The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
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.
Hanson, Thomas B. "Chaucer's Physician as Storyteller and Moralizer." 7 (1972): 132-39.
The Physician's Tale demonstrates that Chaucer's description of him in the General Prologue is accurate: the Physician knows little about the Bible. In the tale, plot and moralization compete for readers' attention. The Physician opens his tale by showing Virginia to be a paragon of virtue. The Physician continues, adding a great deal of Christian material to his source. The epilogue, however, passes over Virginia, making her more a victim of extremes than a martyr. By suggesting that the spirit of the law is more to be followed than the letter, the Physician's Tale joins the Franklin's Tale and the Pardoner's Tale.
Maltman, Sister Nicholas, O. P. "The Divine Granary or the End of the Prioress's 'Greyn.'" 17 (1982): 163-70.
In her tale the Prioress refers to the Sarum breviary and the Mass of the Holy Innocents. In the response to the Sarum liturgy, the grain represents St. Thomas a Becket's martyrdom, and specifically the soul "winnowed" (165) from the body. Chaucer chose the grain for its connection with the Holy Innocents and St. Thomas, both of whom are associated with martyrdom. The grain on the boy's tongue physically represents his soul.
Middleton, Anne. "The Physician's Tale and Love's Martyrs: 'Ensamples mo than ten' in the Canterbury Tales." 8 (1973): 9-32.
The Physician's Tale seems to fall between the saints' legends and the tales of love's martyrs. Chaucer changes his sources to shift emphasis from Appius and Virginius to Virginia, thus making her a secular saint. To the Host, Virginia's death demonstrates injustice and questions the relationship between earthly rewards and good behavior. The changes in the tale's construction demand that readers consider Appius' fate and Virginius' behavior, in light of the injustice done to Virginia. The Host's comments draw attention to the contrast between classical and Christian virtues, making the inconsistency between Virginia's virtuous acts and her passive sacrifice the focus of the tale. The digressions on child-rearing are out of place, contrasting passive children with Virginia's activity. Virginius behaves as a judge or deity, not a father, drawing more attention to Virginia as passive victim and dramatizing the contest between natural affection and obedience to authority. The Physician's portrayal of the Jepthah story, however, demonstrates his ignorance of the exegetical treatment of this story. The Man of Law's Tale demonstrates that Chaucer often roughens the surface of an exemplum to suggest that readers explore it more deeply. Virginia, then, becomes a type of Job. Like the Legend of Good Women, the Physician's Tale shows Chaucer's command of narrative techniques, particularly the ability to deal with "shocking" subjects, but as the prologue to Legend suggests, Chaucer's contemporaries venerated him for the more limited skills of "an Ovidian court poet" (30). Readers are not meant to take conclusions from the tale to the "outside" world, but to play with the assumptions governing the world within the fictional construct of the tale.
Pigg, Daniel F. "Refiguring Martyrdom: Chaucer's Prioress and Her Tale." 29 (1994): 65-73.
The Prioress must be read outside the context of her portrait in the General Prologue since the General Prologue was written after the Prioress's Tale. Also, in her tale the Prioress uses a different definition of martyrdom. The early Church thought of martyrdom in two ways, the physical death and the preservation of virginity which was often associated with taking monastic vows. Invoking the Virgin, the Prioress authorizes the tale she tells by denying that it is her own. In the tale, the Prioress refigures martyrdom several ways. She refers to the Feast of the Holy Innocents, emphasizes the virginity of the little boy, and reminds the pilgrims of Hugh of Lincoln's martyrdom.
Stevens, Martin. "The Theatre of the World: A Study in Medieval Dramatic Form." 7 (1973): 234-49.
For medieval drama, the theatrical space could contain the entire cosmos, show interaction between humans and supernatural figures, and depict all of salvation history. Medieval drama tended to stage a contest between cosmic powers of good and evil over human souls. Since good always won, evil characters were never protagonists. Generally, medieval plays had similar structures: the action was either a conversion or a martyrdom. Thus, all stages used similar layouts, which could serve corpus christi, saint, and morality plays. Such a staging may have been similar to Langland's landscape in Piers Plowman, with a tower for heaven, a dungeon (valley) for hell, and a field in the middle for earth. Since the play progresses as characters move from place to place, the journey becomes the focus of medieval plays. The audience is thus drawn into the play, and the off-stage area ceases to exist. Time is linear, so each play or part of the action is essential to the next, though similar patterns of action recur. These elements comprise "native tradition."
Strohm, Paul A. "Passioun, Lyf, Miracle, Legende: Some Generic Terms in Middle English Hagiographical Narrative: Part I." 10 (1975): 62-75.
A passio concentrates on a saint's persecution and martyrdom. The saint glorifies God by responding well to torture, demonstrating how to die. A vita focuses on a confessor's exemplary life, showing how to live. The term miraculum came to describe hagiography. Some venerated the saint in terms of miracles God worked during the saint's life; others discuss miracles worked through a saint's relics. Collections of miracula are eclectic, brief, and informal (70). Often, passiones, vitae, and miracula were collected into a text. The collection was named legenda, a term indicating sections to be read as parts of the church office.