Chaucer’s Women: Nuns, Wives and Amazons by Priscilla Martin

By Priscilla Martin

In this hard examine Priscilla Martin investigates the topics of girls, intercourse and gender in Chaucer's poetry. She argues convincingly that those are Chaucer's significant topics and that he offers them as a space of human adventure fraught with difficulties. girls, rather than generating texts and meanings themselves, are trapped within the books and meanings of others, and so the Madonna and the courtly heroine, the nun and the spouse, are general yet questionable pictures of developed femininity. '...an clever, delicate, clean and shut studying which focuses upon Chaucer's ladies ... unconventional and refined' - John J.McGavin, instances greater schooling Supplement

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Extra resources for Chaucer’s Women: Nuns, Wives and Amazons

Sample text

Whereas the Prioress strains ('peyned hire' - 139) to comport herself correctly, the Wife is vulgarly relaxed and sits 'esily' (469) on her ambler. The effect of masculinity is reinforced by her hat, 'As brood as is a bokeleror a targe' (471), and her vast experience in 'wandrynge by the weye' (467). She is a parody of a knight-errant. The narrator exclaims over the weight o f her headdress as one might over a soldi er's armour o r equipment , ' Wandrynge by the weye' has further implications. Has the Wife been on too many pilgrimages, married too many times, done too much , seen too much, thought too much?

He sees 20 Chaucer's Women the comedy of the gap between human behaviour and Christian ideal. The Prioress's imitation of Mary seems more cosmetic than contemplative. Nicholas. who seduces the carpenter's wife in the bawdy Miller's Tale, sweetly sings' Angelus ad virginem', a hymn of the Annunciation. ' (IV 2334) before committing adultery. But Chaucer finds the virtues associated with the Madonna in some women and considers these the highest virtues. The value placed on female chastity may originally have more to do with property than ,purity but Chaucer, like other medieval Ch ristians, thought virginity a source of spiritual power.

Thynges that rigor sholde n evere atteyne' (v 773-5). So perhaps patience, rather than honesty, is the best policy. The Prioress quietly bends all the rules and no one even notices. The pilgrims, indudingapparently the narrator, think she is lovely. She inspires even th e bossy Host to courtesy; her story , so horrifi c to modern sensibilities and probablv also to informed contemporary opin ion, unites the noisy bickering pilgrims in awed sil ence. The Wife of Bath questions the rules and assorted clerics in her audience- Friar, Pardoner, Clerk and Parson -dose ranks against her.

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