The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
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.
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.
Loney, Douglas. "Chaucer's Prioress and Agur's 'Adulterous Woman.'" 27 (1992): 107-08.
In the passages detailing the Prioress's table manners, Chaucer borrows from the Roman de la Rose and Proverbs. Though Chaucer does not explicitly suggest that the Prioress is an adulteress, he ironically refers to the seductive power of the world in which she participates.
Morey, James H. "The 'Cultour' in the Miller's Tale: Alison as Iseult." 29 (1995): 373-81.
Absolon's use of a coulter to requite Alisoun in the Miller's Tale alludes to the medieval custom of trial by ordeal particularly in cases of suspected adultery. That Alisoun escapes unharmed reminds readers of the story of Tristan and Iseult, particularly the moment when Iseult is tested for adultery by carrying hot iron. That Nicholas is burned suggests that he is guilty of betraying John. Chaucer probably knew the story from Sir Tristrem, extant in a late thirteenth-century manuscript. Alison's avoiding of the hot coulter shows us just how clever she is.