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Gender and Romance in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"

Gender and Romance in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 248
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    Gender and Romance in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"
    Book Description:

    In this fresh look at Chaucer's relation to English and French romances of the late Middle Ages, Crane shows that Chaucer's depictions of masculinity and femininity constitute an extensive and sympathetic response to the genre. For Chaucer, she proposes, gender is the defining concern of romance. As the foundational narratives of courtship, romances participate in the late medieval elaboration of new meanings around heterosexual identity. Crane draws on feminist and genre theory to argue that Chaucer's profound interest in the cultural construction of masculinity and femininity arises in large part from his experience of romance.

    In depicting the maturation of young women and men, romances stage an ideology of identity that is based in gender difference. Less obviously gendered concerns of romance--social hierarchy, magic, and adventure--are also involved in expressing femininity and masculinity. The genders prove to be not simply binary opposites but overlapping and shifting coreferents. Precarious social standing can carry a feminine taint; women's adventures recall but also contradict those of men. This lively study reveals that Chaucer's redeployments of romance are particularly sensitive to the crucial place gender holds in the genre.

    Originally published in 1994.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6375-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-15)

    THE THESIS of this book is that gender is crucial to Geoffrey Chaucer’s conception of romance in theCanterbury Tales. In Chaucer’s works, as in those of other poets who engage romance, gender provides a way of reading aspects of the genre beyond courtship alone. Social hierarchies, magic, adventure, and less salient preoccupations of romance are so intimately involved in gender that their operations are unclear in isolation from it. My concern is not with identifying specific sources and analogues for theCanterbury Talesnor with encompassing in my discussion every aspect of romance. The many studies that illuminate these...

  5. CHAPTER I Masculinity in Romance
    (pp. 16-54)

    MASCULINITY is a persistent concern in Chaucer’s tales deriving from romance, although it often seems a subtext to more evidently political and social issues. TheKnight’s Tale, for example, begins with a briefly sketched contrast between Theseus’s conquest of the Amazons and his pity on the widows of the siege of Thebes. Why does he subdue one group of women and aid the next? A plausible reading of the difference in terms of social issues might center on the wise Athenian’s concern to redress disorders, in the first case the unnatural rule of women and in the second case the...

  6. CHAPTER II Feminine Mimicry and Masquerade
    (pp. 55-92)

    ROMANCES, in contrast to much medieval literature, abound in representations of women. This chapter argues that in their female characters romances work out both a version of femininity generated by masculine courtship and a critique of that version of femininity. Female characters, moreover, themselves stage this critique within the terms of their social construction. Dorigen confronted with Aurelius’s suit, the abandoned falcon of theSquire’s Tale, the Amazons of theKnight’s Tale, and the Wife of Bath’s shape-shifting fairy deploy the language and paradigms of conventional femininity to press against their positioning within it. Placing Chaucer’s characters in the company...

  7. CHAPTER III Gender and Social Hierarchy
    (pp. 93-131)

    GENDER difference is persistently hierarchical. We have seen that in romance masculinity is the “fully human” experience that femininity helps to define, that Emelye is both her lovers’ exalted object of devotion and Theseus’s object of exchange, and that theSquire’s Taleimagines women to be more true and gentle than men by reversing the topos that they are less so. The Franklin suggests reciprocity in Dorigen and Arveragus’s marriage by imagining it to combine two relations of unequal power:

    Heere may men seen an humble, wys accord;

    Thus hath she take hir servant and hir lord—

    Servant in love,...

  8. CHAPTER IV Subtle Clerks and Uncanny Women
    (pp. 132-164)

    THE wonders of Chaucer’s tales, his flying horse and healing sword, shape-shifting fairy, beloved elf-queen, and illusionist clerk, draw on some of the most familiar manifestations of magic in romance. Magic is a generic marker that signals the inferiority of romance in the hierarchy of genres. The persistent claim leveled against romance magic is that it evades the genuine concerns of the world in favor of seductive falsehoods. Louise Fradenberg begins a study of theWife of Bath’s Talewith Bishop Hurd’s account of the “magic of the old romances” dissolved when reason “drove them off the scene, and would...

  9. CHAPTER V Adventure
    (pp. 165-204)

    ADVENTURE is the critical term most specific to romance, indicating the arbitrary, the random, and the unmotivated that divide the experience of romance from the clear necessities of epic struggle, the transcendent assurance of hagiography, and the instructive designs of chronicle. The French nounaventurehas from before the twelfth century implications of fate and foreordination, as does its use in English, but its dominant later medieval meanings revolve around chance and accident (see Godefroy, Kurath). Romance draws on both senses of the noun in foregrounding the unexplained strangeness of adventurous encounters yet intimating that they have a hidden design....

    (pp. 205-228)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 229-233)