This is a helpful beginning to a discussion of written authority that I think could be profitably expanded, especially since most of the essay is devoted to political and familial sovereignty. In particular, it might be useful for students to learn about translatio imperii et studii as it relates to Petrarch’s translation of Boccaccio, his authority as a dead Latinate auctor (whose body or corpus is translated), and Chaucer’s own re-vernacularization of the story.
I greatly appreciate this focus on Arendt throughout the essay. Her theories of sovereignty are too often overlooked in favor of Schmitt and more recently Agamben.
Given the reference to Chaucer’s time in Lombardy, it might be helpful to students to briefly mention his travels in Italy, his reason for being there, etc.
Love this characterization: “tyranny’s selfish whimsy”!
This is a useful connection to the “auctoritee” of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue.
Given its relevance to the issue of authority, I was surprised that Chaucer’s envoy isn’t addressed here. The connection between the “deed” Griselda and the opening reference to the “deed” Petrarch might bring this essay full circle back to the issue of written authority.
I really like these questions, especially the series in #1. Given the extensive discussion of Arendt in this essay, I wonder if it might be a cool project to have students research other theories of sovereignty and relate them to the tale. Also, the obsession of this tale with political, familial, and written bodies might also connect well with Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies.
This is an inviting introductory paragraph to this topic. I especially appreciate the foregrounding of anxieties about the increasing influence of “capital” in the face of older, clerical and aristocratic hierarchies. The reference to England as a “nation” may need to be nuanced a bit more, especially given the longstanding scholarly debates about England’s nationhood in the late medieval era.
Many scholars now use the term, the Rising, to refer to the Peasants’ Revolt, particularly since it wasn’t just peasants revolting. That said, the widespread use of these two different terms for the same event may confuse readers. I’d be curious to know what other reviewers think.
I understand that citations for these essays are not meant to be comprehensive, but it would be remiss not to mention Robyn Malo’s work on this topic, either her book Relics and Writing or her article “The Pardoner’s Relics (And Why They Matter the Most).”
I greatly appreciate the attention to the “sinister tone” of the frame. From my experience, students readily recognize the frivolity, but rarely engage with the darker, more disturbing interactions.
I wasn’t expecting this turn to visualization, but I think it works well overall and could engage the more data-minded and visually-provoked students.
Absolutely adore this qualification. Plus, it may catch the attention of students who might assume the objective nature of such “data” visualizations. I don’t know if it’s relevant for this chapter, but I’m thinking of the classic work of Edward Tufte as well as the more recent work by Johanna Drucker, especially Graphesis (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724938)
I’m curious to know if other readers think this section needs to address some of the debates about the authoritative manuscripts, as well as recent challenges to Pinkhurst’s association with these manuscripts. I’m thinking in particular of Lawrence Warner’s recent article in SAC (2015): https://muse.jhu.edu/article/608967 I’m not sure if this would overcomplicate things for the purposes of this paragraph.
Similar to the previous paragraph’s discussion of the manuscripts, I wonder to what extent the recent debate over the standard editorial practice of dividing the poem into fragments should be addressed here. In addition to Robert Meyer-Lee’s “Abandon the Fragments” SAC 2013 (https://muse.jhu.edu/article/524016), NCS hosted a couple blog posts about the “fragments” here (http://newchaucersociety.org/blog/entry/celebrate-fragments) and here (http://newchaucersociety.org/blog/entry/literary-criticism-with-book-history).
I’m glad to see the Host’s anger described so effectively here. It seems to me, though, that his troubling confrontation with the Pardoner (in which he threatens to cut off his testicles[6.954]) should be addressed. Students are always wanting to discuss this exchange and all of its fascinating wordplay.
This tension between the Host’s attempts to hurry and the slow pace of the tales is really interesting and, I think, fruitful for discussion.
“network visualizations cannot show Harry’s impatience with regards to time, nor his anxiety with regards to narrative”: why not?
If possible, I think it would be helpful to embed these visualizations within the essay in close proximity to their discussion.
Overall, I think this is a clear, engaging, and persuasive account of the Host’s importance and the artificial networks that comprise the frame narrative. The temporal and narrative anxieties are also well explained.
Question 3 is such a fun prompt that also rigorously challenges the students’ understanding of the Host’s character.
One thing that is interesting about the Wife of Bath is that throughout her prologue, there is no mention of children yet she was very sexually active. Did it also mean something during the medieval times if a wife had been married often but had no children to show for it?
This is a very interesting paragraph. I wonder if because the wife married unconventionally young at the age of 12 even for the medieval times, that this had some sort of impact on how she viewed love. Her first 3 husbands had been very old so the only form of control she was able to learn was how to control them sexually and emotionally. However, they still loved her anyway. But Chaucer then adds a spin, maybe due to his male perspective towards women, that she is in love with her last husband even though he cruelly forces her to be submissive. Do you think that Chaucer’s viewpoint on women has something to do with the type of man that the wife chose later in life since middle class women had more freedom in who they could marry?
It’s interesting that the wife of bath chose to continue to get married even though it meant that she was passing all the land and wealth she had accumulated from her past husbands to her current husband. Why didn’t she stop getting married and become independent using her wealth? Do you think this points to the fact that she may not be as independent as she portrays herself to be and that there is something deeper that she wants from her husbands?
I wonder why anti-matrimonial writing was popular during this time in history because it was also a very religious time period. Authors could be burned at the stake with their books if they wrote something controversial so I am just wondering why something supported by the Bible like marriage could be refuted so openly during that time. But like you mentioned in this paragraph, it makes sense in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue in relation to her fifth husband and his book. I think it would be interesting to see if a book ever published by a woman about males in marriage is in existence from that time period.
Is the Prioress the “head” of a nunnery? I thought she was the second in command, behind the Abbess.
This introduction provides an interesting avenue into the physical descriptions (and their variation) of the GP, but what aobut “physiognomy”? The deviation from a norm or perfect body would have been percieved as something other than just variability–which is a very postmodern/contemporary and thus non-judgmental way of introducing these bodies. Would Chaucer’s (admittedly varied) audience have been so neutral to such bodily marking?
That being said: as vicitms of disease and war (unlike most of us), they would have been used to “reading” bodies in ways we are not and even perhaps used to marked bodies that disrupts idealized images of normativity and perfection. Is there a way of introducing these ideas early, in order to disrupt the normative body and make its avatar of perfection the problem, without seeming to de-historicize physiognomy as such?
I agree that the Wife of Bath’s prologue, her memoir of marriages to various men, both provides insight on and challenges gender dynamics and how they were implemented in medieval relationships. Straying from the conventional marital hierarchy, Wife had power in her marriages as she was privy to and skilled at the art of manipulation. However, I disagree that her recollections “defend” marriage and certainly do not endorse marrying for love. When Wife exchanged vows with men she did not love, she asserted authority in a calculated manner often taking advantage of her body and sex appeal in order to persuade her partners. In the first marriages, Wife is successful in that she does not need to “obey” her husbands. It is in her fifth marriage, the only of her nuptial commitments supposedly motivated by true love, that she struggles to obtain any control.
Wife’s appreciation and approval of sex is made abundantly clear throughout her prologue. I agree that the way in which she so candidly and so frequently discusses the topic pushes back against medieval religious ideals on marriage and sexual agency.
This paragraph fails to connect back to the Wife of Bath’s prologue or tale. Again, I am thrown off by the previous claim that Wife is defending marriage for the medieval institution seems to condemn the one activity we as readers know she takes pleasure in. You mention that sex was considered sinful even amongst married partners, a view Wife clearly does not share with the Church or care about whatsoever. Wife speaks shamelessly of her sexual experiences and desires, which seems to attack conventional and religious-based marriages more than defend them. Further, you claim “being married required constantly resisting the enjoyment of sex,” but Wife does not describe ever making such efforts. In fact, she recollects regular sex usually performed in a bribing manner with the intent to gain something from her lustful husband rather than procreate with him.
Despite the twelfth century definition of the marriage sacrament mentioned in this paragraph, the marriages of both Wife herself and the Old Woman in her tale are not characterized as merely “mutual love between spouses.” Wife, a woman of the middle class and thus free to choose a partner of her liking, admits to not loving her first four husbands. In her fifth, she marries for love, but also mentions keeping up with his youthful and active sex drive showing that Wife thinks sex is a vital part of marriage.
Similarly, the Knight is only satisfied when the Old Woman is transformed into an attractive girl. Despite having already committed her loyalty to him, it seems apparent that devotion is not as vital a part of marriage as sexual attraction and sex are even in the Middle Ages.
To provide this kind of explanation of midieval marriages seems completely unrelated to the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale.
Her experiences, though, seems to be very different than those expected by the medieval church courts.
I agree that Chaucer’s Wife defends marital sex and sexual pleasure in general. I do not, however, agree that she gained a total or even equal power within any of her marriages. She instead learns how to work the system rather than overcome the gender hierarchy. The men still have the power, Wife has simply found a way to motivate them into using that power in her favor.
“She is a chatterbox who cannot keep secrets” does not fit here. It’s unnecessary.
I disagree that Wife and Jankyn shared a relationship of “love, mutuality, and partnership.” Wife certainly loved him, but the author neglects to mention his abusive tendencies. A man who loves a woman does not beat her physically, or bully her physiologically as Jankyn did with the book mentioned in this paragraph.
I am confused at what you are trying to prove. So far, you have been more successful at addressing certain parts of the thesis, such as Wife rejecting the notion that celibacy is superior to sex or marriage, than others. The earlier claim that Chaucer’s Wife “upsets the conventions of the romance genre by rejecting the idea that love exists primarily outside of marriage’ is falling short. There has been little love within her marriages. Also, she does not “invert” the gendered conventions of the Middle Ages by bribing her husbands with sex, she just learns how to manipulate them.
It is not fair to say that Wife’s tale rejects misogynistic ideals. The Knight is never concerned with what women want until his life is on the line. And the mentioned cliche is, in fact, further solidified in that it takes something unnatural to create a woman both faithful and attractive for the Knight. Wife depicts a society that values women based on their appearance.
This may be the weakest paragraph. To say that marriage is “a matter of female choice” in Wife’s tale doesn’t ring true to me. The Knight, a rapist, is only able to articulate what women want after the Old Woman forms the words for him. She does pick him, but he only agrees as an exchange for his life. This does not prove that Wife thinks this”matter of female choice” could be possible because the whole tale occurs outside of medieval romance, in a world with magic. Further, it is the man who gets to live, be married, and have a loyal, beautiful wife while she is forever tied to an ignorant, sexist, rapist.
It’s worth pointing out that Pertelote’s arguments are impressive and learned, demonstrating intimate familiarity with humoral theory, herbal remedies, and contemporary dream interpretation practices. So her scholarly knowledge gives her depth beyond the seeming outcome of the disputation–and he is the one, as you point out, who succumbs to fleshly desires.
When it comes to using animals as stand ins for humans I can’t help but think of elves, orcs and robots. In modern media they are used just as much as animals were and for similar reasons, they could be stand in’s for sensitive subjects like in Maus or Animal Farm, or to confront social issues in a “softer” manner, like with Dragon Age or Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
It’s fascinating how we as a species will rally so easily under people that we perceive to be strong, even if they only make things worse. We see this with Henry V, Hitler, Stalin, Rodrigo Duterte and even here in america with President Reagan and Donald Trump.
I think you did a really nice job with this paragraph in terms of backing up your point and setting the reader up for analysis of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. However, I would recommend maybe easing the reader in a bit more just in the first few sentences instead of jumping right in with a quote and everything. Just adding one sentence before your current opener would do a world of good, but aside from that you’re off to a great start!
I know this isn’t all that constructive, but this paragraph was practically perfect! I love that you used “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse” as an example and included helpful background information on teaching in Chaucer’s day and age. I wouldn’t change a thing.
The points raised in this paragraph are very intriguing and I would love to see them built on even more. You discuss how Chaucer writes extensive, vivid descriptions of his animal characters, but I don’t see very many conclusions draw about this information, thus I am left confused as to it’s relevance. I would love to hear your thoughts as to why Chaucer chose to provide such detailed descriptions of the animals and what purpose it served for his work. Does being able to better picture the animals help the reader view them as more sentient and relatable or does it more clearly emphasize the fact that these are indeed animals and not humans? Just something to ponder.
A very heavy, but very important paragraph. You raised many insightful points and got me thinking about the implications of that comparison in ways I previously would never have considered. That last sentence is particularly well-written and thought-provoking. Nicely done.
I like this paragraph, particularly the questions raised at the end of it. That being said, I’m not sure if you should end on a question or not. It just left me with a feeling of lack of resolution, not in the sense that the questions need to be answered but in the sense that it feels like I’m still waiting for something, perhaps some sort of farewell or conclusion. Whether you decide to tack a sentence on at the end or not, you have an excellent paragraph and article to work with overall. Also, I love the addition of the questions, projects, and suggested readings. It’s an excellent touch and the questions and projects are all very creative and would make for exciting classroom discussions.
This paragraph, while very informative, seemed a bit too rushed for me personally. I found that I had to go back and reread it a second time to absorb all the information. I think if you broke up the second and third sentences a bit it would allow the reader more time to take in each individual piece of information. That being said it provided an excellent overview of the events leading up the Hundred Years’ War, so overall nice job.
I found the passing of the Second Sumptuary Law to be an interesting and important piece of information about the strict social hierarchy of the day. The fact that the upper classes were able to pass a law like this without causing a mass rebellion is astounding, and really highlights the difference between the mindset of the Medieval lower classes and the mindset of the modern English lower classes. While I understand the importance of making edits and cuts, this piece of information is something I would definitely strive to keep in the text.
A great conclusion to a well written and interesting chapter! You really brought all your points from the previous passages together while connecting them to back to Chaucer and the development of English as both a language and a nationality. It really is surprising how closely the issues and discussions of Chaucer’s time parallel what’s happening in the world today. Knowing the social and political climate of his world provides an essential context for reading his work and understanding, and even relating, to his point of view. If anything, I would suggest building on the connection to the modern day a little more, but overall a job well done!
The author seems to be suggesting somewhat of a marxist interpretation of the text. This actually seems rather appropriate for the Reeve’s Tale. The author provides evidence of an agrarian economy where disputes are settled by a more or less lawless group of people in an attempt to find some sort of justice/ revenge: as illustrated by the middle english term “quite”
I don’t know whether or not this is the place for something like this, but there is much here that could be interpreted through a variety of interesting lenses. Obviously as I previously said, given the economic nature of the tale, it is easy to imagine good use of Marxist criticism of the material. This comes through in this paragraph as well. I think there is also room for a darwinian interpretation– there seem to be themes of parasitism, symbiosis, and predation, one could even argue that the Miller and the Reeve are in a similar economic niche and as such their quarreling is an unavoidable consequence of a resource war much like what one might see in nature. This may admittedly be rather tangential.
I am left wondering what a typical Miller might charge his customers, especially what this amount would be if converted into modern U.S. dollars. I don’t know if this information exists but it would tell us a lot about the tensions existing between the Reeve and the Miller.
“A reeve might also see to the marketing of an estate’s produce, while supervising the milling of grain for the manor household’s own consumption” -If this is true, then why does the Reeve have to pay The Miller? It sounds like this is a relationship between a boss and an employee. This seems contradictory, and I would like to know in what way this could be resolved.
I believe that “Hir” in “Hir Philosophie” refers to the colleges, this is not very clear and you might want to put some more detail here.
This is such an interesting issue to consider, and one that we normally have no conception of in the modern world: there is no food gathering at College. Unless you are at a farming school it’s not as if students are going into the fields during third period to harvest corn. We now have supermarkets and meal plans to get us through the winter. However, this was very much a part of every day life for every member of Middle english society; excepting, of course, for the extremely rich or royal.
”wit and wheat” -Very nice.
In many ways this paragraph answers the question as to why the Reeve has to pay he Miller a wage if he is more or less his boss: by the time depicted, this relationship had fallen apart because of the plague and thus the Reeve didn’t hold the same authority. At least that is what I am getting from this paragraph.
An interesting consequence of the logic presented here is that “error, deception, play and conflict” all consequences of a market economy, are all basic and very important aspects of comedy, which of course is hugely important in fabliaux.
Something not discussed here is the idea of poetic justice. I am not certain whether or not this was a definite idea in Chaucer’s day but your broad and yet nuanced definition of “quite” suggests that Chaucer may have been either knowingly or blindly playing with this concept.
I feel like you should make a new paragraph starting with “‘Quite’ is a rich verb”. It looks like a good place for a paragraph break.
The last sentence is kinda wordy and confusing. I understand what you are trying to say, but i feel like it could be said more clearly. Firstly, I think it should be split into at least two, possibly even three sentances.
It seems that my insight on the Marxist connection was well placed.
You do a very good job breaking apart a very complicated picture of how Chaucer and Marx underscore the absurdity of economic equivalency. It is funny how you, the author, can not describe this concept without yourself using rather complex language. However, you do this in a very manageable way.
I think you might want to explain what you mean by “The circulation of wealth between owners of agrarian infrastructure and the workers that make it productive plunges all parties involved into a bewildering play of substitution and false appearance.” I believe you are suggesting a level of codependency being at the heart of much of the conflict, but I think you need to explain this a little bit more to make it more clear to the reader what it is that you mean.
So are you trying to say that The Reeve is set up to fail at his attempt by the very nature of a market economy and more specifically quantitative equivalency? If so, this makes sense, and it follows logically from what you had said in the previous section. However, I think you should spell this out a bit more for the reader. Also, I would provide a word by word translation of the middle english lines. For example, I don’t think you make it very clear what “I shal hym quite anoon”. Many readers will most likely have a text on hand to look at the modern translation, but you could circumvent this and keep the reader ore immediately engaged if you tell the reader in plain words here.
Good use of Marxist language especially the workers of the land being “alienated” from the means of production (of flour).
I like the character analysis that results from this line of thinking. However, I do not like the rhetorical question at the end of the paragraph. I think you would be much better off if you simply said “After all, there were few if any other options for them to bring their business to”. Also, I would point out how this is an especially dire and usurious situation given the importance of food in every day life as opposed to other less important products. This just adds an extra layer of importance and gravity to the discussion.
Okay, so The Reeve’s description of the Miller is an obvious quite-ing of the Miller on the pilgrimage as they are very similarly described.
I wonder if it could be said that the Miller and his wife “quite” on another, in that they fit one another well, or that they deserve one another.
You might want to add that Marx would argue that the nobility is actually pulling the strings, so to say, and directing this deception and disruption, and that therefore the Miller is not only dressing as a noble, but is in many ways acting as one as well. I would also consider whether or not Chaucer meant this.
You might want to add that Marx would argue that the nobility is actually pulling the strings, so to say, and directing this deception and disruption, and that therefore the Miller is not only dressing as a noble, but is in many ways acting as one as well. I would also consider whether or not Chaucer meant this
You may want to mention the issue of appearance vs. reality and how fact that Malyne and Simkin are no longer “chaste” by the end of the tale whilst still appearing so mirrors the absurdity of economic equivalency in general. I would like to know what impact the plague had on the “patriarchal familial structures” I would guess that it had little to no impact, but it would be very interesting to know if it had any.
Great connections to modern college culture, this is definitely an eye opener, and it makes the content more relatable. Again, I think it would be very helpful if you were to more plainly express what it is that Chaucer is saying here.
I am wondering whether or not you believe that Chaucer thinks this behavior is acceptable or unacceptable: whether or not Chaucer is implicit in this culture, or simply commenting on a reality that he sees and has seen around him in his society.
I might point out that this is what you were saying earlier about the back and forth use of deception and how it relates to the economic themes you are discussing and furthermore, how this relates to quite-ing. I think it is fairly well laid put, however, it would help to be more explicative.
Once again, I would provide a better translation of these lines, especially more unfamiliar words.
I think maybe you should discuss how one could argue that Chaucer may be implying some positive impacts of economic equivalency, in that it leads to conflict which can be very fun and/or funny. This could lead to a discussion about the consequences of Marxism, and how it could lead to a more boring world with less conflict. On the other hand, you could bring back in a Darwinian interpretation: specifically how the right level of disturbance can be very healthy for a community. This could also be tied into the plague as a disturbance as another salient example.
Once again, please provide more ample translation.
I might dispense with some of the word play here and just simply say that this gives John and Aleyn a chance at revenge. Also, I do not know if I would say that Simkin lets the Game go on too long, instead I would probably say that he does not stay on his toes long enough. Also, I think there is room for discussion for how this type of behavior is a consequence of the emerging market economy and its accompanying side effects.
I would use the verb ‘turning’ instead of “making”.
I once again feel that I would better understand these lines if you would provide a more thorough translation into modern english.
I would use the verb “transacted” instead of “translated”.
I think it might be interesting to have a look t the existing legal language of the era, if anything like this has survived until the modern era. I know at the very least the Magna Carta has survived, though it is from multiple generations prior to Chaucer’s life.
For example, maybe even a modern definition of easement would be useful, as imagine many without an education in law would not know what you, or rather Chaucer,is talking about.
I think the first two sentences are a bit wordy. I would break them up into smaller more manageable sentences.
“The outer world of the economy is mirrored or “quite” in the inner world of the bedroom” sounds better than the daytime/ night time comparison you provided.
Again, I would break the last sentence in multiple smaller sentances.
I think you could throw in something about how if Aleyn and John are twice compensated, they are thus over compensated and how this breaks the equivalent and makes the entire “quite” a waste.
You did a good job pointing out how misogynistic this whole concept is.
I think I might say something about complexity: about how this confusing jumble of contradictory forces leads to confusion and and “farcical errors” You imply this with “welter of substitutions…” however, it could be more plainly laid out.
I also wonder if there is anything to say about how they end up with a finished loaf instead of the raw flour as they would have originally gotten. Furthermore, I wonder if there is anything that cam be said about how this relates to to the modern day and its conveniences. i.e. how we can just go the the store and get a loaf of bread without having to bake the loaf.
Here you did a very good job explaining what is being said in middle english.
So I might also throw in the old expression “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” and talk about where the tale agrees with this saying as well as where it does not. Obviously the Miller’s attempt to take advantage of the students leads to a cycle of revenge. However, this saying deals with equivalency, which the tale directly contradicts.
I like how you wrap up the essay in this paragraph. You do a good job pointing out the ultimate absurdity that underlies the tale.
I would probably bring in more interpretations that just Marxism, I think it would compliment much of what you talk about in the essay. The a look at my suggestions vis a vis Darwinian criticism. This is definitely a very useful and interesting work, and I think I learned a lot of useful information underlying the tale.
Could you define mirth here and why it would be an answer to the rhetorical question you’ve posed at the end of paragraph 3?
Correct the spelling of “waste” to “waist.” Chaucer always uses the reference to elves or elfishness as being outsiders.
i think it becomes clear in the last several paragraphs of the essay how you are thinking religious / political / geographic differences as markers of race, but i agree that this could be made more explicit further up in the chapter; it was helpful to read about the Tars and its mention of black skin as a possible source, and I wonder if seeing that sooner in the essay would help clarify how race informs every version of the story.
I also wonder about the famous “divine translation” that Custance enjoys in Northumbria — Chaucer’s handling of language issues is also markedly different than Trevet and Gower. See Susan Phillips, “Chaucer’s Language Lessons,” esp. pp. 54-9
This is a great essay, btw
Really interesting, focused way of framing this tale. Can’t wait to see how this plays out in the analysis.
You might mention here that the Reeve, according to the GP, ALSO carries a blade, and also seems to exceed his station in terms of dress and demeanor. See the section of Broadview’s Companion to Chaucer on “Sumptuary Laws,” etc.
You might take a moment to compare the deployment of this trick with Chaucer’s French fabliau source — I believe you can find it in Mann’s edition — which is quite different and less ambiguous. Is there a possibility Simkin’s wife does not believe she’s having sex with her husband? Is this rape? etc.
Might mention here the “flour of il ending” (4170), in which ‘flour’ is exchanged for ‘flower’ linguistically, and by extension, the ‘flower’ of Simkin’s daughter (I can send you my diss. chapter on the Reeve in which I discuss this at length). Exchange working on EVERY level — words, sex, work, play — etc.
[This rhetorical strategy allowed the author to be excused for writings]
Change ‘author’ to ‘authors’ to agree with ‘their/they’ later in the sentence?
[“sowen into sinne”]
‘sownen into sinne’ ?
[both utilizing authoritative sources (Boethius, saint’s live), but also that these works held weight in supporting the concept of the work of grace within the author.]
‘not only… but also’
[Lollard’s emphasize ]
You mention “aesthetics” and I wonder if it would be productive include a paragraph on how Chaucer’s categorization of the Tales squares with the rubric for tale-telling laid down by the Host in the GP: ‘sentence and solaas,’ etc. This also intersects with the ‘auctoritas’ question — see Robert Meyer-Lee’s first chapter in Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt, in which he explores the gradual shift from Chaucer-as-literary-character to Chaucer-as-author over the course of the Tales.
You rightly point out that Little St. Hugh was never canonised, however, unless I have missed something, neither was William of Norwich or the other ritual murder victims. I’m not sure that I see the connection between the ritual murder allegation and the Expulsion.
Interesting that only Europe is considered, there are parts of the work where the blood libel accusation still gets used, by those who should know better, every now and again. It’d be interesting to consider how this impacts upon the reading of the Tale.
I hadn’t given much thought as to why the animals were described with such close detail, but I think that it’s an interesting point to bring up. While it is true that the tale uses animals in order to teach humans a moral, these vivid descriptions seem to indicate that this was not Chaucer’s only objective. Rather, he managed to create distinct and memorable characters that have more depth to them beyond simply being a means to communicate a moral. I think that the points brought up in this paragraph do a great job of emphasizing that this tale is not the typical animal fable.
I think that this paragraph is particularly interesting because it is something that a lot of readers today are likely unaware of, and without this information the lines clearly have less impact on the reader. I think that this comparison between the farm animals and the Flemings, in addition to blurring the lines between animals and humans as you point out, makes an even broader point in suggesting that even the most seemingly fanciful fables can still be deeply grounded in reality.
I really like the point that you made in the last sentence of this paragraph regarding the importance of dialogue, because I think that it is also relevant in Chauntecleer’s confrontation with the fox. While the fox had a distinct advantage in size, speed, and strength, and yet he was still unsuccessful against Chauntecleer. When Russell initially snatches Chauntecleer, he relies on his words to trick him rather than his power. Furthermore, Chauntecleer is only able to escape due to both his own words of deception and because the fox unwisely chose to speak again. As such, I think that your point here is interesting, and that similar parallels can be seen elsewhere in the poem, as well.
I think that highlighting literacy as a means of power is very important. Not only did literacy offer these people a new form of power in their own lifetime, but it continues to do so even today. The ability to write gave these people a means of leaving behind their own mark on the world, aside from whatever material possessions they may have had (although those on the lowest rungs of the social hierarchy likely did not have much). The ability to read the perspectives and writings of those who were not the elite of society leaves a far broader and more accurate view of culture at the time.
This is a very interesting comparison of ideals versus reality. Because King Arthur was written to embody an exemplary leader, it is not surprising that his real life counterparts were unable to inspire the same level of loyalty and courageous sacrifice. Similarly, stressing that the soldiers in England’s military campaigns were “paid for their services” as opposed to volunteering solely out of love for their country emphasizes the weight of their situation. These people were fighting because they had other responsibilities and people to care for, not because they felt an obligation to their king.
This demonstrates that the laws were still very much written to benefit the elite of society. As noted in the previous paragraph, the value of labor had dramatically increased due to the death toll of the plague, and landowners were the ones left in positions of uncertainty. Yet soon after, laws were passed to protect the landowners and once again force the labor class into a weaker position of subservience. I would imagine that this greatly affected the peasants’ ability to rebound after the plague after suffering such high mortality rates. While it does appear that change to the social hierarchy is slowly coming, it is also interesting to note just how firmly those at the top were against any concessions to those at the bottom.
This conclusion once again pushes forward a disconnect between the views expressed in English literature and the views of English people. Similar to the paragraph in which England’s military efforts against France were discussed, once again the notion that people did not have a particularly strong sense of patriotism or obligation to their country. I think that expressing this idea is particularly important because it creates a very clear distinction between what was reality and what was fiction, and it gives us a clearer vision of what their lives and values were like that has not been romanticized.
I look forward to using this essay with my Chaucer students! Thanks!
This paragraph, on a first reading, misled me into thinking that you would not be considering skin color, religious difference, or political affiliation as matters of medieval race. This is, of course, not at all true to your essay, so I wonder if you could begin to indicate here how geography intertwines with political identity and religious identity (sometimes messily) to construct medieval notions of race.
I don’t generally think of these issues (Custance’s/Constance’s passive/active agency or God’s absolutist/parliamentary ruling style) as racial markers, which is why I find this essay so intriguing! But it also means that I’m a little confused here. I have always considered racial discourses to be embodied, whether that embodiment is exhibited in the performance of religious rituals, or in skin color, or in monstrous appearance, or in creed. Please correct me if I’m behind the times on medieval racial discourses, but I am not sure what you mean when you suggest we can read agency/passivity and ruling style as matters of race.
Do you need the information in this opening paragraph about class and occupational divisions across the CTs, or the information about the Decameron? It seems to distract a bit from the focus on race in the rest of the paragraph/essay.
I think this is a great paragraph.
[Each version responds to the Crusades by depicting a heroine who transgresses racial categories, albeit with differing forms of agency.]
I’m not quite sure what you mean by this.
I feel like more could be said, in either this paragraph or the previous one, about the results of a subjective “equal value” exchange. In most instances, while there are claims of qualitative equality and just payback, the party who is on the receiving end of the initial negative action will “reciprocate,” but to a much more severe degree. In the case of the Reeve’s Tale, the Miller stole the Clerks’ corn meal and let their horse run loose. This is then counteracted by the Clerks sleeping with his wife and daughter, beating him up, running off without paying for any of their food or lodgings from the night before, and then taking back what was left of their corn meal and the food that was made from it. Qualitatively, these actions don’t seem to be equal and just. But perhaps the actions equal themselves out in the sense that the seemingly unprompted–and therefore morally worse–nature of the initial negative action makes up the difference between the catalystic action and the retribution for it? Might be something worth exploring.
Since both the jobs of the Miller and the Reeve serve a similar purpose it’s not surprising that they’re competitive with each other. In addition to that, it shows why the Reeve is so eager to “quite” the Miller’s story, because he wants to prove himself, and his position as a Reeve, to be just as, if not more, important to the estate than the Miller.
In the general prologue Chaucer describes a number of characters, especially the ones with the highest rank, with the utmost elegance. In a way that makes it seems a little improbable. Not only that but the language used to portray them almost takes away from the virtue of their respective positions. Simkin and his wife are seemingly conducting themselves in an aristocratic manner, and due to the intimidation factor of Simkin, nobody is willing to confront them face-to-face. But in reality the Simkin is a sinful miller and is just high on his heels due the aftermath of the Black Plague and the empowering affects that it had on his position.
A women’s virginity raises her value in the market of marriage, just as the quality of produce raises it’s value in the market of food. Chaucer is suggesting that women are a commodity no different from flour, corn, or any type of food. Aleyn and John’s plan to have sex with Simkin’s wife reveals the backwards mindset of the overall perception of women during the medieval era, viewing them as objects rather than people. Furthermore, in this case Aleyn an John are representative of the adolescent perception, which indicates that this sexist mindset is being past down to the next generation.
Judging from the conclusion of the story it’s evident that Oswold has some resentment for the Miller’s tale, because it humiliates a carpenter, and Oswold is a carpenter. In Oswold’s attempt to “quite” the Miller, he tells a story where not only did the Miller’s wife sleep with someone else, she also mistaken his identity when it was dark and knocked him over the head with a bat. On top of all that, the scholars were able to steal their bread back because Simkin’s wife told them where it was, think that she was tell Simkin. The reeve’s tale takes the miller’s tale to a new level in terms of humiliation, clearly this is done on purpose because Oswald is angered by the miller’s tale and therefore extremely eager to “quite”Robyn’s Miller’s tale.
I think this paragraph is important because it points out the eager intention of the Reeve to stand his ground as a carpenter. But it also alludes to the fact that the reeve is taking the miller’s tale very personally, almost to the point where he’s willing shape his own reality in order to achieve his goal to “quite” the Miller.
This paragraph makes a valid attempt to define the word “quite” in the context of Oswald’s intention. It’s clear that he wants to avenge himself and prove that he can tell a better story than the miller. Oswald’s perception how he should “quite” the Miller deems the notions of moral, legal, and economic validity as irrelevant. Therefore Chaucer shapes a world where laws and morals are seemingly extracted from society making the story absurd but also potentially revealing hidden truths about medieval society.
“by a/the local” ?
Will student readers possibly just think this means Donegild thinks Custance is weird for not saying she’s a emperor’s daughter? Maybe explain briefly how the sense of “strange” here fits into what you were saying about geography and community/identity?
I really like this exercise, but I wonder if you might need to be a little more directive here about which episodes to choose, or how/where to choose 3 episodes that will give the students the experience you want.
… Chaucer’s, Gower’s, and Trevet’s?
[oops this comment got attached to the wrong paragraph before]:
I love this exercise, but I wonder if you should be more directive about how to choose these 3 episodes so as to give students the experience you’re aiming for. Or even say which three episodes — I imagine you have some in mind?
This is super clear and concise about how these different parts of medieval race work together in this tale. I wonder if moving this sentence (or a version of it) up to the first paragraph or two would clear up some of the confusion others had. I think you did express these ideas earlier, but more spread out than this concise version.
[sorry I think I misplaced this comment too — I fail at commenting].
This is a really clear and concise statement of how these different parts of medieval race work in the tale. I wonder if putting a version of this up in the first couple of paragraphs would clear up the confusion others felt. These ideas are up there, but just spread out a bit more, I think, than this very concise version.
Cut the “they” at the beginning of this quote to integrate it into your sentence. Also should be “sende” instead of “sense.”
I like how this speaks to the ever-present issue of Chaucer’s different personae in the Tales, which I imagine while figure elsewhere in this companion!
I second Karl’s idea. Chaucer is so cagey here with his flip-flopping between “al that is writen is writen for oure doctrine” but then, well okay but some of the Tales “sownen into synne” (but I’m not going to tell you which). I think of this as very much a “turn over the leaf” analog.
The Wife’s autobiographical catalogue of her marriages, and even to an extent her tale, do appear at times to challenge the patriarchal status quo of Medieval England, but only so much as is possible given that she is a fictional mouthpiece for Chaucer, and the story is therefore told not by a woman, but by a fourteenth-century man. Try as he might to empower women and invert the gender hierarchy, Chaucer ultimately cannot escape his own male bias.
Why was the Medieval Church so strict in regard to people’s sexuality on account of this very brief, very specific verse in Corinthians when so many other biblical figures have sex? Was it because they considered allowing people, and particularly women, any sort of agency concerning their sexuality a threat to the Church’s power? Or was it because there wasn’t any adequate birth control or protection from disease and the Church was acting more like a governing body trying to…govern bodies, rather than acting like a religious organization that truly objected to sexual freedom on spiritual grounds?
What I find particularly interesting about this paragraph is the mention of the importance of Theophrastus’ and Jerome’s texts, especially given that these misogynistic beliefs are very similar to those perpetuated in Ancient Greece and Rome, and these two authors in particular function as the bridge between classical and medieval society.
This paragraph first claims that medieval literature is anti-matrimonial because it celebrates love outside of marriage and then that it is so because it depicts marriage as empty and loveless. The transition between these two claims, however, is not explicitly stated.
Could this be interpreted as a jab at the Clergy? If so, it’s a subtle one, probably only hinted at by her use of the word “auctoritee”.
She in fact seems incredibly well-read, quoting and referencing not only the Bible, but also several classical texts as well all throughout her prologue.
It’s interesting that she describes inverting the power dynamic within her marriage while also inverting the power dynamic between clergy and lay people. It might be said that a major theme of the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale is that of inversion.
Is all of this historical context necessary? I think it distracts the reader from the main argument.
Between the quotations on 790 and 822-824, Jankyn and Alisoun have a physical fight in which for a moment Jankyn believes he’s killed her. In this moment he is tempted to run away: “And when he saugh how stille that I lay, / He was agast, and wolde han fled his way” (797-798). It is only because of his fear in this moment that she says she momentarily gains “maistrie” (818). Her tearing the pages out of his book and symbolically tearing down the medieval misogynistic stereotypes therefore has nothing to do with her “maistrie”.
I agree with this reading of the Tale but disagree that it parallels the Prologue.
I think that the Wife is supposed to be likable because her prologue is so long and so personal, that the readers have no choice but to put themselves in her shoes. The text perpetuates the stereotypes for sure, but even still I think we are invited to side with the Wife.
I think she challenges the traditional gender roles by being a woman and interpreting the Bible, which, at the time, only the clergy (and therefore only men) supposedly had the authority to do. In doing so, however, she corroborates the textual authority.
The knight’s stained armor could also signify his devotion to his identity as a chivalric ideal. The stained chain mail reflects the countless holy wars that he has fought in and the fact that it remains stained as he rides into the pilgrimage means he has as much honor in fighting as he does for his religion. While the knight’s stained clothing may look similar to that of the other, lower class, pilgrims, they all know that he got those stains by fighting valiantly, not by laboring in the fields. It seems improbable that Chaucer would want to degrade his prized knight to a common man, when he is the pilgrim that all others are compared to. The knight as a pilgrim may be concerned with how he is viewed by the collective group, but Chaucer’s character the knight is meant to be emblematic of chivalry and nobility, not of fellowship.
I think too much emphasis is being placed on the knight as a ‘common man’ type character. The knight’s portrait already sets him apart from the other pilgrims as the ideal, both in status and religious fervidity. The knight may be competitive with the story-telling contest, but he does not let it show. He is chosen by Harry Bailey to tell his tale first. I think this is intentional not because the knight wishes to set the bar impossibly high for the other pilgrims, but rather because the knight will tell a high caliber tale, simply by nature. The knight does not try to be the embodiment of chivalry, he just inherently is. Dominance is meant to come to the knight effortlessly. If he were trying to upstage the other pilgrims, that would make him flawed because as the highest-ranking member of the pilgrimage, he should not have to sink down to their level.
Additionally, I think it is impossible to even conceive of the Cook’s Tale going first. There is essentially a domino effect that takes place from the moment the knight finishes his tale. Each proceeding tale is in response to the tale before it. By going first, the knight must absorb the blow from all following tales. The cook’s tale, which concludes the A Fragment, is meant to either summarize, or warn against continuing the themes that the miler and reeve portray in their tales. Had the cook gone first, he would not have had to respond to these themes. With full artistic freedom, who knows what the cook would have told for his tale.
I believe this passage highlights the complexity of Theseus as a character. While he is portrayed as a whole to be a strong and just ruler, he does lose a lot of control over the course of the tale. I also think it is a well made point to connect the sisterhood of the Amazons to Palamon and Arcite’s survival in the forest. Hippolyta and Emelye seem to represent the feelings of the people, and when their reaction differs from that of Theseus’, it means that he needs to be subdued so that he may retain his control. If not for the sisterhood of the Amazons, I do not think that Theseus would understand the power of their suggestion.
I think this is a very interesting observation about how Chaucer adapts prior sources in The Canterbury Tales. Removing the description of the Amazons’ culture and background strips them of their identity within the story. To the average reader, Hippolyta and Emelye are just feminine, figure heads with no real role in the new society that they are adopted into.
Additionally, I think it is important to recognize that Emelye’s true desires only come out when she is in private. While she is expected to act and behave as a normalized Athenian under the gaze of Theseus and his subjects, her true identity still exists just under the surface. This is why it is important that, as I stated in the previous comment, the reader is aware of the Amazon culture that Chaucer is adopting in “The Knight’s Tale.”
I think it is interesting to make the claim that “when Emelye bends to circumstance, it humanizes her and immerses her in similar problematic negotiations.” I think I could get on board with this argument, but it depends on who the audience that the Chism is referring to. For a modern-day reader, I do not think this argument would hold much weight because today women in literature are given far more agency than they used to be. However, for a medieval audience, I think this change in desires would be seen as normal. While it may make sense for a member of the Amazon culture to want independence, the average medieval woman would not expect a woman to remain unmarried in such an emblematic chivalric tale.
I agree with the point that Palamon and Arcite’s broken brotherhood is necessary to highlight the differences between the two brothers. They are introduced as practically identical, both exhibiting signs of immense love for Emelye. However, since the aspect of breaking the bonds of brotherhood is so integral to the tale, and The Canterbury Tales in general, why does Chaucer reconcile Palamon and Arcite by the end of the tale?
Is the only difference between them, then, the fact that one prays to Mars and the other to Venus? While these two gods may represent very different things, the ultimate desire for Palamon and Arcite is still to marry Emelye. What is the extent of the importance of praying to these different gods?
I think Laelius’ statement that “our tastes and aims and views were identical–and that is where the essence of a friendship should always lie” is adequately represented in “The Knight’s Tale” through Palamon and Arcite. While they fall out of friendship for each other upon seeing Emelye, their aims are identical. The tale boils down to the clash between two brothers for the heart of the same woman. While each may have a different way of achieving their goal, the goal itself does remain the same. However, does that mean that any two people who have wanted the same thing as someone else at some point in their life is necessarily friends with the other? Especially in cases, like the one in this tale, where success for one means failure for the other, how does a friendship remain intact?
This explanation for why Chaucer imbues Palamon and Arcite with hatred through rivalry contradicts Chism’s explanation of Emelye’s changing desires as representative of her humanity in paragraph 13. This description of the power of brotherhoods in England during this time seems to portray them as common and effective. If Chaucer’s goal were to make the tale more relatable to a medieval audience, like he does by making Emelye uncertain about her desires, why wouldn’t he use a sworn brotherhood that was common in medieval England?
I find it interesting that since friendship was considered an unbreakable vow, it could only really be shared between members of the aristocracy because lower-class people would abuse the power of the oath. This seems to be another example of how Chaucer structures “The Knight’s Tale” in favor of the upper-class at the expense of the lower-class. I think this point causes problems in this essay because the initial argument of the essay was that the knight tries unnecessarily hard to fit in with the lower-class pilgrims in the company. If the knight wanted to fit in, why would he structure his tale around a powerful relationship between brothers that most of the others on the pilgrimage could never imagine for themselves due to their lack of virtue?
I think this paragraph sheds light on my concerns of the previous paragraph. The fact that the bond between Palamon and Arcite breaks apart so easily proves that they, despite being princes, are not virtuous enough to keep their bond unbroken. I don’t quite understand how Emelye can be included in the list of characters/pilgrims at the end of the paragraph. While Palamon and Alison of Bath are not the most virtuous characters/pilgrims, they both end up with them means they desire in the end. However, Emelye may have a husband, but she does not get what she wants most, to maintain her independence. Why does Chaucer keep her from getting what she wants most?
I think that this paragraph is very interesting because it provides a lot of background for these lines about the incident that Chaucer references. Usually when I see this reference glossed in the tale itself, there is not as much detail offered. Knowing more of the background from this now is very helpful, and also interesting because readers in Chaucer’s time would have immediately known what he was talking about, unlike a modern reader like myself. Therefore, learning this extra information is both useful and interesting.
I think that this project sounds like a very interesting idea, especially because it involves medieval classroom practices. That way, students are learning not only about the fables themselves, but also how things worked in medieval classrooms. For this reason, I also like the annotation project.
I think that this paragraph is very interesting, particularly the notion that the Bible being available in the vernacular and therefore more accessible was dangerous. I would be interested to know even more about why this move to the vernacular was threatening at the time, as well as how it related to English being used more widely in writing as well in secular contexts.
If Chaucer’s friends had Lollard sympathies, is there any evidence that Chaucer shared similar views? Given the fact that he wrote works like the Canturbury Tales in English, it seems like it would certainly be possible. Given the danger of being associated with the Lollards, though, it also would have made sense to keep it a secret. Regardless, if any evidence did exist it would be very interesting.
Thanks for this resource, which I look forward to using with my undergraduates. Question: does Eve deserve a quick shout-out in terms of explaining the anti-matrimonial tradition and its logic? My students do not typically come equipped to approach medieval literature and the marriage debate with basic Christian theology/iconography in mind. Again, thanks for the work!
I think that Chaucer’s rendition of the Knight’s Tale is meant to emphasize 12th century old school chivalry rather than fellowship. Although the class valence between the knight and the other pilgrims is undisputable it is also realistic because it adheres to the social constructs of society. It makes sense that his tale would come first because he is the highest ranked on the trip and therefore can be used to represent some type of model behavior. The use of the verb slumming suggests that the knight is doing all the pilgrims a favor by going on the journey, when realistically, the knight is only doing what his job entails. Although it is improbable that the knight is as noble and kind as the text makes him appear, thus far, the text alone does not suggest that the knight is “class-crossing” at all. In fact, the knight’s “down-dressing” could also symbolize his dedication to his role as nobility. He simply is doing what he is supposed to do by coming home from a campaign and picking up the fellow members of society he is bound to protect to go on the pilgrimage.
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Even though the knight’s modest armor can be of caliber to the dress of the lower class, the rust and stains on it are from battle. Therefore, it cannot be described as “shoddy.” It is intrinsically superior due to the fact it has been worn down from past campaigns. This could also suggest that the knight is very honorable due to his success in previous battles. It is more plausible that the knight’s seemingly humble characterization is a stereotype that Chaucer deliberately implements to show how the nobility should act. It would be more unsettling to have someone of lower class take on the job as the pilgrimage leader because of the knight’s dominance in society implied through his dedication to religion and nobility.
I do not think that the knight’s meek demeanor is awkward at all. In fact, it would be awkward if the knight was overly pretentious or brazen. The knight’s characterization adheres to any typical medieval knight’s chivalric code of conduct and shows how he is loyal to the ideas of his class type. It is impossible to compare the knight to the plowman because by nature they are inherently different. The knight has no need to assert his dominance because he is already the ideal pilgrim. Furthermore, it would be even more awkward if the knight had to compete with the other pilgrims to tell the best tale. His overly detailed, lengthy portrait is meant to represent the inherent chivalric superiority that is within his being. Therefore, it is natural that he is chosen by Harry Bailey to tell his tale first because of his social dominance and intrinsic qualities of leadership and honor.
There is no way that any other portrait could come before the knights because it would defy the order of social hierarchy. In addition, it would take away from the other tales and what they are trying to quite. In his tale, the knight appears to be a model citizen who can be trusted. His true characterization only comes into question when pilgrims of lower class tell their tales and reveal the corruption of the nobility. Chaucer can most effectively reveal any type of truth about the nobility or social order in society by making the knight seem like the ideal pilgrim. If the Cook’s Tale were to come first, there would be less of a sense of corruption in society because less is expected out of the cook than the knight.
So, if I am understanding this correctly, Chaucer is purposely hiding these subtle nods to xenophobic violence within lighthearted tales as a way to stress education v entertainment? Maybe you could expand more on the last sentence. I don’t quite understand what assumption is changing through this view of the text.
This is a very interesting point, because it explains the subjectivity of the analysis of the Nun’s Priest within a classroom setting. In other words, you are not writing this as fact, but more of a culmination of possible choices, which I believe strengthens your argument.
On another note, I think it would be important to clearly state (maybe you have and I have missed it) where you are coming in terms of interpretation. You mention in this paragraph that this reading has “interpretive flexibility” and I think it would help if you explained where this essay falls in that context.
[As a mode of entertainment and education, rhetoric can be understood either as the chaff that contains, decorates, and protects the fruit or as the endless producer of chaff, which has the reproductive potential to obtain the same value as the fruit itself]
This line is a bit confusing. The following sentence clears it up a bit, but the wording of it loses me and I am not sure what you are trying to say.
Throughout the essay you talk about the context in which this work is analyzed and understood. I enjoy how you end it on a question, but it feels like this essay was leading to an answer. You made a lot of fantastic points on the different ways the text could be understood, but as for the role of education and entertainment in that process, I think you should expand more on it. I’m not sure if you are trying to be neutral in this essay, but I think if you take a side on the questions you leave the reader with here. As opposed to mentioning the history of the analysis of Chaucer, maybe talk about why the analysis of chaucer changes depending on if it is read for education or entertainment.
KL, thanks for this comment. It might be useful to reshape some of this paragraph along the lines of what you suggest. Tory Vandeventer Pearman’s book Women and Disability in Medieval Literature (Palgrave, 2010) makes a version of this argument through Chaucer and other Middle English texts and it would make sense to at least refer to her important work here.
In many ways, such as the ones mentioned, the Wife absolutely destroys the conformities that have been built around her by society, specifically the religious ones. While I agree to an extent, I can’t help but wonder why one of the prominent bible verses she firmly believes in is Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Looking through her five marriages, not once is there mention of a child, living or dead. First and foremost, medieval birth control clearly did not have the same effectiveness we have in the modern era; this leaves me to believe that either she was biologically not able to bear children, or, if she did fall pregnant, she miscarried or terminated the child. Though it is true that women felt as though miscarriage was primarily of fault of their actions, it seems strange that she would not mourn, nor even mention, the death of an unborn child. There is a possibility that Chaucer simply did not mention any children, for one reason or another. If that were the case, then we would have to wonder why he purposely left that detail out.
Continuing on, I feel hesitant to agree with the comment that the Wife “roundly rejects the idea that wives should obey their husbands.” In her most recent marriage, she speaks of both verbal and physical abuse brought onto her. Only when she tricks him into feeling immense guilt does the abuse stop. Certainly with her words she puts on a strong façade, but both types of abuses are mental plays of dominance. Abuse is a tricky topic, but it has been proven multiple times that victims can love their victimizer, and will stay and will stay in a dependent relationship with them through the violent tendencies. The very fact that she was a victim, however awful this may sound, shows that her husband controlled her.
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I agree that men had superiority over women when it came to legal issues. In addition to fathers and husbands, landlords held a significant portion of the power. Not only were they responsible for the legal rights of women, but the law also viewed them in a more favorable light. Looking at women individually, their legal rights were disgustingly non-existent. If a woman was not able to conceive a child, her husband had a right to pursue legal action. If a woman was pregnant and involved in some sort of physical altercation, the legal consequence depended not on how the mother was doing, but the condition of the child. Additionally, if the child were a boy, the punishment would be more severe. There are, however, some ways in which woman had an advantage over the man. Their punishment was much less severe than that of a man. Similarly, there are some supposed cases in which the wife was able to ask for a legal divorce because her husband was impotent. This legal battle levels the playing field and puts both genders in the same division.
I greatly enjoyed the use of the term “marital sexuality,” though, to me, I see it as a direct contradiction to the idea of both mutual and courtly love. The manner in which “marital” is added solidifies the idea that was mentioned early, that sexual relations within the marriage firmly conflicts with that of mutual love. A husband and a wife may participate in marital sexuality, but would it not be for either procreation or mutual pleasure. It says that the Wife celebrates this love because he is “serving her,” but is she not doing the same to him? Marital debt can involve both of the consenting partners. I think there is a good point here, but there should be a more specific distinction of the relationship between love and sex. It seems obvious, but I’m having a hard time separating them. I see that mutual love can involve marital sexuality, and, by this reading of the Wife’s tale, marital sexuality can involve mutual love. It could possibly be the word “debt” that throws me off the original meaning, however how can someone who mutually loves another feel like engaging in sexual relations relieves a debt that comes about with marriage?
I found it wonderfully refreshing how the Wife mocks the idea that “wives cannot be simultaneously faithful and attractive.” The tale ends just as a fairytale should, with each party satisfied with the other, or, at the very least, the appearance of satisfaction. I also saw the characteristics of the knight seem to be reflecting the rejection of the anti-marriage belief. The reader is aware that, no matter what he looks like, he has a high position of power that can be viewed as an attractive quality. Furthermore, the knight commits a crime that can very well be seen as an unfaithful act against the church. We see what happens to him, though, as he is punished with no regard to his position in society. The Knight in the tale can be seen as the physical embodiment of what the Wife is trying to refute. The fact that it happens to be a male helps to mock the comment farther. By having the Knight be attractive – whether physical or politically influential – and be unfaithful, the Wife flips the perspective. In her tale, it is the man, the husband, which fits into the anti-matrimonial cliché so commonly associated with woman. Instead of a wife going through the difficulty of finding the desires of her husband, the knight must do the same. Looking at the consequences of failure for both, we see death as a bargaining chip.
I have trouble coming to terms with the marriage between the old woman and the knight. In this essay, it says, “marriage is not the prize for masculine aristocratic prowess but a matter of female choice.” Essentially, this is saying that the Old Woman initiated the mutual love. I disagree, believing the man to continuously have control over the relationship. While it is true that the knight gave the Old Woman the choice to be either attractive or faithful, it is important to look at the chain of custody of said decision. The Old Woman gives the knight the choice first, a way that she asserted her dominance over the relationship. At this time, yes, I see that the Old Woman has the power. If the knight would have chosen between the two, that would maintain the Old Woman’s influence over him because he did exactly what she asked of him. However, the knight strayed from this decision and adapted it. The knight allows the Old Woman to decide her own fate. Categorizing the idea of choice into the power of dominance, the chain of custody adapts with the change in character. The knight essentially hands back the decision to the Old Woman, a successful attempt at taking the power out of her hands and back into his own. His offer to her directly gives her sovereignty, what the knight learned to be women’s biggest desire. It seems like he tricks her into giving her what she wants, turning him into the hero. This whole idea of the power chain simply turns into the idea of marital debt. The Old Woman received sovereignty, possibly putting her in debt to the knight. Because she got what she wanted, she may feel obligated to surrender her capability to the knight. He ends up winning this “mutual love” only because the Old woman adapted and reformed herself to fit the needs and desires of the knight. Perhaps she wants mutual love just as much as the knight yearns for it, and she does everything necessary, primarily giving over her power, in order for her want to be met.
For the reasons mentioned in previous comments, I do not believe that the knight gave up his sovereignty to the Old Woman. I agree completely that her most recent husband gave up his power of decision when she tricked him into feeling guilty. Before that, though, she was as much ruled under his power as the Old Woman was. The knight tricked the woman, much like the Wife did to her most recent husband.
great article! very small suggestion for the “we still go to work” list – “get sick” might go on here too, although I realize that the article almost certainly doesn’t have space to deal with healthcare (although sickness is key to a couple of the CT’s).
very good essay – some ideas for further paths for students – on the issue of gendered emotion, you might ask them to look at KT ” Shrighte Emelye, and howleth Palamon,” a passage that immediately begins just to discuss Emelye’s grief to the exclusion of Palamon’s.
Students might also think through social function of affect by considering Dorigen’s list of historical exempla of honorable wives – I’ve often taught this as a ‘filibuster,’ but your affect-oriented approach gives me a new method.
In a larger sense, although I don’t think you have space for this, I wonder if you could apply more pressure to the presumption that students might have that emotions are more sincere than reason/judgment (because emotions are personal, and reason impersonal, at least as the faulty common assumption goes).
this is all admirably clear! thanks – small point that might be interesting for this – I always teach that “from Denmark unto Inde” notably omits one key place: England! There’s a bit of a geographical joke here, I think, which points out that Alisoun of Bath perhaps isn’t so “kind” (natural etc) to her husband, and that what’s finally happened is that she’s got this awful husband, the one she married for love, wrestled back into a comfortable position of subordination (rather than “mutuality and partnership”). (Good for her! I say)
In this sense, the joke of Denmark unto Inde is like the ironic turn at the end of the WBT, which savagely turns on/against the supposed marital happiness of rapist and fairy. There’s a structural anticipation of the way the tale’s going to end.
fwiw, I’m a big fan of Smith, Warren S. “The Wife of Bath Debates Jerome.” The Chaucer Review 32.2 (1997): 129-145. I recommend it to students pretty frequently, in part because it implicitly ‘denaturalizes’ a good chunk of the WBP (and it’s fascinating to think of the first several hundred lines taking place in the ‘margins’ of a work that’s only present through an attack on it)
perhaps relevant, but perhaps could consider the other meaning of ‘fable’, namely, to lie, or tell frivolous fictions. Here’s a bit I wrote for an encyclopedia article:
“While the word “fable” itself comes simply from the Latin fabulor, “to talk” (which eventually provides, for example, the French parler and the Spanish hablar), it also came to stand in for fiction as a whole or even, with the sense of moral condemnation, as a false story, a use that appears even in fable collections themselves. Marie de France includes an epimythia against the deceptions of art that warns “Par essample nus vuelt aprendre / que nuls ne deit niënt entendre / a fable, ke est de mençunge” (1994, 124; by this cautionary tale, we wish to learn that no one should listen at all to a fable, which is a lie), while Henryson begins his collection with an apology for the “feinyeit fablis of ald poetre,” “not al grunded upon truth” (2010, ll. 1–2). ”
[not asking to be cited! just being efficient in sharing info]
I tend to take it as offering three morals, beginnining at VII.3430:
1. keep your eyes open [Rooster]
2. keep your mouth shut [Fox]
3. don’t trust flatterers [Nun’s Priest]
The multiple morals, each offered to to the benefit of various parties, and stated in the course of the fable itself, suggest, following Mann From Aesop to Reynard, that we’re less in the world of the fable than of the beast epic
he’s also asking us to eat like a chicken!
maybe just a hobby horse of mine, but I’m really hesitant about the word ‘tragedy’ to describe political catastrophes/xenophobic violence/&c
ah, I see you have ‘xenophobic violence’ below…
LOVE the ‘mansplaining’ reference here. it really works, and the students will like it.
really like how the essay wraps up, and now thinking about #3 here – the weird tension in rhetorical amplification is that it’s evidence of instruction done via a mode of pleasure. That is, the amplifier takes real delight in showing off that they have been instructed, while also providing material for further instruction. Pleasure and instruction really do seem to be inseparable when it comes to amplification (and glossing, which is itself a form of amplification).
Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1993. Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750–1150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Just poking around on TEAMS and ran across this “Abuse of Women” poem:
Of all creatures women be best:
Cuius contrarium verum est.
and so the joke goes all the way through. perhaps helps illustrate how the Latin is working here?
this is all very clear so far! I wonder if “in the time of Chaucer” can be clarified though, since “Lollardy” arose in Chaucer’s time too. Hard to specify a decade of course, but can perhaps indicate that by the time Chaucer had (probably?) written most of what we call the CT?
yes! the key thing with a will, apart from its legality, is its sincerity (the two of course are hard to differentiate of course). Because death is held out as the ‘great truth’ of being (see Marcuse ‘Idealogy of Death’), there’s often the assumption that what we say on our deathbed is the most sincere thing we have to say. Students probably make this mistake too. One of the issues with the retraction – and one you deal with beautifully – is dealing with it and other ‘deathbed’ modes of communication (even if just imitated ‘deathbed’ modes, like this one), as rhetorical occasions. students, again, will presume that ‘rhetorical’ things are insincere. The trick is to somehow break apart their precritical notions of sincerity, which is, I believe, what this essay is aiming at.
I wonder if we want to call it ‘heretical’? I could DEFINITELY be wrong here, but we might be on safer ground in this period to call it ‘heterodox’ or even more neutrally as a ‘reform movement’ (in part to indicate that notions of heresy were shifting – look what happened to the Franciscans in the fourteenth century after all…)?
I wonder if you want to put in a question about the reader’s responsibility (don’t blame me if you choose wrong etc) in some of the prologues
just leaving a comment on my own article to start – hey, self, why not take advantage of hyperlinks! link to the bestiary website for starters, but also link as much as possible to images and so on.
hey self – more signposting needed here – point of this paragraph is that nonhuman animals all around in this period, and that even doctrinal material couldn’t imagine life without them.
for #2, clarify that this story of the Rooster and Fox is very often told, dating back [I believe] to the earliest fable collections, and that one of Chaucer’s radical changes is that he, on the one hand, includes humans in a story that had never or only rarely ever before included them, and on the other, animalizes those humans. tl;dr: “versions” isn’t going to make sense to undergraduates.
and for #4, change “class” to social class or even social hierarchies, because it’ll be jargon and possibly anachronistic jargon…
I’d say that the tale puts the animal/human distinction into question on precisely those questions of partnership and responsibility, or, to answer your question another way, I think that once we’re outfitted with a careful reevaluation of questions of moral responsibility (such as what a reading of the Friar’s Tale provides us), then the notion of a hierarchical human/animal distinction becomes unsustainable. The Carter really is a figure of the ‘common man’ (as Kolve argues), but in a way that renders the ‘common man’ no longer fully recognizable as possessing the traditional human privileges.
thanks Ruth! great suggestion and I’ll definitely take it up
maybe “could” consider instead of “should”?
in re: “accurate series of directions” – one thing your essay has done is indicate various kinds of “accuracy,” doctrinal and moral for example (I think of the 15th-century Danish map that has pygmies and unipeds listed as living in the far north, which is a kind of accuracy, insofar as that’s just where pygmies were supposed to be). so maybe a different adjective or approach to the problem here?
probably not relevant to your piece, but reminded that Mileson’s book on hunting parks has good material, iirc, on landscape and vista aesthetics in medieval hunting preserves (i.e., the ‘landscape’ or ‘nice view’ is not just a feature of the Romantic Sublime).
you’re probably going to hit this point below, but I’ve just realized that the artificial families of sworn siblinghood are always sexually homogeneous. actual families are of course often sexually heterogeneous. that’s quite odd!
[really small point – “exists” as a verb is one of my bugbears, as I feel it makes ontological claims that often exceed what’s actually being expressed]
fwiw, I tend to join others in teaching the ending as Theseus using the notion of ‘necessity’ to establish a political order that works for him, with Thebes and Amazonia now entirely subordinate to Athens. I’m getting this in part from Fradenburg I suppose! But I’ve always been struck by the political element in this passage
Bitwixen hem was maad anon the bond
That highte matrimoigne or mariage,
By al the conseil and the baronage.
And thus with alle blisse and melodye
Hath Palamon ywedded Emelye.
“When Emelye bends to circumstance, it humanizes her ”
not quite sure what this means
[In the process, they align themselves toward different ends or desires]
I might even emphasize that they are aligned – one striking feature about their broken oath is that it’s maintained so long as they’re stuck in a prison cell, without any stimulation but their memory and their own relationship; the seed of the outside, and especially these seed in the form of love, compels them, even infects them. what breaks them is emotional dis-ease. subjective difference is an effect not of choice, not of internal agency, but of becoming a victim of, or simply impelled by, love.
actually, let me add to that, although it may not be useful to this argument in particular – my students often get hung up on whether P and A ‘really’ love E (they’re young, so these questions strike them as very important). this attempt to find the ‘truth’ of love runs aground in fascinating ways on one of the key ways we, and in particular medieval texts, determine what makes love ‘true’, namely, that love is the master, not the self; that we are diseased, upset, driven to do things that we wouldn’t otherwise do, because of it; the loss of subjective control and rational decision making is so important to proving that love is ‘really’ there.
just a small note, only perhaps relevant for your project here – the invocation of St Nicholas may be a gesture towards the well-known story of Nicholas and the 3 Clerks, a proto-Sweeny Todd story about a butcher, 3 traveling students turned into sausage, and the saint. The hint of anthropophagy in ritual murder stories like the Adam of Bristol legend (even if the PrT isn’t technically ritual murder) activates this Nicholas invocation with new and sinister force.
another note, perhaps something you deal with below – the ‘presence’ of the Jews in this tale complicated by where the Prioress sets it, in Asia. I tend to read the opening lines as a kind of ‘cinematic zoom’ – in Asia, among the Christians, a Jewry – so that the Jewry is lodged amid the Christians who are themselves lodged in a foreign, religiously nebulous environment. The Jews in the story are as proximate as proximate can be – running right through the Christians – while the story is set far away (although then it’s yoked at the end to a ‘recent’ and nearby story that happened some 100+ years ago: time and space are quite weird in this tale)
there’s also, as I tend to teach this, an evacuation of agency – she’s not responsible, it’s the holy story passing through her – just as the boy himself is, in a sense, not responsible [indeed he’s legally just before the age of responsibility, yes?]. I would say, then, that by likening herself to a small child, she’s also obscuring her responsibility, and therefore her ability, cloaking it within a culturally validated voice (i.e., this isn’t me who’s talking, but rather the virgin)
really good stuff here.
I’m wondering if we need a little gesture towards the rhyming couplets that form the bulk of the rest of the CT – if rhyme royal is bodily, then what is the run-of-the-mill meter?
wonder if you might have a question about the response to the tale? the somber moment, where everyone looks at the ground, is key, as might be readings of Thopas that take it as a parody of the PrT (fighting for non existent lady against a non existent monster, all with a secret background of money, absurd, pointless violence, and the counterfeit, low-quality cloth of the low countries).
“biological sex”: this makes sense for student readers, but as I know you know, there’s Butler’s old argument that it’s gender all the way down (so that what “counts” as biologically determined is itself culturally determined). Is there a way to express that succinctly? Dunno.
[the sex I was assigned at birth may be male,]
something like this
I wonder if you want to emphasize gluttony as also associated with lust (and point out the kind of pneumatic anatomical logic of this [full stomach presses on genitals]), given that the tale’s Friar is particularly an overeater.
this is great, and I really like the way you anticipate likely student reactions
here or earlier, do you want to make a call back to the Miller’s Tale on this word (in that it’s already highly sexually charged, and also charged with religious parody)?
by the way, you may not know this old post from In the Middle – http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2007/03/fisting-and-other-gifts-for-graduate.html
I think Michael O’Rourke wrote this, but can confirm if needed
I think you want Morrison’s Fecopoetics here
Loved how you started this essay by connecting The CT to new media. 🙂 Being a vernacular text, one can wonder whether the Parson’s Tale, one among many inappropriate tales, was taken in a similar way to the Confession app — one among many inappropriate apps as well. What kind of effect does this mix of themes have on the audience? It’s a lot of fun to examine the tales and the pilgrims’ portraits in the Prologue with the Seven Deadly Sins in mind.
Wow, it’s really interesting to observe how Edward III used a literary character as a model for kingship. What a smart political move! It also makes me think how this move worked both in maintaining the morale of his troops and establishing “ownership” over the character of King Arthur, who had previously appeared in French romances as well, placing him as a key symbol of the English identity and cause. Fascinating! 🙂
It’s interesting to note how both participation in war and in feudal matters were seen as almost religious duties (especially through the influence of the Order of Garter and the image of the Virgin Mary, as you have mentioned above). The wording of the statute, using words like “malice” and “idle,” closely ties that to a sense of sinfulness. It’s fascinating to see how Edward III used religion as a tool to maintain order. Wow. 🙂
I’m a little bit confused by the section “Regardless of Richard’s intentions, however, the rebels’ investment in documents and the legitimacy they offered reveals not the changing attitudes towards writing, literacy, and the role of texts in not only government or aristocratic circles, but in the lives of labourers as well.” While I did get the general idea of this statement, I did have to re-read it a few times. Perhaps some tweaking could help with clarifying this.
This is a very interesting chapter. Very comprehensive and helpful in providing a historical context for Chaucer’s works. I really enjoyed reading it. 🙂
I’ve been really enjoying this chapter. Your mentioning of how the focus of the tale is on “characters in thrall to systems far more powerful than they are” ties really well with the image of the horses. The tale implies that what makes one human (and not mere animals, like horses) is the ability to enter into this “partnership” between target and cursor. Would the tale also be trying to imply that those who are in thrall to these systems and don’t realize it (or merely don’t respond to it) are seen as nothing more than animals by these systems?
While your description of the T-O is very detailed, perhaps it would be useful to include an illustration of the T-O map for students who might not be familiar with it.
I really like this paragraph. It makes one consider how the temporal and spacial relationships of geographical representations and religious stories are not presented in a simple linear manner, but in a highly dynamic way through its ‘timelessness.’
This analogy of guiding and being guided is really interesting. One might consider how the readers themselves are being guided by the “pictures” painted by the pilgrims (who, some might argue, are not considered figures “with greater visual and cultural literacy) through their tales and how that is contrasted with their own experience as a mere viewer.
I really enjoyed this paragraph. It makes me think of how humans participate in this “circularity” of the world. Since we are constantly changing our environment, are we breaking a natural cycle in favour of an artificial (and perhaps more controlled) setting or are we perhaps a part of the cycle itself? When considering the circles as a knowledge device (as you have mentioned above in par. 6), is our process of “writing the world” simply the scraping the old and the inserting of the new, or are our circles spiraling concentrically, never reaching their origins?
I divagate, but I’m really fascinated by your ideas in this chapter. It makes me (and hopefully other students who will read this) look at the Tale of Sir Thopas from a very interesting and insightful perspective.
Should it be “suggest the capaciousness of social meanings” or “suggest capacious social meanings”?
I wonder here if Zenobia’s ultimate disability is her gender. As you note, she is given the status of a man, but her downfall comes in part because she is not a man. Despite her great strength and prowess as a leader, it is her woman-ness that is at the center of the “storie.” Her body, for audiences of the time, is already held as lesser than that of a man’s, the poorer version of the male body. So while her immediate disability is the transformation of her strength into weakness, or being domesticated, she begins with a disability to start with.
While I do agree with Eileen’s comment and believe that this paragraph does will in informing the reader in a way that allows them to better appreciate a section of the Tale, I also feel that more time was spent detailing the violence the Flemings faced than was necessary. The sentence ending in “scapegoats” seems the point in this passage where I felt that I had really learned the historical context of this moment of seriousness in the fable; what followed was not uninteresting, but was graphic and detailed enough that it stopped supporting the engaged text as much as it was informing me of the sad story of Fleming-directed xenophobia.
The last sentence brings up an interesting instance of fourteenth century mass manipulation; knights given assigned duties were forced to behave a certain way and uphold particular values, and they were greatly respected. Assigning a spiritual significance to those values and behaviors and then assigning those expectations to the common man was an effective way to control the actions of enormous masses of people.
[led to public resistance to or skepticism of his authority.]
I think that using “or” here and in the first paragraph (“…events emerged out of, reflected, or birthed more elusive social and literary phenomena”) makes it sound as though only one of the listed terms occurred, when, in reality, they are all usable. Using “and” instead of “or” might give the listed terms a more cumulative effect, strengthening the sentences and their arguments.
[or, more realistically, to essentially make decisions on his behalf.]
This feels like a lapse in the writer’s confidence; saying “realistically” makes it sound as though what preceded it may be fallible, and “essentially” feels very unsure. I think some certainty could be injected into this sentence (and, perhaps, maybe even the “the accounts are not clear or consistent” sentence in paragraph 11, as well).
Both this paragraph and the one preceding it begin with the word “although.” Not a problem, just a note.
[someone who should not have it.]
Accidentally switched out of the past tense into the present tense – “someone who should not have had it”
Why isn’t Miller’s tale and prologue included?
I appreciate that this chapter touches on the penitential aspects of Chaucer’s Retraction, and have some brief suggestions for clarifying these further.
[The three aspects of medieval confession are listed by Chaucer in this brief work: confession, penance, and satisfaction (l. 1089)]
This seems to be a paraphrase of Chaucer’s “verray penitence, confessioun and satisfaccioun” (1.1089) which, as you point out, lists the three parts of the sacrament of confession. So the first term here, “penitence,” refers to contrition (as given in the Middle English Dictionary definition), as opposed to “confession” (which, in Modern English, is more commonly used to describe either the act of confessing to a priest or the sacrament itself). Why not give the more usual Modern English translation of the parts of the sacrament (“contrition, confession, and satisfaction”)?
[the aforementioned confession, penance, and satisfaction.]
As I noted on paragraph 3, why not give the more common translation of “contrition, confession, and satisfaction”?
The discussion here of the relationship between the Retraction and medieval penance is fascinating. But Handlyng Synne isn’t a penitential in a traditional sense, since its author states that he writes so “lewde men” “kun knowe þer ynne / Þat þey wene no synne be ynne” (43, 55-56).
Although this paragraph is informative to the time that the story was written…. you lost me! It seems like a lot of talk of Flemings. I wonder if this could have been said in less detail or even just less examples. It kind of distracted me from the point of the essay.
I was a little confused by this paragraph until I got to the end. I didn’t think it was clear that you were talking about how confusion is vital to education- until you said it at the end. I thought that was what you were getting at by the last quote you used, but it wasn’t too clear in the beginning for me.
It’s interesting how certain theological information was kept only for the wealthy; because the same could be said for literature. Some knowledge was saved for the ones with influence- which is similar to today. The people with money and power are the ones that are looked upon as worthy because they must have more worldly experiences. Money brings power but it does not mean that it also brings knowledge with it.
Chaucer seems to be mentioned at the very end; I understand that this was more about historical background but maybe more of how or why he was influenced by these events would be helpful in understanding his point of view. This essay explains how the country got to this point but not necessarily how Chaucer did.
Read chapters 5 to 8 in my Venus’s Owne Clerk which provides a thorough analysis of the Wife’s sermon.
You ought to read my Venus’ Owne Clerk, chapters5-8.
You ought to read my Venus’ Owne Clerk, chapters 5-8.
I like the contrast between the physical description of this poem serving as ‘a poem about work’/’a game of food’ and the moral exchange that is explored later. I really liked the theme of exchange in lines like “brute economy of coercion and revenge, where women’s bodies are treated as commodities like any other.” I am interested to see how the writer approaches the quiting aspect and if they thing this was a successful or unsuccessful attempt. Because there is such a strong presence of women in the tale, I wish there had been slightly more description of the fabliau. I am curious to see if the aspect of the fabliau and Chaucer’s comments on women are expanded more in the body.
It is helpful to know that their jobs are dependent on one another, making the attempt at a “quite” more vicious.
I would have liked a little more explanation on the phrase “qualitatively different, but in some sense quantitatively equal” before proceeding to question it.
Why is crossing the lines of legality mentioned if the writing focuses mostly on the morality and economic effect of the “quite”?
The qualitative difference vs. quantitative equality becomes more clear here.
It might also be interesting to explore the fact that Simkin’s wife is illegitimate; she is the daughter of a priest.
It is an interesting point that the miller is more concerned with pleasure than business. He does not really care about the little bit of grain he is taking, but he is thrilled by the act of scheming the scholars.
You may want to focus also on the way that sexual love overpowers courtly love, as Malyne places her loyalties with Aleyn after he rapes her.
Just as they stole the “flour” on the way out, they also stole the “flower” of Malyne. This is a sort of pun on the competition and rivalry between the scholars and the miller. It is also interesting how the miller sinned against the scholars, yet in the end they commit multiple crimes against him. This could possibly be a criticism on the Christian virtues and how the act of revenge is barbaric and sinful itself?
I think calling his boast an overstatement is an interesting comment. I struggle to decide myself if that is truly an overstatement or just a final kick in the gut, in a way, to the miller. The entire tale is not a skillful way of quiting, so this sort of follows the blatant tactics of revenge that Oswold uses throughout.
It is interesting, that after giving an extensive background on how exchange is based on the premise that the commodities being substituted are of equal value. Right away the Miller’s monopoly denies this sense of equal exchange by forcing people to pay higher prices for less wheat because there simply is no other option. Immediately, the corruption of equal exchange is portrayed through the Miller’s playing of the system.
Not only does the Miller have a monopoly, setting him above the rest of the people economically, but his brute force also puts him ahead. Simkin and his wife use power to bully people into believing they are of the nobility. This is interesting because despite all of their efforts, they still lack the actual status of noblemen. Also, Simkin’s wife is used as a pawn, as women are in this story. She is a complement to his pompous attitude by supplementing his game of deceiving those around him into thinking he has power.
In addition to Simkin’s wife use as a supplement to his tactics of deceit, she is physically used to better his social standing. Her chastity betters his status. He uses marriage as a form of exchange in the way that the men seem to control who they choose to marry and who they give the women away to. If marriage is the form of exchange, rape is the act of soiling that exchange, a sort of thievery or means of lessening the quality of a commodity.
The exchange that occurs here is rape, which is an unequal exchange between the women and the scholars, but an attempt at an equal exchange for the stolen wheat. The game of exchange, here, occurs without morals. Because Simkin lessened the amount of wheat they were to receive, the scholars lessened the quality of the miller’s commodities through the soiling of his daughter.
Also, the theme of substitution is present sexually, as the scholars are getting back what they believe they lost in the wheat. As they continue to try to get a “fair wage,” they commodify the women more and more.
Aside from the romantic relationship between Chauntecleer and Pertelote, and their talk of dreams, the explanation of the four humors, what happens when they become too “abundant,” and how to treat an excess of humors from 2924-2937 stands out as an obvious detail that supports this concept. The concept of the four humors (the melancholic black bile, phlegmatic phlegm, choleric yelloew bile, sanguine blood) governing both mental and physiological health was the overarching medical theory of the time. It was also believed that if any of these humors (or a combination of them) were overabundant that they should be expelled from the body, either through inducing vomit or excrement via some mixture of herbs (poison ivy, Pertelote’s suggestion, was popular at the time). I think this concept is important in explaining the ways in which Chaucer personifies his animal characters.
Although this seems a small change in our contemporary outlook, producing the bible in the language of the laypeople promoted literacy among all classes in English society, which was dangerous for those in power (both religious and secular) because it allowed freedom of expression, interpretation, and thought. It is through this movement that writers like Chaucer exist, because reading and writing became a flourishing hobby.
This is pretty interesting as it really mirrors the ideal human condition. The company, and the competition of the Canterbury Tales, is trying to find the best story. The best story is a mixture of the earnestness of the Monk’s Tale and the Miller’s Tale’s frivolousness. But these stories seem to be conforming to the ideal human condition; not too serious yet not too playful. This also coinsides with the education process. Simply telling facts does little but state things that happened, but the role of education is to teach useful things and do that in a enjoyable manner. The Nun’s Priest Tale does a great job taking things that are seemingly nonchalant and creating a message within a story about animals.
This paragraph strikes interest for me because I feel like Chaucer benefitted from Richards lack of “martial ‘masculinity'” that the earlier kings encompassed. Richard seemed to have more of an eye for art and culture and Chaucer’s reputation was held in great regard because of his king.
Statute of Laborers rather promptly put an end to skyrocketing wage rates caused by bubonic plague. It put an absolute ceiling on wages.
Thanks for creating the opportunity for a wider community to contribute to this project.
There are two women mentioned as authorities in the Book of Wikked Wives, and about both of them there has been a tremendous amount of scholarship in the past 30 years. Students deserve to have an explanation of how women’s voices can be used against other women (a deeply misogynist move), as is the case of Heloise and “Trotula” here in the WBP. The literature on Heloise can readily be found; you can start with Barbara Newman’s recent translation of the alleged letters exchanged between Heloise and Abelard (http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15518.html) and work back through the literature cited therein. On “Trotula” (a textual fiction, not to be confused with the documentable historic woman Trota), there is also much scholarship. On the particular question of how “Trotula’s” reputation was manipulated in the later Middle Ages to make her into an authority on “woman’s nature” (in both positive and negative senses), see Chapter 5 of Monica H. Green, Making Women’s Medicine Masculine: The Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Modern Gynaecology (Oxford, 2008). Also worthwhile as background is Mary C. Flannery, “The Concept of Shame in Late-Medieval English Literature,” Literature Compass 9/2 (2012): 166–182, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2011.00868.x.
Good luck with this project!
Interesting to read that Chaucer serves as a voice to this era’s anxieties about transformation. However this voice seems to not be singular, but one that is very plural
This transition is so interesting. Recognizing the political, social, and economic worthlessness of strong individualism seems very impactful here. I like how it reflects in the military.
An interesting parallel here: in the last paragraph we see a shift away from individualism, but here we see an illustration if the singular, individualized power held by the king.
This is very understandable. Making their “hertes glade” is interesting, because it seems to outline an emotional response but represents the balance between the educational and the entertainment. The “gentilesse,” “moralitee” and “hoolynesse” that the Host desires from the stories is encapsulated by this gladdening of the heart. The language use has interesting implications here.
This is a very compelling interpretation, but it is definitely not something that I arrived at by reading the text on my own.
This concept seems very meta– it displays Chaucer’s awareness in using and stacking literary devices/motifs.
The paragraph was very well constructed and very clear. Even an individual without any background knowledge of the fable genre would be able to understand this brief description of it. The wording is very concise and drives the focus towards the more the fable and thus crating a base for the reader to refer back to.
I find it interesting that the word. “Irreconcilable” is used to describe the relationship between entertainment and education in this sense. I think to start off this essay its a little dramatic stating that there is no way these two roles can be combined for a fun learning experience.
Maybe fables will process into some readers minds much more clear and the message will stand out more being that it is not so serious. I feel that sometimes a playful reading has a bigger impact than a serious intense reading because the mindismore relaxed and it gives the reader more freeway to really think about it rather than concentrating too much and missing the whole entire point.
Doses it really matter if the animals in fables do not precisely have the values as animals in real life? The whole point is giving an author the freedom to be creative and get a message across to an audience that may not fully grasp their idea if it were presented by real humans. Not to mention the fact that it is in a way sort of fun and a form or entertainment, as adults we all know what every animal does and appreciate nature in that sense but speaking of fables in general, for a younger audience having animals to play certain roles in real life issues is a great idea because they will be more attentive to what is going on in the story, oppose to reading about adults, their minds will wonder..
I had no idea this type of debate went so far back in time. I was in the debate team in my high school and that is the exact method of debate we were taught to do. Wow! 🙂
It is fascinating to read how well respected and valuable writers were back in that day in age. Considering the generation we are in today, it seems only singers and actors are appreciated and writers not so much. This introduction immediately took me to another setting because of this, I wish writers still made such a difference.
This paragraph was a nice refresher. Had forgotten all about how Duke William of Normandy sailed to claim England!
Its too bad not everyone in war followed the Arthurian model, the world might’ve been a much better place.
Wow. I would have never thought there would be a law against dressing nice. I was not aware Edward III had brought attention to such a thing, it is amazing to see how much time has changed the way we think and feel about others.
Richard was a bold young boy meeting with such angry people who could cause harm to him, being only 14 that takes a lot of guts!
It is so cool to see how important writing was, and how much it could help people and change things. It once had real value.
Interesting to see the connection to English as a language, and religion. I don’t seem to see any way these two would be related and make a difference but very interesting.
[Many of Wyclif’s main complaints against the Church – the fact that it hoarded wealth rather than welcomed poverty,]
Nice! Tells me a lot about his character in little words.
This is a very interesting point in the typical beast tale not only are the animals not described physically, but they are also not described otherwise. Usually they’ll have a single adjective like such as old and all their words and actions will be informed by that single trait with only occasional nods to the animal they’re supposed to be.
Just have names sets the beasts in the Nun’s Priest’s tale apart.
Question one provoked a new thought, couldn’t the moral about flattre be extended to Chauntecleer conceding the agument to Pertelote. Chauntecleer’s desire for sex is part of his reason for coming down. Isn’t having sex with someone a form of flattery?
In a thought related to professor Mueller’s, maybe the author could have said a little about the enclaves of les connected people it was transforming from.
The figure of the English Longbowman is of great interest to me as a student of Western Martial Arts. It’s important to know that not only do longbowmen represent the common people due to their numbers, but also it represents a lifetime of field training to hunt with the bow. This means that you need a whole culture of archery rather than the hasty training normally given to troops from the common class.
This is the second time in the tale that the Knight does not directly answer a question asked of him. By having the Old Lady decide for him, the Knight again rejects the responsibility of everything he has done to lead him to this point.
One of the reasons I reject the notion that the Wife’s tale depicts mutuality in love and marriage is the entire ending of the story of the Knight in her tale. After the Knight goes on his journey to learn “what women really want”, his punishment as given by the Queen, he finds an Old Lady who will give him the answer in return for anything she asks of him, which turns out to be marriage. The Knight does not actually learn anything about female desire because he directly answers what the Old Woman told him to say. He is also upset when he then has to marry her after she has saved his life, calling her old and ugly. In the end, it is implied that the marriage is happy and faithful, but only because the Old Woman transforms herself into a young and beautiful woman. Therefor, not only does the knight not learn anything about women’s actual desire’s, he is rewarded for his initial violence, his ignorance, and his superficiality.
The sermon that the Wife give in the prologue to her tale is ironic because it is, in a way, a “backwards sermon”. Throughout her speech on marriage, the wife explains the ways in which the Bible’s teachings and views on sex and marriage are hypocritical as well as contradict each other.
I find it difficult to agree with the notion that the Wife of Bath fully rejects the tradition of wives obeying their husbands, and I also disagree with the reading that she (even temporarily) gains “maistrie”over Jankyn. In her prologue, when she is discussing her marriage to Jankyn, she describes how, though he physically abused her, she allowed it because he pleased her so well in bed. This relationship between the Wife and Jankyn is a classic example of female submission and so clearly an embrace of gender inequality in marriage. I find it difficult to accept the Wife’s teachings in their entry because of the hypocrisy within this marriage she describes that epitomizes one of the very things she ridicules throughout her prologue and tale.
Continuing with this idea, I understand that there is a possibility for the argument that the Wife’s relationship with Jankyn is indeed rooted in feminism in that the Wife endures the abuse for her own pleasure in bed. The dynamic of the relationship with Jankyn is entirely different when the endurance of the abuse is viewed with the understanding that it is an example of the Wife’s agency rather than submission. Having realized this, I still disagree with this argument because it is thin. The physical violence endured by the Wife is echoed in her tale by the Knight who rapes the woman in the woods, also an extreme act of physical violence. the fact that the crime the Knight commits is viewed, by both men and women, as an act deserving of punishment only reinforces my stance. The Knight is punished because he is physically violent towards a stranger. Had the Knight raped or beaten a woman he was married to, the act would never have been punished and perhaps never even acknowledged. In this way, marriage as an institution protects and reinforces male dominance, and the Wife’s compliance only makes her an accessory to it.
Another way the Wife justifies marital sexuality in her “sermon” is her point about virgins and procreation. She argues that without sex there would be no virgins because there would be no children born.
In ending both the Wife’s prologue and tale with the roles of the husbands and wives reversed, Chaucer is commenting on what is still a very real issue in society today. People who are fighting for mutuality and equality in any form/area often make the mistake of fighting for the wrong thing, fighting for something that doesn’t actually lead to equality but to a form of “revenge” or what seems “fair” in terms of the subjugation that has been suffered by the avenging party for so long. In this case, the Wife is fighting for “maistrye”in her marriage/over her husband. This is wrong because it doesn’t lead to mutuality or equality and it is the very thing that she believes unfair that her husband has over her.
One of the things that I think makes the Wife seem less valid as a character is the way in which she states her beliefs and preaches to the other pilgrims. I think the fact that she is so aggressive and, in that way, “manly”, makes her seem defensive and weaker in her own arguments. In this way, I feel the text validates textual authority because the Wife is basically demanding that the others believe her because of her experience (I’ve been there, i’ve done that…). In the Wife’s discussion of her former marriages she brings up the fact that men think women are unstable/hysterical, yet in her aggressive defense of her beliefs, she comes across this way. Because of this, and because of the fact that at the end of her tale the Knight gets exactly what he wants, I believe that Chaucer is suggesting that gender is not so easily changeable as a social construct.
I also don’t think its about whether the reader likes the Wife or not, I think its about whether the Wife is a valid and reliable source. Just looking at the prologue, I feel that the reader is inclined to side with the Wife as she is taking a stance that is not highly favored among her companions and attempting to deconstruct a social problem that most of the other pilgrims might not necessarily view as a problem. To decide whether or not the Wife is reliable in her evidence to prove her beliefs is a matter that concerns the inclusion of the tale she tells, not just her prologue. However, when looking at just the prologue, the Wife is successful in convincing the reader to inquire/question the hierarchical institution of medieval marriage which is undoubtedly Chaucer’s goal with the extended prologue of the Wife of Bath.
This introduction paragraph is quite intesting. Knowing a small bit of background information on Chaucer, it is interesting to see how it is built into this paragraph. Chaucer came form a less wealthy background which effected his writing. Although he was favored by the crown within his stories the Canterbury tales he wrote about characters from less wealthy occupations. It is speculated that he used these characters to show how people of lesser status were being made to move out of their citites because of the plague.
I had never thought about how there might be some other gold standard of educational fables other than Aesop’s fables. Does this “elegiac Romulus” feature in Chaucer’s work? Obviously, it shows that his fable’s structure mirrored those fashionable at the time,but I would like to know if he ever references these Romulus fables more directly or if they had a specific impact on him.
“Fruit from chaff” and separating the fruit of the poem from the chaff of the poem and, as Karl said, chickens picking the fruit when the eat it. It’s unfathomably clever and he did it in poem form. I’m suddenly way more impressed with this moral after you’ve explained it.
To the Dragon Age comment, I wanted to add that there are some pretty harsh critiques of that series from people who feel that they pretty mishandled their social issues (which is another story entirely) BUT I also wanted to add: Are the races in DA “other” enough to qualify as a stand in for the animal in an animal fable? For my first time encountering a breakdown of this medium, I feel like there is a reason that the animals are specifically animals and not, say, strange foreigners for a reason (although I don’t know what that reason is). A lot of time is spent in the DA series humanizing the various races (and the templars and the mages), rather than them being a completely different creature that is only acting human. I agree that the plight of the mages in DA, for example, is absolutely a “soft” stand in (but more like how with “Chaucer and his purse” meant that he couldn’t talk to the person directly since Bioware making an actual solid political statement either way would be very strange and probably terrible for them), but I’m not certain it is jarring enough to be an animal stand in.
(I’m sorry, I’d love to talk with you about DA forever, but I tried to get to my point a little. I hope it was clear.)
I think that it is interesting, especially as the first comment on paragraph 3 mentioned, that Edward III deemed it a politically savvy move to tie himself so closely to Arthurian myth. I also find it more interesting that it didn’t work. It’s my limited understanding that wealth (or at least standing) and literature went hand in hand for a long time. It doesn’t surprise me that the actual soldiers hired to do the gristly job were unimpressed by symbolism. It sounds like it just wasn’t their job to care or make sense of it.
So there is this time when people are turning away from myth and story and turning to religion and we have the beginnings of Chaucer, of all people to come into such a mixed time.
I had ready about the french influences on his work, but I’m really interested that there is such minutia available about this time that also had a profound impact on Chaucer. My other readings concentrated very heavily on his french influences and almost not at all on his English ones. Thank you for the info!
This paragraph was really distracting for me as a reader in regards to the discussion of racial prejudice. It made me think the discussion was going to be more focused on classism rather than racism.
Hi, Jennifer! Give the full range of meanings for “taillynge” in the late 14th C. One of the pleasures of this tale is the punning on telling a tale, having sex, and reckoning what is owed.
but does she mind about this?
Karl, great intro, but do you need to say that The Friar’s Tale is not the obvious place — and perhaps indicate why animals are important to it?
why “programs”? the meaning isn’t obvious. You need to say somewhere here that in addition to their social (farming, keeping rats down) and culinary value, animals were frequently symbolic in the Middle Ages (lion as king of the beasts, fox as wily, etc.), and that this symbolism was codified in bestiaries (as you say in the next paragraph). Since you do go into this, perhaps in this first paragraph all you need to say is “in relation to their widespread symbolic value”?
why “authentically”? I get that you mean “for understanding the meaning of the animals in the tales in medieval terms,” but “authentically” suggests that modern frameworks are false or wrong, which they’re not necessarily — as you go on to say in the next paragraph.
The idea of links to images is great. The Aberdeen Bestiary? Why not also include a quotation from a bestiary?
How do bestiaries make a binary distinction between humans and non-human animals? In a sense, they don’t, because they attribute “human,” or human-like, behavior to animals, i.e. lots of anthropomorphizing. If anything, it’s modern texts, like Nagel’s “What does it mean to be a bat?,” that make that distinction. But I think there are 3 issues: anthropomorphism, the rigid separation of animals and non-human animals (where language is crucial — not Nagel’s point, of course: he’s arguing something about otherness), and a third position (Darwin? Derrida?), which affirms kinship on some level.
Very nice quotations and examples in this paragraph. Yes to your note to self. Animals were ubiquitous in medieval culture, urbanized as it was, to an extent that they are not today.
add “through history”?
The ref to Derrida makes it seem as if he is representative of the field of critical animal studies. How about a ref. to Erica Fudge?
do you need this? It makes the sentence a bit clogged, and you go on in the next sentence to explain what you mean anyway. Also, friars aren’t really to do with ecclesiastical courts, are they?explain that friars have papal dispensation to preach and hear confession — and give absolution.
Excellent summary of the tale in this paragraph.
Nun’s Priest’s Tale? Squire’s Tale?
Agreed. But is it worth noting the other animals? the “hauk” (1340)? “dogge” (1369)? “deer” )1370)? “ape” (1464)? “stot” (1630)? “leoun” (1657)? They are all symbolic.
“Whatever camp you fall into, it seems problematic to redirect others in the classroom from those lines in the General Prologue that suggest the Pardoner’s potential queerness in regards to sex, gender, or orientation as if this aspect of his identity were irrelevant, anachronistic, or less important than his spiritual depravity.” This is saying something very important, so it’s important to clear up the slightly awkward expression that makes it hard to follow this sentence.
scanned should be rhymed
I love the critical move here, i.e., the link you make between passage , performance, and poetics.
A very fair point. I’ll change that.
Karl, a very fair point. I’ll change that.
I agree. Thank you. I’ll change that.
Thanks, Karl. It’s a fair point, but I already have greed.
Karl, thanks for the link to the In the Middle pice. Excellent points about grope. Thanks. Will try to work in.
Karl, I had thought about that, but decided to leave it out because not centrally on sex.
Karl, can you elaborate on your point about the Miller’s Tale? Grope isn’t used in it, as far as I can see.
This opening was really great. It pretty much summed up my thoughts as I was first trying to understand why one story was too serious, but at the same time they are supposed to be learning from these tales (that they apparently want to be happier).
As I got farther along in the tale, I actually thought it was a really interesting idea to use an animal (especially one that was probably extremely common in their lives) to tell an important story. It definitely comes off as more of a tale than a lecture about life, and that in itself would make a long listening much more pleasurable.
It really helps how detailed this is- someone like me who is pretty unaware of these dates would be sort of lost without the little pieces of background information. Definitely helpful!
The Wife of Bath is proud to subvert ideas the role of the medieval wife. While the Wife may need to present herself as nominally lesser than her husbands during the time of marriage, she is eager to relay the idea that she has inherited her power and wealth from her five husbands and that she is a self-reliant individual. This is not a true subversion of cultural rules, however. The Wife has reclaimed some mobility from the medieval patriarchy, but she operates entirely withing the boundaries of institutional marriage to do so.
I think it’s essential to consider Medieval viewpoints on marriage as “a prize of male success” and compare them to the Wife of Bath’s perspective on love. Her character seems to consciously address her past conflicts with gender hierarchy and concludes with a defense of marriage that also functions as a defense of sexuality. The Wife deftly walks the line between traditionally masculine relationship traits and characteristics and the “bourgeois laywoman.” But her actions are not a rejection of social norms or even gender roles. Instead, the Wife draws on preexisting, accepted choices that have secured her improved wealth and social standing. In other words, she doesn’t violate the system, she uses the system to her advantage.
The wife of Bath defends marriage, and the sex associated with marriage, from religious persecution. While it may seem that she is sharply in favor of a kind of sexual freedom that is not commonly advocated during this time period, hers is a pro-marriage opinion. Marriage was seen as the lowest rung on the ladder of acceptable sexuality, the highest of which was the preferred tactic of celibacy. The wife seeks to invert this hierarchy by reiterating her position of power in marriages. The role of the woman who acquires the man. The desire to procreate is less significant here than the Wife of Bath’s unusually high level of sexual interest or influence, which was exclusively a male trait at this time.
It seems extremely relevant that the Wife be portrayed as the speaker of a sermon. In this passage, the Wife is capable of assuming the clerical height and speaking to the assembly about her gospel of marriage. Not only is the Wife infringing on the activities of men, she uses her history to make a point against the celibacy of the clerics.
Chaucer’s use of “somme seyde” certainly does echo the prologue’s use of “they sayst.” In Identifying the alternate, other perspectives and voices of differing opinions , Chaucer is able to pull off a microscopic version of the “quite” that uses stories and evidence to prove the alternate voices wrong. This tale uses the device to disprove stereotypes about women just as the prologue did.
In referring to The Reeve’s Tale’s “brute economy of coercion and revenge, where women’s bodies are treated as commodities like any other.” the author highlights the revisionary, sometimes argumentative nature of “quiting” in the Company of Canterbury. Chaucer’s attempt to reveal divisions of class and societal placement uses these alternate perspectives of transient wealth vs. base commodity to play off of each other, and present both sides of the medieval argument. This section seems to support the idea that each time a character attempts to “quite” the story of another, they are revising or deconstructing the economic worldviews of the previous story.
As Oswold “mocks their pretensions to nobility” he reinforces the inability of the lower classes to advance themselves. He also implies that the power, advantage, and nobility of the upper classes was not inherent, which hints at the idea that no one is born any better than anyone else. This goes hand-in-hand with the themes of worth and value that control the Tale, specifically that the world is organized in a hierarchy of value.
Feminist readings of the Knight’s Tale discuss the helplessness of Alisoun in the time before the tournament. It is curious to consider her helplessness in contrast to the helplessness of Palamon and Arcite. Though Alisoun is bound by the ruling of Theseus and must marry one of the cousins, The warriors are bound by the inescapable fate involved in courtly love. Chaucer presents characters who are dragged into love, the heroic romance vs. the inconvenient mandate. All are swayed by the unbreakable rule of the gods.
The dynamic between the Summoner’s Tale and the Friar’s Tale in this order of the Canterbury Tales is the ultimate example of the “quite.” While earlier quiting seemed to stem from a corrective or repudiative angle, the dispute between the Summoner and the Friar seems much more personally driven. Though this connection may, as the author says, be homoerotically charged, I have yet to see enough evidence to support this conclusion.
When you classify the Reeve’s Tale and Prologue as “as an attempt to figure out what it means to “get even” in a stratified society defined by divisions of class,” I am curious to see how your interpretation of class stratification plays out. The Miller and the Reeve are of similar social standing. While I would typically assume that class stratification creates tensions between the upper and lower classes, in this case, it leads to an internal tension within the lower class, between the Miller and the Reeve. When considering that the Reeve’s and Miller’s Tales are in conversation with the Knight’s Tale, what does it mean that the tension becomes situated within the working class, rather than between the laborers and the Knight?
I need more elaboration on the relationship between economic circulation and “poetic fictions.”
This section was very helpful in my understanding of the economic relationship between the Miller and the Reeve. As a third-year undergraduate student, I did not know most of this information upon first reading the Reeve’s Tale. It has particularly furthered my interpretation by explaining that the Reeve may have had a role “supervising the milling of grain,” because that implies an unbalanced power dynamic between the Miller and the Reeve.
The sentence beginning with “Production and trade were well advanced…” needs more explanation.
This is a great concept and I am interested to see if you will apply it not only to the Reeve’s “quite” to the Miller’s Tale, but also as an analysis of how John and Alyen pay back Simkin’s theft by sleeping with his wife and daughter. What creates equivalency in that example of payback?
While the beginning of this paragraph was rather confusing, you did a good job of unraveling the complexity of Marx’s theory and clarifying it by the end of the paragraph. I interpret this paragraph to mean that confusion is a characteristic of exchange, due to the fact that exchange itself is based upon arbitrary values. I like that you interpret Chaucer to be reflecting the absurdity of exchange both in the plot of the Reeve’s Tale and in the act of “quiting.”
Would you say that the Reeve is critiquing structural inequality by mocking Simkin, the tyrannical monopoly owner? Or is this something that Chaucer is more subtly doing himself?
You mention that “Simkin the miller bristles with potential violence.” This description mirrors the Miller’s description in the General Prologue as brute and potentially violent. That similarity seems important when discussing the Reeve’s Tale as an act of “quiting” and it helps explain how the Tale functions as an item of exchange.
It seems as if an interesting connection may be made between the marriage market and the agrarian economy, based on the way that women are valued and commodified.
I would like more explanation about the way that work as play connects to the “boys will be boys” mentality. It’s a great concept for discussing rape culture in the Reeve’s Tale, but I need more evidence of the relationship.
This paragraph is helpful because it analyzes the abstraction of exchange (which was introduced in the Marx paragraph) in the specific terms of the Reeve’s Tale. It raises the issue of how exchange functions when the items of exchange are not material products, but in this case, theft and trickery.
I like this interpretation because it ties together several aspects of you essay. You clearly explain how the commodification of women in this abstract exchange of trickery is made possible by the more literal commodification of women in the marriage market.
Again, this paragraph really helped clarify the argument of the essay by applying the language of labor and compensation to the sexual acts of payback.
The physical beating that Simkin receives is also a proper part of John and Aleyn’s payback, so I feel it should be contextualized in the same way you did with the rapes. Does the beating mean something in the context of labor and economy that the essay has been using as its frame thus far?
This question is a great follow-up to the essay because it puts the main argument into straight-forward terms. After reading the essay, I would personally say that, in a way, the “wages” are paid fairly. Since the entire mechanism for exchange is arbitrary and without proper equivalency, it seems that these bizarre and blatantly unequal paybacks adequately respond to the absurdity of the system of exchange, while playing within its limitations. Essentially, the shortcomings of the exchange system redefine what can qualify as “fair” and “just.”
This section introduces an interesting idea, but I would like the analysis to go a bit farther in explaining exactly why it is important that Chaucer minimizes the academic side of John and Aleyn’s work as scholars. What is the significance of the fact that Chaucer shows education as an economic market instead of as an intellectual pursuit?
It is difficult to comply with the assertion that the Wife believes in mutual love within marriage when all of the marriages she speaks of are a result of female submission at one point or another. Yes, I do believe that the Wife wants marriage to uphold the value of gender equality, but her own marriage with Jankyn, as well as the tale she tells, dispel her belief in that possibility. Both instances of marriage that the Wife recounts, marriage is, in fact, an unjustified prize awarded to men of wrong-doing. The Wife contradicts her prior preachings of feminine strength when she happily allows Jankyn to marry her, the man who has been physically and emotionally abusing her for years. The Knight’s marital circumstances are even more perverse: he rapes a woman at the begging of the tale, and is told that his life will be sparred if he can bring the Queen an answer to her question. Not only does the Knight not answer the question, but he is rewarded with the love and fidelity of a young and beautiful woman. How does that work?
If a man then were to remarry, would he be criticized in the same way women were? Or was it more accepted for men to have a greater sexual appetite than women? If I am not mistaken, polygamy was prevalent in the Middle Ages. The Bible even permits it.
Although their preachings were derived from the bible, it can also be inferred that the clergy exhorted sexual practices as a result of their inability to take part. If they weren’t able to engage in sexual acts then no one else should either, especially not women. However, these men were the paradigms of piousness and therefore were the ideal figures of society at the time. Going against their word would have been heresy.
The Old Woman of the Wife’s tale is only able to obtain her choice of partner after making an impossible physical transformation. Although the Knight allows the Old Woman to choose her ultimate character, his disgust with her physical appearance is glaring. Although the Old Woman promises a marriage of fidelity, her decision to transform into a beautiful young woman insinuates that she understands that her loyalty is not enough to provoke the Knight’s love. The Knight is presented with more options than the Old Woman.
This paradox between mutuality in love and the rule of husband over wife seems to adhere to the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale. The Wife claims that she and Jankyn share a mutual love, however that “shared” love is deduced from Jankyn’s superior status, a phenomenon that is mirrored in the tale that the Wife tells.
This seems antithetical to all prior information about the marital system in medieval times. It seems improbably given the patriarchal dominance. There must have been some other inferred instructions that hindered a widow’s ability to inherit her husband’s property.
Were these texts widely studied by men? Were there religious backings that upheld these accusations? It doesn’t seem probably that men would actually adhere to these teachings unless there was some sort of spiritual application.
The Knight of the Wife’s tale never has to suffer for love. In fact, he is able to rape a woman, evade answering the Queen’s demand, and in the end is rewarded with a marriage to a young, beautiful, AND obedient woman
The Wife uses the scripture’s omissions to validate her promiscuity. She says that nowhere does God say how many husbands a woman should be allowed to have. However it does criticize remarriage. She fills in the blanks of areas in the scripture that are left for inference.
The Wife undoubtedly has a way of transforming the meaning of words to her advantage. In her interpretation of the scripture, in her own marriages, and in her own tale. She manipulates words to her advantage, including the words of God, therefore she has committed one of the ultimate sins of the Old Testament: fraud.
Her anti-matrimonial statements come across as very vengeful, and even threatening. She does not take the high road, so to speak, in this opportunity to critique the opposite sex.
What about their final physical fight???
The key word here is “magical”: The woman is only able to become faithful AND attractive after a magical transformation. If the wife actually believed in the possibility of this occurrence, she could have made the wife take off a mask or something more realistic.
The old woman of the tale does indeed win the prize of the knight, but only after she goes through a physical transformation in order to appease him. In the end it seems as though he was granted the ultimate prize of the tale.
I don’t think it’s a question of whether she is likeable or not, but a question of her intention with the tale. It’s impossible to say whether he criticizes or perpetuates because he inserts another voice in between his own and the text’s. If anything I am left to pity the wife.
It does not actively validate either, but If I were to pick I would say textual authority merely because no specific textual authority is contradicted. Although I do believe that gender is a social construct, I don’t think there’s any evidence in the text to support that claim.
Because they don’t know what mutuality in marriage actually is. By inverting the “norm” of patriarchal hierarchy, the social construct of marriage becomes seemingly equal to these women, simply because they have nothing else to compare it to.
Her celebration of marriage in terms of sexual pleasure, love, and individuality is evocative of modern values. Our own society has become tolerant of these ideals and even promotes them.
It shows that social change is possible. We can understand sexuality as being natural and inherent to humanity – men and women. Marriages are not confined to one gender hierarchy or the other. The 21st century promotes the individual. Although gender stereotypes are still present, the boundaries that they construct are more frequently challenged.
in sow’s nose > in a sow’s nose (minor typo)
ther ynne > therein i.e. in [his text] rather than through [his text]?
I know in the next paragraphs you give discussion of Lombardy tyranny and more recent examples–would it be helpful to frame this idea of shared governance and moderation with a 14th century example/model?
There seems a connection here to the function of marriage within The Knight’s Tale where marriage is compelled by a political class, of sorts, as Parliament meets to determine what is the best course of action for the state and the state of Emelye and Palamon.
Obviously knowing where you go with the end of the essay, this connection makes sense. But transitioning from the above ideas on sin and penitence, it feels slight unconnected. Can we hint to the below argument, or rather, might we reference some sense of what about C’s works would lead us to make the connection?
But does the notion of saying it directly to a priest or God become complicated in that it–in most manuscripts (except I think Cambridge’s Ms.Gg.427) it comes after the Parson’s Tale? Here we point to this denial of priestly power, but here a man of God might be seen as inspiring this confession and rejection, no?
Here is a question that I asked my students after reading your piece–Does the text want us to see him as a fixed presence, or does his ambiguity complicate our understanding of the kind of “body” that we get our spiritual bodies into heaven?
How should students, themselves members of the audience, read the divide between the morality of the speaker/author and the content of the piece? This seems an interesting divide given Chaucer’s own ambiguous history when it comes to Cecilia Chaumpaigne.
This notion of ratification is important, because there is the arbitrary nature of the entire enterprise–devised by HB for profit, the “randomness” of the Knight being selected first. He brings order to what is a loud rabble driven out of town with the Miller’s bag pipes playing.
Is there a formal pattern that must be followed for the brotherhood to have this spiritual and ennobling significance?
That shift in tone is so abrupt, and there seems to be the sense, as you indicate, that she will offer something more decorous–is that because of what the Host assumes about her? Or is it because of her appearance?
Does the “success” of the tale, then, depend on the audience (us, 14th century readers, the pilgrims) in believing that the monstrous-ness of the Jews might still haunt England? Even in the fragmentary forms of ruined buildings? Or the whispered past of hagiography?
This is a very helpful image to consider the complexity and function of material and performative objectives.
December 8, 2016 at 5:40 pm
See in context
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November 10, 2016 at 4:54 pm
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