Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Visions of Manhood

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Visions of Manhood

Article excerpt

Holly A. Crocker, Chaucer's Visions of Manhood, The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmulan, 2007). xiü + 250 pp. ISBN 978-1-40397-571-3. £55-00.

The formation of masculinity in the Middle Ages is still a comparatively understudied topic: Holly Crocker's book is therefore a welcome addition to the critical canon. While Chaucer's works can hardly be said to suffer from the same lack of critical attention, Crocker offers a fresh approach, viewing Chaucer's treatment of gender in the Canterbury Tales and the Book of the Duchess in the context of the growing emphasis upon vision in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

It is a critical commonplace that sight is structured according to a gendered binary, in which women exist as the passive objects of the active male gaze, men themselves being located in the privileged position of being able to police others while remaining themselves unseen. Crocker, however, problematizes this assumption. She ably demonstrates that Chaucer's male and female characters alike manipulate the gaze of others, with varying effects on their gender roles. Crocker suggests that Chaucer undermines simplistic ideas of gender roles, creating characters who knowingly stage-manage their gender, alternately inhabiting and discarding roles according to their needs. Gender binaries are not so much challenged as obscured. Crocker describes a system within which genders are relational: to stress one's own masculinity, one must suppress the visibility of other conflicting identities. In the Physician's Tale, Virginia must be erased in order for Virginius' masculinity to be made fully visible; in the Book of the Duchess, Black recreates his masculine identity through the process of making his duchess visible to the reader, although, as the White he envisions is one subsumed by his own identity, the 'real' White remains essentially invisible. …

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