The Dismemberment of the Pardoner

  • Robert S. Sturges
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


I would next like to investigate another component of the constellations that include gender and song (or the materiality of the voice more gen-erally), one I touched on only briefly earlier: the fragmented or dismembered body, which is of considerable interest to both the Pardoner and the Prioress.An investigation of this concern might be initiated with Chaucer’s various treatments of the Orpheus myth—the myth that links dismemberment to poetry and to the feminine—as it was understood in the Middle Ages, an exploration I will undertake in this chapter. (The relevance of the related myth of Dionysus has already been discussed in chapter 1.)


Twelfth Century Grammatical Gender Gender Theory Mirror Stage Canterbury Tale 
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  1. 19.
    For a survey of interpretations of the Orpheus myth in medieval Boethius commentaries, see John Block Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cam-bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), pp. 98–117. Patricia Vicari, “Sparagmos: Orpheus Among the Christians,” in Orpheus, ed. Warden, pp. 63–83, is heavily dependent on Friedman. John M. Fyler, Chaucer and Ovid,(New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1979) makes no mention of the Orpheus story.Google Scholar
  2. 20.
    See Bernardus Silvestris, The Commentary on the First Six Books of the Aeneid of Vergil Commonly Attributed to Bernardus Silvestris, book 6, ed. Ju-lian Ward Jones and Elizabeth Frances Jones (Lincoln: University of Ne-braska Press, 1977), p. 30Google Scholar
  3. Bernardus Silvestris, Commentary on the First Six Books of Virgil’s Aeneid, trans. Earl G. Schreiber and Thomas E. Maresca (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), p. 32: Est autem alius virtutis qui fit dum sapiens aliquis ad mundana per considerationem descendit, non ut in eis intentionem ponat, sed ut eorum cogriita fragilitate, eis abiectis, ad invisibilia penitus se con-vertat et per creaturarum cognitionem creatorem evidentius cognoscat. Sed hoc modo Orpheus et Hercules qui sapientes habiti sunt descenderunt. Est vero tercius vitii, qui vulgaris est, quo ad temporalia pervenitur atque in eis tota intentio ponitur eisque tota mente servitur nec ab eis amplius dimovetur. Taliter Euridicem legimus descendisse. Hic autem irrevocabilis est. [The second descent is through virtue, and it occurs when any wise person descends to mundane things through meditation, not so that he may put his desire in them, but so that, having recognized their frailty, he may thoroughly turn from the rejected things to the in-visible things and acknowledge more clearly in thought the Creator of creatures. In this manner, Orpheus and Hercules, who are con-sidered wise men, descended. The third is the descent of vice, which is common and by which one falls to temporal things, places his whole desire in them, serves them with his whole mind, and does not turn away from them at all.We read that Eurydice descended in this way. Her descent, however, is irreversible.]Google Scholar
  4. 22.
    Fausto Ghisalberti, ed., “Arnolfo d’Orléans, un Cultore di Ovidio nel sec-olo XII,” Memorie del Reale Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere 24 (1932), p. 222, quoted and trans. in Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages, pp. 120–121. Friedman’s survey of medieval commentaries on Ovid’s version of the Orpheus story, pp. 118–136, is the basis for my account.Google Scholar
  5. 27.
    Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, in Martianus Capella Accedunt Scholia in Caesaris Germanici Aratea, 9.906, ed. Francis Eyssenhardt (Leipzig: Teubner, 1866), pp. 338–39Google Scholar
  6. Martianus Capella, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, Volume II: The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, trans William Harris Stahl and Richard Johnson with E. H. Burge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 351.Google Scholar
  7. 29.
    As proposed by Jane Chance, The Mythographic Chaucer: The Fabulation of Sexual Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), in her discussion of The House of Fame, pp. 75–76Google Scholar
  8. Chance follows B. G. Koonce, Chaucer and the Tradition of Fame: Symbolism in The House of Fame (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 199–200. My re-maining observations on this text and The Merchant’s Tale should make it clear why I find these references more ambiguous. Chance’s preference for the alternative tradition is also evident in her discussion of The Merchant’s Tale, p. 237.Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la rose, 11. 19645–56, ed. Daniel Poirion (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1974), pp. 520–21; The Romance of the Rose, trans. Charles Dahlberg (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971, repr. University Press of New England: Hanover, NH, 1983), p. 324.Google Scholar
  10. 36.
    For example, Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University ofWisconsin Press, 1989), p. 179. See also the works cited above, chapter 5, n. 47.Google Scholar
  11. 37.
    Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” in his Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 4.Google Scholar
  12. My reading of Lacan on the corps morcelé is indebted throughout to Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy, The Works ofJacques Lacan: An Introduction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), especially pp. 47–62.Google Scholar
  13. 47.
    Jacqueline Rose,“Introduction II” in Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne, Feminine Sexuality, ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose, trans. Jacqueline Rose (New York: Norton, 1982), pp. 38–39.Google Scholar
  14. 48.
    For example, Jane Gallop, Reading Lacan (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 143–49 (and see my discussion of this passage in chapter 4, “The Pardoner Unveiled”).Google Scholar
  15. 49.
    Gallop, Reading Lacan, p. 80, her emphasis. She cites Jean Laplanche and Jean-Baptiste Pontalis, Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse (Paris: PUF, 1967), p. 453.Google Scholar
  16. 52.
    Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 106.Google Scholar
  17. 54.
    Flax, Thinking Fragments, pp. 172–73, emphasis added, quoting Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 67. cf. Flax’s “Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory”: “Feminist theories, like other forms of postmodernism, should encourage us to tolerate and interpret ambivalence, ambiguity, and multiplicity as well as to expose the roots of our needs for imposing order and structure no matter how arbitrary and oppressive these needs may be.” In Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 56. Diana J. Fuss even suggests that “woman” is present in Lacan’s own notoriously “difficult and equivocal style.” (Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference [New York: Routledge, 1989], p. 12.)Google Scholar
  18. 55.
    Caroline Walker Bynum, “Material Continuity, Personal Survival and the Resurrection of the Body:A Scholastic Discussion in Its Medieval and Modern Contexts,” in her Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (NewYork: Urzone, 1992), p. 296. See also Mini Rubin, “The Person in the Form: Medieval Challenges to Bodily ‘Order,”’ in Framing Medieval Bodies, pp. 100–122, especially pp. 113–116.Google Scholar
  19. 65.
    Once again, Dinshaw’s concluding vision of the Pardoner’s “poetics” as founded on the Incarnate Word or Body of Christ “in whom there is no lack, no division, no separation” (Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, p. 183) seems from this perspective sentimental and over-optimistic. On the female as imperfect male, see Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univer-sity Press, 1993), pp. 177–83; and compare the notion of man as unity and woman as divisionGoogle Scholar
  20. R. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 22–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 69.
    Peter Damian, “Letter 31” (Liber Gomorrhianus), in Die Briefe des Petrus Damiani, ed. Kurt Reindel, 4 vols. (Munich: Monumenta Germaniae His-torica, 1983), 1:294; “Letter 31” (Book of Gommorah), in Peter Damian: Let-ters 31–60, trans. Owen J. Blum, 0.F.M., The Fathers of the Church, Medieval Continuation 2 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990), p. 15. c.f his later comment on the “vir evirate. homo effeminate,” Liber Gomorrhianus, ed. Reindel, 1:313; “you unmanly and effeminate man,” Book of Gommorah, trans. Blum, p. 35.Google Scholar

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© Robert S. Sturges 2000

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