The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Archibald, Elizabeth. "The Flight from Incest: Two Late Classical Precursors of the Constance Theme." 20 (1986): 259-72.
The various Constance works are connected by a number of plot similarities. In these stories, the protagonist runs away because of an incestuous proposition. Previous scholars argued that an Exchanged Letter links these tales, but in fact, they are also connected by the Flight from Incest as seen in the Clementine Recognitions and Apollonius of Tyre. Both works lack the Exchanged Letter, but include the Flight from Incest and are thereby linked to the Constance group. The Incestuous Father motif probably developed out of a matriarchal society in which men gained legitimacy as rulers through marriage.
Baird, Joseph L. "The 'Secte' of the Wife of Bath." 2 (1968): 188-90.
The Clerk's use of the legal sense of "secte" in the epilogue to his tale suggests that the Clerk recognizes and responds to the case the Wife of Bath makes for her view of women and marriage.
Benson, Donald R. "The Marriage 'Encomium' in the Merchant's Tale: A Chaucerian Crux." 14 (1979): 48-60.
The Merchant's encomium on marriage presents several interpretive problems. The audience has great difficulty determining the speaker, whether or not the passage is an encomium or a mock-exhortation, and what kind of marriages the passage praises as exemplary. Because scholars lack decisive information from the tale, this passage is likely to remain a crux.
Bowman, Mary R. "'Half as she were mad': Dorigen in the Male World of the Franklin's Tale." 27 (1993): 239-51.
As a male poet, Chaucer experiences the difficulty of presenting women's voices, as the controversy over the Wife of Bath indicates. His female heroines must use masculine discourse to express themselves. Though Dorigen seems to achieve equal mastery in marriage, the Franklin reduces her to an object at the end of his tale. The Franklin espouses gentillesse, franchise, and freedom, but he assumes that men and women have the same relation to these virtues. The response of the different male and female characters in the tale indicates that this assumption is faulty at best. The final actions of the male characters appear much different from Dorigen's point of view. Dorigen expresses her grief, but in a different manner from the men in the tale, highlighting the difficulty of women faced with male discourse.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "Chaucer, the Merchant, and Their Tale: Getting Beyond Old Controversies: Part I." 13 (1978): 141-56.
The Merchant's Tale is misogynistic at heart, and the Merchant cannot be separated from it. The bondage imagery, the narrative voice, and the personal affront suggested by Damyan's description connect the prologue and the tale. The Merchant's Tale cannot be reduced to a happy or sarcastic fabliau because the Merchant's voice is too complex.
Burton, T. L. "The Wife of Bath's Fourth and Fifth Husbands and Her Ideal Sixth." 13 (1978): 34-50.
The Wife of Bath's singing, dancing, and drinking are responses to her fourth husband's infidelity, not the cause of it. The passages in which the Wife claims to have committed adultery are nothing more than boasts designed to attract a sixth husband. Her marriage to Jankyn shows that she wants to be both free to do as she pleases and treated like a woman where sex is concerned.
Cherniss, Michael D. "The Clerk's Tale and Envoy, the Wife of Bath's Purgatory, and the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1972): 235-54.
The Clerk's Envoy presents a theme which continues through the Merchant's Tale. The Clerk's Tale presents both a secular and a spiritual moral to which even the Envoy does not resolve. The Envoy contains two ironies: one is the logical extreme that there are no Griseldas, and the other demands whether or not wives may trust their husbands. The double irony allows the Clerk to connect the marital (secular) sphere of his tale with a spiritual moral. An additional level of irony suggests that even shrewish wives perform a spiritual service for their husbands, helping them to develop the character of Job. The Clerk's idea of purgatory in marriage contrasts with January's idea of paradisical marriage, but aligns with the church's view of marriage. January, then, parodies Griselda's patience in the face of trials. Ironically, however, January never recognizes the purgatorial aspects of his marriage; he is too blind. The Host's response to these tales indicates that he believes marriage to be the purgatory the Wife and Merchant describe, not the paradise offered by the Clerk.
Coletti, Theresa. "The Mulier Fortis and Chaucer's Shipman's Tale." 15 (1981): 236-49.
In the Shipman's Tale Chaucer parodies a passage in Proverbs, a favorite passage of medieval commentators, describing the ideal wife. From the beginning, the tale shifts to cruder emphasis than the Proverbs passage. The echoes of the proverbial good wife suggest that this tale was originally intended for the Wife of Bath.
Collette, Carolyn. "Seeing and Believing in the Franklin's Tale." 26 (1992): 395-410.
Readers can examine the Franklin's Tale in terms of medieval theories of sight, vision, and will. Chaucer's focus on sight and the illusions of appearance is an original addtion to the source material in the Filostrato, and Historia regnum Britanniae. Dorigen's complaint revolves around her perception of the rocks. Her agreement with Aurelius uses the different perceptions among people and also engages the appearance and reality debate, as does the episode with the Clerk of Orleans. For those living in the Middle Ages, "sight was the chief of the physical senses" (401). By Chaucer's time, people valued mystical insight in a neo-Platonic way. The neo-Platonic tradition conflicted with Aristotelian views in which sight corresponded to reality, and created new opinions regarding how sight and experience became knowledge. In the fourteenth century people became fascinated by optical science and how the ability to see physically interacts with mental acuity of perception. The ability to see was also related to the will and a person's ability to perceive truth, as Augustine shows in De trinitate. Dorigen's obsession with the sight of the rocks creates a situation in which the marriage vow is questioned, thereby engaging this debate. Chaucer also examines sight and perception in the Second Nun's Tale and the Canon's Yeoman's Tale.
Cook, James W. "'That she was out of all charitee': Point-Counterpoint in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." 13 (1978): 51-65.
St. Augustine and St. Ambrose teach that marriage is a sacrement which confers a particular kind of grace on its participants unless the adult does not intend to do what the church does or has mortally sinned. The Wife's arguments for serial remarriage are theologically sound, but her accounts of her marriages also indicate an unwillingness to submit to divine will, resulting in "sin, gracelessness, and loss of charity" (54). She also refuses to unite her will with any one of her spouses, focusing instead on benefitting herself. Such self-focus signifies a sinner, and her persistence in this sin makes her progressively less likey to receive grace in the sacrament of marriage. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the moment when the young knight agrees to let the old hag choose her form herself is the moment when the sacrament of their marriage gives grace to the knight. When the hag then chooses to submit to the knight, she makes the marriage mutual, thereby achieving charity. The Wife, however, will never achieve such charity or the accompanying correction of her ways because she will never submit to a husband in accordance with the sacrament.
Daniels, Richard J. "Uxor Noah: A Raven or a Dove?" 14 (1979): 23-32.
Of the Chester, York, and Towneley Noah plays depicting Uxor as a shrewish wife, the Towneley play shows superior handling of the shrewish wife material. The Towneley Noah speaks more than the Noah characters of the Chester and York cycles, and the Towneley Noah presents solid reasons for God to destroy humankind. In both the York and Chester plays, Uxor refuses, when requested, to enter the ark, but seems agreeable prior to this incident. The Towneley Uxor, however, fights with Noah before the issue of entering the ark arises. In order to convince Uxor to enter the ark the Towneley Noah must beat her into agreeing and receives blows himself in the process. The humanity of this struggle has greater dramatic effect than the smoother relationships depicted in the Chester and York Noah plays. Noah and Uxor reach agreement in the ark, and demonstrate their new accord when they release the raven and the dove. At the end of the play, the Towneley Uxor shows that she is more dove-like (faithful and true) than raven-like (faithless and disobedient).
Delany, Sheila. "Womanliness in the Man of Law's Tale." 9 (1974): 63-72.
More than a victim, Constance is an "Everywoman" figure who demonstrates the passivity in the face of suffering which Christianity demands (64). In the sexual aspect of her marriage, Constance shows her virtue by accepting fate and authority. Chaucer contrasts her with the Sultaness and Donegild, who seek power and do not submit to authority, thus redramatizing the dichotomy between Mary and Eve. .
Fleissner, Robert F. "The Wife of Bath's Five." 8 (1973): 128-32.
Many medieval writers stressed numbers, especially five. Fittingly, the Wife of Bath has five husbands because this number has an equivocal position in Christian numerology and is also the number of the flesh.
Furrow, Melissa M. "The Man of Law's St. Custance: Sex and the Saeculum." 24 (1990): 223-35.
Though often presented as disunified, the Man of Law's introduction, prologue, and tale all consider the problem of holy living in a fallen world. Because women represent fleshly desires, writers of saints lives focus more on a female saint's virginity. In the view of such writers, feminine sexuality threatens the spiritual. Female saints cannot have relationships beyond the relationship with Christ. Constance's tests in the Man of Law's Tale are her marriage to the Sultan and the consummation of her marriage to Alla. Ultimately the Man of Law suggests that women can be holy without martyrdom or sainthood.
Fyler, John M. "Love and Degree in the Franklin's Tale." 21 (1987): 321-37.
When the Franklin describes Arveragus and Dorigen's marriage, he says, "the name of soveraynetee,/ That wolde he [Arveragus] have for shame of his degree" (751-52). Properly understood, this statement suggests that Arveragus wants the "name" of sovereignty in order to offset his low social position. The name of sovereignty is a common romance motif in which the knight unknown can barely present his suit because of the difference in social station between himself and his lady. Paradoxically, once the lovers are married the male gains sovereignty. Chaucer treats the paradox of courtly love in other works including Troilus and Criseyde, the Parliament of Fowls, the Legend of Ariadne from the Legend of Good Women, and the Knight's Tale. Though the Franklin would like to believe that members of all classes can attain gentillesse, his tale suggests that ultimately gentillesse is the province of the upper classes. For its focus on these issues, the Franklin's Tale seems to respond to the Clerk's Tale most immediately.
Gallacher, Patrick J. "Chaucer and the Rhetoric of the Body." 28 (1994): 216-36.
Chaucer makes a number of different references to the body, treating the body in a number of different ways. Given different conditions, for example sickness and health, the body can be a stumbling block or a thing of beauty. Dante plays on this dichotomy in the Commedia. In medieval works, the treatment of the body is split between that of subject and object. In the Knight's Tale, Chaucer's treatment of Arcite's body results in irony and comedy. In Troilus and Criseyde the body becomes "a locus of acting and being acted upon" (221). Troilus's denial of involvement in any of Pandarus's plots makes him morally and physically inactive. Further examination of the relationship between Troilus and Criseyde reveals an imbalance of activity and passivity which ultimately contributes to a "pattern of merit and grace" (225). Griselda uses the description of her nakedness to draw attention to Walter's abuses of marriage in the Clerk's Tale. Both the Prioress's Tale and the Reeve's Tale examine the body in terms of stasis and movement. The treatment of the body as subject and object also appears in the Second Nun's Tale. Some characters and tales deride the human body, for example the Pardoner and the Manciple,. This attitude also appears in the Summoner's Tale.
Gottfried, Barbara. "Conflict and Relationship, Sovereignty and Survival: Parables of Power in the Wife of Bath's Prologue." 19 (1985): 202-24.
The Wife of Bath's Prologue is built on the conflict between the centrality of the speaking female voice and the marginality of the female experience. The Wife encourages judging women in terms of marriage status. She also displays an ambivalent attitude towards experience and theory. The construction of her prologue and tale makes readers focus on her and her relationship to Jankyn, not on the various ways she gains power. Though she does succeed at tearing apart the Book of Wicked Wives, she remains powerless in the relationship.
Haller, Robert S. "The Knight's Tale and the Epic Tradition." 1 (1966): 67-84.
Though modeled on Boccaccio's Teseida, the Knight's Tale shows Chaucer at his most epic, but the tale focuses on love, not politics. Love becomes the reason for Palamon and Arcite to repeat the political blunders that have made them the two surviving members of their family. The blindness of Palamon and Arcite to their own actions allows them to repeat history and to use that history as support for their complaints against the gods while denying any personal responsibility for what occurs. By treating love as the proper subject for an epic, both Chaucer and Boccaccio suggest that the hero cannot separate public from private life. The marriage of Palamon and Emily at the end of the tale is also a political event: the Theban ruler has restored order, inaugurating a love and a government that can allow for "felaweship," not rivalry. Finally, Theseus's actions demonstrate his position as the ideal ruler, but Theseus-ruler is not separate from Theseus-lover. Thus, he responds to Palamon and Arcite in justice and mercy, not from fear of rivalry. The epic, then, provides Chaucer with an opportunity to examine specific political theories.
Hamel, Mary. "The Franklin's Tale and Chrétien de Troyes." 17 (1983): 316-31.
Previously, critics believed that Chaucer was unfamiliar with the work of Chrétien de Troyes, but careful reading of Chrétien's Cligès and the Franklin's Tale shows some parallels. In both works, a knight goes to Britain to gain honor and fame. Both works treat marriage as a continuation of the lover-lady/mistress relationship and suggest that the husband remains his wife's servant though he is also her ruler. Chrétien's work, however, undercuts its own apparent justification of adultery by blasphemous parody. Like Fénice in Cligès, Dorigen is bound by her rash promise to a man she does not love, and both women see these unwilling relationships as an inevitable source of shame. Whereas Chrétien's characters never realize the romantic illusion in which they live, Chaucer's Dorigen refuses to act like a conventional romance heroine, and by her example Aurelius also transcends the conventions of courtly love in responding with charity.
Haskell, Ann S. "The St. Joce Oath in the Wife of Bath's Prologue." 1 (1966): 85-87.
To appreciate the Wife of Bath's recollections of her fourth husband, readers must fully understand the rhyme of "St. Joce" with "croce." The rhyme leads readers to understand "croce" as a pun meaning cross, burden, and phallus. Further recognition of St. Joce as patron saint of pilgrims and protector against fire also contributes to an understanding of her pilgrimage to Jerusalem during her fourth marriage and of her comment with regards to her fourth husband frying in his own grease.
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.
Hermann, John P. "Dismemberment, Dissemination, Discourse: Sign and Symbol in the Shipman's Tale." 19 (1985): 302-37.
In the Shipman's Tale the monk's use of hunting language in his first conversation with the merchant's wife points to the cruelty of his position as an adulterer. This language also indicates the dismemberment of the merchant/husband as a result of his wife's adultery. When the wife swears to keep her conversation with Don John secret, she curses herself with dismemberment. The monk also stands in danger of dismemberment for his treachery to the merchant whom he claims as his kin and to God whom he has vowed to serve chastely. The adultery separates the two parts of the unified sign, and instead of reconstructing it, indulges in and privileges the "free play of signifiers" (314). The metaphor of plowing, both sexually and monetarily also figures into this play. The monk, merchant, and wife all exchange roles, vows, and money in this tale. The demands of the body in contrast to the demands of God, dominate the tale. The French setting of the tale gives rise to a number of charged, parodic references, including the association of the wife with Mary Magdalene, and references to Peter, John, St. Martin, and St. Denis. The references to animals remind readers of the animal nature of the characters in the tale.
Jacobs, Kathryn. "Rewriting the Marital Contract: Adultery in the Canterbury Tales." 29 (1995): 337-47.
In the Middle Ages marriages represented contracts in both the ecclesiastical and business spheres. Noticing the way adultery affects marriages in the Canterbury Tales illustrates the difference. The Shipman's Tale shows the logical consequences of treating marriage as a kind of sexual business contract. The wife's adultery in the tale allows for the restoration of a marriage, particularly in light of the economic language used by the merchant and his wife to finalize the deal. The Franklin's Tale also explores the issue of a wife's adultery in light of her husband's prolonged absence. Though Arveragus does not like the idea that Dorigen may commit adultery, he recognizes her right in a business contract to seek from another source what he has not supplied in his two-year absence.
Jacobs, Kathryn. "The Marriage Contract of the Franklin's Tale: The Remaking of Society." 20 (1985): 132-43.
The marriage of Dorigen and Arveragus is a model marriage based on the submission of both parties. The focus on the interests of the other eventually reaches the Clerk of Orleans and Aurelius who deny themselves profit or pleasure for the benefit of someone else. Arveragus's strong emotional response to Dorigen's predicament makes him sympathetic to readers and does not reestablish him as the master in his marriage. Aurelius's manipulation of Dorigen and the contractual language he uses to release her from her promise shows his lack of gentillesse, but also becomes an attempt to live up to the standard Arveragus represents. Finally, the tale tries to persuade the audience to seek greater virtue and so to become an ideal society.
Joseph, Gerhard. "The Franklin's Tale: Chaucer's Theodicy." 1 (1966): 20-32.
Chaucer does not demonstrate the ideal marriage in the Franklin's Tale, but instead shows a view of God and how God works in human situations. Dorigen's and Arveragus's agreement of equality in marriage prevents Dorigen from experiencing capriciousness on Arveragus's part. As a result, she does not learn to trust a superior; thus she cannot trust God. The agreement between Dorigen and Aurelius takes place in a paradisical garden identified as a second Eden in which Eve (Dorigen) falls to temptation and disobeys God's commands by not accepting God's natural law and so falling into pagan despair leading to suicide. Finally, God demonstrates his gracious design by having Dorigen and Aurelius finally meet in the city and not in the garden. Generous acts stem from this meeting which in turn cleanse "a squire and a clerk of their lust and greed" (31).
Justman, Stewart. "Trade as Pudendum: Chaucer's Wife of Bath." 28 (1994): 344-52.
For the most part, Chaucer protects his pilgrims from criticism, though the types he presents certainly have their weaknesses. But, the Wife of Bath attracts criticism for her prosperity earned from trading, and Chaucer presents her desire for economic and social merchandise as "folly" and the "the ancestral license of Woman" (345). The Wife is a natural woman in whom the most deplored traits of the merchant class openly exist. Her self-interest and her treatment of marriage as a second-best state refers to trade, a second-best occupation of self-interest.
Kelly, H. Ansgar. "Sacraments, Sacramentals, and Lay Piety in Chaucer's England." 28 (1993): 5-22.
All members of the laity were required to attend Matins, Lauds, and Mass on Sundays and to abstain from working on such holydays. Women were required to attend additional holydays. Absolon was the holy water clerk for his parish; Jankyn was the parish clerk. Both offices required that the clerk be unmarried or only married once and that the clerk continue to wear his surplice and tonsure. Parish clerks were also responsible for the education of the laity, though most often they educated the boys. Parishioners were required to take Communion once a year, but the devout, like Margery Kempe, might take Communion up to once a week. Holy water was considered only a sacramental, not capable of removing venial sins. Relics were rarely owned by the laity. Most often they were kept in churches so that the laity could venerate them.
Kruger, Steven F. "Passion and Order in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women." 23 (1989): 219-35.
The Legend of Good Women shows that literature cannot be completely controlled. Chaucer also examines the mutilation that emotions can work on prescribed social codes. The Legend of Good Women does not always depict faithful women and faithless men. Often the stories Chaucer chooses show emotion overpowering social structure, undermining stability, breaking apart marriages and families, and leading to death. Like the wall in the "Legend of Pyramus and Thisbe," however, structures that oppose passions do not always succeed.
Lee, Anne Thompson. "'A woman true and fair': Chaucer's Portrayal of Dorigen in the Franklin's Tale." 19 (1984): 169-78.
In the Franklin's Tale Chaucer examines a real marriage, not a theory of marriage. Dorigen's decision to consent to Aurelius is based on her real fears about Arveragus and her position in a society that forces women to accept passively their circumstances instead of taking action to change them. Dorigen's complaint is merely the Franklin's way of gaining all possible sympathy for her. Though Arveragus makes the only decision possible when he discovers her promise to Aurelius, Dorigen must ultimately pay the price. The act of going to keep her promise brings her closest to complete despair. The Franklin, however, manages to leave his audience with a picture of all the qualities he admires in the upper class.
Levy, Bernard S. "Gentilesse in Chaucer's Clerk's and Merchant's Tales." 11 (1977): 306-18.
In Chaucer, gentillesse can mean noble birth and virtue as well as acts of sexual pleasure. The gentillesse represented by Griselda in the Clerk's Tale contradicts the view of gentillesse presented by the Wife of Bath. Griselda's gentillesse in the face of Walter's cruel tests reinforces the theory that gentillesse does not necessarily result from noble birth, but the Clerk does not represent gentillesse as sexual pleasure as does the Wife. Finally, Griselda's submission to Walter brings him to behave with true gentillesse. To quite the Wife of Bath and the Clerk, the Merchant uses his tale to show January and May pretending to gentillesse. January chooses May because he believes she has gentillesse, though he knows she is lowly born. January also describes Damyan in terms that make Damyan the male complement to May's gentillesse. Because Damyan is so ill and January urges May to be good to Damyan, May's love-making to Damyan in the pear tree takes on characteristics of a noble deed. By abruptly presenting the climax of May and Damyan's love and having January recover his sight at that moment, the Merchant points out that gentility can cover vile behaviors. The Merchant presents marriage purely as physical satisfaction, not mutual gentillesse.
Levy, Bernard S. "The Wife of Bath's Queynte Fantasye." 4 (1969): 106-22.
The Wife of Bath's life supports her claim that husbands must yield to their wives to achieve happiness in marriage. In her tale she depicts a conflict between the "old law" of an eye for an eye, and the "new law" of Love. Under this new law, the transformation of the old woman is a natural occurrence. When the young knight behaves "gentilly," he changes his vision and gains the ability to recognize virtue. His reward is couched in images of baptism as suggested by the "dayes thre" in the old woman's speech about gentillesse. The imagery in the Wife's description of her relationship with Jankyn further demonstrates this point. Male submission to women, however, lowers the man to the status of wife and significantly reduces his virility. The Wife seeks to control Jankyn because he will not sleep with her, thus not allowing her to control the marriage bed, so she cannot master him. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the old woman wants the young knight to pay his "marriage debt," and her curtain lecture conceives of love-making in marriage as a "gentil dede." Given the medieval view of marriage, however, readers recognize that the young knight and the old woman have twisted marriage into a way to satisfy lust. The "baptism" the young knight receives inducts him into knowledge of courtly love. Thus, the Wife demonstrates that only when women have control, particularly over the bed, do lovers experience perfect bliss.
Loschiavo, Linda Ann. "The Birth of 'Blanche the Duchesse': 1340 Versus 1347." 13 (1978): 128-32.
Given that laws considered "full age" to be 14 and that Blanche is considered of age to claim her father's inheritance, scholars can argue that Blanche was married at 12, a traditional age of marriage, and that she was born in 1347.
Maguire, John B. "The Clandestine Marriage of Troilus and Criseyde." 8 (1974): 262-78.
The medieval Church taught that the mutual consent of the couple made a valid marriage, a church ceremony was not necessary; because of abuse, however, clandestine marriages were considered undesirable and, in some communities, unlawful. While Boccaccio clearly depicts an extramarital affair between Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer shows the lovers in a different light. Chaucer's Criseyde is a modest widow, unwilling to compromise her virtue. Troilus sings a hymn to Hymen, god of marriage, and, as in a medieval wedding ceremony, Troilus and Criseyde exchange rings and pledge their "trouthe" to one another. Furthermore, when Chaucer speaks of the tales of feminine fidelity he would rather tell, he choses tales of married women. The fact that Troilus and Criseyde are married explains why Troilus will not forget Criseyde even at Pandarus's urging and why he does not have the option of taking Criseyde away and then returning her if necessary. Finally, Chaucer never suggests that Troilus is guilty of sin.
McClintock, Michael W. "Games and the Players of Games: Old French Fabliaux and the Shipman's Tale." 5 (1970): 112-36.
Fabliaux focus primarily on laughter and are filled with stock characters. Humor is always directed at one of the characters. The element shared among most fabliaux is that of game-playing. Readers can see the Shipman's Tale as the story of a game. Since the relationships between the characters are characterized by more than gaming, however, the Shipman's Tale cannot be considered a fabliau. The tale is about two relationships: the monk's relationship to the merchant, and the wife's relationship to her husband, the merchant. The adultery which occurs between the monk and the wife connects the two relationships by betraying both the friendship and the marriage. At the beginning of tale, the relationship between the merchant and his wife is not overtly sexual. Detailed examination of the merchant and his attitude toward money clarifies the wife's incentive for adultery. She does not play the same money games as her husband. His concern with money makes him unconcerned about sex, while the wife connects money and sex. When the wife suggests to her husband that she will pay her monetary debt to him in bed, she makes adultery-prostitution the model for her marriage. Friendship between the merchant and the monk becomes the standard against which to measure the marital relationship, thus making friendship most important to the tale.
McKinley, Kathryn L. "The Silenced Knight: Questions of Power and Reciprocity in the Wife of Bath's Tale." 30 (1996): 359-78.
The hag's pillow lecture in the Wife of Bath's Tale is not male-dominated discourse, but by using the ovidian technique of contrast, it juxtaposes the Wife's lecherousness with gentillesse. The knight's final choice to allow the hag to choose her own state is not a passive act. Analysis of his response in terms of speech-act theory supports the interpretation that she has silenced him. His choice also shows that he has reached a higher level of maturity. As comparison with Sir Launfal shows, the relationship between the hag and the knight follows a pattern similar to that of other romances, and like those romances, it underscores the power of the feminine. Furthermore, the marriage between the hag and the knight is based on mutual self-sacrifice: he submits in marriage to an ugly old woman, and she consents to marry a rapist. Thus, the pillow lecture does not silence women, but instead causes the knight to be silent and transforms him.
McNamara, John. "Chaucer's Use of the Epistle of St. James in the Clerk's Tale." 7 (1973): 184-93.
The Clerk's Tale enacts St. James's teachings. Griselda is not constant, a static state, but patient in a way described by St. James, an active choice to join with divine will. Griselda's marriage gives her the opportunity to demonstrate her faith by her works. In this context, Chaucer's use of the word "tempte" must be understood in two ways. Though proud, Walter serves as a part of God's plan by providing Griselda the opportunity to test her faith.
Mogan, Joseph. "Chaucer and the Bona Matrimonii." 4 (1969): 123-41.
Chaucer's tales about marriage demonstrate a considerable theological interest in the subject. He refers to the belief that marital intercourse for pleasure or to ward off adultery was sinful. In the Miller's Tale we might interpret Nicholas's words regarding John and Alisoun's relationship to say that John could sin with his wife if all that he desires in his union with her is pleasure. The same extreme view applies to January in the Merchant's Tale, where his language suggests that he marries more for pleasure in bed than for an heir. January demonstrates a mistaken view of marriage at both human and divine levels. In the Wife of Bath's Prologue, Alison shows the clerks up by taking their view of the equality of the marriage debt and then using it to gain sovereignty over her husbands. Chaucer does not depict her as having transgressed, however; instead, her point of view causes the clerks to look ridiculous.
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.
Neuse, Richard. "Marriage and the Question of Allegory in the Merchant's Tale." 24 (1989): 115-31.
Chaucer raises the problem of allegory in the Clerk's and Merchant's Tales by making it the center of the tales, particularly in light of the source text. The Clerk's Tale does not close off the allegorical question at the end of the tale raised by Chaucer's use of Petrarchan material. The Merchant picks up on the question, dramatizing every aspect of marriage. The expansion of January's definition of marriage makes clear that the Merchant shares his view. January holds two opposing opinions of marriage: he speaks of marriage only in Biblical terms, but thinks of it merely as a practical way to fill his needs. The narrator describes the garden as one of "death or of pagan enchantments," and of "natural vitality and joy" (123). The Merchant treats the Bible as if it is not applicable to everyday life and refers to Sir Orfeo and to the Wife of Bath's Tale. The world of fairy as presented in these two texts is a a world where Biblical authority is not so powerful and where women are not viewed as objects. The Merchant touches on the themes of Fortune, with a passing reference to Purgatorio, blindness and the cure of blindness, and uses the redeemer motif, incorporating "the three realms of Dante's Commedia" (128). Like Dante, Chaucer attempts to use Biblical imagery for an everyday purpose, but through January, Chaucer presents an idea of paradise much different from that of Dante.
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).
Oberembt, Kenneth J. "Chaucer's Anti-Misogynist Wife of Bath." 10 (1976): 287-302.
The Wife of Bath is not heretically anti-misogynist. She carefully criticizes accepted beliefs about sex in her presentation of married life. In eulogizing her first three husbands, she uses irony to further her criticism of accepted practices. Each of the Wife's five husbands is committed to sex--sensuality--a feminine principle, thus confirming the Wife's opinion that men are not entirely reasonable creatures. When the old woman and the young knight in the Wife of Bath's Tale agree to mutual mastery, the Wife suggests that a happy marriage is the product of non-mastery on the parts of both the wife and the husband. The Wife's humor diffuses the notion that her views of sex in marriage are abnormal. The contrast between the sensual person of the Wife of Bath's Prologue and the rational hag of the Tale highlights the Wife of Bath's criticism of misogynists. Finally, the Wife presents gentillesse as a non-sexist code to govern behavior.
Olsson, Kurt. "Love, Intimacy, and Gower." 30 (1995): 71-100.
In Gower's Confessio amantis readers see a search for the secret, intimate places of the self. Amans, the lover, searches for understanding of his inmost heart in the confessional. The priest seeks to know that heart, while Amans pursues intimacy with his beloved. Both searches, result in Amans's psychological health indicated by his return home. Amans's intense desires for intimacy with the beloved include the longing for stolen, secret sexual embrace. His dedication to the beloved authorizes this desire. He does, unfortunately, give his love monetary value. In doing so he bypasses the possibility for genuine intimacy. Penelope, Alcyone, Alceste, and Lucrece, who appear at the end of the dream in the Confessio amantis, raise questions about gender stereotypes, but are paradoxically defined by gender roles. Amans ends his search for himself at home, but the safety of home must not be taken for granted as the stories of the four women indicate. Gower presents marriage as a remedy to Amans's secret desire for intimacy. Gower also addresses marriage in the Mirour de l'Omme, but the conflicting portraits of Adultery and Matrimony suggest that marriage is usually loveless. Both marriage partners partake of the consequences of Eve's sin, but women are considered companions, not subordinates, in the marriage relationship.
Overbeck, Pat Trefzger. "Chaucer's Good Woman." 2 (1967): 75-94.
Chaucer treats his sources for the Legend of Good Women in such a way that the women do not consistently acknowledge divine authority, nor do they respond to human authority. Instead, Chaucer's women act impetuously from lust or love. They are, however, capable of bargaining in such a way as to procure both marriage and money. Finally, the women end their own lives. The noble lady, however, eventually becomes Chaucer's Wife of Bath, focused on the pleasures of sex and the financial benefits to be gained in marriage.
Palomo, Dolores. "The Fate of the Wife of Bath's 'Bad Husbands.'" 9 (1975): 303-19.
More than a diatribe against men, the Wife of Bath's Tale tells of Alisoun's personal experience. The rape in the tale follows the same pattern as her life in that it connotes her own abrupt change from virgin to wife. Ultimately, she suggests that the loss of virginity is a woman's first step towards becoming a Loathly Lady. When she explains the necessity of maintaining superiority in marriage, the Wife shows that she survives psychically by fighting back. The brief mention of her fourth husband and his death emphasizes her position as innocent, injured wife. Her dream can be interpreted, however, to point to the murder of her fourth husband and the gold which Jankyn and she will achieve thereby. Jankyn and Alisoun murdered Alisoun's fourth husband, and Alisoun feels guilty. Jankyn's examples of wicked wives all murder their husbands. The story of Midas is Alisoun's own story: she has confessed the crime to her friend. Alisoun travels to Canterbury as an expression of repentance, and the arguments for the legality of serial marriages are the result of questions which were previously raised about her marriage to Jankyn. Ultimately, Alisoun needs love, and she is a victim of that need.
Parker, David. "Can We Trust the Wife of Bath?" 4 (1969): 90-98.
Fourteenth-century readers had an interest in biography because they had an interest in the moral consequences of behavior, for these readers, interest in morality could not be separated from people they experienced in life or in art. Though figures like the Parson, Plowman and Knight also represent an ideal, all of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales must be taken as individuals to some degree. Among the pilgrims, the Wife stands out as an individual, and she contradicts herself in her Prologue when she talks about her fifth marriage. First, the Wife says that Jankyn beat her, then that he gave her "maistrie" in the marriage. These passages contradict each other, clearly demonstrating that the Wife cannot be trusted. In her contradictions, however, the Wife is a superb character.
Pearlman, E. "The Psychological Basis of the Clerk's Tale." 11 (1977): 248-57.
The Clerk's Tale works out a psychological position which was prevalent in the fourteenth century, but is no longer common. Griselda does not separate herself from Walter. She puts herself entirely in his control. The marriage uses conventions of marriages between gods and humans in which the god-partner has all the power and the human-partner takes a vow of complete obedience. Griselda's and Walter's relationship also follows a pattern of colonialism wherein the powerful people are gods and the impotent people are the subjects. Such a system is based on a hierarchy of perceived physical differences between the two kinds of people.
Peck, Russell A. "Sovereignty and the Two Worlds of the Franklin's Tale." 1 (1967): 253-71.
Chaucer does not present his ideal view of marriage through the Franklin's Tale. Instead, he examines the discernment of truth in a world concerned with illusions. The Franklin, himself, has attempted to impose his desires on the world outside himself, and thus he also exemplifies the problem of recognizing truth. He desperately wants the other pilgrims to see him as a gentleman, but constantly reveals himself as of the middle class. In his tale, Dorigen and Arveragus also attempt to present a false front to a society that does not follow the natural order. Because that order has been subverted, confusion occurs. When Dorigen goes to meet Aurelius as Arveragus orders, she releases the characters from illusions, thus restoring order.
Potkay, Monica Brzezinski. "Natural Law in The Owl and the Nightingale." 28 (1994): 368-83.
In the Owl and the Nightingale the legal system that the birds use is natural law, not ecclesiastical or court law. Natural law, however, is never explicitly defined in the poem. In fact the poet raises questions about natural law at the center of twelfth- and thirteenth-century debates. The greatest difficulty with natural law is succinctly expressed in the Summa of Stephen of Tournai, who posited that at times humans followed animal example while at others they rejected that example as irrational. The Owl and the Nightingale engages this discussion to respond that the same natural law does not govern all creatures, and that humans would do best to follow the dictates of reason. The debate between the owl and the nightingale concerning sexuality addresses the locus of concern over what natural law, if any, controls humans. The discussion of marriage implies that love is the common element between humans and animals since marriage is a uniquely human custom. Finally the debate between the birds is resolved by reason and a hierarchy that clearly follows a human model.
Root, Jerry. "'Space to speak': The Wife of Bath and the Discourse of Confession." 28 (1994): 252-74.
Examination of the Wife of Bath's Prologue in light of the theories of Michel Foucault suggests that medieval confessional practice defined a new space for private speech. In the Canterbury Tales, the Parson's Tale and Chaucer's Retraction make the confessional mode most apparent. All of the pilgrims travel in a space defined by Church practice as acceptable. Even the struggle between the Friar and the Summoner takes place within that established boundary. In fact, their rivalry is built on the confessional mode. The Wife of Bath's claim for experience merely places her in the confessional mode, requiring a telling of personal experience. Her emphasis on her body reveals a desire to assert the "scandal of the domination of the female body by traditional strategies of interpretation" (257). The Wife's claims for her body and the right to marry declare a space in which she can speak and a refusal to submit to male authorities like Jerome. Her grumbling, though merely "noise" to the male establishment, creates "a space in which she can speak rather than being spoken" (262). By retelling what her husbands have done, she controls their speech and reveals their most hidden secrets. Though apparently confessional, the Wife of Bath's Prologue is a confession of her husband's private experience, not her own.
Shapiro, Gloria K. "Dame Alice as Deceptive Narrator." 6 (1971): 130-41.
By examining what the Wife of Bath does not say about her fourth husband, readers can uncover painful experiences and a religiousity she wishes to hide. When describing her fourth marriage, Alice skips quickly over comments that would reveal any jealousy or suffering on her part. Her use of biblical authority suggests that she needs a sense of religious support in order to lead a satisfactory life. Without realizing it, she discloses her belief that virginity is superior to marriage. Though she states that she will discuss the woe of marriage, she never does. The curse at the end of her tale is her way of disguising her true feelings about marriage. In the end, the Wife is more deeply religious than the Prioress. Though Alice adopts the pose of rebellion, the religious ideas she seeks to destroy are too much a part of her.
Van, Thomas A. "Walter at the Stake: A Reading of Chaucer's Clerk's Tale." 22 (1988): 214-24.
Walter's actions towards Griselda in the Clerk's Tale are symptomatic of his self-questioning. Walter cannot decide if he approves of himself. Prior to his marriage, Walter controls his life, and hunting releases his romantic energy in a forum where he completely controls the outcome. Once he is forced to choose a wife, he brings the desire for complete control into the marriage, thus suggesting that he is unsure of himself. Walter's behavior indicates that he perceives a public self completely separated from a private self. The Clerk's Tale allegorically pictures the relationship of a Christian to God, but can also be viewed as a depiction of the creation of an ideal ruler.
Weissman, Hope Phyllis. "Why Chaucer's Wife Is from Bath." 15 (1980): 11-36.
A society's view of bathing implies its view of the body and sex. Both Ovid and Jerome mention bathing. Ovid points to the baths as a place for young men and women to meet; Jerome depicts baths as places of sin, particularly lust. Jean de Meun borrows from Ovid, Juvenal, and Jerome to create La Vieille who clearly states that baths increase moral decay. The place of the bath in medieval culture can be inferred from marginal illustrations in medieval manuscripts. These illustrations depict baths as places of blatant sexuality where old men prey on young women. Controlled by civil authorities, the waters of Bath became "the sacred precincts of a patriarchal world" (25). Alisoun is not accepted by patriarchal society. She is excluded from Bath and considered a carnal Eve. But she has invaded that society by succeeding at cloth-making and marriage. In such a contradiction, the Wife of Bath represents the tensions of medieval society. Society has forced the Wife to trade her virginity and her youth for gold in marriage, but her gains can only be calculated within the patriarchal system.
Wentersdorf, Karl P. "Some Observations on the Concept of Clandestine Marriage in Troilus and Criseyde." 15 (1980): 101-26.
Until 1563, clandestine marriages were considered sinful because they were forbidden by canon law, not because they were sexually immoral. The phrase "to plight troth" has a number of different meanings, including marriage. Chaucer carefully modulates the relationship between Troilus and Criseyde from one of courtly love to that within Christian marriage. Criseyde's desire for security is a natural response to her social position, but the lovers clearly believe in the morality of their union. The plot of Troilus and Criseyde parallels the historico-political situation of Edward the Black Prince's secret marriage to Joan of Kent, but Chaucer probably did not intend to include historical echoes.
West, Michael D. "Dramatic Time, Setting, and Motivation in Chaucer." 2 (1968): 147-87.
Because Chaucer chooses to focus on other elements of his stories, the analogues to his tales often surpass his in realistic elements. In the Merchant's Tale, the garden setting causes the tale to function in both the worlds of allegory and fabliau, giving the reader a sense of unreality while at the same time leaving the reader with the idea that marriage is "sheer hell" (176). The same elements operate in the Prioress's Tale. Chaucer significantly changes the timing of events from that in his source in order to satisfy the demands of the story. These changes, however, do not coincide with what the reader recognizes as reality. The Pardoner's Tale also demonstrates Chaucer's lack of concern for realistic action in his story. Chaucer's thieves do a number of strange things which thieves do not usually do, like getting three bottles of wine, but forgetting the bread. Unrealities also occur in Troilus and Criseyde. These actions demonstrate the overwhelming greed of his characters. The mutilation of realistic detail draws his audience into his stories, thus making the tales every bit as effective as the sources, but on their own terms.
Wilson, Katharina M. "Chaucer and St. Jerome: The Use of 'Barley' in the Wife of Bath's Prologue." 19 (1985): 245-51.
Jerome's Letter adversus Jovinianum is not the source for the Wife of Bath's arguments regarding marriage. Instead, she draws her arguments from Jerome's letter to Pammachius.
Woods, William F. "A Professional Thyng: The Wife as Merchant's Apprentice in the Shipman's Tale." 24 (1989): 139-49.
Chaucer alters the sources for the Shipman's Tale, strengthening the position of the wife. In so doing, he makes the wife a mirror image of her merchant husband. Because readers see the tale from her point of view, they recognize "the virtues and the compromises essential to 'driving forth the world'" (139). The tale is built around trade and trade metaphors. Through the various shifts in the tale, the wife achieves rule of herself and her household. The agricultural / financial metaphor now works in the wife's favor. She maintains her power after the monk reveals her debt to the merchant by her commitment to the rise and fall of the marketplace.
Wurtele, Douglas J. "Chaucer's Wife of Bath and the Problem of the Fifth Husband." 23 (1988): 117-28.
The Wife of Bath's fifth husband may not be dead after all. No solid proof indicates that he ever died, and evidence does suggest that he may simply have run away. After he and Alisoun murder the fourth husband, and after any arraignments and trials that may have occurred in the aftermath of that murder, Jankyn has good reason not to stay with her. Similarly, Alisoun herself may desire to escape the events surrounding the murder by going off on a pilgrimage. If, indeed, her husband is still alive somewhere, then it would be sinfully bigamous for her to marry a sixth time.