The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Balaban, John. "Blind Harry and the Wallace." 8 (1974): 241-51.
Traditionally, Blind Harry is Henricus Caecus and the author of Schir William Wallace. Though some of the evidence against Harry's authorship may be explained away, other problems are not so easily dismissed. That Harry's name is not mentioned in the earliest copy of The Wallace may result from the fact that this copy has no title page, or Ramsay, the scribe, may have left it off when making his copy. John Mair, in Historia majoris Brittaniae (De gestibus Scotorum) first mentions Blind Harry. From what scholars know of Mair, they can estimate that Blind Harry lived in the last half of the fifteenth century. As the writer of Wallace states in the eleventh book, his source is a Latin book by John Blair, perhaps the same one who serves Wallace in the tale, but this book most likely never existed and is the writer's nod to authority. The writer of Wallace does not state that he is blind, and metrical patterning suggests that this poem could not have been recited from memory. Harry seems to have been quite familiar with Chaucer, imitating metrical patterns, descriptions, and tone. Thus, the traditional Blind Harry does not seem to be the writer of Wallace. Scholars must also note that medieval writers often referred to the devil as "Harry," so the name "Blind Harry" must be an alias. The historical inaccuracies in Wallace serve to popularize it, making William Wallace seem a god instead of a rebel.
Beidler, Peter G., and Therese Decker. "Lippijn: A Middle Dutch Source for the Merchant's Tale?" 23 (1989): 236-50.
Most scholars have ignored Middle Dutch plays, but the fourteenth-century play Lippijn may have been a source for Chaucer's Merchant's Tale. Chaucer may have encountered this play on one of his trips to the Low Countries. A number of parallels exist between Lippijn and the Merchant's Tale, including the specific details of the love triangle, the description of love making, and the husband's blindness. If Chaucer did know Lippijn, he altered his source to create more depth. A prose translation of Lippijn is provided.
Bleeth, Kenneth. "Joseph's Doubting of Mary and the Conclusion of the Merchant's Tale." 21 (1986): 58-66.
The end of the Merchant's Tale in which January regains his sight parallels the end of the story of Joseph and Mary, told in the Cherry-Tree Carol and Ludus Coventriae, where Joseph is enlightened with regard to the spiritual nature of Mary's pregnancy. May's explanation of her behavior in terms of January's blindness is an ironic reversal of Joseph's response to Mary. Both January and Joseph apologize, and both finally respond to the pregnancy by stroking the womb of their wives. But in the end Joseph has been enlightened, whereas January refuses to perceive.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "The Merchant's Tale: Why is May Called 'Mayus'?" 2 (1968): 273-77.
The masculine name "Mayus" for the female protagonist suggests a theme of healing in the pear-tree episode. Damyan is named for St. Damian, known for healing various illnesses, including blindness. In the tale, Damyan is the agent for January's healing, thus suggesting that there might be other references to healing as well. May was the month associated with healing.
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.
Friedman, John Block. "The Nun's Priest's Tale: The Preacher and the Mermaid's Song." 7 (1973): 250-66.
The Nun's Priest's training and interests contribute to his tale, since the priest could use this tale as an exemplum. The widow is a stock figure of temperance, and Chanticleer and Pertelote are depicted both as chickens and as people in order to set up the humor of the tale. The contrast between the animal and human spheres allows the Nun's Priest to mock human conventions, such as the notion of love at first sight. The text of his exemplum appears in Chanticleer's statement "Mulier est hominis confusio," which also indicates the Nun's Priest's negative attitude toward women. When Pertelote and her sisters bathe before Chanticleer, they function as mermaids who blind men to the danger of the sins of lust which they represent. Thus, the Nun's Priest's Tale can be read as a sermon containing instruction for the members of the pilgrimage.
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.
Hamel, Mary. "The Franklin's Tale and Chrétien de Troyes." 17 (1983): 316-31.
Previously, critics believed that Chaucer was unfamiliar with the work of Chrétien de Troyes, but careful reading of Chrétien's Cligès and the Franklin's Tale shows some parallels. In both works, a knight goes to Britain to gain honor and fame. Both works treat marriage as a continuation of the lover-lady/mistress relationship and suggest that the husband remains his wife's servant though he is also her ruler. Chrétien's work, however, undercuts its own apparent justification of adultery by blasphemous parody. Like Fénice in Cligès, Dorigen is bound by her rash promise to a man she does not love, and both women see these unwilling relationships as an inevitable source of shame. Whereas Chrétien's characters never realize the romantic illusion in which they live, Chaucer's Dorigen refuses to act like a conventional romance heroine, and by her example Aurelius also transcends the conventions of courtly love in responding with charity.
Neuse, Richard. "Marriage and the Question of Allegory in the Merchant's Tale." 24 (1989): 115-31.
Chaucer raises the problem of allegory in the Clerk's and Merchant's Tales by making it the center of the tales, particularly in light of the source text. The Clerk's Tale does not close off the allegorical question at the end of the tale raised by Chaucer's use of Petrarchan material. The Merchant picks up on the question, dramatizing every aspect of marriage. The expansion of January's definition of marriage makes clear that the Merchant shares his view. January holds two opposing opinions of marriage: he speaks of marriage only in Biblical terms, but thinks of it merely as a practical way to fill his needs. The narrator describes the garden as one of "death or of pagan enchantments," and of "natural vitality and joy" (123). The Merchant treats the Bible as if it is not applicable to everyday life and refers to Sir Orfeo and to the Wife of Bath's Tale. The world of fairy as presented in these two texts is a a world where Biblical authority is not so powerful and where women are not viewed as objects. The Merchant touches on the themes of Fortune, with a passing reference to Purgatorio, blindness and the cure of blindness, and uses the redeemer motif, incorporating "the three realms of Dante's Commedia" (128). Like Dante, Chaucer attempts to use Biblical imagery for an everyday purpose, but through January, Chaucer presents an idea of paradise much different from that of Dante.
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.
Ryan, Lawrence V. "The Canon's Yeoman's Desperate Confession." 8 (1974): 297-310.
Medieval Christians viewed confession as a way to blind Satan and escape temptation. By using the Host as a confessor, the Yeoman may get away from the "feendly" tie to the Canon. The Yeoman responds to the Host's questions, however, by reciting the tenets of alchemy, not Christianity. He does not take the blame for his behavior but shifts the responsibility for his sin onto the Canon. His doing so suggests that the Yeoman is not entirely sincere in his confession. The Yeoman depicts the Canon in a demonic way, and the Yeoman's description of the Canon's tricks associates fire and blindness, thus strengthening the Canon's demonic character. The tale of the duped priest, then, seems to be the Yeoman's own story. By the time the Yeoman reaches the pilgrims, he has spent so much time in alchemy that he can scarcely give it up. He tries to save himself by warning the others, but he is too afraid fully to admit his fault, a mark of Sloth. The Yeoman's choice of the Host as his confessor further emphasizes his spiritual poverty, since he chooses a tavern-keeper, not a priest.
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.
von Kreisler, Nicolai Alexander. "An Aesopic Allusion in the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1971): 30-37.
Justinius's complaint about his wife and January's response to it may be an expansion of an event in the Life of Aesop, which Chaucer probably knew from oral tradition. The conversation between Justinius and January demonstrates the belief that common sense is more valuable than book-knowledge. When January decides to follow Placebo's advice, he ignores the truth of the parable, thus underscoring his blindness. January's response to May's excuse for copulating with Damyan further emphasizes January's ignorance and lack of common sense, making him an object of readers' derision.