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.