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Mythographic Chaucer

Mythographic Chaucer: The Fabulation of Sexual Politics

Jane Chance
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Mythographic Chaucer
    Book Description:

    Jane Chance reveals how the concealment of embarrassing secrets often sexual in nature and the burden of political alliances and strategies-what might together be termed sexual politics-motivated Chaucer in much of his work. Firmly placing Chaucer in the cultural politics of his time, she shows how he manipulated the mythographic and textual conventions of the period for his own literary, social, and political purposes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8519-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. A Chronology of Major Medieval Mythographers
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  7. Introduction: “Fables and Swich Wrecchednesse”
    (pp. 1-16)

    Chaucer rarely comments on his own life or poetic career, aside from the prefatory pseudoautobiographical narrative frames in the dream visions, the two tales of the pilgrim Chaucer (Sir Thopasand theMelibee), and the Retraction at the end of theCanterbury Tales.The lone passage of what might be defined as literary biography is voiced by one of his own characters (and alter ego), the Canterbury pilgrim Man of Law, in the introduction to his tale (45-89). Apart from the fascinating Borges-like situation of a character commenting on the authority of his own creator, the most important aspect of...

  8. Part 1. Mythography and Female Authority in the Dream Visions

    • CHAPTER 1 “A wonder thing”: The Descensus ad Inferos of the Female Heroes Alcyone and Alceste
      (pp. 19-44)

      The female mythological figures Alcyone and Alceste, from the two rarely compared poemsBook of the Duchessand thePrologueto theLegend of Good Women,share related sources.¹ Although critics have primarily focused on their French² rather than Latin or learned mythographic sources,³ in both poems the narrator Chaucer learns about its central female character from a “bok” of fables. Alcyone appears in “A romaunce” that Chaucer reads one night when he cannot sleep—apparently Ovid’sMetamorphoses11.410-749, but possibly theOvide moralisé.

      Andin this bok were written fables

      That clerkes had in olde tyme,

      And other poets,put...

    • CHAPTER 2 “Geffrey” as Dido, Ganymede, “Marcia”: Mythographic and Gender Parody in the Hous of Fame
      (pp. 45-82)

      Of the two meetings of Aeneas and Dido in theAeneid,Chaucer in theHous of Fameis more interested in the meeting of the hero and the shade in the gloomy sixth book rather than in the passionate fourth book. Chaucer witnesses Eneas descend into hell to see his father Anchises, but while there, Eneas finds Palinurus, Dido, Deiphebus, “And every turment eke in helle” (445). Among these torments is Dido’s worry about her loss of reputation because of Eneas’s treachery and how she will be viewed by posterity. Movingly recited before she kills herself, this important speech helps...

    • CHAPTER 3 Venus Contextualized: The Mythographic Authority of the Body in The Parlement of Foules
      (pp. 83-104)

      The center of theParlement—and the most vexing problem, in relation to its complex subject, love¹— concerns the depiction of Venus in the temple within the garden, whose apparently negative description in lines 260-73 has engendered critical opprobium. Lying on a golden bed (265) in a “prive corner” (260) of a “derk” place (263) and dallying with her porter Riches (261) “in disport” (260), Venus is “naked from the brest unto the hed” (269). The semiotics of the description reveal a lustful sign of aroused masculinity in the rising of the sun after Venus “lay to reste”(265) — “Til that...

  9. Part 2. Mythographic Cross-Gendering in the Troilus

    • CHAPTER 4 The Narrator as Mythographic Glossator: The Rape of Criseyde
      (pp. 107-168)

      The romance of theTroilusrepresents Chaucer’s first extended use of classical fable—fable that even Macrobius would have regarded as inappropriate—as a gloss on his own narrative, an approach to the narrative (like that to the narrator) that has received surprisingly little attention from scholars.¹ The first two lines of the poem proclaim that it plans “The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,” meaning Troilus’s suffering before and after Criseyde grants him her favors, and also the suffering caused by the fall of Troilus's nation, Troy (if we note the “eye-rhymes” throughout between “Troilus,” or “Troylus,” and “Troy”),...

  10. Part 3. Subversive Mythography:: The Speaker as Feminized Subject in the Canterbury Tales

    • CHAPTER 5 Zephirus, Rape, and Saint Thomas à Becket: The Political Vernacular
      (pp. 171-183)

      The tension between pagan and Christian forms what might be termed the idea of theGeneral Prologueas it functions on its two levels, literal (natural, physical, pagan, feminine] and figurative (supernatural, spiritual, Christian, masculine). Although Chaucer refers to many classical gods throughout the dream visions, theTroilus,and some of the tales of theCanterbury Tales,he mentions only one pagan figure in the whole of theGeneral Prologue—the West Wind, or Zephirus, in line 5. The dependent clause in the first half of thereverdieindicating the time when Zephirus most influences the natural world (5-9; that...

    • CHAPTER 6 Feminizing Theseus in the Knight’s Tale The Victory of Pallas Athena over Mars
      (pp. 184-213)

      In theKnight’s Tale,the enmity between Theban cousins Palamon and Arcite may project a masculine imbalance also characteristic of the “lord and governour” of Athens (861) and ruler of Thebes, Duke Theseus. If Theseus is wise, then his is a wisdom diverted and distracted by excessive martiality, a narrowly focused masculinity. When he first appears, he seems more interested in besting “olde Creon,” lord of the city of Thebes “Fulfild of ire and of iniquitee” (940), to enhance his own reputation than to rid the country of a “tiraunt” (961) offensive to war widows. Theseus pldeges his might, the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Maister Alisoun’s Feminist Self-Mythography
      (pp. 214-231)

      Chaucer’s friar, a “leeve maister,” appears in hisPrologueto praise the Wife of Bath for touching “in scole-matere greet difficultee” (1272), although he simultaneously advises her, as if afraid of some Wycliffite inclinations on her part, that she should speak instead “of game” and “lete auctoritees ... / To prechyng and to scoles of clergy” (1275-77).¹ For him to perceive her as mimicking a “leeve maister” introduces for the reader a different interpretation of the much-debated issue of “maistry,” one that involves the schoolmaster’smethod of peering beneath the veil of classical artifice to see truth (in the Macrobian...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Merchant’s De Nuptiis Maii et Januarii
      (pp. 232-248)

      The dark tone of the Merchant in hisProloguehas convinced many critics that his tale reveals an equally cynical view of marriage and courtly love.¹ Certainly the tale’s mythographic emphasis on the underworld—its domination by Pluto, god of riches, and by Mercury, cunning god of traders and merchants — appropriately mirrors the character of the speaker, the Merchant; Mercury is associated with merchants because of the necessity of using speech to bargain in commerce, according to the tenth-century commentary on Martianus by Remigius of Auxerre.² But, unlike his characters Januarie and Pluto, the Merchant is not in fact rich...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Franklin’s Derke Fantasye Squire Aurelius as Ekko, Lady Dorigen as Narcissus’s Image
      (pp. 249-262)

      The Franklin responds to the Wife of Bath’s marriage question by visualizing the consequences of Alisoun’s desire for sovereignty in marriage: ideally, neither man nor woman should be sovereign (“Love wol nat been constreyned by maistrye” [764]), because love is a “thyng as any spiritfree” (767; my emphasis) and cannot be constrained “as a thral” (769). “Free,” according to the glosses in theOxford English Dictionary,literally denotes “free, not servile (having the social status of noble or freeman)” — clearly an issue not in question for these aristocrats. But when, at the end of his tale, the Franklin referring...

    • CHAPTER 10 Conclusion: The Artist Pygmalion, the Subject Chaucer, and Self-Seduction
      (pp. 263-282)

      At the end of theCanterbury Tales,the Manciple warns the reader against telling the truth, for the sake of literal lives and friendships. The Parson, in contrast, insists on the need of the eternal soul to understand the truth. The necessary lies of the former, unfortunately, seem to have no place in the stripped-down clarity of the latter. The problem posed at the end of theTaleshas been articulated at the beginning through the classical image of Zephirus, as the West Wind associated with fertility and renewal (the surface entertainment offabula) and as the rapist of Chloris...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 283-352)
  12. Index
    (pp. 353-378)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 379-379)