The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Aers, David. "Criseyde: Woman in Medieval Society." 13 (1979): 177-200.
Troilus and Criseyde examines the disparity between social reality and the courtly love tradition, especially for women. As a widow, Criseyde lacks a protective male figure, so she uses her sexuality (as best she can) to survive in a male-dominated society. Criseyde's response to Pandarus's reports of Troilus's love shows her awareness of her powerless social position. When she shifts to discussing love, Criseyde examines the inequality between her impotent social position outside of love and her powerful position with in the courtly love tradition. Criseyde's dream about the eagle reveals her well-grounded social and psychological fears. Pandarus uses Criseyde's subordinate social position to manipulate her into sleeping with Troilus. Emphasizing her powerlessness, Chaucer depicts Criseyde's relationship to Troilus in terms of hunter (male) and hunted (female). Later, she is equated with Antenor, a move by which Chaucer suggests that women are no better than prisoners. Troilus and Criseyde's love collapses because of the social status of women. Criseyde's refusal to elope with Troilus indicates her submission to antifeminist social norms. When Criseyde becomes Diomede's lover, her seeming betrayal of Troilus reveals her to be entirely socialized in a society which forces and condemns her betrayal. Finally, Troilus responds to Criseyde with compassion, while Pandarus's response to her demonstrates social convention.
Baird, Joseph L. "The 'Secte' of the Wife of Bath." 2 (1968): 188-90.
The Clerk's use of the legal sense of "secte" in the epilogue to his tale suggests that the Clerk recognizes and responds to the case the Wife of Bath makes for her view of women and marriage.
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. "Chaucer, the Merchant, and Their Tale: Getting Beyond Old Controversies: Part I." 13 (1978): 141-56.
The Merchant's Tale is misogynistic at heart, and the Merchant cannot be separated from it. The bondage imagery, the narrative voice, and the personal affront suggested by Damyan's description connect the prologue and the tale. The Merchant's Tale cannot be reduced to a happy or sarcastic fabliau because the Merchant's voice is too complex.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "Chaucer, the Merchant, and Their Tale: Getting Beyond Old Controversies: Part II." 13 (1979): 247-62.
The "L'Envoy de Chaucer a Bukton" contains statements about women similar to those made by the Merchant, suggesting that Chaucer cannot be so easily separated from the narrator of the Merchant's Tale as some previous scholars have thought.
Clasby, Eugene. "Chaucer's Constance: Womanly Virtue and the Heroic Life." 13 (1979): 221-33.
Instead of making the upper classes comfortable, the Man of Law's Tale reminds them that they are also subject to Fortune. Constance does not suffer for no reason; her suffering pictures human suffering as it relates to God and to virtue. In the Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius addresses a similar fall from power which questions God's power and Boethius's virtue. In the course of their sufferings, Boethius and Constance discover that Providence, not Fortune, rules their lives. Chaucer's treatment of Constance, however, raises additional issues. Constance's responses to her sufferings throughout the tale show her spiritual growth. While Constance submits to physical authority, she never accepts that authority over her spiritual well-being. Constance's identity as a woman symbolizes the life-giving abilities of all humans, and is not a sign of weakness. Chaucer presents Constance from a temporal and an eternal perspective, allowing him to raise questions about evil rulers and Providence.
Condren, Edward I. "The Prioress: A Legend of Spirit, A Life of Flesh." 23 (1989): 192-218.
Criticism of the Prioress remains divided between those who believe she is austere and those who belive she is compassionate. Primarily critics question whether the Prioress understands her behaviors and her tale. Her portrait, prologue, and tale reveal conflicting impulses: she is a woman and a nun. Her prologue asserts three things, that the ability to honor God and the Virgin Mary comes from spiritual energy, that she needs that energy to complete her tale, and that faith will accomplish salvation. The prologue and tale parallel each other. The Prioress never understands her story or its repugnant qualities. Her prologue and tale are not about the Prioress's duality, but picture the metaphysical union of flesh and spirit. The grain on the boy's tongue represents the carnal fleshly nature, the product of male "seed," so when it is removed, the boy is purely spirit and is released from earth to go to paradise.
Daileader, Celia R. "The Thopas-Melibee Sequence and the Defeat of Antifeminism." 29 (1994): 26-39.
The Wife of Bath problematizes the abuse of women, both physically and verbally, in her rebellion and misconstruction of authority. Chaucer responds to the Wife in the Tale of Melibee, reasserting his authority through Prudence. The rapes at the beginning of the Wife of Bath's Tale and the Tale of Melibee parallel each other in several significant ways. These violations also raise the question of how women may speak about the violation of texts and their bodies. In the Tale of Melibee, Prudence must convince Melibee to listen to her, and she does so by direct quotation from a number of texts. The Wife asserts herself by misquoting a few texts. In Prudence Chaucer responds to the Wife of Bath's feminist rhetoric which misconstrues authoritative texts by systematically addressing and dismantling those authorities.
Daniels, Richard J. "Uxor Noah: A Raven or a Dove?" 14 (1979): 23-32.
Of the Chester, York, and Towneley Noah plays depicting Uxor as a shrewish wife, the Towneley play shows superior handling of the shrewish wife material. The Towneley Noah speaks more than the Noah characters of the Chester and York cycles, and the Towneley Noah presents solid reasons for God to destroy humankind. In both the York and Chester plays, Uxor refuses, when requested, to enter the ark, but seems agreeable prior to this incident. The Towneley Uxor, however, fights with Noah before the issue of entering the ark arises. In order to convince Uxor to enter the ark the Towneley Noah must beat her into agreeing and receives blows himself in the process. The humanity of this struggle has greater dramatic effect than the smoother relationships depicted in the Chester and York Noah plays. Noah and Uxor reach agreement in the ark, and demonstrate their new accord when they release the raven and the dove. At the end of the play, the Towneley Uxor shows that she is more dove-like (faithful and true) than raven-like (faithless and disobedient).
Dawson, Robert B. "Custance in Context: Rethinking the Protagonist of the Man of Law's Tale." 26 (1992): 293-308.
Most critics write Custance off as a silent woman. Scrutiny of Custance and her position, however, indicates that she has a strong voice and that "her relation to her narrator is much more complex than has been generally realized" (295). Her first speech draws attention to the cruelty of her parents, but her criticism is carefully hidden along with her egocentricity and unconcern for the eternal destination of others. In keeping with her lack of concern, Constance offers no prayers for her murdered companions. She also attempts to manipulate God by prayer and chastises her father for his failure to seek for her though she could hardly not know that he had spent time and money on just such a search. To read Custance as a victim ignores the gap between what she says and what she does and the irony this distance creates.
De Roo, Harvey. "Undressing Lady Bertilak: Guilt and Denial in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 27 (1993): 305-24.
Gawain's admission of guilt occurs at a surprising place in the narrative, and though he confesses cowardice, he also admits guilt for a sexual fault, even in the face of the Green Knight's pointed comments. Gawain's behavior in the bedroom with Lady Bercilak "violates the logic of the pentangle, thus contributing directly to his downfall" (311). The world of Arthur's court is a kind of artificial courtesy; Bercilak's world is the real world in which Gawain must make hard choices. In setting Gawain up for his encounters with Lady Bercilak, the poet contrasts two conceptions of Gawain, one as a Christian knight faithful to Pentangle virtues and the other as a ladies man. Gawain's invective against women is a result of a pattern of denial consistent in Gawain's behavior throughout the poem.
Delasanta, Rodney K., and Constance M. Rousseau. "Chaucer's Orygenes upon the Maudeleyne: A Translation." 30 (1996): 319-42.
In the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, Orygenes upon the Maudeleyne is listed as one of the works Chaucer has translated. The reference supports Alceste's argument that Chaucer has praised women in his previous works. Study of the 130 Latin manuscripts of the homily has led to the selection of a few texts Chaucer might have used. The reference to the homily also suggests Chaucer's piety. Both an English and a Latin text are included.
Favier, Dale A. "Anelida and Arcite: Anti-Feminist Allegory, Pro-Feminist Complaint." 26 (1991): 83-94.
Anelida and Arcite provides the first evidence of a major conflict in Chaucer's poetry, "a genuinely pro-feminist impulse" (83) pitted against the ingrained anti-feminist tradition represented in allegory. Women's betrayal by men is reflected in the betrayal of meaning by poetic language. The invocation draws attention to two conflicts in the poem, that between Mars's roles as sustainer and destroyer and that between the author and his literary fathers. Furthermore, the invocation also posits that poets are not faithful lovers. Mars is the false lover, and Arcite is associated with him. The complaint makes Anelida a real person, and "demonstrates how much of the spell of poetry depends upon holding things in place, or at least appearing to" (91).
Fry, Donald K. "Finnsburh: A New Interpretation." 9 (1974): 1-14.
The poet recites Finnsburh to remind his audience of famous Danish victories in the face of Beowulf's recent victory over Grendel. Finnsburh links Wealtheow, Hildeburgh, and Freawaru, showing that they live where violence destroys life. Careful examination of the song also clarifies the meaning of eotena: they are giants, serving in Finn's army. A new reading of Hengest is in order since other works indicate that Anglo-Saxons could travel by sea in the winter. Hengest stays with Finn voluntarily, waiting for an opportunity to avenge Hnæf. This Danish feat parallels Beowulf's victory over Grendel and suggests a new interpretation of Hrothgar. Like Hengest, he lives with Grendel awaiting the vengeful moment.
Green, Richard Firth. "Women in Chaucer's Audience." 18 (1983): 146-54.
Historical records indicate that at court, men and women did not spend much time together. Most likely, the audience that heard Chaucer read his poetry aloud was entirely male, in part because the population of women at court was quite small. The increasing presence of women at court towards the end of the fourteenth century may account for the decline of the fabliau.
Hargreaves, Henry. "Lydgate's 'A Ram's Horn.'" 10 (1976): 255-59.
The Ellesmere version of "A Ram's Horn" contains seven stanzas discussing class. The version in the Bannatyne manuscript, however, has been altered by a Scots scribe. The alterations in the Ashmole manuscript make its version an anti-feminist work, suggesting that the more courtly audience liked the original "Ram's Horn" which was then altered for the pleasure of the populace.
Jensen, Emily. "Male Competition as a Unifying Motif in Fragment A of the Canterbury Tales." 24 (1990): 320-28.
The tales in Group I descend in genre and character from courtly romance to fabliau, from knights to peasants. In Group I, this descent occurs in terms of male competion, both in the tales and between the pilgrims. The competition centers on a woman who becomes increasingly more active and more objectified as the tales progress. Examination of the Knight's, Miller's, Reeve's, and Cook's Tales clearly demonstrates this downward movement. The links between these tales are focused on "quiting," also a form of competition. The pun on "queynte" and the rhymes formed with "wyf" as the tales continue emphasize the progressive objectification of women.
Kelly, H. Ansgar. "Sacraments, Sacramentals, and Lay Piety in Chaucer's England." 28 (1993): 5-22.
All members of the laity were required to attend Matins, Lauds, and Mass on Sundays and to abstain from working on such holydays. Women were required to attend additional holydays. Absolon was the holy water clerk for his parish; Jankyn was the parish clerk. Both offices required that the clerk be unmarried or only married once and that the clerk continue to wear his surplice and tonsure. Parish clerks were also responsible for the education of the laity, though most often they educated the boys. Parishioners were required to take Communion once a year, but the devout, like Margery Kempe, might take Communion up to once a week. Holy water was considered only a sacramental, not capable of removing venial sins. Relics were rarely owned by the laity. Most often they were kept in churches so that the laity could venerate them.
Koban, Charles. "Hearing Chaucer Out: The Art of Persuasion in the Wife of Bath's Tale." 5 (1971): 225-39.
In oral delivery, Chaucer found a way to contemplate human difficulties and to educate his audience. In addition to plot, exemplary materials not integrally related to the plot indicate that Chaucer intended his audience to think about larger issues. In addition, precise statements of thought indicate "controlling ideas or problems" (227). Readers may see the Canterbury Tales in blocks that develop larger themes. By examining the Pardoner's Tale, we discover the oral method that Chaucer probably used. The Wife of Bath's Tale demonstrates how Chaucer combines plot, thought, and examples to persuade his audience. Chaucer organizes these materials in a way that indicates an oral delivery as opposed to a written one. He also focuses on the relations between men and women (human problem) instead of the comic elements. Such a focus also makes readers ignore the question of whether or not the teller fits the tale. When examined structurally, the materials which present models to the audience slow the progress of the plot, thus allowing readers/ hearers to think about the greater human problems presented. The young knight's quest, then, becomes the individual's search for purpose, dignity, and self-determination.
Kohanski, Tamarah. "In Search of Maleyne." 27 (1993): 228-68.
In the Reeve's Tale Maleyne is often considred a non-entity, and most critics read her as a fabliau female, a willing participant in the sexual games the clerks play. In fact, Chaucer presents her as a mix of high- and low-born characteristics, and leaves her level of sexual activity open to question. She does not have time to cry out against Alan when he comes to her bed, and Chaucer presents no evidence that she is complicit in such activity.
Kruger, Steven F. "Passion and Order in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women." 23 (1989): 219-35.
The Legend of Good Women shows that literature cannot be completely controlled. Chaucer also examines the mutilation that emotions can work on prescribed social codes. The Legend of Good Women does not always depict faithful women and faithless men. Often the stories Chaucer chooses show emotion overpowering social structure, undermining stability, breaking apart marriages and families, and leading to death. Like the wall in the "Legend of Pyramus and Thisbe," however, structures that oppose passions do not always succeed.
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.
Levy, Bernard S. "The Wife of Bath's Queynte Fantasye." 4 (1969): 106-22.
The Wife of Bath's life supports her claim that husbands must yield to their wives to achieve happiness in marriage. In her tale she depicts a conflict between the "old law" of an eye for an eye, and the "new law" of Love. Under this new law, the transformation of the old woman is a natural occurrence. When the young knight behaves "gentilly," he changes his vision and gains the ability to recognize virtue. His reward is couched in images of baptism as suggested by the "dayes thre" in the old woman's speech about gentillesse. The imagery in the Wife's description of her relationship with Jankyn further demonstrates this point. Male submission to women, however, lowers the man to the status of wife and significantly reduces his virility. The Wife seeks to control Jankyn because he will not sleep with her, thus not allowing her to control the marriage bed, so she cannot master him. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the old woman wants the young knight to pay his "marriage debt," and her curtain lecture conceives of love-making in marriage as a "gentil dede." Given the medieval view of marriage, however, readers recognize that the young knight and the old woman have twisted marriage into a way to satisfy lust. The "baptism" the young knight receives inducts him into knowledge of courtly love. Thus, the Wife demonstrates that only when women have control, particularly over the bed, do lovers experience perfect bliss.
McKinley, Kathryn L. "The Silenced Knight: Questions of Power and Reciprocity in the Wife of Bath's Tale." 30 (1996): 359-78.
The hag's pillow lecture in the Wife of Bath's Tale is not male-dominated discourse, but by using the ovidian technique of contrast, it juxtaposes the Wife's lecherousness with gentillesse. The knight's final choice to allow the hag to choose her own state is not a passive act. Analysis of his response in terms of speech-act theory supports the interpretation that she has silenced him. His choice also shows that he has reached a higher level of maturity. As comparison with Sir Launfal shows, the relationship between the hag and the knight follows a pattern similar to that of other romances, and like those romances, it underscores the power of the feminine. Furthermore, the marriage between the hag and the knight is based on mutual self-sacrifice: he submits in marriage to an ugly old woman, and she consents to marry a rapist. Thus, the pillow lecture does not silence women, but instead causes the knight to be silent and transforms him.
Moore, Bruce. "'Allone, withouten any compaignye'--The Mayings in Chaucer's Knight's Tale." 25 (1991): 285-301.
The narrator of the Knight's Tale does not present the marriage of Palamon and Emily as either an ideologically or a politically neutral occasion. The marriage is, like Arcite's funeral, a way to impose order on chaotic human experience. Emily and Arcite also go maying, a traditional popular, as opposed to literary, ritual. Such rituals maintained a sense of community and reminded participants of the community's moral standards. As evident in the Legend of Good Women, a cult of leaf and flower became the courtly version of the maying tradition. The Legend of Good Women, the Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy, Troilus and Criseyde, the Orologium sapientiae, the Court of Love, and Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry also show the sense of community created by May celebrations. In the Knight's Tale, however, maying occurs without community. Arcite and Palamon give way to animal behaviors as a result of Arcite's maying. Emily is a victim of the courtly love tradition, and her moments alone in the garden emphasize her desires, contrasting them with her position as prisoner.
Otten, Charlotte F. "Proserpine: Liberatrix Suae Gentis." 5 (1971): 277-87.
On the surface, the four biblical heroines mentioned in the Merchant's Tale do not seem to fit with the entrance of Proserpine. These five women, however, are linked by their roles as deliverers. The biblical women deliver Israel; Prosperine announces herself as the deliverer of all adulterous women. May assumes the role of January's deliverer in order to escape being caught in adultery, and becomes a comic figure in comparison to Rebecca, Judith, Abigail, and Esther.
Overbeck, Pat Trefzger. "Chaucer's Good Woman." 2 (1967): 75-94.
Chaucer treats his sources for the Legend of Good Women in such a way that the women do not consistently acknowledge divine authority, nor do they respond to human authority. Instead, Chaucer's women act impetuously from lust or love. They are, however, capable of bargaining in such a way as to procure both marriage and money. Finally, the women end their own lives. The noble lady, however, eventually becomes Chaucer's Wife of Bath, focused on the pleasures of sex and the financial benefits to be gained in marriage.
Phillips, Helen. "Literary Allusion in Chaucer's Ballade, 'Hyd, Absalon, thy gilte tresses clere.'" 30 (1995): 134-49.
In the prologue to the Legend of Good Women Chaucer borrows from Thomas Paien's ballad "Ne quier veoir la biauté d'Absalon" and Froissart's "Ne quier veoir Medee ne Jason." Like these writers, Chaucer also inserts a catalogue of classical and biblical women, each associated with different virtues. To create this list Chaucer steals from a number of different writers, including Ovid, Guido delle Colonne, Machaut, Froissart, the twelfth-century Piramus et Thisbé, Dante, and Vincent de Beauvais. Such examination tells scholars much about Chaucer's reading habits and the care with which he designed the opening ballade.
Raybin, David. "'Women, of kynde, desiren libertee': Rereading Dorigen, Rereading Marriage." 27 (1992): 65-86.
In the Franklin's Tale, Dorigen asserts her place as a woman who can make her own choices. Careful examination of Arveragus's response to her announcement that she has made a promise to Aurelius to become his lover reveals that Arveragus is rather non-committal and that Dorigen acts as a free interpeter of what Arveragus has said. Furthermore, her complaint reveals a woman who recognizes her right to determine what happens to her body, and comprehension that she must make such a choice. As a result her behavior, particularly that which occurs in the public sphere usually reserved for men, undermines that sphere. To love requires freedom of the kind Dorigen asserts she possesses in the Franklin's Tale.
Tripp, Raymond P., Jr. "The Darker Side to Absolon's Dawn Visit." 20 (1986): 207-12.
In both the Franklin's and Miller's Tales, Chaucer portrays male "lovers" who would kill their beloved women for principle (Arveragus) or for revenge (Absolon). In both tales, the lovers' desire to destroy the beloved springs from an impossible desire to control love.
Williams, Michael E. "Three Metaphors of Criticism and the Wife of Bath's Tale." 20 (1985): 144-57.
Excluding deconstruction, there are three basic critical approaches readers can use on any text. First, readers can examine a text, the Wife of Bath's Tale for example, as a "machine" that does or does not function properly (144). The text either fulfills its function or it does not, and only a mechanic (critic or writer) can completely understand its inner workings. Critics working in this mode seek the author's intention. When examined this way, the Wife of Bath's Tale supports male sovereignty and discusses the tension between the flesh and the spirit. The "machine" metaphor cannot, however, account for all parts of the tale. The second metaphor is that of an organism. Viewing the text in this way gives critics greater freedom to examine a number of different systems that comprise the work from many points of view. This approach allows critics to explore the interplay between systems, such as that between courtly love and the Wife of Bath's belief in female supremacy. The "organism" approach often promises, however, more than it can deliver. Lastly, scholars can explicate texts based on a metaphor of opposing points of attraction. The Wife of Bath's Tale seems to contain three such poles, gentillesse, the more fleshly focus of the tale, and the question of female dominance.
Woods, William F. "A Professional Thyng: The Wife as Merchant's Apprentice in the Shipman's Tale." 24 (1989): 139-49.
Chaucer alters the sources for the Shipman's Tale, strengthening the position of the wife. In so doing, he makes the wife a mirror image of her merchant husband. Because readers see the tale from her point of view, they recognize "the virtues and the compromises essential to 'driving forth the world'" (139). The tale is built around trade and trade metaphors. Through the various shifts in the tale, the wife achieves rule of herself and her household. The agricultural / financial metaphor now works in the wife's favor. She maintains her power after the monk reveals her debt to the merchant by her commitment to the rise and fall of the marketplace.