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1 NAUGHTY BY NATURE: CHAUCER AND THE (RE)INVENTION OF FEMALE GOODNESS IN LATE ME DIEVAL LITERATURE By JOANNA R. SHEARER A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSTIY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2007
2 2007 Joanna R. Shearer
3 To Marguerite A. English and Juanita J. Shearer, beloved grandmothers May you both fly with the angels
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First and foremost, I would like to thank my committee, all of whom have been invaluable throughout this process, but special thanks and gratitude must go to Al Shoaf and Jim Paxson who have guided, challenge d, and encouraged me into the medievalist I am today. To my best friend, Andrea Wood, who has been one of my most enthusiastic champions and the best sounding-board in all things academic and in life a person could ask for. To my extended friends and family, who are too numerous to name here, but each of whom possesses the uncanny ability to call or to write with supportive words at the moment when I need them most. To Jill, for being both a protective big sister and a dear friend, and for always having an answer when I ask, So, what e xotic location are you taking me to this time? I need to offer profuse thanks to my patient and loving father who always taught me that to live without laughter is in reality no life at all. His philosophy has saved me more times than I can count, and of course, I must acknowledge the fact that he did an excellent job of pretending that needing more financial support for an extra year of gradua te school didnt bother him in the least. Such supreme acting talent truly belongs on the stage! And, finally, but never la st, I want to give my thanks to my amazing mother. In many ways, I owe her the greatest debt of all because, when all of the other mothers were teaching their little girl s how to be lambs, she taught me how to be a tiger.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ABSTRACT .....6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION..8 2 SUBVERTING RAPE, ROMANCE, AND RELIGION IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE ...36 3 THE MAISTRESSE OF MY WIT, AND NOTHING I: CHAUCER AND THE MISTRA NSLATION OF LEGE NDARY WOMEN.. 4 A VIRGIN, A WIFE, AND A MARTYR WALK INTO THE TALES ..116 5 CONCLUSION .....157 LIST OF REFERENCES.......164 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.183
6 Abstract of the Dissertation Presented to the Gr aduate School of the Univ ersity of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy NAUGHTY BY NATURE: CHAUCER AND THE (RE)INVENTION OF FEMALE GOODNESS IN LATE ME DIEVAL LITERATURE By Joanna R. Shearer August 2007 Chair: Richard Shoaf Major: English The women in Chaucers stories are not cont ent to live life in the margins, and these characters are neither as good as they should be according to medieval standards of proper female behavior, nor are they as bad as these sa me standards would have one believe. In this sense, Chaucer is an author who is ahead of hi s time, and one can determine from his poems that women, in all of their myriad incarnati ons, are, for him, meant to be seen and heard. In Subverting Rape, Romance, and Religion in Troilus and Criseyde I examine the most common mistranslation of Criseyde by modern scholars, namely I argue that Criseydes betrayal of Troilus for Diomede is as necessary as it is inevitable. Thus, Chaucer rehabilitates his heroine, a feat he manages without harming either her reputation or Troilus masculinity. In my chapter on The Legend of Good Women I often disagree with contemporary critical reasoning as to why Chaucer-as-author would choose to (re)tran slate Classically bad women into rather dull examples of good woma nhood. It is my contention that he uses these women and their tales to show that, no matter how much either sex tries to play the victim when true love sours, there are often few real vi ctims to be had in such tragic scenarios.
7 My fourth chapter examines how The Man of Laws Tale when taken in conjunction with two other Canterbury Tales provides the best answers to some of Chaucers most challenging questions. Indeed, he (re)invents Custance as the exception to many of the rules for proper female behavior in the fourteenth centu ry, even as she is pa radoxically the perfect embodiment of authoritys claim on women in general. In essence, this dissertations over-arching aim has been to show just how adept Chaucer is at (re)translating women from their often one -dimensional Lady-like portrayals in courtly literature into something that is wholly unique an d, most important of all, memorable even to a modern world. Few male author s (re)invent women as Chauce r does, and while many scholars argue that he was simply a man of his time, I cont end that, in reality, his work remains timeless.
8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Courtly love appears as simply the most radical strategy for elevating the value of th e object by putting obstacles to its attainability. Slavoj iek, The Metastases of Enjoyment We only know if we truly wa nt something when someone tells us we cant have it. Its what makes us strive for the thing. Aranye Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love Why by the cow when you can get the milk for free? Sandra E. Shearer, my mother Chaucer is one of the foremost observers of human life. For him, humanity in all of its myriad incarnations is the stu ff of fiction, and even though he is not adverse to fantasy world building where chickens can speak in refined poetic meter, or where parliament can be composed of birds, or even where the spirit of a woman can dictate to a male author both the content of his own writing and the literary course of his imag inative ecstasy, the human realm often provides his most controversial material. Indeed, it is Chaucers all too perceptive observations of human life in general, and the interactions between the sexes in particular, that most directly informs this project, for it is my contention that Chau cer, while not a proto-fe minist, was still more concerned than most male authors of his da y with the accurate portrayal of women, wifehood, motherhood, and female sanctity.1 Even though he is not precisel y feminist, at least not by any contemporary definition of this word, he goes a long way toward a more equitable treatment of 1 In arguing that Chaucer is not a proto-feminist, I mean to say that, as a person living in the fourteenth-century, he would have had no vocabular y to either comprehend or translate this term as well as its various meanings. However, in sp ite of this gap between medieval and modern, it is possible to assert that he would have been cognizant of th e profound inequities that women faced both legally and spiritually compared to men. It is this perception that informs much of Chaucers writing in the sense that he frequently plays with notions of what constitutes good and bad as they are often falsely constructed by those in power, and it is in his humorous reversals of these categories that renders him more sympathetic than most towards women, even if he isnt quite feminist in any modern sense of this term.
9 women in literature. But Chaucer, like all human beings, is far from perfect. He has his own flaws, one of which includes the much de bated and rather disturbing accusation of raptus made against him by Cecilia Chaumpagne While the charge is late r dropped, one has to wonder why it was ever made in the first pl ace. After all, the charge of raptus did not always mean sexual violence or violated virginity (Phillips 83). Around the late th irteenth and early fourteenthcenturies, it could be translated as seizing, carr ying off by force, as well as rape within the common-law, and courts often asked accusers wh at is being seized and from whom (Phillip 83)? In essence, it was sort of a catchall term that applied to any questionable sexual advances towards a woman, whether she was abducted and ra nsomed back by her family, or whether she was caught in the throes of a consensual act, or whether she was in fact raped. Any of these scenarios could be classified as raptus And, as one critic explains these multiple translations lead to the notoriously lo w rate of convictions for raptus throughout [this] period Judges were reluctant to impose penalties of life and li mb, but forcing payment of compensation for loss of virginity seemed more reason able (Phillips 86), which is a disturbing state of affairs on a number of levels. The foremost of which being the fact that the courts were letting actual and/or potential rapists off the hook with little more than a slap on the wrist and a fine that was calculated based upon a particular woma ns perceived level of purity. As a result, virgins were far more expensiv e to violate sexually th an wives or widows. In turn, the woman herself received little comp ensation in return because any accusation of raptus no matter what the circumstances or the ou tcome would irreparably harm her reputation, and in the case of a young woman, it would seriou sly damage any chance for her to make an advantageous marriage, if such were her goal. The reason for this harm originates from medieval notions of both female purity and chastity as well as the professed need of the law to
10 regulate both, for while marriage placed women in an inferior role (Carson & Weisl 2), there was, in actuality, some small power to be had in both virginity and in a former virgins chaste widowhood. Cindy Carson and Angela Jane Weisl explain: Virgins were held to st ricter standards of behavior ; if widows gained a kind of community status and mob ility through their active choice to remain chaste, virgins were seen as being in need of protection to prev ent them from the temptations of the world. The widows fortitude was measured by her will; having rejected the carnal world, she was able to live within it. By having rejected sexuality before experiencing it, the virgin was less able to defend herself against seduction. (3) In other words, since the widows had gained carnal knowledge within the confines of a sanctioned union, they were thought better protec ted from any attempts by men to compromise their chastity because, at the very least, they w ould have the sexual experience that the virgins were supposed to lack. And, in order to compensa te for this gap, virgins were supposed to rely on authority in order to protect themselves from gaining such experience at inappropriate times, which sadly includes instances of rape. Thus as a measure of pr otection, society often sanctioned the enclosure of virgins from the outside world until such time as they were ready for either marriage or for the taking of final vows within a Holy Order. Now, not all prosecutions for raptus were on behalf of an unwilling victim, for it has been noted by scholars that abductions we re sometimes used by young women to avoid a marriage dictated by their families for social, mone tary, and/or political gain (Phillips 83). A woman following this course could arrange to be abducted, preferably by the young man she wished to marry, and once his pri soner, her family would have no choice but to consent to the marriage. In return, they often would not have to pay as high of a dowry due to her compromised virtue. However, any set of laws ca n be used for good as well as ill, and such is the case here. Obviously, not every abduction or tryst was consensual. And many women were
11 faced with the possibility of marriage to thei r rapists in order to preserve not only their reputations, but also the good name of their fa milies as well. On the other hand, if their attacker already had a wife or was unwilling to marry his victim, then these women often faced public ridicule, loss of status w ithin the marriage market, and/or banishment to a religious life whether or not they had such ambitions. These unfair standards were based on the notion that Eve tainted all of womankind with her vanity an d carnality; thus, a womans mere existence is tainted by this maternal history, and so a mans desire to commit such a violent act against any woman was considered partly her own fault, for if she were truly chaste and pure, she would not inspire such desire from the male gaze. In other words, an accusation of raptus against any man often raised more questions about circumstances and about female virtue than it ever provided justice for victims of any of thes e crimes, largely due to the fact that the act of rape itself was aligned with desire and not, as it s hould be, with power and dominance. This disturbing trend in medieval common-law begs the question: how could a man like Chaucer, who is so generally even-handed in his tr eatment of women in fic tion, be so potentially callous towards a woman in real life?2 It would seem to be an unsolvable paradox, and to a certain extent, this evaluation is correct; yet, there are clues in the poems discussed in the subsequent chapters that Chaucer fully realizes he has a horrific crime to atone for, which leads one to ponder the idea that perhaps The Legend of Good Women is not his only mea culpa to women. He may have been guilt y at one time of an appalling crime, and it will never be my 2 When I use the term even-handed, what I ultim ately see in Chaucers wr iting is an equitable representation of both women who ar e good, and not just be cause they are silent and pure, as well as women who are bad, more so because they have collectively chosen to love the wrong men than in their being unrepentantly amoral. Th is term also means that Chaucer uses as many examples of good and bad men as he does wome n, and it is this consistent balancing of the scales of both an individuals se x as well as his or her sexual de sire that truly sets his writing apart from most other male aut hors in the fourteenth-century.
12 intention to excuse such beha vior. What I do intend to do he re is examine just how much women and their desires affect this author and in what ways, for he treats Criseyde far differently than he treats the Wife of Bath, and he deve lops Alisoun far differently from the way he does Custance. Each of these women has a unique st ory to tell, and perhap s in giving them their proper chance to speak, he is atoni ng for a time in which he denied a voice to a woman in his actual life. The answer to this idea proves elusive, but still th e question persists: what is one to make of this author and his all too human char acters? No one knows for certain, as generations of criticism has proven, but in my analysis of Chau cer in the pages that follow, I hope at the very least to bring some new possibilities to a well-lov ed and oft written about author and his texts. At the outset, I do not want to be percei ved as reading too much of Chaucers personal history into his characters and stories, therein lies truly da ngerous territoryalong with the chance for a critic to venture too far into the rea lm of fiction. However, what the above question accomplished for me within the scope of this proj ect is that it focused my analysis of Chaucer with regard to how, on the one hand, he (re)invent s his source materials, and on the other, how he translates the women from these old books into something new. When so many male authors of Romance and courtly literature are content to simply refer to th eir female characters as Lady or to gender the personifications of less flattering human traits such as Envy or Vanity as female, Chaucer stands apart in his representations not only of me morable women, but also in his willingness to let many of these exceptional wome n have the last laugh, often at the expense of their male counterpartsa view that even modern critics can see is unusual for a writer using this form. As Fradenburg notes: courtly love designs the future of amorous European subjectivity by subliming the sublim ation. The technique of raising the object to the dignity of the Thing is itself exalted, as a conseque nce of which its objectthe Ladyis doubly
13 fascinating, as not only she, but the artifice that makes her, now points us towards jouissance ( Sacrifice Your Love 18), and in The Metastases of Enjoyment iek takes this idea even further when he claims courtly li terature is, in reality, the literature of masochistic desire: our official desire is that we want to sleep with th e Lady; whereas in truth, th ere is nothing we fear more than a Lady who might generously yield to this wish of ourswhat we truly expect and want from the Lady is simply yet another new or deal, yet one more postponement (96). But in Chaucers narratives, the Lady is often rende red both human and attainable, and for this reason, she is frequently damned by his audience as being immoral or unworthy of the good men she leads astray. Consequently, in allowi ng the women in his texts to make their own decisions about who they desirethat is, by gi ving them sovereignty, Chaucer reinvents the world of courtly literature so that desire a nd pain are only synonymous when one makes the wrong choice, when one does not choose his or her similitudeas opposed to when a person simply desires in any capacity whatsoever. In ot her words, Chaucer himself is no masochist, and he generously creates fictional worlds where his readers do not have to be either. I do not mean to imply here that Chaucer creates fictional narrat ives devoid of tragedy, but rather what he does do is make all this suffering serve a didactic purpose In the works I have chosen for this project, all of his characterssome male and some fema leneed to learn valuab le lessons about life, love, and desire. Those who prove to be apt pup ils are rewarded with happiness, and those who remain stubbornly at odds with their author alwa ys seem to get their just due in the end. Although they do not always physically suffer, they are usually humiliated in some way so that their failure to abide by their author-cum-narrators rules is obvious to ev en the most casual of readers. In this manner, Chaucer shows just how costly it is for the li on to simply repaint the
14 same portrait. In such a scenario, no one wins no one learns, and ulti mately, no one creates a work of art worthy of any lasting scrutiny. It stands to reason that such a unique author would, in many way, be no better or worse than the characters he writes, and one could gather from Chaucers translations of women that he does have a certain sympathy for their plight in a patriarchal world. On the other hand, it is still difficult to imagine that an accuse d rapist would have any sensibil ity about what thyng is it that women moost desiren ( Wife of Baths Prologue 905). Perhaps Chaucer wr ites such a variety of distinctive women as a form of au thorial penance, or perhaps he doe s so in order to show that all people, male and female, are capable of ghastly acts. In other words, as the sexual violence portrayed in courtly literature and fabliaux often shows, women alone do not possess the capacity for deviant conduct. Th is fact does not excuse bad beha vior, nor should it, but what it does do is create a unique frame for much of Chau cers writings. In his narrative world, there is no one, either male or female, who is without si n, and because everyone is equally capable of sin, no one should ever cast stones at least not within the lines of his poetry. Women may get the short end of the stick in life, law, and reli gion, but in his narratives Chaucer allows many of them to tip the scales in their favor at least some of the time, which is far more often than they could ever expect in real life. In this fashion, Chaucer proves, even to a modern world, that while society rarely behaves the way it should, a ll can be set right in fictionmeaning that a miller can talk back to a knight without fear of punishment, Classi cal heroines can have a proper defense in the God of Loves court, women can marry for love instead of for money, and the lion can have the chance to paint a more accurate portra it. Chaucer also maintains that courtly love stories and Romances are no exception in this regard because, in these works, there is often much more emphasis on the proper execution of plot elem ents and conventions than there is any real
15 justice for characters who are not noble, not knighted, a nd/or not male. In this sense, even a potential rapist, such as an au thor who is himself neither noble, nor a knight, can understand just how restrictive silence can be. After all, sove reignty only ever seems to be acknowledged when it is denied, and it is an undeniab le aspect of the human psyche th at we all want what we cannot have. This aspect causes both the desire for the Thing as well as the paradoxical impulse to deny ourselves the Thing. Our desire subseq uently creates our need for sacrifice, and sacrifice, in turn, purifie s our desire so that it is worthy of the Thing which began all of this desiring in the first place. Frad enburg explains this idea by saying, Sacrifice means to get back, with interest, whatever it renounces. Like a pocalypse, the aneconomic moment suspends, even violates, time so that the time after will be different from the time beforemore dignified, more sublime: excoriated ( Sacrifice Your Love 15). However, in a society where kings were considered divinely appointed, desires will vary according to both class and gender, and no matter how much one sacrifices, certain desires will remain unattainable due to strict regulation by law: secular as well as ecclesiast ical. Therefore, as a person, al beit a male one, in the service of those considered his betters merely by an accident of birth, Ch aucer understands perhaps more than most just how significant it is for one to be able to determine his or her own future to be able to make all of the invo luntary sacrifices worth more. In this manner, Chaucer illustrates the basic dichotomy that develops in such a societythat is, authority will tell everyone that the sacrifice of personal sovereignty is a necessary Good, and experience teaches you that authority isnt all its cracked up to be. Good will not always be good, and Bad will not always be bad for everyone to the same limit. Obviously, both sides in this debate have far different criteria for each of these categories. Neither side is prepared to give up, and neither side will easily surrender their definitions. Thus,
16 this eternal argument begins the tr ue lesson behind all of Chaucers most indelible stories, where authority and experience must find a way to equitably co-exist; otherwise, life will contain nothing more than thwarted desire spiritual crisis, and excommuni cation from authoritys favor. Depending on which side you take, most people end up damned some of the time; however, women typically end up damned all of the time. Therefore, the overarching idea of this project is to show just how often in his writing Chaucer manages to create a much-needed grey area where authority and experience can be ba lanced in such a way that his fe male characters are not always left to suffer for sins they did not commit. In highlighting just how jaded, cynical, and hypocritical individuals become when all they ever do is divide everyone else into such narrow categories, Chaucers female characters get the ch ance not only to have their say, but also the ones who take his lessons about balance, sovere ignty, and similitude to heart are invariably rewarded with honest, equitable love and romance apart from any restrictiv e literary conventions that would normally relegate them to the margins. The main problem Chaucer must conte nd with in rehabilitating women such as Criseyde, Alisoun of Bath, Cleopatra, and Mede a, among some of the more problematic women to (re)translate, are the qualifying factors of goodne ss that are often inconsistently wrought in the fourteenth-century. As I have previously stated, women could be labeled chaste and, thus good, and not be virgins. I am, of course, re ferring back to those ch aste wives and widows, who are nonetheless considered proper exam ples of womanhood even though their very participation in the sacrament of marriage manda tes consummation for the practical purposes of securing inheritances, regardless of what St. Pa ul may say when he argues in favor of marriage purely for the sake of performing the sacramen t and not for sexual pursu its or for producing progeny. Therefore, even though virginity appears to be a requirement prior to marriage, the
17 proof of its absence in the bear ing of children is necessary for a woman to be considered good after a marriage ceremony has been performed. Ind eed, it is in the proof of her fertility that a woman gains status after marriage, just as the pr oof of her abstinence before marriage allows her to make an advantageous match in the first place. It is a paradox fraught with myriad problems; nevertheless, it is the framework within which Chaucer must initially set his stories. And there is little doubt that Chaucer is most adept at luring hi s readers into thinking one set of rules is in play even as he is introducing a whole new game. In this fashion, he takes the conventions of a male-drawn world and repaints th e portrait from an entirely new perspective, even while it seems to simultaneously inhabit the same frame. And ye t, even in his use of conventional forms, there is a difference. Take, for example, his delicate treatment of a notoriously indelic ate woman, namely the Wife of Bath, who is the truest champion of e xperience in all of Chaucers writing, versus St. Cecilia, who is one of Chaucers more virulent de fenders of authority. In this battle, contained within the Dantesque framework of the Canterbury Tales Chaucer subtly advances his most provocative critique of how masculine society inevitably categorizes good and bad women. Good women communicate with actions, and bad women communicate with words and in writing. Consequently, bad women are labeled as such because they try to translate their discontent using the same means as menthat is writing, rhetoric, and most damning of all, authority itself. The Wife of Bath, whose extensive Prologue uses many techniques of medieval argumentation and rhetoric in order to claim that her experience in marriage is far superior to anything celibate monks might have to say on th e subject, is the perf ect illustration of such female badness. And, for her practical obser vations about marriage an d the unequal treatment of women therein, she is condemned as nothi ng more than a rapaciously sexual female
18 monstrosity by generations of Chauce rs readers and critics. The sa me sad fate has also befallen other notoriously bad Chaucerian women, such as Criseyde and many of the heroines in The Legend of Good Women In contrast to this view, characters such as St. Cecilia, Constance, and Griselda, have until the last tw enty years or so fared much be tter under critical scrutiny. These women are considered categorical ly good because they do precisely what the others to not, namely they know when to keep their mouths shut and simply perform without having to argue. Their experiences are no less prof ound, but their allegiance to male authority is such that they seemingly never even think to que stion whether or not their actio ns have any purpose other than in satisfying the dictates of a society that considers them more sinful, and thus, less worthy of salvation than their male counterparts. Their source of wealth and success is tied to their marriageability, their virtue, and their adhere nce to patriarchal nor ms. Women who are motivated by speech as opposed to action are more inclined to point out the holes in these obviously skewed arguments, and becau se of their astute critiques of male-ordered society, they bear watching. In this manner, one can see that, unlik e male authors prior to and even in later centuries, Chaucer uses his more vocal female char acters as texts, and in having them speak with such passion and conviction about their own expe riences he shows just how often real women are mistranslated, misread, and misused by a predominantly male literary audience. Consequently, not only who Chaucer chooses to translate, but al so how he does so, or more accurately, what he chooses not to translate about them from his source material is as significant a discussion for scholars today as it was when the first fans and/or critics of Chaucers work began to surface in Early Modern literature. It is important that modern critics acknowledge this rich history; however, they must also be careful not to consider this road too well-traveled to
19 continue upon, especially when arguments regarding Chaucers work remain largely philological, structural, and historic al. It is essential for scholars not to forget the value Chaucer placed upon simple human observation and its ability to help him build strangely familiar, albeit slightly improved, worlds within fiction from the ch aos of real life. At least in this regard, no one can claim that Chaucer ever became so bored with his topic that he ceased writing on it entirely. And so, in deference to such author ial precision, I will turn now to the works I have chosen for this dissertation, for as I frequently note, Chaucer is most adept at adapting and transforming his source materials so that he consistently (re)invent s the heroines in these stories in unique and surprising ways. Accordingly, I would like to be gin my study of Chaucer with Troilus and Criseyde and its much maligned and frequently mistranslated heroine. What makes Troilus and Criseyde initially intriguing from a scholarly point of view is that it is one of Chaucers few major works in this time period not to follow the dream-vision form. For example, The Book of the Duchess which was composed prior to Troilus and Criseyde in roughly 1368; The Parliament of Fowls composed around 1380 and possibly inspired by the Parliaments negotiations that ye ar of the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia; and finally The Legend of Good Women composed after and, arguably, because of Troilus and Criseyde are all written using this form. Ch aucer also chooses around this time to translate several works into the English vernacul ar that favor this form as well, namely the Roman de la Rose the first portion of which was composed by Guillaume de Lorris in 1237 as well as Boethius Consolation of Philosophy .3 All of these works are influenced by the dreamvision format to varying degrees; though, only The Legend of Good Women seems to show, as I 3 For more detailed summaries of these works, the debates over their composition dates, and the historical events that may have inspired them, one should read the introductions to each of these texts in The Riverside Chaucer : third edition, ed. Larry D. Benson, Oxford University Press, 1987.
20 will argue in my third chapter, Chaucers transiti on from the dream-vision into the more versatile style that appears in The Canterbury Tales where the author becomes both a narrator and a wayward pilgrim who has returned from a long journey with many new tales to tellall of which were supposedly told by someone else. Ther efore, if any reader happens to be offended by the sometimes bawdy content of these stories, then he or she cannot blame the author for dutifully reporting what he has he ard and recorded elsewhere. In this vein, the other provocative aspect of Troilus and Criseyde lies with the extreme emotional re sponse inspired in readers by its titular female character. Indeed, Criseyde is the first of Chaucers heroines to receive almost universal critical scorn, and in certa in cases, a patronizi ng sort of pity.4 Neither of these readings are particularly fair to this wo man, and even though the latter argumen t claims to have the best of intensions, it is the proverbial wolf in sheep s clothing, for it does nothing more than deny Criseyde the agency to make r easonable decisions regarding her future, which Chaucer has given to her from the outset of this story. Granted, out side circumstances do interfere, and she is often forced to adapt; however, her decisions in love, w ith regard to both Troilus and Diomede, are not nearly so mercenary as these critics maintain. Consequently, while Crisey de is not the earthly equivalent of a succubus leading Troilus pure, ma le soul into perdition as Robertson would have one believe, neither is she inno cently duped into her supposedly immo ral behavior by cold, cruel, and uncaring men. In this manner, Chaucer shows that his Criseyde is neither too innocent, nor too experienced when it comes to romantic endea vors. And, while she is often forced by outside forces to make decisions she might not otherwise, Criseydes intentions are never malicious, and her betrayal of Troilus for Diomede is, in Chau cers estimation, both inev itable and necessary. 4 See for example the scathing Augustinian derision of D. W. Robertson, Jr. in A Preface to Chaucer or the more insidious, hollow sympathy disp layed by David Aers in Criseyde: Woman in Medieval Society. The Chaucer Review 13.3 (1979): 177-199.
21 Yet, in order to (re)write her this way, Chaucer must first make some rather significant changes to her from his primary source in Boccaccios Il filostrato As I stated earlier, Troilus and Criseyde represents an early departure from the dr eam-vision format, and it also represents one of Chaucers first forays into Italian literature. It is, on its most basic level, a translation of Boccaccio, but Chaucer makes some significant changes to his characters, so that, while the basic series of events follow those of his sour ce, Chaucers characters reach, and indeed are capable of reaching, far different ends than in Boccaccios far more world-weary tale of jaded lovers. Part of the reason for Chaucers division from Boccaccios story is predicated on just how adeptly he (re)translates the conventions of both courtly love and Romance literature, for while Troilus and Criseyde are the ve ry definition of the sort of l overs depicted in these stories, Criseyde and Diomede are not, and therein lies the difference. Troilus is a soldier and a confirmed bachelor who is quite literally struck by Cupids arrow, and once he has conceived of this grand passion for Criseyde, he approaches their romance with th e zealous devotion the newly converted. He cant eat; he cant sleep, and whenever he thinks about Criseyde he practically convulses with the heat and intensity of his passion ( Troilus and Criseyde I.358). Unfortunately, because he is a soldier and not a lover, he suffers in silence. Enter Pandarus: Criseydes uncle and the enthusiast ic go-between in this story. He gets Troilus to write Criseyde a letter as only the most refined lovers in courtly literature can, with effusi ve praise of her beauty and virtues, with an entreaty for her to take p ity on his sorry state, and most importantly, he writes it while in tears and seals it with kisses ( Troilus and Criseyde II.1086). The problem here is that what Troilus and Criseyde have, and arguably what Troilus, Criseyde, and Pandarus have, is a romance that lives on paper bu t that has no potential to last in the real
22 world. What Chaucer shows in Troilus and Criseyde is that the ars dictaminis is precisely that, an art. In the practical function of everyday life and in everyday l ove, it is far too structured and grand in its language and execution to ever insp ire the throes of passi on and romance it always generates in courtly literature. Moreover, it works in this case because both Troilus and Criseyde are far too inexperienced as lovers not to fall for the false passion defined by this art. After all, the intensity of such feeling is difficult to resist, and it is only the translation of these sentiments into the human realm that wears away that its bright, fiery veneer. Lovers must eventually mature, and such superfic iality rarely leads to longevity or true depth of feeling. It is because Troilus and Criseyde rely on Pandarus, who is almost militant in his adherence to the Romance structure that dooms their relationship from the start. Furthermore, they are so easily manipulated by him because, even though Crise yde is a widow, and Troilus obviously knows what to do with a woman once he is literally th rown into bed with her (III.1247), neither of them has ever encountered love in its mature incarnation. Thus begins the series of mistranslations of Criseyde and her desires, for it is the consistent misreadings of Criseyde by both Troilus and Pandarus that leads to the incep tion of this grand love affair worthy of any proper finamors tale, but because it has such an unsta ble foundation, it is not built to last. Therefore, as I will show in this ch apter, such tales are not meant for realistic application. From the highly impractical plans of Pandarus that bring these two people together, to the extreme highs and lows of their passion re miniscent of ones early adolescent experiences with a first crush, to Criseydes eventual fors aking of Troilus for a more mature and adult bond with Diomede once she has been ransomed to the Greek camp by her father, Calchas, Chaucer shows his audience what happens when one tries to translate Romance into reality. The injustice here, though, is that, in a situation where no one in particular is to blame for how this story ends,
23 Criseyde traditionally receives the lions share of it. Ironically, when scholars, such as Elaine Tuttle Hansen and Jill Mann, set out to correct this interpretive folly, they do not really resolve the issue. Rather, they merely reassign the blame from Criseyde to Troilus, often at the expense of his masculinity, and to Diomede, whom they de spise for what they perceive as his calculated, aggressive seduction. The problem with these theori es is that, in trying to rehabilitate Criseyde from generations of misogynist condemnation, they inevitably commit the same interpretive crime as their predecessors in that they also take away much of Criseydes agency as a woman in command of her sexual destiny. Indeed, she may not have chosen her husband, or to be traded to the Greek camp, or to any lasting romantic conn ection to Troilus, but she does make two very important choices that should not be overlooked or dismissed as they are by these critics as merely made by a woman, living in a mans worl d, doing what she has to do to manipulate the system for her own survival. The most significant of these decisions is Criseydes choice of Diomede as her lover and protector when she is unwillingly traded to the Greek camp in exchange for other prisoners of war. In choosing to accept Diomedes pursuit, Criseyde is, in actuality, choosing a lover who translates her properly from the beginning, who give s her exactly what she want when she wants it without having to rely on a rath er inept go-between. In other words, Diomede is the mature lover Troilus can only ever pretend to be, and on ce Criseyde is outside of the walls of Troy, she immediately recognizes the difference. In this sense, Chaucer uses Troilus and Criseyde to give his audience an insightful treat ise on the proper orientation of love, and he does so not only by showing how ridiculous Romantic conventions truly are in teaching anything useful on this topic, but also he ultimately reveals just how impossibl e it is to live up to the ideal of love demanded by courtly literature, for if one were interested in finding the sort of l ove that could actually
24 survive outside the confines of fiction, then Cr iseyde and Diomede become a far more practical model to follow. And, if this story does not pr ove to be enough of a cautionary tale on choosing the appropriate object for ones a ffection, then one can see that Chaucer takes the lessons taught here a step farther in The Legend of Good Women in order to show just what profound tragedies can occur when his advice is willfully ignored. In my next chapter, I examine Chaucers final foray into the realm of the dream-vision form with The Legend of Good Women Although this work is intriguing on multiple levels, most critics seem content to concentrate on th e two drafts of the Prologue and give only passing attention to the legends themselves. One can hardly blame them on this score, for after the exquisite poetry and complicated tropes in both the F and G ve rsions of the Prologues, the rather mundane translations of the Classical tales of women scorne d that followborrowed almost wholesale from Ovids Heroides and Metamorphosis them seem to fall flat in comparison. Indeed, there is such a large gap be tween these two distinct halves that many critics have often interpreted the narrative voice in the Legend as growing bored with his task, hurrying it along, and ultimately, abandoning it before co mpletion for a much more entertaining enterprise, namely the Canterbury Tales To this end, almost every scholar who devotes any time at all to the Legend spends it performing three very specif ic readings: 1) an examination of the changes to the order of the Pr ologues as well as what is adde d and/or deleted in F and G in order to prove which is the ur text; 2) the examination of the va rious personifications of flowers, birds, and so forth in F and G in order to show how such Chaucerian tropes are reminiscent of the French marguerite poetic traditionthis opti on, of course, applies most specifically to the Alceste/Daisy conceit; and finally, 3) the use of both Prologues to reveal just how enamored the Narrator is with his dream and how unenthusiastic he is about writing the legends themselves,
25 thus resulting in the most frequent accusations of authorial abandonmen t due to boredom with his subject. And, while I do not mean to imply fault with such readingseither individually or in combinationit does seem apparent that most contemporary critics are once again finding it easy to ignore the Legend in favor of Chaucers more finish ed or more universally appealing texts. Dismissing this work in such an offha nd manner does it a grave injustice, almost as much as ignoring the legends themselves in favor of the Prologues, which denies the women in these tales the chance to tell their side of the story. Sure, the Prologues command the more graceful poetry, but despite what most schol ars state to the contrary, the legends themselves have more substance than they are given credit for. It is in the legends that Chaucer gives the first indicator that he is capable of a work like the Canterbury Tales For, in the Legend Chaucer paints a vivid picture from the perspective of experience, and he deftly s hows the dangers th at real life has to offer, whereas both of the Prologues repr esent an homage to authority that one would expect to encounter in the olde appreved stories and not from this author (F/G 21). In this manner, Chaucer finally puts a specific name to the central argument in much of his writing. It is the very argument that preoccupies the Wife of Bath, namely that experience and authority each create desire, but they both re quire very different sacrifices. As Aranye Fradenburg notes, The Legend of Good Women fantasizes that good women, despite their suffering, have really been rescued, worthy of thei r textual resurrection because of their capacity for sacrifice. The na rrator is their redeemer; though chivalric rescue fails within the legends, the legends are produced by a chivalrous rescuer of the reputations of womenat no small cost to himself . ( Sacrifice Your Love 196). And while to a certain extent this statement is true, in that the Narrato r seems genuinely shocked to learn that his stories have not been well-received by women, I disagree with her assumption that the Legend as a
26 whole is a text about women in need of re scue. As I will argue in this chapter, The Legend of Good Women is a text supposedly about victims, but in reality there are few victims to be had. The main reason for this incongruou s structure is the fact that these women claim their status as victims only after they have knowingly chosen to love the horrible, lying, and treacherous men who subsequently victimize them. This is no t to say that these women deserve their harsh treatment, but if one has even the slightest knowledge of their original Cla ssical stories, then he or she would be aware of the fact that thes e women do not take their husbands mistreatment lying down. In this sense, Chaucer demonstrat es that women, no matter how victimized they may be by these devious and amoral men, are fre quently no better or worse than the men they have choosen to love, and anyone would know this after one glance at the olde bokes Chaucer draws from for these stories. And so, the defini tions of good, bad, and the very nature of victimhood itself prove to be as mutable as the editing process of a less than diligent translation allows them to be. Moreover, while these wo rds are given meaning by a masculine world, this meaning often proves to be as ephemeral as the words themselves. For, in the Legend Chaucer takes some notoriously bad women, such as Cl eopatra, Medea, and Ariadne and puts them in the same pantheon as classically good women, su ch as Lucretia, Hypermnestra, Philomela and Thisbe, who typically inspire far more sympathy th an they do scorn with a modern audience. The first group of women is often demonized in medieval literature as vile seducers and betrayers of men, marriage, and, most despicable of all, the family; whereas, the later group receives mixed reviews. Most are seen as i nherently good, but they ar e frequently used as cautionary tales, due to the manner in which eac h of these women are abandoned, brutalized or killedor in some cases, all three. Thus, while they are not irrevocab ly evil or concupiscent seductresses, they do commit some sin of one kind or another that leads to their downfall, except
27 perhaps for Philomela and Hypermnestra who most closely represent the very definition of the word victim in the entire Legend In spite of these common perceptions of both groups, Chaucer uses The Legend of Good Women to edit out much of what makes all of these women badthat is, he concentrates solely on Antony and Cleopatras love as well as suicide, which makes it a far more Romantic plot than in the Classical tale; he ends Medeas legend before she kills her children in revenge for Jasons betrayal; and in Philomelas story, Procne merely hints that she plans something dark and devious to av enge her sisters rape and torture by her husband, Tereus, but this tale abruptly concludes before anything gr uesome is done. Hence, in (re)inventing these women in this manner, Chaucer makes a very important distinction from both Ovid and the olde bokes praised by the Narrat ors in both Prologues in that he translates a series of narratives about women who are victimi zed but who refuse to be victims, and he stops (re)writing their stories at the exact moments when their classically bloody and destructive revenges can be perpetrated upon th eir despicable husbands. In th is sense, not every woman in this text can be so easily rehabi litated with some clever editing; however, in order for Chaucer to achieve the balance he requires between experien ce and authority here, not all of them can be transliterated and still be cons idered good. There are some problematic characters in the Legend some vocal women who refuse to let th eir suffering go unavenged, which as we all know is some decidedly bad behavior. And so by including them in this work, Chaucer-asauthor has little choice but to allow them their sayeven if he has to do so more in hints and suggestions than he is able to with direct words. Indeed, as I have stated a bove, Chaucer often retranslates his more notoriously bad women in such a way as to prove that any categ ory does not exist in a pure, immutable state. Bad can be turned good as easily as one can tu rn the page and read an other tale, and this idea
28 functions for both sexes within Chaucers canon. For as many morally ambiguous women Chaucer writes, he often presents an equal num ber of questionable men, as he shows in the Legend in tale after tale, but Chaucer relies on hi s audience to fill in the more unsavory narrative blanks when he cannot, due to the nature of hi s penance as prescribed by the God of Love and Alceste. Thus, even though he ends many of th ese stories before the bad women can enact their gruesome revenges and/or he begins their tales in such a manner that famous seductresses like Cleopatra becomes sympathetic heroines, Ch aucer drops huge hints to his audience that there is more to these legends than he has chosen to (re)write. In fact, he often has his narrator directly reference authors such as Ovid and Virgil by name, so that it practically begs his audience to turn to the original sources in order to get the whole story. In this manner, Chaucer uses The Legend of Good Women and its various narratorial voi ces as the bridge between the style found in his earlier works and what seems unique to the Canterbury Tales The Legend is the bridge between the olde bokes privileged in his earlier writing and the something new hinted at between the lines in these tales of ha rd won experience. And, rather than beginning my dissertation with the Canterbury Tales I decided instead to focus my fourth chapter on this poem in order to show that, even though Chaucers writing in this work is considered by critics to be his most mature, one can see that, even in an earlier, less renowned narrative like The Legend of Good Women his characters are as human in end as they were in the beginning. In order to truly understand the transition Chaucer makes from his largely dreamvision poetry to the Canterbury Tales one need only look to the indi vidual tales themselves in order to see how far Chaucer has come artistically, thematically, and ideologically from his other narratives. Consequently, in A Virgi n, A Wife, and A Martyr Walk into the Tales I examine three types of women fou nd most frequently within this collection of talesthat is, the virgin,
29 the wife, and the martyr. These three types of womanhood were considered the most good by medieval society, and so they represent Chaucers experiment for the Canterbury Tales as a whole with medieval categoriza tions of proper womanhood. It is my contention that Chaucer uses Custance from The Man of Laws Tale to illustrate how one wo man could inhabit all of these categories almost simultaneously, and yet ne ver be firmly relegated to any one of them permanently. Custance, of all the women in the Tales manages to begin her journey as a virgin bride desiring to become a martyr, and instead, she becomes a wife and mother, all of which she accomplishes while maintaining a rigorous faith. And because she is so diligent in her faith, Custance is rewarded in the end, not with deat h, but rather with both life and a happy ending. For this reason, she deserves more individual critical atte ntion than she has received in the past no matter how much more intriguing her erstwhile narrator, the Man of Law, may appear to be at first glance. Fradenburg gives perhaps the most penetr ating reason for much of the critical apathy concerning Custance when she writes: despite what they do for others, good women seem helpless largely because they cannot help themselv es; it is also noteworthy that, despite their goodness, their acts of pity can seem ethically equivocal ( Sacrifice Your Love 196). Fradenburgs astute observation in this quotati on illustrates an important flaw in Custances character that Chaucer takes great pains to correct at the end of The Man of Laws Tale namely her helpless, and seemingly hopeless, navet that often threatens her very survival. It is because Custance is so distracted by authority that she fa ils to learn anything from her experiences until it is almost too late, and by remaining so constant in her ignorance of the secular world for so long, she is perceived by many contemporary scholars to be a largely unappealing character. In other words, her faith, fortitude, and innocence are seen as merely virtues of the past with no modern
30 relevance whatsoever. However, such judgments are a bit premature, for when her adventures and follies are examined in relation to other notable female characters in the Canterbury Tales her prolonged innocence becomes far more intrigui ng. Therefore, my fourth chapter could not simply be about Custance or The Man of Laws Tale on their own, but rather I was compelled by the irrepressible narrative voices of two other women who were clamoring to be heard and for very different motivations. I am speaking, of course, of the vocally and sexually unrepentant Wife of Bath and the spiritually indomitable St Cecilia. Neither woman would give me any peace until I gave them their due and for good reas on. Indeed, when one takes these other two tales and characters into account, a far different view of Cust ance comes to light. She transforms from suffering ingnue into a savvy political mani pulator worthy of Aliso un of Bath within the space of a few hundred lines, and she manages to accomplish this rather radical transformation without having to sacrifice the re ligious devotion that is reminisc ent of Cecilia, albeit with one significant difference, as Custance is never meant to be a martyr. The major disparity between these three women occurs within their status as wives, for while Alisoun is rebellious in her multiple marriages and carnal joy, Cecilia maintain s St. Pauls ideal of a chaste marriage with her husband. In contrast to this, Custance manage s to lose her virginity to marriage, become a mother, and still appear to be worthy of Gods favor. In fact, none of Custances wanderings and exiles appear to be the result of divine punishme nt, but rather they seem to be intended to circulate both her and her remarkable conversionary abilities to pagan la nds, an obvious sign to any medieval Christian that her loss of physi cal purity has in no way damaged her soul, for unlike the Wife, Custance embodies the one qualit y that authority prizes in such a good woman: she knows how to be silent in her su ffering. And, in an inte resting reversal from Alisouns multiple marriages, Custance receives mo re of her woe from her two mothers-in-law
31 than she ever does from her husbands. In Cust ances case, the importance of her marriages is compounded by the fact that they both depend on a conversion to Christianity. To add further complications, both conversions result in betrayal s at the hands of women intent on maintaining the status quo. Custances arrival represents a shift in this hierarchy of power and political influence for these women, and so both of them remove the threat Custance poses in different ways but with the same resultthat is, Custance placed in a rudderless boat to hopefully perish before she reaches another paga n land that needs converting. The problem here lies not with Custance s experiences, as disturbing and outright torturous as they may be, but rather the difficulties in The Man of Laws Tale are predicated on her prolonged secular innocence. After all, while one can excuse this heroine from falling for one betrayal at the hands of a powerful woman, the fact that she so easily trusts her second mother-in-law seem unfathomable. It is as if she is so intent on spiritual threats that she forgets the very real ones that necessa rily accompany the political intr igue engaged in by members of the nobility. In this manner, Chaucer shows his a udience that blind allegiance to authority can lead to a dangerous navetsomething that societ y encourages for its virgins in order to protect them but that, in reality, only places them in furt her danger. While devotion to a higher power is a noble endeavor, Chaucer deftly shows his audien ce what can happen when one forgets to live in this world. And this inevitable fact of life is what Custance must learn because, while she is understandably cautious around men, she is often enti rely too trusting of wome n. It is difficult to break such deeply ingrained cultural conditi oning; nevertheless, once Custance has been banished from Northumbria and returned to Ro me, one can see that she has learned the most profound lesson life has to teach, namely that one ca nnot live by the dictates of authority alone. Therefore, what makes these betrayals so integral to my argument as a whole, is that as the tale
32 progresses, one can see both the intellectual and em otional transformation of a character, who is initially moved only by authority, into someone w ho learns to heed the valuable life lessons experience has to offer. And, unlike the Wife, Custance does not have to become cynical in order to survive the process. In fact, Custance ultimately fight s for the husband and the marriage that she desires most, and because she has chosen her similitude, Custance succeeds where Alisoun is doomed to failure, regardless of how much she loves Jankyn and his well-developed physique. In this manner, when Custance is returned to Rome by serendipitous circumstances and is reunited with her second husband, Alla, Chau cers audience discover s something new about this character that not many cr itics give her credit for: she proves through her newfound cautious attitude towards both the men and the women she encounters that this once nave maiden has finally learned her lesson. Due to the fact that she is now able to see secular politic s and power structures without sacrificing her adherence to her faith, Custance is granted the means to manipulate certain events in order to generate the ending to her tale that she desires most, and it is a far different ending than the martyrs death she craved in the beginning. In this way, she actively claims sovereignty over her own life without having to lie, ch eat, steal, and/or murder to get what she wants. She is still committed to her faith and defers to divine Will, but now she has learned how to manipulate secular authority in order to achieve he r goals as well. In this way, even though Custance concludes her tale more like Alisoun of Bath than she does like St. Cecilia, Chaucer uses her tale to show that e xperience and authority trul y can coexist. Indeed, Custance finds the balance that these other two wome n lack, for she is able to be both a wife and a mother and still receive divine favor whenever she needs it most. Thus, despite the fact that Custance is often dismissed by critics as similar in her suffering and silence to a character like
33 Griselda, I maintain that she warr ants a closer look. In doing so, I realize that I am reading her tale separated from the influence of The Man of Laws Prologue In fact, I have consciously divorced teller and tale, when most critics are striving for a way to better marry the two. This separation is not meant to imply that the tellers and thei r tales are ultimately interchangeable. Far from it. However, it is my contention that ju st as the pilgrims can be discussed on their own merits as well as in relation to each other independ ent of the characters in their tales, so too can the characters within the tales have their own conversations with each other apart from their narrators. There are elements in these stories th at will always connect them to whomever tells them, but the characters in these tales are often as vivid as the pilgrims themselves. For this reason, I have extracted The Man of Laws Tale as well as Custance herself from their link to both the Man of Laws Introduction and his Prologue Both of which provide varying readings of Custance, but neither of which preclude her fr om doing precisely what she does at the end of her talethat is, she stands al one and claims both the man and the marriage she desires most and she does so in a manner that reveals not only what she has learned during her travels, but also how far she has come. In a similar independent spirit, this disse rtation has developed fa r differently than it began in the initial stages of my research. And, as I began to na rrow my scope from an interest in the later Middle Ages, to the fourteenth-cen tury, to Chaucer, and ultimately to Chaucers relationship to women as an au thor, a narrator, and finally, as a man, my analysis of both literature and theory became, on the one hand mo re intricate, and yet on the other, I kept remembering the phrase my mother used to always reiterate, mostly in jest, and with which I began this introduction. All of th ese complicated constructions of desire, sacrifice, Things, masochism, phallocentrism, and all sorts of other -isms, and I kept remembering some silly
34 phrase that conflates women with co ws and, of all things, milking. But, then again, it is always the most difficult to forget the simple lessons th at life, or in this case mothers, teachno matter how trite they seem to be at first. Author ity and its jargon in many ways seems obtuse in comparison, not that I am calling theory obtuse; howev er, one must admit that rarely is theory as succinct in making any point as th is one, rather irritating, rhetori cal question. After all, I am a woman, not a cow. But the fact that such a simple question about what makes an object precious, sought after, or more precisely, desira ble, continues to be passed from mother to daughter from generation to generation is interesti ng in and of itself, and although this project is specifically about Chaucer, I also would argue that so too is this question. What Chaucer accomplishes with more frequency, more care, and gr eater subtlety than almost any other author is the answer to this quandry about why we desire and what we are willing to sacrifice in order to be desirable, for these notions tie directly into whether or not one is la beled good or bad. Lets face it, in Chaucers day as well as in ou r own, it is far better for a woman to be the aloof cow or at least to maintain a f aade of aloof cowness. The former is the prescribed behavior of authority, and the latter is what experience tells us we need to do in order to remain accepted, or more precisely, to remain good in th e eyes of that same authority. In many of his works, Chaucer teaches hi s readers the same less on, and he does so most adroitly with his female characters. These women, whether they are sinners or saints, are something to behold, and once they have been read, they are not soon forgotten. In his testing of authority through these women, Chaucer manages to (re)invent not only what it means for these women to be labeled good or b ad, but also he tests the boundari es of these categories so that, by the end of many of his poems, it is difficult to remember where the lines were drawn in the first place. In this manner, these women, fr om Alisoun to Alceste, and from Criseyde to
35 Custance, all reveal just how impor tant it is to balance authority and experience; otherwise, there is no chance that any amount of s acrifice will render ones desires attainable, and as many of his stories and characters show, Chaucer sees little fun in that. And because he is so intent on translating his female characters in such human te rms, they fail as often as they succeed, and for this reason, we as readers cannot help but relate to them with a familiarity that should be impossible with fictional constructions. Thes e are not the unattainable and interchangeable Ladies of courtly literature; these are real women, with name s and distinctive personalities that we remember, and in (re)inventing these cl assic women in this way, Chaucer gives them strong voices with which to tell thei r side of the story, a gift that is not taken lightly by either the author or by these women. And so, whether or not Chaucer (re)writes women and their goodness as a form of penance for his earli er crimes, one can have little doubt that his desire to do so is worthy of their sacrifice.
36 CHAPTER 2 SUBVERTING RAPE, ROMANCE, AND RELIGION IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE Blissed be love, that ka n thus folk converte! Narrator, Troilus and Criseyde I.308 As many theorists, theologians, and hist orians have clearly shown, women, in the medieval world, had far more work to accomplish w ith regard to their potential salvation than men, as they were, and often still are, consider ed directly responsible through Eve for mankinds original fall from Grace. It is the folly of Eve that makes Christs sacrifice necessary, and so she is, ironically enough, the author of both human salv ation as well as damnation. Yet, most Church fathers choose to concentrate on her role in the latter act as opposed to redeeming her by referencing the former. And it is through Eve that all women come to be th e authors of male sins in the eyes of the medieval Churchat least thos e sins associated with the flesh. Most male authors in this era are often qu ite willing to reinforce this mi sogynist norm for their audiences, and they are not alone. Indeed, several notable sc holars also seem content to reiterate this norm, albeit from a supposedly removed critical pers pective. It makes no difference whether these critics are like D. W. Robe rtson, Jr., who overtly condemn s Criseyde and her Eve-like tendencies; or more like E. T. Donaldson, who u ltimately agrees with the narrator that Criseyde is definitely flawed, but he ine xplicably loves her anyway; or even if they are more modern and implore readers to pity Criseyde her faults because she is an unprotected woman in a patriarchal society and has nothing but her body and sexuality to barter for protection. In deference to this third school, David Aers often st ates, In these circumstances [C riseydes] only asset, her only leverage on the powerful, is her sexuality (Cr iseyde: Woman in Medieval Society, 181). And while the latter two arguments seem to be sympathe tic to Criseyde on the surface, they are in fact more than a little misogynist, if unc onsciously so, for they reiterat e the same basic core rationale,
37 namely that someone has to be the villain in what they view to be a trag edy disguised as a Romance, and Criseyde becomes for them the most logical choice, despite a ny initial protest they may make to the contrary. In any case, the fact remains that, unlik e male characters who are often evaluated in many shades of grey, female characters are placed in one of two clearly defined categoriesthey are either good or bad, Madonna or Eve. And, in this regard, the judgments leveled at Criseyde over the years are no exception. Fe minist criticism has been quick to point out the limitations of this dichotomy almost from the beginning, but wh ile there has been much insightful scholarship, many of these same critics have continued to work within this dichotomy themselves. It is not that they clearly define female characters as g ood or bad, but rather their project becomes a reclassification game. In order to refute th e misogynist critics of previous and current generations, feminist scholars ar e often forced, if subconsciously, to work within the dominant paradigm, and as such, many of them take the pa triarchal notions of good and bad and seek to redefine these strict categorie s as opposed to subverting them. T hus, it is not simply that these female characters are either good or bad, as critics will voci ferously disagree as to which characters are placed in which cat egory, but rather it becomes a que stion of degreethat is, just how good or bad are these women, and based on textua l evidence and critical history, are they in any way redeemable if they should happen to fall into the latter category? While this sort of categorization works with the unquestionably sain tly characters, such as St. Cecilia, what happens when we have female characters lik e Alisoun of Bath or Criseydei.e. female characters that we should define as bad but who, in realt y, seem more often than not to be good, if a bit misguided at times? These women ha rdly seem deserving of utter damnation, but generations of critics and r eadersboth male and female, misogynist and feministhave done
38 so. And while these bad women appear to lack the moral substance of the more spiritually hardy St. Cecilia, they often refuse to be so eas ily categorized or silen ced. These women, for all of their bad habits and flaws, also possess good qualities as well. In th e case of Criseyde and Alisoun, both women possess savvy political minds a nd a social awareness that is only ever derailed by love, and it seems a rather flimsy r eason to so thoroughly demonize them. In other words, Chaucer shows his audience just how perfect these bad women are in their imperfections, and therefore, they are seemingly more real than a militant martyr, who is a degree of good that we all wish we were but th at we have no real hop e of ever achieving. These women are grey area incarnate, a nd this greyness is precisely what Chaucer-asauthor is attempting to (re)inven t for his readers. He is atte mpting to show that good and bad are as fluid concepts as reality and i llusion or true and false. All of these categories lack substance, and yet everyone trie s to definitively pin them down. Thus, what Chaucer accomplishes in Troilus and Criseyde is far more important and far-reaching than many critics have previously thought, for he is not me rely rewriting the story of a notoriously bad woman so that his audience is moved to sympathize w ith her in spite of her sins. He is, in fact, changing how his audience is supposed to re ad and interpret wome n possess a bit more experience and have learned to be cautious of au thority. As with all of Chaucers writing, one begins expecting one outcome and ends up encount ering something completely different, and in this case, the something completely different is Criseyde herself. Much like Alisoun of Bath, one either loves Criseyde or hates her, but one must nonetheless acknowledge her presence and her endurance as a fictional charact er of note. One cannot deny the fact that she has substance, and it is the attempts by critics to define that s ubstance with certainty th at has led to Chaucers endurance as a writer. Accordingly, Chaucer-as-au thor owes much to his women-as-characters,
39 and in making them so difficult to classify, he seems to acknowledge his debt to them. Chaucer could have easily retold Boccaccios story with all of its typically misogynist warnings about women and their wiles. Instead, Chaucer retranslates Il filostrato in order to give his audience a far more complex and compelling female char acterone who refuses every attempt by men to dictate her every action. Yes, she must occasiona lly bend to the powers that be; her exchange to the Greeks is a notable example of this fact. But she refuses to let them entirely break her. She always seems to find success and happiness desp ite what hardships life and masculine society throw at her. By (re)inventing Criseyde in this way, Chaucer us es her defiance of conventional notions of good and bad not only to rewrite masculine perceptions of women as more than simply representations of Madonna and Eve, but also to (re)invent the harm done to women in the Romance genre as a whole. This genre ne ver allows women any release from these two categories other than death, and most often, ev en silence and death ar e not enough to turn a bad woman good in these prescriptive stories. I In this manner, it is not su rprising that when Chaucer would choose to translate the Romance of a great heros fall, he chooses one where a womans betrayal is seemingly the reason for that heros demise, fo r this is the exact story that his audience would expect him to tell. It is, in essence, the stuff a good Romance plot is made of. Consequently, on the surface, Chaucer gives his audience exactly what they desire from this type of storythat is, a knight and a lady, their love, and that loves ability to be eith er fair or foul. More often than not, the final element in the above sequence is based upon the tro uthe of the tales he roine. Such are the assumptions concerning Troilus and Criseyde as well as its bad heroine to this day. Critics have either demonized Criseyde for her seeming vanity and moral flightiness, or they have
40 twisted and turned the text in endless rhetoric al circles trying to ra tionalize her perplexing behavior in order to find ways of forgiving her eventual infidelity not only to Troilus, but also to the dictates of the Romance genr e as a whole. And, as I have previously highlighted, these are the arguments most notably made by D. W. Robe rtson, Jr. and E. Talbot Donaldson. The former condemns Criseyde for her vanity, which he sees as the direct cause of he r flightiness and weak spirituality; whereas Donaldson, who Carolyn Dinshaw points out in Chaucers Sexual Poetics is in love with Criseyde, seeks any means n ecessary to forgive her (30). These two men fall neatly into the two camps I seek to redefine in this chapter; Robertson finds Criseyde to be irredeemably bad, and Donaldson will twist himself into rhetoric al knots trying to deem her good despite her infidelity to Troilus, which just fu rther confuses the issue and which has led to generations of confused critics, feminist and otherwise, who want to place Criseyde firmly in one of these two categories but find them as we ll as her placement within them ultimately problematic and wholly unsatisfying. But whatever tactics scholars have taken with Troilus and Criseyde the same ideology still und erlies their arguments: Cris eyde is inexplicably and callously unfaithful to Troilus, regardless of he r reasons and situation. Simply put, she claims that she will be faithful to him or die, but in the end, she does neither, and no matter how much critics want to excuse her behavior no one can refute this fact. For this reason, Criseyde becomes, fo r many critics, the decei tful Eve to Troilus unsuspecting Adam, no matter how much they claim to find her endearing as a heroine in spite of her flaws. In this sense, she beco mes much like the Wife of Bath in Canterbury Tales in that whether or not you find her entertaining, nympho maniacal, prophetic, or borderline demonic, you cannot ignore what she is trying to say or deny that her unsh akeable practicality has led to her gaining wealth and status be yond that of the average woman in the fourteenth-century. Thus,
41 like Criseyde, she seems undeserving of either the status given to a good Romance heroine or happiness with the lover of her dreams, and much like the young Alisoun in her early marriages, Criseyde is acted upon by the male characters in this wo rk. She often speaks her own mind, but her wishes are frequently ignoredf irst by Pandarus in his capacity as go-between in an affair that Criseyde does not initially desire, and then by Troilus who purposefully misreads Criseydes letters in order to rationalize her unwillingness to participate in his imaginary romance. It is only in her betrayal of Troilus that Criseyde is finally able to act of her own free will and choose for herself whom she will love and be faithful t o. However, even modern readers who are sympathetic to her plight, want to deny her right to this choicea choice that is predicated on a man other than Troilus. Surprisingly, many signi ficant feminist critics, most notably including Elaine Tuttle Hansen, Carolyn Dinshaw, and Ji ll Mann, are also often tr oubled by Criseydes relationship with Diomede because, once Crisey de enters the Greek camp, any hope that Criseyde had of trusting to the good intentions behind mens words, or of transcending words altogether, is even more emphatically dashed Another male speaker, Diomede, takes over; he successfully reads the meaning that others try to conceal while obscuring his own intentions in order to revise Criseyde (Hansen 172). And, it is in Diomedes seduction in Book V, that these scholars find a sinister cast to the revisi on of Criseyde by not only the male characters in this work, but also by their male author and his na rrator. To these critics, Criseyde is somehow diminished without Troilus, and the blame fo r her becoming less than rests firmly on the authors shoulders. I would argue that perhaps this minimizi ng is in actuality the result of her movement out of the fictional Romance in Troy into the more real world of Diomede and the Greeks. Thus, she has traveled outside the narrators ke n, for he is only capable of telling a traditional
42 Romance. Therefore, the narrator often seems both uncomfortable with as well as confused by the events of the narrative as it appears to tr avel beyond the scope of his limited story-telling talents. While Chaucer-as-author proves by the end of Troilus and Criseyde that he is capable of much more, his narrator here pr oves just how limited he is by convention. And so, the story and its rather unconventional heroine seems to r un away from him in the pursuit of something greatera something greater that Chaucer-as-aut hor can only hint at kno wing in this fictive space but that his narrator cannot even comprehe nd. Furthermore, Criseyde, in breaking out of her pre-set mold as Romance heroine, has unconsci ously transformed the narr ator in to an honest man. He is now forced to present her as she actually is as opposed to the pr e-fabricated figure of the Romance heroine he has tried to force her to be. With Diomede, Criseyde is for the first time in this tale well and truly herself, and she is no longer an absolute, or more precisely, an absolute convention for the narrator. Consequently, he can no longer construct her with any real clarity, for now she is in charge of her own fate despite the na rrators rather half-hearted attempts to reign her in and explain her acti ons using traditional Romance language at the end of this story. Indeed, he is far more successful in this regard with Troilus, whom he can, rather sardonically, send to the eighth sphere because Troilus, for all of his physical strength and prowess, is an emotional lightweight and, thereby, far more easily controlled by the narrator and his insistence on a proper Romance end to this often-problematic story. Perhaps the only way for Troilus to see the error of his romantic ways and to become a proper reader of both the text as well as the text-as-woman is for him to die. In order to gain the proper distance fr om his rather juvenile love of Criseyde, he must transcend the human realm before he can truly understand the flaws and pitfalls inherent in his type of love. The irony here is that Troilus is finally able to properly read and interpret romance, love, and female desire only when he no longer cares about any of it,
43 which is the real tragedy inhere nt in this Romance, as opposed to any betrayal on the part of Criseyde. In contrast to this, Cr iseyde, at the end of th is story, is still in the mortal realm, which makes her actions subject to the often-condemnat ory judgments of Chaucers readerseven the modern ones. Thus, it is my contention that Cr iseyde and Diomede are both, for the most part, being misread by contemporary critics. I maintain that Criseydes infidelity is both inevitable and necessary, for Diomede is able to see Crisey de for who she actually is as a woman and not through the myopic lens of fevere d dreams, letters wrongly translated by an emotionally fragile lover-knight, or false pictures painted by a rather cynical and potentially incestuous go-between, all of which lead to far more tragic potential than one womans seemingly wayward desire. Like the narrator and Troilus, Pandarus al so functions under the same false perception that many later critics will unconsciously adopt, namely that despite the few changes made by Chaucer, this text and this Criseyde are intercha ngeable with their Italia n predecessor. I do not mean to imply that the narrator, Troilus, and/ or Pandarus reference Boccaccio directly or would have knowledge of this author in their world, but I am arguing that, lik e many readers of both texts, they are expecting a Criseyde who is as frivolous as Boccaccios Criseida, but instead they encounter a woman who is far from typical. In other words, Cris eyde is a woman who is more like the Wife of Bath in her extreme practicality, and even though she too can be sidetracked into disastrous love affairs by her romantic streak, sh e will always return from fantasy into reality and rely upon her own ingenuity to save herself instea d of expecting anyone else to do it for her. And perhaps it is this echo of such an unconven tional woman in the guise of such a seemingly proper one that makes Criseyde a nd her actions so unsettling for so many critics and readers. It is also why so many articles on this work focus almost exclusively on figuring her out because Criseyde is as difficult to categor ize by the other characters in this text as she is by scholars as
44 well, and so she is often (mis)categorized by these same individuals. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this entire work is the ev idence which shows that the three people in this story who should know Criseyde th e best, namely the narrator, Troilus, and Pandarus, reveal that, in actuality, they have no idea who she is at al l, and it is this (mis)interpretation that leads, most notably, to the perceived tr agedy of Troilus betrayal and death, more so than any deceit, intentional or otherwise, perf ormed by Criseyde herself. While Pandarus is, in many ways, equally responsible for what many perceive to be the tragic end to this tale, it is Troilus himsel f who ultimately commits the greater sin. His consistent misreadings of Criseyde are what set-up the mechanism for his self-destructive behavior. In other words, it is for the most part Troilus own fa ult that he is betrayed, and not because, as many critics have asserted, Criseyde is an incurably deceitful woman. Rather because Troilus himself turns Criseyde into the object of his zealous religious devotionan impossibly lofty position that most mortal women are unable to fillhe is, in reality, the architect of his own tragedy. Cris eyde is not the means for Troilus salvation, but he treats her as such; and so, when she abandons him in favor of Diomede, Troilus sees himself as emotionally and spiritually damned. In essence, losing Crisey de makes Troilus lose his faith, but it is not faith in God that is lost, for one must argue that as a pagan, Troilus would not believe in God in a Christian sense. Instead, it is his faith in love and Romance conventi on that is irrevocably destroyed when Criseyde fails to keep her wor d. And, while there are as many references to Christianity as there are to pagan gods in this text, Chaucer does something unusual here. He subverts the notion of both Romance and religion in Troilus and Criseyde by turning Romance into a religion. In doing so, Chau cer creates an all-powerful Chur ch of Love to which Troilus becomes a devout member, and he is as militant in his conversion as most martyrs and saints are
45 in maintaining their faith. But, as Chaucer shows, this faith is not based upon the gift of sacrifice and salvation that underlies the Christian doctrine of divine Grace, and thus, it is bound to collapse. Therefore, it is ultimately Troilus loss of faith and his resulting despair that causes his downfall. Granted, Criseydes be trayal is the direct cause of his despair, but Troilus is so militant in his conversion that he is unable to replace one object of affection for another as Pandarus advises him to do. To Troilus, one woma n is not as good as another, just as for the militant martyr, one god is not the same as any otherin fact, there can be only one. Consequently, on the one hand, Troilus does become a martyr for his faith, but on the other, his loss of faith and his despair make his ill-disgu ised suicide inexcusable in the eyes of the Christian reader. What Chaucer reveals to his re aders through Criseydes betrayal and Troilus death is that the Church of L ove, while a powerful alternative to the medieval Church for many, will not, in the end, translate into real life. To give in to passion wit hout reason and to put all of ones faith in such a capricious higher power will, as the unsely aventure of Troilus and Criseyde shows, inevitably result in tragedy (I.35). Using this dichotomy of fictive Roman ce versus real love, Chaucer raises an interesting series of questions at the end of this work that continue to puzzle critics. By this I mean, exactly whom are we supposed to mourn and/ or condemn at the end of this tale? If one were to take Robertson and his ilks word for it, then the answer to the la tter part of the question is, of course, Criseyde. She is the villain in this work because she will always be true to herself; she will always seek to escape from the fear of misfortune, no matter what effects her actions may have on others (486). In a similar vei n, Robertson defines Criseydes relationship with Diomede as an abomination of all that is good about Romance, which oddly enough, he defines as her relationship with Troilus. Her relations hip to Troilus is accepted by these critics as
46 good, in both the Romantic and the salvific senses, but why is this so? In order to be with him, Criseyde must violate her own vow of chaste widowhood. So, what makes her relationship with Troilus excusable to readers a nd renders her relationship with Diomede condemnable? Does Pandarus involvement in the former somehow re nder Troilus pursuit of Criseyde more pure, and thus more acceptable to a morally cons cious audience? How Chaucer answers these questions creates the lions shar e of critical confusion because, as with much of his writing, the answers are often as perplexing as the questions themselves. But, as I will show in the remainder of this chapter, Chaucer uses Criseyde a nd the traditional Romance formula, as used by Boccaccio, to turn his audiences perceptions of good and bad on their proverbial ear. It is not so much that I want to clai m that Chaucer is a either a typi cal misogynist or a proto-feminist, but rather I intend to show that, in (re)interpreting the social, polit ical, and theological notions of female goodness, Chaucer accomplishes what no other au thor in his time is able to with their female characters, namely that he paints them in varying shades of grey, as opposed to solid black or white. By having Criseyde simultane ously fit the qua lifications of both good/white and bad/black, he renders her fictional substance more multi-dimensionalthat is, more real /grey than any other character in this work save for Diomede. In other words, she ceases to be easily definable by fictional standards, and we begi n to speak of her as if she has as much moral and spiritual grey area as the average person. Sh e is neither wholly good, nor is she entirely bad; she simply is. And, for this reason, Chaucer uses her to subvert th e typical conventions of phallocentric Romance, as written by Boccaccio and maintained by the narrator, Troilus, and Pandarus in this work; he creates a fictive world that is more reala world (re)invented for Criseyde and Diomede, where people are not perf ect saints, but rather where they are well and truly human.
47 II Before I begin looking at Troilus, Pa ndarus, and their relationship to Criseyde more closely, I would like to examine the temple scene, where Criseyde implores Hector for aid after her fathers traitorous defection to the Greek camp. This scene has received much critical attention, and most critic s uniformly agree that, in asking He ctor for protection, Criseyde makes an excellent political move and demo nstrates that to a certain extent she is more than just a pretty face. Aside from this singular agreement, most critics fall into two groups with regard to this moment; they either see Criseydes political acumen as a sign of her capacity for calculated actions and generally bad behavior or they see her as a highly sy mpathetic figure, who as David Aers is quick to point out in his article Chaucers Crise yde: Woman in Society, Woman in Love, is simply working with the hand she has been dealt and is, therefore, generally good, if a bit misguided at times (198). However, this scen e is far more intriguing than a simple either/or scenario. As I have previously stated, Troilus and Criseyde begins like a traditional Romance story, but its ending is far from expected for th is genre; so, one must ask what exactly does Chaucer change from his more traditional sour ces that makes his version so much more memorable? The answer begins in this opening scene, where Criseydes political motives are not as important in a larger se nse as Chaucers representation of their effect on the men around her. Thus, when she falls on her knees before H ector in the temple and begs for his protection (I.110), one does not assume that her decision to do so is a spontaneous one; however, one should not make the mistake of over-reading her intention here. While her keen sense of the dramatic is readily apparent, with her choice of widows clothing and to kneel in supplication before Hector, she has not used her body to ga in the upper hand here. And, even though her male audience gives the prescribed response to her requestthat is, H ector vows to be her
48 protectorCriseydes performance is far more pitia ble than it is sexual. Therefore, up to this point, the reader cannot ri ghtly claim that either the author or the narrator has deviated from the appropriate Romance formula. However, Chaucer does not leave the audience comfortable for long, especially when one pauses to consider Criseydes motives for choosing Hector as her knight-protector. After all, Pr iam and Hecuba have many sons who are capable warriors. Troilus even has the titular role, and yet, at this pivotal moment, it is Hector who becomes Criseydes hero because Troilus is too busy scorni ng love and lovers to be of use to her here. And herein lies the significance behind this mu ch-debated scene, for Criseydes choice is predicated on more than just political sche ming on the part of one social climbing woman. Rather, Chaucer uses this scene to show a pr ofound insight into how wo men in general operate within a masculine world and its prescribed notio ns of good feminine behavior. Chaucer uses Criseydes plea to Hector to reveal that, while a man in Criseydes situation would be evaluated based on purely political motives, Criseyde, as a wo man, will always be regarded both politically and sexually. Chaucer may be condemned for hi s potential to offend hi s betters with his intellect and progressive imagination, but because Cr iseyde is a woman, she is almost always condemned by critics for offe nding her betters with her body Paradoxically, these same critics and read ers who demonize Criseyde for her wayward sexuality almost universally prai se her political foresight in th is opening scene; however, they tend to use it as merely anothe r example of her inhe rent ability to assuage her own fears by manipulating male desire. And, to a certain extent, these schola rs are correct, but only in the strictest sense. Yes, Criseyde does manipulate the expectations of the men in this scene to gain political asylum; nevertheless, he r choice of Hector over Troilus de monstrates that she is willing to do so only through her words and actions and not by bartering with her body. Consequently,
49 this situation is cleverly highlighted by Chau cer because it makes Criseydes decision to approach Hector interesting both politically and sexually since, as most all of Classical literature shows, Hector is in love with and scrupulously faithful to his wife. Thus, he would have absolutely no designs on Criseyde sexually, and because of his tenderness towards his wife, he would be more inclined to help a damsel in di stress. As he states, And al thonour that men may don yow have,/As ferforth as youre fader dwelled here,/Ye shul have, and youre body shal men save . (I.120). It is important to not e that, in this moment, Hector grants Criseyde al thonour that men don, and as a result, Criseyde gains thr ough Hector the same promise he would give to a man to protect her physical body as well as her body politic from harm. Indeed, Hector proves to be the st ronger ally for Criseyde in Book IV, when Troilus remains conspicuously silenta silence that only serves to further highlight not only Troilus eventually feminized position in this work, but also the fact that Hector wa s the better choice for Criseyde as a political ally in Troy, for Hector will protect her to the be st of his ability without any personal reservations or sexual de signs on her physical self. For such a brief moment, this scene ta kes on added significance when compared to the entirety of Troilus and Criseyde for Criseydes purely political alliance with Hector is reflected in her alliances, both romantic and otherwise, with both Troilus and Diomede. With Hector, Criseyde has the promise of political protection and nothing more, but with Troilus, Criseyde curiously asks for a purely sexual relationship. Sh e wants above all else to keep her relationship with Troilus a secret in order to protect her good name, and marriage to Troilus, who is also a prince of Troy, does not even cross her mind. Ce rtainly, she seems confident enough in Hectors vow of political protection that she does not seem to want Troilus on any terms but the sexual, and in fact, the morning after thei r tryst, the lovers merely excha nge tokens, instead of discussing
50 marriage (III.1365). I do not mean to imply that Criseydes love of Troilus is part of a calculated seductionit is on the pa rt of Pandarus and Troilus, but not on Criseydes. However, once Criseyde has decided to love Troilus, she a ppears to do so more for romantic reasons than for political ones, even if she does briefly take hi s status and position into account. Part of this difference could be due to Troilus himself; his le tters are full of effusive outpourings of romantic desire, where he syede/That love it made, or e lles most he die,/And pitousli gan mercy for to cry (II.1073), as opposed to benevolent offers of political asylum. But, whatever the start of the relationship, it is obvious that Hector does not cause Cris eyde to blush or to have prophetic dreams, and neither does he wind-up naked in her bed. For these re asons, while in Troy, Criseyde has the double luxury of Hectors political alliance and Tr oilus sexual one. It is only when Criseyde must go to the Greek camp that sh e is well and truly al one. In this sense, Diomede represents the merging of Hector and Troilus into a single body, in that he provides Criseyde the combination of sexual fulfillment and political protection in the guise of one man. Thus, he is able to satisfy Criseydes needs on both levels, something that neither Hector, nor Troilus are able to do, which ultimately makes Diom edes offer impossible for Criseyde to refuse for several key reasons. Consequently, the chan ges Chaucer makes here to the Romance genre, as exemplified with subtle precision in this opening sequence, creates a far more complex political and sexual world for his characters, and as such, it is only this texts most savvy social and sexual politiciansthat is, Criseyde and Diom edewho inevitably survive the perils that this narrative throws in their way. With the above scene in mind, I would lik e to take a closer look at Troilus courtship of Criseyde, which often seems to be, on the one hand, a boiler-plate Romance and, on the other, the beginning of a tragedy. Pr ior to seeing Criseyde, Troilus is the consummate warriorproud,
51 impartial, and able to kill without an attack of conscience or guilt. However, upon seeing Criseyde in the temple, he is irrevocably change d from a callous warrior into a devoutly religious man. As one critic states, Troilus is transforme d by the religion of erotic love into a life of virtue . (Cigman 388), and the narrator de scribes this momentous transformation by saying: So ferde it by this fierse and proude knyght: Though he a worthy kynges sone were, And wende nothing hadde had swich myght Ayeyns his wille that shuld his herte stere, Yet with a look his herte wex a-fere, That he that now was moost in pride above, Wax sodeynly moost subgit unto love. (I.225) This moment encapsulates the almost textbook de scription of an indivi dual receiving direct communion with divine power. A similar example to this episode, in spite of the anachronism, occurs in the sixteenth-century wr itings of St. Teresa of vila, who most famously describes her visions of the divine as burn ing arrows piercing her heart and providing almost orgasmic spiritual pleasure. While Chaucer and St. Teresa are a century and more apart, the descriptions here are too similar to ignore, a nd in reality, Teresa is not alone in her experiences. The notion that direct contact with the divi ne begins with the pi ercing of the human hear t and ends with the setting of that heart on fire is not a new one and is most notably exemplified in the moment when the Holy Spirit settles as tongues of flame above th e heads of the gathered disciples, which then allows them to preach Gods word and be understood by all peopl es throughout the world despite any language barriers. This ceremony, given th e name Pentecost by the Christian Church, is celebrated forty days after Christ rises from the dead on Easter Sunday. What Troilus has received here is, in the plainest terms, a moment of both divine revelation as well as translation. It is an action that oc curs sodeynly and, once it is finish ed, his herte wex a-fere with the power of love (I.229, 231). As in the case of St. Teresa and Christs disciples, Troilus is
52 overcome by the power of his e xperience; however, unlike these other individuals, he is not already a believer receiving a rewa rd and/or mission of sorts. Rath er, this fire is in Troilus a method of total conversion, and so it changes the very essence of his being. He is no longer the dedicated and reserved warrior he has always been; he has been tr ansformed into a zealous lover, and Criseyde has become not only the vehicle fo r such a powerful conversion, but also she has become the object of his exclusive devotion. The narrator furthers the above idea by saying, Right with hi re look thorugh-shoten and thorugh-darted (I.325). In other words, Troiluss heart was not merely transformed, or rather set on fire, by simply a look; instead, his heart was pierced by her look. And, in this manner, martial imagery serves to extend the conce it of Troilus transforma tion from fighter into lover. He has not been shot with an arrow in battle, but his h eart nonetheless has been pierced. Though he has not died, as it were, he has been irrevocably changed by th e experience. He is no longer the cold, dispassionate warr ior who scoffs at love and lovers Now, he is in the throes of a divinely orchestrated passion, and he is ill-equipped to deal w ith such an intense experience. Troilus has devoted his life to war and not to lo ve; therefore, his transf ormation is as surprising as it is debilitating, and it is why Pandarus help is necessary. Troilus is un able to deal with the after-effects of his conversion on his own, and what Pandarus show s this new convert is that, unlike the divine arrow that will later pierce th e welcoming heart of St. Teresa, Troilus dart comes from the Church of Love, which means Cris eydes divinity is no le ss awe-inspiring, but it is attainable. In the Church of Love, Troilu s can consummate his rela tionship with the divine both physically and spirit ually; however, his object of worship is an a ll too mortal woman in whom Chaucer will engineer Troilus demise. It is not that Crise yde is exclusively at fault here,
53 but rather it is Troilus misplaced notion of faith that will, in the end, lead to the tragedy the narrator mourns over at the be ginning of this tale. Nevertheless, before Troilu s is willing to listen to Pandaru s, he engages in a series of almost mystical encounters with hi s new-found faith. He behaves as if he is seriously ill, and in this state, he receives visions of Criseyde: And whan that he in his chambre was allone, He doun upon his beddes feet hym sette, And first he gan to sike, and eft to grone, And thought ay on hire so, withouten lette, That, as he sat and wook, his spirit mette That he hire saugh atemple, and al the wise Right of hire look, and gan it newe avise. (I.358) This episode is much more in tense than those found in typical Romance tales where the knight first spies his lady and then falls into a depression of sighs when she ignores him. In fact, his vision of Criseyde not only leads to his determina tion to serve her, but also it results in a song of devotion, in which Troilus sa ys to the God of Love: O lord, now youres is My spirit, which that oughte youres be. Yow thanke I, lord, that han me brought to this. But wheither goddesse or womman, iwis, She be, I not, which that ye do me serve; But as hire man I wol ay lyve and sterve. (I.422) At this moment, Troilus has not even spoken to Criseyde; nevertheless, he is willing to devote his life in service of her. It is such vows that reveal just how violent a spiritual conversion he has undergone. For a man who showed little or no em otion initially, and who even mocked those individuals who do, he has now become the sort of man he once openly despised. The sort of man who can show nothing but emotionall for a woman with whom he has only exchanged the briefest of glances. It is in this scene that Tr oilus enacts the rhetoric be hind his later argument against free will in Book IV b ecause, unlike the Christian Church, the Church of Love cannot
54 operate under this doctrine. If a character coul d choose whether or not to ignore such powerful emotions in these Romances, then they would b ecome very short stories indeed. Troilus would have been able to exchange his glance with Cr iseyde and then go about his life as a soldier without emotionally torturing himself. Howeve r, the intrinsic notion of love and sexual conquest/possession in this situation requires the complete absence of fr ee will on the part of Troilus. In other words, he ha s no choice as a faithful member of the Church of Love but to fall in love, and the only way in which he can find his escape is through deat h; for it is through his death in battle that Troilus defies his faith a nd transforms himself from the rather pathetic, immature lover into, arguably, the tragic hero of this tale.1 III As previously stated, the transformati on of Troilus from fighter into lover is not an easy one, and it is only Pandarus promises to help Troilus gain the reciprocal attentions of his niece, Criseyde, that ultimately cures this wa rriors illness. Unfortunately, Pandarus meddling often creates more problems than it solves Pandarus form of help quite frequently comes close to sabotaging the entire relationship, rendering it dead before it has begun to live. His ineptitude as a go-between is best exemp lified in the bedroom scene in Book III when he concocts the lie about Troilus bei ng jealous of Criseydes attentions to the imaginary Horaste. 1 By making such a claim, I do not simply reiterate the arguments of past cr itics, such as G. L. Kittredge, who assert that it is fate alone which gove rns all of the characters actions in this text. There is a substantial gap between the notion of free will and fate, and Troilus and Criseyde does not present an either/or scenario with regard to these ideas. Simply because Troilus does not believe he has free will does not mean that, in reality, it is absent. Indeed, Pandarus tries to show him just the opposite idea, but it is my contention that the Church of Love blinds Troilus to the existence of his free will, which leads him to belie ve he has no choice but to live and die for his faith. Thus, it is not fate, as many past critics are wont to believe, but rather, as I intend to argue, misaligned faith that is often the factor in Ro mance narratives that creates the fallacy behind Troilus argument, which inevitably results in hi s loss of Criseyde to Diomede and his death in battle.
55 Yet, before I examine this moment in more detail, it is essential that I discuss both Troilus and Pandarus personas as lovers in this story, fo r how these two men view women in general and Criseyde in particular directly influences the outcome of not only this bedroom scene, but also it serves to foreshadow the conclusion to this fabr icated, formulaic Romance tale as well as to anticipate the beginning of the real love story. Troilus, as a new convert to love, is often overly dramatic in his pursuit of the object of his desires. I do not mean to imply that Tro ilus is an ineffectual lover per se, as Jill Mann has admonished many critics for doing, especially since he does eventually acquire the affections of Criseyde. Rather, in this section, I will show that, although Troilus does accomplish this end, he goes about this affair in an ove r-the-top, immature way. He throws himself into his relationship whole-heartedly, but this sort of utter Romantic abandon only se rves to render him a passionate lover and not a long-lasting one. The entire situation commen ces when, on Pandarus advice, Troilus writes Criseyde a letter detailing his desires in flowery language and then with his salte teris gan he bathe/The ruby in his signet, and Therewith a thous and tymes er he lette/He kiste tho the letter that he shette (II.1086), just as any earnest l over is required to do in these sorts of stories. Compared to Tr oilus effusive praise and affec tions, Criseydes letter is quite restrained, in that she tells Troilus she w ill guerdon hym with nothing but with sighte (II.1295), and she will love him but as his suster (II.1224). Here, once again, Criseyde establishes herself as not your typical Romance heroine, and he r responses to Troilus further illustrate this fact. She is far too practical to fall for flowery words, and even though she is flattered by Troilus intense emotions on her be half, she well knows that Men loven wommen al biside hire leve,/And whan hem leste namore lat hem byleve (II.734). As a woman in a precarious positioni.e. as the da ughter of a traitor and as a widow with no male presence to
56 reaffirm her position in Trojan society, she must be extraordinarily careful of her reputation as a chaste woman. She cannot be seen by Trojan hi gh society engaging in a passionate love affair with a kings son and maintain her status as a good and, therefore, non-threatening woman. Thus, while she can be respectfully flatte red by Troilus attentions, she cannot, in her initial estimation, do more than l ove him from afar. But this ra ther restrained response is not good enough for Troilus. He is far too enmeshed in his romantic fever and Pandarus plots to ever be satisfied with mere sisterly affection from Criseyde, and unlike Hector, who has a loving wife to return to, all Troilus has is Pandarus, w ho is determined to satisfy Troilus craving for Criseyde by any means necessary. In order to accomplish this end, Pandarus and Troilus willfully misinterpret Criseydes direct arguments to the contrary in two distinct ways: Troilus judgment is clouded by an all-consuming passi on that renders him deaf to any negative arguments stated in Criseydes le tters and actions. Likewise, Panda rus is determined to enact his role as romantic go-between to perfection, whic h also does not allow for any resistance from the woman in question. Consequently, none of these social nuances and concerns translate from Criseyde to either Pandarus or Tr oilus, for despite her vocal prot ests, Pandarus tells Troilus to write his letter to Criseyde proclaiming his love to a ridiculous degree, and in turn, Troilus knowingly misinterprets Criseydes words to suit hi s own ends. Instead of respecting her wishes to be left alone, Troilus: took al for the beste/That she hym wroot, for somwhat byheld/On which hym thoughte he myghte his herte reste,/Al covered she t ho wordes under sheld (II.1324 1327). What Pandarus and Troilus fail to recognize in this scenario is that Criseyde is a woman who means what she says; even if she is ultimat ely unable to follow through with her promises, she is not inherently a liar. So, when she says th at she cannot return Troilus love, she means it. But Pandarus and Troilus both neithe r hear, nor read what Criseyde actually claims to want for
57 herself. They each place her into an inappropr iate categorythat is, Pandarus sees Criseyde much the same as he does every other woman, a nd Troilus makes her the object of his fanatical devotion. Both men are wrong. In the end, Criseyde defies their expectations as to her behavior, and in contrast to Boccaccios Criseida, she is not a coy flirt who is onl y playing hard-to-get for the sake of appearances or for some femini ne game of sexual cat-and-mouse. Chaucers Criseyde subverts this traditi onal role by always remaining re strained and practical no matter what these men try to turn her into. And so, wh ile Pandarus is trying to reinvent the Romantic wheel, Chaucer-as-author is clearly using Criseyde to reinvent the genre as a whole, just as Criseyde is clearly (re) defining herself as anything but the ty pical female lead, and the moment that best exemplifies this conflict is the bedr oom scene in Book III. Although, even this moment does not work itself out in the manner that Pandar us and even the reader expects because Troilus is equally unconventional in his ro le as the masculine lover, a cl aim that is substantiated by his unexpected swoon when presented with a romantic situation that he is, once again, ill-equipped to handle. In Book III, Pandarus attempts to exped ite the affair between Tr oilus and his niece by ambushing Criseyde one night with accusations of infidelity to a man with whom she has never even met. In this sense, Chaucer-as-author sets-up a situation that is more than a little reminiscent of Lucretias rape in Livys History of Rome In Livys account, Lucretia is surprised in the middle of the night when Tarqui n sneaks into her bedroom and holds a sword to her throat, threatening her, first with bodily harm and then with dishonor in death if she does not grant him her sexual surrender. Pandarus dramati zation of this event is remarkably similar, for on the one hand, he surprises a sleeping Criseyde and makes harsh accusations concerning her sexual fidelity, but on the other, Pandarus sw ord is only a metaphorical one. He is not
58 attempting to rape Criseyde, but he is setting up the scene in which Troilus quite possibly could if he were so inclined. Pandarus has already awakened Criseyde from her slumber and trapped her in her room; all Troilus would need to do is commit the act itself. However, their reenactment of this famous rape is thwarted for two reasons. First of all, as Elizabeth Robertson asserts, Criseyde herself transforms the situa tion: Criseyde could enac t Lucreces story as a victim of the unwanted sexual advances of a rule r . (292), but Criseydes subjectivity, we shall see, emerges under the constraint of both ki nds of rape, forced coitus and abduction, but it is her identity as one whose consent matters that ultimately both defines and condemns her (292). Instead of crumpling under the weight of Pandarus lies and intimidation, Criseyde fights back. She does not passively accept her role in th is situation and, with Tr oilus as a witness, she not only denounces Pandarus accu sations, but also she berates Tr oilus for falling victim to the wikked serpent, jalousie (III.836). In doing so, Criseyde subverts he r potential rape and reclaims her power in this situ ationin spite of the harmful ef fect having two men discovered in your room in the middle of the night could have on her valued reputation. She even goes so far as to question Troilus love for her by sa ying, youre passioun/I wo l nought calle it but illusion/Of habundaunce of love and besy cure,/ That doth youre herte this disese endure (III.1040). Here, she reverses Troilus earlier claims of devoted love by calling them merely passioun or, even worse, a disese. Criseyde cannot fathom how Troilus could claim to love her and then storm into her bedroom with Pandarus to make unfounded accusations about her fidelitysuch are the actions of someone in lust as opposed to love. In this manner, Criseyde makes it very clear to Troilus that she will not permit such uncalled for behavior in the future; for she has absolutely no patience for a man who, unlike her, cannot temper his love with reason. Unfortunately for Troilus, he had no idea what Pandarus plans were, and he can see the
59 object of his desire slipping away due to her ire before he has even had the chance to become intimate with her; in other words, because of Pandarus misinterpretation of Criseyde as a woman, he is also being accused of a crime he di d not commit. Troilus is also intelligent enough to realize that simply denying Pandarus story of his purported jealousy will not remedy the situation in the least because it is highly unlikel y that Criseyde will believe his claims to the contrary. And so, quite by accident, he stumbles upon the perfect response to Criseydes fury he faints. One critic explains this unconscious act as such: Tro ilus mind is turned in on itself, trapped in deadlock, and this cond ition of his mind is so acute th at it transfers itself to his body. The swoon is an expression of Troilus ac ceptance ofand indeed absolute identification withthe contradictory and destru ctive implications of the situ ation, to which, unlike Pandarus, he is fully alive (Mann 327). And while I cann ot argue with Manns claim that Troilus swoon recovers, for the moment, this Romance and its lo vers from certain failure, it is my contention that Chaucer does more here than simply save Tr oilus from disaster because, when one compares his actions to the story of Lucretia, Troilu s swoon becomes even more significant. The problem with this scene is that we have two possible Tarquins and only one potential Lucretia. However, Pandarus, as Cr iseydes uncle, cannot portray Tarquin here, for though he possesses the right attitude towards women and vituperative language, he cannot be the physical aggressor in this situation without committing incest. And, while Troilus could be the body, especially since he desi res Criseyde to the same degr ee as Traquin did Lucretia, his swoon assures both Criseyde and the reader that Troilus is incapable of sexual violence during this highly emotional scene. As a result, it is not simply Criseydes unexpected defiance that subverts the possible rape here, bu t also it is the potential rapist s themselves who prove to be incapable of reenacting this famous scenario. Ther efore, rather than simply rewriting Lucretias
60 rape, albeit with two Tarquins instead of one, Chaucer utterly s ubverts it with Troilus faint. What Chaucer has done here is give us two bodies capable of performing rape on Criseyde/Lucretia, but these bodi es are, for separate reasons, unable to do so. What could become a moment of sexual violence is transfor med into one of sexual power for both Criseyde and for Troilus. She is given sovereignty by Troilu s to decide for herself what her sexual destiny may be, and thus she, in turn, retu rns that power to him because she chooses to do so. In this manner, one more would-be rapist is transformed into the lover of this womans dreams, only in this story, Criseyde is already young and beau tifulno magical transformation necessary to acquire, for the moment, a happy ending. Unfortuna tely, Criseyde has no experience to really compare the genesis of her relationship to Troilus w ithin a real-life context. What she has here is a Romance of mythic, if typically mythic, proportions, all of it ul timately contrived by Pandarus and his steadfast adherence to th e dictates of traditional Romance form. One has to wonder if Criseydes marri age was as dramatic or as complicated as Troilus courtship. Knowing the political, m onetary, and social motivations behind noble marriages in Chaucers time, the answer is pr obably a rather firm no. In a time when noble marriages were made to form alliances as well as for profit, the burning whirlwind of Troilus romantic overtures and emotions would truly se em the stuff of fiction, and Criseydes own commentary on marriage lends itself to this inte rpretation. She does not view marriage in terms of a grand romance, but rather as a game of chess, where she must maneuver around the petty jealousies of a husband who can say, Chek ma t! once she is legally under his rule (II.752, 754). It is no wonder that a woman who previo usly had no choice in the outcome of her life would be loath to sacrifice he r hard won freedom based on a mans promises of devotion. Furthermore, it stands to reason that such a woman, for all of her experience with marriage,
61 would have very little real know ledge of love. Consequently, it would be very easy for her to confuse a whirlwind passion with honest feeli ngs of love, especially when ones wooer has someone as cunning as Pandarus in his corner. As the Wife of Bath had to be literally hit over the head to realize her mistake with Jankyn, so too is Criseyde only able to think rationally for herself and truly exchange her heart with some one of her own free will once she is outside the sphere of both Troilus intense worship and Pa ndarus machinations. Thus, with Diomede, Criseyde is able to have for the first time the best of both worlds; with him, she is not trapped into a marriage that would take away all of her wealth and personal sovereignty, and she also has a lover who has gained her affecti ons in exactly the way she wished from Troilusthat is, to be loved nonsexually as a suster and political ally first before pushing for more. Troilus never bothered to pay attention to Cris eydes desires. Diomede does, and because of this, he wins Criseydes trust first and then her heart. Of course, one could argue that Diomedes wooing of Criseyde is entirely too calcu lating to be honest; however, I w onder what part of seduction is not calculated? Even ever-honest and true, Troilus, with his le tter writing campaign and midnight bedroom appearances followed a cohesive, Pandarus-in spired plan of attack with regard to his pursuit of Criseyde. Diomede is no different; he is just far more adept than Troilus at this particular game. And because Diomede is so romantically sophisticated and because Criseyde allows him to triumph over Troilus in this battle, they are both c ondemned by modern readers and critics as vain and immoral, but I questi on such harsh judgments. How many people can honestly say that they have the same romantic tast es now as they did when they were teenagers? Almost no one. Therefore, why punish Criseyde for finally having the freedom to grow up and choose for herself the man she truly desires? And we, as readers, should not be ashamed to
62 approve of Criseyde in spite of her change of heart, for what Chaucer has cleverly emphasized in Troiluss pursuit of Criseyde is its intense emo tional whirlwind that sweeps Criseyde up so that, even when she seems to be making informed decisions while in Troy, in actuality she is not. She gets caught up in the moment, as engineered by Pa ndarus, and with the ideal of Romance itself, as represented by Troilus, both of which cause her to forget all of the vows she makes to herself in private. Thus, perhaps Criseydes infidelity is not the proof of her moral perfidy, spiritual corruption, or unfortunate circumstances as a woman in a world controlled by men, as many critics have asserted, but perhaps it is, in reality, the proof of her romantic maturation of which Troilus sadly becomes a casualty. Criseydes mistak e is in making promises that she is unable to keep, but who in the throes of true love has not also done so? It does not render Criseyde inherently evil or an unrepentant liar; it makes her human. And so, what Chaucer-as-author has accomplished here is far more penetrating than Boccaccios story and characters ever could be because these characters engage each other on a fa r deeper level than what can be accomplished in a standard Romance. Chaucer may have begun this story in t ypical fashion, but his (re)invention of Boccaccios text and especially of Boccaccios Criseida shows his readers that, when trying to find true love, real ity is always better than fiction. IV Troilus is a divided man; he cannot simulta neously love and fight. He is only either a warrior who scoffs at foolish lo vers, or he is a foolish lover who is unable to even think of returning to the war and defending Tr oy from the Greeks. But, as with all tragic love stories, life must always intrude upon paradise. In Book IV, Cr iseyde learns that she will be traded to the Greeks for Antenor, and neither she, nor Troilus takes the news well. However, not even the great Hector can dissuade King Priam and the Troj an elders from their decision, and at this
63 fateful moment, Criseyde chooses not to reveal her relationship with Troilus to the world. And why not? Having such an important lover might ha ve overridden her fathers attempts to secure her from Troy, but both Troilus a nd Criseyde are unwilling to take the chance of irrevocably damaging her reputation. Thus, we must look mo re closely at what Chaucer-as-author does in Book IV to illuminate the readers imaginative darkne ss, especially in light of this tales Italian source. Troilo and Criseida are much more frivolous in their emotions and much more experienced as lovers than Troilu s and Criseyde appear to be, and so when their relationship falls apart, it seems more inevitable than tragic. So, what happens in Chaucers translation to make it a much more legitimate and heartfel t tragedy that leaves readers so divided as to which character to side with in the end? What makes Criseida s actions so much more acceptable to generations of critics than those of Criseyde, who is far mo re morally conscious throughout this story than her Italian predecessor? First of all, in Chaucers version, we have a narrator with such a strong and intrusive voice, who begins a story about Troilus and ends th is same story with a begrudging defense of Criseyde. But his opinionated presence is not the only change that affects how one perceives this text and its char acters. There is also a more clearly constructed Pandarus in Chaucers story whose role as go-between and as Tr oilus confidant is far more substantial here than in Boccaccio, but again, this change is not significant enough on its own to warrant such a drastically different reception. And so, for a reader to find the most direct answer to the above questions, he or she must look at Troilus and Cris eyde themselves. These two lovers are so far removed from their Italian counterpa rts that it is almost as if Chau cer has constructed an entirely new tale about two brand new characters. And, in this regard, the problem that plagues these characters is also changed from Boccaccio to Chaucer. While it is no great surprise when
64 Criseida betrays Troilo, many readers are inexpli cably shocked when Criseyde does the same to Troilus. And, because of the way in which Chaucer has subtly (re)written his characters, such a powerful emotional response to how his characters behave should not be as surprising as it is for many critics. What Chaucer has done in this seemingly straightforward chivalric poem, is to subvert the entire notion of Romance itself so that even the most a-typical characters in this type of story will be perceived as doing something new, even when their actual story is almost exactly the same as any other. Therefore, just as Cris eyde herself defies the false categorizations the men in this tale try to place her into, this enti re work defies the title of typical Romance by transforming how the major characters arrive at their inevitable ends, and perhaps the most welldefined evidence for this notion occurs in Book V when Criseyde finally rejects Troilus allencompassing love and succumbs to Di omedes far more skilled seduction. Many critics try to tu rn the seduction of Criseyde by Diomede into a devious and dispassionate act, which to a certai n extent it is in the beginning. After the intense emotions of Troilus wooing, Diomedes efforts at romance seem at first, to pale in comparison. However, to condemn Diomede for his terse seduction of Cris eyde demonstrates the readers own need for Chaucer-as-author to fulfill, as opposed to subvert, the conventions of the Romance genre. In other words, despite the many arguments to th e contrary, Chaucers audience wants Troilus fiery passion and zealous devotion to translate into a happily-ever-after ending for him and Criseyde. But this conventional ending does not occur, and there is obviously something compelling enough about Diomede to make Criseyde forget her promises to Troilus, which is what causes her to be demonized throughout much of literary history. I c ontend that the answer to this quandary lies in the very notion of Roma nce itself, for compared to the rather exhausting drama that Troilus creates, Diomede shows both Cr iseyde and the reader what it truly means to
65 love a woman like a man, a realm of love that Tr oilus never enters. In this manner, Chaucer fulfills Romance form by making both warriors physic ally similar; still, he handily subverts this convention by making these men far from intercha ngeable. The right man wins the woman of his dreams at the end of this work, even if Crisey de has far more substance than either Emelye or Criseida are ever permitted to have. This id ea does not mean that Troilus himself is entirely devoid of originality, but one has to wonder if he would have been ab le to get the girl as handily as Diomede does without Pandarus. I would argu e that the answer is no; although, the famous swoon does create a unique situation for both Troilu s and Criseyde. She was able to witness the literal collapse of a powerful warrior, which in tur n, gave her the power to ta ke charge of her role in their relationship. She was able to determin e not only if Troilus would have access to her sexually, but also when and where this woul d happen. Despite Pandarus meddling, Troilus salvages a disastrous situation by fainting, and in giving Criseyde the sovereignty to decide her sexual destiny, he gains physical access to the object of his sp iritual devotion. In comparison to this heightened dr ama, it is no wonder so many critics have found Diomedes wooing of Criseyde to be almost ca llous in its nonchalance. Diomede begins his courtship of Crisedye with an offer of friendshi p, something that Troilus refused to do. And one must also remember that Criseyde is in the Greek camp far longer than ten days. Therefore, what begins as friendship and an offer of political protections reminiscent of Hectors in Book I, develops into something more at a later time. Thus, when Diomede decides to press his suit further, he does so in a manner far different fr om Troilus. He tells Criseyde how becoming his lover will benefit her. He says: And thenketh wel, ye shal in Grekis fynde A moore parfit love, er it be nyght, Than any Troian is, and more kynde, And if ye vouchesauf, my lady bright,
66 I wol ben he to serven yow myselve, Yee, levere than be kyng of Greces twelve! (V.918) There is no need for theatrics, no need to faint, and most importantly, no need for the troublesome antics of a rather inept go-between. Diomede has no need of a Pandarus; he is perfectly capable of approachi ng and wooing a woman all on his ow n, for unlike Troilus, he is able to balance his notion of love with that of reason. Thus, he is able to continue his suit in a much more reserved way. Instead of fainting, he merely gan to waxen red,/And in his speche a litel wight he quok,/And caste as yde a litle wight his hed/And stynte a while . (V.925). Here, Diomede seems so affected by Criseyde as to blush, and he appears nervous while waiting for her response. When she does not reply immediat ely, he adds: I am, al be it yow no joie,/As gentil man as any wight in Troi e (V. 930). Diomede feels the need to assert his pedigree as a Greek nobleman and warrior so that Criseyde cannot discount him simply because of status. And, as Diomedes language has shown, he too is l eaving the decision entirel y up to her. He has plighted his troth, but he will not force her against her will. In this sense, Diomede is as unique of a lover as Troilus, in that, ra ther than simply taking what he wa nts, he also is willing to give Criseyde sovereignty over her own body. In this manner, Diomede instinctively does what Troilus does not; he offers Criseyde friendship first and then offers her the sovereignty to make her own decision about her feelings for him. Diomede has made his offer to Criseyde, and if she accepts, then he will be happy to return her affections in kind and give her equal possession of his person as he will take of hers. Conversely, if she should refuse him, then one gets the idea that he will simply move on without being thrown into an all-consuming desp air or having thoughts of su icide. Diomede also does not need to faint in order to prove his powerle ssness in this situation; he is not content to love Criseyde from afar, but he has clearly stated that the decision is hers alone. This man is
67 nothing if not practical, and obviousl y, Criseyde is not the only wo man in the world. It is the sort of a relationship that an experienced widow should be en gaging in, as opposed to what Criseyde actually has with Troilus. In Diomede, Criseyde finally has her similitude, and this gift proves too powerful to resist. He will give he r the sovereignty over he r sexual self that she requires, and unlike, Troilus and Pandarus, he has read her correctly from the beginning. In light of such an adult relationship, Troilus attempt to rekindle his dramatic, love-letter romance with Criseyde falls on deaf ears. Thus, Troilus is fi nally forced to read Criseyde correctly, and he realizes the sort of woman she has been from th e startthat is, a woman who has not the heart to tell him no even if she ne wolde hym holden that she hyghte/For with ful yvel list him to leve/That loveth well, in swich cas/though hym greve (V.1636). Consequently, Criseyde is not bad, as many critics and readers would ha ve one believe, but rather she is a woman who needs to be loved by only one man, and not by one man divided into two well-meaning but, ultimately, clueless bodies. And so, in the end, Cr iseydes dream of exchanging her heart with someone powerful and worthy has become a real ity, and the truth behind Cassandras prophecy that This Diomede hire herte hath, and she his can no longer be denied by either the characters in this text or by its readers (V.1517). V In this final secti on, I would like to take a closer l ook at Criseydes dream in relation to Lucretias legend and Cassandra s vision, as all three of these mo ments bear a strong influence on the events at the end of this work. In Book II, Criseyde has a rather disturbing dream of an eagle while she is contemplating Troilus troth. This dream, which she has after being lulled to sleep by the song of a nightingale, shows Criseyde having her heart ripped out by the talons of an eagle, at which point the eagle re places her heart with its ownall of which occurs so that ne
68 nothyng smerte (II.930). And, as many critics have rightly noted, the nightingale outside Criseydes window also has an in triguing history, especially when one considers Ovids tale of Tereus, Philomela, and Procne. S o, what we have here is the heroine of this work rather peculiarly falling asleep with hir e herte fressh and gay to the song of a bird made most famous by an incestuous rape (II.922), and once she is as leep, she dreams of her heart being savagely ripped out of her chest but feels no pain. It is no wonder that many feminist critics have seen fit to align this dream and the eagles actions with rape, especially when one considers the Lucretiaesque scene that will soon follow. However, if Chaucer-as-author were so interested in making Criseyde into a rape victim, then why choose to replace her heart with th at of the eagle? Why not have her exchange hearts with the nightingale instead? The answer lies with the eagle itself, as opposed to the violent action inhe rent in the exchange of the cr eatures heart for Criseydes. In choosing an eagle, Chaucer has replaced Crise ydes heart with that of a warrior, or more precisely, a powerful bird of prey. By doing s o, he has given her the metaphysical upper hand, rather than taking away her agen cy and rendering her powerless. To have done the latter would have changed the entire outcome of the seduction scene, and Criseyde/Lucretia might very well have been raped a second time. Nevertheless, because Criseyde has been given the same instincts and will of a predator, she is now the one who controls both the tenor and the vehicle of her relationship with Troilus. She scolds him, makes demands upon him, and gets everything she wants. And, it is perhaps beca use Criseyde is most definitely not Lucretia, or rather not a victim, that she is ultimately demonized. Criseyde does not exchange hearts with the nightingale because the thought of being loved by Troilus ma kes her happy, and she does not commit suicide like Lucretia because she is able to transform he r seduction from masculine into feminine terms; in spite of this, her ability to do so with the h eart of an eagle beating in her breast makes her
69 unworthy of praise and redemption for many. It is this common misinter pretation of Criseyde that leads her to be affected by the same curse that plagues Cassa ndra, who always tells the truth but who is never believed. Circumstances always seem to conspire, often vis--vis Pandarus, which prevent Criseydes will to be carried out wi th regard to Troilus. And, for this reason, she often appears wishy-washy and/or untruthful, but in reality, her will is habitually sublimated by Pandarus and Troilus misreadings of her. It is not until sh e encounters Diomede and can truly exchange her heart with someone on equal terms that the precise language of Cassandras vision becomes clear. Criseyde first metaphorically exch anges her heart with an eagle because Troilus, as a victim of love, is unworthy of her. She is able to exchange her heart with Diomede because he is the reality of mature love, while Troilus is merely the facsimile of it created by fictional Romance. In this manner, we as readers ar e encouraged by Chaucer, through both Criseydes dream and Cassandras vision, to understand the real feelings behind Criseyde and Diomedes relationship, even if we too are momentarily aff ected by Apollos curse and want to disbelieve what we read. Consequently, Troilus is quite simply no match for Diomede in the romance department. To borrow an example from the Canterbury Tales Diomede is more like Nicholas to Troilus Absolon, and as The Millers Tale demonstrates as clearl y as any of the other fabliaux a couple that does not have similitude in its relationship, no matter how fond they may be of each other, is destined to fail.2 Diomede may be more of a playboy and less earnest in his 2 By this comparison, I mean to say that both Absolon and Troilus adopt the role of Romance hero when they are so obviously ill-equipped to do so. And even t hough Troilus is far less comical and, in many ways, far less tragic than Absolon, they both make the same mistakes in lovethat is, they both adopt personas and pur sue women who are not their similitudeand so, ultimately, they prove incapable of handling either one, which leads to their rather epic heartbreak, in that they each lose their chosen heroines to far mo re capable lovers, as well as to their tragic ends, namely Absolons public shaming and Troilus death in battle.
70 initial pursuit of Criseyde, but one should not mi stake early intensity fo r a lasting affection; regardless of his calculated seduction, he proves to be the better man for herand Criseyde knows it. Troilus is a man who loves like a boy; he is so new to the idea of love that he has turned to it with the religious zealousness of the newly converte d. Undeniably, his fervor has created a church out of love, and Criseyde has become his savior. Very few women can live up to such impossible expectations, and in this re gard, Criseyde is no exception. However, Troilus and Criseyde are torn apart by outside circumstance before their lack of similitude can have a noticeable effect while Criseyde is still inside Troys walls, and even though Chaucer truncates the timetable in order to make Criseydes reve rsal in affection seem far too quick, once cannot help but see that, while it may be difficult to forgiv e Criseydes betrayal of Troilus outright, it is as inevitable an occurrence as it is necessary. For it is only because of Cris eydes infidelity that Troilus is finally able to return to his life as a wa rrior, but even this transformation is not able to ease his despair. He becomes a warrior who has no control over his emotions, and so Achilles quickly fulfills Troilus death-wish. In this manner, the ending of this tale truly becomes the tragedy the narrator claims it to be in the begi nning. Troilus fictional Church of Love has collapsed, and now, quite literally, he has nothing else to live for. Thus, he commits the two greatest sins in the eyes of th e medieval Christian church, name ly despair and suicide. And, because Troilus is never able to temper his l ove with mature reason, as both Criseyde and Diomede do, his death seems far more tragic as th e lover who has irrevocably lost his faith than it ever would have had he remained the aloof, consummate warrior. Indeed, the narrator himself must also turn away from Troilus t ype of love at the end of this tale, and his final intrusion produces a much-debated Epilogue to Chaucers story. The overt change in tone from roma nce to religion at the end of Troilus and Criseyde has sparked
71 much critical interest, but most critics, most not ably D. W. Robertson, Jr., see this narratorial transformation as a chance to convert the audience from impure, human love to the purity of divine love ( A Preface to Chaucer 496). And, to a certain extent such critics are correct. The narrator is trying to inspire a conversion, bu t I must disagree with Robertsons scope. I contend that the conversion is from immature, cond itional, adolescent love to the purest from of mature, unconditional, adult love known to the Ch ristian worldthat is, Christs sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all humankind. The turn from Romance to religi on here is reflected elsewhere in this genre, usually in failed Roman ces where one or both of the lovers have broken fidelity and must enter into relig ious life to atone. But, in the Epilogue, the narrator, whose voice seems more like the authors in these final line s, does not address the characters in this tale for his final moral note. Instead, he addresse s the audience by saying, Swych fyn hath false worldes brotelnesse!/And thus biga n his lovyng of Criseyde,/As I have told, and in this wise he deyde (V.1832). The narrator is admitting his sins to the reader; he promised a traditional Romance, but he has seemingly deliv ered a tragedy. But what initia lly appears to be a sin is, in actuality, his salvation, for the narrator too has been manipulated by the author into telling a completely different tale than the expected Roma nce of his source material. Thus, the statement: O yong, fresshe folks, he or she/In which that l ove up groweth with youre age . takes on an added significance when one contemplates the types of love presented in this work (V.1835 1836). The command here is specifically to th e young that their love up groweth with youre age. And so, what is requested of the youth in the audience is the maturation of their love so that the tragedy of Troilus pass ion can be transformed first into a more adult, but still human love, as demonstrated by Diomede, and then transformed again into the highest and most sustaining form of devotion through God and Chri st. According to this new, more insightful
72 narrator, Christs sacrif ice is the truest form of love to which every person should aspire, but alas, human concerns often intrude and, like Troilus, most realize this only when it is too late to rectify their mistakes. Therefor e, the narrator, and through him th e author, uses the end of this tale to implore the young to mature not only as to who but also as to how they love before they too become tragic victims of Romantic fiction.
73 CHAPTER 3 THE MAISTRESSE OF MY WIT, AND NOTHING I: CHAUCER AND THE (MIS)TRANSLATION OF LEGENDARY WOMEN For this werk is al of another tonne, Of olde story, er swich strif was begonne. G Narrator, The Legend of Good Women 79 Chaucers deception of his audience in The Legend of Good Women begins where all stories doat the beginning. Hi s speakers experience a dream-visi on that seems rather standard at first glance; however, once one compares both of the Prologues to the legends that follow, a far more intricate scenario becomes apparent. The reader is given, on the one hand, Narrators voices that practically dare his audience to read only on the liter al level, and on the other, an authorial one that is subtly encouraging everyone to do the op posite. In fact, the general intellectual malaise encouraged in the Legend can be felt throughout its critical history. Many scholars seem to side with the speakers in th e Prologues and ultimately dismiss this work as merely an unfinished steppingstone on the road toward the greater, yet equally unfinished, Canterbury Tales But, to be so dismissive of this coll ection of legends is a mistake that needs to be rectified in contemporary criticism, and while some authors have be gun this process, even they eventually concede that, aside from the m eaty metaphorical bits found in the two Prologues, the actual legends themselves are merely lack-l uster Classical anecdotes that serve to detract from the intellectual interest generated in the Prol ogues. It is, therefore, popular to discuss the Prologue of The Legend of Good Women and the legends themselves as if they are two independent entitiesto render the Prologues a singular, coheren t, self-contained dream poem rather than a simple prologue and later to cl aim that the legends do not carry a comparable amount of literary weight (Chern iss 183). In other words, the Legend seems to suffer from the same critical conflict as The Wife of Baths Prologue and Tale where there is a substantial
74 buildup to a story that, for many scho lars, is not nearly as entertai ning as its introduction. Such a gross misconception needs to be corrected, and in this chapter, I will be reexamining this problem. I shall endeavor to show that The Legend of Good Women is in reality an intentionally dull text, as opposed to the accidentally monotonous one contemporary critics often mistake it to be; for Chaucer uses both the F and G Prologues as well as the legends to show his readers, yet again, that the question of whethe r or not authority should dominate experience, or vice versa, is as eternal as it is inheren tly unsolvable, no matter how many olde bokes would argue otherwise (F/G 25). Judith Laird claims that, in the Legend Chaucer: marches good pagan women through a-historical time (58). Th is assertion is correct in a se nse because many of these pagan stories are indeed given fourteenth-century touc hes, which was standard practice for authors in Chaucers time. In spite of this, the difficulty one should have with Laird and myriad other scholars is their casual us e of the word good. The Legend contains several stories of women who are most decidedly not good, but the Narrator either c onveniently leaves out the rather violent ends to their tales, as he does with Med ea and Philomela, or as in the case of Cleopatra, the rather salacious beginning, middl e, and end. Therefore, the probl em that confronts readers in this work is very similar to the one discussed in the previous chapter, in that there are elements of all of these women and their st ories that cannot be termed who lly good, but neither are they easily quantifiable as bad. We as readers, may not agree with their final choices, but many of these women have justifiable reasons for commit ting some pretty heinous crimes. Thus, these women, in their highly edited Ovidian reductions present a similar dilemma for readers as Criseyde; she did not enter into he r relationship with Troilus intend ing to betray him, but outside circumstances create a situation where that betrayal becomes as necessary as it is inevitable. In
75 this sense, the choices made by Chaucer himself, not only as to which women to include in the Legend but also as to what bits of their stories to include, ignore, and/or rewrite from his Classical sources, often gives an entirely new meaning to just how very boring and uninspiring it is for everyone to be perfectat least the sort of perfect mandated by the medieval Christian Church. As we learn from Cris eydes sad ending, casting the firs t stone is difficult when one can understand the humanness of her behavior, as opposed to simply being appalled by the nature of her sins. In completing the penance demanded of him by the God of Love and his companion, Alceste, Chaucers narrator commits an even great er sinthat is, he gives his detractors exactly what they have asked for. In order to do so, he must thoroughly edit, and in some cases almost wholly rewrite these tales. He often unapologeti cally mistranslates these texts so that these women and their legends become palatable to masculine society even though this poem is supposedly written about women at the behest of a woman. Consequently, one must assume that the women in the Legend are good because they act like it, just as the best sort of women, as determined by patriarchal authority, always do. These unquestionably good women are most commonly seen in hagiography as martyrs, and ma rtyrs are always known for their actions more so than their words, which is especially true in the case of women. Female martyrs often endure the most horrendous physical tortures without ever saying a wordtheir actions having the power to convert masses of people in a way that their preaching alone cannot. And so, their silence is praised by theologians an d the rest of the masculine Chur ch as a sign of their strength and conviction to their faith. Women who speak be fore they act, such as the Wife of Bath, are condemned as bad women simply because they speak, and for this re ason, they are irrevocably damned in the eyes of male society.
76 However, as he demonstrated in Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer is not content with such a strict dichotomy because what is bad can ofte n be turned good with the right spin placed upon the authorities found in olde bokes. What Chaucer does of the most sign ificance in the Legend is to take his source material and transl ate it through the lens of fourteenth-century critical and religious authority. By doing so, he points out the inherent flaws in interpreting women based upon fixed categories of good and bad. Chaucer uses The Legend of Good Women to quite knowingly repaint the lion, and in the end, he shows ju st how problematic it is to have a male narrator, who is al l too attached to his olde bokes, writing a text that Alceste should really be writing herself. In other words, it seems more than a b it ridiculous to have a man write a text that seeks to rehabilitate women, especially when he must do so at the expense of other men, regardless of whethe r or not these men are often liars cheaters, and thieves in their own right. Thus, on the surface, the Legend teaches its readers that the only good woman is a wronged woman, who eventually will be left with nothing and no one but herself. Therefore, she must act because she has no other recourse. Any time she has tried to speak, she has either been silenced or misunderstood, and so, like many a fe male martyr, the only way her story gains any significance is through her death. Even though not all of the women in the Legend physically die, the Narrators rather indi fferent treatment of their lives and goodness effectively kills the essence of what makes them memorable compared to those women who do not commit suicide. In this respect, Chaucer is true to the main au thority he cites time and again throughout this text, namely Ovid. Most of the stories in the Legend can be found in Ovids Heroides though a few do come from the Metamorphosis but it is more important to note that Chaucer relies heavily on Ovids translation of these myths because more of ten than not Ovid does not present himself as a great champion of women. To be sure, the Heroides presents the one-sided accounts of
77 victimized women, who write letter s to the men who have either betrayed or abandoned them or both. Ovid also does not stop with this change in form; he significantly alters many of these stories so that the women are absolved of any cr imei.e. Medeas letter stops before she kills her childrenand he sometimes adds elements that are absent from his source material, i.e. Dido is not pregnant at the time of Aeneas departure in Virgils Aeneid In this manner, it is rather crucial to note the similarities in the tone and scope between Ovids Heroides and the Legend Chaucer-as-narrator approaches the notion of translation from the same angle as Ovid in that, through the careful, if ra ther unsubtle, (mis)translation of these legendary women and their stories, both of these authors ensure that these women are far more likely to be absolved of any crime than condemned. Now, whether or not this redeems either author as champions of women I cannot say, but it does reveal some rather in teresting insights into myth-making and purposeful (mis)translation that I will continue to e xplore in the remainder of this chapter. While such a wholesal e approach to tran slation may create the desired effect upon both the texts and the audience, one has to w onder about the inevitable problems such an approach creates. How could these women ever cl aim that these tales are theirs? How could a female audience ever be comfortable with the Legend when everything that makes the women included in this work interesting, unique, and wort hy of study is rather co nspicuously left out? Indeed, what makes many of these women so intri guing is the fact that, in Classical myth, they are quite unremorsefully bad. They knowingly defy patriarchal rules and expectations, and they have no problem getting revenge for wrongs done to them. For that reason, what makes them unique is the fact that they do not behave in the same way as the good Christian women of later centuries. Their deaths do not follo w the typical martyr script and are often as unconventional as they are. And Chaucer-as-author is well aware of the fact that he is making
78 victims out of women who, quite frankly, do not know the meani ng of the word. So, perhaps what is most significant about The Legend of Good Women is not that Chaucer does something surprising, but rather that he chooses to do somethi ng so absolutely expected so that what he has chosen to leave out of these lege nds by following the letter of the la w begins to speak at a louder volume than what he includes. In doing so, Chaucer shows his audience and his critics, including Alceste, that one s hould be careful about making de mands upon an author, for the danger is that one might get exactly what he or she has asked for, albeit in this case, the equivocally bad as oppose d to the unarguably good. I Most scholarship on the Legend has until recent years been content solely with the dissection of the two Prologues. As one schol ar notes: The poem lack s an ethic to bind it together: the courtly ethic is only feebly and intermittently gestured at, and no substitute replaces it (Frank 45). Consequently, many contemporar y critics often discu ss not only the Prologues and the legends separately, but also, as can be se en in the above comment, they tend to discuss each legend as its own separate narrative entity rather than as having a common binding ethic. And, because there are two Prologues, there has been much debate as to which one is the intended beginning of this work as well as which one best reflects the tone and subject matter of the text that follows. Often, critics cite the G Prologue as the revision of F since, overall, the G prologue seems to present a better focused and more rhetorically conf ident Narrator than the rather dreamy and long-winded voice in F. Still, the F Prologue has its defenders as well, and their major claim is that: despi te the preponderance of evidence that the G-text represents a revision of the Prologue the F-version is aesthetically the mo re appealing poem (Quinn 25). This raucous debate is still underway elsewhere, but the focus of this section is not going to
79 center on this well-established conve rsation. I find it much more in triguing to examine these two Prologues not only in relation to each other, but also to investigate wh at the revisions in G signify in the remainder of the Legend The more significant argument is not which Prologue is aesthetically better or more rhetorically erudi te, but rather it is with the two Narrators themselves. One must consider the fact that: F and G are not only a problem of literary history. Anyone proposing to analyze them is going to have to decide whether to take them as two different poems built of quite similar (often id entical) materials, or as two related states of the same person (Payne 198). And this analysis is precisely what I intend to accomplish in the following chapter, with one major deviation. I se e the two Prologues, not simply as revisions of each other and/or as different sides of a singular personality, but rather they are two separate narrative entities with tw o entirely different ideas on what it means to read, write, and translate. What we as readers are dealing with in F and G are two ways of narrating and translating the same text from two independent voices, and Chaucer himself seems undecided as to which speaker should ultimately be placed in charge of the Legend Therefore, with two such different Narrators, it is much more signifi cant to explore these differences as an intentional change in voice, as opposed to simply privileging what many refer to as the revision and the rough draft. Thus, what the reader is faced with is, depending upon Chaucers ultimate choice of narratorial personality, two divergent translations of the same text, which will lead one to (re)read these women and their storie s using two separate se ts of metaphorical tool s. It is not my intention to suggest that Chaucer meant for this text to have two Prologues permanently; however, simply because this poem remains unfinished and possesses, in essence, two introductions does not mean that one must be for ced to privilege one Prologue over the other. Consequently, in the remainder of this section, I will not argue whether or not one Prologue is
80 better than the other, as much of current scholarship continue s to do; instead, I will discuss exactly what changes occur to the scope, tone, and overall focus of this poem due to the presence of more than one Narrator. For, despite some of their inherent similari ties, F and G advance far different ideas with regard to authorial respon sibility and suggest far different methodologies for the legends that follow. It is the ensuing c onfusion between the F and G voices that seems to cause Chaucer himself to step in as narrator in or der to give cohesiveness to the legends that the Prologues themselves lack. In this manner, Chau cer-as-author and his narr ator self give their audience a far different translation of the text they command, and because of these dramatic changes, the author performs his penance to the God of Love and Alceste in a way that not only makes a mockery of established au thority and its views on good women, but also it reveals that the rehabilitation of these women at times comes at the expense of a good story as well. And so, in this text as well as many of his others Chaucer once again inserts his presence into the narrative as well as into the narrators voice in order to show that experience and authority cannot be mutually exclusive if one truly wants to create a reality that is more tangible than fiction. Since both Prologues begin with the same argument that seemingly praises experience over authority, it is rather easy to fall into the trap of viewing these Narrators as inherently similarif not as the samevoice. For instance both Prologues begin with few changes to the rather bold statement that: A thousand tymes have I herd men telle That ther ys joy in heve ne and peyne in helle, And I acorde wel that it ys so; But, natheles, yet wot I wel also That ther nis noon dwelling in this contree That eyther hath in hevene or helle ybe, Ne may of hit noon other weyes witen
81 But as he hath herd seyd or founde it writen; For by assay ther may no man it preve. (F 1/G 1) In these opening lines, we find a confident narra tive voice who claims to desire the proof of authority through experience. Church Fathers ha ve long written about the joy in hevene and peyne in helle, but such an experience is cons idered beyond the reach of human ken without the intervention of some form of divine interventi on or enlightenment. Thus faith in the knowledge of heaven and hell as written by the Fathers is all the average person has in the way of evidence as to the veracity of th ese authorities and their claims. And yet, one can see that neither the Narrator of F, nor of G is particularly satisfied with the pr ospect of following the ideologies of these authorities by faith alone. On the ot her hand, neither narrator seems entirely opposed to the authority found in these olde bokes either ; they simply want the value of their own experience to be appreciated as an authority in such matters as well. After all, it is difficult to discount what men han seen with ye (F/G 11) and the fact that th is debate appears in prominent places in several of Chaucers poems reveals just how unresolved it iseven in a fictive space. Accordingly, what Chaucer cleverly does is enter into th is debate using two Narrators, who at least initially seem to advance the same argument, but who in reality, are very different men with entirely different literary a nd rhetorical agendas. For, while the F Narrator seems content to be distracted by the appearance of Spring, daisies, singing larks, and other such dream constructions, the G Narrator is determined from the beginning to stick to the facts and avoid such rehersynges (G 24). As he explicit ly states, myn entent is or I fro yow fare,/The naked text in English to declare/Of many a st ory, or elles of many a geste,/As autours seyn; leveth him if yow leste (G 85). This Narrator is not to be dist racted from the naked text; and thus, he is understandably far briefer in his Prologue than the F Narrato r. There is nothing in
82 this dream world that can divert the speaker from his task as Narrator, a nd so his experience is confined to the text itself. As Sheila Dela ny asserts, A detailed comparison of difference between F and G shows G to be drier and more auster e in tone than F. It strikes one as a work on the whole less subjective than F, less insistent on art in general, and more modest in its presentation of the Narrator as poet ( The Naked Text 36). In contrast to this, the F Narrator seems far more affected by the dream sequence, and as such, he is a more willing participant in the dream-vision experience as a whole. Rather than clinically dispatching his surroundings in favor of more concrete authority, the F Narrato r seems to enjoy being in a dream. However, such a perspective has its drawbacks. Indeed, the F speaker seems far more willing to fall into Romantic convention, rather than creating a naked text of hi s own. For example, in the F Prologue the Narrator does something rather sign ificant that the G Narrator does notthat is, he asks for lovers to help him translate the flowers and other natural images in his dream. He says, Ye lovers that kan make of sentement;/In this cas oghte ye be diligent/To forthren me somwhat in my labour,/Whethir ye ben with the leef or with the flour (F 69). In this manner, the F Narrator has firmly situated his text within the context of love poetry.1 He has prescribed a Romance frame for his text, and he has done so because he found himself lying in a blooming meadow of a dreamscape. And so, authority dict ates that he fall into Romantic convention and call upon lovers to help him not onl y to translate his surroundings, but also to serve as the muse for the entirety of his Legend 1 It has been wellestablished by such Legend scholars as Sheila Delany, Robert O. Payne, Robert W. Frank, Jr., Lisa Kiser, and others that th e F Prologues insistence on prolonged daisy imagery has more in common with the French marguerite tradition than does the more reserved G Prologue. Both do make note of the Alceste/d aisy metaphor, but Fs voice dwells upon this relationship with far more attention a nd obvious relish than does Gs speaker.
83 In direct contrast to this, the G Narrator has no such interest in debating the merits of leaf versus flower or of corn versus sheaf b ecause he is far more economical with his imagery and tropes than his F counterpart. Therefore, he knows that in reality all these elements are individual parts of whole plants, and if there is one problem with olde bokes, then, for him, its the flowery imagery and overused conceits that caus e these sources to (mis)translate their tales. For, as he explicitly states, I not who servet h lef ne who the flour./That nys nothyng the entente of my labour./For this werk is al of another tonne (G 77). I ndeed, such firm statements of intent are what drastically differentiate the voi ces of these two Narrato rs. The doubts about his ability to tell a proper story are not present with G as they are with F, and such confidence in his narrative abilities are perhaps what makes so many critics gravitate to the voice in G as the revised, and thus more believable, authority, as opposed to F, who seems entirely too caught up in his dream to tell his audience an accurate story. As one criti c states: If in the earlier Fversion of the Prologue, the poet claims a stable au thorial identity based on a transparent literary intentionthe works motivation is identified w ith his masters willthe G-version witnesses the difficulty in determining the entent behi nd any work that acknowledges that the labor of fiction-making is subject to a variety of hermeneutic abuses (Robertson 132). And so, the F Narrator becomes the victim of the same critical detractions most often experienced by the Wife of Bath. Even though many of her points are sound, she takes entirely too long in reaching them. So, by the time her arguments reach their end, her audience has long ceased to pay attention. It is only with the appearance of the loathly la dy, who in essence advances the exact same arguments as the Wife but in a far more succinct manner, that the reader can see the wisdom of the Wifes tidal wave of words. In a sim ilar manner does the G Narrator triumph over the F voice in this case, for while the F Narrator is pe rhaps the better poet, he seems all too content to
84 spend his time dreaming; whereas, the G Narrator cannot wait to wake-up and resume his task a practical move that turns his experience into a far more believable, if more imaginatively lackluster, authority in the eyes of Chaucers audience and critics. Perhaps the best exam ple of this situation in the Legend occurs with the appearance of Alceste and her retinue of wome n, and it is intriguing to exam ine how Alcesteand through her, Chaucerchooses to present her id entity to the Narrator in each Prologue. In F, Alceste does not identify herself until almost the end of the Prologue, and the only entities or creatures that know her identity are th e larks and the God of Love hims elf. The G Prologue has no such sanction on Alcestes name and the heroine identif ies herself multiple times from her very first entrance into the narrative. Thus, in this Prol ogue, we know the identity of Alceste apart from the daisy prior to the ballade, but in F, the Narrator does not separate Alceste from her metaphorical relationship with the daisy until afte r he sings his ballade. Therefore, the G Prologue gives Alceste a unique identity apart from the other women accompanying the God of Loveto the extent that he proclaims: Hire name was Alceste the debonayre (179). And, in doing so, the Balade in G is also rewritten to incl ude the line Alceste is here, that al that may desteyne (216), a line that becomes the refrain and conclusion for this particular song. In contrast to this relatively open reference to Alceste, the audience is left in the dark in the F Prologue, for Alceste saves the re velation of her identity until after the God of Love speaks by saying, I, your Alceste, whilom queen of Trace (431), and her name does not appear anywhere in the F Balade. It is as if the G Narrator is once again unwilling to al low a simple metaphor to extend into a conceit; whereas, th e F Narrator seems content to le t all of the metaphors and their human personifiers separate themse lves at their leisure. In this manner, the F Narrator appears determined to let the story tell itselfas if it where happening to him and not, as in the case of
85 G, because of him. Donald Rowe explains that F s oversight is purposeful, for it undermines the gods criticism, since it sugge sts that the my lady of the balade may have referred to Alceste all along. Most im portant, it reminds us that the Prolo gue is not just a description of a dream but a reaction to it as well, itself the be ginning of the penance demanded in the dream (144). This quotation rehabilita tes Fs blunder; however, it does not acknowledge its conflict with the balade in G, which is sung by Alcestes reti nue of women and not by the Narrator himself. As a result, the intere sting product of all of this narrat orial conflict is that, even though Alceste names herself earlier in G, neither Narrato r seems to recognize and/ or react to her name until the God of Love references her story from th e olde bokes. And, as one critic argues, It adds another fault that the God of Love can blame the Narrator for intensifying the guilt-andexpiation theme that fictionally motivates th e composition of the lege nds (Delany 42). Both Narrators fail to recognize Alceste until after they have been reminded that they have read about her before, and thus, her ability to name herself and to have that name communicate meaning is lost upon Narrators who seem content to reference their characters in terms of established authority, despite all of their earlier cl aims to value experience in equal measure. In fact, neither Narrator seems capable of explaining the very essence of metaphor and looks to the God of Love for clarification by asking: Yis,/No w knowe I hire. And is this good Alceste,/The dayesie, and myn owene he rtes reste? (F 517519/G 505). Here, both Narrators acknowledge that they know who Alceste is, but they did not until this moment connect her as the transformed vehicle for thei r already established da isy conceit even though she appears in their presence crow ned with the very flower they have been waxing poetic about from the beginning. So, regardless of the fact that both Prologues begi n with a defense of experience, one can clearly see that, through their inab ility to recognize Alceste for who and
86 what she is, experience to both of these Narrators is merely the individual translation of authority and not what men han seen with ye. And this construction becomes problematic because, when one examines the legends that make up the re mainder of this text, it becomes apparent that the Narrator of this part of the Legend is pretending to be equally clueless in his translation of these women and their stories. These women do not have someone to identify who they are to readers except for two rather inept, if well-meaning, Narra tors and their questionable (mis)translations. It is this lack of a definitive narrative voice that necessitates a turn by readers from the F and G Narrators to the author himself fo r the voice of the legends in order to see that, despite their ambiguous interference in the Prologues, he will alwa ys find a way to include what they ignoreeither by oblique re ference or by almost flirtatious implication. And so, it is Chaucers narrative voice that speaks in the legends, and not the speakers from the two fragments of the Prologue. Chaucer-as-speaker was drowned out earlier by his warring Narrators in F and G, but in the legends themselves, his st rong presence returns to maintain some sense of order. In this manner, he too actively particip ates in the penance assigned by Alceste, and while experience may have taught Chaucer that the old e bokes often lie, ironically, he must rely upon them throughout the Legend in order to tell the parts of the stories that he cannot, unless he wishes to incur the wrath of the God of L ove, Alceste, and quite possibly, his own queen. While the above conundrum provides several interpretive di fficulties, which I will return to at a later point in this chapter, the re mainder of this section is dedicated to the other major translational problem that ma ny critics have encountered within this text, a problem that is created by Alceste herself. Alceste re quires that all of the stories in the Legend tell Of goode women, maydenes and wyves,/That were trewe in lovynge al here lyves;/And telle of false men that hem betrayen (F 484/G 474). And, regardle ss of whether or not her intentions are
87 benevolent, the resulting legends are seen by critics of all genres and generations as being as largely untruthful as they are lackluster. In esse nce, it seems as if the authors penance does not fit his crime, for at least in (mis)translati ng Criseydes story, he was able to make it more indelible. However, there are several factors th at determine the rather stale and uncomfortable result that leads many critics to find the Legend to be merely the stepping-stone for the far more provocative Canterbury Tales as opposed to a meaningful work in its own right. The first of these difficulties occurs in the Balade. In th e F Prologue, as I have previously stated, Alceste has not yet identified herself, and so her name does not appear in this song. Yet, the names of all of the other women whose st ories will appear in the Legend do, along with the names of several women who do not. The two major changes made to the G Prologue are that Alcestes name appears in a refrain that echoes in two of the ballades stanzas, and it is sung by the retinue of ladies instead of by the Narrator himself. These changes are more significant than they first appear because they tie Alcestes identity to all of the other wo men who appear with the God of Love. After the F ballade, the Narrator states: Behynde this god of Love, upon the grene,/I saugh coming of ladyes nyntene,/. ./And trewe of love thise women were echon (282, 290). However, in the G Prologue, the Narrator merely observes: Upon the softe and so te grene gras/They se tten hem ful softely adoun,/By order alle in compass, enveroun (225). This revision shows that Chaucer was indeed deciding between two di stinct Narrators because, while the F Narrator is unable to identify the women in Loves retinue as the sa me women who appeared in the Balade, the G Narrator has had this arduous task accomplished fo r him. And, thus, for the G Narrator, there is more pressure with regard to his retelling of these legends because the very women he will be translating have been specifically identified as part of his audience. Considering his already
88 expressed desire to tell the naked text, there is a certain onus placed upon this Narrator to get it right. In contrast to this, the F Narrator appears as unaffected by the presence of these ladies as he is by Alceste herselfthe very woman who calmly asks a rather angry God of Love to be more understanding, but who convers ely dictates the restrictive parameters of the Narrators penance. In the course of the God of Loves vituperation of the Narrator, Alceste interrupts in order to defend the Narrator, using an argument that seems curiously similar to the arguments that masculine society often uses to rationalize their control of female behavior, namely that women do not necessarily intend to act sinfully, they just cant help themselves because of Eves poor example. However, Alcestes interruption seems far more poi ntedly directed at Chaucer, the author, than at any other point in the Prol oguesincluding the God of Loves rant that precedes hers. Consequently, Alceste defends Chaucer in both Prologues in a manner that will echo Guineveres interrupti on of Arthurs sentencing of the knight/rapist in The Wife of Baths Tale Thus, one can be assured that Alceste is looking to reform the Narrator with regard to his translational crimes committed in both the Romance of the Rose and in Troilus and Criseyde ; however, despite her defense, she does find him guilty of a major crime against womenthat is, in her estimation, he has dutifully translated the old clerks misogynist stories about women without even questioning the veracity of his sour ces. Chaucer may not have intended malice, but malice has been perpetuated nonetheless due to his carelessness. She explains, And eke, peraunter, for this man ys nyce,/He myghte doon yt gessyng no malice,/But for he useth thynges for to make;/Hym rekketh noght of what mate re he take (F 362/G 341). So, perhaps it is not what he has chosen to translate that becomes hi s greatest fault in the eyes of Alceste and the other women present, but rather it is how he has chosen to assume his responsibility as
89 translator that has caused such grief. And, even at the end of Troilus and Criseyde we can see a speakerinfused with a strong authorial presence conflicted by his project because it is rather obvious that this narrator too has developed a certain sympathy for Criseyde despite the less flattering details of her story. Nevertheless, he chooses, in spite of any personal sympathy, to translate the whole tale, tragic e nd and all. Perhaps this is the real reason for the ire of the God of Love and the rather backhanded defense of Alces te. Both characters believe the Narrator to be at fault, but the God of Love argues that the Narrators transgressi on has made love into something akin to a villain, while Alceste argues th at the crime is actually that he has been too true to his sources which only show female love as rapacious and evil. Therefore, just as the knight/rapist must answer for his misdeeds and give the proper respons e to his penitential question of what women desire mo st, so too must the author/na rrator face the equally daunting task of justifying his Legend to a gallery of women who are unha ppy with his previous behavior. He also must seek redemption from the very women he has offended, and such redemption cannot come solely at the hands of the two Narrato rs in F and G. And s o, like the knig ht/rapists quest, the Legend s Prologues are not ends unto themselves; they are me rely the beginning of the lesson that must be learned not only by the Narrat ors themselves, but also by those living in the all too real world of men. One scholar describes the purpose behind such a bifur cated narratorial presence by saying, since the narrator is in significant measure an ironic de vice in both Prologues, a means of projecting two attitudes towa rds the poems matter, the implied audience is similarly doubled. In these terms, the poems rhetorical intent is to move the actual audience from the initial nave point of view assigned it by the narrator to th e more inclusive view gradually intimated (Rowe 149). In this manner, as the pe rsonalities of the Narrators in F and G seem inherently different,
90 so too is their interpretation of the penance assi gned by Alcesteand it is in analyzing the effect that this translational quest has on these two differe nt men that the reader gets the first solid clue as to which Narrator Chaucer might ultimately leave in charge of his Legend The F Narrator states, And with that word my bokes gan I ta ke,/And ryght thus on my Legende gan I make (578); whereas, the G Narrator sa ys, And with that word, of slep I gan awake,/And ryght thus on my Legende gan I make (544, emphasis mi ne). The difference here is subtle, but it is significant because, unlike the F Narrator, the G Narrator specifically states that of slep I gan awake before he begins his Legende. In contrast to this notion, the F Narrator proceeds to make the very error he has been berated for by Alceste and the God of Lo vethat is, before he writes, he immediately turns to th e authorities for his material, wh ich seems to imply that he has really not listened to his own, earlier advice. And, like th e knight/rapist who goes to his marriage bed as unrepentant of his crime as he wa s a year before, this Narrator has not really heard anything Alceste has said. He has been gi ven a reprieve from the wrath of Love, but he has not truly examined the flaws and biases that inform his trusted authorities. In other words, he is still far too content to dream, and his e xperience has failed to affect his reliance on authority, regardless of his own defense of expe rience provided in the opening of this Prologue. In fact, this defense seems as perfunctory as the olde bokes th emselves, and like many of those false clerks and clerics, the F Narrator remains satisfied to m outh the words without any real belief in their meaning. Conversely, the G Narra tor does not consult the authorities he once depended upon before beginning his translations of these women and their stor ies. He appears to awake from sleep in more ways than one, and so when he begins to write, it seems with more deliberate purpose, as opposed to the simple co mpletion of an unwanted penance. Consequently, even though the G Prologue is shorter, it is more complex because its Narrator seems to retain far
91 more knowledge upon waking than the F Narrator, w ho could arguably still be asleep at the end of his Prologue. In this manner, depending upon which Prol ogue as well as which Narrator one uses to begin the legends that follow, ther e is a vast difference in tone a nd emphasis that I will discuss in the remainder of this chapter, and because Chau cer adds his own voice in the construction of two Narrators who are superficially similar but who, in reality, share little in common, he challenges and retranslates the very notions of innocence an d guilt, love and betrayal, as well as authority and experience in the rest of The Legend of Good Women And, depending upon which Narrator would have ultimately been granted the responsibility of this Legend or if Chaucer himself would have eventually taken more direct cr edit, the critically ac knowledged boredom and dissatisfaction with these stories could, in reality, be the result of the authors own epiphany about the very nature of translation itself. For it is not simply the conversion of words and phrases from one source to another, but rather it often results in the transformation of lives from fiction into realitya realit y that all the women in the Legend and throughout history will be held unjustly accountable to, no matter how impr obable or antiquated th e advice given in the olde bokes may be. II Judith Laird levels a common accu sation against Chaucers editing of the Legend when she says, in Chaucer, we cannot escape the hierarchical placement of men above women because the portraits are shaped in terms of ma sculinity and femininity, and the dependency of the latter upon the former for valuation and ident ity (68). Laird and many other scholars feel justified in leveling such charges at both the author and his work not only due to Chaucers
92 thematic choices, but also because of his historical ones as well.2 After all, the fact does remain that the good pagan women Chaucer has chosen for his Legend are not always so good, and indeed, it takes quite a bit of excising from Classical sources to turn these notoriously bad women, such as Medea, Phyllis, Cleopatra, etc. into virtuous martyrs for love. However, in doing so, the author-as-narra tor is merely fulfilling his duty to both the God of Love and Alceste, for one is hard pressed to find the men in these Cl assical tales to be above reproach themselves. Thus, the real difficulties inherent in interpreting the Legend come not from any flaw in Chaucers portrayal of weak womenor as La ird might argue, hyper-feminized women who are too poorly defined as characters in their own right and are thus naively duped by equally hypermasculinized menbut rather with a faulty percepti on of proper behavior for both sexes. In this manner, Chaucer uses the legends themselves to reiterate the same argu ment he advanced in Troilus and Criseyde namely that notions of martyr and sinner, betrayer and betrayed, good and bad are all as mutable as how the various sources translate them. After all, it only takes a little creative revision and careful editi ng to turn a notorious seductress into a secular martyr, or an unrepentant child-killer into simply one woman in a long line of women abandoned by the same man, or even to turn several great queens into tr agic losers in the game of love and sexual politics. Nonetheless, Laird and many other scho lars often misrepresent Chaucer-as-author here when they imply that he uses The Legend of Good Women to reaffirm the notion that masculine endeavors will always triumph over the feminine. Such arguments are a bit too simplistic in their approach. If one were to take a closer look at how these legends interconnect and play off each other, then as is the case with Troilus and Criseyde there is a much more intricate subtext 2 The most prominent scholars engaged in th is discussion are, among others, Sheila Delany, Florence Percival, Elaine Tuttle Hansen, Lisa Ki ser, Donald Rowe, Robe rt W. Frank, Jr., and William Quinn.
93 to explore. Indeed, Chaucer often uses his legends not solely to telle of false men as Alceste commands, but rather to show that neither men nor women have cornered the market on innocence and experience and that, if one pays exclusive allegiance to either state over the other, then regardless of his or her sex, th e end result will always be tragic. Consequently, instead of discussing th ese legends in their given order, I will use the remainder of this chapter to engage these ta les based upon the common categorical divisions of their heroinescategorical divi sions that I will reveal to be inherently flawed based upon Chaucers purposeful (mis)t ranslations of them in The Legend of Good Women .3 By this I mean to explore the division of the legends into the cat egories of either innoce nce or experience, and more specifically, I will consider how thes e categories have come to represent for many critics not only the content of the legends, but also the moral characterthat is, the inherent goodness or badnessof the wome n highlighted in them. And, at least in the critical realm, Chaucer cannot escape literary history, for as much as he has to edit to make some of these women good, his audience knows from other lite rature that they are not. Moreover, the knowledge that many of these innocent women ar e in actuality very experienced leads many critics to then dismiss the entire Legend as a failed joke that even Chaucer himself could not muster up the energy to finish. However, su ch a dismissal is undeserved, even if the Legend is more of a work-in-progress than a finished master piece. For, there are several instances when 3 While many critics use such arguments to th en explore Chaucers source material, I do not intend to use a similar methodology. Other scholar s in contemporary Chaucer studies, such as Robert Payne, Peter Allen, Gila Aloni, Donald Rowe, Sheila Delany, Lisa Kiser, Michael Calabrese, and John Fyler have thoroughly cite d both the Classical and medieval sources available to Chaucer for his Legend among them Ovids Heroides and Metamorphosis Virgils Aeneid Boccaccios De mulieribus claris and the Ovide moralis This list has been thoroughly recounted and analyzed by countless scholars over the years, so I will refer to Chaucers source material in more general terms knowing that hi s literary predecessors and influences for the Legend are both well-known and well-documented.
94 the men in these tales are not quite as false as they should be, just as there are women who behave far better here than they ever have in Classical mythology. In this manner, I will divide these women based upon the tacitly accepted cr itical consensus as to which women are innocent, and therefore, good, and which are experienced, or rather bad, in order to show just how dissatisfied Chaucer himself was with such binaries as well as to show just how subtly he defies them in order to rewrite the ve ry olde bokes he falsely and cleverly claims to use verbatim. As we know from the Prologues, the ta sk commanded by Alceste is to telle of false men, but it does not take the Narrator long to de fy this mandate. Even though the God of Love chooses the first good woman for him, the Narra tor continues to pick women whose lives, and in some cases deaths, are as perplexing as Cleopatr asthe first tale of female woe in this poem. However, despite Eros choice of a noto riously experienced woman to begin the Legend the Narrator and through him Chaucer makes an interesti ng choice in telling this tale, for instead of concentrating on Cleopatras pr oblematic and politically deceptive relationship with Julius Caesar, he chooses to focus this legend on her pa ssionate love affair with Antony. In fact, the Narrator goes so far as to praise Antony as a per sone of gentilesse,/And of discrecioun and hardynesse,/Worthi to any wyght that liven may . (610). Unlike the men featured in later legends, the Narrator has more to praise Antony for than simply his handsome features or his noble lineage; he is apparently also able to praise his good character. Now, given a man engaged in an adulterous affair with an hist orically bad woman, one has to wonder at the Narrators approach here, as this description of Antony paints hi m as anything but a false man. One could argue that the Narrator did not pick this story, the God of Love did; yet, he or she must also never forget that Chaucer is the ultimate architect here, so why, in a Legend
95 supposedly about good women and fa lse men, would he choose to include such a historically bad example of womanhood that ends with bot h Cleopatra and Antony committing suicide? As we know form Classical sources, they do so no t for love as they do in Chaucers story, but rather because they do not want to be captured by Octavius troops. And so, based upon literary history, what makes these lovers, and Cleopatra in particular, worthy of such attention and praise? The answer to this que stion is actually found in the next legendt he first the Narrator chooses for himself. It is only after one reads the sorrowful tale of Pyramus and Thisbe that Chaucer reveals to his audience the true nature of his proj ect for the entire Legend Thus, in order to answer the above que stion, we must first look at The Legend of Thisbe because it is only in the comparison of Cleopatras tale of experien ce to Thisbes story of innocence that the reader is finally given the key to unloc king the other tales as well as their good heroines and false heroes. What most complicates The Legend of Thisbe is that it seems to depict both masculine and feminine innocence. Pyramus and Thisbe ar e very young, as exemplified by the fact that they are still firmly under the rule of their fathers who have a gr eat enmity toward each other. Their children happen to meet by accident, divided by a wall; nevertheless, they succumb to their fantastical garden setting and fall in love through the all-too-fam ous chink in the stones of said wall. On the surface, the legends of Cleopatra and Thisbe appear to have nothing at all in common other than the end result of suicide for both the male and female characters. Yet, there is one governing principle that a ffects not only these tw o vastly different heroines, but also the Legend as a wholethat is, Chaucer w ill continually use both the heroines as well as the heroes in these legends to question the ve ry notion of martyrdom itself. I do not mean to imply here that Chaucer is being impious or that he does not beli eve that martyrs should be exalted. What he
96 does seem to want his audience to question is the very criteria that creates a martyr in the eyes of the medieval Church, a criteri on that, for women, seems to hinge almost exclusively on physical purity. Even Dante, in the Paradiso denies several notable female saints access to the circles closer to God because they s acrificed their purity to the ma rriage bed before entering into religious life.4 Consequently, what these first tw o legends immediately show Chaucers audience is that, while the women in these tale s might be either inno cent or experienced, they are all equally capable of dying in a state of complete faithfulness and devotion, and as Chaucer will continue to show throughout the Legend it is not physical purity that makes a martyr what he or she is, but ra ther it is that complete convict ion that his or her death will do more good as a conversionary tool than will his or her life. The final lines of Thisbes tale gives the reader the most blatant expression of this idea, for when the narrator injects: But God forbad e but a woman can/Ben as trewe in lovyng as a man! (910), he is not talking about the lives of Pyramus and Thisbe, or even of Antony and Cleopatra for that matter. He is instead speak ing of their deaths. Lisa Kiser argues, the Legend of Thisbe relates a tragedy in which no single charact er can be blamed for the misfortunes that occur. Yet in this retelling we learn that the tragic consequence of earthly love is still the same with or without a culpable character; in fact, one might say th at it is greater, for love causes the downfall of two lovers rather than one (120) The same sentiment can also be applied to 4 I am referring here to Paradiso Cantos IIIII where Dante th e pilgrim encounters the first sphere of heaven. The souls in this sphere move the slowest because they are the furthest from God, and even though they are Sanctified, th e women who reside here have committed no greater sin than becoming wives, as their social positions and families compel them to be, when what they truly desire is the Religious life. Ther efore, the paradox enacted in these Cantos is that these women are, in essence, rewarded for their secret desires and spiritual purity even as they are punished for breaking th eir oaths to God regarding their ch astityan act they are forced to commit by patriarchal society. Thus, in being ob edient daughters and wives, they are still somehow less worthy to be closer to God than the martyrs, who for the most part never marry, or women like Beatrice, who never desired th e Religious life in the first place.
97 The Legend of Cleopatra based upon how Chaucer (re)tells th is famous, if tragic, tale of seduction, war, and death. Both of these first tw o legends present the stories of two women who prove themselves equal in love to their men th rough death, and it does not matter that Thisbe is an innocent young virgin or that Cleopatra is an experienced seductress. Both women love like their men, and both women are willing to die to pr ove their fidelity. And, in doing so, they reveal the major governing principle of the Legend namely that the woman in each of these tales, for good or ill, is inherently a reflection of the man she loves. When he is faithful, so is she; when he is mutable and deceitful, then so to o is she. It does not mean that any one woman is rendered good or bad because of her love, but rather, for better or worse, these women have made their choices, and now, they must liv e or die for them. Thus, contrary to many critical arguments, while there are myriad unworthy men featured in the Legend there are also curiously few clear-cut female victimsat leas t none that Chaucer himself does not have to manufacture with obvious editing and hi ghly creative (mis)translation. For this reason, it is im perative that scholars begin to separate their analysis of The Legend of Good Women from that of Troilus and Criseyde because Chaucers approach to female love and martyrdom is vas tly different in these texts. Even though there is an obvious allusion to the Legend at the end of Troilus and Criseyde as well as Alcestes direct reference to Troilus and Criseyde in the Prologues of the Legend Chaucer holds the women in the Legend to a far different standard than he does Criseyde. This difference could simply be the result of a Narrator who must now cater to an other audience, an audience that is far from pleased with the end of Troilus and Criseyde ; however, as I have shown in my previous chapter, Chaucers apparent authorial interruption at the end of Troilus and Criseyde seems more concerned with educating young people not to make the same mistak es in love as both Troilus and Criseyde do.
98 So, what then is to be made of a text about vic tims with, in all possibility, no real victims to be had? Especially given the fact that in the Legend many of the women are praised for doing exactly what Criseyde is condemned by critics for not doingthat is, loving enough like a martyr that she is willing to die to prove her fi delity. Perhaps the desire Chaucer is able to satisfy for his audience with the women in the Legend is the very one that requires many of them to become martyrs for love in the first place. On e critic rightly states, [Chaucer] shows us that women are indeed as capable of liv ing up to their promises in love as men; but in order to live up to those promises, they have to be as foolis h as the men who make them (Spisak 209). The audience wants women who are equal in love to men, but in order to be so, these women must never commit the sin of loving more than one man as Criseyde does. And this is where Chauceras-author begins to edit and retr anslate these texts. Experienced women like Cleopatra must now be perceived as innocent in their love as the virginal Thisbe; however, this means that their men must be equally innocent in order to maintain the balance between the women and their lovers that Chaucer sets-up from the very first legend. This balance becomes quite problematic when one encounters such notable scoundrels and betrayers as Tarquin, Jason, Tereus, and Demophoon. Accordingly, it is only in the later le gends, where there is absolutely no way for the disparate levels of innocence and experience between the women and the men they love to become equalized, that Chaucer must do his mo st significant editi ngan act that has him accused more often than not of ultimately abandoni ng this work due to disgust or to boredom. But, in order to prove that these innocent women are not Criseyde, they must die, and they must do so like a man, or more precisely, they must do so like the men they have chosen to love. Just as Antony and Pyramus commit suicide, so too must Cleopatra and Thisbe. And, in so doing, they can now rightfully claim their status as martyrs. For, on the one hand, like good
99 pagan women they have martyred themselves fo r the God of Love, and, on the other, like good Christian women they have defied their heritage to Eve by remaining scrupulously faithful to the men they love. Although the suicides themselves are problematic within a Christian context, as we shall see more clearly with Lucretias legend, no one can d oubt that, whether or not she happens to be an experienced seductress or an innocent maid, these women deserve a place within the Legend for they reveal most clearly from th e beginning that Chaucer finds the notions of innocence and experience to be as fluid as he does good and bad. All one has to do is Turne over the leef and chese another tale;/For he shal fynde ynowe, grete and smale,/Of storial thyng that toucheth gentillesse,/And eek moralitee and hoolynesse ( The Millers Prologue 3177). III The Legend of Dido like Cleopatras legend, presen ts the tale of a powerful and exemplary queen who is reduced to suicide by th e man she loves; however, in Didos case, she commits suicide because Aeneas spurns her love and leaves her good name in tatters when he abandons her to continue his divine mission. Like Virgil before him, Chau cer effusively praises Dido by saying, she was holden of alle queens fl our/Of gentillesse, of fredom, of beaute,/ ./She stod so wel in every wightes grace (1009, 1014). Though, in relying on Ovid more heavily than Virgil as source material for the Legend Chaucer makes his Dido seem far less pitiable and far more pathet ic than Virgils proud queen. And this choice is perhaps due to the fact that Ovids Aeneas is al so far different from Virgils creat ion. In the latter case, Aeneas is a man who, even though his god-given task is to found a new city, always seems content to remain in someone elses kingdom. He is a follower who has been turned by fate and circumstances into a leader; whereas, Dido re presents his complete opposite. After her
100 husbands death, she has continued to ensure Cart hages prosperity. Thus, for Virgil, it is essential that Aeneas, who is a soldier and not a statesman, encounter Dido because he must learn from her not only how to build his new city, but also how to rule it and to make it prosper. She knows how to build and maintain a city lite rally from the ground up, and it is only after she meets Aeneas that her city falls into disrepai r and her people lack fo r a strong and dedicated queen. Virgils Dido is a means to an end, and therefore, as an author, Virgil is far less concerned with their love affair or the potenti al ramifications of Aen eas abandonment of Dido. Ovid, on the other hand, concentrates solely on th e love affair. He even compounds the tragedy by adding a pregnancy into the mix. Hence, whil e Virgils Dido commits suicide like a vengeful queen, Ovids Dido commits suicide like a depres sed, rejected lover. Conversely, in his The Legend of Dido Chaucer manages to combine these two Didos in such a way that she begins this legend as a powerful queen, and ends up committing suicide like a woeful victim. The Narrator himself marks this transition by beginning this tale with a praise of Vi rgil (924) and ending it with a note to readers to consult Ovid if they doubt the veracity of his (re)telling (1367). However, why is this amalgam of Didos necessary to the Legend ? Since Chaucer has so obviously favored Ovid throughout this work, why not simply use his rendition of events exclusively and leave Virgil out of it? The problem remains that Dido seems to be a perfectly good woman and queen before Aeneas arrives to throw everything she has built into chaos. But, while Dido may initially appear to be the haples s victim to yet another conniving and scheming man, the audience must remember that the Legend is far more complex than Ovids simplistic rendition allows. Dido is presented as she is in this work to lay bare to the disapproving masculine world that she, Cleopatra, and other such powerful women are neither alone in their sorrow, nor are they as bad as they seem in mu ch of patriarchal litera ture. Dido has risen to
101 and maintained power in the same manner as Cleopatra, through marriage and war; however, while it is easy for many authors and critics to condemn Cleopatra for he r overt and unapologetic sexuality, the same cannot be said of Dido. Ev en though she meets the same end, Dido is always perceived in a different category th an Cleopatra. In other words, for all of her experience, Dido is still represented by many as innocent, whereas Cleopatra is never re presented as anything but a rapaciously sexual woman. Anyone attempting to falsely imprison Chau cer as well as his characters into certain fixed categories should be careful, especially with regard to the Legend where Chaucer has taken great pains to be perceived as writing one work while, in actuality, he is doing quite the opposite. Therefore, one must take care to remember that, while Cleopatras love for Antony was reciprocated in kind, Didos love for Aeneas in both Ovid and Chaucer is entirely one-sided. And, as I have previously stated, Chaucer-as-au thor uses each action taken by a couple in the Legend as a mirror for the romantic relationship itself Consequently, just as Cleopatras suicide is portrayed in the Legend as something akin to her tribute to her love for Antony, so too does Didos suicide become the reflection of Aeneas abandonment of their m arriage. In this manner, Chaucer cleverly uses The Legend of Dido to show that no amount of translation or combination of source material can change one immutable fact of the human conditionthat is, good and bad have more to do with the perceptions of authors and audiences than they ever have to do with the moral conduct of the charac ters within the myths themselves. Dido has always had a better reputation th an Cleopatra, but ultimately, she meets the same fate. And so, Chaucer once again shows his readers that facts are always inherently more complicated than fiction, no matter how often one tries repainting the lion.
102 With the above thought in mind, I w ould like to turn to the final, and perhaps the most controversial, suicide in the Legend namely that of Lucretia. Historically speaking, Livys History of Rome renders Lucretias rape synonymous with the destruction of Romes corrupt monarchy and the foundation of th e Republic, and as Livy and c ountless historians after him instinctively understood, her suicid e following the rape is far more significant in a cultural sense than the rape itself. Indeed, had Lucretia been merely a rape victim, her story may not have had the same lasting effect. It is he r subsequent suicide that cements her place in literary history, for Lucretia commits suicide not to absolve herself, but rather she does so to ensure that those women who willingly commit the sin of adultery cannot find an excuse for their immoral behavior by citing Lucretias stor y in their defense. Thus, in perhaps the gr eatest paradox to trouble male authors and critics from Livy to St. Augustine and beyond, Lucretia seemingly commits suicide in order to prove her innocence. And, while these authors appear content to argue from this perspective, the real reasoning be hind their problematic discussions of Lucretias suicide actually does stem from the fact that she wa s an unquestionably good woman who was raped by a very bad man. As St. Augustine argues in Confessions the question of Lucretias innocence is not easily solved because, if she were truly blameless, then why would she need to commit suicide? If there is no willing adulter y, then there should be no need for her to die.5 Therefore, the real dilemma here is sadly the sa me one that rape victims still face in modern courtroomsthat is, how can we be sure that Lucretia never in a ny way consented to Tarquins 5 For a fuller discussion of the debate between Cl assical versus Christian views on rape/suicide, especially with regard to the pro blem of Lucretia, Ian Donaldsons The Rapes of Lucretia: A Myth and its Transformations is most informative. Donalds on accurately shows in much fuller detail than this space permits how the Church Fa thers turn the perception of Lucretias suicide from the celebrated act it is in pagan mythology into a sin. And s o, in the eyes of the Christian church, Lucretias suicide, or ra ther her self-murder, incriminates her in her own rape in a way that the pagan mind would have found incomprehensible.
103 sexual advances? It is inherent ly a ridiculous and offensive question, for how would any woman ever deserve to be raped, either by her actions proximity, sexual histor y, speech, or even her clothing choices? But the sad truth remains that the onus for preventing this violent crime is always placed upon the woman in the scenario and not on the man. In other words, the question everyone tacitly asks is what did she do to provoke the man into raping her, instead of why did this man choose to commit such a heinous act in the firs t place? A man simply has to prove by whatever means necessary that the act was in any way consensual; a woman has the far more arduous task of proving why she deserved not to be raped. And herein lies the problem with Lucretias suicide, for if she we re truly innocentor more precise ly, if she truly did not consent in any way to Tarquins advanceswhy would she n eed to commit suicide? While historians in Livys camp see Lucretias violation and death as more of a political means to an end, theologians like St. Augustine are far more troubled on a spiritual level. For, while they often deny Lucretias culpability in the act, suicide is always a sin no matter what the circumstances, and this bad act subsequently stai ns the rest of Lucretias claims to her status as innocent. Lisa Kiser explains this theological maze by saying, A s hard as our narrator may work to make Lucrece fit the molds of a chaste Christian, she is still saintly only by th e standards of her own pagan culture, dying, as Augustine says, not for Ch ristian truth but throu gh shame over the result of someones violent and lustful desire (106). As a consequence, it becomes difficult to praise Lucretia as a good woman in the eyes of the medieval Church, and thus, her inclusion in the Legend is a bit more complicated th an it initially seems. If one goes by the Classical reasoning, then of course she should be included in a canon of good women, but if one subscribes to the more Christian mindset, then her presence in such company is problematic at best because the ultimate purpose of hagiographic example is to gi ve good Christians model people to emulate.
104 And, while one can have sympathy for Lucretias plight, he or she could never emulate her and not be eternally damned. In order to subvert some of the larg er problems here, Chaucer us es the same tactic he does in Book III of Troilus and Criseyde when Troilus is about to botch his chance with Criseyde due to Pandarus mishandled midnight se duction. In other words, Chaucer has Lucretia faint at the moment of her rape. Instead of being conscious for the act as she is in Livys version, in The Legend of Lucrece : She loste bothe at ones wit a nd breth,/And in a swogh she lay, and wex so ded/Men myghte smyten of hire arm or hed;/She feleth no thyng, neyther foul ne fayr (1815). The last line of this quotation is perh aps the most relevant in this case because one no longer has to wonder whether or not Lucretia secretly found pleasure in the act, as is the underlying argument used by many a rapist and theo logian. Many critics like to get sentimental with their arguments here and a ssert that Chaucer has Lucretia faint out of pity. They claim Chaucer is saving her from having to be a conscious witness to the violence of this act. While this may perhaps be true in part, I find the reas on behind the faint to be far more practical than sentimental in its purpose. Si nce the Narrator firmly asserts th at she feleth no thyng neyther foul ne fayr, Lucretia has now been released from the task of proving her i nnocence in this case. She has at the moment of her faint as well as for the entirety of her rape all of the animation, or lack thereof, of a dead body, and so she cannot be blamed for what happens to her corpse, as it were. And while some critics find her corpse-like appearance to be rather disturbing, it turns out to be as redeeming in this instance as it wa s for Troilus. Chaucer-as-author can never rehabilitate Lucretias suicide in the eyes of medieval society, but he can and does rehabilitate her innocence by literally writing her out of her own body while the rape itself takes place. In this manner, Lucretias suicide is unique to the whole Legend because she commits this act not
105 out of love or out of a sense of betrayal, but ra ther she does so in order to ensure that she will never be perceived solely as a victim. Lucr etia did not willingly, and in Chaucers case consciously, engage in an adulterous act, and with her suicide, committed on her own terms and with her own witnesses present, she subvert s her victimhood by dying lik e a warrior, with a rational decision to act and without regret as to the rightness of he r action. In the end, Lucretia sheds her blood in order to reclaim her goodness and innocence in the eyes of the secular world, even if it means forever damning her soul in the uncompromising eyes of the Church. IV From The Legend of Lucrece I would like to turn my attention to perhaps the two most innocent women in the Legend who seem far more content th an Lucretia to retain their status as victims, namely Philomela and Hypermne stra. In doing so, I realize that I am skipping ahead a bit; however, scholars far more detailed than I have discussed at length the inherent problems with including women such as Hypsipyle, Medea, Phyllis, and Ariadne in a work with the designation of good in its title. For, wh ile Chaucer-as-narrator ha s kindly left the more salacious parts of these womens Classical myth s out of his collection, he has also given enough hints here and there to suggest to a knowledgeable audience that he is ve ry much aware of just how many scandalous bits he has cut out. For inst ance, he does not begin Medeas tale with the murder of her brother, nor does he end it with the murder of her two s ons by her own hand. He does not need to; his source materi al has already taken care of this burden for him. As a result, he need only include the stories of Hypsi pyle and Medeaboth duped by Jasonin order to evoke the memory in his audience of the violent end to these tales as pr esented by Ovid in the Heroides which includes Hypsipyles curse that foretells Medeas bl oody revenge. These passages also refer to the other stories about Medea found in the Metamorphosis which reveal
106 Medeas awesome powers as both a sorceress an d manipulator when she convinces Pellas daughters that murdering him will save his life. The Narrator admits to his omissions quite cleverly in The Legend of Hypsipyle and Medea when he states, We can Ovyde hire letter in vers endyte,/Which were as now to long for me to wryte (1678). In this quotation, the Narrator handily releases the responsibility of acc urately (re)telling the co ntent of his sources to the sources themselves by coyly saying, if you want to know the truth, then you must discover it on your own as I have neither the tim e nor the inclination to do so he re. In this fashion, Ovid is left with the unpleasant telling of infanticide, patricide, and fam ilial betrayal. The Narrator here is only concerned with Jason and his seduction of tw o women under false pretense s. It is in this (re)translation of events that these women can trul y maintain the title of martirum given at the end of their legend because, in this case, they ar e indeed martyrs for love. However, as I have previously stated, the Narrator has carefully selected what myths to include in The Legend of Good Women and when one considers the man Hysi pyle and Medea both choose to place their love and faith in, then one can see why Chaucer chose to include their tales, regardless of the copious amount of editing needed to make e ither of these women remotely good. The same can be said of both Ariadne and Phyllis. The former falls for the hollow promises of the father, Theseus, who eventually deserts her to run away with her sister, Phaedra, and the latter falls in love with his son, De mophoon, who reenacts his fathers betrayal of Ariadne almost exactly. One c ould as easily misread these two legends as they could dismiss Hypsipyle and Medea as mere shad ows of their Classical selves, but the legends of Ariadne and Phyllis are a bit more complicated than dismissive examples of a like father, like son male betrayer. The problem with all f our of these legends is the same from the narrator/translators perspective. He must transfer the pity and f ear required for audience catharsis from the victims
107 of these women and their equal disloyalty onto the women themselves. In the Classical narratives, these women are not victims. They ma y appear to be on the su rface, but they do not take the betrayal of their trus t by the men they supposedly love in passing. Though Lucretia is the victim of a violent crime and commits suic ide in order to reclaim her honor and good name, these women betray their countries, families, a nd maternal relationships all for the sake of pleasing duplicitous men. Even w ith the Narrators oh-so-caref ul editing, the audience knows that these four women are far from good, but his job is to show false men in all their deceitful glory. And, in these legends he succeeds, but he also accomplishes something far more cunning than Alceste or the God of Love wo uld ever allow. He is able to hint at his sources in such a way as to show that, even with strenuous ed iting, some women, like some men, can never be rewritten good. Hypsipyle, Medea, Ariadne, an d Phyllis are ultimately reflections of the despicable men they love, as they have been since Classical times. These women are cut from the same treacherous cloth as are Jason, Theseu s, and Demophoon, and in loving such men, they have, at least in the Narrators es timation, earned their betrayals at the hands of these same men. In this manner, the Narrator gives the audience just enough information from his olde bokes to show that, no matter how much Alceste may want to Turne over the leef and chese another tale, the next tale may, in all probability, not be any better with regard to the rehabilitation of women than the one before it. In contrast to the above women, Philomela and Hypermnestra are perhaps the two most innocent female characters in the Legend By this statement, I mean both sexually and with regard to their victimhood; for while one could argue that Lucretia is equa lly innocent, one could never say that she tacitly accepts her status as vi ctim. The manner of her death as well as her reasoning for such a public suicide negates any sense in her a udience that she is committing this
108 act because of despair or guilt. However, Phil omela and Hypermnestra are a different story. Neither of these women commits suicide, but they also are not the sole architects behind their descents into victimhood. In the case of Philo mela, her triumph over her tormentor a triumph composed and perpetrated by her sister, Procne, is as effective as it is gruesome, but such is the content of her Classical myth. In The Legend of Good Women she receives a much more abrupt treatment by the Narrator. Indeed, as is the case with Medea, the Narrator ends Philomelas legend rather abruptly that is, he concludes wi th Philomela receiving her sisters comfort after Tereus has thoroughly brutalized her and not with Procne gaining the ultimate revenge on her husband by killing their only child, Isthis, and se rving him to Tereus for dinner. He ends The Legend of Philomela with Procnes thought: nevere harm agilte ne deserved/U nto this crewel man, that she of wiste./Ye may be war of men, if that yow liste (2385). In this quotation, one can see that the Narrator rather explicitly hi nts that he knows exactly the Classical ending he has made his audience remember without ever having to write it down. And so, I advance the notion that the real focus of this legend should no t be on Philomela, but on Procne instead. No one could ever doubt Philomelas status as victim and if she were the one to perpetrate her revenge upon Tereus, it would be di fficult to deny her this right. Then again, it is Procne who famously takes revenge upon Tereus, and in th is manner, she appropriates her sisters victimhood and revenge as her ownan appropriati on that leads to the sl aughter of her innocent son. And, while many could easily identify and even sympathize with Procne and her actions on behalf of her sister, her inclusi on at the end of this tale hints at the greater purpose which governs the entirety of the Legend itself, namely that even with very careful editing and translation, even the most innocent of victims is capable of great evil, much like the men who have betrayed, hurt, or otherwise mentally, physically, and emo tionally abused them. Hence, what the Legend
109 accomplishes in the tales of each woman with a complicated, Classical past, using innuendo and allusion more often than direct statements, is the overwhelming sense that simply repainting the lion will once again only tell half of the story. For, in order to ach ieve true equity in male/female relationships, one cannot simply change the pers pective of the painting; he or she must, as Chaucer has done here, rebuild the entire frame that contains it. In a similar vein, The Legend of Hypermnestra presents the final tale in this unfinished series, and this legend has receiv ed the dubious distinction of be ing the final straw for a quite possibly bored author. Indeed, th e Narrator appears to be so bor ed with this legend that he seemingly trails off mid-thought, but I do not intend to argue whether or not the Narrator or even Chaucer himself was so fed-up with this work as to leave it purposely unfinished as many other scholars are wont to do. One must be careful at such sweeping judgments because, while Hypermnestras legend does at first seem to be yet another tale of one more interchangeably good woman, her position in this work seems in f act more like a turning point than it does an ambiguous ending. In this legend, the narrator finally gives his read ers their first true, uncomplicated victim, who is the sole subject of her tale. With Lucretia we have a victim who is transformed into a warrior with her death. W ith Philomela, we have a victim whose story is ultimately sublimated by the murderous revenge of her sister, but with Hypermnestra, we have a woman who is the sole focus of her sad end. Her story begins when she is commanded by her father to kill her new husband, Lyneus. However, when she is unable to commit this heinous act and admits her fathers duplicity to her new husband, Lyneus throws her into jail. At first, the revisions made to this myth seem beneficial to Hypermnestras st atus as a good woman and martyr. As one scholar articula tes, Submitting one virgin for the forty-nine others who appear in the sources, investing the value of fifty virg ins in one, Chaucer increases the exchange value
110 of this virgin forty-nine fold (Aloni 75). But what Aloni and many other scholars miss about this profound change is that the injustice here is compounded and not reduced by what Chauceras-author edits out of this le gend. Instead of Hypermnestra being one of fifty siblings and the only one of her forty-nine sister s not to kill her husband, he ma kes a rather vague reference to other siblings and includes none of them in this murderous marriage plot. Therefore, Hypermnestras value as an exchangeable commod ity does increase (Aloni 78), but her status as a good woman becomes rather a-typical with th e absence of her emphatic stance against her father as well as her forty-nine other, more obedient, sisters. Of course a good woman would refuse to murder her husband, otherwise she w ouldnt have the right to call herself such. Furthermore, in rewriting Hypermne stras legend in this way, the author appears to be fixing that which was never broken. Such was not the case with Cleopatra or Me dea, who required some real editing in order to turn their far too experienced selves into more innocent pictures of womanhood; nevertheless, even w ith such revisions, it seems all too clear that Chaucers Narrator is allowed to hint at the major discrepancies Chaucer himself cannot write on paper due to the constraints placed on his task as author in the Prologue. On the other hand, by rewriting Hypermnestras defiance in a similar manner, her actions become more like those of an emotionally weak woman, as opposed to thos e of someone like Lucretia whose actions reverberate with a defiant strength that practically dares anyone to ignore them. Accordingly, in this final legend by default, Chaucer-as-author fina lly gives in to Alcestes demands and presents his audience with a truly pathetic vi ctim, but he cannot make Hypermnestra more innocent than she already is. And so, instead of rendering her more innocent, he makes her less pitiable. Her seeming weakness makes her as unsympathetic to her husband as she seems to the readers of her legend. In this manner, The Legend of Hypermnestra appears to be more of a transition than it
111 does a conclusion. It is at this moment that Chaucer-as-author and as-narrator finally (re)turns to the original premise of this workthat is, to show a good woman wronged by a false man. But, to accomplish this end, the Narrator must finally ignore the stories in his sources in order to turn an already good woman so good that she is ultim ately rendered mute, indistinguishable, and utterly inconsequential, just as his critics and the olde bokes have demanded his female characters be written from the beginning. V For many critics, The Legend of Good Women while redeemable in parts, is as a whole, a failed literary endea vor. The poetic fluidity in the F and G Prologues is unmatched by the seemingly prosaic and lack-luster collection of revised Ovidian tales. Lisa Kiser best articulates this argument by saying, Clearly, attempts to make the Legend easily bridge the gap between the Troilus and the Canterbury Tales are thwarted by the fact that the Legend is very much a backward looking poem, a work that seem s to drag up the past rather than herald the future (20). So, the question becomes: is the Legend the mea culpa Alceste demands, or is it in reality a failed stylistic transition disguised as a penance? Is Chaucer-asauthor really intending to repent for his supposed literary crimes against wo men? Or is it perhaps that, as another critic states: his sin is a sin only in the eyes of the God of Love, and not in his own (Allen 425)? The answers to these questions are more complicated than they at first appear because the Legend itself is also far more complex than it in itially seems. And th e problem is compounded by the fact that Chaucer does not choose to create, or more precisely to rewrite, characters that openly defy the dictates of Eros Alceste, or accepted patriarchal norms. In fact, he has the arduous task of making some of these women actually adhere to patriarchal codes of female conduct, when in their original myths they openl y defied them. Therefore, the real authorial
112 acrobatics come not when Chaucer (mis)translates these women from bad to good, or when he puts the men in these tales under equal scrutiny and revision, but rather it comes when the author is forced by outside dict ates to justify his writing to hi s audience. Chaucer has been accused in his own time as well as today of writi ng women worse than they actually are, and while there is some sympathy to be had in his Narrators, they often are not resounding in their praise of the heroines they claim to pity. The Legend is no exception in this regard. Indeed, Florence Perciv al condemns the Narrator of the Legend for not being terribly sincere in his claims of sympathy for the wome n in this work. She states, It is a voice apologetic towards women, but not overwhelmingly so. It pities womans plight, but sees no remedy for womans situation beyond her return to quite traditional behavioural standards, to less wandering on the seashore, less trusting of stra ngers, less readiness to believe the promises of men (15). In this regard, Kiser, Allen, and Percival are not entirely mistaken. Based on his choice of source material, his rath er dry delivery, and his seemi ng inexhaustible canon of wailing female victims, one could easily dismiss the Legend as an experiment in modernizing Classical mythology gone horribly wrong. However, the Legend deserves more attention than a simple, cursory glance, and when one pays closer attenti on to the work as a whol e and not to just the individual sob-stories of these pitiable women, then a far differe nt work comes to light. The bifurcation by contempora ry scholarship of the Legend into two poemsthat is, the Prologues and the legends, has led modern critics not onl y to underestimate the quality of the legends themselves, but also of the Prologues as well. Ma ny want to view the two Prologues, F and G, as merely a rough draft and a revision told by two ha lves of the same personality, but as I have shown in the first section of this chapter, the Prologues possess, in fact, two separate characters and not two halves of the same whole. The F Narrator is quite content to continue his dream
113 world. Unfortunately, this desire also leads him to be far more susceptible to the dictates of Romantic fiction than the G Narrator, who is a much more succinct and aware speaker. Furthermore, as we can tell from the conclusions of their Prologues, the F Narrator is entirely too dependent upon his books as he begins his pena nce, but the G Narrator cannot wait to move the dictates of his dream into the waking world th at is governed by both auth ority and experience. Even though it is impossible to tell which Narrator would eventually have been left in charge of the legends that follow, someone had to take up the task of narrating the le gends until this crucial decision was made. And it is my contention that Chaucer himself takes over as primary Narrator of these women and their stories until some sort of synthesis can be reach ed between F and G. Consequently, due to the authors strong presence in the later legends, one cannot easily separate either the Prologues from th ese tales, or the entire Legend from the rest of Chaucers canon. In this manner, perhaps the legends are more congruent and apropos than contemporary scholars believe, and not just because of Eros and Alcestes demands in the Prologue. Perhaps the real crux of the matter lies with the women chosen for this work, and the fact that Chaucer knowingly picks stories wh ere both the women and the men are evenly matched, whether it be in passion, in duty, in commitment to love, or in betrayal. Indeed, The Legend of Hypermnestra seems to present the only clear-cut instance of victimhood in this entire work. By this, I do not mean to imply that she is the only wronged woman in this text; still, she is the only woman who has been written even more innocent than she was to begin with and who seems to actively accept her role as victim throughout her tale. In other wo rds, all the women in this text can rightly claim that they have been victimized, but she is the only woman who never does anything to alleviate her status as victim. Lucretia commits a mortal sin to prove her virtue, and it is hinted to the reader that Philomela will turn to her sister for help with a suitable revenge
114 plot. Conversely, Hypermnestra does nothing but accept a punishment meted out for a crime she neither devises, nor executes. And, while none of the other women who take rather violent revenge upon their betrayers in Classical myth ar e allowed to do so here because of Alcestes rules, Chaucer subverts her frame for the Legend by coyly hinting where one should go read about what these women actually do to their false lovers and husbands. Through sly suggestions and i nnuendo, Chaucer shows his audience that The Legend of Good Women is quite possibly the text the Wife of Bath warns everyone about in her Prologue, namely the book that will tell of wicked husbands and the evils of the mark of Adam. But it is also so much more; for no woman in the Legend save for Hypermnestra, is any better or worse than the man who either loves her or betr ays her, or in some cases, does both. In this sense, the Legend is ultimately not just a text about women. It is a nake d text-as-woman, and Chaucers abandonment of this text is reflexiv e of every abandonment perpetuated within its pages. Therefore, perhaps Chaucers boredom at the end is not for th e womens stories, but suppose it is for the translations of those stories found in his sour ces? Initially, lik e both of his Narrators in the Prologues, Chaucer finds his co mfort from books, but at the quasi-end, we find an author-turned-narrator even mo re disillusioned with his sources than he was at the end of Troilus and Criseyde In this fashion, contemporary schola rs are correct in their claim that the Legend forms a bridge between Troilus and Criseyde and the Canterbury Tales ; however, it is not as inferior to these other works as these same critics assume. The Legend is not a stylistic accident, but rather it marks the authors move from authority to experienceso much so that, by the time he reaches the Canterbury Tales Chaucer has dispensed with using removed narrative personas and has made himself a character in his own story. In this manner, he will now dictate how his sources will fit into his experience and not the other way around, and his
115 female characters from The Legend of Good Women onward reflect this change in both his methodology as an author as well as his ideology as a man. There is always going to be good and bad in the world, but Chaucer once again shows his audience that, when it comes to behaving good or bad, we do not live in a perfect world, and neith er men, nor women are above reproach simply because the olde bokes ha ve always said so. Experience alone should teach us that much.
116 CHAPTER 4 A VIRGIN, A WIFE, AND A MARTYR WALK INTO THE TALES God liste to shewe his wonderful miracle In hire, for we sholde seen his myghty werkis. Narrator, The Man of Laws Tale 477 For someone who wrote so often about the w o that is in marriage, it stands to reason that Chaucer would be more concerned than most with stories about wives ( The Wife of Baths Prologue 3). And no text is perhaps more focuse d on the myriad wives to be had by husbands, both rich and poor as well as fair and foul, than the Canterbury Tales Whether one turns over a leaf to read the tale of a virgin, a widow, a martyr, a sinner, or a saint, Chaucer somehow manages to make all of these different women in to wives of one variet y or anothersome of whom are far more desirable by patriarchal standards than others.1 It is as if the Canterbury Tales continues the project Chaucer began in The Legend of Good Women where instead of delivering the promised amalgam of independent tales about myriad themes, Chaucer-as-author defies the dictates of both narrator and text in order to reiterate to his audience in tale after tale his lessons on similitude, faith, sovereignty, and marriage. Regardless if one is intrigued or repulsed by a Wife of Bath, or awed or cowed by a St. Cecilia, or even frustrated by or understanding of a Custance, one cannot deny the fact that Chaucer presents women such as 1 This statement is intended to reveal that the wifehood of thes e women is not always a current state, as with a widow. By medieval standard s, these women are still married, even after the death of their husbands, and for this reason, medieval society frowned upon widows remarrying, even if it was necessary to do so for financial an d/or status reasons as was often the case in the middle and lower classes. The Wife of Bath and her five husbands, each of whom she marries for some increase in income and/or social positi on, save for the last, is the literary example Chaucer employs to illustrate how often social custom did not al ways follow legal or clerical mandates in the fourteenth-century. In a simila r vein, Chaucer is also not above mocking the institution of marriage as a sacrament or the pe rception of marriage by medi eval clergy. One can discern this notion in The Nuns Priests Tale which is on its most ba sic level a tale about a loving and devoted marriage between two chicke ns: Chauntecleer, a literally hen-pecked husband, and Pertelote, the perfect exemplum of a fowl wife.
117 these that is, women who should have lived life in the marginsw ith bold strokes of his pen. This rendering is a sign of masculine respect for their autonomy as women and wives not accorded to many women or female characters in the Middle Ages. Even if one chooses not to live his or her life by the standards they have set for themselves within their marriages, one cannot deny the fact that, once they have been read, these women are not soon forgotten and for very different reasons. However, as I intend to argue in the following chapter, there is one female character in the Canterbury Tales who manages to blend the be st personality traits of perhaps the two most intriguing wo men in this work as a whole, namely the rapaciously sexual Alisoun of Bath and the militantly chaste St. Cecili a. I am referring, of course, to Custance, the much set-adrift heroine of The Man of Laws Tale who, unlike any other woman in the Canterbury Tales suffers the same torturous trials as a martyr without having to meet the same gruesome end. Indeed, Custance, at the conclu sion of her tale, dictates her own destiny, her happily-ever-after if you will, as a wife. No one, except for Griselda, seems to suffer as much as a wife, but no one else seems to meld the two si des of her personalityt he saint and the wife with the same finesse as she does either. It is easy to see Cu stance as only a perpetual victim, especially since for much of this tale, she is vi ctimized by people of both se xes; still, I intend to argue that all of her suffering has a purpose, and ultimately, she puts an end to her torture and wandering on her own terms, so mething few women in her positi on ever get to do. By this statement, I mean to say that Custance does not end her tale as the same nave, easily manipulated girl she was in the beginning, and for this reason, when the time comes to claim her future potential happinessin this case the hus band she decides she wants and not the one her father chose for hershe does not hesitate. In this sense, Custance is constant in her determination to make of her life the best that she can in a world where her desires do not matter
118 to male authority, and despite her various tria ls, Custance learns one immutable truth: it is possible to remain in Gods favor and to fulfill her duties as a wife. To find out how one can do so, he or she simply needs to read this tale. What is initially intrigui ng about Chaucers translation of Custance is that she is only ever tested with regard to her faith; she is neve r tested as a wife and mother. It always seems taken for granted that, as a tr uly devout woman, she would be the best example of wifehood and motherhood as well. Yet, to exhibit further his un iqueness as an author, Chaucer never lets these latter two roles diminish her capac ity to convert others to Christia nity through her faith, chastity, and constance. In the Middle Ages, both secula r and ecclesiastical law divided women into two categoriesthe Eves, who are represented by the Wife of Bath in this work, and the Marys, as represented by St. Cecilia. Now, a woman w ho becomes a wife, which paradoxically requires both virginity and its loss, was supposed to spend th e remainder of her life being chaste. This chastity required atonement fo r being transformed from a Ma ry into an Eve by the very demands of wifehood itself, an ironic position cons idering the fact that Mary too was a wife. Consequently, while Church Fathers like St. Pa ul believed that one should not spurn the sacrament of marriage, they also preached that the highest form of this sacrament involved a marriage without consummation, as repr esented by Cecilia and Valerius in The Second Nuns Tale However, while this was the ideal, the re ality often turned out more like the pseudoautobiography told by A lisoun of Bath in her Prologue that is, women were more often than not bartered in marriage for w ealth or status, usually to pr ofoundly older men. These same women would gain, in turn, stat us as wives by exchanging thei r only real currency within marriage, namely their sexual selves and their reproductivity, for even a modicum of power. Because of this grim reality, there are few women in either medieval literatu re or in medieval life
119 whose status as a wife and as a mother does not to some degree hinder her exaltation by the Church. And, in this regard, Chaucer truly is unusual because, in brin ging attention to both Custances sanctity and her wifehood, he shows hi s audience that women are not so easily categorized as either A lisouns or Cecilias. As The Man of Laws Tale shows, these two extremes can be combined and tempered into a Custance, whose unwavering faith and goodness as a wife still makes her pleasing in Gods eyesa fact no one can dispute based upon the number of miracles granted to her within the course of her narrative. In order to further explore the signi ficance of a character such as Custance in relation to the other female characters in the Canterbury Tales I must first turn to perhaps the most notorious woman in this work, the Wife of Bath. Whether or not one chooses to love her or to loathe her, one cannot ever say that she is easy to forget. And, because she is so thoroughly memorable, Alisoun seems to provide as much contemporary critical controversy as she produces with her fellow pilgrims within the contex t of the narrative as a whole. She is the first of Chaucers female characters to openly de bate masculine perception of female desire, especially within the confines of the Churc h. As Michael Calebrese writes, Throughout her Prologue the Wife battles the role that sacred history has assigned to her, based on the actions of her other mother, Eve, who, significan tly, heads the catalog of wicked wives (95). The Wife of Bath is a rare character in medieval literature because she is one of the few who is not afraid to combat false noti ons of wicked women within th e same forum so often favored by men in her day: preaching and scholarly debate. And so, what renders her absolutely indelible is the fact that, in all of Chaucers works, sh e gives the most succinct and assertive homily regarding the dichotomy of experience versus authority. As she famously states in her Prologue Experience, though noon auctoritee/Were in this world, is right ynogh for me . (1). She is
120 the only one of Chaucers characters in any work to state her side in this debate in such absolute terms, and I find it significant th at Chaucer would give such a di rect and important stance to a woman. In Strumpet Muse Alfred David states: In Troilus and the Legend of Good Women Chaucer is still trying to reconcile the tr uths of experience an d authority. In the Canterbury Tales he expresses their conflict more and more explicitly and deal s honestly with the limitations of each (158). Strumpet or no, David is correct in asserting that, in Alisoun, Chaucer finds his muse, for unlike the two ambiguous male Narrators of The Legend of Good Women or the oft mistranslated Criseyde, the Wi fe makes her voice impossible to misunderstand from the very beginning. No one can mistake word s this explicit, and no one can deny that this woman is determined to be both seen and heard. In this manner, she is a bit of a departure for Chaucer in that many of his characters are written w ith such deft slight-of-hand that their desires, arguments, and words are often mistranslated by both their fellow characters and by critics, but the Wife of Bath will not stand for such treatment. She is not content to suffer in silence as other women do; moreover, though one might be tempted to find her bluntness more of a sin than a saving grace, one must be careful not forget her vi rtues. Like Custance, Alisoun is constant. She may not trust authority in the least, but this mi strust only shows that sh e has learned her lessons about marriage and its inequitable treatment of wo men well. She will not waver in her contempt for masculine authority, and in her pervasive derision of anyone who tries to silence her, there is a certain constancy. It is to these lessons that she remains true with one notable exception. Her marriage to her fifth husband, Jankyn, demonstrates the Wife of Baths single deviation from her experience that, in marriage at least, al is for to selle ( Prologue 414), and by ignoring her own advice, Alisoun literally suffers a blow delivered by Jankyn. In this sense, the Wifes sexual attraction to Jankyn makes her forget the dangers of marriage, and she, in her blind desire and
121 love for this man, gives to him al the lond a nd fee/That evere was me yeven therbifoore ( Prologue 630). In doing so, the Wife buys hersel f not only all of the benefits of a young, strapping, sexually desirable husband, but also she gains all of the problems inherent in a husband who is not her similitude. In other words, the out-spoken Wife has made the same mistake as the women in The Legend of Good Women She has chosen to love and marry the wrong man; however, Jankyn, just like the much-mali gned heroes of this earlier work, reflects the Wifes own deficiencies in his callous behavior. Alisoun is in reality, no better or no worse than the man she has chosen to love, and if her happily-ever-after didnt quite work out as she planned, then Chaucer-as-author shows his audience that she really has no one to blame for her folly but herself. When Jankyn comes along, Alisoun finally has the wealth and freedom to choose any husband she desires, but unlike Custance, she does not choose wisely. On the other hand, Chaucer also seems to have certain sympathy for th e Wife, in that Alisoun is allowed to regain control from Jankyn through the us e of a ruse that only a trul y experienced woman could pull off. Indeed, once Jankyn has delivered his famo us blow to Alisouns head, which leaves her permanently deaf in one ear, she pretends to be dying, and in a stunning dramatic performance, she exclaims: O! hastow slayn me, false theef?/ /And for my land thus hastow mordred me?/Er I be deed, yet wol I kisse thee ( Prologue 800). By using such highly emotional language and demanding such a classically Roman tic action before she dies, Alisoun seems to touch Jankyns latent Chiv alric tendencies. In this way, she gets him so remorseful that he returns to her the gover nance of hous and lond ( Prologue 814), and more important than this, he goes a step farther and grants her the governance of his tonge, and of his hond also ( Prologue 815), which is a boon that the Wife is quick to seize upon. Not only does she make
122 him immediately burn his book of Wikked Wives which is perhaps one of the tomes in the collection of olde bokes so fa vored by the Narrators in the Legend but also she demands and is granted al the soveraynetee in ev ery aspect of their married life ( Prologue 818). In doing so, Alisoun believes she has won a great victory, but, in reality, she has done the reverse. The mistake the Wife makes here is in mistranslati ng soveraynetee as control, when in reality it is the opposite. With the sort of marriages the Wife has had, one should question her definition of soveraynetee from the beginning, for like Criseyde, Alisoun of Bath has quite a lot of experience with marriage but l ittle real knowledge of love. Indeed, her one matrimonial experiment with love results in a disastrous power struggle. Thus, the erroneous assumption Alisoun makes, in all of her experience, is that sovereignty must be seizedas opposed to granted freelyand that it can only be controlle d by either the husband or the wife at any one time. For her, one either posse sses the sovereignty for both individuals in a marriage, or one has relinquished it in some way; there is no sovereignt y without dominance, espe cially if one intends to be happily married. And, because of this mistranslation, the Wife makes the very same mistake she warns men against in her Prologue for instead of changing the perspective of the portrait, she merely repaints the liononly this time Jankyn must now endure the mark of Adam (696), when he once unfairly best owed upon her all the sins of Eve. The irony here is that Alisoun proceeds to tell a tale in which a young knight, who has the same view with regard to power relationships as she does, is reformed by a loathly lady, who shows this wayward knight that, without equal exchange on the part of both men and women, patriarchy simply becomes matriarchythe conse quences of which can be seen once the Wife has reversed the power d ynamic at the end of her Prologue Just as Jankyn tried to make Alisoun into someone who would be seen and no t heard, so too is he silenced once Alisoun
123 stages her emotional co up. Luckily, Alisouns Tale has a far different ending. Once the loathly lady has gained her young knights promise to do no fors (1234), she does not take advantage of both his emotional and physical capitulation as the Wife did with Jankyn. The loathly lady does what Alisoun should have: she rewards her hu sband for his rehabilitated attitude towards both women and marriage. Ultimately, Alisoun ca nnot accept the marital accord reached by the loathly lady and the young knight. Indeed, she inte rrupts her own tale just as the knight-rapist has been truly reformed, the loathly lady has tu rned young and beautiful, and they are about to live in bliss forevermore with the parting advice: Jesu Crist us send Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde, And grace toverbyde hem that we wedde; And eek I praye Jhesu shorte hir lyves That noght wol be governed by hir wyves; And olde and angry nygardes of dispence, God sende hem soone verray pestilence! ( The Wife of Baths Tale 1257) Once again, it is as if Chaucer-as-au thor has rendered his characters better narrators than they are people, for this quotation shows that, while th e Wife and the loathly lady share certain similarities as much older women married to young, virile, and initiall y sexist men, the Wife does not possess the same experience or gentile sse as her narrative counterpart. While the loathly lady takes the time to tr uly rehabilitate her husband, Alisoun simply regains control. In this sense, despite her arguments to the contrar y, the Wife is, in actuality, repainting the lion in her own marriage, whereas the loathly lady is contemplating a different animal altogether. Consequently, it is in writing Alisoun of Bath so brash and, in a certain sense, abrasive and in (re)writing the loathly lady into so patient and ca lm a teacher that Chaucer-as-author makes his
124 case for female sovereignty as well as for joy in marriage much more palatable to the average readeran irony that should not be lost on Chaucers audience even if it is on the Wife herself.2 Despite her claims to the contrary, the Wife of Bath is not the only woman in the Canterbury Tales to experience wo in marriage, but before turning to the The Man of Laws Tale and its story of Custance, which presents a similar struggle for power, sovereignty, and joy in marriage depicted here, another womans story must be told. It is my contention that Custance cannot be appreciated on her own terms until one first views the opposite e nd of the spectrum of wifehood, as presented by Cecilia in The Second Nuns Tale Custance is, in this sense, the loathly lady for the Canterbury Tales as a whole. Undeniably, she presents the middle ground for those who cannot identify with the Wife of Baths hyper-sexua lity any more than they can with St. Cecilias hyper-chastity and eventual martyrdom. Thus, on the one hand, Chaucer gives his readers the unrepentant sinn er in Alisoun, even if she is on a holy pilgrimage, and on the other, there is Cecilia, who is ever the uncom promising saint. Neither is willing to bend or deviate, and in the end, each re ceives exactly what she has prayed for. The Wife has her husband who is yonge and fressh abedde and Cecilia is put to a violent death for her unwavering faith. And, even though Custance is si milar to both of these women in some ways, she is also something entirely new. She finds a way to be both a wife and a woman of faith, and she always seems to receive divine aid whenever she needs it, regardless of her status as wife and, therefore, non-virgin. Unlike any other wo man in Chaucers writing, Custance skillfully 2 I do not mean to imply by this statement that th e Wife is not a sympathetic character or that Chaucer meant her to be solely an object of derision. Her outlandish sexual behavior and obvious flaws in both judgment a nd marriage pave the way for the loathly lady to be heard by an all too disapproving masculine audience. And s o, after the audacity of a Wife of Bath, the almost serene loathly lady seems much more agr eeableeven if she is in affect arguing the exact same changes to the patriarchal order as the Wife.
125 navigates the very narrow road between faith an d folly, and in order to fully understand how she does so, I must first turn to The Second Nuns Tale because, now that we have discussed the sinner, we need to examine the saint before we can ever hope to understand how someone could manage, as Custance does, to be both. I In the introduction to The Man of Laws Prologue and Tale the Host states offhand: Lat us nat mowlen thus in ydelnesse (32), and this rather casual comment receives no further explanation except that he immediately turns his attention from more bawdy characters, such as the Miller and the Reeve, to the Man of Law. In this subtle maneuver, the Host has demanded the Man of Law tell a tale that will encourage th e company of pilgrims not to become too ydel with their stories. Tale-telling is serious busines s and must be treated as such. And yet, even with this pointed introdu ction, the Man of Law only seems to listen with half an ear, as one can see with his talk of hardworking merchants, in cest, and wandering ingnu es. There is, however, one narrator who takes the Hosts command to heart, namely the Second Nun and her story of St. Cecilias devout, if brief, life and martyrdom. Indeed, the very occurrence of martyrdom inherently belies any definition of ydelnesse one could contrive: a martyr is by his or her very nature and spiritual project the absolute antith esis of all things yde l including the desire many have for a quiet death. I do not mean to imply that Custances spirituality is somehow inferior to that of St. Cecilias; after all, when Custance prays for aid, miracles literally do happen. In this sense, she is just as much in Gods good graces as St. Cecilia, but unlike her spiritual predecessorand, dare I say, idolCustance is never meant to be a martyr. Chaucer uses her for a different, but no less didactic purpose in the Canterbury Tales In no uncertain terms, Custance is meant to be an example of how one should live a faithful life ; whereas, St.
126 Cecilia is meant to show how one should have a faithful death Both women face suffering at the hands of pagan non-believers, both are able to convert these same pagans by their words and deeds; however, there is one key difference that separates Cecilias spiritual endeavor from Custancethat is, her vigorously maintained virgin ity. In order for Cecilia to have the faithful death she must in order to become a martyr, she must be as pure a vessel as possiblewhat the Wife of Bath refers to in her Prologue as the dishes made of gold in Gods spiritual china cabinet (100). While Custance is far from being one of the dishes fashioned from wooda cheaper, more flawed material that the Wife proudly declares hersel f to beshe is also not made of the same untarnished, absolutely pure, and thus more costly, material as Cecilia. And I would argue that Chaucer never means for her to be. Custance is the narrativ e embodiment of perhaps Chaucers most valuable lesson to his readers, namely that spirituality and sexuality are not mutually exclusive commodities. As her tale shows, one can be fashioned from a less costly, albeit more durable, heavenly material and still be considered spiritually precious. Custance is neither as sexual as the Wife, nor as chaste as Cecilia, but regard less of these differences, she is still granted divine aid whenever she truly needs it because, no matter what happens to her, she never despairs and she never loses her unshakeable faith. As Chaucer shows, such absolute constance as this will always be rewarded even though it often come s at a high price. In this sense, Custance, like Cecilia, is never ydel, but ther e is a significant gap between these two women that must be addresse d before Chaucers true aim in including a character such as Custance in a work like the Canterbury Tales becomes clear. Even though Custance is as tortured and as long-suffering as other wives in Chaucers writing, most critics do her a profound injustice by placi ng her in the same category and then dismissing her in the identically casual manner they do the more quietly and long-suffering women such as Griselda.
127 As Robert Dawson argues, The Wife, a figure of manifest concupiscen ce and moral defeat, strongly elicits our underst anding and respect. Custance, even if God is on her side, generally fails to enlist our complete sympathy (295). In a similar vein, Sheila Delany in Womanliness in the Man of Laws Tale asserts: Unlike Chaucers othe r female characters, Constance achieves no multi-dimensional realit y. Since Chaucer never describes her physical appearance, Constance exists in the readers imagination as an agglomerati on of virtues rather than as a recognizable person (63). And, in an effort to make her even more generic, Delany adds: [Constance] is Everywoman, who suffers because that is the human condition, and her passivity is what orthodox Christ ianity recommends as a response to the human condition (64). These are all understandable conclusions to draw from The Man of Laws Tale if Custance were, in fact, the nameless, faceless Everymartyr she tries to be in the beginning. However, she ends up in a far different place, both emotionally and spiritually, from wher e she starts and where women such as Cecilia end. In contrast to th e above ideas, I maintain that Custance may begin her tale as innocent as Cecilia a nd as nave as Griselda, but by th e end, she is as seasoned as the loathly lady without becoming as me rcenary as the Wife. It is a delicate balance to maintain, but she does so with ease. Everything that happens to her makes her naturally more cautious and less willing to give in immediatel y to any authority, either masculin e or feminine. After all, her experience has taught her that secular authority is often as arbitrary as it is untrustworthy, but most telling of all is the fact that, in spite of her eventual disillusionment, nothing ever breaks her spirit or causes her to lose her faith. Therefore, like St. Cecilia, she is a model of fortitude and courage every Christian should follow; yet, Cu stance is far less intimi dating to the average person than this stalwart martyr, and for this reason, she performs the same equalizing function for Cecilia as the loathly lady does for the Wife of Bath. Consequentl y, even if one does not
128 initially find Custance to be of value, her example seems much mo re attainable to the average, spiritually conscientious person than would the rigorous chastity of St. Cecilia or the jaded sexuality of the Wife. All of these women have extreme obstacles to overcome, and as I intend to show, Custance is rare even among Chaucers ot her heroines in that, when the time comes to claim what she desires most, she does so both wisely and well. But, before I can turn more fully to a discussion of Custance, we must first take a closer look at a true mart yr before her spiritual metamorphosis comes into clearer focus. In the scheme of the Canterbury Tales as a whole as well as throughout its critical history, the Second Nun receives little attention. The major reas ons for this general disregard seems to be two-fold. On the one hand, there is the lack of physicality and narrative description for this character beyond what one would expect from a devout nun, and on the other, Chaucer assigns her a rather a-typical hagiographic tale for her to tell, also pr ecisely what one would expect from a devout nun. Unlike other religious charac ters, such as the Nuns Priest or the Prioress, the Second Nun does not present any real surprises for the read er. Obviously, a proper nun would speak about the evils of ydelnesse, pray to St. Mary for inspiration, and tell a tale about a woman so dedicated to her faith that she willingly accepts a violent death, and who, subsequently, converts hundred of pagans to Christ ianity in the process. None of these ideas would knock any reader off-kilter who knows even the smallest amount about the medieval Christian Church and what it expected from its devout members in the f ourteenth-century. In essence, Chaucer stopped just shor t of delivering the equivalent of a spiritual clich to his audience when he constructed this character and her tale. Yet, such a reduction is a bit simplistic because the true significance of The Second Nuns Tale lies, as I have previously stated, in its subject matter and not with its teller. It is no t meant to make waves, to shock, or to teach
129 anything new; it is meant to be no more or no less than the opposite end of the spectrum of female spiritual devotion in the Canterbury Tales that begins with the raucous Wife of Bath and ends with St. Cecilia. No one can doubt that Alisoun is by most standards the most sinful woman presented in the Canterbury Tales and, in turn, one must equa lly assert that, above all others, St. Cecilia is the most dedicated to he r faith, even unto death. As such, Cecilia is accorded the highest honor attainable to a woman in the medieval Christian Churchthat is, she is Canonized. But neither of these women are a ppealing as role models for the average person, for the Wife seems almost too world-weary at times and Cecilia maintains a level of chastity and spiritual devotion most would not desire to matc h. Thus, in this spectrum of the unabashedly sinful to the scrupulous ly sainted, Custance, for all of her suffering, trials, and wanderings, appears to be the happy medium between the Wife a nd the female martyr in this work. Her faith does not come easy, but her diligence is ultimatel y rewarded, not by death, solitude, or perpetual virginity, but rather with a marriag e and a husband she alone has chose n. It is a life that both the Wife and St. Cecilia would reject out-of-hand for very different reasons; nevertheless, it is one that Chaucer includes for the average person of faith in the medieval world. A point one critic argues when she states, The Man of Laws Tale sets the hardest case of all, that of a sinless and helpless woman whose tragic fate is not of he r making, and who nevertheless thanks God for all that happens to her. It demonstrates that by identifying her will with Gods she may gain the only human freedom possible in a fallen world, and so sets an example which the suffering Christian has no choice but to follow (Baldw in 189). And while I agree with Baldwins statements to a certain exte nt, I find the conclusion to The Man of Laws Tale to be more hopeful than this quotation implies, both for Custance and for those of us inhabiting, by Christian standards, a fallen world. This latter group ne ither completely embraces sin, nor does it possess
130 the same spiritual fire as a martyr but, when tested as Custance is it usually remains constant in its willingness to surrender to the divine Will, re gardless of what tragedies may occur in life. Perhaps the most striking difference between these three women lies in the degree to which each depend upon either authority or experience as teacher in their tales. The Wife of Bath has asserted in no uncertain terms that e xperience has been a far better teacher of life lessons for her than masculine authority, even th ough she often elects to ignore her own advice. However, at the other terminal point in th is spectrum, Cecilia represents the physical embodiment of female spiritual dependence upon masculine authority in the Middle Ages. All of her life experiences are govern ed by the dictates of the Church and the olde bokes, and nothing can deter her from her set sp iritual course. Indeed, Cecilia is forced by her noble birth to marry, but she convinces her husband, Valerian, not to consummate their union with a blatant threat: I have an aungel wh ich that loveth me, That with greet love, wher so I wake or sleepe, Is redy ay my body for to kepe. And if that he may feelen, out of drede, That ye me touche, or love in vileynye, He right anon wol sle yow with the dede, And in youre yowthe thus ye shullen dye . ( The Second Nuns Tale 151) There is of course an alternative. If Valerian should choose to liv e with her in clene lovethat is, by what St. Paul defines as a chaste marri agethen he too will be loved and protected by her angel. For obvious reasons, Vale rian is rather suspicious of hi s wifes angel because, as a pagan, the idea of a chaste marriage, in wh ich a man and a woman legally become husband and wife but never consummate the union sexually, seems more like a ruse by his new wife to deny him the comforts of the marriage bed th an it does an act of Christian devotion. Nevertheless, what Cecilia does next to convince Valerian of her sincer ity is what is truly
131 interesting: she sends him to someone else, spec ifically to Pope Urban, to receive spiritual counseling, tutoring, and ultimately, baptism. T hus, in contrast to the Wife of Bath, who discourages the reading of masc uline authority on the grounds th at she has already read them herself and found experience to be a better teacher, Cecilia encourages new converts to be taught by men and to learn from olde bokesbooks that sh e neither reads, nor desires access to. Her spiritual job is one of doing, not one of verbal instruction, for it is by her actions as a martyr that she will draw non-believers into the Christian fo ld, and not by her being a living prechour. Furthermore, these new converts w ill be educated and baptized in their new faith by men and not by Cecilia herself. In this manner, she is mean t to be purely an exempl um of how one should die for God; and thus, in the eyes of the medieval C hurch, she is a good woman. In contrast to this ideal, the Wife of Bath is a categorically bad woman because, unlike Cecilia, Alisoun is all talk and no action. And, when she talks, she compares masculine dictates regarding female spirituality with her own experien ce and finds these dictates to be seriously lacking. Most damning of all, at one point, she goes so far as to hurl pages she has ri pped from one of these sacred tomes into the firesomething the eve r-pure and ever-trustwort hy Cecilia would never do. In this sense, both women are tortured for th eir particular faiths; how ever, it is Cecilia who gets the respect and praise of the Church due to her silence and A lisoun who receives its condemnation due to her blatant refusal to be an ything like the Churchs definition of a good woman. After examining two such different images of both womanhood and wifehood, the question becomes, where does Custan ce fit into this dynamic? For, as I have said before, she cannot be construed as a sinner, a nd yet she is also not the most pe rfect saint to be found in the Canterbury Tales The answer to this question resides in her ability to provide balance.
132 Custance is meant to navigate the middle-ground in the eternal debate between authority and experience. Indeed, in her tale, she is as often harmed by authority as she is saved by it, and she is as frequently tortured by experience as she even tually uses it to get what she desires most. She does not read the olde bokes, but she does rec ognize the unequal treatment of men and women by authority when she so famously says, Womme n are born to thralldom and penance,/And to been under mannes governance ( The Man of Laws Tale 285). This statement shows that, like the Wife of Bath, she never confuses her faith with the men who govern it. She realizes that there is a higher power beyond wr itten authority, and her wanderings, as I shall show in the following section, bear this out. Undoubtedly, Cust ance experiences the same tests of faith as a martyr, but she does not send anyone she converts to another authority or to an olde boke to learn of his or her new faith, as Cecilia does. However, one must be car eful not to categorize Custance too quickly because, while she does not determine her faith by olde bokes, she also never tries to change or (re)mold authority to f it her own experience as Alisoun is so famous for doing throughout her Prologue Custance navigates her life as she must within the rules of masculine society, but she always does so with an unwavering devotion to the divine Will. Consequently, she manages to acquire even gr eater faith based upon he r experiences without having to reject authority in its entirety. No one can say with a ny certainty whether or not any of these three women gets it right, bu t in a rich literary canon such as Chaucers that contains many truly extraordinary women, Custance without a doubt holds her own. II The key to unlocking The Man of Laws Tale lies less within Chaucers source material than it does with what he chooses to modify and/ or leave out in his vers ion. The details of the tale that Chaucer borrows from his sources ar e often not as significan t as what he implies
133 between the margins.3 As I have shown in previous chapters, this same authorial device occurs in both Troilus and Criseyde as well as The Legend of Good Women and Chaucers literary sleight-of-hand is as active in the Canterbury Tales as it is in these othe r revisions of Classical legends. And so, for those critics who would argue that sexually mercenary women, like the Wife of Bath, and militantly chaste women, lik e the Second Nun and St. Cecilia, are merely caricatures that only serve to alienate the averag e reader, I would argue that these critics have missed Chaucers knowing wink to his audience that is present in all of his writing. Indeed, Chaucer is perhaps guilty of many authorial sins, but the verbatim translation of others writings into his fiction has never been one of them. His narratives are always different in some significant way. Such is the case with Criseyde, the women of the Legend as well as the female characters and pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales and these women are not alone in their marginal rebellions. Therefore, it stands to reason that Custance also would not be the wholly passive, saintly bit-of-f luff many critics assume her to be Undeniably, Custance is often dismissed as a rather unappealing female protagoni st in the same breath as Griselda. Take, for example, Carolyn Dinshaws assessment in her article, The Law of Man and its Abhomynacions. She writes, Woman in the ideology of the Man of Laws Tale is an essential blankness that will be inscribed by men a nd thus turned into a tale; [Custance] is a blank onto which mens desire will be projected; she is a no-thi ng in herself (139). In this manner, Dinshaw, like so many other critics of this tale, see Custance as nothing more than a silent, ever-suffering victim of ma le political and ecclesiastical whimsy. However, I contend that 3 It has been well established by critical history that Chaucer bo rrows extensively from Trevets Anglo-Norman Chronicle and Gowers Confessio Amantis among others, for the content of The Man of Laws Tale And, for this reason, I am assumi ng here readerly knowledge of the influence of these two works on Ch aucers tale of Custance, and t hus, for fear of reinventing the wheel, I will not use the remainder of this chapter to compare and contrast the three, as so many critical articles on The Man of Laws Tale are wont to do.
134 Chaucer gives her much more depth than his litera ry sources do, and to this end, he has Custance display a definite streak of qui et defiance and emotional enduran ce that appears in this tales most pivotal moments. She speaks when one e xpects a traditionally good woman to remain silent, and she remains curiously silent when one would expect this same good woman to speak. And it is precisely these unusual moments of silence and speech that create a far more complex Custance than can be found in either Trevets Chronicle or Gowers Confessio Amantis In Custance, Chaucer ultimately gives his a udience a woman who can hold her own, spiritually speaking, with a martyr, but also sh e is a woman who is able to be a legitimate wife as well. In other words, Custance is a woman who is able to be simultaneously a wife and a sainta state of being thought impossible by both secu lar and ecclesiastical standard s in the fourteenth-century. And, while Custances sort of physical and spiritual suffering still may not be terribly appealing for a modern reader, her trials and endurance w ould in actuality make the rigors of living a good life seem more attain able to a medieval Chri stian. Therefore, what The Man of Laws Tale reveals, yet again, is that human beings ar e more often found somewhere in the middle of the spiritual spectrum than they are at either ex treme, and Chaucer-as-author uses tales like this one to show that the key to rece iving divine aid often lies, not in extreme measures, but rather in constance with regard to ones actions, desires, and faith. Thus, to a modern reader, Custance may seem too passive, but to medieval Christians she would have been as close to a perfect human being one could get while on earth without having to sacrifice either their sexuality to a chaste marriage or their lives to a violent, gruesome death. In the beginning of The Man of Laws Tale a merchant from Surrye travels to Rome for business and, while in Rome, he hears about the emperors daughter, Custance, who is proper womanhood personified:
135 In hire is heigh beautee, withoute pride, Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye; To alle hire wekes vertu is hir gyde; Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye. She is mirour of alle curteisye; Hir herte is verray chamber of hoolynesse, Hir hand, minister of fred am for almesse. (162) Not only is Custance beautiful, gr aceful, and a model of womanl y courtesy, but also she is humble, virtuous, and kind. In other words, accordi ng to the dictates of the medieval Church and masculine society, she is the perfect woman. In f act, she is so perfect that the mere description of her by this merchant to his Sultan is enough to make the Sultan desire her and claim: That al his lust and al is bisy cure/Was for to love hire while his lyf may dure (188). The Sultan is so taken with the mere thought of her that he determines to marry her, and once the Emperor of Rome realizes that the Sultan of Surrye is willing to convert to Christianity in order to have his daughter, Custance is given in marriage to him w ithout consultation or de sire on her part to marry a man she has never met. But, really, such was the lot for most noble women throughout history, and Custances value as a saleable commodity for her father should surprise no one. Custance herself even recognizes the inequality of her position as a woman with regard to marriage when she says, Allas, unto the Ba rbre nacioun/I moste anoon, syn that it is youre wille/. /I, wrecche woman, no fors though I spille!/Wommen ar e born to thraldom and penance,/And to been under mannes govern ance (281, 285, emphasis mine). Now, this statement uttered by Custance to her father is the first time readers have evidence that she is not as meek and passive as she initially seems. She is not going to defy her fathers command that she marry; however, she is not going to remain entirely silent either. And so, here we have one of those moments in which Chaucer makes a significant change to his heroine from his sources. This Custance, if she were truly the perfectly good woman, or more precisely,
136 Dinshaws utterly blank no-thing, then at this moment, in the presence of the ultimate patriarchal figure, she would have remained appropr iately cowed. What is also interesting about this moment is what she chooses to say. Curi ously, she uses a similar phrase as does the knightrapist in The Wife of Baths Tale when he shows just how truly reformed he by telling the loathly lady, I do no fors . (1234). While one could easily interpret th is phrase as the former rapist giving a verbal shrug to his new wifethat is, as him sa ying, I dont care, or more simply, You decideit seems a far more si gnificant choice of words than this casual response. 4 For a former rapist to say that he would do no fors, he is showing that not only is he giving his wife sovereignty to decide for herself what is best for both of them, but also he is returning the sovereignty to women in general that he denied them when he committed his crime. In this moment, a man guilty of seizing all power and control from the woman he callously rapes relinquishes his own controlhis forsto his wife, thus giving her the sovereignty to decide her sexual destiny. And, although I do not want to over-extend this anal ysis, it does seem to have some bearing on what Custance chooses to sa y in this moment where her father denies her sovereignty with regard to her fate both in marri age and in life. When Custance utters the phrase I, wrecche woman, no fors though I spille, she is not making an idle exclamation, for even though it could simply be interpreted as a grieving woman lashing out at her father by saying the equivalent of: I, as an exiled woman, would not matter even if I were dead or perhaps even more provocatively, I, as an exiled woman, would not matter to you even if I were dead, there is more to Custances statement than this. Af ter all, as a woman of faith, Custance does have another option than marriage. She could choose to die, to become a virgin martyr as Cecilia 4 For a more detailed examination of this pun an d its larger implications, one should reference Chapter Three: Etym-Alchemy in Chaucers Body by R. A. Shoaf (University of Florida Press, 2001).
137 does. But, in this moment, Custance chooses to do no fors to herself; she accepts her exile to Suyrre, her marriage to the Sultan, and her duty as the daughter of the Emperor of Rome. Despite the fact that Cust ance elects to follow the dictates of her father, one should not mistake her capitulation for coward ice, for even though Custance is not granted th e marriage of her dreamsif in fact she were dreaming of marria ge in the beginning of this taleshe is not so intimidated by the patriarchal authority embodied by her father here that she cannot make her displeasure known. She may suffer, but she does not do so in silence. And therein lies the difference between Custance and some of the other good women in the Canterbury Tales While Custance realizes the necessity of penance, sh e, like the Wife of Bath, realizes that she is not simply performing acts of penance for her own si ns. Indeed, Custance re alizes that her role in this marriage is as much about mannes governance and power as it is the opportunity for Rome to convert an entire country of Muslims to Christianity. Thus, whereas the knight-rapist uses no fors to show that he is now willi ng to grant women sovereignty, Custance uses no fors to reveal just how often women are forced to give it upin more ways than one. In this moment, one cannot help but sympathize with Cust ances plight, and in this manner, Chaucer-asauthor accomplishes something ma ny contemporary critics do not gi ve him enough credit for: he has made a suffering saint seem human. And, just as one cannot ultimately deny the Wife of Baths wisdom, so too does Custances words here work upon the psyche of the reader. Whether or not you love Custance or hate her, in this moment of civil rebellion, one has to admit that shes got guts. After all, daughter s are far more expendable to kings than sons. But, in spite of being born to thraldom as a noble womanor simply as a womanin a masculine world, and even with the very real potential of fatherly re tribution that could follo w her bold statements of discontent, Custance has enough temerity to make her opinion known. She may have chosen at
138 this moment to endure rather than to die; how ever, one should not mistake her capitulation with blankness or with absence; she has proven here th at she does indeed have a will of her own, and for that, she should be given a bit more credit for the secular life she choos es to live instead of being penalized for the sacred de ath she is never meant to have. III In this section, I would like to discu ss three of the most pivotal moments for Custance in The Man of Laws Tale namely her banishments at the ha nds of her two disgruntled mothersin-law and her trial afte r the death of Hermengyld. Now, in limiting my discussion here to these three moments, I am well aware that I will be studiously ignoring one other scene that most critics tend to favor when examining this talet hat is, Custances deliverance from rape through obvious divine intervention. Chaucers reasons fo r including this scene can never be known with any certainty, but his motivation for translating it in the way he does has perhaps more than a bit to do with the complications th at surround the crime of rape it self. As one critic states: The aestheticization of rape and the empha sis on male lovesickness by which violence is romanticized in French literatu re is written into English literature to suggest the victims unwitting complicity in the crime committed against her. Alone, unprotected, and theref ore available for the taki ng by the first knight to come along, she tacitly asks for it. This misconception of female desire informed actual judicial processes wh ere male judges often suspected the credibility of a womans claim of rape. (Salisbury 85) Thus, the reason I am excluding this scene from my discussion here is the same reason that many critics, such as Salisbury, would include it. I am referring, of course, to its utter obviousness as an example of Custances sanctity. Without a doubt, the parallels betw een this vignette in The Man of Laws Tale and hagiographic representations of th e thwarted rapes of wandering female saints are unmistakable. And, just like these other holy women, Custances potential as a victim remains a potential because, at the moment of her greatest fear, she never doubts that the divine
139 realm will come to her aid, and since she does not despair, Mary rescues her from actual victimhood. In this manner, Custances unw avering faith keeps her unwemmed, or undefiled (924). Therefore, what is perhaps the most provocative as pect of this situation is not the attempted rape itself, but rather it is this reference to Custance as unwemmed. As a twicemarried woman and a mother, Custance is far from a virgin; regardless, she has always been, by medieval standards, chaste in that she has been a faithful and constant wife. What her rape would have done is sullied her in the same way Lucretia is in the Legend Therefore, the same questions regarding consent and sexual enjoyment th at taint Lucretias stor y would also apply to Custance, no matter how earnestly she fights her attacker. Chaucer redeems Lucretia in this regard by rendering her unconscious for the act itself. Since she is not conscious, she cannot in any way be accused of consent because Tarquin might as well be raping a corpse. In a slightly different scenario, Mary rescues Custance by having her attacker fall overboard during the struggle. Because of this divine rescue, Custance is spared the act of rape and any questions of even tacit consent, and in this way, she mainta ins her status as unwemmed, which means that she remains a desirable woman because she is never tainted by an unsanctioned sexual actan act she would not willingly pa rticipate in but for which sh e would be forever blamed. Consequently, this scene simply reaffirms what the audience already knows about Custance: her faith is as constant as her name implies no matte r what tragedies and/or potential defilings she must endure. Hence, Chaucers inclusion of this moment appears to be more a nod to the structure of the olde bokes, which all seem to include multiple examples of a saints chaste behavior, even when only one or two would be su fficient proof for any reader. For this reason, I am treating this moment with similar casualty, not because rape is an insignificant crime. Far from it. Rather, I am doing so because this fo iled rape sequence is merely the icing on an
140 already rich cake of Custances virtuous behavi or. Thus, what is far more significant to Custances progress in this narrat ive is her travels themselves i n, quite literally, a rudderless boat, or more precisely, what neces sitates people to continuously (re) place her in this boat in the first place. The first time Custance is forced afloat she is sent to marry a complete stranger in Surrye by her father. And, as I have previously stated, Custance is none-to-pleased with her fathers rather abrupt decision. However, such was the lot of many a noble woman in the Middle Ages, whose value as currency negotiated for land property, wealth, and even to prevent war, is well-documented. The second person to set Cust ance a-wandering on the s ea is the Sultans own mother, who is less than pleased not only with his sons choice of bride, but also with his decision to convert from Islam to Christianity in order to gain consent from his reluctant brides father. The narrator lets his feelings rega rding this mercenary woman be known when he exclaims, O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee! /Virago, thou Semyarme the secounde!/. /O feyned woman, al that may confounde/. /Is br ed in thee, as nest of every vice (358, 362, 364)! He even goes so far as to call her a serpent under femynynytee and say that she lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde (360). While critics are quick to point out this obvious comparison of the Sowdanesse to Satan, there is a bit more to the teno r and vehicle of this metaphor than simply the comparison of the So wdanesse to the most famous betrayer in Christian history. Furthermore, this moment also does more than set-up an obvious dichotomy of the Sowdanesse as a bad or feyned woman and Custance as a true woman, a dichotomy that will later include Custances second mother-i n-law, Donegild. As Sheila Delany argues: Unlike Constance, the older women seek power, are jealous of it, and do not hesitate to abuse that power to protect th eir private interests. .Most important, Constances mothers-in-law have reject ed the will of God, which has been manifested in the conversions of the tw o kings and especially in the miracle
141 performed at Allas court. So unnatural are Donegild and the Sultaness that they are addressed not simply as bad women, but as not truly women at all: virago, serpent under femininity, feigned woman, mannis h, fiendly sp irit. In passing the limits of morality they have lost their se xual identity, for were they truly women they could not behave so viciously. (Womanliness in the Man of Laws Tale 67) These mannish women, in their hunger for power and in their jealousy over Custances hold over their sons, seemingly sacrifice their femininity in order to ensure th eir political legacy. And, while Delany is right to point out that this perception of female ma sculinity renders them inherently evil in comparison to Custances utterl y perfect femininity, this contrast also has larger implications. Indeed, what is important ab out this comparison to Satan is it hints that the Sowdanesse and Donegild, like the serpent wi th Eve, will first approach Custance as a friend And, as I have stated earlier, Custance is not a complete pushover; howev er, at this moment, she is still a nave, young womanjust as Eve was at the moment of her most pivotal decision. For her entire life, Custance has had more powerful people make every important decision for her, but up to this point, she has never been openly betrayed by another pers onmale or female. Undeniably, her only experience with strangers is th at, even before they meet her, they fall in love with her and offer a proper marriage. Consequently, she has no reason to doubt the Sowdanesses veracity, especially when her new mother-in-law receyveth hire with also glad a cheere/As any mooder myghte hir d oghter deere (396). In this sense, it is Custances utter navet that allows her, like Eve, to be so thoroughly duped. Quite simp ly, the poor girl never sees it coming. To be fair, the Sowdanesse is extremely good at manipulation, for her own son is completely deceived by her act as well. But the So wdanesses betrayal is as important as it is necessary because it serves to continue the conversionary project begun by Custances father. He places his daughter into circulation for, am ong other reasons, her ability to convert the citizens of Surrye to Christianit ya truly advantageous marriage in deed. Yet, Custances ability
142 to convert others is not supposed to be relegate d to this one place, and so she cannot remain in Surrye forever. The Sowdanesse may be acting in her own self-interes t, but like Satan, her betrayal does serve another, and arguably hi gher, purpose. By placing Custance back into circulation, the Sowdanesse is, in actuality, se nding her conversionary po tential outward. She may believe she has killed Custance, but any goo d Christian would know that she is merely following the path dictated by a higher Will. After all, such is always the case in these sorts of stories. Furthermore, just as the Fall could ne ver have been possible without Satan, so too would Custances ability to convert others be arrested if she were to live the remainder of her life in Surrye. Thus, once again, the audience learns that Cu stance is to be an en tirely different example of chaste, saintly womanhood than Cecilia, for Cust ances duty is not to die, but rather it is, against all odds, to live. It is by her living example that Custance will convert others, and her life will prove to be as powerful a conversionary tool as Cecilias deatha fact Chaucer reiterates to his audience during Custances encounter with her second, equa lly devious mother-in-law, Donegild. From Surrye, Custance runs ashore in Northumbria, and the Constable there takes pity on her when, In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,/T he lyf out of hir body for to twynne,/Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne (516). The cu rious part of this rather casual statement by the narrator is not that the C onstable takes pity on an obvious damsel-in-distress. Instead, it should be noted that Custance beseeches the Cons table here not for sanctuary, but rather for death. The audience cannot know whether or not he would ever have honored such a request because she makes this plea in hir langage. Once again, Custance is purposely misunderstood. Yet, when her father chooses to ignore her, he places her in danger, and when the Constable cannot discipher her Latyn corrupt, he spares her life (519). In this manner, Custance is once
143 again rescued from her desire to become a mart yr, and in continuing to live, she is given the time to add to the already substantial number of converts she has inspired by her devout faith. In fact, what truly integrates Custance so easily into this new land is her fast-friendship with the Constables wife, Hermengyld, who becomes Custances first convert and trusted friend in this pagan world: This constable and dame Hermengyld, his wyf, Were payens, and that contree everywhere; And Custance hath so longe sojourned there, In orisons, with many a bitter teere, Til Jhesu hath converted thurgh his grace Dame Hermengyld, constablesse of that place. (533) As this quotation shows, Custance is able to a ffect Hermengylds conversion with the power of her prayers and faith, even though sh e is quite literally speaking a different language. It is the same miraculous powers as those granted to the Apostles and other faithful followers of Christ during what becomes known as Pentecost. The moment of Pentecost makes noble prechours of all of Christs most devout followers, a nd Hermengylds rapid conversion in spite of a communication barrier shows that Custance is no exception ( The Wife of Baths Prologue 165). What differentiates this mo ment of transformation from th e Sultans is that marriage is not the motivating factor here; th erefore, Hermengylds spiritual ep iphany is the first one made for faith alone within The Man of Laws Tale Hermengyld is inspired by Custances faith to change her own, and since she does so for no other reason than this, Hermengyld is granted certain gifts. She is the first character in this work to perform an outward miracle by healing a blind man who asks for her aid In name of Crist (561). It is not clear ly explained whether or not it is Hermengylds faith in Chri st that allows her to cure this man, or if it is the blind mans own appeal to Christ that allows him to be he aled. Perhaps it is some combination of both. Regardless, this miracle is necessary because it acts both as the catalyst for the conversion of
144 more pagansbeginning with Hermengylds husbandas well as because it brings about the circumstances that will take Custance out of the small sphere of influence she would have had in the Constables household and places her in the much larger arena of King Allas court. These circumstances are, of course, Hermengylds brut al murder by a knight who is bent on revenge after Custance rejects his amorous advances and his framing of Custance for this murder, which accomplishes two important tasksthe first of which being that The Man of Laws Tale finally has its martyr, and she is not Custance. Even though Hermengyld is slain in a moment of revenge motivated by masculine jealousy and wounded pride, she dies having performed a miracle, having converted others to Christianity, and most importa ntly, she dies with her new, unwavering faith intact. To add to this already significant list, sh e dies with her throat slashed a method of torture and death th at claims many martyrs in ha giographyand, as I have stated before, Custance, for all of her seeming will and desi re to die for her faith, is never meant to be a martyr. A fact that is given furt her weight in this sequence. It would have been just as easy for this knight to make martyrs out of both women, as she and Hermengyld have fallen asleep in the same bed; however, he chooses to murder Herme ngyld and leave Custance alive to take the fall, as it were. But, in reality, what the knight has done is give Cu stance the platform she needs to convert the entire court during her tr ial. Granted, Custance is not so calculating in her faith as to realize that her sufferings might be part of some larger divine plan; she experien ces all of the pain, stress, and grief of this ordeal in the moment, and for th is reason, she is all the more genuine and tragic an ingnue to both the audience at her trial as well as for the readers of the Canterbury Tales The characters and circumstances may change, but this basic pattern remains the same. It is why Hermengyld must be the martyr in place of Custance. Hermengyld has performed her miracle, and in doing so, she has earned her place among the other saints. Now,
145 she must die so that Custance can be placed in a much larger arena wh ere she can effect the largest group of people, for at her trial, not only does Custance impr ess King Alla with her gentleness, but also the proof of her sanctity converts others when the murderous knight is mysteriously smoot upon the nekke-boon to fall dead atones as a stoon (669). The knights death is so sudden and impressive th at the kyngand many a nother in that place /Converted was, thanked be Cris tes grace! (685), and Custance, as the ultimate reward for her faith and perseverance, goes from being an ac cused murderer to queen of Northumbria in the space of a few hundred lines. It is at this moment th at the audience first meets Cu stances second mother-in-law, Donegild, and she enjoys the influence Cust ance unwittingly possesses over her son even less than the Sowdanesse. And while Donegild may not be as openly blood-thirsty as the Sowdanesse, who murders her own son rather than ha ve Christianity take hol d in Surrye, she still endeavors to get rid of Custance a nd the threat she presents to this mothers influence over her son. Her need to remove Custance from the pictur e reaches its most criti cal point when Custance does what any true wife is supposed to do in th e Medieval worldshe gives Alla a male heir. Once again, Custance as been foolish enough to become comfortable in her surroundings, and because she remains nave to the secular polit ics governing the nobility in her world, she once again becomes the victim of a mo ther-in-law who appears in the gui se of a friend, but who is in reality another Sowdanesse in Hermengylds clothi ng. In this sense, Chau cer shows his audience that, since Custance is so explicitly focused on heavenly matters, she is often easily deceived by earthly ones. Indeed, Custance is at this point still so devoted to authority that she fails to let experience teach her that men are not the only people she needs to be cautious of in this world. Admittedly, most female saints are accused, vi ctimized, and in many cases, murdered by men,
146 and so it is rather jarring for Custance and also for the reader to have a saintly heroine be so thoroughly betrayed by a woman. And to have it happen more than once is almost inconceivable. For this reason, the accusation by the narrator that the Donegild and the Sowdanesse are mannish is not simply an insu lt to their apparent lack of proper gentle, feminine dispositions, but more importantly, is speak s to their roles as betrayers. In an ironic twist to the typical stor ies of female sainthood, Custance is consistently rescued by men, and she finds her greatest and most unexpected betrayals at the hands of women. On the other hand, this tale does contain some really bad menthe knight and the steward being the most notable examples; however, Chaucer-as-author is never c ontent to allow his narratives and their villains to remain so obvious. He never permits either sex simply to paint the lion without giving the lion its own say in the outcome of the portrait. Thus, he presents us with two really bad women in order to provide a necessary balance that the st ories on this subject matter so frequently lack. The Sowdanesse and Donegild are counteracted by the pure goodness of Hermengyld, just as the murderous knight and steward/ra pist are rehabilitated by the nobl e intentions of the Sultan and Alla. In this succinct manner, Chaucer once again cautions his audience not to become complacent when reading his stories, for one must always remember that, in Chaucers tales, no one is above reproach, no matter how good, just as no one is beyond redemption, no matter how bad they may be in the beginning. Donegild, like many of the other antagonist s in this tale, is killed before she might repent, but she dies having completed her ultimate task for this story, namely she recirculates Custance just as the Sowdanesse and Custances father did before her. There is a difference here in that Donegild commits the act, but Alla recei ves the blame. The main reason for this is the fact that Donegild fabricates a letter from Alla to the Constabl e banishing Custance once again to
147 the sea with her supposedly monstrous child (794) What I find most in triguing here is that, even though Custance has been betrayed by a power ful woman before, she is no more cautious in her dealings with women at this moment than she was at the ou tset of her tale. She does not think to question the letter, or se ek out her husband to verify its ve racity; she simply leaves. The Sowdanesse should have taught her that not every woman is a Hermengyld, ju st as Alla or even the Sultan should have shown her th at not every man is indifferent to her desires, or a murderer, or a rapist, or even some combinations of all three. And, even though Custance accepts her exile with dignity, she does show some dissent as she leaves by saying, Farewel, housbonde routheless! (862). This quotat ion shows the same strange mi x of capitulation and defiance she displayed with her father in the beginning of this tale, which demonstrates that, while Custance will go, she does not want to go, a necessary distinction that not many critics make. When Custance accepts her exile, however grudg ingly, she looks for comfort from a higher authority, and while she consistently receives aid when she needs it, her inability to value and/or to learn from secular experience keeps landing her in situations that requi re such grand, divine rescues as this one. Thus, Custances constant ignorance of experience keeps her in perpetual circulation, but paradoxically, her wanderings are exactly what she mu st do in order to satisfy the conversionary needs of her sacred authority. Consequently, the importance of the bad women in this tale is not simply that they are bad, or even that they represen t yet another example of mercenary, improperly controlled womanhood, but rather it is the fact that their betrayals serve a higher purpose. Without them, Custance would re main static. Like Aeneas before her, whenever she arrives at a new place, she seems cont ent to stay, regardless of the transcendental dictates concerning her journey. And so, it is becau se of her suffering at th e hands of others that she is returned to her divine pr oject. In this manner, it is not the good women who push
148 Custance from innocence into experience in this tale, but rather it is th e bad women who teach Custance her greatest lessons about how to survive in the human realm, and it is because the Sowdanesse and Donegild are such intent teacher s of secular experience that they ensure, for better or worse, that Custance remains unfailingly constant when performing her sacred duties. IV In the final section of this chapter, I will be discussing Custances homecoming. The primary reason for which being that her reuni ons with her father a nd her estranged husband, Alla, are quite deliberate in thei r calculation, something that is quite refreshing from this often all-too -innocent character. It is in these two or chestrated moments of revelation that the reader finally sees a Custance who has learned, after all of her extended wanderings, how to tread cautiously when dealing with powerful peoplebot h male and female. Despite the fact that Custance happens to return her to her homeland almost by accident, she rather curiously chooses to remain silent, even though she is once mo re among a group of people with whom she can communicate freely. The group of men who find Custance and her son, Maurice, are the same men who were sent by her father to Surrye to exact vengeance upon the Sowdanesse for her betrayal. Yet, these men fail to recognize, or more precisely they mistranslate, the visage of their long lost princess because, at this point, Custance has been away from home quite a long time. In a reversal of her rescue by the Constable, where she begs for death, Custance was in swich array, ne she nyl seye/Of hire estaat, althogh sh e sholde deye (972). On the one hand, this statement could imply that Custance has learned from her hard-won life e xperience that there are some situations in life more torturous than even a martyrs death, but on the other hand, one must realize that none of Custances experiences during her various exiles have ever scared her enough to cause her to lose faith. Thus, it seems that, while Cust ance is well aware that at any
149 moment she sholde deye, she perhaps has learne d that the divine plan for her life does not include a swift and holy death. She also apparently has discovered that there is nothing she can doby either action or plea t o change this fact. Therefore, it is interesting to note that in a tale where the heroine is constantly mistranslated she is not above committing this (mis)interpretive sin herself. To be sure, now that she has seemingly lost her death wish, she must go about the process of engaging the living world, something she has been ill-equipped to handle until now. But, once she has chosen to do so, she navigates the harsh waters of noble politics with all of the calculation of the Sowd anesse or Donegild; how ever, unlike these more mercenary women, she is able to do so in a ma nner that eliminates tr eachery and bloodshed altogether and ensures a happy ending that she ca n learn to live with now that she has actively chosen not to die. Case in point, the senator who finds her boat turns out to be her uncle-in-law, and when he brings Custance to his household, her aunt also fails to recognize her, even though this aunt, like Hermengyld, feels an instant and d eep emotional connection to Custance. Now, instead of feeling instant relief at her homecoming, identifying hers elf, and falling into her aunts arms in gratitude for her rescue, Custance says nothing. For such an initially transparent and easily duped woman, Custance chooses a rather significant moment to hold her tongue, and she continues her silence unt il she learns that Alla is journeyi ng to Rome to atone for slaying his mother, a grave sin he has committed in order to avenge Custance and his son, both of whom he believes to be dead. The reason for Custances odd silence here is two-fold. On the one hand, Custance has returned to the bas tion of Christianity in Europe that is, Rome. Consequently, while the scene with the senator and his wife is reminiscent of the Constable and Hermengyld in Northumbria, the all-important task of conversion is unnecessary here. Thus, perhaps she
150 remains mute because, in essence, her work here was accomplished long ago. However, there is another, more compelling, possibility for her si lence. Custance now ha s a son, and Maurice is heir to the throne in both Northumbria and Rome. Accordingly, it stands to reason that Custance would not identify herself until she has gained the unwavering protection inherent in Allas recognition of his own son. The na rrator tells us that Maurices journeys with the senator to a feast held in Allas hono r comes at his moodres heeste (1013), and when he is at the feast, he is supposed to stand biforn Alla ./lookkynge in the kynges face (1015). As is rather typical with Chaucer, this one line of exposition carries with it a world of significance. Custance has remained perfectly mute until this moment becau se, in Alla, she sees not only a source of protection, but also she sees a future for both herself and her son. Custance means, in no uncertain terms, for her son to be recognized by hi s father, and she is absolutely confident that one look between father and son will accomplish this end. She is right. Although, what Alla recognizes in the boys face is not evidence of his own paternity, but rather how much this childs features are lyk unto Custance (1030), which once again reveals the primary tenet of translation in much of Chaucers writing. Ind eed, the way in which Alla recognizes his son is less an instinctual feeling based upo n his fatherhood than it is the way in which his sons features accurately translate those of his wife. And, to Allas cred it, he never questions the fact that, if Maurice is Custances son, then he is also his own son as well. For Alla, Custances chastity as a wife is unassailable, and in this manner, Chau cer finally shows his audience a tale wherein the reunion of a father and son as well as of a husba nd and wife can include th e accurate translation of a woman by the masculine powers-that-be. To this end, Custance requests that, when A lla goes for his official visit to her father, he bring her and Maurice; n onetheless, she wants him unto hir fader no word of hir seye (1085).
151 Custance does not reveal her identity to her fath er until the proper scene has been set. As one critic says, It is certainly relevant to note the extent to which Custances rhetoric of victimization with her father reverses the actual power-struc ture of their reunion. Custance completely orchestrates and dominates the scene, which occurs at the time, place, and condition of her choosing (Dawson 299). It is essential that Custances id entity remain a secret between herself, Maurice, and Alla until Custance has had this pivotal confrontation with her father because, in order for her to remain in a legitim ate marriage so that her son will not become a bastard, her father must approve of Alla and deem their marriage valid. This situ ation is tricky, for while her father contracted her marriage to the Sultan, Custance married Alla of her own free will, something not many noble women were ever able to do. Gail Ashton writes of this significant moment: When Constan ce speaks to her father she posit ions herself as his daughter yet also retains her new stat us as Couste, wife of a man no t chosen by him. She presents herself as a woman able to ma ke independent choices, one who has reached sexual maturity and has a child as validation of that (421). Ther efore, in finding Alla, Custance has accomplished much. She has converted not one group of pagans, but two; she also has enabled former pagans to perform miracles, and she ha s become a mother. In other words, she has done a lot of growing-up since her father has la st seen her, and for this reason, Custance, when reuniting with her father, must first identify he rself and tread with caution as she does so. She says, I am youre doghter Custance/. ./That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye./It am I fader, that in the saltee see/Was put alone and dampned for to dye (110 7). Now, this statement is interesting because it shows just how much political inge nuity Custance has learned through her tragic experiences. Even though this statement is no le ss pointed than her tes timonial regarding women and marriage that she threw at her father before leaving for Surrye; here, Custance is careful to
152 be much more veiled with her in tent and meaning. Custances fath er is not the only one to put her out to sea, regardless of the fact that he did not do so with the explicit purpose of killing her. And, while her death could have been the resu lt, only the Sowdanesse and Donegild exile Custance to sea with the intent to commit murder. In this way, Cu stance gets a subtle verbal dig on her father because, no matter what happened afte rward, he is the one to place her in danger to begin with; however, unlike the ea rly, uncomplicated statements of her youth, Custance displays considerable political savvy with this one multifaceted statement. She is finally able to condemn her father for all of her pain and suffe ring, but she is able to do so without offending him, which is essential to the su rvival of her marriage and, quite possibly, of her son as well. In her next breath, she fully smoothe s over her accusations by saying, Now, goode fader, mecy I yow crye!/Sende me namoore unto noon hethenesse,/But thonketh my lord here of his kyndenesse (1111). Not only does she coverup her earlier accusato ry language with an appeal to both her goode fader[s] merc y and pridemost likely a wise move with any kingbut also she uses subtle language in this quotation to influen ce her father to let her remain Allas wife, which is a decision that will be ultimat ely left up to him and not to Custance herself. According to medieval marriage laws, her union with Alla is illegal for the simple reason that her father neither arranged it, nor di d he give it his blessing. Even though the Sultan is dead, he and Custance are still technically married by contract if not by actual ceremony, in the eyes of both the medieval Church and the State. Consequent ly, if Custances father, as the King of Rome, were to decide to assert his paternal claim here, Custance and Alla would have to go their separate ways or face death at the hands of her father for treason and excommunication based on the laws of both the Church and the secular government. The C hurch and the State often looked the other way in such matte rs, as exemplified in the Canterbury Tales by the Wife of Bath and
153 her five husbands; however, such exemptions were not guaranteed, especially in the case of the nobility where the wealth and fates of entire na tions depended upon who married whom. It is at this moment that the reader can see just how Cust ances earlier naivet ha s transformed into hard won experience, for at this point in the narrative, she words her a ppeal to her father in such a way that he cannot, in good cons cience and/or as a good king, refu se her request. She has asked her father to sende me nammore unto noon heth enesse, which, technically, Alla no longer is due to Custances conversionary efforts, but Surrye, as a nation, stil l is because of the Sowdanesse and her slaughter of all of the converted Christians in her kingdom, her own son included. It is strange to th ink that Custance should probably be relieved that, while the Sowdanesse wanted to get rid of the taint of Ch ristianity, Donegild only wanted to get rid of her a decision by her second mother-in-law that in hindsight leaves one land full of hethenesse and renders the other a newly established Christian str onghold. In this sense, if Custances father wants to send her back among the hethenesse, he will have to send her to yet another pagan country with an eligible, nobl e bachelor; although, if he honors his daughters request, then her marriage to Alla a proper king of a legitimate Ch ristian nation, will have to be upheld. It is this linguistic finesse that pr oves Custance has finally learned how to be both spiritually devout and politically savvy because with one phrase she has deftly tied her fathers hands, all of which she accomplishes by the simple act of holding her ton gue and waiting for the most effective moment to speak. The second part of Custances plea to he r father is interesting as well, for not only has she cleverly separated Alla and hi s kingdom from the taint of heathe nism, but also she states that her father should thonketh my lord here of hi s kyndenesse (1112). In this moment, Custance has made it impossible for her father, as a proper statesman, to do anything but be grateful to
154 Alla if he wants to be perceived as a good ki ng. And the only way in which he could thoroughly show his appreciation for Allas kyndenesse to his daughter is to allow their marriage to stand, which is the outcome that Custance has been engi neering since she discov ers Allas arrival in Rome on pilgrimage. Furthermore, we know that Custance is successful when the narrator tells us her son, Maurice, was sithen Emperour/Maa d by the Pope (1121). In carefully choosing her moment to speak, Custance ensures her sons future and it is even more important to note that their marriage is legitimized because Custance has chosen it and fought for it with the same zeal she gives her religious devotion. Had she not wanted to secure this future for herself or her son, she could just as easily chosen to remain an anonymous me mber of her aunts household. But, when given the sovereignty by circumstances to choose her own future, she sets into motion a series of important paternal recognition scenes fo r both her son and herself that gain her the end that she desires most. In this manner, she uses the political experience that the Sowdanesse, Donegild, and even her own father, have give n her without having to resort to violence, prevarication, or fiendish behavior As a result, Custance is able to balance her faith in divine authority with the dictates of earthly politics, so mething that truly sets her apart from Chaucers other characters, both male and female, who often become so consumed by one side or the other in this debate that they find it impossible even to entertain the thought that anyone could ever manage to be both. In this way, Custance shows that while sh e has always been intelligent, the lessons she learns in life have finally rendere d her shrewd as well. It also hi nts at just how transgressive this heroine becomes despite her earlier, seemingl y unrelenting, innocence that becomes exacerbated by her initial blindne ss to the fact that evil comes in many guises, both male and female. While Custance always seems prepared for the former, she proves easily duped by the latter, and in
155 spite of critical claims to the contrary, there is an over-arching reason for her perpetual innocence with regard to secular politics. Without its continued interference, Custance would never circulate as she is meant to by both divine and authorial will. In the beginning, Custance is a woman who is constantly tortured by circulation, whether it is in marriage, in spirituality, or in translation. That being said, she should never be construed as another Alisoun of Bath, whose overwhelming experience and exclus ive reliance upon it have rendered her jaded with regard to any happiness in life free from both sexual and so cial control. Moreove r, despite her early innocence, Custance is also never meant to be the same sexlessly militant martyr as St. Cecilia. Custance, as usual, is somewhere in between th ese two extremes. She is a woman who lacks the immediate distinction of a Ceci lia or an Alisoun, and thus, she often seems only hinted at and supposed upon from either a distance or behind clos ed doors. As R. A. Sh oaf argues, If I want to understand a person, then I must stand under th at person, become (if only for a moment) like that person. But Custance, we know, is never lik e anyone except herself ultimately a fictitious tautology (Custance is constant) (Unwemmed Cu stance. 289). And, while I agree that Custance is something wholly unique among Chaucer s heroines, I must disagree with Shoafs branding of her as a fictitious tautology. Yes, Custance is constant, and initially, she only comes into focus for the narrator and even for he r own father when she behaves in accordance with patriarchal demands regarding proper female behavior. But, Chaucer allows her to be so much more than a no-thing at the end of her tale, even if her utter innocence made her such in the beginning. More importantly, her defiance of these norms never prevents her from receiving divine aid whenever she needs it most. In this manner, Custance accomplishes what the Wife, St. Cecilia, and most of Chauce rs other female characters cannot; she is able to transform herself into an acceptable mixture of sinner and sa int that manages to satisfy ecclesiastical law
156 without relegating her to virginal wifehood. Even though Custance s earlier wish to be martyred is never fulfilled, she is ultimately granted the sovereignty to choose the life and the husband she truly desires mosta gift that not many women in her position ever receive and that she does not take lightly. Consequently, The Man of Laws Tale shows that arguments regarding authority and experience are inevitably rendered immaterial if one has the proper faith. And so, Custance becomes Chaucers most poignant example of this revelation because, in spite of her multiple marriages, of her becoming a mother, and of her choosing to be a wife and not a martyr, she is still just as blessed by God at th e conclusion of her tale as she wa s in its opening lines. Thus, her tale reveals to Chaucers audience that experi ence and authority can, w ith proper constance, eventually meet in the middle, no matter what jaded wives, militant martyrs, and the olde bokes may have to say to the contrary.
157 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Al that is writen is writen for our doctrine, and that is myn entente. Retraction, Canterbury Tales 1078 Like Boccaccio before him, Chaucer ma kes use of retractions at rather provocative times. As I noted in my second chapter, his retraction at the end of Troilus and Criseyde serves to changes ones entire reading of this text In a similar manner, one could argue that The Legend of Good Women also possesses a retrac tion; however, this one se rves as the purpose for the entire poem, instead of merely appearing at the end as an apology. Here, the Narrators of F and G must assure a reproving God of Love and Al ceste that they will write women differently in order to atone for writing some women of ques tionable moral standards in the past. In other words, the legends themselves are to serve as an authorial apology for any offense given to women by this author-turned-narrato r in his earlier writi ng; and yet, whether or not they actually do so is a much-debated subject. In this way, the retraction in the Canterbury Tales is more reminiscent of the one at the end of Troilus and Criseyde in that it attempts to reorder the thinking of the audience towards a higher messa ge as well as a higher power, but it also possesses the same mea culpa structure of the Prologues to The Legend of Good Women except in this instance, Chaucer-as-author seems to be apologizing for all of his writing in general, and not just to women or for those stories that may contain morally questionable female subjects in particular. Thus, while all of th ese retractions help to create an almost jarring tonal shift at the conclusions to some of his most powerful poems, th ey also never allow the reader to forget who is actually manipulating the narra tive strings. In essence, Chaucer is an author who never uses a metaphor, pun, or allusion without deliberate purpose. Thus, perhaps these retractions are meant
158 to be sarcastic jibes like that of Bocc accios defense of his sweet tongue in the Decameron Then again, they could also serve as the precur sor for the gentle pleas for forgiveness spoken by Shakespeares Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream Is Chaucer truly worried if the shadows of his writing have offended, or is he merely bei ng ironic about his entente ? This questions is compounded by the curious switch from poetry to prose that precedes the retraction to the Canterbury Tales for The Parsons Tale while not the only one in prose, seems to be the most heartfelt treatise on penance in this poem. In this sense, it represents the perfect introduction to the retraction, which reads more like the beginni ng of a confession with its request for mercy from Lord Jhesu Crist for any literary sins comm itted by the author, than any other tale in this collection (1072). Consequently, perhaps Chaucer truly feel s the need for penance, not in the playful manner he uses with Alceste in the Legend but rather with an honest apology. As this strongly authorial voice says, Now preye I to hem alle that herkne this litel tretys or rede, th at if ther be any thyng in it that liketh hem, that therof they thanken oure Lord Jhesu Crist, of whom procedeth al wit and al goodnesse (1069). Howe ver, if ther be any thyng that displese hem, I preye hem also that they arrette it to the defaute of myn unknonnynge and not to my wyl, that wolde ful fayn have seyd bettre if I ha dde had konnynge (1074). The credit for all of Chaucers good writing is tr ansferred by these words to a higher power, and conversely, any bad writing is not his fault due to his unkonny ngewould that all divi sions were so clearly defined. Unfortunately, while Chau cer can retract any of his storie s that do not meet with the approval of authority, his characte rs are not often given the same consideration. The writing of a leccherous lay or two might not cause irrepara ble harm to an authors reputation, but being considered a lecherous lay is no venial sin, as ma ny of Chaucers female characters have learned
159 over the centuries. Indeed, it proves to be a fa r graver sin for which all of womankind must atone for. And, as I have shown throughout this pr oject, the efforts Chaucer makes in his writing to rehabilitate such women have frequently fa llen on deaf ears. Essentially, these reproving critics dont get the jokethe punch line of which can only be f ound in the realm of experience, where the categories themselves are proven unworkabl e in a real world c ontext. In any case, Chaucer so often demonstrates in his tales, as he so artfully do es in this retr action, that good and bad are, in reality, hollow terms, for as any good Christian know s, a heartfelt apology will always generate forgiveness. In this manner, bad becomes good with a genuine mea culpa on the part of the author for the sometimes unsavory behavior of his characters, and in writing this way, Chaucer takes the burden of this apology away from the women in his narratives. In any case, if their behavior has o ffended anyone, then it is really his fault for not writing them better, or more preci sely, for not (re)writing them in such a way that they are redeemeda redemption that paradoxically must be translated as separate from physical purity due to the status of many of these women as anything but unwemmed. Consequently, what Chaucers works accomplish in general, and what the texts I have chosen for this dissertation accomplish in particular is the (re)invention of female goodness in such a way that, if one cannot find it in his or her heart to fo rgive these women their humanness, then, in the end, there is no possible redemption for anyonein fi ction or in fact. As Chau cer continually proves in his narratives, no one is above reproach, and every human being, whether male or female, has the capacity to sin. After all, Adam ate the appl e too, and Chaucer shows his audience that the denial of this fact can only ever result in tragedy. So ciety can never advance if all it ever does is point fingers and institute unjust regulations upon human behavior, and so as the reader learns from Troilus and Criseyde The Legend of Good Women and the Canterbury Tales the search
160 for ones similitude and the desire for sovereignty are part of every persons existence. Inevitably, experience teaches us that the success or failure of any one individual in this regard affects us all in more ways than authority can ever hope either to comprehend or to master. Throughout this dissertation, the intellect ual debt I owe to certain critics, such as Aranye Fradenburg, Sheila Delany, Carolyn Dinshaw, Jill Mann, Elaine Tuttle Hansen, and many others will most likely be obvious. I fully realize that, without their work in Chaucer studies, my own would most likely not have be en possible. Yet, as with all scholarly forerunners, there are certainly in stances where my own work must respectfully depart and/or disagree with theirs. In a time when sex, sexua lity, and gender are constantly being redefined, it seems unfathomable that there would be so many conferences, not only on fe minist criticism, but also on feminist medieval studies specifically, that ask the question: D oes it matter? And, in the case of the latter group, there seems to be a conscious divide between what current feminist critics are producing and what many believe femi nist medieval scholars are even capable of producing. After all, isnt bringing a feminist analysis to a text wr itten by a male author in the fourteenth-century sort of like act ually trying to get the fish to ri de that bicycle? The mental image of such a process is as ridiculous as many contemporary Womens Studies programs believe the analysis of the Middle Ages to be, esp ecially with regard to any modern questions of sexuality, gender, queerness, and/or female subj ectivity. It is my reaction to this flawed assumption that really began this project, for I could not help but wonder how a series of movements and sub-movements so concerned with toppling the categorical walls society places around sex, gender, and desire be so quick to place medieval liter ature and its relevance to the modern world in a tightly sealed container labele d: The Past. Do Not Reopen! Indeed, from the first time I read Chaucer, I felt as if he we re speaking directly to me, and I know I am not
161 alone in this regard. He may be a medieval man, and he may have at one time committed a heinous act, but his characters are so delightfully fl awed that they feel strangely familiar, as if I had met them on the street just yesterday. They have an emoti onal and psychological weight that is unique to any other author in the Middle Ages, and the reason fo r such familiarity comes from his study of human nature itself. It is not that Chaucer is a proto-feminist, possessing an anachronistic sensitivity to modern problems, but rather Chaucer is simply an extraordinarily keen observer of human nature in all of its my riad incarnations. Moreover, what contemporary critics so often willfully deny is the fact that while our ideas and thinking may have changed with regard to certain topics, our esse ntial humanness has changed not a whit. For this reason, Fradenbur g is correct in disabusing schol ars of the notion that, with a new Age comes a new psychological make-up fo r modern men and women. As she states: psychoanalytic work can help contemporary mediev al studies to an ethics that does not bind, nor bind itself to, the past as d ead weight, but lets it loose in th e historical signifiers that still trace their way through our passions (78). W ithout a doubt, this statement begs the question, how can we truly say we are contemplating a ne w theoretical moment, if we continue to deny that the past has value? If it is all truly in the past, then why do strangely similar questions that Chaucer explores in his writing about male and female relations hips, gender, love, and desire still recur today? Granted, ther e are some distinct differences in that, while Chaucer often debates what it means to be either a good or a bad woman, scholars in feminist and queer studies have discovered the far more da unting question of what it means to be a woman. And, obviously, Chaucer would naturally assume a heteronormative framework in his writing; however, he is not alone, and much of the frustrat ion in contemporary criticism is still focused on removing this framework and its assumptions from our current vernacular and its literature. The
162 oppression and suppression of women in the Middle Ages is an unde niable fact; nevertheless, it is not a problem that has been solved in the m odern era; it has been debated with more serious intent, it has also been improved upon a little, but it has in no way disappeared form all aspects of society. Being a desiring woman in the contempor ary moment continues to raise eyebrows, whether or not one chooses a heteroor a homos exual means of performing that desire, and for all of our supposed improvements upon the Dark Ag es, we still compare women to cows. On the one hand, we are told that a woman should f eel proud that she is a desiring subject, but on the other, she cannot want to want it, or more precisely, she should not a ppear to want to want it. If she does, then she is a whore; regardless of whethe r or not she engages in a sexual act or not. It is this logic that still makes the majority of so ciety conflate sexual viol ence against women with desire, when in actuality such acts are about power and control. It is about knocking the Lady off of her pedestal and rendering her attainable, by force if n ecessary. In this manner, she becomes as sinful and as tainted as the rest of humanity. It is about making her pay for being desirable, and yet daring to be unattainable. The violence makes her r eal, but ironically, once she is real she is no longer desirable. She no longer has power over her subjects. She is no longer worthy of sacrifice. And every time cont emporary criticism denies that the relationship between thwarted desire and hist ory has any relevance to the mode rn moment, it is also trying to deny the Lady her sovereignty in both a literary and a human context. Even though this sort of violence is intellectual rather than physical, it re mains as damaging as even the most violent rape because what such a denial does is lobotomize th e psyche so that history becomes merely an afterthoughtthe proverbial footnote in this supposedly modern world. I am not trying to say that everyone who reads Chaucer or any literat ure from the Middle Ages must immediately
163 comprehend its value or even lik e it; nonetheless, anyone who tr ies to deny that medieval literature can sustain a modern reading in any critical field has more in common with the polemics, clerics, and other questio nable authorities that the Middle Ages had to offer than he or she might choose to admit. Gayle Rubin perhaps says it best when she so famously writes: I personally feel that the feminist movement must dream of even more than the elimination of the oppression of women. It must dream of the elimin ation of obligatory sexualities and sex roles. The dream I find most compelling is one of an androgynous and genderl ess (though not sexless) society, in which ones anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does, and with whom one makes love (140). This statement is obviously the ideal that we have yet to attain; however, it demonstrates the fact that, with regard to desire love, sex and gender, we are perhaps as clueless and troubled as our ancestors. It is an inevitable fact of the human conditi on that we all want to belong, but we do not want to be like anyone else. Furthermore, we all want to consider ourselves and our thinking unique, and what au thors like Chaucer do, is to show us in no uncertain terms that, no matter how far we may think we have come, we have, in reality, progressed by inches rather than by Ages. And, if we continue as a society, in general, and as women, in particular, to deny th at history has any bearing on th e modern world, then we, once again, run the risk of being relegated to an ab stract notion, to an in terpretation that lacks substantial proof, and worst of all, to the expectation of pious silence.
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183 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Joanna R. Shearer hails from the great state of Texas, but sh e has lived in various places within the United States and Europe thro ughout her life. She earned her B.A. in English literature from the University of Dallas in Irvi ng, Texas. During her masters program at the University of Florida (UF), Joanna was inducte d into the Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society. Her masters degree is in British medieval literature with a specialization in Chaucer studies, and she earned her Ph.D. in 2007from UF in the same subject matter. She looks forward to her career as a scholar and continuing her role as an instructor.