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Conclusions

The Pardoner in and Out of the Canterbury Tales
  • Robert S. Sturges
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Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

We may regard the Pardoner and the Prioress as two different, if not opposed, possibilities for the feminine and maternal in language, but, because Chaucer left The Canterbury Tales in a fragmentary and apparently unfinished state, the question of where these two pilgrims’ tales stand in relation to each other in the text has never been answered satisfactorily. It is a question of considerable importance, since the order in which we read the tales would necessarily affect our interpretation of The Canterbury Tales as a whole.1 How, specifically, are we to understand the very different perspectives on gender and language offered by the Pardoner and the Prioress? Did Chaucer identify himself more with one position or the other? If he did, which of the two represents Chaucer’s own thoughts? The unfinished, fragmentary nature of The Canterbury Tales itself complicates even further any attempt to specify Chaucer’s own already ambiguous views on gender.

Keywords

Female Body Gender Theory Fragmentary Nature Variant Reading Canterbury Tale 
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Notes

  1. Robert A. Pratt’s “Intro-duction” to his edition of Geoffrey Chaucer, ’The ‘Tales of Canterbury (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), pp. xxv-xxvii.Google Scholar
  2. Derek Pearsall’s book The Canterbury Tales (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985), pp. 14–23. A thoroughgoing discussion of the classification of the manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales can be found in the second volume (Classification of the Manuscripts) of The Text of The Canterbury Tales, ed. John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, 8 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940); see especially pp. 475–94 and the tables following p. 494 on the order of the tales.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    See Alfred David, The Strumpet Muse: Art and Morals in Chaucer’s Poetry (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), p. 6Google Scholar
  4. Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 160, etc. Anne Laskaya argues less convincingly that Chaucer simply distances himself from the Pardoner by making the latter unsympathetic: see Chaucer’s Approach to Gender in the Canterbury Tales (Cambridge, Eng.: D. S. Brewer, 1995), pp. 191–92.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    For a review of these critical positions, see Jerome Mandel, Geoffrey Chaucer: Building the Fragments of the Canterbury Tales (London: Associated University Presses, 1992), pp. 13–17.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    A. J. Minnis, “Ordering Chaucer,” review of Helen Cooper, The Structure of the Canterbury Tales, Essays in Criticism 35 (1985), p. 267. As Minnis points out, the same scribe produced two manuscripts with the tales in different orders, Hengwrt and Ellesmere, p. 266.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Ihab Hassan, The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature, 2nd ed. (Madison: University ofWisconsin Press, 1982), pp. 267–68.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    David Greetham,“(En)gendering the Text/Texting Gender” (paper presented at the 33rd International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, May 9, 1998), pp. 19–20, citing Irigaray, This Sex, p. 26. This paper was presented in a session, sponsored by Exemplaria and organized by R. Allen Shoaf, entitled “Theories of Editing and Editing Theory.” R. Allen Shoaf presided; the present author was the respondent. The paper presented at the conference differed somewhat from the hard copy I am quoting, but Greetham preserved all the passages I quote in his presentation. For a more elaborate development of his ideas on gender and textual theoryGoogle Scholar
  10. 11.
    Greetham discusses “the modern” as a historical “interruption to book history,” p. 21; see also Robert S. Sturges, “Textual Scholarship: Ideologies of Literary Production” in Reflections in the Frame: New Perspectives on the Study of Medieval Literature, ed. Peter Allen and Jeff Rider, special issue of Exemplaria 3.1 (March, 1991), pp. 109–31. Greetham’s views, no doubt, could also be extended to later forms of textuality, but print tends to disguise a textual fluidity that manuscripts make manifest. See Bernard Cerquiglini, Eloge de la variante: Histoire critique de la philologie (Paris: Seuil, 1989), specifically on medieval textuality: Non encore serrée au carcan des formes instituées de l’écrit (auteur comme origine tutélaire, stabilité textuelle, etc.), dont nous avons vu combien elles étaient tardives, cette littérature donne à voir, de façon exemplaire, l’appropriation euphonique par la langue maternelle du geste qui la transcende. Cette appropriation se traduit par une variance essentielle, dans laquelle la philologie, pensée moderne du texte, n’a vu que maladie infantile, désinvolture coupable ou déficience première de la culture scribale, ce qui est seulement un excès joyeux (p. 42). [Not yet locked into the pillory of institutionalized forms of writing (author as guardian origin, textual stability, etc.), the degree of whose recency we have observed, this literature demonstrates in exemplary fashion the mother tongue’s euphonic appropriation of the gesture that transcends it. This appropriation betrays itself in an essential variance, in which philology, the modern idea of the text, saw only an infantile sickness, a guilty frivolity, or a primary deficiency of scribal culture, but which is merely a pleasurable excess.]Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Irigaray, This Sex, p. 30. Judith Butler in Gender ‘Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990) analyzes the views of Monique Wittig, too, both in her fiction and in her theoretical essays, in terms of both a negative fragmentation (imposed on Being by the cultural category of “sex,” pp. 114–115) and a positive one (producing “the body itself as an incoherent center of attributes, gestures, and desires,” p. 125). Wittig herself, however, rejects the notion of écriture fiminine: see her essay “The Point of View: Universal or Particular?” in ’The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), pp. 59–67.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976), repr. in Feminisms, ed. Warhol and Price Herndl, pp. 345,344–45.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Cixous, “The School of Roots,” in her ’Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, trans. Sarah Cornell and Susan Sellers (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 135; Verena Andermatt Conley, Hélène Cixous: Writing the Feminine, expanded edition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), p. 80.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Derek Pearsall, “Editing Medieval Texts: Some Developments and Some Problems,” in James J. McGann, ed., ’Textual Criticism and Literary Interpreta-tion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 97; see also p. 105. Pearsall goes on to state that a state of unfinished fluidity is typical of much medieval textuality. David Greetham usefully discusses Pearsall’s essay at several points in his Textual Transgressions: Essays Toward the Construction of a Biobibliography (New York: Garland, 1998), especially in “The Place of Fredson Bowers in Medieval Editing,” pp. 231,235–36.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    On FragmentVI as the “floating fragment,” see Donald R. Howard, The Idea of the Canterbury Tales (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Howard also relates the ambiguous Pardoner to the unanchored position of this fragment:“The Pardoner... is a pariah among the pilgrims, and his tale seems to be in a similar posidon among the other tales—the fragment it be-longs to is sometimes called the ‘floating’ fragment,” p. 338.Google Scholar
  16. Dolores Warwick Frese, An Ars Legendi for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Re-construc-tive Reading (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1991), p. 178.Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    Susan Bordo, “Reading the Male Body,” in The Male Body: Features, Des-tinies, Exposures, ed. Laurence Goldstein (Ann Arbor: University of Michi-gan Press, 1994), p. 266, emphases in text. See also Bordo’s elaboration of these ideas in her The Male Body: A New L,00k at Men in Public and in Pri-vate (NewYork: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999), pp. 36–104.Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    I take the variant readings from the fifth volume (Corpus of Variants, Part 1) of The Text of The Canterbury Tales, ed. Manly and Rickert, p. 62. Defin-itions of “ioly” and “feere” come from The Riverside Chaucer’s Glossary, s.v. “joly” and “fere.” The fourteenth-century definitions of “grom,” from the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “groom,” include “a man, male person”; the Middle English Dictionary, s.v. “grom,” gives simply “a man” as a possible meaning beginning in 1375.This entire section speculating about a “queer edition” of Chaucer has been inspired not only by Greetham, but also by Jonathan Goldberg, “Under the Covers with Caliban,” in The Margins of the Text, ed. D. C. Greetham (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), pp. 105–28.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    On Urry’s edition, see Derek Brewer, ed., Chaucer:The Critical Heritage, 2 vols. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), 1:36.Google Scholar
  20. 86.
    Robert Glück, Margery Kempe (London and New York: HIGH RISK Books/Serpent’s Tail, 1994), pp. 81–82.Google Scholar
  21. 87.
    On the importance of the midpoint in medieval and early modern literary texts, see, among many others, John D. Niles, “Ring Composition in La Chanson de Roland and La Chançun de Willame,” Olifant 1. 2 (1973): 4–12Google Scholar
  22. Michael Baybak, Paul Delany, and A. Kent Hieatt, “Placement ‘in the middest’ in The Faerie Queene,” in Alastair Fowler, ed., Silent Poetry: Essays in Numerological Analysis (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 141–52.Google Scholar

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© Robert S. Sturges 2000

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