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Chaucer and the Cultures of Love and Marriage

Chaucer and the Cultures of Love and Marriage

Cathy Hume
Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Chaucer and the Cultures of Love and Marriage
    Book Description:

    Chaucer's preoccupation with love and marriage has been a focus of criticism for more than a century. Here, the love relationships and marriages in six of the 'Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde', and the 'Legend of Good Women' are reappraised from a fresh direction, using late medieval letter collections and advice literature for women to shed new light on the competing cultures of love and marriage that troubled both Chaucer himself and his contemporaries. Beginning with a concise summary of the history of marriage in fourteenth-century England, and making use of recent research in social history, the volume goes on to analyse letter collections and advice books in order to reconstruct late medieval ideology and practice. Among other elements, the author discusses the flirtatiousness of court culture, the anti-love discourse of advice literature, courtship conventions, rival models of marriage among the bourgeoisie and aristocracy, and the pathos of arranged marriages. Dr Cathy Hume is currently a visiting scholar at Northwestern University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-035-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-31)

    At the opening of the Franklin’s Tale, the narrator tells us that the heroine Dorigen took pity on her suitor Arveragus, and

    That pryvely she fil of his accord

    To take hym for hir housbonde and hir lord,

    Of swich lordshipe as men han over hir wyves.

    (V, 741–3)¹

    Although the Franklin’s Tale is set in ancient, pagan ‘Armorik’ or Brittany, the reader is not asked to understand Dorigen’s actions as belonging to that alien culture. Rather, we are invited to apply to the text our general understanding of the sort of ‘lordshipe’ that men have over their wives....

  6. CHAPTER 1 ‘The name of soveraynetee’: The Franklin’s Tale
    (pp. 32-48)

    The franklin’s tale opens with a description of a marriage of apparently idyllic happiness. Arveragus and Dorigen’s marriage follows a long courtship where the knight Arveragus served his lady Dorigen through many acts of chivalry, and their union will to some extent preserve this model of male deference. Arveragus swears:

    That nevere in al his lyf he, day ne nyght,

    Ne sholde upon hym take no maistrie

    Agayn hir wyl, ne kithe hire jalousie,

    But hire obeye, and folwe hir wyl in al,

    As any lovere to his lady shal.

    (V, 746–50)

    In return Dorigen swears to be his...

  7. CHAPTER 2 ‘Humble servant to youre worthynesse’: The Clerk’s Tale
    (pp. 49-68)

    The clerk’s tale features a different but prominent set of oppositions between private and public from those we observed in the Franklin’s Tale. Walter’s supposed murders are thought to have been committed ‘prively’ but are muttered about ‘comunly’ (IV, 725–6); the repudiated Griselda does not show that she is offended either ‘biforn the folk, ne eek in hire absence’ (921); Walter’s initial test, performed ‘allone a-nyght’, balances later tests that are imposed ‘in open audience’ (790). These oppositions are, clearly, linked to the relationship between inner feeling and outer show of behaviour that is examined throughout the Tale.¹ Chaucer...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Domestic Opportunities: The Social Comedy of the Shipman’s Tale
    (pp. 69-89)

    The shipman’s tale, and its comic equation of sex and money, has long been read as a commentary on the late medieval merchant. Gardiner Stillwell and Albert H. Silverman saw the Tale as ‘a satire upon the merchant’s serious, sober, business-like manner of living’;¹ V. J. Scattergood thought that it was pervaded by a mercantile ethos that the Tale exposed as limited and worldly; others take the view that it portrays the merchant’s business practices as dubious and the impact of commerce on individual souls as damagingly sinful.² At the same time the Tale’s depiction of late medieval bourgeois life...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Love in confinement in the Merchant’s Tale
    (pp. 90-106)

    Like the shipman’s tale, the Merchant’s Tale tells the story of a married woman who secures money from her husband and sex from an illicit lover by manipulating the roles of a medieval wife, and who escapes punishment through a quick excuse that plays on another wifely role. However, despite these similarities in plot, the reader is more likely to be conscious of the differences between the two Tales. In this chapter I consider how May, like the merchant’s wife in the Shipman’s Tale, subverts the wife’s roles to get what she wants. Comparing their approaches brings out the differences...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Medieval Marriage Market and Human Suffering: The Man of Law’s Tale
    (pp. 107-126)

    Christine de pizan’s Livre des trois vertus opens (after the allegorical prefatory matter) with a description of the luxurious temptations of a princess’s life:

    Quant la princepce ou haulte dame sera en son lit au matin veilliee de somme et elle se verra couchiee en son lit entre souefs draps, avironnee de riches paremens et de toutes choses pour aise de corps, dames et damoiselles entour elle qui l’ueil n’ont a aultre chose fors a avisier que riens ne lui faille de tous delices […] les genoulx flechis pour lui administrer tout service et obeir a tous ses commandements, adonc...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Chain of Love or Prison Fetters? The Knight’s Tale and Emily’s Marriage
    (pp. 127-142)

    Apart from Constance’s two marriage alliances, the other prominent aristocratic marriage in the Canterbury Tales is that of Palamon and Emily, with which the Knight’s Tale ends. If Constance was unenthusiastic about marrying the Sultan, Emily states her opposition to becoming a wife in no uncertain terms. Praying in the temple of Diana, she says:

    ‘Chaste goddesse, wel wostow that I

    Desire to ben a mayden al my lyf,

    Ne nevere wol I be no love ne wyf.

    I am, thow woost, yet of thy compaignye,

    A mayde, and love huntynge and venerye,

    And for to walken in the wodes...

  12. CHAPTER 7 ‘Nyce fare’: The Courtly Culture of Love in Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 143-174)

    This chapter leaves the Canterbury Tales, and marriage, behind and turns to the presentation of love outside marriage in Troilus and Criseyde.¹ C. S. Lewis’s classic essay ‘What Chaucer Really Did to Il Filostrato’ described Troilus and Criseyde as an expression of the code of courtly love in narrative form. For Lewis, courtly love was a unified and codified ideology that applied to all medieval romances from the eleventh century to Malory, and many of Chaucer’s changes to Il Filostrato were ‘corrections of errors which Boccaccio had committed against the code of courtly love’.² But subsequent scholarship has problematised this...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Beyond the Bounds of Good Behaviour: Imprudent Fidelity in the Legend of Good Women
    (pp. 175-207)

    In the last chapter we saw that Criseyde behaved for the most part with great propriety, her conduct remaining very close to that recommended by the advice literature. Nevertheless, she ultimately transgressed by betraying Troilus. In the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, Chaucer’s portrayal of Criseyde invokes the wrath of the God of Love, who demands of him:

    Hast thow nat mad in Englysh ek the bok

    How that Crisseyde Troylus forsok,

    In shewynge how that wemen han don mis?

    Why noldest thow as wel han seyd goodnesse

    Of wemen, as thow hast seyd wikednesse?

    (G 264–9)...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 208-213)

    In the preceding pages I have sought to bring Chaucer’s presentation of love and marriage into meaningful relation with contextual evidence of late medieval ideology and practice. My focus has ranged from the broad impact of particular texts to minutiae such as why a child appears in the garden in the Shipman’s Tale, and from polite flirtation to the daily responsibilities of medieval wives. I have argued that Chaucer’s presentation of these subjects is far richer, and makes more sense, if we read it with an appreciation of contemporary expectations, habits of behaviour, and tensions between values and practices. The...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 214-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-244)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)