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The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance

The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance

Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 170
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  • Book Info
    The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance
    Book Description:

    The idea of the Orient is a major motif in Chaucer and medieval romance, and this new study reveals much about its use and significance, setting the literature in its historical context and thereby offering fresh new readings of a number of texts. The author begins by looking at Chaucer's and Gower's treatment of the legend of Constance, as told by the Man of Law, demonstrating that Chaucer's addition of a pattern of mercantile details highlights the commercial context of the eastern Mediterranean in which the heroine is placed; she goes on to show how Chaucer's portraits of Cleopatra and Dido from the ‘Legend of Good Women’, read against parallel texts, especially in Boccaccio, reveal them to be loci of medieval orientalism. She then examines Chaucer's inventive handling of details taken from Eastern sources and analogues in the ‘Squire's Tale’, showing how he shapes them into the western form of interlace. The author concludes by looking at two romances, ‘Floris and Blauncheflur’ and ‘Le Bone Florence of Rome’; she argues that elements in Floris of sibling incest are legitimised into a quest for the beloved, and demonstrates that Le Bone Florence be related to analogous oriental tales about heroic women who remain steadfast in virtue against persecution and adversity. Professor CAROL F. HEFFERNAN teaches in the Department of English, Rutgers University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-131-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: Romance and the Orient
    (pp. 1-22)

    This study focuses on a genre and a place – “romance” and the “Orient” – as they are exemplified in late medieval English literature, especially in Chaucer.

    Nineteenth-century scholars, pointing to Arabic and Middle Eastern sources and analogues for many medieval romances, virtually suggested that the romance form emerged from the meeting of Saracen and crusader.¹ With all of medieval reality to draw on, romance writers were fascinated enough by the Orient, which crusaders, pilgrims, and traders had opened up to them, to turn it into literature. It is a fact of literary history that the evolution of the romance genre in...

  6. 2 Mercantilism and Faith in the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean: Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, Boccaccio’s Decameron 5, 2, and Gower’s Tale of Constance
    (pp. 23-44)

    The impact of continual and steadily increasing interaction between East and West that occurred during the Middle Ages through travel – whether it be to pilgrimage sites, to the battlefields of Crusades, or to centers of trade – is reflected in the romance literature of the time. This chapter examines Chaucer’s treatment of the legend of Constance, as told in the Canterbury Tales by the Man of Law, and its analogues in Gower and Boccaccio. Though told as a pious romance by the lawyer-narrator, characters and setting combine frequently to produce curious intersections of mercantilism and faith which reflect the historical reality...

  7. 3 Two Oriental Queens from Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women: Cleopatra and Dido
    (pp. 45-62)

    Chaucer’s portraits of Cleopatra and Dido from the Legend of Good Women reflect another side of the Orient: here we find not the rich trading landscape of the Man of Law’s Tale, but the locale of secret pleasures and sexual excess. This chapter discusses the legends of these two oriental queens whose claim to sainthood, even in terms of the religion of Cupid, is ambiguous.

    Unlike The Knight’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde, those long versified romances that he had already written, Chaucer makes the Legend a collection of short narratives on the order of the Canterbury Tales (which he...

  8. 4 Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale: Content and Structure
    (pp. 63-82)

    If there is orientalism to consider in the Squire’s Tale, it is different from that examined in the preceding chapter. Here we find the more conventional “academic” sort, for this tale is remarkable for its wide variety of Eastern sources and analogues. The elements of these – motifs, details of plot and setting, etc. – may be thought of as “content,” though the striking feature of this romance is its form, a matter that throws light on the romance’s westernness. While the content of the unfinished Squire’s Tale may be oriental, its structure appears to be European, a type of poetry of...

  9. 5 A Question of Incest, the Double, and the Theme of East and West: The Middle English Romance of Floris and Blauncheflur
    (pp. 83-107)

    According to Haldeen Braddy, Chaucer left the Squire’s Tale incomplete because he discovered that the Arabic analogue, Taj al-Muluk and the Princess Dunya, belonged to a cycle of romances that included an incest motif.¹ Chaucer, he argued, “as a man . . . would not tolerate the idea of incest, because as a poet he certainly speaks against it in the Pardoner’s Tale: ‘Lo, how that dronken Looth, unkyndely,/ Lay by his doghtres two, unwityngly;/ So dronke he was he nyste what he wroghte’ (485–87)” (Braddy, “Genre,” 289). The Middle English romance of Floris and Blauncheflur is an obvious...

  10. 6 Le Bone Florence of Rome and the East
    (pp. 108-124)

    It is of primary interest that the Middle English romance, Le Bone Florence of Rome, like other closely allied western versions of the so-called “chaste wife tale,” is related to analogous oriental tales about heroic women who remain steadfast in virtue against persecution and adversity. Of secondary interest within the context of the romance’s relationship to the East is the presence of Constantinople; it is from that eastern city that Florence’s unwelcome suitor, “Syr Garcy,” comes early in the story. Finally, it is notable in comparing Le Bone Florence of Rome to its oriental analogues that there is a motif...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 125-130)

    The appearance of the Orient in medieval English romance – as exotic setting (in the Squire’s Tale), as new territory for trade and conversion (in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale and Gower’s Tale of Constance), as realm of sensuality (in Chaucer’s legends of Dido and Cleopatra and possibly even in Floris and Blauncheflur), and, indeed, as the source and conduit of tales themselves (in Le Bone Florence of Rome and some elements of Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale) – suggests that contact with strangers can become a powerful motor for change in literature. The very rise of romance as a new genre in medieval...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 131-142)

    Spenser replaces Chaucer as the exemplary practitioner of the romance genre for the sixteenth century in England. By this time European chivalry was in decline and Protestant England felt a sense of separation from the Catholic Mediterranean world, a world whose commercial dominance had become destabilized by western overseas exploration and expansion. Though Spenser admired his great English predecessor and borrowed from his Squire’s Tale, a chief literary source in the Faerie Queene comes from the Mediterranean: Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516). Ariosto’s poem has three primary centers of interest: the siege of Paris and the final defeat of the Saracen...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 143-156)
  14. Index
    (pp. 157-160)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-161)