Goucher College Chaucer Seminars
Annotated Bibliography of Chaucer Criticism: 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003
Note: The student authors retain all rights to their work, and should be cited when their ideas are 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. Because this large set of annotations is not topic-organized, the most convenient way to use it is to activate your browser's "Find" (Ctl+F) command to search for relevant text strings like "Reeve" or "trouthe" or "horse." You also can search by the last name of the articles' authors, or, if you come to admire a student author's scholarship, you can search by her/his last name, as well.
To cite the next 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. 2/12/99. Online at http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng330/chaucerbib.htm 12/25/01.
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 ofLaws 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 elses 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 husbands 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 Knights Tale." Chaucer Review . 8 (1974) 171-187.
Alan T. Gaylords article "The Role of Saturn in the Knights Tale" is an attempt to understand Chaucers 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 Saturns 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 Plutos control, a "hellish interference" rather than a "planetary influence." (76) Also in Boccaccios version it is Venus who calls upon the Fury in the end, thus Gaylord conjectures that Chaucer merely left the Furys appearance in to add to the violence and terror which has characterized Arcite and Palamouns 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 Chaucers 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 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 Millers 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 mans public world. The article also highlights some of the many similarities between the Millers Tale and the Knights Tale. Equivalent to the role of Emelye in the Knights Tale, Alisoun is the goal of three men in the Millers Tale. And also, much like Arcite and Palamon in the Knights Tale, John, Nicholas, and Absolons private excesses in their desire for a woman leads to their public downfall. Their private intention to have their hearts desire leads to a public display. However, as opposed to the spiritual and emotional feelings of the Knights Tale, the Millers 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 Millers 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 Millers Tale and the Knights Tale, however, the comparison is not his main focus. Woods is primarily concerned about the interactions and workings of the characters in the Millers 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 Knights 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 Alisouns 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 Alisouns 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 Millers Tale: Alison as Iseult." Chaucer Review Vol.29, pp.373-380, 1995.
James Moreys article "The Cultour in the Millers Tale: Alison as Iseult" seeks to explain the relevance of the "cultour" in the Millers 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 Millers Tale and the Tristan legend.
The trials by ordeal were a way of assessing ones 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 Millers 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 Millers Tale being a fabliau called for the generic use of a spit or great iron. Chaucers 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 Millers 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 Knights Tale." Studies in the Age of Chaucer. (3) 1981. 13-45.
In "Fate and Freedom in the Knights Tale," Schweitzer not only examines the complexity of astrological influences versus a humans choice of his own fate, but Schweitzer also makes dramatic connections between Chaucers description of Arcites suffering of amor hereos in Part Two and arcites 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 Knights 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 Schweitzers argument that Arcite and Palamon are interchangeable. First, it is difficult to make this statement accurately because Palamons character is not looked at as fully as is Arcites 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 Arcites amor heroes and Arcites fall from his horse. He mentions how Chaucer describes Arcites amor hereos in Part Two by saying that: "Arcites 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 Chaucers 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 "Emelyes freendlich ye somehow causes the fury that frightens Arcites 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 Knights 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 Knights Tale: Are the characters controlled by a fate that is out of their control, or do the characters in the Knights Tale choose their own fate? This question is an important question to ask when reading the Knights 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, Schweitzers article provides tremendous insight into the things that occur throughout the Knights 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 tragedy (274). This formulaic and very negative approach is nothing more than an imposed structure, which is even more evident in the end when the Knight must interrupt to remind the Monk that fortune has a positive side as well.
This article is extremely useful in relating the Monk and his tale to many other aspects of CT and developing its meaning by relying on a combination of dramatistic and psychological readings. The psychological insights provide a welcome change from more standard critical approaches and relate well to the effect of the highly-artificial poetics of the tale. Because The Monk's Tale is so different from the rest of the tales, it is difficult to find a starting point for analyzing it, especially with the added complexity of many mini-tales contained within the tale itself. Ramazani helps with this problem and not only gives the reader a good education in poetics, patiently explaining Chaucer's liberal use of numerous rhetorical devices, but also effectively addresses the nature of the genre and its contextual significance. --Kirkley Greenwell, 3 Oct. 1996.
Mandel, Jerome. "Introduction." Geoffrey Chaucer: Building the Fragments of theCanterbury Tales. Rutherford: Associated UP, 1992.
In this introduction, Jerome Mandel explains his project for his book. While he mentions the current critical debate about the ordering and grouping of the tales (i.e. Ellesmere vs. Hengwrt vs. Chaucer Society), Mandel says that his main goal is not to argue for a certain order or interpretation of the tales. He notes that many critics have already come up with their own reading and sequence of the tales, and will continue to do so as long as Chaucer is read (20). Instead, Mandel explains that he intends to look at the unifying elements of theme, structure and character which unite the tales which are commonly grouped together. He says he will do this by first discussing the fragments of only two tales, and then the longer fragments, such as Fragment A, one chapter per fragment.
Mandel holds that while much scholarship focuses on groups of tales, "some of the most valuable criticism of the Canterbury Tales derives from the individual tales treated in isolation" (17). Strangely, he has chosen the former approach to discussing the Tales. Furthermore, it seems that both approaches to Chaucer are equally valuable. On the one hand, it would be a shame to totally ignore the elements of intertextuality in the tales, especially when the pilgrims seem to address each other directly or indirectly in their prologues and tales. On the other hand, looking at a tale on its own may allow the critic achieve a more detailed analysis of the elements of the tale. This analytical depth may be lost when attempting to identify trends that unify a fragment. Indeed, Mandel will be doing exactly this sort of identification, so he might be setting himself up for problems with analytical depth.
After a glimpse at the rest of Mandel's book, it seems that at least he may have failed to draw any conclusions about the significance of what he has found. Perhaps this is a result of his resistance to "interpret" (20) the tales. However, his introduction and text may still be useful resources. As noted above, his introduction points out various approaches to studying Chaucer. Mandel also explains some of the differences between the extant "first generation manuscripts" (13). Mandel notes that in each chapter, he will highlight thematic similarities cannot be found in any other fragment or tale. This may help to direct a reader with specific thematic questions toward or away from tales in other fragments. Mandel's book is also a valuable secondary resource because of his long list of works cited (pp. 225-243).
Ultimately, since Mandel explains that he will not "interpret" the tales, it seems that his book promises to be a tool or resource for those who desire to make their own interpretations of the tales and fragments, or for those who argue for a certain ordering of the tales and fragments. -------Mika Sam, 4 Oct 96, Bib Entry #3.
Brewer, D.S. "The Fabliaux." Companion to Chaucer Studies. Ed. Beryl Rowland. New York: Oxford U P, 1979. 296-317.
In "The Fabliaux," Brewer emphasizes Chaucers use and transformation of fabliaux in The Canterbury Tales. The article points out that this fact should be impressive to Chaucers readers, because Chaucers utilization of this form of literature, that originated in France, demonstrates his impressive knowledge and understanding of the fabliaux genre. Brewer provides his readers with a definition of the fabliaux. This is important because Chaucer both follows and deviates from the traditional fabliaux form. This article looks at the fabliaux as both a courtly and bourgeois genre. Brewer traces the history of the study of the fabliaux, and provides a small selection of references for further study of the genre.
Brewer claims that "it would be absurd to worry about too precise a grouping." (297) There may be some differences within a particular genre, however, every genre contains some basic traditional characteristics, and if it differs too far from the conventional form it is no longer a fabliaux. How far can you manipulate any one genre before it is no longer of that genre? Readers need to be careful, because they have to be alert to the conventions of the genres to that they can identify them correctly. The important thing to realize is that a person cannot be too lax in classifying any piece of literature to a particular genre. Readers should be aware of the differences between some of Chaucers fabliaux and the traditional form of fabliaux, why these differences are used, and why they are important.
The article discusses the embarrassment of some critics due to the traditional indecency of the fabliaux tales. Nevertheless, those same critics praise Chaucer for his enrichment of the typical and simple form of the French fabliau. Chaucer not only learned from the tradition, but he added his own twist to the genre by using description and characterization. The article also touches on the interrelationships of the Tales, the dramatic appropriateness of the tale to the speaker, and Chaucers use of allegorical or symbolic dimension in the Tales.
Brewer highlights the importance of realism in the fabliaux. In fact, Brewer suggests that the fabliaux represents the extreme of realism. The extreme of realism being naturalism. The article discusses Chaucers use of realism and its extreme, naturalism, to represent a variety of experience from the court to the lower estates. Brewer then underscores the different interpretations of the critics, and how they interpret the effect that the variety in experience has on the Tales individually, and as a whole unit. In the article a summary of some of the studies of Chaucers individual fabliaux poems are provided. The fabliaux tales include: The Millers Tale, Reeves Tale, Friars Tale, Summoners Tale, Shipmans Tale, and The Merchants Tale.
This piece is useful to the seminar, because it shows the value of the fabliaux to The Canterbury Tales. It provides readers with the opportunity to explore traditional fabliaux, and to apply this knowledge to Chaucers use of fabliaux. Included in this article is a bibliography that provides a few of the studies of European Fabliaux. With a better understanding of one of the genres that Chaucer uses, the reader can find a more meaning within the context of The Canterbury Tales.--Ericka Olsen, 10/3/96
Parry, Joseph D. "Dorigen, Narration and Coming Home in the Franklin's Tale." The Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 262-293.
In this article, Parry addresses mobility and the act of narration in the "Franklin's Tale", and the way these behaviors are manifest in Dorigen, the central female figure of the tale. Parry defines social mobility as enabled by the characters' ability to do "honorable activities" (262). Furthermore, he sees the world described in the tale to be "structured in such a way that each of the males can find a means by which to become physically and socially mobile" (266), and notes that Dorigen is denied such mobility (271). Unlike the men in the story, she has no recourse to social mobility by acting honorably without causing her own death, and she stays at " 'hoom' " (262). This "hoom" is where Dorigen, like the Franklin, performs the act of narration, which Parry sees as an act of "re-vision" (282) and self-advancement (284).
Though the article's thesis seems at times unwieldy or unclear, Parry probes many interesting questions along the way. For instance, he points out how the "Franklin's Tale" is a nested narrative: Chaucer narrates the Franklin who narrates Dorigen who narrates the stories of women who have killed themselves. This is an important observation, for it suggests that considerations of how the narrator shapes the tale should not be left behind in the "General Prologue". Indeed, Parry explains how Dorigen's long narrative debate about whether to kill herself indicates "the Franklin's interest in the structure of this logic" (277). At the same time, Dorigen's long narrative to herself is " 'useful' to the Franklin's "comic intentions for his tale" (277).
While at no point does Parry mention "feminism", his focus on Dorigen and her position and actions relative to the males of the tale might interest anyone studying gender in the "Franklin's Tale" or in Chaucer. Parry also mentions the "Wife of Bath's Tale", because as in the "Franklin's Tale", Chaucer draws on the writings of Jerome. Parry also makes note of how the Wife of Bath (and Alisoun) confronts her "male audience" (274) with angry, bold actions.
Parry also cites R.M. Lumiansky, who makes an interesting observation about Dorigen's significance in the action of the tale. Lumiansky reads the tale as a conflict between marriage and courtly love (272). Parry comments that such conflict ultimately makes an object out of Dorigen, one that is set between Aurelius and Dorigen's husband Arveragus (283). Earlier, Parry also quotes Susan Crane, who asserts that Dorigen is "initially 'elevated', " but is soon clearly subordinated to the stronger imperatives of heroic achievement" (271). Anyone interested in Marianism, or the cult of Mary may find an interesting similarity between Dorigen and the Virgin Mary. (See also Alone of All Her Kind by ? for more on Mary and women's roles as envisioned by the Bible.) Dorigen, like Mary, has a seemingly elevated position, but at the same time, derives some of her importance from her peripheral role in male action.
Finally, after reading Parry's article one might make a comparison of the "Franklin's Tale", not only to the "Wife of Bath's Tale", but also to the "Knight's Tale". True, the "Knight's Tale" takes a much more tragic view of courtly love than does the Franklin's Tale. However, if one reads the latter as does Lumiansky, a triumph of marriage over courtly love, then perhaps both the Knight and the Franklin (and Chaucer?) are making commentary about that trope of social conduct. The mobility with which Parry discusses throughout his article also suggests the potential threat of too much mobility, a form of chaos. If a squire (Aurelius) and a clerk (the Philosopher) can act honorably, are these acts genuine, and if so, what are the implications for social intercourse? This threat of disorder is somewhat like that which Theseus tries to act against during the feud of Palamon and Arcite in the "Knight's Tale".
In the "Franklin's Tale", as in the "Knight's Tale", it is most interesting that the characters actions are not framed with specific reference to Christian moral code. Parry makes no note of this, nor does he comment at great length on the Philosopher, though this character also acts to shape his own perception of the world, indeed narrating it. Of course, mentioning the Philosopher might have taken some of Parry's focus away from Dorigen. Perhaps Parry is leaving some of the answering for the reader, just as Chaucer via the Franklin does at the end of the "Franklin's Tale". Mika Sam - 19 Sept 96
Braswell, Mary Flowers. "Chaucer's Palimpsest: Judas Iscariot and the Pardoner's Tale." The Chaucer Review, Vol 29, pp. 301-310, 1995.
Mary Flowers Braswell explores the idea that the "Pardoner's Tale" draws heavily upon the influence of Medieval Judas tales. She argues that Chaucer use this dark theme, prevalent in the plague-ridden Middle ages, to add depth not only to the rioters and the old man, but to the story's teller as well.
Braswell maintains that the three rioter's lives are analogous to the avaricious life of Judas. They act with greed as their guiding ethos, even murdering their friend's to satisfy it. Like Judas, they do not care for the consequences their adoration of wealth may bring them. Money is their goal and focus, and not surprisingly, their downfall. Even their violent deaths by the oak tree is similar to the demise of Judas, who supposedly hung himself on a tree out of guilt. Another comparison (though Braswell, herself, considers this one somewhat shaky) is that the title "Iscariot" led some to regard Judas as a Zealot, a "group of dagger-wielding assassins," similar in character to the cutthroats in Chaucer's tale (Braswell, 304).
A more compelling comparison is with the Old Man who cannot die. Though the Bible merely suggests Judas hung himself, Braswell points to a number of Medieval texts (e.g. Cursor Mundi) which claim otherwise (hanging being a far to merciful and unimaginative death for one so evil as Judas). These texts suppose that the fallen apostle was unable to die so as "to prevent Judas's arrival in Hell during the three days that Christ was there (and thus to prevent the fallen disciple from begging forgiveness and receiving it)" (Braswell, 305). Other tales tell of Judas being trapped in a state of limbo, with neither heaven or hell allowing him entrance. The Old Man's "Leve moder, Leet me in!" echo hauntingly with this in mind.
Braswell also points to the similarities between the Old Man and the legend of the "Wandering Jew who was condemned to walk the earth until Christ returned" (Braswell, 305). This character, she suggests, was confused with Judas during the Middle Ages, thus Chaucer would have considered them one and the same. And the correspondence between the Old Man's physical appearance, and of those described in tale's of the Wandering Jew are more than striking. She also points to other legends which contain Jesus, gold, and an evil man, and which even claim that the "eternal wanderer" could "smell out treasure" (Braswell, 306). Finally, Braswell notes Chaucer's mention of "pestilence" and the plague. Judas, she explains, was in fact strongly associated with skin diseases in the Middle Ages, the plague itself being referred to as the "mal de Judas" (Braswell, 307).
Her final and most engrossing comparison is with the Pardoner. The Pardoner, like Judas, is a solitary figure never accepted by his traveling companions. His differences and anti-social behavior disable his ability to communicate with the group successfully (as much as he probably wanted to), tending to irritate (as we see with the host) rather than placate. He, too, like Judas, is a total hypocrite, in that he recognizes his sin, knows how to overcome it, but nonetheless refuses to. He even goes so far as to make his livelihood by telling others how to repent of their sins. Finally, like Judas, greed is his defining characteristic. He sacrifices his chance at salvation for it, and his fate is as undoubtedly bleak as Judas' will be.
According to Braswell the allusions to the life of Judas in the "Pardoner's Tale" are extremely important. They darken an already murky story, and allow the Pardoner, as well as the other characters, to be viewed with more clarity. As Braswell so rightly points out -- "It is fitting indeed that the Pardoner recast the tale of Judas, for it not only plumbs the depths of this pilgrim's sordid and sinister soul; it also reflects that portion of Chaucer's own fourteenth-century world that was plague-stricken, avaricious, and filled with shadows" (Braswell, 308). Finally, the references allows the reader to understand how important Judas was as a historical figure to Chaucer and his contemporaries. His life serves as a cautionary lesson on morality and greed, and those who refuse to heed it (like the Pardoner so defiantly does) are doomed to a life of eternal hell, ostracized by their companions, and tormented by their sins. --Tom Zorc, 10/8/96
Dawson, Robert B. "Custance in Context: Rethinking the Protagonist in the Man of Law's Tale." The Chaucer Review 26.3 (1992): 293-307.
Robert Dawson's article is clearly divided between the traditional views surrounding Custance, and his interpretation of her character. He writes that other critics have thought of her as an unbelievable character who is too simplistic in her design to analyze. She is thought to be a pathetic victim, and we are supposed to feel pity for a "wooden" character. Dawson not only thinks that Custance is a dynamic character, but that she has control over most of her situations. He considers her to be manipulative and selfish. Her portrayal of herself as the "child", "victim", and "daughter" only strengthens her power and control over people throughout the tale. He does stop at one point to admit that she has been "sinned" against to some extent, but throughout the tale she maintains her self-centered nature. After attacking her character, he moves on to her faith. Dawson thinks that the only faith she has exists to manipulate God. In example, Dawson writes that Custance never thanks, asks forgiveness, or prays for others. He finds her speech to be aggressive, and that she is not a "suffering emblem of human patience and spirituality". He ends with the thought that the Man of Law and Custance both use ironic language, which when examined, creates a much more "sinister" Custance than traditionally understood and accepted.
I think that this man must be insane, or at least has too much time on his hands. If you are looking for a confrontational view of Custance, than this is an excellent article. Dawson presents his argument clearly, and does back up what he says with quotes from the tale. However, I felt that in many sections of the article he was reaching too far. In his attempt to create a new reading of Chaucer he turned a promising idea of re-examining Custance, he allowed it to go wrong. Aside from the fact that I disagree with Dawson's argument, I do recommend this article. -- Christa McLaughlin, 10/15/96
Schneider, Paul Stephen. "'Taillynge Ynough': The Function of Money in the Shipman's Tale." Chaucer Review 11 (1976-77): 201-209.
Schneider's title is the best summary of his article; he examines the effects money has on the characters of the Shipman's Tale. He concludes that money functions as a vehicle for both good and evil. He begins with Harry Baily's reaction at the end of the tale: "Draweth no monkes moore unto youre in." Schneider assumes from his statement, "Not only will they violate your wife, his logic runs, they will inevitably cheat you out of your wealth." Schneider believes our host has clumsily stumbled upon the message of the story: look out for your money, it has some awesome powers.
He discusses the merchant's role, and his apparent complicity in what befalls him; he neglected his wife, so he becomes a cuckold: "Locked securely in his counting house, he gives his wife not only the opportunity but the motive to meet Dan John in the garden: his business concerns also give her the opportunity to repay the monk later."
He then comments on the servants' respect for the monk, how they revere him not for his duties with the church, but because he brings many gifts when he comes to visit. He compares the relationship of the monk and the merchant to the relationship between Palamon and Arcite of the Knight's Tale; he uses this comparison to show how warped by greed for money the first example of "brotherhood" really is.
After giving these examples of the corrupting power of money, Schneider analyzes the instances in the tale in which money influences the characters in a positive way: the merchant returning from his profitable business trip and sharing his happiness with his wife in bed all night, and the fact that the wife's clothing debt and deal with the monk eventually result in a closer sexual relationship with her husband.
Continuing his comparison of the Shipman's Tale with the Knight's Tale, he equates money with the gods Mars, Saturn, and Venus, describing its power as "Fortuna." It has the power to do good and the power to do evil; it doesn't care which one.--Jessica Kem, 10/15/96
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
Garbaty, Thomas J. "Satire and Regionalism: The Reeve And His Tale." The Chaucer Review. Summer, 1973.
Thomas Garbaty observes that Chaucer often appealed to a stereotyped humor in his characterizations, The Reeve's Tale being his primary example. Chaucer's description of Oswald the Reeve as a Norfolk man from Baldeswelle would have been a stock figure immediately recognized by his listeners.
The Londoner in the 1380's knew the Norfolk man as an immigrant, someone who was "foreign" and who would compete with them for their jobs. An example of this in modern times might be the arrival of The Beverly Hillbillies in Manhattan--they look funny and they talk funny; of course people with more "culture" would make fun of them. Garbaty states that in 14th century London, "to the public eye the new arrivals undoubtedly represented a provincial type, awkward and gauche of appearance" (3).
Norfolk in particular was known for feeding immigrants into the city of London in extraordinary numbers; the newcomers would certainly have been a source of ridicule for the native population. Even if the Reeve was not one of these immigrants, his identification with Norfolk would burden him with the stigma of a second-class citizen.
Garbaty also points out that "Oswald the Reeve, a Norfolk man, spoke a kind of backwoods patois [regional dialect] which was not only ludicrous in polite society, but which would have been barely understood with the best intentions" (6). The humor in this situation would have intensified when Oswald tells his story in the dialect of the miller; Chaucer's audience would have immediately recognized the comic, linguistic twist of the story.
This essay is an excellent source for information that is not immediately evident in the Tale itself. The fact that the Reeve is from Norfolk does not really mean anything to a modern reader, but learning about the immigration into London in the late 1300's, and the Londoners reaction to it, explains why the description of the Reeve was probably hilarious to Chaucer's listeners.--Judy Cook, 10/15/96
Berlin, Gail Ivy. "Speaking to the Devil: A New context for the Friars Tale." Vol. 69 of Philological Quarterly. 1990. 1-12.
In this article, Gail Berlin discusses the conversation on demonology that occurs between the fiend and the Summoner. Berlin notes how the "lecture on demonology" (1) is not found in any of the analogues on which Chaucer may have based the rest of the Friars Tale. She also notes how odd it is that an exemplum, which usually does not contain much dialogue, contains such a "lecture." She mentions the view of fellow critic Leicester that the "lecture" is a "blunder in craftsmanship," as well as the assertions from other critics that claim the "lecture" is connected to religious literature of the time. These arguments, especially Leicesters, provide a strong backdrop against which Berlin presents her argument that the lecture on demonology can be viewed from the literary works which portray "saints lives in which demons converse with saints." (1)
It is important to note that Berlin does not view these literary works as a source of Chaucers lecture on demonology. However, she views them as works that can be studied in contrast to the Summoners reaction to the fiend. Berlin uses the literary genre of the saints life to show the "tradition of conversations between demons and holy men and women." (2) Berlin uses Anthanasius Life of Antony and the lives of Margaret and Juliana as sources of information on "how to recognize, cope with, elicit information from, and banish demons." (2) The three elements that appear in these three stories, "the appearance of a fiend in disguise, a concern with recognizing and identifying the fiend, and an interest in discovering the nature of the devils pursuits," (2) also appear in the Friars Tale.
Berlin demonstrates how these holy men and women use these elements to their advantage to defeat the devil, while the opposite occurs with the Summoner. She points out that the Summoner misses the danger signals that should alert him to the fact that he is dealing with a fiend. Not only does the Summoner miss the danger signals that alert the saints to the fact that they are dealing with the devil, but when the Summoner does indeed ask the fiend, "Who are you, and where do you come from?" (6) it only serves to entice him further, unlike the saints who banish the fiend from their presence.
While Berlin argues that "the Summoner is squandering an opportunity to learn something of real use and value from the fiend," (8) it is important to realize that she is arguing from the standpoint of saving his soul. The Summoner is not interested in saving his soul, he is interested in making a profit, so therefore the information that he learns from the fiend is of real use and value to him. Unlike the saints, the Summoner does not use the information he gains to shun the devil, or to save himself from his plight. Instead, he becomes "a willing student of the devil." (11)
Throughout the article, Berlin demonstrates how Chaucer inverts the normal reaction and discovery of the fiend by the saints (saving themselves from damnation), by allowing the Summoner to act with interest in the fiend, leading himself to damnation. This piece is useful to the seminar because it draws striking parallels between how both the saints and the Summoner handle the devil. This in turn emphasizes the moral depravity of the Summoner. This article is also useful because it allows the reader to see the traditional interaction between saints and fiends that Chaucers audience would have been familiar with through the literature of that time period, and the understanding with which they would have interpreted the Friars Tale. Ericka Olsen - 10/24/96
Lancashire, Anne. Chaucer and the Sacrifice of Isaac. The Chaucer Review. (1975) Vol. 9 No.4.320-26
Anne Lancashire first acknowledges the Roman de la Rose and Livy's History as the basic sources for the Physician's Tale. She observes that Chaucer kept close to these sources departing from them in only two passages: the description of Virginia's maidenly virtues and on the duties of parents and governesses (35-120) and the dialogue between Virginia and her father before her death (207-53). These two passages are usually considered Chaucer's original additions to the story. Lancashire's thesis is that the Christian story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was probably a source for the dialogue between Virginia and Virginius.
Lancashire relates that the near sacrifice of Isaac was a key Old Testament event and that in variations of the story there is an outline common to all: God's ordering of the sacrifice Abraham's acceptance of God's will Abraham's sorrow at what he must do a lengthy dialogue between Abraham and Isaac and Isaac's ultimate acceptance of God's will. In every play, at the heart of the drama is the dialogue between Isaac and his father: a dialogue highly emotional, and emphasizing the mutual love of father and child (321). She states that the intensely religious nature of the dialogue between Virginia and Virginius has been pointed out by Thomas B. Hanson (Chaucer Review vol.7) and the similar situations of Abraham and Isaac and Virginia and Virginius suggests that Chaucer's model in 207-53 was the Abraham and Isaac story.
To concur with this thesis it would be necessary to agree that the dialogue between Virginia and Virginius like that of Abraham and Isaac is intensely religious and that it emphasizes the mutual love between father and child. The proof that she offers for a very religious dialogue is Hanson's suggestion that the words grace and remedy (which implicitly refer to Christian salvation from death) the references to God and the Christian emphasis on the worth of virginity all add up to a religious dialogue. In this tale however I do not see any suggestion at all of a possible salvation after death. Nor does their dialogue sound religious. In their dialogue Virginius seems to be more concerned about how her fate will affect him: Oh dear daughter endere of my lyf . . . Take thou thy deeth, for this is my sentence. Is this a religious conversation? Virginius is talking like he's the one sentenced to death. I emphasize sentence because Virginius is the person who decides she must die--dear old dad.
Although I do not agree with the Abraham/Isaac thesis this is an interesting essay to contemplate because the Physician's Tale does touch on both pagan and Christian ideals.--Judy Cook, 10/28/96
Gittes, Katharine. "Canterbury Tales." Framing the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer and the Medieval Frame Narrative Tradition. New York: Greenwood, 1991.
Katharine Gittes seeks to situate The Canterbury Tales within two narrative traditions, an Eastern one that emerged in India and a Western one that emerged in Greece. She argues that the tales as a whole are a frame narrative which does not fit wholly and solely into either tradition. Because of this, there are intriguing moments of tension in the tales, such as the tension between closure and "open-endedness" (109). Much of the book provides information on frame narratives predating The Canterbury Tales, such as the Arabic Panchatantra, Petrus Alfonsi's Disciplina clericalis, Boccaccio's Ameto and Decameron, and Gower's Confessio Amantis. Therefore, the book's sixth chapter, called "Canterbury Tales" (pp. 109-138), promises to be the most useful to any general study of the tales. In this chapter, Gittes zealously overviews the tales, focusing on their "open-endedness", narrative method, and organizing principles, as well as many of the tales' other interesting features.
The lack of closure that Gittes observes manifests itself most obviously by the fact that the number of tales told do not equal two per pilgrim. More importantly, the Franklin and the Parson refer differently to the number of tales that will be told (110). Additionally, the number of pilgrims riding to Canterbury changes as the tales unfold. Initially, the reader apprehends that there are twenty-nine pilgrims (l. 24); however there are three priests (l. 164), not one, which increases the total to thirty-one. Furthermore, Gittes notes that the pilgrims are joined later by the Canon and the Canon's Yeoman.
Gittes asserts that such open-endedness is further underscored by the possible "loose connections and groupings" of the tales. It is possible to see the tales as does Paul G. Ruggiers, divided into "primarily romantic" (112) and "primarily comic." George Lyman Kittredge places tales about marriage in one group, and tales concerning "greed" and fabliaux form other groups. However, it is important to note that these groups "overlap" (i.e. the "Reeve's Tale" is a fabliau about "greed" and marriage), and thus provide more than one framework for organizing the tales.
Furthermore, according to Gittes, closure in the arguments and debates between the pilgrims is often deferred. For instance the Knight, the Wife of Bath and the Nun's Priest "touch upon the medieval debate between experience and authority; but the Canterbury Tales does not resolve this issue" (122), nor is it clear who is the winner between the pilgrims who quite each other. In spite of all these examples of open-endedness in the tales, a reading of the rest of Gittes' book is required to discover how this is a specifically "Eastern" (109) phenomenon.
Gittes's most interesting observation about narrative method in The Canterbury Tales is her discussion about the use of occupatio. While occupatio is sometimes used by the pilgrims "in its traditional way" (125) to underscore an event while denying doing so, this narrative technique may also shorten the narrative, or at least give it a hurried feeling, as in the "Knight's Tale." Interestingly, Gittes also notes the Squire's clumsy occupatio, which actually slows the pace of his tale (130). Also regarding narrative method, Gittes touches on Chaucer-the-Pilgrim; specifically, she notes that his presence serves to authenticate and help organize the tales, especially since he tells two tales.
Though the pilgrims refrain from doing so overtly, Gittes discusses their metaphysical pilgrimage. She cites Ralph Baldwin's assertion that the pilgrims' physical journey "connects the spiritual journey to the literal one," but also mentions Christian K. Zacher's idea that pilgrimages in Chaucer's day were also a means by which "to satisfy curiositas, a simple human urge to know more about the secular world" (123).
The overarching weakness of the sixth chapter of Gittes's book is that it may attempt to touch on too much. The thirty-page chapter is divided by subject headings into eleven sections; however some of these sections are only one paragraph long, and the depth of her analysis may have been hindered. However, Gittes raises enough interesting questions and names enough sources that this chapter may serve as a starting point for numerous lines of inquiry. Perhaps too, Gittes's lack of analysis may produce a phenomenon of open-endedness similar to that which she observes in the tales themselves.
Another, somewhat minor flaw in Gittes' chapter and book is that she refers to the pilgrim's "social classes". Previous class discussion has shown "social classes" to be a somewhat inaccurate way of framing society in Chaucer's day; also, Mary J. Carruthers illustrates further why this is so (see Carruthers, Mary J. "The Gentilesse of Chaucer's Franklin." Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 23:4 (1981): 283-300).
Gittes notes in the introduction to her book that The Canterbury Tales have more often been studied only with reference to Western tradition. Thus, her chapter and her book fill a gap in Chaucer scholarship. Her book would be especially useful in libraries that lack a majority of her 200-plus sources, many of which are about Eastern literature. Most importantly of all, Gittes' book would be a valuable addition to the Julia Rogers Library. (Currently the book is available through interlibrary loan from Towson State University and Loyola University, call number PR 1875 S 75G58). --Mika Sam, October 25, 1996.
Ramsey, Lee C. "'The Sentence Of It Sooth Is': Chaucer's Physician's Tale." The Chaucer Review. Vol.6, No.3: Winter, 1972.
According to Lee Ramsey, The Physician's Tale has not been the subject of a great deal of review, and that which has been done has not been favorable. "In fact the only thing on which all commentators agree would seem to be that it is not a particularly good tale" (185). He describes it as a tale with problems and failures.
Although The Physician's Tale can be tracked back to several sources, notably Jean de Muen and Livy, Chaucer's version is very different. It is a narrative with an appended moral, and Ramsey says that if a story like this is complex at all, it is likely to suggest "lessons" that conflict with the stated meaning, and that "disparity between tale and lesson can often make the lesson seem inadequate, trivial, wrong or even ludicrous" (187). Contrary to the negative criticism, Ramsey believes that The Physician's Tale is a success and can be explained as "the product of a unified intent as long as we do not insist on its stated meaning as its real meaning and as long as we are willing to see in Chaucer's work an irony that is not comic" (190).
Chaucer's predecessors had different concerns in their stories: Livy wanted to expose the evils of the decemvirate, and Gower saw a lesson for rulers in the tale. Ramsey attests that the "Roman de la Rose" was the most important source for Chaucer, but there the lesson still remains centered around the character of Apius. Chaucer's story loses the focus on Apius and centers instead upon Virginia. Where the injustice of powerful men was illustrated in Chaucer's sources, the the primary focus in The Physician's Tale is a "hopeless view of the injustice and uncertainty of life" (195).
Ramsey claims that the physician's "moral" totally misses the point, and that it is a bit of conventional moralizing gone haywire. He believes instead, "the tragedy of Chaucer's Virginia is ultimately caused by the nature of the world in which man lives" (197). "The world harbors grave injustice" is the lesson that Ramsey finds in The Physician's Tale. I find this is a valid statement, and perhaps Chaucer was just trying to show that evil exists in the world along with goodness, but I believe that he was focusing on a very specific evil instead of just evil in general.
Ramsey makes a valid point; good and evil do co-exist in the world. However, I think that Ramsey misses the connection between the Physician and the odd moral he finds in the tale about how sin is rewarded, particularly when he does not even recognize Virginius' sin. The portrait of the Physician in The General Prologue is actually very consistent with his neglect of Virginius' sin (his daughter's murder). The Physician does not study the bible, perhaps because he is so busy studying the ancient medical authors, so maybe he is not familiar with Christianity's concept of sin. He dresses in fine clothes and he profits from the plague. It is possible that his interest in Virginia might be only a monetary interest, that is, as long as he can profit from checking up on her virginity, she represents a possible income to him. Once she is gone, so is his interest in her. Judy Cook, 10/28/96
Loney, Douglas. "Chaucer's Prioress and Agur's 'Adulterous Woman'." Chaucer Review. 27:1, 1992, 107-8.
In this short article, Loney examines passages from the Prioress' portrait in the "General Prologue" and compares them to parts of "Roman de la Rose" and the Bible, which point out her holy way of life. One passage he points out in particular was the description of the Prioress' table manners. Loney says this description is comparable to one in "La Rose" which points out "how to lure and entrap a lover" (107). He goes on to say how this is a straight forward example of how the Prioress is rooted in the secular world, but he also says that Chaucer layers his allusions. He compares the Prioress' passage to "Matthew 23:25-7: 'ye make clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but within you are full of rapine and uncleanness'" (107). He goes on to quote other parts of scripture which attack the Prioress' ways , most notably James 4:4, "ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" (108) He concludes that this applies with to the Prioress who was more preoccupied with maintaining proper social behavior than attending to the proper behavior of one "married" to the Church.
This article captures the essence of the Prioress' inability to fully give herself over to God, as we gather from the her portrait in the "General Prologue". She is unable to forsake the pleasures of the secular world, which explains why she dresses very unholy and takes pains to imitate the manners of the court. Loney's use of "La Rose" and especially from the quotes from the Bible illustrate how the Prioress is not properly suited to live a chaste and holy life. She is too firmly rooted in the ways of the mundane world and according to James 4:4, "a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (108). I personally don't see her as an enemy of God, I just see her as one who chose an unsuitable career choice, and maybe realized too late that she was unable to live up to the duties set out for her. Ed Caruso 10/22/96
Dane, Joseph A. "The Prioress and Her Romanzen." Chaucer Review. 24:3, 1990, 219-22.
The author deals with the notion that critics of Chaucer view the Prioress as a romantic heroine. Throughout most of the article he points out why critics over the years have thought this. He mentions her table manners, keeping of pets, and other details from her portrait in the "General Prologue" as why one might consider her a romantic heroine. Robinson and Donaldson are among the critics he cites, but he does all this saying he personally doesn't see her this way, but is trying to figure out why the other scholars do. In another attempt to find the source for this "romantic heroine" status he examines many French poems where some form of the Prioress' name shows up. He is not very convinced by this so he concludes that these scholars must have some other obscure heroine in mind or after centuries of scholarship, they have a confused view of the Prioress.
I agree with the author's main point that the prioress is not a romantic heroine, but his argument left much to be desired. He did a great job of pointing out why other scholars have their opinion, but he gives no reason for why he feels the way he does. In fact, I almost felt swayed to the view of the other critics after reading this paper. In the end, this article has no real use because, while it does a good job of laying out the foundation of a thesis, it fails to thoroughly back it up. Ed Caruso 10/29/96
Pigg, Daniel F. "Refiguring Martyrdom: Chaucer's Prioress and Her Tale." Chaucer Review. 29:1. 1994, 65-73.
The author initially points out that there is a big difference between the portrait of the Prioress in the "General Prologue" and of that in her tale. He says that the reason for this is that the tale was written before the pilgrim portrait and therefore the most important thing about the Prioress is not her behavior in the "Prologue", but her sense of martyrdom that arises from her tale. Pigg also addresses the anti-Semitism aspect of the tale, and while it does need to be debated, it is only peripherary and it should not detract from the main theme.
Now he gets into the main part of his essay, which deals with martyrdom in the "Prioress' Tale". He argues that the Prioress tells a tale a physical martyrdom, while she herself practices spiritual martyrdom. This is because she, by sacrificing herself to God, sacrifices herself from the rest of the world. This is the refigured martyrdom in the title of the essay. Pigg then goes on to give a synopsis of Christian martyrdom which went from physical martyrdom (represented by the slain boy) to its evolution to spiritual martyrdom (the Prioress' monastic vows). He also says how virginity and the accepting of monastic vows are essential to this refigured martyrdom. Here he points out how the Prioress exalted in the little martyr's innocence and purity. He concludes that "Chaucer would assign this story to the Prioress is indeed appropriate, but not because she posses a 'tender herte'. The appropriateness lies in the tale's illustrating through its speaker and through her discourse the medieval notions of martyrdom" (71).
After I read the Prioress' portrait in the "Prologue", I was expecting a far less religious tale, so naturally I was surprised by what I read. I agreed with a large part of this paper because I noticed the wide discrepancy between the portrait and the tale, so I wondered who the real Prioress was. After reading the tale and this article, I believe the Prioress is truly good and I think that, in this case the tale is appropriate for the teller. I agree with Pigg that the anti-Semitism aspect of the tale should not be made into the main focal point, nor should we let the pilgrim portrait sway us. I also think it is feasible to say that the Prioress is a martyr just like the little boy, although of a different kind. This article is very useful because it may shed some light on those who view the Prioress only by her portrait in the "Prologue". Ed Caruso 10/29/96
Harrison, Joseph. "'Tears for Passing Things': The Temple of Diana in the Knight's Tale ." Philological Quarterly 1984 Winter, 63:1, 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. --Ed Caruso, 9/96
Lee, Brian S. "The Question of Closure in Fragment V of The Canterbury Tales." The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 22. London: Modern Humanities, 1992.
In the opening paragraph of this article, Brian S. Lee asserts that the "Franklin's Tale" is a "rhetorical rather than a narrative completion of the Squire's" (190). Thus, Lee focuses his inquiry on the act of narration. He does this first by discussing the dissatisfying incompleteness of the "Squire's Tale" and the satisfying conclusiveness of the "Franklin's Tale." Lee explains that this is due to the fact that the "Franklin's Tale" is "fundamentally a literary work; whereas the Squire's Tale is conceived in the oral mode" (191). His exploration of oral versus literary tales is the most interesting aspect of this article.
According to Lee, the genre Chaucer has chosen for the "Squire's Tale" dictates in part that the tale's account of events will be incomplete. The "Squire's Tale" is a romance, but within this large genre, Lee finds that Chaucer's models were mostly "rhetorical and lyrical: the courtly descriptio, the aubade, the complaint" (190). Moreover, since the mode of the tale is oral narrative (presumably because the Squire says in his prologue that he is about to "speke" (l.6) and because he gives no indication of a previous source as does the Franklin), the tale is also "potentially endless" (191).
Though Lee reads the "Squire's Tale" in this way, he does not agree with Joyce Peterson that the Franklin's words to the Squire are an interruption. To read the Franklin's words as an interruption might be assuming that "at least some pilgrims were worried about the length of the tale" (192) and that "Chaucer wished to expose the Squire's narrative incompetence" regarding his lack of "sense of proportion" of his story. Lee also explains how the "Franklin's Tale" is much more of a literary tale than the "Squire's Tale." For instance, the former is more "rhetorical" (192) (think of the question at the end of the "Franklin's Tale) and it contains a unifying "nucleus image" in the rocks.
Lee's largest assertion is that a person who approaches the tale as a "reader" may have different expectations of story length and repetition. Listeners, on the other hand, may be more used to the "circumlocutions and repetitions" present in the Squire's narrative. Lee cites Walter J. Ong, who says that the spoken word is an "event" to be experienced, whereas the written word has "sequestered the essentially participatory word" (20-21). Thus, some of our complaints about the Squire's tale may result from our being readers rather than listeners. Also, the Squire's repetitions may in fact be a product of his oral narrative, for as Lee mentions, "oral circularity often uncritically reproduces" life (198).
Lee also claims that Chaucer wrote with both readers and listeners in mind. Aside from the apparent modes of the "Squire's Tale" and the "Franklin's Tale," Lee gives no other evidence to strengthen his assertion. Perhaps he should have mentioned evidence manuscript arrangements, or at least whether other Canterbury Tales seem to be more oral or more literary.
Obviously, this article would be useful to anyone studying Fragment V. Also, his discussion of oral and literary tales opens up many lines of inquiry, which are unfortunately limited by his approach to the fragment. He says, "Fragment v [sic] is so manifestly a unity that we do violence to it if we read either the Squire's Tale or the Franklin's Tale in isolation" (190). Even so, his discussion of reader versus listener expectation may be useful to all those who study Chaucer. If one accepts Lee's view that Chaucer wrote with both sorts of audiences in mind, it seems that The Canterbury Tales should then be experienced in both ways. To merely read the tales would be to understand them only in one way. Perhaps, as Ong argues, we will be "sequestered" from some important aspects of the text. On the other hand, if we listen to the tales, what we find significant may be different than what we find significant as readers of the tales. --Mika Sam, 8 Nov 96
Jacobs, Kathryn. "Rewriting the Marital Contract: Adultery in the Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer Review. Vol. 29, No. 4, 1995.
Concentrating primarily on the examples of adultery in the Shipman's, Franklin's and Miller's tales (in that order of importance), Kathryn Jacobs draws parallels between different aspects of 'British marriage in the middle ages.' She divides marriage into two different contracts: one to be governed by the temporal courts, a contract about the possessions and goods of both parties entering into a marriage, and another to be governed by the Ecclesiastical courts, regarding 'spousal obligations of companionship.'
The Miller's Tale, according to Jacobs, is an example of a marital relationship which is almost solely a business relationship. While Alisoun is the center of all kinds of sexual attention, the tale doesn't deal with any aspect of sexuality between Alisoun and John the carpenter. Adultery for her is one way of reacting to an absence of the 'sexual fulfillment' aspect of the marriage contract she has with John. "The discrepancy in age prevents reciprocal affection and obligation; nowhere does Alisoun express any interest in her husband." (338) The Merchant's Tale is a different matter. In this tale Chaucer asks the question: What should a woman do when it doesn't occur to her husband that he owes her anything other than his worldly goods?
She then moves into answering the question of 'how can adultery restore a marriage in which one of the parties doesn't live up to his half of the sexual contract?' She uses the Shipman's tale to show that sometimes it can happen, as in the case of the (nameless) husband and wife. She explains how the wife, talking to Daun John, makes the case for adultery as a response to her husband's inadequacy.
It is an interesting way of looking at marriage, so businesslike and legal. Doesn't seem to have much to do with love. But if you think about it, the laws regarding un-fulfilling spouses can be taken as a warning that adultery is an expectable outcome, even if it isn't one you'd like to agree with, if you don't fulfill your spouse. The way Jacobs examined the language used by each of the women was pretty cool because she shows how each of the problems relates to different aspects of business. (i.e. debts, balances, bankruptcy etc...)
But how come she doesn't talk about the Reeve's tale? I guess you could make a weak argument dismissing the Reeve's tale as immature ping-pong name-calling, back and forth between the Miller and Reeve. Therefore what is contained therein doesn't have to do with the moral issues in the Franklin's and the Shipman's tale. Certainly, the marital situation in the Reeve's tale isn't given much 'air time.' But I think she should have said something about how here, in the Reeve's tale, are two women participating in a 'forbidden' relationship (certainly forbidden to the wife, she's married, bound by law, but the daughter is not committing adultery, only having sex without telling dad) and having a great time. Maybe she thinks it has nothing to do with her argument but I think she should have at least mentioned it.
The Talmud has three whole chapters about a man's sexual responsibilities to his wife. Judaism, very very against divorce, will grant a wife divorce if she is not sexually fulfilled by her husband. I think that the women Jacobs talks about in her article would love to sit and talk about Rashi and Rambam over lunch or tea.--Shaiel Yitzchak, 11/19/96
Murtaugh, Daniel M. "Women and Geoffrey Chaucer." Criticism 38.4 (1971): 473-492.
Daniel Murtaugh discusses the treatment of the women in several of the "Canterbury Tales": "The Wife of Bath's Tale," "The Clerk's Tale," "The Merchant's Tale," "The Franklin's Tale" and the "Nun's Priest's Tale." He begins by naming two traditions of regarding women, the courtly love tradition and the "patristic antifeminist tradition" (484). In early works such as Troilus and Criseyde, Murtaugh finds that Chaucer treated the two as separate (474); however, in later works such as the tales mentioned above, Chaucer does not treat these traditions as so separable and different. To explain this, in the first section of his tripartite article, Murtaugh discusses Chaucer's Legend of Good Women and Jean de Meun's portion of the Roman de la Rose. Referring to the latter, Murtaugh says, "Men who love par amors before marriage must of necessity convert to the patristic hatred of women after marriage" (477). This passage would be somewhat confusing to anyone lacking a familiarity with either of these texts; on the other hand, it would be useful to anyone seeking to see how the Canterbury Tales fit in with Chaucer's other works. For instance, Murtaugh mentions how the Wife of Bath's actions relate to the Roman de la Rose, in that she accuses her husbands of acting somewhat like de Meun's Jealous Husband (475).
At any rate, the real strength of the article is what Murtaugh has to say about various aspects of the Canterbury Tales that he discusses. For instance, in Part II he concentrates on the "Clerk's Tale" and the "Merchant's Tale" and makes interesting comments about both tales. He suggests that Walter's test of Grisilde in the "Clerk's Tale" is not one in which Walter seeks to prove Grisilde's love, but instead to "disprove" it (480). To Murtaugh, "in the end she wins, and her victory is more decisive than Job's." He also sympathizes with Grisilde, whose test lasts many years and costs her "the righteous pleasures of a virtuous life. Furthermore, Murtaugh reads Walter as "combining the roles of God and Satan."
Part III of the article centers around the "Wife of Bath's Tale" and the "Franklin's Tale." Murtaugh reads the Wife of Bath as somewhat of a victim, for "she has been wounded by time, which has. . .robbed her of her beauty. . . .And she has been wounded by men, who invented her" (483). While the former argument seems reasonable enough, the latter is a bit harder to grasp. It seems Murtaugh views the Wife of Bath as "invented" mostly because she is to him a "literary" composite "who has somehow managed to come to life." However, this argument could be made of any of Chaucer's women, perhaps Emelye, and if the Wife of Bath is more of a type than Emelye or others, Murtaugh does not explain how.
Murtaugh also highlights an interesting adaptation that Chaucer has made in his use of Boccaccio for the "Franklin's Tale". In both tales, the female characters eventually find themselves in a garden. However, in Boccaccio's version, the garden is actually what is rashly wished for, whereas the garden of Chaucer's tale is merely the site where the rash wish/promise is made. Thus the "central illusion upon which the story turns" (488) is displaced from the garden to the rocks. Murtaugh goes on to explore how the two female protagonists are differently characterized by what they wish for; on the one hand, a "frivolous" garden in winter, on the other hand, the disappearance of rock which reveal Dorigen's "serious commitment to her marriage."
Additionally, Murtaugh broaches Dorigen's complaint, the subject of much critical debate. He feels that "the incoherence of this speech is calculated by Chaucer to temper our participation in his heroine's grief and to suggest" that she has another way out of her dilemma aside from killing herself (489). This makes sense, for the tale's audience may tire of her monologue and begin to suspect she does not really intend to kill herself, or she would just go ahead and do it. Murtaugh's view is at once similar to and different than that of Joseph Parry's (see "Dorigen, Narration and Coming Home in the Franklin's Tale." The Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 262-293). In this more recent article, Parry reads Dorigen's complaint as an act of "re-vision" (282) and self-advancement (284), though it may also be " 'useful' to the Franklin's "comic intentions for his tale" (277).
Murtaugh also explains how to read Arveragus's urging that Dorigen keep her promise to Aurelius, by differentiating between the "physical integrity of her body and the spiritual integrity of her trouthe" (491). The "moral law" on which Arveragus operates "has trouthe as its highest value and the breaking of faith as its worst of sin," and thus, "this principal of integrity-not the exclusive right to her body-is the real basis of their marriage." All this seems plausible enough, but the question remains, is it likely that Arveragus would have such a sophisticated, non-corporeal vision for his marriage, especially since he returns to Dorigen after a two-year absence?
Though this article is twenty-five years old, it may still be useful because Murtaugh discusses the appearance one thematic subject, women, in several of the Canterbury Tales as well as in the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. Obviously his article then becomes useful as one more voice in the discussion of some of Kittredge's "marriage group" tales (see "Chaucer's Discussion of Marriage." Modern Philology 9 (1912): 435-67). Murtaugh's most provocative contribution to this area of inquiry is his statement that some critics too easily "base their arguments in part on the assumption that Chaucer's ideas on marriage must agree with the conventional wisdom of his day, for instance, with teachings derived from St. Augustine's De Bono Conjugali" (487).
Thus, Murtaugh seems to at once acknowledge that Chaucer was working as an artist in his own right and also warn against viewing Canterbury Tales as mimetic representations of reality. Perhaps Murtaugh's statement can also be seen as a relating to C. David Benson's more recent conception of the Canterbury Tales as a "drama of style." Seen through Murtaugh's eyes, the tales might not be a contest of pilgrims who are fleshed out from the "conventional" people "of his day," so much as they might be an invention of Chaucer's, manipulated more as a poetic entity which draws on preceding sources. Indeed, Murtaugh's insistence that the Wife of Bath is primarily an "invented. . . .literary" figure (483) would support this supposition. At any rate, it seems that Murtaugh would at least be opposed to the view that each of Chaucer's pilgrims exactly represente a real person.-- Mika Sam, 17-11-96
Bloomfield, Morton W. "The Friars Tale as a Liminal Tale." Vol. 17 of The Chaucer Review. 1983. 286-91.
IMorton Bloomfield states that the Friars Tale is more complex than it seems. He argues that when looking at the Friars Tale through an "anthropological lens" (286) it is a "story about a rite de passage" (286). However, Morton Bloomfield fails to support and fully explain his thesis.
Bloomfield begins the article by mentioning anthropologist Van Gennep as "the first to develop the concept of rite de passage" (286). He then explains that the rite de passage is an important event in many cultures, and it "celebrates the transition from one realm or state to another" (286). Bloomfield then mentions how Victor Turner has expanded Van Genneps notion by exploring liminality, which is the state of in-betweeness in the rite de passage. Turner also notes that the pilgrims on religious pilgrimages have liminal experiences in that they not only "travel from one place to another, but also move from one stage of life to another" (286). Bloomfield expands upon his argument by stating that "a liminal experience allows no return" (287). He then goes on to discuss the various contexts of the rite de passage, and suggest that within these contexts the summoner "unconsciously chooses his own fate" (287).
Bloomfields thesis then begins to fall apart when he falls into plot summary while attempting to explain the fiends role as a guardian in the tale. He then explains that the "limen... is for those who chose the wrong gate" (288), and that the test for the Summoners rite de passage is whether or not he can avoid the crossing over into hell. The rite de passage "is not necessarily a step to a better world or to a better fate but to a different one" (289). Then Bloomfield appears to go against one of his original arguments (that the summoner unconsciously chooses his own fate) by stating that the summoners demnation is the result of "deliberate choice" (289).
Bloomfield then breaks off in order to return to his statement that the fiend acts as a guardian. Afterwards he states that the basic lession of the Friars Tale is that a man must act with charity if he wishes to avoid damnation, and once again goes against his argument of unconsciously choosing by saying that the summoner damns himself in spite of his knowledge. Once again Bloomfield changes gears as he suggests that the underlying rite de passage of the tale involves death.
He attempts to explain the summoners liminal journey by comparing the archdeacon to Satan, and the summoner to the fiend. He believes that the summoners meeting with a real fiend only serves to highlight the liminal nature of his path and the end result of the summoners journey. Bloomfields conclusion then becomes confusing, because there is only one thought mentioned that accurately attempts to tie his thesis together.
This article is not useful to the seminar because it is choppy and, at times, contradictory in thought. As you can see from the last two paragraphs of this summary, Bloomfield has a tendency to jump quickly from one thought to the next without accurately explaining his argument. It is sometimes difficult to understand the exact point he is trying to make, and exactly how the summoner is going through a rite de passage.--Ericka Olsen, 11/14/96
Harley, Martha Powell. "Chaucers Friars Tale." Explicator. Vol. 46:2 (1988) 4-5.
Although this is an extremely short article, Martha Powell Harley explains an important ingredient in Chaucers writing. This ingredient is Chaucers usage of the second-person pronominal forms. However, in this article Harley only examines the second-person pronominal forms in regards to the Friars Tale. Throughout the Friars Tale, Harley finds that "the singular form consistently signals intimacy or equality, the plural deference" (4). Harley discovered that the fiend always addresses the summoner in the familiar second-person singular (with the exception of two instances), signaling the closeness that the fiend feels towards the summoner. However, the summoner addresses the fiend in the plural form until he feels that the person he is riding with (the fiend) is truly his brother.
Harley shows that the summoner uses the plural form throughout his questioning of the fiend, and only begins to use the singular form when he pledges his brother hood to the fiend a second time. After this, the summoner never again uses the plural form to address the fiend. Harley uses this to show the summoners acceptance of the fiend. This is important because it subtly shows that the summoners nature is equal to that of the fiends nature, and it also shows the closeness that the summoner is now beginning to feel towards the fiend.
Harley also demonstrates the use of the singular form of the second-person pronominal through the summoner and the fiends interaction with the old widow. The summoner, feeling that the old widow is within his clutches, addresses her in the singular form. The old widow, however, addresses the summoner with plural pronouns, demonstrating her distance to and sense of formality with the summoner. The fiend, in turn, utilizes the plural pronouns throughout his interaction with the old widow. His formality with the old widow emphasizes the closeness between the summoner and the fiend, because the fiend does not address the widow in the same manner as the summoner. This places the moral state of the summoner and the old widow in direct contrast with each other, and shows the summoners "damning intimacy" (5) with the fiend.
Throughout the article, Martha Harley uses the second-person pronominal forms to describe the relationships between the characters in the Friars Tale, and outlines the subtle impact that these forms have on the meaning and the readers interpretation of the tale. This piece is useful to the seminar, because it not only provides a deeper analysis of the Friars Tale, but it also provides a context through which to read other tales. The reader can analyze the second-person pronominal forms to study the relationships between the characters in the other tales, and find how their usage effects the meaning of that particular tale. --Ericka Olsen, 11/14/96
Hassan-Yusuff, Z. Dolly. "'Wynne Thy Cost': Commercial and Feudal Imagery in the Friar'sTale." The Chaucer Review 14 ( 1979): 15-8.
Hassan-Yusuff's argument centers around using images to communicate an idea, which in this case involves the feudal theme in the Friar's Tale. Asserting that the "use of images is one of the greatest tools of poetic expressions" (15), the critic quotes from Caroline F. C. Spurgeon's study of the imagery in Shakespeare: "The little word picture . . . . transmits to us through emotions and associations it arouses, something of a 'wholeness'" (qtd. in Hassan-Yusuff 15). It is upon this framework that she builds her argument involving the development of feudal imagery in the tale.
The critic first delves into the topic of subinfeudation, demonstrating how the summoner's bailiff-like role implies a lord-vassal relationship. In this case, the summoner is the bailiff overseeing the archdeacon's "vassals," and by abusively wielding power over these people for his own gain, he creates a group of his own vassals. The use of words such as "dutee," "retenue," and "rent" all build up this image of a feudal lord. At the same time, Hassan-Yusuff asserts that Chaucer is building up an image of a game, or competition between the summoner and the devilish yeoman, by taking advantage of the double meaning of "win" (to gain as profit or to overcome an opponent) (16). When the devil finally reveals his identity to the daft summoner, Chaucer uses "image clusters to illuminate his theme" (16), blending feudal and hunting terms as in the ambiguity of "purchasyng" (which can connote the act of seizing prey as well as having more financial implications.
The principal manner in which Chaucer uses this feudal imagery to depict the summoner's depravity is through a reference to the oath of fealty. The summoner and the yeoman enter into a binding partnership that is "strikingly similar" to the feudal oath of fealty, a contract between lord and vassal. The binding nature of this oath is evident in how the summoner insists on honoring the commitment even after he realizes thathis new friend is from hell. Becoming a student of the devil, he attempts to soak up the yeoman's knowledge of how to "wynne," but when tries to turn the tables to top the devil, he "ironically [becomes] the devil's vassal and property" (18). The critic's conclusion is that the summoner, who is supposed to be God's vassal, is actually serving the same evil lord as the devil.
One of the most helpful things in this article is Hassan-Yusuff's reliance on Chaucer's word pictures to develop a more "whole" meaning from the text. The images in each tale, when studied closely, bring in other associations that add to the more obvious reading. Similar to how a parody causes a reader to think about other texts in the same genre, such a use of word images prompts the audience to examine Chaucer's larger metaphorical links. More specifically, the lord-vassal relationship detailed in the article could be useful to those students seeking to illuminate similar hierarchies in other tales.--Kirkley Greenwell, 17 November 1996.
Knapp, Peggy A. "Alisoun of Bathe and the Reappropriation of Tradition." Vol.24 of The Chaucer Review. 1989. 45-52.
Peggy Knapp's goal is to prove her theory that Alisoun is triving for "control by attempting to sieze two important genres in the contemporary system of discourse, the anti-fiminist tradition in her Prologue and the courtly romance in her Tale." Through analyzing the Prologue and the Tale, Knapp discusses the wife's persona which is represented in her Tale by the loathly lady. This woman solves the puzzle for the knight by speaking on behalf of women: they want control. This reflects the wife's Prologue in their own fight for control and pwer. The leathly lady in the Tale attains the goal which the wife ultimately wants - "respect and physical love."
Knapp explores the difference between Tale and Prologue as well. She considers Alisoun's jump from the blunt Prologue to the Tale which is "generously and delictely framed" as well as focuses on the switch from Arthurs strict lawful court to Guineveres compromise. Knapp believes the wifes personality shines through both. Overall Knapp ends up coming to the conclusion that Chaucer was presenting a "new female" to his audience. She states that part of what comic fiction is, " is to reconcile personal desire with society's needs." The two kisses at the end of each: Jankly and Alisoun and the Knight and his loathly lady merely offer hope for peaceful coexistence.
I agree with much of what Knapp is getting at here. I understood the loathly lady to be a representation of Alisoun too. I am not so sure that the two kisses at the end are supposed to symbolize a peaceful coexistence is possible. At the same time it is difficult to assume that Chaucer is speaking of a "new woman". I think Knapp may have been more right on in an assumption earlier in her piece which stated that he may have known someone like Alisoun. Patsy Lydon 11/20/96
Mandel, Jerome. Geoffry Chaucer: Building the Fragments of the Canterbury Tales. Associated Press: London. 1992. pp 92-106.
Mandel establishes a connection between the Squire's tale and the Franklin's Tale by breaking their similarities into three different parts.
Each of these parts is divided into subgroups which allows this chapter in his book to successfully explore the connection between these two tales thoroughly and cleanly. Each passage is short, detailed and concise. This is necessary as the focus on this topic could potentially get confusing without order.
The theme category was the most enlightening because it discussed the fact that these two tales are thoroughly pagan. As magicians are used throughout both tales Mandel explores the effects astrology, marvel and illusion have on these tales too: "No other tales use magicians in just this way; no other fragment is unified by the existence of magicians in all its tales; and no other fragment uses astrology to describe magical events in arcane terms (95)".
Another main theme that Mandel explores is that of gentillesse. This part includes how gentillesse functions in the two tales completely differently. In the Franklin's tale it is "a mark of nobility and generosity" whereas in the Squire's tale it " is a measure of courtly love(100)." This difference actually links them together- literally - when the Franklin interrupts the Squire. Illusion, troth, death wounds and magic and marvel are also discussed under the theme category.
The weakest section was structure. Here Mandel tries to break down the tales and show his readers technically the differences between the two. This part seems a little wasted as it becomes hard to follow closely. However, Mandel redeems himself in the Character section as he compares Dorigen and the falcon, and takes time to analize Canacee and her own femininity. Although it is the shortest passage out of the three he gets right to the point and convinces the reader that Chaucer consciously makes parallels between these two tales as well as the rest.-- Patricia Lydon 11/20/96.
Ellis, Deborah S. "Chaucer's Devilish Reeve". Vol 27 of The Chaucer Review. pp.150-61.
Ellis takes other critics interpretations of the Reeve a bit furthur by focusing on his character as amore developed devilish character than others have explored. She begins by artuing that Chaucer deliberatiely used physical descriptions of the Reeve to exploit his audience. It is essentioal in her opinion that we, in todays day and age, realize the picture presented by Chaucer makes the Reeve a much more evil and devilish character to medieval readers. "He is in fact doing nothing exceptional here, for he is acting as any 'medieval narrative poet invit[ing] his audience to make images in their minds'(151)."
Her point holds true as these images are conveyed not only in the tale, but in the General Prologue. By images, Ellis means that Chaucer has painted a very dark description by means of physical appearance. She goes into detail about how his hairstyle, slenderness and his coming from the North would sway medieval readers into assumptions that we would not consider.
Ellis also delves into Chaucers ambiguity of language. along with this she examines the Reeves main weapon against others- his speech which consistsof 'boasing and lying,just as his idea of a Canterbury gane is a sermon (much to the Host's disgust) and his idea of a tale is a vicious attack on another pilgrim, on society, on religion, and on life itself(157)."
I believe that Ellis did an excellent job in providing support for her thesis as she used many other critics opinions. The article was straightforward and shed light on something we tend to forget- this was a medieval piece of literature. Although we can translate it and learn to speak it the language has a different effect on us as we do not believe in the things these people would have believed. In reading this article I could not help think that in so many years from now our works will be skewed by that of the beliefs of future populations. --Patsy Lydon, 11/20/96
Crampton, Georgia R. The Condition of Creatures: Suffering and Action in Chaucer and Spenser. Ch.3. New Haven: Yale UP, 1974.
I will focus mainly on pp104-112 of Chapter 3 which is Animal motifs. The entire chapter, Image in the Knight's Tale, is a well-written analysis of images that may be overlloked by readers. In short- it discusses the meaning of the prisons, cycles and seasons and Chaucers use of nature. These particular sections tend to drag a little and the meanings seem to blend together. On top of this the quotes Crampton chooses are lengthy and difficult to understand in her context.
However, Animal Motifs stands on its own as Crampton begins discussing the prison Arcite and Palamon are trapped in as a cage, moves on to Chaucers decision to exclude Theseus from animal metaphors, and ends in the symbolic reasoning behind the chosen animals used in imagery. One aspect in particular that was interesting was the focus on Theseus. If you look at the prison he places Arcite and Palamon in as a cage in which to set up their characters as animals, Theseus is the hunter and therefore, has no animal image. On his banner there is a Minotaur. With this displayed he stands for human reason. Later we do see that he brings reason into the tale as he is the one who stops the first fight between the two cousins from leading to a death.
As most critics that I have come across have done, Crampton comes to the conclusion that these bestial metaphors make Arcite and Palamon submoral and depict a certain loss of human standing within themselves. At the same time Crampton differs from colleagues by fully explaining why particular animals were used to portray particular characters.
The last few lines of this chapter is a particularly meaningful statement: " The description of Arcite's blood-blackened face carries a sting because of the blow to a human dignity that the reader feels he shares with Arcite and not with a crow. This is what human victory and noble simiplicity come to, something to turn the eyes away from. But Chaucer does not turn decently away, but looks at the scene, holds it coolly before us."
This article is particularly helpful if you are looking at animal metaphors in Chaucer in general, not just The Knight's Tale. The reason I say this is because after reading it, it gives you an idea of some other angles to approach the subject with, it works off of different paths.--Patsy Lydon 11/21/96
Weisl, Angela Jane. "The Absent Woman: Generic Stasis in the Tale of Sir Thopas." Conquering the Reign of Femeny: Gender and Genre in Chaucers Romance. Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer. 1995. 70-84
Angela Weisl begins her thesis with a brief, yet effective summary of the way Chaucer parodies Middle English tail-rhyme romances in the Tale of Sir Thopas. Weisl then argues that because Sir Thopas "so clearly functions as a parody" (70), critics have not given the tale the serious attention that it deserves. Critics should not ignore Sir Thopas because it is a simple parody of Middle English tail-rhyme romances. Rather, it is because Sir Thopas is such a close parody to these romances that we should study it. Due to the fact that it reflects the form of tail-rhyme romances so closely, critics can come to a greater awareness of the qualities of which romances are composed. This article specifically studies the tales "gendered qualities" (70). Weisl points out that Chaucers masterful use of the tail-rhyme form causes the tale to seem as if it is about poetry itself. However, the tale has to do with more than the language that it is written in. Although the language of the tale does indeed contain meaning for the tale, it is not the only thing that makes the tale effective or meaningful.
Weisl notes that Sir Thopas is often omitted from the critical studies of Chaucer, because it is seen only as an example of a parody "with no significant purpose" (71). Some critics wonder why Chaucer "would want to paint himself as an incompetent rhymster" (71), while other critics feel that Sir Thopas says nothing, but says it well (71). Chaucer is often praised for exaggerating the characteristics of the romance genre and their "bad rhymes" (72) in Sir Thopas, but nothing else. It is for this reason that Weisl criticizes her fellow critics. Her fellow critics appreciate the parody of the tale, "but they also ignore any possibility that the poem might make [a] serious comment on the romance genre" (73).
It is in this context that Weisl points to a deeper meaning within the text of Sir Thopas. She claims that Sir Thopas failure (in regards to the fact that the plot never moves forward) stems from its lack of a heroine. Unlike other tail-rhyme romances, there is no heroine on whom Sir Thopas can focus his quest. Due to the fact that there is no lady to win. Sir Thopas cannot, through his love for a lady, defeat the giant and more forward in his quest. Instead, Sir Thopas quest only serves to move him in a "never-ending circle" (77). The fact that the elf-queen is not tangible allows Sir Oliphaunt to easily defeat Sir Thopas commitment to her. Weisl then goes on to cite other instances in the romance genre in which the women present are not only the goal of the knights quest, but are also marginalized within the story.
Weisl then points to Chaucers feminization of Sir Thopas by showing how he describes Sir Thopas in much the same way as he describes Emelye in the Knights Tale, the Wife of Bath in the General Prologue, the Prioress and the "sexually ambiguous Pardoner" (82). As another form of feminization, Sir Thopas is also compared to a flower, as are both Emelye in the Knights Tale and Alison in the Millers Tale. Sir Thopas masculine challenge to Sir Oliphaunt is also feminized by his need for armor and his escape thurgh his fair berynge (832). Weisl further emphasizes the feminization by noting that Sir Thopas arming takes longer to describe than his actual quest.
I believe that this article is useful to the seminar because it does not brush off analyzing Sir Thopas by looking at its skillful use of language and parody, but it looks into the deeper meanings of Sir Thopas. Although Weisl does become repetitious after making her first point (that Sir Thopas lacks forward movement because of its lack of a heroine), this article is a refreshing view of Sir Thopas, and it provides a useful way to analyze the role of women in the romance genre. While pointing out the absence of a woman in the plot of the tale, Weisl also describes how Chaucer parodies the masculine knight through his feminization of Sir Thopas. Due to the obvious lack of a tangible woman heroine in Sir Thopas, Weisl provides the reader with the interesting view that Sir Thopas must play both the role of the knight and the lady.--Ericka Olsen, November 21, 1996
Friedman, Albert B. "The Mysterious 'Greyn' in the Prioress's Tale." Chaucer Review 11 (1976): 328-333.
This article enters the debate centered around the "greyn" placed on the tongue of the boy by the Virgin Mary in the Prioress's Tale. Friedman first summarizes the various theories as to what the grain may be, then offers his own ideas. The first theory he addresses is Skeat's: the "greyn"-equal-seed, an allusion to the three apple seeds placed under Adam's tongue upon his death. Connected to this theory is the Jungian mythological idea that the grain is a symbol of life in death, "the figure of both 'origin and end, of mother and daughter,... the grain that sinks to earth and returns'--the fruitful death." He also discusses the theory that the grain is a pearl, or gem, a theory proposed by Robinson, based on two analogues in which a gem or a pebble is placed in the mouth of the martyr. He then notes that some "ingenious souls" have had the "temerity to suggest that by "greyn" Chaucer meant...grain--that is, a kernel of wheat", or maybe cardamom, a healer of sore throats (which he points out would be appropriate for a boy whose throat has been cut).
After going through the debate, and all the various theories on what the grain is, Friedman states: "Like many another crux in literary affairs, our crux, I think, is not really very crucial. Scholars have become fixated on what the grain is and curiously incurious about what the grain does....The grain, I would argue, has no symbolic valence at all but is simply a prop in the dynamics of the story. "
He argues that the grain simply serves the purpose of allowing the holy abbot, a "worthy instrument" of the Virgin, to allow the boy's soul to rise up to heaven after he has demonstrated the miracle of the Virgin. He draws parallels between this act of the Virgin and the church rituals of placing salt on the tongue at baptism and of receiving the host on the tongue at communion.
Friedman then briefly discusses the House of Fame, in which he believes draws a contrast between that which is symbolic and that which is merely a prop, but this paragraph -long digression doesn't seem to add much to his argument, in my opinion.--Jessica F. Kem, 26 November 1996
Shallers, A. Paul. "The Nun's Priest's Tale: An Ironic Exemplum." ELH 42 (1975): 319-337.
This article proved very useful to me in my presentation of the Nun's Priest's Tale, because it discusses the Roman de Renart, the genres of exemplum and beast fable/trickster tale. By explaining the similarities and differences between these genre, and their influences on the Nun's Priest's Tale, Shallers illuminates the tale itself.
He begins his essay by defining the genres of exemplum and beast fable/trickster tale, and explaining their significance to the Medieval English audience. He explains that the beast fable, which was tremendously popular throughout Europe, starting out with Aesop, and continuing in Italy, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. But there is no evidence that they ever became very popular in Britain, and even if they were in vogue for a while, it didn't last into the Middle Ages. Instead, the preaching friars used fable-exempla, which were also animal stories, to make their sermons more clear to the people. While the two genres have many similarities, such as sharing common characters, and the inclusion of some sort of advice or moral in them, it is in the moral that the main difference between the genres appears: fables concentrate on worldly advice such as how to gain material possessions and trick your opponents, and the exempla demonstrate spiritual ideals, such as attaining salvation and avoiding sin. Clearly, these diverging themes caused other differences to appear: in a fable, we would identify with the fox who outsmarts his opponents, while in an exemplum, he would symbolize a "spiritually blind man or the devil himself."
After clearing up these similarities and differences between the genres, Shallers uses the definitions to better illuminate Chaucer's version, which effectively combined both genres, using elements of both to achieve an effect that could not have been possible in either genre alone. He discusses the way Chaucer used parts of the Roman de Renart, a Medieval French fable, as a source, but incorporated the characteristics of the exempla to add the moral angle that the Nun's Priest would have had. For example, a priest tells an exemplum to illustrate a point, and does not expect his audience to remember the details of the story itself. But the Nun's Priest's Tale includes such details, such as realistic settings, characters, and events. After he has finished telling the tale, the host comments on details from the story, not on the moral that the priest gives at the end of the tale. Yet an aspect of the tale that is more akin to an exemplum is the anthropomorphizing of the animals. This device likens the chickens to the audience, and we can't help but identify with the characters, and learn from what they do.
This essay is an excellent starting point for anyone researching the Nun's Priest's Tale because it provides so much background to the story and attempts to clarify some confusing elements by identifying the characteristics of the two genres of animal story which influenced Chaucer.--Jessica F. Kem, 26 November 1996
Oerlemans, Onno. "The Seriousness of the Nun's Priest's Tale." Chaucer Review 26 (1992): 317-328.
This essay, like Shallers's, discusses the tale in relation to its genre, but Oerlemans concentrates more on the question of free will and determinism. He argues that the Priest, who is put on the spot to tell a tale that is not as tragic (i.e. does not describe people who have no control over their fate) as the preceding tale. He effectively is put in the situation he was told to avoid in his story when he finds he has no choice in his tale-telling. This theme become reflected in the story, in which the rooster has a dream about his fate, and could possibly do something to avoid that disaster, or is possibly locked into that tragic fate.
He also disputes the many attempts by scholars to apply some sort of moral to the story which is not already there. He agrees with Manning, who believes that critics simply impose which ever moral they want on the story. He quotes Alfred David: "every critic who takes up the Priest's invitation to find the 'moralite' seems to lose his perspective and his sense of humor and begins to sound as learned and pompous as Chauntecleer himself." Oerlemans sees this tale as largely comical and ironic, and dismisses the many moralities that various critics (and he does address a large number of them) have found in the tale. He sees this tale as the culminating tale of the Canterbury Tales as a whole, because it explores the binaries that have thus far (in the Ellesmere order) propelled the tales. --Jessica F. Kem, 26 November, 1996
Dean, James. Spiritual Allegory and Chaucer's Narrative Style: Three Test Cases. The Chaucer Review. 18 (1984): 273-283.
Dean's case argument is that Chaucer, already a proved allegorist to some extent, should be criticized on how well or how poorly he uses his allegorical abilities to enhance the art of his poems. Dean believes that these allegories make Chaucer's moral overtones more powerful. "What I wish to propose here is that Chaucer uses degrees or shades rather than levels of spiritual allegory as part of his narrative style(274)."
Dean surmizes that Chaucer uses these degrees and shades to leave the reader to conclude their own interpretation of the characters personality, spirituality and morality.
The three tales Dean uses to support his argument are The Friar's Tale, Pardoner's Tale and Canon's Yeoman's Tale. These three tales all revolve around their character's development of identity through their "baser natures and their sin(275)."
These three test cases are broken up into three different parts of his article. The conclusion consists of three paragraphs that draw his article and argument into a complete and concise end. The article is a huge success as he writes in a straightforward, easily flowing manner that carries you from part to part and section to section without the backtracking and clutter that I found in many other articles.--Patricia Lydon 11/26/96
Jacobs, Kathryn. "Rewriting the Marital Contract: Adultery in the Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer Review 29:4 (1995). 337-347.
Kathryn Jacobs' article delves into the marital structure of the Middle Ages. Although ultimately controlled by the Church, marriage was generally understood in terms of contracts. The "marital contract" was composed of sexual obligations while the "business" one took issue with financial responsibility. Both yielded two different kinds of marriages. Jacobs distinguishes between the two by examining the reactions and attitudes of the couple towards the adultery. In her opinion, the original passions of the marriage will be resurrected or expose the cold relations supporting the marriage. Jacobs takes the time to establish a clear history of medieval marriages which is necessary if we are to fully understand how the people of Chaucer's day understood and considered the consequences of adultery. She sees Chaucer as someone who did not "shrink" from dealing with the issue of adultery. Although, marriage had been treated as a "sexual contract for many years" there was an inconsistency in how to handle matters of adultery. The courts and the Church prevented anyone from terminating a marriage, which gave the illusion to some semblance of order, but in reality they had no laws that dealt with the practicality of extramarital affairs. Jacobs uses the Miller's Tale, Shipman's Tale, Merchants Tale and the Franklin's Tale to defend her thesis.
Adultery was questionable, but Jacobs argues that Chaucer was willing to question if there were instances where adultery was good thing for a marriage. In the Miller's Tale, the idea of a faithful marriage is hopeless, because the people involved have no love interest in one another. The age difference, and the Miller's disinterest in his young wife leads her to find another. Issues of class are raised by this Tale. In Alisoun's case, she is too good for a yeoman but too low for a lord. So she takes what she can get in order to establish herself financially. The Shipman's Tale shows that there were some marriages that left the partner completely lacking. The Wife not only has a husband who fails in his sexual contract, he is also tight with his money. Chaucer accepts the adultery here, and because of their happy union at the end it seems that he was right (341). The Merchant and his wife learn to speak of their marriage in terms of business, which finally secures their contract. The Franklin deals with adultery in an honest manner. He feels guilt because he neglects his wife, and so in an act of kindness he intends to give her to another man. The Franklin and Shipman's Tales show that there are alternatives to women whose spouses have failed in their part of the marriage deal. Jacobs ends her article with the commentary that Chaucer was not attempting to challenge and alter the marriage laws of his day. Rather, he shows situations that force his audience to "reexamine our principles" (347). Jacobs makes an interesting, and well supported, argument for the causes and benefits of adultery.
This is a useful article for our seminar, because Jacobs tries to explain the questionable, and repetitive, appearance of adultery throughout the marriage group, which for the purpose of this article included the Shipman's Tale. It is not a difficult piece to read, and the best thing is the thematic connection she finds among the Tales. Her article allows the reader to understand the mind set of married couples in Medieval England, or at least, try to begin and unravel them.--Christa McLaughlin, 11/26/96
Farrell, Thomas J. "Privacy and the Boundaries of Fabliau in the Miller's Tale" ELH. 56 (1989): 773-782.
Farrell provides an in depth view of fabliau, and how it plays into the Miller's Tale. His thesis is that while the Miller's Tale is a fabliau, it stretches the traditional boundaries. He begins his article by defining the characterisitics of a fabliau. There must be adultery, battery, "sexual triumph", challenge to social order, and privacy. Farrell writes that the Miller's Tale is never specific about being af the fabliau genre. The original French fabliaux was sparase, with no superfoiulous chracters or plot information. The only concern was that all the information and the actions of the characters dealt directly with the one and only plot line. In comparision the Miller's Tale is very complex. This stems from his opinion that when Nicholas goes to the window, the Tale stops being a fabliau. Farrell does not believe that any form of justice can be delivered in this setting, and beig that Nicholas has a form of justice delivered unto him, that changes the Tale.
Justice proves to be a strong theme for him. Neither divine or natural justice can be issued to any person in a fabliau. The issue of privacy that first allows the fabliau to happen, gives people within the story, the right to create their own practices for dealing out justice. Public justice is considered to be predictable, whereas, privately there is no telling how perople are going to get their revnege. Farrell considers this privacy to be a dangerous thing. As opposed to the romance, which places little or no interest on the individual, the focus of the fabliau is the individual. Farrell brings evidence from other known fabliaux to show the complexity of the Miller's Tale. Without knowing the texts he discusses, it makes his argument difficult to understand. He does make the effort to explain their general significance. We are told that there is a comparison of the misdirected kiss in De Berengier au Lonc Cul, and "poetic justice" is found in Du Prestre crucifie. Aside from this lost connection, the article still has a high value in terms of understsanding fabliau.--Christa McLaughlin, 11/26/96
Beidler, Peter G. "Art and Scatology in the Miller's Tale." The Chaucer Review 12:2 (1977): 90-102.
Firstly, let me define "scatology" n. 1. interest in or treatment of obscene matters esp. in literature 2. the biologically oriented study of excrement. Both of these definitions fit very well within the context of the Miller's Tale. The point of this article is to provide the reader with an understanding as to why Chaucer resorted to bodily humor. The article begins with a brief history about the Tale, informing the reader that for many years this Tale was neglected because of the low-humor. For example, John Dryden omitted the Miller's Tale from a retelling, because he did not want to "offend good manners" (90). They took him seriously when he told people to turn to the next tale. There is no known source for the Tale, though it is known that he did not come up with the basic comedic elements in the Tale on his own. Beidler writes that all the shocking elements Chaucer wrote in the Miller's Tale were purposely aggravated to create a stronger knee jerk reaction to his text.
According to Beidler, Chaucer strongly likes the character of Alisoun. She is attractive and completely "unladylike". She is the perfect contrast to the Knight's Emelye. Alisoun is aware of her sexuality, and the power she wields. He even ensures that she is the only person in the Tale who escapes unscathed. Her lovers are used to support the two plot structure, the flood and the "kiss-and-burn". Neither one of these, as mentioned before, were original to Chaucer, but he did add the fart, which is his unique twist. This served Chaucer well, because he wanted to make it known that people in the clergy, like Absolon, bothered him. He used the fart to show that "he who lives by the senses shall be punished by them, both on earth and in hell"(99). Absolon's behavior is not to be tolerated, and having a fart come out of a woman serves as a double insult.
Beidler refers to a Flemish fabliau to show where Chaucer possibly acquired some ideas for the Miller's Tale. He shows Chaucer's preference for Alisoun over the character of Emelye, through some general comparisons in temperament and ability. His purpose in the article is to show that no matter how crude Chaucer may appear, he is still a genius. He makes his social commentary, through humor that does not offend like some people fear it will. He does an excellent job supporting his argument, and not leaving any loose ends.
This article is useful for the seminar, because it helps to explain why Chaucer resorted to such base humor in this Tale. In his explanation of actions in the article, Beidler shows that there is more to this Tale than crude humor and shocking antics. This article places Alisoun and Nicholas in a much larger context.--Christa McLaughlin, 11/26/96
Zitter, Emmy Stark. "Anti-Semitism in Chaucer's Prioress's Tale." Chaucer Review 25:4, 1991, pp. 277-84.
Zitter begins this article by pointing out the different views that the critics have taken with regards to the Prioress Tale. She focuses on those who attempt to absolve Chaucer from anti-Semitism either by citing historical and social excuses or those who meant the tale to be ironic. She believes that the tale could not be a satire because he makes the story so believable. She says the rime royal form, the tenderness of its prologue, and the buildup of pathos and emotion move even modern-day readers, so (she asks) how could the medieval readers, who were surrounded by anti-Semitism, resist seeing the tale as an extension of the belief. She also says, that if Chaucer meant his tale to be a satire, the joke of it would be obvious, but it is not to us, so she doubts that a medieval audience would find one also. Citing the audiences inferred anti-Semitism, "a satirist can be only as effective as his audience's attitudes will allow" (278). Zitter now focuses her attention on the Prioress herself, making her out to be less than the perfect Christian nun. One of the reasons for this is that in her tale, she has the murderers punished for their crime, instead of being forgiven, the proper Christian way. This relates to the second reason which is that the Prioress's Tale does not end with the Jew's conversion. She goes on to point out the many conversion tales of the time which serve, not to change over a Jewish audience, but they are "symbolic of the Christian renewing his faith in the Christian era: the point of such works is to inspire the Christians themselves to a sense of their own grace" (279). Zitter believes that since her tale does not end with a conversion, she fails to accept this renewal of faith. Because of these reasons, Zitter says that the Prioress has failed progress from the ways of the Old Testament to those of the New Testament, unlike her Christian counterparts. Finally she proposes that the tale be taught solely to point out its faulty anti-Semitic views, and to examine it in order to find out why these ideas are still alive today.
The only thing that I can say about this article is that I completely disagree with her article. I side more with the critics who believe that because of the many centuries separating Chaucer's society from ours, it is unfair for us to judge him solely on this tale. Her argument that Chaucer's writing is too convincing to be anything else but anti-Semitic is very loosely discussed. All throughout the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer is very ambiguous and takes many different stance on different topics. Her final resolution on how to treat this tale makes me mad because I feel she has no right branding a work of literature anti-Semitic, in light of the fact that it is over 600 years old. We as scholars know much about Chaucer's life, but not too much about his personality and beliefs. She tries to figure him out through the Tales, but if everyone did that with every tale, we would have a very disjointed portrait of Chaucer. As a final note, I would recommend skimming over this article to get the gist of her argument, but don't take too long because we should focus our attention on the other critics who actually have something intelligent to say about the tale itself. Ed Caruso Oct. 1996
Knoepflmacher, U. C. "Irony Through Scriptural Illusion: A Note on Chaucer's Prioresse." Chaucer Review 4:3, pp. 180-3.
Knoepflmacher begins his article by sayinf how few critics today would support Sister Madeleva's view that the Prioress's GenProl portrait was without irony. He proposes to show irony in the portrait by refering to two allusions to St. Matthew. The first allusions deals with her table manners in lines 133-5 of the GenProl, which Chaucer meant for his audience to immediately recognize as alluding to Matthew 23: 25-6. (In an earlier annotated bibliography i already covered the details of this allusion, please see Douglas Loney's "Chaucer's Prioress and Agur's 'Adulterous Woman'", ChaucRev 27:1, 107-8.) According to the author, Chaucer uses this allusion, not only to warn the nun who lives too much in the secular world, but also "as a reminder to all those pilgrims who might be too readily taken in by the music of the visible and tangiable world" (181). Chaucer then forces us again to question the Prioress as she feeds her dogs fine pieces of meat, bread, etc., asking if her charity is misplaced. this leads to the second allusion, Matthew 15: 26-8, where Jesus pretends to reject the plee of a Canaanite mother who begs His help for her daughter. He tells her "that it is not meet to cast precious bread 'to the dogs'" (181). She replies "Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters" (181). This forces Jesus to realize his charity was too exclusive, which the Prioress is also guilty of with her dogs and does not realize. This exclusive charity foreshadows her bias towards the "cursed Jews" in her tale, which also mirrors their own lack of charity towards the child. "The Prioress thus not only fail to meet the standard set by her Divine Bridegroom but also falls short of the example set by the Canaanite - a Gentile whose ability to extend his own metaphor was acknowledged by Jesus Himself" (182).
Knoepflmacher follows the details of the two allusions by comparing Chaucer's treatment of the Prioress with other clergy members. She, unlike the Pardoner, "is unaware of the discrepances between her practices and the ideal" (182). Citing her immaturity and her ignorance, the author says that Cahucer is charitable towards her regardless of her faults. While she doesn't really understand her faith, she feels it, unlike the unfeeling pardoner, and this places her with the Canaanite who felt she needed "to test herself against the master" (183).--Ed Caruso, 11/26/96
Lionarons, Joyce Tally. "Magic, Machines, And Deception: Technology In The Canterbury Tales." Chaucer Review 27:4, 1993, pp. 377-86.
Lionarons begins her article by stating how, throughout the years, much attention has been given to Chaucer's use of the medieval sciences, particularly to the lack of differences between "real sciences", like astronomy and chemistry, and other "pseudo-sciences", like astrology and alchemy. She says that when Chaucer uses mechanical and magical devices in the Tales, the line distinguishing technology from magic becomes blurred, where technological inventions function as if they were magical, and vice versa as magic shows to be mechanically based. What connects these two is the fact that the success of each depends on some type of hidden knowledge to a majority, thus enabling technology and magic to aid in deception and fraud throughout the Tales.
The first tale she points out is the Squire's Tale, which include four magical gifts: a flying brass horse, a future telling mirror, the sign revealing ring, and the healing/harming sword. Lionarons then gives examples of various accounts of the mechanical wonders travelers have encountered when having contact with the "mysterious lands of the East" (378). She does this to show that it shouldn't be surprising for us to hear the Squire tell of an Arab knight possessing such devices. After this, she goes back to the commoners reaction to the brass horse, to them it seems "a fairye" (201), something magical eventhough it is mechanical. Her point then is that it seems this way to people because they do not understand its operation. She then mentions the other gifts, citing instances where the commoners try to figure them out, but un the end they can't because the true knowledge of their workings is hidden to them.
The fact that this technology takes on mechanical airs leads to her second point, which is that those who possess this hidden knowledge can use it to deceive the ignorant. This brings us to the Franklin's Tale where we have a clerk who uses illusions to gain money for himself, and illicit sex for his customer. The illusions of the clerk, though seemingly magical, have mechanical origins. This she backs up by referring to a passage where (F 1139-51) the clerk likens himself to a tregetour, "a mechanical artisan, one who works magic by the aid of some mechanical contrivance" (381). On the same point, the author says that the technology does not need to be extravagantly exotic to deceive the ignorant, in the case of the Reeve's Tale only a simple mill is needed to cheat the two students. This she uses to back up her point that only some sort of exclusive knowledge is needed to deceive others, not necessarily outlandish machinery.
This leads to her third point which is exemplified in the Canon Yeoman's Tale, that is it is one thing to deceive others, but when one tries to deal with things beyond ordinary human understanding, this has the potential to lead to trouble. Alchemy "promises to reveal the ultimate secrets of God and nature, . . . the alchemist becomes both deceiver and deceived: he deceives others in order to reach his goal, he is himself deceived in the belief that his goal is reachable" (384). To quickly sum up her concluding point, she says Chaucer treats alchemy the way he does because , like we see in other tales, it is dangerous to inquire too closely to divine matters and therefore we as humans should accept our powerlessness and resign ourselves to God's plan.
I chose this article on a whim because it sounded interesting and I needed a break from those articles on the religious pilgrims. The article was very interesting and I would like to somehow pursue a paper with this idea of magic, machines, and deception in mind. All throughout the Tales, Chaucer treats magic/technology the same because, and I agree with the author, he focuses on how the lack of knowledge to a group of people enables the one with the knowledge to abuse or trick them at his or her will. I am not really sure of the significance of this at the moment, but it appears to be a common theme throughout some of the Tales, so I would like to pursue it further. One thought though: skipping towards the end of the article, where Lionarons talks about the dangers of the alchemist trying to deal with matters he couldn't understand, I was reminded of Theseus in the Knight's Tale. Particularly the way he would try to use his sovern power to enforce order, when in the grand scheme of things he was powerless. In this article and in the Canon Yeoman's Tale, there seems to be a sense that God, the world, and fate is the controlling force in our lives, and that we are helpless and weak - much like the Greek tragic view of the world. Ed Caruso, Nov. 1996
Braswell-Means, Laurel. "A New Look at an Old Patient: Chaucers Summoner and Medieval Physiognomia." The Chaucer Review, Vol.25, No.3, 1991: 266-276.
In "A New Look at an Old Patient" Laurel Braswell-Means addresses the fascinating correlation between the Summoner and medieval Physiognomia. Physiognomia is the pseudo-medical practice of trying to judge character and mental qualities by the observation of bodily features. Also introduced is the idea that the Summoner can be explained even more precisely through astronomical terms.
Means notes that Chaucers description of the Summoner starts with his head and its various diseases and deformations -- "a fyr-reed cherbuynenes face, For sawcefleem he was...with scalled browes blake and piled berd" (ll. 624-627). The head she claims was where a medical diagnosis would have begun in Chaucers time. Since the face was the symbol or "token" for the entire man, descriptions of his scabious, pimpled face, and balding eyebrows and hair, conjure an image of an equally disgusting psychological demeanor. That Chaucers description begins with the head is also significant because of its relation to the hierarchical nature of medieval society. The head and face (like a king) were recognized as the most important parts of the body (subjects) with all others being subordinate.
Means also draws attention to the importance of heat in the Summoners description -- " He is as hoot and leacherous as a sparwe (626); five of the six medications used upon his face are hot and biting in property...All this unnatural heat is intensified by the garlic, leeks, and onions toward which the Summoner is attracted," (270). Means suggests that no Medieval physician would prescribe such medicinal foods as these. Properties which were cool and dry would be far more appropriate than moist, warm ones (270). It is obvious with these descriptions that the Summoner is a choleric, one of the four humoral dispositions found in humans. (The other three being sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic, each having their distinctive characteristics.) Means notes that "all texts, of whatever tradition or period, agree that the choleric in appearance is hot, dry, discolored in face, black-haired, and in personality misleading, sly, covetous of praise, boastful, ready to anger, and quick to take offense." (272) All perfect descriptions of Chaucers Summoner.
Means also draws a connection between the astrological and physiological. She compares the Summoner to Mars, both the planet and the god. She notes that Mars, in fact, rules over the choleric. His face is depicted in Chaucers contemporary illustrations as red, like the Summoners, and "his rule makes cholerics garrulous and violent if no benefics or favorable planets temper his influence." (272) Furthermore, Mars place in the zodiac is Aries, which is hot and dry in temperament, and is responsible for governing the head.
A final point Means makes is that because the Summoners disease is part of his physiognomical make-up it is incurable. No medicinal experimentation can help him, the only hope lies in the spiritual healing powers of his pilgrimage to Canterbury. Yet with the hostility and anger later displayed in the feud with the Friar, I see little hope in his attaining any sort of spiritual healing.
Though Means article is an extremely interesting one, it does not probe so very deeply into the psychological aspects of the Summoner. This, in my opinion, is its primary flaw. Nevertheless it does provide numerous insights into the interesting Medieval belief of phsyiognomia, a belief, no doubt, Chaucer was very familiar with. Thomas Zorc, 10/24, 1996
Mandel, Jerome. "Governance in the Physicians Tale." The Chaucer Review , Vol. 10, No.4, 197. (316-325)
In his article, Jerome Mandel argues the Physicians Tale is not the "dull, inferior, crude, routine work," many critics profess it to be; but is instead a well constructed moral tale dealing with a topic of great importance to the Middle Ages (317). The Physicians Tale concerns governance on a number of levels, from cosmos to the individual, and advises on how to react to a "wicked government" (317).
Contrary to the belief of many critics Mandel argues that Virginia is not morally neutral. She actively pursues a relationship with God, conducting her life in accordance with his wishes. She is the consummate Christian, obedient and chaste. Mandel points to evidence of her virtue by her willingness to lie in order to "fleen the compaignye/Where likly was to treten of folye..." (320) Her feints suggest her mastery of the world insofar as she uses fraudulent, but innocent, means to achieve a good end (the preservation of her virtue) (320). Furthermore, Virginias decision to follow her fathers command at the end is not "because he governs or rules her, but because she willingly commits herself to God through him" (319).
The malevolent Judge Appius is a representation of governance in the political sense. In comparison to Virginias virtuousness he acts wickedly to achieve his ends -- "he defines the relationship between governor and governed in its most pernicious form" (321). He obscenely obeys the letter of the law by calling for Virginius to appear in court; yet prevents him from speaking in his own defense. His atrocious flouting of the law lends his character little pity when the people intend to kill him in the end.
Virginiuss governance lies in his role as head of the family, but he grossly muddles his job. When asked if there is any hope for his daughter he responds negatively, completely ignoring the option of insurrection. This is especially foolish, Mandel points out, when we have twice been told that Virginius is "strong of freendes." He, like the judge, decides falsely and hastily. His redeeming quality, Mandel contends, is his merciful act to preserve Claudius life -- "Virginius, by praying for his adversarys life, goes beyond the mere reestablishment of order. He asserts the supremacy of love -- that same love with which God loves the world" (324). This act of charity ties into the greatest form of governance, Gods. By Virginius divine act, control and order are restored to a world temporarily confused by human fraud and corruption. Also important is that justice is brought about by the movement of the people, though swift and violent, it is nonetheless correctly motivated.
Mandel makes a number of interesting points in his article, however its greatest fault lies in his automatic assumption that the tale is in fact a Christian tale. Nowhere is there evidence of this, especially when one remembers its source is a Livy story. Thus, Mandel, in making this glaring assumption, hangs all his arguments on one flimsy basis, while denying other non-Christian readings of the tale. Nevertheless, his article is meritorious insofar as it pears into the Medieval conception of governance.--Thomas Zorc, October 31, 1996
Edden, Valerie. "Sacred and Secular in the Clerks Tale." The Chaucer Review, Vol.26, No.4, 1992. (369-376)
In her article, Valerie Edden argues that the Clerks Tale is a secular tale rather than a Christian exemplum. She finds fault with the notion of Walter as a fallible God, and points to the tales almost total lack of religious detail, features commonly found in other saintly stories of its time. She maintains that it is this very lack of Christianity which allows it to be such a moving tale, and takes it from the realm the heavenly to the bleak and uncertain world of the secular.
Edden argues that though pious, Griselda, is not so in a strictly Christian sense -- "her preoccupations are characteristically human and this-worldly" (371). She mentions God only twice; first, in praying for her daughters safety before she is taken away; and, secondly, in praying for the well-being of her successor after her own experience with Walter had been so heart-breaking. Her concerns, as evidenced by her statements, are with maintaining her marriage contract. She does not have a Christian devotion to her husband, merely a secular one. Everything she does is to please Walter, not God (371).
Another argument Edden makes in defense of the storys secular nature is the narrators numerous references to the world of the Clerks Tale as a world left to chance and human control rather than divine influence. Pointing to lines 581-2, "But nathelees his purpos heeld he stille,/ As Lordes doon, whan they wol han hir wille;" 756, "The adversitee of Fortuen al tendure," and line 898 when the common folk curse Fortune. (371) The critic also makes comparisons between Griselda and Custance (of the Man of Laws Tale) and the romance tale Emare. The women of these tales are models of Christian piety. They remain virtuous and holy while being tossed about by the unknowable forces of God. They stand as saintly figures combating paganism and evil. While Griselda, contends Edden, is "not so much a character in the eternal story of salvation, but rather a good woman with very human desires and aspirations" (374). Her reward in the end is not divine union with God, but the reunion with her family. In addition, Edden notes that the storys six-part structure, "with its thrice-repeated test of the heroines virtue," attests to non-religious folk origins (375).
Finally, Edden discusses the tales religious references to Job, the Annunciation, and the Nativity. She maintains that, though important, they merely reinforce Griseldas virtue, "and at most suggest the workings of divine grace in her soul" (375). Her Job-like patience and Mary-like virtue do not make her a saint. She, after all, is not obeying the will of a divine and unerring being, but merely the commands of a seriously flawed man. Furthermore, she is made a victim by her low social status and feelings of inferiority, and thus her tragedy is entirely worldly.
The critic concludes by insisting that her life as a virtuous mortal, rather than an other worldly saint, makes her situation all the more compelling. If she were a saint, her ending would be happy because of her inevitable union with God, but because she inhabits an arbitrary world, her demise is by no means certain. Her fate is based on chance and human decision, and only through the allowance of her husband do things eventually go her way. This, in my opinion, is key to Eddens argument. God does not seem to be a force in this tale as he is in the Man of Laws Tale. The world of the divine is just too distant, thus we are left with a tale of worldly people doing worldly things, and the virtue with which Griselda stands up to it is entirely non-religious. Tom Zorc, November 14, 1996
Richardson, Janette. "Friar and Summoner, The Art of Balance." The Chaucer Review. Vol. 9, No. 3, 1975. (227-236)
Janette Richardson in her article, "Friar and Summoner, The Art of Balance," notes a number of parallels and balances between the combating stories and personalities of the Friar and the Summoner. She finds that each tale, while told to insult a rival, reflects the narrators as well as the enemies moral deficiencies. Thus we see that Chaucer extends his satire of the two corrupt church men through the ironic self-condemnations of their respective tales. The result being that their is no real winner, only two big losers.
The first observation Richardson makes is with the Friar and Summoners appearance. Though the two are as opposite as can be in externals, they are ethically akin. According to the General Prologue, the Friar is an attractive and polite man, whom, one could imagine, gets along well in civilized society. The Summoner, on the other hand, has nothing of the Friars jollity, and remains a repulsive and angry churl, hostile to those around him and course in appearance and deed. Yet both these men are morally heinous, especially in light of their professed servitude to the Church. The Friar is a worldly fellow motivated by indulgence in lifes pleasures. He avoids those who are sick and poor, "it may not avaunce/For to delen with no swich poraille" (ll. 246-47). While the Summoner, Richardson notes, feeds off of others misfortunes, blackmailing and entrapping them, without any regard for the Spiritual significance of his occupation ( 229).
Richardson proceeds to comment on the "Friars Tale" and how, first, it is reflective of the Summoner, and, secondly, of the Friar himself. We see the Summoner of the story correlate to the real Summoner in many ways. For example, they are both ignorant, revealed by the ones stupid questions to the devil, and the others skimpy knowledge of Latin. Both are disrespectful to their superiors, as we see in the remark about the "ercedekenes curs," (ll. 665) and the others regard for priests -- "I shrewe thise shrifte-fadres everychoon" (Richardson, 233). Finally, both summoners are gross materialists, who believe not at all in the spirituality of their profession.
Richardson sees the Friar reflected in his own tale when his summoner "claims to be a bailiff, thus masking (or so he assumes) his real nature behind a guise of respectability" (233). The Friar, too, projects an outward politeness to cover an inward crookedness. Furthermore, the critic points to the similarity between the general boastfulness of the Friar, and the arrogance of the Summoner in his conversation with the devil (233).
The Summoner, in his tale of Friar John, constructs a character very similar to his real life counterpart. For example, they both use their church given ability to confess for personal gain. Secondly, they employ a false eloquence to gain the favor of others. Lastly, Friar Johns all too friendly greeting of Thomas wife, "echoes the Friars penchant for daliaunce and fair language," and his excessive choice of foods reveals the Friars love for extravagance (231).
The Summoner, in turn, reveals himself most noticeably through his Friars unreasonable anger after receiving Thomas gift, which is much more characteristic of his (that is the Summoner) choleric nature. Indeed, his cantankerous personality is easily comprehended when one compares the generally jovial attitude of the Friars Tale with the much more vindictive disposition of the Summoners Tale. The Summoner is so mad hes got to throw in an extra mini-tale in his prologue. Additionally, the offensive curse directed at Friar Huberd which concludes the Summoners Tale, compares nicely with the forgiving jest at the end of The Friars own tale. Evidently, the Summoner is a far more vengeful man.
Richardson, deals quite nicely and succinctly with her complex comparisons of the two churchmen. She clearly points out that their angry spat can have no real winner, as both men are equally unscrupulous. And she is certainly correct when she surmises that the tellers "subtle and ironic self-condemnations exemplify what seems to have been intrinsic to Chaucers moral vision -- absolute justice, judgement verified by the condemned" (235-236). This is obvious throughout the Canterbury Tales as Chaucer has fool after fool reveal his or her all too visible flaws to the reader, while being wholly innocent of them. --Thomas Zorc, Nov. 21, 1996
Hill, John M. "Belief and Truth in the Canterbury Tales: To Know Feelingly." Chaucerian Belief: The Poetics of Reverence and Delight. New Haven and London: Yale U P, 1991. 1-15.
In this opening chapter to a book devoted to examining the belief system inherent in the fictions created by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Hill posits his theory that rather than presenting a satirically-constructed standard of moral codes in his works, Chaucer's fictions convey a compendium of truths and falsehoods as seen through the eyes of flawed characters. However, he falls short of accusing Chaucer of questioning the moral status quo of his society by saying that his fictions are never separated from the wisdom of "old books" that were the foundation of contemporary morality. He attempts to prove that Chaucer's belief system is grounded in a combination of both human experience and of the authority of the revered ancient writers, each tempered by the other, which leads to his presentation of fiction "as a mixed bearer of truth and falsehood," (8). By possessing such a standpoint, Hill reminds us that Chaucer escapes the prevalent contemporary view of fiction as a necessary lie by which one conveys allegorical moral truths.
Hill begins his critique by dismissing previous interpretations of Chaucer's works (particularly of the Canterbury Tales) which drew attention away from the individuality of the fictions that his pilgrims created by enforcing a unifying idea on them. He dismisses the idea of the pilgrimage itself as the main focus of the work by raising the story telling that the pilgrims enjoy to the principle purpose of the journey, making the pilgrimage an "excursion...rather than a penitential journey," (3). He likewise refutes other unifying themes that attempt to tie the tales together, such as the idea of memory or an "estates' satire," (2). By refusing to group the fictions that Chaucer creates into the components of a whole, Hill draws attention to their presentation as individual stories. He goes on to separate the tales from the "General Prologue" and from the individual prologues that some of the pilgrims provide. He thus rejects the common practice of Chaucerian critics of constructing the tales as necessarily resulting from the personalities that create them. He does not want the interpretation of Chaucer's tales to be in any way inhibited by the characters who produce them. According to Hill, the tales are "a largely independent way of recharacterizing most of the tellers, providing impressions that are different from but not inconsistent with the sense we have of the tellers and their General Prologue portraits," (4). He argues that the tellers' passions break through and that they should not be forced to agree with the views presented by Chaucer's narrator nor by the tellers' own views of themselves.
By examining the tales as independent fictions, Hill claims that Chaucer leads his reader into a search for truth that is profoundly human. The daily experience of the tellers vies with the authority that they were taught to accept and to obey as Christians. Sometimes these two sources of knowledge accord with one another; sometimes they do not. The pairing of authority and experience is the essence of the perpetual human struggle for truth, and it is this struggle at the center of the tales that Chaucer's pilgrims relate.
By examining the fictions that Chaucer's characters relate as distinctly separate from the other methods that he uses to characterize them, Hill denies modern scholars a lot of valuable research material. Chaucer's literary genius provides us three different perspectives with which to understand each of his speakers: through the voice of Chaucer the pilgrim in the "General Prologue," through the words of the pilgrims' own testimonies of themselves (when an individual prologue is provided), and through the story that each pilgrim chooses to tell. While Hill is correct in his statement that these representations should not be forced to agree with one another, they can be taken as a collective way to judge the pilgrim through the author's eyes. After all, why would Chaucer bother to write the "General Prologue" at all if his main purpose was to allow his characters to "recharacterize" themselves in their chosen fictions? Hill rejects the Canterbury Tales as a literary whole and insists on examining them as a piecemeal work that can lend us insights into the author's personal belief system. However, neither the common threads that bind the tales, nor the appropriate nature of many of the tales in respect to their tellers can be ignored. Hill is correct in stating that the tales are largely an exploratory work and will probably not yield a definitive moral code to their readers. But by separating Chaucer's tales from their tellers he robs us of many of the valid connections that can be drawn between them. --Barbara Gabriel, 9/23/94
Donaldson, Virginia Kara. "Alisoun's Language: Body, Text and Glossing in Chaucer's 'The Millers Tale.'" Philological Quarterly. 71:2 (Spring 1992) 139-53.
This article explores the interactions between Absolon and Alisoun in "The Miller's Tale." Donaldson describes Absolon's approach to Alisoun as exemplary of a patriarchal "glossing" or appropriation of women's voices and bodies. Alisoun's response to being both silenced and sexualized by Absolon is to reassert her power through her body, a method that causes him to lose control of her.
Donaldson discusses the way in which the three men in the tale: Nicholas, John and Absolon all take part in "glossing her body according to his own needs, desires and interpretive strategies," (142). Most specifically, she explores Absolon's use of courtly love to seduce Alisoun. We can see when he appears at her window that this attempt at seduction is through language. This tradition evolves from courtly poetry where the desired woman is made into an unobtainable holy figure. We can see the glossing in Absolon's language when Alisoun responds in a "realistic" style rejection and he takes no notice. Donaldson describes Absolon as only able to hear the words that fit into his picture of loving Alisoun. The consequence for Alisoun is silence. She cannot assert her power through language.
The silencing of Alisoun also takes place in relationship to her body when throughout the story she is sexualized by men. This element appears initially to deny her power over her body. However, this silence is broken as the plot evolves. The conflict of the story occurs when Alisoun disrupts Absolon's vision of her through asserting her sexuality. When she presents her "ers" for him to kiss, he must change his view of her. However, instead of seeing her as someone who is capable of being powerful, he takes her off her pedestal and reduces her to "a whore." Donaldson demonstrates this change in Absolon's image of her by discussing his use of branding. This show of violence is a way of punishing her for violating the "social and sexual contract."
This article explains the change of events and gives insight into Absolon's methods of seduction. The implications of the thesis of the article however, extend beyond what Donaldson has presented. The idea that Alisoun is a compilation of male images can be more than a way to understand Alisoun and Absolon but can also be a vehicle toward understanding why John takes her as his wife and why Nicholas is so intrigued by her. Donaldson, though she focuses on Alisoun, has brought up important implications for the consequences for men who hold this image of women. Just as Nicholas' actions are meant to make a cuckold of John, Absolon ends up branding Nicholas. The story itself is told to make the Reeve angry. Men in this world become jealous fighters, animals who need taming, and people incapable of being challenged by alternate realities. In essence, their game is about power over each other and has very little to do with women. --Rebecca Yenawine, 9/22/94
Lamdin, R. T. "Chaucer's 'The Miller's Tale.'" The Explicator. 47:3 (Spring 1989) 4- 6.
The article deals with the tricky and often times "loaded" vocabulary in the Canterbury tales. The word in question is 'gnof' in the Miller's Tale. The problem lies in the fact that, since the word appears in the first two lines of the tale, it is impossible to get a meaning through context. The word is glossed as 'churl'. This has severe implications about the character of John, the Carpenter. A member of the up-and-coming class of tradesman, Chaucer is making commentary on this class through the vehicle of his characters. Chaucer does not seem to want to portray the Carpenter as an inherently bad character. "Chaucer stresses John's worthy nature," (5).
The use of 'gnof' referring to a churl poses further problems. Although Chaucer uses the word 'cherl' and 'carl' throughout his other works as a derogatory remark, he does use these terms to describe the Carpenter in the tale. The Carpenter is naive and jealous, but he does not explicitly state that John is a churl. The question has been raised that perhaps a more accurate meaning in that of 'cuckold'. This would be a foreshadowing devise for Chaucer. Also, it has been proposed that, because of the position of the "adjective clause that immediately follows it in the passage, 'gnof' can be indicative of some sort of landlord or host," (5-6).
The author provides examples which contradict the gloss of the word 'gnof' in Chaucer's Tales. However, he does allow the Miller to be an actual churl. He and a Carpenter are both of the guildsman class, so why the discrepancy? It may be that the character of John is going to bear the brunt of a joke that will serve as punishment enough. No doubt, the glossing of Middle English terms that have such a blurred etymology will cause conflict. --Susan W. Gover, 9/22/94
Schweitzer, Edward C. "The Misdirected Kiss and the Lover's Malady in Chaucer's Miller's Tale." Julian N. Wasserman and Robert J. Blanch, eds., Chaucer in the Eighties. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse U P, 1986. 223-33.
Schweitzer examines the misdirected kiss and lovesickness in the "Miller's Tale," drawing an important comparison and contrast between Absolon, who "hath in his herte swich a love-longynge" (I [A] 3349), and Arcite from the "Knight's Tale," who "suffers from 'the loveris maladye / Of Hereos'" (I [A] 1371-2). While both characters suffer from lovesickness, Absolon's misdirected kiss cures him of his ailment not only for Alisoun, but for all women. Conversely, Arcite, who experienced no such misdirected kiss, died of an injury, which essentially recreates the symptoms of lovesickness in a concentrated area of his body-his heart. Citing D.W. Robertson, and Bernard of Gordon, who is already cited by Chaucer in the "General Prologue" as one of the "teachers" of the Doctor of Physik, Schweitzer states that the misdirected kiss was a common prescription for lovesickness by medieval doctors. Or rather, the misdirected kiss either physically or symbolically-the direct quote from Bernard describes a foul, stinking beast of a woman, and presumes to kill the love longing before any physical contact is necessary. As Bernard says: "if he does not relent on account of these things, he [the lover] is not a man but a devil incarnate," (Schweitzer 228).
Absolon and Arcite also share high levels of self-delusion, character flaws which make them ripe for love's disease (although Schweitzer does not explicitly make this link). Schweitzer also connects the plight of both characters to Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, "...to what Boethius sees as the folly of seeking felicity in creatures rather than in their creator..." (224), one of Fortune's many messages.
Schweitzer continues to draw parallels and differences between love in the "Knight's Tale" and "Miller's Tale," adding that the changes are necessary when we consider the Miller's intent to "quite the Knyghtes tale." Finally, he closes with another reference to Boethius, and how his message of the "worthlessness of earthly goods" (230) both allows Absolon to be cured and Alisoun to remain (as the object of earthly desire) the only one truly unscathed in "Miller's Tale." Also in the conclusion is a quick discussion of a scene in Dante's Purgatorio, in which the poet reinforces the "cure" of the misdirected kiss, or the revelation of the "true" nature of the beloved (230).
Schweitzer presents a fairly straight forward argument with good evidence, but that argument might become stronger, or least more multifaceted, if he had considered the influence of the fabliaux in the differences (or similarities) between the "Knight's Tale" and "Miller's Tale." The question of exactly how are the fabliaux to be understood, as courtly comedy or lower-class satire, have the potential for muddlement were Schweitzer to incorporate such a discussion into his argument, but leaving it out limits his article. I am surprised to find such a formalist remnant in a collection titled Chaucer in the Eighties. Aren't there any deconstructionist readings out there, or did they die off in the late seventies? This may be working toward a question which strikes at the heart of your profession-is there anything new going on in Chaucerian criticism? I'd certainly like to find something new. --Rich Roisman, 9/23/94
Dillon, Janette. "Chaucer's Game in Pardoner's Tale." Essays in Criticism. 41:3 (July 1991) 208-214.
Professor Dillon begins by pointing out that most criticism of the Pardoner's Tale has "been dominated by consideration of the Pardoner as teller of the tale." And while she does not ignore the character of the Pardoner, she does not exclusively focus on him, but rather on the interaction of the audience with the Pardoner's character, arguing that "this is a tale which...brings the audience into the foreground" in order to create meaning.
The tale, she argues, is both moral and humorous simultaneously, and thus satirizes the audience's tendency to pigeonhole it as distinctly one of the other. Furthermore, she claims that Chaucer drives "a wedge between the author and his text and encouraging the audience to take the responsibility of considering texts as open questions rather than moral imperatives." Coming at the heels of the overt and heavy-handed moralizing of the Physician's Tale, this tale further underscores the gray areas of sin and morality. Rather than a clear, distinct and pedagogical moral, where the text is authenticated by the teller/author, this text is one which is defined by the audience's perception of the truth of the tale, blended amid its humor.
Textual evidence considered is both Chaucer's tendency to deny responsibility for the content of the tales (a la "The Miller's Tale") and the irony that, though "truth" is found in the tale, it is something that the Pardoner himself is unaware of; only the audience can read into it. "By foregrounding the deceitfulness of the author here," asserts Dillon, "Chaucer forces his audience to recognize an independent authority in the words spoken, an authority endorsed by the audience's, rather than the speaker's, faith."
In this piece, Professor Dillon uses an approach that makes sense considering the nature of the Tales. It is not through the text itself, but the interaction of the text with Chaucer's implied audience, always present in the background of all of the tales. Ignoring this implied audience, a habit of many critics, leaves an incomplete view of the text. Professor Dillon's concentration on the interaction of the audience with the text leads, I feel, to a more complete understanding of the tale as it was originally told. --J Sawyer, 9/30/94
Vasta, Edward. "How Chaucer's Reeve Succeeds." Criticism. 25:1 (Winter 1983) 1-11.
The Reeve is the most negative character of all the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. His description as a weak, choleric, shadow of man is truly reminiscent of his nature. Vasta explores the success of the Reeve through his tale and way of life. All of the preceding tales: "The Knight's Tale" and "The Miller's tale," recant a way of "dealing with life's Boethian darkness," (1). The Reeve, however, is less clear about his strategy for living, and his tale seems to do little to enlighten the audience. The article aims to explain how the Reeve succeeds and by what means.
The "Reeve's Tale" in no way vindicates the Carpenter in the "Miller's Tale" or specifically, the Reeve himself. "The Reeve is a delightfully lecherous and suspicious old grouch who is utterly weak and stupid, and he tells a tale that reflects his ludicrous qualities in detail," (3). The Reeve's character is derived out of privations. The recurrent theme of "pryvetee" which runs through the first fragment is closely interwoven into the Reeve's character. The various meanings of "pryvetee" are all somehow related to the character of the Reeve. The Miller's tale does not attack the Reeve by mocking a carpenter, but more expressly by mocking "pryvetee" which is "the fundamental principal of the Reeve's life and personality," (4).
The Reeve's success is also firmly rooted in "pryvetee." The meaning associated with darkness is a key element in the success of the Reeve not only in life but also in his tale. The two weak scholars can only triumph in the dark because they must trick the women and they are no match for the strength of the Miller. In this way, the Reeve's success is linked to the success of the devil. That is, the Reeve is a ruler of the darkness in the same way the devil is. His two scholars succeed in the tale by this means, and the Reeve succeeds in life this way as well. --Susan W. Gover, 9/30/94
Lionarons, Joyce Tally. "Magic, Machines, and Deception: Technology in the Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer Review. 27:4 (1993) 377-86.
Lionarons argues that the characters in the Canterbury Tales do not distinguish between technology and magic because both are based on knowledge that is inaccessible to the majority of the people. Furthermore, this ignorance helps the technicians deceive the people, and leads them in turn to distrust anything technical outside their realm of understanding. This exemplifies Chaucer's theme of the danger of intruding in "Godes privetee," knowledge that is not meant for human understanding.
Lionarons uses several examples to prove her points. A gift from an Arab king in the "Squire's Tale," a mechanical flying horse, is considered "magical" by its spectators, who cannot discover how it works. They fear that, as magic, it will be used to trick them somehow. The two students in the "Reeve's Tale" try to keep the miller from cheating them by guarding the mill, a technological machine they distrust. The ultimate form of taboo knowledge is that of alchemy, practiced in the "Canon-Yeoman's Tale" as a means of fraud, but described in his frame narrative as a serious science that threatens to "reveal the ultimate secrets of God and nature." Chaucer's final message to us through these tales is that we should accept our human limitations, and let God rule the natural world.
Lionarons' argument falls short in that it does not take into account the possibility of actual magic in the tales, that is, not an example of medieval ignorance, nor a misinterpretation of a technological phenomenon, but magical events occurring in fictional stories. Therefore, a flying horse could fly by more than just human mechanization, just as in other tales, girls drift to safety on rudderless boats, and goddesses speak to humans.
However, this article does make an interesting and significant observation that is worth our study: the medieval idea of science, based on the tales, is an interesting combination of the supernatural, mechanical, philosophical, and the religious. No pilgrim or tale can avoid a perspective of these themes. It would be informative to examine how these pilgrims, who are at least outwardly pious, and would consider a growing field of study that possibly conflicts with God's exclusive knowledge of the working of the world. --Marcia MacNeil, 9/30/94
Hanson, Elaine Tuttle. "The Wife of Bath and the Mark of Adam." Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender. Berkeley: U California P, 1992. 26-57.
When criticizing the patriarchally constructed vision of women that a decidedly male literary tradition has produced, the Wife of Bath proposes the question, "Who peyntede the leon, tel me who?" (692). She is making an allusion to an Aesop's fable in which a lion proposes this question when he is shown a painting of a man killing such an animal. Feminist critic Elaine Tuttle Hanson submits this question that asks how the point of view from which a story is told affects its telling in reference to the reader's understanding of the Wife of Bath herself. She comes to the conclusion that "there is no Wife of Bath," (35). That is, we as readers cannot escape the ultimate fact that as a character created by a male author she has no ultimate autonomy as a real woman and thus her viewpoint is necessarily a male fantasy. She attacks critical views of the "Wife of Bath's Prologue" and "Tale" that praise Chaucer for his enlightened empathy for the women of his day and portray him as a pioneer for feminist thought. She claims that just as the Wife of Bath is incapable of freeing herself from the dominant patriarchal mode of discourse, so too are Chaucerian critics themselves in their discussion of her sexual politics.
Hanson raises the idea that by using verbal attack as her primary weapon with which to do battle with her husbands, the Wife of Bath operates within the very discourse that is used to oppress her. Borrowing the idea of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's "prison house of language," she argues that the Wife unwittingly endorses the very complaints about womankind that she questions. Denied a female literary tradition from which to borrow authority, she is forced to resort to patriarchal texts to support her argument. As long as she must rely on male-generated texts and a male-constructed language for her defense, her struggles are in vain. Hanson calls attention to the fact that only nine lines into her prologue the Wife of Bath breaks off from relating her personal experience to citing male authoritative texts. She paints herself as one who is consistently the subject of male scrutiny and condemnation. Her defense, Hanson argues, is much more convoluted because she has no specific male tyrant against whom to direct it. Her complaint is against the "invisible and omnipresent power" (31) that is patriarchy itself. In the relation of her diatribes, which she uses to control her husbands, she quotes the innumerable voices of male authority that have tried to curb her behavior throughout her life. Hanson argues that by repeating these voices, she gives the stronger tone to the very opposition that she seeks to disprove. By speaking primarily through quotation and literary precedent, she not only affirms her position as wholly outside of the tradition against which she rebels, but she also uses her own words to deconstruct the arguments that she puts forth.
In her analysis of Chaucerian criticism of the Wife of Bath, Hanson divides it into three periods which she labels as prefeminist, feminist, and postfeminist. While these periods have fluctuated between characterizing the Wife of Bath as victim and as oppressor, they have all persisted in contributing to "the modern canonization and adulation of Chaucer" (40), crediting him with possessing insights into the female character. Such an attitude, Hanson claims, results in a generalization of femininity, that is, an idea that there exists an elusive secret that, if revealed, will explain all of the mysteries that constitute being a woman. She points out that the critical argument over the Wife of Bath that has spanned centuries has on the whole been determined by the "sexualized response" (46) of the critic. Being male more often than not, the critic has focused his analysis of Chaucer's infamous character on whether or not he "got it right" (50), that is, whether or not he accurately represented the feminine psyche. She argues that female critics have likewise fallen into this perverted way of appraising the "Wife of Bath's Prologue" and "Tale." By accepting the male-constructed critical tradition that praises Chaucer for his insights into mankind, and to a special extent, womankind as well, they are simply reinforcing the myth of gender difference that paralyzes objective criticism.
It is probably safe to say that the Wife of Bath will be a point of contestation among literary critics for the remainder of literary history itself. The ultimate interpretation of this dubious character is so entwined in overlapping circles of narration and in the odd combination of her possessing both the characteristics of a power-hungry underdog and those of an inevitable victim of patriarchy, that she will never occasion a general consensus of critical opinion. Our most basic conceptions of how we understand the Wife depends on whether we interpret her giving voice to the various charges against her as sardonic irony or as bitter acceptance, both of which stances are quite plausible. While it is important to recognize the crippling effects of her being confined within a patriarchal discourse in her prologue, I disagree with Hanson in that we should allow this fact to wholly deconstruct her argument. True, the Wife of Bath does draw on an essentially misogynist literary inheritance to justify herself, but we may ask ourselves if there were any other resources allowed to her which would accord as much respect as the Bible and other saintly writings. By taking issue with these texts, the Wife of Bath directly confronts the very roots of the patriarchal culture that condemn her behavior. She (and thus her author) constructs her defense in the language that a male-dominated society would best understand. --Barbara Gabriel, 9/30/94
Donaldson, Kara Virginia. "Alisoun's Language: Body, Text, and Glossing in Chaucer's 'The Miller's Tale.'" Philological Quarterly. 71:2 (Spring 1992) 139-53.
Donaldson presents a feminist critical reading of "Miller's Tale," drawing not only on medieval but also twentieth century critics such as Cixous and Foucault to support and reinforce her thesis that John, Nicholas, and Absolon all "gloss" Alisoun to reduce her body to a text and appropriate her into their own linguistic system for purposes of mastery. Regardless of the different styles of language for the three men, language remains for all three a medium in which dissemination of the patriarchal ideal is possible and practiced. As Donaldson puts it: "Alisoun is both the product and object of a male discourse that has maintained power over women by separating women from both their bodies and language," (141).
The idea of "glossing" is nothing new in the onion like layers of Chaucer's work, and the subject of glossing women is tackled by the Wife of Bath in her prologue, as Donaldson points out (she also reminds us that the Wife is named Alisoun). Each of the three men in "Miller's Tale" "gloss" Alisoun differently, according to their backgrounds and desires: John, the jealous husband afraid of cuckoldry, keeps his young bride locked in a cage. Nicholas "performs the role of a seducing clerk," (143). Donaldson adds that the Miller's own gloss of Alisoun and women in general puts a further patriarchal spin on the tale. This becomes most important during Nicholas and Alisoun's "seduction," where the Miller's narration attempts to circumvent the fact that this so-called seduction is actually a rape. We must also remember the Miller's initial description of Alisoun, which both glosses her and leaves an opening for further glossing by the tale's characters.
The most complex of these glossings is that of Absolon, who fancies himself a lover in the courtly tradition found in numerous medieval texts and "documented" by Andreas Capellanus. Absolon's elaborate speeches are attempts to woo and gloss Alisoun via the courtly tradition. Furthermore, all of Absolon's words are monologues, which simultaneously "others" Alisoun and cuts off dialogue with her as "the Other." Absolon and his language are the authority in this situation, and by making Alisoun the object of his "love-longings" he further defines her body/text only in reference to himself. Thus Alisoun's responses in language have absolutely no meaning nor effect on Absolon, and she must gloss her own glossing by "using her body to interrupt and change Absolon's reading of her," (147). Alisoun's action is thus a "linguistic intervention" (147). When Absolon's mastery over Alisoun through language is interrupted by this "misdirected kiss," he must try to control her by marking her as his territory by branding her.
What is perhaps scary, or sad, is that I have read nearly all of the sources Donaldson cites in her article, and yet I still find parts of her argument bordering on ludicrous. Although it might limit some of my own critical arguments, this article presents a good case for limiting the application of twentieth-century critical theory to, say, only 200 years back. There are just so many holes here, I don't know if I can touch on them all. I have a hard time taking in some of Donaldson's readings and glosses (how ironic!) of Chaucer's text, particularly her interpretations of ln.3309-11, "This goode wyf...leet hir werk," in which Alisoun is "preoccupied by her looks," and her claim that Alisoun's sticking her behind out the window is a reclamation of her body and self (cf. Cixous). Most egregious, though, is Donaldson's pushing aside of the fact that Nicholas gets branded, not Alisoun. Donaldson says that, "because of this [outcome], its [punishment] original intent is often overlooked," (149). It is also at this point in her argument that she chooses to finally bring in Chaucer himself, but it is too little, too late, especially when some of her earlier arguments implicitly point fingers at Chaucer for creating this evil system of glossing.
The presentation of the article itself also bothered me. It reads like something I would write on a good day, and I don't consider myself anywhere near the point of publishing. And yes (Kara) Virginia, a conclusion to an article is nice! I was looking forward to this article as a possible point of entry between the "Miller's Tale" and the other fabliaux, the "Wife of Baths Tale" (something which I still plan to pursue). Instead I now understand why some dislike feminist criticism. If it weren't so rude, I'd tell Donaldson to get a sense of humor so she can stop sucking all the humor out of Chaucer. Sheesh! I'm going back to my previous article on MT. --Rich Roisman, 9/30/94
Edwards, Anthony Stockwell Garfield. "Man of Law's Tale 517: Conjectural Emendation." The Chaucer Review. 25:1 (1990) 76-77.
In the article "The man of Law's Tale 517: Conjectural Emendation" by A.S.G. Edwards, the lines 512-518 are analyzed. Most specifically in this passage, he takes issue with the word "out." The context of this passage is Custance's arrival on the coast of Northumberland after three years of drifting in a rudderless boat. It is the Constable who finds her.
"He foond also the tresor that she broghte.
In her Language mercy she besought,
The lyf out of her body for to twynne." (II. 515-518)
Custance here desires to be "out" of her body in death. Edwards argues that this sentiment contradicts her other behavior. He shows that immediately after the Constable brings her on to shore she "kneleth down and thanketh Goddes sonde," (523). This thankfulness is about the gift of life rather than her previous wish for death.
Edwards also argues that this violates the nature of her character. She has previously been characterized by her "passive acceptance of destiny and her submission to Divine Purpose" (77). In this context, her wish for death is deemed far too assertive for her character.
Edwards attempts to reconcile this disparity by suggesting that scribes have incorrectly copied the word "out" from the word "(no)t." If this were the case, mercy would be saving her from separating from her body, which would be a prayer for life. A problem with Edwards' conjecture is that he does not explore the meaning of death. He seems to equate death with a form of escape which, like in suicide, Christianity deems sinful. However, her request for 'mercy,' or in other words, her request to be saved may in fact equate death. It seems plausible that after three years at sea that the only submission she can fathom is death.
This death wish, rather than a mistake, seems to be a place where Chaucer's idea about submission comes through. While the Man of Law uses this word in an attempt to create Custance's emotional urgency in this scene, Chaucer seems to be using Custance to talk about the quality of weakness within submission. Submission may make you stop fighting for life or on a more figurative level; it causes her to relinquish control of her body. This relinquish is supported by Custance's experience of sex with her husband. Here too we see a separation from her body when she cannot have both her holiness (an integral part of her character) and her body. --Rebecca Yenawine, 9/30/94
Ellis, Deborah S. "Chaucer's Devilish Reeve." The Chaucer Review. 27:2 (1992) 150-161.
This article is a reaction of sorts to the Vasta article. In the argument Ellis finds support to compare the Reeve to a portrait of a devil. She notes that the Reeve is often described in negative, almost diabolical terms, both by Chaucer and the other pilgrims. She not only uses the Reeve's physical description, but also his pervasive language and home origin to support her claim that the Reeve is a devil personified. The Reeve's devilish qualities are reinforced by the descriptions offered in the "Friar's Tale." Here, Chaucer gives us the Medieval description of a devil and what Medieval audiences would conjure in their minds as images of a devil.
The article begins by outlining the physical aspects of the Reeve that would support his being viewed as a devil. Ellis states, that in the "General Prologue," "[the Reeve's description] is full of hints of his otherworldly powers," (152). She goes on to compare his haircut and lack of facial hair to be stereotypical devil images. His slenderness, lack of muscle, and almost crippled aspects jibe with a conventional description of the devil as an emaciated character. She also refers to the Reeve's position among the pilgrims, his, like the devil, is the hindmost position.
The Reeve's home and origin are also suspect. Both the Reeve and the Devil are supposed to have come from the north, a fact that Chaucer is to point out about the Reeve. The Devil is described in the "Friar's Tale" as being all dressed in green. The description of the Reeve's home as surrounded by full green meadows and having large green shade trees offer a comparison to the green of the devil's dress. The devil is often depicted as a builder and the Reeve is a carpenter by trade. In these ways, Ellis tries to tie in the Reeve's home, origin, and trade as devilish qualities.
Lastly, Ellis wants to show the relationship between the devil's use of language and the Reeve's use of language. The devil is often portrayed as a master of language, a gift he uses to beguile and trick. As Ellis points out, "the devil traditionally controls the hidden valences of language, responding to intent rather than the mere words," (155). In the "Prologue to the Reeve's Tale," the Reeve lists the four 'gleedes', the first two concern the disruption of language, that is, 'avauntyng' and 'liyng.' Of these qualities, the Reeve prides himself on being a master. Therefore, the Reeve is like the devil in that he uses the nuances of speech to get what he desires.
The article raises some interesting points. The argument for the Reeve to be compared to a devil is no doubt a strong one. However, Ellis has to really stretch what is given in the text to make some of her arguments. The interesting tie with the "Friar's Tale" and the actual description of a devil gives more validity to her argument as well.--Susan W. Gover, 10/7/94
Pamela E. Barrnett. "And shortly for to seyn they were aton: Chaucer's Deflection of Rape in the Reeve's and Franklin's Tales." Women's Studies. 22:2 (1993) 145-162.
Barnett speaks for the feminist majority who have been a little more than unsettled upon encountering the rape scenarios in the "Reeve's Tale" and the potential for rape that fuels the plot of the "Franklin's Tale." She charges that Chaucer violates his female characters, (much in the way their antagonists do) by glossing over the details of rape and thereby seeming to "deflect" it from the text itself. Chaucer accomplishes this in a number of ways. Firstly, he dedicates an incredibly small amount of verse to the act of rape. "And shortly for to seyn they were aton" (4197) is the only mention of the actual coupling of Aleyn and Malayne. Barnett argues, and rightly so, that this "shortly for to seyn" is exactly the textual violence of which Chaucer is guilty.
The feminine point of view is completely eradicated from the text. What follows instead is the male glorification of sexual dominance. Rape is trivialized as a jest or a sporting romp in which both partners are taking part. But Barnett points out that we should not assume the women are willing partners. Malayne never gets a chance to cry out. The narrative never allows her to even speak with or exchange glances with her attacker. Her mother climbs into bed with John and while she seems to be a willing participant, we must also remember that she is under the impression that John is her husband. We know she would be far less cooperative had she not have been deceived because she laments what a horrible mistake it would be to climb into the wrong bed when she doesn't feel the cradle beside her own bed. A similar scenario is almost carried out in the "Franklin's Tale." Dorigen is abhorred at the thought of having to sleep with a man who is not her husband. She weeps and says she'd rather take her own life that to be unfaithful. However, her husband tells her she must sleep with Aurelius and his word takes precedence over her will. Yet this can hardly be defined as her consent.
This article is useful because it addresses the strong-arm tactics of medieval gender relations. Barnett should also be commended for giving the silent victims in the "Reeve's" and "Franklin's Tales" a voice of their own. One point I found especially insightful was her reference to the definition of rape in the late medieval period. Rape was seen not as a crime against a woman's bodily integrity, but as a property crime against her husband. This is helpful as it illuminates much of the revenge in the "Reeve's Tale." The miller has stolen the clerks' grain so they in turn "steal" his women. Aleyn takes Malayne's "flower" as recompense for the flour that her father has stolen!
One of the disadvantages to finding an article in a Women's Studies periodical is the non-literary reading. Barnett has read the Tales completely out of context. She does not consider their tellers. She tends to make broad accusatory statements such as the one found in her introduction: "A pattern of rape and silence motivates the narratives of the Reeve and the Franklin," (146). I would argue that revenge, not rape, is the motivation for the "Reeve's Tale." Had Barnett considered the tales in their context she would have read the "Miller's Tale" prior to her reading of the "Reeve's Tale" and the revenge motivation would have been more apparent.
If rape and silence do indeed motivate the narratives for the "Reeve's" and "the Franklin's Tales," then maybe Barnett ought to contrast them with the "Man of Law's Tale" and "The Wife of Bath's Prologue" and "Tale." Custance of the "Man of Law's Tale" pushes her would be rapist overboard and the Wife of Bath is anything but silent. Barnett's narrow reading allows little room for a pro-feminist interpretation of Chaucer, but her focus on the role of rape in the Tales is one that should be examined more thoroughly.--Susan Gillmor, 9/30/94
Fein, Susanna Greer. "Why Did Absolon Put A 'Trewelove' Under His Tongue? Herb Paris as a Healing Grace In Middle English Literature." The Chaucer Review. 25:4 (1991) 302-317.
Fein, from Kent State University, analyzes the "Miller's Tale" from a "botanical" perspective, taking as her starting point lines 3692-3: "Under his tonge a trewe-love he beer, / For therby wende he to ben gracious." This "trewe-love" is glossed (accurately) as herb paris (Paris quadrifolia), a four-leaved plant thought to bring about luck in love (but not an aphrodisiac, as I can imagine some critics argue). As Fein then puts it, "what follows is an examination of the Middle English popular and poetic tradition of the truelove plant, a tradition, that, while small, is not insignificant," (302).
Writings concerning the truelove usually fell into the standard secular/religious dichotomy of the medieval period. That is, the plant had its place in herbal (rather than urban) folklore, where it was considered a love-charm, but the luck in love that it brought could also be divine love rather than erotic love. As with most literary symbols and literature that straddles this "opposition" of love, the secular and religious meanings are often combined or virtually indistinguishable from one another, unless one reads on two different levels (cf. Song of Songs, etc.). Also as per tradition, the religious significance of the truelove could be extended into various aspects of Christian theology, almost all of them based on numerological theory. The four leaves of the herb could represent any number (no pun intended) of things: the four types of love (taken from classical Greek definitions); "the four persons of holy worship, that is, the Trinity and Mary" (303); perhaps even the tetragrammaton, although Fein neither mentions that possibility nor cites any record of it in medieval literature.
Yet a whole other symbolic thread follows from the resemblance of the truelove plant to Christ hanging wounded on the cross. Still another follows Christ as lover-knight, which gives him a dual connection with the plant. This idea of Christ as lover-knight seems to have been one of the more popular allegorical devices, appearing in such verses as Quia Amore Langueo, Love That God Loveth (a modern title), and The Foure Leves of the Trewlufe. In this poem the author creates a pun between "grass" (the truelove plant was sometimes called four-leaved grass) and "grace," one which Chaucer may have been thinking about when wrote the previously cited two lines of Absolon. Even another interpretive thread focuses on the inclusion of the Virgin Mary along with the Trinity in the numerology of the plant. As Fein states: "Mary represents true love expressed within the human sphere, perfection on a scale somewhat more accessible to sincerely penitent mortals," (309). Furthermore, "the titles given [Mary] underscore her familial relationship to the Persons of the Trinity: Mother of Christ, Maiden of the Holy Ghost, Wife of God," (309).
It is within this rich symbolic and allegorical tradition (although some of the lyrics were written after Chaucer's death) that Chaucer creates the obscenely secular parish clerk Absolon. His bizarre ironic duality permeates his use of the truelove plant: "in secular terms, Absolon wants to have the verbal grace of a courtly lover, to win the favor of his lady...In religious terms, however, Absolon has taken under his tongue an herbal sign of the cross," (310). Thus Absolon becomes a satire of both kinds of love represented by the herb paris. Considering this, other possible allegorical interpretations begin to unfold from "Miller's Tale:" the Alisoun/Nicholas/John triangle may parody that of Gabriel, Mary, and Joseph; the male characters of the story each bear a different likeness to Christ via association with various aspects of their story, i.e. John and Noah and the Ark, or Nicholas with his psaltery and King David (311). The three characters also hint at a kind of "trinity of fools," (311).
In her analysis, Fein (refreshingly) remembers the fabliaux tradition which shaped the "Miller's Tale," and remarks that "the element of irreverence retains the upper hand, and the religious allusions are extremely oblique," (313, also cited: Tillyard, see article's end notes). Furthermore, Fein asserts that Absolon's "cure" is rooted (no pun intended again) not only in the misdirected kiss, but also in the truelove plant itself! The plant is supposed to give, by Chaucer's own words, grace. When Absolon tries to use it for an ungraceful action (in both aspects of love), namely, wooing another man's wife, the plant gives him "grace" as a cure to turn him away from such deeds and end his love-longing. As Fein shows us, Chaucer's herb, like so many symbols in his work, contains both many allusions, and multiple, simultaneous, sometimes contradictory meanings. Could it be that Derrida could deconstruct Chaucer next?
This is one of the more original and well constructed critical essays I've read for a while, and it comes as a great pleasure after the peat-bog of Donaldson's feminist criticism last week. There are so many critical roads to pursue further here, but the two that seem to interest me most are numerology and botany (herbology?). I'm keeping this article for the second paper (wish I had all these ideas for the first paper, though!), and now I'm going to look for other occurrences of potent potables and such in the tales. I think the numerology might be a bit harder to find. This article also provides further insight into the whole lovesickness issue and its supposed remedies. Herbal medicine goes beyond Andreas, but it's certainly not far fetched. But what seems strange to me is the apparent compatibility of herbal medicine with Christianity. I don't know why, it just seems strange. Then again, some of these herbs can't be very far from the gifts they gave to Jesus.--Rich Roisman, 10/7/94Blanch, Robert J. "White and Red in the Knights Tale: Chaucers Manipulation of a Convention." Julian N. Wasserman.Chaucer in the Eighties. Ed. Julian N Wasserman & Robert J. Blanch. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1986. 175-191.
Blanch and Wasserman study closely the significance of the colors chosen by Palamon and Arcite for their standards. After noting Chaucers intense reliance on color symbolization-as well as the significance of coloring to the medieval mind-they point out that red and white are most often described together. The separation and battle between the two colors, then, represents a significant break with the traditional mode of using these colors, underscoring the radical deviation from the norm that has led to the dispute between the two knights. They warn that "it is here that the reader must guard against the temptation to embrace the post-medieval, Romantic notion of the deviation or violation of the norm as a positive act of self-expression." To further understand the extent of Palamons and Arcites violation of the traditional harmony of red and white, Blanch and Wasserman carefully and thoroughly examine other instances in Chaucers work that make use of the convention of red and white.
Blanch and Wasserman point out that "the tale begins with a presentation of Theseus conquering Thebes under a banner which depicts the red figure of Mars superimposed upon a field of white," thus representing the harmony of Venus (white) and Mars (red) and the unifying role Theseus as a "man of balance" plays. The knights reaction to and misinterpretation of these symbols of unity leads them into the error of duality. We find each one praying for a dualistic, rather than unitary, goal-Palamon asks only for Emilyes love and Arcite asks only for victory; essentially, each knight mistakes one part for the whole. Their tendency to glorify the part at the cost of the whole is further represented in their division of Emily into "distinct aspects of woman and goddess."
It is the combination of red and white that represents the totality of love, and, in ignoring this, the knights have led themselves to their Boethian tragedy. This "act of choosing, of differentiating, is evil, not the specific choices." And such choices are inextricably linked with falseness. Arcite, however, receives a kind of resolution in his death; he is clothed in white gloves and a green crown. Like red, assert Wasserman and Blanch, the green complements the white and gives a totality and wholeness that is lacking in the individual symbols of the colors.
In this essay, Blanch and Wasserman show what thorough scholarship, close reading of texts, and a flavor of Derrida can do to enlighten readers. Their arguments are persuasive, enlightened, well documented and (most important) do not stray off the path into distant realms, as some critics have tended to do. They neglect to mention, however, any kind of resolution for Palamon, especially since he is the one who eventually "wins" the girl. Furthermore, they do not in any way, explain why of the unity of the two colors was important to the medieval mind. Such an archetypal analysis could further reiterate and clarify the point which they are trying to make. --J Sawyer, 10/11/94
Knapp, A. Peggy. "Alisoun of Bathe and the Reappropriation of Tradition." The Chaucer Review. 224:1 (1989) 45-51.
Knapp discusses the frame of Alisoun's "preaching" as staged. She manipulates her husbands by making accusations of them, her audience (the pilgrims) by controlling the discourse. She also re-appropriates the marriage tradition through describing her experiences and telling her tale. This staging also appears as a way to re-appropriate courtly romance. In the tale we see, unlike the voiceless Emelye, "the loathly woman" exhibits control and an ability to change the Knight's assumptions about her.
Knapp shows the relationship between the Wife of "Bathe's Prologue" and "Tale" by marking their progression from harsh, male defined "law," to a somewhat softer feminine version of reality, and finally to a reconciliation between genders. In the prologue Alisoun begins describing her husband Jankin who uses scripture to condemn her behavior. Knapp sees this as parallel to the harsh law initially applied to the Knight by "Arthur's Court." The prologue then continues with Alisoun's reclamation of religion while justice in the tale gets passed onto Guinevere who makes the law into an "educative law." Each story ends in a kiss, which Knapp describes as a reconciliation where the women (Alisoun and "the loathly woman") gain the right to have justifiable actions and "self definition."
While the feminist critics Patterson and Weissman, see the Wife of Bath to be dependent on men, Knapp sees the Wife of Bath as a powerful figure of change. She criticizes their view on the basis of their inability to transcend their own cultural context and see that this image of femininity is about freedom for its time.
While the Wife of Bath is a character designed to talk about change, I do not feel that that necessarily excludes a feminist criticism. In other words, Alisoun and "the loathly woman" both change men and still, in the process of loving them agree to submit to them. The dependence then Knapp argues, because it is equal, transcends the oppressive culture around them.
Though she dismisses Chaucer's gender as an important element to the message of the story and she criticizes feminists who do not interpret the Wife of Bath as powerful, I think that Chaucer's vision of reconciliation is based on a male definition of change. Men's role in the Prologue and the Tale is to learn from women while women's' role is to fight. This fighting is a power play based on one person having more power. In this world women have to use a male game to gain power. The process of reappropriation itself deals with a male agenda where the Wife of Bath must redefine the meaning of scripture, marriage and her sexuality. Reappropriation itself then only deals with the places where men have most objectified her. Though this fight and redefinition is necessary and real today as ever, the fight itself limits the images of women that appear in literature. Chaucer's Alisoun is a politicized woman. No doubt she is effective in her subversion yet her entire character has become a message to men. This quality in her character is exemplified by the importance of the prologue where we are given more personal information about her than any other character. Though this criticism does not call the legitimacy of Chaucer's story into question, it does present a dilemma for the presentation of women in literature. --Rebecca Yenawine, 10/11/94
Crane, Susan. "The Franklin As Dorigen." The Chaucer Review. 24:3 (1990) 236-52.
Crane begins with a hotly debated issue of Canterbury Tales that is particularly germane to the "Franklin's Tale," that of "the narrator's social status in relation to his tale's genre," and determines not only that the Franklin himself occupies an unstable, marginal social rank (not a class), but also that his resistance to that instability as it is exposed in his own tale in effect doubles him with Dorigen, one of his own characters.
The root of this division and doubling stems from the ability of the Franklin, a small landowner, to recount a Breton lai, a tale whose genre mirrors the courtly romantic tradition. We know that the Franklin's social rank is well below that of a knight, yet such a knight is a protagonist in his tale! Similarly, we know from romance tradition that the women in such tales also occupy a lower rank in relation to the men, sometimes down to the point of commodity.
This degradation, even the commodification, defines Dorigen in the tale. As Crane says, "the analogies between them [Dorigen and the Franklin] allow Chaucer to relate class to gender identity and to explore the ways in which romance imagines the possibilities and the constraints of self-definition," (237). Chaucer's impetus for such an exploration may come from his near equivalent social rank to that of the Franklin. Dorigen may be a symbol for Chaucer's expression of his social insecurity, according to D.S. Brewer (cited on Crane 237). However, this relationship only touches on the hazards of the romantic genre for women (and reduces Dorigen to a symbol once again); reading the tale from Dorigen's point of view elucidates those dangers and how they are often ignored by the male romantic characters and narrators. "Franklin's Tale" attempts to cover both bases, creating contradictions within the text have been capitalized upon for numerous other critical articles.
The Franklin's desire to augment his social rank is not based on ambition, as some critics have stated, but merely on the desire to escape the uncertainty of his current rank. But his attempts to rise reflect his already present uncertainty; he "tells a tale proposing that gentilesse can be learned and deliberately practiced," (238). Gentility is not merely a series of behavioral codes, and this is one of the limits imposed on both the Franklin and Dorigen. Dorigen's limits, of course, are further created by her gender; the estate system dominating Medieval England was created by and for men. Women were pieced in later as immediate subordinates, no matter what estate. Yet while they were subordinated, women were being idealized into the courtly lady by the men wielding the power. Dorigen's oaths swear her into this role, which lead to her lack of self-determination and amazement at the so-called intellectual prowess of people like the Clerk of Orleans. In addition, she must cope with (as must the Franklin) the double patriarchs of Arvergus and Aurelius, who are among those participating in the paradoxical idealization of the subordinate courtly woman. The Franklin's situation is equally paradoxical, both because of his desire to rise in rank and the uncertainty of his original rank, a rank which is still being debated by critics.
The Franklin is not completely out of place for telling a romance, but he undermines his purpose by telling a tale whose genre has very clear definitions for someone of his rank. In the romantic tradition, those like the Franklin, Vavasours, are sometimes hosts to the guest knight, but usually mere witnesses to the actions of the story. Thus, like Dorigen, the Franklin is restricted by literary convention as well as social (and gender) designations. The Franklin further fails by trying to rewrite the romance and trying to show that courtly women can have genuine authority (244). After this, the tale seems to have control of the teller, rather than the other way around.
The Franklin and Dorigen also both resist the words and power of clerks. The Franklin does so in his characterization of the Clerk of Orleans, using words that echo those of John to Nicholas in "Miller's Tale" (247). Dorigen does not believe the actions (illusions, according to the negative words of the Franklin) of the Clerk when he makes the rocks disappear from the coast, and her two major laments in the tale draw on past clerical writings, which she sometimes attempts to refute through her behavior. Dorigen does not believe in the supernatural alteration of natural events, events which are predicated by the patriarchy anyway.
Finally, Chaucer's narrative approach (via the Franklin) resembles the narrator of Troilus and Criseyde, "and other courtly works not assigned to fictional characters," (249), in that the narrator does not understand or believe the events befalling his characters. However, the narrator's social rank is not usually such an issue as it is with the Franklin. How the literature affects the narrator and author is an issue raised everywhere in Canterbury Tales; just look at Chaucer's defensive rhetorical strategies around the tales.
The only problem I have with Crane's article is the organization; each point is proved eight or nine times and the article seems to move in circles. Besides that, her arguments are complex but well explained (even with the use of big words and long sentences). Crane does make the mistake of using class distinctions like bourgeois, and even using the word "class" at times, but these do not bring down the article too much.
Crane also takes great pains (compared with other critics) to examine and account for weaknesses in her own argument. She admits that her argument is very narrow in scope, and thus ignores relations between other tales and their characters, but that narrow focus necessarily elucidates to elucidate Chaucer's relation to his subject matter, a relation which once determined here may be applied to other tales. Also, Crane realizes that her "reading [of] the "Franklin's Tale" in relation to romance may ask two concessions from critics who read the tale in dramatic terms as an expression of the Franklin's personality," and proceeds to discuss (and refute) those concessions (237).
As usual, I wish I had had this article when I was doing my presentation. It would have contrasted and complemented the other criticism I was working with at the time. However, the bib entry is not for lamenting. Frankly, I'm surprised that this is the first article I've found discussing doubling as a strategy of the tales, unless the idea is simply too elementary to warrant "serious" criticism. I hope not, because I'd like to be able to pursue doubling for the longer paper. I particularly like the links made between "Franklins Tale" and "Millers Tale" for a point of inquiry. Or perhaps doubling in the "marriage group" or a part of that group. It would seem that other "doubles" might be determined by going back and seeing who travels with who in the "General Prologue." More investigation...maybe the tales could be ordered by doubles. --Rich Roisman, 10/20/94
Edden, Valerie. "Sacred and Secular in the Clerk's Tale." The Chaucer Review. 26:4 (1992) 369-376.
Edden argues that the "Clerk's Tale" should be read not as a religious story or as an exemplum but rather as a secular story with a cynical commentary on being a victim of poverty. She begins by describing that the tale is derived from an earlier work by Petrarch where Griselda's life becomes a religious exemplum. Though critics generally classify the genre of the "Clerk's Tale" as sacred and exemplary, Edden sights several elements that make it difficult to accept the story on these terms.
Edden describes the Clerk who narrates the tale as distant from the story. She finds evidence for this in the Clerk's acknowledgment of Petrarch as the original teller. This statement discards any ownership of the ideas presented within the Tale. The second argument is the earthly nature of Walter. If Griselda is exemplary of Christian submission then Walter is analogous to God. However, the presentation of Walter seems more "flawed and cruel" and far from a Christian picture of the ultimate justice. Edden's third argument is contained in the idea of "Patient Poverty." While poverty in the sacred world becomes a testing ground for determining worthiness for entry into heaven, Griselda's reward is earthly in nature (she gains a husband and her children), not nearly as satisfying an end as heaven.
The secular nature of this Tale becomes clearer as Edden relates it to both the "Man of Law's Tale" and "Emare" where our heroines become symbols of goodness by turning to God through their suffering. Griselda, on the other hand, makes no significant call to God. In the end we see that Griselda's reward is more unsettling than satisfying. Without God to make her submission worthwhile, Edden posits that Griselda lives in an 'arbitrary world' where because of her poverty she becomes a victim of power.
While this article is valuable in its ability to deal with the unsettling ending of the tale and the Clerk's annoyance with his own tale (he too thinks Walter is foolish and cruel), it does not go far enough in its handling of the implications about power nor does it adequately relate to the other Tales in order to understand power as one of Chaucer's major themes. In looking at the "Man of Law's Tale" especially, we can see a progression from a sacred submission to a kind of submission without purpose. They present essentially the same kind of submissive, patient character. The only difference is the one who is worshipped and the Tales that fall between them. Through these two tales Chaucer is presenting an idea about the nature of submission. Submission, because it is an act of relinquishing ones own power to trust another has no power to decipher human kindness from violation. How then can a heroine be both submissive and know which entity to be submissive to? The senselessness of this kind of worship is further exemplified by the "Friars" and "Summoner's Tale" which appear between the Man of Law and the Clerk's stories where religious and secular figures who claim to know goodness are exposed for their corruption. Chaucer's point then extends beyond the 'arbitrary' world of Griselda and the separation between secular and sacred into revealing through the course of his tale's the nature of power throughout the structure of society. --Rebecca Yenawine, 10/20/94
Bowman, Mary R. "Half as She Were Mad: Dorigen in the Male World of the Franklins Tale." The Chaucer Review. 27:3 (1993) 239-251.
In this article, Bowman explores the desires and wishes of Dorigen in the context of the chivalric male world that is foregrounded in the tale through Aurelius and Arvergus. "Dorigen," claims Bowman, "is in some important respects excluded from the interests of the Tale, [although] her alienation from mens values does not necessarily prevent her self-expression through mens literature," (240).
Chaucer has problems representing women in the Canterbury Tales even before the Franklin begins his tale. Even the most outspoken female character in the Tales, the Wife of Bath, is necessarily constrained by the very fact that Chaucer was a man. Cahucers attempt to present a womens perspective through the Wife is, according to Bowman, only partially successful and her denouncement of male mastery in marriage is the subject of attack from almost every tale-teller after her. And, even though the Franklin alleges to espouse the morals of the Wife-at least to an extent-his tale betrays his words. Dorigen is of little concern to the Franklin; instead, "both the narrator and his male characters show frequent disregard for Dorigen as a person," (241).
Essentially, the final sequence of events reduces her to a mere "object of exchange" (241) between Aurelius and Arvergus. Bowman points out that it is against Dorigens wishes to go to the garden to keep her promise to Aurelius, but that does not concern her husband at all. Aurelius is just as guilty; his "first words are addressed, not to Dorigen, but to Arvergus through her," (241). The next scene between Aurelius and the Clerk of Orleans further objectifies Dorigen; that her counterpart in this scene is money serves only to make more obvious her position as a commodity. "She has ceased to exist as a person in her own right and is instead made to serve as a medium of exchange in a male economy of moral value," (242). Given the interpretation that the Franklin intends for this tale, this is necessary; he finishes with an invitation to discuss the moral qualities of the three men and ignores Dorigen completely. His emphasis on this interpretation causes the Franklin to reverse his position on marriage that he claimed at the opening of the tale.
But isnt Dorigen given much attention in this tale, especially in her grief at Arveragus departure? Yes, but the attention given, "shows not only a lack of sympathy with her feelings but also an unawareness that in engaging in conventional expressions of grief she might actually be expressing grief as much as engaging in convention," (243). The Franklins interest in her feelings is only as a part of the tale, not in any interest in Dorigen as a thinking, feeling human being.
Despite this, it is still possible to uncover what Dorigens values and feelings truly are. Contrary to critical tradition, which assumes that the men really are thinking and acting unselfishly and with Dorigens interests in mind, Dorigen, in fact, has very different interests from the men. In part following "the model offered by Carol Gilligan in her book In a Different Voice," (244) Bowman seeks to extract form the tale what Dorigens interests are. The men, she notes, are concerned with abstract values; Arveragus with worship, honor, and truth sets a great store on public opinion, while Aurelius is more concerned with "gentilesse" above his lust for Dorigen. These values are alien to Dorigen; she is more concerned with committing a sin against her body by giving herself to a man who is not her husband. She sees herself as faced with two options: infidelity or suicide and her list of women that she views as role models are illustrations of this concern with bodily purity. The ideals espoused by the men are never mentioned by her.
Even more significant is how the mens actions of the last scenes would be seen from her perspective. Her husbands "generousity" in ordering her to fulfill her promise (which may well be invalid) throws her into a maddening grief. Arveragus seems to think that she espouses the same value system as he, when in fact, as we can see from her actions, she does not. Aurelius, for his part, is more than willing to give her up for some "moral value" and it does not cause him great suffering. It is through this grief that we can see what she does not value, strengthening the earlier sense of what she does value.
Attempting to infer Dorigens values, Bowman admits, is a tricky task since it "requires reading contrary to the intentions and interests of the tales narrator," (249). It is, however, essential that we do not fall into the same trap as the narrator: to view Dorigen as a thing. This characterization of Dorigen illustrates the Franklins true attitude towards marriage and women, contrary to what he claims.
Bowmans argument is convincing and intelligent. I cannot help but to agree with her that Dorigen is relegated to the position of a thing rather than a person. I am surprised, however, that she neglected to mention the disturbing frequency with which this attitude towards women is taken in the Canterbury Tales-something which would have given her argument considerably more weight. She just stops short of calling Chaucer a sexist pig, but that judgment is easily inferred from her argument. Although she does give some marginal credit to him for the Wife of bath, she does not judge him, I feel, in the context of his times. The concentration on Dorigens grief is the one redeeming factor Bowman gives him; does this not show that at least he attempts to see women as human? Certainly that would be a liberal attitude for the Middle Ages! Furthermore, Bowman implies that a man cannot accurately portray a womans feelings, emotions, and desires. I would argue this; although it may be difficult even today. I believe that, with true empathy and concern for a woman, a man could understand her well enough to create a "good" female character and this, it would seem to me, should be the goal of feminist criticism. I must question if Bowman thinks a woman can create an accurate male character. She seems to have no problem understanding and dissecting the males in male literature! If we are to assume her viewpoint, that would not be possible. Such an understanding, between both sexes, can only lead to an easing of gender-tensions and movement towards a truly gender-neutral society. --J Sawyer, 10/20/94
Kohanski, Tamarah. "In Search of Malyne." The Chaucer Review. 27:3 (1993) 228-237.
Kohanski argues that Malyne has been written off as a fabliau type country wenche. She provides evidence for deeper characterization by contrasting Malyne with her French analogue and with Alisoun of the "Miller's Tale." Both the daughter in "Le Meunier" and Alisoun are described with ample justifications for participating in the sexual mischief of their tales. But unlike her French predecessor, Malyne has no consent or willing participation in her sexual encounter. Kohanski makes her argument along the lines of Pamela Barrnett's in "Shortly for to seyn they were aton: Chaucer's Deflection of Rape in the Reeve's and Franklin's Tales." Both critics imply that Malyne's silence is not an unspoken complicity but a forced silence. It is our decision to read this silence one way or another that will ultimately influence our overall picture of Malyne.
The term "wench" is especially pivotal to Kohanski's thesis. Chaucer refers to Malyne as a wench twice in the text yet he gives us no sexually promiscuous past on which to base the negative implications that the term might carry with it. Again, because of lack of evidence, Kohanski stresses that readers should not automatically view Malyne as a sexually eager country girl as Chaucer has not provided us with the basis for this assumption. A true wench would be more inclined to enjoy the excitement of a strange man crawling into bed with her. Malyne gives us no indication that she is happy to see Aleyn. Consequently, Kohanski interprets "wench" in this case to mean "low born" rather than "a loose woman."
Kohanski's analysis complements Barrnett's and goes beyond to address more literary implications. Her decision to read Malyne as something more than the stereotypical analogue wench is I think what Chaucer would have intended for his audience. However, there is still the problem of the name "Malyne" which was also used to describe loose or maligned women. Kohanski would have strengthened her thesis had she addressed this along with her research on the term "wench."
Kohanski's analysis is reasonably thorough with one exception. She stresses that the last portion of text in which we see Malyne (when she reveals to Aleyn the location of his stolen grain) should be read as Malyne weeping for the loss of her virginity, not the loss of her lover. Instead of reading this as an ironic parody of romance, Kohanski considers it a bittersweet moment of comedy and tragedy. We sympathize with Malyne for her loss and laugh at her for giving away the grain. However, I wonder if this passage could be read as more tragic than comic in nature. Chaucer seems to be pulling all the right strings for a sympathetic reading of Malyne by keeping her a silent, atypical country wench thereby humanizing her in a story that is otherwise filled with character sketches from fore-running fabliaux. I think that this last passage reveals the tragedy in spite of what may appear to be comic intent. It is a necessary and poignant plot device to have Malyne give back the stolen flour. The Miller has stolen the clerks flour. The clerks have stolen Malyne's flower. However, Symkyn has taken something that he can give back. Aleyn has taken Malyne's virginity and the finality of this theft is driven home when Malyne tells Aleyn where he can find his flour. --Susan Gillmor, 10/7/94
Farrell, Thomas J. "The Envoy de Chaucer and the Clerk's Tale." The Chaucer Review. 24:2 (1990) 329-36.
In this brief response to the critical controversy surrounding the source and reason for the "Envoy de Chaucer" which ends the "Clerk's Tale," Farrell attempts to disassociate the question from the quarrel over its dramatic origin by studying it from a purely philological stance. He does this by calling attention to the fact that the rubric which introduces this part of the "Clerk's Tale" is scribal. That is, it is part of the interpretational glosses that scribes took the liberty of including in the early manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. He points out that the wording of the rubric varied widely, some scribes using it to attribute the envoy to the Clerk, some delineating it as a "song," and almost half putting it into the mouth of Chaucer (as does the Riverside edition). Thus he argues that its dramatic origin is an inconsequential point, a mere case of scribal difference that has mistakenly got caught up in an interpretational argument. What is interpretationally important, Farrell argues, is not to whom the envoy is ascribed, but that early scribes felt a need to separate it under a different heading. That is, while the envoy clearly forms a part of the Clerk's performance, it "is in some important way not a part of the Clerk's Tale," (332).
Farrell argues that the principle reason that this ending to the "Clerk's Tale" is separated from what comes before is that, unlike the tale of Griselda, which Chaucer repeatedly emphasizes is taken from Petrarch, the envoy is an original composition whose inclusion relates the tale to the contest at hand by ascribing it to a particular recipient. The scribes' recognition of this leads them to distinguish it under a title of its own. The scribes remind us that the meaning of Griselda's tale, an exemplum devised by Petrarch, is distinct from the interpretation of the tale that Chaucer's envoy contributes to it. Chaucer's envoy contextualizes the tale into the bigger picture of the contest that is the occasion for the tales themselves.
Although Farrell reminds us that the separation of the envoy from the "Clerk'sTale" is a device not of its author but of his glossators, he simultaneously claims that he is not willing to dismiss its inclusion in most of the early manuscripts as completely erroneous. His assumption is that these early scribes, writing at a time much closer to Chaucer than the modern editor, had a more accurate insight into the way Chaucer intended the tales to be presented. But can that argument completely dismiss the interpretation that takes issue with the "voice" that delivers the envoy? Like the early scribes, modern scholars must also decide whether to take the end of the "Clerk's Tale" as a continuation of the narrative of this character or as a blatant interruption by the character's creator. The mere fact that the envoy is different from what has come before does not negate this. Thus I feel that Farrell's argument that the dramatic question is "simply a false issue" (333) and the critical debate that has surrounded it is on the wrong interpretational track is flawed. The debate over the muddled overlapping circles of narration that comprise the Canterbury Tales cannot be dismissed by reliance on a purely philological argument. Regardless of the guidelines that the glossators have provided for interpreting the tale, it is inevitable that literary critics, depending on their personal perceptions of the author's motivations, will claim to hear his voice seeping through the lines delivered by his adopted personas. --Barbara Gabriel, 10/21/94
Frank, Hardy Long. "Seeing the Prioress Whole." Chaucer Review. 25:3 (1991) 229-235.
In his article, Frank identifies and rebels against the typical view of the Prioress as taking a "lesser role" as a nun, depriving herself of her "natural role" in marriage and motherhood, and as a figure of ridicule who tries to be both a nun and a fashionable lady. Frank exposes this as "insidious sexism," pointing out that a Prioress had as much potential for social importance than married women, as well as more personal freedom and responsibilities, without the dangers of childbirth and abusive husbands.
A prioress managed the estate of the convent and the physical and spiritual well being of the nuns and students of the convent school. She also entertained all classes of guests, including traveling lords and ladies, and had the opportunity to travel both for business and for pleasure. None of this made her a figure of ridicule in the eyes of her fellow nuns, who elected her to the position, or to the other pilgrims, who treat Chaucer's Prioress with respect and "reverence."
Further, Frank argues, the Prioress' original, appealing, and dramatic version of her tale proves her "piety and professionalism," as it reveals her expertise in narration and teaching, and like her character, is a balance between the sacred and the profane, the "Marian" and the "mundane."
Frank is correct in reading the Prioress' introduction and tale is in the context of historical reality, and not with twentieth century eyes. However, he fails to fully examine the complexity of Chaucer's tone and narration in his portrayal, which I believe to be more satirical and comic than Frank admits. Just because Chaucer the pilgrim says the other pilgrims respect and admire the Prioress, doesn't mean they really do. And even if they do accept her character without question, it doesn't necessarily mean Chaucer expects his readers to. --Marcia MacNeil, 10/21/94
Hatcher, Elizabeth R. "Life Without Death: The Old Man in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale." The Chaucer Review. 9:3 (Winter 1975) 246-252.
In this brief commentary that addresses the critical enigma that the old man in the "Pardoner's Tale" has become, Hatcher offers a new and highly persuasive reading of what this troublesome figure symbolizes. Instead of interpreting him as an iconographic symbol such as Death or Old Age itself, she argues for an interpretation of the old man in the context in which he appears. She examines his timely entrance immediately after the three drunken young men have resolved to slay Death as telling of his importance in the tale. The old man greets the three rioters right after they have made a "rash wish," a commonly conventional action of figures in an exemplary tale. She reasons that Chaucer's audience, being familiar with such a convention, would easily recognize the entrance of the old man as an embodiment of the "rash wish" that has just been made. His tragic existence is the consequence of life without death: "He is what they seek: endless physical life," (248). However, the spiritual blindness of the debaucherous young men prevents them from seeing this. In their zeal to end physical suffering, they equate happiness with a purely material existence. The logical consequence of this argument (which Hatcher fails to follow through with) is that the old man, recognizing the spiritual emptiness of the young men, points them in the direction of the chest of riches so that they will learn for themselves the lesson that material goods are not the key to happiness.
Hatcher goes on to cite multiple classical myths in which figures that have been cursed with everlasting life live a miserable existence. The common lesson of all of these examples seems to be the folly of wishing for an interminable material existence. Everlasting life is often granted, but everlasting youth is not. The mistake that all of these mythical wishers make is to equate materiality with spiritual happiness. Hatcher reasons that by working this familiar myth into the "Pardoner's Tale," Chaucer is acting on one of the most common Christian precepts held by his audience.
Hatcher's argument is very persuasive and well documented with literary precedent. The only possible objection to it that I can think of is that the old man himself does not ask for immortality (at least as far as we know). He instead vicariously embodies the fulfillment of the rash wish that the foolish young men make, a convention that is unique to Chaucer's tale. It must also be noted that the young men do not knowingly wish for immortality as all of their mythological predecessors do. Immortality is an obvious consequence of their determination to slay Death, but not one that they necessarily think of. In their drunken state, Death is some guy who has killed their buddy and may very well kill them before long. They join arms to meet this traitor Death as an actual person, completely oblivious to the enormity of their task. The true test of Hatcher's theory, though, lies in the expectations of Chaucer's contemporary audience. Would they immediately recognized the resolution of the three rioters to slay Death as a "rash wish" and then accordingly recognize the old man as a fulfillment of that wish? If, as Hatcher assumes, they would, her theory is a quite valid one. In any case, it is the most persuasive theory that I have read and it makes up for many of the deficiencies of the earlier "iconographic" theories. (And it came from someone right here in Baltimore!)--Barbara Gabriel, 10/31/94
Sheneman, Paul. "The Tongue as a Sword: Psalms 56 and 63 and the Pardoner." The Chaucer Review. 27:4 (1993) 396-400.
In this short essay, Sheneman argues that the Pardoners tongue, which he must "wel affile" according to the GP (712), refers to Psalms 56 and 64 and their reference to the tongue as sword and weapon against the innocent. Psalm 139 is already commonly looked on as a source when the Pardoner describes his method for dealing with his enemies from the pulpit, by stinging them with his tongue. Looking only at this, however, causes some critics to downplay the meaning for "affile" (line 712 in GP; "and wel affile his tonge") as sharpen and choose polish instead (as our text does). This phrase, argues Sheneman, "almost certainly alludes to other psalms, however, because the meaning of affile is certainly to sharpen," (396). In particular, he points to Psalm 56:5 and 63:4, both of which refer to the tongue as a sword.
"The sense of these verses," argues Sheneman, "is in keeping with the attitude of the Pardoner, who attacks with his tongue in order to acheive his purposes. His tongue, then, is a weapon, a source of slander and destruction," (396-397). To further support this line of thought, he asserts that Chaucer probably knew these verses well, as well as some of their commentaries. Augustine referred to both Psalm 56:5 and Psalm 63:4, with the image of the tongue-as-sword to Christs crucifixion. "Chaucers almost certain acquaintance with Augustines commentary...opens a possible connection between affile (A 712) and the crucifixion, too," (397). Peter Lombard also commented on these passages; "[thus] the two best-known medieval commentators on the Psalms hold that the tongue is a sharp sword because of the harm that comes through spoken words-harm like the Pardoners," (397). Looking at "affile" as sharpen, then, foreshadows the Pardoners own condemnation against those who commit sin against the body of Christ by swearing.
Scriputres and commentary are not all that may lead towards this interpretation, however, Sheneman point to a half-dozen proverbs of the time that use the same reference. He also points to Chaucers translation of Psalm 25:18 as "bakbiteres...han two swerdes with whiche they sleen hire neighbores" (qtd. 398) as well as passages in MaT and Romaunt of the Rose. And while he recognizes that "affile" can certainly mean to polish, "Chaucer thought in terms of sharpening the tongue as one would sharpen a sword" (398), and the Pardoners tongue, like the tongues referred to by the Psalmist, is a sword slaughtering the innocent.
Although this article provides some insight in the vague and uncertain nature of Middle English translation, I am not sure that it is as critical a point as Sheneman seems to feel it is. Whether we gloss "affile" in the GP as polish or sharpen, we still receive the same impression of the Pardoner: that his tongue is his principle tool for extortion. Whether he polishes it to make the extortion less obvious or sharpens it to make it more effective makes little difference on our final impression of the Pardoner as scum. Though it is an interesting sidenote, Sheneman has not convinced me that it bears serious consideration; it is perhaps more interesting to hold both possiblities of "affile" equally probable and valid. --J Sawyer, 10/31/94
Brown, Emerson Jr. "What is Chaucer Doing with the Physician and His Tale?" Philological Quarterly. 60:2 (1981) 129-144.
In Brown's discussion of the "Physician's Tale," he draws from the tale's relationship to the "General Prologue," it's historical origins as seen in Livy and Jean de Meuns stories of Virginia and Lucretia and in relation to the stories which surround it within the Canterbury Tales (given the Ellesmere order).
The "Physicians's Tale" which critics have generally viewed as demonstrating no mastery of fiction says more about the teller's capacity than it does about Chaucer. The reason for Chaucer attributing such a quirky tale to the Physician is because, Brown argues, a physicians judgment is not to be trusted. Brown defines a medieval physician's job as most importantly being able to diagnose the cause of a disease before curing it. While Chaucer the pilgrim describes him as 'a verray parfit praktisour,' Brown goes on to describe medieval physicians to be generally seen as untrustworthy. Brown is then suggesting that Chaucer, like the rest of the characters are not to be trusted. This argument as it applies to the Physician has no direct proof. In other words, we cannot determine the Physician's abilities because we have no objective information him. However, it seems plausible that the Physician is inadequate in the context of his inconsistent tale. The biggest fault Brown finds is in inability to determine the cause of Virginia's death.
Livy and Jean de Meun, Chaucer's predecessors, both wrote stories of the 'abuse of justice' which in turn causes a Virgin to be killed. In the "Physician's Tale," while it mirrors these stories in structure, is not as clear in the cause of the virgin's death. Chaucer complicates the tale through the representation of Virginius' relationship to her father. Brown argues that the father's treatment of Virginius is calm and cold and that his sacrifice of her is more to protect his honor than it is to save her from being violated. This element can especially be seen in relation to the other virgins who alternately died through self-sacrifice and through the overpowering of the father by the opposing forces.
The force of corruption in the "Physician's Tale" is then further confused by the Physician's interjection into the tale. After setting up his characters, the Physician then preaches about how both parents and governesses are responsible for corrupting young maidens. This confusion of who to blame for Virginia's death is also seen in the Host's response which states that it is her beauty which is responsible.
Brown's final argument for the importance of the "Physician's Tale" is contained in the idea that it is a story in a continuum about the human relationship to evil. This theme he first sights in the "Franklin's Tale" (though it seems applicable to other stories). In the "Franklin's Tale" Dorigen questions why when there is a good God is there evil. Though she never fully answers her own question, we can see an attempt at resolution in that she ultimately believes that injustices eventually work themselves out. This evil then is something that gets resolved while in the "Physician's Tale" a virtuous person loses for no apparent reason. This commentary on evil is then resolved in the Pardoner who recognizes himself as evil and still does not change it.
This progression, Brown says encompasses a major theme in the Canterbury Tales. "The Tales, a work about, among other things, humanity, sick beyond its own capacities for healing and stumbling towards a cure" (144)-that is towards Canterbury.
In Brown's reading, we gain a valuable insight into the subjectivity of perspective contained in each character based on their experience. In each character we must then look at what they need to justify in their lives, why they alternately teach, preach or entertain through their stories. The stories all reflect how each character wants to be seen by others. The Miller wants people to laugh, the Wife of Bathe wants people to respect her sexuality and possibly want to marry her and the Physician wants to be trusted for his ability to determine illness. Each character however fails to fully persuade, leaving the reader to see through to their weaknesses. In the case of the Physician it is his ability to determine causality.
The fact that all characters are going to Canterbury means in other words that they are all hoping for some kind of transformation. Brown attempts to touch on a major thematic transformation about character self-awareness and the recognition of evil. What is missing from this picture of realizing evil is the idea that in each story there is a fictional woman who is at its center acting as a vehicle for each teller. If we see this element as inherently related to this male battle with good and evil, we learn something about the nature of their oppressive qualities. The Physician uses his female character to exemplify his ability to find causes. What ends up happening, instead of accurately seeing a situation, he overlooks the judge as an oppressor and causes Virginia to become strangely responsible for her death by being both beautiful and submissive to her father. These supposedly ideal attributes which cause her death are then made more pointless by the peoples common knowledge of the judge's lechery. Her death ends up seeming less virtuous than it does senseless. While the male characters, both the judge who is exiled and the father who has no consequences, have no clear punishment for their abuse of justice, the Physician says that "the remenant were anhanged, more and lesse, /That were consentant of this cursednesse." The Physician here seems confused about who exactly is punished and for exactly what. This not only demonstrates his struggle to define evil but his struggle to decipher what violation means and what makes it a punishable crime. It is in looking at this quality that we can then understand the fine line that other characters walk between upholding women as sacred and violating them through glossing. --Rebecca Yenawine, 10/31/94
Lionarons, Joyce Tally. "Magic, Machines, and Deception: Technology in the Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer Review. 27:4 (1993) 377-86.
This article is a discussion of the role and relationships between science, technology, and magic in Canterbury Tales. Although Lionarons recognizes that the significance of technology in the tales is left ambiguous, her thesis argues that most of the time such machines function as aids to deception, as demonstrations of hidden knowledge. What functions as science, technology, and magic in Chaucer's time is sometimes indistinguishable from one another, especially when we consider that magic is not necessarily something supernatural, but simply something not explainable or known to everyone. As Lionarons puts it: "technological inventions, particularly mechanical devices, frequently function within the Tales as if they were in fact magical, while magic often reveals itself to be mechanically based," (377). Whether or not such items are deemed to be magic or machines often depends on the knowledge and points of view of the tellers and characters.
For Lionarons, the most prominent example of such an object is the flying horse, one of the four magical gifts in "Squire's Tale" (the others being the "bird decoder" ring, the "x-ray vision" mirror, and the pharmakon sword, which heals as well as wounds). This horse has a series of mechanical steps for operation, which makes the technology/magic distinction even more ambiguous. Items like the four gifts have a history both in romance tradition and travel journals. The mechanical history may even be traced back to the classical period. Some descriptions reported on such magical devices in the East, thus setting the stage (but not true analogues) for the Eastern-set magic of "Squire's Tale." The "Orient" was already mysterious before Chaucer's time.
Although none of the common people in "Squire's Tale" know how any of the "magical" gifts work, (some call the horse "fairye," connecting the tale with SGGK), everyone puts forth speculative ideas, most of them simple mechanical ones. But no one has access to this knowledge, whether it be magic, illusion, or technology. Members of the higher estates use such knowledge to deceive those underneath them. The language of "Squire's Tale" reflects some of this knowledge gap, and Middle English in general does so as well: the word "gin" can mean either a deception or a machine (379).
Some deceptions or illusions via slight of hand have been documented by scholars. Such home "recipes" were both simple and elaborate, but most were meant as practical jokes. However, the same kind of trickery can be performed with more evil intent, as evidenced by the Clerk of Orleans in "Franklin's Tale." Again, the means employed for the trick are not entirely clear, but hint at technological magic rather than "fairye." However, Lionarons points out that "a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief is necessary to make the technology work," even though both "Squire's Tale" and "Franklin's Tale" show the distrust of technologies by the characters (382). Furthermore, much more is at stake in "Franklin's Tale." Dorigen's honor and life, 1000 pounds in gold, and any sailor who approaches the Brittany coast are affected by the outcome of the Clerk's trickery.
The distrust of machines is not limited to elaborate gifts or illusions; in "Reeve's Tale" Symkyn's mill, a simple machine, is the center of a suspected ruse. To prevent being swindled out of some grain, the two clerks stand in the mill. Symkyn then attempts to swindle them more, testing his mechanical knowledge against the clerks' abstract "philsophye" (383). Again, a machine creates an atmosphere of distrust.
Chaucer's examination of the deception and distrust of "magical" science and technology reaches its peak in the alchemy of the "Canon Yeoman's Tale." The "process" of turning worthless metals and minerals into gold was probably the greatest scientific swindle of the medieval period. Some critics have argued that Chaucer's descriptions of the art in the tale are so detailed that he himself either knew alchemy or was the victim of an alchemist's ruse; Lionarons ventures that this is not likely, and that the tale has deeper meanings. The "Canon Yeoman's Tale" is the most elaborate expression of Chaucer's theme that looking into matters beyond human capacity, or secrets, is inherently dangerous and leads either to self-deception or defrauding others (384). This is the lesson learned by at least some of the characters in the above tales.
I haven't consulted the giant bib file, but I have the feeling this article was written up before, I think by Barb (who mentioned it during my FrankT presentation). However, I think this duplication was effective for me because she only mentioned it in passing, and did not touch on the significance of the "Squire's," "Reeve's," and "Canon Yeoman's Tale." Lionarons' article is clear and concise, and hints that there may be other occurrences of this magic/mechanical theme in the Tales. I am surprised she did not mention "Miller's Tale." Actually, Barb says she didn't do this article. I should read the giant bib file (read it-Marcia did this one for week one). Anyway, Lionarons could have mentioned "Miller's Tale," where the issue of seeing "Goddes privitee" is first raised. The triumph of the magical ruse (represented by Nicholas) in Robin's tale sets the stage for the mechanical fraud Oswald constructs in his tale. This is true even though the clerks in "Reeve's Tale" trick the miller through non-mechanical and non-magical means.
One last thing to consider is the technology or mechanics of brewing ale. It's never mentioned in the tales, but the by-product of brewing plays a significant role. Certainly this idea is a jump, but science in Chaucer's time probably can't explain fermentation, and thus there may be a certain element of trickery in the alehouse. Ale and wine are no longer the "foods of the gods," and the classical libation is gone, but even though anyone can brew ale (and probably does at this time), it still has a hidden significance and can cause people to utter fraudulent words. Whew! That sentence sounded ale-influenced. I still have to refine the issues for the paper.--Rich Roisman, 10/31/94
Kempton, Daniel. "Chaucer's Tale of Melibee: A Litel Thyng ln Prose." Genre. XXI (Fall 1988) 263 - 278.
The "Tale of Melibee" poses many problems for the reader of the Canterbury Tales. The tale has little to keep the readers attention, if one simply followed the story line. As Kempton notices, "[the tale] holds but scant narrative interest," (263). The stories told by Chaucer, the pilgrim, are not usually grouped with the better tales in the series. However, the tale must be examined in respect to what it says about Chaucer's views and how it relates to the Tales as a whole. The question of genre is addressed. Kempton suggests that the tale is similar to a Holy Writ which "teaches nothing but charity, the love of God and neighbor, and it forever returns to the law," (266). This interpretation explains the excessive use of the "auctours." These "voices of wisdom" are constantly at odds with one another. This poses another problem for the reader.
The tale is suggested to be a "moral treatise" delivered by Chaucer to the ruling class. Prudence is the allegorical character that political figures like John of Gaunt, Richard II, and Bolingbroke should emulate. For this to occur, Chaucer would have to step out of the vehicle he created and counsel leaders in moral development. A completely straightforward reading of the text is necessary, no irony allowed, for this concept to function. This is the "standard" view of the mechanics of the tale by the criticism.
However, there is no "word" that echoes throughout the tale. There are so many conflicting views and digressions that it would appear difficult that this tale could teach anything. As Kempton notes, "there is no synthesis of doctrine through the operations of dialectic," (268). As all of the dissonance between the views are interpreted by Melibee, no single truth is extracted, the meaning becomes more ambiguous. Kempton suggests that the only logical assumption is that all of this leads to a contradiction.
Therefore, the tale cannot be considered a Holy Writ. Kempton states that the tale is an irony based on the reference of the tale being a little thing in prose. Obviously, this is not short prose composition. The irony is related by Chaucer the pilgrim, which leads us to his ironic symbolism. Kempton states, "[the] text would be outrageous if delivered directly by Chaucer as a treatise in his own name," (270). That is, as a remarkable poet and a commentator on Medieval politics. All of the contradiction in the text can be linked to the ironic contradiction noted in Chaucer the pilgrim. This type of writing is sometimes called a "text of bliss" or "unholy writing." It is an overt way of "thumbing his nose" to the political powers.
Finally, the article takes a stab at placing the tale in the category of fabliaux, or a domestic comedy. The bawdy aspect of the fabliaux is completely ignored. Kempton simply notes that Prudence wins her husband over to her side by her "wifely" dissembling abilities.
Chaucer does not take on the role of "auctour;" he is an interested reporter of what takes place on the pilgrimage. His mixture of contradiction and irony is paralleled to the same characteristics displayed by the views and voices of each pilgrim. In this way Chaucer incorporates the "paradoxical sentence and the solas [into] the text," (275). --Susan Gover
Benson, C. David. "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. 2 (1986) 159-167.
Benson's article defines the "Man of Law's Tale" and the "Clerk's Tale" as religious tales which share similar plots. They both consist of a patient heroine who undergoes trials, is married, falsely accused, and separated and reunited with her husband. Benson defines the primary differences in the style of the narration, which in turn determines the doctrinal difference. The "Man of Law's Tale" uses 'rhetorical flourish' and many characters and settings to create a 'worldly' and 'exciting' atmosphere. Included in this elaborate style is the narrator's guidance in the interpretation of the story. We can see this through the initial description of Custance's status, beauty, and goodness where we are meant to sympathize with her. Similarly, we know that other characters are evil, that vices are bad, etc.
The "Clerk's Tale" however, is written more subtly. The setting is domestic and the events take place largely internally. The narrator is also more distant from the tale, intervening three times only to comment on the senselessness of Walter's behavior. This difference in narration makes the "Clerk's Tale" more unsettling. Griselda's submission to Walter is then less like a submission to God than it is to something more evil. This quality leaves the reader more unsure of the morality of this tale.
Benson's analysis of the religious doctrine in "Man of Laws Tale," is that Custance is a symbol of Christian constancy. While in the "Clerk's Tale," Griselda uses the word 'lord' and is associated with religious images, her submission is to Walter, not God. The difference in their constancy is then that Griselda's actions seem less of a submission to suffering than they do a choice. Benson argues that her goodness and the morality of the story is not contained in her acts of submission so much as it is in her forgiveness of Walter.
In this article, Benson primarily wanted to counteract critics who classify all Chaucer's religious stories as moving towards the same aim. His analysis serves to show the range of Chaucer's play within one genre. I find, however, several qualities in the "Clerk's Tale" which make Benson's assertion that it is a religious tale questionable. The fact that Walter is not God, Griselda is not explicitly religious, and that the pious concept of suffering is subverted all seem to contradict Benson's analysis. This is not to say that we are not meant to relate these characters to the religion which is exemplified by the "Man of Law's Tale." The reader must however compare the tales as they appear in a progression. While the heroines actions remain the same throughout the tales (both suffer and submit), the reason for their suffering changes.
In the "Man of Laws Tale," suffering is a test of piety while in the "Clerk's Tale," Griselda's suffering (as the Clerk tells us) is caused by the senselessness of her husband. In seeing this relationship between the tales we can see Chaucer takes the idea of suffering as a religious experience and reveals it as a product of people themselves. This happens both in Walter's testing and in Griselda's choice to stay with him. If we read the "Clerk's Tale" this way, we are then allowed to see the complexity of human failings.
I realize this last sentence leaves lots to be explored. I am going to stop here and write on these tales for my final paper.
Also, A NOTE: Benson doesn't take into consideration the difference in the tellers of these tales to understand why their perspectives might make the tales different.--Rebecca Yenawine, 10/31/94
Frank, Hardy Long. "Seeing the Prioress Whole." The Chaucer Review. 25:3 (1991) 229-237.
This commentary on the character of Chaucer's curious Prioress attempts to refute what Frank refers to as the "insidious sexism" that has lead to the popular interpretation of this character as a thwarted mother and lover as a consequence of her religious situation. Frank argues that our cultural prejudices have blinded us to historical fact-that it was indeed highly desirable for a woman to choose religious over marital vows in fourteenth-century England. Frank calls attention to the broader personal liberties that the veil brought to women who chose to wear it. Religious women in Chaucer's time were spared the very real bodily dangers that posed a threat to married women in an age in which childbirth fatalities were high and wife beating was a legally protected right. They were also given the opportunity to rise considerably in their social status, independent of their connection to a man. Frank points out that as the head of a convent a prioress had considerable practical and social responsibilities. She was a spiritual leader, the business head of all of the lands that formed the convent and the transactions that went along with the maintenance of them, the disciplinarian of the women under her, and a perpetual host to both the poor and to noble patrons. As a public figure, her carriage and speech would necessarily be refined and pious.
Thus conceiving Chaucer's Prioress as a model of the fulfillment of these numerous religious and secular duties, Frank sees her as a harmonious whole rather than picking out her "good" and "bad" parts as other critics have been wont to do. Seeing Madame Eglentyne as a fully realized professional woman and spiritual leader refutes the tendency of critics to be puzzled by the caricature of a courtly woman who has taken religious vows. This seemingly contradictory characterization is quite apt for someone in the Prioress's position, and although he admits that it is made in jest, Frank maintains that it is in no way seriously derogatory.
In an attempt to challenge the idea that the "Prioress's Tale" is constructed as an expression of her repressed desires, Frank explains that the Prioress's choice of her tale was appropriate to the medieval cult of Our Lady of the Puy. Puys were "religious confraternities" (233) that flourished in France and London in Chaucer's time which adopted the Virgin Mary as their patron and which were noted for their dedication to poetry. Frank argues that Chaucer's familiarity with these organizations, which were known for perpetuating the legends of "Virginal miracles," lead him to choose this particular tale for his Prioress. He also argues that such a tale was complementary to the Prioress, who, like the Virgin Mary in such tales, is praised for possessing the same beauties and courtly graces that secular women were praised for by their lovers. Frank does not see the mixture of secular and religious praise that Chaucer gives his Prioress as contradictory, but rather as "part and parcel of her professional adroitness," (235).
Perhaps because he completely avoids the issue of her gross anti-semitism, Frank's defense of the Prioress by the device of leaning on historical fact indeed lends a noble aspect to her character. However, his analysis is far from convincing. One must ask if the same cultural prejudice that has lead former critics to point to her tale as evidence of her frustrated sexuality leads Frank to conversely defend her chosen chastity. Frank's very use of historical evidence to build his interpretation of the Prioress stems from an age and culture in which many people are anxious to defend a woman's right to a fulfilling life without a man. Surely cultural and gender prejudices are something that every contemporary reader of the CT inevitably brings to the text, no matter how much they try to rely on pure historical precedent. Our interpretations of the Prioress either as a thwarted mother or as a picture of professional dignity reveal more about our own conceptions of gender than they do about Chaucer's. So is it possible to determine "Chaucer's view" at all? Clearly, the Prioress's "General Prologue" portrait reveals that Chaucer had no problem poking fun at this character, but the tale he assigns to her gives her a spiritual depth that is not easily integrated with her original introduction. Chaucer's characteristic ambiguity again leaves us befuddled. He provides us with a character whose depth defies easy characterization and who will thus be the subject of critical discord for as long as he stays in the canon.--Barbara Gabriel, 1994
Martindale, Wight Jr. "Chaucer's Merchants: A Trade-Based Speculation on Their Activities." Chaucer Review. 26:3 (1991-92) 309-16.
The purpose of this article, according to Martindale, is to determine what Chaucer's two merchants, the pilgrim merchant and the merchant in the "Shipman's Tale," did for a living. Wight refutes the highly negative, greedy and immoral portrayal many critics give the merchants from their twentieth-century perspective. He points out that Chaucer had been a man of commerce, and he emphasizes their "ingenuity, hard work, and competitiveness" in Canterbury Tales.
Arguing against the idea that the Shipman's merchant is greedy and selfish, Martindale identifies him as a savvy cloth merchant who travels from France to Bruges to avoid the cost of the currency exchange, buys and sells on credit, and makes a complicated international transaction from Flemish shields to French francs to pay his debt.
According to Martindale, the Merchant is an exporter in the highly competitive cloth industry, who trades in shield credits in England as well as products, and borrows heavily to pay a business debts, not a personal debt. His ability to borrow a lot of money is not a sign of his deviousness or immorality, but of his power and commercial influence. The Merchant, according to Martindale, is honest and successful in a competitive field, doing what other businessmen did, but a little better. Martindale further argues the Merchant's vacation from his business for the pilgrimage shows his business acumen, and coincides with his data on the seasonal rise and fall of the shield and sterling exchange rate. The Merchant would make most of his trading and profits in May or June, making April an ideal month to be away.
Martindale admits that the merchants in the Tales are "absorbed with their business and unaware of the sensitivities of others." Yet he maintains that Chaucer does not give them a negative portrayal. If this isn't a negative portrayal, what is? Martindale may be correct in arguing that in their business deals the merchants were no different than the average businessman of the day. Chaucer may still be pointing out their faults and satirizing the negative aspects of their self-absorption and greed.--Marcia MacNeil, 10/29/94
Eisner, Sigmund. "Canterbury Day: A Fresh Aspect." The Chaucer Review. 27:1 (1992) 31-44.
Eisner asks, "Has no one remarked once that once they leave Southwark, Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims never sleep?" (31). Even though the Cook is caught napping on his horse, he is right: never do we see them rest for the night or even stop on their journey to Canterbury. "Most scholars, however," he points out, "assume, that the Pilgrims spend their nights at Dartford, Rochester, and Ospringe, thus occupying four days on the journey," (31). It is this assumption that Eisner argues against, claiming that the journey of the frame narrative occupies only one day.
The four-day journey is a relatively recent addition to the critical view of CT and Eisner cites two early critics who view the trip as being compressed into one day, despite the fact that it normally took four days in Chaucers time. It was not until 1868 that the four-day journey, based on two royal progresses, was first proposed by Frederick J. Furnivall, who assumed that the itineraries of the royals closely matched the "normal" itinerary of the time. In 1894, W.W. Skeat added his name to the argument for the four-day journey. "So overwhelming are the reputations of both Furnivall and Skeat that hardly anyone has resurrected the one-day journey," (32). But, Eisner argues, these 19th century critics were attempting to put CT into a frame that "required realistic probability in all literature and so sought rationally historical verisimilitude in the Canterbury Pilgrimage," (32).
This is the primary error with the argument. Eisner points out that Chaucer describes details about the pilgrims in "General Prologue" that he could not possibly have known on such short acquaintance. Furthermore, as W.W. Lawrence pointed out, "it would be impossible for thirty-odd Pilgrims, each mounted and traveling, to attend and comprehend a story told by one of them themselves," (32). Instead, a reading of CTs frame narrative requires a suspension of disbelief; the reader must not view it as a historical document, or even a historically accurate one. It is a work of art and there is something more here than mere factual history. It is instead an allegory of Everymans journey to the New Jerusalem, the promised land. It is a "visionary experience [that] carries the reader (or listener) beyond the temporal and historical, which are compressed or expanded into a day, a lifetime, or eternity," (33-34). Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that the frame narrative is marked at the beginning by sunrise and at the close by sunset. That the trip ordinarily took four days in Chaucers time doesnt matter; "Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims are not ordinary travelers. They represent devout Christians on the via bona to the New Jerusalem, and their anagogical journey is framed by eternity, by their own lives, and by the solar passage form sunrise to sunset," (34).
There are specific references to places along the route to Canterbury mentioned in CT. However, in the Ellesmere order, these are out of place geographically and, to deal with this problem, Eisner examines several of the other proposed orderings, finally settling on the Pratt order. Using this particular order, he carefully traces the passage of the pilgrims and attempts to place each tale in a specific time reference within one day: 18 April, which is mentioned in the Headlink to the "Man of Laws Tale." Eisner admits to several problems here. First: in the "Prologue to the Parsons Tale," the time is specifically mentioned as 4:00 p.m. and the sun is noted as being less than 29 degrees high. This would place the date at 17 April or earlier. Eisner does not argue this, but, instead, claims we must assume that the time is an approximation, since, on 18 April, the sun would be below 29 degrees a few minutes after 4 p.m. Second: In the "Squires Tale," about halfway through the pilgrimage, the squire interrupts his tale to announce that the time is prime. Eisners resolution: the final order of the Tales and references to that order were not fully established at Chaucers death. The third problem is the "Manciples Tale," which begins in the morning and ends at 4:00 in the afternoon. Eisner proposes that the ManT was originally intended for early morning, but then shifted to appear to the afternoon.
Next, Eisner attempts to place the one-day pilgrimage in one specific year. After going through evidence to suggest dates based on events mentioned in the Tales, he suggests, "without any real corroborative evidence, that the symbolic year of the Canterbury Pilgrimage (not the year of composition) is 1394 because 19 April is Easter Sunday in that year" (38) and a fitting day for the Pilgrims entrance into the New Jerusalem that lies at the end of their pilgrimage. Furthermore, after looking at celestial configurations for that year and surrounding years, he finds that 18 April, 1394 was a day that the stars bode extremely well for travel, better, perhaps, than any other day in the 14th century. Although Chaucer professed no belief in astrology, he was certainly very well aware of the stars and their meaning and no qualms using astrology metaphorically.
And so we can now understand why the Pilgrims did not sleep during their journey. It is not, after all, a real journey, but a metaphorical one to Paradise, beginning with the purgation of their sins at Canterbury on 19 April 1394, Easter Sunday.
Eisner has presented a strong argument, I feel, for the one-day journey. Although some of his arguments become tedious, they are extremely thorough and show that his argument is not made capriciously, but only after much consideration and thought. He knows that there are some problems with his argument and his recognition of those problems lends further strength to this thesis, although I feel he could have dealt with them with more strength. His supporting evidence, however, helps to overcome this weakness; he even goes so far as to consult two professional astrologers on the interpretation of the stars on 18 April 1394. It is beyond the scope of his paper to show how this view may enhance analysis of the Tales, but I think it would certainly be an interesting avenue to pursue. --J Sawyer, 11/7/94
Malone, Edward. "Chaucer's Summoner's Tale." The Explicator. 47:4 (1989) 4-5.
Like David Allen in "Death and Staleness in the Son-less World of the Summoner's Tale," Edward Malone asserts that Thomas is silent and insensitive not because he is angry but primarily because he is grieving over his dead son. However, instead of crediting the friar with the blame for Thomas's stoic disposition, Malone centers his argument on the insensitivity of Thomas's wife.
He makes specific references to her speech to the friar upon his arrival at their household. She tells him to chide Thomas for his anger. She also says her husband hasn't been interested in sex for days. Malone feels the wife is more insensitive than her husband in wanting to engage in "oother desport" so soon after the death of their son.
Malone pays careful attention to the clues to the time frame in which the story takes place. He deduces that the friar has been away from the household for two weeks and during this time the child has passed away. Thomas says, "How han ye fare sith that March bigan? / I saugh yow noght this fourtenyght or moore." His wife says, "My child is deed withinne thise wykes two, / Soone after that ye wente out of this toun." Malone combines these two statements to infer that the child has died fairly recently. This further supports his argument that Thomas is not angry but grieving. In addition, Malone makes the clever observation that the child is a boy. The friar refers to the child with the masculine pronoun "hym." Malone also makes the point that Thomas has reason for his grief as he is old and sick and will probably not get another son during his lifetime.
Malone is aware of Thomas's situation as a wealthy old gentleman without an heir yet he is unreasonably callous towards his wife's position. He makes it sound as if the wife is completely insensitive to Thomas's situation. However, Malone does not consider the argument that Allen makes that Thomas's wife would have been accustomed to children dying at a young age.
While Allen is more sympathetic to the wife's character, neither he nor Malone stop to fully consider the wife's position. Besides being mentally unstable, Thomas is physically frail and unusually ill. If he dies, she will be left a widow. In spite of any inheritance that her husband might leave her she is still subject to the rule of the church. A widow with a large inheritance has no one to protect that inheritance except maybe the church because as we know, widows and orphans were often the wards of the church. We also can assume from reading the "Friar's Tale" that widows were not always treated kindly by the clergy. The Summoner in the "Friar's Tale" tries to cheat the widow out of her money and when she doesn't have any he then tries to take her pots.
Malone is especially hard on the widow for wanting to have another son so shortly after the death of her previous son. He only reads the tale from Thomas's male perspective. If Thomas's wife had a son then he would grow up to provide for when she grew older and she wouldn't have to marry some rich miser for protection or worse still become a ward of the church. The fact that Thomas is almost on his deathbed and still married to a wife who is able to have children should tell the reader something about the marriage partnership. Consequently, we can assume that Thomas's wife is still young and does have to think about providing for herself in the future. In order to stay a widow yet still have some control over her inheritance she must have a son that will legitimize her right to her dower. --Susan Gillmor, 11/14/94
Green, Firth Richard. "Chaucer's Man of Law and Collusive Recovery." Notes and Queries. 40 (238):3 (September 1993) 303-305.
In Green's article, he focuses on the meaning of three lines from the "General Prologue" where the Man of Law is described:
"So great a purchaser was nowhere noon:
Al was fee symple to hym in effect;
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect."
Green says that these lines have been discussed by other critics to either refer to his own purchases (F.N. Robertson) or purchases meant for other clients (Eberle). His approach to these lines however, focuses on the phrase 'fee symple' as a key to determining the Man of Law's character.
Fee simple was 'a category of property holding in feudal tenure' which meant that the tenant of the property had the power to do what they wanted to the property without much obligation to a descendent. This comment then that the Man of Law was good at acquiring property may not mean that he does his job well, but rather that he is so knowledgeable in his profession that he avoids getting caught for taking peoples money.
To prove his point, Green offers information on the corruption of the legal system in the Middle Ages. He describes lawyers who attempted to change the wishes of the dead for the their own benefit. It was not until 1470 that a common loophole was created. "Common Recovery" later known as 'collusive recovery' began as a common law in which a buyer could get the sellers proof of purchase in the event of someone else's claim on the property.
This common law was the adapted to take inheritance away from people. A tenant (the person handling the property) would find a person who claimed to be the purchaser who was suing the tenant for ownership. A third party would then pretend to back up the purchaser. This fictional seller would then back out of the transaction, causing the purchaser to win by default and most importantly, leaving the descendants without any legal recourse.
Green cites Taltarum's Case in 1472 as a case which brought to light this common practice. Further proof can be seen in Chaucer's time when parliament was attempting to control the problem (noted in the preamble to a statute of Richard II) including later documentation in 1531 by St. German that this kind of dealing is viewed by some lawyers as corrupt.
While Green creates an effective argument, this article deals mostly with the aspects of the law in Chaucer's time and less on the implications of this malpractice on the character of the Man of Law. If we are to view him as a fraud, his authority in describing Custance as a model of a saint's life is questionable. If we trust the Man of Law believes he knows morality and he himself acts within it, Custance becomes a model of submission. While if he is corrupt, Custance's submission acts as a way to urge people to submit to adversity before identifying the source of the hardship. This submission then is not about trusting God but it is a self-deception which allows the Man of Law to be undiscovered in his corruption.
This ironic view of the "Man of Law's Tale" seems in some ways hard to take. Throughout the tale, his preachy tone and elaborate descriptions in themselves reveal no irony. However, there is an important detail in his "Prologue" that supports Green's reading. In the opening passage the Man of Law curses the difficulty of being poor yet then proceeds to praise merchants. We are given an inexplicable contradiction. We are left not trusting his preaching on the hardships of poverty and not understanding why he praises money. Green's interpretation fits right into this contradiction and reveals the Man of Law's irony.--Rebecca Yenawine, 11/11/94
Goodall, Peter. "Being Alone in Chaucer." Chaucer Review. 27:1 (1992) 1-15.
Goodall gives a fascinating glimpse of Medieval life and values in his historical criticism of privacy in Canterbury Tales. He begins by restating more accurately a common misunderstanding about the Medieval view and practice of solitude, refuting the statement that in the Middle Ages, "nobody was ever left alone." In his article he lists examples from the Tales where solitude does occur (using the Chaucer Concordance), explains its significance and why it occurs so rarely, and suggests an interpretation of Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales that would fit with the contradicting evidence in the tales and in historical evidence.
Solitude occurs in an acceptable, though exaggerated and courtly, form in the context of "a lover seeking privacy in order to lament his misfortunes," Goodall writes, and is viewed as a tragic, unwanted state. We can see this in Arcite's lovesick solitude in prison and in his death in the "Knight's Tale."
However, these occurrences are rare, because the medieval mind associated privacy with secrecy and sinfulness. In fact, according to Goodall, the primary meaning of "prive" in Middle English is "secret." These "secrets" can be sexual, as when Nicholas grabs Alison "prively," i.e. in a private, or sexual, part of her body, or just immoral, like the Reeve who hordes his money "prively." The connotation sets up an opposition between private and Christian, as well, and Nicholas' study in his private room turns to the "black arts" of astrology.
The unnaturalness of solitude is echoed in the living habits of the age. The main opposition in the houses of the Middle Ages is between the hall, a public place, connected to the outside world, and the bedroom, a room for the whole family, private from the rest of the world, but still together. Servants and employers often shared rooms, and even beds were shared between several people. Interestingly, Goodall points out an interpretation that associates the hall with masculine power and dominance, but the bedroom, and in fact all enclosed and private space, with a domestic matriarchal power, stemming from the mother's womb. The first consideration for the need of a space alone came in the universities-a space to study alone, not sleep. This also fits with the secret connotation of solitude: the students are gaining "secret" knowledge.
However, Goodall admits, there are instances in the Tales where private means just that, in the modern definition. The schoolboy's friend in the "Prioress' Tale," for example, teaches him the hymn in private, which involves nothing immoral. Goodall sees a way to justify these differing views of solitude by calling Chaucer a Renaissance poet, influenced by non-medieval ideas in Italy, where the Renaissance began before Chaucer was even born. Goodall ends by warning that we can't look at the possession and value of privacy as in a historical progression, nonexistent in the Middle Age and important today. The struggle to establish and defend personal territory is universal to living organisms, and continues to this day.
I agree with this last statement on a general level, but I believe modern Western society does put a great emphasis on personal space, connecting it to the modern concepts of personal independence and liberty, ideas foreign to Medieval England. The association of solitude with sinfulness would naturally have been dropped in our secular culture, but perhaps traces of it remain in our consideration of solitude as "more romantic" and our taboo of sexual displays in public. My guess is the Medieval upper classes slept in the same room with many people because legitimized, moral, and thus non-private behavior didn't include a great sex life. However, I could be wrong. Maybe couples in Medieval times just weren't that modest. --Marcia MacNeil, 11/11/94
Loney, Douglas. "Chaucer's Prioress and Agur's Adulterous Woman." Chaucer Review. 27:1 (1992) 107-109.
Loney makes the observation that the description of the eating habits of the Prioress in the "General Prologue" almost exactly echoes a passage from the "Roman de la Rose" in which La Vieille advises Bel Acueil how to entrap a lover, demonstrating the competing influences of court and cloister in the Prioress' character. But behind this description, Loney argues, is an even deeper layer of biblical allusions.
The details of how the Prioress drinks, wiping her lip so that no "ferthyng [is] sene of grece," Loney states, has already been argued as an allusion to Jesus' criticism of false ceremony, in which the outside of the cup is wiped clean, but inside is full of uncleanness. Loney finds another allusion in the same passage, in a description of an adulterous woman in Proverbs, who "eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith: I have done no evil." Chaucer would have been familiar with this scripture, and in fact alludes in other tales to passages of scripture directly preceding and following this one.
Loney does not conclude that Chaucer is harshly judging the Prioress as an adulterer, but that he is pointing out the similarities between courtly manners, "gentility and refinement," and immoral behavior, showing the Prioress to be lacking in true piety in her emphasis on this refinement.
I agree with Loney that Chaucer isn't "throwing the first stone" at a horrible, immoral adulterer. I think the primary tone of Chaucer's "GP" portrayal of the Prioress is one of slightly mocking amusement. She is ultimately harmless, in Chaucer's view, especially compared to the Pardoner and other false religious figures (of course, that point may be argued after reading her tale-is spreading dangerous prejudice harmless?). However, I don't think the reader needs to find buried allusions to scripture to see that the Prioress' courtly mannerisms and tastes hinder her potential for truly pious behavior.--Marcia MacNeil, 11/11/94
Wilson, Grace G. "'Amonges Othere Wordes Wyse': The Medieval Seneca and the Canterbury Tales." The Chaucer Review. 28:2 (1993) 135-45.
Wilson examines the place of Seneca, the tutor of the Roman emperor Nero, on three levels during the Medieval period. First, his reputation in Medieval history; second, references to him in the Canterbury Tales; third, the conversion of Seneca from a purely historical character to one of Chaucer's literary creations. Wilson gives a very simple yet effective reason for undertaking her investigation; the sheer number of times Seneca is mentioned in the Canterbury Tales, more than any philosopher except Solomon. Wilson gets her numerical information from an outside concordance.
Seneca had been portrayed as many things during the time spanning his own life just before and after the birth of Christ to Chaucer's time in the 14th century, including a tutor who abused his proximity to a great leader (foreshadowing Rasputin), and a proto-Christian who wrote to St. Paul (135). Two centuries before Chaucer, Seneca had become a major source among mainstream authors who liked his aphoristic style of writing (much like some works of Catullus, Horace, and Juvenal). But like many classical authors who were appropriated in the Medieval period, Seneca's name began to fade as unscrupulous authors and scribes would take his words without giving him credit. Eventually, though, Seneca's name began to reappear when he was quoted, and he became a popular figure for moral teachings, a status which still existed when Chaucer began writing himself.
The question then becomes whether Chaucer and his audience distinguish between the moral, proper Seneca, and the Seneca borrowed by other authors, a pre-modern master of literary "sound bites." It seems to depend on Chaucer's purpose in each tale that mentions Seneca. In the "Tale of Melibee," the debate over how the tale itself should be read shapes the perception of the references to Seneca. Wilson finds that the use of Seneca's words in "Melibee" are better suited to a serious rather than satirical interpretation of the tale. Furthermore, Chaucer is usually pretty good about indicating irony in the Tales. He does not indicate any such reading in "Parson's Tale," or the introduction to "Man of Law's Tale;" thus the references to Seneca in these tales should be taken at ordinary face value. More ironic and pointed references occur in the "Monk's Tale," "Wife of Bath's Tale," "Pardoner's Tale," "Summoner's Tale," "Merchant's Tale," and "Manciple's Tale." Most of these references involve a gap between either the speaker or other characters and the moral words of Seneca. Other references use Seneca as a teacher of moral exempla.
Chaucer is able to construct his own version of the historical Seneca by placing him in a diverse number of settings with a diverse number of pilgrims. Almost all of those who refer to Seneca "preach" in some form. If those pilgrims are virtuous, Seneca becomes to them (and Chaucer's audience) "a measuring stick" (141). If the pilgrims are less than virtuous, Seneca becomes a source of irony, or a light displaying the folly of the speaker or character(s). Finally, Chaucer treats Seneca like his other creations, allowing the reader to have the final say in his/her interpretation of him and his words.
This article could easily aid a longer paper, if someone was willing to either go through every occurrence of Seneca and provide more in-depth analysis for each tale in which he occurs, or grouping those references and focusing on a group, or comparing the use of Seneca to other historical characters or deities in the Tales. It will also prove useful for me when I present "Monk's Tale." I previously had no idea who Seneca really was, and this background and connection to other tales is much more in-depth than anything I would have gotten from Benson. Of course, what is important, according to Wilson (and I tend to agree) are Chaucer's versions of historical characters, and one understands this from the article (like the important differences between the Homeric, Aeschylusan, and Virgilian Agamemnon). How Seneca relates to the Monk's own moral stance and view of Fortune is examined briefly in the article, but must be examined more closely in the presentation. My additional article on Seneca and Nero in the tale should aid in this endeavor. --Rich Roisman, 11/11/94 (Armistice Day and Veterans Day)
Delany, Sheila. "Womanliness in the Man of Law's Tale." The Chaucer Review. 9:1 (1974) 63-73.
Delany argues that Chaucer uses marriage in the "Man of Law's Tale" to represent the relationship between God and man. Womanliness of femininity then become catch all metaphors for both men and women as they relate to the deity. In this context Constance the heroine is an emblem for the ideal human relationship with God. Delany realizes that most modern critics despise Constance because feminist readings have a tendency to assume sexism when a female character plays a passive role in a text. However, Delany believes we should read the work within its historical context to see past the sexism and realize the androgynous symbolism in Constance.
Husbands and marriage are really just a set of imposed circumstances that will test Constance's faith and obedience. Feminists argue, and rightly so, that husbands and marriage are not things that should be imposed on anyone. Yet where we see an atrocity, Chaucer most likely saw a fact of life. Marriage was often inescapable for young women. Chaucer uses this inevitable circumstance as a vehicle for his metaphor. Feminists lament that Constance is forced into these horrible situations. Chaucer rejoices in Constance becuase she handles her dilemmas with humble, pious prayer.
Constance accepts fate and authority when she accepts King Alla on her wedding night. This sexual submission is the first of three examples Delany cites to embellish her thesis. She fails to point out however that Alla is also the name of the Bhuddist deity and King of King's is an epithet that refers to the Chritstian God. The title "King Alla" lends itself nicely to Delany's thesis that Constance is really a representation of humanity and its relationship to God. Also it is interesting that Constance, being the good christian, rejects the Christian Sultan but accepts the "Allah" of English decent. What could Chaucer be saying? Could this be evidence of a British nationalism that tended to see foreign cultures as inferior?
Delany's second reason for reading Constance as a universal emblem for humanity is based on her contrast with her two mother-in-laws. The Sultaness and Donnegild reject the will of God. They are deemed "feigned women," "mannish," and "serpents under femininity." Delany writes that because Donnegild and the Sultaness are inhumane they lose all sexual identity. Having lost their womanliness, they become the genderless inhuman antagonists to oppose Constance's all encompassing representation of the human race. This is a perceptive theory and it goes a long way to redeem Chaucer from sexism into idealism. However, I cannot completely see how Delany can argue that the Sultaness and Donnegild are genderless. I would argue that the mothers-in-law do not lose their sexual identity but that they gain a male persona. The epithet "feigned woman" and the adjective "mannish" only emphasize that women who are not womanly are manly and consequently that women who do not fulfill their subservient roles therefore must be freaks of nature or manly monsters. "Serpent under femininity" could also refer to some underlying malicious streak that is at the core of all femininity. The serpent clearly alludes to the Garden and the Fall, thereby implying that all women, like Eve must be watched over and controlled by men lest they fall victim to their own evil natures. Chaucer's epithets for the Sultaness and Donnegild are gendered. The mothers-in-law do not lose their sexual identity but gain a monstrous male mutation. Chaucer's descriptions are much too misogynist to be read simply as asexual. I do agree with Delany's third point which states that Constance can be read as the ideal man, Christ, or as the ideal woman, Mary. This is a variation on her first statement that views Constance's sexual submission to her husband as a metaphor for man's submission to God. Both Christ and Mary submit to the will of God and suffer patiently. Constance certainly parallels this. As she is tossed from one country to another she is persecuted by her mother-in-laws, but she also suffers unexplainable persecution from her father, the knight who frames her for murder, and the sailor who would rape her. In each peril Constance follows the Christ-like example of patient suffering.
Delany rescues the tale from what might be its unjust feminist reading. However, her task is huge and the full weight of its proof cannot be limited to one paper. The sexist language and mother-in-laws as a particular choice for the representation of inhumanity still present a considerable problem. But overall Delany's article is a good read to put a new perspective on a problematic tale.--Susan Gillmor, 11/11/94
Joseph A. Dane. "Mulier est Hominis Confusio: Note on Chaucers Nuns Priests Tale, line 3164." Notes and Queries. 39 (237):3 (Sept 1992) 276-78.
Dane focuses on the apparent mistranslation of the Latin by Chaunticleer in "NPT." "Although scholars have explained Chauntecleers apparent mistranslation in a variety of conflicting and ingenius ways," he claims, "Chaucers joke here is that in some contexts, an apparent mistranslation is no mistranslation at all," (276). Central to his thesis is that by Chaucers time, the words confusio and confuse were terms referring to the ambiguity of language.
Dane has no argument with the commonly-held view that "In principio" refers to the Gospel of John and means for as certain as the Gospel and is not a part of the Latin phrase that follows in line 3164. He notes that previous critics have argued that Chauntecleer deliberately mistranslates the line and uses his knowledge to mock Pertelote, or that Chuacer himself did "not realize the applicability of this particular proverb to his own situation: woman is both his joy and bliss and consequently his confusion as well," (276). Dane, however, proposes to approach this phrase differently to show the particular confusion here is "closely bound in with language," (277).
Chaucer activitates a potential pun in the proverbial Latin phrase, centering on confusio, a "technical term related to the meaning of words," (277). Dane cites examples from classical grammarians who use the word to refer to the way a single word can relate to many objects, for example, tree. He then cites the twelfth-century logician De Rijk, who had, by that time, developed a more technical meaning that refers to "the wide and often vague meaning proper to a word, by means of which the whole range of individuals covered by that word is designated," (277). This same sense of the word is also found in the work of Henry of Harclay during the fourteenth century.
Dane points out that, in this logical framework, mulier is a confused sense of homo; that is to say, mulier refers to a specific woman that is also convered by homo-a word that could refer either to humanity in general or the more specific man. The specific pun is that what "is signified by the word mulier is a confusio of the word homo (mulier est hominis confusio)," (278). In addition to this specific pun, there is a more general pun that Dane points out: that, depending on the context, mulier est hominis confusio may well have the meaning that Chuantecleer supplies. "Words," he points out, "do not have stable referents, nor stable levels of referents," (278). He also claims that most criticism makes too little of the situation here: that Chauntecleer is trying to seduce Pertelote, who does not understand Latin. "If there is social law in the interpretation of language here," Dane says, "it would be: In matters of seduction, the literal meaning of language is irrelevant," (278).
The result of his reading claims that, in this situation, any phrase, foreign or English, would mean woman is mans joy and bliss. "What is at issue is the language required to allow Pertelote to consider herself seduced" (278), closely related to the Nuns Priests warning about false flatterers.
This is an interesting article about the nature of language and the possibilities raised by a creative look at Chauntecleers problematic translation. Dane, however, fails to show that Chaucer was aware of the technical uses of confusio, something that would be integral to his argument that Chaucer intended these puns. Although he could circumvent this by not trying to guess Chaucers intentions (impossible) and simply offering a different reading, he does not. Furthermore, one of the statements that is central to his conclusion seems to be wrong: Chauntecleer does not have to seduce Pertelote; she is already one of his "women." What he does have to do is impress her, thus boosting his own tremendous vanity.--James Sawyer, 11/14/94
Green, Richard Firth. "Chaucer's Victimized Women." Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 10 (1988) 3-23.
Green acknowledges Arlyn Diamonds thesis that "unwilling the abandon the values and hierarchies of his time, unable to reconcile them with what he has observed of human emotion and social realities, he (Chaucer) accepts uneasily the medieval view of women as either better or worse than men, but never quite the same." Along with Diamond, Green also agrees that the most we can expect from an author who is steeped in such values and hierarchies is an uneasy response to the social constructs of the time. With this assumption as his basis, Green then sets out to prove that Chaucer was indeed more uneasy about gender inequalities than his French forerunners. He does this using the example of Dido in the Legend of Good Women and The House of Fame. While Green does not deny that Chaucer retells stories that evoke pathos for victimized women, he does believe that in Chaucer's retelling certain elements are stressed to amplify the injustices men commit when they break their oaths to women.
The idea that Honor extended to include relationships with women was a relatively new concept. Green gives the example of The Knight and the Tower in which a knight pledges his love to three ladies. When confronted by these women, the knight simply explains, "For at the tyme that I said so, to eche of yow I had thenne my plesunce, and thought so at that tyme. And therefore ye doo wronge to holde me for a deceyuer." The knight reverses his wrong onto the women and maintains that he is innocent because he "had his plesuance" at the time when he made his pledge. While this excuse was acceptable when given to a woman in a romantic relationship, it would be entirely inappropriate if made to a lord. Knights were only allowed to pledge their service and devotion to one lord.
Later, during the tail end of the fourteenth century, a work entitled Cente Ballades debated loyalty vs. infidelity in love relationships. In the work, seven of the twelve French nobles defend loyalty. Three nobles speak in favor of infidelity and two were undecided. Green points out that while the tide seemed to be turning, men did not always practice what they preached. The duc de Touraine, one of the nobles who spoke in defense of loyalty, was known as a ladies man and was involved in a scandal because his wife discovered he had tried to bribe a young Parisian girl to sleep with him. Talk about an indecent proposal!
Having established a tradition of courtly love in which women were excluded from the honor system of the knight, Green sets out to distinguish Chaucer from it by comparing Chaucer's version of Dido to its precursors, especially Jean de Meun's as told by La Vielle in the Roman de la Rose. Green observes that La Vielle is cynical about lovers vows. The moral of her story is, "its far better to deceive than to be deceived." While de Meun and his narrative character, La Vielle assume men to be unfaithful and dishonest in love, Chaucer reverses this moral by emphasizing honor and truths that are then broken by Jason and Aeneas. In specifically emphasizing these "trothes," Chaucer's moral becomes, "it is worse to deceive than to be deceived." His stories raise audience pathos for women and against the men who break their word of honor and betray them.
I had a hard time swallowing Green's opening statement that the most we could expect from Chaucer in response to the values and hierarchies of his time was uneasiness. In spite of history and literary traditions, I think that every author has the right and the capability of questioning the values of his own time. Only after I had read and reread Green's argument did I rationalize that what Green terms as "uneasiness" I would define as underlying questioning. Chaucer retells the story of Dido and other victimized women in such a way that reader sympathies are subtlety swayed toward the women's plight. By emphasizing the oaths that men make to women (those Jason makes to Medea and Aeneas makes to Dido) Chaucer emphasizes that these oaths are broken and that the men are usually at fault.
This was a good but complicated read. I found Greens French comparisons very interesting. He quotes an early French feminist critic by the name of Christine Pizan who scathingly critiques Jean de Meun. "Huh! The Art of Love-what a poor title! It isn't about love at all! It might better have been called the art of nasty tricks for deceiving women." Unlike Jean de Meun's, Chaucer's stories don't condone and promote the cheating and deceiving of women. Even though the analogues are similar Chaucer gives his tales a twist that questions the morality in deceiving and victimizing women. --Susie Gillmor, 11/21/94
Allen, David G. "Death and Staleness in the 'Son-less' World of the Summoner's Tale" Studies in Short Fiction. 24:1 (Winter 1987) 1-8.
David Allen addresses the particularly disturbing incident in the "Summoner's Tale" in which Thomas's wife tells the friar that her son has just passed away. Allen like many readers finds it distressing that the friar should casually reassure the woman that her son is in heaven and then expound upon the subject of heaven to declare his own spritual excellence as a friar. Allen acknowledges Phillipe Aries observation that infant mortality was common during the medieval times. According to Aries, parents could not afford to become too attatched to their children and this may have been the reason for the friar's callous treatment of the boy's death. Allen then cites David Hunt's thesis that parents might have been ambivalent to a child's death. They experience grief and loss, yet they also feel relief because a death meant one less mouth to feed. Allen takes this theory and applies it to the circumstances in the "Summoner's Tale." He concludes that the child's mother hastily accepts the friar's reassurance that her son is in heaven because this is easier than dealing with her feelings of relief. By the same token, Allen attributes Thomas's depression to his son's death. The friar however, can't see that Thomas is grieving and proceeds to rattle off a completely inappropriate sermon about a knight who challenges a king. The knight provokes the kings anger and as a result the knight's squire is killed. Not only does this courtly anecdote pass over the cherlish Thomas, but it unfeelingly implies that Thomas is somehow responsible for his son's death. Instead of bringing comfort and healing, the friar rubs salt in the wound.
Worse still, the friar asks for some money. He reasons that he is as essential to the medieval world as the son and that he "whoso wolde us fro this world bireve out of this world...He wolde bireve the sonne." Allen assumes a pun on the word "sonne" reading it as "sun" and "son." This is the final insult! Allen uses this pun as another example of the "stale" sermon. The idea of "stale " as opposed to fresh sermons originates with Francis of Assisi who was known for improvising sermons to address the immediate concerns of his audience. Thus, each sermon was fresh, tailored to the specific needs at hand. Allen argues that the friar has ignored Thomas's immediate grief and has spat out a "one-size fits all" anecdote that is courtly, old-fashioned, and "stale." The friar's ignorance is made supremely apparent when he likens himself to the "sonne."
I find David Allen's criticism insightful especially where it critiques the friar's stale sermons. He could have also explored the effect of the stale sermons in more depth. For instance, in the quote above when the friar admonishes Thomas that to deprive a friar of alms is to deprive the world of the sun, he is virtually saying, "Don't let me starve the way you have starved your child!" This is horribly unfeeling because the friar is not starving! One might even go so far as to say that the opposite is happening. The friar is feeding off the food and money that would have otherwise gone to feed underweight babies. This is entirely plausible when we consider that the after-life had priority over the "pilgrimage" of present times. The spiritual health of one's soul would take precedence over the physical health of one's body.
Allen constructs his argument on the previous theses of medieval scholars Aries and Hunt, but his entire paper hinges on the fact that Thomas is indeed grieving for his lost son. Allen assumes that because the wife is concerned about the child that Thomas must be also. Thomas is also bitter towards friars in general and the friar's arrival can't have lightened his already bitter disposition. --Susan Gillmor, 11/21/94Dean, James. "Chaucer's Repentance: A Likely Story." The Chaucer Review. 24:1 (1989) 64-76. Dean analyzes the conclusion of the Canterbury Tales ("Parson's Tale" and "Chaucer's Retraction") and considers the validity of a popular interpretation originating in the fifteenth century and still pondered today, that Chaucer's ending was a non-fiction repentance. Thomas Gascoigne in the mid-fourteenth century even went so far as to conjecture that Chaucer's was a deathbed repentance. Although probably not as literal as Gascoigne's description, where Chaucer knew his death was approaching and wanted to repent for his sinful writings. The idea of repentance in the conclusion of such a work like Canterbury Tales was employed as a popular rhetorical and literary device in Chaucer's time, thus bringing us to Dean's conclusion, which is the title of the article.
Dean argues that Chaucer utilizes his own modified version of a common narrative structure which proceeded as follows: first, a frame narrative of either journey or formal pilgrimage; second, a body of episodes or storytelling; third, a conclusion where the narrator reaches old age and/or sickness and/or penitence (65). Such a structure was recognized and used by many medieval authors, much like the literary conventions of the romance. The first major author of the period to use this structural convention was Guillaume Deguileville in his Pelerinage de la Vie Humaine, written about 1330 and translated into Middle English by John Lydgate in 1426-28 (66). Similar narrative threads occur in Boccaccio's Decameron, Mandeville's Travels, Langland's Piers Plowman, and Gower's Confessio Amantis in addition to Canterbury Tales (66). Each author's movement has its own subtle differences, but follows the structural conventions just the same. The question of how to respond to such endings, whether the author is serious or ironic, creates difficulties in interpretation.Chaucer invokes the theme of sickness early in the "General Prologue," saying that his pilgrimage is going to Canterbury to honor the saint who helps when one is sick. Then he shifts by the end to the idea of penitence with the Parson's sermon on the seven deadly sins and the "Retraction" (71). Sin is the sickness of the soul, and it is appropriate that Thomas a Becket is a saint-he can heal both physically and spiritually. The purpose of a pilgrimage, after all, is spiritual renewal. The Tales then, become a method of sustaining the framing device of the pilgrimage. None of the Tales make any extreme condemnation of spiritual sickness until we get to the Parson and the "Retraction."
Because of this and other reasons, critics have debated Chaucer's intentions regarding this so-called conclusion to the Tales. Some see the "Parson's Tale" and "Retraction" as ironic, some do not see these words as the end of the story, and some do not see these voices as more important than any of the other pilgrims. While Dean feels that the ending of the Tales might have been different had Chaucer completed all the tales (according to the rules in the "General Prologue"), he argues that the "Parson's Tale" and "Retraction" serve as conclusions in the tales we have for the following reasons: they are last in most of the surviving manuscripts, their solemn tone and relation back to other moments in the pilgrimage and aspects of the Tales, the theme of penitence; and the sense of closure in the "Parson's Prologue" (72). But Dean goes on to point out that this conclusion follows a literary structure, and is therefore a literary conclusion (rather than a historical or moral one).
Dean also points out that, "the Parson's Tale does not or render worthless the other stories in the Canterbury book" (72). The Parson is another pilgrim's voice, but an important voice. His tale is distinctive, but it must remain part of the overall structure of storytelling. Yet it also represents Chaucer's idea of how to conclude a long narrative, an idea he shares with or borrowed from his contemporaries.I chose an excellent article for the final bib, and not just because a) any article would be excellent just because it was the final bib, b) the author was from Delaware, or c) the article dealt with the conclusion of the Tales. Dean presents clear and well constructed arguments, and makes sure to touch on potential misreadings of his work (i.e. an allegorical justification of the Tales instead of his actual literary structure argument). Furthermore, Dean asks questions of reading which extend far beyond Chaucer. What era gives the best "reading" of a work? Do we necessarily get more accurate as we move farther or closer to the time in which the literature was written? It was closer to Chaucer's time when scribes and other authors tried to "finish" the Canterbury Tales, obviously doubting, like modern critics, that Chaucer ever concluded them. In the sixteenth century, according to the OED (which Dean refers to), a "Canterbury Tale" could mean a lie (64). As Dean points out, each era has its own readings of literature. Our era has been trying to ascertain historical accuracy in literary works (Dean says with respect to Canterbury Tales but I think it extends to most all literature), which means at times we judge others' readings. But then, this is what literature and criticism is all about. --Rich Roisman, 11/18/94
Furrow, Melissa M. "The Man of Laws St. Custance: Sex and the Saeculum." The Chaucer Review. 24:3 (1990) 223-235.
There are certain critical problems with the "MoLT;" the connection between the tale an the introduction has been questioned and the tale has been charged with internal inconsistency, "a fatal inability to maintain the aura of sanctity which is supposed to be the whole point," (223). The passages in question, pointed out by Ian Robinson, deal primarily with sex-certainly unusual in a "saints life" tale. But while Furrow agrees that the passages are a bit odd in the context, "the jocularity perhaps a little snickering" (224), she does not think that they are there for trivial reasons, as Robinson (according to Furrow) seems to think. Instead, this "is the very essence of the difficulties of the introduction, and the prologue and the tale: the problem of leading a holy life in this world," (224). To further understand her point, the "tale must be seen against the backdrop of other lives of holy women in order to show the point of what Chaucers Man of Law does with a familiar genre," (224).It is generally agreed that the "MoLT" is closely related to the saints life tale. Yet several critics in addition to Robinson have had the very same problem as he: reconciling the "consummation stanza between real life and the conventions of the saints life," (224). "But," Furrow argues, " I think there are aspects of the female saints legend that have been overlooked and can help our understanding of the Man of Laws Tale and its alleged dualism or conflict," (224).
In reviewing the form, Furrow points out that the attention drawn to Christs genitals in Renaissance art has, for several hundred years, been deliberately overlooked. Likewise, we have also overlooked the presence of sexuality in the "South English Legendary," a collection of saints lives that Chaucer almost undoubtedly knew in some form, as well as the "Legenda Aurea." "For almost all the saints in both collections," Furrow points out, "the greatest of danger, spiritual and otherwise, come from the saints femininity," (225). This femininity, in medieval thought, is equated with sexuality.
Furrow, in reviewing the female saints lives points out the overwhelming theme running throughout the stories of the saints struggle with their femininity, from a rise to sainthood out of promiscuity to marriage, adultery and rape, among other threats. Marriage itself is considered a hindrance to saintliness. However, "the demands placed on a woman by subservience to a husband could direct her attention so much to the earthly that she could never achieve the spiritual constancy essential to a saint," (227). And the married saint is the exception. The marriage itself is only a part of the problem; the sexual aspect of the marriage "intensifies and complicates the problem," (228). Sexual relations are examples of the dangers of all earthly relationships that would hinder the saint in her progress toward holiness; "no relationship is possible for the saint except one with Christ," (229).The real problems, then, for Custances saintliness is not the wandering at sea, the false murder charge, or the attempted rape. These pose no threat to her saintliness, but are examples of Gods constancy to her and her constancy to God. The real threats "are her marriage to the Sultan and the consummation of her marriage to Alla," (229). The marriage is turned by Custance into another chance to serve God; through this she manages to convert him and his people. We then come to the crux of the problem: the consummation scene. Custance puts her holiness aside and submits to her husband and her wifely duties. "In accord with the saints lives, the Man of Laws Tale holds sexual activity and holiness to be mutually exclusive at any one time; but it also allows them to succeed one another, without destroying the other," (230). And even though this assertion is perhaps too much for the poem to take, the incredible thing is that the assertion is even attempted.
"If the tale of Custance is taken to be related to medieval lives of sainted women," Furrow argues, "but opposed to them in a concentration on the secular relations of an ordinary woman, then the introduction and prologue make more sense," (230). The prominence on the time of day reminds us that while the saints have eternity and no obligations but their religious one, we have the strain of attempting salvation within the secular time frame; we must do something.Looking at the introduction in this manner, we see that it "establishes an attitude towards time, law, and tale-telling, all seen from a secular viewpoint, but all seen ethically," (231). It is fitting, then, that his tale is rooted in this world, but is still ethical. By mentioning tales from Chaucers "Legend of Good Women," as well as the story of Ceys and Alcione, the Man of Law introduces the concept of sexual love and fidelity. He also makes it quite clear that he was not going to tell a tale of sexual perversion. And while his words "are often taken as a dig at Gower...their point has more to do with the Man of Laws Tale itself, and its analogues," (232). Both authors follow their common source, Trevet, in telling "a tale without the romances emphasis on a misguided and perverted sexuality," (232), which would be fatal to the Man of Laws attempt to combine sexuality and holiness. And so the tale will present as saintly a woman as possible within the limits of this world.
Another attempt to reconcile the secular with the holy is the telling of the woes of poverty, as opposed to its spiritual uses-not at all in conflict with the Church, but in fact coming from the work of Innocent III. But the Man of Law uses this to imply the advantages of wealth-much against the work of Innocent. He goes so far, in fact, to suggest that living in wealth has its own joy "appropriate to spiritual occasions," (232). And in calling merchants noble, he is not being ironic, but serious. Furrow points out that it is the merchants that provide the motivation for Custances marriage to the Sultan and his conversion to Christianity. The Man of Law also turns Innocent on his head by suggesting that the joy after woe does not necessarily mean that it must be in the afterlife; it could also happen here, in this world. And despite what some other critics may say concerning this, Furrow points out that Custance never repudiates the material world and neither does the tale. What we are left with at the end of the tale is not simply Custances holiness, but the marriage, sexual relationship and wealthy life that form the backdrop. "It is [this] that [is] the important burden of the story, assertions make boldly if never altogether convincingly by the Man of Law that a holy woman need not be a virgin, an ascetic, or a martyr," (233).
I must wonder if it ever occurred to Furrow that perhaps Chaucer is playing with us here. She is so passionate about pursuing her thesis that she doesnt seem to recognize that much of her argument could be used to come to exactly the opposite conclusion. Chaucer is showing that, although one may be holy in the world, it cannot lead to the ultimate consummation of holiness. Custances various trials and tortures could easily be construed as her punishment by a God not unlike the Old Testaments punishing Yahweh. And Custances eventual happiness is a sign of his mercy. Her voyage on the sea, it seems to me, is not unlike Jonah and the Whale. Taken this way, it would then be Gods punishment for her sin. Like Jonah, she too is fleeing from her call, only to be brought into line by God. And it does not seem to me that a saints life would be so filled with loss after the saints commitment to holiness-something Furrow thinks Custance has all along. It is, however, an interesting article and not without merit. However, like Furrows Man of Law, it is a bold assertion, though not altogether convincing. --J Sawyer, 11/21/94
Benson, C. David. "Their Telling Difference: Chaucer the Pilgrim and His Two Contrasting Tales." The Chaucer Review. 18:1 (1983) 61-76.
Benson begins his article by discouraging the kind of reading that is supported by Kittredge in which the purpose of the Canterbury Tales is to reveal the character of the teller. To dispute this reading Benson posits that the most important pilgrim, Chaucer, is an inconsistent character who defies interpretation. He cites this inconsistency in the "General Prologue" where Chaucer's opinion of the other pilgrims varies from satire to gentle mocking and from physical description to moral judgments. This variation makes it impossible to characterize the perspective of Chaucer the pilgrim. Another view of him is revealed in his interactions with the Host. The Host accuses him of being removed from the group by staring down all the time. This shyness Benson sights as conflicting with his later annoyance with the Host for not letting him finish his tale. Benson says that while critics have tried to create consistency in his character, there is not enough evidence for any interpretation to be more than "an imaginative reconstruction."
The focus of Benson's argument is in his discussion of Sir Thopas and Melibee. It is here that Benson finds the reason for character inconsistency. Because of the difference in the style of these two tales, the meaning we take from them is different. While in Sir Thopas we see a knight who, far from fulfilling knightly duties is described with "Wonderfully irrelevant" details about "Sports, herbs, birds and armor." In contrast, the Melibee consists of dry preaching without any flair. While these tales have never been the most popular, because they are tales assigned to Chaucer, Benson believes that they establish how we are supposed to read the entire Canterbury Tales. This means that the overwhelming elements of style contained in Sir Thopas and the elements of meaning in Melibee are the result of an imbalance. In effect, Benson says that Chaucer's main point is to demonstrate that style and meaning must exist together for the meaning to be effective.
Benson's interpretation while he adequately shows the variations in styles does not discuss enough of the meaning of this difference. He in effect ignores half of his own argument. Are we to only look at the Canterbury Tales as an exercise in Chaucer's flexibility of style or are we as readers to learn something about ourselves through reading?
I think the assertion that Melibee and Thopas set up a framework for reading the rest of the tales is useful. One way of reading the Canterbury Tales based on these two contrasting tales is in relationship to what they say about gender relations. In Sir Thopas the foolish knight cannot interact with women and so falls in love with a fairy queen. This idea seems to parody the love as it appears in the "Knight's Tale" and the "Miller's Tale," where through different styles we see the female characters Emelye and Alisoun become symbols of beauty and desire for men and not really women. While in Melibee we see Prudence using religious authority to change her husband's views. This relates to the Wife of Bath who uses a similar tactic (with a different style of course) and also to Custance on the "Man of Law's Tale" whose strength comes through her belief in God. These two tales then could be demonstrating the different images of men and women and exploring the prospects for transformation.
The meaning then is contained in the idea that the tale of Sir Thopas in which Thopas is cut off from the real world like a child is interrupted. This fantastic view of gender relationships is then replaced by the Tale of Melibee where transformation happens through Melibee's listening to Prudence. --Rebecca Yenawine, 11/21/94
Dillon, Janette. "Chaucer's Game in the Pardoner's Tale." Essays in Criticism. 41:3 (July 1991) 208-221.In this novel response to Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale," Janette Dillon avoids the troublesome personality of a character whose self-acknowledged dubious moral status has for centuries caused critics trouble in determining his motivations by examining the Pardoner and his tale as a part of Chaucer's ongoing experiment to examine the authority of words as distinct from their speaker. She calls attention to the Pardoner's extreme self-consciousness as a practiced performer of tales whose morality is ambivalent to his higher purpose of using them for money making purposes. His consciousness of his tale as a performance links him to a pervasive dichotomy in to the Canterbury Tales that Chaucer is continually drawing attention to; that between being in "ernest" and in "game." Such a dichotomy, Dillon points out, gives the tellers as well as their creator an artist's license to draw attention to often unpleasant subjects under the veil of speaking "in pleye." The Pardoner, who acts as a performer for a living, simply has the distinction of being much more aware of his performative voice than some of the other pilgrims. Thus, his tale brings heightened awareness of the Chaucer's repeated theme of the importance of the audience's reaction to the tale by purposely bringing the audience into the foreground of his prologue and tale.
The Pardoner deliberately distances himself from the tale that he tells by repeatedly drawing attention to the fact that though he is a "ful vicious man" (459), he has no problem telling a tale fraught with Christian morality. Dillon calls attention to the fact that his tale works much on the same level as the relics and pardons that the Pardoner makes his living selling. She argues that the authenticity of the Pardoner's wares has little to do with their final effect, that is, to inspire faith in the people who buy them. Similarly, the success of the tale, which considered by itself is a very powerful moral allegory, is more dependent on the audience's response to it that the hypocritical lips that it passes through. When the tale is ended and the Pardoner has forced his audience to evaluate it purely on its own terms, he turns to the pilgrims and offers to them the wares whose authenticity he has previously denied. Once again, his companions are faced with the difficulty of responding to the speaker's intent when they are most doubtful of his intention. Dillon reads the Host's violent rejection of the Pardoner as a further extension of the "game" that he is engaging in, and thus understands the Pardoner's wrathful silence as making him, rather than the more often-blamed Host, responsible for breaking the rules of the game. She ends by reminding us that the Pardoner's final response to the Host is a sign that while Chaucer uses the Pardoner and his tale to emphasize the importance of the audience in determining the interpretation of a text, the responsibility of that interpretation can often be misused by the easy confusion of "ernest" and "game."Dillon's interpretation of Chaucer's "underlying motives" in the "Pardoner's Tale" certainly provides the modern critic with a neat way of avoiding the difficult task of pinning down the Pardoner's character. It also gives us insights into Chaucer's higher motives in manipulating genres and characters so that they have remained puzzles for centuries to the critics who study them. Chaucer clearly did have a great interest in the manipulation of his characters and tales into hard-to-define categories. One of his main goals in constructing the Canterbury Tales may indeed have been to create characters whose personalities denied easy comprehension. His ability to mix genres and thus make his audience unsure of the appropriate reaction to his stories force his readers to be self-reflective of the way they approach literature and supposedly universal moral truths. To this extent, I feel that Dillon's contribution towards understanding why the Pardoner tells a tale whose moral he personally disregards is quite valuable. However, I cannot help taking issue with the way she uses her theory to interpret the Host's memorable reaction to the Pardoner's offer of his bogus relics. By reading the Pardoner's offer as an extenuation of his "game," I find it hard to interpret the Host's ensuing response as anything else but a sign that he makes the gross mistake of taking the Pardoner in earnest. The Host thus draws attention to the hefty responsibility of the role of the listener in discerning the tone of speech directed towards him and the awkward consequences of misinterpretation. Harry's simplicity has lead to the dreadful misinterpretation of several tales. He repeatedly confuses the fictional tales that his companions tell with fact, as is most recently illustrated by his reaction to the tale that directly proceeds the Pardoner's, when his grief for the unfortunate Virginia is so great that he almost suffers a heart attack. Interpreting the Pardoner as "breaking the rules" (219) of his own game by being unable to comprehend the Host's insult as being a "quitting" of his mirthful offer is simply unsubstantiated by Dillon's own theory. In my opinion, it is at the very least too much to be read into the frail evidence of the Pardoner's silence.--Barbara Gabriel, 11/21/94
Murphy, Ann B. "The Process of Personality in Chaucer's 'Wife of Bath's Tale.'" The Centennial Review. 28:3 (Summer 1984) 204 - 222.
This article is divided into five sections were the author explores the development of Alisoun's personality. In the first section, Murphy argues that Chaucer's character development of Alisoun transcends the genre barriers and creates a "vivid literary individuality," (205). The combination of convention and detail in the creation of Alisoun is noted to be a metaphor worked into the text through the weaving motif. Murphy identifies Alisoun as a character whose personality is "fluid" vs. "fixed," hers a personality in progress. The juxtaposition of Alisoun's description and the anti-feminist traditions add merit to her character depth.
Part II of the article deals with Alisoun's portrait in her prologue. The tension created between Alisoun and the patristic order and anti-feminism and her economic position is described as both "vertical and horizontal," (207). That is, her movement from "hag" and class stereotypes. Murphy wants us to grasp the importance of the feel of the text and the emotions it derives. The text is moving away from all of the patristic values that have been presented to the authoritative experience of Alisoun.
The third part is a more in depth examination of the prologue. Murphy asserts that the prologue is a series of conflicting ideas. These conflicts manifest themselves as the tension between experience and authority, spiritual and material, and language and meaning. The pardoner's interruption of the text is confronted as a "real life" example of the type of people driven by greed to corrupt themselves in some manner. In some ways, Murphy sees similarities between Alisoun and the Pardoner. The confrontation between the two pilgrims enhances her "realness" and perhaps draws us closer to Alisoun because she is more "humanly appealing" (210) than the Pardoner. As the tale resumes, Murphy discusses the attack on anti-feminism and Alisoun's role in both the support and attack of these ideals. The irony of her situation in her first marriages for money are not known to the wife, but are obvious to the audience. The concept of money and social power vs. emotional power comes into play with the introduction to her fourth and fifth husbands. The tone of the prologue shifts as the text progresses. As Murphy states, " [T]he question of authority and experience," moves from comic to sermon-like, to ironic anti-feminist parody to a personal discussion to her last to marriages (213).
Part IV is a discussion of Alisoun's predicament and what choices she is able to make. She is no more a pillar of goodness than she is a sexual pariah. Alisoun is trapped by her earthly desires for money and power. Her tale is "an effort to imagine secular grace, an earthly form of spiritual transformation through marital love," (215). The relationships she had that were business arrangements were free of the emotional upheaval which are part of a loving marriage. She in effect becomes the convention which she attacks. The anti-feminist rhetoric of Jankyn's book and the convention of the marriage to the older, wealthy widow to a younger man interwoven into the last of the prologue reemphasize the portrait of a woman responding in terms of power rather than of love.
The final part of the essay deals with the synthesis of these themes in the tale told by Alisoun. Murphy sees the tale as an attempt by a woman trapped in a culture that will not allow her the autonomy she desires to turn all of what has gone before into a "dream of resolution." However, the tale is not successful in reconciling the tensions between men and women started in the prologue. The moral of the tale is that through mutual submission of power, the relationship can be worded out by marital love. It is never clear how much of this Alisoun accepts or practices in her relationship with Jankyn. There is tone in the epilogue which suggests that the wife of Bath will always be who she appeared to be in the "GP" and in her own prologue. In the end, Murphy attests that through all of this the reader will take away a sense of Alisoun as a real person due to the intricately woven nuances of her personality developed by Chaucer. The article says many good and interesting things about Alisoun, but the main focus on her personality development seems to be irrelevant in the scope of what her character tells about Chaucer's view of women vs. the contemporary societal views. --Susan Gover, November 21, 1994
Knapp, Peggy A. "Alisoun of Bathe and the Reappropriation of Tradition." The Chaucer Review. 24:1 (1989) 45-53.
This article incorporates the styles of the prologue and tale of the Wife of Bathe to determine what they say about male/female relationships. Knapp describes Alisoun as a woman who is struggling for control by using the anti-feminist tradition in her prologue and courtly romance in her tale to demonstrate male dominance and its effects on women (45). As each tale told is a glimpse at that teller's outlook, we must refer back to the framework created by Chaucer in the Tales and realize that the pilgrim we are attending to is in control. The control aspect is central to the interpretation of this tale and prologue.
The prologue presents Alisoun's attempt to show her technique in taming old husbands and her ploys for shaming them into getting her way. She does not stop there though. She gets nearer to her source of contention by marrying clerks, propagators of anti-feminism (47). Knapp states that other critics argue that Alisoun did not really want mastery in her relationship with Jankyn, but the physical outbreak on her part which ended the argument between them. She counters with the argument that the fight between the two of them was not ended by the subsequent blows, but by Jankyn's willingness to let Alisoun burn the book. Her telling of the tale is a show of the peace that Alisoun has made with wisdom and tries to incorporate that into the tale. With this peace comes Alisoun's desire for the rewards of respect and physical love. Knapp shows the parallel construction between the prologue and the tale through their transition of harshness, to a more soft, almost whimsical state. Both end with consent given on both sides. She asserts that the moral is that men must learn from women and enforces Alisoun's objections to the anti-feminist clerks.
Knapp then tackles the question of Alisoun's mastery. Does she give up too much for the happy endings of the prologue and tale? She will neither attest to a complete victory or an utter loss as some critics mentioned do. She feels that a society like the one that Alisoun dealt with would only allow her so much freedom. But her conflict with Jankyn was not a complete trade off between desire and autonomy, it was won. Just as the hag in the tale wins her freedom from her husband. Then Alisoun is capable of service and sacrifice if it is of her choosing (50). Chaucer is giving his audience a new female type, one that is no doubt going to be threatening. But the image is not a perfect archetypal feminist woman. The trade off aspect is central. Women are allowed some self dominion, but this in no way impinges on males. --Susan Gover, 11/21/94
Burton, T.L. "The Wife of Bath's Fourth and Fifth Husbands and her Ideal Sixth: The Growth of a Marital Philosophy." The Chaucer Review. 13:1 (1978) 34-47.
The scope of this article is to try to quell some of the extremist criticism surrounding the Canterbury Tales and especially the Wife of Bath. Burton is hoping to influence a return to moderate criticism. He wants Alisoun to be viewed as a "real" person with life like qualities given to her by Chaucer. The course that Burton takes is to answer the question "What did the Wife really want?" To answer this question he examines the fourth and fifth husbands of Alisoun and the Knight in her tale. The fourth husband is given more attention in the essay then he is usually allotted. He is the first husband to be treated as an individual and the only husband that Alisoun did not win mastery over. The relationship between the two was distinctly unhappy, he kept a lover and she was extremely jealous of their relationship. The motive is ambiguous for her marriage to the fourth. The first three are commercial ventures and the fifth love/lust, but number four is not clear. Burton attests that the wife was most attracted to him because of his way with the women, a characteristic he claims the wife admired. Burton then looks to the plan the wife devised to make her husband jealous. The discrepancy as to whether or not one can trust the wife when she claims not to have been unfaithful to her husband with this ploy arises because of her previous bragging about her sexual prowess. However, the tone of the whole passage supports her integrity on this subject and adds another example of realistic qualities to her. Her sexual bragging may simply be a cover for insecurity at growing older or a play for attention. After all, she was without a husband and no firm prospect for number six; she could have been baiting the hook. Burton discredits those who feel that the wife is inwardly the exact opposite of the sexual being she exudes. He gives her credit for having been a "good time gal" but also remembers that she is past her prime. This fourth husband presents a problem because he is the Wife's failure. She does not master him, he does not care that she is dallying with Jankyn, and he is the only one who emotionally hurts her.
Her experience with number four may have influenced her choice of number five. It seems she would have shied away from another painful experience with a virile younger man. Yet, Jankyn is twenty years her junior. Burton states that she should have reverted back to her original plan and married someone older and rich. But she does not, she claims to marry number five for "love." She paradoxically likes the mastery he has over her in this sexual relationship. She gave into him sexually and economically. The problem was not in consenting in the bedroom or economically but in his infringing on her being able to do as she pleased elsewhere in the relationship. Burton states that it is a misreading to think that Alisoun entered this marriage with the intent of gaining sovereignty. She is forced into it by Jankyn's reading of the misogynist text and his telling her of her vices. Jankyn burned the hated book, but the wife was in no hurry to exercise her newly gotten mastery.
The tale that the wife tells following her story of life with Jankyn, Burton claims, is a result of her knowledge of the dangers of following her heart rather than her head (43). In the tale the woman is able to have the virile man and retain her personal independence. Burton discusses the two schools of thinking surrounding the Knight in the tale. One, that he is the worst kind of man, totally absorbed in his own desires, violent, and discourteous. The other, that he is the ideal sixth husband of the Wife. Burton asserts that the conflict does not arise from the different interpretations but in Alisoun herself. The Knight is a rapist in the tale because Alisoun likes that dominance in a man. The Knight is the better of her fourth and fifth husbands. He has no paramour and he doesn't need to talk his mate into sex after a beating; he simply takes what he wants. Her failure to condemn the Knight for the rape and the syntax and brevity of the written text support Burton's assertion. Also, this rapist is rewarded with a young, beautiful, and faithful wife. The tale is presented as a "fanciful answer" to her man problems. She likes the idea of someone strong enough to take her by force yet willing to let her do as she pleased out of the bedroom. The assertion that women want the upper hand is a reaction to the extreme subordination of the Middle Ages (46). But the wife really wants a man who is dominate in sex and emotion, whose love she can count on and the freedom of personal independence elsewhere (46). --Susan Gover, 11/21/94
Hodges, Laura F. "The Wife of Bath's Costumes: Reading the Subtexts." The Chaucer Review. 27:4 (1993) 359-371.
This article attempts to explain some of Alisoun's characteristics through the description of her dress. The example first noted is that of the Wife's Sunday dress. The costume described is indicative of the wife's status as the proud and successful capitalist at work. Her dress for her frequent pilgrimages is that of a practical traveler protecting herself and her clothing from soil. Hodges refers to the astrological signs of Venus and Mars, the two prominent astrological influences on her character, to correspond to these different dress codes. The sumptuary laws of the times would have forgiven her rich garb on Sundays, her status as a wealthy manufacturer would have insured her this right, but the more puritanical moralists would have attacked her excess. The sin of pride would mostcertainly have made her a pariah for trying to attract the attention of anyone besides her husband. Hodges states that the elaborate headdress was symbolic as a form of unchaste behavior. Another demonstration of pride along this vein is the woman who challenges her husbands authority. The importance of the headdress worn by Alisoun is noted also due to her profession. Being in the weaving trade, the heavy headdress she wore both demonstrated her knowledge of intricate weaving techniques and of fine quality in fabrics, and also was a form of advertisement. In this way, the coverchiefs serve as her hallmark (363).
There is a distinct irony in the verbal associations between coverchiefs and coverture. The MED defines coverture as "any covering for the body," and the OED, "anything used to cover" including a figurative usage of "concealing, veil, or disguise." These figurative meanings have relevance to the wife. That is, the coverchiefs conceal actual body parts but reveal a great deal about the Wife. Also, in legal terms of the day, a woman, for business purposes, was called "covert de baron" or "femme covert," in the protection or property of her husband. "The wife's coverchiefs then, are a highly charged costume sign: Literally a gesture of submission to her married and legal status...economically the proclamation of a cloth-makers community status and wealth;...the veiling of an attractive, seductive woman;...the announcement of a woman's pride...and by extension her unchastity,[and] her sexual manipulation," (364).
Her new shoes and red hose caused controversy as well. Red is a color designated for the nobility. Also scarlet can be glossed as escarlet, meaning fine, costly woolen fabric. The actual cost of the fabric is something like twenty times what a master mason earned in a day. So to say costly is an understatement. The Wife notably wears fine stockings and shoes to denote her wealth and status.
There is a sharp contrast to the outfit Alisoun travels in. Her outfit is nothing short of practical as well as humble and the lavishness of her Sunday dress is quite omitted. She wears a humble hat indicative of cosmopolitan experience and practical to demonstrate her wayward nature (366). Her foot mantle, a series of petticoats worn to protect the wearer from the dust of the road, is symbolic of commoners and workers (366). There is no status shown in the dress of the wife on the pilgrimage. Her spurs are the last detail of her traveling attire. These illicit images of control, domination, strength, experience and of a "mock knight." The spurs may be another example of the wife inverting male and female roles. Although the Wife is not dressed in her outwardly extravagant way, her dress is just as significant when she travels. Since her attire is evidence of her cosmopolitan standing, the practical dress implies as much wealth as the Sunday clothes. The clothes also signify her wayward nature and her propensity for rebellion (367). She wanders both geographically and sexually. Although she is neither the harlot or the "Moll Frith" in cross dressed attire, the clothing of Alisoun says much about her nature.
The article is convincing in some aspects of the Wife's dress and what it signifies. However, the clothing issue is not central to understanding what the Wife of Bath is about. The article provides insight into customs surrounding the dress codes of the day, but is not so successful at exposing as much about Alisoun. --Susan Gover,11/21/94
Farrell, Thomas J. "Privacy and the Boundaries of Fabliau in The Miller's Tale." ELH. 56:4 (Winter 1989) 773-795.
Farrell explores the contradicting generic characteristics of the "Miller's Tale" through the presence of privacy and justice. He first builds an opposition between the genre of fabliau, which emphasizes individual private vengeance and whim over public social order, and romance, in which open social responsibility is the priority. Farrell then concludes that the "Miller's Tale" and the "Knight's Tale" move beyond these black and white generic definitions.
The central opposition Farrell introduces revolves around the words "privytee," "privy," and "prively," which have a connotation of secrecy, sinfulness, and "apert" medieval justice, which is never secret and depends on an outside supernatural source of order. The "Miller's Tale" reflects this "privytee" through its setting, in enclosed rooms of a house, and through the actions of personal and selfish trickery of its characters. The young lover, Nicholas, outsmarts the old husband, John, for his own personal pleasure. Even his trick isolates the characters in separate tubs. The "Knight's Tale" emphasizes the hero's public, just, and social responsibility over his private, secret, and unjust whims. Palamon's and Arcite's love for Emily is secret at first, but then is publicized by Theseus through an open tournament. Saturn, a symbol of chaotic, non-Boethian power in the tale, is countered by Theseus' speech of Boethian justice, dealt by God.
However, both tales are interconnected in ways which transcend this opposition. In the "Miller's Tale," there is a sense of final, moral justice in Nicholas' painful end (no pun intended), and the double humiliation of the cuckolded husband, in spite of private vengeance. Two "schemers against'Godde's pryvitee' both recieve a sharp physical rebuke," (790). This contradicts the traditional definition of fabliau by admitting a Boethian idea that "Providence disposes all random or fortunate events in a meaningful and just pattern," (785).
This Boethian idea is the theme of the "Knight's Tale," explained at length and acted upon by Thesius. However the tale is a constant battle between the powers of open justice and a chaotic fate ruled by Saturn and the pagan gods, to whom the characters pray for their personal desires. Although the ending seems to be mediated by Thesius' open justice, Arcite's death is actually dealt by Saturn's intervention. The ending marriage between Emily and Palamon is a social good, an alliance between two states, but leaves an uncertainty as to the future "parfit joye" Thesius claims the couple will have (787).
The two tales, the courtly, proper, and romantic tale told by the upstanding, moral Knight, and the baudy, vulgar tale told by the abhorent Miller, are linked in their treatment of justice and privacy, through a line that they share: "Allone, withouten any compaignye." Both tales are full of complexities that transcend their apparent genre, and each "concedes" the themes of its opposite genre (790). Farrell argues that the "Miller's Tale" quits every aspect of the "Knight's Tale," but the two tales complement each other, and by rebelling in "game" against the "ernest" order in the "Knight's Tale," the "Miller's Tale" "reinvigorates acceptance of the need for these rules," (790).
Farrell makes some fascinating and ingenious observations and interpretations of the two texts. It seems more than coincidental that the tales share a line dealing with privacy, and seem to answer one another on the themes of privacy and justice. He also touches the surface of other subjects which are not thoroughly discussed, such as the usage and connotations of the words dealing with "privytee" and the absense of the word "nature," possibly implying an attempt to hide the natural order, "Goddes' pryvete." After all the research Farrell does and the insights he makes, his conclusions are disappointingly small. After arguing the presence of justice in the "Miller's Tale," he then admits that if the tale is as private as its emphasis on "pryvete" suggests, Chaucer would not have recognized any justice within it, and quotes another critic who sees an "unBoethian universe" in the tale. I realize the benefit of raising opposing arguments to one's own, for the purpose of responding to them. However, Farrell never does. The result is a lot of wide spread research and close readings, with no definite organization or conclusion.
I plan to use some of his insights in my paper, in which I will try to combine a previous historical criticism about medieval attitudes and actions toward privacy and openness with a comparison of these themes in the "Knight's" and "Miller's Tales." --Marcia MacNeil, 11/29/94
Kauffman, Corinne E. "Dame Pertelote's Parlous Parle." The Chaucer Review. 4:1 (1982) 41-48.
In this thorough examination of Pertelote's herbal prescription for what she perceives as Chauntecleer's choleric and melancholy disposition, Kauffman concludes that in the Nun's Priest's amusing Aesopian fable, man (embodied by the proud Chauntecleer) is beset as much by danger in his beautiful spouse with whom he shares his perch as he is by the sly fox who desires him for dinner. Her prescription, Kauffman maintains, is purposefully ironic and would be recognized as such by a medieval audience familiar with the common herbs that she recommends. The irony of Pertelote's prescription is called attention to in multiple ways, including Kauffman's revealing of the medical "facts" that only one of the herbs that she prescribes could be gathered in May (the month in which the action of the tale takes place). Two of them are so potent that they would not be taken internally, and the majority of the herbs that she recommends would serve to so irritate the choler that she diagnoses Chauntecleer with, as to dangerously threaten his life. The acknowledgment of the consequences of Pertelote's medical advice can thus have important consequences about how the tale is interpreted.
First of all, Pertelote's faulty medical knowledge that Kauffman claims would be quite obvious to Chaucer's contemporaries lends a great deal of humor to the tale. Her primary recommendation of worms before her herbal prescription is humorous in that most of the herbs that she lists are so irritating to the stomach as to require that they be taken with soothing mixtures. The worms are thus interpreted as a weak attempt to provide this. This feeble recommendation of worms to soften her possibly fatal prescription could be read as either Pertelote's medical ignorance or as a jest at her suspicious husband who receives his dream as a dreadful foreboding. If Pertelote is offering her deadly medicine in genuine ignorance, Kauffman argues that she can be interpreted as a common idea in medieval thought about medicine and the incompetent physicians who "cannot separate what is detrimental from what is salutary," (47). When evaluating her in the light of her medical advice, Kauffman herself reads Pertelote's role as like that of the fox, an allegorical threat to Chauntecleer's well being.
Kauffman spends a great deal of time focusing on contemporary medical uses for the herbs that Pertelote prescribes, but is quite terse when addressing the literary consequences of her pedantry. It's probably a stretch to interpret Pertelote as purposefully prescribing a mixture which would sicken or possibly kill her husband, especially given her hysterical reaction when he is taken by the fox. If Chaucer's knowledge of herbs is as good as Kauffman's and his concoction of Pertelote's prescription has a purposeful literary meaning, the tale is enriched but not essentially changed. It is difficult for me to see what the Nun's Priest would gain from poking fun at contemporary medicine or from presumably insulting the Physician on the journey, unless, as Kauffman assumes, distrust of the medical field manifests itself in everyday jesting conversation. Even if this is allowed, does a contemporary joke about incompetent physicians have a place in an Aesopian fable used to depict universal human failings? And how would Kauffman interpret Pertelote's advice allegorically? Clearly, the fox is the embodiment of human flattery. Pertelote could be a warning against accepting the advice of one's wife, but that again takes the tale out of the Aesopian mode and puts it into the contemporary marriage debate (putting N's P in the "marriage group?"). This is too much of a stretch for me. If Pertelote's prescription was indeed recognized by the pilgrims as ludicrous, it would most likely serve to enrich the meaning of the tale by lending her husband the upper hand in their argument concerning the origin of dreams. Pertelote's herbs will most certainly not serve to relieve Chauntecleer of his dreams, because, as the story teaches us, his humors are unrelated to the dream's meaning. His dream is a foreboding of a future event which his vanity prevents him from heeding. Pertelote's theory is ultimately disproved, and her ridiculous prescription serves to support the flaw in her reasoning.--Barbara Gabriel, 1994