The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Beichner, Paul E. "Confrontation, Contempt of Court, and Chaucer's Cecilia." 8 (1974): 198-204.
Direct translation of the Latin version of the dialogue between Cecilia and Almachius in the Second Nun's Tale will demonstrate how Chaucer improved on the Latin. Chaucer omits material to heighten the tension of the dialogue or adds other material for similar effect.
Brody, Saul Nathaniel. "Chaucer's Rhyme Royal Tales and the Secularization of the Saint." 20 (1985): 113-31.
Chaucer's tales written in rhyme royal have a common focus on saints' lives and martyrs. In the Second Nun's, Clerk's, Prioress's, and Man of Law's Tales, divine justice controls the outcome of the tale. Even the Clerk's Tale teaches us that we should obey God in adversity. These tales all follow the traditional pattern of saints' lives and evoke a heightened emotional response from the audience. The rhyme royal tales complement each other, showing how secular values influence written accounts of saints' lives. Ultimately, however, such influence robs the stories of some vitality.
Collette, Carolyn P. "A Closer Look at Seinte Cecile's Special Vision." 10 (1976): 337-49.
Chaucer constructs the Second Nun's Tale on the polarity of sight and blindness, merely seeing as opposed to understanding. This dichotomy involves "wisdom and the relation of the body to the spirit" (338). Timaeus, De doctrina christiana, and Psychomachia also examine this theme, and study of these three works elucidates the Second Nun's Tale. The Prologue establishes the limits of the flesh but also indicates its victories. The action of the tale shows how men should subdue their fleshly desires, seek spiritual vision, and ultimately gain wisdom.
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.
Eggebroten, Anne. "Laughter in the Second Nun's Tale: A Redefinition of the Genre." 19 (1984): 55-61.
Though readers often feel that laughter is an inappropriate response to the Second Nun's Tale, Chaucer carefully alters his sources (Jacobus de Voraigne's Legenda aurea and the anonymous Passio S. Caeciliae) in order to increase further the hilarity of the story. The creation of such laughter is common in medieval saints' lives.
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.
Gallagher, Joseph E. "Theology and Intention in Chaucer's Troilus." 7 (1972): 44-66.
Because of his profession of Christianity, Chaucer must denounce the power of love as sinful. In medieval thought, sin was a conscious choice to act against the information provided by reason; thus, Chaucer sins by composing Troilus and Criseyde, since it indicates a desire for things of the world. In the Retraction, Chaucer finally chooses the highest good, rejecting Troilus for its choice of worldly as opposed to divine love. The Second Nun's Tale demonstrates Chaucer's perception that sin willfully seeks temporal things. In the tale, Cecilia can convert an audience who chooses the unchangeable God because that audience follows Reason. Almachius treats Cecilia poorly because he chooses evil. It is not a sin for a writer to demonstrate that something is temporal, even if the writer does not make moral criticism. Since the introductory summary of Troilus and Criseyde indicates that kind of moral orientation, Chaucer probably did not intend to end by stating that writing Troilus and Criseyde was sinful. Clearly, Troilus and Criseyde do not have a virtuous love. In the Prohemium to Book III, Chaucer first shows signs that he wishes to blur the distinction between Christian love and his sympathetic presentation of the love between Troilus and Criseyde. The frequency with which this blurring occurs indicates that Chaucer intended it. Chaucer gives Troilus vaguely Christian words in his hymn, thus deepening the disguise for Chaucer's sympathy with temporal love. Though in the hymn Troilus seems to recognize love as a unifying force, nothing in the language suggests that this perception of love is any better than Troilus's former idea of love. As Troilus and Criseyde continues, more references to Fortune occur, but never with a mention of sin. Through loving Criseyde, Troilus gains greater philosophical, but not moral, understanding. This understanding allows him to continue loving Criseyde, thus demonstrating Chaucer's ability to elude the strictness of medieval Christianity.
Haines, R. Michael. "Fortune, Nature, and Grace in Fragment C." 10 (1976): 220-35.
When responding to the Pardoner's Tale, the Host does not mention the gifts of Grace, because Grace brings life, but Fortune and Nature bring death. His comments do, however, suggest a unifying theme for the Canterbury Tales. In the Physician's Tale, Virginia exemplifies the gifts of both Grace and Nature. Fortune uses Apius; Grace (mis)uses Virginius who allows Virginia to remain a virgin without forcing her to commit suicide, thus helping her to avoid a mortal sin. The Physician's Tale makes the point "that one must be prepared to die by living in Grace, free from sin" (226). The Pardoner's Tale shows the subversion of Fortune's, Nature's, and Grace's gifts. The Pardoner's three sins, gluttony, gambling, and swearing, are ultimately profanations of Nature, Fortune, and Grace respectively. The three revelers also pervert these gifts. Chaucer treats these gifts in the Man of Law's Tale, the Second Nun's Tale, the Prioress's Tale, and the Monk's Tale as well.
Hirsh, John C. "Modern Times: The Discourse of the Physician's Tale." 27 (1993): 387-95.
The structure of the Physician's Tale undermines "any necessity unconnected to social standing" (388). The Physician uses Christian discourse at the beginning of his tale in such a way that he will eventually be able to undermine it. In some subtle ways, the Physician's Tale reconstructs the Second Nun's Tale, and like the Manciple's Tale, it reconstructs the moral pattern with which it had been working. The Physician's Tale forces a reexamination of the relationship between real and ideal.
Hirsh, John C. "The Politics of Spirituality: The Second Nun and the Manciple." 12 (1977): 129-46.
Political references in Chaucer's "Legend of St. Cecile" indicate his concern over the Great Schism. When Cecilia urges Valerian and Tiberce to steadfast deaths, she becomes the center of attention, suggesting that she is a figure of the unified church. Like the Second Nun's Tale, the Manciple's Tale deals with the relationship between life and religion and defends the Manciple from the Host's suggestion that the Manciple is a thief.
Jankowski, Eileen S. "Reception of Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale: Osbern Bokenham's Lyf of S. Cycyle." 30 (1996): 306-18.
Osbern Bokenham translated a number of saints' lives for a group of wealthy women in East Anglia approximately 43 years after Chaucer's death. Though he uses many of Chaucer's sources, references to Chaucer in his text indicate that he was familiar with Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale. Though he does not exactly follow the progression of the Second Nun's Tale, comparison of the two texts suggests he does use similar wording and details. The fact that Bokenham refers to Chaucer's works indicates that fifteenth-century writers appreciated Chaucer.
Longsworth, Robert M. "Privileged Knowledge: St. Cecilia and the Alchemist in the Canterbury Tales." 27 (1992): 87-96.
The Canon's Yeoman's Tale and the Second Nun's Tale both treat transformation. In the Canon's Yeoman's Tale alchemy is presented as fraud with only monetary consequences for the dupe. The Canon's Yeoman is careful to show the abuse of fundamental principles. In the Second Nun's Tale transformation has mortal consequences for believers, and as a result deals with a double epistemology. Believers can see what non-believers cannot. The narrator is responsible for the presentation of these two kinds of knowledge. The narrator of the Second Nun's Tale merely claims that he is reporting from a source, probably Jacobus de Voragine, whereas the narrator of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale is making a confession.
Olson, Glending. "Chaucer, Dante, and the Structure of Fragment VIII (G) of the Canterbury Tales." 16 (1982): 222-36.
The Canon's Yeoman's and the Second Nun's Tales are closely linked by imagery and theme. Cecilia's effort to convert the people around her from pagans to Christians, a work of eternal value, is the reverse parallel to the alchemical process of turning base metals to gold, a labor of earthly value. Examination of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale reveals significant borrowings from Dante's Inferno, though Chaucer never indicates to his readers that the Canon's Yeoman goes to Purgatory. Finally, the Canon's Yeoman finally realizes his human limitations.
Rosenberg, Bruce A. "The Contrary Tales of the Second Nun and the Canon's Yeoman." 2 (1968): 278-91.
Though the Second Nun's Tale seems to reveal little complexity or artistry, when read in conjunction with the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, it demonstrates both. St. Cecile's story may be read in terms of alchemy: her body (base material) must be "mortified" so that her soul (the perfect thing) may ascend to heaven. Chaucer also develops a contrast between sight and blindness. Cecilia can see spiritually, but the Canon's Yeoman sees only physically. The link between these two tales is that they show two polarities.
Ruggiers, Paul G. "Platonic Forms in Chaucer." 17 (1983): 366-82.
Chaucer builds his poetry around four different topics, "1) eating and drinking; 2) sexuality and love; 3) play and seriousness; and 4) the making of art" (367). Drinking has religious overtones of suffering, and the drinking image appears in the Reeve's, Pardoner's, Man of Law's, and Franklin's Tales as well as in Troilus and Criseyde and the House of Fame. Chaucer treats love in four different ways as seen in Troilus and Criseyde, and in the Miller's , Reeve's, and Second Nun's Tales. Furthermore the Canterbury Tales as a whole experiments with the theme of play, examining play from a number of different points of view. Chaucer also investigates what it is to create a literary work, a theme particularly present in the Tale of Sir Thopas and the Tale of Melibee.
Strohm, Paul A. "Passioun, Lyf, Miracle, Legende: Some Generic Terms in Middle English Hagiographical Narrative: Part II." 10 (1975): 154-71.
Collections of legenda contain all traditional hagiographical genres, the most famous being Jacobus's Legenda. Lyf became a generic term to describe all variations on the traditional pattern of the saint's life. Chaucer uses lyf in both strict and loose senses. Medieval writers rarely used miracle as a generic term; most often it denotes narration of a specific event. Medieval dramatists, however, used the term miraculum more loosely, associating it with other adjectives to describe particular works. Fourteenth and fifteenth century readers would, therefore, have read miracle as a generic term. Legende refers to individual stories in a collection of saint's lives; it is not used generically. When Chaucer uses legend as part of the title for Legend of Good Women, he uses the term satirically. Medieval writers did not write consistently in one genre, even within the same work. Close reading is necessary to determine the genres of any one work. Terms like lyf and legend controlled readers' responses to a work, forcing them to read a legend as a legend, not as a fabliau, for example. Comparison of the Second Nun's Tale to the Man of Law's Tale emphasizes the distinction between legend and tale and shows how reading experiences of the two differ.