The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Anderson, J. J. "The Three Judgments and the Ethos of Chivalry in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 24 (1990): 337-55.
The writer of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight carefully presents most elements of romance while simultaneously critiquing romance. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the poet connects religion to chivalry so that the two elements are inseparable. The poet deemphasizes the supernatural elements, and permits the narrative to point to the subtext, a critique of chivalry and romance. Gawain, Bercilak, and Arthur represent three thematic elements that give three judgments of Gawain's behavior. The poet depicts the different sides of Gawain and of chivalry so that readers scrutinize the ethos of chivalry.
Barney, Stephen A. "Suddenness and Process in Chaucer." 16 (1981): 18-37.
Chaucer uses sudden action to emphasize both good and bad events. Troilus and Criseyde has the most occurrences of sudden appearances and events of all of Chaucer's works, though the Wife of Bath's, Knight's, Miller's, and Squire's Tales also use this technique. Chaucer uses suddenness of emotions when depicting courtly manners and quick judgments for moral questions (26). By tracing suddenness through Troilus and Criseyde, readers realize that Chaucer makes "humorous, ridiculous, or contemptible" what is sudden (30). Chaucer also focuses significantly on process, the process of time as opposed to Fortune, the process of time as a consolation, and the process of penitence. Though Troilus falls in love suddenly, he continues to love Criseyde by process, thereby expressing patience.
Benson, C. David. "The Knight's Tale as History." 3 (1968): 107-23.
Though many scholars classify the Knight's Tale as a romance, it actually bears great similarity to fourteenth-century chronicles, as Chaucer's attention to realistic historical detail suggests. Chaucer adds to and deletes from Boccaccio's Teseida as well as Statius's Thebiad to create a classical world which would be believable to a medieval audience, though the poem does not accurately represent the world of Greece and Thebes. By including a large amount of historical detail, Chaucer also examines chivalry in a pre-Christian state. Chaucer shows the best of secular knighthood and suggests that it foreshadows Christian chivalry.
Berger, Harry, Jr. "The F-Fragment of the Canterbury Tales: Part I." 1 (1966): 88-102.
The Squire's Tale may be about magic, but the Squire tells the tale in such a way that he spends an inordinately large amount of time announcing what he will not include. The material that the Squire chooses to include is often complicated and awkward, but it reveals his interests and how he wants his audience to think of him. Clearly, the Squire desires the noble life of the past as does the Knight, but he gets in the way of his own story. Unfortunately, the Squire is not as skilled a narrator as the Knight. Where the Knight can use disclaimers, occupatio, apologies, and style shifts to control the tale,the Squire's use of the same devices indicates that he has lost control of his story. The Franklin points to the Squire's advantage of birth and urges the Squire to cultivate his natural tendencies of gentillesse into knightly virtues, but he also points out the dangers of the aristocratic idyll. Like the Knight and the Squire, the Franklin also wants to see the renewal of courtly ideals, but he realizes that one must be detached from them to see their weaknesses and correct them.
Berry, Craig A. "The King's Business: Negotiating Chivalry in Troilus and Criseyde." 26 (1992): 236-65.
Chaucer's poetic negotiation of the chivalric code appears most prominently in Troilus and Criseyde. Reading Troilus and Criseyde against the backdrop of contemporary events suggests a number of parallels, such as that between England and Troy. This kind of reading also suggests the kinds of social and court views Chaucer would have supported, such as the one which suggested that a knight successful in the bedroom might experience defeat on the battlefield. The tensions Chaucer engages, however, express the dichotomy of the chivalric code and its relationship to knighthood and the behavior of both men and women. The use of fear to manipulate the reactions of women particularly addresses an incident in Andreas Capellanus's Art of Courtly Love, and records of real instances in which knights rescued "ladies in distress" can be found in the fourteenth century.
Burlin, Robert B. "Middle English Romance: The Structure of Genre." 30 (1995): 1-14.
Middle English romances did not exist solely for entertainment. Included with the delightful elements of the romance were social, spiritual, and class concerns. The paradigmatic axis of the romance is the chivalric and courtly codes, apparent in works like Havelok the Dane, the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Marie de France's Lanval, and Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Chaucer also makes use of this code in the Knight's Tale and in Troilus and Criseyde. On the syntagmatic axis are the quest and the test. The Knight's Tale, Malory's Morte, and Sir Orpheo use the chivalric and courtly codes together to create narrative tension. In Sir Orpheo, Troilus and Criseyde, and the Roman de la Rose, however, any attempt to put the narrative on the syntagmatic axis fails because such tales only work in the context of idleness. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight shows a different interpenetration of the two axes in that Gawain is both a courtly lover and a questing knight, but he can handle only one code at a time.
De Roo, Harvey. "Undressing Lady Bertilak: Guilt and Denial in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 27 (1993): 305-24.
Gawain's admission of guilt occurs at a surprising place in the narrative, and though he confesses cowardice, he also admits guilt for a sexual fault, even in the face of the Green Knight's pointed comments. Gawain's behavior in the bedroom with Lady Bercilak "violates the logic of the pentangle, thus contributing directly to his downfall" (311). The world of Arthur's court is a kind of artificial courtesy; Bercilak's world is the real world in which Gawain must make hard choices. In setting Gawain up for his encounters with Lady Bercilak, the poet contrasts two conceptions of Gawain, one as a Christian knight faithful to Pentangle virtues and the other as a ladies man. Gawain's invective against women is a result of a pattern of denial consistent in Gawain's behavior throughout the poem.
Ebin, Lois. "Dunbar's Bawdy." 14 (1980): 278-86.
Dunbar uses bawdy puns in "Of the Ladyis Solistaris at Court," "In Secreit Place This Hyndir Nycht," and "The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo" to reexamine traditional forms and courtly tradition.
Eckhardt, Caroline D. "Arthurian Comedy: The Simpleton-Hero in Sir Perceval of Galles." 8 (1974): 205-20.
In the English version of Sir Perceval of Galles, the author maintains Perceval's countrified qualities so that even after he has been a knight, these qualities remain. In addition, the writer places less emphasis on the darker aspects of Perceval's personality. The result is a loss of the darker undertones and a strengthening of the comedic aspects of the story. The story also seems controlled by a common sense and rationality that reduce tolerance for the inexplicable. Perceval maintains his rough character throughout the tale, making many foolish mistakes, but since these errors are not of great import, they heighten the comic effect. Thus, Perceval is excited to fight, but not terribly concerned that he fight for good reasons. When he fights the Red Knight, he appears as the anti-knight, merely sorry that the game is finished, and the comedy results from the incongruity between Perceval's words and his deeds. The writer carefully focuses on Perceval: in the symetrical plot, there are no extra details or people, and motifs and natural details are sustained.
Finlayson, John. "Definitions of Middle English Romance." 15 (1980): 44-62.
The term "romance" is highly confusing for medieval scholars. A useful distinction can be made between French romance and chansons de gestes on which English writers based their works. Romance and chanson de geste can be differentiated on the basis of the treatment of the hero, direct speech, and description of behavior. The chanson hero fights publicly; the romance hero fights for something personal. Romances have educational value: they demonstrate courtly behavior. Adventures and supernatural elements are also important to romances. Love, however, is not essential.
Foley, Michael M. "Gawain's Two Confessions Reconsidered." 9 (1974): 73-79.
Gawain's confession to the priest is not invalid because there is no suggestion of superstition about the girdle from either Gawain or Bercilak. The poet carefully denies the material value of the girdle, and Gawain has not broken his oath because the exchange-of-winnings agreement is not an oath but a game. Gawain is more guilty of having been false to knighthood. The two confessions are necessary because they deal with the crimes against parallel codes of conduct, the Christian code, and the knightly code.
Foster, Edward E. "Humor in the Knight's Tale." 3 (1968): 88-94.
Throughout his tale, the Knight seems unaware of the humorous statements he makes. Though the Knight deliberately skirts delicate subjects throughout the tale, his choice of language leads to unconscious puns on such words as "queynt" and "harneys." In addition to the description of the Knight's rust-spotted armor, the word play emphasizes the way the Knight maintains courtly ideals in the face of reality. The Knight's inept narrative technique also provides unintentional humor which makes many situations in the tale ironic. But even when he slips out of high style, he still manages to impose idealistic courtly forms on his tale, though these lapses point out the instability of those forms. The play between form and reality does not undermine the tale, but instead emphasizes the necessity of the forms and rituals.
Gaylord, Alan T. "Friendship in Chaucer's Troilus." 3 (1969): 239-64.
Troilus and Criseyde deals as much with courtly friendship as with courtly love, and when Chaucer exposes the flimsy nature of love, he also exposes the shallowness of the friendship on which courtly society is based. Chaucer expands the role of the friend from that in the Roman de la Rose and in Boccaccio. Chaucer's friends defend and advise, though not necessarily wisely, as Pandarus does for both Troilus and Criseyde. In Roman de la Rose, the Ami (friend) serves as the one who advises listening to Love instead of Reason. Christian writers capitalized on Ciceronian echoes and connected Reason to Charity. The advice of Ami, then, shuts out Reason and Christian Charity. Chaucer complicates his Troilus and Criseyde by putting friendship under the command of Venus so that friendship then describes the relationship between "nations, continents, and spheres" (251). Thus, when Pandarus comes to set Criseyde up for Troilus's advances, he can couch his suggestions in the language of friendship. When Pandarus returns to Troilus, he can imply that Troilus must press his advantage so that the "friendship" can be expanded into passionate courtly love. Unfortunately, Troilus becomes so much a lover that when he needs to champion Criseyde, preventing her from being shipped off to Troy, he does nothing. By the end of the narrative, "ironies, complications, and contradictions" become apparent to the audience through the idea of friendship (261). The reader realizes that Pandarus is no friend at all. Diomede's courtship of Criseyde progresses quickly through friendship to love, causing the reader to recognize Fortune's power over love. Chaucer's use of friendship makes Troilus and Criseyde both romance and antiromance, and questions noble courtly values.
Hatton, Thomas J. "Chaucer's Crusading Knight, a Slanted Ideal." 3 (1968): 77-87.
The Knight's portrait emphasizes two virtues--worthiness and wisdom as defined in the 1380s and 1390s. As a worthy man, the Knight has bravery, skill, and battle experience. He is also wise in choosing his actions to conform to chivalric ideals. Though the Knight will fight for his lord, the specific battles in which the Knight has fought demonstrate both his worthiness and his wisdom: in his primary battle experience has not fought other Christians, but has been a crusader, fighting the heathens. These characteristics suggest that the Knight represents a chivalric ideal proposed by Philip de Mézières and his Order of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
Herman, Peter C. "Treason in the Manciple's Tale." 25 (1991): 318-28.
Given Phoebus's aristocratic social position, his wife's adultery is a crime of high treason as much as it is a violation of her marriage vows. In sources for the Manciple's Tale (the Metamorphoses, Ovide Moralisé, and Le Livre du Voir Dit) Phoebus's lover is his mistress. Making her Phoebus's wife creates in her "an implicit threat to male hegemony" (319), since adultery undermines male authority. Though the penalties for adultery were harsh, adultery was reasonably common, and adulterers were often unpunished. Exceptions were that adulterers had to deal with angry husbands, and that sleeping with the wife of one's lord was considered treasonous, as Ramon Lull presents it in Libre del ordre de Cavayleria. Thus the crow must choose either to notify Phoebus of treason against him, or to keep silent, thus assenting to that treason. Ultimately, the crow's act is objectionable for the method by which it subverts the codes of loyalty to his lord. Social disorder results from the wife's assertion of freedom, the crow's transgression of the letter of one law and the spirit of a second, and Phoebus's tyrannical response.
Hodges, Laura F. "Costume Rhetoric in the Knight's Portrait: Chaucer's Every-Knight and His Bismotered Gypon." 29 (1995): 274-302.
Medieval writers generally skipped over practical problems of errant knights such as battered armor and the necessities of laundry and bathing, a point Chaucer draws attention to in Troilus and Criseyde. Dirty knights were subject to ridicule throughout chivalric literature that most directly connected nobility and cleanliness. Medieval literature sets the traditional figure of the knight in shining armor in opposition to Everyman, the soiled pilgrim. Chaucer's Knight, however, represents the reality of medieval knighthood. He is neither the shiny knight of the chivalric romance nor the tattered pilgrim. Through the spotted gypon, Chaucer presents readers with a realistic picture of knighthood.
Hollis, Stephanie J. "The Pentangle Knight: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 15 (1981): 267-81.
Gawain's response at the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight directly derives from his desire to restrict his view of himself and his behavior. Gawain defends himself first by assigning his failure to cowardice, then to women, then to human weakness, and finally to the disease of cowardice (again). The writer carefully presents Gawain as knight. The Pentangle, symbol of Gawain's virtue, is a device to be removed or put on as Gawain desires. The Green Knight presents Gawain's fault as Gawain's own, but Gawain never fully realizes his failings.
Jordan, Robert M. "The Compositional Structure of the Book of the Duchess." 9 (1974): 99-117.
Geoffrey of Vinsauf's principles of "macro-rhetoric" shape the narrative structure of the Book of the Duchess (101). Examination of the structure of the Book of the Duchess indicates division into eulogy and consolation. Within this larger structure, smaller clear sections follow Vinsauf's "poetic-house" structure (103) and display amplificatio. The man in black, a portrait of John of Gaunt, instructs readers and the narrator in courtly virtue. The narrator's response, however, is personal, though in other places the narrator functions as a transitional device. We cannot read the narrator as a unified consciousness because he moves between these two roles. Once the dreamer shows his personal concern, the man in black expands his complaint d'amour. The dreamer's response seems inappropriate because readers share gentility with the man in black which the narrator does not. The irregularities of the text result from the fact that Chaucer did not write the Book of the Duchess organically, and this inorganic approach accommodates Seys and Alcyone's story.
Kahrl, Stanley J. "Chaucer's Squire's Tale and the Decline of Chivalry." 7 (1973): 194-209.
The magical elements in the Squire's Tale have no sources because the Squire wants to create an effect, not a congruous story which suggests a movement towards the exotic and disorderly in late medieval courts. The Squire chooses an unusual setting in order to surpass Arthurian romances. Like the Knight, the Squire uses occupatio, but his comes off as a proud demonstration of his rhetorical knowledge. The Franklin deliberately interrupts the Squire to save him from embarrassing himself and to avoid any futher misconstructions of eloquence and gentillesse. The Squire's inability to tell his tale and to present an accurate representation of chivalric virtues demonstrates the decline of chivalry from an ideal code of behavior to a game.
Lockhart, Adrienne R. "Semantic, Moral and Aesthetic Degeneration in Troilus and Criseyde." 8 (1973): 100-18.
Troilus and Criseyde is an examination of the ideal virtues--honour, worthinesse, and manhod--and how those virtues function in real life. Honor contains integrity and a good reputation. The "Book of Troilus" connects honor to generosity and respect seen in Hector and Deiphebus. The ensuing comparison of Troilus to Hector allows Chaucer to examine worthyness as a quality of the courtly lover. Whereas worthyness once implied merit earned by brave deeds, in Troilus's case it indicates self-centeredness. Only after Criseyde is gone does Troilus assert his manhood and take action, and then he only seeks death. Troilus fails in that he is unable to keep perspective on his love. Troilus and Criseyde also examines "trouthe." As Troilus painfully discovers, the line between a truthful character and an accurate presentation of reality is quite thin. Finally, readers realize that Chaucer examines an artistic problem, that of making an ideal concrete, but no matter what Chaucer does, Time and Fortune are still able to alter his work.
Marchalonis, Shirley. "Sir Gowther: The Process of a Romance." 6 (1971): 14-29.
The variation of narrative elements which comprise Sir Gowther allows readers to see in it the stages in which traditional material may develop into a romance. The tale of Robert le Devuil is quite similar to Sir Gowther, and comparison of specific scenes demonstrates the increasing influence of chivalry as the romance gains more symbolism and presents allusions that a more educated, aristocratic audience would appreciate. When examined in light of Vladimir Propp's morphological patterns, however, Robert le Devuil seems closest to folklore roots. Finally, Sir Gowther is a complex system of tests and rewards which initiate a young man into society.
Moore, Bruce. "'Allone, withouten any compaignye'--The Mayings in Chaucer's Knight's Tale." 25 (1991): 285-301.
The narrator of the Knight's Tale does not present the marriage of Palamon and Emily as either an ideologically or a politically neutral occasion. The marriage is, like Arcite's funeral, a way to impose order on chaotic human experience. Emily and Arcite also go maying, a traditional popular, as opposed to literary, ritual. Such rituals maintained a sense of community and reminded participants of the community's moral standards. As evident in the Legend of Good Women, a cult of leaf and flower became the courtly version of the maying tradition. The Legend of Good Women, the Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy, Troilus and Criseyde, the Orologium sapientiae, the Court of Love, and Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry also show the sense of community created by May celebrations. In the Knight's Tale, however, maying occurs without community. Arcite and Palamon give way to animal behaviors as a result of Arcite's maying. Emily is a victim of the courtly love tradition, and her moments alone in the garden emphasize her desires, contrasting them with her position as prisoner.
Nicholson, R. H. "Theseus's 'Ordinaunce': Justice and Ceremony in the Knight's Tale." 22 (1988): 192-213.
When examined in light of the ceremonies, excluding marriage, found in the Knight's Tale, Theseus becomes the central character. Chaucer depicts him differently from his counterparts in the Thebiad and the Teseida. In Chaucer, Theseus carries out justice, and in order to do that, he goes to war against Creon. He then behaves with justice and pity to those whom he has conquered. When he sets Palamon and Arcite up to fight a tournament for Emily, Theseus behaves with chivalry and wisdom, two other characteristics of a good king. Though ultimately the audience does not remember Theseus's actions as much as they do the plot of the love story, Theseus "invests the romance with its distinguished unity" (207).
Pearcy, Roy J. "Chaucer's Franklin and the Literary Vavasour." 8 (1973): 33-59.
In medieval society, vavasours as a class exist between the aristocracy and the serfs. From this position, a vavasour can offer advice to the more ambitious and hospitality to knights, particularly since the vavasour, as a landholder, is stationary as compared to knights who travel a great deal. The Franklin has many of the stock qualities of the vavasour. Romances typically draw knights and vavasours into conflict in order to explore their different lifestyles and devotion to different ideals through "debate." As the feudal system declined, however, disorder occurred in class relationships. As Gautier le Leu's Le Sot Chevalier shows, however, the relationship between knight and vavasour can collapse. The lay and fabliau may use the meeting between knight and vavasour as the context for the whole work as in Le Vair Palefroi and Le Chevalier a la Robe Vermeille. The fabliau vavasour is stubbornly practical, and thus becomes the object of satire as part of an attempt to restore social order. The Squire and the Franklin seem to show the separation between knight and vavasour. The Franklin chooses to tell a lay in order to confirm his position as part of the Squire's class, but the Franklin is unable to escape his practical, rational approach to life. The final result is that the Franklin seems to look nostalgically at the passing chivalric world.
Steinberg, Diane Vanner. "'We do usen here no wommen for to selle': Embodiment of Social Practices in Troilus and Criseyde." 29 (1995): 259-73.
Troilus and Criseyde is constructed around two social spheres, one inside Troy and one outside the walls, one feminine and one masculine. Trojan practices place more value on women, while the Greek practices are "cruelly misogynist" and allow for "the commodification and exchange of women" (259). Examination of the poem reveals that the interior spaces are associated with women. The acts of courtship represent the male invasion of those spaces. Though the battlefield is the place in the poem most clearly associated with male domination, Troy is not a place of complete feminine freedom. Among Trojan aristocrats, relationships between the sexes are more courtly. In the Greek world of the battlefield, relationships between men and women depend on power and violence.
Storm, Melvin. "Chaucer's Franklin and Distraint of Knighthood." 19 (1984): 162-68.
In his prologue, the Franklin states his desire for his son to be more like the Squire. In fact, the Franklin's wishes this more than "twenty pound worth lond" (682). This remark refers to the process of distraint by which a king could raise an army, knighting all those who held land producing twenty pounds of profit per year. In this light, the Franklin's comments indicate that he values gentillesse more than the monetary possessions required for him or his son to be knighted.
Weiss, Victoria L. "The Medieval Knighting Ceremony in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 12 (1978): 183-89.
The three strokes Gawain receives from the Green Knight resemble the blows of the medieval knighting ceremony, which also includes the girdle as a dubbing gift. Gawain's experience with the Green Knight emphasizes the human limitations inherent in knighthood.