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May Robertson
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Posts: 30

Chaucer’s Women – seminar for Peripeteia – preparatory work for participants

Introduction

Please work on as many of these questions as you can in advance of the seminar. Since I have been asked to base the seminar on the General Prologue, the tasks are designed so that you can complete them with reference to the General Prologue only; however, I would be delighted if you could read further. If you do, first look to the tales, with their prologues, of the Wife of Bath, Prioress and Second Nun. A small selection of other tales to read  would include those of the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Nun's Priest, the Knight, and the Franklin, as well as the Tale of Melibee and the rude fabliau ones (those of the Miller, Reeve, Shipman...). Elsewhere in Chaucer, you could look at the wonderful Book of the Duchess and The Legend of Good Women. Further afield, if you’re wondering whether medieval women wrote or just got written about, research Christine de Pizan, Marie de France and Julian of Norwich. First stop for secondary reading should probably be Priscilla Martin’s Chaucer’s Women, for fairly self-explanatory reasons. I look forward to working with you all.

Questions

1. Why are there so few female characters on the pilgrimage?

2. Complete a Prac Crit (close textual analysis) of the passages in the General Prologue introducing the Prioress (ll.118-164) and Wife of Bath (445-476).

3. The Prioress represents ‘the engagingly imperfect submergence of the feminine in the ecclesiastical’ (Lowe, quoted in Helen Cooper, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Oxford, 1989, repr. 1991), p.37). Discuss.

4. ‘Chaucer’s ironies, ambiguities and multiple narrators present a hall of distorting mirrors. One could construct a feminist or a sexist Chaucer using essentially the same evidence from his writings.’ (Priscilla Martin, Chaucer’s Women (London, 1990, repr. 1996), p.xiii). Discuss.

Bibliography

Primary

Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Oxford, 1987, repr. 1988).

Secondary

Boitani, Piero, and Jill Mann, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer (Cambridge, 2003, repr. 2010).

Cooper, Helen, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Oxford, 1989, repr. 1991).

Martin, Priscilla, Chaucer’s Women (London, 1990, repr. 1996).

Smith, Lesley, and Jane H.M. Taylor, ed, Women, the Book and the Worldly (Cambridge, 1995).

February 12, 2012 at 7:04 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

I should add of course that these questions are just prompts to get us working, and that you by no means need to limit your preparation or seminar contribution to them! Let's face it, 'Chaucer's Women' is a pretty big topic.

February 12, 2012 at 7:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Dr. Vimal Jain
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Posts: 1

i wish to participate in it.

V K Jain

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February 18, 2012 at 12:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Welcome to our seminar on women in Chaucer! I'm going to try to prod rather than prescribe, and help you develop your thoughts. As you can see, the questions start with something broad to get us thinking about the role of women generally, before getting into some nitty-gritty work with the text, followed by two exam-style discussions of critical comments.

February 19, 2012 at 12:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

So, who would like to start? Why so few female pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales?

February 19, 2012 at 12:03 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Maddy Herbert
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Posts: 29

May Robertson at February 19, 2012 at 12:03 PM

So, who would like to start? Why so few female pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales?

Could it be just because at the time of writing, women were seen as house-dwellers, and not pilgrims?
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Maddy Herbert

February 19, 2012 at 12:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Great thought - what do you think were the roles available to women at the time?

 

February 19, 2012 at 12:13 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Do you think it's a more question of whether women didn't tend to go on pilgrimages, or that Chaucer's aim was to present a cross-section of society and most of society's roles were taken by men?

February 19, 2012 at 12:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
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Posts: 30

*more a, sorry, typing quickly...

February 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Maddy Herbert
Member
Posts: 29

I guess the role of mother, and wife? Although I know that in The Merchant's Tale, the Merchant is rather scathing about his wife due to her bossiness, referring to her as the devil etc.

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Maddy Herbert

February 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

yes! There are rather a lot of different sorts of wives depicted in the Tales.

What else? What else could a woman do/be? Think about the other female pilgrims besides the Wife...

February 19, 2012 at 12:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Maddy Herbert
Member
Posts: 29

There is the prioress, but I don't know much about her. She seems to represent a quite obedient and house-bound women as well?

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Maddy Herbert

February 19, 2012 at 12:20 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Maddy Herbert
Member
Posts: 29

*woman

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Maddy Herbert

February 19, 2012 at 12:20 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

She's an interesting case in terms of what sort of womanhood she represents. But in basic terms, she's a prioress, so a woman of religion; there's a Second Nun as well. So we have two 'career areas' for women represented in the pilgrims: wifehood and religion.

February 19, 2012 at 12:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Of course, it's more complex than that. Women DID work as well as men. The Wife is also a clothmaker.

February 19, 2012 at 12:23 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Maddy Herbert
Member
Posts: 29

May Robertson at February 19, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Do you think it's a more question of whether women didn't tend to go on pilgrimages, or that Chaucer's aim was to present a cross-section of society and most of society's roles were taken by men?

I think probably the latter (or a mixture of the two) - he seems to have wanted to show 'real' people in the canterbury tales.

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Maddy Herbert

February 19, 2012 at 12:24 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Helen Cooper: 'The Wife is certainly no appendage, and women in her person are given a sufficiently high profile to equal all the male pilgrims put together...She is first introduced, however, not as a clothmaker...but as a wife; and matrimony is clearly her main profession.' (Cooper, p.51).

February 19, 2012 at 12:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Yes, I think the latter too. I don't know much about how OK it was for women to go on pilgrimage - has anyone found out about that? The Wife of Bath has been on a few. But the simple number of women on the pilgrimage says something quite clear about their place in society and the roles open to them.

February 19, 2012 at 12:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Maddy Herbert
Member
Posts: 29

What do you think chaucer was saying about women in the Merchant's tale? None of the women depicted have many admirable traits (the Merchant's wife has obviously done something wrong to make the merchant so angry, and may is very manipulative), but is he saying that women are bad or that the role they have in society is undesirable and leads them to act in negative ways?

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Maddy Herbert

February 19, 2012 at 12:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

May Robertson
Member
Posts: 30

Have you read any of the Wife of Bath's introduction in the General Prologue, or her prologue and tale? Do you think she is enough of a larger-than-life character to equal all the men? She certainly is the person many people most remember after they're read the CTs - I'd say she has a place in popular consciousness.

February 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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