The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Braswell-Means, Laurel. "A New Look at an Old Patient: Chaucer's Summoner and Medieval Physiognomia." 25 (1991): 266-75.
Using medieval medical theory based on Aristotle, Galen, and Hippocrates, and medieval physiognomy, Chaucer constructs the Summoner's portrait so as to describe the Summoner's medical conditions. The Summoner is clearly unnaturally hot as both his description and his cures indicate. The combination of these two suggests that the Summoner is choleric, according to Galen and Avicenna. Chaucer sees the Summoner and the Pardoner as variations of the same humor character. The Summoner's disease is also associated with sexuality, and astrological details associate him with Mars. This combination suggests that the Summoner would experience his most difficult time of year in the spring. The Summoner's disease is incurable, except by the spiritual healing he would experience at the shrine of Thomas a Becket.
Delany, Paul. "Constantinus Africanus' De Coitu: A Translation." 4 (1969): 55-65.
Delany provides a modern English translation of De coitu in part because it may be one of Chaucer's sources, but also because it demonstrates the medieval view of sex.
Feinstein, Sandy. "The Reeve's Tale: About that Horse." 26 (1991): 99-106.
Though many scholars have posited that the horse in the Reeve's Tale is a stallion, agricultural records show that it is probably a gelding, thus suggesting an allegory of spiritual powerlessness resulting from a loss of self-control. The work of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella and the Palladius on Husbandrie present the medieval view of stallions. Even if the animal is gelded, it may still experience sexual desire, and the Reeve himself exemplifies this fact. As a gelding, the horse stands for both the miller, the clerks, and the Reeve himself.
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.
Goodall, Peter. "Being Alone in Chaucer." 27 (1992): 1-15.
In medieval writing, solitude often results from a lover's desire to be alone in order to complain. Chaucer creates such situations in the Romaunt of the Rose, Troilus and Criseyde, the Knight's Tale, and the Man of Law's Tale. Those moments of aloneness that do not result from love often have melancholy overtones, perhaps because many people in the Middle Ages viewed the desire to be alone as abnormal and associated with secrecy, most likely for the purpose of doing something one should not, often sexually. Culturally, a bedroom did not belong to one person, but to an entire family. Nicholas in the Miller's Tale goes against a number of conventions related to private rooms and university life, though scholars sought private studies before private bedrooms. Nicholas's desire for privacy leads to a number of puns in the Miller's Tale. In Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer gives Criseyde private space to think and to write letters, thereby associating the solitude of the lover and the scholar in a unique way.
Hamel, Mary. "The Wife of Bath and a Contemporary Murderer." 14 (1979): 132-39.
The account in the Wife of Bath's Prologue, ll. 765-68, of a wife's murder of her husband in his bed and adultery with her lover in the same bed is based not on a written source but on an actual murder recounted in the Westminister Chronicle for 1388. This contemporary crime and others like it correct recent speculations that the Wife of Bath murdered her fourth husband, with or without the aid of her fifth. Jankyn's final diatribe, of which these lines are a part, emphasizes not murder but female sexuality.
Karlen, Arno. "The Homosexual Heresy." 6 (1971): 44-63.
Increasing numbers of urban dwellers, not Eastern influences, made homosexuality a problem for the Middle Ages as writings from different parts of Europe demonstrate. Since the Romans, people have believed that city-dwellers were over-sexed and contaminated the rural populace. Views regarding sex became increasingly polarized, reaching even the clergy. Priests (the middle rank of the clerical estate) had reputations for an inability to control heterosexual desires. As concern about sexuality increased, charges of deviant sexuality accompanied charges of heresy and often resulted in witch hunts. These charges were particularly linked to the Albigensians, whose beliefs contributed to the rise of the courtly love tradition. For political gain, the Inquisition linked aberrant sexuality and heretical religious beliefs which resulted in the destruction of the Templars.
Laird, Judith. "Good Women and Bonnes Dames: Virtuous Females in Chaucer and Christine de Pizan." 30 (1995): 58-70.
In the Legend of Good Women Chaucer defines women only in relation to men and portrays them in such a way that even if they are constant, they are rejected as duplicitous. Christine de Pisan, in Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, treats a similar subject, but her women appear much more virtuous and less foolish. In the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women Chaucer establishes women as lovers, thereby forcing men to examine them in terms of their physicality and nothing more. Christine's opening establishes a non-gendered definition of goodness that goes beyond sexual purity and specifically addresses the tales of wicked women. Though both authors examine the same women, their portraits are very different. Ultimately, Christine's portraits reveal that women are good regardless of how they relate to men, whereas Chaucer's women are good only in their relationships to men.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wood, Chauncey. "The Sources of Chaucer's Summoner's 'Garleek, onyons, and eke lekes.'" 5 (1971): 240-43.
Garlic, onions, and leeks are the fruits of Egypt for which the Israelites mourned after the Exodus (Num. 11:5). Medieval doctors believed that they caused leprosy and increased sexual desire. For Chaucer's audience, then, the Summoner's desire for these plants increased his evilness.