Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Pagans, Tartars, Moslems, and Jews in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Pagans, Tartars, Moslems, and Jews in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Article excerpt

Brenda Deen Schildgen, Pagans, Tartars, Moslems, and Jews in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Gainesville: University of Florida, 2001). xiv + 184 pp. ISBN 0-8130-2107-3. $59.95.

A richly epistemological study, Brenda Deen Schildgen's Pagans, Tartars, Moslems, and Jews in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales deals, inter alia, with the attitudes and also the assumptions which Chaucer and his readers have directed at those whom they have identified as other. Acknowledging an indebtedness to Jurgen Habermas's discourse ethics, Schildgen responds as well to the impact of nominalism, and in particular to the writings of William of Ockham and Robert Holcot, whose scepticism she sets against a concern for a life of virtue, here associated with Albertus Magnus and especially Thomas Aquinas. Characterising the fourteenth century as a time when moral and ethical principles were undergoing radical revision, she finds in the Canterbury Tales sympathy both for traditional formulations and also for newer philosophical constructions, and it is with these last that she is primarily concerned.

Locating in the Knight's Tale and the Squire's Tale a responsiveness to Christian and pagan, ancient and modern, Schildgen produces a compelling reading of cultural difference which invests the tales with a powerful responsiveness to contemporary philosophical and narrative constructions. Turning from these to the 'polemically Christian tales' (p. 111) of the Second Nun, Prioress, and Man of Law, she argues that, in these at least, it is historical Christians who are represented as other, oppressed by a more powerful non-Christian adversary, and so feminized by their elected powerlessness. …

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