The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Beidler, Peter G. "The Plague and Chaucer's Pardoner." 16 (1982): 257-69.
Reading the Pardoner's Tale in light of the plague deepens readers' understanding of the tale. The three rioters of the tale enjoy themselves in the tavern as did those who historically survived the plague. The treasure appears under the tree because it had belonged to a victim of the plague, and the old man is a survivor of the plague from a nearby village. Boccaccio's Decameron provides useful contemporary evidence about medieval attitudes toward the plague. A plague setting allows the Pardoner to suggest that money is corrupt and that all humans must be prepared to die. The Host responds angrily to the Pardoner because the Pardoner's sinfulness makes the Host and the other pilgrims vulnerable as the next plague victims.
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.
Glenn, Jonathan A. "Dislocation of Kynde in the Middle English Cleanness." 18 (1983): 77-91.
In Purity (Cleanness), uncleanness results from a perversion of kind by fallen, naturally disobedient creatures. Such degeneration ends up in a collapse of the relationship to God and to other creatures. Cleanness is the product of obedience to God. Both Lucifer and Adam sin against their natures as creatures. Noah, on the other hand, maintains his obedient position as creature and so does not sin. By not following their natures as creations, unclean creatures are blind. Clean creatures, however, can see.
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.
Halverson, John. "Chaucer's Pardoner and the Progress of Criticism." 4 (1970): 184-202.
The Pardoner's motivation for his tale has been hotly debated; the question of his drunkenness and of the strained relationship between him and the other pilgrims is closely related to his motivation. Critics argue that the Pardoner merely attempts to con the pilgrims or that he is demonstrating his pride in his ability to defraud. His overblown self-descriptions, however, become dubious, but the "benediction" presents a difficulty for this view. Early critics understood the Pardoner's impotence as a representation of his spiritual state. Now, critics more carefully examine indications that the Pardoner and the Summoner are homosexual. Other scholars have attempted to demonstrate that the Pardoner has some orthodox tendencies, but he remains a disgusting character. If readers take his self-descriptions at face value, they perceive that he has committed the unforgivable sin--rejecting God--so he experiences "living death and present hell" (192). From the beginning, the Pardoner seems to focus on death, and his tale demonstrates a search for death. The ambiguity of the old man, however, has posed a problem for this interpretation. Various critics have suggested that he represents only an old man, Death himself, the Wandering Jew, and the vetus homo (old man of sin), or all of them at once. Readers must remember, however, that they know about the Pardoner only from what he himself says, and readers can assume that he is aware that he has a relationship to those around him. His "song" suggests a resemblance to Faux Semblant in Roman de la Rose and may show an attempt to manipulate his audience in order to play a trick on them. The Pardoner seems to wear a mask which serves both to protect him and to release malice while satisfying his ego. The Pardoner's playfulness escapes the Host who responds in anger, thus thwarting the Pardoner's desire to make the pilgrims look foolish and demonstrating that the Pardoner has overestimated the sophistication of his audience. At its root, however, the tale is a meditation on death which strongly affects the Pardoner and darkly colors his tale.
Hamel, Mary. "The Dream of a King: The Alliterative Morte Arthure and Dante." 14 (1980): 298-312.
Arthur's terrifying dream at the start of the Alliterative Morte Arthure accurately predicts his fall. Sage philosophers correctly interpret his dream, suggesting that it is time for Arthur to admit his misdeeds and to ask God for mercy, but Arthur shows no interest in doing so. The terrifying atmosphere of the dream may well derive from the first Canto of Dante's Inferno--a poem that the author of the Alliterative Morte Arthure probably knew. A comparison of the two suggests that Arthur had, indeed, become a man of worldly values--a man of violence, anger, avarice, and pride. His fall at the hands of Fortune, then, can be seen as a punishment for his sin or a correction of his flawed character. By the end of the poem, Arthur comes to a full realization of his flaws and achieves an understanding of the role of Fortune. He dies repentant and reconciled to his fate, having learned that what appears to be bad fortune is really good.
Long, Walter C. "The Wife as Moral Revolutionary. " 20 (1986): 273-84.
The Wife of Bath propounds the theory that men and women are equal, that nurture is stronger than nature. By pretending to her audience the truth of this idea, she declares herself to be in revolt against a political and moral system that declares women are the cause of sin and the focus for resentment of the human condition.
Peterson, Joyce E. "With Feigned Flattery: The Pardoner as Vice." 10 (1976): 326-36.
Like the Vice figure of medieval drama, the Pardoner curries his audiences' favor. That the pilgrims laugh at the Pardoner suggests a cynicism regarding sin that will eventually lead them to accept it. The Pardoner is, however, more evil than the Vice figure because he encourages the pilgrims to commit the sin he represents. The laughter, then, indicates that they have rejected the Pardoner's enticements.
Plummer, John F. "Hooly Chirches Blood: Simony and Patrimony in Chaucer's Reeve's Tale." 18 (1983): 49-60.
In the Reeve's Tale the parson sins by giving brass vessels belonging to the church to Symkyn, thus connecting the parson to the group of evil clerics who care for their illegitimate children with church funds. In the end, Malyne suffers for the sins of her father and grandfather. Alan buys her maidenhead for half a bushel of flour, but Malyne has neither flour nor maidenhead by morning.
Ramsey, Lee C. "'The sentence of it sooth is': Chaucer's Physician's Tale." 6 (1972): 185-97.
Like a number of Chaucer's other tales, the Physician's Tale draws readers both towards the characters and towards the moral. Chaucer's changes to his sources make the tale about the injustice and uncertainty of life instead of the injustice of powerful men. Finally, Chaucer suggests that the best qualified authority figures are those with experiential knowledge of sin.
Rhodes, James F. "Motivation in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale: Winner Take Nothing." 17 (1982): 40-61.
The Pardoner is not completely a sinner, incapable of finding salvation. He seems to have a strange duality of personality that appears when he condemns the very sins he commits. Examination of the Pardoner's response to the Wife of Bath reveals parallels between them. For example both pilgrims seek a sense of belonging on the pilgrimage. The Wife's suffering does not seem to have diminished her desire for life and play. The Pardoner's assertions about fulfilling all his desires, on the other hand, ring hollow, and he fails to realize that his tale clearly reveals his façade. The Pardoner does not attempt to sell his relics to the pilgrims, but tries to fit in at the level of play. Preaching satisfies him because he derives a sense of power from it. The result of this role is that he plays the part of divine pardoner, promising his audiences that God's grace is for sale and refusing to recognize the suffering of Christ, whom Christians should imitate. Ultimately, the Pardoner cannot "play" with the other pilgrims because he cannot relinquish his professional identity. The Pardoner appears in his tale through the old man who, like the Pardoner, tests Christians to expose the weakness of their faith. His pious exterior conceals an evil heart. Like the Wandering Jew, the old man seems incapable of accepting the resurrection. The response of the pilgrims at the end of the tale draws the Pardoner from material to spiritual and re-establishes the community that his tale would destroy.
Toole, William B. "Chaucer's Christian Irony: The Relationship of Character and Action in the Pardoner's Tale." 3 (1968): 37-43.
The three revelers' obsession with the physical blinds them to spiritual truth. Ironically, they do not realize that the warnings they receive from the child and the tavernkeeper are spiritual, not physical. In their confused, intoxicated state, they truly believe that Death is a powerful physical being whom the three of them can overcome. Their physicality causes them to invert the Crucifixion by seeking to preserve their physical bodies by physical means. The three revelers become an unholy trinity, demonstrating the facets of cupidity, a sin which causes their destruction.