do not necessitate one essential interpretation of Alison of Bath. There is indeed a satirical voice in her prologue/tale/G.P. description, yet to interpret her as a wholly ironic character detracts from much of Chaucer’s skill. Alison of Bath is far too complex to be simply ironic—Her extremely difficult relationship with husband #5 Jankyn is evidence of this if nothing else is. It is also difficult not to take into account Alison’s other role in society; she is not simply the Wife, but also the prosperous merchant. Viewed in terms of the rising merchant class society her anti-moralistic actions cannot simply be attributed to Chaucer’s satirizing this would-be-feminist, but come off as a half-ironic, half-realistic portrait of a woman who knows what women are worth in her society and, rather than using Pizan’s highly moralized intellectual argument to attempt to change men’s minds and do very little about her actual position in society, the Wife uses what she’s got to take control of her own life through the one part of men that responds to women: It is unlikely that Alison would ever have achieved her financial success if she’d used only her brain. –Ray Conklin, 4/5/07

Beechy, Tiffany. “Devil Take the Hindmost: Chaucer, John Gay, and the Pecuniary Anus.” The Chaucer Review. 41.1 (2006): 71-85. Project MUSE. 4 April 2007.  <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v041/41.1beechy.html>. 

Beechy begins her analysis with a defense of the bawdy Canterbury Tales that critics often apologize for, play down, or dismiss.  However, she finds recognition for these bawdy instances in the more recent study of “scatology.”  She notes that the poetics of scatology were widely understood in the Middle Ages, but have fallen out of popularity, no longer understood.  Beechy references Peter Beidler’s opinion that there is a need to examine the bawdy scenes seriously that will lead to a new reading of the tales.  She elaborates, previous interpretations of the Summoner’s Tale centered on either the rivalry between the pilgrims or the bawdy fart as a continuation of fabliau tradition, but neither of these really explain how satire works through the fart.  Beechy posses the question: Why use a fart in a story about greed? 

To answer this question, Beechy turns to John Gay’s 18th century response, “An Answer to the Sompner’s Prologue of Chaucer.”  Although Gay’s “Answer” has remained virtually invisible, it sheds light on the logic of Chaucer’s scatological satire.  To explain the common sanitizing of the fart and apparent disappearance of the “Answer,” Jonathan Goldberg’s term sodometries is used.  Sodometries describes the subset of culture, unaccepted, that continues to evolve, and includes behavior such as sodomy.  Mark Jordan argues that the term sodomy was created as a theological way of minimizing desire, making it easily condemned, but the term has continued to change meanings. 

For an understanding of the connection between sodomy, desire, and the subsequent condemnation, Beechy looks to Freud’s theory that the anus is the first focus of sexuality in human development.  In the simplest terms, the anus is fundamentally opposed to the head, the source of reason, making the butt a source of evil, complete disorder.  In Western tradition, texts use the anus as a representation of evil, but also greed and consequently desire.  The church explains: sodomy is a fulfillment of desire without procreation, which is obviously sinful since procreation is the ultimate goal.  In these situations, the desired object becomes tainted as well (whatever that desired object may be).  According to Freud, feces is the first monetary exchange, as a baby gives that up, from the sexual anus, in exchange for praise; in the human mind, actual money is considered dirty because it is exchanged for other products, just like the feces. 

Both works use this money/filth relationship to satirize church power (Chaucer) and the fraud of speculative investment (Gay).  In the Summoner’s Prologue and Tale, allegory relates the friars’ greed with anality through Satan, and the object of that greed, money, with the substanceless and excremental fart.  In Gay’s “Answer,” he is critiquing the rising 18th century greed.  Comparing the two again, Chaucer’s bee-friars are inanely following while Gay’s bee-friars are busy bees for industry, both reflecting their contemporary economic realities.  In Gay’s instance, the devil uses the friar’s ass, a symbolic rape; hence, friars are the place of evil in the world because they are damned by greed. As the Summoner’s Tale progresses, the fart is forgotten and focus turns to dividing the gift.  The division is an absurd solution, further suggesting the absurd value placed upon the fart, or the money it stood for.  In response, Gay emphasizes Chaucer’s allegorical critique of this created value, when it has no literal use. 

While coming to her conclusion, Beechy looks to Paul Hammond who traces the change in male/male relations from courtly to sodomy.  Gay makes a literal association between sodomy and greed for his satire on capitalism, following a trend to attack the literal nature of modern life, such as the closely valued Scientific Method.  Beechy emphasizes again how Chaucer’s fart is a serious satirical work, which places the Holy Spirit (essential value in life) and prayer, against the fart (the absence of value) representing money.  Through the friar’s greed, the fart is valued while really meaning nothing and is exchanged for something that means everything, the Holy Spirit.  This fart shows the shift from a bartering economy, exchange of products with direct usage, to the abstract value of money.  Gay saw a similar ridiculous value-ing in the money continually invested during his time. 

Beechy has a rather well constructed argument, but there are a few points I wish were stronger.  Although it is clearly a study with some popularity, she never explains what scatology is exactly; it would aid her argument if she spent a little time talking about the formation of this idea.  Instead, she treats it as she does Marxist and Freudian interpretations, where merely mentioning the name is enough to explain to the reader what she is doing.  As a main part of her argument, Freudian theory is holding her criticism together, but I’m not sure that she can appropriately apply Freud’s psychology to medieval literature, as the simple difference in time periods is so drastic.  Having said that, her application of Marxist theory is appropriate, as following the movement of money and sign-exchange could happen any time, and she uses it sparingly.  Earlier in the essay, Beechy states that critics should take Chaucer’s bawdy writing more seriously, but later she references his use of “creep” as charming, which would seem to undermine the seriousness of the work.  She also makes a statement that Thomas’ fart-gift is a “relief” to the reader, but she does not really qualify this word choice and would have been better without the term.  Once again, Beechy introduces a term, without defining it, even in a simple sentence; she starts referencing the Scriblerians, which the reader can eventually deduce was the group John Gay was writing with, but it would be easier to pay attention to her argument at that moment if she had simply explained who they were.  Overall, many of Beechy’s descriptions of the friar’s greed and gluttony start to overlap with a heated passion, which overlaps with wrath; there are certainly moments in the writing where the sins of greed and wrath just begin to form together (a starting place for my essay).—Anna Lehnen, 4/5/07

Weisel, Angela Jane. “‘Quiting’ Eve: Violence against Women in the Canterbury Tales.”  Violence against Women in Medieval Texts. Ed. Anna Roberts. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998. pp 115-136.

In this article, Angela Jane Weisl illustrates how The Canterbury Tales reflects the world in which it was written, a world in which all women were seen as naturally corrupt on account of the biblical story of Eve. In the late fourteenth century, violence against women was not only common, it was also legal and considered necessary, even masculine (115-117). Such violence in Chaucer is either reduced to the level of physical comedy in the fabliaux, serves to caution women against defying gender roles in the romance, or is the means by which women obtain heavenly rewards in the holy tales. Moreover, the three female pilgrims exhibit the degree to which women are immasculated by their culture, telling graphic tales that fail to resolve the issue (117).

Weisl holds that the feminist messages in the fabliaux are undermined by the pattern of violence against women hidden behind the humor (121). In “The Miller’s Tale”, for instance, Absolon attempts to rape Alison with a hot poker, a malicious and possibly fatal injury. Because Absolon burns Nicolas by accident and the result is funny, readers forget the underlying horror (119). 

The second genre, the romances, normalizes the idea of total submission in marriage via their happy endings. In the case of rape victim in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and Emelye, conquered and stripped of independence in “The Knight’s Tale,” the violence is overt. Even the romances that contain no actual violence carry the same message. As evidence, Wiesl cites the “The Franklin’s Tale,” in which the black rocks symbolize the threat of abandonment, sexual assault, “loss of autonomy in marriage” and shame hovering over Dorigen (121). Although she opts not to kill herself, her contemplation of suicide features a long list of women who choose grizzly deaths over living with the shame society heaps on rape victims, equating their suicide with bravery (122).

The holy tales told by the Man of Law, the Physician, the Prioress, the Second Nun and the Clerk also promote non-sexual torture and death as the woman’s only honorable alternative to losing one’s virginity, being raped or both. Indeed, whereas sexual abuse is shameful, the non-sexual abuse women suffer for the sake of preserving their chastity is saintly, and the protagonists’ triumph at the end frees non-resistant readers to enjoy the graphic violence leading up to it without guilt (124).

Through their tales, the Prioress, the Second Nun and the Wife of Bath reveal the extent to which they have internalized this misogynist discourse. Wiesl interprets the young boy and the Jewish community in “The Prioress’ Tale” as symbolic of women (126-28). Furthermore, “The Second Nun’s Tale” follows the model of the hagiographies women were encouraged to read, stories that teach women to choose perpetual abstinence and to see torture as the way to Heaven (129). Lastly, although Wiesl sees “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” as the only tale that questions conventional thought about rape, Wiesl claims that sexual assault will never be completely eradicated in the Wife of Bath’s fictional world and that the rape is the motivation for the story (130).

Toward the end of the article, Wiesl turns her attention to “The Clerk’s Tale.” By comparing Griselde to Job, the Clerk turns Walter’s emotional violence into physical violence, and his allegorical interpretation celebrates complete passivity on Earth in return for dwelling in God’s kingdom after death. In the case of women, this means taking victimization in stride (131).

Finally, according to Wiesl, the degree of violence in The Canterbury Tales illustrates the extent to which violence lies at the center of medieval literature as a whole and that this in turn perpetuated actual violence against women by spreading false consciousness (132).

Having read all but two of the tales mentioned in this article, I would say that it is hard to argue with Wiesl’s assessment. She does not argue that her fellow critics are entirely wrong in believing that Chaucer takes a critical and sympathetic look at the treatment of women in the Tales. Indeed, she acknowledges that “ […] Chaucer’s women act and negotiate in a world ready to give them consideration and a voice […]” (117).  However, because Chaucer chooses to either downplay or ignore the violence committed against them, Wiesl believes that the Tales are largely antifeminist (117). This would explain why the Wife of Bath rather bravely chooses to tell her tale to predominantly male audience only to spend the rest of the pilgrimage quietly absorbing tales that attack her perspective.

Wiesl could have strengthened her argument that the three female taletellers represent real life women writers by citing someone other than Christine de Pizan, but she supports the main thrust of her argument with an abundance of evidence from the text itself, making this flaw relatively minor. 

Wiesl believes that the female voices in The Canterbury Tales prove Chaucer the author’s views toward women to be sympathetic, but he nevertheless fails to “check the secular, religious and narrative drive to contain, define and restrain [women] by force” (133). If she is right in thinking so, then it might be intriguing to take a closer look as to what degree Chaucer endorses bending the rules that he has internalized. I believe I have found an example in “The Franklin’s Tale.” 

In “The Franklin’s Tale,” Dorigen, in spite of her meditation on female martyrs, chooses to put off suicide long enough to tell her husband about her plight (V. 1457-1460). Arveragus can solve the problem by killing Dorigen immediately, but instead he spares her and allows her to keep her promise to Aurelius (V.1474). Granted, Arveragus threatens her with death should she ever speak of the incident (V.1481). Also, one has to wonder about a husband who would allow his wife to sleep with another man just so that she can uphold a promise that, unlike the heartfelt curse of the widow in “The Friar’s Tale,” she never took seriously in the first place: she never expects Aurelius to clear the beach (V.1001). However, he is willing to live with a wife who has been defiled according to his culture rather than just killing her as soon as she makes good on her promise.

Moreover, by only threatening her with death if she talks about her time with Aurelius, it follows that Arveragus does not see her having sex with Aurelius as wrong as she is only doing it because their belief in the importance of “trouthe” forces her to. By making the distinction between her having sex with Aurelius and talking about it, Arveragus makes it clear that women should only be punished when they have been deliberately disobedient. While not going so far as to say that “The Franklin’s Tale” is entirely feminist, it is at least an improvement on “The Clerk’s Tale” in which Walter tortures Griselde for no reason.

By making the hasty promise, Dorigen has a legitimate reason to kill herself and Arveragus a legitimate reason to kill her according to their culture, yet both characters choose to go against what they have been taught and the woman gets to share in the happy ending without being tortured. In this manner, Chaucer may not be arguing against the quiting of Eve, but rather arguing that quiting Eve is only necessary in certain situations. –Yvonne Rogers, 4/7/07

Davis, Craig R. “A Perfect Marriage on the Rocks: Geoffrey and Philippa Chaucer, and the Franklin’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 37.2 (2002):129-44. JSTOR 11 March 2007.

            In Craig R. Davis’ article “A Perfect Marriage on the Rocks: Geoffrey Chaucer and Philippa Chaucer, and the Franklin’s Tale” Davis makes the argument that the main theme of the Franklin’s Tale is that “mutual obedience between spouses is a good idea, but also that it cannot be found or maintained without serious consideration of the public status of those spouses” (142). Davis tries to support this idea by claiming that structurally the marriage in the Franklin’s Tale mirrors Chaucer’s own marriage to Philippa Payne, thus Chaucer himself is speaking out about his own experiences.  In his introduction Davis emphasizes the fact that Chaucer married a woman from a higher class, just like Arveragus. He goes on to examine the amount of money Chaucer and his wife had, as well as outline the specific duties the couple would have had to perform due to their occupations.

            Davis quickly switches topics and focuses the rest of his article on the characters of the Franklin’s Tale. He divides the events of the story into three parts : “Unequal Marriage,” Mutual Obedience,” and “The Black Rocks, the Love-Garden, and the Busy Street.” Davis uses the “Unequal Marriage” section to state “ In the Franklin’s Tale Chaucer shows how such a strategic [socially unequal] marriage  might be experienced emotionally”(131). Davis focuses on the fact he believes both characters entered into the marriage based on true feelings and love. He emphasizes the time and thinking it took before the characters got married, and how the marriage was almost perfect. In the “Mutual Obedience” section Davis admits he agrees with the critic George Lyman Kittredge’s statements when “[Kittredge] said long ago that there is a special personal seriousness to Chaucer’s depiction of marriage in  the Franklin’s Tale, that the poet has invented in this romance an idealized relationship that he intends the reader to receive with special sympathy and respect”(133). Davis argues the purpose of the inclusion of mutual obedience is for Chaucer to share his experiences in it through his own marriage, and ultimately state a marriage based on such things has a great chance of being vulnerable to numerous outside forces.

            The section “The Black Rocks, the Love-Garden, and the Busy Street” is by far the largest section in the article. Towards the beginning Davis places a large emphasis on the existence of the rocks, arguing that the purpose of the rocks in tale is for Chaucer to  “weaken [Dorigen’s] character, just as he has strengthened his knight’s, in order to bring their disparate social identities into a more interesting and dramatic tension”(137). Davis points out that the rocks did not hinder Arveragus’ homecoming, thus they posed no threat to the couple’s happiness from the beginning. Davis goes on to again emphasize the love relationship with the couple, ultimately stating the trials and tribulations the couple experienced were included to express how true their love was, even in times of hardship. Davis concludes that section stating that “[ The couple’s] mutuality is restored, but this time on a more mature and self-aware footing”(141). Thus Davis believes the ordeal was necessary in order for their relationship to grow.

            Davis concludes his article warning his readers his intent was not to insinuate that the Franklin’s tale was a way for Chaucer to express his own marriage experience, but “[the tale] does suggest how our famously modest poet knew whereof he spake in the Franklin’s Tale and could use his art, like many another teller of tales, to transform his own social experience into an especially compelling and self-affirming fiction”(143). I used this article for my midterm, and originally I did not read it close enough. After Arnie pointed out the dangers of biographical fallacy, I closely read Davis’ introduction on the marriage of the Chaucers and his conclusion. While Davis claims he does not mean to insinuate that Chaucer wrote this tale based on his own personal experiences, he definitely does insinuate such things. What is worse than this however; is the fact Davis does not have any concrete proof to support his ideas. His section on the Chaucers is littered with “ perhaps, presumably, and probably” therefore a good section of this article is based on assumptions. In terms of his main argument, that the relationship was based on love and needed this experience to flourish, I pretty much agree with that. However, that argument is far from ground breaking, and is some what self explanatory. I found Davis’ insight on the purpose of the rocks to be interesting, and helpful while preparing for my presentation, but overall a close reading of this article reveals the arguments to be weak and unfounded. –Kelly Rankin, 4/7/07

Hanrahan, Michael.  “A Strange Succesour Sholde Take Youre Heritage:”  The Clerk’s Tale and the Crisis of Ricardian Rule.  The Chaucer Review.  35.4 (2001): 334-350.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCOhost.  Julia Rogers Library, Baltimore, MD.  30 Mar. 2007 < http://muse.jhu.edu>

Hanrahan puts The Clerk’s Tale in a historical context.  Although the story of Walter and Grisilde is not original to Chaucer, he claims, readers in Chaucer’s day would have found it particularly relevant.

Like Walter’s people, King Richard’s people were (justifiably) afraid that he would not produce an heir, and someone worse than him might take his place.  Unlike Walter, Richard was already married when the people began to worry about his lack of a successor.  However, the people questioned his choice of Anne of Bohemia just as people questioned Walter’s choice of the low-born Grisilde.  Hanrahan draws additional parallels between Queen Anne and Grisilde. 

He also points out that Walter’s fake divorce from Grisilde resembles a real divorce of Robert De Vere, a friend of King Richard’s who he promoted to a Marquis, which was a new title, and then to a duke.  Hanrahan writes “De Vere, like his patron, and like Walter in the Clerk’s Tale, is guilty of elevating humble and unworthy figures above their station” (344).

Hanrahan claims that “divorce and remarriage as well as deposition and usurpation are entertained as alternatives to and consequences of an heirless realm” (335) and he argues the point relatively well, when he is on topic.  It almost seems like there is more than one topic in this article.  For instance, he spends a lot of time talking about obedience, and I’m not sure it relates well to his thesis.  This article would have been better if it were broken into three or four and the author expanded on each idea in a clearer way.  Still, I thought it was interesting and useful.  Before I read the article, I couldn’t get past the fact that someone else wrote this tale before Chaucer.  It’s as if it were set in stone.  Now I see that Chaucer really reinvented it.—Shelly Haugrud, 4/7/07

Vaszily, Scott.  "Fabliau Plotting Against Romance in Chaucer's Knight's Tale."  Style 31.3 (1997): 523-543.  Academic Search Premier.  Goucher College Library, Baltimore, Maryland.  5 April 2007.  <http://web.ebscohost.com>.

            Vaszily spends most of his time in this article discussing the characteristics and structural elements of fabliau as seen by other critics, Chaucer, and himself.  The article is organized into three main parts: the discussion of the fabliau genre, the execution of applying a fabliau reading to Knight’s Tale, and a brief conclusion explaining the significance of doing this type of reading.  While Vaszily attempts to make a case for Chaucer’s using fabliau characteristics to undermine the ideas of courtly romance and knightly power in the tale, the larger point that comes across much more significantly and clearly is the idea that Chaucerian fabliaux can be identified by defining characteristics that link them together as a genre.  Additionally, there is specific grammar associated with Chaucer’s fabliau, and perhaps fabliau in general, that suggests a larger structure and pattern within the genre.  Vaszily identifies six possible fabliau story structures that include common factors that can even be represented by letters in sort of pseudo-mathematical/logical equations.

            Vaszily asserts that while many critics have suggested certain characteristics of fabliau that could summarize the genre, these suggestions have been much too vague and not specifically tailored to reference fabliau.  For example, critics have described fabliau as “funny short tales in verse,” concerned with plot, written in the “naturalistic” style, and including a love or sexual triangle.  While alone, these characteristics are arbitrary and can describe many different types of medieval genre, together they begin to suggest a framework for the fabliau.  Vaszily uses the term dominant to refer to the “component of an aesthetic system that rules, determines, and transforms the remaining components.”  In terms of fabliau, he suggests that the dominant may be “hedonistic materialism,” a term which falls under the larger naturalistic style of writing.  Here Vaszily begins to form the basis of a “fabliau structure;” however, he is missing a key characteristic which specifically connotes the fabliau and not any other type of genre.

            Finding this common structural formula is the next major task the article attacks.  Vaszily explains that in the old French fabliau, the central events of their plots are generally “misinterpretations of ambiguous signs.”  There is usually a “duper” who is aware of the sign’s ambiguity and a “dupe” who is not.  Vaszily assigns the terms “Sender” (S) and “Receiver” (R) to these central characters in the misinterpretation.  For example, in the Summoner’s Tale, the Thomas, the Sender, tells the Friar he will give him “somwhat” if he promises to share it with the rest of the Friars.  Thomas recognizes the ambiguity in this promise, and thus, sends the Friar, the Receiver, a fart instead of the money the Friar is clearly expecting.  Here the article presents six possible equations involving the Sender and Receiver that can organize a story’s particular plot structure.

            Although some critics, like R. Howard Bloch, have suggested that fabliau lends itself more to deconstruction that structuralism, Vaszily feels that it is “funnier” to read assuming that every sign has a definite meaning, or signified, that the reader is supposed to pick up on.  The “ambiguity” that seems to be present can really only be interpreted in one way that reflects the tale’s overall story structure.  Chaucer’s fabliaux purposefully include stupid and “weak” interpreters that fall for the tricks they are subjected to.  Language plays a major role in modern literary criticism and usually must be “fundamentally subversive of linguistic convention.”  However, Vaszily argues that the ambiguity in Chaucer’s fabliau is not simply an example of figurative language, but of intentional and undeniable signs that lead the reader toward definite themes and interpretations.

            In the second part of the article, the author examines the concept of fabliau qualities occurring within non-fabliau tales, specifically, the Knight’s Tale, which is a courtly romance.  He cites two parallel examples of a fabliau story structure: when Palamoun and Arcite first fall in love with Emily, and when Saturn intervenes and decides the final outcome.  In both cases, there is an ambiguous message that is then interpreted in the opposite way than the Sender would have anticipated.  Vaszily also references Boccaccio’s version of the tale, noting that he does not include these moments of ambiguity, choosing instead rely on allegory and pure linguistic irony.  Chaucer, he argues, changes Boccaccio’s version in order to form the type of “bitter bit” structure that is characteristic of Chaucerian fabliaux.  Vaszily concludes the article by asserting that these fabliau structures that occur within the Knight’s Tale are justification of the modern reader’s skepticism of the affirmation of romantic ethos within the tale.  The naturalistic and skeptical attitudes of the fabliau genre shine through within this tale and thus undermine the romantic idealism it is superficially suggesting.

            I am not sure that I buy the idea that Chaucer was directly combining his fabliau and courtly romance genres in the Knight’s Tale for the reason that perhaps this type of story structure was simply characteristic of Chaucer, not just his fabliaux.  What does interest me is the lengthy discussion of the fabliau genre and the evidence Vaszily provides for its overall structure.  He is able to pull together the ideas of several critics, the actual Chaucerian fabliaux, and even reference the old French fabliaux without running into a great deal of complication.  However, it definitely seems like, which I also got from an article I read on the Shipman’s Tale, the Chaucerian fabliau may be different in style from other writers, which I suppose is to be expected.

            However, I am intrigued by the idea that there are plot patterns within fabliau in general, even to the extent that Vaszily felt he could take these established patterns and apply them to a tale that is not a fabliau and do a fabliau reading on that tale.  While the actual performance of this reading may not have been, at least in my amateur opinion, entirely successful, the notion is something I am considering looking into for my final paper.  I am not sure which tales, or which fabliaux actually, that I want to write about yet, but I am interested in the fabliau genre in terms of its characteristics.  All of these tales have original sources, which themselves were usually fabliau.  How does Chaucer follow the tradition?  How does he change it?  Do his changes produce something we could refer to as “Chaucerian fabliau” or is fabliau simply fabliau, with personal stylistic differences?  I choose to look at this article as something of an idea starting point after I found it because it manages to take the idea of figurative language and ambiguity, which play a huge role in the fabliau, especially the Shipman’s Tale, and turn it into a system of signs.  It takes what could be a New Critical concept and makes it Structuralist, without going so far as to deconstruct it.  I think that if I look in the right places, I can find some more truth to this idea and some way to apply it in a final paper, depending on what sticks out more – the differences of the similarities.—Laura Reese, 4/7/07

Ambrisco, Alan S. “‘It Lyth Nat in My Tonge:” Occupatio and Otherness in the “Squire’s Tale.’” The Chaucer Review. 38.3 (2004): 205-28. ProjectMUSE. Goucher College      Lib. Towson, MD. 4 April 2007. <muse.jhu.edu/search/search.pl>

            In his analysis of the Squire’s Tale, Alan S. Ambrisco first emphasizes the integral importance of the cultural division between the tale’s “non-Christian cast of characters” and Chaucer’s implied Christian audience (205).  Characterized by the foreign, this tale is often criticized for its narrative flaws and apparent disjointedness; however, Ambrisco argues “that the tale is unified not by its narrative elements but rather by the way its linguistic anxieties are revealed and processed” (205).  In his thesis, linguistic anxiety is used to address the underlying need for translation from the implied exotic languages of the text to the vernacular English of the telling.

            Before fully exploring the implications of his thesis, Ambrisco examines the use of the exotic and Oriental in the tale, particularly in comparison to its medieval counterparts.  Though, as Ambrisco claims, “no single source exists as a template for this tale of the Mongol world,” there were many predecessors with which Chaucer could be familiar.  In addition, Chaucer’s audience, both the pilgrims within the tale and the intended print audience, would have doubtlessly had some knowledge of the exotic East.  What is notable, however, is the degree to which the Squire’s tale differs from these possible templates, many of which reduced Mongols to “animalistic, sneering creatures” (206).  It was also fashionable at the time to make claims about Mongols, which ranged in their accuracy and depictions, in “romances, chronicles, and travel accounts” (206).   While scholars should “avoid claiming that the [Squire’s] Tale offers a full or even balanced picture of the Mongol world,” it is commonly believed that Chaucer’s work is the most realistic and informed of nearly all medieval tales of the Oriental exotic.  However, Ambrisco deftly points out “that very little specific information about Mongol characteristics or cultural practices—real or imagined—make it into Chaucer’s text,” while nearly all of the possible sources “describe the Mongols in detail, discussing their religion, politics, dress, facial characteristics, manner of warfare, food, and drink” (207-8).  What is, however, a chief characteristic of the Squire’s narrative is the time he devotes to not describing such details, or his extensive, and inept, use of the rhetorical device known as occupatio.  The device, used by both the Squire and his father, the Knight, is defined as:

                        “a trope of purported non-description, occupatio usually states that either the object to be described is beyond words, the demands of narrative economy prohibit lengthy description, or the rhetorician seeking praise lacks the ability to string together appropriate words of description.  While avowedly avoiding description, occupatio traditionally ends up describing at length.” (209)

However, it is integral to Ambrisco’s thesis to realize that the Squire’s use of this trope differs tremendously from his father’s.  The Squire’s continual misuse of occupatio “draws attention to Chaucer’s self-conscious, strained use of a rhetorical trope he elsewhere employs appropriately” (209).  The Squire’s failure to detail the Mongol court, which he continually claims is ‘exotic,’ “removes, rather than constructs, cultural boundaries between his exotic subject and his domestic audience” (210).  However, he does describe the foreign knight, the “other,” in detail, which makes the pilgrims unconsciously align their concept of the exotic to what is exotic to the Mongols.  Further encouraging his audience to adopt the position of the Mongols, the Squire’s Tale infuses a pseudo-European intellectualism in the people of the Mongol court.  The exotic gifts of the knight are “translated into non-exotic terms” by “linking the spending objects . . . with famous counterparts in Western heroic and intellectual design” (Middleton, qtd. 211).   Ambrisco claims that this is an invocation of Hartog’s ‘rule of the excluded other,’ which claims that in terms of ethnographic comparison, it is far more natural to deal with only two terms at a time.  Thus, “the exoticism of his culture overemphasized, the Mamluk [knight] comes to occupy the space of the other, and the Europeans/Mongols occupy the place of the self” (214).  However it is crucial that readers resist the urge to reduce Ambrisco’s thesis to a mere deconstruction of binaries or commentary on cultural relativity; rather, this initial premise is a springboard for his primary argument that though Parts I and II of the narrative appear disjointed, they are “intimately connected” by their linguistic anxieties.

            The use of occupatio virtually peppers Part I of the narrative, while it is absent from Canacee’s discourse with the wounded bird in Part II.  Also significant, the Squire’s “admissions of an inability to translate into English the [knight’s] marvelous speech” are absent, and he can, instead, readily translate the conversation of another species (215).  Initially, the pilgrims are “linguistically and spatially disenfranchised, but the Squire reduces or domesticates the other by refusing to let it evince signs of its own alterity, and in so doing he carves out a privileged space for the English language” (216).  Ambrisco notes that Chaucer has also displayed this linguistic confidence in Troilus and Criseyde and House of Fame.  Rather than dwelling on English’s inadequacy in translating the majestic speech of the knight, Ambrisco postulates that Chaucer is “underscoring English’s suitability for translation . . . the [tale] is not primarily about privileging West over East; it is about privileging the English language” (218-9).  In aligning the European audience with the exotic Mongol, the Mamluk knight is the incommunicable other, but the cultural ideas and speech of the Mongol court can be directly translated into not just the English language, but also the Western ideals and literature.  Thus, it is significant that in Part II, English, by way of the Squire’s narration, is the gateway for immediate access to other cultures, languages, and even species.  Indeed, the historical implications of this theme during Chaucer’s time cannot be underestimated; Chaucer, through his poetry, was continually asserting the capability of the vernacular language when its integrity was still under great debate.  Both Ambrisco and Flyer agree that this tale is a “‘metaphor for the difficulty of bridging gaps’ between male and female, birds and humans, and Europeans and Mongols” (223).          

            Ambrisco’s argument is compelling and supported well.  The article is heavy with his more preliminary observations and scholarship, but the originality of his main thesis does require a well-articulated foundation. Ambrisco is wise to anticipate the primary arguments and assumptions against his thesis.  Primarily, he argues that despite the dissolution of clear cultural binaries in Part I, Chaucer is not arguing towards cultural relativism or equality.  In addition, he recognizes that the pilgrim Knight, the Squire’s father, also employed the trope of occupatio in his tale.  However, Ambrisco does not address the argument that the Squire is consciously emulating the Knight and to what degree this inept use of the trope could also be reflective of his inability to emulate the true ‘gentlesse’ of his father. I found that Ambrisco often mentioned what could be the crux of key interpretive issues as though in passing, never fully questioning their potential significance.  For instance, if the Squire is the only proclaimed poet in the group of pilgrims, what does it mean that he is virtually inept (from a narrative standpoint) at telling rhetorical tales? If we are to assume his poetry, in suit with his character, is written in the more traditional, ornate Latin, what does his ineptitude at the storytelling game imply about the adaptability and worth of the vernacular? While he skirts the issue of potential incest and the Franklin’s rash interruption, Ambrisco does not connect this landmark interruption to his existing arguments where I believe a valid connection is substantiated.  If the Squire’s Tale, particularly Part II, is indeed a metaphor for the potential connectedness (or deconstruction) of binaries, in particular those of Eastern and Western culture, why does the Franklin feel so threatened or off put that he breaks precedent and actually terminates a fellow pilgrim’s tale? --Jen Madera 4.5.07

Lucas, Angela M. "The Mirror in the Marketplace: Januarie Through the Looking Glass." The Chaucer Review            33.2 (1998): 123-145. Academic Search Premier. Goucher College Library, Baltimore, MD. 21 March       2007. http://search.ebscohost.com.

          In her article Lucas examines the physical realities as well as the use of mirrors in literature and art during Chaucer’s general time period, and applies her findings to The Merchant’s Tale character Januarie’s mirror usage.  The mirrors that Chaucer and those living around his time period would have known were not the same as current day mirrors—though some glass mirrors existed, they were poorly coated, and not much better than the more common mirrors composed of highly polished metal.  Mirrors were most often and most easily crafted as convex.  As a result, in addition to the left-to-right reversal we still know today, mirrors then often reflected weakly images that were imperfect, tinted by the color of the reflective surface, and distorted by the convex surface—an illusion of reality. 

          Bearing in mind the skewed reflection mirrors of the time are known for, Lucas then examines several uses of mirrors in Christian and classical literature: the poorly functioning mirror representing the imperfections of humans “seeing” God in comparison to how He can see humans, the scientific fact that reflected light is weaker than unreflected light and the dependence of a mirror on the presence of light (as opposed to darkness) to function, the belief that only a pure soul can perfectly reflect the image of God, textual spiritual guides known as “specula” or “mirrors” that highlight for the reader how they are be at variance with the Word of God to allow the reader to correct themselves in hopes of being better able to reflect God, the imperfect vision and thus knowledge imparted from imperfect mirrors, and the fusion of Christian and classical mirrors to present ‘correct’ morals.  In art, Lucas points out that mirrors can be used to either suggest perfect vision and clarity or imperfect vision and shadows.

          Through her investigation of mirrors, Lucas then argues that the passage where Januarie sees women in a mirror in the marketplace suggests many ways to influence readings of the Tale.  The real-life use of mirrors in marketplaces enforces the idea that Januarie’s use of a mirror suggests his commoditized view of a wife and exposes his desires for an heir as materially-centered.  Januarie’s blindness can be connected to the highly frowned upon practice of scrying, as it was a practice reserved for young boys of pure heart.  Januarie’s metaphorical mirror in the marketplace also can be used to point out Januarie’s shallow desire for material goods, as shown by the sexualized parade of women he sees in his mirror, and the desire for May and all of the ‘goods’ she as a wife bring with her that is born of this parade.  Among other interpretations, Lucas points out how instead of portraying May as the ideal reflection of the Virgin Mary, the Merchant “reveals her as a perfect distortion of everything the perfect wife should be, a distortion which apparently reflects his own views about women…but which also reflects upon Januarie’s means of choosing a wife, which permitted him to remain ignorant of all but the desirable external qualities of his chosen bride.” 

          It is this argument of Lucas’s that I find most intriguing.  I love the multi-disciplined approach she takes to investigation the use of the mirror in this Tale.  Her ability to expose information about not only Januarie but the Merchant-teller also through Januarie’s mental mirror is fabulous.  The process of distortion of ideals is a powerful tool in reading this tale.  For instance, May’s actions becomes even less despicable to this already sympathetic reader if we additionally credit her with being a distortion of the bitter and angry Merchant as well as married to a man much too old for her.

          I would be interested in looking for similar items in other tales that act as portals into so much additional meaning as the mirror does in this one.  The historical significance of such seemingly everyday objects as mirrors cannot be ignored, as our connotations do not always align with those of Chaucer.  I also think that using art of similar time periods to support arguments is a wonderful resource.  I acknowledge the limitations that this would have, as it would only be feasible when the object of scrutiny had some relevance to painters of the time.  I wonder if, as a tale easily comparable to The Merchant’s Tale, the “koulter” used as a weapon by Absolon in The Miller’s Tale may open up similar avenues for further interpretation in that tale.—Lisa Gulian, 4/7/07

Hallissy, Margaret. "Widow-to-Be: May in Chaucer's "the Miller's Tale"" Studies in Short Fiction 26 (1989):  295-304. Academic Search Primer. EBSCO. Goucher College, Towson, MD. 3 Apr. 2007 <http://http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=7133575&site=ehost-live>. 

            In “Widow-To-Be: May In Chaucer’s ‘The Merchant’s Tale’” Margaret Hallissy focuses on May and her skill in widowhood. Her argument is that since May is “too much the sensual animal to operate systematically and pragmatically in her own self-interest” that she is unintelligent and risks everything that would secure her well being as a wealthy widow.

            I would not dispute May’s impending widowhood, as Januarie is very old, and I would not dispute Hallissy’s theory that widowhood was a desired state in the medieval era where you were either a “clene maydenes” (a young unmarried woman under your fathers control) or a “trewe wyves” (a married woman under control of your husband).        One big flaw in Hallissy’s theory is that she does not give an example that May does not want a child. She mostly leans on the fact that widowhood was a desired way for a woman to live and that May must have known that she would not get pregnant by an older man so all of his estate would be in her possession and if May was to get pregnant then she would have to share her estate with the child. Which Hallissy believes is Chaucer’s way of telling his audience that “an intelligent woman should not risk pregnancy, ergo, May is not intelligent.” (304)

            However, I disagree with Hallissy’s reading of May as a gold digging wife. Since she does not give concrete textual evidence that May only married Januarie to become a widow and because she risks pregnancy (a problem to her own health and financial status) by sleeping with Damyan is giving May excessive blemishes to her character.–Colleen Desrosiers, 4/7/07

Simmons-O’Neill, Elizabeth.  “Love in Hell: The Role of Pluto and Proserpine in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale.”  Modern Language Quarterly 51.3 (2001): 389-407.   EBSCOhost.  Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College, Towson, MD.  April 4, 2007.  <http://search.epnet.com>.

            This article begins with an overview of literature in late fourteenth-century England: satire, protest, romance, and novellas.  Chaucer, Simmons-O’Neill believes, used popular tale types to call attention to social injustice and changes in more subtle ways than satire or protest literature would, and that most of his stories are best seen as slightly modified versions of popular tales that his audience would already have known.  In the versions of the “pear tree tale” that Chaucer would have known, one involves God and St. Peter intervening on the behalf of the blind husband, and the other has God restore the husband’s sight: both are sharp, pointed criticisms of the evil of women (as are the majority of other tales of the type).  This had led some critics to believe that the “Merchant’s Tale” is meant to be a reinforcement of this criticism, in the light of the Merchant’s bitterness towards his own wife.  However, as Simmons-O’Neill points out, the intercession of Pluto and Proserpine is unique and casts a very different light on Chaucer’s version of this story, as does the fact that the lover is in fact a member of a different class than the wife and her blind husband.

            Simmons-O’Neill suggests that women in Chaucer’s tales, particularly Emilia in the “Knight’s Tale” and May in the “Merchant’s Tale” are deliberately shown to be trapped by the male world that surrounds them—even Diana and Proserpine, the goddesses to which they pray (and who are equated with one another both in De Raptu Proserpinae, a Chaucerian source, and by Emilia), are unable to save them.  It is not necessarily the fault of men, however—January must deceive himself into thinking of himself as youthful and virile in order to act towards his wife in the way that he wishes.  Two “falls” are suggested by the “Merchant’s Tale” and the garden in which the main action is set: the fall of Adam and Eve, for which Eve is almost unequivocally blamed, and the fall of Proserpine, a “contrasting mirror of the pagan Fall, exemplifying the lust and violence of men” (396).  In the pagan version, what is lost (Proserpine) is partially regained by her mother, Ceres.  Another source Chaucer would have known, Ovid, tells the story of Proserpine in full: in both the Metamorphoses and the Fasti, he describes the story of her kidnapping and rape by Pluto, Ceres’ search for her, and the compromise effected by Jupiter and the fact that Proserpine has eaten a number of pomegranate seeds in the Underworld, a symbol of her acceptance of her new place.  Also in the Metamorphoses, Pluto and Proserpine appear in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Orpheus appeals to their love for one another in order to win back his own love—and succeeds.

            January blatantly shows the way in which men expect to be able to control women when he refers to his wife in terms of property for use or consumption (as a knife and as “tendre veel”), and also when he describes his wish to find a young wife whom he might mold like “warm wex” (2117)—though it is May who eventually molds wax.  May might attempt to free herself from such male control, but in reality, she merely seeks to “free herself from one lover for another”; she cannot envision herself breaking the rules of society and actually leaving the man who has married her.  She is, though, like Proserpine, whose partial freedom frees her from the duality between Venus (goddess of love and sexuality) and Diana (virgin goddess of the hunt).  Proserpine identifies January, Pluto, and Solomon—men of three widely varied mythologies—as rich, old, impotent men.  The three are also complexly related by spiced pomegranate wine in the Song of Songs.  In both a Russian version of the “pear tree tale” and Chaucer’s, women find their ability to save themselves “with words” (401).  January’s blindness and name also identify him ironically with the Roman god Janus, who can see in two directions at once, while at the same time he misuses Biblical injunctions to justify his control over his wife.

            Simmons-O’Neill also draws connections to the Wife of Bath and to the “Tale of Melibee;” Alisoun and Prudence, like January, reject oversimplified gender roles.  In this way, she claims, Chaucer “suggests the possibility that they [men and women] are both victims” (405).  She connects both January and May to all players in the tale of the rape of Proserpine—both ravishing, both ravished, and both searching.  The Merchant invokes Mary, the only perfect woman, who is also, like Proserpine in this tale, an intercessor on behalf of oppressed women.  Finally, Simmons-O’Neill reaffirms that the garden in the “Merchant’s Tale” is both Eden and the garden of Pluto, and that Pluto and Proserpine both mirror and magnify human conflict.

            This article is neither very organized nor, as far as I can tell, unified under a single thesis, but Simmons-O’Neill does suggest much that is very interesting about the role of these particular deities, Pluto and Proserpine, in the “Merchant’s Tale.”  The suggestion that is most interesting and applicable to the rest of the Canterbury Tales is the focus on class: “The Chaucerian revision suggests a concern with the need for change in both class and marriage relations, and the larger political and religious relations institutions which they mirror” (393).  This makes perfect sense as the “Merchant’s Tale,” then, despite its feminist bent—for is not a merchant part of the rising middle class, which had never before existed?  Class relation is certainly a theme among the Canterbury Pilgrims (think of the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” which also equates class and gender relations), and Chaucer or the Merchant may well be making a subtle statement on the increasing fluidity of class boundaries.  This suggestion comes from the fact that unlike in other versions of the tale, the lover is actually of a lower social class, and May chooses him.

            I have read that the combination of Biblical and pagan imagery in the “Merchant’s Tale” has been a cause for scholarly concern, so I am pleased to see an analysis of the particular characters chosen and their connotations, rather than the mere fact of their paganism.  What other story suggests in the same way both acceptance of women’s traditional roles and rebellion against them?  And the fact that readers must think about the reasons for the inclusion of pagan deities in this tale invites us to analyze the mythological characters (gods, demons, and saints) in others of Chaucer’s tales.

            There are also parts of this article that I had to question.  Simmons-O’Neill writes, “Though May melts ‘warm wex’ to counterfeit a ‘clycket’ (4.2117), allowing Damian’s entrance into January’s wife and garden, it never occurred to her to use that key to let herself out” (400).  The metaphor is nice, but Simmons-O’Neill fails to examine the implications of May’s lack of thought other than the fact that she does not free herself from the male-dominated world in which she lives.  It would have been impossible for May to let herself out of the garden even if she had thought of it!  Not only does January use her as a seeing-eye wife and not take his hand from her unless she has an excuse that panders to his ego, if May had in fact fled from her husband, she would have been censured by the entire community—women and men alike—and would never have been able to live a normal or fulfilling life, unless she wished to be free and wild like Diana, which the association of her with Proserpine suggests she has no interest in.  Remember, Proserpine does not simply live her life partially in freedom and partially in thrall; she lives part of it with a husband and part with her mother, and the fact that she gives in to a plea to her status as a lover implies that neither part of her life is more preferable.

            The tale type to which Simmons-O’Neill frequently refers is also not explained well or given enough thought.  She never describes the basic structure of the tale type; she only refers to it when it is significantly different from Chaucer’s version.  There is one exception, and it is quickly glossed over: on page 401 she refers to a Russian tale that “evokes these same issues of resistance and reinterpretation,” which she only fully describes in a footnote.  Despite her focus on differences, this tale sounds exactly like the “Merchant’s Tale,” except that instead of Pluto and Proserpine the action is watched by King David (the father of Solomon!) and his wife, who, while they have no actual power over the situation, predict what happens in the same way that Pluto and Proserpine control it.  Why does Simmons-O’Neill not find it worth exploring that there is such a similar tale in existence?  Are many or all of the tales so similar?  If so, why does she not say so?  It seems that she has decided to skim over important points rather than risk weakening her arguments.—Kaitlyn Miller, 4/7/07

Beechy, Tiffany. “Devil Take the Hindmost: Chaucer, John Gay, and the Pecuniary Anus.” The   Chaucer Review. 41.1 (2006): 71-85. Academic Search Premier (Ebsco). Julia Rogers            Library, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD. 1 April 2007

            In this article, Beechy looks beyond the common view of the fart in Chaucer’s the Summoner’s Tale as a “low blow” to the Friar (who insulted the Summoner with his tale) or as a common bawdy and humorous element of medieval fabliau.  Instead, she sees the fart as the key satiric device in the tale.  Beechy explores this use of scatology as satire through comparison to John Gay’s little-known poem, “An Answer to the Sompner’s Prologue of Chaucer.”  She specifically seeks to examine why the fart was used, how it functions in the tale, and how it is related to greed, as well as offering a basic look at Gay’s poem.

            Beechy begins by explaining how the two works “transgress categories of decency in a way that Jonathan Goldberg describes as ‘sodometric’” (72).  She explains this term referring to the writings of Goldberg and Mark Jordan.   Sodemetrics, she says represents “a subset of culture’s transgressive practices and relations” (72).  Sodomy, or sodometrics, heads a broad category of human desire, specifically erotic practices and relations, condemned by society.  Understanding this explanation of sodomy, Beechy explains, allows one to examine the “anal-scatologic codes at work in and between Chaucer’s text and Gay’s” (72).

            Looking at both Freudian and pre-psychoanalytic understanding, Beechy establishes that the anus is generally associated with lower order human desire and evil.  She states that, “in the Western tradition the anus is often linked to transgressive sexuality and from there to evil and abomination” (73).  She goes further to associate the anus with greed, explaining that “in medieval theology both greed and sodomitical behaviors were related to luxuria, or excessive desire” (73).  Freudian psychology, she explains, associates money with filth, completing the association of the anus with greed. 

            After establishing this relationship between scatology and base human desire and greed, Beechy goes through careful analysis of specific aspects of Gays and Chaucer’s works.  She states that, “the symbolic link between money and filth, and the moral-philosophical association of greed with sodomy,” are used as satirical tools in the two works (74).  In the Summoner’s Tale, the scatological element satirizes ecclesiastical abuse of power, while in Gay’s poem it satirizes the “inherent fraud of speculative investment” of eighteenth century British capitalism (74).  Her examination of Gay’s poem is done for its own sake as well as to heighten our understanding of Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale as serious scatological satire.

            In her analysis, Beechy begins by explaining how Gay’s poem echoes the Summoner’s Prologue by placing friars in the belly of Satan like bees in a hive, just as Chaucer places them in “erse” of the Devil (lines 1-8 of Gay’s poem).  The image of the friar’s flying around like bees in the hive-belly of Satan calls to mind images of swarming bees busy at work, a metaphor commonly used by writers during Gay’s time.  This image, therefore, moves Gay’s text beyond that of simple faux-Chaucerian form and verse.  It primes the reader to expect a satirical poem relevant to eighteenth century industry of capitalist England. 

            The connection between the two works is strengthened by the echoing of the image of Satan creeping back into the ass of the Friar in Gay’s poem just as the friars crept back into the “ers” of the devil in the Summoner’s Prologue.  Beechy continues her comparison by looking at the greed of the friars in the two works.  Friar John of the Summoner’s Tale is after both material goods and money.  Money, explains Beechy, is based in abstraction and is only valuable because it can be used to acquire material things.  Money’s value, therefore, is purely imaginary.  Furthermore, Friar John’s desire for an abstract concept, money, is embodied physically in the form of an excremental fart.  The fart is used as a satirical tool when Friar John strives seriously to determine a way to fulfill his oath to Thomas and equally divide the fart among the friars of his abbey.  The fart, the physical manifestation of evil and greed (associated with anal values) is valued beyond the Holy Spirit, which is essential for salvation.  The problem of dividing the fart and the wagon wheel solution further suggests “the absurdity of the reified ‘value’ produced by social contract” (the friar’s agreement with Thomas) (77).  This throws into question “real values of all kinds,” completes the association between greed and the scatological in Chaucer’s tale, and “prefigures the paradox of value and money that was to become such an issue in the new socioeconomic order of Gay’s England” (77 and 81).  

Gay, says Beechy, takes the association of greed and the scatological further into the realm of sodomy that she cited earlier.  Friar Thomas also seeks the abstract concept of financial gain through speculative investment, the acquisition of a house for cheap that the common country folk believe is haunted (a belief founded in the insubstantial or imagined).  His greed is based in the speculative investment common of Gay’s time in capitalist England.  Beechy cites Paul Hammond explaining that in the early eighteenth century the term “sodomy” referred most directly to anal sex.  Using this definition of sodomy, Beechy explains that the association between greed and the anus is literally sodomized when the devil enters the friar’s ass.  The poem, therefore, satirizes eighteenth century capitalist greed, (where investments are valued to what Gay saw as a ridiculous extreme), by equating it with the scatological and literal sodomy.  Just as the Summoner’s Tale satirizes the valuing of money (something with ‘imaginary’ value) over the Holy Spirit (real, spiritual value).

Beechy’s article offers a unique and serious look at the prime comedic element of Chaucer’s The Summoner’s Tale, the fart.  She examines seriously the moral implications of the action and what message it places on the tale as a whole.  She also offers a valuable look at Gay’s little-known poem, “An Answer to the Sompner’s Prologue of Chaucer.”  Overall, I thought her argument worked.  Viewing the bawdy element of the tale in a more serious light may lead students to other serious insights.  There were, however, several points where I felt her argument fell a bit short. 

In particular, I felt her use of psychoanalytic criticism was a little incomplete.  She uses it in the introduction of her argument to explain how the anus can be used as a symbol of greed and moral debauchery and why money has a fecal association.  However, she conducts this discussion almost exclusively from the tale.  Her article may have benefited from integrating these psychoanalytic methods more fully into her argument.  Perhaps, though, such a move would be unwise given the extreme difference in culture and time period between Freud and Chaucer.  If such is the case, Beechy should have turned to other writings or theories to support this aspect of her argument. 

In addition, her discussion of the term “sodometrics” feels a little out of place or isolated.  Beechy uses her explanation of this term both to set up the foundation for her argument, and as a reference for why her topic has not been explored in this manner before.   However, her explanation is a little difficult to follow at points and, for all the effort she put into explaining the term, she hardly uses it in her argument.  She simply references the ideas she brought up in her discussion of the word.  I wonder if the same argument could be achieved without using this confusing terminology.

Beechy also has a habit of throwing terms and ideas or facts at the reader without fully explaining them.  Scatology, for example, is a term she never defines.  Perhaps a practiced academic would be comfortably familiar with the term, but many undergraduates like myself, I imagine, would need to look the term up (I did, and discovered it means “the study or preoccupation with excrement or obscenity,” I wonder if the GRE tests this word).  This weakens her paper a bit, as it may isolate some readers who are unfamiliar with the term.  In addition, she could have used her explanation of the term to strengthen her argument.  She also mentions the South Sea Company financial scheme several times but explains it only once in a sort of off handed manner that is easy to miss.  One not familiar with this part of history could easily miss this reference to the pitfalls of the emerging market economy of Gay’s time.  Beechy could have gone further with this point, strengthening her argument on the evils of capitalist greed.  Also, because she never specifies exactly who they were, Beechy’s discussion of Gay’s “fellow Scriblerians” almost seems out of place.  If she had simply explained who these writers were, her points about eighteenth century satire would have been stronger. 

While all of these points are distracting, they do not seriously hurt Beechy’s overall argument.  They are simply lost opportunities to strengthen her analysis.  Students will still benefit from a number of valuable insights made in this article.—Leah Hoffman, 4/7/07

Farber, Lianna. "The Creation of Consent in the Physician's Tale." The Chaucer Review 39:2 (2004):  151-164.

            Lianna Farber’s essay, “The Creation of Consent in the Physician’s Tale,” describes how Chaucer makes additions to the original versions of the story of Apius and Virginia in Roman de la Rose and Livy’s History in order to show “the way those who have control over [Virginia] educate her and teach her to understand reality.  In doing so, [the revised tale] depicts the processes that create consent” (162).

            Farber begins by pointing the reader to the moment in which Virginia actually consents to be killed; she points out that this is one of Chaucer’s additions.  She then enumerates the spectrum of established criticism which all point to the facts that: the tale is political; its narration is fractured.  The author goes on to show how it is Chaucer’s additions that create this break in narrative and that they directly support her claims of the tale being about the creation of consent.  She categorizes Chaucer’s additions as: “first, the long discursus by and about Nature on the formation of Virginia’s particular beauty and virtue; second, the abstract discussion of the responsibility governesses and parents bear for the children in the charge; and third, the scene where, after hearing Apius’s judgment, Virginius comes home to tell Virginia what transpired and Virginia agrees to her own death” (153).

            This article dealt primarily directly with the text and indeed contains almost a complete summary of the Physician’s Tale, within its pages.  Farber does a good job of dealing with possible critical issues that others have raised as she comes to the appropriate points in her explication of the text.  Her reading is unique and well informed and the article gives us a lens for looking at Chaucer’s ideas about the formation of virtue as well as the possibility of Virginia as an allegory for man within the political realm of power.  If Farber’s ideas hold water, which I believe they do, then she has given us a useful insight to consider while reading The Canterbury Tales.  From her reading of the Physician’s Tale, we can come to understand Chaucer’s conceptions of individuality and political power; specifically the powerlessness of the individual in the face of a political system that defines his very world.—Jacob Grover, 4/9/07

Aloni, Gila. "Extimacy in the Miller's Tale." The Chaucer Review 41.2 (2006): 163-84.

            Aloni’s article deals with the Miller’s tale in terms of a concept she refers to as “extimacy”.  She defines extimacy as “the presence of what is Other at the place thought to be most intimate” (163).  She discusses the opposition between the public and private in the tale, noting that extimacy is linked to the inability of men to control women, which can be seen throughout the Canterbury Tales.  She relates this opposition to the links of male with public and female with private.  This public power puts men in control many times, but this and other Canterbury tales break down this dynamic.  As women are traditionally caged in houses, these women find ways to make their homes the place of their adultery, making them free of this captivity by their husbands.  In the Miller’s Tale in particular, it is Alisoun who is locked in her home by her husband.  The privacy in the tale becomes synonymous with her, as she becomes synonymous with the house.  Just as the house defines the space that belongs to the carpenter, Alisoun is part of his property as well.  Aloni discusses Nicholas and his presence in the house as a form of extimacy.  All male characters in the tale, Nicholas, Absalon, and John, desire privacy with Alisoun.  Aloni defines privacy as a multitude of things, including “mystery, secret, a secret sin or desire, and sex organs” (165).  She links this last definition to the “kiss” Absalon receives at Alisoun’s window.  She then defines a more concentrated manifestation of privacy: Alisoun and John’s marital bed.  John thinks that this is the place of his power over her, but the only time we see her with him there, they are intruded upon by Absalon’s song. 

Aloni connects this idea to other tales as well, saying that it is a parody of the Knight’s Tale, and identifying the same theme in the Reeve’s tale.  She points out that in the Reeve’s Tale, there are two tenants and two women.  One critic that she cites, Mandel, notes that this shows a deterioration of love throughout the Canterbury Tales, going from the Knight’s tale to the Miller’s Tale to the Reeve’s Tale, but Aloni disagrees.  She sees this as an increase in extimacy and a relative decrease in the power of men over women.  As extimacy increases, the idea of privacy is broken down, and as this happens, the barriers between men and women are broken.  Women are no longer banished to privacy as the private has become public.

In the Reeve’s Tale as well, Aloni recognizes the pattern of stealing as a form of extimacy in that it violates the idea of private property.  She connects this to the rape of Symkyn’s wife and daughter because it is a way of stealing what rightfully “belongs” to Symkyn and disturbs the idea of private property.  She references the Cook’s comment on “pryvetee” of a man as a comment on “the Reeve’s supposedly conceptual problem of defining privacy in his home” (176).  She says that the Cook does not understand that the tale is about bringing the Other in, but that what is already private (the woman) is foreign herself.  She traces this trend from Emelye as Palamon’s property through Alisoun who takes her freedom herself, through the Reeve’s Tale where a father and husband is unable to control his wife and daughter, and says that is comes full circle in the Cook’s Tale with a prostitute wife who is not only able to control her body, but also takes her own private property in return for it.

Aloni concludes by saying that the trend of extimacy discusses woman in relation to her society.  She will always be the Other to her male-dominated society and they will always want to control her.  The theme of extimacy in the tale, however, highlights their inability to do so and therefore grants women freedom.  She notes that “The progressive decline in men’s domination over women allows Chaucer to present a non-misogynist view of woman without openly rebelling against the hierarchies of his society (176).  Her argument presents an optimistic feminist view and employs structuralist tools.

I think that this article will be very useful to me in my paper.  Though I have not thought of a specific thesis, I have been looking at the Cuckoldry theme as a topic for my final paper.  This article sheds light on this theme and I think that I will be able to draw a lot from it.  This article focuses on Fragment I, and I would not focus on the tales in fragments, but rather in a group based on theme.  This article would still be very useful to me, as I would want to include the Miller’s Tale and, after reading this article, the Reeve and Cook’s tales as well.  This article helped me to see a relation between these three tales, whereas before I had not seen them as similar.  I was looking at the cuckoldry theme in relation to a plot to outsmart the husband by the wife and the adulterer, but this article makes me realize that any time that a wife has relations with another man it is relevant to my theme because it is a violation of the husband’s private property. 

As for the article itself, I feel that in places it makes connections that I do not think are relevant or add to the argument.  Aloni discusses Nicholas’s relation to his room as a form of privacy and John’s insistence on breaking down the door, but I do not see a strong connection here to the theme of growing freedom for women.  She also discusses Absalon’s relation to Alisoun as the most private, as he comes in contact with her anus, but he is never allowed inside of the house, and thus never enters the privacy.  Another discussion related to this is one of holes, which Aloni says constitutes the greatest confusion in the tale.  She relates it to holes in clothing and orifices in women, some of which I understand and some of which I do not.

I think that this article tracks an interesting pattern through Fragment I, as the number of lovers increases along with the freedom of women.  I feel as though, however, her interpretations of the tales were skewed in order to fit this pattern.  She discusses the Knight’s tale as a tale of two lovers, Emelye and Palamon, ignoring Arcite.  Though Arcite never does become Emelye’s lover, he is a viable contender for the position and it is in fact rightfully his.  She recognizes Absalon as part of Alisoun’s love triangle, but ignores Arcite who dies as Emelye’s fiancé. 

All in all, I think that this article provides insight that is unique and useful.  I have not come across other articles on themes that so closely relate to the direction in which I want to take the Cuckoldry theme.  It is interesting that she was able to connect the tales in a fragment to one another, and I think I might look at other fragments to see if any of them contain the cuckoldry theme as much as this Fragment contains the extimacy theme.  I will definitely use this as a source for my paper and it might even influence the structure of my final paper.—Jen Curtis!, 4/10/07

Benson, David C. “Varieties of Religious Poetry in The Canterbury Tales: The Man of      Law’s Tale and The Clerk’s Tale.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer. Vol. 2 (1986): 159-167.
             In his article, David C. Benson asserts that Geoffrey Chaucer experiments with different aesthetic and doctrinal possibilities of the religious tale genre in “The Man of Law’s Tale” and “The Clerk’s Tale.” Benson states that while usually tagged as dull and uninteresting to readers, the two religious tales are actually a “demonstration of Chaucer’s literary virtuosity” (160). The rhetoric, as Benson explains, is used in contrasting ways to derive the same Christian values from the two tales that are the most ambitiously religious of Chaucer's stories in The Canterbury Tales
             “The Man of Law’s Tale” is depicted in Benson’s article as more whimsical and straightforward, whereas “The Clerk’s Tale” is austere and elusive in its religious message. Benson depicts Constance as a simple Christian heroine, who is constantly tested, much like Job and other tried heroes in the Old Testament.  The article proposes “The Man of Law’s Tale” as evenly dividing the opposites of good and evil, judgment and mercy, and that Constance’s physical preservation in the rudderless boat is by virtue of God. Benson calls the rhetoric ornate, saying that its sentimentality elevates the story to a positive education of Christian values. 

Benson glosses over the rhetorical artistry of “The Clerk’s Tale,” and focuses more on its religious message in contrast to “The Man of Law’s Tale.”  Save for a single mention of Job (l. 932), there is a dearth of religious references (163). Benson points out that the overall lessons and style of “The Clerk’s Tale” are kept prudent and discreet.  According to Benson, Chaucer keeps the sentimentality of “The Clerk’s Tale” to a minimum ( though probably for good reason—Griselda’s trials alone are great enough to derive emotion); Benson uses the example of Griselda’s loss of her child as it is portrayed in second person as a way of supposedly minimizing the sentimentality: “Have heer again youre litel yonge mayde” (l. 567). 

Towards the end of Benson's article as he explains "The Clerk's Tale," he dives deeper into the issues and finds the true comparison he's been searching for during the rest of his argument. It is Griselda's own action to stay unshakeable and to be obedient to Walter, standing against Constance's seeming inaction, that is the nature of spiritual release for the reader; Benson calls it an "existential exercise in obedience for Griselda and the reader" (166).  In Griselda's gracious speech after she discovers her children aren't killed and that her husband hasn't remarried, she declares how Walter's love is more important to her than death, and faints with her children back in her arms. Despite her grievances, Griselda resumes her love for her family and becomes a prime example of Christian subservience leading to spiritual freedom. In Benson's argument, she is the Christ figure while Constance serves as the Mary figure; and Griselda becomes the representation of God's actions.  While Griselda sacrifices her family and comfort of living for obeying her husband, it would be difficult to categorize Griselda into one Christian model.  She embodies all positive aspects of Christian figures.

Benson tends to oversimplify both tales for the sake of getting at the heart of Chaucer’s rhetoric, yet he often tends to generalize and repeat his arguments, only occasionally breaking new ground that isn’t explored fully enough.  Some of his arguments are debatable as well.  His assertion that Chaucer holds Constance in esteem because of her estate is highly contested by other sources on the topic; Elizabeth Robertson’s article considers Constance as a greater character because of her otherness by race, estate, gender, and religion.  

What could be beneficial in this article is more of an awareness of Griselda's power through speech and how audiences could react to her understated freedom of will, particularly in contrast to the more easily categorized and morally accessible tale of Constance as a servant, almost blind in her submission to God.  Like Job, Griselda’s life is restored, but she does not go through the same diatribes as seen in Job. The argument about Chaucer's rhetoric in each of the tales seems to be lacking; without enough citations from the text itself, the generalization of the rhetoric and poetry of each tale does little to support Benson's argument. –Rachel Bernstein, 4/12/07

“Anticlerical Poems and Documents: Introduction.” Ed. James M. Dean. TEAMS Middle English Texts. 1996. 11 April 2007 <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/anticint.htm>. 

      This essay is not only an introduction, but also a very useful overview to medieval anticlerical literature.  When these poems and documents were written, anticlerical literature was the best outlet for both secular satirical writers and even some clergy to express their disapproval of the break between religious ideals and the disreputable reality of clergy behavior.  Anticlerical writing comes from a mixture of earlier Latin writings about the Investiture Controversy and a later interest in reforming the church and we are given a long list of authors of some of these pieces.  A major influence on English anticlerical writing was the conflict between secular and religious leaders at the University of Paris in which the non-religious at the school resented religious influence and which William of St-Amour began to write about.  St-Amour criticizes the Friars, citing multiple examples from the Bible and comparing the current religious climate with the end of the world.  Some of this revolutionary writing was incorporated into Le Roman de la Rose; a work Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are often drawn from.  This anticlerical literature is often considered in two ways: first, as documentation of the predicted end of the world and second, as a reshaping of previous antifraternal writings.  These antifraternal writings were potentially a representation of public opinion by placing friars in estates satires, as Chaucer does in the GP. 

      However, not all anticlerical writing was comedic, although satire was an efficient way of getting the message across, serious complaints were also made through the writing.  A poem from the Harley MS is dedicated entirely to the creation of a new order designed around the corrupt clergy, The Order of Fair Ease. Another work examined portrays the mendicant, begging, orders as peddlers and tricksters while another in the same folio attacks the tendency to compare friars to Christ.  Joseph Grennen is cited, saying that these friars are all going to hell (an unnoted connection to the Summoner’s Prologue).  The next two poems examined are paired, the second as a reaction to the first.  The first is a supposed layman’s attack of the clergy selling God’s word while the second is a reaction from a supposed friar, disclosing concern about layman access to Scripture.  Mary and Richard Rouse are then cited for their collection of accusations about friars keeping secular and laymen away from Scripture.  There are multiple interpretations and titles for this pair; Utley and RHR argue they are separate, while Browne and Wells combine them into one.  Overall, the author advises that it is good to look at them as a conversation, reminiscent to Friar’s and Summoner’s Tales.  Another poem, from Trinity College Cambridge MS, connects friars to the devil, saying they inherited his seven deadly sins with a special mission to cause harm on earth.  Scattergood comments that this poem reveals the bad feeling between secular clergy and friars. 

      Next, we are presented with Wycliffite and Lollard writings, explaining that John Wyclif famously created many anticlerical writings and developed a following known by those two names.  These followers opposed, among other things, the English church’s subservience to Rome, consecration of objects, masses for the dead and pilgrimages (another interesting addition).  The term Lollard may come from many different sources, but was often purposefully associated, by enemies, with loller, or lazy.  In fact, Chaucer’s Parson may have been a Lollard according to the host.  The political agenda of the Lollards was to expose the flaws of the church and the clergy as agents of Satan.  These ideas and politics were incredibly controversial and it was dangerous to be associated with them, but there were still attempted rebellions to demonstrate people’s conviction in these views.  The Wycliffite Bible was an extremely important work, the first complete Bible in English-making it available to anyone who can read or be read too.  The clergy were strongly opposed to this easy availability of Scripture, making this also a debate about access to religion and Wyclif’s mission of availability a very political move.  Looking to the Prologue of this Bible, there is complaint about curriculum changes at Oxford University to limit accessibility to Scripture, citing the masters’ creation of errors, which harm the lay people.  This writer also expresses his dedication to translate the Bible exactly from the Latin, but the inherent conflict arises that this leads to more confusing text.  The Prologue author’s claims destroy the power of laws forbidding translation of Scripture and destruction of Wycliffite and Lollard documents.  Once again, they want to limit access to these works.

      The Lanterne of Light is about a London currier, John Claydon, who was charged for having books in English, including religious writings and was burned as a heretic for these possessions.  The writer of this treatise creates a crisis atmosphere, especially in a description of the Antichrist (perhaps like car commercials, pressuring you to buy before prices jump).  The final work examined is an anti-Lollard poem about a real man, Sir John Oldcastle, from “Oldcastle’s rebellion.  He is portrayed from the clergy’s point of view, as a corrupt knight who has tricked many people and led them into spiritual hell with heretical interpretations of the Bible.  This poem was written to discourage others from following the example of the Lollards. 

      The author of this work does a very good job summarizing many different works of anticlerical literature, especially in an understandable chronological order.  The exploration of Wyclif and Lollards shows how this was not something a few random people wrote for fun, but rather an important political movement concerning access to these materials in addition to the corruption of the clergy.  The inclusion of an issue at Oxford is incredibly interesting in this arena as an issue of access, not only to Scripture, but also to academic writings and teachings which creates a culture of academic exclusivity, something we still cherish today.  In the discussion of Claydon’s heretical burning, the language referring to religious men, such as venomous, offers a very interesting connection to the ire experienced by the friar in the SumT, showing a real life issue of such strong anger.  The webpage connected with this essay is very useful, as it contains the poems, lyrics and other writings addressed in the essay for easy access to find exactly what this author is talking about.—Anna Lehnen, 4/12/07 

Allen, Elizabeth.  “The Pardoner in the ‘Dogges Boure’: Early Reception of the Canterbury Tales.”  Chaucer Review 36.2 (2001): 275-279.  Project Muse.  Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College, Towson, MD.  April 10, 2007.  <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

            Allen begins this article with a quotation about examples being stronger than rhetoric and in fact miraculous, saying that the Pardoner “fulfills his fellow-pilgrims' desire for just such miraculous experiences” (91).  She then explains the scholarly confusion over the Pardoner’s sex and belief that the Host reacts strongly to him because he is deviant; but, she explains, he is meant to be ambiguous, and that is the entire problem. 

            The “Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale” is in a sense an answer to the Physician’s tale of a martyr, to which the host responds with strong feelings that are not quite what the Physician had in mind.  This may be a deliberate interpretation, and the Physician stabilizes virtue by killing off its prime representative.  But the Pardoner’s Prologue especially “forces an awareness of alteration and falsification upon the audience” (94).  Unlike preceding tales which should be interpreted in one particular way, the Pardoner forces his audience to consider the ways in which tales might be interpreted.

            There is a theory among editors that the more difficult version of a manuscript is the older one, since scribes would have emended texts to make them more easily readable.  But Allen chooses to use it as an interpretive model—to find what early readers would, in fact, have found difficult.  The Pardoner is a difficult character: he is hypocritical, ambiguous, and sets himself off from his usual audience by showing off his learning.  There have been a few very telling scribal changes to the “Pardoner’s Prologue” that seem to be an effort to simplify both his character and his diction, and to specifically show him as a greedy womanizer. 

            There is a text called the Canterbury Interlude, written by a fifteenth-century monk, which not only rearranges the Canterbury Tales but adds two stories: the story of the pilgrims’ arrival and adventures at their destination, and the “Tale of Beryn,” a second tale for the Merchant to tell on the return trip.  The Pardoner as he is rewritten in this text is a much more simplified character.  He is not learned (he cannot even read), he is unambiguously male and heterosexual, and he is a blatant symbol of greed and sexual appetite.  He becomes the butt of a fabliau, in fact, in his attempt to sleep with and steal from the tapster, Kit, who tricks him and leaves him quite unsatisfied.  Other characters are changed as well, particularly the Host, who is portrayed as a fair-minded arbiter and a man who works to keep the whole company united and treating each other well, rather than the reactionary judge he appears in the actual Canterbury Tales.  The narrator of the Interlude distinguishes between rowdy and virtuous pilgrims, and puts the Pardoner squarely on the first side and the Host squarely on the second.  Like earlier scribes, “the author seeks to regulate and correct Chaucer” (112).

            The tales are also reordered.  The author seems to give no consideration to the original order of the tales, and begins with most of the more complex tales, breaks it up with the Interlude, and follows with simpler moral tales.  And, interestingly, “the famous gelding line becomes, ‘I trowe he had a geldyng or a mare’” (115).  This puts the Pardoner in a different framework and, again, it is one that keeps his character simple and easy to understand.  However, it introduces a new complexity: his tale appears at first to be told by Chaucer-the-Pilgrim.  This has led some critics to suggest that the Pardoner is meant as a mirror of Chaucer himself, or perhaps that fifteenth-century readers believed that he should be.  Finally, all of this restructuring and rewriting shows without a doubt that early readers had just as much trouble interpreting Chaucer as modern readers do.

            This article was fascinating and unique—a new look at the possible interpretations for the Canterbury Tales.  I had never considered looking at the reactions of early readers to Chaucer’s writing except to place it in a cultural context.  Allen’s discussion of scribal changes and deliberate rewriting is a fascinating look at early audiences’ reactions, particularly to the Pardoner.  She neatly lays at rest the scholarly quibbles over the Pardoner’s sexual and gender status by explaining that he isn’t supposed to be straightforward or to make sense!  Not only did Chaucer mean him to be ambiguous, he is deliberately ambiguous (not to mention hypocritical) himself.

            The concept of scribes “correcting” Chaucer is especially interesting.  Nowadays it would be considered blasphemy to rewrite something that is as much a part of the literary canon as the Canterbury Tales is, but we also know that the concepts of authorship have changed, and so in the fifteenth century it may have been considered perfectly acceptable to rewrite Chaucer.  I would also note that this rewriting of the Pardoner to make him a more simple and understandable character may not be far off from some critics’ attempts to make sense of him (or any of the Tales), forcing every piece of evidence to fit with their theses or ignoring the pieces that don’t.

            There is just one thing that puzzles me about Allen’s article.  (Well, besides the fact that it could be significantly shortened in places without any loss of meaning or understanding.)  In several places, she makes the provocative suggestion that the Pardoner as a character is intimately related to texts and storytelling.  When the Pardoner and the tapster are flirting in the Interlude, she refers to nakedness, and Allen writes that “Thinking her nakedness a naked text” (108) he misinterprets her.  Later, she explains that “the Interlude makes the Pardoner easier to read principally by taking story out of his hands” (109).  This is a fascinating angle on the Pardoner and on the Canterbury Tales as a whole, and I wish that it would be explored more—though perhaps that would be a separate article.  What would it show if the Pardoner were seen to interpret everything as a story, and if he were interpreted principally as a storyteller?—Kaitlyn Miller, 4/12/07

Allman, W. W. and Dorrel Thomas Hanks. “Rough Love: Notes Toward an Erotics of the Canterbury Tales.” Chaucer Review. 38.1 (2003): 36-69. Project Muse. 11 Apr. 2007. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chaucer_review/v038/38.1allman.html>.

Despite the recent focus on “body/gender/sexuality” in the world of literary criticism as a whole, Allman and Hanks claim that most Chaucerians have overlooked this particular dimension of The Canterbury Tales, choosing instead to stand by the “idealization, often sentimentalization, of love and mutuality—itself a hallmark of liberalism’s domestic order and heteronormativity, something much larger than than its local instantiation in Kitterage’s reading” (36-39). The authors seek to rectify this omission by drawing attention to the “forbidding and sometimes self-consciously forbidden erotics” that they believe to be visible in all the tales via Chaucer’s use of clichéd cutting, bleeding and stabbing imagery to describe sex (36-39, 56).

Proceeding in Ellesmere order, the article presents instances of this analogy in nine of the tales, spanning the various genres featured in the collection. The article contains several disturbing claims about how these tales downplay the nature of sexual violence against women. For instance, the authors employ reader response criticism and the work of Elaine Scarry to highlight a disturbing aspect of Malyne’s farewell to her rapist, Aleyn. Pain renders victims speechless, but Malyne has both the ability and the will to speak, giving one of the longest speeches in the entire tale. This steers readers who are reading as men away from the notion that Malyne suffers when Aleyn attacks her (44-45). Furthermore, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” Arthur and his court treat the rape at the beginning as the crime it is, yet the victim exits the tale immediately after the knight harms her. In this, the authors claim, the wife copies the Reeve (50). 

Nevertheless, Allman and Hanks mention several elements of the text that they claim run counter to this pattern. First, male characters that either speak of love in terms of cutting/piercing or perform sexual acts that the pilgrims describe in those terms end up paying for it in some fashion (54). Secondly, Chaucer transforms an old metaphor for female sexuality, the consumption of food, when Alison uses it to describe her sexuality as a dare in “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue.” Alison is not so much offering her body as a nurturing gift but inverting the Christian Eucharist, “[…] force-feeding [men] sexualized grace” (56).  Third, fourteenth century perspectives on sex hinder twenty-first century interpretations of the Tales as misogynist: whereas modern people—at least those of the authors’ cultural and socioeconomic background, enjoy the ability to choose their sexual partners, many fourteenth century people did not see one’s sexual pairings as a matter of choice. In this light, one could possibly argue, disgusting as the idea is, that Symkyn’s wife enjoy John’s company in bed (57). Finally, an “anti-erotics” in the tale that holds “phallic masculinity” and the sexual assault of women up to a critical light. For example, the brevity with which Chaucer describes the attempted rape in “The Man of Law’s Tale” and the successful rape in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” strip the incidents of any power to arouse readers who read as men and provide no distraction from the fact that they are crimes (58).

Allman and Hanks conclude by stating that “bodily economy of piercing men and pierced women, despite providing a structure within the tale collection and a connection to what is crucial to many of own contemporary accounts of the erotic, does not in itself easily capture the or contain the erotics of the individual tales, nor of the Canterbury Tales as a whole” (58). They also acknowledge that the paper fails to completely explain the erotics of the tale collection (58).

I had difficulty understanding the article as it is very dense, the vocabulary requires heavy use of the OED and I found concentration hard for various reasons. Nevertheless, the following is my assessment of the piece in so far as I understood it.

Allman and Hanks neglect to mention Angela Jane Weisl’s 1998 paper, “‘Quiting’ Eve: Violence against Women in the Canterbury Tales,” from Violence against Women in Medieval Texts, the paper that I annotated last week. This is especially aggravating in that they make the same point about the hot poker incident “The Miller’s Tale” that Weisl does in her argument concerning Chaucer’s use humor to distract his audience from the true nature of Absolon’s actions (Allman and Hanks, 41; Weisl, 119). Her observations on “The Reeve’s Tale” and “Sir Thopas” also support Allman and Hanks (Wiesl, 121-122; Allman and Hanks 44-45). Granted, just as Professor Myers reminds his Shakespeare class that it is impossible to read everything there is to read about Shakespeare, it is also impossible to read every single piece of Chaucer scholarship. Nevertheless, the omission weakens Allman and Hanks’ assertion that scholars have ignored the issue of sex in the Tales.  One would think that a graduate student and a professor hungry for explorations of body/gender/sexuality in Chaucer would have the drive and resources with which to locate a book published by the University of Florida that an undergraduate from Maryland found with little difficulty in her college library. After all, the Julia Rogers Library has had the book on its shelves since December of 1998. While I do not believe that this omission of Wiesl’s article makes this a bad source, I do feel that Allman and Hanks would have benefited from acquainting themselves with her work.

Allman and Hanks also couch their argument in generalizations about medieval thought, among them the idea of the fourteenth century person’s resignation to their lack of choice in sexual relationships. They also cite Vern L. Burlough’s claim that a man’s sexual prowess determined his manliness in Chaucer’s time and that lovesickness like Palamon and Arcite’s was a “womanly” flaw only curable by sex (39). Although many people of that time period may have indeed thought this way, I also keep in mind Professor Sanders’ advice not to generalize about medieval people.

I also found that several arguments in the article seemed to be flawed. For one, Allman and Hanks forget to mention that Damian, May’s extramarital lover in “The Merchant’s Tale,” is an exception to this rule regarding the punishment of men associated with the analogy between sex and stabbing (54). I also have a problem with a passage about “The Reeve’s Tale” in which they claim that the same analogy advertises masculinity as a way to control other men. They begin the paragraph with “We see no ambiguity […] in this claim,” only to later admit that their evidence for it rests on a passage plagued by unclear pronouns, thus making the passage ambiguous (46).

Nevertheless, the authors have a sound knowledge of medieval vocabulary, and I concur with their assessment of description of the steward’s attempt to assault Custance in “The Man of Law’s Tale” and the knight’s rape of the unnamed maiden in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” (II.911-924; III, 888). I find it interesting that in both instances women intervene on behalf of other women. Just as Arthur’s queen and the Loathly Lady determine the fate of the rapist knight, the Virgin Mary throws the malicious steward off of Custance’s ship. While these instances of sisterhood in the text also appear to run counter to the misogynist undercurrent Allman and Hanks spotted in The Canterbury Tales, that undercurrent of sexual violence against women is still there. As with my argument with regard to “The Franklin’s Tale” last week, this may be evidence of either Chaucer’s or certain pilgrims’ desire to, if not eliminate the misogynist discourse of the late 1300’s altogether, than to at least mitigate it.—Yvonne Rogers, 4/12/07

Brody, Saul Nathanial. “The Fiend and the Summoner, Statius and Dante: A Possible Source for the Friar’s Tale, D 1379-1520.” The Chaucer Review. 32.2  (1997):175-182.

            This article suggests that the conversation between the summoner and the devil in Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale was inspired by Canto 25 of Dante’s Purgatorio.  Brody begins by explaining that one of the points he is most intrigued by in the Friar’s Tale is the conversation between the summoner and the fiend or devil and “the summoner’s willingness to continue conversing even after the yeoman tells the summoner, ‘I am a feend; my dwelling is in helle’” (175, qtd line 1448 of CT).  The teacher-student-like relationship that the two have also interests Brody.  He views the summoner as the “curious student,” asking a multitude of questions, and the devil is the “learned teacher” encouraging the summoner by telling him he will learn through experience (175).    Brody explains that he wishes to look at the summoner’s conversation with the devil in fairly general terms of how it may be inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio 25.  He does, however, acknowledge other scholarship, specifically the work of Pauline Aiken, which suggests that Chaucer’s depiction of the fiend was based on common knowledge or ideas about devils during his time, but explains that this is a much more detailed focus than what he will be dealing with.

            Brody first examines a portion of the text from Purgatorio 25.  He quotes at length from the text, providing both the original Italian and a translation.  The passage he quotes is Statius’s answer to Dante’s question (“How can one grow lean there where the need of nourishment is not felt?”) about the starved appearance of the repenting gluttons (176).  Brody summarizes and explains the significant points of the excerpt, highlighting, in particular, how Statius gives Dante an extended explanation of the relationship between the body and soul in response to his simple question about the appearance of the gluttons.   

            Through this recollection of the text of Purgatorio 25 and the Friar’s Tale, Brody draws parallels between the conversations in the two works.  First, he explains, both men (the summoner and Dante) are on journeys when they encounter spirits (devils) who answer their questions and act as guides.  Both Dante and the Summoner’s souls hang in the balance.  The questions they ask have no depth, they focus only on the surface of things, the material, while overlooking the spiritual.   Dante asks about the physical appearance of the penitent gluttons, but does not think for himself what the cause may be.  Similarly, the summoner asks about the form the devil takes, rather than stopping to consider the moral implications of aligning himself with a fiend.  

            Brody continues to draw parallels between the two works by examining the responses that Statius and the devil give to Dante and the summoner respectively.  Citing both texts, Brody explains that both Statius and the devil’s responses attempt to explain “the relationship between the soul of a spiritual being and the form it assumes” (179-80).  The devil’s explanation of what form devils take and how they go after human souls, says Brody, actually echoes “what is latent in and central to Statius’s speech” (180).  The idea that “the soul is more important than the body,” human beings are morally tested in the world, and reward and punishment are assigned based on the outcomes of these moral tests (180).  The lesson of both Statius and the devil, says Brody, is that the soul is always at stake.

            Brody is not bothered by the fact that the outcome of the two tales differs (Dante arrives in paradise, while the summoner is taken to hell).  He states simply that, “Chaucer’s interests are not Dante’s” (180).  Chaucer, Brody says, purposefully sets his tale in this world, not the afterlife, unlike Dante who sends his characters on an allegorical journey through hell, purgatory, and then paradise.  Other differences in style and choice, which Brody does not elaborate on, also set the two works apart, he says.  Again citing no specific examples, Brody says that works by Chaucer that have been shown to be influenced by Dante’s writings often take a different direction from Dante’s text.  To support his claim that Purgatorio 25 influenced Chaucer’s writing of the Friar’s Tale, Brody cites scholar Howard Schless’s criteria for attempting to gauge whether one text is a source for another.  He rules out some of the possible methods for proving influence, concluding that here, the method for showing influence in accordance with Schless’s guidelines, must be to show that the relationship between the two texts is “supported by some unique feature of thought or terminology” (181).  Summarizing briefly the points he raised in the rest of the paper, Brody claims the similarities between the two conversations in the tales meet Schless’s criteria.  He admits that it is still impossible to prove the relationship with complete certainty, but does cite another scholar, Piero Botani, who explains that Chaucer’s works only echo Dante in some ways, never maintaining a constant direct connection to Dante’s writings.  Brody concludes , therefore, that the connection he has just established between the Friar’s Tale and Purgatorio 25 is “both possible and reasonable” (181).

            This article offers students an interesting insight into the conversation between the summoner and the devil.  There is no question that Dante’s work influenced some of Chaucer’s writings, so I am inclined to agree with Brody that such a connection is “both possible and reasonable.”  I felt, however, that Brody could have made a bit more of an effort to convince us of this idea.  He quotes and summarizes the two works at length, particularly the text of Purgatorio 25.  To a certain extent, the main points of the two stories did need to be reiterated so that Brody could make his case, but I feel he could have gone a bit further.  Also, had he discussed the quotes he uses from the two texts together, comparing them directly a bit more often, he may have been able to strengthen his case a bit.  (Rather than quoting and summarizing Dante exclusively then looking at Chaucer, drawing general connections between ideas in the two works.)  Throughout the paper, Brody tends to make sweeping general statements without explaining them much or at all.  Like in the conclusion of the paper when he says that, “significant differences in style and approach follow from this choice [Chaucer’s choice to send the summoner to hell] and separate Dante from Chaucer,” yet he never elaborates on what differences in style and approach there are between the texts.  The majority of his paper, in fact, seems to be based on generalizations of plot points in the two tales (shown mainly through plot summary). 

I suppose Brody accomplished his goal of sticking to the general (as he says he will do when explaining how his work differs from others’).  However, in staying with the general, I thought the point Brody was attempting to make lacked power.  It seems like simply a general conclusion rather than something based on a critical close reading of the text.  Brody never goes so far as to suggest what sort of an impact this may have on our reading of the Friar’s Tale.  Perhaps, he refrains from doing so because he cannot claim with complete certainty that the Friar’s Tale was, in fact, influenced by Dante’s Purgatorio 25.  However, as the article reads now, it is useful to students mainly in the sense that it outlines the conversation between the summoner and devil, offering a few small insights into the text itself.  (Students may see some point in the discussion of the conversation that could lead them to draw additional insights or as a starting point for another paper, etc.)—Leah Hoffman, 4/12/07

Grossi, Joseph L., Jr. “The Unhidden Piety of Chaucer’s ‘Seint Cecilie’.” The Chaucer Review. 36.3 (2002): 298-309.

            Grossi’s article examines the differences between Chaucer’s Second Nun’s Tale and its source Jacobus de Voragine’s De sancta Caecilia from Legenda aurea. Grossi begins his investigation by stating the majority of scholars are in agreement to the fact the tale has a strong Christian message, just like its source. Grossi writes “[Scholars] agree [the tale] shows the primitive Christian Church scoring an easy spiritual triumph over a feeble and feeble-minded pagan Roman Empire” (298). Now while there are large similarities between the two works, Grossi points out that the subtle differences in the tale, mainly the emphasis of “Cecilie’s strength and the prefect Almachius’ weakness” indicate Chaucer’s opinions on Christianity (298). This observation introduces Grossi’s main thesis, that “in taking careful pains to depict the spiritual vigor of the early Church and the moral turpitude of its imperial enemies, Chaucer makes the Second Nun’s transcendentalizing [sic] cause seem understandable, relevant, and admirable”(298). This argument is a change from most criticism surrounding the tale, due to the fact that most scholars believe the Second Nun is the least liveliest of all the pilgrims, and ultimately the “least human”(298).

            Before Grossi gives examples to support his claim, he makes it clear that he is in no way telling his readers to believe St. Cecilia or the Second Nun herself are suppose to represent Chaucer himself. He is merely suggesting that the more “livelier raconteurs – the Miller, the Wife of Bath, or the Canon’s Yeoman” should not be used overlook the Second Nun. He is basically saying that just because the Second Nun is concerned with piety (as opposed to the other pilgrim’s obsession with sex and money), readers should not ignore her message. Grossi begins his argument examining the appearance of Rome in the tale. He believes the purpose of emphasizing the city is for readers to see how “material privileges [relates to] authoritarian rulers” (299). Grossi points out that St. Cecilia herself was a noble, a detail which is addressed by the tale and its source. However, Grossi points out that while Jacobus discusses St. Cecilia’s nobility, Chaucer “stress [es] her equality to her pagan peers and future executioners” (301). Grossi believes this modification, combined with other examples he mentions in his article, make the Roman Empire seem “less fearsome and formidable in Chaucer than it is in Jacobus” (301). Grossi goes on to point out numerous subtle differences between the two texts, such as St. Cecilia’s objections to Almachius and her answer to Tiburce.

            Towards the end of the article Grossi acknowledges the criticism by other scholars stating the faults they found with the text. He maintains the faults other have found in the text, merely enhance the meaning Chaucer was attempting to achieve. Grossi concludes his argument by stating that through the Second Nun’s Tale “Chaucer sought to widen the intellectual divide between Roman paganism and primitive Christianity” (305).  Grossi restates that ultimately he believes Chaucer’s purpose was to create Christian characters “ who possess greater resolve and social commitment than the pagan Rome that they dare oppose, a civilization whose intellectual torpor reveals itself finally through its incompetence, insanity, and vain recourse to brutality”(306).

            After reading this article about three times, I have come to the conclusion that Grossi’s arguments are not that effective. The article is somewhat useful due to the fact it analyzes the source of the tale, but that is pretty much it. It is obvious that Grossi is a really religious guy (which I have no problem with, because I’m some what spiritual myself), but I think his dedication to his religion clouds his critical methods. Through out the article he constantly says that readers should not forget about the Second Nun, and complains about Chaucer’s audience finding her boring compared to the more scandalous characters of the other pilgrims. I think he should have placed more emphasis on providing more examples to support his claims. He spends too much time begging his readers to give the Second Nun a chance, and not enough time giving memorable examples to support his thesis. While writing this annotated bibliography, I intended to summarize the examples he gives, but they were short and not really that interesting. I understand that his argument is based on subtle differences, however I feel like the entire article was Grossi begging people to read the tale and repent. –Kelly Rankin, 4/13/07

Ambrisco, Alan S. ""It Lyth Nat in My Tonge": Occupatio and Otherness in the Squire's Tale." The Chaucer Review 38 (2004):  205-228. Project MUSE. Julia Rogers Library, Towson. 12 Apr. 2007.

            Professor Ambrisco’s essay on the Squire’s Tale claims that “the tale is unified not by its narrative elements but rather by the way its linguistic anxieties are revealed and processed” (205).  The criticism combines an obvious anthropological strain with a close reading of the text’s much criticized narrative disjunction and flawed use of occupatio.  Ambrisco’s reading can be divided into three sections: An analysis of Part One describing Squire’s occupatio and the concept of a unified middle, in which Chaucer’s persuades his audience to view the Mongols as “Pseudo-Europeans” (213); An analysis of Part Two, in which the Squire’s occupation disappears and English is praised as a translational tool; and a third part that digresses briefly into the role of gender in the Squire’s Tale and rather inefficiently attempts to link it to the previous two stronger arguments.

            Ambrisco illuminates a few critical attempts to locate a central source for the Squire’s Tale and shows that one does not exist.  He also shows that the text contains elements based upon factual traveler’s accounts as well as propagandist literature; it should not be relied on as ethnography.  He continues to show how the text uses occupation to provide an exoticism surrounding the Mongols without using factual data.  He claims that by “telling us the Mongol court is exotic but failing to present any evidence supporting that judgement, Chaucer removes rather than constructs, cultural boundaries between his exotic subject and his domestic audience” (210).

            Once the audience has identified with the Mongols, Ambrisco notes, that Chaucer inserts yet another “other” into the tale in the form of the Mamluk.  By comparing his exotic gifts with western examples, Chaucer further identifies his audience with the Mongols.  Having succeeded in creating what Hartog describes in his criticism of Herodutus’s History as “the rule of the excluded middle,” Ambrisco concludes his first part by stating that “the Squire rhetorically confronts the threat of the foreign, either reducing the cultural other to something known or completely removing it from the realm of signification [through occupatio]” (214).

            Ambrisco notes that Part Two of the tale has less occupation in it than part one does.  He attributes this to the fact that the Squire is translating the language of a Bird instead of Mongolian.  This, Ambrisco claims, exemplifies Chaucer’s support of the English language as a tool for translation.  Here, the critical essay digresses into other instances, such as Troilus and Criseyde, in which Chaucer praises English as a translational tool.  Professor Ambrisco writes that “Chaucer tactically and unabashedly uses claims of access and immediacy to bolster both his authorial enterprise and the status of the English vernacular” (218).  This is significant due to the tense debate over whether scholarly and holy text should be translated into English for domestic consumption.

            The third portion of the essay is a dense, intensely anthropological explication of the significance of Canacee as a “pagan princess,” the “pagan princess” as literary trope, and her role as a gender commodity.  He briefly addresses the incest question raised at the end of the tale and attaches this third segment onto the other two by claiming that “Canacee’s place in the tale [which is one of a duality of Mongolian as well as non-Pagan princess] thus violates the rule of the excluded middle” (222).  Ambrisco’s conclusion of his essay posits an almost previously unmentioned thesis “that the Squire’s Tale, despite its narrator’s overt proclamations of respect towards Ghengis Khan and the Mamluk emissary, is antagonistic rather than sympathetic to the Mongol world, to Canacee, and to the foreign languages encountered by its English-speaking narrator” (224).

            I chose this criticism because it had to do with the primary literary device that I noticed while reading the Squire’s Tale and I was pleased by the essay’s description of occupatio’s function.  During the first two portions of the essay, Ambrisco stays close to the text and proves his points succinctly and thoroughly.  The third portion of the essay was as disappointing as the first two were illuminating.  The anthropological tone of the essay consumes Ambrisco’s original stated intent in writing to the point where it is almost as if another author took over the writing.  The third portion is not bad anthropological writing per say, I thought that the references to Said were quite potent and right on target, since they had to do specifically with the concept of otherness and orientalism.  I feel that the critique could have done with some pruning or some expansion.  Introducing gender into the criticism when the essay is 85% over is rather a large can of worms to open when you’re just starting to pack up your critical rod and reel so to speak.  Overall, the essay was exceedingly informative, just rife with off topic digressions.  Despite its shortcomings, Ambrisco’s insights into Chaucer’s use of occupatio make this essay essential reading for criticism on the Squire’s Tale or occupatio.—Jake Grover, 4/13/07

Hume, Cathy. "Domestic Opportunities: The Social Comedy of the Shipman's Tale." The Chaucer Review 41.2 (2006): 138-62.

            Hume’s article is about the accepted roles of medieval women (especially wives) and their relationship to the Merchant’s wife in the Shipman’s Tale.  He analyzes six main aspects of this role: hostess, social networker, housekeeper, status symbol, business assistant, and that she is the keeper of semi- autonomous finances. 

            As a hostess, Hume says that the wife is expected to bring guests into her home and welcome them, making them comfortable.  Hume points out that the description of the wife is a bit suggestive and discusses her beauty in close relation to her role as hostess, suggesting that she is promiscuous.  As a social networker, the wife befriends the monk who is, as Hume points out through period letters, of high social status in addition to being her husband’s close friend and “cosyn”.  Hume uses etiquette guides from the time to assert that it is part of a wife’s role to befriend her husband’s friends.  She points out in this section that the word “cosyn” may be a pun on the word “cozen” which meant cheat and/or prostitute.  She notes an inversion of courtly love when the wife pledges her service to the monk, rather than the man serving the woman.  This friendship must be abandoned because, Hume says, it is socially unacceptable for a man and a woman to be friends.  As a housekeeper, the wife is expected to be in charge of all of the affairs and servants in her household.  Women frequently received held from male friends of their husbands while their husbands travel. Hume notes a child who is present during the interchange between the monk and the wife and cites her has a witness (and possibly an ineffectual chaperone) who will not discover her to her husband, as happens in the analogues of this tale.  As a status symbol, the wife is expected to keep up appearances of respectability in their wealth and her actions.  The Merchant asks her to be honest/ chaste and thrifty in his absence.  Hume cites this an example of dramatic irony because the audience knows that she is planning adultery and that she is in debt, making her neither.  Her ability to keep up this appearance even to her husband shows an exploitation of this role.  As business assistants, medieval wives were trusted to take payment of debt in their husbands’ absences.  The wife uses her ignorance of business to say that she was confused about what to do with the money when the monk gave it to her.  As she has already spent it, her husband cannot reclaim it.  The last aspect of the wife’s role is that she and the merchant share semi-autonomous finances.  Traditionally, husbands and wives had separate accounts, but in the late medieval period, it was becoming more and more common to share money, as Hume demonstrates through period letters.  The traditional roles declare that men bring in the money and women organize it, but these roles are blurred in the Shipman’s tale, allowing the wife to take advantage of her control over the Merchant’s money.

            Hume notes that the analogues require the wives to return the money given to them by their husbands.  He says that this tale, rather than punish the wife for her indiscretions, has actually rewarded her.  Hume says that this reward is given to her as a result of her effort to push the boundaries of her accepted roles.  She describes this harmless sin as “domestic opportunism.”

            I think that this article takes an interesting stance on the Shipman’s tale, as it portrays the wife ultimately as a victim of social injustice who is able to in some way take what she deserves.  She knows how to work within her realm to get what she wants.  Oddly, however, Hume comments that, at the end of the tale, the wife’s prospects for repeating this act are slim because she can no longer trust the monk as her accomplice.  This contradicts the rest of the article in a way because Hume had not previously placed any importance on the Monk’s role in the act.  It had seemed before that the Monk had been merely a participant, while the wife was the mastermind of the scam.  I feel that in this interpretation, it would be more fitting to say that the monk’s involvement is replaceable with another man’s.  This would more fit the empowered view of the wife that the rest of the article supports.

            I think that Hume’s use of primary sources enhanced her argument tenfold.  She used letters between husbands and wives of the time as well as a French etiquette manual to support her claims of the accepted roles of women at the time.  She even located one letter discussing the social status of monks, which fit her argument perfectly.  She broke her argument down into points and proved each point well, though she had a couple unrelated bits of information in one or two sections.  For example, the discussion of the meaning of the word “cosyn” did not really affect her reading of the wife as a social networker, but she included it there (I assume) because it did not fit anywhere else.  That flaw aside, along with the fact that she forgot to translate from French once or twice, her article was very well written. 

             I found this article interesting and useful because it presents a view of the cuckoldry in the Shipman’s tale that supports the reading of the cuckoldry in the Miller’s tale from the article I read last week.  The theme of cuckoldry as a way to empower women is something that I feel is present in many of the tales.  I do not know how many tales I want to include in my discussion, but I think that this will be the theme of my final paper.  Both this article and last week’s use the idea of women staying within their bounds (physical or social) and using them to cuckold their husband and in this way gain some semblance of freedom.  While in this article, the wife works with her social expectations to get money from and have sex with the monk, Alisoun in the Miller’s tale stayed within her home and brought Nicholas into it in order to have sex with him.  Both of these readings present an inverted relationship between men and women, presenting women as having power over men, as last week’s article explicitly stated the flip of the public/ private roles of men and women.  I think that this is interesting coming from a male writer, and I think that it creates a “Wife of Bath” mentality among many of the women in the Canterbury tales, including women who are not only written by a male author, but told by a male pilgrim.—Jen Curtis!, 4/13/07

Fyler, John M. “Domesticating the Exotic in the Squire’s Tale.”  ELH.  55.1 (1988): 1-26.             JSTOR. Goucher Coll. Lib., Baltimore, MD.  8 April 2007. 

            Fyler opens his argument about the centrality of incest to romance by aptly drawing a comparison between the Man of Law’s “sanitized tale” and the Squire’s Tale, in which “incest is much closer to the surface” (1).  Though he does not further detail the thematic similarities between the two tales, Fyler does cite that the Man of Law’s explicit use of the namesake Canacee in his tirade against incest does support the argument that the outlined relationship between Canacee and Cambalo does indeed “promise that his Canacee too will be incestuous” (1).  This brief invocation of the thread of incest that runs within the Canterbury Tales itself is simply an introduction to Fyler’s well-supported argument that incest, as a central motif in the genre of romance, must perform a function within the text.  After detailing Levi-Strauss and Northrop Frye’s functional analysis of incest, Fyler continues to argue that incest so often found in romance because “the incest taboo forbids us to treat the same as if it were other, and it insists on the need for deciding which is which.  This insistence gives it a particular affinity with romance as a literary genre because of the romantic tropes that most vividly mimic its structure—doubling and repetition” (2).  Indeed, it is the doubling and repetition often found in romance that often forces the readers to examine the central questions of identity that often revolve around the deconstruction of binaries: what is other versus what is extension of self and what is real within a supernatural world?

            Again, Fyler reminds us that Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale makes use of these tropes by the doubled image of two wicked stepmothers who torment Custance.  Referring to his earlier definition of the incest taboo, Fyler sets up his central thesis by stating that “If the incest taboo prohibits treating the same as if it were other, Chaucer shows that there are corresponding difficulties, and comic potentialities, in treating the other as if it were the same—that is, in domesticating the exotic too readily” (3).  The primary threats of disenchantment are represented through Cambyuskan’s four gifts from the strange knight, because they are gifts “from an innocent world to a fallen one: they offer the means of reintegration, of recapturing a lost world of freshness, transparence, and clarity.  Their purpose is to make the distant or obscure accessible or the exotic familiar” (4).  Fyler believes these gifts reflect the central goals and difficulties of the genre of romance.  The Squire attempts to “protect the innocence and elegance of his exotic world” with occupatio, or what Fyler refers to as “the inexpressibility topos” (4).  However, the opposition to this desire is represented by the “peple,” who are thoroughly disenchanted as they approach the majestic brass steed with their own Westernized ideas.  They refuse to “grant innocence or exotic otherness” to the gifts; they, instead, adopt the domesticated ideas that they are either sinister, explicable in terms of science, or simply unimpressive imitations of known precedents (4).  Fyler believes that Part II of this tale strengthens this idea that familiarity invariably leads to depreciation through the twisted love story of the falcon, in which tercelet abandons the falcon as soon as he has decisively won her love.  Fyler, writing in 1988, briefly touches on the linguistic implications of this idea (to which Ambrisco will later devote more scholarship) that verbal currency is “inevitabl[y] devalued . . . as it is worn by use” (6).

            Through this linguistic awareness and interplay between the innocent and the disenchanted, the Squire is continually, and likely unknowingly, presenting imperfect binaries, which invite the audience to go further and deconstruct them.  Supporting this and the naiveté of the Squire, Fyler says, “[He] repeatedly leaves us at the line between sameness and otherness, innocence and experience, the familiar and the exotic . . . At every level of the poem[. . .] we find twinned terms, doubles that we are invited to consider identical or equivalent, but that then separate into nonrelation” (10).  He hypothesizes that the continual uses of these paradoxes, including the duel familiarity and exoticness of Cambyuskan’s court, is so underscored and vivid in part because of “Chaucer’s interest in the relation between tale and teller” that is always in play.

            In a compelling extension of his argument, Fyler addresses the trend that some critics, namely Skeat and Baugh reveal their own need to domesticate the exotic in their analyses of the Squire’s Tale.  Skeat and Baugh claim that the threat of the incestuous relationship is actually just a repetition in name, referring to completely different characters, and that the falcon is simply a “princess who as been magically transformed into a bird” (15).  By making such claims without substantial evidence, these critics are revealing their intense desire to domesticate or explain what appears to be ‘other’ rather than exploring it and creating a new set of expectations.              A versed Chaucer scholar, Fyler says that “the quality that most distinguishes the Canterbury Tales from other frame narratives of the fourteenth century is Chaucer’s interest in using a tale to characterize its teller, and to shed light on his or her preoccupations, insights, and habitual blindnesses” (20).  Thus, his analysis would be incomplete if it did not address the role that the pilgrim Knight himself plays within the narrative.  The limited narrative success of the intertwined romantic tropes of incest, doublings, binaries, and the exotic characterize the Squire not just as a storyteller, but also as a lover.  His “enthusiastic innocence,” which is central to his style as a narrator is also indicative of his “overly confident and naïve appropriation of the female to male concerns” (20).  His romance is characterized not by his commentary on men, but by “acts of sympathy or gentilesse” towards women (19).  However, the Squire is too naive to realize that he is risking “defeat in his own amorous pursuits by dwelling on male perfidy[.]  If no man is to be trusted, why should he?” (18).

            While Fyler’s lengthy article raises interesting observations about the genre of romance and the representation of the binaries of the exotic and domestic, his arguments are easily lost in the dense, often tenuous organization of this article.  The breadth of his Chaucerian scholarship is obviously impressive, but it is often convoluted because he invokes so many different sources as both direct support and secondary observations.  For instance, he devotes three pages to extensively quoting Nature’s confession from Roman de la Rose, but he fails to put it in the context to show why he thinks it relates to both the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale and the Squire’s Tale.  However, Fyler does raise some points that have implications beyond the Squire’s tale succinctly and powerfully.  In recognizing the incest link between the Squire’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale in the introduction, Fyler opens the possibility for further comparison of the two tales, which was particularly beneficial because I would like to pursue how the exotic is portrayed in the MoL’s tale.  In addition, Fyler makes the important and concise observation that “of the tales that attempt to imagine the world beyond the bounds of Christendom—those of the Man of Law, Squire, Prioress, and Second Nun—only the Squire does so sympathetically” (11).  As we are closely approaching the remaining two tales mentioned, I now feel more prepared to read them in a critical context and I would also like to pursue possible reasons why the Squire’s tale adopts this singular view. –Jen Madera, 4/13/07

Pulham, Carol A. "Promises, Promises: Dorigen’s Dilemma Revisited." The Chaucer Review 31.1 (1996): 76-86.

          Out of controversy surrounding the ideality of Arveragus and Dorigen’s marriage and the placement of The Franklin’s Tale in the marriage group, Pulham uncovers the source of the characters’ actions by examining some of the promises made in the Franklin’s Tale from sociological, historical, and philosophical perspectives.

          Pulham argues that our modern reading of Dorigen’s entrapment between conflicting promises as unrealistic is a culture-bound response; from our time period we recognize the joking manner in which she promised Aurelius, and don’t understand her driving need to honor such a promise.  Sociologically, the time period of Dorigen, Arveragus, and Aurelius was one where breaking promises carried the heavy consequence of shame.  For Dorigen, breaking her word to Aurelius would incur not only public shame to her noble reputation but private shame at violating her marriage vows.  Dorigen’s need to keep her promises can be clarified by the state of Chaucer’s, and thus Dorigen and Arveragus’, society.  Their society was transitioning to literacy from an oral culture where the spoken word was considered binding to a literate one, which made her verbal exchange with Aurelius significant in a way we today do not readily comprehend.  Additionally, Pulham says that the introduction of literacy lead to miscommunications as the ability to lie was developed.  The advent of fiction is credited to the ability to lie and Dorigen’s promise to Aurelius can be considered a fiction since she never intended to follow through on the promise.  As a burgeoning practice, Dorigen’s use of fiction was beyond Aurelius’s understanding, which aided in creating Dorigen’s uncomfortable situation.

          Pulham also believes that medieval views of marriage and adultery shed light upon the actions of Arveragus and Dorigen in regards to their intent to fulfill Dorigen’s promise to Aurelius.  There exist medieval traditions that describe marriage as between equal partners, and also as a bond that increases in affection with time.  Additionally, as sex for pleasure was deemed a sin, adultery (presumably between lovers) was sinful, and adultery by women considered more so than by men.  In court, adultery charges were determined by considering each act of adultery separately, and also the lies told in the process of committing the adultery.  In light of this history, Dorigen’s hesitance to keep her word to Aurelius becomes obvious, and Pulham says that Arveragus and Dorigen’s decision to acquiesce to Aurelius’ promise was the best decision possible under the circumstances.  Arveragus agrees with Dorigen that their public reputation must be maintained and the promise upheld.  Since Dorigen has no desire to be with Aurelius, she will not find pleasure with him, which minimizes the sin of her adultery. 

          The philosophy of promising involves a promisor and promisee.  The promiser is often vague in stating their intentions, and the degree by which the promisee’s expectations are raised by the promise often has an impact on the promisor’s sense of obligation.  As such, Aurelius’s accomplishment of Dorigen’s ‘impossible task’ brings great responsibility to Dorigen as Aurelius expects that his success will bring him his heart’s desire.  This responsibility, exposed through the philosophy of promising, exposes Dorigen’s decision to completely fulfill her pledge to Aureilus.  The seriousness with which Aurelius hears and acts upon the promise forces Dorigen into a situation where her morals and reputation are called into question as she is forced to decide between the consequences of breaking a promise to either her husband or Aurelius.  In this way, Aurelius manipulates Dorigen into keeping a promise she never meant to keep by changing the joking nature of the promise, leaving Dorigen no choice but to fulfill her in-jest promise. 

          I find that this article to be a valuable exemplar of a strategy to separate modern mindsets from the reality of Chaucer’s society.  Awareness of the pertinent culture’s sociology and philosophical views as seen through history can help provide the modern day CT reader with a set of reference points to guide them more accurately through the text.  However, I must disagree with the author on a few of her interpretations of the Franklin’s Tale:  I find Pulham’s claim that Dorigen and Arveragus’ relationship is strong enough to withstand one act of sexual intercourse a bit presumptuous.  Though the couple is clearly devoted to one another, I do not feel that we are know enough about their relationship to have any insight into how they would react and deal with adultery.  Additionally, I am not convinced that the deal Aurelius strikes with Dorigen is specifically for a single act of sexual intercourse as Pulham seems to maintain—while I am the first to admit I may be misinterpreting the text, to my eye Dorigen promises to love Aurelius best, which to me indicates that she would leave Arveragus and giver her heart to Aurelius.--Lisa Gulian, April 15, 2007

Bishop, Kathleen A.  "The Influence of Plautus and Latin Elegiac Comedy on Chaucer's Fabliaux."  The Chaucer Review 35.3 (2001): 294-317.

            In this article, Bishop explains that she does not mean to argue that Latin elegiac comedies are direct sources for Chaucer’s fabliaux, but rather means to “trace a comic tradition anterior to Chaucer” (297).  Rather than suggest that Chaucer definitely read Plautus (which no one knows for sure, although it is suspected that he would have had access to this type of literature), she places Chaucer within a comic tradition that begins with Plautus.  Bishop cites two forms of comedy: “One, derived from Latin sources, is scornful, and full of ridicule, moving toward unresolved discord; the other, of non-Latin derivation, is sympathetic, moving toward concord and marriage” (Bentley qtd. in Bishop 301).  Chaucer falls under the first category; Shakespeare would fall under the second.  The most important aspect of the Chaucerian fabliaux, according to Bishop, coincides with the first type of comedy; there is not the traditional “happy ending” that Aristotle, among others, attributed to comedy.  Additionally, there are deception, trickery, and complication in the fabliaux that are also reminiscent of Plautus’ comedic style.

            My (lack of) experience considered, I had a hard time following this article because there was so much diverse information presented in one article.  Granted, it is a long article and all of the information clearly coincides and follows a logical pattern, but I was a little confused by the author’s methods.  What interests me about it is not necessarily the Latin comedic tradition at this point, but the idea of the sources for and tradition of the fabliaux.  Chaucer’s fabliaux, although unique, all clearly follow many of the same conventions and structures that that link them together as a group.  What Bishop is doing in this article is attempting to place this cluster within an even larger tradition – that of Latin elegiac comedy.  Bishop also writes that Chaucer’s fabliaux were clearly “written by a man with an undeniably avid interest in the literary tradition preceding him” (300).

            Another important facet of this article is that of comedy in general.  When compared to the Old French fabliaux, sometimes Chaucer’s fabliaux are similarly referred to as short, humorous plots.  However, Bishop acknowledges Chaucer for the artist that he is, giving him the knowledge and talent to follow an established literary genre while adding his own artistic integrity as well.  Many of the Latin comedic themes appear within Chaucer’s fabliaux, including deception, trickery, love, and sexual intrigue.  The main debatable connection, however, is the idea of the comedic “happy ending.”  According to Aristotle, Donatus, and Dante, comedy requires a happy ending (301).  Similarly in both the Latin elegiac comedies and Chaucer’s fabliaux, the interpretation of whether the ending is “happy” or not seems to lie in the audience’s control.  Bishop uses Bentley’s two forms of comedy to explain this discrepancy; Chaucer’s fabliaux and the Latin comedies seem to be examples of discordant comedy.  She says, “The fabliau and its ancestors seem to work against this prototype of felicitous and harmonious resolution, countering it with another comic universe in which lust, not love, is the norm, and the outcome of the complications is not harmony, but chaos, ostensibly undermining the status quo” (302).

            The article goes on to cite examples of this idea in both Plautus’ work and in the Chaucerian fabliaux.  Bishop focuses on the idea of complication and the fact that all of the fabliaux require the duping of a victim.  The characters are almost always people of means, and often combine money and love as a means of getting what they want in the end.  Mistaken identity also appears in Chaucer’s fabliaux, which Plautus emulated from antiquity.  The senex, or “blocking figure [that] frustrates the desires of other characters and will not have fun,” is a comedic character prototype that appears in Plautus, and usually as the cuckold in Chaucer (307).  The slavuus, or self-confident slave who serves to provide humor, is also a character type, among others. There is also a common thread in deceitful, yet powerful, female characters.  Something else that is unique to Latin elegiac characters and Chaucerian fabliau characters, and not the old French fabliaux characters, is the use of complex and “dazzling” language.  Both Plautus and Chaucer’s characters exhibit dazzling verbal skills that often play an important hand in the way the story plays out. 

            Although Plautus has been generally criticized for undermining the tradition of the comedy, Bishop argues that he and Chaucer acted (wrote) with a political agenda.  There common plot structures lead toward ambiguous endings that parallel the society’s in which they lived.  For example, why end a comedy in marriage if marriage, as seen in the fabliaux, is not always ideal?  While teetering on dangerous ground, both Plautus’ comedy and Chaucer’s fabliaux also serve to entertain as well, and this is how their author’s approach them.  “Perhaps,” concludes Bishop, “in the similarities of the societies of the ancient Rome of Plautus and the Middle Ages we discover one of the keys to explain the many affinities in the types of bawdy comedy which we have explored” (314).

            To say that I completely understood this article would be lying.  However, what I did understand is, like in the article I annotated last week, the idea that Chaucer’s fabliaux fall within a larger literary tradition than simply emulating the Old French fabliaux.  This article also cites many of the character types, themes, and linguistic patterns that connect Chaucer’s fabliaux as a group, which are similar if not exact to those mentioned in other articles I have read.  But more importantly, it suggests yet another source for and larger structure that these tales may belong to.  The idea that the fabliaux are not just isolated within Chaucer in terms of source and structure emphasizes their existence as a specific genre or system of signs that can be always expected to work in a certain way.  In my last annotation I questioned whether the differences or similarities would stand out to me more in the fabliaux, and this article leads me toward the similarities.--Laura Reese, April 13, 2007

Finnegan, Robert Emmett.  “ ‘She Should Have Said No to Walter’:  Griselda’s Promise in The Clerks Tale.”  English Studies. (1994): 303-321.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCOhost.  Julia Rogers Library, Baltimore, MD.  30 March 2007 http://web.ebscohost.com

            I like straightforward article titles, but this one made me worry that the article might be a little to simplistic.  I agree, Griselda should have said no.  What’s left to talk about?  Fortunately, this article is not overly simplistic.  Instead of one purely emotional reaction, it has three topics with plenty of historical background and interesting looks at definitions of key words.

            The first topic is “the significance of the terms assenten and consenten as they relate to the vow” (303).  The author points out that the meanings of the words are hard to separate from each other in the Middle English Dictionary by giving the definitions found therein (304).   He then cites Walter Skeat’s definitions, with an explanation that each word came from a French word, which came from a Latin word.  Apparently, the differences between the meanings of the words can more easily be discerned in Latin, because of the prepositions ad and cum.  The first could be translated as “to” and the later as “with.”  The author writes “simply put, one can ‘agree to’ something without ‘agreeing with’ it or its proposer” (304).  I appreciated the clarity and thoroughness of the writing in this section and throughout this article.  It made it possible for me to understand the points even though I don’t read Latin. 

After establishing the difference between the words, the author cites several instances in which each occurs.  He points out that Walter may have only expected Griselda to assent to his wishes, and that she went wrong when she consented to them (306) He needed an external an agreement, but it seems she lost her soul by giving him an internal one.

The author proceeds to imply that the oath Griselda made to Walter before she married him was not binding.  He cites the writings of Thomas Aquinas, and concludes that “a vow or an oath leading to sin is not to be honoured” (309).  What I gather is that, basically, the sin of breaking the vow is weighed against the sin that would occur if the vow was kept.  A person is supposed to pick the lesser of two evils.  Obviously, Griselda didn’t.  She kept her word, but at the (possible) expense of losing her children.  The author also cites the writings Burchard of Worms and Robert of Flamborough, which contain points similar to those made my Aquinas (311).

The third part of the essay looks closely at the words tempten, assaien, and assaillen.  The author gives definitions from the MED and points out that assaien and assaillen sound similar and are substituted for one another in some manuscripts of the CT (313).  He suggests that the meanings of the words overlap and that “in certain contexts, assaien could carry some of the aggressive meanings proper to assail(l)en” (314).  He says that assaien is linked numerous times in the text to tempten.  He gives the OED definitions of tempten and shows that the two definitions of the word have very different implications.  When the word is used in connection with God, one might assume it is in terms of a test.  Walter’s motives, however, seem sketchy.  Perhaps the definition that best applies to the word when used in connection to him is “to entice…to do evil” (314).  The author pushes this theory by noting the narrator’s inability to determine a (good) reason for Walter to test Griselda (316-319).

The conclusion of the article is surprisingly humorous.  The author cited A.C. Spearing, who believed Griselda’s being tested by Walter parallels Abraham being tested by God.  He proceeds to tear that argument to shreds.  He points out that Walter was much more persistent and ruthless than God.  God only tested Abraham once—Walter tested Griselda three times (32).

Overall, this was a satisfying and useful read.  I think the article/essay contains enough information and topics for three separate essays, but it works well as a single unit too.—Shelly Haugrud, 4/15/07

McGowan, Joseph P. “Chaucer’s Prioress: Et Nos Cedamus Amori.The Chaucer Review. 38.2 (2003): 199-202

In this interesting, albeit brief, article McGowan tackles the brooch and takes it back to its origins. The Prioress’s gold brooch has been a source of controversy for a variety of reasons (nuns aren’t supposed to be wearing brooches at all!), but especially because of the hemstitch Amor vincit omnia (love conquers all). McGowan’s discussion of the notorious inscription centers around the classical origins of the phrase, which comes from Virgil’s Eclogues.

McGowan explains that Virgil would have been something of common knowledge to anyone with an education—including poets and upper-crust nuns. Furthermore, the interpretations of amor were also divided then, as now, between a secular love and a celestial one. As McGowan tells us, though amor in Virgil’s Eclogues almost certainly refers to love of the flesh, the phrase was appropriated by those of a pious nature well before Chaucer’s time.

An interesting point made by McGowan is that the Prioress, whose love ought to have been purely celestial, would have certainly been exposed to quite a bit of talk about earthly love on the way to Canterbury. Furthermore, her name Eglantine could have called to mind secular romances as it was the name of at least one romantic heroine. With this in mind, McGowan speculates about just what sort of love the Prioress’s brooch refers to.

His speculation seems to conclude that it is quite likely that the brooch’s motto combines celestial and earthly loves, a combination which is not anything unique in the Canterbury tales. The Prioress, according to McGowan, might be both respectful of her Christian duty and full of sentimentality inspired by the popular romances of her day.

Oddly, after his initial use of Virgil to set the stage for the quote (he even goes so far as to tell the story surrounding the words), McGowan tells readers that “the restoration of Virgil to the discussion would in no way resolve any of the seeming contradictions.” (201) This does seem to be the most accurate interpretation of the brooch’s inscription, but it seems counterintuitive to bring up an interpretive device such as the line’s origin and then conclude that the device is ineffectual for solving any sort of problem. Though I certainly agree that the Prioress’s character is too complex for the words of her brooch to refer to strictly celestial or strictly earthly love, the wording of McGowan’s conclusion makes his essay seem more of a failed effort to fit her into one box or another, then an actual argument for her complexity.

Despite the somewhat defeatist tone of the essay (I might just be cynical) it would be very useful for anyone arguing for the complexity of the Prioress’s nature and needing outside support for that idea. Furthermore, it provides some helpful background on the origins of Amor vincit omnia and the relation of Virgil’s works to Chaucer’s contemporary society.

McGowan’s closing line serves to open up further speculation about the Prioress: “Not all is engraved upon the brooch—the hemstitch’s complement is understood, memorially triggered, and the Virgillian message may add to the portrait’s ambiguous complexity: Love conquers all, and we must give in to it.” The completion of the quote—and McGowan feels that common knowledge of Virgil would allow Chaucer’s audience to automatically finish it—brings even more complexity to the Prioress. If, indeed, there is a combination of both earthly love and Christian faith entailed in her brooch’s engraving, she would be powerless against both loves. Both loves would force her to bow to them individually and her balancing of faith and earthly love would certainly be a drain. Perhaps that is why she tells such a violent and pain-filled tale about faith: She has no choice in loving and obeying her god—the love rules her, disallowing her to be free.—Ray Conklin, 4/15/07

Spring 2005

Caon, Luisella. “Final -E and Spelling Habits in the Fifteenth-Century Versions of the Wife of  Bath’s Prologue.” English Studies 83 (2002): 296-            310.

            In her study of the WoB’s Prologue, Caon compares fifty-four manuscripts and four printed versions of the text in order to determine how, when, and why the final -e is used. She begins by stating the “common opinion” that, although it appears in print, the final -e was no longer pronounced by the fifteenth century scribes who copied Chaucer’s works (296). She also gives a history of the final –e. The letter disappeared from written English much later than spoken English, but began disappearing “from North to South in all dialects in turn,” from two-syllable words with short vowel sounds and then from those with long vowel sounds, and from nouns and verbs before adjectives.  The -e was retained to allow poets an easy extra syllable when needed, by speakers of certain dialects, and by authors who decided to be “conservative” in their use of the vowel (297).

After careful study of the manuscripts (which she breaks up into groups based on the approximate date of their completion) and their inclusion or exclusion of the final -e, Caon determines that scribes applied rules to their usage of the letter. Some scribes’ uses of the letter were due to the dialect they spoke, while others used them to distinguish between weak adjectives (ones preceded by a definite article) and strong adjectives, and/or plural and singular adjectives, according to the linguistic custom.  By the middle and end of the fifteenth century, it became evident that these rules were either not known or not adhered to anymore, yet scribes continued to use the -e in a systematic way. By the last half of the century, two scribes used the final -e as modern English speakers do: to denote vowel length (306). 

I was surprised at how interested I was in this article. In the end it showed through a specific example how English evolved from a very Germanic language into what we speak today. Danish still adds the final -e to denote plural and possessive in adjectives – it makes sense that English once did the same. Caon also emphasizes how languages may have rules that are difficult to follow and thereby get changed, and how literature can be used to track such changes, but perhaps not as easily as one might think. As oral language changes over time, the article says, written language remains more fixed.

With this being the case, Chaucer – and any other author – becomes antiquated linguistically almost the moment he begins to write things down. Why is there a tendency to hold onto more formal rules of language for writing and not speech? Why should the written word not change at the same rate as the spoken one? Maybe it is a question of what was written down and what written materials last. Too bad we don’t have any of Chaucer’s notes telling his family to take out the trash – the contrast between his formal and informal writing could be astounding.  --Johanna Goldberg, 2/2/05

Vaszily, Scott. “Fabliau Plotting Against Romance in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale.” Style (DeKalb, Ill.) v. 31 no. 3 (Fall 1997) 523-42.

            Vaszily’s primary argument is that Chaucer includes elements of fabliaux in The Knight’s Tale. In order to establish the presence of these “fabliau interludes,” he begins by summarizing scholarship on Chaucer’s overt use of the fabliau in the Canterbury Tales and his other works. Vaszily spends a great deal of time establishing the conventions of the genre itself, and the various different plotlines typical of fabliaux, drawing on the work of several scholars and critics. To aid in the description of plotlines, he borrows the terminology and notation of two Structuralist critics, Pearcy and Greimas (although he rejects their “scientificity”). After giving examples of the plotlines the notation describes, through the Summoner’s Tale and Merchant’s Tale , he pulls out the elements of fabliaux common to Chaucer’s writing. Vaszily convincingly establishes that the central plot twist of these fabliaux hinges on an incorrect interpretation of an ambiguous sign, and continues by noting “Chaucer’s fabliaux portray weak interpreters who fail because they are stupid and misunderstand context […]and powerful interpreters who introduce ambiguity into essentially unambiguous messages for their own benefit” (530). Vaszily’s final point before reaching the main theme of his paper is that Chaucer uses fabliau elements as a socially subversive force in his work: “We will see that the idealizing language of courtly romance in the Knight’s Tale is indeed momentarily desublimated in one of two fabliau ‘interludes’ in the tale” (530). In light of this assertion, he names the “fabliau interludes” in the Knight’s Tale as Arcite and Palamon’s absurd argument over who has the most right to love Emelye after their first sighting of her, and Saturn’s misinterpretation of Arcite’s prayer to Mars. He finishes with a justification for his selection of these two events as allusions to fabliaux.

            The article was extremely well-researched, and considers a variety of possible readings and objections. However, the vast majority of the article is spent setting up the preliminaries of his argument. The definition of fabliaux themselves seems unnecessarily long. I do agree with his conclusions about the use of “fabliau interludes,” with some reservations. Not enough time is spent developing this section of the paper. The argument makes a great deal of sense, but I am a bit suspicious that the author had to jump through such hoops first in order to make his case. The main focus of his paper, the identification of fabliau elements in Knight’s Tale, was fairly well supported for its length. Vaszily traces Chaucer’s changes from his source material in the Teseida, arguing that some of these changes are made in order to introduce elements of comic fabliau. He specifically contrasts these absurd, subversive changes with the courtly romantic tradition under which the majority of the Knight’s Tale falls. For Vaszily, the significance of this reading is that it “reinforces our sense that the tale questions the idealizing image of the earthly ruling class typical of romance” (542). This, he says, is the reason the tale does not appear to end with any “clear moral justification for the story’s outcome” (542).

            It is an interesting argument, and had definite implications for our reading of this tale, and potentially other tales within the Canterbury cycle. If it was indeed Chaucer’s intent to subvert the social hierarchy represented (and, Vaszily argues, reinforces this hierarchy) through the introduction of these elements into the Knight’s version of this tale, we must address the question of why. It is simply Chaucer letting slip some of his own satire upon the courtly circles in which he moves? Is he making some larger, more profound comment upon the order of things? (Neither of these possibilities seem too remote to be credible, especially in light of the pilgrim portraits of most of the noble travelers in the General Prologue and his poems, such as “Gentilesse.”) Or is he giving his readers yet another peak into his Knight’s psyche? The Knight could be making such a rhetorical move for much the same reasons Chaucer might be. This would seem to be one of very few hints of the Knight’s discomfort with social hierarchy, if that is indeed what is happening. Certainly the Knight does seem to mock the courtly excesses of his characters at these two points in the story, but he does emphasize the nobility of Theseus. The tone of the entire tale is open to interpretation, and if Vaszily’s argument is correct, it would push our reading of the tale decidedly toward an ironic and mocking tenor.

            Beyond the Knight’s Tale itself, wider implications might be found for this thesis. If Chaucer employs fabliau elements in romantic or more dramatic plots in one instance, he may well use it in several other tales, especially if it is more a reflection of his own predilections than those of his ostensive narrators. We must, if we accept the premise of Vaszily’s article, read the rest of the Canterbury Tales with an eye open for times when the tales seem to be subverting their own narrative and structure. ~Jessie Dixon 2/3/05

Colon Semenza, Gregory M. “Historicizing ‘Wrastlynge’ in the Miller’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review. 38:1 (2003): 66-82. 

Focusing on the historical progression of wrestling in England, Colon Semenza has set up an interesting dissection of the sport’s social implications.  In particular, he refutes the idea that the Miller is an oafish man of the lower orders, simply because he is “ful byg…of brawn” and an accomplished wrestler.  Using medieval legislation and records, Colon Semenza shows us that the wrestling matches of the period were enjoyed as much as a football match would be today, integrating participants and spectators of all classes.  It would not be uncommon, for example, for a young nobleman to be pitted against a serf, to much anxious fanfare for the higher-ups.  The reputation these matches accrued in the late 13th century, however, was a bawdy one, equated with riots, drunkenness and the crude leisure time of the lower classes.    

Even though organized wrestling was harangued by lawmakers (due to disorder) and the church (due to sinfulness) as “idle games” (on par with throwing dice and ball games), these matches proved beneficial and necessary to those who were training for knighthood and were encouraged.  They served to display a prowess with the hands and upper body, even in the midst of using more conventional weapons.  Although the Knight and various types of noblemen would engage in acts of “wrastlynge” for honor and training, they would have to remain knights and noblemen.  It would be expected that they wouldn’t vie for a reputation over commoners or a prize of a ram, like we are told Robin the Miller and Sir Thopas regularly compete for, but rather, remain a functional part of the kingdom; that is, proving themselves as a stable force in England’s version of national security. 

The fact that both the Knight and the Miller possess certain fighting skills and, specifically, the strength in hand-to-hand combat, presents another element of competitiveness in their storytelling: not only is there tension in their societal position, but also in their level of athleticism.  This is a very fine line that Chaucer is alluding to. 

Colon Semenza reminds us that both the OED and MED define wrestling as a contention “in debate”, as well as a physical struggle.  This hints at the Knight’s decision to wrestle verbally, however inappropriate it may be, for the Host’s supper prize and the Miller’s subsequent acceptance/announcement that he will one up the Knight with his story, “by armes, and by blood and bones…”.  In this way, “Chaucer allows the Miller to meet the Knight in the only place he can receive a fair fight…ensuring that the outcome of the verbal battle between the two socially distant pilgrims will be not based solely upon that social distance” (79). 

            This proved to be a useful, very specific method for pinpointing the tension that presents itself between our first two pilgrims.  Chaucer’s refusal to acknowledge knighthood as the noble position we are familiar with has always been an interesting aside.  Depending on the reader’s interpretation, the Knight can be seen as a valiant gentleman or a simple mercenary, thus casting him below the Miller’s social ranking and possibly being defeated twice: in demographic standing, as well as brawn.  Not really falling into an identifiable upper or lower class, the Miller illustrates a cross-section of the pilgrims, someone who could potentially possess several noble traits, although he is too boorish to reveal them.  What is the modern day equivalent of the competition that exists between these men?  The much revered student-athletes pitted against politically conscious, swarthy street punk gangs?  It might be about time to pitch the wrestling tent and find out where we stand.--Scott Sell 2/3/04     

Stretter, Robert. “Rewriting Perfect Friendship In Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale And Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum.” The Chaucer Review. 37.3 (2003) 235-252.

            Robert Stretter presents the point that Chaucer’s writing, specifically in “The Knight’s Tale,” draws attention to the power of sexual desire in human life.  Furthermore, he presents women as being the destructors of the sacred bond of the “brotherhood.”

            “The brotherhood is traditionally imagined as constant, egalitarian, and selfless, the kind of love Palamon and Arcite feel for Emelye is fickle, domineering, and above all, selfish.” Emelye’s beauty tests the strength of the brotherhood bond between Palamon and Arcite which eventually leads to its doom.

             Stretter describes the origins of ideal male friendships to date back to Pythagoras and Aristotle’s visions of “two men drawn together not by any hope of gain by similitude and love of virtue.”  The brotherhood bond that Palamon and Arcite have prior to Emelye’s appearance is ideal.  In European folklore and romance, male characters were connected to one another through a social practice in which they swore a solemn vow of mutual support.  Stretter provides the example of how in former folklore the tradition of brotherhood is kept: “Since he cannot choose not to love, and since even repressing the love is not considered possible, the only choice left to him is to betray his friend or to die.”  This is a characteristic story of the middle ages where a male chooses his male counterpart over a female.

Furthermore, in the traditional middle age stories, Stretter describes women as being of “secondary importance.” Therefore, intermasculine relationships are of higher priority.  For this reason, Emelye has no say in whether or not she desires to marry either one of these gentleman.  Moreover, throughout traditional tales a male to have a close bond with another male is most common and generally cannot be broken by females. Furthermore, “sexual desire…has very little place in medieval friendship[s].”  According to Stretter, Chaucer portrays Emelye as the destroyer of the “noble bond” between two male friends as well as the middle age traditions.

In contradiction with traditional middle age stories, Stretter determines “The Knight’s Tale” perpetuates a “triangular desire” amongst the characters.  Palamon and Arcite’s desire for Emelye set them up as rivals.  There are “two competing ideals of affectivity” in a relationship that of nonsexual love, in the case of the two men, and that of erotic love, in the case of man and woman.  Because this is not a “romance of brotherhood” per say, the significance of Emelye coming between the two protagonists is heightened. Palamon and Arcite are faced with choosing between “desire and duty.”  According to Arcite, the law of love is “innate, natural, (by extension) divine, as opposed to the “positif,” artificially established, terrestrial codes of brotherhood.”   In the end, they choose desire over duty to one’s brother.  This conflict between friendship and love continues to be a major theme throughout literature. ~~Tara Haag 2/4/05

Farber, Lianna. “The Creation of Consent in the Physician’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 39:2 (2004): 151-64.

In this article, Farber attempts to give some semblance of order to a story which other critics state is incongruous. This incongruity, in the minds of other critics, appears to arise from the lack of political structuring within the tale and the differences between Chaucer’s text and his sources for the story, Livy’s history and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose. Farber argues that the main theme of Roman de la Rose, justice, is replaced in Chaucer’s tale by the persons and ideas which shape and individual’s understanding and experience in the world. These conditions, an individual’s ideologies as Farber argues, form the basis for consent in the Physician’s Tale.

Though in Roman de la Rose de Meun does not afford Virginia a voice in her outcome, Virginia actually had a voice in Chaucer’s tale though Farber argues that this voice was futile. Describing the differences between Chaucer’s text and his sources, Farber states that “the changes Chaucer makes can be divided into three main parts: first, the long discursus by and about Nature on the formation of Virginia’s particular beauty and virtue; second, the abstract discussion of the responsibility governesses and parents bear for the children in their charge; and third, the scene where, after hearing Apius’s judgment, Virginius come home to tell Virginia what transpired and Virginia agrees to her own death” (153). These differences are the basis on which Farber forms her argument.

There are four ways, according to Farber, that an individual can construct a virtuous character (also functioning as the sources of one‘s ideologies). These include the influence of nature in forming character, having control over one’s agency, the role that the Governess takes in forming character, and the role of the parent(s) as an example for the child(ren). After Farber ascertains that Virginia was influenced properly by nature, that she had control over her own agency, and that she had no implicit governess, Farber came to the conclusion that the source for Virginia’s virtuous decision resulted from the morality imposed by her rather and the reverence she felt for him.

She believes that Virginia accepted the logic and power of her father enough to consent to death. Therefore, for Farber, Virginia’s capacity to consent to death is both a choice that she willingly embraces and a construct of her ideologies. Virginia embraces death as an escape from the potential shame because of the role that her father played in her life. His logic and power over her, in conjunction with the ideological system of her upbringing, made his will hers. Farber acknowledges this but states that Virginia nonetheless had a choice.—Jeff Judge, 2/4/05

Leicester Jr., H. Marshall, “’My bed was ful of verray blood’:  Subject, Dream, and Rape in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.” In Peter Beidler, ed.,  The Wife of Bath.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1996. 232-54. 

Leicester bases his criticism of the Wife of Bath’s tale in Deconstruction.  He provides an introductory explanation of Deconstruction, followed by enumerating the various ways in which binary meanings can be dissected in relation to the Wife.  Deconstructing the Wife’s dream, according to Leicester, sets up a binary of blood and gold.  The Wife discusses the dream in relation to Jankyn, the husband who is most violent the husband whom she pursues most vigorously.  Jankyn stands to benefit monetarily from the union, so the connubial bloodshed would indeed betoken gold.  On the other hand, the Wife could be dreaming herself a virgin again, shedding blood for a husband whom she wishes to exchange for her actual first husband.  Under this interpretation, the blood shed during sex would not betoken gold as a money, but gold as her love.   A third possible interpretation is that consummation of a marriage is, to the Wife, an act of assault that erodes her power.  Marriage would indeed require the wife to split both her formidable fortune and power over property, ownership, etc.

Leicester also explores the rape sequence in the Wife’s tale.  He equates the ravaged maid, who receives neither money nor justice, to the Wife, who continually must battle to define her identity.  He explores briefly the established “Wish Fulfillment” narrative.  This narrative posits the Wife as the Old Hag who turns beautiful in the eyes of her young and presumably well off husband.  He also explains how the “ravaged maid” and the Old Hag are in some respects related, by virtue of their commodified value.  Both characters are undesirable (one for the loss of her virginity, the other because of her age) but both do propel the Knight to change his character.  The “ravaged maid” requires him to quest for the feminine Other, and the Old Hag requires him to take what he finds to heart.—Joe Turner, 2/6/05

Bertolet, Craig E. “‘Wel bet is rotten appul out of hoord’”: Chaucer’s Cook, Commerce, and Civic Order.”  Studies in Philology.  99:3 (2002): 229-246.

            Bertolet discusses the Cook’s role as the only “hired” man on the pilgrimage and what this means in terms of the growing need for commerce in Chaucer’s London.  In addition to addressing the implications of Roger of Ware’s less than sanitary cooking methods in the competitive trade of food, Bertolet draws comparisons between the Cook’s marketing strategies as a businessman and those of the other pilgrims.  In particular, he chooses to focus on the Physician, the Man of Law and the Wife of Bath who all try to convince the party (and the reader) in the General Prologue that their professions are worthy of a positive reputation, making their portraits “part description, part advertisement” (231).  Because they are not part of an established rank where money is of no concern, like the Knight or Prioress, they are reliant on these vocal resumes and their appearances to solicit patronage and present images of success. 

            Bertolet also dissects the relationship between master and apprentice by specifically looking at Perkyn’s situation in the Cook’s Fragment.  The unruly behavior that an apprentice like Perkyn exhibits, Bertolet attests, is a liability to his master, both economically and socially.  As he is legally bound to his apprentice by contract and responsible for his actions, the prosperity of his shop and his own personal status are at serious risk.  Because the Cook’s master finds Perkyn to be of no true value, failing to be the model for the scholar or clerk, he is quite wise in ejecting him from his position without granting him citizenship in London, as per the contract between them.  Perkyn didn’t uphold his part of the deal, so he gets nothing.  His punishment of living with a thief and prostitute, two great offenses to the City, might be greater than death or prison, as he will never be able to rise above this status.  In this way, the “rotten appul” is expunged from the local businesses, but still remains a threat to London itself.  Like in the Miller’s and Reeve’s Tales, the Cook’s Fragment is addressing the importance of taking caution with outsiders in commerce and in the household, and constructing a respectable status that will deter the trouble that they bring. -- Scott Sell  2/17/05     

Justman, Stewart. “The Reeve’s Tale and the Honor of Men.” Studies in Short Fiction 32 (1995): 21-27.

Justman examines the Reeve’s outlandish, “obsessive” quest for nobility (21). He begins by analyzing the character of John in the Miller’s Tale, who in many ways is Symkyn’s opposite, even as the results of his inaction are, in essence, the same as those of Symkyn’s action. John in effect does nothing to stop himself from becoming cuckolded, setting himself – and his pilgrim parallel, Oswald the Reeve – up for the “jeering” reaction of the crowd (both the tale’s crowd and the crowd of pilgrims), a “charivari,” in the end (23). The Reeve attempts to get back at the Miller through his tale by removing Robyn’s “sexual power” and “social importance,” and as a result making women the victims of men’s quests for esteem (25). Justman writes that the search for honor and the resulting questions that are raised about nobility separate the tale from its probable Old French source. He concludes, “If the Reeve’s Tale shows that churls should leave honor to their betters, it also shows the honor ethic for what it really is. Stripping that ethic down to a violent mania, the tale poses an ironic commentary on nobility itself” (26). 

I like how Justman relates the tale to the teller in a way that adds to my understanding of the relationships and character development within the tale. For a character to so seamlessly enter into his tale speaks to Chaucer’s abilities as a writer. Chaucer recreated a text around a character/teller and used it to give the reader insight into the character’s priorities. This tale must be viewed as a product of its teller; the changes made by the Reeve (i.e., by Chaucer on behalf of the Reeve) give us insight into his character. He becomes obsessed with his reputation, with his ability to conquest. The clerks’ actions seem more vengeful in his tale than in the French fabliau, for the women’s active consents have been removed. The tale becomes more forceful because of this, but perhaps it also becomes less humorous.

The pilgrim audience does not offer the tale a “jeering” reaction. The tale does not publicly cuckold the character under attack; the pryvetee in the tale remains through the ending, only having been removed in the bedroom itself. A fabliau’s humor, then, and the key to its success, seems to come from “charivari,” from a public awareness and ridiculing of cuckoldry, one that makes the audience laugh at rather than deride a character. An ending should bring humor, not revenge. In this sense, the Reeve’s ending fails, and brings honor neither to Symkyn nor to the Reeve. At the same time, it does not remove what little honor Robyn may have had.

As Justman alludes to, the regression from The Knight’s Tale – a tale filled with honor and nobility told by a noble – to The Reeve’s Tale makes Symkyn’s and Oswald’s connected quests for nobility seem ridiculous from the start. There is nothing noble in them, nor in the tale itself. The parallels to The Knight’s Tale – the two suitors, the wife and daughter, the ending battle –show The Reeve’s Tale as an attempt for a non-noble to break down noble motifs and show their absurdity. Really, it demonstrates that when a commoner makes fun of noble motifs, he becomes more common. The regression that occurs within the first fragment leaves The Knight’s Tale in a category of its own, not only because it is the only non-fabliau, the only tale to take itself seriously, but because it gives the following tales a place from which to fall. It shows what they can never be and what they appear to actively try not to be. Thus, it is almost ironic that the tales, especially The Reeve’s Tale would include so many similarities to The Knight’s Tale. These elements, while they may try to mock the noble tale, perhaps serve to show what the Reeve aspires to be – worthy of honor – but can never become.

The article emphasizes the misuses of women in the tale, and even states that “the reduction of women to pawns of men” grows more and more blatant throughout the first fragment (26). Perhaps the WoB was meant to follow fragment one. Something more satisfying than an unclear parody on an aube is certainly needed to give women a voice. -- Johanna Goldberg, 18 Feb. 2005

Roppolo, Joseph R. “The Converted Knight in Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’s Tale.’” College English, 12.5 (Feb., 1951) 263-269.

Roppolo describes “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” not only being about the disgraceful appearance of a woman who, like in a fairy tale, becomes beautiful but also about the change of a selfish Knight to find beauty and wisdom in a woman.  Roppolo goes on to describe three scholarly ways to interpret the tale.  Firstly being “almost complete disregard for the Knight.”  He briefly describes the first interpretation as having two main points: the first being “it is a fairy story” merely telling the story of a Loathly Lady and the second point stressing the importance of the Wife’s thesis of sovereignty (263).  With this interpretation “[t]he Hag and the Wife of Bath became the two characters of major importance, and the Knight is almost a mechanical, instrument used for purposes of plot” (264).  The second interpretation, “those which make generalizations concerning the Knight,” include comments made by Lounsbury.  For example, in his Studies in Chaucer, he “finds the Wife’s tale ‘full of wisest observation, of keenest insight into character and motive;’” however, there is no attention called to the Knight’s characterization or motivation.  Furthermore, one critic discusses how the Knight’s character in the Hag’s sermon as “unwarranted” (264).  And the third interpretation makes “some analysis of the Knight’s role” (263).

            This third criticism of the Knight’s characterization is most analogues to Roppolo’s interpretation.  He turns the tale around by describing that the Loathly Lady’s life depends on the Knight exhibiting the correct answer to the question of what women most want.  Roppolo shows that Chaucer exhibits the Knight in a different light when compared to other similar stories.  Instead of looking at the tale through the lens of the Knight as an altruistic character, Roppolo sees Chaucer’s character as changing through selfish reasons.  Specifically, Roppolo states that Chaucer does portray the Knight’s “conversion,” which is different from other medieval tales.  In the analogues “the reasons for which a perfect knight embarks upon a quest are altruistic rather than personal; in Chaucer’s tale the Knight is a rapist who is sent upon a quest in order to save his own life… [in the analogues] the knight marries the Loathly Lady willingly; in Chaucer’s tale the Knight marries the Hag unwillingly and behaves ungraciously toward her” (265). 

            It seems that with this emphasis shift from the lady to the knight, there is a showing of the “functional nature of the so called digressions and inconsistencies in the story” (266).  The Knight is a member of the court of King Arthur and the Round Table, which does not typify morally corrupt behavior like rape.  It is possible to view this act under the “courtly love system” where the knight would have no regard “for the chastity of peasant girls;” however, no where in the tale is the girl claimed to be a peasant (266).  The disregard for the young lady, according to Roppolo, focuses in on the Knight’s characterization.  The earnestness in the Knight’s character shown by his value of life over honor in order to save himself and release himself from his original promise of marrying the Loathly Lady is less than admirable.  At no point does he show any courtesy or good sportsmanship in regards to marrying the Hag, who saved his life.  On their wedding night the Knight’s vanity kept him away from performing any “marital duties” (267).  It is not until now that the Lady’s “lecture on gentilesse” converts the Knight’s virtues.  The Lady states that being of a low class and impoverished are not necessarily disgraceful.  On the contrary, they engender rich virtues that even old age and ugliness are characteristics of true nobility.  These exact characteristics are what the lady sees to be inhibiting the Knight to being truly noble himself.  It is at this point the Knight is converted and is given the Chaucerian decision which emphasizes character.  He must decide if he would like to have the Lady “old and ugly but faithful, or young and fair and perhaps unfaithful” (267).  Roppolo suggests that the Knight’s response is somewhat sarcastic when he gives the Lady the chance to decide for herself.  Roppolo presents the important note that the Lady does not choose to be young, fair, and true until she is assured by the Knight of sovereignty.  Moreover, the Knight is not completely converted until he performs “the symbolic act of drawing aside the curtains to let in light which reveals that the Lady is in truth young and fair” (268). 

            This emphasis on the Knight within the tale solves two problems that Roppolo suggests.  First, it allows for the rape scene to be meaningful.  “[T]he Knight’s character is revealed” and the Wife of Bath’s thesis is demonstrated; the idea that sovereignty over marriage should be the wife’s.  Furthermore, “rape necessitates domination, and certainly it is a crime against female sovereignty” (268).  Interestingly, the Queen is the one who decides on the Knight’s punishment, “who in this instance dominates her husband” (268).  And second, “the sermon on gentilesse is not a digression; rather it is the turning point of the story” (268).  It is here where we see the importance of both the sovereignty of women and the conversion of the Knight as vital elements of the story.  Lastly, they both are revealing more about how Chaucer is “skillfully continuing the process of character revelation” (268).~~Tara Haag, 02/18/05

Bertolet, Craig E.  “’Wel bet is roten appul out of hoord’: Chaucer’s Cook, Commerce, and Civic Order.”  Studies in Philology. 99:3 (2002): 229-246.

Bertolet approaches the Cook’s Tale through the prism of economics. During Chaucer’s time, London required all would-be tradesman to be sponsored by a master craftsman.  At the end of their apprenticeship (usually ten years) the apprentice became a journeyman, and gained rights as both a citizen of London and a professional tradesman.  Perkyn, therefore, is the ultimate example of the type of apprentice a master would not want, bringing infamy to both himself and to his master.  A tradesman is defined by his reputation, and any apprentice who plays dice, gambles, engages morally suspect women, and generally regards his own pursuit of pleasure over his work will not reflect well on his master.  Perkyn is relieved of his apprenticeship, and gains no citizenship papers.

                Bertolet also argues that civic order is essential to a functional economy.  It is essential, as the platitude ‘wel bet is roten appul out of hoord’ demonstrates, to remove all dysfunctional elements in order to preserve the functionality of an economy.  Perkyn’s expulsion as his master’s charge demonstrates that either the master is unable to govern his apprentices, or that the apprentice is completely unwilling to apply himself.  Bertolet states that his master keeps Perkyn to the end of his service—chancing all his other ‘appuls’ by doing so—in order to avoid a possible later lawsuit by Perkyn against the master.  Keeping Perkyn so long, according to Bertolet, demonstrates how the master tried, and wasted, valuable energy on Perkyn.

                Within the economic framework of his paper, Bertolet also outlines the importance of the Cook’s abilities over his personality.  During the General Prologue, little attention is paid to the physical or economic description of the Cook.  Rather, we get a portrait of abilities, probably reflective of the fact that tradesman are defined entirely by their wares.  The Cook, as an individual, is of little importance; the only important aspects of successful business are the reputation and the reality of good wares.  This Cook, like Perkyn, may not be a good example of a successful tradesman.—Joe Turner, 2/18/05

Parry, Joseph D. “Interpreting Female Agency and Responsibility in ‘The Miller’s Tale’ and ‘The Merchant’s Tale’.” Philological Quarterly, v. 80 no. 2 (Spring 2001) 133-67.

Parry begins by noting that many scholars have commented upon the silence of the female characters in the individual tales Chaucer’s pilgrims tell. His intent in this article is to show how that silence -- and the occasions when these characters do speak or act -- are significant. They serve to invite interpretation, he argues, and in that capacity, they defy the abilities of their fellow characters, the teller, the teller’s audience, and finally Chaucer’s audience as well to decisively judge them. This is what ultimately gives them their power, both within and outside of the context of their own tales. In proving this, Parry is especially concerned with the way these women are (and more importantly, are not) included in the poetic justice of the world their teller creates for them: “Chaucer’s incompletely interpretable women -- who often play the central, generative role in configuring the action and the very character of his poetic narratives -- allow Chaucer’s readers to think through the interpretive possibilities and problems that inhere in the processes by which a culture conceptualizes agency, accountability, and justice” (133). Both Alison in “Miller’s Tale,” and May in “Merchant’s Tale” escape the sort of justice meted out at the ends of their respective stories. Parry says this is extremely telling: the tales certainly present the women as complicit in some degree to deception and adultery, but they are never punished within the bounds of the narrative the way the male characters are. This is because, Parry says, they both “are and are not fully part of the systems by which we may conceptualize retribution and accountability for actions,” and so both demand and frustrate interpretation at the same time (134).

Most of Parry’s argument is developed in the context of the Miller’s Tale. He notes that while Alison is described in the familiar (at least to Chaucer’s original courtly audience) terms of “the Virgin Mary and the medieval bestiary tradition,” she is also objectified and made remote and foreign by this introduction (135). Her culpability in the affair with Nicholas and the trick they play upon her husband is complicated by the fact that she is presented as both innocent and wild. The animal imagery may in fact suggest that she is exempt from punishment because she is not fully capable of taking responsibility for her actions (144). We never do get to see inside her motivation -- she is merely described to us, and the only glimpses we receive from her of her desires come in response to provocation by others. This allows everyone, Parry notes, from Absolon, Nicholas, and John, to Chaucer’s audience, to construct of Alison what they wish her to be; consequently, no one is able to fully know who she really is (137). This is, of course, in perfect line with the Miller’s stated moral of the story: you shouldn’t try to know the secrets of God or your wife, and so the Miller as the teller doesn’t fully allow us to see Alison as a person, or try to explain why everyone but her gets what was coming to them (144).

The section on the Merchant’s Tale is less exhaustive. Primarily, Parry makes his point by showing that the Merchant sets up his tale as a conflict between the genres of Romance and Fabliau (with Damyan arriving from a romance to rescue the sympathetic character of the suffering May from her imprisonment in a fabliau plot), with neither genre ultimately winning, although the fabliau does seem to have the upper hand by the end (161). Parry pays a good deal of attention to the fact May’s thoughts are interrogated, but never explicated; the Merchant allows for May’s existence of an independent cognitive entity from the men around her, but does not supply us with any description of her or of what actually is going on in her head (156-160). The result of all this invited and unrewarded speculation, Parry posits, is that “we seem invited to judge the characters, above all the Merchant, for the ways in which they use ideas, value variously and opportunistically social values, and thereby transform the value of ideas and the idea of values that govern human behavior” (163).

The main flaw of Parry’s work is that the writing is a bit overly recursive at places, and consequently his argument gets a trifle circular at times. However, his thesis is extremely interesting, and the evidence he marshals is impressive. He is fascinated by paradox and the layers of relationship and responsibility that are unique to the structure of the Canterbury Tales, and does a thorough if occasionally frustrating job of attempting to capture and convey that sense. He certainly raises some interesting questions about the roles and views of women presented in these two tales. Before reading this article, I believe I missed Alison’s free pass in the Miller’s summation of his characters’ fates. I suppose as I was reading it, “Thus swyved was this carpenteris wyf,” (3850), was her appropriate fate: she got what she wanted, but was deceived in some way that was fitting at the same time. The story almost forces us to collude with the Miller’s chauvinistic consciousness -- she is not exactly a person, in the end, to either John or the Miller. She instead represents what they wish her to be -- and what she fails to live up to, in their eyes. The tale tellers’ treatment of their respective female characters tells us a great deal about their views of the world -- and not just their views of women. The women in both stories function as objects of desire, and their lack of “punishment’ for their own role in trespassing the moral code is surely significant. What is Chaucer saying -- or allowing his narrators to say? It could be argued that they are the agents of desire (as Parry seems to suggest and then back away from without further exploration), but this should be held against them, should it not, under a medieval, male world-view? It seems more likely then that they are given immunity because their complicity is bound up in the roles created for them by the men who, uninvited (including their husbands), desire them.

            Perhaps the most underdeveloped (and undeservedly so) part of Parry’s thesis is his assertion that they way each woman specifically functions within her tale (as he points out, there are subtle yet important differences) reflects the ongoing theme of the roles of destiny vs. fate, and the interventions of the gods, in the tellers’ narratives. If this was explored further, it would certainly show that the Miller is answering the Knight’s Tale in more than one way. He isn’t just refuting the Knight’s world of courtly romance, he’s further messing with the Knight’s conflicted vision of the universe. The Merchant’s Tale, then, could also be seen as responding to this continuing debate. The answers about these people’s views of Divine Providence might make us ultimately question just why some of them are going on a pilgrimage in the first place -- more people than the Wife of Bath might be using this trip for something other than spiritual ends. What lies for each of them at the mid-way point of this little traveling game, the shrine of the martyr-saint Thomas Beckett? Parry’s thesis that the “passive” female characters of these two particular tales, which do not seem to have aspirations of high art or philosophy, are instead carefully constructed paradoxes meant to invite interpretation and meditation upon the act and limits of interpretation can be exploded to illuminate and drive a great deal of interpretative issues about nearly the entire text of Canterbury Tales. ~Jessie Dixon, 2/18/05

Mitchell, J. Allan. “Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and the Question of Ethical Monstrosity.” Studies in Philology 102:1 (2005): 1 - 26.

In this article, Mitchell attempts to distinguish the morality behind The Clerk’s Tale and how the text is able to be perceived in a myriad of possible interpretive moralities. As Mitchell states “the problem is how to choose,” a problem which Chaucer arranges in the text through a series of dichotomies (3). Griselda’s absolute obedience makes her appear saintly as a wife, though monstrous as a mother. Through this obedience, Walter appears powerful as a husband and a ruler, but irresponsible as a father and also as a husband. These characterization, and the events which surround them, allow for the audience to view the tale either as a parable or as a parody.

Mitchell argues that “the Clerks Tale can profitably be viewed as parabolic insofar as the term can withstand the shock of any additional paradoxes, including the paradox that Chaucer incorporates parody into a serious moral parable” (6). The tale is a parable of patience and servitude, a characteristic highly esteemed in medieval women, though it is paradoxically one which displays seemingly atrocious acts. Through this Mitchell believes that the text does not allow for generalities, that it cannot merely be reduced to a tale about such and such. It is, instead, a complexly woven web of morality, one which enables any moral decision to have an equally immoral outcome. Speaking of the clerk, Mitchell resolves that, there is “the possibility that for him Griselda still exemplifies textbook wifehood,” while at the same time realizing “that it is practically impossible to imitate Griselda” (10).

Mitchell states that the tale is a “parable of exemplarity,” one which does not allow for the reader to come to a universal meaning, but rather one which allows for the audience to recognize the possible outcomes and decide for themselves. Quoting Salter, Mitchell declares that the genius of the tale lie in its “ability to decide upon and abide by one single set of moral standards” (17). This inability to conform to one designated code of moral conduct allows for the text to be concluded as undecidable, pushing the audience to adapt one of its polar outcomes in order to establish personal moral meaning. This ethical deliberation is a result of the text’s undecidability, one which calls the audience to responsibility rather than accepting it indifferently or apathetically (18-9).Through deconstructing the text, Mitchell attempts to show how the tale makes a parable of its audience. The patience required by the tale’s audience, along with the continual moral deliberation and value judgment throughout the story, enable the audience to be, figuratively, in the shoes of Griselda. Therefore, Mitchell believes that, while being a tale of the moral equivocations of Griselda, it is in turn a test of the moral equivocations within the audience.

This article, as well as the tale, would prove as a good source for a paper on the WoB or on any of the female storytellers within the collection. It directly addresses the condition and morality of woman within the Clerk’s Tale and, furthermore, it proves to offer various possible readings of the tale as well as various moralities. Also, it would prove as a possiblity for the the lack of choice of Emelye and whether choice or reticence were better.—Jeff Judge, 2/18/05

McKinley, Kathryn L. "The Silenced Knight: Questions of Power and Reciprocity in the Wife of Bath's Tale." The Chaucer Review 30.4 (1996): 359-78.

Kathryn L. McKinley, in "The Silenced Knight: Questions of Power and Reciprocity in the Wife of Bath's Tale," disagrees with critics who say that the tale's "closing lines suggest a 'silencing'...a muting of woman's cry for equality" (359).  She contends, rather, that the knight is the one who is silenced by the hag's gentilesse speech.  Furthermore, the knight is silenced by allowing the hag to make the final decision between fair or foul. The key assertion that she is making is that the pillow lecture is what transforms the knight.  It is mentioned that "Chaucer innovates with the romance form by placing two contrary romances within the fairy tale" (360).  The first of the romances being that the knight must solve the riddle: what women most desire, in order to save his life.  However, at this point, he has no inner change.  Moreover, in the second of romances, the knight must solve another riddle: that of fair or foul.  It is at this point that he does have a personal change.  This transformation occurs only because the knight is able to finally see the hag’s inner beauty rather then fixating on her exterior.  McKinley argues that “The conventions of the romance genre require that there is such a final moment of revelation, of inner understanding, 'purchased with suffering'" if there is ever going to be a moment of inner change (360).  Throughout the article, McKinley reiterates the fact that the knight's transformation occurs after the hag's speech on gentilesse (true nobility, honor, and goodness) and that it is not until this lecture on gentilesse that there can be any transformation of the Knight’s virtues.  The hag states that being of a low class as well as impoverished is not necessarily disgraceful.  On the contrary, she engenders rich virtues such as old age and ugliness that can characterize true nobility that even the knight does not display.  These exact characteristics are what the hag sees to be inhibiting the knight to being truly noble himself.  It is at this point the knight is converted and is given the Chaucerian decision which emphasizes character.  He must decide if he would like to have the hag old and ugly but faithful, or young and beautiful and perhaps unfaithful.  Before the pillow lecture McKinley makes it very clear in her analysis that the Knight did not show characteristics of gentilesse but rather he was extremely rude and ungrateful to the hag.  By the end of the tale however, the knight's attitude toward the hag drastically changes.  McKinley states that "at the story's center is a male character who is in dire need of an education, one which the hag takes it upon herself to provide" (363).

Some see that once the knight has given his true loyalty to the hag that “he is rewarded through the removal of the impending punishment” (369).  However, the knight’s final decision of giving the hag the ultimate decision is seen, in this article, as the reason for his reward.  After the hag is assured that she has been given the power/sovereignty in the marriage, she then tells the knight that she will be both fair and good to him.  For this reason, it seems that he is awarded only after he gives up his power.  Additionally, he is showing true loyalty to his lady.  The fact that the knight refuses to make a choice between foul or fair furthers the idea that he has given his full consent to the hag.  By doing this, the knight not only places the decision on the hag, but he also gives her the power to actively make a decision, which allows the female voice to be heard.  “His response to the hag’s test could at the simplest level reflect the principle of female ‘sovereignty’ illustrated in the Wife’s Prologue, but on closer inspection, it shows him giving greater weight to her own decision-making—and ultimately a tacit agreement with the main point of her pillow lecture (placing value on inner worth, not on superficial, temporal goods such as riches, youth, or beauty)” (366).  The hag, the female character, enables the knight to undergo his needed transformation.  In the end, McKinley argues that the woman is not giving up her power but rather the knight giving his up in order to change. 

            I am not sure I agree with McKinley entirely on this account.  It seems that even after all of the Hag’s assertions of conquest to get what she wants from the knight it seems as if she is conquered.  This seems to be the case because in the end she still decides to give the knight what he wants, and that is for her to be aesthetically pleasing.  This to me shows a sign of being conquered in a way that is more than what McKinley is willing to state.  Despite the efforts to stand up for herself, and truly express her feelings in her lecture, the hag backs down from her original motive and satisfies the knight instead.  This to shows her lack of strength to hold onto the power she was fighting for.  Furthermore, at the end of the tale the hag “obeyed hym in every thing,” which does not seem to show full sovereignty in marriage like McKinley is trying to argue (Chaucer, 1255). ~Tara Haag 3/25/05

Reiff, Raychel Haugrud.  “Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale, 855-58.” Explicator  57:4  (Summer 1999) 195-197. 

In her article, Reiff presents two reasons for Chaucer’s use of the word capouns in the Pardoner’s Tale: one being for the sake of realism in the tale and the other as a symbolic portrait of the Pardoner himself.  Capons, castrated roosters, according to Reiff and other medieval/Renaissance sources, were seen as a delicacy for the wealthy and were usually only served for special occasions (i.e. Henry IV makes frequent references to Sir John Falstaff’s appetite for capons).  The Friar’s request of Thomas’ wife for a simple meal in the Summoner’s Tale, including “a capon but the lyvere”, “softe breed” and “a rosted pigges heed”, is particularly humorous since the Friar claims he a man of little sustenance.  He is humbly demanding some of the richest foods available—certainly not ones that could normally be found in a peasant household.

In the Pardoner’s Tale itself, the thief that has been sent to fetch food and wine, tells the apothecary he needs poison to take care of the “polat” that is threatening his capons.  The apothecary, most likely realizing the valuable nature of the fowl, sells the poison without any reservations.  The thief then adds the poison to the wine, with the intention of killing off his other conspirators.  The realistic aspect of this transaction that occurs between the thief and the “pothecarie”, Reiff attests, would be accepted by Chaucer’s audience as they too would acknowledge the worth and costliness of the certain type of bird. 

Reiff’s other argument deals directly with the Pardoner and his physical qualities.  The General Prologue introduces the Pardoner as a corrupt cleric, and as such, Chaucer mirrors his moral perversion with his lack of maleness.  Christine Ryan Hillary offers that more modern criticism has read the Pardoner to be a homosexual, a common basis for satire in the 14th century.  However, Reiff understands him to have been born a eunuch, although he is portrayed to be spiritually and morally dead.  Due to his position that allowed the abuse of wealth and power, he uses those elements to counteract his own femininity. Described as “a gelding or a mare” (691), the Pardoner is a eunuch who, with his arrogance and bawdiness, tries desperately to conceal his “deformity” (Reiff 196).  However, his feminine voice, bare face and womanly, long hair all point to his inability as a man, despite his boasting of having “a joly wenche in every toun” (452).  By using the key symbol of the castrated cock, Chaucer is able to subtly draw this parallel of unmanly qualities to the sterile state of the capon. ~Scott Sell 3/23/2005

Wimsatt, James I. “John Duns Scotus, Charles Sanders Pierce, and Chaucer’s Portrayal of the Canterbury Pilgrims.” Speculum, 17.3 (1996), 633-45.

Wimsatt debates the question of how far Chaucer has made his pilgrims realistic, individual characters, and to what extent are they manifestations of “types” (mere estate satires). He does this by considering the work of two philosophers: Scotus, whose system of scholastic realism dominated the universities in Chaucer’s day, and Pierce, a Victorian American philosopher who based much of his work off of Scotus’ thought (663, 634). He uses Pierce’s work primarily to critique Chaucer’s characterizations and to refine one of Scotus’ more obscure points. However, Wimsatt explicitly argues in his introduction that Chaucer would have been familiar with Scotus’ thought, and, “Chaucer’s image of society in the Canterbury Tales […] conforms very well to the philosophical realism of his day” (634). In the light of this assertion, he explores how the character portraits in the General Prologue reflect both the individual and typical aspects of the pilgrims, which conforms with scholastic realism’s philosophy. He agrees with Jill Mann’s thesis that the portraits do represent a form of estate satire; however, “one still seeks a philosophical grounding for the art…. In terms of scholastic realism the pilgrims must embody natures in common with others like them, and there must be a principle by which each is individuated […] it is necessary that the pilgrims represent both types and individuals” (634). In order to prove his case, he spends a great deal of time discussing the differences between Scotus and Pierce’s philosophy, especially the minute differences in the way they use specific terms. The difference between the type and the individual is that of an essential “haeccitas” of a person and the “formalities” which compose this type. The haeccitas is the embodiment of the medieval belief that people are born to their station and occupation in life: the Miller is a Miller in a capital “M,” quintessential way. Wimsatt points out that Chaucer identifies his characters far more strongly with their professions than with their individual names: “the names of but nine of the pilgrims become known, and each is mentioned only once” (637). But the characters still shine through as unique personalities; this is the result of their individual formalities, the specific elements and anecdotes that comprise their personalities (636). While some of the details Chaucer gives may serve as stereotypical traits of their profession and place in the world, added together, Wimsatt argues, they create a fully realized, unique and human portrait.

Wimsatt’s primarily New Critical reading of the General Prologue is interesting. It is well explicated, and ultimately proves its point. I feel that it focused far too much on comparing the two theorists, and too little time actually applying their work to Chaucer. The inclusion of Pierce is a bit ambiguous as well. It is impossible that Chaucer would have been familiar with the Victorian’s work. Therefore, it is extraneous to Wimsatt’s stated thesis: “In this essay I argue that Chaucer’s image of society in the Canterbury Tales, presented primarily in the General Prologue, conforms very well to the philosophical realism of his day and that his Ricardian artistry was fortified by the logic of Oxford and Cambridge” (634). Because of this, it seems unnecessary to include Pierce in order to provide contrast or explanation of Scotus. It makes sense to critique Chaucer’s characterizations in terms of Pierce’s theories, but Wimsatt doesn’t spend a great deal of time doing this, and does not manage to tie the two authors together as neatly or thoroughly as he does Chaucer and Scotus. His argument is strongest when he sticks to Scotus’ work and its reflection in the General Prologue. It covers many facets of a complicated philosophical issue, and manages to do so without becoming overwhelming.

The contrast Wimsatt grapples with in this article is certainly central to our understanding of the Canterbury Tales as a whole. If we are going to approach a tale under the basic assumption that it somehow reflects its narrator, we can not fully understand that relationship until we analyze what part or degree of the teller it comes from -- is Robin the Miller’s tale Chaucer’s attempt to tell a story as a Miller would tell it, or as Robin would tell it? Most probably, Wimsatt argues, it is the tale of Robin the Miller, whose identity as Robin is in some way part of his larger identity as a Miller in Chaucer’s world view. How Chaucer relates and prioritizes the two aspects of his characters, their individuality and their archetypal quality, is key to understanding the characters as his medieval audience would have. The article helps one get inside the medieval mindset and intellectual milieu Chaucer most likely worked and wrote within, which is essential for understanding his work. Wimsatt notes, as many commentators and critics have before him, that Chaucer creates his own world within the framework of the tales. To appreciate that artistic mastery, and to analyze how far the logic and philosophy of that world matches or deviates from that of the world in which Chaucer lived, we have to first be sure we understand it, and can see it reflected in his work. ~Jessie Dixon, 3/24/05

Sheridan, Christian. "May in the Marketplace: Commodification and Textuality in the Merchant’s Tale.” Studies in Philology 102:1 (2005): 27-44.

Sheridan responds to assertion by E. Talbot Donaldson that "we may have been led by the Merchant's narrative, especially by his rhetoric, to make some emotional investment in the relationship, the juxtaposition of January and May, and I one find it hard immediately to liquidate the investment" (27). Rebutting the commerciality of Donaldson's argument, that the reader's investment is in the juxtaposition of Januarie and May, Sheridan argues that the "Merchant's Tale" only displays mercantilism in an attempt persuade the reader to view the text as a product of commercial means, one who's textuality is “formed in the interactions among reader, author, and language” (29).

These interactions, assimilated to the medieval marketplace, enable for the textuality of the characters to be viewed in commercial terms. May, as the object of desire and, therefore, the most desired commodity, initially enters the tale as a text, one of Januarie’s creation who goes unnamed for, as Sheridan points out, nearly a hundred lines. Januarie’s legal documents, his correlation of a wife to property, and his use of “feffed in,” the OED states that the modern day enfeoff means “to invest with a fief; to put (a person) in possession of the fee-simple or fee-tail of lands, tenements, etc,” construct May as a commercial object ( ll. 1698). Her commerciality, much in the way that an object can define it’s value in the marketplace depending on the relationship between the buyer, the seller, and the object, corresponds to her textuality and the way that she has the ability to control not only the value of language in the tale, but more importantly her own value.

May’s ability to control her value in the text is a product of her ability to change positions within the text. Sheridan believes that “at various points in the tale, she is a text an author, and an audience” (30). This distinction, that May has the capacity to obtain all three positions with the tale, sets her apart from Damyan and Januarie. Damyan and Januarie, according to Sheridan, only function in the author’s position, demonstrated by Damyan’s love letters to May and Januarie’s legal documents and speeches. These texts that they create, along with the text of the garden, which is visual text constructed by Januarie’s carnal desire, are presented to May, the audience, who, as both text and author, is able to interpret them, function within them, and construct them to her advantage.

May, as the only character who is able to read the text’s of others and control others through this text, is also the only character who gets what she desires. For Januarie, “no matter how much property he may bestow on her, May will never be the ideal wife he imagines in the Tale’s opening” and for Damyan “there is a dissonance between the romantic ideal implied in describing his letter as a ‘compleynt’ and their eventual coupling in the pear tree” (Sheridan 36). Only May can have the Januarie, and his bestowed property, as well as Damyan, and his secret love (at least the way she planned). This ability to read and reinterpret texts is a correlation to the process of commodification, as she is both buying the other character’s textual interpretation of herself and selling them her reinterpretation.

While using Marxist, Feminist, and Reader-Response criticisms, Sheridan provides a possible source for a paper that would consider the commodification of women in The Canterbury Tales, especially concerning the Emelie in the “Knight’s Tale” and Griselde in the “Clerk’s Tale.” The comparison of Emelie to May, both as characters who serve as commodities, based on their exchange value, to the men in their tales, would prove to demonstrate the medieval attitude toward women, offering a topic for a Historicist, Feminist, or Marxist criticism. The comparison to Griselde, as well as Emelie, could demonstrate the extent of consent and how women are actually able to create consent while appearing to conform to the value created for them by patriarchal society. Either comparison, though possibly together, could supply a distinction between woman as a text and a reader and woman as a text, an author, and an audience. This distinction, with enough support, could show the how resisting reader, i.e. May, is able to create consent by resisting the patriarchal stereotypes imposed on her. Through resisting the stereotypes, and therefore the patriarchal system, May is the quintessential example of role reversal and contrasts sharply with the Tales’ presentation of both Emelie and Griselde, constructing the possibility of a paper comparing the passive women in the Tales to the aggressive woman or a paper on the commodification of women and their place within the marketplace. Either way, it would offer a solid source on a Feminist or Marxist paper, and also a Feminist-Marxist paper.—Jeff Judge, 3/25/05

Campbell, Emma. “Sexual Poetics and the Politics of Translation in the Tale of Griselda.” Comparative Literature 55 (2003): 191-            216.

            Campbell’s article considers the depictions of Griselda in Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer in order to determine “the relationship between gender and translation” (195). She stresses each authors’ treatment of Griselda, specifically her states of dress and undress, to show how each author represents Griselda’s “gendered identity”; she effectively turns the three versions of Griselda’s body into textual artifacts (195). Campbell first establishes Judith Butler’s “theory of ‘gender trouble,’” the notion that translation serves to reestablish the dominant discourse (195, 197). She writes that while translation can perpetuate value systems inherent in source texts, it can also disrupt the dominant discourse by placing an emphasis on the cultural values of the vernacular (197).

            Campbell finds Boccaccio’s tale to create an ambiguous view of Griselda, due in part to Dioneo, the teller of her story in the Decameron. This character tells tales with more “artistic freedom” than the others in the brigata; his tale thus requires from the reader a different approach than the other tales that are told. Dioneo makes clear from the outset that his is not a tale that one should model one’s behavior after (199-200). The presentation of Griselda’s body is “elusive” in the text, for in Dioneo’s disgust at Gualtieri’s (Walter’s) actions, he turns Griselda into a “divine spirit”; her corporeal self becomes overshadowed by her spiritual self (203). Griselda’s behavior cannot be expected of the human wife.

            Unlike Boccaccio, Petrarch’s view of the tale focuses not on the husband (in this case, Valterius) and his brutality, but on Griselda’s virtue (205). Petrarch’s depiction of Griselda depicts her as more like a virgin martyr or the Virgin Mary than an abused wife; he takes more seriously the merits of her behavior, while Boccaccio reads against them (206). Therefore, writes Campbell, “the ‘reality’ of her status as wife and mother become problematic,” especially as Petrarch attempts to distance her from this role in his conclusion, where he states that modern wives should not imitate Griselda’s behavior (206-7). At the same time, Griselda’s constancy “can never be entirely detached from the physical and social functions she performs as a woman” (207).

            Campbell believes that Chaucer “unravels” Petrarch’s tale, wanting the reader to understand it as “a story about wives” through an increased emphasis on the physical rather than the spiritual (208, 209). She writes, “Griselda’s example is set aside as an unrealistic aspiration for contemporary woman,” and is overshadowed by the ideals of female behavior set forth by the Wife of Bath (211). She concludes by stating that while Chaucer begins to disrupt the discourse of gender presented by Petrarch, he does not “stage a serious critique of the gender politics implicit in authorship itself,” and shows that “translation can but does not have to disrupt the authority it cites,” and instead may just alter the form of the authority (213). 

I cannot readily judge the ‘correctness’ of Campbell’s analysis of the three tales as I have not read two out of the three of them, but I was struck by how the authors’ (Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer) uses of the narrator allows a tale to take on a more or less ironic tone and thus a different view of Griselda and of gendered identity. If one argues that the act of translation can cause changes in discourse, then one must view (as I think Campbell does) both the authors and the narrators as translators, confusing the issue of who is responsible and even telling a story, as there are so many levels of narration running underneath the tale. Once we get to Chaucer, we must be aware not only of Chaucer, Chaucer the Poet, and Chaucer the Pilgrim as inscribed narrators below the Clerk, but also of Petrarch and his narrator (along with the French translation Campbell believes Chaucer to have read), Boccaccio and his narator, and the unwritten forms of the tale that came before Boccaccio. As is the case with any folk narrative, one cannot easily determine where the author’s and tellers voices begin or exactly whose cultural constructs surrounding gender are being expressed. One is sure, however, that all previous forms of the tale and values inherent in those forms are inscribed into the tale presented to the reader.

Still, it is possible for the reader to see where Chaucer broke from Petrarch and sided more with Boccaccio in his translation of the tale. It is interesting to note that Chaucer tells one of the more subversive forms of the tale, as he inserts the narrative voice at crucial moments to read against the text. Does this speak for Chaucer the author or for the Clerk? By writing through the Clerk, Chaucer attempts to express the point of view of the Clerk, just as by writing through the Knight or the Wife of Bath, he attempts to express their points of view. The reader must then take into consideration the Canterbury Tales as a whole in order to decide for him or herself which discourse on gender and which gendered identity to embrace or eschew.

I am still perplexed by the complexities of Chaucer’s translations in terms of his depictions of female characters. Criseyde becomes more rounded, Emelye less rounded, and Griselda somewhere in between (at least in comparison to Petrarch’s Griselda).  Chaucer did not translate in order to “disrupt authority” (Campbell 213). He translated to recreate and reshape his literary precedents in his own culture and language without such moral imperatives. Translations, to Chaucer, do not appear to be a form of resistence to the authority created by his predecessors. Instead, they are the means by which art is made. Chaucer should not be expected to rebel against the gender discourse in his translations, as doing so does not appear to have been his intention by any means. But he was able to do so, as Troilus and Criseyde shows, just as he was able to shift his readings of gender in the other direction, as he does by objectifying Emelye in the Knight’s Tale (or by having the knight do so). Should we hold authors to different standards today, especially in light of Feminist criticism, for why should one embrace a dominant discourse when one has the opportunity to resist and attempt to affect change?—Johanna Goldberg, 3/25/05

Finnegan, Robert Emmett. "‘She Should Have Said No to Walter’: Griselda’s Promise in the Clerk’s Tale." English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature. 75 (1994): 303-21.

            Finnegan conducts a very thorough linguistic study of the terms ‘assent’ and ‘consent’ as they pertain to The Clerk’s Tale.  His main argument is that Griselda is morally suspect because she “makes herself an accomplice to homicide,” (303).  He catalogues the uses of assent and consent, and bases his argument on the semantic difference; whereas assent implies agreeing to something, consent implies agreeing with something.  The reason she is morally suspect, then, is “…she moves from a situation of assenting in the abstract to whatever Walter wishes in their marriage, to the condition of consenting in the particular instances of the murder of her children,” (304).  Finnegan then cites the text to prove that she believes her children will be murdered, and her consent (or feeling of being in agreement with their murder) makes her morally suspect.

            He then cites examples from medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas to establish that medieval doctrine dictates, “a vow or an oath leading to sin is not to be honoured,” (309).  Finnegan also includes much of his sources (like Aquinas and the Vulgate Bible) verbatim to illustrate the differences between oaths one should keep and oaths one should not, but unfortunately Latin is not available to me.  His emphasis on semantics shifts to the terms ‘assail’ and ‘tempt’, which he uses to illustrate how Walter does not fit the role of God in an allegorical interpretation.  He cites the Epistle of St. James to prove that Walter, by tempting, not only is not fulfilling the role of God, but is evil by necessity.  Therefore Griselda, by consenting to his Walter’s will, becomes an accomplice to evil.—Joe Turner, 3/26/05

Ambrisco, Alan S. “‘ It Lyth Nat in My Tonge’ : Occupatio and Otherness in the Squire's Tale.” Chaucer Review 38:3 (2004): 205-228.

            In Ambrisco’s article, he argues that “the tale is unified not by its narrative elements but rather by the way its linguistic anxieties are revealed and processed” (205).  The image of the Mongol culture, disguised in occupatio, presents both “the exotic appeal and cultural differences” of Oriental culture while not providing a solid foundation for this differentiation (208). Ambrisco’s concept of otherness in the “Squire‘s Tale,” an act which serves to domesticate the Mongols and places the knight as the other, is grounded in the Squire’s ethnocentric view of the world.

            The arrival of the knight effectively juxtaposes his culture from that of the Mongols and functions to “suppress Mongol cultural and ethnic difference” (210). This juxtaposition also proposes to assimilate the Mongols, who would normally be considered the other, to Western culture in an attempt to integrate the East as some product of the West that the Orient imitated. The integration of East and West, in the “Squire’s Tale,” occurs through actions or thoughts of similitude, one which denies the differences between the self and the other in order to turn the other into the self. Similitude, according to Ambrisco, occurs most prevalently in the Mongols “lewed” conceptions of the knight’s gifts.

Through normalizing these gifts as an allusion to some previous event, or art, of Western culture, the Squire is making the Mongol culture the self and the knight’s culture the other. This otherness is furthered because “these explicit comparisons and identifications nominally acknowledge Mongol difference but disavow that difference precisely at the moment of its potential articulation” (212). The paraphrasing of the knight’s words directly serves to differentiate him as the other, refusing him “full coherence or articulation” (213).As Ambrisco states, “the Squire’s reluctance to describe the Mongols comprises an instance of Hartog’s ‘the rule of the excluded middle,’ and its use in the tale is not accidental: it is an integral part of the way the Squire processes non-Christian cultures“ (214).

            This rule of the excluded middle, while overtly Europeanizing Mongol culture, also occurs in the tale’s treatment of women. Women are placed as the excluded middle, somewhere between men and the animals, as the only female character in the tale is Canacee and she is effectually a flat character. The Squire, by not using rhetorical devises, presents “a fantasy of linguistic competence and the dream of an immediate and unapologetic English translation” (216). The lack of rhetorical devices in part two of the tale professes the otherness of woman, “presenting itself as a more troubling form of otherness for the incorporative mechanics employed in the ‘Squire’s Tale’” (220). This allows for the “Squire’s Tale” to be constructed on a basis of privilege. The tale is not about the construction of “privileging West over East; it is about privileging the English language, about giving the English language the ability translate great distances and foreign languages” (219).

            Ambrisco's article, discerning the difference between the self and the other in the ”Squire’s Tale,” would make a great source for a paper on the other, possibly something comparing the other in the “Man of the Law’s Tale” and the “Squire’s Tale.” Correlations between the two tales, on the basis of the barbarity of the other, are easily formed, as the other in the “Man of the Law’s Tale,” in the form of the sultaness, displays an animosity toward Christians. Though this animosity or barbaric behavior does not take place in the Squire’s tale, the conceptions of the Mongol culture, as reported by explorers in the thirteenth century, certainly were barbaric. In this comparison of barbarism amongst the other, one could also survey the alienation of the other from Western culture and the prejudice of Western culture against the Eastern heathens. The comparisons of the feasts in the “ Man of the Law’s Tale” and the “Squire’s Tale,“ or even a comparison to “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” could benefit from the portrayal of the other in this article. Though the Green Knight was not from the Orient, he is definitely a form of the other in literature, set apart from the English courts and wielding supernatural powers, much like those of the knight’s gifts in the “Squire’s Tale.”

            This article would also prove to beneficial in a study of Chaucerian rhetoric, as this is the first time that a narrator inaccurately uses a rhetorical trope. A comparison of the Knight’s use of rhetoric to his son, the Squire’s use of rhetoric, and the ways of knowing that come out of this rhetoric could use this article as a source. The imitated rhetoric fashion of the Squire, as a false or idiosyncratically literal occupatio, could be compared to the Knight’s use of this trope. This could spawn a paper on the use of rhetoric in dealing with courtly love, or at least courtly occurrences, even referencing the “Man of the Law’s Tale” as another source for rhetoric in the attempt for courtly romance.—Jeff Judge, 3/30/05

Gaynor, Stephanie. “He Says, She Says: Subjectivity and the Discourse of the Other in the Prioress’s Portrait and Tale.” Medieval Encounters 5 (1999): 375-90.

            In her article, Gaynor considers the dynamics of Othering in the Prioress’s Tale. She determines that the Other defines the self, and that in the Prioress’ Tale, Prologue, and Portrait, “Chaucer describes and ventriloquizes a sexual other, who, in her Tale, demonizes a ‘racialized’ other” (376). She writes that the Prioress displaces her own Otherness by endowing the Jews of her tale with the very Othering qualities that she possesses: “sensuality, greed, bodiliness, proximity to filth, and their resistance to the Law” (376). In the Prioress's Portrait, writes Gaynor, Chaucer amplifies that which the narrator should not see, the Prioress' emphasis on dress and food (and eating habits, says Proverbs, are signs of "sexual excess"), or "gluttony and lust" (376). Gaynor finds that the Tale's portrait of Jews takes these negative potentialities and literalizes them in the extreme.

            Gaynor argues that “anti-Semitism may have enabled the discourse of women,” as it places women in a role of authority over the Jewish Other, allowing them to move out of the role of “colonized” Christian Other (378, 377). The sins of the Prioress become transferred in an extreme way to the Jews in an attempt to cleanse her of her sins and to place herself in a similar category as the innocent babes she speaks of in her Prologue.

            Gaynor cites incidents where the Prioress' authority is taken away and she becomes the Other in her own Tale. This occurs in the intrusive "quod she" on line 581, which "calls attention to the ways in which the position of the authorized Christian subject is only begrudgingly granted to females" (381). When the Prioress interrupts her own narrative, however, Gaynor believes her confident tale-telling abilities shine past the male tendency to "undermine her discourse" and confirms her place of authority over the Other in the Tale (381). Gaynor ends her article by stating, "To speak, to assume the position of a speaking subject, necessarily involves the use, the abuse of an other" (390).

            While I do not think Gaynor finds the Prioress' ability to gain authority in tale telling by persecuting the Other to be an excuse for her anti-Semitism, I am troubled by her final argument. I do not think that the Prioress, or any speaking subject, must abuse an Other in order to claim authority (especially if the speaker already has authority). While tales, both Canterbury and otherwise, almost always include protagonists and Othered antagonists and dehumanized flat characters (in the Canterbury Tales, often female characters), abusing the Other does not necessitate joining a discourse of hatred.

            For the abuse of an Other to be needed to enable the discourse of women is a scary thought, and one that I do not believe to be true. The Wife of Bath did not look to further Other an already Othered population. Instead, she attacked those who Other her. Discourses of change are possible; unfortunately, they are not always heard or accepted in the way that the continued discourse of hatred is.

            I like the idea of reading both the Prioress's and Wife of Bath's narratives as attempts to resist their Othered positions. However, I am not convinced that either is affective. While the Prioress establishes herself as privileged through her tale, she remains Othered within the Christian society. She may resist her state, but she does not affectively combat it, instead affirming her position as both self and Other. The Wife of Bath resists her position forcibly, and yet does not affect change. The tale tellers who follow her continue to present unequal male-female relationships, continue to exploit their female characters sexually. While the Wife of Bath may tear such stories from her husband's book, she does not remove them from societal consciousness. What is a woman to do?—Johanna Goldberg, 4/1/05

Travis, Peter W. “Chaucer’s Heliotropes and the Poetics of Metaphor.” Speculum, 72.2 (1997): 399-427.

            Travis’ article explores how Chaucer uses metaphor, specifically that of the heliotrope, in two different works: The Prologue to the “Legend of Good Women,” and the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” He begins by considering the Franklin’s plea of rhetorical ignorance in his Prologue, and using this passage to consider the varying attitudes Chaucer’s contemporaries had for the formal devices of poetry, especially rhetoric. Travis traces the debate over the use and functions of metaphors in the medieval literary tradition to Aristotle and Chaucer’s earlier European predecessors, including Aquinas and Alanus de Insulis. He also extensively surveys the heliotropic tradition in Western literature, in a highly philosophical discussion. There are two types of heliotropes:

Heliotropia was the medieval Latin name for a diaphanous gem to which lapidaries attributed the power not only of reflecting the sun’s light but also of generating its own light so that it was capable of rivaling, even occluding, the light of the sun. Heliotropium, on the other hand, was the medieval Latin name for a flowering plant […] that is unusually sympathetic to the rays of the sun, opening at dawn, bending in the sun’s direction throughout the day, and closing at night. (401).

            Travis looks at Chaucer’s poetic treatment of these phenomena as metaphors and “meta-metaphors” (401). After an extensive philosophical and historical argument, he explains how Chaucer employs Chaunticleer as a heliotrope (of the heliotropium variety) in “The Nun’s Priest Tale.” He aims to illustrate that “it is the metaphor’s […] most mysterious behavior, the arc of its back-and-forth motion through analogical space, that proves to be the central focus of Chaucer’s gaze” (411). He analyzes the comparisons used in the description of this extraordinary bird, which is explicitly linked to the sun, to show how they blur the lines between qualities of humanity and “chickenness” (423). Thus, he argues that Chaucer is trying to engage his audience in a broader philosophical debate by creating a character embodying “six dimensions of […] metaphoricity -- his iconicity, semantic liminality, semiotic colors, self-glorification, authorial self-naming, and solar wisdom,” which leads to “Chauntecleer’s final and most important quality as Chaucer’s signature heliotrope: his categorical humanity” (420). He argues that by posing a comparison between human and animal, Chaucer is asking his readers to not only debate the difference between them -- to debate if there are differences between them -- but also to argue that whether “the metaphor of articulate animals relate[s] in any proper way to reality” (424). He then quickly demonstrates that the answer to this question Chaucer wishes to convey is a resounding ‘yes.’ Metaphors build upon each other, and are the only way we can know the world. Thus, Travis says, Chaucer uses the heliotrope of Chauntecleer to reclaim the exalted status of metaphors as an important ways of seeing the truth of the world, and therefore integral to rhetoric and poetry (425-7).

            Travis’ article is extremely thorough, and manages to prove a very demanding philosophical argument. It is primarily a deconstructionist reading of the tale, and does draw heavily on the theory of Derrida. Because of the nature of his argument (and grounding theory), Travis’ logic gets a bit recursive at times. Much of the piece is extremely abstract, dealing with various definitions of metaphors, and the philosophical import of metaphorical traditions. Along the way, there are some clever insights -- the “authorial self-naming” of “CHAUnteCleER,” the bird which is Chaucer’s metaphor for poets as one who “sings clearly,” which accords with the French heliotropic tradition, the exploration of the triple heliotrope in “Legend of Good Women,” and the parallels between Chaucer’s use of this rhetorical device and the Pearl poet’s (419, 413-4, 413). However, there is far more philosophical survey in this piece than literary criticism. It is not until page 411 that Travis specifically considers “Chaucer’s Heliotropes,” the titular concern of the paper. Despite this, Travis does cover those metaphors, once he has established his theory and history, in a great deal of depth, and raises some intriguing questions in his analysis.

            Travis’ reading of Chauntecleer is interesting in several ways. It explicitly raises many questions about the nature and use of metaphors, and suggests more. While Travis focuses on a specific type of metaphor in Chaucer’s work, his ideas could be abstracted to track different instances of metaphors -- or nearly any other poetic or rhetorical device -- within the tales. A specific narrator’s use, misuse, or neglect of such devices might, read in the way Travis is suggesting, say a lot about their views of the world. Certainly several of the pilgrims, including the Franklin, whom Travis briefly considers in his introduction, make explicit references to poetics and rhetoric. The Host instructs the Clerk not to forget his audience and overload his tale with fancy language and rhetoric, and the Wife of Bath begins by expressly denouncing written, learned “auctoritee.” If certain devices are used consistently throughout tales, it might be possible to do a deconstructionist reading of the “grounding ideals” of Chaucer’s world -- the metaphors he is unable to envision his world without, and makes common to every pilgrim. And, as much of Travis’ argument is based in the literary tradition Chaucer was probably aware of, and Chaucer draws from various and sundry sources for his tales, a detailed comparison between the poetic devices and metaphors used in the original sources and in Chaucer’s version might also reveal some interesting philosophical insights. If, as Travis suggests, metaphors are the way in which we understand the world, then understanding Chaucer’s use of them is essential to understanding The Canterbury Tales. ~Jessie Dixon, 4/1/05

Daileader, Celia R. "The Thopas-Melibee Sequence and the Defeat of Antifeminism." Chaucer Review. 29:1 (1994) 26-39.

            Celia Daileader compares in her article, “The Thopas-Melibee Sequence and the Defeat of Antifeminism,” that women’s silenced voices are heard in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale as well as the Tale of Melibee.  Throughout the article Daileader compares the prominent women in the two tales.  Even though Dame Prudence and Dame Alice are dissimilar women (one being quiet and reserved and the other being loud and flamboyant) they share similar stories and beliefs.  Dame Prudence and Dame Alice share allegorized themes with feminist concerns throughout both of their tales.  Both women are concerned that women are viewed as powerless as well as voiceless.  In Dame Alice’s there is a central problem, an action called rape, and in Dame Prudence’s a female body is violated.  Both tales “challenge the patristic injunction against a woman’s counsel also foreground the issue with the violation of a female body” (26).  Furthermore, Daileader draws upon Carolyn Dinshaw’s opinion that Chaucer dissects “gendered hermeneutic” ideologies by denying women a voice (26).  Daileader addresses the problems regarding Dame Alice as being the mistreatment of women’s speech and their bodies under “patriarchial ‘auctoritee,’” which are eventually resolved in the “Thopas-Melibee sequence, by the very ‘auctoritee’ who gives her a voice” (26).  It is evident that Chaucer sees a concern with feminine discourse and therefore creates two outspoken women characters on issues of misogyny.

            Daileader proclaims that “In Sir Thopas he uses his persona within the text to undermine his ‘auctoritee’” thus clearing a path for Dame Prudence’s “Tour De Force.”  It is here where the Thopas-Melibee Tale echoes the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale but allows Chaucer to challenge “anti-feminist patristic tradition” and the “concept of a unified patriarchial authority” (27).  Melibee is “stylistically plain” but also rhetorically complex (28).  The tale of Melibee and the Wife of Bath’s tale both begin with an allegorized rape.  According to Daileader, the violence committed against Sophie is considered a rape due to the violation of her body.  Furthermore, this act against her illustrates the inferiority of women within a male society.  Due to the injuries to Sophie’s five senses, she experiences what it is to be a silenced female.  Her mother, Prudence, and Dame Alice in the Wife of Bath are fighting against this silencing of females.  In the end, Prudence stands up for her daughter and speaks for her.  Daileader argues that by Prudence speaking in opposition to the violence acted upon her daughter, she is projecting her voice against her felt inferiority.  Not only are her feminist views strong, but also her Christian beliefs.  Due to these strong Christian beliefs, she believes that violence will not be the solver of any malice.  On the other hand, Sophie’s father, Melibeus, initially thinks that gaining vengeance on the perpetrators is what he should do.  Prudence, however, views their daughter’s situation differently and tries to convince her husband to heed her words of nonviolence.  By the end of the tale Melibeus listens to Prudence’s wisdom and adheres to her nonviolence rhetoric.

            Daileader states, “Chaucer shows his heroines to be well aware of this injustice, but also gives them voices to deny it” (35).  Prudence and Alice speak against what society wishes them to be and they try to define themselves.  The difference between Prudence’s and Alice’s argument, Daileader suggests, is that Prudence’s “is far more cumbersome” and less entertaining but is more effective and respectable (36).  Finally, the last similarity Daileader draws is the fact that in both The Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Tale of Melibee male characters are transformed in the end because of women.

            It is interesting that Daileader found so many similarities between the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale and the Tale of Melibee.  The inner mind of these two initially voiceless characters is very intriguing.  It can be argued that in the Wife of Bath’s Tale the hag transforms herself into a beautiful woman merely because that is what the knight wanted.  The central problems, according to this article, in both tales are rape.  Therefore, should a rapist be awarded a beautiful wife without punishment?  Even though Chaucer is portrayed to be some what advocating of women’s voices, why is it that the girl who gets raped in the Wife of Bath’s Tale and Sophie in Melibee are forgotten and not mentioned towards the end of their tales?  These are all very intriguing questions that the article allows one to think about. ~Tara Haag 4/1/05

Green, Donald C.  "The Semantics of Power: 'Maistrie' and 'Soveraynetee' in 'The Canterbury Tales.'" Modern Philology.  84:1 (1986) 18-23.

        This article, like many others, traces explicit and implicit meanings of words relating to dominance and subordinance in The Canterbury Tales.  The most evident tales in which the dominance/subordinanace dichotomy is operating are the Clerk's Tale and the Wife of Bath's Tale.  He draws a linguistic parallel between the use of 'governance'
in the end of the Wife's Tale and the Clerk's response to Harry's request to tell a tale.  This linguistic similarity is, according to Green, an explicit response to the Wife.  This linguistic parallel serves to strengthen the Clerk's undoubted psychological need to
respond to the Wife's harsh characterization of Clerks in general. Green then continues by referencing the importance of the term 'assent' in the Clerk's Tale.  He draws a parallel between Griselda's assent and the Clerk's assent, saying, "…there is a close parallel
between the Clerk's agreeing to abide by the rules of the game established at the Tabard Inn and Griselda's earnest agreement to live according to the rules established by Walter at their betrothal," (19).  While true that agreeing to the rules of the tale telling game
requires assent to a game largely undefined, I do not see how this parallel functions beyond a purely superficial level.  Every pilgrim, by his logic, would fit that cast.  He uses the same logic to approach Walter's assent to the 'People's' request and the 'People's' assent to his choice.
        Green then argues that the world of The Clerk's Tale operates under a strict set of morality.  He argues, "…the harshness of Walter's treatment of Griselda is criticized, but his sovereignty, his right to dominate, is never challenged," (18).  Similarly, the townspeople never question Walter's legitimacy or his right to rule, they merely make suggestions based on their own anxieties, for which Walter's role requires him to respond.  Similarly, Griselda, as a wife, acts according to her role as defined by her assent to Walter's betrothal request.  He says, "In short, all would seem to agree that sovereignty
is inherent in certain roles, and that it reflects the divine order," (21).  He then argues that the real differences between the tales told by the Clerk and the Wife have to do with their themes: he says that the knight submits to the Hag's 'love', rather than her role as a
spouse.  The tale the Wife tells, therefore, concerns a more courtly love, whereas the Clerk's concerns marital love.  The wife acquires her power by right (which is where Walter derives his power over both Griselda and the townspeople) but by guile and maistree.
        This article, while short, concerns many of the terms whose definitions are not clearly understood today.  Terms like assent, maistree, governance, etc., which later critics like Finnegan (in his "'She Should Have Said No to Walter': Griselda's Promise in the Clerk's Tale.") explore in more depth.  This is a good introductory piece to the problems of understanding medieval linguistics, and draws some good conclusions concerning the Wife and the Clerk.—Joe Turner, 4/1/05

Ashton, Gail.  “Her father’ daughter: the re-alignment of father-daughter kinship in three  romance tales.”  Chaucer Review (34:4) 2000, 416-27.

            Ashton’s article compares aspects of family in the three versions of the Christian romance story of Constance: Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale, Gower’s The Tale of Constance in Confessio Amantis, and Thomas le Chestre’s lai Emare. 

            She begins by considering Constance’s role as the exiled daughter and the ambiguity of her character. She concentrates on the dynamics of family and marriage laws presented in each version, specifically the nature of Constance’s relationship with her father and the notions of daughterhood and motherhood that she represents.  The former is portrayed in all three versions as a venerable position, acting as the “privileged reproductive link between father and son” (Ashton 417); in other words, a means for a family’s lineage to exist and prosper.  Constance as the daughter, however, serves very little purpose in this way and, being expendable, simply becomes male property, both to her father’s demands and her husband’s sexual desires.  This dual role is compounded by the “exile and return” motif, which marks Constance’s inevitable reunion with her husband and father.  Ashton suggests that this course of action allows Constance to renegotiate her position within both families, sealing and re-establishing them as “functional, ordered group(s)” (Ashton 421).  These reunions, of course, do not occur without establishing Constance as a mother, and so we have Maurice, soon to be crowned as Emperor Mauricius.  In her article “The father’s house and the daughter in it: the structures of western culture’s daughter-father relationship”, Lynda Boose argues that a daughter is only to reach significant status when she reenters her father’s household as a stable and prosperous example of motherhood, a means to further the bloodline.  Constance, however, is able to acknowledge her positions and retain order in society by returning as a forgiving Christian wife and a son—eventually heir—in arms, hence guaranteeing the stability and masculine rule of her father’s kingdom.

            Ashton also chooses to focus on the shifting characteristics of Constance.  She equates her identity in The Man of Law’s Tale with an absence of character, a protagonist who is seen for her virtue, but whose female voice is almost never heard.  This similar role is seen in Gower’s and le Chestre’s versions, with a focus on the way Constance is controlled by the patriarchy of Rome, Syria and Northumberland.  However, in each version, it ultimately becomes Constance’s choice to withhold her identity throughout her travels, allowing her to “pass through the surface layer of narration” and become the ‘every-Christian’ woman (Ashton 420).  In Confessio Amantis, she even goes as far as to seemingly deny her birthplace and daughterhood in responding to her uncle’s basic question of identity—what is your name?  “‘Mi name is Couste,’ sche him seide” (Gower 1163).  Her vagueness here, Ashton suggests, works more as an example of her allegiance to her status as another man’s “wife”, rather than a bitter rejection of her father.  Indeed, in The Man of Law’s Tale, Custance identifies herself as her father’s property, “youre yonge child Custance,” and recognizing his power as Emperor by calling him “fader” (1105-13).               

            Chaucer reshapes his source material and “feminizes” his Custance to connect inextricably the story of the ideal Christian life with that of a woman, for it is only those qualities associated with the feminine in the tale—prayer, faith, helplessness in the hands of God, passivity, submission—which can for the purposes of the tale depict Christian faithfulness.  It seems appropriate then for Chaucer and The Man of Law to exclude any overt mention of an incestuous relationship between Constance and her father, which la Chestre’s lai Emare does include as the reason for Emare’s exile.  When she refuses his marriage proposal, her immediate fear is their own reputation as the monastic family and his “obligation to care for her and her honor…” as well as a “…duty to the community” (Ashton 423).  Because incest is a social taboo, the Christian concern therefore must be focused on the good of society, not the victim herself.  The article also brings up the motif of the “enchanted” robe in Emare, one that does not appear in Chaucer’s or Gower’s version.  Although the robe has been interpreted very differently—as the very power of sexuality, as well as an image of order—Ashton suggests it takes on meaning as “the repositioning of the daughter-father role” and can be seen by characters within the work as a physical beacon of her virtue (Ashton 425).  It also functions as stabilizer through Emare’s transition from coveted daughter to wife to mother to the combination of the three.  After she successfully reclaims her position in both households, the robe is no longer necessary since she has proved herself spiritually pure and important to the progression of her family.          

            This article proves to have its benefits in being used for further interpretation of the tale along gender and social lines.  What struck me in Ashton’s comparisons of the romance tales, however, was her choice to exclude the influences of Nicholas Trevet’s Anglo-Norman Chronicles.  Trevet presents his Constance as intelligent, politically persuasive and beautiful, despite her bad fortune in the story he narrates.  Where Chaucer has stripped these bold qualities from Custance, he also emphasizes her utter powerlessness, the fact that she is cursed with femaleness, and accentuating the difference between her and her two “evil step-mothers”.  Although Chaucer adapted a majority of Trevet’s poem, Constance’s stronger character is lost in the transition, making it a more complex and different poem altogether.  Chaucer then is responsible for diminishing the feminine nature in his version of the tale and creating “goodness” based on Christian piety, rather than the virtue of Custance as a woman.  Analysis of the patriarchal order and the “cultural text” of women’s silence in these three works gives way to an observance of feminist theory, as well as questions involving the progression of the Christian romance tales that follow them. -- Scott Sell  4/3/05

Mitchell, J. Allan. "Chaucer's Clerk's Tale and the Question of Ethical Monstrosity." Studies in Philology 102 (2005): 1-26.

            Mitchell begins by questioning the portrayal and reception of Griselda and of the morality of the “Clerk’s Tale.” He argues that “the way in which instability can be a part of moral deliberation itself, is indeed the general condition of moral deliberation Chaucer thrusts upon his audience” (3-4). Mitchell then moves into a discussion of whether the tale is a parable or a parody, taking into consideration New Testament and philosophic teachings, and concluding that “Chaucer incorporates parody into a serious moral parable” (6).

            Mitchell questions the “virtuous suffraunce” in the tale, claiming that “the explicit moral itself gives rise to the dilemmatic,” as the tale does not answer the question of “how to practice the moral value of patience” (7). He touches upon how other pilgrims (the Host and the Merchant) view the patience of Griselda, arguing that in mentioning the responses of others, Chaucer “is highlighting a potentiality readers cannot ignore when they attempt to assess the morality of the Clerk’s Tale” (9).

            What I found to be the most intriguing question of the article is whether Griselda “sets a negative or positive example” (12). Mitchell assesses Griselda’s “moral responsibility” and argues that, of her own volition, she goes “further than what is asked of her” when making her prenuptial agreement (13). Not only does she consent to what Walter requests, but she also agrees never to disobey him in thought or deed, which Mitchell argues indicates that she “voluntarily and indeed eagerly submits to an extent [Walter] does not actually require” (13). Her example shows, according to Mitchell, that wives of the Clerk’s time are better than Griselda, for they “would not consent to idolatry or homicide” (15). 

            In concluding the article, Mitchell determines that the tale’s portrayal of “the monstrous as moral” causes the tale’s morality to remain questionable to the end. Mitchell argues that this “is a call to responsibility . . . insofar as any ambiguity that audiences experience can be an inducement, instead of an obstacle to ethical deliberation” (18-19). Griselda plays a large part in creating such ambiguity as “the monster that haunts our reception of the moral tale” (25).

            Mitchell’s argument troubles me in how close it comes to giving me cause to blame the victim. According to Mitchell, Griselda sets the terms for Walter’s abuse of her, and in abusing her, Walter merely tests the boundaries that she has set for herself. Still, Griselda does not bring about the abuse, nor does she ask Walter to abuse her even as she says she will put up with it. And while Griselda’s stoicism is similar to Job’s, Walter is neither G-d nor an agent of G-d.

            The abuse of Griselda and that of Cecelia is worth comparing here. Cecilia accepts the tortures imposed upon her knowing that G-d will provide in the end because her tortures were brought on by her righteous Christian action. It seems that Griselda has no such clear assurance. She is not, in the end, even shown to be the perfect Christian wife, as her character remains as ambiguous as the tale’s morality itself. What will such suffering bring to Griselda? These two examples show that acceptance of pain does not a martyr make.

            While the Merchant and the Host may want their wives to be more like Griselda, and while all comes out happily in the end, the problem of Griselda’s suffering remains. When read as Mitchell reads the tale, Chaucer finds such abuse unnecessary. Perhaps, then, the reader should give additional consideration to the arguments presented by the Wife of Bath and even the ignored pleas of Emelye. Yet both these women must make their desires known; if they want to live by their rules, they must impose their will upon their husbands and husbands to be (something that Emelye is unable to do).

            What of the women who can compromise? Even Dorigen yields to the will of her husband in the end in such a way that causes her grief, while Prudence’s arguments are not heard until the last pages of the enormously long “Tale of Melibee.” Pertelote’s wisdom proves incorrect in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” Thus, even women in more equal relationships are seriously flawed. The only consoling part of all of this is that the men are not much better.--Johanna Goldberg, 4/22/05

Norsworthy, Scott. “Hard lords and bad food-service in the Monk’s Tale.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 100:3 (2001) 313-332. 

            Norsworthy focuses on the Monk’s somewhat ambiguous identity within the frame of his role as a cellarer, “the overseer of the service of meals in the refectory.  The article concentrates on the duties of the position and how this pertains to Chaucer’s portrait of Daun Piers.  It then shifts to the Monk’s Tale itself and explains what particular sections of the tale reveal about its teller, using the Nebuchadnezzar-Belshazzar tradition of feast and the starvation of “Erl Hugelyn of Pyze” (2407) in prison to support the connection between food and leadership.  The close of the article looks forward to the Nun’s Priest Prologue and Tale and pinpoints medieval cellarers, and perhaps Daun Piers, as metaphorical cannibals, eating the “povre” alive with taxes, cruel demands and neglect.

            Norsworthy begins within the Monk’s Prologue and the relationship that is formed between Daun Piers and Harry Bailey.  It is Harry’s assertions that establish the Monk’s potential position at the abbey as “som worthy sexteyn, or some celerer” (1936).  Both positions involved the supervision of food-service within the church and the naming of these offices, Norsworthy writes, is all the more attractive in light of the imagery which is prevalent in the Monk’s portrait in the General Prologue.  Like the Summoner’s Tale, there is anticlerical sentiment that surrounds the Monk in regards to his gluttony that his position allows him.  The emphasis on food and drink within the Tale can then be seen as an important factor, in terms of power positions that inevitably collapse and the Monk’s own fears of falling into disfavor because his abuse of monastic power.  A reoccurring source in Norsworthy’s article is The Rule of St. Benedict which outlines an entire chapter about the expectations the church had for cellarers, comparing a good cellarer as “the universal provider” and an important facet to the social functioning of the monastery.  It also exercised some cautions, most notably cautions against excess in eating and causing the congregation to be unhappy, which Daun Piers obviously excels at. 

            The Monk’s retelling of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar comes shortly after his introduction of the similar falls of Lucifer and Adam, setting both Babylonian stories against the backdrop of Hell.  Making the gourmand connection here, The Monk mentions at several points of the blasphemous food-service at Belshazzar’s feast and, more specifically, the defilement of the sacred vessels which the Monk, as a cellarer, would be wholly responsible for.  Norsworthy suggests this as further evidence of the tale, and many that follow, not as cautionary anecdotes about the disastrous consequences of unlawful eating and drinking, but the Monk’s own indifference in terms of such habits.  His moral impurity can be noted in respect to his disregard for obligations to the church, especially in the handling of sacred utensils and food. 

            Daun Piers version of the story of Ugolina of Pisa focuses on the imprisoned, starving father who tries to eat his own arms while his equally hungry children beg him to eat them.  The monk also comments on the quantity and quality of the prison food that they are soon denied, which is itself “povre and bade” (2422), suggesting his own responsibilities for the spiritual and physical nourishment of the congregation, which included prisoners, both as a father-figure and a man of God.  Norsworthy also uses this passage to describe a rule that Benedict insists that the Monk is breaking.  Through his unrelenting series of haphazardly told stories of murder and betrayal, he is going against the wishes of both Harry, who calls upon the Monk to “be myrie of cheere” (1924), and the church, which forbids cellarers to sadden the congregation.  When his tales of misery come to a close and he refuses to speak of hunting or anything cheerful, he is denying “a good word” which Benedict thinks to be an integral aspect of food-service.  His unwillingness to cooperate in pleasing the pilgrimage with his words then “suggest a multi-faceted failure to provide daily bread in every medieval sense, as physical sustenance, the body of Christ, and sacred text” (Norsworthy 327). 

            Norsworthy concludes his article with an analysis of tyranny, specifically in terms of corporeal mutilation and torture, and the cannibalistic relationship that exists between master and servant.  Cellarers were most often responsible for contracting massive debts, “waging bureaucratic war with the sacrist, and struggled mightily to make townspeople pay customary rents, taxes, and services” (Norsworthy 322).  Norsworthy then refers to a German miscellany copied in the fifteenth century: “There is an exemplum of a certain old woman who said to a certain monk, ‘My lord, you do not eat cow’s meat but you eat live human beings because of the taxes you exact from the poor.’”  This poor old woman can then be seen in the introduction to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, her poverty evident by her meager diet and what has been unfairly taken away from her.  Norsworthy finally elaborates on the connection between Daun Piers and the clever fox, similarly to the one that follows in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, in that he succeeds in boring his audience, even to the point where Harry Bailley begins to doze off to sleep, so that he can “eat them”.  The words of the Host and this parallel suggest that the Monk is not someone that can be wholly trusted when his hidden passions include “a lust for hunting, a taste for fowl, and a mind to serve nothing but dull fare” (332).

            At points in this article, new and interesting connections are made between what we perceive the Monk to “be” and what Chaucer’s audience would already suspect about Daun Piers.  There are also many beneficial aspects in terms of the specificities regarding the monastic duties of cellarers, as well as the historical relevance of the Monk’s stories of “sentence”.  Norsworthy emphasizes the relationship between the supposed “providers” and the “sondry folke” in such a way, that this would prove very helpful in a dissection of the clerical structure of medieval England and the repercussions immoral practices had on the church. ~Scott Sell 4/22/05

Johnson, Lynn Staley. “Chaucer’s Tale of the Second Nun and the Strategies of Dissent.” Studies in Philology 89.3 (1992): 314-33.

            Johnson’s article shows that the “Second Nun’s Tale” portrays Cecilia’s life as a martyr, while also describing other elements of the Prologue and Tale.  Chaucer’s emphasis upon “enlightenment, purity, ‘bisynesse,’ and creative fruitfulness,” is further intensified (314).  Both present a theme that every Christian can find usefulness in conversion as well as marriage.  By pairing Cecilia’s story with the “Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale,” Christians are able to see the contradiction of marriage as well as in conversion, which implicitly implies the right and wrong way to be a Christian.  Johnson explains that through the Tale Chaucer is able to present and mediate problems that ultimately reveal status and authority of the early Church while using Cecilia as the forefront figure.  Chaucer is able to use the Second Nun’s story to illustrate not only the life of a martyr but also the early existence of the Christian Church.

            The Prologue and Tale are thought to be written between 1373 and 1386, which is known as the “decade of conflict” (319).  During this time the church went through a separation, where there were two popes, one in England and one in France.  Additionally, there was political and social unrest and “anticlericalism” at the time as well (317).  The legend of Saint Cecilia, written by Chaucer, was evidently written during or thereafter the decade of conflict.  Chaucer’s version reveals similar concerns for the status and moral authority of the Church during this time period.  This story also accounts for Chaucer’s view of Saint Cecilia’s martyrdom as somewhat of a political act as well, especially since his own life during this period was very politically and socially involved

            The ideals of virginity, devotion, confrontation of authority, courage, martyrdom and death are conventions of the early Church, which are all represented through the story of Cecilia.  Similar to other stories of the time, Cecilia displays the ideal female chastity and sanctity, which allow her to defy figures of secular and familial authority and become radical, universal emblems of female strength.  Additionally, the story illustrates social and religious restructuring, which is what makes the story of Cecilia slightly different than other works of the time.  Cecilia offers a complete reversal of accepted social norms, for example, what Johnson explains as domination of her husband in her marriage.  Similarly, however, Cecilia threatens male authority like the Wife of Bath, giving power to these women.  Cecilia challenges male authority differently by offering a way to gain sovereignty without sexually manipulating her husband. 

            Johnson goes on to explain that Chaucer uses two sources, Golden Legend and the Franciscan abridgment, of Cecilia’s legend for his own version of the translation.  He writes the story in order to highlight the martyr herself.  In Chaucer’s interpretation of Cecilia’s legend, he portrays her as an even stronger character and places her as the spokesperson for Christianity.  Chaucer omits the fact that in the Golden Legend Cecilia commends her fears to God before her marriage.  And, Chaucer follows the Franciscan abridgment where speeches by Valerian and Tiburce are not included.  It seems that Chaucer removed anything that would distract the audience from Cecilia’s characteristics that link her to the early church and Christ.  Johnson states “That Chaucer recognized the problematic levels of reality mediated by his translation [which] is underlined by his decision to include it in the Canterbury book” (331).  In the “Second Nun’s Tale,” Cecilia offers a redefinition of human relationships through her aggressiveness and preaching.  In the end, it is important to remember that there is not just one message being posed through Cecilia in the “Second Nun’s Tale.”

        This article allowed me to consider Cecilia as more than just a martyr figure but also as a representation of social and political reforms of the time.  The comparison with the “Canon’s Yeoman Tale” also furthered my understanding of the opposite effects that the two tales have on one another, which makes sense that the Yeoman tale proceeds the Second Nun.  Furthermore, Johnson’s comparison between Cecilia and the Wife of Bath illustrates the different forms of female power within the Canterbury Tales.  By changing Cecilia’s views on gaining authority from that of the Wife of Bath’s, Chaucer was again highlighting Cecilia’s character by giving her a voice through her actions of purity and sanctity. ~Tara Haag 4/22/05

Astell, Ann W. “Nietzsche, Chaucer, and the Sacrifice of Art.” Chaucer Review 39:3 (2005): 323-40.

            Focusing on the Manciple’s Tale, Astell views “Chaucerian literature itself as a kind of critical theory that offers in its antimythic, antisacrifical stance a sophisticated rejoinder ... to Nietzsche’s mythic sacrificial aesthetics” (324). Her differentiation between the mythic and antimythic, sacrificial and antisacrificial, results from the Nietzschean concepts of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, characters which Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale invoke and personify. The Apollonian, which Astell equates to tales with romantic themes, and the Dionysian, which Astell equates to fabliau, sharply contrast one another throughout the other tales, but work actively with one another in the Manciple’s Tale.

            This distinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysian creates a distinction between art and nature. Astell believes that each God attempts to control some realm of art, or nature, as art is mimetic of nature. Furthermore, she believes that “the replacement of Dionysos (in the prologue) by Apollo (in the tale) shows the two gods of art to be mimetic in their rivalry to the point of interchangeability” (325). The tale even demonstrates a degree of interchangeability, as “Apollo enters the Manciple’s Tale as a romance hero,... but the tale’s plot casts him as a cuckold, the deceived husband of a fabliau” (325-6). This presents the tale as a product of earlier tales, one which refutes the previous teller’s attempts to demean each other and ends up as a “double sacrifice” (325). Astell believes this “double sacrifice” is “the destruction of art and the exile of the truth-teller as a scapegoat” (325). She also believes that the sacrifice of the truth teller as a scapegoat attempts to resolve the tale’s tension with the pilgrim audience. By metaphorically casting the Cook as Dionysus, or Apollo, the Manciple casts himself as the crow, the truth-teller exiled because he “spoke ... an unwelcome truth” (328-9). As a “god of moderation,” Apollo recognizes that he must counteract his self-conscious omniscience with Dionysian forgetfulness.

            Using the Nietzschean first principle, Astell separates Nietzsche’s mythical violent sacrifice with Chaucer’s antimythic antisacrifice. The wine offered to the Cook, in the prologue, acts as a sacrifice to Dionysus while “ the slaughter of Apollo’s wife, the breaking of his harp, and the exile of the crow are all sacrifices offered by Apollo to his own honor” (327). Apollo’s sacrifice functions to isolate himself from art in the same way that the Dionysian sacrifice functions to isolate the individual from nature, making the Cook unthinking and forgetful. Apollo’s sacrifice, as a violent one, first destroys his muse (his wife) and his art (his instruments) then finds a non-violent sacrifice by exiling the bird. Through turning the crow’s truth into a lie, Apollo attempts to maintain the “fair illusion” of his wife’s fidelity, the same way that the pilgrims attempt to maintain the “fair illusion” of their tale telling motivations, or the innocence of their art (329, 332).

            This fair illusion, on the part of Apollo, occurs because of his “aristocratic Nietzschean power to see and to name things as he wills, in accord with his illusions” (330). Therefore, for Apollo, his construction of moral good happens to be what is good for him .Astell then derives that the moral of the Manciple’s Tale is that “the speaker of truth will suffer for the moral and psychological confusions of his hearers” (332). The sacrifice of the crow separates “art from truth, aesthetics from ethics” (332-3). Through denying truth in the Manciple’s Tale, Chaucer is able to utilize truth in the Parson’s Tale. The Nietzschean denial of individuality contrasts the Chaucerian “communal experience that preserves ... the ‘I’ of the individual in ethical terms” (336). This denial of truth, in the Manciple’s Tale, and the utilization of truth, in the Parson’s Tale, allows for Chaucer’s retraction to be viewed as a humble sanctification of his true religious devotion. For Astell, the Manciple’s Tale, paired with the Parson’s Tale, creates a polar view of man’s relation to both art and to God. The sacrifice of art serves to shatter the mimesis nature by art and pays homage to God, as not art could ever recapture the beauty that he created.

            This article would prove useful in a paper contrasting fabliau with romance, as the fabliau embody a Dionysian morality and romance embodies an Apollonian morality. Through this, one could examine how the Dionysian and Apollonian, in the “Saint’s lives” tales, is penitential to God. Looking at the fabliau stereotype of the cuckolded husband, or of man’s unease toward marraige (JOE), one could use this article to show how the Dionysian is at work in times of uncertainty, as forgetfulness produces doubts and fear within and individual. One could also examine the romances, for example the Knight’s Tale, to see how the Apollonian presents itself as a product of the individual’s devotion to God. The Knight’s Tale’s mention of Apollo serves as a good starting place for examination, though the Apollonian and Dionysian do present themselves in Christian tales.

            One could also use this article in a paper analyzing Chaucer’s presentation of art and nature in the Canterbury Tales. This could examine the tale telling process as a whole and the reactions, and tales, of pilgrims in an attempt to debase other pilgrims. This paper, however, could tie in with one contrasting Chaucer’s use of fabliau and romance. The nature presented in Merchant’s Tale, Squire’s Tale, or Nun’s Priest’s Tale could be analyzed in order to determine whether Chaucer is portraying nature truthfully or untruthfully and how this reflects the Apollonian or Dionysian morality.—Jeff Judge, 4/22/05

Dugas, Don-John. “The Legitimization of Royal Power in Chaucer’s ‘Man of Law’s Tale’,” Modern Philology, 95.1 (1997), 27-43.

            Dugas begins his article by pointing out that the vast majority of criticism of the “Man of Law’s Tale” focuses on the role of Custance. He intends to look at another dimension of the story -- the tale as a “ ‘plot of thought’” (27). His argument is that Chaucer’s Man of Law is a royalist who uses the relatively innocuous genre of pseudo-saint’s life “as a subtle attempt by the teller to uphold kingly authority and privilege in the face of serious challenges and at a time when such advocacy could have mortal consequences” (28). To prove this, Dugas has to lay quite a bit of groundwork. He first surveys the Western tradition of translatio imperii, the creative historiography rulers back to the ancient Greeks and Romans engaged in whereby their right to power is said to have come from their descent from the great heroes of the past, who themselves were descended of the gods. He explains this by noting several early English chroniclers’ assertions that Britain was settled by Brutus, a descendent of the Trojans, just as Rome was settled by Aeneas, whose mother was the goddess Venus. He notes that English monarchs through the Tudor age used this tradition to establish their claims to the throne, hiring historians to link them with the legendary King Arthur. Dugas then considers the concept of “virtuous kingship” (31). He notes that Chaucer departs the farthest from his sources in the courtroom scenes with Alla, establishing him by the introduction of the “Britoun book, written with Evaungiles,” to be a righteous pagan who needs only the testimony of Custance to become Christian in name as well as fact (31-32). Dugas notes that there is a tradition of Western authors treating certain historical personages as precursors to Christianity, who embodied all of its precepts, yet had the misfortune to live before the coming of Christ (33). He then more closely analyzes the implication of the inclusion of a book containing Christian gospels in the hands of a pagan king. He sees its purpose, to establish Alla’s virtue and legitimacy as a ruler, as a theme repeated in the purpose of Maurice, Alla and Custance’s son. Through Alla’s sense and virtue and Custance’s Christianity and royal claim through her father, Maurice is made the next emperor of Rome (33). Thus, “the Man of Law’s retelling of this tale depicts a clear, legal, Christian succession. Such quasi-historical narrative is consistent with the practice of medieval courtly poets, historiographers, and lawmakers who refined and codified the divine origins and clear succession that are at the heart of translatio imperii” (38). Dugas then analyzes how similar rhetorical moves were made by both sides -- but especially among the royalists, among whom he would number Chaucer and his fictional lawyer -- in the struggle for power between Richard II and his rebelling nobles. The author even sees parallels between Richard and Maurice. Therefore, he concludes, “by eliding the historical and the fictional, the Man of Law assures his audience that at the heart of the (largely unknown) Anglo-Saxon past is a proper, ‘instinctive’ Christianity, a stable marriage, a legitimate heir who is crowned emperor, and a secure aristocratic lineage that returns to England symbolically in the form of Christianity” (42).

            Dugas’ argument is complex, and covers a lot of ground. The sections on the tradition of translatio imperii and the Britoun Book were well laid out, managing to give the necessary amount of background information without sacrificing attention to his application of those ideas extremely nicely. He firmly establishes Chaucer’s work within the traditions and identifies where and why he makes his departures from them. For these areas, the arguments are easy to follow, and quite logically sound. For the section on virtuous kings, there seems to be a bit of a leap between establishing Alla as an example of this tradition and the importance of his son for England. Dugas does attempt to deal with this issue, explicitly stating that such a disconnect apparently exists, but his resolution is not entirely convincing. He seems to want Maurice to play too many roles: Richard II in England, and Charlemagne in Rome. The latter role, he says, accounts for the transition between Alla and the contemporary, Christian, English monarch. He does show that there are some parallels between Maurice and the first Holy Roman Emperor (primarily that both are crowned by popes), but how this relates at all to the contemporary British political system -- or its recent past -- is left a bit hazy. This gap is important, because the whole of the translatio imperii tradition depends on the ability to establish a direct line of descent. If Maurice goes to Rome never to return, crown or no crown, he is of little use to the Man of Law in trying to deal with the current English predicament, even allegorically.

            This thesis certainly has important implications for the relationship of the Man of Law’s character to his tale. The two seem a bit incongruous otherwise. If Dugas is right, is the Man of Law the only character with a political agenda? And what would motivate the Man of Law to tell such a tale, considering his audience? If he is trying to make a political statement, albeit in a veiled way, what effect does he think (or hope) it will have on such a mixed group, including women, peasants, and clergy -- groups which are supposed at least in theory to be removed from the affairs of princes? His moral -- especially through the impressive invocation of translatio imperii -- may be intended to awe some of the peasants back into their proper places, and would likely find favor with the Knight -- whose Theseus is very similar to Alla, especially as an example of the virtuous pagan king. But if they truly understood the point he is trying to make, certainly some of the pilgrims would object. Given the changing economic and political situations of the era, the guildsmen might have taken issue with the Man of Law’s thesis. Perhaps their lack of interjection (at any point) may indicate either that Dugas is incorrect, or that his theory holds, but the guildsmen failed to understand the true import of the tale, so cleverly was it disguised. And the Wife of Bath, railing against authority (and eager to hear her own voice), might well have jumped in, if only to annoy the men who thought women should stay away from politics. Dugas’ theory raises several interesting lines of interpretive inquiry, although it seems that if Chaucer was using the tale in this way, it was to vent either his frustration at the challenges to Richard II or the Man of Law’s, as the argument does not initially appear to be taken up by other tellers. If further examination concludes that only the Man of Law is concerned with this issue, it might indicate that his tale is in some sense a failure, because it does not manage to fully engage its audience. ~Jessie Dixon, 4/22/05

Georgiana, Linda.  “The Clerk’s Tale and the Grammar of Assent.”  Speculum 70 (4): 1995.  793-821.

            Georgiana takes another look at the peculiar language of the Clerk’s Tale, paying attention to semantics with the same approach and attention to detail as Robert Finnegan (“’She should have said no to Walter’, 1995) and Donald Green (“"The Semantics of Power: 'Maistrie' and 'Soveraynetee' in 'The Canterbury Tales.'", 1986).  Her focus starts with the term ‘avysement’, the usage of which she catalogues for several tales (Melibee, Merchant’s Tale, and finally Clerk’s Tale).  She states, “In all of these tales prudent discretion or its lack is the distinguishing feature of the tales’ major characters” (795).  Honing on the Clerks’s Tale, she argues that Walter, at the beginning of the tale, acts quite unadvisedly, paying attention only to hunting.  The people intercede, advising Walter to marry in order to produce an heir and ease their anxiety.  The act of advising is essentially political, based on rationality and seeking to produce the most prized result.  Walter chooses Griselda because of her virtue (a carefully ‘advised’ act), which the people praise—just as they later denounce the arbitrary, cruel treatment of Walter towards Griselda and his children.

            She later states that there are “…clear narrative parallels between Griselda’s submissive behavior and that of Walter’s people,” pointing to the fact that Griselda’s assent to Walter’s marriage contract is phrased politically (797).  She agrees to Walter much like a vassal who pledges homage or featly to his lord, and it is precisely this act that unravels Griselda’s character.  By agreeing to something before hearing the terms, Griselda is denying herself the chance for advisement.  Her assent is, “…more immediate and less prudent in any practical sense,” (803). 

            Walter is given the ability to act like a God in his moral testing, and Griselda has already given her assent to comply.  Georgiana argues, then, that her ‘assent’ becomes the most important attribute of her character.  “Griselda’s character does not develop…What do change, however, are the demands made upon her assent, which make its absoluteness increasingly difficult to explain in terms of politics, morality, or any other rationalized social practice” (808).  According to Georgiana, Chaucer does not seek to explain or elicit sympathy for Griselda, but to point to the fact that she acts without advisement, or discretion.

            This article points again to how important language is to the Canterbury Tales, which is essentially filled with tales about tale telling.  Each pilgrim tells a tale, and through their language seeks to convey a certain moral, or elicit a certain response from another pilgrim.  It is interesting to consider the effect of careful advisement in terms of tale telling.  Allison’s misquoting of ancient texts, for example, could be horribly unadvised in terms of the irresponsibility of fraudulently upholding her argument with fabrications.  Or, conversely, she could be considered well advised, by making her sources fit her argument.  Also her tale is explicitly advising all the male Canterbury Pilgrims by instructing their behavior, and this could be the reason Allison is so dangerous to the Clerk and Pardoner.—Joe Turner, 4/24/05

Spring 2003

Rose, Christine M.  “Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale: Teaching Through the Sources.”  College Literature 28 no2 155-77.  Online.  Wilson Web.  2001

            Summary: The author’s argument in this article is that the “Man of Law’s Tale” in Canterbury Tales is easier to understand when Chaucer’s sources for the basis of the tale are considered and compared to the changes that he made.

            In this article, Rose points out that many people, upon first reading the “Man of Law’s Tale” are confused as to what its point is.  Being a teacher of the text herself, Rose explains that she teachers it as a tale about the ideal Christian woman of Chaucer’s society.  Using the texts that Chaucer borrowed from to obtain the basis for his tale, Rose backs up her argument effectively.  She lists some of these texts, but focuses mainly on Nicholas Trevet’s Les Cronicles.

                        Trevet’s character in Les Cronicles is called Constaunce, a name similar to Chaucer’s Custance.  Trevet’s Constaunce, however, is nothing like Chaucer’s Custance in personality.  While Trevet focuses on her intelligence and wit, Chaucer references the Virgin Mary and makes Custance passive and compliant.  Similar circumstances occur to each of these characters, but their ways of handling them differ as much as their personalities.  The mother-in-laws of the girls are shown differently in each version as well, while Trevet shows reasons why these women dislike their daughter-in-law, Chaucer completely leaves this point out, preferring to let the teller of the tale, the Man of Law, berate them for their behavior. 

            Rose mentions other works that Chaucer obtained the basis of this tale from, but none in as great detail as with Trevet.  Her argument is effective regardless, with well-presented information to back up her claims.  She uses the passages from each work wisely, letting them reflect off the other, which clearly allows her readers to see the similarities and the differences in each.  With the other works Chaucer used in this tale (such as Gower’s Confessio Amantis, and Boccaccio’s Decameron) mentioned briefly, it’s a very successful argument.--Beth Robson, 2-22-03  

Burakov, Olga. “Chaucer’s 'The Cook’s Tale'.” Explicator 61:1 (Fall 2002) 2-5.

        Burakov explores the Biblical element present in "The Cook’s Tale." She points to a lack of scholarly analyses of this tale, except for those examining Chaucer’s reason for leaving it incomplete, or those interpreting it “within a unified framework of Fragment A view the tale as a final stage in a ‘degenerative movement’ that governs the whole fragment.” I have no idea what this means but she also attributes the shortage of interpretation of the tale to an inaccurate understanding of its importance when examined through the proper “lens,” which she claims is the book of Genesis. Specifically, Burakov compares apprentice Perkyn Revelour’s path to banishment from the bakery by his master to Adam’s “trajectory” from Eden by God (2).
        Burakov begins with the "Cook’s Prologue" in support of her argument. Her first biblical connection is the Cook’s reference to “Salamon.” Burakov claims this reference implicitly acknowledges the biblical sage’s “authority” and “advocat[es] his wisdom” (2). Secondly, Burakov claims that the Cook’s “def[iance]” of Harry Bailly’s authority over the pilgrims, which occurs as he states the purpose of his tale, reflects Adam’s rebellion against God in eating the forbidden fruit. In addition to the Cook’s act of rebellion in the prologue, Burakov alligns Perkyn Revelour’s sin of “pursui[ng] pleasure” such as partaking in “dys, riot or paramour” (1.4392), with Adam’s irresistible attraction to the wrong fruit. (2). Furthermore, Burakov compares the shop (in which Perkyn is apprentice) with the Garden of Eden, his “godlike” and “anonymous” master with the God of Genesis (3), and a proverb mentioning a rotten apple with the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Lastly, Burakov associates Perkyn’s prostitute roommate with Eve, pointing out that each is a “fallen” woman (4).
        Although portions of Burakov’s analysis seem weak, this article is useful because if offers an interpretation of the tale other than a focus on its incompleteness. A few of the areas she explores beg for further interpretation. Her reference to the apple as a symbol of “decay and mortality” perhaps has been examined more thoroughly somewhere else, but if not, offers a jumping off place for a more thorough analysis. Secondly, a possible connection to "The Knight’s Tale" is found in Burakov’s reference to Perkyn Revelour’s “relentless pursuit of pleasure” (2). I’m reminded of our class discussion pertaining to the myth of the Minotaur, the labryinth and the pursuit of human pleasure. Interestingly, Burakov dares to step into the forbidden world of utilizing the Bible as a primary reference tool for interpretation of a text written during a time in which Christianity dominated society. With that in mind, because this tale contains a direct reference to King Solomon, a comparison of his book of proverbs compared to the tale could prove interesting. - Pamela Flowers * 22 February 2003

Robertson Jr., D. W. The Probable Date and Purpose of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. Studies in Philology 84 (1987): 418, 22p. EBSCOhost: Academic Search Elite: MLA International Bibliography. Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College. 22 February 2003.

D. W. Robertson, Jr.’s examination of the character of the Knight, using both the "General Prologue" and "Knight’s Tale," leans heavily on historical criticism to explain Chaucer’s palette and intentions. This serves Robertson’s main thesis well, which involves dating the writing of the tale. Along the way, he presents some interesting insights into the construction of the tale and the tale cycle, the characterization of the Knight, and the intentions of Chaucer as author.

Almost half of Robertson’s paper is a "brief chronicle" to explain the religious and military politics of the Crusades, paying particular attention to Philippe de Mézières and his Order of the Passion. The chronicle also serves to link Chaucer to a number of knights, whom Robertson will later link to in battles where the Knight is reported to have fought. Robertson also links Chaucer to a number of influential thinkers, whose philosophies on knighthood, statehood and the function of literature Robertson will later claim have some bearing on the descriptions of the Knight, the KT or the Canterbury Tales generally. This functions as an important and useful background for his main thesis, though it brings forward no original ideas.

Robertson bills this article as the first in a series of articles to address the KT. This first should concentrate, he says, on the Knight’s description in the GP, leaving interpretation of the KT for later papers. He explores the various connotations of the general descriptors attributed to the Knight: "worthy," "truth," "sovereign excellence," "humility," "meek," "gentil." He makes brief mention of the Knight’s modest dress and entourage. Robertson devotes a great deal of space to the battles in which the Knight has fought, pointing out various knights contemporary to Chaucer and with whom he was possibly or probably acquainted. This is where Robertson may stray a bit too far into historical criticism, suggesting that Chaucer created a "composite" Knight modeled on these individual knights. However, Robertson’s analysis of which battles are evident and conspicuously absent allows him to date the KT with quite firm conviction between "the death of Queen Anne in the summer of 1394" and "the defeat at Nicopolis in September 1396." The major flaw I see in his argument lies in the position of the Riverside Chaucer that the KT was originally written for The Legend of Good Women (1386-88), the prologue of which mentions Palamon and Arcite. Also, Robertson himself admits that the GP is thought to have been composed between 1384 and 1389; the Knight is so tightly woven into the GP, as well as the subsequent tales, as to make it hard to believe that he would have been created a full decade later and doctored into the GP.

While Robertson does focus on the descriptors attributed to the Knight in the GP, he tends to stray into long asides on KT interpretations. What is particularly maddening is the way Robertson does not fully develop these theories, many of which could be short papers in their own right. He suggests, for example, that the politically motivated marriage of Palamon and chaste Emelye, intended to restore order between Thebes and Athens, may have been a gentle nudge for Richard to marry Isabel, the six year old princess of France, and restore relations between England and France. He makes a far briefer supposition that "The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale" may have been intended for a very different audience, as adding this character does not require additions to the GP.--Maryah Converse, 2-22-03

Green, Richard Firth.  "Chaucer's Man of Law and Collusive Recovery."  Notes and Queries.  40:3 (September 1993) 303-6.

Green focuses on three lines in Chaucer's description of the Man of Law:

So greet a purchasour was nowher noon:

Al was fee symple to hym in effect;

His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.

In particular, Green focuses on the phrase "fee symple," explaining its meaning and significance in the context of medieval property laws.  Chaucer's use of this phrase suggests that the Man of Law is dishonest.

In medieval England, a variety of laws and customs existed to control the transferral of property.  For example, when a person transferred property, he had the option of restricting that property with a "fee tail."  This restriction required the new owner to pass on the property to one of his descendants.  If he failed to do so, the property returned to the original owner or his heirs.  In contrast, the "fee simple" allowed the new owner to do just about anything he wanted to with the property.

English landowners, of course, developed ways to get around the fee tail, giving themselves the rights of fee simple through underhand dealings.  Breaking entails was common and acknowledged practice.  For Chaucer to say of the Man of Law that "al was fee symple to hym in effect"--if not in legal reality--suggests that the character participated in such dealings.  This would explain how he could be "so greet a purchasour" of land.  Considering England's legal system and the illegal methods common at the time, Green's interpretation of Chaucer's description of the Man of Law seems valid.

            Understanding his legal background is necessary to understanding a "Man of Law."  Green's description of England's complicated legal system is clear and concise, and he scatters it with quaint excerpts from actual legal documents.  (On a note of interest, anyone who thinks modern legal documents are long-winded should take a look at Green's quotation from the "preamble to a Statue of Richard II").  Green's interpretation of the Man of Law also challenges the more traditional view of the character as an honest man, bringing strong evidence to his case.—Shuli Bloomensteil, 2-23-03

Beidler, Peter G. “The Price of Sex in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale.The Chaucer Review Vol. 31, No. 1 (1996).

             Beidler’s article begins with a question critics have pondered for many years: What is the current monetary value of the 100 francs presented in The Shipman’s Tale?  In his article, Beidler refers to past articles in which conclusions ranging from $3,000 to $40,000 American dollars were found depending on the year written.  Beidler pulls the question further, showing its importance.  If 100 francs is a small amount of money, the Merchant’s Wife is portrayed as a victim of stinginess and cruelty.  If 100 francs is a tremendous amount, it portrays the Merchant’s Wife as a spend thrifty, materialistic woman.  The articles purpose continues to reveal itself as Beidler refers to past articles that argued the 100 francs was a small amount of money.  Through internal, economical, and comparative evidence, Beidler examines the many methods of discovering his desired, elusive answer and disproving his predecessors.  Beidler uses articles and contacts in the fields of history, economics, and literature to discover a rate of exchange.   He clearly believes that 100 francs in 1385 was a large sum of money, however he fails to find a concrete rate of exchange.  Like articles of the past, Beidler’s findings range from $4,000 to a drastic $80,000 American dollars.  However, unlike articles of the past Beidler finds that 100 francs was a large sum of money.  Historically, 100 francs could have purchased 500 gallons of wine, 50 swords, or 111 pounds of basil in 1385.  When compared to Chaucer’s source, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Beidler discovers that Baccaccio’s tale used 200 florins, worth over 150 francs.  Therefore, he determines that Chaucer lowered the sum of money to make the tale less outlandish while maintaining the large cost.

            Although Beidler fails to find a concrete rate of exchange for Chaucer’s 100 francs, he does prove the price’s large sum.  Therefore, the article does not prove anything, but does disprove previous arguments.  His methods are all concrete as well as his sources, proving the thesis soundly.  Surprisingly, the historical, literary, and economical sources flow together nicely, maintaining a fluid structure throughout the article.  Beidler’s strongest counter arguments lie in his historical and comparative evidence, for he admits early in the article that finding an economical answer is virtually impossible.  This economical point, however, is crucial to Beidler’s argument.  All in all, this article is an absolute success, diving deep into the literary work, the history surrounding it, and the economics of medieval society.--Brandon Arvesen, 2-23-03

Parry, Joseph D.  “Interpreting Female Agency and Responsibility in The Miller’s Tale and The Merchant’s Tale.”  Philological Quarterly 80 no2.  133-67.  Online.  Wilson Web.  2001

Summary:  The author’s point in this article is that Chaucer portrays conflicting views of women in The Miller’s and the Merchant’s Tales.  He also questions female agency and responsibility.

            The argument the author is trying to convey in this article is unclear, if there is one.  Parry makes his points clearly, but doesn’t always stand by them, having a tendency to make a point and then point out that the exact opposite can be true.  One example of this could be on the second page of the article, where he tries to back up a point with the statement: “into the ways in which women thereby are or are not fully part…” There are numerous points in the article where Parry does this, causing his point to be less effective than it could be.  The article focuses on the opposing characteristics in each of the female characters in both Tales, and the fact that neither female is punished for their crimes against their husbands.  Parry points out that unlike the females, the male characters in these tales are punished for their mistakes, and the fact that their female counterparts are not causes confusion in the text.  He doesn’t consider that perhaps the female characters are already being punished with their husbands.  Both May and Alisoun are married to husbands much older than they are, something that would cause most young women to act out, which they do.  They have already earned their punishment, for they are both still married to the same men, the only thing that has changed is that they have now earned their punishment. 

            The female characters are focus of each of these Tales, and perhaps Chaucer focuses so much on the conflicting aspects of their personalities to make them more human, for the men are already taken as human by the readers.  During Chaucer’s time, women were not treated with the same courtesies that men were, so if they were shown as people that reacted to things the way a man would, they might be seen as more human. --Beth Robson, 2-28-03

McKinley, Kathryn L. “The Silenced Knight: Questions of Power and Reciprocity in The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review      Vol 30, No. 4 (1996)

            McKinley aims to argue some feminist readings often associated with The Wife of Bath’s Tale.  She mainly draws her argument against the largely accepted feminist criticism that claims the tale’s ending contradicts its message and silences women.  This article says the tale gives authority to women and silences the Knight (men), and proceeds to explain that Chaucer was negotiating questions of power and reciprocity in marriage.  McKinley focuses on three areas: the hag’s pillow speech, thematic juxtapositions, and binary oppositions within the tale.  Many feminist critics believe the hag’s speech is disconcerting after the Wife of Bath’s list of conquests in her prologue.  However, McKinley argues that like Ovid, Chaucer uses dramatic juxtaposition of theme differences to prove a point.  These binaries begin during the hag’s speech, during which Chaucer jumps from humor to post-marriage gloom over the course of a few lines.  By the end of the tale, McKinley argues, the established binaries show themes in marriage.  The Knight has changed from a rapist to one capable of self-sacrifice and powerless (after his crime) to the acceptance of mutual power.  This creates a sense of radical freedom won through personal cost, and confirms the will of the hag over the Knight.  Thereby showing the silencing of the Knight and men, not women.

            McKinley begins her argument rather slowly, wasting many lines on what should have been a synopsis on her opposition.  Once the lengthy review of popular feminist criticism on the Wife of Bath’s Tale has passed, McKinley begins her argument and thus her article begins to shine.  With precise quotations and textual references, McKinley easily argues against her other feminist critics and clearly explains her point.  The article conveniently ignores certain facts, however, to consistently prove its point.  For example, McKinley ignores the fact that the woman the Knight rapes is left without retribution.  In brief, McKinley proves her point but fails to accept the entire text she works with.--Brandon Arvesen, 2-28-03

Klitgård, Ebbe. "‘Dreme he barefoot, dreme he shod’: Chaucer as a Performer of Dream Visions." English Studies. 81 (2000): 506, 7p. EBSCOhost: Academic Search Elite: MLA International Bibliography. Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College. 27 February 2003.

While this article is not Canterbury scholarship in that it concentrates on the narrative voice in Chaucer’s earlier works, the conclusions drawn by Klitgård can be extended to shed light on Canterbury Tales, particularly the GP. The title quotation is drawn from Chaucer’s House of Fame and indicates "a playful and humorous distinction between dreaming a-night (barefoot) and daydreaming (with one’s shoes on)" in the otherwise serious opening that invokes the sleep god Morpheus. This quote illustrates the down-to-earth and familiarizing voice of Chaucer, which Klitgård indicates is particularly suited to performance poetry.

Klitgård contends that Chaucer is "developing a new vernacular rhetoric" in more ways than simply to use "naked wordes in Englissh" instead of Latin or French, as Chaucer tells his son in A Treatise on Astrolabe. While Chaucer is certainly making a conscious effort to establish himself as a learned man, Klitgård cautions against the "illusion of allusions" (a phrase borrowed from A.C. Spearing). Unlike a work like Joyce’s Ulysses, Chaucer is not writing poetry that requires prior knowledge, i.e. not alluding to, but "appropriating" from the "sweep of international rhetoric" and translating that rhetoric into the English vernacular. To this end, he develops a distinctive set of Chaucerian personae with which his audience can relate, and employs a conversational tone full of "that is to seyn" and "I had red" to make his work more accessible to the listener/reader.

This observation brings to mind the Knight’s Tale and the narrative voice of the Knight. He breaks into his tale repeatedly to abridge a long section of the Boccaccio or relate the tale to his own experience. Particularly pertinent is the passage where he invokes his listeners’ culture, saying that any English knight worth his salt would have gone to the tournament in Athens. We also see him weaving in Boethian rhetoric, in plain English, to illustrate and explain his points. It is easy to see, based on Klitgård’s argument, how Chaucer could have taken the lessons he had learned in creating personae for himself and applied them directly to the Knight as a storyteller. It raises the question for me as to whether this might indicate a particular sympathy on Chaucer’s part for the Knight and the old chivalric code that represents.--Maryah Converse, 3-3-03

Ashton, Gail. “Patient Mimesis: Griselda and The Clerk’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review Vol. 32, No. 3 (1998) 

            Ashton presents an article in which she discusses an oddly pro-feminist outlook on Griselda and The Clerk’s Tale.  She claims that through narration gaps and blank silences, Chaucer’s female audience hears Griselda articulate her own identity and women’s identity in a patriarchal society.  Medieval society, Ashton explains, desired silent, passive, and withdrawn women; making emotional concealment the ideal.  The article aims to prove Griselda’s suffering and ideal femininity combine to resist masculine oppression through silence and patience.  Silence provides secret self-nurturing in Griselda, and therefore gives her a hidden sense of self.  According to Ashton, Griselda uses mimesis to resists and refuse conformity through passivity and an active yet covert defiance of masculine law.  She reflects the ideal, but is not reduced by it.  Griselda’s outward patience is deceptive, she reminds Walter (her husband) of her patience and uses it to end his cruelty.  Ashton proves that Griselda uses mimesis to survive: she can undermine herself and resist appropriation.--Brandon Arvesen, 3/3/03

Beidler, Peter G.  "Fire in the House: Ralph Waldo Emerson's Misreading of Lines 1139-45 in Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale."  The Chaucer Review 37.1 (2002) 86-94

In this article, Beidler takes issue with Emerson's interpretation of several lines in the "Wife of Bath's Tale" in Canterbury Tales.  These are the lines Emerson seems to misinterpret:

"Take fire and bere it into the derkest hous
Betwix this and the mount of Caucasus,
And let men shette the dores, and go thenne,
Yet wol the fire as faire lie and brenne
As twenty thousand men might it behold;
His office naturel ay wol it hold.
Up peril of my lif, til that it die."

The gentleman's old wife is chastising him for degrading her for her lack of "gentility."  She maintains that true gentility should be determined by one's actions, not one's background.  Her reason for this belief is that one of gentle birth may still act in an "ung-gentle," vicious manner.  One can only be considered noble on basis of one's "gentle," virtuous actions.  She gives the knight an analogy to explain this idea: A fire left to burn in a house, alone, behind a closed door, burns just the same as it would before twenty thousand men.

Emerson completely misinterprets these lines.  He takes them out of context and uses them in an essay on symbolism in poetry, saying that Chaucer is praising gentleness in these lines, and comparing fire to "good blood in a mean condition."  Beidler accuses Emerson of paraphrasing Chaucer's words to fit Emerson's worldview and intentions in the essay.  Beidler notes that Emerson did not have access to modern, extensive translations of Chaucer's works; however, he claims that Emerson would have had access to a glossary whose translations should have made the meaning of these lines clear.  Beidler goes on to make a general statement about Chaucer's readers, saying that many readers have transformed Chaucer's meanings "through creative paraphrase."  Beidler's critical view is a caution to readers to assess Chaucer's works honestly and accurately, without falling prey to Emerson's mistakes.--Shuli Bloomensteil, 3/3/03

Goodall, Peter. “Being Alone in Chaucer.” The Chaucer Review 27:1 (1992) 1-15.

While this article does not concentrate on Canterbury Tales exclusively, Goodall examines instances in Chaucer’s works in which “the activity of being alone or the access to solitude” is different or similar to its modern usage.  In the first two sections of the article, Goodall points out differences concerning privacy between the Middle Ages and the modern era. He explains that the most common use of solitude in Chaucer’s work is in the “courtly context of the lover seeking privacy in order to lament his misfortunes” as in Book I of Troilus and Criseyde. He writes, “We find Troilus ‘bywayling in his chamber thus allone’” (547). Goodall speaks to a lack of privacy in the Middle Ages regardless of one’s social standing. He claims solitude was not a desirable state and was often seen as an “unnatural condition to be remedied.” Hence, bedrooms especially were not private chambers. In the second section, Goodall associates solitude with the Middle English term “prive” meaning “secret” and its often sexual, and usually negative, connotation. He refers to Nicholas’ grab at Alison’s “queinte,” a move made “prively” by Nicholas, as evidence for this point. In Goodall’s third section, he looks at those applications of “privy” which coincide with today’s meaning of “in private” or “confidential.” He offers the prologue to the Cook’s Tale, in which “pryvetee” indicates “home” as example. Finally, Goodall sees “ ‘pryvetee,’ in the sense of secret knowledge as well as personal privacy, [as] one of the major…themes of the First Fragment.

Goodall’s thesis can be tested against many of the tales. A search in the Chaucer concordance reveals five instances of the word “alone” and six for “privily” in the Man of Law’s Tale alone. It would also be interesting to create a list of binary opposites utilizing Goodall’s terms as a jumping off point. Lastly, Goodall refers to Cook’s Tale as an example for “pryvetee” meaning “home.” However, while it certainly does mean home, in the context of the bawdy tale he has just heard, the Cook certainly implies a sexual and negative interpretation.--Pam Flowers, 3/3/03

Burger, Douglas A.  “Deluding Words in The Merchant’s Tale.”  Chaucer Review 12.2 (1977): 103-8.

The words used in the Merchant’s Tale of Canterbury Tales conceal the truth, pointing out a large contrast between fantasy and reality.  They provide an illusion for what is really taking place.  Burger uses examples from the text to point out that a third of the tale is taken up by speeches and apostrophes that serve to strengthen Januarie’s mental constructions of marital life (in the beginning of the tale) and make him easier to deceive.  It’s a suitable way for the Merchant to tell his tale, considering his own grasp on words and reality mentioned in the General Prologue.  For a man who can’t always depend on his profession to support him, it’s suitable indeed.

This argument made a great deal of sense, and it was sufficiently backed up with examples from the text.  Some of the points in the argument sounded like something that could be applied to a Shakespearian work as well, especially when Burger asserts that Januarie is using the elaborate word structure used in the first part of the tale to create his own fantasy of May.  It is very similar to the Taming of the Shrew, where Lucentio falls in love with the idea of Bianca, and discovers she is a different person than he thought she was at the close of the play.  This almost becomes true in the Merchant’s Tale, but Januarie allows words to ‘blind’ him again, in this case May’s.

Even when Januarie tells his friends of his decision to get married and asks their opinions, he doesn’t really listen to them unless they suit him.  Placebo has such an opinion, or rather, lack of one, since he is simply agreeing with Januarie.  But when Justinus offers his opinion, Januarie discards his advice and goes to marry May anyway.  Januarie has already been blinded by love, and it will take a much larger force than the tale has to offer to make him ‘see’ again.--Beth Robson, 4-4-03

Tkacz, Catherine Brown. "Samson and Arcite in the Knight's Tale." Chaucer Review. 25 (1990): 127-37.

Tkacz's article picks up on Arcite's vow to cut his hair as an adumbration of his demise and a comparison to biblical Samson. She suggests that Chaucer is not only merging three common conceits concerning Samson, but also elaborating and rearranging Boccaccio's original to extend the Samson metaphor.

She begins by reviewing other examples of the use of Samson in literature contemporary to Chaucer and in Chaucer’s own works. There are three dominant tropes: Samson as the fool for love, Samson as the strong man overcome by love and the psychomachia of his relationship to Delilah. Unique to Chaucer is a repeating trope of Samson as committing suicide. Significantly, Samson is often paired with wise Solomon or strong Hercules as biblical examples of hubris, including in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue (ln. 679, 721-3, 724-7), the Monk’s Tale (ln. 3205-3332, 3274-6), the Man of Law’s Tale (ln. 201) the Pardoner’s conclusion (ln. 955). Then Tkacz explains that Chaucer not only elaborated but has actually significantly rearranged the Boccaccian ‘original’ in tercia pars. Where Boccaccio "narrated each individual prayer—beginning with Arcite’s—and then the journey of the personified prayer to the [Olympian] temple of the god whose aid was sought," Chaucer describes the temples on earth, then the tournament knights, then the prayers, with Arcite’s saved for last to lead into the scene with Saturn. Tkacz continues with a close reading of the details in Chaucer’s descriptions. In Venus’s temple, Solomon and Hercules are mentioned, and Samson is conspicuously absent. In the temple of Mars are both a suicide victim and a barber, as well as significant architecture: mighty pillars like those that slew Samson. When Arcite makes his vow, these pillars shake, as the lists also shake when Theseus proclaims Arcite as victor. By putting Arcite’s prayer last, she notes, Chaucer brings him closer to the argument of the gods, in which Saturn mentions being the god who killed Samson. Finally, she points out that Arcite is different from Samson in that he never has the love of Emelye and has, finally, deceived himself. She relates this to a work published around the time of Chaucer’s birth, Guillame de Deguileville’s Le Pelerinage de la vie humaine, which Chaucer uses in An ABC. In de Deguileville’s poem, Samson represents the body and Delilah the soul, and "the individual person is a Samson, who ought to avoid being a Delilah to himself."

I found Tkacz’s argument to be beautifully tight. I was impressed at how many details she found in Knight’s Tale to corroborate the Samson-Arcite parallel. It only emphasizes how incredibly tight this tale is, which to me lends credence to my suggestion in my short paper that all the Knight’s interjections are more than mere pleonasm. Also, Tkacz drew my attention to the use of architecture in Canterbury Tales. It is a detail to which I hadn’t paid close attention, so she’s given me a new angle from which to read some of the other tales as well.--Maryah Converse, 4/12/03

Boenig, Robert.  “The Pardoner's Hypocrisy and His Subjectivity.”  ANQ 13.4 (2000): 9-15.

This article argues that the Pardoner is not the hypocrite that he claims he is in the Prologue to his Tale, but instead uses his tale to parody the Wife of Bath.  Boenig offers a description of hypocrisy first, using a fourteenth century preacher’s manual.  He points out that according to the definition, a hypocrite is one that “moves his lips” in false holiness, and “dissolves into laughter” after their performance.  The movement of the Pardoner’s lips at the beginning of his Prologue are not in false holiness, but an admittance of his hypocrisy.  There is also no laughter at the close of his Tale, but instead, the Pardoner falls into silence. 

The general opinion of critics is to agree with the Pardoner’s opinion of himself, and think of him as a hypocrite.  Boenig points out that Chaucer would have known the definition of hypocrite, since he explains it in connection to the Seven Deadly Sins in the Parson’s Tale.  If Chaucer is well-aware of the meaning, it wouldn’t make sense for him to simply write the Pardoner as a character that is taken at face value, as many of the critics have.  Boenig then asserts his argument by giving several examples of the similarities between the Pardoner’s Tale and that of the Wife of Bath.

From the constant references to Kittredge, another critic, Boenig’s argument is not the accepted one, but a new perspective on an older opinion.  Boenig does not claim to be right in his article, but lets his points speak for him, and he makes valid points.  The similarities between the Pardoner’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s are not hard to find, which makes the argument more plausible, since it doesn’t feel like the author had to stretch very hard to make his claims.  The image of the Pardoner that the reader is left with, if this argument holds, is much less stable than earlier arguments have left him.  Boenig asserts that we would be left with more of a sketch rather than an actual presence of him if this argument were to be applied. --Beth Robson, 4/13/03

Finnegan, Robert Emmett. "‘She Should Have Said No to Walter’: Griselda’s Promise in the Clerk’s Tale." English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature. 75 (1994): 303-21.

Concentrating on the first two tests of Griselda’s patience, the abduction of her children, Finnegan makes a close semantic study of the language of promise in The Clerk’s Tale. He begins by using the MED to construct careful definitions of ‘assenten’ and ‘consenten,’ determining the former to be ‘agreeing to’ something and the latter as ‘agreeing with’ something. When Walter proposes to Griselda, he asks for her ‘assent’ to all his requests, i.e. that "nevere ye to grucche it, nyght ne day? / And eek when I sey ‘ye’, ne sey nat ‘ney’, / Neither by word ne frownyng contenance?" When Griselda goes a step further and promises never to disobey him even in thought, Finnegan concludes that she has moved clearly into the region of ‘consent,’ i.e. agreeing with Walter, not just agreeing to his orders. Finnegan’s analysis concludes that Griselda also ‘consents’ to the (as far as she knows) murder of her children and becomes accomplice to it. He uses nine sources previous to Chaucer’s time, including Thomas Aquinas and John Wycliffe, to show that even the most prominent theologians believed that, however grave the giving of an oath was considered, it was a graver fault to hold to an oath that leads one into committing mortal sin. This is, for Finnegan, another point against Griselda. Then he turns to Lenvoy de Chaucer where a narrator cautions the audience that "No wedded man so hardy be t’assaille / His wyves pacience in trust to fynde / Grisildis." Finnegan uses the MED to construct a definition of ‘assaillen’ (and, he argues, its variant form ‘assaien’) as an assault and attempted destruction of Griselda’s patience. On hand of a number of examples from the tale, Finnegan goes so far as to say that Walter’s assault is evil, and as such, Griselda is consenting to, i.e. agreeing with, evil. Thus Griselda’s virtue has been corrupted, and once corrupted, like a coin bent in testing it for assurance of its composition, this virtue is forever negated. Finnegan concludes that, "[r]eally, Griselda should have listened to Aquinas. She should have said no to Walter."

This is an interesting piece, linguistically at the very least, but quite esoteric, and perhaps a little too reductive. At times it seems that Finnegan is just trying to find another reason to justify his dislike of Griselda. Where this subject could become truly interesting might be in applying the same semantic issues to the Friar’s Tale and analyzing the degree of sincerity of speech there, or exploring how the Clerk’s use of ‘assenten’ and ‘consenten’ might dialogue with the Friar’s Lollardist theme (at least in those tale orders where the Clerk follows the Friar).--Maryah Converse, 4/13/03

Sayers, William.  "Chaucer's Shipman and the Law Marine."  The Chaucer Review 37.2 (2002) 145-158.

Sayers pulls a lot of important lines out of the Shipman's tale and explains what they mean and why they are significant, placing them in the broader context of Chaucer's society, maritime law, and Chaucer's own profession as a customs officer.  (A customs officer was an individual appointed by the government to supervise trading and apprehend smugglers.  They weren't too successful--the customs officers, that is.  The smugglers were generally quite successful!)  He first treats the term "Shipman" (l 388).  The term could refer to either a captain or a sailor, so Chaucer's use of the word is ambiguous.  Good old Harry Baily clarifies the Shipman's status when he refers to him as a "ship's master" (Sayers 145).  Sayers inserts and translates direct quotations from documents such as the Roles d'Oleron and the Oak Book of Southampton, both legal works setting down the laws having to do with sailing ships.  The quotations he chooses describe the role of the captain and elucidate further points as he brings them into his article.

Sayers explains that "wonynge fer be weste" hints that the Shipman is a smuggler, since the western coast was a common site for smuggling.  This is only one hint of many that the Shipman is a smuggler.  Interestingly, Chaucer seems determined to make the reader believe that the Shipman is a good fellow, and equally determined to drop hints that he is not!  Apparently, he wants to make us wonder.

Sayers explains some other lines, such as the strange word "lodemenage" (l 403), which is usually translated as "skill in navigation" (Sayers 152).  Sayers gives an etymological analysis of the word, tracing it back to Norman French and through a variety of other languages.  He identifies the places mentioned in the line "noon swich from Hulle to Cartage" (l 404), pointing out that the Shipman's travels spanned from Hull in Yorkshire to Cartagena in Spain.  As a side-note Sayers also pulls in an interesting comparison between the Shipman and the Knight.--Shuli Bloomensteil, 4/14/03

Kelly, Henry Ansgar. “A Neo-Revisionist Look At Chaucer’s Nuns.” Chaucer Review 31:2 (1996): 115-132.

            Kelly claims to present a “more even-handed, eclectic, and ‘de-totalized’ account of the subject of historical and literary nuns” than other critics (115). In the first paragraph, Kelly skillfully acknowledges the “peculiar dangers” for critics in dealing with religious topics in literature because of “traditional allegiances and prejudices” (115). Not intimidated, he launches into a discussion of the inaccuracies presented by critics regarding religious figures in Chaucer’s works, particularly nuns. For example, Kelly batters the popular assumption that the “mendicant orders were in a state of decline and corruption at the end of the fourteenth century” with evidence from Swanson that claims the church, at least the English Franciscans, “did not need reform” until at least the fifteenth century. Kelly points out that reader’s “attitudes toward Chaucer’s celibate clergy and religious have been basically formed by Protestant commentators and historians” (115). He sees this as a problem because some, particularly Eileen Power who wrote Medieval English Nunneries and is considered a “main authority on nuns,” display “prejudiced views” (115).

            Then, Kelly presents roughly ten pages of information regarding nuns in Chaucer’s day. For example, the ratio of nuns to priests in Chaucer’s day compared with 1964, the inconsistent ages at which nuns took their vows and whether or not it was common for nuns to possess pets. He argues against the belief that poor women were often forced into a religious lifestyle because they were unable to offer dowries to prospective husbands. To prove this point he looks to the relatively small number of nuns in the fifteenth century presented in Philip Hughes’ The Reformation in England and Power’s book. He claims nuns “seem to have been drawn mainly from the upper classes, because of the custom of requiring ‘dowries’ from entrants” (117). In fact, Kelly claims, nuns were not forbidden possessions but such property had to be available for “use” by the nunnery and reported to the abbess. Kelley writes concerning common methods of income for nunneries such as the teaching of young children and argues strongly against some critic’s interpretation of the Prioress as a “lax and artificial nun” (126). He suggests a positive outlook on the nun and recommends weighting the opinion of medievalist Sister Mary Madeleva more heavily in order to balance Power’s opinion.

            Further, Kelly “suggest[s]” that Chaucer wrote the Prioress’s Tale first then created a character for the telling. From there, he segues into the topic of nasal singing and its “unseemliness” (127). Kelley ends his argument with his own description of how Chaucer wanted his audience to view the Prioress. He writes: “Chaucer wished her to emerge…as a religious superior who is very attentive to religious duties and to an external decorum, and whose sympathies extend to the humblest of God’s creatures” (128).

When considering the applicability of Kelly’s work for our study of CT, we must take into account his presentation of the Prioress in a radiant light, completely ignoring her divisive tale. With that in mind, it seems important to first examine Kelly’s claims for accuracy, and then if they prove true, to test some common assumptions regarding the religious figures in CT. For example, if it is true that nuns were often from upper class families we need not judge the Prioress harshly for her meticulous behaviors. In fact, this would explain her impeccable table manners. In addition, assuming the accuracy of Kelly’s statement regarding the “groundless[ness]” of critics accusation of “widespread abuse” of inattentive parsons, it seems contemporary interpretation of Chaucer’s opinion of the church requires a major readjustment. Kelly argues boldly. Although his argument appears, at a glance, to be well research, to seriously consider the potent implications of his argument a great deal of testing of his sources against the text is absolutely required.--Pam Flowers, 4/15/03

Neuse, Richard. “Marriage and the Question of Allegory in The Merchant’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review Vol. 24, No. 2 (1989): 115-131

                 The question of allegory in The Canterbury Tales has always been a provocative, seemingly answerless one.  Is each tale an allegorical one, if so how can we tell, and if not which tales are allegorical?  Richard Neuse attempts to attack these furious questions in his article, focusing mainly on The Merchant’s Tale but mentioning many others.  According to Neuse, the Clerk and Merchant’s Tales are both allegorical.  The allegory, however, is an intertextual problem.  In order to understand the allegories in either tale, Neuse argues one must have a virtual focus on the text, and an interpretation of an antecedent text.  For example, in The Clerk’s Tale the speaker retells one of Petrarch’s tales.  By the end of his tale, however, the Clerk seems to differ in opinion from Petrarch on marriage as a theme and allegory.  Neuse continues his argument, claiming unlike the Clerk, the Merchant is concerned with the institution of marriage, not the actual relationship.  This impersonal focus on marriage sets The Merchant’s Tale up for an allegorical reading.

                Neuse begins his allegorical analysis of The Merchant’s Tale with a strong structuralist view of the text.  His initial proofs are blatant but necessary, pointing out the main characters obviously allegorical names (January and May).  According to Neuse, the marriage of January and May is a seasonal mismatch of youth and age.  The Merchant mentions the specifics of his own marriage in his prologue.  Neuse claims that the Merchant (who slanders his wife vigorously) is actually looking for the cause of his failed marriage.  The Merchant clearly blames his wife, but is most likely covering up his inability to speak his own sorrow.  The tale itself fits the Merchant’s search because it investigates the institution of marriage.  However, the Merchant lacks a defined, personal perspective giving his tale an encyclopedic feel.  Neuse continues to outline the tale, mentioning that the Merchant and January share a similar view of marriage.  Placebo and Justinus warn January not to be hasty, yet their views on marriage mirror January’s (the Merchant’s).  From this, Neuse derives that The Merchant’s Tale has set up one uniform view on the institution of marriage expressed through allegory.  January clearly thinks of marriage in Biblical terms, yet he sees the institution of marriage as a chance to obtain a servant more than a wife.  Neuse suggests that the allegory in the tale points out the church’s flawed view on the institution of marriage.  Once the tale has been thouroughly outlined, Neuse begins to refer to Chaucer’s own influences.  He mentions Augustine’s theory on Biblical Allegory (a popular method of biblical analysis during Chaucer’s time), which states if the literal meaning of the Bible does not promote charity, it should be read as an allegory.  Neuse ties this theory into Solomon’s “Song of Songs” and Dante’s Inferno, both of which are referred to by January in The Merchant’s Tale.--Brandon Arvesen, 4/15/03

Johnson, Lynn Staley.  “Chaucer’s Tale of the Second Nun and Strategies of Dissent.”  Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry 89.92 (1985) 314-33.

The opinion offered in this article is that the Second Nun’s Prologue and Tale, especially concerning it’s relation to the Canon Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale, was possibly a commentary by Chaucer on the political situation in England at the time.

Johnson points out that it is unclear when Chaucer wrote the Second Nun’s Prologue and Tale, but it is generally thought to be written between 1373-1386.  England was very unstable during this period, the combination of church and state causing tension between those in political power and those in clerical power.  One of the main issues seemed to be papal control.  With the Black Death, and depression, among other things, to add to the conflicts, tensions were strained.  The Great Schism took place in 1378, which meant the appointment of two popes; in Avignon, France, and the other in Rome. 

Chaucer’s choice to tell the tale of St. Cecilia, and the sources he chose to use in the telling, point toward Johnson’s claim.  She asserts that he specifically used two different versions of the tale St. Cecilia, both of which prominently featured Cecilia in the tale.  Also, the fact that this tale is typically described as a secular saint’s life, gives Chaucer the perfect cover to comment on England’s situation at the time without gaining any unwanted retaliations from those in power. 

Johnson says that the life of St. Cecilia is proven to contain hints of radical social and spiritual restructuring in something like a twelfth-century biography called The Life of Christina of Markyate, which has Christina following the example set by St. Cecilia, and defying social norms to reach her desired goals.  Using this example to back up her claim, Johnson applies it to her argument.  She closes the article by pointing out the Canon Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale, which shows a much different church than the one shown in the Second Nun’s Prologue and Tale.  It is a contrast of a primitive church to a modern one, and the primitive one is more appealing. --Beth Robson, 4/27/03

Schildgen, Brenda Deen. Pagans, Tartars, Moslems, and Jews in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Gainesville: UP Florida, 2001.

             In her introduction, Schildgen proposes an examination of KT, ST, MoLT, FT, WoB, PT, MT, and SNT from “outside a Christian-dominated world.” She writes that the presence of these tales, which “offer many philosophical views about what constitutes ‘wisdom’ and ‘lawe,’” in addition to “exploring alternative moral attitudes to the Christian mainstream of Chaucer’s time,” clearly demonstrate Chaucer’s interest in the world outside Christian England’s borders. Furthermore, because Chaucer avoids a clear political stance in CT, Schildgen sees this as Chaucer’s way of “invit[ing] analysis…subjective interpretation” or “empower[ing] individuals to enact the condition of the age.” She claims that Chaucer included such tales to “remind his audience that there was a time before the rise of Christianity” and that “there are and have always been people outside the world of Christianity who do not adhere to its cultural norms and practices.” Therefore, Schildgen claims, the Host’s invitation to tell a tale is “merely an opportunity for a debate” and to explore non-Christian values and alternative worldviews.

            In the chapter entitled “A Prioress and a Monk: Providential History on Trial” Schildgen offers a concise review of the “providential tradition of interpreting history” beginning with Virgil and through the first half of the fourteenth-century after which, she claims, “history writing became much more diversified.” She describes “ ‘family-chronicles’ and ‘chronicles of the period’ as records of a conversion from religious-oriented explanations for events to “divid[ing] the supernatural from everyday events of life.” With that in mind, Schlidgen argues that Chaucer pits the Monk’s “chaos theory of history” against the Prioress’ “conservative and anachronistic providential theory” which plays itself out in each narrator’s reaction to the “other” represented in his or her tale. To the Prioress, the Jews represent the “other,” who she, in effect, “demonizes” in her tale of the young Christian boy murderer by Jews. Schildgen points out that the Prioress, through her tale, “adher[es] to commonplace prejudices, to the theory of providential history, and to a binary system of absolute good and absolute evil.” The Monk sees the pagan world as “other” but with the commingling of pagan myths and Christian narratives in addition to the presence of Fortune, his “view of historical processes” grows “murky” in opposition to the Prioress’ clear “polarity.” 

            Schildgen’s fascinating study of the importance of non-Christian elements in CT provides yet another hue through which other scholars may examine CT. Her book is highly useful for preparing tale presentations and researching papers for this class! For example, in the chapter entitled “Pre-Christian Britain in the Wife of Bath’s and the Franklin’s Tale,” Schildgen offers a thorough exploration of promises and oaths within the two tales. From there one might utilize her points of argument to examine other tales containing oaths such as KT or perhaps to scrutinize CT religious figure’s oaths to God. In addition, in each chapter Schildgen analyzes one or two tale’s non-Christian rudiments such as “Fortune, the Stars, and the Pagan Gods in the Knight’s and Squire’s Tales.” This new book is a wonderful addition to our medieval library. --Pam Flowers, 4-28-03

Matthew C. Wolfe. "Placing Chaucer’s Retraction for a Reception of Closure." The Chaucer Review. 33 (1999): 427-431.

This article, though short, gives a clear and quite fascinating interpretation of Chaucer’s Retraction as well as making some pertinent points along the way about tale order and the editorial process since the death of Chaucer himself. Wolfe’s first claim comes as a caveat that we cannot be certain of the order that Chaucer may or may not have intended for his tales at the time of his death. Certainly some tales lead clearly into each other, but there is no sure indication that Chaucer intended the completed/surviving tales to be read straight through as the first installment of episodes. It is equally likely that Chaucer was working on separate sections of text that would be linked with additional tales had time allowed. Though Wolfe does not say so, I suggest that the presence of the Cook’s Fragment may support this theory. Wolfe’s second major argument centers around a particular manuscript MS. Gg.4.27 in Cambridge, University Library, from which several folios have been torn, including one (444) thought to possibly have contained the Retraction, which does not appear in the extant manuscript. This manuscript, dated around 1420, brings together Troilus and Criseyde, The Canterbury Tales, Legend of Good Women, Parliament of Fowls, some of Chaucer’s short lyrics and two works by John Lydgate. Around 1600, Joseph Holland replaces 35 of the missing pages from Speght’s 1598 edition. Though these additions have been moved since then, Wolfe suggests that Holland placed the Retraction, "not at the end of the Canterbury Tales, but rather at the end of the codex." Wolfe’s reading of this is that Chaucer meant to comment on his entire oeuvre with his Retraction—certainly his other works are mentioned—and keeping the Retraction attached to the Tales blinkers the scholar to a more generalized interpretation. He supports this with Douglas Wurtele’s suggestion that the Retraction is actually a splicing of two texts, the conclusion to the Parson’s Tale (ln. 1081-84 and 1090-92) and the retraction itself (ln. 1085-90).

Wolfe does not cover a few pertinent points, assuming perhaps that his average reader (more scholarly than we) is already aware of them. He makes no mention of any other instances of the Retraction appearing disconnected from the Tales. Arguing on the basis of a single manuscript is tentative at best. I am also unconvinced by his generalizations about Chaucer’s "family." He seems to suggest that, upon Chaucer’s death, his surviving family opened up his study to find stacks of loose paper and bundled manuscripts willy-nilly, and that the family consciously collected, read, compared and interpreted the scraps and fragments in order to compile them and present a "collected works," as it were. (Of course, this is a somewhat facetious exaggeration on my part.) This does not take into account the possibility—even likelihood—that Chaucer’s works were already circulating in manuscript, with all the variance that this implies, at the time of his death. It also suggests a level of literary awareness and sense of authorial consciousness which, while clearly applicable to someone like Fitzgerald’s son, seems out of character for Chaucer’s contemporaries, perhaps particularly for his family, who are not known to have been of a literary bent. Nevertheless, Wolfe gives us an interesting new light in which to consider the problematic Retraction.--Maryah Converse, 4/27/03

Wimsatt, James I.  "John Duns Scotus, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Chaucer's Portrayal of the Canterbury Pilgrims."  Speculum 71.3 (July 1996): 633-45.

        This article is really about the nature of reality.  It discusses reality from the perspective of the Scholastic realists, a school of thought prevalent in medieval England.  In essence, (although this is too simple), Scholastic realists define reality as a thing expressed through action and relationship.  In other words, things are because they do  things specific to themselves, and things are because they relate to things in a specific way.
        The article discusses the pilgrims in Canterbury Tales in light of this theory.  Its contention is that the reality of the characters is defined by their actions and their relationships--by what they do and how they relate to the other pilgrims.  According to the article, these actions and relationships reveal their essences, the aspects of their beings that make them utterly unique.
        The article also discusses the question of whether the pilgrims are types or individuals.  According to Scholastic realism, they must be both.  They must share certain qualities with their colleagues (i.e. millers must share "miller-ish" qualities), but they must also be seen as distinct from each other (i.e. we must be able to see that not all millers are exactly the same).
        This article discusses a complex topic with remarkable clarity, presenting difficult concepts in an understandable fashion.  I generally understood it very well, and, since I'm a lay-person in this area, that shows how well the author expressed himself.  I think the points he makes are relevant and believable.  Reading the article was interesting, because it really got me thinking about what is "real," much more than I expected at the beginning.--Shuli Bloomensteil, 4/28/03

Spring 2001

O’Brien, Timothy D. "Fire and Blood: ‘Queynte’ Imaginings in Diana’s Temple." The Chaucer Review. 33:2 (1998) 157-167.

        In this article, O’Brien argues that Emelye in the Knight’s Tale is intentionally flat and passive as a statement about the Knight and his views about women. O’Brien uses the use of the word "queynte" and the themes of fire and blood in the scene where Emelye visits the temple of Diana, along with the Knight’s general telling of the tale to prove his point.

        In a discussion of whether the use of the word "queynte" in the temple should be taken as a sexual pun, O’Brien primarily examines the arguments of Larry D. Benson, John Fleming, and W.F. Bolton. Benson and Fleming’s arguments focus primarily on the use of the word in the fifth book of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, but O’Brien effectively applies their arguments to the Knight’s Tale. According to O’Brien, the debate comes down to context, with "Benson protesting that such a double meaning as is claimed for "queynte" in the Troilus passage cannot occur without a clear, immediate context for it; and Fleming arguing that Benson is right about the need for context, but wrong about the lack of it" (158). Bolton’s take on the word "queynte" applies more directly to O’Brien’s thesis because he is addressing the Knight’s Tale specifically, and because he believes the word to have a double meaning. However, O’Brien points out that Bolton makes the mistake of assuming that the double meaning is obvious, primarily because of the repetition of the word in the passage, and therefore sabotages his own argument.

        O’Brien says that Bolton goes wrong in not setting up a context for the word to have sexual connotations, and O’Brien sets out to prove that the context that Benson thinks is lacking is really present in the tale as a whole, although not readily obvious in the passage itself. O’Brien briefly addresses the use of "queynte" in the Miller’s Tale as possible support for a double meaning in the Knight’s Tale. He cites a number of critics who have agreed that because of the interactive nature of the Canterbury Tales, a tale can be applied recursively to give a better understanding of a previous tale. O’Brien especially looks at Peggy Knapp’s discussion of the Miller’s Tale as a parody of the Knight’s Tale, in which she acknowledges the Miller’s use of "queynte" as a part of this parody. Synthesizing Knapp’s argument with his own, O’Brien identifies in the Miller’s Tale a general theme of quenching, which he suggests could even be grounds to argue that the Miller’s entire tale is in fact inspired by the very word "queynte" in the Knight’s Tale.

        The article proceeds to look at the Knight’s actual telling style as context for a sexual interpretation of the word "queynte," with the implication that a sexual interpretation of this word offers a new perspective on the character of the Knight and on Chaucer’s intentions for the tale itself. O’Brien uses the Knight’s description, or lack thereof, of Emelye bathing as an intimation of the Knight’s feelings and values concerning her character, and perhaps women in general. Basically O’Brien shows that by keeping to himself the details of her bathing, the Knight is possessing Emelye in the same way that Theseus, Arcite, and Palamoun seek to possess her. The Knight is also calling to attention these details by refusing to disclose them, which O’Brien says "serves as a variation on his favorite rhetorical color of occupatio" (161). O’Brien explains that by calling attention to Emelye as an object of sexual pursuit or possession, the Knight creates a context for a sexually inclined interpretation of "queynte" later in the tale.

        Incorporating into his argument the Structuralist concepts of syntagmatic and paradigmatic, O’Brien proves that the very climate of the Knight’s Tale in context of society as a whole and in terms of human associations calls for a sexually oriented interpretation of the tale and the word "queynte." O’Brien compares Chaucer’s tale to its predecessor, Boccaccio’s Teseida, to further illustrate the distinctive emphasis on sexual politics in Chaucer’s version. He points out that Emilia in Teseida actually seems to want to marry, to some extent. He shows that Emelye, contrarily, seems to truly wish to preserve her virginity and avoid joining a world of coupling and childbirth. O’Brien shows how Chaucer has constructed a tone of masculine dominance and oppression of women in the Knight’s Tale to justify his portrayal of Emelye as fearful of marriage and maybe even men, yet entirely submissive and powerless.

        I think O’Brien successfully proved his thesis; the article is well developed and well supported. The article is a really interesting analysis of the Knight and his use of the word "queynte" in his tale. I must say I find it hard to believe that Chaucer didn’t mean for an eyebrow to rise at the repetition of a word with the potential for a double entendre. Especially in light of his use of the word with a strong sexual implication in several other tales of the same work, it seems unlikely that the Knight using it four times in five lines isn’t even minimally suggestive. Although I know I don’t necessarily think exactly the same way that Chaucer’s listeners would have, I think if someone with the utmost sincerity used the word "screw," for example, four times practically in a row, it would probably flash through my mind at some point and in some form that the word is also used as slang for having sex. But regardless of whether that just means my mind is in the gutter, O’Brien thoroughly proves that there is a latent context in the tale that makes an ambiguous interpretation of the word totally appropriate, not just probable or possible.

        I think the connection to the Miller’s Tale is valid, although it should be handled carefully. O’Brien’s mention of fire was significant to the theme of quenching, and also of lust and desire in the Miller’s Tale, and I think it is generally accepted that the Miller’s Tale is composed with the Knight’s Tale in mind. Obviously the Knight is not composing his tale with the Miller in mind, but the Miller’s interpretation of or reaction to the Knight’s Tale could very well offer insight into the Knight’s Tale, at least from the perspective of a churl. The idea that the Knight withholds information about Emelye intentionally so as to in a sense possess her could seem to contradict his chivalry, but actually seems rather in keeping with the rather misogynistic mentality of men of the fourteenth century. Although I think that the Knight does not tell of Emelye’s bathing rituals because of a sense of noble decorum, the principles behind the rules of chivalry at the time could support a view of women as needing to be possessed.

        I thought the introduction of the concepts of syntagmatic versus paradigmatic worked well to demonstrate the abstract understanding required in order to see a definite context for O’Brien’s assertion. The comparison of Emelye to Emilia in the Teseida calls attention to some interesting differences between the two characters. Chaucer’s alterations of the original character could be interpreted as implying that Emelye wishes not to be confined to the world of gender relations and childbirth, which are frightening and unfair, as O’Brien suggests. They could also reveal, in either Chaucer or the Knight, a rigid misogynistic attitude that is different but as strong as Boccacio’s, although I think because of factors like the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the description of the Knight in the General Prologue, this is a less likely interpretation. I like the implication that the bleeding brands and other aspects of the scene in Diana’s temple allow a glimpse of a less pretty reality, to which Emelye is mercilessly subjected, than the Knight intends to present. This could be in keeping with the possible theme of decay throughout the Canterbury Tales; that is the idea that the chivalrous and perhaps unrealistic world of the Knight is giving way to the more grounded and less romantic world of the majority of the pilgrims.

        I would like to know what O’Brien thinks Chaucer was attempting to say by making the Knight tell his tale this way. If he is portraying the Knight as restraining Emelye, does that mean that Chaucer has a low opinion of the Knight? The portrait of the Knight in the General Prologue, though it could be ironic, implies that Chaucer thinks highly of the Knight; in fact, the Knight may be one of the only pilgrims who is portrayed favorably in the General Prologue. It would be interesting to consider further the Miller’s and the Wife of Bath’s use of the word as a reaction to the Knight’s use of the word. By making other characters criticize or at least poke fun at the Knight and maybe even romance and chivalry, is Chaucer mocking the Knight or the churlish mockers? I think it could be useful to consider O’Brien’s observations and speculations in a view of the tales as a social commentary. I’d be inclined to think that if Chaucer were criticizing anything with the Knight’s Tale, it would be the norms and standards of the social culture to which the Knight belongs, rather than the Knight himself. —Liz Sabatiuk, 4/15/01

Campbell, Jackson J. "The Canon’s Yeoman as Imperfect Paradigm." The Chaucer Review. 17 (1982): 171-181. 

        Jackson J Campbell argues that the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale is Chaucer’s preparation for the Parson’s Tale. Although the Yeoman is trying to change from his former life, he cannot free himself from the material world and "the Yeoman’s history and performance are an imperfect paradigm of the process and experience that the Parson’s Tale is soon to make explicit at considerable length." Campbell describes the Yeoman as having a fascination, like an addiction, to alchemy, and hence an inability to discard the material world. Even in his reformed state the Yeoman gives extensive lists of his alchemical knowledge for no reason except his fascination with alchemy and his desire to show it off.

        Campbell claims that this type of confusion shown in the Yeoman’s character is Chaucer’s way of showing him as a person at a major turning point in his life. According to Campbell, the Yeoman is actually ambivalent toward his former master and seems to be in despair over alchemy, rather than an aversion to the Canon. The Yeoman obviously rejects the type of trickery which the Canon in his tale performs, but Campbell argues that "he sees his own motivations and those of his lord in quite a different light from those of the false priest-swindler."

        In effect Campbell argues that while the Yeoman views the Canon in his tale as morally wrong, he does not view the scientific idea of alchemy as wrong and therefore cannot move from the material into the spiritual realm. According to Campbell, Chaucer chose the Yeoman to discuss alchemy because he was using alchemy as a fictional structure through the context of a particular character. All of the pilgrims are traveling to confess, but without true penitence it will not do any good. The Yeoman enters the group really wanting to change, and is in effect hoping to cleanse himself the way the rest of the pilgrims hope to at the end of their pilgrimage. "Chaucer’s handling of the episode, however, is subtle, for the Yeoman’s conversion falls short of the ideal. He is at least capable of change, and his reform may be praiseworthy, to a degree, but it is finally incomplete and inadequate. He cannot in the end free himself from material trammels." Campbell argues that Chaucer specifically chose the Yeoman because his desire for change at that moment, and his inability to see beyond the material world, make the Parson’s Tale more forceful.

        I liked the way Campbell connected the Yeoman and his confusion in a major turning point of life with the rest of the pilgrims. His argument is convincing in that it not only connects with the next tale, the Parson’s Tale, it also comments on all of the Canterbury Tales, calling into question why the rest of the characters are on the pilgrimage and if they will be able to fully accomplish spiritual change, or if change is even what they want. This is something I had not thought of previously and leads me to believe that in the pattern of tales, this could have been a means for Chaucer to remind his audience about the reasoning behind the pilgrimage in the Tales. I also think Campbell did a good job of separating the Yeoman, a man in the midst of personal change-who happens to be studying alchemy, from the idea of alchemy. Through Campbell’s article I saw the importance of the Yeoman’s personal character, rather than the idea of alchemy as a bad thing.--Erika Lucas, 4/21/01

Kensak, Michael. "The Silences of Pilgrimage: Manciple’s Tale, Paradiso, Anticlaudianus." The Chaucer Review. Vol. 34 No. 2, 1999. 190-206.

         This article deals with the issue of silence within Chaucer’s Maniciple’s Tale, Dante’s Paradiso and Alain de Lille’s Anticlaudianus. Differing from the two analogues mentioned above, Kensak argues that Chaucer uses the Manciple’s silence to completely discount communication and tale telling. As a result of such abandonment, Kensak brings up one of his finer points when he states that the Manciple’s argument for silence is one which "counsels a silence that would still the voices of the Canterbury Tales" (190). As a scholar of Chaucer one then has to question the complete validity of the tales themselves. What is Chaucer trying to do with the implicit moral of this tale? Is he using this tale to discount all that preceded it or was he simply reinforcing the already implied lessons?

        It seems to me that the most logical answer to this question would have to be the latter. With all of the social issues that Chaucer was able to "hit" throughout his CT, I find it hard to believe that he would want to throw it all away on the whim of one tale. It seems more logical that Chaucer would be using the irony of this tale as a tool of reinforcement for what has already been implied about social hierarchy levels and the importance of voice in order to perpetuate or destroy such standing.

        Another point that Kensak makes about the Manciple is that he succeeds in deconstructing himself, and his moral, within his own tale. Pointing to the Manicple’s Prologue, Kensak interprets the way in which the Manciple berates the cook as an example of such deconstruction. Does not such a use of ones voice, in a negative way towards another, contradict what the Manciple then goes on to "preach" about in his tale? The fact that the Manicple is advocating against that which he is actively participating in, leads Kensak to believe that it is his "own jangling {that} constitutes false repentance" (202).

        Going on to discuss this discrepancy between the prologue and the tale, Kensak offers two explanations.

        One: that the Manciple uses his tale as an apology because of his ill treatment of the cook in the prologue. Two: that the tale acts as a warning to the cook. In that the cook has discovered something scandalous about the Manciple, so he then uses the tale (specifically the fate of the crowe) as a way to show the cook what will happen to him if he does decide to open his mouth. According to the tales text it seems as if the former is more probable, but it still does not seem possible. I do not get any feelings of repentance on the Manicple’s part from reading this tale. If anything, I see this discrepancy as another contradiction between the prologue and the tale because it seems illogical that the Manciple would berate the cook simply because he is illustrating the Manicple’s ultimate point. The cook is silent. Why then, would the Manicple persist in abusing him?

        Accodring to Kensak, the meaning behind the silence of the Manciple’s Tale has a good deal to do with the Parson’s Tale. Following the Manciple as the last tale to be found within all of the recognized tale orders, Kensak believes that the Parson’s Tale transforms the silence of the Manciple into a form of divine silence of penance. This argument would then suggest that silence is the ultimate goal, thus undermining Kensak’s original idea that the Mnciple’s Tale calls to silence all tales in general. Rather, it is this theory which calls to silence people in terms of religious reasons. Perhaps this was Chaucer’s point all along. CT is saturated with piety. Maybe Chaucer believes that even the Miller can be saved…. --Nikki Frame, 4/21/01

Goodman, Jennifer. "Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Rise of Chivalry." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 5. Columbus: New          Chaucer Society, 1983.

        Jennifer Goodman’s article deals with the Squire’s Tale and its similarities to late-medieval romance. She refers to Stanley Kahrl’s 1973 article "Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Decline of Chivalry," and its association of the Squire’s Tale with late-medieval romance, then thought to be a "degenerate form." Kahrl concluded that the Squire’s Tale is therefore a satirical work aimed at exposing the waning chivalry of Chaucer’s time through its unfinished nature. Goodman, however, disputes this; she points to recent studies of late-medieval literature and historical records, which have revealed that, contrary to the earlier belief, there was actually a rising interest in chivalric practices at that time.

        Goodman notes that the Squire’s Tale actually most closely resembles a type of late-medieval romance known as the "composite" romance; this type of romance was the most current and contemporary form in Chaucer’s day. She proceeds to note the specific ways in which the Squire’s Tale resembles the composite romance, thus demonstrating that the tale is actually meant to be a good tale; everything that we as readers find wrong with it, Goodman explains, would not have been thought so by Chaucer’s contemporaries.

        Goodman notes first that the iconography of the tale is found in many composite romances. The flying horse, the magic ring, and the mirror and sword, for example, are all images found in such romances. The supposedly "amateur" aspects of the tale – the random, unlikely series of events, as well as false modesty, use of rime riche, and digressions on the crowd’s response to the horse – all have analogues in composite romances, as does the tale’s "alliance of the fantastic and the meticulous." The same goes for the tale’s odd potential complications, such as the question of who will win Canacee (her brother? another man with the same name as her brother?). Composite romances contain similar quandaries involving combat between relatives, averted incest, and a woman in disguise being married to a woman.

        Finally, she notes that the tale’s structure is also the same as that of the typical composite romance. The plot summary in lines 651-70 of the tale, Goodman argues, makes up for the fact that the tale is unfinished; Chaucer, she says, allows just enough of the tale to get through for the reader to realize that he/she is indeed reading a composite romance-style story, and then ends it, as telling the entire romance would have gone on for too long.

        I found this article to be generally good. I felt the argument was sound, and while I still feel that the Squire is being satirized, it is for a completely different reason than the one that Goodman deals with in her article; in my eyes, it is in his praise of the frivolous Cambyuskan and his court that makes the Squire a ridiculous figure. Goodman’s defense of the Squire, therefore, is not, for me, the strongest aspect of the article. Instead, I was most intrigued by her discussion of the defining aspects of late-medieval romance. Furthermore, by relating this genre of romance to certain aspects of the Squire’s Tale, Goodman made her descriptions of the composite romance very easy to understand.--Keith Winkler, 04-22-01.

Johnson, Lynn Staley. "Chaucer’s Tale of the Second Nun and the Strategies of Dissent." Studies in Philology 89 (1992):314-333.

        Johnson’s article concerns the reasonable and easily supportable proposition that Chaucer’s Second Nun’s Tale is addressing religious/political issues of his time. Essentially, Johnson says that Chaucer presents a radical message in a palatable package, the message (a common one of the time) being a critique of church corruption.

        The most basic arguments for this interpretation involve the fact that Chaucer was generally "a political and social creature" who would be likely to write about such a topic (320). Also, most scholars who have grappled with the year of the tale’s conception agree that it was written somewhere between 1373 and 1386. This period was a time when anticlerical sentiment increased, tension arose concerning papal rights vs. royal rights, and Englishman John Wyclif critiqued Rome’s "secular authority and temporal wealth" (317).

        In a way, Johnson argues, it is almost a nostalgic tale, providing a glimpse of the Christian church before it became greedy, hierarchical and power-hungry. Just as Cecilia and her followers represent the pure, "primitive" church, so do the oppressive pagans represent "imperial systems that locate value in power," such as Chaucer’s contemporary church (327). It could also be said that the Canon Yeoman’s Tale provides the necessary contrast of mediaeval corruption vs. the "radical simplicity" of the early church (327).

        According to Johnson, Chaucer has ways of defusing and disguising this extreme message. One way is to have his tale-teller insist that she is only a medium, a transparent conveyor for the message of the ancient authors. In truth, Chaucer has not changed the plot of the story drastically, but he has written it in such a way as to highlight "Cecilia’s opposition to paternalism, her reinterpretation of the marriage contract, her spiritual and intellectual leadership, and her confrontation with secular authority" (315). "Cecilia offers a complete reversal of social norms: she deceives her parents and others about her marriage; she dominates her husband; she engenders none but spiritual offspring; she belongs to an underground sect outlawed by Roman law" (322). Such a woman is made more acceptable to Chaucer’s audience because her story is set in a genre typically associated with the sanctity and chastity of the weaker sex. "Cecilia’s gender, her virginity, and her sanctity defuse certain types of responses, just as Chaucer’s claim that he translated the work of another" (333).

        This brings me to fault in the article which I find puzzling, since it is such a basic issue, and yet so commonly found in this tale’s scholarship. Johnson and others seem to forget that the The Second Nun’s Prologue is spoken by the Nun, this being her tale, and treat the text as if it were spoken by Chaucer himself. "Later in the Prologue, Chaucer describes himself as translating without artifice" (323). I realize that many scholars believe the tale was originally intended to stand on its own and that there is debate over whether it was once intended for a male speaker. Yet scholars take for granted that the Nun is transparent, a kind of perfect medium for Chaucer’s voice, his words uncolored by the woman who speaks them. This phenomenon is not only baffling, but irritating.

        Also, Johnson spends a mere line or two pondering the connection of the tale’s Pope Urban and the Pope Urban who was elected in 1378. Since this seems likely to be more than coincidence, it would have been useful for the author to mine the possible significance of Chaucer’s choosing an "Urban" legend (if you’ll excuse the pun).

        Yet overall the article presents a convincing argument with many insightful points. One particularly helpful passage explains the meaning of a confusing stanza (lines 77-84 of the Nun’s Prologue). Johnson suggests that this passage is characterizing the tale as both fixed and fluid. Or, in other words, it is Chaucer’s way of saying that although he is a faithful translator, the tale is still "open to interpretation" (324). –04/22/01 Audrey Babkirk

Gallacher, Patrick J. "Chaucer and the Rhetoric of the Body." The Chaucer Review 28:3 (1994) 216-236.

        In this article, Patrick Gallacher states that Chaucer’s poetry employs a rhetoric of the body based on the medieval topos of agere et pati. This logic assumes the body to be both the subject and object of action; therefore, it not only acts, but is also acted upon by other forces. Gallacher argues that this bodily experience, which often concludes in detachment and abandonment, instead results in a "consent to the human condition that is reflective, liberating, and finally celebratory" in Chaucer’s characters (233). He explores the Knight’s Tale, Troilus and Criseyde, the Clerk’s Tale, the Reeve’s Tale and the prologue to the Second Nun’s Tale in this light.

        Gallacher first focuses on the Knight’s Tale and examines the involuntary nature of Arcite’s death. The final description of his body illustrates the fact that he has no control over the horrendous process that is destroying him; his breast swells and clotted blood erupts. Gallacher points out though, that before he dies, he deliberately forces action and reconciles with Palemon. Instead of bitterly dying along with his body, he forgives his friend and is finally at peace.

        Since we have not studied Troilus and Criseyde, I found it difficult to follow some of Gallacher’s arguments on that particular work. From what I could gather, however, it seems that there is an imbalance of activity and passivity between the characters and they switch roles continuously. Emotions such as jealously, sorrow and love cause them both to lose control of their bodily movements, prompting tears and even collapse in Troilus’ case. Nevertheless, their incessant struggle for autonomy does not destroy them. Gallacher believes that during their love scene, the voluntary actions of their touching converge with their involuntary emotions—an effect that is powerfully achieved because their bodily movements are finally harmonious.

        Gallacher centers his examination of the Clerk’s Tale around the specific passage where Griselde refuses to walk home naked. This scene, he declares, "evokes a sense in which she is both looking and being looked at, in which she is both subject and object" (226). Instead of accepting degradation, she chooses to assert her own power and convinces Walter to give her clothing. This passage heightens the shame of the human body. She is not only liberated from Walter’s control, but also from her fear of the indecent staring that would certainly follow her home.

        Before moving on the Reeve’s Tale, Gallacher introduces a new part to his thesis: that bodily motion and rest can influence narrative pace. It is an interesting notion to explore, but is seemingly out of place and not very effective. He then attempts to combine this argument with an absurd postulation that the miller of the Reeve’s Tale and his wife are "erotically untouchable;" thereby assuming that their bodily rest (because they obviously do not have sex) is disrupted by the mischievous clerks’ antics (229). This stillness, Gallacher asserts, is what initiates the action of the plot. The article’s overall theme of the rhetoric of the body is still adhered to, but the notion agere et pati is temporarily discarded. Sexual relations can definitely be seen as the body being acted upon, especially in the Reeve’s Tale where rape is implied, but Gallacher ignores this view completely.

        In the final section, Gallacher does return to his original theory, but discusses it on a heightened level. In the prologue of the Second Nun’s Tale, Mary is described to be both the object and recipient of a divine embodiment. She has the ultimate act done to her body, yet there is no scorn or disdain. This sublime incarnation is the model for Chaucer’s characters to follow. The "Creatour" and "every creature" (VIII: 49) are brought together in complete reciprocity. This conclusion, while valid and complete in theory, is very rushed and sloppily explained. Gallacher even notes that "space prohibits any extended discussion" (232). It would be interesting to further the exploration of spiritual forces. God vs. free will is a debate that extends in many of the tales. One could even expand it to include the mysterious forces of magic or astrology.

        This article contains many intriguing ideas, but is often overwhelmed by the nature of its topic. Gallacher sets out with the intent to explore Chaucer’s poetry in corporeal terms, but gets lost in the many different binary oppositions of voluntary and involuntary, health and sickness, autonomy and dependence, and motion and rest. The force of agere et pati barely holds all of these ideas together. —Kristy Raffensberger, 4/22/01

Frese, Dolores Warwick. "The Nun’s Priest’s Tale: Chaucer’s Identified Master Piece?" Chaucer Review 16:4 (1982)              330-343.

        Frese is the first person that I know of (or that Peter W. Travis knows of, since I got her name from his article on Chaucer’s heliotropes) who claims that Chaucer inscribed his own name into Chauntecleer. However, her argument is neither organized nor persuasive. In the first paragraph, she coyly plays with the idea that Chaucer is the real teller of the story, that the Nun’s Priest facelessness makes Chaucer’s own voice come out of the text. These hints set up a system of avoidance and not-fully-formed ideas that pervades the essay. Frese then touches upon Chaucer’s "brilliant" playfulness with the ideas of animal-turned-human and vice-versa. She then touches upon setnence and solaas in the tale. Then she goes back to the portrayal of the humans in the tale as animals. Then she digresses, talking about the names of the dogs that are supposedly chasing the fox.

        This tangent is actually when she gets back to her main theme, that of Chaucer’s playfulness with names. She concludes that there is a possibility that "Colle" referred to a rhetorician, that "Talbot" referred to local aristocracy that was (perhaps) related to the Colleville family which is somehow related to Marie de France (though it is not explained how), and that "Gerland" refers to John of Garland, another rhetorician. Frese relates this name-playing to the satire in the text of Geoffrey de Vinsauf: "O Gaufred, deere maister soverayn…Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy loore/The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?"(VII 3347-3351). I feel that this part of her article is interesting and tempting to accept. She admits that this take is not altogether based on hard evidence, which I appreciated. However, I must take issue with this part, because it does not seem to fit. Although this subject deals with names and how Chaucer used them, this kind of direct references to people merits its own in-depth treatment. Shoved in along with every other issue in scholarship of this tale, it detracts rather than helps.

        Frese then jumps into a discussion of the possibility that the Richard that Vinsauf lamented over is being linked, by Chaucer, to Richard II, a more contemporary king. This is, again, unsupported, but it at least serves the purpose of linking Chaucer into the text. Through various convolutions, Frese wriggles her way to saying that, if one can believe that "Colle" referred to a rhetorician, then one could and should believe that "Chauntecleer" is an inscription of Chaucer. Then, more evidence pours in, from sources other than Chaucer, that French poets had been inscribing their names into poems for quite some time. At last, the man behind the curtain is revealed: "by supplying ‘Ge’ for ‘Geffrey’—the poet’s own spelling of his name—the name CHAUnteCleER engenders the epithet ‘(ge)ntele Chaucer’" (336).

        Typical of the essay, it then digresses onto the findings of Saussure in Latin verses. Further evidence of Chaucer’s intent in inscribing his name into the name of a rooster is just stretching. But here is the value of this essay: it is good support for the idea that Chauntecleer is Chaucer. Although it is unsupported in this essay, it is an extrapolation that anybody could have made. As long as one writing a paper on Chaucer’s roosterness makes it clear that it is not certain, it can only help to show that scholarship has produced other people who have made the same or similar claim. Personally, I was not convinced by Frese’s article, but I find the notion that Chaucer linked his name to a singing rooster who is also named for song (Old French: chante cler: sing clear) very plausible nonetheless. Frese would have done well to show how it is both a pretentious claim of being a good poet and a self-depricating one (he’s a proud, egotistical chicken). This essay should have concentrated on Chaucer’s repeatedly self-deprecating attitudes, and it should have concentrated on other plays with names, ones that are more documented and supported.

        All in all, this essay was only good for one idea, maybe one and a half. The linking of Chaucer’s wife to Pertelote was very interesting, though not well supported. Frese seemed to use big words to show that she was a serious scholar. The footnotes alone included phrasing like "Pertelote dilating on laxatives," "provisionally formulated genetic hypothesis," and "conventional orthographic suppression." She also included inappropriate references to scholarship that she did not link to her thesis well; this gave the impression of an attempt to seem extremely well-versed in all areas of the tale. Frese had a lot to prove, and she tried to prove it to the detriment of her essay. --Andrej A. Krasnansky, 4/21/01

Pigg, Daniel F. Refiguring Martyrdom: Chaucer's Prioress and her Tale.  The Chaucer Review. 29:1                      (1994),  65-73.

        One of the first things that Pigg touches upon in his article is the fact that there is a great deal of contradictory criticism that exists for the PT. Some critics say that the Prioress is "prejudiced and misguided" while others tend to focus on her naivete. Pigg then goes on to mention the debate which revolves around the speaker of the tale. Just as we have discussed throughout this seminar, so too does Pigg question the identity of the taleteller. Is it the Prioress who is speaking about her own anti-Semitism or is it Chaucer who is speaking through the nun in order to display his own intolerance? The debate continues.

        The first thing that Pigg chooses to address is the uncertainty that exists when one attempts to compare the thumbprint of the Prioress in the GP and the way in which she is portrayed through her actual tale. He makes the point that the GP was most likely to have been written after the tale itself, so therefore it is the sketch that we see through her tale that should be considered as the truer portrait of the Prioress.

        Yet, doesn’t it seem more probable to surmise that it would then be the GP thumbprint that is more suitable to the Prioress’ actual character? Perhaps the reason for Chaucer writing the tales before the GP was to ensure to himself that he would create the most accurate "prints." You must them also question why the GP would come before the tales if it was only going to give false impressions of the pilgrims taletellers. Yet, it could also be argued that this is another one of Chaucer’s tricks on his readers. In fact, we have mentioned the discrepancies that lie between the GP "prints" and the tales themselves before.

        The historical background that Pigg includes within his article proved to be a very helpful component. In this section he discusses the way in which martyrdom has reconfigured itself throughout the centuries. Pigg points to the Roman Empire and the induction of their institutionalized Church as the main player in the transformation of martyrdom. Moving from a more physical suffering that existed mostly amongst the commoners in the first two centuries, the advent of the Roman Church elevated martyrdom to something that the clergy practiced on more of a spiritual level. He also points to the importance that virginity played within all of this. Issues with Custance anyone?

        Pigg then goes on to discuss the Prioress as a nun who gives the reader "a complex network of interconnected signs for interpreting martyrdom" (66). Believing that the anti-Semitism in the tale is only a "perifial concern," Pigg focuses on the fact that the Prioress is a composite character who takes the conventionalities of martyrdom and refigures them (66).

        The four issues that Pigg chooses to point out as reconfigurations are the establishment of voice within the tale, the use of the holy feast, the emphasis on virginity, and the use of history in the ending of the tale. Here lies my problem. The main issue that I have with Pigg’s argument is the fact that he only takes what he has already told us about Christianity and martyrdom and restates it with evidence from the tale itself. The way in which he explains the Prioress’ actions do not convince me that she has done any reconfiguring of already established rules of martyrdom. Each example that Pigg uses from the tale coincides rather than contradicts the reconfiguring examples that he gives us. In fact, it is this article that reinforces the Prioress’ use of the conventionalities of martyrdom. –Nikki Frame April 1, 2001

Tschann, Judith. "The Layout of Sir Thopas in the Ellesmere, Hengwrt, Cambridge Dd.4.24, and Cambridge         Gg.4.27 Manuscripts." The Chaucer Review. 20 (1985) 1-10.

         Judith Tschann argues that modern readers miss out on a lot of fun and interesting ways to read the Tale of Sir Thopas by considering the text apart from its scribal medium. This is because in more than half of the manuscripts that preserve Sir Thopas, this tale stands out from the rest in that it is given special graphic distinction. Specifically, in four landmark manuscripts: the Hengwrt, Ellesmere, Dd., and Gg., the tale is laid out to indicate the tail-rhyme stanzas with occasional bob-lines.

The have done so by joining together all rhyming lines with brackets and by writing each tail-rhyme line to the right of its two preceding lines, so that the tail-rhyme lines appear as a separate or second column of verse on the page…Furthermore, the scribes have marked the bob-lines by means of punctuation, brackets, or both, so that the bob-lines are clearly separate from the tail-rhyme lines, forming, almost, a third column of verse on the page. (1)

This is important in considering how this tale was perceived and how the editors and scribes felt the tale should be read because the layout reflects how the scribes and editors understood the text and embodies their own critical responses to it. Tschann says that the Ellesmere is an especially good example because it is a "monument of premeditation". All details of this manuscript, the headings, running titles, sources, topics, major divisions, and pilgrim portraits were carefully worked into the design of each page. Therefore it is significant that this special design for the Tale of Sir Thopas was chosen.

        Another significant aspect for consideration of these manuscripts is that tradition did not dictate this particular layout design. Tschann notes that bracketing did occur frequently in other English manuscripts to join rhyme lines when they are not couplets but there is no connection between bracketing and tail-rhyme romances. So the scribes or editors of the Hengwrt, Ellesmere, Dd., and Gg. Deliberately chose a design which sets Sir Thopas apart from the other tales.

        Tschann argues that this layout not only indicates the verse form, but also comments on it. Since Harry Bailly deems the tale not worth a turd, the elaborate layout of the tale in manuscript form adds to the joke. The handling of the bob-lines suggest a understanding of the tale because as the bobs do not fit in the meter, they many times barely fit on the page of the manuscripts. The reader then sees, as well as hears, the incongruity, which then adds to the humor of the poem too. Also, the way the page is set up suggests double columns which would change the verse form to couplets. One could possibly improve the tale by only reading the left column. The story looses nothing by omitting the tail-lines and very few of the tail-lines are necessary for syntax. Introducing a new way of reading the tale.

        I thought this was an interesting article which made me question the importance of the actual physical text in relation to the story. Tschann claims that the Sir Thopas tale "signifies more than it says" and it was beneficial to me to see how the scribes and editors of the Tale of Sir Thopas made the irony of the tale apparent in the physical presentation of the manuscript.    Erika Lucas, 4/1/01

Collette, Carolyn. "Seeing and Believing in the Franklin’s Tale." The Chaucer Review 26:4 (1992) 395-410.

        Collette opens with summaries of other critical arguments concerning the Franklin’s Tale to describe how she came to be interested in one specific aspect of it: seeing. Her stated purpose in her essay is to explore "how the tale’s recurrent stress on seeing and believing reflects late medieval theories of faculty psychology and optics, as well as Augustinian notions about the role of will in the psychology of vision"(395). After announcing her intention, she is careful to say that these topics might not have been the object of Chaucer’s studies, but, nevertheless, he was aware of them enough to weave them at least unconsciously into his story.

        The first part of Collette’s essay dwells on how sight is important in the Tale. She shows Dorigen as stable and within an "equilibrium" of marriage, as shown in the first vows. Then, when Arveragus went away, Dorigen no longer had that equilibrium. Her friends try to alter her "perception" of her world, but the sight of the rocks throws her off balance again. She uses sight as a metaphor for understanding when talking to God. Then Collette discusses the clerk, who deals in illusions all the time. Collette also argues that Arveragus wants to create an illusion as well, by wishing that no one knows of Dorigen’s transgression.

        The second part of this essay deals with psychology, optics, and magic. This part of the essay is priceless for those who wish a better understanding of what was perhaps "common sense" in the Middle Ages. Seeing perfectly was supposed to mean you knew things perfectly. But to the medieval person, perfect sight was impossible after the fall from Eden. Collette then discusses how they thought of the brain: it consisted of three cells—the imaginative, the rational, and the memory. Images passed through these cells by means of phantasms, which could be informative or dangerous. Images were thought to be very powerful and likely to act strongly upon the viewer. Thus, one needed will, chiefly the will to see clearly, to deal with these images. Finally, Collette deals with magic, concluding that magic was held to be mostly the "deceptibility of the senses"(406).

        The third part applies these medieval theories to the tale itself. And here is where I begin to find fault with this essay. This section is actually the smallest of the three and is just slightly longer than the introduction. This should have been more clearly a conclusion rather than an ostensible "section." Collette does bring some of her knowledge of medieval optics and psychology to bear on certain aspects of the tale, explaining Dorigen’s unbalancing due to her inability to interpret the phantasms of the rocks, but the issues are not applied to the tale in anything but light touches. I would have preferred reading more information on medieval "common sense" ideas about optics, such as the notion of sending out "eyesight-beams" and having them return to you with images, than reading such a small amount of interpretation. Collette seems to miss her own point: antiquated "common sense" notions about sight can help us understand the cultural basis in which Chaucer wrote. -Andrej A. Krasnansky.   4/1/01

Boenig, Robert. "The Pardoner’s Hypocrisy and his Subjectivity." ANQ 13:4 (Fall 2000): 9-16.

        Boenig’s article challenges the generally accepted idea that the Pardoner’s discussion of his own sins is purely autobiographical. Boenig argues that the Pardoner’s reference to his own sin is actually intended to parody the Wife of Bath’s hypocritical defense of her sinfulness.

        Boenig refers to a 14th century English Franciscan text, the Fasciculus Morum, to define the term "hypocrite." The description of a hypocrite basically depicts a person who pretends to have certain values strictly for the benefit of being in good standing with others, and not at all because of actual desire to be a good person. Boenig argues that the Pardoner does not fit the description of a hypocrite because he tells the pilgrims of his faults rather than hiding them. This means "his performance is more a contrite repentance for a past sin of hypocrisy than an enactment of his present condition" (10).

        Boenig refers to a description of hypocrisy by Chaucer himself in the Parson’s tale. Chaucer’s definition of a hypocrite in the tale is fundamentally the same as the definition in Fasciculus Morum, and also fundamentally the same as the definition cited from the Summa Virtutum Anime, a source for the Parson’s tale. All three sources agree that hypocrisy is basically the deliberate misrepresentation of one’s moral stance with the intent to manipulate based upon that projected image.

        Based upon this image of a hypocrite, Boenig illustrates how un-hypocritical the Pardoner actually is. The Pardoner actually admits to his evils, which automatically removes him from the definition of a hypocrite that Boenig has outlined in his article. Boenig explains that the Pardoner could be detailing his sins to the audience for the purpose of pointing out the Wife of Bath’s hypocrisy.

        Boenig equates the Pardoner’s discussion of money with the Wife’s discussion of sex to show how the Pardoner is essentially mocking the Wife’s philosophies on morally questionable aspects of life. Boenig also lists a number of parallels between the two tales to emphasize a connection between them. He mentions the extensive autobiographical prologues, the young heroes who encounter mysterious older people, and an affinity for quoting St. Paul, among other things as things the two tales have in common. He considers the Pardoner’s blatant hypocrisy to be merely a tool to illustrate the Wife’s hypocrisy. The Pardoner exaggerates his greed and lack of morals to emphasize the Wife’s moral desolation due to her adulterous, manipulative nature.

        This article is important as an exploration of the Pardoner’s character and the motivations behind his prologue and tale. Boenig says, "The very dominance of the received interpretation of the Pardoner demands that it be questioned, lest we inscribe our own reading of him on Chaucer’s intentions" (10). This seems like a valid reason, not only for him to write about his ideas, but also for others to hear his argument and take it into consideration. The Pardoner’s prologue and tale are so well constructed as to make it fairly simple for a reader to understand a lot about the character, but the careful construction also could be seen as discouraging to further interpretation.

        I was surprised that Boenig didn’t mention the Pardoner’s interruption of the Wife’s prologue. It seems that his abrupt interjection, which is a bit too quickly quelled, would support a more multi-dimensional conception of the Pardoner himself. He interrupts the Wife enthusiastically, and immediately calls her a "prechour," a word that seems derisive because he later describes his preaching tactics in his prologue, which portray preaching pretty unfavorably. Much of what the Pardoner says to the Wife seems sarcastic, as if he is initially angered by her hypocrisy, but realizes that she is unconscious of it and so instead chooses to humor her and get a better jab in later. I think Boenig would have strengthened his argument considerably if he had discussed this interruption even briefly.

        Boenig at times seems to consider the Pardoner a better person in the light of a discovery that he is parodying the Wife of Bath. Although I think the argument for a connection between the tales is strong, I don’t think that the Pardoner is much less hypocritical as a result. The Pardoner admits his outrageous faults to the other pilgrims, but there is no reason to assume that he admits them to the people he pardons. The Pardoner is hypocritical because he pretends to be attempting save souls when he really only wants to profit financially (and consequently damn his own soul).

        I was unclear about whether Boenig intended to depict the Pardoner more favorably than most critics take him to be. The article seems almost to be a defense of the Pardoner, in the sense that if his motive in telling of his own greed is to mock the Wife of Bath, then somehow the actual greed is incidental. Of course if the Pardoner is completely inventing a biographical history for the purpose of morally exposing the Wife, that would alter a judgment of his character. However, Boenig makes no attempt to show the Pardoner’s words to be fabricated, only selected with an explicit intent. I agree with Boenig’s arguments entirely in the sense that the Pardoner’s prologue and tale mock the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale, and that therefore the Pardoner is a substantially complex character, but I don’t think this complexity necessarily alters the general portrayal of the Pardoner. He may be acutely conscious of hypocrisy, but he is still a hypocrite. –Liz Sabatiuk 4/1/01

Green, Richard Firth. "The Pardoner’s Pants (and Why They Matter)." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 15 1993.

        The purpose of Green’s article is to address the oft-discussed issue of the Pardoner’s sexuality. Many critics believe that the Pardoner is a eunuch or homosexual, due to the narrator’s question in the General Prologue of whether he is a "gelding" or a "mare" and his effeminate description (he has a high-pitched voice and no beard). Green, however, rejects this theory, asserting that the Host, in his comment that the Pardoner is the kind of guy who would make a man kiss his "olde breech" and "swere it were a relyk of a seint," is contradicting the idea that the Pardoner is gay or a eunuch.

        Green argues that this reference to kissing pants is actually a reference to a folk tale that would have been well known, in some form, to Chaucer’s audience. The story involves a holy man who sleeps with a married woman. The husband comes home early, and the holy man is forced to flee without his pants. The pants are discovered, but it is explained to the husband that the pair of pants is actually a holy relic, and he is given them to kiss.

        By evoking this image, Green explains, the Host is essentially saying that the Pardoner is the kind of guy who would not only sleep with your wife, but then try to trick you into thinking that he did not; this fits in with the Pardoner’s boast that he has "a joly wenche in every toun," and apparently contradicts what many scholars have assumed. Green further supports his point by noting that, in fact, men with effeminate characteristics were not considered to be homosexual, but rather they were considered to be men who spent too much time around women, because they liked them.

        My main problem with this article is Green’s avoidance of an ironic reading of the Host’s outburst. Early in the article, he acknowledges that the Host’s remark regarding the Pardoner’s testicles is often seen as ironic given the common view of him as a possible eunuch. At the end of the article, however, he fails to acknowledge the possibility that the folk tale reference could be similarly ironic, instead choosing to use the reference as an unequivocal support for his opinion. I feel that the overall credibility of the article is hurt by this omission. It is fine to acknowledge another possibility but disagree with it, but it is not fine to pretend that the other possibility does not exist. Nonetheless, the article is still very valuable in that it offers a very interesting glimpse, through the author’s following of the holy-pants story’s changes through the years, of the way in which a single story can change over centuries of retelling. The article also seems to be of value to anyone exploring Chaucer’s various sources for the Canterbury Tales. – Keith Winkler, 04-1-01.

Dane, Joseph A. "‘Tyl Mercurius House He Flye:’Early Printed Texts and Critical Readings of the Squire’s Tale." Chaucer Review. 34.3 (2000) 309-316.

        Before the twentieth century, many readers admired the Squire’s Tale and even claimed the Knight’s Tale to be inferior (309). Modern critics, however, often argue that the tale is boring and inept, and read it as a satire of an incompetent tale or teller. In this article, instead of participating in the endless debate of good vs. bad, Dane steps back and explores the possible motivations behind these widespread views.

        The thrust of his support stems from a carefully detailed examination of the varying printed formats in which the Squire’s Tale appears. He especially focuses on the transition point between the Squire’s Tale and whichever other tale is next. If this point is seen as an interruption, as it is in many modern critiques, then the implication is that the tale is so bad that it must be stopped. Dane, however, believes that the format of the earlier editions support the claim that the tale is simply incomplete, or lost, and therefore does not have such a negative connotation attached to it.

        The first printed edition, in 1478, links the end of the tale to the following one with a continuous flow of text, so an interruption is not likely considered. In 1498, Wynkyn de Worde interjects his own editorial comment and adds the lines: "There can be founde no more of this for- / sayed tale. Whyche I have ryght dilygently ser- / chyd in many diverse scopyes" (312). De Worde does not set his remark apart from the tale by space or style, so it is possible that uniformed readers could interpret it to be an original part of the text. As Dane notes, "to say that ‘no more’ can be found implies of course that ‘more’ exists (or once did exist);" consequently, the notion that the tale is unfinished becomes strengthened (313). Thynne, in 1532, repeats De Word’s editorial comment, but also attempts to change the final couplet into a complete thought to reinforce the sense of finality. The lines are changed to read: "Apollo whireth up his chare so hye / Tyll that the god Mercurius house he flye" (313). The sentence does not make much sense, but it does appear to be complete, which is what Thynne wanted.

        The next significant alteration that Dane discusses is in 1775 when Tyrwhitt cuts the third narrative section all together and ends the tale with the Squire saying, "And ther I left I wold again beginne" (313). A line of asterisks and the bold heading of the Franklin’s prologue follow this break. Other editors copy this stark division and some even go as far to split the tales between volumes to further the separation.

        In modern editions, however, the Squire’s Tale is tightly linked with the Franklin’s and a strong interruption is implied. In Skeat’s and Robinson’s editions, for example, a dash, which directly follows the last word, emphasizes the disruption. It implies that the Squire was not able to finish his thought. There is still a small editorial intervention, but the Franklin’s words closely follow. Dane does observe, paradoxically, that these halting editions are based on the Ellesmere manuscript, which has thirty-eight blank (and no doubt costly!) lines at the end of the Squire’s Tale. Such a large space contradicts the contemporary suggestion that the tale was deliberately fragmented.

        It is interesting to note that Dane only refers to Ellesmere-based editions. In fact, he never mentions the varying manuscripts at all. Granted, he is discussing reactions to printed signifiers that critics would have read, but I think the manuscripts would still be worth exploring. The textual notes in the Riverside Chaucer mention a spurious conclusion to the Squire’s Tale found in the Lansdowne manuscript and others, which Dane completely ignores (RC 1129).

        The puzzle-piece mentality of this article fascinated me. I thoroughly enjoyed following Dane as he traced the inconsistencies through the printed editions and tried to rationalize critics’ responses. While his explanation certainly does not solve every mystery surrounding the Squire’s Tale, his method is definitely intriguing and often overlooked (at least by students who can barely get through the explanatory notes, let alone the textual ones!). This article is a gentle reminder that the Canterbury Tales has been around for a long time and printed in many different formats. It is important to consider how the text we are reading was established, and recognize all of the other variant readings as well. —Kristy Raffensberger, 4/1/01

 Reiss, Edmound. "Medieval Irony." Journal of the History of Ideas, 42: 2 (Apr.-Jun, 1981). 209-226.

        Reiss uses this article to discuss the presence and relevance of irony as it is found in medieval texts. Although the term irony was not coined as a general term until the eighteenth century, Reiss argues that the concept itself was inherently embedded within the medieval culture, and thus within it’s texts. Reiss points to Chaucer as an example of someone who was able to use irony without the advantage of the Roman insight on the matter in order to support his argument that knowledge of the "concept" as an actual "term" in relatively unimportant.

        Rather than needing the knowledge of the "term" as a tangible item, irony exists as "something built into the context itself rather than something consciously derived from the human awareness" (211). Therefore, it didn’t matter that Chaucer didn’t know about irony as a categorized literary term, rather it was that it existed amidst his culture and in turn became material for his work.

        Reiss then goes on to discuss the difference between how irony is used now and how it was used in the medieval ages. Opposed to the pessimistic way in which irony is used today to question reality, people of Chaucer’s time were completely satisfied with their sense of harmony amidst the omnipresent force of God. Rather than using irony as a tool to question their place within society, they used it to reinforce their already accepted inadequate roles.

        Perhaps it is this inherent acceptance that caused CT to be filled with human faults? And although this would overturn the way that I have been reading the CT, as a work that was meant to jest at human faults in more of a radical, loaded perspective, maybe Chaucer only meant to record the daily interactions with a humorous twist on what the pilgrims already knew about themselves.

        Yet, I also had a question about this statement. I had to wonder at the point of irony itself. It it’s not meant to undercut or jab at a current situation then what is its real purpose? Wouldn’t the simplicity of this argument challenge Chaucer as a meaningful author? Not that there isn’t a great deal to say about those authors who recreate surroundings and people common to them, but isn’t an author who can do this as well as insert jeering social commentary more successful?

        Reiss goes on to answer this question, in part, by arguing that the nature of language itself is too inadequate to change what already is. But, again, I must question the point of the author if this is really true. Why would one write if his only accomplishment would be recreating simple tales? Why would he not want to use this as an outlet for possible change?

        To this question Reiss answers with the concept that medieval writers were "not concerned with "accomplishing something" (218). And to this answer I would have to disagree. It seems that Reiss is only shortchanging the authors and their artwork of the time. It is hard for me to believe that Chaucer wrote the CT just to act as an exercise in regurgitation and not an outlet that would have an effect on its "listeners". This is not to say that one doesn’t learn a great deal about Chaucer’s time in reading the CT as a period piece, it’s just that I also believe he was acutely aware of what he was saying in terms of a social commentary.

        Reiss also delves into the elements of the audience and how their wit, or witlessness, could have been a judge of the effectiveness of the work. So, perhaps we, in the 21st century, are just keener to irony as a loaded concept.

        This article also gives an interesting discussion on the concept of God and Satan as opposite, yet not feuding forces. Relevant to our discussion about the MOL and Andrej’s discussion of "bad angels," Reiss supports the fact that God is omnipresent and that it is actually irony that "consists in the bringing of the opposite, the complementary impulses" (215).

        And it is this sense of irony that also acts as support for why Chaucer has tales such as the MOL with Custance as a saint who has a child and the Summoner who denounces wrath but than commits it himself. Reiss, in talking about such irony in medieval poetry, quotes Jankelevitch saying that le confusionnisme ironique "plays with words….consciously distorting their sense, joining what is different, separating what is similar" (219). Chaucer in a nutshell anyone? -Nikki Frame March 8, 2001

Stanbury, Sarah. "Regimes of the Visual in Premodern England: Gaze, Body, and Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale."                 New Literary History. 28.2 (1997) 262-289.

        The main questions that Sarah Stanbury is trying to answer in this article are these: was there a "male gaze" in the Medieval/Chaucerian era, and if so, is Chaucer fixing this gaze upon Griselda in The Clerk’s Tale? This "male gaze" not only presents the viewer with a distinctly male viewpoint, but also has the power to turn people in its line of vision into objects. "Although such a gaze could, of course, still fall on objects of desire . . . it did so largely in the service of a reifying male look that turned its targets into stone. The marmoreal nude drained of its capacity to arouse desire was at least tendentially the outcome of this development" (263). Since the most notorious examples of this kind of vision are modern or postmodern, there is the danger that finding a male gaze in The Canterbury Tales is merely an example of critics incorrectly applying postmodern values to a premodern world.

        Stanbury argues against the possibility of a premodern male gaze by taking the body of Christ as the most common and most powerful of all "medieval representations of corporeality" (264). First of all, this male body breaks down the binary opposition of male subject, female object. Secondly, (and this is a gross oversimplification of a complex matter) there existed for medieval viewers the concept of oculis pietatis, translated as the "eye of piety". In a sense, holy images were thought to have a vision of their own, which looked back at the viewer. They had a kind of authority of their own, and resisted being made into objects by the viewer’s eye. She goes on to discuss how in medieval times the power lay with the ones who were on display, who were depicted in writing or artwork, whereas today public display often objectifies and strips individuals of power. Once upon a time, "to be the object of the gaze was paradoxically to be the ‘subject,’ the center of attention" (277).

        In summary, the male gaze ‘s binary gender opposition and domination of the object of its gaze made it incompatible with medieval vision. Taking these discoveries, Stanbury returns to Walter and Griselda. She argues that Griselda’s body takes on an iconic, almost sacramental nature. Griselda becomes a sign, just as the clerk suggests, and as a holy sign, her body takes on a kind of power (the same kind of power that Christ’s body commands). "On the one hand Griselda defines the feminine as the object of a gaze, and on the other she demonstrates . . . a desire or habit of using the iconic body as a sign of authority" (282).

        It should be noted that the bulk of this article deals with medieval visual representation and its wider social ramifications. The Clerk’s Tale is only given a few pages worth of attention, so anyone looking for detailed analysis of this particular tale might do better with another article. The concepts dealt with here are abstract enough to make it worthwhile to re-read the piece once or twice to fully grasp the arguments made. What bothers me about Stanbury’s analysis is that she seems to draw parallels too easily between textual and visual representation, as well as between secular and sacred images. Granted, the sacred and secular were much less definitely separated then as opposed to now, but she seems to make the leap so quickly from paintings of Christ to Chaucer’s poetry. Also, paradoxically, while this article might provide evidence upon which to build another Chaucer-related thesis, it somehow manages to shed very little light upon the Tales themselves. While the conclusions she draws about medieval vision and the "male gaze" are interesting, what Stanbury has to say about Chaucer’s work left me saying, "So what?" –Audrey Babkirk, 4/1/01.

Hasenfratz, Robert. "The Science of Flatulence: Possible Sources for the Summoner’s Tale." The Chaucer Review. 30          (1996): 241-61.

        In this article, Hasenfratz examines the strange ending of the Summoner’s Tale, in which a squire cleverly solves the problem of dividing a fart equally among a group of friars. His theory is that the wheel upon which the friar sits is meant to represent the wheel of the twelve winds, a contemporary (to Chaucer) meteorological image. He goes on to show that there is an abundance of meteorological references in this end portion of the tale, resulting in his proving that the end description of the fart exists for the sake of describing it as having the acoustic effect of a thunderclap, and also for the sake of essentially ridiculing the friar’s pseudo-intellectual stance during the tale by using intellectual/scientific language to talk about a fart.

        The first thing that Hasenfratz does is to briefly summarize the various theories as to what the end of the tale signifies. Karl Wentersdorf sees the events of the end of the tale as a sort of scatological exorcism; by having the friar fart, Wentersdorf believes, Chaucer/the Summoner is figuratively exorcising the demons that have caused him to be evil. Alan Levitan views the end of the tale as a perversion of traditional Pentecostal imagery (as I mentioned in my presentation in class), with the apostles represented by the twelve friars and the Holy Spirit by the friar’s resounding fart. Roy F. Pearcy and Timothy O’Brien are both concerned with the academic and scientific leanings of the tale and its ending, with Pearcy more concerned with the former and O’Brien with the latter. Hasenfratz’s only real fault in this section is that he feels the need to discount Wentersdorf’s and Levitan’s theories in favor of the other two; I do not see why the tale has to be about only one thing, and why Chaucer cannot have been thinking of two different concepts when he added the wheel image to his story.

        From there, he proceeds with his argument. He begins by asserting the validity of his topic; the wheel of the twelve winds image is found in English texts of the time, unlike the Pentecostal wheel images, which Chaucer can only have known about through non-English sources (which doesn’t mean that he didn’t know the image; it just means that the other is more likely to have been seen by him). The wheel of the twelve winds is an image based on ancient conceptions of weather as being controlled by various personified winds; the earth is found in the center of the image, with twelve faces surrounding it, blowing toward the center.

        Hasenfratz continues his analysis by pointing out that the English sources in which the wheel of the twelve winds is found are all scientific miscellanies, and that the wheel is included as part of the sections on weather and meteorology. Furthermore, in every miscellany that includes this wheel image, particularly a work by Vincent Beauvais, the section on weather is immediately preceded by a section on sound. This is significant because of the focus in the end of the tale on the sound of the friar’s fart (Hasenfratz will go into this shortly).

        Further evidence of Chaucer’s interest and knowledge of meteorology can be seen in the Squire’s and Miller’s Tales: the Squire’s Tale features scientific details relating to thunder and other things, which are described with similar wording in the English miscellanies that deal with the twelve winds image; the Miller’s Tale, like the Summoner’s Tale, describes the sound of a fart, this time actually comparing it to a thunderclap.

        There are also details relating to the acoustics of wind and thunder in the Summoner’s Tale that suggest that Chaucer had the acoustics of wind and thunder in mind. The provision that the fart must be divided when there is no wind bears a striking resemblance to Vincent’s miscellany; both use the term ‘perturbing of air,’ which is not found in any other source to describe the acoustics of wind. There is also the detail that the friar’s belly must be ‘stif and toght / As any tabour.’ This echoes Vincent’s explanation of thunder as coming from taut clouds colliding with each other.

        After all of this explanation and jumping around, Hasenfratz’s point seems to be that Chaucer is using the end of the tale to satirize the friar’s pretension to intellectuality that he displays throughout the tale by using technical meteorological terms and descriptions to describe a fart. I feel that he does this fairly well. In addition to this fairly incidental and obscure piece of knowledge, however, the article is also useful for other reasons as well. First, it presents some examples of medieval meteorological theories, which are actually somewhat interesting. Second, it presents the other major theories about the end of the tale in a rather concise, clear manner. And finally, it is the only source that I could find in the Goucher library that related to the Summoner’s Tale, which is an important discovery in and of itself. – Keith Winkler, 03-11-01

Greenberg, Nina Manasan. "Dorigen as Enigma: the Production of Meaning and the Franklin’s Tale." Chaucer Review 33:4          (1999) pp. 329-349.

        Greenberg’s aim in this essay is, first, to show that the ostensible circumstances and debate of the Franklin’s tale serve to distract from the meanings surrounding Dorigen and, second, to show "that Chaucer’s text brings out several debates current in twentieth-century critical theory, including questions about the Real, questions about (discursive) power, and questions about the place of gender…"(330). In agreement with her quotes from Pierre Macherey, Greenberg’s text does not follow a straight line but instead "unfolds" in four parts.

        In the first part, Greenberg states where she is coming from. The literary theory of Macherey dictates that "assignment of meaning is… arbitrary" depending upon the "unfolding of this discourse"(330). Readers apply different ideologies to texts and produce different texts. Hedging her bets by saying in short that this is only her take on it, Greenberg has taken this view of literature and applied it to various goings-on in the Tale. In the first of four promises in the text, Dorigen and Arveragus arrive at a bargain concerning their marriage. Greenberg argues that, though it appears that Dorigen is gaining power by the bargain, both parties in fact gain something which satisfies them. Therefore, the two conflicting ideologies of Dorigen and Arveragus allow them both to be satisfied with the settlement. Greenberg also goes on to claim that this is the "Macherian enigma" that kicks off the tale. An "enigma" in this context is what the story hinges upon, what the reader must try to figure out (although the "Real" answer, according to Macherey, is unknowable), and what establishes the story itself, for if there was no enigma, there would be no reason to read the story. Greenberg stretches to include the final riddle of the tale, that of who is the "mooste fre," into the paradigm of enigmas, saying that an enigma does not have a right and true answer, but a riddle insists upon one, and, therefore, the riddle must be discounted. But there are other reasons that Greenberg gives for raising eyebrows at the riddle. Most notable is that Dorigen was involved in the entire action of the story, was responsible for all of the promises, and yet was left out of the final riddle. It is, then, "the wrong question."

        The next section focuses on the implications of oral contracts. First, she shows that Dorigen’s words may "slay or save" Aurelius. This bit of courtly-lover-talk is more than just sentimental; Dorigen’s words actually send him into a trance. Then, Dorigen’s promise and Aurelius’s fulfillment of it are examined. Dorigen says that he should remove each stone from the beach and that no stone should be seen before she will love him "best of any man." Aurelius shows that promises may be fulfilled through trickery when he just makes the rocks appear to disappear. But Dorigen is acting strangely; instead of just offering her body, which according to Greenberg would feed into the traditional woman’s-body-as-commodity discourse, Dorigen offers her soul. Although this essay is rich with interpretive issues and does not hesitate to go on tangents and lengthy footnotes, Greenberg dispenses with the problem of the trickery of Aurelius by saying it is unimportant. However, it could be argued that the alteration to the promise, Dorigen instead of giving him her soul will give him her body for an afternoon, could be called a trickery of sorts. He will apparently be pacified with the appearance of love, with the physical trick, with the non-eternal trouthe of her. In the third section, another kind of trickery is touched upon: that of public and private personas. There is a lot of appearance/reality hints in the tale that Greenberg chooses to ignore.

        After showing that Dorigen’s offer of her ethereal soul to Aurelius subverts the masculine discourse and economy of the times, Greenberg’s third section deals with the details of that discourse and economy, as shown in Arveragus’s actions. In this section, Luce Irigaray seems indispensable to Greenberg’s argument when she says (paraphrased by Greenberg) "there is no place within the parameters of the language of dominant (phallogocentric) economy for woman as subject"(339). Arveragus places Dorigen back into the sphere of what a woman was: a body that can be bargained with. Also, when Arveragus asks "is that all?", he is afraid that Dorigen has already fulfilled her promise. This would be bad for him because then he would have lost his name (an interesting concept), but it would also have meant that her transaction would have gone through without his "translation"(340). He would not have had the chance to alter her words ("I will love you best of any man") to fit his own language ("I’ll sleep with you"). Another issue Greenberg raises is that Dorigen has been attained by Arveragus, thus it is not in line with typical, unattainable courtly love. Here she has made the mistake of assuming that Dorigen has been "attained." Has she? Doesn’t the promise of "no mastery" over her mean Arveragus has not attained all of her and that some part of her not under his control necessitates that promise? It doesn’t fit into Greenberg’ thesis, so she does not deal with it.

        The last part of the third section and the fourth section deal with words and meanings. Arveragus is conflicted "in his simultaneous concern for public reputation—Dorigen must never speak of her tryst with Aurelius, she must keep her words to herself-and private reputation—Dorigen must keep her word"(342, underlining mine). The power that Dorigen holds in her words is immense and incalculable. Though Arveragus makes it sound like he is only concerned about her reputation, it is unstated and implicit that he is worried about being called a cuckold. However, this power over her husband that Dorigen holds is always contingent upon the audience of her words—hence Greenberg ties in Macherey again. And the sexual act, in fact, holds no meaning except when "imbued" with it from an audience: "A wife’s actions can be considered trivial or heart-renderingly serious, depending on whether they are public knowledge or not"(343). And Dorigen’s promise to be a "humble trewe wife" means so much that it means nothing at all specifically. Greenberg ties all this up with: "Dorigen’s presence… challenges the role of language and communication in the production (or lack) of meaning"(344). I am not convinced that this is the be-all-and-end-all of the tale, but it is an interesting concept that this woman is a ticking bomb for medieval audiences, ready to go off depending on to whom she speaks. Greenberg ends on the note that the Franklin could not have included Dorigen in his riddle, for to allow her to be in the question of "mooste fre" would be to "upset the entire order of the patriarchal economy" and be a more sensitive man than would have been realistic in Chaucer’s time (344).

        This was a thought-filled essay, with a strong argument, although the multiple bases on which Greenberg crafted her point were a bit staggering to get through. The footnotes themselves were almost thought-provoking enough. Her belief in how meaning is produced seems to give her free-reign to write her perspective without saying that her interpretation was the only one. While this is a humble technique, it might also seem like a cop-out if the thoughts are not thoroughly explained. But this article has a lot of substance and depth to it. I still doubt that Dorigen is as powerful as Greenberg claims, but I do not doubt that words were powerful, dangerous weapons, even back in medieval times. When women started to juggle with them, I’m sure medieval men started to worry. –Andrej A. Krasnansky, 3/11/01.

Lindley, Arthur. "‘Vanysshed was this Daunce, He Nyste Where’: Alisoun’s Absence in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and          Tale." ELH 59 (1992): 1-21.

        Lindley begins the article with a knowledgeable roundup of critics who have analyzed the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. He then accuses most of them of oversimplifying the Wife, arguing for her as either good/bad, smart/dumb, feminist/anti-feminist, etc. He says that "critics generally approach [the tale] in the hope of finding a single, simplifying answer," a problem that he labels, "the fallacy of the single key" (2). Lindley not only manages to avoid the oversimplification that his peers fall into, but he is able to confront many of the uncertainties and ambiguities of the text, rather than just plugging in answers as he sees fit. He doesn’t try to answer the unanswered questions, but he does try to determine the significance of all these gaps in our knowledge of Alisoun’s character.

        His main thesis is that Alisoun is a kind of composite of "what men produce when they think about women" (4). The Wife emerges out of the very tradition of anti-feminist scholars that she seeks to refute. She is not based on female experience, since Chaucer had no experience as a woman, and no texts written by females were available at the time. Alisoun is based on men’s views, "an unstable projection of male fear and desire" (4). Lindley argues that Alisoun is a performance with no real woman behind it. Her monologue is the screen she hides behind, and the more she says, the less she reveals. His claim that "Alisoun is absent" sounds like a reach at first, but he consistently points out the points at which she is "missing" from the text (3). Lindley tacks on a small bit at the end where he states his unsupported opinion concerning what Chaucer’s intention was in creating this kind of character, but sadly he does not develop this thought any furthur.

        Lindley sees the Wife as a kind of composite of men’s projections of women, even calling her "a female impersonation" and a "drag act" (4). This is interesting for a character who has traditionally struck readers as lifelike, complex, and real enough to make students insist that the Wife "was a real person". How can such a convincing character be a mere drag act? If she is a combination of men’s caricatures of women, what does it mean that we as readers mistook her for a real woman? What does that say about our own stereotypes of women? Lindley’s thesis, while not the end-all and be-all of Wife of Bath criticism, is an intriguing viewpoint that opens the door for many questions.--Audrey Babkirk, 3/10/01

Stanbury, Sarah. "Regimes of the Visual in Premodern England: Gaze, Body, and Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale." New Literary             History 28:2 (1997) 261-289.

        In this article, Stanbury argues that the "scopic regime" of the fourteenth century, which placed the human body at the center of a public gaze, is drastically different than the binary views that we have today of an aggressive male gaze projected onto a female object (264). After all, "in medieval representation, the body at the center, the spectacular body, was not, of course, female at all" (265). It was the body of Christ, which was looked upon by both male and female alike. After a lengthy, yet fascinating, discussion on Christ’s visual presence in medieval times, Stanbury then explores the implications of that devotional schema on Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale. Griselda’s body, centered as spectacle, similar to Christ’s, curiously disappears as she is repeatedly transformed from peasantry to royalty. People come from afar to view her and she takes on an iconic quality, where her gender and body not important.

        Stanbury’s argument begins by exploring Crucifixion images in fourteenth century paintings, paying particular attention to the way figures look (or choose not to look) at each other within the work, and how those views affect the spectator’s gaze. Most medieval English Crucifixion scenes show Mary and John on both sides of the Cross, each with averted gazes. Despite the fact that the Cross is most likely large and the subject matter itself demands attention (let’s face it, getting nailed to a cross is pretty gruesome) Stanbury suggests that it is the averted gazes which "allow the body to float free of narrative . . . the body on the Cross is on display for a larger public" (272).

        After revealing other strong evidence of how Christ’s body was made a public spectacle (it was centrally displayed in altars, medieval manuscripts, wall paintings, etc.) Stanbury then cites an interesting, but not very relevant source. She states that fourteenth century account books, which record important royal gifts, show many items that contain strong Crucifixion scenes. While this does support the idea of the multiplicity of Christ images, it does not strengthen the general argument of Christ being an object of public gaze. Instead, it seems to be an interesting tidbit that Stanbury was excited to find and attempted to work into the article, but does not quite succeed.

        Kathleen Biddick’s description of Christ’s body as "a body which upset any fixed gender binary, a fluid body that troubled any container" is what allows Stanbury to translate her thesis from Christ to Griselda (qtd. in Stanbury 279). Griselda, Stanbury argues, is an object of public scrutiny just like Christ (although not of the same heightened level, which is something that Stanbury does not directly address), and loses her gender/identity/body as a result. At first glance (no pun intended!), Griselda would appear to exemplify the modern ideal of the male gaze and female object, but one must remember that she is a public spectacle that both men and women come to view. Furthermore, the townspeople seem to be fascinated with her transformation of class, not her actual gender at all. Stanbury also points out that when she is privately gazed at by Walter, who often "sette his ye" on Griselda before he decided to marry her, he doesn’t do so with "wantoun lookyng" but in "sad wyse" instead (IV 233, 236, 237).

        Stanbury concludes that during a time when Christ’s body repeatedly appears at the center of public display and is "flexibly gendered," Griselda is viewed through that same devotional schema (283). The highly public image of the Crucifixion may have shaped the medieval culture’s own "scopic regime" and simultaneously influenced Chaucer as he wrote the Clerk’s Tale (264).

        Stanbury makes no claim for this theory to apply to any of Chaucer’s other portrayals of women, but I think it would be interesting to see how, or if, they fit into the same schema as well. While the Wife of Bath would love to be the center of everyone’s attention, she would hate being reduced (or elevated, depending on how you look at it) to a non-gendered being. She rather enjoys being the object of a specifically male gaze and simply uses the situation to her advantage. Emelye, in the Knight’s Tale, however, captures the gazes of Arcite and Palamon without even trying. She innocently commands the gaze, but does not have the desire for power behind it (like good ol’ Alisoun). Examining the affect of gazes on women might prove useful, or simply entertaining, in the Merchant’s and Franklin’s tales as well. Does the way people look at you affect what kind of wife you will be? Hmmmmm. —Kristy Raffensberger, 3/11/01

Brown, Carole Koepke. "Episodic Patterns and the Perpetrator: The Structure and Meaning of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s          Tale." The Chaucer Review 31 (1996): 18-35.

        Carol Brown’s article is basically a response to Robert J. Meyer’s assertion that the Wife of Bath’s Tale is two separate romances that mirror each other. While she agrees that there are two parts to the tale, she claims that these two parts can be broken into eleven sections which she calls step parallelism. Brown states that in Meyer’s reading the first romance is about justice and what women want, and the knight gains no knowledge. He then states that the second romance is about chivalry and what men want. So "In Meyer’s reading, the ‘second romance’ retracts the ‘first romance.’"(19). Brown states that the first romance is actually a public, outward journey and the second romance is an inward journey and by using her eleven step progression shows that the knight is continually gaining knowledge. Therefore she claims that neither romance retracts from the other but rather that the knight grows to understand how to effectively interact with people, specifically women, and that in marriage "bride and groom give up sovereignty to each other, without losing it individually."(32). This opposes Meyer’s reading which suggests that the wife gives up sovereignty to the knight.

        Brown outlines the tale as follows: A-Forced intimacy, knight rapes maid. B1-King’s court, knight must die. C1-Woman demands quest. D1-Desperate knight takes quest. E1-Digression, wife’s version of Midas. F1-Magic, hag’s answer. B2-Queen’s court, knight redeems his life. C2-Woman demands marriage. D2-Miserable knight weds hag. E2-Digression, hag’s sermon. F2-Forced intimacy, knight’s answer, magic (21). While I agree that there is a loose parallelism between the two romances in the tale, I do not agree that they were as clean cut as she describes. She structured her article so as to discuss each section individually yet many times fails to make a clear connection between a section from group one to its corresponding section in group two. Frequently she used a section in one group, which did not correspond with the section she was discussing in the other group, to argue her point. Therefore, she undermined her own eleven step parallelism argument.

        Brown does, however, present an interesting reading against critics who say the Wife of Bath’s tale negatively portrays the status of women. She points out that even though the rape scene is quickly passed over, the maid does not just accept her case but is instead responsible for her own well-being and has considerable inner strength to name the knight. She also points out that since the tale follows the knight’s growth to understanding women, "if Chaucer had been more specific about the rape, he very possibly would have undermined our sympathies for the bachelor."(23). She also shows that even though the actual scene is quickly passed over, it is not an accepted action in the society and instead there is a public outcry in which the maid is supported over Aurther’s knight.

        Brown also argues that the punishment given to the knight is actually the perfect assignment given to a man who objectifies women. "The year-long task of sorting out women’s various responses gives him the opportunity to broaden his perspective and experience the world through female eyes."(24). So unlike the first time when the knight is speechless after the queen’s question, the knight has confidence in speaking for women and considering their perspectives. Brown goes on to say that it is only after the knight gains this ability that he is able to actively deliberate and reflect over the hag’s question, rather than act impulsively as he did at the start of the tale. While the knight ends up with a beautiful and faithful wife happily ever after, it is not the rapist who is being rewarded, but the knight who is able to leave the decision to the wife to chose which she would rather be. Thus, Brown shows that the Wife of Bath’s Tale does present the idea of the sovereignty of women as well as sovereignty of men, ending in equality of each gender.--Erika Lucas, 3/10/01

Laird, Edgar. "The Astronomer Ptolemy and the Morality of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue." Chaucer Review. 34:3 (2000)          289-299.

        This article examines the wife of Bath’s use of a quote from a translation of the prologue of Claudius Ptolemy’s Almagest, and the relationship between the actual context of the quote and the way the wife uses it. Laird attempts to compare "the Wife’s practical knowledge" and "Ptolemaic theoretical knowledge." Because the wife, who admits that her knowledge is formed from experience, quotes a philosopher, an exploration of the connection between the wife and the philosopher in actions and ethics. Laird cites the Pardoner’s suggestion that the wife "teche us yonge men of youre praktike" (290) as evidence, in addition to her own mention of her "experience," that her wisdom or knowledge is practical, as opposed to theoretical.

        The article delineates the difference between practical and theoretical knowledge very specifically, which is helpful to support Laird’s speculation about the characteristics and applications (of these types of knowledge) to the wife’s tale. Laird gives fairly extensive background information on the origins and interpretations of the words and concepts of practica and theoretica, mentioning early "transmitters" of this system like Aristotle and Boethius. Laird also includes a diagram of the standard hierarchy of human wisdom, based primarily on a commentary by William of Conches on Boethius’ Consolation to illustrate the system. The general consensus of the sources referred to in the article is that the practical is directly linked to morality and virtue, whereas the theoretical leads to true knowledge.

        Laird explains Ptolemy’s views on the connection between theoretical and practical knowledge; "Mathematical astronomy is helpful, indeed is needed, in the pursuit of morally praiseworthy uprightness, because its study leads to an appreciation of celestial beauties and of ordered and unvarying goodness which is like the divine" (294). Laird acknowledges a connection between the theoretical and the practical, but implies that this connection is not the reason that the wife quotes Ptolemy’s maxims, but rather because she is, either carelessly or ignorantly, mis-using the maxims.

        Laird describes these rather lofty philosophical interpretations of Ptolemy’s maxims only to demonstrate the wife of Bath’s misapplication of them. He explains the hypothetical connection between the wife’s brand of "wisdom" and Ptolemy’s only to assert that this connection is absent from the wife’s prologue, because of the moral character of the wife. She quote’s Ptolemy as saying, "Of alle men his wysdom is the hyeste/That rekketh nevere who hath the world in honde" (296). But rather than making a statement about the world, the wife is using the maxim to tell her husband to mind his own business and not try to prevent her from fulfilling her lusts. Laird proves that the wife of Bath falls short of the standards that the use of these maxims sets up because she is only interested in low pleasures, rather than true wisdom or understanding.

        Laird’s article is a well supported and intriguing inquiry into the relationship of the practical and the theoretical in reference to Chaucer’s "Wife of Bath’s Tale." Laird brings up some very interesting points about the wife as a colorful but morally lacking character. The article is a bit difficult to follow at times because it covers a lot of material in a short space, but overall it is fairly coherent and well organized. Laird seems at times to be going in several different directions, for example, by spending a large portion of the article citing historical sources for the system of practical and theoretical knowledge, and by examining both maxims in the same article without really tying the two together.

        This article is an interesting investigation into the character of the wife of Bath. Speculation about the Wife’s moral fiber brings about the question of whether Chaucer himself thought the Wife a lesser person because of her questionable morals, and specifically because of her misinterpretation of Ptolemy’s maxims. The wife is so richly portrayed as to command a certain degree of respect, but her tendencies toward sin make her less appealing, as Laird mentions in the closing of his argument. This exploration of hypocrisy in the tale adds a new dimension to Chaucer’s use of language and the narrative in his tales and their prologues (epilogues, etc.), and could be useful to the class in looking at the contrast between the moral values cited and preached in the Canterbury Tales and Chaucer’s own stance on these values. Chaucer’s treatment of Ptolemy’s maxim also reveals the depth and intricacy of his characterization and storytelling capabilities in general.

        Although Chaucer’s poetry was oral and not written, surely the wife’s misinterpretation of a well-known maxim correlates to Chaucer’s place as a well-known story-teller whose stories were probably often repeated. How would Chaucer have felt about someone like the wife taking a quote from the Canterbury Tales and misapplying it to serve a personal agenda? This article is also significant as a reminder to examine, when we can, the context of statements made by characters, and specifically of quotations and in general to pay attention to language and its subtle implications in the tales. --Liz Sabatiuk, 3/10/01

Forest-Hill, Lynn. Transgressive Language in Medieval English Drama. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000.

        In the first chapter of her book, Forest-Hill sets out to determine what "transgressive language" is. "Language is transgressive when it ignores religious teaching, or the ecclesiastical and secular laws governing speech in society"(7). Although this immediately might cause a contemporary reader to think of four-letter-words and so on, Forest-Hill focuses on verbal attacks. She points out that Aquinas had, in the 13th century, explicated the sins of defamation and detraction. The difference between them was situational and intentional: defaming someone was public and was done out of anger, but detraction was done secretly and was done out of envy. Later religious texts and sermons include "bacbyting," that is, talking behind someone’s back. All of these sins were focused on for their outward harm; if you were only harming yourself, that would be one thing, but if you defamed someone, you harmed them and harmed yourself in sinning. This was taken to yet another level when the listener was thrown into the mix. Religious officials claimed that mocking someone not in jest spread evil upon those who mocked, those who were mocked, and those who head the mocking. For these reasons people could be brought to ecclesiastical courts.

        As the Wife of Bath called her husband a "false theef" when he hit her, the most common defamation was that of calling someone "false." This was also the most commonly brought to court, for if a merchant did not have his good name, no one would buy from him. Who would buy from a "false" merchant? Another common insult (although the word "insult" did not come into the vocabulary until around 1620) was that of accusing someone of servile status. A man who was called a "bond churl" would drag his mocker into court as soon as possible. Women would be defamed through their sexuality, being accused of various sexual acts and prostitution. Men, on the other hand, would not be defamed through accusations of sexual acts but rather through social standing. Being called a cuckold or a "whoremaster" was a degradation of their status in society. There were also cases of people being called heretics, traitors, and witches.

        This chapter is remarkable for giving readers a look at how different the medieval world was from our own. The power of the spoken word was enormous. Today, most would think that the written word had more power than the spoken word: binding contracts, newspaper stories, etc. have power to hold someone to an action or can influence public opinion. One may argue that the written word also had a power in the Middle Ages, however. Writing was feared, and those who could read were feared more, because the majority of people were illiterate. If one trusts Umberto Eco, even literate monks feared certain texts for the danger of their pagan or heretical concepts getting out.

        But the literary forms that still dominated in the Middle Ages were spoken out loud. The Canterbury Tales, for example, was designed to be performed to an audience, holding them captive for an evening or two. In the Tales themselves, the company is held captive while one person speaks, until he or she is interrupted or has finished. And Chaucer himself claims to be held under the sway of the speakers: his wit is short, so he must repeat all that has been said without making any of it up. Forest-Hill’s book may not deal directly with Chaucer, but it does open up new worlds of possibilities in interpreting medieval texts. –Andrej A. Krasnansky, 2/25/01

Aers, David. "Chaucer: Love, Sex and Marriage." in Chaucer, Langland, and the Creative Imagination. Boston: Routlege &          Kegan Paul, 1980. 143-173.

        David Aers’ thesis in this chapter is made up of two important parts. First of all, Aers asserts that Chaucer had a vision of love and marriage that was very much ahead of his time. Chaucer was able to conceive of marriage as something beyond, "a transaction organized by males to serve economic and political ends, with the woman treated as a useful, child-bearing appendage to the land or goods being exchanged" (143). He, much like Chrétien De Troyes, had a utopian view of marriage that did not involve males as violent and dominating or women as submissive chattel. Aers argues that such progressive ideals are evidenced by those pilgrims who critique the contemporary relationship (or non-relationship) of love and marriage. Aers cites the Wife of Bath’s prologue and the Franklin’s tale as examples of this kind of challenging of convention.

        Yet he claims that Chaucer also recognizes the inherent difficulties in achieving such a utopian ideal. Aers argues that Chaucer realized how deeply entrenched the ideologies of the day were in the minds of the populace. So even those who recognized the injustice of the current system would have trouble subverting it because they had internalized its values so completely. For example, the Wife of Bath is obviously rebelling against male dominance and the abuse of women in marriage. Yet instead of dismantling this hierarchical power structure and framing marriage as the meeting of two equals, she merely "inverts the traditional positions in the structure of domination" by usurping the man’s power (151). Another of Aers’ examples comes from the Franklin’s tale, where the marital relationship seems at first to reject the coercion, bullying, and financial aspects that Chaucer has previously critiqued. Yet as the tale progresses, even the well-meaning Arveragus and Dorigen fall into more typical roles, he reverting to egotism and intimidation, and she falling into complimentary submission. Aers’ also uses the Merchant’s and Clerk’s tales to illustrate his argument. In short, the characters try to challenge the prevailing system of injustice, but deeply ingrained societal values make this impossible. They can talk the talk but they can’t walk the walk.

        In general, his thesis is well organized and clearly stated. Aers shows a good knowledge of other scholars’ research on this topic. Yet he does not depend too much on others’ theses and definitely draws conclusions that are his own. He also presents a nice introduction where he clearly outlines the prevailing attitudes toward marriage from works that are contemporary with Chaucer, such as The Book of the Knight in the Tower.

        My main critique is that Aers assumes that the characters’ contradictions (challenging the system while still living into it) are Chaucer’s deliberate constructions. It is not that I believe that Chaucer was not aware of the inconsistencies between his characters’ words and deeds, but as a novice scholar I found myself wanting Aers to provide more proof of Chaucer’s ability to think beyond the ideologies of his time. The contradictions seem apparent to us modern (or rather, postmodern) thinkers. Yet if these ideas about marriage were as deeply embedded as Aers claims, Chaucer’s accomplishment becomes all the more incredible. For then it seems that Chaucer managed to critique the established viewpoint, envision a radically different structure, and then anticipate the inability of his peers to live up to this utopian ideal. Not to say that this is an impossible task, but it does make Chaucer out to be somewhat of a mental giant, and I wish that Aers had provided more proof that Chaucer was indeed that progressive. Of course, perhaps Aers takes this for granted because the poet’s advanced thinking becomes so obvious after frequent and in-depth exposure to Chaucerian writing (which I lack). It is also possible that Aers backs up this assumption in a previous chapter.

        This chapter provides some useful examples of conventional attitudes concerning love and marriage in Chaucer’s day. It also presents the interesting theory that Chaucer understood not only the injustice of the current institution of marriage, but also how difficult it would be for real people to escape that injustice. -Audrey Babkirk, 2/25/01


Weisl, Angela. "’Quiting’ Eve: Violence against Women in the Canterbury Tales." Anna Roberts, ed., Violence against             Women in Medieval Texts. Jacksonville: UP of Florida, 1998.

        With this article, Weisl’s purpose is to show that the Canterbury Tales take for granted, and even perhaps perpetuate, the attitude that approved of violence toward women that was prevalent during the time in which Chaucer wrote the Tales. She sets up her argument by briefly describing ways in which men at the time acted violently toward women, and then begins a two-part argument. In the first part of her argument, Weisl groups the Tales into three parts, each with distinctive ways in which it approves of violence toward women. The fabliaux make light of violence and make women the voiceless, faceless objects of violent humor. The romances portray the willing and unwilling possession and subjugation of women as the healthy norm. And the religious tales valorize violence by perpetuating the theme of virginity-or-death that was popular in the histories of female saints. In the second part of her argument, Weisl notes that even the two tales told by women use these same biases; she uses this as proof that the attitude of violence toward women was so pervasive that women internalized it.

        In her critique of the various fabliaux, Weisl uses the examples of the Reeve’s and Miller’s tales, among others (Weisl uses a great many examples for each critique; I, however, can only judge her based on those that I have read, and thus those are the ones that I will cite), with mixed results. In the Reeve’s Tale, for example, her observations seem accurate. She notes, for example, the "virtual rape" (119) of the miller’s wife and daughter at the hands of the two vengeful clerks. The women, she explains, are viewed in the scene as disturbingly passive objects with no individuality or personality; they exist to be acted upon for the sake of the ‘joke.’ Her observations on the Miller’s Tale, on the other hand, are not quite as good. She observes that Absolon’s assault of Nicholas with the red-hot poker is not actually intended for Nicholas; it was instead intended for Alison, and thus amounts to no less than the intent to rape and murder a woman. This seems weak, especially as her only point about the Tale. While it is true that this is an example of violence being taken for granted, it seems no more vicious or threatening than the kind of cartoonish violence seen frequently in the Looney Tunes cartoons.

        Weisl fares better in her critique of the romances in the Tales. Her observation on the Knight’s Tale, that Theseus’ conquering of the ‘regne of Femenye’ is an example of men taking control of women as they please, is a good one. In the Franklin’s Tale, however, she again runs into a problem when she focuses on the ‘blake rokkes’ in the harbor. Weisl argues that the rocks are a "potent symbol" (121) of Dorigen’s uncertain future; if they remain, Arveragus may die, but if they are removed by Aurelius, he may claim possession of her. While Weisl is correct in maintaining that this situation is significant in terms of Dorigen’s lack of autonomy, I feel that her identification of the black rocks as an important symbolic image is misguided.

        Weisl’s third critique, that of the religious tales, is the clearest. In her example of the Man of Law’s Tale, she covers the connection of women to Eve and Satan, a major theme of such tales. She notes the explicit connection of the Sowdanesse and Donegild with Satan, and through Satan with Eve. Weisl also notes that, in other religious tales (and non-religious tales like the Wife of Bath’s), women are often shown martyrdom as the ideal.

        The last group of tales that Weisl looks at are those told by female narrators, and notes that much violence toward women occurs as a natural occurrence in these tales as well. She uses this as evidence that violence toward women was so widespread that women of the time internalized it as well as men. However, this makes little sense to me. The female narrators are fictional characters, written by a male author. There is no way that the stories that they tell can inform us regarding what women of the period did or did not think.

        In addition to the problems that I have already mentioned, Weisl’s article also suffers from a lack of focus and organization. There is some extraneous historical information that could be removed, in favor of more detail in analysis of the actual tales. Weisl also strays from her outlined structure several times; that material that she strays into could easily be separated into the existing four sections. In short, this article has a great deal of good information, but has the potential for so much more. Ironically (in light of what I have just said), the information that I found the most interesting and/or useful was the extraneous historical information that I believe should be taken out. However, as I said, there is indeed good information in this article, if you can weed out the small amount of implausible connections. What I also found myself doing while reading the article was filling in the gaps in her analyses myself. While an essay should technically not make you fill in its holes, reading the article in this way was nonetheless an interesting experience. – Keith Winkler 02-26-01

Hahn, Thomas. "Money, Sexuality, Wordplay, and Context in the Shipman’s Tale." Julian N. Wasserman and Robert J.              Blanch, eds., Chaucer in the Eighties. New York: Syracuse UP, 1986.

        Many critics have explored the relationship between sex and money in the Shipman’s Tale. Hahn, however, links the social context of 14th century conceptions of usury with a close reading of the tale to prove the easy transposition of money and sexuality within the text.

        Hahn primarily focuses on the merchant, arguing that his sexual desire for his wife is displaced into the demands of the "curious bisyness" that he does. Through a detailed analysis of the merchant’s actions (his travel to Bruges, his association with the Lombards of Paris, his quick profit, etc.) Hahn deduces that the merchant is a usurer. And in his practice of "screwing society . . . [he develops] a deep sexual excitement" (243). Note the modern sexual implication of the word screwing—a very clever, subliminal move to highlight Hahn’s thesis!

        Hahn supports his argument by illustrating a prevalent medieval association between sex and money. He quotes authentic 14th century treatises on usury, which show that usurers were convicted of having "chronic (im)moral intercourse" with their money (243). This predicament was actual grounds for separation of husbands and wives. Hahn also points out that Aristotle, in the Poetics, declares interest to be "the breeding of money," and Dante, in the Inferno, places usurers in the circle of Soddoma with those who do not reproduce. The metaphor of making love to money was indeed a common thought.

        The one flaw in Hahn’s theory is that the merchant readily accepts the wife’s method of payment for her debts at the end of the tale. He wants to have sex with her, which is something that both Hahn and the wife say he does not normally do. In that case, if his business really was his only sexual release, then why would he be excited about sleeping with his wife, instead of just demanding the money? Hahn tries to explain this by saying that his new vigor comes as a result of the huge success in his work (the winning of a thousand francs), but that doesn’t make sense. If the merchant truly followed Hahn’s portrayal of him, then making lots of money would just reinforce his desire to have more, not renew his interest in his wife. Also, judging from the description of his house and the provisions he that gives her before he leaves on business trips, I don’t think the merchant was ever really unsuccessful in business. His wife just always spends the money. Therefore, if money was his sexual drive, their bed should be rocking every night!

        Despite that inconsistency, overall, the article was very well written and interesting to read. It would be especially useful for anyone who wants to learn more about 14th century commerce because it names many other sources for further reading (on merchant usurers in particular). This article is a good reminder that while we may try to modernize the Canterbury Tales while studying them, it is still important to remember the sociohistorical context in which they were written. —Kristy Raffensberger, 2/25/01

Finlayson, John. "The Knight’s Tale: The Dialogue of Romance, Epic, and Philosophy." The ChaucerReview.   27:2 (1992).

        Finlayson begins his argument by claiming that it was not inevitable that the Knight tell a romance, but rather a deliberate choice by Chaucer. He points to the fact that by the fourteenth century romance had a broad appeal and a debased nature. Within the Canterbury Tales it is the genre chosen also by the Squire, Franklin, narrator, and Wife of Bath. The Knight’s romance, however, is different because it is actually an epic that Chaucer treats as a romance. The depersonalized versions of Boccaccio’s characters move away from the epic and make the reader focus on the romance preoccupation with emotion. It also gives the reader the predicament rather than the protagonist, but the poem is still framed through the epic and controlled by Theseus and the gods.

        Finlayson believes that Chaucer combined these two genres in order to show the collision between life and society and individual aspirations. The conflict mirrors that of a knight’s social responsibilities and his personal, internal desires. Finlayson also argues that this conflict is an echo of medieval images of the soul imprisoned in the body, reaching for spiritual beauty but trapped by flesh. This is because as Finlayson puts it "the chivalric romance in its highest form mirrors for the aristocracy its vision of its idealized self"(127). Yet, in Chaucer’s romance told by the Knight "the ties of comradeship, blood, and honor, which are among the main bases of the chivalric society, are ruptured by that very love which, in its ideal form, ought to be the completion of the medieval chivalric ideal"(134). Finlayson argues, then, that through the two pillars of chivalry presented, Arcite as the warrior and Palamon as the lover, Chaucer is able to deconstruct the romance ideal of chivalry.

        The question of fate versus free will is also called into question through the mixing of genres. Finlayson argues that the secular fiction of aristocratic life collides with the heroic-tragic to show the difference between fate and chance which is a continuous theme throughout the poem.

        I found Finlayson’s discussion about the nature of the romance genre in Chaucer’s time thought provoking in collaboration with the Knight’s tale and Chaucer’s intention. Also, his discussion of the polysemous nature of this tale was interesting yet difficult to decipher. I had a hard time following his logic after a new idea was presented, so while I was interested in the ideas he presented, I felt like a lot of what he said did not fit in the article and made it confusing.-- Erika Lucas, 2/25/01

Spring 1996

McIlhaney, Anne. E. "Sentence and Judgement: The Role of the Fiend in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer                 Review. 31: 2 (1996) 173-183.

         This article discusses the presence of the devil within the Canterbury Tales. Although many characters throughout the tales mention the devils name or use a curse in reference to the devil, the author pays specific attention to the five tales where the devil actually appears. And the fact that the author mentions the MOL in her article made me feel that it was significant to the discussion that we had last week about the distinction between good and evil.

        The most interesting point that the article makes is that the devil is in fact acting as a tool for God. Just like the characters who are affected by the presence of the devil eventually become tools for his work, so too does it seem that this article is arguing for the fact that the devil himself is a tool for God. Rather than arguing that God and Satan exist as separate entities McIlhaney depicts these two forces in a constant juxtaposition. Opposed to how we were discussing them as a class, McIlhaney sees these two forces as intermingling.

        Referencing Aquinas’ concept of "bad angels," McIlhaney points out that "punishment is said to derive from God as its primary author" (174). And it is this point which she uses to argue for the fact that the fiends in the tales are actually instruments for God. Working towards the final judgment of men, God either permits the demons to surface or sends them directly. Therefore, in terms of punishment for "misreading" moral codes or the scriptures themselves, God is the overarching presence who has control over it all.

        After I read this passage I couldn’t help but to question the validity of this argument. If you were to look at Milton’s explanation for Satan as God’s fallen angel in Paradise Lost, it seems that this might make sense. But on the other hand, as we discussed in class (in terms of the MOL at least), there was a definite distinction between the good and evil forces. Custance was definitely under the will of God, while the Sowdanesse directly references "Sathan, " so it seems that there is some discrepancy here.

        Derived from her thesis that demons infiltrate due to the characters inability to follow the correct moral codes which God has laid down, the Sowdanesse and the Knight exist as two perfect examples. Yet, how does the sultaness referring to "Sathan" himself strengthen McIlhaney’s argument that God and Satan are working together? It seems to dilute her argument if anything.

        The only way that I can see this hypothesis working is if you look at the way in which all of these character run-ins with Satan eventually helped Custance to fulfill her "from-exile-to-return saint-like" journey. In these terms I could see how God and Satan were working together towards the ultimate goal of Custance’s rites of passage, but this still doesn’t answer my why question. Why would Satan want to aid God? Aren’t they supposed to be enemies?

        McIlhaney does a nice job of proving that the devil is present within the tales that she chooses to work with, but can’t we see that ourselves if we just read the works? She does give supporting evidence for the way in which the characters call upon Satan because they are following codes other than those laid down by God. But besides the reference to Aquinas, her argument falls short of explaining why God and Satan are "partners in crime, " so to speak. –Nikki Frame February 25, 2001

Pelen, Marc. M. "Providence and Incest Reconsidered: Chaucer’s Poetic Judgment of his Man of Law." Papers on Language          and Literature. 30:2 (Spring 1994): 132-158.

        Pelen looks at the distinction Chaucer draws between himself and his characters, specifically in the Man of Law’s Tale. He points out that Chaucer satirizes the Man of Law in "[1] his shrill rhetoric, [2] his apparent obsession with his heroine, [3] and, not least, his concern with moral judgments, which would somehow illustrate the workings of providence" (132). In his introduction, the Man of Law mentions the competition of the Pierides with the Muses, a contest of tale-telling, in which the Pierides lose because they do not truthfully articulate their tale, but presume to compare the purposes of nature and fate (143). Pelen is attempting to draw parallels between Ovid’s and Chaucer’s means of relating the importance of telling in the "poetic rendering of a traditional legend" (132). Pelen briefly compares The Man on Law’s tale to Trivet’s and Gower’s versions of a similar story, grouping Trivet and Gower together because of the focus in their versions on moral, and drawing a parallel between The Man of Law’s tale and Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the emphasis on the telling of the story more than the content.

        According to Pelen, the theme of incest in the introduction to the Man of Law’s tale serves, at the very least, to set a tone of judgment to the tale telling. The Man of Law feels pressure to tell a morally upstanding tale, and perhaps is satirized for this very reason. Pelen also suggests that the theme of the father as having "ambiguous paternal obsession" (134) loosely connects the Man of Law’s tale to the tales of incest that the Man of Law so emphatically denounces as unworthy of telling (presumably because he feels he is being judged). The introduction of the function of incest in the tale strengthens Pelen’s argument overall, but it seemed a bit awkward to tie the themes of providence and incest together within the article.

        Pelen places the major fault of the Man of Law in telling the story of Custance in his attributing her fate to her innocence. The Man of Law is presuming to understand providence by implying that Custance deserves it because of her positive qualities. By taking such an active interest in his heroine, at times pleading with providence to reward her for her virtue, the Man of Law makes it plain that he cannot possibly comprehend the role of providence in the world. Pelen implies that by hoping for a certain outcome for Custance, the Man of Law is presuming to know more than he should of the motives and methods of fate.

        This article was difficult for me to follow at times because I am not very familiar with Ovid, Gower, or Trivet. This could be a problem in using it for the class, for anyone who is not very familiar with other versions of the tale, or with Ovid. Pelen makes some interesting speculations about what Chaucer may have thought of the Man of Law, who was not exactly favorably depicted in the General Prologue, nor in his own tale, especially taking Pelen’s argument into consideration. I don’t know if Trivet was a contemporary of Chaucer, but knowing that Gower was, I think it would have been interesting if Pelen had looked at the implications of Chaucer’s judgment on moral in relation to Gower. Was the Man of Law’s tale in any way satirizing Gower’s simplicity in making a moral statement the ultimate goal of his writing?

        The article could be very useful in looking at the relationship of Chaucer to the pilgrims; Pelen convincingly argues that Chaucer has written the tale with the purpose of condemning the Man of Law to ignorance of the laws of fate and providence in the lives of humans. As we read more tales, and look back on the ones we’ve read, we should examine the relationship of the tale’s content with it’s rendering. Speculation about the divisions between the opinions of Chaucer the pilgrim, Chaucer the author, and the characters themselves of the characters and the way they tell their stories, certainly adds an interesting dimension to reading of the tales individually and as a collection. The article’s exploration of historical sources for the tale could also be useful in attempts to fill in the background for the Canterbury Tales. -Liz Sabatiuk, 2/24/01

Ashton, Gail. "Her Father’s Daughter: The Realignment of Father-Daughter Kinship in Three Romance Tales." The Chaucer Review. 34: 4 (2000) 416-427.

    This article by Gail Ashton deals with the role of the "daughter" and how she is depicted in romance tales. Although Ashton points to the high incidence of daughters being abandoned, in some way or another, within such texts, she also sees the role of the "daughter" in such tales as a hybrid form that illustrates both helplessness as well as "autonomous independence" (417). And it is through such relationships that she attempts to comment on the centrality of the family and patriarchal lineage that persisted during the time that the literature was produced.

    Specifically, Ashton discusses how the "daughter" is represented in Gower’s Tale of Constance in Confessio Amantis, Thomas le Chestre’s Middle English lai Emare, and most importantly, Chaucer’s the Man of Law’s Tale. And because these tales are versions of each other, the comparisons that Ashton draws between them become even more significant to the scholarly reader. I also found this text to be especially significant to our class in lieu of the conversation we had about Emelye’s flatness as a character in the Knight’s Tale. Although it does not answer the question fully, it still gives us, as Chaucer students, another avenue of comparison.

    Ashton supports her hybridity of the "daughter" thesis very well when she offers the reader the idea that there are two narratives working simultaneously to one another in each text. And for both the surface and under-layer narratives she offers examples in each tale that thoroughly support this concept.

    In terms of the father-daughter relationships that are illustrated in these tales, Ashton sees the "daughter" as more of a "marginal character," rather than a round, more central participant (417). Ashton argues that such subservient behavior only persists once she has been married, for rather than being viewed as an individual, the "daughter" remains "unsignified, property to be traded amongst men" (418).

    Yet, Ashton does draw our attention to the fact that there are instances of independence that surface within these texts as well. As her support for such a claim, Ashton offers us the acts of naming, the taking on of "mother" status and the fact that the children resemble themselves rather than their husbands as examples that are presented in each of the comparative texts.

    I did have one critique of this article as well. Although Ashton claims that "such tales are pertinent within the social context," she has yet to prove this point sufficiently within the confines of this particular article (417). I see her falling short of substantial explanation in regards to one of her earlier statements about how the role of the "daughters" in such tales "explore the centrality of the family within society" (416). Although Ashton does delve into the significance of such roles in terms of how each version of the tale relates to one another, I don’t think she did an efficient job of explaining this in relation to the social constructs of the time. As a result, her interpretations of the three tales become insignificant in terms of the larger picture. --Nikki Frame February 8, 2001

 Woods, William F. "Society and Nature in the Cook’s Tale." Papers on Language and Literature. 32.2 (Spring 1996):          189-206.

    This article explores the political and comprehensive effects of the Cook’s Tale, regardless of whether the tale is considered finished or incomplete. Woods notes immediately the tendency of scholars to focus primarily on the issue of Chaucer’s intentions for the tale, then states his intention to critique the tale based on its content and form in relation to the rest of the fragment, and also in its political and historical context. Woods suggests that the main themes of Fragment I are basically the search for order within society, the deterioration of morality in a changing society, and the necessity for humans to learn to adapt to these changes. Woods cites the absence of the "bureaucratic structure of the church" as a major reason for such moral instability and even corruption in the Cook’s Tale. He implies that the movement of the stories from rural to urban settings leaves commerce as the only social stability.

    Woods draws parallels between the tellers and their tales, and also between the tales themselves. He emphasizes the interplay of having and not having, both literally and morally. While all of the tales suggest fruitfulness, they also suggest corruption and deprivation. The theme of decay implied in both the Cook’s prologue and Tale provides a powerful summation for Fragment I itself, which has gradually through the progression of the tales suggested a decay or corruption of morality. Woods argues that the Cook’s Tale would be unable to set the scene of transition and moral decay with such impact if a narrative of events and actions supplemented the tale’s initial framework. Woods also briefly explains a controversy in the 1380’s between victualers and the common people, which is significant to the tale because Perkyn Revelour, the main character, is an apprentice for a victualer.

    This article is important to criticism of the Cook’s Tale because it views the tale for what it is, rather than focusing exclusively on conjecture about what the tale should have or could have been. Woods provides an interesting perspective on the first Fragment in general, and also has a very interesting analysis on the tale itself in reference to its historical context. Woods takes the theme of degeneration in the stories to an extreme; at times it seems that the points he makes could be a stretch of interpretation, but his assertions are well supported.

    Woods’ incorporation of the political conflicts of the time into his analysis provides another manifestation of the discrepancies between the worlds within which Perkyn moves before he settles into one. The introduction of historical information and its connection to the Cook’s Tale allows for relevant social commentary within the tales and through criticism as well. In fact, with all of the information provided within the article about the political state of urban life in Chaucer’s time, the paragraph Woods spends relating the history to the tale seems brief and somewhat insufficient. Because the article contains so many provocative insights into the Cook’s Tale, a more extensive synopsis of the new information would have helped to pull the different facets of the article into a comprehensive conception of the Tale.

    As we continue on to other fragments, it may be useful to look at the theme of decay in Woods’ article in relation to the other fragments, and to note any trends within the other fragments that parallel those suggested by Woods for the first fragment. --Liz Sabatiuk, 2/11/01

Justman, Stewart. "The Reeve’s Tale and the Honor of Men." Studies in Short Fiction 32 (1995): 21-27.

    Stewart Justman argues that the men in the Reeve’s Tale are so obsessed with resentment that they reduce the idea of noble honor to a violent and absurd mania. Through their concern with reputation, they simply live out a parody of this honor. Justman connects the type of honor the clerks are fighting for to a warped vision of the honor Palamon and Arcite are preoccupied with in the Knight’s Tale. These clerks imagine their escapades being retold like the deeds of heroes, and try to outdo one another like the those noble cousins.

    Justman sites a type of mockery known as charivari in which strong ridicule is brought upon people who were sexually dishonored, such as the carpenter John in the Miller’s Tale. The Canterbury pilgrims know about the sexual dishonor done to John which is why the Reeve, who is also a carpenter, feels he has been held up to the derision of the Canterbury pilgrims.

    The clerks, who act for the Reeve within his tale, dishonor their tormentor sexually in recompense. In effect, the Reeve sexually disgraces the Miller through his tale because he feels he has been sexually disgraced in the Miller’s tale. Justman argues that the honor the clerks receive is merely farcical and while the Reeve would not have wanted to demean the clerks, who are acting for him within the tale, Chaucer probably wanted this to go over the Reeve’s head for the audience to see.

    I agree with Justman’s article, his reading of the Reeve’s Tale in comparison with the Miller’s Tale is comprehensive, and his argument for the futility of the honor which the clerks sought, in comparison with the noble honor of the two cousins in the Knight’s Tale is convincing. --Erika Lucas, 2/11/01

Brody, Saul Nathaniel. "The Fiend and the Summoner, Statius and Dante: A Possible Source for the Friar’s Tale, D                  1379-1520." Chaucer Review 32:2 (1997) pp. 175-182.

    Brody’s thesis is that a passage in the Friar’s Tale has its origins in Dante’s Purgatorio. In the Purgatorio, Dante asks the spirit Statius about the physical appearance of the souls of gluttons, who look lean and starved although they, dead, do not need to eat. In response to this, the spirit goes on a long tangent about the nature of soul and body, finally explaining to Dante how the deceased ones’ souls take form. Apparently the soul can change forms according to its changing emotions or "desires" (178). The soul shapes its physical shape. The summoner in the Friar’s tale, after he knows the nature of the fiend, asks him similar questions, mostly dealing with the fiend’s physical appearance. The fiend answers him politely, explaining that he can change shape and the shape he takes is the one most suited to fetch the soul of his prey. The soul is the most important thing, as the fiend says, to torture and take down to hell; torturing the body is nothing in comparison, but if it’s God’s will that he must torture only a body and not its soul, so be it.

    Both of the passages Brody has picked deal with the nature of soul and appearance. They are both records of dialogue between a questioner and an experienced, supernatural being. But is that enough to justify Brody’s claim? I chose this article because of the problem of determining sources. How do we know for certain that Chaucer isn't just making up the passage between the summoner and the fiend? There is a good criteria by Howard Schless cited on the last page of Brody’s article for determining a source: "Aside from direct translation, or citation, a source can be offered on either a verbal or a contextual basis. Together these give an almost certain indication… separately it would seem that they must be supported by some unique feature of thought or terminology in order to be not merely analogues"(as qtd. in Brody 181).

    I think Brody starts off on the right track. As footnoted in the article, Chaucer’s conversation concerning appearance cannot be found in any of the analogues (182, footnote 4). This would indicate that it is either Chaucer’s creation or a borrowing from another text. Another and possibly more important clue that Brody virtually ignores is that Chaucer, right after this learned conversation, has the fiend make a direct reference to Dante and Virgil. The devil says that the summoner will know as much or more than Dante about Hell and damnation; Chaucer seems to be begging us to read our Alighieri. Though that clue in particular makes me want to agree with Brody completely, I cannot say with certainty that Chaucer was referring to the passage between Statius and Dante. Brody wants to avoid seeming like a combination of the two characters he describes— "a relatively simple-minded inquirer with a spirit of impeccable authority"—but he can only assert that is thesis is "possible and reasonable," not probable. And it is not clear exactly what he is trying to say in this article: what is he getting at by putting the passages side-by-side? Is he trying to say that Chaucer is unoriginal? He does not go beyond mentioning the link.

    The best use for this article, I think, is to be aware of the connections and differences between Dante and Chaucer. They are both worried about the souls of every man and woman, but they write in completely opposite fashions. Dante’s "Dante" is on his way up to Paradise when he gets his lecture, and Chaucer’s (friar’s) summoner is on his way down. Dante tells a supernatural story, and Chaucer is rooted in and limited by his creation of a believable medieval world. Even if one can’t logically deduce culled passages and ultimate sources, there is a continuous dialogue between Dante and Chaucer, as if "a relatively simple-minded inquirer" were talking with a master. Andrej A. Krasnansky, 2/11/01.

Miller, Mark. "Naturalism and Its Discontents in The Miller’s Tale." ELH 67:1 (2000) 1-44.

    Mark Miller argues that the accepted naturalistic view of the Miller’s Tale crumbles under an in-depth look at the conceptions of gender identity and desire in the Miller himself and the tale that he tells. Many critics believe that in his project to"quite" the Knight’s Tale, the Miller responds with a tale where the dominant naturalistic view is one of simple, animalistic pleasure, based on natural instinct alone. It is a world where everything you could want is ready at hand, present for the immediate gratification of desire. However, Mark points out many inconsistencies with the Miller’s supposed beliefs and actual actions (of himself and characters in the tale).

    Mark first states an obvious contradiction: if human desire and its objects were determined by nature, then it would be impossible to recommend one way of life over another, since on such a view there can be no such thing as going wrong. Therefore, there would be no need to tell the tale in the first place because there would not be an opposing view such as the Knight’s to contradict.

    Mark also explores Alisoun as the object of all three men’s desire in the tale. According to the Miller’s theory, Alisoun, or any woman, represents nature’s plentitude, and is nothing more than an object to be viewed and desired. But, as Mark points out, Alisoun is the only character that truly follows the Miller’s naturalistic views. She always knows what she wants and consistently lets instinct guide her actions. So Alisoun paradoxically becomes the perfect example of the Miller’s beliefs, and yet serves as the passive object of desire for the three men as well.

    Mark takes this point a bit further and says that because the character that the Miller chose to embody his theory is a woman, the Miller has a secret "wish to be, or be like, a woman" (17). Therefore, he also has a desire to punish whatever in him is masculine; hence the severe punishments that each of the men go through in the tale. This point is what Mark’s whole argument hinges upon, and while it makes sense, it does not seem stable enough to be the sole foundation for his case.

    The majority of the first part of the article is a detailed account of how each punishment inflicted upon Nicholas, Absolon, and John are also all directed on the Miller himself, as "ways of imagining a self-castigation" (17). Nicholas is broken down by the humiliation and pain of a hot poker up his bum, and forcibly made into a "female man" by being rendered passive and weak (18). Absolon is punished by a confrontation with Alisoun’s body that simultaneously arouses and disgusts him—a very unmanly trait. And John has the heaviest punishment of all; he suffers a broken arm, betrayal by his wife, and the public humiliation of being insane, or a fool for love.

    The second part of the article discusses how intimacy fits into the Miller’s naturalistic views that he is trying to portray. In his terms, it should simply be a matter of desiring an object and possessing it; however, Alisoun ruins that mold. She is supposed to be the passive object of desire, but actually has a "likerous ye," or a desiring gaze of her own. Mark argues that the thrill of desire is contingent upon a narcissistic wish for the other’s desire to be a reflection of one’s own. But if that is true, both the female and male are agents, and the object disappears.

    Mark also points out that the tale’s one moment of erotic satisfaction is quickly glossed over. The line "In bisynesse of myrthe and of solas" is the only description. Mark says that if the Miller was to be more descriptive about this moment (as he is in other moments) he would be forced to reveal that Alisoun and Nicholas were doing something together in bed, therefore destroying his proclaimed naturalistic order. So he says nothing, but his uncharacteristic silence is a sign that something more did happen.

    I enjoy how this article attempts to disassemble the common views of the Miller’s naturalism. It did not quite succeed in my mind, possibly because it is easier for me to read the tale in the traditional animalistic view, but it does bring up many fascinating points, which are still intriguing to consider.–Kristy Raffensberger, 2/11/01

Miller, Mark. "Naturalism and its Discontents in the Miller's Tale." English Literary History. 67.1 (2000): 1-44.

    Mark Miller's thesis depends on a generally accepted critical analysis that defines the Miller's philosophy as a kind of naturalism. Based on this notion, he demonstrates how such a worldview is contradictory to the Miller's real attitudes and does not work within the framework of his tale.

    The Miller's naturalism is commonly defined by a belief that humans are driven by their "natural" instincts. All humans need do is look within themselves to discover their natural desires and then surrender to these impulses, letting nature take its course. The ends and the means (the desired object and the desire) are naturally determined, so there is no need (as in the Knight's tale) for any reflection on how life should be lived. Nature provides "everything we could want and ample opportunity to get it," so we need not trouble ourselves by posing useless questions (6).

    It is generally understood that the Miller's tale is a rebuff to the Knight's tale. In telling his tale the Miller is trying to make the Knight's characters seem ridiculous, even perverse. By challenging the Knight's philosophy, the Miller reinforces its reality, but in the naturalistic world he has constructed, such foolish attitudes would either be impossible or would merely be "another set of ways for naturally determined desires to operate" (7). (Mark Miller does not seem to make room for the fact that there might be any human motivations that are other than natural, but luckily his argument extends beyond this.) The contradiction lies in the fact that the Miller purports that there is no need for the kind of philosophizing that the Knight's Tale includes, yet the Miller's tale is an answer to that very kind of philosophical question. In short, he is not practicing what he preaches, and he ends up reinforcing the very reality that he tries to deny.

    Also, far from being "a celebration of the blessed natural state of the human animal," the Miller's tale ends up advocating a kind of passivity and isolation from others (6). Letting our instincts work through us, we are not allowed "to make a contribution to these forces" (16). Those who do this (Nicholas and Absolon) are duly punished in the Miller's Tale, while Alisoun (the passive object of desire) is never penalized. Mark Miller suggests that this viewpoint illustrates the Miller's desire to escape the burden of the human responsibility for one's actions. In addition, since it is our inner makeup, and not our relationship with others that determines our lives, other people become mere objects to be acted upon by our natures. In such a world, real intimacy has no place, and so John's love for Alisoun is naturally misunderstood and therefore mocked by the Miller.

    The article's also makes an argument for the Miller having homoerotic desires. This is a complex thesis that requires the reader to swallow a number of rather tenuous assertions. While not a totally flimsy concept, it is definitely one that requires further study. Besides this, I find Mark Miller's thesis to be an interesting, well-supported counterpoint to the traditional interpretation of the Miller's Tale. It is especially useful as regards the Miller's ideas of human agency and desire, and the narrative's position as a challenge to the Knight's tale. –Audrey Babkirk 2/11/01

Beidler, Peter.  "Just Say Yes, Chaucer Knew the Decameron: Or, Bringing the Shipman's Tale Out of Limbo."  Leonard               Michael Koff and Brenda Deen Schildgen, eds., The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on anOld             Question.  Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2000.

    The purpose of Beidler's article, essentially, is to prove the likelihood that Chaucer used Boccaccio's Decameron as a source for the Canterbury Tales by refuting the claims of those who deny that this is true.  He accomplishes this in a threefold manner.  First, he proposes theories as to why, in spite of evidence supporting his point, his opponents deny that Chaucer used the Decameron as a source for the Tales.  He then focuses on a 1977 article by Donald McGrady, "Chaucer and the Decameron Reconsidered," that he feels summarizes all of the pre-1975 scholarship related to his argument, and proceeds to accept and refute various sections of it.  Finally, Beidler uses the example of the Shipman's Tale as final proof of the Decameron's influence on the Tales.

    The bulk of Beidler's argument, and the section containing the most hard evidence – and therefore the most useful – is his summary and critique of McGrady's article.  He begins by summarizing McGrady's refutation of Cummings and Farnham, two "early doubters of Chaucer's knowledge of the Decameron" (29).  McGrady's refutation of Cummings is based on the fact that Cummings' argument ignores essential facts like the similarities of Boccaccio's and Chaucer's apologies/retractions and the similarities between various Decameron stories and six different Canterbury Tales (29).  His refutation of Farnham hinges on Farnham's assertion that Chaucer could not have known the Decameron since no copies were easily available in England in Chaucer's day; McGrady asserts that Chaucer is known to have visited Italy, and could have obtained a copy there; copies were also available in many other European countries, therefore Chaucer may have easily obtained a copy in Europe as well (30).

    Beidler goes on to contradict an assertion of McGrady's that he sees as a weakness of his article: McGrady's insistence that Chaucer not only had read the Decameron at one point in his life, but that he had a copy in front of him while he was writing the Tales.  McGrady's reasoning for this is his assumption that Chaucer would have been unable to remember enough specific details from the Decameron to reproduce them in his own work.  Beidler responds that Chaucer, because of the prevalence in his day of the oral tradition, would have had impressive memorial skills by today's standards (31-2).  He also notes that the aspects of the Tales that are most often attributed to Boccaccio's influence are either basic enough (like the concept of having each person tell two stories) or odd enough (like the comparison of an old man to a leek) to be easy to remember (33-4).  He goes on, finally, to refute McGrady's assertion that the Miller's Tale is a complex blend of three different Boccaccio stories (part of McGrady's evidence of Chaucer's easy access to the Decameron during the writing process), offering instead a fourteenth-century Flemish source that is closer to the plot of the Miller's Tale than any of Boccaccio's stories (35).

    Beidler's essay, unfortunately, is neither coherent nor comprehensive.  While his purpose seems to be to make a somewhat final case for the realization that Chaucer did indeed use Boccaccio's Decameron as a source for the Canterbury Tales, his argument consists mostly of a review of a 25-year-old article on the same topic.  He thus only examines a handful of arguments, and while these arguments are by implication indicative of Beidler's opponents, they are weak and give the article a fighting-straw-men feel.  Additionally, there is also extraneous information, like the lightly-disguised ridicule of Beidler's modern-day opponents that occurs early in the article and his definitions of the words "source," "hard analogue," and "soft analogue" that appear near the essay's end that have little to nothing to do with the real point of the article, that hurts the essay's coherence.  Coherence is also undermined by Beidler's title and conclusion, which identify the purpose of the article as being to provide a source for the Shipman's Tale, a topic which is only briefly dealt with in the article.

    Despite these faults, however, there is nonetheless some information in the article that would be of use to our class.  His analyses of the Miller's Tale and the Shipman's Tale are of special interest to anyone interested in learning about a possible source of those two tales.  And the central argument is very useful as one side of the debate on Chaucer's indebtedness to Boccaccio's Decameron for the Canterbury Tales.  I would like to note, however, that this essay should not be consulted as a source presenting both sides of this quandary.  Beidler clearly assumes in the essay that his readers are already familiar with the debate, and thus sets out from the outset to not present their side but merely to refute it.  It is definitely an interesting, but one-sided, view of this debate. -- Keith Winkler, 02-11-01.

Roney, Lois. "The Knight." Chaucer's Knight's Tale and Theories of ScholasticPsychology. Tampa: U of South Florida P,          1990. 232-245

    Roney strongly believes that in the issue of tale/teller match, that the "Knight's Tale" is particularly suitable for its narrator, the Knight. Theseus and the Knight share many of the same characteristics and also share similar experiences, which implies that the Knight may be speaking through Theseus. She says that the Knight insists on finding an essential goodness in things, no matter how bad they may seem.

    The Knight's optimism of human nature keeps him from indulging in negative judgements, for example at the end of his tale he could have commented on Palamon's marriage to Emelye in a negative way because of what had happened for it to occur. He instead chooses to see the good in Palamon and not comment in a negative manner, which shows the Knight's very high standards of being and his behavior towards others. He has a great ability to value opposing points of view and praise what is good in each of them.

    In her comparison of the Knight to Theseus, Roney points out that Theseus learns lessons that the Knight would have learned while on the crusades. For example, he would have learned quickly, like Theseus, that once violence is started, it is difficult to stop. The Knight "would have come to value highly, as does Theseus, the kind of practical wisdom one gains from living actively in the world, from having to make hard decisions and then live with their outcomes." And the last thing he would have learned is that in the real world there is happiness and comfort as well as sorrow and distress.

    I agree with everything that Roney has to say about the Knight, for I too see him to be a man of high standards and being negative and mean just isn't something he would do. I see him as being a noble man not just in the General Prologue, but in his tale also. Theseus is the character that he speaks through and I like the fact that the Knight doesn't make him a "perfect" man with no flaws whatsoever. This characterizes the Knight as a "real person," he knows that everyone makes mistakes and he believes that most people do intend well, regardless of how things work out. --Amy Dill, 2/12/99

Hardwick, Paul. "Chaucer: the Poet as Ploughman." The Chaucer Review. 33:2 (1998) 146-156.

    The main point of this article is that the character of the Ploughman, who occurs only in the General Prologue and therefore is not highly developed, is instead symbolic, a metaphor for the poet Chaucer himself. This comparison, which Hardwick says is originally found in Boccaccio, is that a ploughman digs furrows across the field just as a poet writes lines across a page. Along with this, Hardwick argues that, as the Ploughman is traveling with and is the brother of a Parson, living in "parfit charitee," following the example of this noble representative of the Church, so must Chaucer, in his writings, be working for the common good of his audience, in brotherhood with the Church that he supports.

    Hardwick, in fact, works very hard to play down the anti-clerical vein that runs though the Canterbury Tales. He proposes that, instead of merely destructively criticizing the flaws of the institutional Church, Chaucer is trying to reform them by portraying the Parson, an ideal clerical figure. Accordingly, Hardwick presents the sermons of the Parson as proof of Chaucer's orthodox beliefs. In addition, the author tells us in a particularly vague paragraph that Chaucer aligned himself with the Italian Renaissance idea of the "exalted status" of a "modern" poet whose job it was to work for the benefit of the audience.

    If one manages to read this article carefully enough to catch the author's train of logic, then some issues of interpretation become apparent. For example, Hardwick assumes that because Chaucer creates a character (the Parson) which believes certain things, and also places that character's tale in the important position of next-to-last, then Chaucer himself must agree with his character. Therefore, because the Parson sermonizes in his tale about the necessity of penance to an ordained priest, Chaucer's position must be orthodox (Hardwick uses this conclusion to disprove the possibility that Chaucer identified with an anti-Church, lay movement, which would destroy the author's point that the poet/ploughman works in brotherhood with the Church). However, this assumption, that "this is what his characters believe, so this is what the author believes," is suspect because it totally underestimates a writer's ability to create independent characters. If a writer needs to prove a point about an author's ideologies, though, this method is very tempting and convenient, so it bears looking out for in other places. The article also brings up the problem of the delicate line between the voice of the narrator-poet and the voice of Chaucer the poet. The question is whether it is ever possible to treat these two interchangeably.

    In the process of making his point, the author asks an interesting and potentially useful question: Can religious elements and secular elements be neatly separated "within the overall unity of the Canterbury Tales"? Now aside from the point that the CT may or may not exhibit overall unity, the relationship between the religious and secular could prove a fruitful path of investigation. An inquiring reader would probably turn up more than one relationship, which might even support non-overall unity. Basically, while this author makes a few assumptions and connections that may not completely hold water, the article is useful for the issues it draws attention to, and also for readers who are interested in the character of the Parson, or how the Parson would read the Canterbury Tales. (I'll add to this, if necessary, when we get to this tale). --Corinna Yost, 2/16/99

Woods, William F. "My Sweete Foo: Emelye's Role in The Knight's Tale." Studies-in-Philology. 88:3 (1991) 276-306.

    Woods’ main point in this article is how all the character's in the "Knight's Tale" were needed to create this tale. Some of the characters have more complex personalities and roles, yet Emelye's is not. The author goes on to describe her as a simple woman who is caught in between the obsessive love of two men, Arcite and Palamon. This article shows a very close relationship between Emelye and the goddesses such as Diana and Venus. When we are first introduced to Emelye she is being compared to the beautiful goddess of Venus as "an irresistible, faceless face of love." Yet according to Woods, as the tale begins to unravel we are presented with Emelye following more in the footsteps of Diana, goddess of fertility, hunting (harvest) and death (change).

    In Part III, Emelye prays to Diana, yet her prayer isn't answered until Part IV, but it's answered by Saturn, who is "a higher order of change or the summation of all changes." Woods points out that Emelye's role shows us that she embodies both the powers of love and change. Therefore she has the role of "huntress" which stems from Diana and then the eros which she acquired from Venus. Knowing this allows us to understand better as to why Venus appears in the end of Part III, "where her tears move the will of Saturn, arranging the death of Arcite."

    Woods has an interesting point when he states that there are certain forces which represent the motive forces that create the conflict over Emelye. Yet there is a certain equilibrium to them. Venus and Mar's sign are white and red, yet Diana's is a little bit of both: "alabastre white" and "reed coral" (1910). This allows us to conclude that in a way Diana is related to both goddesses.

    Woods believes that the description of Diana is more ambiguous than that of Venus and Saturn because since she is the goddess of moon, the hunt and underworld, she represents nature worldwide, instead of concentrating on just love or the actual earth. As well as representing nature, she also has stellar influences. Venus represents one's identity with another, Mars, the ability to enhance oneself and then Diana, the desire to become one with "nature's innocent harmony." Yet these intentions create certain limitations such as: Palamon worshipping Emelye for so many years while he was inprisoned, Arcite wastes time not accomplishing much, and Emelye "would rather go hunting-go through the motions of life in this surrogate for the pursuits of love and arms." Consequently all this conflicts with Emelye's beauty and her desire to retreat into nature, yet her ability to accept love from Venus and change from Diana is what makes her a central character between Arcite and Palamon and allows her to engage in the troubles that come along with having two men in love with her: marriage with one and death of the other. --Maria Elena Perez, 2/17/99

Dugas, Don-John. "The Legitimization of Royal Power in Chaucer's Man ofLaw’s Tale." Modern Philology. 95 Aug (1997)          27-43.

    Don-John Dugas argues in his essay "The Legitimization of Royal Power in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale" that Chaucer, through the Man of Law, argues for the legitimacy and authority of monarchical rule. By doing so, Dugas argues, Chaucer sides with Richard II in the ongoing struggle between that king and Parliament. I will return to the obvious flaw in this argument later.

    According to Dugas, Chaucer (I make no distinction between Chaucer and the Man of Law here because, in Dugas eyes, their intentions are the same) employs an age-old method of lending legitimacy to royal claims of power in the "Man of Law's Tale." In the tradition of Virgil, and many other lesser history-makers, Chaucer bases a monarch's authority to rule on a supposed divine and legendary ancestor. Virgil had legitimized Augustus's claims to power by creating the myth of Aeneas's founding of Rome, of whom he made Augustus a direct descendent. Through Virgil's poem, Augustus could claim descent from a deity, Venus (Aeneas's mother), and a legendary figure, Aeneas, whose fate it was to found an empire that was destined to control the world. In similar fashion Chaucer bases the legitimacy of the English monarchy (at least of the institution if not of the individual) on descent from the Roman emperors, a saint (Custance), and even Aeneas himself, through Brutus. Though only a Roman emperor, and not an English king, comes out of the bargain, Dugas's argument is (to the best of my ability to decipher it) that it is through an Anglo-Saxon king that Christianity is again brought to England. As evidence of Alla's divinely ordained status, God sends the combination Roman emperor's daughter/saint to him that he might marry her and be the force for the dissemination of Christianity in England. And, thrown into the bargain is the fact that Alla has an unlikely "Britoun book, written with Evaungiles" that somehow, though he is neither a Christian nor a Briton, ties him not only to Christianity but to Brutus himself.

    I do not mean to argue with Dugas's premise as to the possible didactic purpose of the tale, though I believe his reasoning is convoluted and unsound. I think he is definitely on to something. That the tale would be the conscious creation of a myth, a refashioning of the past, toward some practical purpose, is perfectly suited to the teller, whose job it is to reinterpret the past in order to further the interests of the individual he serves. However, rather than arguing for the preeminence of one secular power over another, I think it more likely that, by attributing the reintroduction of Christianity to a secular ruler rather than a purely religious figure (St. Augustine), and by making his "saint" a combination-secular aristocrat of the highest order and ideal Christian-the Man of Law might be arguing for the preeminence of secular over religious authority, with the ultimate irony (which we know Chaucer to be capable of) of undercutting the very figure whose shrine the pilgrims are going to visit!

    What I do wish to argue with is the assumption that the Man of Law's intentions and Chaucer's are the same. Chaucer takes great pains to remind us that the teller, as well as the tale, is a fictional construct when he causes the Man of Law to recite Chaucer's own works. And he also undercuts both the teller, and therefore the tale he tells, by his less than flattering description of him in the General Prologue, and by the "hymn to wealth" he attributes to him in his own prologue. After all, the essence of the Man of Law is "seeming." In his life (his "bisynesse") and in his work, he passes the fictional off as the real. A tale which willfully reconstructs the past for its own purposes, and whose meaning is continually interpreted for the audience along the way, is quintessentially a lawyer's.--Damon Hauser, 3/5/99

Woods, William F. "A Professional Thyng: the Wife as Merchant's Apprentice in the Shipman's Tale." The Chaucer Review.          24:2 (1989) 139-149.

    Woods' article provides a useful discussion of the "Shipman's Tale" that explains how the tale may be seen through the idiom of commerce. He concentrates on the wife's efforts to gain greater power in the marriage and says that she does so by entering into a financial exchange herself, thereby becoming another merchant. The whole tale itself, Woods says, revolves around a series of acts of exchange, thus creating a world in which there is little other purpose besides the mercantile lust after profit. This means, though, that winning the commodity (money, control, sexual favors) is not as important as the endless cycle of wheeling and dealing, without which the characters of this tale would have nothing to live for.

    One of Woods' initial main points is that the merchant's and the monk's professional roles are made out to be slightly ridiculous. The merchant is being one-upped by his wife, who cuts a successful deal with the monk before her husband ever leaves for the marketplace. And the monk's behavior is clearly not consistent with his holy vocation. Woods claims that since these two characters are thus mildly mocked, the wife and her endeavors consequently come to be the main focus of this tale. It is the wife who welcomes the monk, as a substitute master of the house, into her bedroom, and it is she who later welcomes her husband back, "reinstates" him, and denies the monk.

    Woods’ final point is that the wife gains strength first by descending to the point of selling her body, then by yielding to her husband's chastising, and by the end of the tale she possesses "independence in her role as merchant's wife" (148). However, even though Woods emphasizes how much control the wife is able to gain over the men in the tale through use of her body, I don't think she ends up with much authority. I just think she has figured out how to be satisfied sexually within her marriage. Her final position is the one of a debtor, which still carries its disadvantages, even if she is getting what she wants in bed. But, as we're thinking in terms of commerce, I see money as the primary reason why she propositions the monk in the first place. Her husband may be rich, but her appetite must be voracious not only in the arena of the bedroom, but in the wardrobe as well. After all, the tale begins with the narrator commenting upon the fashion needs of a fair wife.

    So what is she really left with? Contrary to what Woods implies, the wife does not have any increased financial control in the marriage. The 100 francs she had borrowed are spent. And there is no reason for the reader to think that the wife will no longer want to spend more money than her husband is willing to give her, just because she is paying off the present debt with sex.

    Despite the fact that I disagree with Wood's position on the wife's final level of independence, I find this article to be useful because it explores and illuminates the exchanges going on in the "Shipman's Tale." The author successfully uses the metaphor of trade to tie everything together and the sense of humor that comes through in the author's language, as he bends over backwards to extend the conceit, is mostly appreciated. Therefore, if a student is trying to do a reading of a tale through the theme of money, trade, or profit, this article provides such an example. Also, for a student interested in folk motifs in Chaucer, this article also touches on how a few of them surface in the "Shipman's Tale."--Corinna Yost 3-11-99

Feinstein, Sandy. "The Reeve's Tale: About That Horse." The Chaucer Review. 26:1 (1991) 99-106.
    Sandy Feinstein's article examines the horse in the "Reeve's Tale," arguing that, "there is a problem in privileging the allegorical reading: it makes assumptions about the culture that few in the agrarian Middle Ages would have made," (99). One of these assumptions that Feinstein is referring to is the sexuality of the horse. She says that two writers, Ruggiers and Richardson identify the horse as a stallion and their only evidence for this is the fact that the horse runs away after the wild mares.

    Feinstein's argument regarding the sex of the horse is very convincing and if anything, challenges Ruggiers and Richardson. She used much of the article backing up her point with a vast amount of sources and research. However, I understand she was trying prove her thesis, but I personally felt that she used up a vast amount of her article with other peoples findings, rather than exploring her own.

    One piece of research that was very necessary to her article, was looking in early, medieval manuals regarding horses. She says that the horse is more likely a gelding and not a stallion. She made the point that stallions, then and now are kept for the purpose of serving mares. A stallion would need to be trained and only those who had the money and/or the time to train such an animal would be able to handle the steed. An abundance of money and time does not fit into the lifestyle of the two clerks and therefore the horse they had could not possibly be a stallion.

    She also backs this point up by using information from the works of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, a writer from the first-century, who says that stallions require a special kind of management that is different from the care of all other types of horses. "This sort of management required would not lend itself to turning stallions into packhorses; not would clerks or millers be the likely managers of such animals," (101). Feinstein then quotes several passages from Columella's work about stallions, which I feel was unnecessary to continue using this source at the length that she chose to. Another interesting part of Feinstein's research on stallions said that if Bayard would have been a stallion, chasing the mares in the field, the two clerks would have ended their chase not only tired and dirty, but physically wounded as well. During mating season, stallions can go mad with desire and it would be quite dangerous to approach the mares and the stallion. She says that the clerks would have been bitten and kicked.

    At the end of her article, Feinstein briefly touches on the sexuality of the horse and that it is really female and not male, like most critics assume. She also brings up an interesting point that if the horse is a gelding it would refer "not to the clerks, but to another character," (104). She sees the gelding may represent the Reeve himself and that the horse "might provide a sympathetic exemplum of frustrated impotence rather then of satisfied lust," (104).

    She continues exploring this idea in only one more paragraph, which turns out to be the final one of her article. I really wished she would have spent more time exploring the Reeve being compared to the horse, instead of going at such an excessive length to persuade her readers that the horse cannot be a stallion. Though I found this insight to be interesting, I was much more intrigued with Feinstein's idea about the Reeve and the horse. --Amy Dill, 3/16/99 (Rev. 3/28)

Crane, Susan. "Alison of Bath Accused of Murder: Case Dismissed." English Language Notes. 25:3 (1988) 10-15.

    This article is a response to Vernon Hall's "Sherlock Holmes and the Wife of Bath," which first raised the question of murder, and the proliferation of papers by other authors that supported the charge of murder. Crane steps into the role of defense attorney to exonerate Alison of any wrongdoing.

    Crane begins by stating that it would be easy to acquit Alison on the grounds that the prosecution's evidence is circumstantial and inconsequential. She provides alternate plausible explanations for several of her opponents' main lines of evidence. For example, during their walks Alison flirts with Jankyn not to secure an accomplice but to increase her future marital options. She is not attempting to replace husband number four but is tentatively placing Jankyn in line behind him. It is also entirely probable that Alison becomes enraged only after listening to tales of captious and lecherous wives (not murderous ones), offenses of which she is guilty.

    The crux of the first part of Crane's case is that the lack of concrete evidence (no DNA, no bloody knife) should result in Alison's acquittal and all charges being dropped. However, she realizes that this is not enough to satisfy the accusers who build their case arguing that what is absent is crucial. In doing so, the accusers make what Crane calls two false "apprehensions." The first is wrongly believing that the WoB is essentially a real person (instead of a literary figure) and assuming it is appropriate to conjecture about her childhood and state of mind. Second, these critics believe the WoB exemplifies the "wikked wyves" instead of challenging the antifeminist tradition. Although the Wife is constructed from the very tradition she opposes and must make her defense of women from the cases levied against them, she is not merely another "wikked wyfe." She has reflective awareness of the tradition and speaks from that perspective.

    Crane seeks only to counter her opponents' "lack of evidence" argument. She does not discuss how logistically difficult the actual murder and escaping detection would be, as some authors have tried to do. This is not necessary because Crane is not trying to prove the Wife's innocence. She is instead arguing for acquittal on the grounds that the prosecution's case leaves too much reasonable doubt and has employed inappropriate methods and reasoning.

    Crane makes the very valid point that the WoB is a literary figure and not a real person. She exists only within the text so we cannot speculate about her past (before she "existed" as a character) outside of the text. Even if the conjecture is based on some textual information, the reader's imagination may provide too much detail filling in the gaps and Crane cautions that readers are not the poet. Other critics (Leicester, Benson) also encourage respecting the limits of the character's representation. Many of the accusers have invented "extra-textual history and psychopathology" and, based on these speculations, labeled the Wife a psychopath or nymphomaniac. Crane argues that attempting to create a "real" woman out of Alison endangers the purpose and meaning she has as a literary character.

    Although Crane says we must use the text as the basis for interpretation and reproaches those who have invented "childhoods" for the Wife, she is not clear where she draws the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable. Literal interpretation of the text also raises the question of the Wife's reliability as a speaker (are we to believe that a twelve year-old had complete mastery over a much older husband?). Are we expected to take all of the Wife's words as truth? I think Chaucer provides a rich and complex portrait of the Wife's persona that allows readers to formulate interpretations based on the text which can then be extrapolated to other situations. Because of this, we can read other tales through "the Wife's eyes" or "the Devil's eyes" as long as we remember that we are making educated suppositions.

    I enjoyed this article. Crane does an excellent job playing the part of the defense attorney and even wishes to call Dr. Watson and Geoffrey Chaucer as witnesses for her case. This is a "must read" for anyone wishing to examine the question of murder in the tale. While it is interesting to examine the cases others have made, there is still no circumventing the lack of hard evidence. This article provides a nice counter-point to the accusers and attempts to ensure that readers are not too persuaded by textually unsubstantiated conjecture about the Wife.

    The issues the article raises should be kept in mind when reading the "Clerk's Tale" and "Merchant's Tale" and examining their views of the Wife. One may want to keep an eye out for further evidence of Alison's innocence or guilt (although neither the Merchant, the Clerk, nor the "Envoy to Bukton" ever suspect that Alison committed murder). As far as the seminar goes, we should be careful when attempting to read another tale through the "Wife's eyes" that we do not make outrageous claims when extrapolating her persona. --Meghan Milburn, 3/18/99

Koff, Leonard Michael. "Who Speaks for the Wife of Bath?" Chaucer and the Art of Storytelling. Los Angeles: U of California          P, 1988. 105-155.

    In this chapter Koff grapples with the idea of how it would be to be able to read Canterbury Tales having been performed by someone pretending to be Chaucer pretending to be someone else, and comments on what a shame it was that there is no knowledge of any of these tales being presented without Chaucer himself being the performer. The problem which many of us have in reading these tales is remembering that there are double story tellers in which even though a story is being told about the Wife of Bath or the Miller, it doesn't mean that the pilgrim who is telling it has any resemblance to the character in the tale. We as readers tend to see similarities, but we change our views and formulate our own opinions through what the storytellers are telling us during their pilgrimmage.

    John Speirs, a critic, views the Wife of Bath as "compellingly life-affirming." He finds her to be rebellious and has a very "individual mind" says Betrand Bronson, another critic. But Speirs and Bronson share some different opinions on the Wife of Bath. Bronson finds that when you read the "Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale," it gives us a small glimpse at a larger picture of Chaucer's "continous or discontinous presence in or behind his narratives," whereas Speirs finds that the Wife of Bath shows her female self which invites his own "imaginative penetration." Speirs sees her as the "best example of Chaucer maturest art, unfettered by the constraints of a psychologically naive medieval aesthetic" and that her "tale" about her story and the identity of her self allows him to better understand himself and his position in "our cultural history".

    This chapter begins to describe these two critic's opinions towards the Wife of Bath, but the question worth noting is how would Chaucer have performed the "Wife of Bath's Prologue" or anyone else’s during his time. Had a storyteller read us these tales, modern listeners would have catergorized the tales as being "dramatic," and we would value the text that we were hearing. But Bronson and Kittredge, another critic, argue that we as readers like what we understand. We enjoy the parts "that come to life" and bring us moral value into our own lives. Yet the crucial understanding lies in how we read Chaucer or how Chaucer is read to us because it may be possible to generate different ideas all due to the way the literature is presented. It is important to remember that when we read Chaucer or simply pretend to be someone else when reading, we must pay close attention to the narrative voices. In acknowledging this concept we are able to acquire that this tale is "dramatic" and from it we take values and a better understanding of the text. We can sympathize with the Wife of Bath or the Knight and and "still hear a voice or voices in each." But these tales are both stories that "bring to life."

The Wife of Bath's insatiability "awakens masculine appetite, over which she has negotiating power," and if we try to imagine a man impersonating the WoB, it warps our understanding of her strong character. We would have mixed and sexist feelings towards her femininity had she be portrayed by a man. Her stubbornness and need to dominate parodies that of the characteristics of a man in the world and both sexes would find amusement, but it's her "gutsiness," her strong will, the fact that she has no children that "awakens" what a majority of men both fear and desire.

    It is thought that through the "Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale," her voice becomes one of a amusing, yet not liberating woman, "precisely because she does as a woman what men have always done-justifies herself and strikes bargains." The repression that women felt oppressed during the medieval times is released when relating to the Wife of Bath. For a man, or even just for those who are masculine men and women relate to the Wife of Bath because of her will for power and trading in the world. Yet for a woman, or for men and women who are feminine, the Wife of Bath's qualities which appealed to them would be her description of trade as "play and allurement-as both purely sexual and life-sustaining." Yet the one thing that the Wife of Bath never does "consciously and willfully" is become a mother and perhaps because of this we can better understand why both men and women could relate to her and in a sense "know her." The Wife of Bath seems to have androgynous qualities which appeals to both men and women and "engages [them in the] constellation of sexual and social signatures we distinguish as feminine and masculine.

    This chapter continues to describe the Wife of Bath and her sexuality, as well as her desire for men to be both submissive and becomes a master of her men and how outliving her husbands gives her a "continuous awakening of sexual renewal into old age." Koff also describes her need for power and how she dismisses her husband’s misogyny. The Wife of Bath can be considered one of the greatest characters that Chaucer created and even though her tale ends, she continues speaking, not only for herself, but also for others. --Maria Elena Perez, 4/29/99

Daileader, Celia R. "The Thopas-Melibee Sequence and the Defeat of Antifeminism." Chaucer Review. 29:1 (1994) 26-39.

        Celia Daileader begins her article comparing Dame Prudence in the "Tale of Melibee" to the Wife of Bath. She points out that although the two women seem to differ by their physical appearance, with Dame Alice in her red stockings and extravagant hats while Prudence is much more subdued; they share many of the same feminist concerns. Both display a vast knowledge of the biblical and patristic authors (in particular, Solomon), and both cite these to show their own views, although in a much different manner. The author says that Chaucer uses Sir Thopas as means to clear a path for Dame Prudence's "rhetorical tour de force" (27). That is, he was not comfortable with his own paternity over his feminist creations and uses his persona within the text to undermine his own "auctoritee." "In this way the Thopas-Melibee sequence, operating on the echos of the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, allows Chaucer not merely to challenge the antifeminist patristic tradition... but actually to uproot the very concept of a unified patriarchal authority," (27).

    Daileader goes on to compare the two tales; both begin with a rape, one being physical and the other being allegorical. Women in both tales are subjected to violence; Sophie being wounded in the five areas pertaining to the senses. Alice was hit in the ribs and ear by Jankyn and there was also the rape of the maiden in her tale. The Wife of Bath gives great emphasis in both Prologue and Tale on the male violence which might mark a woman's body. In Melibee, Prudence must speak for her daughter and implicates the father in the violence against Sophie, condemning him as a representation of the entire male power structure. Both women have spoken out against the act of male violence, the violation of the female body. The author also makes a good point that Alice and Prudence "demonstrate the awareness that, in a culture which seeks to define them, self-definition is crucial," (35).

    "The Tale of Meilbee," just like the "Wife of Bath's Tale," ends with the change of a misguided male character through the clairvoyance of a woman. Both tales begin with male ignorance and fierce male greed, and end with forgiveness, enlightenment, and truce. This article was very intriguing and gave great insight into the mind of Prudence. Daileader did much more than compare two women, she also took a step by step look at Melibee and how the characters actions revolved around the Dame and her feminist views. The author also considers Prudence to be one of Chaucer's heroines, something that I had never considered until reading this article, which has given me an idea for my paper topic. I highly recommend this article, if not to just read it to see another side to this tale. --Amy Dill, 4/29/99

Cooper, Helen. "Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: Reviewing the Work." Studies in the Age of Chaucer.          19 (1997) 183-210.

    This article gives an interesting look into the sources and analogues of some of Chaucer's Tales. It also gives insight into medieval history, which I found to be quite enjoyable. According to the author, Helen Cooper, this work "has been a staple resource of Chaucerian scholars for over half a century," (183). However, she says that it had been showing its age and few of the chapters represent the "current state of scholarship," (183) particularly the first chapter which focuses on the literary framework of the Tales. At the time of this issue of Studies in the Age of Chaucer, "Sources..." was being revised. Apparently, Studies was lucky enough to give us a sneak preview of the first chapter.

    Chapter one attempts to cover four areas having to do with sources and analogues: story collections and how they organize their constituent tales, debate, poetic contests and storytelling pilgrims-to give some idea of the origins of the large structures of the whole work. Although Chaucer did use other texts to base many of his tales on, it is also just as important that he took right from medieval culture, the courts, the schools, Parliament, etc. The introduction points out Chaucer's primary model for CT as being the Decameron, which is something that we have already learned through many of our class presentations.

    Poetic contests and the storytelling pilgrims are what I found to be the most interesting. The introduction gives a great deal of historical information regarding poetic contests. It discusses several poetic rivalries and one in particular caught my eye that is very relevant to the Tales. The London Puy was a group of late thirteenth century merchants that held an annual assembly, which consisted of a competition for best song with both music and words being judged. Those members who came provided with a song received their free dinner, at the expense of the rest of the "compaignie" which the intro points out, is the same word for the society that Chaucer uses for his association of pilgrims (206). A prince was appointed each year to sort out the quarrels between Puy members. He and his successor, along with selected assessors, would judge the songs, hang a copy of the best one on the wall of the hall below the prince's blazon and crown its winning composer. At the end of the feast, the winning poet, having just enjoyed his free meal, rode through the city amongst outgoing and incoming princes to the latter's house, where all the members would dance, drink once, and then return home on foot. One thing that differs from Chaucer's group of pilgrims to the London Puy is that women were allowed to participate, although it is noted that the Puy group were reminded that they were bound to honor all ladies at all times.

    Although this particular article may not be very helpful in writing a paper, it still offers a great look into the many possible sources for the Tales and also gives wonderful insight into medieval practices. --Amy Dill, 4/29/99

Burlin, Robert W. "Middle English Romance: The Structure of Genre." TheChaucer Review. 30 (1995) 1-14.

    In order to better understand the "Knight's Tale" in the context of other works of whose genre and culture it is a part, I have chosen Burlin's study of the structure of the medieval romantic genre itself.

    Burlin has created a structuralist schematic by which, he argues, all medieval romances can be described. According to him, the narrative and ideological structure of medieval romance can be diagrammed on two intersecting axes. But, all confusing Euclidean mathematical approaches to literature aside, Burlin's basic assumption is that the ideology implicit in all romances can be broken down into two types: the chivalric, and the courtly. And similarly, all narrative forms can be divided into the quest, and the test. All medieval romances, according to Burlin, lie somewhere along these ideological and narrative axes.

    Burlin's division of ideology into chivalric and courtly coincides, respectively, with the political and social spheres of medieval society. The chivalric code or ideology deals with the relations between the different stratums of power within the ruling class, such as between king and knight; while the courtly deals with the complex code of behavior that determines the relations between the sexes. On the narrative axis, the quest involves the search or journey of a knight toward the attainment of a goal, while the test involves the overcoming of an obstacle that may indicate character or reveal a maxim, but does not result in the attainment of any tangible goal. Any specific work will lie somewhere along either axis. According to Burlin, those works that have received greatest critical acclaim and status within the canon are those that lie not at one extreme or the other of either axis, but rather somewhere in the middle, thereby juxtaposing the two opposing ideologies or narrative types and thus serving to illuminate them or subject them to greater scrutiny.

    Firstly, as far as I understand it, I find Burlin's schemata far too reductionary, as the author himself admits. And I am especially disturbed by the utter neglect of any religious ideology within his system (which I imagine would impossibly complicate it). Though he makes not even a passing reference to religion anywhere in the article, I suppose he attempts to justify this neglect with his remark that romance was merely a recreation for the nobility that shunned didacticism and served only to indoctrinate its readers or listeners into their culture. In a culture in which religion was such a basic and inextricable part of every aspect of life, this would seem foolishly simplistic.

    Burlin also seems to ignore the fact that the ideologies of a culture are inextricably intertwined; overlapping and even supporting each other with no clear boundary between them. For example, courtly love is not (it seems to me) a separate ideology opposed to the chivalric code of feudal power, but in many ways is actually based upon it, with its metaphors of lovers as vassals to each other and the "God of Love," and even including bonds of fealty like those of a knight to his lord.

    If any opposition does exist in ideologies, it is between that of the secular aristocracy (chivalric and courtly), with its codes derived primarily from its warlike Germanic ancestors, and the Church; an opposition that Burlin makes no mention of. It also ignores the fact that the "quest" and the "test" are merely manifestations of the same phenomenon. I, for one, have never read of a quest in which an obstacle (even space is an obstacle) did not have to be overcome. And even tests that do not result in a bride or booty (am I being redundant?) serve to enhance the reputation of the successful protagonist, which was indeed perceived as a tangible object by the medieval knight. In his eventual synthesis of the separate ideologies and narrative structures in the "greatest works" of the canon he does seem to come close to this point of view (without saying so), but he has had to artificially separate them in order to do so.

    However, Burlin's article is not without its usefulness, even if only insofar as pointing out the different ideological and narrative strains (at least those he touches on) likely to be found in a work of medieval romance. In Chaucer's "Knight's Tale," for example, it is interesting that most of the material Chaucer has omitted from the "Teseida" deals with Theseus's military conquests, thus moving the work away from the "chivalric," and toward the "courtly." Chaucer may thus be trying to focus our attentions toward the amorous aspects of the romance, and the way in which Palamon and Arcite deal with their love for Emelye. And if the brothers and their story do represent more "courtly" than "chivalric" concerns, it can more easily be seen how out of place "chivalric" ideologies of warfare are in the context of love, when they are intruded by Theseus and the brothers themselves. A relationship ideally based on the voluntary decision of two parties has become an involuntary relationship based on "might makes right." Here, rules of combat govern all aspects of life. The man with the greatest military prowess wins the prize, and those without power, such as Emelye, have no say whatsoever. It never occurs to the brothers to decide their dispute in any other way than combat, and no one ever even thinks to ask Emelye.

    I have not spent as much time as I should have on the "Knight's Tale" itself, but as I am only half way through it, and am utterly exhausted from trying to decipher Burlin's meandering article, I will now desist. --Damon Hauser, 2/7/99

Barnett, Pamela E. "'And shortly for to seyn they were aton': Chaucer's Deflection of Rape in the Reeve's and Franklin's Tales."          Women'sStudies. 22.2 (1993) 145- 62.

    Barnett is a feminist critic who analyzes what she perceives as the silence of women in the text by examining those factors that are suppressed in the text-the voices of women, the violence of rape, and the actual occurrence of rape in the "Reeve's Tale" and the "Franklin's Tale." She argues that Chaucer alters or deflects the acts of rape and depicts the physical violation of women as humorous or consensual by omitting the woman's protest, replacing women's voices with male views of female sexuality, and diminishing the violence of the act itself.

    Barnett argues for the literal occurrence of rape in both tales. She sites several pieces of evidence from the "RT" that support her theory of deflected rape scenarios. These include: the absence of Maleyne's invitations to Aleyn's advances, her inability to give her consent (she was asleep), the wife's stated aversion to getting into the wrong bed, and the harmful intent of the rapists (although there is what Barnett considers a confused sense of who is harmed). She concludes that rape has indeed occurred but the action is not portrayed as such and is trivialized and made humorous by the author. Although the act of rape does not occur in the "FT," Barnett argues that omitting the violent act does not in any way decrease the violence of the attempted encounter. She sees the absence of a discussion of rape as evidence of the successful deflection of the rape scenario.

Barnett provides good critical analysis of some of the more ambiguous elements in the tales. She points out the irony of the husband making his wife available to another man (he simultaneously asserts and surrenders his rights to his wife). She concludes that the very absence of critical discussion of the rapes in these tales is evidence of the success of what she terms the deflection of the rape scenario.

    One problem that I see with Barnett's argument is that she takes issue with Chaucer the author, instead of perhaps the more appropriate Reeve and Franklin (yes, I know it's 'Chaucer the author' writing 'Chaucer the pilgrim' recording the 'Reeve's' and 'Franklin's' tales…this, as our many discussions on the topic will attest, is a grey area and tricky subject). Chaucer even reminds us that the Reeve is a cherl and takes no responsibility for anything he (or the Miller) may say. The very inclusion of the "Wife of Bath's Tale" leads me to believe that if Chaucer is not entirely in support of "women's rights," he is at least sympathetic to their plight. But much of Barnett's argument is still relevant, no matter who authored the tale.

    The author (like many of today's readers) finds it particularly disturbing that the rapes are portrayed as acts of revenge against the husband's property and not violations of the women's integrity. However, I'm not sure if Barnett has adequately taken into account the prevailing views of the medieval society and, instead of targeting the story told to an audience of medieval pilgrims, targeted the society itself.

    Barnett's feminist viewpoint would certainly be helpful to anyone wishing to take a similar look at the text. This article would be useful to those interested in investigating the portrayal of women in the Canterbury Tales, specifically their roles as sexual objects or as property of their husbands. It also provides insight into the changing characterization of women (for example, the First Fragment progresses from Emilye, a woman praying for chastity, to the wife and Maleyne, objects upon which the clerks extract their revenge on the miller). This article is especially pertinent to the examination of the silence of women, either their absence from or lack of speech within a tale. The feminist point of view may be worthwhile to keep in mind for comparison later on with the WoB.--Meghan Milburn, 2/22/99

Helterman, Jeffrey. "The Dehumanizing Metamorphoses of the Knights Tale." ELH, 1971, 38, 493-511.

    The article explains Chaucer's reason for using the metaphors that he does in "The Knights Tale." Many of the metaphors chosen turn Arcite and Palamon into animals. This is symbolic of man deliberately begining to "violate his own nature" and as a result alter his balance with Nature. This article goes further into the analyses to state that Arcite and Palamon view Emily as " Natures potential rival. " Chaucer describes this beatiful lady as fresher and fairer than May.

    This image, combined with the description of these two men as animals in the fight scene, makes their characters less than human. They become lower than the lowest as they have betrayed each other and their own species for that of a woman they assume to be better than mother nature herself. These metaphors are Chaucers way of saying that beneath the human" facade of civilized order" are these bestial tendencies.

    Helterman's view of the metaphors chosen by Chaucer are presented in this article with a complete, in-depth, explantion. This article includes many quotes and many comparison with different works and authors. His argument is concluded in the end with his opinion that Chaucers The Knights Tale is in part making his readers realize how human we really are here on earth. This sets up a huge contrast when the gods come into the story.

    In my opinion this article was extremely helpful in my understanding of the metaphors Chaucer uses. Emily was used as something that is more beautiful than mother nature, therefore she is almost out of this world.Arcite and Palamon are less than human as proven by their beastial tendencies and their ability to want to kill one another for blind love. This article shed a lot of light on what is a pretty difficult tale to grasp as there are so many perspectives introduced by Chaucer. Patricia Lydon, 9/22/96

Van, Thomas A. "False Texts and Disappearing Women in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." The Chaucer Review. 29:2          (1994).

        Thomas Van explains that the Wife of Bath has been preparing all her life for the performance that she gives in the "Prologue." He discusses how the "Prologue" and the "Tale" complement one another. The "Prologue" concentrates on Alice's subjective reality while the "Tale" takes us behind the eyes of one stranger, by way of

    showing him and us why he raped. Thomas presents his argument that "if the Prologue is a portrait in the first person singular of Alice as the object of desire, the story is an expose of the desiring self, epitomized by a candidate for knighthood(179)." The pairing of the "Prologue" and the "Tale" both close with hints about the need for an accomadation in human love.

    Van interprets Alice's performance as being a challenge to a patriarchal society. In the "Prologue" and "Tale," Alice deliberately is parodying the charges against her and her sex. Her first target as mentioned by

    Van is not what has been said but the nature of the evidence and the mentality behind those which have watched women. Van poses the notion that "if Alice's point in the Prologue is that she has been looked at imperfectly, her story explores a similar premise, but in the rare field world of romance, where a dominant feminine presence has no need of parody or ironic subterfuge(184)."

Van brings about the fact that the Wife of Bath challenges man by behaving so freely/sexually in a time were it is not acceptable by society. The knight, on the other hand is challenged because his behavior is questioned. He, then has to seek the right answer to what women women really want. As Van states, in the "Prologue" the story's thematic centers around "development hinges on enlightened contradiction and anomaly (192)." Mirna Quinteros, 9-20-96

Gaylord, Alan T. "The Role of Saturn in the Knight’s Tale." Chaucer Review . 8 (1974) 171-187.

    Alan T. Gaylord’s article "The Role of Saturn in the Knight’s Tale" is an attempt to understand Chaucer’s concepts of fate, freewill, and the role of Saturn. Gaylord sets out to contest the theories of earlier scholars who maintain that Saturn is "a resistless terror and a force of destiny."(172) He finds faults in the suppositions that Chaucer believed man was controlled by fate and fortune, rather, he argues, man is in full control of his destiny and that Saturn is a psychological construct which man invents to excuse his poor decision making. We, in a sense, lock ourselves into and limit our fate (as Arcite and Palamoun did) by choosing erroneously.

    Gaylord argues that Arcite and Palamoun, and not Saturn, are able to control their lives by pointing to a number of clues within the text. For example, he recalls Saturn’s speech in which he claims he is a destroyer of towns and towers, and that he is responsible for hanging, and drowning, and poisoning, yet Arcite is killed by a fall from his horse. Furthermore, the fall has occurred by way of Pluto’s control, a "hellish interference" rather than a "planetary influence." (76) Also in Boccaccio’s version it is Venus who calls upon the Fury in the end, thus Gaylord conjectures that Chaucer merely left the Fury’s appearance in to add to the violence and terror which has characterized Arcite and Palamoun’s relationship.

    Gaylord then goes on to refute the argument that Arcite and Palamoun are fated to die because they are "doomed by their blood." (178) He points out that Chaucer eliminated many parts from the original poem where the Theban curse could easily have been entered into the tale. Gaylord also points out that Chaucer’s Arcite and Palamoun lack the "mood of exhausted despair" and do not see their destruction as inevitable as in the original. (178)

    What this all comes down too, is that Arcite and Palamoun by relying on their passion and love to guide them rather than reason, are trapped in their self-created fates. They blame all around them for their misfortunes, and in doing so reduce their chances to make positive decisions -- "they fall into it, they become vulnerable to the mechanical workings of Destiny, who is indifferent to their private desires."(179) Those men who deny their reason, Gaylord argues, follow the stars, the gods, passion or whatever else they can think of, and when things go sour they blame these external constructs for their misfortune. Thus we see Saturn as "the dark destiny" of men who lose control of their reason. (186) Fortune and Fate arise only when we sacrifice our chance to make a choice.

    Theseus, he finally points out, is analogous to Jupiter, the benevolent god. He is an example of free will rather than of noble aspirations crumbling to dust. After all he is the one who pieces things together at the catastrophic ending, giving a logical and reasonable speech. He, unlike Arcite and Palamoun, does not succumb to the overpowering forces of passion, instead he rises above them to control and shape his own destiny and the destiny of others to weak to do it for themselves. Tom Zorc. 9/22/96

McAlindon, T. "Cosmology, Contrariety, and the Knight's Tale." Medium Aevum 55 (1986): 41-55.

    McAlindon's rather dense article attempts to resolve the problem of endlessly conflicting views on Chaucer's Knight's Tale by demonstrating that its dualistic design was a familiar part of medieval literature, and argues that the end result is "an astonishingly inclusive vision of life" (55) that can accommodate anyone. Essentially, he is trying to answer the question of whether the tale is optimistic or pessimistic--something critics have been arguing about for ages.

    He starts by defining the endless examples of opposites in the tale as elements of concordia discors, the concept of using love's power (in this case, marriage) to bind contraries together harmoniously. McAlindon goes on to show, however, that the same philosophy echoed in the Knight's Tale depicts love as a force which, succumbing to passion and irrational behavior, leads to chaos and incessant change. He develops this further by describing the nature of cosmology during Chaucer's time--a system of beliefs which divided the universe into "a tense system of interdependent opposites [suggesting] that every pattern of harmonious order is impermanent" (44). Chaos, therefore, is a necessary part of the functioning of the universe.

    McAlindon then goes on to use this definition of the universal "order" to demonstrate that chivalry, especially as it is embodied in the figure of Theseus, is "a system of bound opposites" (45). This marriage of opposites inevitably leads to a state of ambiguity and change, he claims, so that chivalry becomes no more than a "temporary, almost illusory, imposition of pattern on process, stability on flux" (45). He shows how this state of flux is demonstrated in the changes wrought in Theseus' character throughout the story--which is interesting to note, since Theseus is the only real force of order in the story. McAlindon's conclusion is that the strength of this tale is how it embraces these contradictions and thus is inclusive of all the contrary aspects of life. He refers to it as the artistic creation of "a natural order which seems fully self-contained and self-explanatory" (53) and, therefore, is both optimistic and pessimistic.

    This article may prove useful in not only explaining the Knight's Tale, but also in understanding the medieval literary mentality which inspires other contradictions found throughout the tales. It also provides a good overview of the philosophical works used by Chaucer. At the same time, though it represents a good attempt at reconciling what has been a sore point of critical analysis, it seems too tidy in its dismissal of these fundamental critical problems; he is quite eager just to sit on the fence. McAlindon is also a little too hasty to dismiss the questions of "a rational Providence" (53) raised by Theseus' last speech, saying that it is more of a peripheral concern. Taking this into consideration, the article still provides a useful alternative to the strictly optimistic or pessimistic views given by other critics. --Kirkley Greenwell. 9/22/96

Winnick, R. H. "Luke 12 and Chaucer's Shipman's Tale." The Chaucer Review 30.2 (1995): 164-190.

    I chose to review this article simply because it was the most recent article in the Chaucer Review that deals with the Shipman's Tale, one of the tales I will be presenting to the class. Since I had used a relatively random way of choosing it, I didn't know if the article would prove useful at all, but I was quite pleased to see that it did. The article begins with a brief overview of the history of criticism of the Shipman's Tale, and addresses some problems with the text that have plagued scholars for many years. Winnick also goes into detail on the many theories about the tale's origins. Most helpful are the detailed endnotes, in which he cites tons of scholarship on the tale, ranging from the modern to the not-so modern. I couldn't have found a better jumping off point in which to begin my research into the tale.

    Winnick's basic thesis in this article is that among other influences, Luke 12 most likely was a source of plot and philosophy for the Shipman's Tale. The author recognizes other possibilities which have been previously suggested, such as the Decameron and an unnamed French fabliau, but believes that the text more closely follows Luke 12, especially the Parable of the Rich Man. He believes that if Luke 12 was the source (he even suggests that Chaucer may have had the text in front of him as he wrote the Shipman's Tale), it solves a problem that has troubled scholars: why, in this tale alone among all of Chaucer's fabliaux, sin appears to go unchastised and unpunished, with characters who commit adultery, violate priestly vows,...and otherwise violate the laws of God, seeming to get off scot-free. (165)

    Winnick quotes both texts extensively to emphasize his points, so complete familiarity with the texts is not a prerequisite for reading this article. His writing is lucid and he does not attempt to sound "academic" by using fancy language. Instead, he clearly states his comparisons, quotes the texts--in large fragments, which is quite helpful--and discusses the similarities in detail. At the same time, he avoids a practice which I find a bit pompous: writing as if his interpretation is the only correct one. As i mentioned before, he mentions other suggested sources, but he refrains from completely dismissing them. He admits that "the evidence is necessarily circumstantial" (184), thereby acknowedging the fact that since so little direct information is available about Chaucer's sources and intentions in writing the tale, speculation is all that is possible.--Jessica F. Kem, 19 September, 1996

Harrison, Joseph. "'Tears for Passing Things': The Temple of Diana in the Knight's Tale." Philological Quarterly 63:1 (Winter          1984) 108-116.

    This article is centered on the significance of Chaucer's description of the temple of Diana, especially when it is compared to the temples of Venus and Mars. One of the most important points brought up by Harrison is the fact that the elaborate description temple was Chaucer's own creation, whereas the temples of Venus and Mars were generally "borrowed" from Boccaccio. Harrison goes on to list the various sufferings and miseries depicted in the temples of Venus and Mars, while he points out that Diana's temple differs from theirs because her temple focuses on mutability and change. Examples of her mutability include the waxing and waning moon and the laboring woman. Her temple also depicts those who were changed into other forms because they loved incorrectly or erroneously. Harrison also talks about the differences between the prayers of the supplicants and the responses of the gods. Also discussed is how Diana's statue seems more dynamic and lifelike when compared to the other two, and the presence of the moon, the woman, etc. support this. Another interesting point is that (according to Harrison) Diana's temple represents present time, Venus could be seen as the past, and Mars as the future, because he foresees the murders of the Roman emperors. The article also discusses how she is the most vocal of the three gods, but at the same time, she is the most ineffective.

    I for the most part agree with what Harrison is saying here, and this is especially useful to me because I might choose to examine the similarities and differences between Chaucer's and Boccaccio's versions of the three temples. I agree with his observations that Diana's temple differs greatly with those of Venus and Mars, but I was a little disappointed that he didn't get into the specifics of why Chaucer added this substantial part to Boccaccio. One question I have which wasn't answered in the article; is that why did Emily, who wanted to remain a virgin, pray to Diana, the protector of childbirth? I know Diana is the goddess of chastity, so why does she also watch over pregnant woman? I suspect there is a reason for this but I'm not sure of it myself. One possible answer could be that it was decreed by fate that Emily must change and become a wife so it might make sense she would end up praying to Diana, the goddess of change. It was interesting to me that Diana was the only god to physically visit her supplicant, but she failed to grant Emily's request. Could Chaucer be suggesting prayer is futile? I believe that since Diana is so changeable, since she is also Luna and Proserpina, her powers are divided and less powerful than other "whole" gods like Venus or Mars. Edward Caruso, 9/24/96

Pearsall, Derek.  "The Knight's Tale."  The Canterbury Tales. London: George Allen & Unwin 1985. (115-138).

    This chapter deals with the Romances in the Canterbury Tales. Pearsall begins with an explanation of the differences and similarities between Chaucer's Knight's Tale, and the much longer Teseida by Boccaccio. Pearsall declares that those who think that the Knights Tale is a self-revealing look into Chaucer's negative view of war are wrong. He thinks that is an attempt to place modern opinion upon Chaucer. Rather, the Knights Tale is set with pagan and classical beliefs as opposed to Christian and modern. Pearsall writes that Chaucer turns to Boethius, a contemporary philosopher of his, to help him reshape Teseida. Their goal was to create a "more philosophical sense of man's predicament" (121).

    Perhaps too focused on Chaucer's greater attempt to create a tale that examined human nature, Pearsall continues his elaborate explanation of Chaucer's purpose. He sees the different approaches to the battle between Palamon and Arcite largely significant. Pearsall writes that Arcite is nearsighted and does not think about gaining personal glory, which by this point of the tale is at risk. It is Palamon who thinks in a grand manner. Pearsall also shows a difference in characterization between Chaucer and Boccaccio. Boccaccio takes a large amount of time to develop his characters so there are no spontaneous actions. Chaucer does not take that luxury. The actions of his characters are meant to be seen as spontaneous, and even a bit abrupt.

    This is the case with Chaucer's Emelye, because she is not as aware as she is in Boccaccio's version. In his version, Emelye is much more aware of her sexuality, and the fact that these two men have fallen in love with her. Chaucer presents Emelye ignorant of her admirers, and that her only want is to remain a virgin. This is expressed when she prays to Diana. Pearsall sees "not a woman with whom [they] fall in love, but the agent through which powerful forces are released and find their way to destruction or resolution"(132).

    This section of the book spends most of its time summarizing the Tale in regards to the changes Chaucer made from the Teseida. However, Pearsall does give some of his insights in regards to other critics, and in general proves to be a rather useful section, especially if there is confusion about the Knight's Tale.--Christa McLaughlin, 9/24/96

Benson, C. David. "The Canterbury Tales: Personal Drama or Experiments in Poetic Variety?" The Cambridge Chaucer                 Companion. Piero Boitani and Jill Mann, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

    C. David Benson takes issue with the "dramatic theory" approach to The Canterbury Tales which is promoted by critic George Lyman Kittredge. Kittredge proposes that "individual Tales are not told in Chaucer's own voice, but that each is a dramatic expression of the personality of its own particular teller . . . and that the Canterbury pilgrims have complex believable personalities that intimately inform their individual tales" (94). Benson contends that while this approach has contributed much to our understanding of the Tales, it is a limiting approach that leads readers to neglect what is most remarkable about the Tales -- its amazing variety of stories and styles. It is his belief that we must look beyond the pilgrims supposed personalities to the poetic uniqueness of the Tales themselves. Benson finds The Canterbury Tales to be a collection of widely different knids of poetry, but says the "dramatic approach" of studying them has hampered literary comparisons between individual Tales and among groups of Tales.

    Benson expounds on the supposed personalities of the pilgrims. He states that the General Prologue describes types rather than specific individuals, and as the labels Knight, Miller, Prioress and Wife suggest, professions rather than believable personalities are portrayed. He observes that no single warrior could have ever fought in all the battles attributed to the Knight. Benson feels that Chaucer could create complex, convincing characters, as he did in Troilus and Criseyde, "but the frame of Canterbury Tales suggests that the poet did not concern himself overmuch with the psychological depth or consistency of his pilgrim narrators, though we must not forget that the work is unfinished" (97). Benson concedes that there are exceptions: the Canon's Yeoman, the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner. Yet even these three who possess "extraordinary narrative energy" do not have great depth of character.

    Benson finds that the most interesting relationships in the Tales are literary, not dramatic; "not between the Yeoman and his Tale, but, for instance, between the sterile work and hellish fire of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale and the fruitful work and divine fire of the preceding Second Nun's Tale" (100). Does acceptance of the literary reading necessarily deny veracity of a dramatic reading? Benson contends that the Tales are "a series of literary experiments rather than a drama of personalities" (105). Must the literary and the dramatic be mutually exclusive? Benson seems to desire that more notice be given to his theory, so he attempts to negate dramatic criticism. Riverside Chaucer's explanatory notes do seem to offer many essays concerning characterization, but there's probably room for both points of view.

    The Cambridge Chaucer Companion contains a collection of essays by various authors; along with The Canterbury Tales, other works by Chaucer are included. The bibliographies, often annotated, that follow each essay could be a good source for research papers.--Judy Cook, 9/24/96

Lancashire, Ian. "Sexual Innuendo In The Reeve's Tale." The Chaucer Review. Vol. 6, No. 3, Winter, 1972.

    Ian Lancashire states that double entendre can be found throughout the Canterbury Tales, particularly in the fabliaux. He says that none of the puns are incidental, nor are they trivial; "all show the hand of a master craftsman directing even the most minute details of his story to its prime interest: retributive 'poetic' justice against intolerable pride" (160). With a primary intent to denigrate Symkyn, Chaucer uses words whose less-obvious meanings serve to destroy Symkyn's pride.

    Lancashire's essay explains many of the puns, although he does not claim to have discovered all of them. Paull F. Baum is credited with detecting a pun in the lines, "Som esement has lawe yshapen us" (4179) and "Again my los, I will have esement" (4186). In a legal sense, "esement" gives one person the right to use the property or goods of another, and in a different sense it is the "physical relief following an evacuation of one sort or another--in Alayn's case, during the 'swyving' of Malyn" (160). It is not only with puns that Chaucer demeans Symkyn, Lancashire observes, but also in the narrative action: the idea of two college students intent on "grinding" their "flour" at Symkyn's "mill" is a "vein of sexual humor as old as the machinery of the mill . . ." (161). Lancaster states that the "three part sexual innuendo" was current in Chaucer's time.

    The poetic justice sought in this Tale requires that justice be given equally; the "flour" that Symkyn steals will be repaid by the "flower" of Malyn's virginity. Alayn gains the revenge he sought when he said "Ye, they sal have the flour of il endyng" (4174). "None of this 'multi-faceted' sexual innuendo exists in the French fabliau on which The Reeve's Tale was probably modelled" (169). And though it departs from the French tale, Lancashire finds the innuendo and bawdy puns become "the story itself" (170).

    This essay adds a scope to The Reeve's Tale that might otherwise be missed. Lancashire states that bawdy puns existing in a miller's technical vocabulary can be also seen in Shakespeare and John Heywood, and he gives a few examples, particularly in the fabliaux.--Judy Cook, 9/26/96

Woods, William F. "Private and Public Space in the Miller's Tale." The Chaucer Review 29 (1994): 166-178.

    Woods' argument in this article centers around a structure in the tale's setting that leads the reader to discover the ultimate significance of Alysoun in the Miller's Tale. This should be very illuminating subject matter, since one problem in reading the text is that the center of every main character's desire, Alysoun, is little more than a sexual object. It is not surprising, therefore, that readers--especially a female audience--would be interested in finding a more meaningful purpose for Alysoun.

    The critic seems to provide this purpose in his assertion that Alysoun represents a private place in the midst of a very communally-oriented society--a forbidden paradise bringing to light the hidden and often excessive desires of men. Woods emphasizes the domestic nature of the story's setting and also the small-town mentality of little Oxford. He asserts that it is the inevitably doomed attempt of every man to carve out a private space in the suffocating confines of village life, and by representing this attempt in the bodily form of Alysoun, Chaucer is able to bring the inward desires to light in a very humorous and ridiculously excessive fashion. The parallels to the structure of the Knight's Tale are helpful in clarifying the argument, for Woods shows how both tales consist of paired episodes of action: a private scene illustrating intention and a public spectacle demonstrating the results of acting on that intention, at which point the original idea becomes "a form of communal entertainment" (167). Woods describes the attempts of John, Nicholas, and Absalom to contain Alysoun and have exclusive ownership of her body as expressions of their desire to possess the private paradise she represents.

    Woods goes on to elaborate on the idea of Alysoun as a metaphor for this desirable domestic paradise. He gives a detailed analysis of Chaucer's description of Alysoun and concludes that the markers of her clothing and physical features repeatedly direct the reader's inner eye towards the woman's mid-section. This emphasis on her center not only draws one to her sexual desirability, but also returns to the idea of an inner paradise. Woods supports this idea of paradise by noting that, as in the case of the Knight's Emelye, Alysoun symbolizes a natural spring-like freshness that is irresistible to the men. However, each man's attempt to own Alysoun "violates the principle of plenitude, the ideal of abundance that offers everyone a share but never sole enjoyment" (176).

    For the reader who is seeking a different angle on the Miller's Tale, this article is certainly attractive, in that it offers well-supported structural analysis and uses it to illuminate the tale's meaning. It is useful in tying the tale to the Knight's yarn, for it once again prompts the audience to consider these tales as two pieces of a whole. The stories interact with one another in a way that adds meaning to both. As mentioned before, the article also makes a good attempt at finding more meaning in the character of Alysoun. I found Woods hard to follow at this point, however, because his representation of the young woman as a parallel to the house, and his corresponding portraits of each man as symbolizing different responses to a desire for privacy (portraying, for instance, Absalom as symbolic of the "hungry consumer" aspect of the townspeople) seemed far-fetched and overly complex. The analysis, therefore, is useful, but I think that the reader should use caution in what he or she takes from the article. --Kirkley Greenwell, 26 Sept. 1996

Woods, William F. "Private and Public Space in the Miller’s Tale." The Chaucer Review. 29 (1994) 166-78.

    In this article Woods discusses the private and public worlds of John, Nicholas, and Absolon, and how those worlds interact. Woods describes how each man places Alisoun at the center of that private world, and how that effects each man’s public world. The article also highlights some of the many similarities between the Miller’s Tale and the Knight’s Tale. Equivalent to the role of Emelye in the Knight’s Tale, Alisoun is the goal of three men in the Miller’s Tale. And also, much like Arcite and Palamon in the Knight’s Tale, John, Nicholas, and Absolon’s private excesses in their desire for a woman leads to their public downfall. Their private intention to have their heart’s desire leads to a public display. However, as opposed to the spiritual and emotional feelings of the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale is based on a physical reality.

    A highlight of Woods’ article is his description of what each character represents in the tale, and the roles that each character portrays in the Miller’s Tale. He explains how their personal desires effect what they represent and the role that they portray. Woods does draw connections between both the action and the characters in the Miller’s Tale and the Knight’s Tale, however, the comparison is not his main focus. Woods is primarily concerned about the interactions and workings of the characters in the Miller’s Tale. It is essential to realize that there are many comparisons and similarities that go beyond what is mentioned in the article, and that even those similarities that are noted in the article can be explored in greater detail. Nevertheless, this piece can be a helpful reference point for comparisons with the Knight’s Tale, and may lead the reader to establish other connections between the two tales.

    The article does not only discuss their public fall from grace, but their personal fall. Neither John, Nicholas or Absolon could see Alisoun for who she truly is. They placed her on a pedestal, and in doing so, lost perspective on the world. Each man desires a different type of paradise with Alisoun, Nicholas, who knows the secrets of love, wants to share them with Alisoun. While John wants to be the only one to possess her in his own private world, and Absolon wants to do her service. They lost sight of themselves, and in doing so they humbled themselves to Alisoun’s service, and made fools of themselves by trying to possess her because they thought that she was more than she was. By being so captivated with Alisoun, they lost not only their public standing, but their personal dignity.

    I believe that this piece is useful to the seminar, because it provides a highly insightful look into the characters and their motivations and actions. This article also brings together the descriptions of the characters with their roles in the tale. For example, the portrayal of Alisoun in the tale as "the newe perejonette tree" (3248) is used by Woods to explain Alisoun’s role as the representation of nature in the tale. This is important, because it causes the reader to make deeper connections within the context of the tale, besides just reading the written word of the text.--Ericka Olsen, 9/24/96

Jensen, Emily. "Male Competition as a Unifying Motif in Fragment A of the Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer Review 24                  (1990): 320-28.

    Emily Jensen regards male competition as "the means by which business is conducted" (321) in the tales and the linking dialogue of Fragment A. This competition intensifies with the progressive degeneration of the tales' genre, characters, plots and morals; meanwhile, the female characters become objects of the male characters' competition. Jensen notes that towards the end of the fragment, the women are allotted a bigger piece of the "action" (322). The interesting conclusion she draws from this is that the degeneration observed from tale to tale does not stress a descent into disorder, but instead a "displacement of authority" (327) into "the hands of the women" (ibid.).

    To track male competition and degeneration, Jensen discusses each tale in some detail, starting with the Knight's Tale. She points out that the chivalry of the "Knight's Tale" does not emphasize a suitor's noble behavior, but rather provides him a means by which "to win in the stryf" (ibid). Next, the competition of the "Miller's Tale" has no chivalric goal; hence, Nicholas's devious plans for a night with Alisoun are intended to make a fool of John, rather than "to procure privacy" (322) as John is often away at Osney. According to Jensen, the degeneration from the "Miller's Tale" to the "Reeve's Tale" explains the change in the nature of the competition, which in the latter, arises out of a desire for vengeance, as well as out of economic concerns.

    Finally, Jensen mentions signs of degeneration in the "Cook's Tale", but the only sign of male competition in the tale she notes is Perkyn's dice playing. Similarly, she does not explain how Perkyn's wife in the "Cook's Tale" plays a more active role than do the other females in their tales. True, that wife has some authority as she runs a brothel, but she is only mentioned in the final lines of the tale. One could speculate that the wife's profession is a total degeneration of male competition, for she is the one competing economically, rather than her husband. However, the "Cook's Tale" is just too short and undeveloped to know how it would fit in with the rest of the tales with regard to male competition.

    Jensen also discusses the male pilgrims themselves and the "quite [. . . ,] the primary mode of discourse" (323) between them. Furthermore, Harry Bailly seems to provoke the pilgrims with little judgmental comments, such as his to the Miller about " 'som bettre man' " (ibid). These little comments, perhaps provocative, are interesting coming from a person whose profession it is to serve people. As Jensen suggests, perhaps Harry is trying to "set the stage" (324) for the Miller to quite the Knight, or even for the plots of the tales. If the Ellesmere scribe added much of the linking narrative, perhaps he, and not the Host is responsible for this stage-laying. Or, perhaps the Ellesmere scribe merely interpolated the tone of the pilgrims' dialogue from the element of competition existing in the stories.

    The final section of Jensen's article is devoted to explaining frequently recurrent rhymed words in Fragment A: "lyf", "wyf" and "stryf". Chaucer might have used the meaning of these rhyming words to make a subtle statement about the nature of marriage and life. However, Jensen seems to spend undue time explaining how each recurrence of "lyf" and "wyf", even when not rhymed with "stryf", are used in situations of "stryf". Though this lengthy discussion reinforces her idea of an undercurrent of competition in the fragment, she perhaps making "ernest of game".

    This article might be useful to anyone studying unity between the tales of a fragment, for Jensen shows how the tales of Fragment A are quite thematically linked. Her discussion of the pilgrims' comments before each tale also could be used to support the idea that the tales of Fragment A do belong together. However, since Jensen also describes what happens to the women when the men of the story compete with each other, her article might be useful to anyone studying women's roles in other tales, such as the "Franklin's Tale". Joseph Parry holds that in that tale, Dorigen becomes an object between her husband, Arveragus, and the competing suitor, Aurelius (see Parry, Joseph D. "Dorigen, Narration and Coming Home in the Franklin's Tale." The Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 262-293).. Finally, Jensen pointed out Harry Bailly's manner of treating the tellers of the tales in this fragment. It might be interesting to compare Jensen's examples with instances in the prologues of other fragments in which Harry speaks to (and, or provokes) the pilgrims.--Mika Sam, 9/28/96

Morey, James H. "The ‘Cultour’ in the Miller’s Tale: Alison as Iseult." Chaucer Review Vol.29, pp.373-380, 1995.

        James Morey’s article "The ‘Cultour’ in the Miller’s Tale: Alison as Iseult" seeks to explain the relevance of the "cultour" in the Miller’s Tale. The cultour (an iron blade used as a plough share by medieval farmers) is the device Absolon uses to revenge Alison in the climactic scene of the story. Morey argues that the cultour is used as a very conscience decision by Chaucer, claiming that it represents one of the three Medieval trials by ordeal. More importantly the coulter scene reveals a striking comparison between the Miller’s Tale and the Tristan legend.

    The trials by ordeal were a way of assessing one’s guilt in an accused crime. God was called upon as the final judge in these ridiculous tests, if you failed you were punished, if you passed, God deemed you innocent and you were free to go. The ordeal of the ploughshare was a test to determine the innocence of women accused of adultery. The correlation to the Miller’s Tale is obvious, Absolon seeks out the aforementioned weapon to revenge the lecherous Alison. Morey also points out that Absolon, being a clerk, would have knowledge of legal matters like the trial by ordeal, and would have thus known to use the appropriate weapon. Furthermore, the Miller’s Tale being a fabliau called for the generic use of a spit or great iron. Chaucer’s audience would have known that, and would have understood his deviation from the norm.

    To look for a literary analogue to the trial by hot iron one must turn to the tale of Tristan and Iseult. Morey tells of a scene in which Iseult is forced to carry a burning iron under accusation of adultery. She passes the test much like Alison avoids being poked. Other comparisons drawn between Iseulte and Alison are, for example, that they both are in unsuitable marriages (Iseulte to Mark and Alison to John), they share similar morals (or lack thereof), and both escape from the iron based upon what they fail to do or say.

    According to Morey, and the evidence seems convincing to me as well, Alison shows a strong similarity to Iseulte. What this comparison tells us is that Chaucer, by giving her a literary pretext, seems to think more highly of her than the male characters. Alison is a combination of a fabliau and romance heroine, she is autonomous, clever, and out of control, much like the wife of Bath, who oddly (or not so oddly) shares the same name.

    Thus by examining one seemingly minor detail in the Miller’s Tale, the coulter, we have a much greater understanding of the story. We see the coulter as both an example of Medieval law and religion, and we see it in the context of another popular tale from the era. This comparison allows us to see the otherwise mysterious Alison in a new light, giving her character much greater depth and importance.--Tom Zorc, 9/27/96

Green, Richard Firth. "Chaucer's Shipman's Tale, Lines 138-41." The Chaucer Review 26 (1991): 95-98.

    This article deals with only a few lines in the story, as the title clearly states. The lines are part of the scene in which the monk and the merchant's wife are swearing vows of secrecy to each other:

"The same agayn to yow," quod she, "I seye.

By God and by this portehors I swere,

Though men me wolde al into pieces tere,

Ne shal I nevere, for to goon to helle,

Biwreye a word of thyng that ye me telle,

Nat for cosynage ne alliance,

But verily for love and affiance."

Thus been they sworn, and heerupon they kiste,

And ech of hem tolde oother what hem liste.  (129-42)

    I have italicized the lines Green wants to draw attention to. His thesis is that many scholars have ignored the syntax of the lines, and that they have been punctuated incorrectly.

    He cites sources such as Walter Skeat and George R. Keiser who read the line as in "this I do, not out of kinship, but out of true love." He does not accept this interpretation because that "elliptical 'this I do'" is not in the text, and neither Skeat nor Keiser justifies its existence. He then suggests that the original meaning would be better understood if the lines were punctuated to make lines 139 and 140 part of the Shipman's commentary, instead of part of the wife's vow. It would read as such:

"Ne shal I nevere, for to goon to helle,

Biwreye a word of thyng that ye me telle."

Nat for cosynage ne alliance,

But verily for love and affiance,

Thus been they sworn, and heerupon they kiste,

And ech of hem tolde oother what hem liste.

    Green uses examples from other texts to show that this type of sentence construction isn't unusual for Chaucer. He adds that his version of punctuating the lines "improves the parallelism between the oaths sworn by the monk and the wife and adds a nice touch of irony to the narrator's concluding remark."--Jessica F.Kem, 30 September 1996


Schweitzer, Edward C. "Fate and Freedom in the Knight’s Tale." Studies in the Age of Chaucer. (3) 1981. 13-45.

        In "Fate and Freedom in the Knight’s Tale," Schweitzer not only examines the complexity of astrological influences versus a human’s choice of his own fate, but Schweitzer also makes dramatic connections between Chaucer’s description of Arcite’s suffering of amor hereos in Part Two and arcite’s fall and eventual death in Part Four. Schweitzer then uses these links to support his overall thesis about how the roles of astrological influence and the capability for humans to make their own choices influence the meaning of "The Knight’s Tale." Another one of the main points in his thesis is that Arcite and Palamon are interchangeable. Schweitzer argues that both men are similar in their desire for Emelye, and that there are no obvious differences, in character, between the two of them. The interchangeability of Arcite and Palamon makes the debate about whether astrological influences or human choices dominate the events of the tale significant, because it would undermine the emphasis placed on fate in the tale. For who is to say why fate would pick one of the men as more worthy than the other to live at the end of the tale.

        In this article Schweitzer creates many interesting points, yet sometimes he pushes this thesis a bit too far. I do not agree with Schweitzer’s argument that Arcite and Palamon are interchangeable. First, it is difficult to make this statement accurately because Palamon’s character is not looked at as fully as is Arcite’s character. Furthermore, although their pursuit of Emelye is similar in nature, there are some differences in how they appear to view their pursuit and their love for Emelye. This is evident in their prayers before the tournament when Palamon prayed to Venus and Arcite prayed to Mars. Palamon asks Venus that he may have Emelye, yet he asks that if Arcite should win that Venus should take his life rather than let him suffer by not having Emelye. And while Palamon asks Venus for Emelye, Arcite asks Mars that he may win the battle. The simple fact that Palamon and Arcite chose to go to the gods they go to, and even the variation in the way they ask to attain Emelye shows the difference in their personalities, Palamon asks that his life be taken if Arcite wins, yet Arcite only concentrates on winning the battle.

        Schweitzer demonstrates a striking sense of foreshadowing in his discussion of Arcite’s amor heroes and Arcite’s fall from his horse. He mentions how Chaucer describes Arcite’s amor hereos in Part Two by saying that: "Arcite’s imagination overthrew his reason and ‘turned... al up so down/Bothe habit and eek disposicioun’" (24), as later in part four his horse will throw him upside down when frightened by the fury. He further supports this idea (that Chaucer’s discussion of amor heroes in Part Two foreshadows the fall from his horse and his eventual death in Part Four) by providing more examples that cumulate, in part, to his observation that the fury appears while Arcite is looking at Emelye, and she is looking at him. Yet, Schweitzer stretches his thesis once again by even suggesting that "Emelye’s ‘freendlich ye’ somehow ‘causes’ the fury that frightens Arcite’s horse..." (32). I believe that while Arcite may have been distracted by Emelye, the actual fury itself came from Saturn, and that to even suggest that Emelye somehow caused the fury is erroneous. It may be more plausible to suggest that she caused him to fall off his horse by distracting him with her gaze.

        I think that this piece is useful to the seminar, because it provides a basically well-written interpretation of the meaning of the Knight’s Tale. Schweitzer makes a strong case for the influence of both fate and human choice on the characters in the tale. In the article, Schweitzer brings up an essential question about the Knight’s Tale: Are the characters controlled by a fate that is out of their control, or do the characters in the Knight’s Tale choose their own fate? This question is an important question to ask when reading the Knight’s Tale, because the answer that the person reading the tale derives may change their perspective on the tale. Schweitzer also provides his reader with a highly descriptive definition of amor heroes, and looks at its influence on Arcite throughout the tale. Overall, Schweitzer’s article provides tremendous insight into the things that occur throughout the Knight’s Tale, and the theme of a higher purpose that pervades it. --Ericka Olsen, 9/12/96

Ramazani, Jahan. "Chaucer's Monk: The Poetics of Abbreviation, Aggression, and Tragedy." The Chaucer Review 27                  (1993): 260-75.

    Ramazani's illuminating look at the abundance of poetic devices used in The Monk's Tale offers insight into the Monk's role as a poet and gives the audience a good basis for understanding the remarkably quiet and contained Monk. By the end of the article, Ramazani has offered persuasive evidence that the Monk's still waters run deep.

    The first part of the argument analyzes the Monk's emphasis on closure and containment. Beginning with a look at "the Monk's circularity of mind" (262) as it is illustrated in his GP portrait, the critic goes on to cite the "claustrophobic" verse style and abundant repetition and rhetorical devices as reasons for the tale's static feeling. He also notes that the teller ruthlessly "flattens every tragedy into its ending" (265), so that the cycle of fortune is reduced to a bare-bones structure. This elimination of the reader's ability to identify with the individuals involved in each mini-tale thus creates a distant, universal, and timeless quality. Ramazani, evidently a proponent of psychological readings of the text, turns to Freud to explain the motivation behind the Monk's tale-telling strategy, saying that his relentlessly repetitious rendering of death in a sense traps it and "turns it into something within the control of his will" (265).

    This psychological perspective continues as Ramazani turns to examining the Monk's presence throughout CT as a whole. He notes that the Monk is curiously patient in enduring the insults of others and refuses to make a vocal appearance in the text until fairly late, well after the place in the order that his social rank should have dictated. The critic argues that the GP portrait of the Monk and the tale itself are filled with a sense of suppressed anger. The tale repeatedly builds up an image of worldly wealth and then delights in bringing each noble figure to his or her destruction. The stunning variety of the tales is like a mini-version of the whole of CT itself, but the Monk, in all his various ways, depicts the downfall of each figure one after the other until the pilgrims are forced to put an end to his aggression. Ramazani argues that the motivation behind this destructive desire is the Monk's envy of his superiors in wealth and status (271).

    The last part of the article deals briefly with the Monk's definition of tragedy, contrasting it with Chaucer's view. Ramazani finds that the Monk's "formalist definition" of tragedy has oversimplified it, so that the result of the tales is not in fact tragic. He justifies this by asserting that Chaucer's definition of tragedy rested on "a codified movement from one state of mind to another" and would lead to a rejection of the Monk's overly formulaic version of