The Female Patience Figure at an Extreme

  • Robin Waugh
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The patience literature model applies to so many of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works, including The Clerk’s Tale, The Man of Law’s Tale, The Physician’s Tale , The Second Nun’s Tale, The Tale of Melibee, and The Book of the Duchess, that he must be ranked among the most accomplished practitioners of the genre.1 The most strategic use of this model by him occurs in The Legend of Good Women (c. 1386), where a panoply of female “martyrs of love” appears and where there is perhaps the most conspicuous marriage of secular and sacred hagiography in all of literature.2 Not surprisingly, for a late patience work by a notoriously wily author, the mixing of these two traditions in The Legend of Good Women is highly self-conscious. The God of Love in the “Prologue” chastises Chaucer for depicting an unfaithful woman in Troilus and Criseyde and for translating Le Roman de la Rose, which contains much antifeminist material and reiterates many disparaging and cynical attitudes to love (F 325–35). Therefore, as “penance,” the poet must

The most partye of thy tyme spende

In makyng of a glorious legende

Of goode wymmen, maydenes and wyves,

That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves;

And telle of false men that hem bytraien.3 (F 482–86)


Female Character Patience Literature Patience Figure Good Woman Canterbury Tale 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See, for example, A. C. Spearing, “Narrative Voice: The Case of Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” New Literary History 32 (2001): 738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Lisa J. Kiser, Telling Classical Tales: Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 101–11;Google Scholar
  3. Anne Middleton, “The Physician’s Tale and Love’s Martyrs: ‘Ensamples mo than ten’ as a Method in the Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer Review 8 (1973): 9–32;Google Scholar
  4. Sheila Delany, The Naked Text: Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 64, 68–69; andGoogle Scholar
  5. Catherine Sanok, “Reading Hagiographically: The Legend of Good Women and its Feminine Audience,” Exemplaria 13 (2001): 339–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 4.
    For the work as explicitly addressed to a mostly female audience, see The Legend of Good Women, 1254–59, 1263–64, 1879–85; Nicola F. MacDonald, “Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, Ladies at Court and the Female Reader,” Chaucer Review 35 (2000): 22, 34–39; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Kara A. Doyle, “Thisbe out of Context: Chaucer’s Female Readers and the Findern Manuscript,” Chaucer Review 40 (2006): 231–32, 238–52, 256–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 6.
    See Sarah Stanbury, “Regimes of the Visual in Premodern England: Gaze, Body, and Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” New Literary History 28 (1997): 262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Amy W. Goodwin, “The Griselda Game,” Chaucer Review 39 (2004): 54–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 9.
    For a discussion of the precise ways in which Grisilde is “translated,” see Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 144; andGoogle Scholar
  11. Sarah Stanbury, The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), p. 131. Walter’s subsequent acts of “counterfeiting” confirm that the entire sign system of clothing is hollow.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Griselda’s thoughts here are an addition by Petrarch. For his Epistolae seniles 17.3, I use J. Burke Severs, Literary Relationships of Chaucer’s “Clerkes Tale” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1942), pp. 254–92, referred to from now on as “Petrarch.” See p. 260. I also use Severs’s text (pp. 255–89) for the anonymous French version of Griselda’s story from Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS fr. 12459. 260.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    See Andrew Sprung, “‘If it youre wille be’: Coercion and Compliance in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” Exemplaria 7 (1995): 349, 364–65. Grisilde’s body is so important to the narrative that I disagree with Stanbury’s argument that Grisilde, particularly when Walter first publicly designates her as his bride, seems “to escape categorical definition by gender through assimilation with devotional schema.” “Regimes of the Visual,” p. 283. Such devotional schema do not eclipse the marquis’s desire, which is for (among other things) a woman’s body.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 12.
    Anne Cranny-Francis, “From Extension to Engagement: Mapping the Imaginary of Wearable Technology,” Visual Communication 7 (2008): 366;Google Scholar
  15. Barbara Czarniawska and Eva Gustavsson, “The (D)evolution of the Cyberwoman?” Organization 15 (2008): 666. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  16. Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London: Free Association Books, 1991), p. 152.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, p. 152. For intelligent machines, see N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 7, 161. McKinley captures something of Grisilde’s artificiality with the phrase “a hagiographic ‘Barbie.’”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kathryn McKinley, “The Clerk’s Tale: Hagiography and the Problematics of Lay Sanctity,” Chaucer Review 33 (1998): 96.Google Scholar
  19. 14.
    Delany argues that there “is an element of irony associated with” most of Chaucer’s hagiographical references. See The Naked Text, p. 61. For various kinds of parody in The Clerk’s Tale, see M. Keith Booker, “‘Nothing that is so is so’: Dialogic Discourse and the Voice of the Woman in the Clerk’s Tale and Twelfth Night,” Exemplaria 3 (1991): 527; Engle, “Chaucer, Bakhtin, and Griselda,” pp. 429–59;Google Scholar
  20. Linda Georgianna, “The Clerk’s Tale and the Grammar of Assent,” Speculum 70 (1995): 805, 818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 15.
    But see The Franklin’s Tale, 771–90. The point of this passage is undercut by the impatience of the characters in the tale. See Alcuin Blamires, Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 16.
    The translation is by Earl Jeffrey Richards. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York: Persea, 1982), p. 255.Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    See Roberta L. Krueger, “Uncovering Griselda—Christine de Pizan, ‘une seule chemise,’ and the Clerical Tradition: Boccaccio, Petrarch, Philippe de Mézières and the Ménagier de Paris,” in Medieval Fabrications: Dress, Textiles, Clothwork, and Other Cultural Imaginings, ed. E. Jane Burns (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 86–88.Google Scholar
  24. 19.
    Maureen Quilligan, The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s “Cité des Dames” (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 167.Google Scholar
  25. 20.
    See Sheila Delany, “‘Mothers to Think Back Through’: Who Are They? The Ambiguous Example of Christine de Pizan,” in Medieval Texts and Contemporary Readers, ed. Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Shichtman (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), pp. 177–97.Google Scholar
  26. 21.
    See Elizabeth Allen, “Chaucer Answers Gower: Constance and the Trouble with Reading,” ELH 64 (1997): 642–43, 645; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Henry Barnett Hinckley, “The Debate on Marriage in The Canterbury Tales,” in Chaucer: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Edward Wagenknecht (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 220.Google Scholar
  28. 22.
    Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women,” in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961), p. 202.Google Scholar
  29. 23.
    By being human and divine, Christ is a hybrid. Both His wounds and His powers fit with aspects of the cyborg. See Cranny-Francis, “From Extension to Engagement,” pp. 368–69. For Grisilde as a type of Christ in The Clerk’s Tale, see Stanbury, Visual Object of Desire, p. 130. “Robotic wives are fully directed towards productivity” and “are forever busy with their duties.” Czarniawska and Gustavsson, “The (D)evolution of the Cyberwoman?”, p. 672. See also p. 678 and Haraway, Simians, p. 151. Such wives as depicted in science fiction are often duplicatable like simulacra and often unable “to feel empathy.” They often cause and represent schizophrenia similar to Walter’s. Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, pp. 161–62, 165–67. Yet, robotic performances can involve parody of human and of robotic behaviors, including behaviors associated with gender. See Yuji Sone, “Realism of the Unreal: The Japanese Robot and the Performance of Representation,” Visual Communication 7 (2008): 347–49, 355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 25.
    Woolf, “Professions,” pp. 202, 206; Chaucer, Clerk’s Tale, line 1177. See Stanbury, Visual Object of Desire, p. 149. Cf. Charlotte C. Morse, “The Exemplary Griselda,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 7 (1985): 55.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    Anne Middleton, “The Clerk and His Tale: Some Literary Contexts,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 2 (1980): 149. See n. 37, andGoogle Scholar
  32. Andrea Denny-Brown, “Povre Griselda and the All-Consuming Archewyves,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 28 (2006): 99, n. 50, and pp. 104–08. A “song” in mixed company implies dancing, when such pairing off into couples would have a particular effect after the relating of any tale concerning marriage.Google Scholar
  33. 28.
    Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 9.Google Scholar
  34. 31.
    William McClellan, “Bakhtin’s Theory of Dialogic Discourse, Medieval Rhetoric Theory, and the Multi-Voiced Structure of the Clerk’s Tale,” Exemplaria 1 (1989): 478.Google Scholar
  35. 32.
    Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 95; Bakhtin, “From Notes Made in 1970 –1,” in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, ed. C. Emerson Michael Holquist, trans. Vern McGee (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), pp. 132–33.Google Scholar
  36. 33.
    The Livre is directed explicitly against antifeminist literature to which Christine feels she must respond (2.43.2, 2.47.1, 2.49.5). See also Joseph Baird and John Kane, trans., La Querrele de la Rose: Letters and Documents (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), p. 112; andGoogle Scholar
  37. Judith Laird, “Good Women and Bonnes Dames: Virtuous Females in Chaucer and Christine de Pizan,” Chaucer Review 30 (1995): 62, 68. For examples of studies of Christine’s feminism, see the notes on p. 69 of Laird’s article.Google Scholar
  38. 37.
    Thomas J. Farrell, “The Chronotopes of Monology in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” in Bakhtin and Medieval Voices, ed. Thomas J. Farrell (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995), p. 146.Google Scholar
  39. 40.
    See M. Mills, ed., Lybeaus Desconus (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 42–60, and p. 242, nn. 2029–31; p. 243, note L (Lambeth) 2192, for recognition scenes and weddings. See also the romance of La Cote Mal Taillé in Le Roman de Tristan en Prose, vol. 1, ed. Philippe Ménard (Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 1987), pp. 88–127. Marriage is often inimical to a knightly career. See Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale.Google Scholar
  40. 44.
    See David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 284. Both Chaucer and Christine seem to work from Petrarch’s version together with a French translation of the Epistola, though Chaucer’s French translation is almost certainly a different one from the one Christine uses. See Severs, Literary Relationships, p. 27; Richards, trans., The Book of the City of Ladies, pp. 265–66. Walter’s unique sense of sight also seems to work in reverse in that he plays a game of secrets with his people. He desires to conceal whatever is his desire, to the point that his concealment amounts to political, social, and individual abnegation of his responsibilities as ruler, husband, and father. SeeGoogle Scholar
  41. Patricia Cramer, “Lordship, Bondage, and the Erotic: The Psychological Bases of Chaucer’s ‘Clerk’s Tale,’” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 89 (1990): 497. Walter’s secret life suggests connections between him and such hypocrites as Faux Semblant inGoogle Scholar
  42. Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose, ed. Ernest Langlois, 5 vols. (Paris: Société des anciens textes français, 1914–24), Book 11: 23–26, 67, 219–22.Google Scholar
  43. 47.
    Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, p. 150; Seth Lerer, Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 30; 28–29. In contrast to Lerer, I think that the appropriation of Petrarch’s gaze by the Clerk makes the Italian poet into a “maker” who goes beyond the status Lerer gives him: “only … another maker for a locally and temporarily defined community.” See Chaucer and His Readers, p. 30.Google Scholar
  44. 48.
    Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, pp. 152–53; 137. For further discussion, see Emma Campbell, “Sexual Poetics and the Politics of Translation in the Tale of Griselda,” Comparative Literature 55 (2003): 204–05.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 49.
    Kathryn L. Lynch, “Despoiling Griselda: Chaucer’s Walter and the Problem of Knowledge in The Clerk’s Tale,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 10 (1988): 69. Part of the (erotic) appeal of the cyborg is that it may be replicated. It can become a simulacrum. See Haynes, How We Became Posthuman, pp. 165–67.Google Scholar
  46. 51.
    For a profeminine view of Grisilde at the casting out, see, for instance, Alcuin Blamires, The Case for Women in Medieval Culture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 164–71.Google Scholar
  47. 52.
    See A. C. Spearing, Criticism and Medieval Poetry, 2nd ed. (London: Arnold, 1972), pp. 95–96.Google Scholar
  48. 54.
    Robin Kirkpatrick, “The Griselda Story in Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer,” in Chaucer and the Italian Trecento, ed. Piero Boitano (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 244.Google Scholar
  49. 55.
    M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 108 (he is talking about the protagonists of early Greek romances); Stanbury, “Regimes of the Visual,” p. 281. See also the infinitely fractured images of women in Bukatman, Termina Identity, pp. 244–47.Google Scholar
  50. 57.
    The most stalwart defender of Griselda’s exemplary role is Morse, “The Exemplary Griselda,” pp. 51–86. More generally, see Catherine Sanok, Her Life Historical: Exemplarity and Female Saints’ Lives in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), pp. xi–xii, xiv, 2–5, 8.Google Scholar
  51. 60.
    Francis Lee Utley, “The Five Genres of Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 6 (1971): 210. The exemplarity argument is a refusal to acknowledge this dead end—often, in fact, a refusal to admit into discussion the specific context of the Tale , particularly the Envoy. See, for example,Google Scholar
  52. Gerald Morgan, “The Logic of the Clerk’s Tale,” Modern Language Review 104 (2009): 25.Google Scholar
  53. 64.
    For discussion of the significance of Griselda’s immovable expression, see Thomas H. Bestul, “True and False Cheere in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 82 (1983): 500–14; and Sprung, “‘If it youre wille be,” pp. 350–52. For Griselda as a work of art, seeGoogle Scholar
  54. Muriel Whitaker, “The Artist’s Ideal Griselda,” in Sovereign Lady: Essays on Women in Middle English Literature (New York: Garland, 1995), pp. 87–91. More generally, seeGoogle Scholar
  55. Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), pp. 40–43.Google Scholar
  56. 68.
    See Robin Waugh, “A Woman in the Mind’s Eye (and not): Narrator’s and Gazes in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and in Two Analogues,” Philological Quarterly 79 (2000): 9–10. Mann says “in this tale, patience is shorn of its quality of movement … is frozen into the marble stillness of endurance.” Feminizing Chaucer, p. 117.Google Scholar
  57. 70.
    See Lynn Staley, “Chaucer and the Postures of Sanctity,” in The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Genders in Late Medieval English Culture, ed. David Aers and Lynn Staley (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), p. 241.Google Scholar
  58. 71.
    See Elizabeth A. Castelli, “‘I Will Make Mary Male’: Pieties of the Body and Gender Transformation of Christian Women in Late Antiquity,” in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 3, 42, 46–47.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robin Waugh 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin Waugh

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations