Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender

Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender

Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender

Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender

Excerpt

'The corruption of morals cannot be treated in a short article', John of Salisbury remarked in the twelfth century. Indeed by the fifteenth century the bibliography of morality seemed to swamp the capacity of the individual researcher (predictably assumed to be male) to cope with it: 'ther beth so manye bokes and tretees of vices and vertues and of dyverse doctrynes, that this schort lyfe schalle rathere have an ende of anye man thanne he maye owthere studye or rede hem'. There is therefore conspicuous temerity (or strictly presumptio, the attempting of some great work above one's powers), in proposing to encompass the writings of Chaucer, their configurations of ethical and moral teachings, and associated genderings of these teachings, in one book.

Yet, in reading Chaucer's work, gender questions are frequently also moral questions. Does the Wife of Bath's discourse allege that women are mercenary, or generous, or profligate? What is the status of the friendship between Troilus and Pandarus in Troilus and Criseyde, what the value of brotherhood in 'The Knight's Tale'? If a female fortitude is projected in 'The Clerk's Tale', how much are we to admire it? Is Dorigen more sinned against than sinning, and is Arveragus's response to her acute dilemma ethically unsound in 'The Franklin's Tale'? Does 'The Pardoner's Tale' produce a coherent perspective (or any perspective at all) on homosexuality? Are the sexual adventures in 'The Miller's Tale' morality-free or morally significant? Does 'The Shipman's Tale' carry any critique of financial profit? These are the sorts of particular questions that readers find themselves asking when they encounter Chaucer's

John of Salisbury, Policraticus, 2 vols., ed. Clement C. J. Webb (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1909), VII.7; and Policraticus: The Frivolities of Courtiers and Footprints
of Philosophers
, trans. Joseph B. Pike (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), p. 325.

From the 15th-cent. trans. of the Horologium Sapientiae, ed. K. Horstmann,
'Orologium Sapientiae or The Seven Poyntes of Trewe Wisdom', Anglia, 10 (1888), 323–89
(p. 328).

ParsT,x.402.

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.