Living in the Future: Sovereignty and Internationalism in the Canterbury Tales 9780472130443, 0472130447

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Living in the Future: Sovereignty and Internationalism in the Canterbury Tales
 9780472130443, 0472130447

Table of contents :
Political and Critical Backgrounds
1. Chaucerians Imagine Chaucer: An Introduction
2. Sovereignty Limited: The Concept in Later Medieval Theory and Practice
Part I: Home and Away
3. At Home on the Road: Belief and Nation in the Canterbury Tales General Prologue and Frame Narrative
4. At Home in Exile: National Disaster in the Knight’s Tale
Part II: Sovereignty and Anachronism
5. Sovereignty Matters: Anachronism, Chaucer’s Britain, and England’s Future’s Past
6. “Rowned She a Pistel”: The Household and Chaucer’s National Values
Part III: Fear and Form
7. Beyond the Pale: Chaucer’s Other Women in English
Epilogue: Sovereignty on the Rocks

Citation preview

living in the future

living in the future Sovereignty and Internationalism in the Canterbury Tales

susan nakley

University of Michigan Press 


Ann Arbor

Copyright © 2017 by Susan Nakley All rights reserved This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publisher. Published in the United States of America by the University of Michigan Press Manufactured in the United States of America c Printed on acid-­free paper 2020 2019 2018 2017  4 3 2 1 A CIP catalog record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data Names:  Nakley, Susan, author. Title:  Living in the future : sovereignty and internationalism in the Canterbury Tales / Susan Nakley. Description:  Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, [2017]  |  Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers:  lccn 2016058962|  isbn 9780472130443 (hardcover : acid-­free paper)  |  isbn 9780472123049 (e-­book) Subjects:  LCSH: Chaucer, Geoffrey, –­1400. Canterbury tales.  |  Sovereignty in literature. | Nationalism in literature. | Internationalism in literature. | Tales, Medieval—­History and criticism.  |  National characteristics, English, in literature. Classification: LCC pr1874 .n35  2017 | DDC 821/.1—­dc23 LC record available at

For Abraham Alexander Greene with gratitude for our past, enthusiasm for our future, and love—­eight days a week


These acknowledgments are both a joy and a critical endeavor. As scholars we prize originality, yet we never produce responsible scholarship alone. Several communities of colleagues and friends have supported me through years of researching, writing, and revising my manuscript. I am delighted to honor their roles in bringing this book to life now. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I concentrated in English and Political Science, learning from two exceptional departments that together nurtured my interest in the politics of literary art. I am particularly thankful to Karla Taylor for introducing me to medieval literature and to Zach Levey, who set me on the path of original research in political history. At Rutgers University, Chris Chism was my first mentor; she remains an exemplar of professionalism, kindness, and genuine brilliance, an insightful reader, and a dear friend. Susan Crane, Elin Diamond, and Jackie Miller taught me skills I still use every day. Jonathan Kramnick guided me into this profession as expertly as is possible. It would be impossible to thank Larry Scanlon adequately for his guidance, continued support, and patience across the years. I am infinitely grateful for all I’ve learned from Larry, for the time he invested in helping me become a responsible medievalist literary scholar, and for his virtuous, often necessary sense of humor. Rutgers gave me several amazing fellows I now call friends: I consider Nicole Nolan Sidhu and Tara Williams my sisters among medievalist colleagues. They read for me, share their work and experience, and wisely advise me on life and survival in our field. I am grateful for the friendship of Rutgers alums and colleagues in the wider field, Jeremy Glick and Kelly Baker Josephs, who introduced the Pomodoro method to our writing circle. Liz Reich and Megan Ward have been loyal writing comrades

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during the most intense stages of drafting and redrafting this book; I love them for this and much more. The medievalist community beyond Rutgers has provided indispensable counsel and fellowship. Jonathan Hsy and Karl Steel let me learn from their book proposals and related materials. I thank Maija Birenbaum, Brantley Bryant, Glenn Burger, John Ganim, Rick Godden, Gerry Heng, Shirin Khanmohamadi, Ethan Knapp, Ann Martinez, Erin Labbie, Alex Mueller, Myra Seaman, and Stephen Yeager for reading earlier drafts of my chapters and prospectus and providing vital feedback and encouragement. Suzanne Conklin Akbari appeared heroically at the eleventh hour with counsel on an elusive German source. Patty Ingham and Randy Schiff merit extra-­special thanks, not only for their foundational scholarship but also for their expert response to my work. Ever since I encountered Kathy Lavezzo’s work on the Man of Law’s Tale, she has awed and inspired me. How thrilled I was finally to meet her and to have the chance to learn directly from her! Without Kathy’s magnanimous early career mentorship, there would be no book before you today. Many thanks go to my fantastic chair Judy Phagan, and wonderful St. Joseph’s College colleagues Antoinette Hertel, Phil Dehne, Quincy Lehr, and Maria Montoya for their support. Our librarians and English majors make this work enjoyable and meaningful, helping to connect the job with the research. I am also grateful to St. Joseph’s College for essential conference funding and a sabbatical, which allowed me to complete my manuscript. Earlier versions of chapters 5 and 6 appeared as “Sovereignty Matters: Anachronism, Chaucer’s Britain, and England’s Future’s Past,” Chaucer Review 44.4 (2010): 368–­96 and “‘Rowned She a Pistel’: National Institutions and Identities According to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 114.1 (2015): 61–­87. I thank the journals for permission to reprint this material. I began and now end my professional thanks in Ann Arbor, which will always be an intellectual home and a place to which I long to return. My editors, Ellen Bauerle, Susan Cronin, Kevin Rennells, and my anonymous readers all did outstanding work on this manuscript for the University of Michigan Press. I never imagined that working with a press on one’s first book could be such a smooth, satisfying, and yet deeply transformative process. There is no place I’d rather be publishing Living in the Future. Humanist scholarship is not simply professional research but more fully a vocation. By raising me with love to have both a solid work ethic and a fundamental confidence in myself, my parents and older brothers

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made it possible for me to embark on this endeavor in the first place. My most profound and significant debt is to my husband, best friend, and partner in all things. Abe’s love, faith, and commitment have carried me through the last quarter of this life; I feel incredibly thankful and lucky to spend it with him. This work is as much a product of Abe’s devotion to me as it is a result of my long study. I am thrilled to dedicate this work to him at last.


Political and Critical Backgrounds 1  •  Chaucerians Imagine Chaucer: An Introduction  3 2  • Sovereignty Limited: The Concept in Later Medieval Theory and Practice  45 Part I: Home and Away 3  • At Home on the Road: Belief and Nation in the Canterbury Tales General Prologue and Frame Narrative  81 4  •  At Home in Exile: National Disaster in the Knight’s Tale 122 Part II: Sovereignty and Anachronism 5  • Sovereignty Matters: Anachronism, Chaucer’s Britain, and England’s Future’s Past  151 6  • “Rowned She a Pistel”: The Household and Chaucer’s National Values  180 Part III: Fear and Form 7  •  Beyond the Pale: Chaucer’s Other Women in English  211 Epilogue: Sovereignty on the Rocks  239 Bibliography 249 Index 261

Political and Critical Backgrounds


Chaucerians Imagine Chaucer An Introduction

Geoffrey Chaucer’s imagination of England predates modern nationalism, yet we cannot divorce the two. From appeals to Chaucer as “Father of English Poetry” to proclamations of his internationalism, Chaucerians consistently involve Chaucer in conversations about nationalism, too often without explicit admission. From the moment of his death, we have imagined Chaucer’s Englishness as an inheritable past that authorizes the national character of present and future writing in English. Fifteenth­and sixteenth-­century Chaucerians understood Chaucer as a father and laureate, reinvesting his exemplarity directly in the enterprise of English literature, itself a cultural and even political institution. Essentialist nationalisms enter Chaucer studies with John Dryden, as the seventeenth century closes. Responding to such strident postures rather than to Chaucer’s poetics, major twentieth-­and twenty-­first-­century Chaucerians like Ardis Butterfield, Derek Pearsall, Elizabeth Salter, and David Wallace deny Chaucer’s interest in the nation. “We have been comfortable for so long with an idea of Chaucer as English that the question of whether Englishness was an idea that he was interested in or even conversant with has scarcely been raised,” writes Butterfield, finding no reason for Chaucer’s status as an emblem of Englishness, which she trades for Europeanness.1 Chaucer’s formulaic status has encouraged more oversimplification than insight; his Canterbury Tales, however, engages substantially with 1.  Ardis Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language and Nation in the Hundred Years War (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009), 8.


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concepts and discourses of Englishness. This book analyzes that engagement: the nationalist fantasies, hegemonies, and aspirations alive in Chaucer’s writing. Living in the Future explicates that, as a formation, the nation depends upon internationalism, the expression of relation between comparable but discrete political and cultural groups, rather than being opposed to it. More specifically, it argues that the Canterbury Tales demonstrates interdependence between nationalism and internationalism by using concepts of sovereignty and domesticity to promote images of an English nation. England emerges as a community grounded in the ethical demands of inclusivity, which involve political and cultural improvisation as well as sovereign claims that themselves rely on texts and histories shot through with international debts, vernacular authority, and anachronism. Colonial and postcolonial thinking about nations, particularly theory’s moves away from essentialist models of national community toward processual forms, render more recognizable Chaucer’s sophisticated imagination of England as a nation.2 Like Ernest Renan’s forgetting, Chaucer’s anachronism selectively mistakes the past to assemble a community.3 And as in Benedict Anderson’s print capitalism, vernacular language works as the common currency that community members use to exchange narratives of their past, present, and future.4 Distinctively, Chaucer’s internationalism reorders both time and space, framing a discrete and sovereign English nation within its diverse yet interconnected world. Dismissing nationalist discourse’s relevance here only obscures the politics of Chaucer’s poetics including its inventive approaches to temporality and the vernacular. Chaucer’s nationalism is complex, so when Chaucerians invoke the nation we do not always indicate the same thing—­not only because of its multiple historical and theoretical forms but also because Chaucer’s experiments with nationhood are as unsettled as all his political and social ideas. This introduction revisits the major questions though which Chaucerians have debated nationalism—­laureation, patrimony, the vernacular, domesticity, internationalism, imagination, sovereignty, and history—­to 2.  Classic studies include Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1983); Homi K. Bhabha, “DissemiNation,” in The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 139–­70; James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-­Century Ethnography, Literature and Art (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988); and Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979). 3.  Ernest Renan, “What is a Nation?,” in The Nationalism Reader, ed. Omar Dahbour and Micheline R. Ishay (Amherst: Humanity-­Prometheus, 1995), 143–­55. 4. Anderson, Imagined Communities.

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contextualize the subsequent reading of the Canterbury Tales as nationalist literary art. Later chapters reconcile Chaucer’s nationalism with his acclaimed internationalism and clarify his precise sense of sovereignty as shared ownership and judgment. Chaucerian sovereignty, like other medieval forms, is always negotiable in theory but often oppressive in practice. Affection, mercy, and shared culture, especially linguistic culture, limit sovereignty in the English context, according to the Canterbury Tales, which thus presents national sovereignty as the most legitimate variety. Nevertheless, the Tales acknowledges the painful sacrifices English sovereignty requires: Chaucerian nationalism is aspirational yet never naïve, for Chaucer’s poetry confesses the coercion, error, and failure endemic to the very English nation it celebrates. Chaucer’s conceptualizations of nation, sovereignty, and internationalism intersect not as ideologies but in the form of questions and strategies. From the retraction of his worldly writings to the Wife of Bath’s English national identity, Chaucer pitches nationalism obliquely and ironically. According to Winthrop Wetherbee, “though profoundly political in their implications, the Tales offer no comment on contemporary politics.”5 Chaucer’s work, because of its politically unsettled moment as well as Chaucer’s own innovations (including linguistic and narration risks), makes nationalist comments less orthodox and obvious than those with which many are familiar. But Chaucer does comment, even as he contradicts himself through multiple voices and subjectivities that negotiate the poles of national possibility. After surveying nationalism in Chaucer’s critical reception, I argue that Chaucer develops a cogent concept of English national sovereignty in the Canterbury Tales through postcolonial readings that build upon those of Chaucerians like Glenn Burger, Kathleen Davis, Peggy Knapp, and Kathy Lavezzo.6 As Suzanne Conklin Akbari writes, “If the discourse of nation is to be described as ‘emergent’ during the Middle Ages, then it is chronically emergent.”7 The nation is a transhistorical concept per5. Winthrop Wetherbee, Chaucer: the Canterbury Tales (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989), 1. 6.  Glenn Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003); Kathleen Davis “Time Behind the Veil: The Media, the Middle Ages, and Orientalism Now,” in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jeffery Jerome Cohen (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 105–­22; and “Hymenial Alogic: Debating Political Community in The Parliament of Fowls,” in Imagining a Medieval English Nation, 161–­87; Peggy Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England (In English),” in Imagining a Medieval English Nation, ed. Kathy Lavezzo (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003), 131–­60. 7.  Suzanne Conklin Akbari, “Orientation and Nation in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,”

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petually in process. Both Chaucer studies and nationalism have consistently transformed rather than become outmoded throughout their six centuries of coexistence. Recognizing the complex power of earlier national discourses, like those I identify in Chaucer, is vital to reforming and even refusing our own.

Laureation and Patrimony Laureation is a critical discourse for relationships between literature and the nation, because it depends upon yet authorizes both institutions. Chaucer himself brings the word “laureate” into English. It becomes part of the story Chaucer tells about nationhood and the start of the story his readers tell about his Englishness; in both contexts, laureateship instantiates interdependence of poetic with political authority. Laureateship dovetails with Chaucer’s similarly authoritative image as father of poets. The earliest Chaucerians take his legacy as innovative and use its English value to augment its international worth. Thomas Hoccleve (1368–­1422) adopts Chaucer as father of English poets, intimating that the power of his writing is personal, inheritable, and bound to communal identity. John Lydgate (1370–­1451) binds laureate poets and political communities, primarily Chaucer and the living English polity he ranks among nations worthy of their own vernacular literatures. Importing the appellation lauriat poete from Latin, Chaucer frames a developing Middle English discourse in his Clerk’s Prologue. There the Clerk responds to Herry Bailly’s request for a “myrie tale” that all the pilgrims “may understonde” (IV 9, 20).8 Herry stipulates that the Clerk set aside his professional skills and rhetorical techniques, his “termes, . . . colours, and . . . figures,” to provide a cheerful plot-­driven tale accessible across estates (16). The Clerk responds, I wol yow telle a tale which that I Lerned at Padowe of a worthy clerk, As preved by his wordes and his werk. He is now deed and nayled in his cheste; I preye to God so yeve his soule reste! Fraunceys Petrak, the lauriat poete, in Chaucer’s Cultural Geography, ed. Kathryn Lynch (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 102–34, 122. 8.  References to Chaucer are from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson et al. (Boston: Houghton-­Mifflin, 1981). Hereafter cited by line numbers alone.

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Highte this clerk, whos rethorike sweete Enlumyned al Ytaille of poetrie . . . (26–­33) The introspective scholar thus revises his assigned social task and offers other scholar-­poets a new, transferable, ultimately institutional identity. The Clerk identifies Petrarch with his laureateship, complies with the Host’s request for accessible language, yet also insists that Petrarch’s own “rethorike sweete,” rather than some less scholarly element of his art, illuminates “al Ytaille,” a polity united by one name, a land grand enough to confirm Petrarch’s worthiness. The Clerk fashions this Italy as greater and more cohesive thanks to Petrarch. The national weight of Chaucer’s import exceeds its connection with Petrarch’s Italy, for Chaucer anchors it to the vernacular and to a moment shared in space and time. Larry Scanlon observes that the Clerk returns Petrarch’s ostentatious Latin translation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Italian tale of Griselda to a humbler English vernacular through an imagined exchange of spoken words experienced with “Petrarch personally, while in residence at Padua.” This process “insists on the interdependence between the oral and the literate, the vernacular and the learned.”9 He writes, The vernacular community of Italy seeks the prestige of Petrarch’s learned, clerkly, Latinate laureateship. But without that community to illuminate, his laureateship literally has no meaning. The Clerk reaffirms Petrarch’s laureateship precisely by bringing it to another vernacular community, the oral tale-­telling contest of the Canterbury pilgrims, and by extension Chaucer’s English-­speaking readership.10

Chaucer introduces laureateship in an international context of genial exchange across linguistically disparate communities, yet as a role that strengthens identification expressly within vernacular communities. Here, a continental encounter between clerks, mediated by their learned Latin, is the prehistory that facilitates our Clerk’s participation in an insular, pluralistic, discursive, vernacular, and finally national English community.11 In Scanlon’s crucial formulation, “this contradictory double   9.  Larry Scanlon, “Poets Laureate and the Language of Slaves: Petrarch, Chaucer, and Langston Hughes,” in The Vulgar Tongue: Medieval and Postmedieval Vernacularity, ed. Fiona Somerset and Nicolas Watson (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2003), 231. 10. Ibid. 11.  On Chaucer’s “discursive community,” characterized by its language’s stylistic diversity and disagreements on the value and meaning of that language, see Paul Strohm “A Mixed Commonwealth of Style,” in Social Chaucer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989), 144–­82.

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desire—­the learned seeking vernacular expression, the vernacular striving for unattainable learned prestige,” lives on in Anglophone culture’s Chaucerian patrimony.12 Such tense interdependence across social strata typically subtends nationalist ideals of community. As Karla Taylor explains, restoring Griselda’s story “to the vernacular . . . immediately after the assertion of Petrarch’s mortality, suggests that it is rather the Clerk’s vernacular—­the language of time, change, and presence—­that preserves Petrarch’s work.”13 The national consequence is even greater since this tale binds absolute sovereignty to tyranny, precisely oppression of lower class subjects. By granting a cross-­class vernacular audience access to Griselda just after introducing laureateship into English and interring past authorities, Chaucer makes a nationalist gesture with English populist implications. From its entry into English, then, laureateship engages vernacular conversation, symbiotic international exchange, institutional interdependence, and a critique of class-­based oppression. Furthermore, our Clerk situates his encounter not in the Rome of Petrarch’s laureation, which evokes past imperial glory, but in the city famed for St. Anthony’s miracles in the thirteenth century and Marsiglio’s radical political theory in the fourteenth: Padua, home of miraculous episodes and rational ideas that bond communities. Marsiglio’s concept of communal functionalism ties political sovereignty to empirical good government, while Anthony’s miracles explain through mysticism and belief what practical observation occludes.14 The Clerk’s Petrarchan encounter, like his pilgrimage, depends on shared language, time and space, on the politics of belief and experience. It positions laureateship to imagine communities as nations, to fund belief in nations, yet also to challenge the power structures that sustain nations. Chaucer thus rests laureateship on the national potential of international exchange by reinterpreting a position rooted in imperial, Latin classicism. Lydgate then Englishes Chaucer’s laureateship, colonizing Britain. In The Lyf of our Lady, he writes, 12.  Scanlon, “Poets Laureate,” 231. 13.  Karla Taylor, “Chaucer’s Uncommon Voice: Some Contexts for Influence,” in The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Topic, ed. Leonard Michael Koff and Brenda Deen Schildgen (Madison: Fairleigh Dickenson UP, 2000), 47–­82, 57. 14.  Marsiglio was a strong advocate of the Roman Empire. Chapter 2 shows how Chaucer nevertheless utilizes his signature idea of communal functionalism toward national ends.

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And eke my master Chauceris nowe is graue The noble rethor Poete of breteine That worthy was the laurer to haue Of peetrie [sic] and the palme atteine That made first to distille and reyne The golde dewe droppis of speche and eloquence In-­to oure tounge throu his excellence15 Lydgate christens Chaucer as natively British and linguistically English beyond the grave, just as the Clerk consecrates an entombed Petrarch to Italy. Eternally “of breteine,” Chaucer is also the poet who transforms English, “oure tounge”: Lydgate slyly claims all Britain for English, fashioning this national identity through contested land, language, and master Chaucer. Britain is a ground on which Chaucer holds superlative titles; “oure tounge” colonizes it as a space in which he reigns as English poet, regardless of Scots and Welsh opinion. Lydgate transfers Petrarch’s Latin laurel and “palme” to Chaucer for his English eloquence. Chaucer’s own skill then transfigures aureate verbal dewdrops into English rain, paralleling the priestly power of transubstantiation to suggest an analogous ecological and secular mode of communal fortification just as it conflates Chaucer’s English vernacular with the infamous British weather. Lydgate’s Chaucer appropriates Britain for English literary history and competes with the priesthood. Seth Lerer and Robert Meyer-­Lee suggest that Lydgate politicizes the English laureateship by strengthening that institution. Lerer focuses on patronage and maintains that Lydgate relocates Dante, Petrarch, Virgil, and Chaucer “from the here and now . . . to the mythic then of (l)aureate poetics,” each within “the political and economic communities that sanction them.” A public economy thus pays and sanctions Lydgate’s state poets, “makes poetry a medium of exchange,” and endows laureateship with an explicit political currency that funds participation in new national institutions.16 Meyer-­Lee argues that Lydgate uses Chaucer’s currency to become the fifteenth century’s supreme poet and insists that, “the territory governed by the laureate should adjoin but be inde15.  Caroline Spurgeon, Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1925), 1:19. 16.  Seth Lerer, Chaucer and His Readers (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), 34, 37. Lerer contrasts Lydgate’s with Scottish King James I’s more direct laureation of Chaucer stressing the political limits of poet-­to-­poet laureation relative to official kingly power (52–­56).

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pendent of this [political] realm, and the poet should serve the public through a cultural excellence that has a bearing on but is not reducible to political expedience.”17 I will demonstrate that Chaucer uses sixth-­ century Britain in the Man of Law’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale as these two critics assert Lydgate uses Chaucer: each poet fortifies national institutions (Lydgate the laureateship and Chaucer the Church, law, and marriage) by projecting their legitimacy into the past, then drawing authority from continuity with these past powerful national institutions. Chaucer is more subtle than Lydgate, but no less politically significant.18 Taylor does not address laureateship directly, yet her distinction between making and poetry recognizes how poetic autonomy and social function distinguish Chaucer’s uncommon voice, which resonates with Richard Helgerson’s model of the self-­crowned laureate. Taylor explains that “[t]he activities of a court maker left little place for the ambitions of a poet,” who must authorize himself “to envision English poetry as something more than a belated collateral relation of French court poetry,” more than entertaining flattery of social superiors.19 Chaucer sought autonomy from court patronage that French traditions lacked, but that 1370s Florentine literary culture inspired: “In thus inventing a new social context—­secular, civic, and not courtly—­for serious poetry, and new ways to be a modern vernacular poet, the Florentine writers offered a genuine working alternative to ‘making’ for Chaucer.”20 Helgerson’s self-­ crowned laureates echo Chaucer’s uncommon voice: Spenser, Jonson, and Milton, “[e]ach had to speak to his own time in a language it might be expected to understand, even if only to say that he was of all time.”21 Meanwhile, Taylor argues that “[t]he first and last thing Chaucer got from reading the Italians is the lifelong idea that all voices are interested voices—­that no one speaks universal verities from a socially transcendent, disinterested perspective.”22 Chaucer does not fit Helgerson’s mold 17.  Robert J. Meyer-­Lee, Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007), 16. 18.  Meyer-­Lee draws an analogy between Spenser’s relationship with Elizabeth I and Lydgate’s with Henry V, through which we might consider Chaucer’s influence on Spenser and comparison with Lydgate further (Ibid., 81–­84). On Chaucer and Spenser, see also Anthony M. Esolen, “The Disingenuous Poet Laureate: Spenser’s Adoption of Chaucer,” Studies in Philology 87 (1990): 285–­311. Esolen shows how Spenser uses Chaucer’s vernacular laureate poetics while maintaining national hierarchies and interdependencies (287). 19.  Karla Taylor, “Chaucer’s Uncommon Voice,” 50, 54. 20.  Ibid., 57. 21.  Richard Helgerson, Self-­Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton and the Literary System (Berkeley: U of California P, 1983), 14. 22.  Taylor, “Chaucer’s Uncommon Voice,” 59.

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exactly, but Taylor reveals how his internationalism creates a similarly authoritative position from which a poet might critique and edify crown and nation. Both outline autonomous civic roles for poets who must negotiate time and political sovereignty. Chaucer has appeared not only as laureate but also as father of English poetry. Both roles anchor community yet renegotiate relationships shaped by national and international borders as well as those between life and death. In his Regement of Princes, Hoccleve mourns Chaucer’s death with personal depth and national breadth through a narrator that seems to descend from the brooding narrators of Chaucer’s dream visions. As Chaucer recedes, Hoccleve laments, “fadir, Chaucer, fayn wolde han me taght, / But I was dul and lerned lyte or naght” (2078–­79).23 His nostalgic tone emphasizes Chaucer’s significance to the nation. Hoccleve imagines an English nation as a linguistic and social structure larger than the biological family, which yet mimics that natio in form. Shuffling between personal and national scales, Hoccleve casts Chaucer’s death as collective “harm irreparable”: “O deeth, thow didest nat harm singuler / In slaghtre of him; but al this land it smertith” (2082, 1968–­69). Chaucer becomes a national resource: when depleted all suffer. “But nathelees,” Hoccleve continues apostrophizing death, yit hastow no power His name slee; his hy vertu astertith Unslayn fro thee, which ay vs lyfly hertyth, With bookes of his ornat endytyng, That is to al this land enlumynyg. (1970–­74) Chaucer’s “ornat endytyng,” replete with poetic and social authority, comforts his people and lights their land.24 His loss devastates the community yet insists on its coherence by linking father, people, poetry, and land. In this equation, Chaucer’s death confirms heredity’s urgency and his emergent poetic tradition’s impressive reach. Lydgate shows how laureateship finds its English incarnation in Chaucer; then Hoccleve se23. References to Thomas Hoccleve’s Regement are from Charles R. Blyth, ed., The Regiment of Princes, (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publication, 1999). Hereafter cited by line number only. 24.  See Anne Middleton, “Chaucer’s New Men,” in Literature and Society, ed. Edward W. Said (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980), 15–­56, on endytyng compared with other Middle English poetic terms. See also Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991), 16–­17, which contrasts Hoccleve’s with Henry Scogan’s contemporaneous assessment of paternal name and fatherly virtue.

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cures Chaucer’s patrimony for an unsettled English land and cultural community. In 1700, John Dryden declares Chaucer father of English poetry and his own spiritual forefather, while making the Canterbury Tales a repository for “the whole English Nation” and “God’s Plenty.”25 Converting Chaucer from an emotional into an essential resource, Dryden epitomizes modernity’s desire to stand above time and imposes essentialist nationalism on Chaucer. As Burger notes, “linking ‘Father Chaucer’ or ‘Chaucer the Man’ with ‘universal’ bourgeois humanist values” helps “colonize Chaucer and his characters in order to fit them into modernist narratives of progressive history and to mobilize them for the reproduction of hegemonic modern identities.”26 Similarly, in the eighteenth century, William Blake takes Chaucer’s pilgrims as evidence that while “[n]ames alter, things never alter.”27 Blake and Dryden freeze the English nation at Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrimage and co-­opt Chaucer for hegemonic purposes, disregarding his subtle politics. In the twentieth century, G. K. Chesterton compares Chaucer with George Washington as fathers of their countries, aligning Chaucer with propagandistic positions.28 He offers, “when I think of Chaucer . . . I do not think of a Court poet receiving a laurel from the King or a flagon from the King’s butler, . . . but of some such elemental and emblematic giant, alive at our beginnings and made out of the very elements of the land.”29 The legitimate fears of anti-­essentialist thinkers crystallize in Chesterton’s hyperbolic Chaucer, an arbitrary touchstone rather than an innovative poet. Chaucer’s vernacular discourse nevertheless authorizes English laureate poetics as a hereditary cultural currency with political consequence. Even as Hoccleve laments father Chaucer, he admits that the best thing about fathers is mortality: they usually die, bequeathing valuable patrimonies. Hoccleve, Lydgate, and later Chaucerians invest and spend their patrimony differently, yet all demonstrate English poetry’s formidable national purchase. 25. Spurgeon, Five Hundred Years, 1:278–­79. Dryden’s interest is intriguing given that no new edition of Chaucer was published between 1602 and 1687 (Ibid., xxviii). 26. Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, xix. On Dryden, Chaucer and the politics of modernity, see also Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 15. 27.  William Blake, Sir Geoffrey Chaucer and the Nine and Twenty Pilgrims on Their Journey to Canterbury, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (Berkeley: U of California P, 1982), 533. 28. Derek Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness,” in Chaucer’s Cultural Geography, ed. Kathryn Lynch (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 281–­301, 296. 29.  G. K. Chesterton, Chaucer (Cornwall: House of Straus, 2008 [1932]), 123.

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Chaucer among Middle English Voices Dryden translated Chaucer’s English despite avowed admiration; Spenser mimicked it by writing a kind of classical Middle English in effort to secure England’s national integrity and authenticate his own values therein. Readers have approached Chaucer’s English by way of refinement, purification, defiling, eclectic selection, excessive borrowing, and conquest. Notably, as Randy Schiff demonstrates, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Alliterative Revivalists characterized fourteenth-­century English “literary history as a conflict between two Middle English dialects” represented by nativist poets who resurrected the Old English alliterative line in order to compete with the French-­influenced syllabic verse of southern poets like Chaucer.30 This failed resurrection seals the death of a neo-­Saxon medieval nationalism, yet it enlivens a protomodern Chaucerian nationalism, according to Revivalists. Schiff, finding no evidence for conscious competition between Chaucer and alliterative poets, thus exposes the Alliterative Revival as “a medievalist rather than medieval phenomenon that originates from and continues to sustain Western nationalist interests linking British, American, and Continental scholars.”31 This section compares such nationalist exploitations with analyses of Chaucer’s vernacular that note its discursive power. Situating Chaucer among Middle English voices, we see that past and current debates regarding the vernacular illuminate the language politics of Chaucer’s England as well as English’s implication in cultural imperialism. In the late seventeenth century, Thomas Rymer explains that “Chaucer refin’d our English” by gathering scraps of other languages “like Stum to raise a Fermentation,” thus catalyzing an intoxicating, productive process.32 Finding “an Herculean labour on his Hands,” Rymer contends, he “did perform to Admiration. He seizes all Provencal, French or Latin that came in his way, gives them a new garb and livery, and mingles them amongst our English: turns out English, gowty, or superannuated, to place in their room the foreigners, fit for service, train’d and accustomed to Poetical Discipline.”33 Rymer’s verbs characterize Chaucer’s 30.  Randy P. Schiff, Revivalist Fantasy: Alliterative Verse and Nationalist Literary History (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2011), 20. 31.  Ibid., 2. 32.  Thomas Rymer, A Short View of Tragedy (1692; reprt., New York: A. M. Kelly, 1970), 78–­79. 33.  Ibid., 78.

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command of the vernacular as violent and heroic, working simultaneously in a historical past and a literary present. Chaucer commands an imperial army, mixing, exiling, and annexing to glorify English Poetical Discipline and purge a master race of inferior specimens. Far from innocent, his language remakes history via fierce modes of internationalism. Rymer’s near contemporary James Harrington too reads Chaucer’s innovative English as an international confrontation; however, Harrington casts the English as a weaker, subject people, at least at first. He excuses “Chaucer, the Father of our Poets” for the roughness of his expression, since “the refining of a Tongue is such a work, as never was begun, and finished by the same hand,” relying instead on transhistorical collaboration.34 Here language binds those who share and develop it across generations, suggesting imagination and cooperation akin to Anderson’s national model. “And as in Clothes, so in words,” Harrington continues, “at first usually they broke in unalter’d upon us from abroad; and consequently, as in Chaucer’s time, come not over like Captives, but Invaders. But then only they are made our own, when, after a short Naturalization, they fit themselves to our Dress, become incorporated with our Language, and take the air, turn, and fashion of the Country that adopted them.”35 According to this simile, both language and relations among warring peoples change over time: linguistic contact that begins with incursion ends with naturalization, a kind of nationalization. Harrington’s national “us” is neither pure nor inviolable, but rather identifiable and resilient. His language is a point of violent contact, but he understands linguistic violence optimistically as redeemable through naturalization. Likewise, in the fourteenth century, William of Ockham understood an initially illegitimate Roman imperial sovereignty to have become legitimate over time, as chapter 2 elaborates. Both justify imperialism; Harrington ties it to internationalism. In the late eighteenth century, Isaac Disraeli classifies Chaucer with “Gower, Lydgate, and an infinite number of excellent writers” as “martyrs to their patriotism,” criticizing them for unscrupulously “writing in their mother tongue.”36 Disraeli laments English vernacularization as a subversion of England’s universal claims to being, to immortality and intelligibility across time and space. He suggests the futility of Chaucer writing a national literature for a vernacular community, matching his 34. James Harrington, “Preface,” in Athenae Oxonienses by Anthony à Wood (1691; reprt., Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969), clxxv. 35.  Ibid., clxxv–­vi. 36.  Isaac Disraeli, Curiosities of Literature (London: H. Murray, 1794), 503.

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belletristic agenda with a thoroughly universal imperial program. The year 1837 finds an anonymous Edinburgh Review writer commending the “the national and popular spirit” that helps Chaucer to embody the people’s voice. Here “the extraordinary popularity of the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ and the ‘Troilus and Cresseide’” elucidates a history of conquest where all’s well that ends well through its “prodigious effect in rendering the language of a conquered people not only familiar, but musical to the conquerors. Chaucer wrote for the people but it was in the style of a gentleman. And he at once familiarized the Anglo-­Norman and refined the Anglo-­Saxon genius.”37 Chaucer thus facilitates exchange between Anglo-­Norman and Anglo-­Saxon. National literature, then, works not only as an expression of a people’s spirit but also as a point of contact and communication between conqueror and conquered, a “contact zone,” characterized by violence and asymmetrical power relations.38 Reconciling oppressed with oppressor, Chaucer’s English denies colonial tensions and losses. Current debates about Chaucer’s English remain bound to cultural politics and attend to linguistics as well as to authorial self-­presentation and anxieties about the vernacular, which reflect the networks of subjectivity within which much Middle English poetry situates itself.39 Butterfield challenges old modes of source study to complicate ideas of French, Italian, and English as national languages contiguous with distinct political and cultural borders. She maintains that Chaucer’s conventional French cultural and linguistic habit of mind have unrecognized aesthetic and analytic consequences and echoes Elizabeth Salter’s seminal approach to Chaucer’s writing as a testament to “the truly international character of his English.”40 Butterfield seeks to demonstrate that “En­ glishness includes Frenchness,” thus undercutting distinctions between the literary traditions as well as Chaucer’s choice of English.41 Christopher Cannon too protests the uniqueness routinely attributed to Chau37. Spurgeon, Five Hundred Years, 2:155. 38.  Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes (London: Routledge, 1992), 4. 39.  See P. M. Kean on authorial self-­presentation in Chaucer’s reception history. Kean maintains that self-­consciousness distinguishes Chaucer from previous Middle English poets, making him the very point of confluence of an English tradition evolving from insular and continental poetic traditions. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry, vols. 1 and 2, Love Vision and Debate and The Art of Narrative (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), esp. 1:1–­30 and 2: 238–­39. 40.  Ardis Butterfield, “Chaucer’s French Inheritance,” in The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer, ed. Piero Boitani and Jill Mann (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), 20–35, 34. 41. Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 273.

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cerian English, particularly its lexicon. Cannon argues that Chaucer’s exceptionality is a stylistic result of his own subtle hand in labeling high and low styles, his reflections on English’s inadequacies, ultimately his authorial self-­presentation.42 Relying on systematic linguistics as well, Tim William Machan argues that “during the whole Middle Ages  .  .  . there was no sociolinguistic history to sustain significance for English as a broadly national symbol or to foster a shared memory of its meaning,” despite Henry III’s and Edward I’s uses of English.43 Alternatively, Taylor, Ralph Hanna, David Matthews, Nicholas Watson, and the other editors of The Idea of the Vernacular warn against underestimating the nationalist desires and linguistic aspirations that medieval writers associate with English. Hanna productively critiques Cannon by distinguishing between lexicon and usage, which Cannon conflates.44 Hanna emphasizes the discursive force of Chaucer’s diction and uses, considering the full range of choices that contribute to his discourse. Meanwhile, Matthews revisits Machan’s sources informed by postcolonial understandings of medieval nationalism to illuminate writing to and from the king. Matthews holds that Henry III’s letters are about the appropriateness of writing in the vernacular as a way of proposing that there is a politically unified entity in England, defined by its speaking of the vernacular. But they are also about the manipulation of discourse and specifically vernacular discourse. . . . The harmony they propose was to a large extent illusory. That illusory character, however, does not undermine their role in trying to create a sense of national community. The community was also illusory, imagined. The crucial thing about the letters is that they are performative. They are one element in an effort to bring something into being, to enact it by discourse.45

Such elements abound in late Middle English literary culture. Indeed, as Watson shows, “long before Chaucer became a well-­known literary fig42.  This is an admittedly partial view of Cannon’s meticulous argument detailed in Christopher Cannon, The Making of Chaucer’s English (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998). 43.  Tim William Machan, English in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003), 69. 44.  Ralph Hanna III, “Chaucer and the Future of Language Study,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 24 (2002): 309–­15. 45. David Matthews, Writing to the King: Nation, Kingship, and Literature in England 1250–­1350 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010), 28. Matthews updates and refines Thorlac Turville-­Petre’s foundational England the Nation: Language, Literature, and National Identity, 1290–­1340 (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996).

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ure even in London—­an idea of the language as a single entity, constituting a single community, was established in a number of very different contexts”; from the rising of 1381 to lay catechesis and on to Lollardy, Middle English sought a national audience, representing national aspirations worthy of our study.46 Ultimately, “‘Chaucerian’ literature, elegantly removed from the language of the English peasantry by its use of French loanwords, could help to unite crown, aristocracy, gentry, urban elites, and church in a common culture at once distinct from and equal to the culture of its major international rival, France.”47 Watson, like Taylor, distinguishes Chaucer from Langland and Gower by showing how he surpasses courtly French internationalism to speak for English literature more than for any single segment or estate of English society.48 Despite differences, these scholars explore the political subtleties of Chaucer’s work confirming that his place in histories of English and Englishness depends upon his rhetoric and discursive power as opposed to discrete linguistic details. Whether we see Chaucer’s English as catalytic, originary, a zenith, confluence, or all-­encompassing interpretive process, it reveals as much about the methods and functions of national imagination as about vernacular nationalism itself, for it is self-­consciously political. This section’s remaining pages contextualize the Canterbury Tales within Middle English debate poetry, dream vision, and romance to show how Chaucer blends literary discourses as opposed to the linguistic essences that the Alliterative Revivalists imagined. As Bhabha writes, “The nation fills the void left in the uprooting of communities and kin, and turns that loss into the language of metaphor.”49 Patricia Clare Ingham and Geraldine Heng powerfully demonstrate that Middle English romance converts pain and loss into energetic fantasies of unity, often national.50 The Canterbury Tales participates in the adventurous spirit that liberates romance from epic destiny yet resists romance’s orderly resolutions by entertaining multiple social visions. It nevertheless contains romances that supplant personal loss and sacrifice with communal gain, yet diverges from contemporary trends in nationalist literature in 46.  Jocelyn Wogan-­Browne et al., The Idea of the Vernacular (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1999), 339–­42, at 340. 47.  Ibid., 349. 48.  Taylor, “Chaucer’s Uncommon Voice,” esp. 49. 49.  Bhabha, “DissemiNation,” 139. 50.  Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York: Columbia UP, 2003); Patricia Clare Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001).

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part because it combines dream vision and debate poetry’s civic concerns with romance’s historical and affective fantasies through its frame narrative and tale cycle, respectively. Both the dream vision tradition and the Tales query dissent’s national role, thus complicating sovereignty with questions of class, debate, and disorder. Where dream visions avoid resolution and decisive social action, the Tales assumes both the political change and the social possibility that dissent incites.51 Take, for example, Wynnere and Wastoure, a mid-­ fourteenth-­century poem that pits England’s law, its clerks and domestic concerns against the chivalric tradition of international spending and expansionist ambitions. The dreamer-­narrator recalls a vision wherein Wynnere, leading an army of clerks, merchants, and lawyers, confronts Wastoure and his “sadde men of armes” before their judge and king (193).52 The opponents seem bound for battle to validate either Wynnere’s domestic concerns or Wastoure’s spending and martial goals, but instead “take up and abandon rhetorical positions as if they were lances in a joust,” as Maura Nolan notes; and their mutual debates and interactions with the crown obscure national concerns such as treason’s legal definition, chivalry’s meaning, battle’s usefulness, and charity’s value.53 Wynnere and Wastoure surveys national debates and performs need for change, but it makes its strongest statement by refusing substantial change. Likewise, the early fifteenth-­century Mum and the Sothsegger debates whether silence or truth-­telling best serves England and its leaders. This dream vision seeks an exemplary communal voice, a paradigmatic speaker most worthy to advise the king. The narrator’s ostensible choices are Mum, who stands for flattery and self-­interested silence regarding misdeeds and affairs of state, and the Sothsegger, who represents willingness to speak truthfully about public affairs regardless of individual social or political gain. The narrator considers this extreme dichotomy through a dream and concludes that soothsaying is a most rare and valuable communal asset; but he also self-­censors his dream unapologetically, leaving the reader to question his reliability, his self-­interest, and the very possibility of honesty in public debate. Mum and the Sothsegger, 51.  Knapp has suggested that the Tales powerfully scrutinizes national controversies by gathering its pilgrims under Herry Bailly’s rule through their tale-­ telling agreement (“Chaucer Imagines England”). 52.  Wynnere and Wastoure in Alliterative Poetry of the Later Middle Ages: An Anthology, ed. Thorlac Turville-­Petre (Washington, DC: Catholic P of America, 1989). 53. Maura Nolan, “With treson within: Wynnere and Wastoure, Chivalric Self-­ Representation, and the Law,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 26 (1996): 17.

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like Wynnere and Wastoure, equivocates national values; and both poems ultimately suspend national debates. Instead of a judgment, the king knights Wynnere’s clerkly retinue, thus erasing only the most obvious difference between the factions, and encourages each party to continue its agenda. Similarly, Mum and the Sothsegger’s narrator risks little for reformation, offering his national critique through others’ books rather than by authoring his own. These poems avoid change even as they voice certain need for it.54 The Canterbury Tales addresses social change more subtly yet advances a more extreme position than these dream visions. Its inclination toward communal and narrative flexibility remakes dissent’s role vis-­à-­vis the chivalric class, public speech, and rule of law. Herry Bailly, for instance, installs himself as sovereign of the Canterbury-­bound community only to yield swiftly to the Miller’s unruly demand to follow the Knight’s tale. Herry prioritizes inclusion and continuity: he needs all pilgrims united on their path, which leads not only to Canterbury but also back homward through the Tabard Inn. As they amble on, Herry welcomes a disobedient and garrulous Canon’s Yeoman into the tale-­telling fellowship. This sovereign arbiter even complies when the Knight requests that he “kisse the Pardoner,” shortly after condemning the Pardoner’s speech with violent threats (VI 965). The Knight, whom the General Prologue introduces as an international war-­wager, becomes a domestic peacemaker. Each of these community-­shaking events affirms sovereignty’s participatory nature. Meanwhile dissent, flexibility, and cooperation emerge as central values: together they ensure communal cohesion notwithstanding differences of status and opinion regarding Herry’s rule. Despite Herry’s threats against rebels, he consistently accommodates would-­be militants, mitigating rebellion into dissent. Flexibility thus secures the continued exchange of sentence, solaas, and “aventures that whilom han bifalle” (I 795). As Knapp shows, when such exchange takes the form of angry quiting, the pilgrims are, in fact, most invested in and engaged with each other. They constantly reinterpret national debates through their tales, which requires the Canterbury-­bound body’s cohesion and, in turn, demands both flexibility and authoritative arbitration. Thus the Canterbury Tales naturalizes change and choice in national polity formation. Much like the postmodern nation, which exposes and exists alongside national 54. Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls dramatizes the debate poem/dream vision’s penchant for stasis by suspending the national business of royal marriage-­making and the bride’s decision-­making. Chaucer thus acknowledges that in the dream vision tradition dissent and debate commonly represent only the possibility of national reconfiguration.

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discontent and fictions of easy sociability, Chaucer dramatizes processes of writing and revising national identity. Docile cohesion and utter stability are mutually exclusive: change is both more common and more conducive to cohesion than stagnant order here. Chaucer’s narration confirms that important national questions are debatable: the Tales’s pilgrim-­narrator purports to tell the uncensored story of what he hears and lets readers decide how to take it. His narration differs strikingly from that of Mum and the Sothsegger’s dreamer-­ narrator, who claims paradoxically to have “slepte sadly seuen houres large” and asserts, “mette I of merveilles mo thanne me luste / To telle or to talke of, til I se tyme,” while maintaining that he alone will decide which of “the silde-­ couthes [he] wole shewe here-­ after” (870–­ 73).55 However, if we accept the pilgrim-­narrator’s declaration, “Whoso shall telle a tale after a man, / He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan” (and his following remarks, Canterbury Tales I 733–­46), we can attribute his unreliability to either his short wit or the nature of storytelling, but not to self-­interested choices or individualist isolation (I 731–­32). Chaucer seldom retells his sources exactly, suggesting that interpretation and change are integral to the hearing and telling process. Ultimately, Chaucer’s presentation of diverse opinions through a narrator’s imagined communal experience and a narrative marked by surprise twists as well as collaborative turns invites readers to participate in national debates. Conversely, the dream vision tradition’s presentation of such debates through a dreamer’s recollections impedes reader participation by insulating debates within one persona’s veiled dream world.56 Chaucer’s narration simultaneously absolves the author from responsibility for radical ideas and urges readers to consider the exciting communal possibilities of participation. He transports familiar national questions of public debate, social order, and diversity from a context that presents national business in suspension to one that performs it in process. Canterbury Tales romances diverge formally from alliterative models like the Morte Arthure and the popular tail-­rhyme variety that includes King Horn and the others that Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Thopas implicates be55.  Mum and the Soothsegger in The Piers Plowman Tradition, ed. Helen Barr (Rutland, VT: Everyman’s Library, 1993). 56.  The Vision of Piers Plowman, however, is an important and extreme exception to this rule. See Scanlon’s reading of Langland’s concept of national sovereignty and discussion of the “radical promise that Langland and his rebel readers found in nationalist ideals” (225) in “King, Commons, and Kind Wit: Langland’s National Vision and the Rising of 1381,” in Imagining a Medieval English Nation, 191–­233.

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fore Herry Bailly terminates it. Drawing on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s and Gerald of Wales’s earlier medieval historiography, Ingham shows how late fourteenth-­century Arthurian romances Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the alliterative Morte Arthure mourn local communities’ loss and destruction even as they fantasize unity and sovereignty.57 National unity, local loss, and imperial ambition are inseparable in the Morte Arthure as in postcolonial critique that understands “‘nation’ and ‘empire’ as mutually defined and defining.”58 The Canterbury Tales too addresses the romance tradition’s concerns with the imperial ambitions that compromise English national sovereignty’s legitimacy, but Chaucer more optimistically imagines cross-­class participation in a functional English nation. His Knight’s Tale, which reinforces class biases, nevertheless opposes imperial and national interests, distinguishing the two more sharply than typical medieval crusade and Arthurian romances. As the Knight tells it, Theseus’s Athens pales in comparison with the national model of community his fellow English pilgrims enact in the frame tale. Subsequently related romances the Man of Law’s Tale, Wife of Bath’s Tale, Squire’s Tale, and Franklin’s Tale focus keenly on deliberation, sovereignty, and consent, accentuating the Knight’s Tale’s failure to consider such national matters more fully. The Richard Coer de Lion manuscripts are jingoistic even among Middle English crusade romances. Richard Coer de Lion constructs a strident English national identity through its bitterly xenophobic attitudes toward the French and the Saracens. Like many Saracen romances, it overdetermines Englishness as all England’s enemies are not: true Englishmen show no mercy, proudly eat pork, cannibalize Saracens, and have tails, if we read literally. Alternatively, Chaucer depicts Englishness alongside racial otherness to confront readers with subtle similarities as well as vexing exclusions and irreducible difference not only across but also within English bounds. For example, the Squire’s Tale models Cambyuskan’s court on Arthur’s, only with curious exotic dancers; and the Man of Law gives Custance and her vicious mother-­in-­law parallel lines lamenting oppression (II 286, 338) but paints the former as a paragon of passive 57.  For an excellent, somewhat divergent treatment of Arthurian “literary texts” including the alliterative Morte that “took up the difficult questions posed by” political “discourses of sovereignty,” see Lee Manion, “Sovereign Recognition: Contesting Political Claims in the Alliterative Morte Arthure and The Awntyrs off Arthur,” in Law and Sovereignty in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Robert S. Sturges (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 69–­91, 91. 58. Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, 100.

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femininity and the latter as a virago, who breaks the rules Custance exemplifies. Chaucer’s orientalism is palpable, yet his forays into the Muslim world provide a relatively unthreatening view compared with romances that feature armies of embodied pagan others against whom all faith can be mounted, such as those the Tale of Sir Thopas parodies. Chaucer’s most direct comment on any romance subgenre is his assignment of both Sir Thopas and the prose political treatise, the Tale of Melibee, to himself. As Taylor explains, “All form and no content, Sir Thopas betrays the obsolescence of the tail-­rhyme romance, which had transplanted an Anglo-­Norman tradition into English.”59 Similarly, Lavezzo notes how miserably Thopas and Herry Bailly’s rejection of it reflect on popular Middle English romance. Taylor contextualizes the tale within and Lavezzo beyond the Canterbury Tales; both reveal how popular romance creates opportunities for Chaucer’s sensitive yet strong investments in English national identity and civic engagement. Lavezzo compares geographic isolation in Thopas and Guy of Warwick to frame “Thopas as an indubitably English romance, a tale grounded in the native literary productions of the English world border.”60 She concludes that “[w]hen Chaucer gazes upon the ground—­that is, English territory—­and calls himself elvish, he is also calling himself English” and performing “his sensitivity to English national identity.”61 Taylor argues that while “Sir Thopas presents the upheavals of a multilingual culture as an aesthetic problem,” the Melibee then “produces a new civic vocabulary in English as the solution to the problems of a fragmented society.”62 Taylor’s intricate aesthetic reading takes the Shipman’s Tale as a negative example that problematizes multilingualism, which the Melibee then remedies through its English. Taylor shows how Fragment VII generates an English lexicon for civic deliberation, a political discourse accessible to a vernacular community and prepared to unite it despite its various discrete multilingualisms.63 Chaucer thus “make[s] possible a civic life based not on might, anger, and violence, but rather on deliberative words.”64 Turning 59.  Karla Taylor, “Social Aesthetics and the Emergence of Civic Discourse from the Shipman’s Tale to Melibee,” Chaucer Review 39 (2005): 298–­322, 298. 60. Lavezzo, “England,” in Chaucer: Contemporary Approaches, ed. Susanna Fein and David Raybin (University Park: Pennsylvania UP, 2010), 47–­64, 61. 61.  Ibid., 62, 58. 62.  Taylor, “Social Aesthetics,” 298, 299. 63.  See also Jonathan Hsy, Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013) on multilingualism in and beyond the Canterbury Tales. 64.  Taylor, “Social Aesthetics,” 312.

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away from Thopas’ romanticization of chivalric conquest toward Melibee’s language of civic deliberation, the pilgrim-­narrator provides useful vernacular tools for nationalist engagement and debate.

Internationalism and Domesticity “Internationalism” has worked to vindicate Chaucer’s project, to remove it from nationalism’s web, but it seldom if ever presents an innocent alternative to nationalism in the Canterbury Tales. By putting domesticity into conversation with internationalism, the Tales demonstrates how internationalism and the nation define rather than threaten each other. Chaucer invests faith and legitimacy in national cohesion by fashioning the nation as a domestic form of community fueled by an ethics of inclusivity, deliberation, vernacular authority, and exchange. At the same time, he binds the nation to sovereign claims with international texts transmitted through anachronistic histories. Thus, Chaucer actually situates the nation within internationalism’s web, complementing domesticity yet querying nationalism.65 Mathew Browne, a Victorian whom Steve Ellis ranks with Chaucer’s most patriotic admirers, reifies a colonialist nationalism in an international context.66 Browne makes the common claim that Chaucer is a forerunner to the modern Englishman in an uncommon way: Chaucer is not only English in the sense of being unable, apparently, to escape things such as “frank anachronism” in the telling of classic or foreign stories,—­like a traveler who persists in treating the inhabitants of a strange land as foreigners; he is English in the essential objectivity of his mind, and in the directness of his touch.67

Here Englishness operates like a trap that impedes its own escape and locks itself down by its own design. Chaucer’s Englishness locks him into persistent and inevitable error that nevertheless exacts his dominant position: “‘frank anachronism’ in the telling of classic or foreign stories” suggests profound purchase on the past. Browne’s stories are animals that telling fails to domesticate, though they thus capture and are cap65.  As explored in chapter 3, Édouard Glissant, Le discours antillais (Gallimard, Folio, 1997), describes a similar dynamic at work in postcolonial Caribbean national literature. 66.  Steve Ellis, Chaucer at Large (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000), 58. 67.  Mathew Browne, Chaucer’s England (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1869), 45.

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tured by Englishness. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’ anachronisms do claim sovereignty for England; but Browne, more concerned with Chaucer’s innate Englishness than his writing, suggests that critical distance and historical imagination are utterly beyond the English repertoire. Browne’s Chaucer becomes English in a contact zone that fosters self-­ definition against others and uneven power relations alongside internationalist exchange, querying nationalism and internationalism. The Englishman, as Browne contends, “carries his nationality with him all over the world as a sort of enlarged domesticity, . . . and when . . . looking at other people, behaves as if they were looking at him, and is rather apt to break out into rude defiance of their observation.”68 Such implacable Englishmen, simultaneously observers and observed, domesticate impudence. Browne ventures that the English, “however maladroit their colonial administration may have been, . . . are par excellence colonists, missionaries, gatherers together, founders of social groups, makers of history (i.e. the story of men and women in groups), wherever they go.”69 Browne adapts Chaucer’s art to support colonialism, one of internationalism’s oldest, most pernicious varieties. He shows why scholars like Pearsall, Butterfield, and Schiff reject nationalism categorically even as he demonstrates nationalism and internationalism’s confluence. Scholars who, like Browne, insist on an implacable and exclusive English nationalism ultimately misconstrue the politics of Chaucer’s art, which explores domestic inclusion and flexibility. Pearsall revisits Primo Levi, for whom xenophobia equals “deviance from a normally healthy state . . . like vulnerability to infection,” and proposes “that what [Levi] calls the ‘infection’ is not some rottenness in the system, but part of what makes the system work.”70 Pearsall reduces nationalism entirely to xenophobic exclusivity, describing how Chaucer’s language inherits systems of exclusion, maintaining that “there is no English poet who is less interested in England as a nation,” and pursuing Chaucer’s Englishness only “to show how the apparently non-­political and non-­aligned writing of a great poet can become the instrument of an unrelated and historically powerful ideology.”71 Pearsall clarifies one of our critical history’s urgent lessons yet forecloses other paths of inquiry including scrutiny of nationalism as the set of dynamic national aspirations, concepts, and possibili-

68. Browne, Chaucer’s England, 250–­51. 69.  Ibid., 47. 70.  Derek Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness,” 282–­83. 71.  Ibid., 297.

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ties that the Canterbury Tales negotiates.72 Meanwhile, Knapp and Paul Strohm emphasize its original take on domestic cohesion and inclusivity. Strohm shows how disproportionate representation of the narrow “middle strata” drawn from “the left hand of merchants and devoted craftsman” and “the heart  .  .  . citizens and burgesses” of late fourteenth-­ century England’s body politic unites Chaucer’s yet diverse and multivocal pilgrims.73 From John of Salisbury to beehive allegories, medieval models of polity appear as interdependent relationships of parts to whole, individuals to community.74 And as Knapp notes, “Chaucer’s crew is far more motley and far more contentious [than Boccaccio’s Decameron crew], but also more engaged with one another” precisely because they compete “over the distinctive social and economic terrain of late medieval England,” and are not a community “of unanimous agreement, but one that shares distinctive beliefs and distinctive controversies over belief.”75 Knapp shows how competitive storytelling unites Chaucer’s pilgrims into a team as well as a league, pushing beyond oppositions of nationalism and internationalism, whereas the Decameron uses storytelling to resist competition. Traditionally, criticism has pitted Chaucer’s internationalism against his nationalism to proclaim the former victor; but Chaucer accesses his sovereign English nation through internationalism, which remains one of the most celebrated aspects of his work. The common distinction made between nationalism and internationalism in this praise is false, for Chaucer’s international and national projects have always relied on each other. Schiff has already recognized internationalism as a genre of nationalism in his Revivalist Fantasy, where he wisely chooses a transnationalist over an internationalist approach to medieval community structure. This choice avoids internationalism’s dependence on “a modern, static disposition of uniformly defined nation-­states” and facilitates in72.  Alternatively Akbari’s historicized approach to Chaucer’s national discourse recognizes the actual mutability therein, clarifying the exclusions and categorizations that nation implies alongside the flexibility Chaucer’s imagination allows it (Akbari, “Orientation and Nation”). See also Scanlon, Narrative, Authority and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994): “Redefining Chaucer’s authority as exemplary enables us to move beyond his mythic status as the father of English poetry to specify his historical relation to the culture he inhabited,” Scanlon maintains (25). 73. Strohm, Social Chaucer, 4. 74.  Traugott Lawler, The One and the Many in the Canterbury Tales (Hamden: Archon Books, 1980) pursues this point toward a Robertsonian ending, despite Lawler’s emphasis on extra-­patristic voices and concerns. 75.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England,” 142, 148.

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stead “our identification of networks of meaning that defy boundaries traditionally tied to nations,” to offer a transnational worldview.76 Schiff rejects nationalism and its detriments, appealing instead to postcolonial critique by tying our moment to the medieval past through transnational empire. This is a very wise move for political agents, but literary critics must remain alert to the diverse machinations of nationalism, internationalism, and transnationalism in our texts. This book uses nationalism’s terms and concepts to analyze how Chaucer approaches salient communal identities, alliances, languages, beliefs, and exclusions. As Heng has argued, we must use the term race even when xenophobia and otherness seem to describe exclusionary medieval trends well enough because “the term ‘race’ continues to bear witness to important strategic, epistemological, and political commitments not adequately served by the invocation of categories of greater generality . . . or greater benignity in our understanding of human culture and society. Not to use the term race would be to sustain the reproduction of a certain kind of past.”77 I move to apply Heng’s argument to the terms nation and nationalism. Medievalists have long celebrated Chaucer’s internationalism even as his poetry has anchored the English literary canon. Internationalism often seems adequate, yet to avoid nationalist discourse would be to sustain longstanding exclusions and power surrounding Chaucer’s place and meaning in the English canon. Chaucer does, moreover, interweave exclusion, xenophobia, and classism into his imagination of England, warranting the term nationalism and exposing its kinship with internationalism. A quick survey of the Canterbury Tales finds that Muslims and Jews appear only in the tales, not among their tellers, reflecting medieval England’s legal history of racial expulsion. Meanwhile, the Squire’s English resists Mongol Princess Canacee’s non-­European beauty, which is conveniently inapplicable in Syrian Queen Zenobia’s case. Dark skin appears in the frame narrative only as a result of the Shipman’s and Knight’s Yeoman’s outdoor, lower-­ class labors and as evidence of alchemical mishaps on the Canon’s Yeoman’s body. Ethnic and religious exclusion that is as subtly challenging as all Chaucer’s political moves abounds. Pearsall, Wallace, Turville-­Petre, and Salter separate Chaucer’s exclu76. Schiff, Revivalist Fantasy, 8. 77.  Geraldine Heng, “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages I: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages,” Literature Compass 8/5 (2011): 258–­74, 265.

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sions from his interests in otherness and the exotic as well as from his internationalism. But internationalism is not cosmopolitanism, and internationalism—­with all its potential nationalism and all nationalism’s potential provincialism—­is the term that these scholars invite into Chaucer studies. When they invoke internationalism, they seem to mean something less provincial and more universal than the familiar hatreds of pilgrims like the orientalist lawyer and Squire and anti-­Semitic Prioress; they seem to mean cosmopolitanism.78 Cosmopolitanism might threaten Chaucerian nationalism in its assimilation of universal values and customs, but internationalism never does.79 A strategy full of opacities and entangled with exclusion and xenophobia, internationalism fails to rule out the provincial and nationalist consciousness that Chaucer’s pilgrims write into the Canterbury Tales. Xenophobia and exclusion are hardly the only nationalist dangers here. For Wallace, the question of nation is contiguous with the problem of absolutism, insofar as the state exploits and destroys communal associative force in the absolute process of nationalization. From this perspective, Chaucer appears as a doubtful critic of and marginal commentator on the nation. Comparing Chaucer with Lydgate, Wallace “emphasizes . . . Chaucer’s decision not to press claims for the ‘renoun’ of poets, and the ‘worshipe’ they might bring a ‘nacioun,’” evidenced by the Monk’s Tale’s emphatically absent “claims for poetry or authorship as an instrument of state.”80 Yet, as chapter 7 argues, that tale and its critical apparatus excommunicate Zenobia and Persians through an exclusive focus on English and Latin. Chaucer’s national imagination is unique and central to understanding his poetry’s power; it is also true that nation takes a more obvious and recognizable place in his followers’ work. 78. Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness”; David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997); Turville-­ Petre, “The Brutus Prologue,” in Imagining and Medieval English Nation, 340–­46; and Salter, English and International (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988), 244. 79.  On cosmopolitanism among other approaches to late medieval cultural politics, please see John Ganim, “Cosmopolitanism, Sovereignty, and Medievalism,” ALS: Australian Literary Studies 26 (2011): 6–­20, which explores the “complex contours of a premodern cosmopolitanism” through medieval literature and political theory, arguing that “[i]f modern political thought distinguishes between cosmopolitanism and communitarianism, medieval writers made no such distinction, and often synthesised or hybridised these two apparently antithetical perspectives. Thus, individual writers and thinkers in the Middle Ages could be both xenophobic and cosmopolitan, both curious and closeminded, either at particular points in their careers, or, more typically, within the same text” (18). 80. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 334.

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Wallace stresses this point by insisting that the associational local community and the nation are mutually exclusive and the nation synonymous with the absolutist state, which are both chronologically after and parasitic on the medieval fellowship, Chaucer’s associational community.81 Rather than a synecdochal relationship of parts that stand symbolically for a whole despite their particularity, only the whole or the part, the nation or the fellowship, thrives in this scheme, which is the prevailing practical and historical model. While I share Wallace’s misgivings about the historical nation-­ state and his longing for a communalist Chaucerian political vision, these early models of English community are neither wedded to the absolutist state nor divorced from national identities. Burger’s approach to the Canterbury Tales illuminates its political potential and national aspirations, ambitions appropriate in literary art if anywhere at all. Despite London’s fourteenth-­century economic strides, “England, we should always remember, was, in global terms, a backwater of a backwater,” Pearsall advises.82 We must appreciate the distance that the English nation and identity had to go before reaching their full-­scale, hegemonic forms. Chaucer’s England was a nation seeking foundations, often mythic and exclusive; and for him, like most members of culturally or politically marginal nations, internationalism was a useful nationalist strategy.83 As Pearsall writes, “Chaucer’s idea in using English was in any case not to assert an independent national identity but to enable England to take its place among those more advanced nations of Europe—­ France and Italy—­that had already an illustrious vernacular.”84 Pearsall, Butterfield, Salter, and Turville-­Petre calculate Chaucer’s English as the price of admission to an international literary culture. Crafting a distinct national identity may not have been intentional; but, in order “to enable England to take its place among those more advanced nations,” Chaucer 81.  Kevin Pask “‘England’s Olde Ennius’: Geoffrey Chaucer,” in The Emergence of the Author: Scripting the Life of the Poet in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 9–­52 shows how sixteenth-­century Chaucerians co-­opted Chaucer and fabricated his education to render him a past precedent of a national poet, linguistic servant, and tool for an absolutist state. 82.  Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 19. 83.  Michael Ignatieff observes, “cosmopolitanism is the privilege of those who can take a secure nation-­state for granted” (Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism [New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1995], 13). Chaucer’s internationalism is no such privilege. 84.  Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness,” 290–­91.

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had to distinguish it and magnify English identity, which he did by shrinking distance between England and its neighbors while rendering it capable of self-­reflection. Whether Chaucer meant to engage England civically as a domestic community or to make it internationally visible, he could hardly have done one without the other.

Imagination, Sovereignty, and Anachronism Chaucer’s nationalism consists of a delicate negotiation between ideals of domesticity and of sovereignty. These ideals draw English folk into relation: domesticity explains their complex familiarities, while sovereignty accounts for political and cultural hierarchies that stratify them. Anachronism works as the narrative resource that facilitates movement between these two ideals to imagine England as at once a sovereign power, a trans-­historical community of comrades, and a homeland. Morton W. Bloomfield dismisses Chaucer’s “flagrant anachronisms” as symptoms of “ignorance, thoughtlessness, or superior claims of artistic fitness”; but his anachronisms expose the lies that propel nationalist imagination alongside the aspirations that encode its lasting appeal.85 Burger describes how Chaucer imagines a queer nation that reclaims an improvisational character from the nation-­state’s hegemonic grip: the “nation” that the Canterbury project itself imagines must be understood as crucially before the modern nation-­state. The Tales’ organization of an imagined community of “gentils” anticipates the later centrality of a London-­Canterbury axis that defines a national center founded on a national language, a national polity, and a national religious practice. But the Tales simultaneously reveal the complex set of material factors informing and often interfering with the creation of such a social imaginary.86

85.  Morton W. Bloomfield, Essays and Explorations: Studies in Ideas, Language, and Literature (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1970), 17. More recent examinations of time in the Middle Ages reveal a rich and diverse range of medieval understandings. See Chris Humphrey and W. M. Ormrod, Time in the Medieval World (York: York Medieval Press, 2001), especially chapters by Burke, Carruthers, and Putter; and Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), which establishes that “[t]here is no single ‘medieval’ conception of time and history,” exploding the myth that all medieval time is sacred (104). 86. Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, xx.

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The modern English nation-­state does not descend from Chaucer’s pilgrim community; rather, that community records the complexities of English national imagination before the ascendancy of the modern nation-­ state. Chaucer’s is a queer nation “come together by chance,” a new group “neither aristocratic nor peasant,” which imagines its unsettled “beyond” even as it remains mired in its present moment. 87 The old class order is still visible and its identities still in play, but boundaries have been transgressed; additional emergent identities now complicate and queer the rules of engagement. Burger shows how Chaucer’s story of the nation perpetually unravels through a middle space where chance and improvisation manipulate an ever-­prominent horizon. Chaucer’s national imagination thus generates an elasticity, which I elaborate to explain how the Canterbury Tales negotiates a national present and future expressly by bending the past. I develop Burger’s findings to explore the nationalist consequence of Chaucer’s anachronism. Burger gestures toward a “beyond” that defies normative prescription. He reads the Host’s request that the Parson tell the final Canterbury tale as a call to resume pilgrim identity and to end the contest’s tale-­telling pleasures. Refusing to tell a fable and focusing instead on life’s pilgrimage, the Parson challenges Herry’s game: For the Host, the end to tale-­telling is bound up not just with filling the stipulated terms of an idle game, but with manifesting the idle web of social relations that such game playing represents—­“we han herd of ech degree” (X.18). For the Parson (and the Chaucer of the Retraction) the literal end of the story (or life) is nothing but the sign of the emptiness of all human endeavors, and hence, of the need to allow a divine plan to fill and guide it. The “ends” to the Tales, then, enact a kind of coercive historicism, demanding that we exceed the boundaries of the Tales as we know them in order to fantasize their “beyond” and in order to return to our present “at a thropes ende” in the fullness of such knowledge of the “future.”88

Rather than observe the medieval past from our moment assured of that past’s present, future, and relation to history, Burger pursues the unknowable future that the Tales itself evokes. He explains that this emergent community has analogues but no equivalents in fourteenth-­century England and emphasizes “such an imagined community as something 87.  Ibid., 198. 88.  Ibid., 188.

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not yet known, and therefore separate from the kind of ‘English nation’ defined a generation later by the fifteenth-­century Lancastrian state apparatus.” The Tales imagines a national, discursive “beyond things as they are” that Chaucer’s fifteenth-­century followers extend, despite the Host’s and Parson’s ending gestures.89 Insisting upon this discursive beyond, yet withholding exactly what it is, Chaucer reinforces unpredictability and invests in present possibility. Burger establishes that “postcolonial theory provides  .  .  . a useful means by which we might, from within the inheritance of modern discourses of nation and empire, challenge their normative power.” His approach gathers special force by negating choices among historicist responsibility, historical materialism, and postcolonial or anticolonial commitment. He notes that because the Tales and its contemporary works are in the process of defining “London” English, “English is as likely . . . to signify a colonial history in relation to French and Latin and a fragmenting regionalism as it is a unified, imperially coherent identity.”90 Indeed, such late medieval works are indispensable to exploring intersections of national and imperial politics. Inspired by Bhabha’s concept of post-­ality, “as an agential ‘middle,’ rather than a progressive historicist ‘after’ or a revolutionary ‘against,’” Burger sees the middleness of Chaucer’s social imagination as resisting “the hegemony of modern social formations” and reads Chaucer’s national imagination as a powerful mode of reevaluating time and chronology.91 Anderson’s concept of the nation underlies Burger’s and many medievalist approaches to nationhood. “Communities are to be distinguished,” Anderson writes, “not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.”92 He continues: The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. . . . It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-­ ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. . . . Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, 89.  Ibid., 198–­99. 90.  Ibid., xx. 91.  Ibid., xxi. 92. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 6.

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horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible . . . for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as to be willing to die for such limited imaginings.93

The Canterbury Tales imagines community limited by time, space, religion, and language and redeemed through national sovereignty, which idealizes itself as negotiable, limited, and shared. Comradeship, too, Chaucer imagines as negotiable, necessary, and dependent on the sacrificed lives that sovereignty requires. The Tales fits uncomfortably with Anderson’s model, interrogating the Enlightenment ground in which he roots it, extending its roots deeper into the past. But Anderson’s key revelation is that nationalism is principally a style, an approach through which art might imagine almost any community: nation is a way, not a thing. Every national community is a product of such imagining. And Chaucer imagines England along Andersonian lines in form, even if his England diverges from the modern nation in content. Knapp highlights the Chaucerian imagination’s parallel relation to belief. She writes, “Chaucer evokes a sense of English community, at least in part as a result of his seeing certain phenomena as indicative of an English community,” and argues that although this community may not have “generally understood itself as a nation of citizens,” we might best understand it as such.94 Explicating late fourteenth-­century English modes of imagination, Knapp illuminates Chaucer’s intervention in his own moment. She demonstrates that Chaucer’s imagination of community works as Anderson prescribes by “bringing forth something previously in existence, though differently experienced.”95 It catalyzes a process, elaborating and transforming real world experience without forsaking it. Similarly, belief fuels medieval and modern nations according to Susan Reynolds. She solves the problem of locating medieval nations among historical forms by stressing that, regardless of nomenclature, we can clarify past political solidarities by admitting that processes of coming to national consciousness often work . . . with units which are perceived as nations as the product of history rather than its primary building-­blocks. National character is that which is attributed to any group thought of as a nation: the nation itself is the product of its members’ belief that it exists . . . irrespective 93.  Ibid., 7. 94.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England,” 148–­49. 95.  Ibid., 132.

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of any relationship we can now trace between the medieval “people” and its kingdom on the one hand and the modern “nation” and its state on the other.96

Reynolds’s “belief” functions like Knapp’s imagination: as a catalyst through which members of a nation actualize and process their political and cultural solidarity, broadening it beyond immediate experience. Belief and imagination do the vital work of investing community with transcendence that links members across space and time. Anderson marks a sequential course, where nations imagine themselves as limited communities with the right to self-­determination, then seek sovereignty, resisting imperial oppression. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri develop this sequential view: “the nation sustains the concept of sovereignty by claiming to precede it.”97 They suggest that the modern nation legitimizes its sovereignty by asserting a powerful transhistorical national culture, identity, and subjectivity anchored securely by its own immemorial past. Knapp and Reynolds depict similar yet more dynamic relationships between sovereignty and nation, for medieval literature and history include both communities that imagine their right to sovereignty and sovereign realms that start to imagine themselves as communities. Meanwhile, medieval thinkers stress sovereignty’s own legitimizing efficacy when limited to the space of the nation.98 Imagination and anachronism distinguish the contours of Chaucerian sovereignty. The Canterbury Tales imagines sovereignty as a domestic power that grows out of the home and household as an intermediate national institution, in Strohm’s terms.99 In the Man of Law’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale, sovereignty redeems extant communities, transforming them into English nations. Chaucer’s economical use of the word sovereignty clarifies this function. Five of his six uses occur in romantic or household contexts and describe relationships between lovers and/or husbands and wives. Uniquely, in the Parson’s Tale, sovereignty denotes a 96.  Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, c. 900–­1300 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 253. 97.  Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000), 101. 98.  On how sharing a home, law, and, specifically, a sovereign, spurs people to believe in their solidarity and to imagine themselves as a community of comrades, see Kenneth Hodges, “Why Malory’s Launcelot Is Not French: Region, Nation, and Political Identity,” PMLA 125.3 (2010): 556–­71, 558. 99. Paul Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow: The Social Imagination of Fourteenth-­ Century Texts (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992), 121–­44.

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divinely ordained power that regulates sovereign greed, where lords and subjects are of one condition but different classes. In every case, sovereignty mediates relationships among free adults who hold uneven power yet share emotional bonds. We can understand medieval sovereignty simply as a hierarchical mode of shared ownership and judgment. However, Chaucer’s concept of sovereignty varies with the education and social position of the term’s user; sovereignty’s practical application varies with the sovereign who exercises it. Chaucerian sovereignty is then a vernacular idea, a concept whose meaning changes with use, yet remains recognizable; and it is a human form of governance, a power limited by human relationships, capacities, and emotions. For Dante, the illustrious vernacular works like sovereignty: it enacts ownership and judgment. For Chaucer, sovereignty works like the illustrious vernacular: it combines theory, a sort of grammar, and practice, repetitive use.100 In the Canterbury Tales, theories of sovereignty delineate ways in which ownership and judgment might work; but in practice, sovereignty always exceeds or fails expectation. From a different angle, it seems Chaucer imagines sovereignty like history, as a kind of story that requires collaboration. Meanwhile he uses history like sovereignty, as a form of power that requires participation. This history works most efficiently in the Man of Law’s Tale and Wife of Bath’s Tale, where Chaucer’s anachronism betrays the English nation as an erroneous power out of synch with truth. Putting twentieth-­century European politics and national aspirations into conversation with medieval history, Patrick Geary cautions against historical “rhetoric” that “lay[s] claims to present and future.”101 He notes that “people living in the distant past had a sense of nation,” which he includes among “religion, kindred, lordship, and social stratum” as “overlapping ways by which politically active elites identified themselves and organized collaborative action”; but he downplays nation’s significance, insisting that “common national identity” failed to “unite the high and the low, lord and peasant, into a deeply felt community of interest.”102 Geary maintains that rather than “projecting their national 100.  According to Stephen Botterill, for Dante, in the Convivio and De vulgari eloquentia, Latin or grammatica is “a literary language governed by rules.” By this Dante indicates classical Latin poetry and excludes spoken and prose Latin. In Dante’s formulation, vernacular language is governed by usage, while Latin is bound closely to grammatical rules. Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, ed. and trans. Steven Botterill (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 90n1. 101. Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Prince­ton UP, 2003), 9. 102.  Ibid., 15, 19.

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identities into a distant past,” medieval elites identified with Rome.103 Despite “emotional appeal[,] . . . these historical and linguistic claims” for self-­determination are generally ahistorical, he argues: “[c]ongruence between early medieval and contemporary ‘peoples’ is a myth.”104 This is true; yet such lacking correspondence should not thwart the goals of most literary scholars and critics, which exclude promoting and impugning the national claims of contemporary peoples.105 My own work aims to clarify how medieval poetry imagines national identities, alliances, languages, beliefs, histories, and hatreds, so that we might manage our unique yet comparable national imaginations more responsibly. Reynolds’s historicism, which presents medieval experiences of community “irrespective of any relationship we can now trace between the medieval ‘people’ and its kingdom on the one hand and the modern ‘nation’ and its state on the other,” is especially useful toward this end.106 Literary criticism in particular must engage politics in ways that reach beyond straightforward relationships between medieval and contemporary nations, precisely because so many of our primary objects of study, including the Canterbury Tales, mythologize their own political pasts, laying national claims to present and future. The vernacular poet’s experience of the nation will differ from that of Geary’s “politically active elites,” yet it remains as worthy of study. By disordering cultural history, Chaucer’s pilgrims establish a national political history wherein sovereignty redeems English nationhood through both domestic and foreign networks of exchange. They use history as a form of currency for exchange, rather than fear it as a form of authority that limits exchange, like Chaucer’s first readers use him. Chaucer’s transhistorical national imagination generates hope, but it is far from innocent. In describing thirteenth-­century Welsh and Irish national challenges to a stridently successful English nationalism, R. R. Davies observes that “countries are not defined merely by power and political sovereignty, but by the traditions, sentiments and aspirations of those who live in them.”107 Davies’s The First English Empire scrutinizes the ways in which the English crown overpowered and appropriated all of Britain in spite of Irish, Welsh, and Scots opinion. Ironically, the Can103.  Ibid., 19. 104.  Ibid., 37. 105.  See Manion, “Sovereign Recognition,” moreover, on fiction’s vital role in critiquing “English political theory and practice” (71). 106. Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities, 253. 107. Davies, The First English Empire: Power and Identity in the British Isles 1093–­1343 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000), 82.

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terbury Tales demonstrates Davies’s point by crafting images of England that conflate political sovereignty with national traditions, sentiments, and aspirations, annexing all Britain under English sovereignty, even as they record sacrifice and twist time. My work relies heavily on Ingham’s and Michelle R. Warren’s analyses of insular colonialism in later medieval Arthurian literature. They establish Arthur’s Britain as the prime field of insular contest for competing Welsh, Scots, and English “national fantasies,” in Ingham’s lexis. As she writes, “[n]ational fictions must imagine a coherent identity that crosses both time and space despite the passings that constitute history, or the aggressions that constitute community.”108 The Man of Law’s Tale and Wife of Bath’s Tale do exactly that in logging past sacrifice alongside Welsh and Scots political aspirations, but ultimately subordinating them to English identity, sovereignty, and continuity. Ingham’s Sovereign Fantasies exposes national fantasy as illusion that excuses and obscures ideological hierarchies and oppression within Britain; it exposes “the colonizing uses of imagination and fantasy,” including English misappropriations of Britain and British history.109 As Warren writes, “[l]ike the island itself, the story of the past becomes a cultural space to be conquered.”110 Ingham and Warren illuminate Arthurian legend as a site of unity and conflict. I argue that by paralleling his only Arthurian romance, the Wife of Bath’s Tale, with his one sustained reflection on Anglo-­Saxon England, the Man of Law’s Tale, Chaucer claims Britain for England through the discourse of sovereignty yet leaves a trail of deceit visible through anachronism. Sly or sloppy, Chaucer’s story of England’s past helps conquer Britain. Ingham and Warren provide a vital counterbalance to my project. In demonstrating how the Canterbury Tales negotiates a full spectrum of national possibilities, from cross-­class and cross-­gender inclusivity to racial exclusivity, I risk short-­shrifting insular colonialism. Furthermore, my focus on internationalism draws energy toward Chaucer’s orientalist exclusions: Syrian Christianity, Muslim righteousness, Mongolian beauty, and Persian chronicle writers. Crucially, Warren and Ingham warn that English national fantasy is oppressive and exclusive even before it sets sight beyond Britain. Building on Lavezzo’s connections among British geo108. Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, 13. 109.  Ibid., 2. 110.  Michelle R. Warren, History on the Edge: Excalibur and the Borders of Britain (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000), 13. Warren shows how chroniclers use linguistic anachronism in political presentism throughout.

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graphic isolation, English sovereignty, and national possibility, I show that Chaucer marginalizes the multicultural British past by investing in an English present and future more than in any past.111 Helgerson’s Forms of Nationhood reveals how Elizabethan writers foster inclusion, class mobility, and anti-­imperial views alongside ugly nationalist sentiments yet insists that the nation is more inclusive and legitimate than earlier aristocratic forms of community.112 Historical differences aside, Chaucer makes similar moves, which I mean to stress without sweeping the insular colonialism that Ingham and Warren expose back under the rug. Following Geary, Butterfield is cautiously wary of anachronism in her approach to Chaucerian nationhood, which she sharply distinguishes from “modern views of nation” and the “modern idea of promoting nationalism.”113 She warns that “the past is coveted by present nationalists: history is the new now, a commodity that is not merely relevant to the present, but energetically re-­enacted as the present to serve future imaginings.”114 Yet she fails to notice that the Canterbury Tales engages in the very commerce she describes. In chapters 6 and 7, I demonstrate that the Tales re-­enacts the past as the present in anachronistic romances where sixth-­ century women read the seventh-­ century Quran and fourteenth-­century Commedia as if they were living in the future. Chaucer may not deserve his status as an English exemplar, yet he does revise British and Syrian pasts to serve future English imaginings. Although Hardt and Negri’s conclusions about national sovereignty differ from Chaucer’s, theirs is the most important postcolonial theory of sovereignty for my study. Absolute juridical sovereignty, theorized by Carl Schmitt and critically expounded by Giorgio Agamben, may seem a more intuitive choice, but Hardt and Negri’s approach to sovereignty engages with Chaucer’s in two crucial ways. It challenges conventional relationships among past, present, and future; and it insists that the concept of love commonly restricted to marriage and the family must stretch to embrace a diverse political community. Chapter 3 shows how Herry Bailly rests the pilgrim company’s continuity, its sentence and solaas or meaning and pleasure, on the principle that Hardt and Negri 111.  Kathy Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature, and English Community, 1100–­1534 (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2006); Lavezzo, “England.” 112.  Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992). 113.  Ardis Butterfield, “Nationhood,” Chaucer: An Oxford Guide, ed. Steve Ellis (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005), 50–­65, 56, 57. 114. Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 26.

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describe as love: “Love means precisely that our expansive encounters and continuous collaborations bring us joy.”115 Throughout the Tales, joyful encounters and collaborations intertwine with the historical and philosophical problem of translating sovereignty from theory to practice, meanwhile history funds the pilgrims’ storytelling collaboration. History thus breaks and sets limits by making itself accessible to a vernacular, domestic English community, members of which often disorder it to retheorize sovereignty. Sovereignty in the Tales requires consent of the included, though many are excluded; coercion speeds the political processes that unite members and survives in the resulting political communities that sovereignty subtends. The benevolent sovereignty that Dante associates with greedless, desireless love in De monarchia resonates with Chaucerian sovereignty, which itself melds with love and desire.116 In the Canterbury Tales, it is not he who truly owns everything, but she who has historically owned nothing, who is most comfortable with desire and hence the most legitimate sovereign, the most capable of love and mercy. In love, as in national politics, the feeling of being understood creates a new being, of feeling understood. In the Tales, that being is English culture imagined as a historically continuous and politically sovereign structure. Hardt and Negri, like Chaucer, suggest that imagining a brighter political future and community requires living out of synch in time. They write, “[w]e can already recognize that today time is split between a present that is already dead and a future that is already living.”117 This generative living out of synch grounds the Wife of Bath’s Tale’s ethics. According to L. O. Aranye Fradenburg’s seminal reading, this tale “asks us to consider the possibility that fantasies do not simply separate us from reality . . . fantasies can have the power to remake the social realities in which we live and desire.”118 Fantasy, conjured by the fairies in the Wife’s opening lines, reminds us that “[r]eality shifts over time and space;” and here fantasy was once reality, “the archaic reality of England.”119 Fradenburg demonstrates 115.  Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004), 351. 116.  Cf. Taylor, Chaucer Reads the Divine Comedy (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1989), which argues, “Troilus and Criseyde should be read as a moral retraction of Dante’s moral fiction, with regard to both the place of love in the world and the place of fiction in the world” (19). 117.  Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 358. 118.  L. O. Arranye Fradenburg, “Fulfild of Fairye: The Social Meaning of Fantasy in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” in Geoffrey Chaucer: Wife of Bath’s Tale, ed. Peter Beidler (Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 205–­20, 208. 119.  Ibid., 217.

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how the past lives on in the present. Hardt and Negri suggest that the living present is already a kind of future. While Fradenburg locates the power of reality shaping force in the past, Hardt and Negri locate that power in the future and insist that recognizing the presence of the future is tantamount to realizing that living future. Chaucer, for his part, shows how the present shapes the past and how tendentious history authorizes a renewed future, redeeming the present and fitting it for continuity. When Hardt and Negri use the slogan, “Another world is possible,” they mean “that sovereignty and authority must be destroyed.”120 Theirs is a future imperative, but Chaucer is not so confident about the advantages of such a program to the parameters of the possible. Nevertheless, like Hardt and Negri, Chaucer does understand the relevance of transhistorical imperatives to communal identity and survival. Chaucer’s present imperative renegotiates the past: his anachronism insists on the interdependence of the possible with the impossible, historical experience with nostalgic revision, and political practice with political imagination.121 Hardt and Negri regard the story of the nation and sovereignty from a twenty-­first-­century vantage point informed by nineteenth-­century intensifications of nationalism’s complicity with colonial imperialism. They protest that modern sovereignty neglects to moderate conflicts among the diverse multitude of subjects, assuming instead a unitary experience of the nation-­subject. And they insist that nations are revolutionary and progressive only in opposing and resisting stronger structures, recalling how national borders that resist greater power progressively in one direction might exert oppressive force that destroys the multiplicity of the community it ostensibly strengthens in the other direction. Likewise, both the Knight’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale explore tensions between national and imperial ambitions, but Chaucer diverges from Hardt and Negri’s view that when nations become sovereign they stop being progressive, casting positive light on the nation.122 The Wife of Bath’s Tale takes the opposite trajectory: only when sovereignty enacts senses of national identity, love, and solidarity that transcend class, age, and wealth, do nations become legitimate and progressive. Yet Chaucer imagines sovereignty via anachronism, which subverts its utopian force.

120.  Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 353. 121.  On neighbor theory, Chaucer’s anachronism, and our responsibility to the medieval past, see George Edmondson, “Naked Chaucer,” in The Post-­historical Middle Ages, ed. Elizabeth Scala and Sylvia Federico (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 139–­60. 122.  Hardt and Negri, Empire, 105–­9.

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Future Two divergent attitudes, ambition and anxiety, position Chaucer’s English backwater within its fourteenth-­century world. Chaucer’s vision of a sovereign England in league with Italy and France requires a complementary image of an authoritative English language grounded in a widely meaningful British cultural history. So, his national imagination authorizes both vernacular language and popular access to British history even as it juxtaposes linguistic anxiety about English’s cultural currency with political arrogance regarding English sovereignty, intensified by national struggles with the French, Scots, and Welsh. Such questions of sovereignty and internationalism bind the Canterbury Tales to the linguistic and political dimensions of recent postcolonial projects. As Frantz Fanon writes, “National consciousness, instead of being the all-­embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been.”123 Fanon places the nation in a postcolonial world scarred by history yet alludes to “what it might have been,” recalling past political potential that clarifies nationalism’s failures. Chaucer writes at a moment replete with potential as well as exclusion, xenophobia, tyranny posing as sovereignty, and English imperialism within and beyond Britain. He also challenges Fanon’s hope for “[n]ational consciousness” as an “all-­embracing crystallization” by admitting that the people’s hopes are too diverse to crystallize as a single mobilizing ethic. Nevertheless, Chaucer began writing the Tales in English in 1386, when his mother tongue was no international language of power, overshadowed not only by Latin but also by French and Italian vernaculars. Chaucer’s move to use English homologizes the linguistic power imbalance of Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s 1986 decision to stop writing in an internationally prestigious English and to write instead in Gikuyu (his mother tongue). Focusing on Chaucer through the lenses of vernacular literary theory and postcolonial critique, Living in the Future examines the risks, hopes, and politics attached to English’s transformation from a fledgling literary venture into a sovereign system with oppressive force. Together these methodologies allow me to explain the Canterbury Tales’ enduring political relevance, while respecting its historical and artistic particularities. 123.  Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 148.

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Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Criseyde enlighten political community; but the Canterbury Tales ponders the case of England and the problem of sovereignty intensely. The chapters ahead argue that the Tales imagines England as a homeland, a space of familiar comfort despite contention, and a territory that unifies a transhistorical community of comrades. This community becomes a sovereign regime, which enforces hierarchical order within its limits and resists political forces beyond them. To christen England as a nation with a culturally viable future, the Tales resorts to anachronism by importing foreign texts to Britain out of place in time. Chapter 2 provides intellectual context for subsequent readings by surveying concepts of sovereignty, including Marsiglio of Padua’s communal functionalism; Jean of Paris’s distinctions between papal and royal sovereignty; and the theories of Dante Alighieri, William of Ockham, and Nicole Oresme. It also compares Chaucerian sovereignty with notions legible in fourteenth-­ century political events including the Scots’ national struggles against the English, Edward III’s campaigns in the Hundred Years War, and the Rising of 1381. Contextualizing Chaucerian national sovereignty within contemporary debates over sovereign limits, I reveal that while recent definitions of political sovereignty, offered by Agamben, Hardt and Negri, and Schmitt, rest on its justification of violence and the legitimacy of the nation itself, the power of exchange and legitimate limits of shared ownership and judgment define medieval sovereignty. That sovereignty, in turn, legitimizes an immemorial but decadent nation in the Canterbury Tales. Chaucerian sovereignty emerges as an especially flexible medieval form, whose strength derives from its artful improvisation, its negotiability, and its capacity to sustain communities over time—­often and somewhat ironically by disrupting time. My five remaining chapters and epilogue offer a three-­part reading of the Canterbury Tales. Part I, “Home and Away,” observes how Chaucer centralizes experiences of home and homeland even as he sends his characters away on the road and off in exile. Chapter 3 argues that the General Prologue and frame narrative imagine England as a home, explaining why people believe in the nation even when its costs outweigh its benefits. Christian belief assembles the pilgrims on the road to Becket’s shrine, yet a secular, overtly political sense of belief propels their journey, illuminating their shared national identity. They exchange interpretations of the past to sustain domestic camaraderie in the present and give meaning to national cohesion going forward. In order to do so, the pilgrims accept the secularizing rule of an innkeeper with sovereign ambition: the challenge to reimagine their common past and believe in

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their collective future. Time works not as a rule but as an instrument they play in a game that transforms them into new things for their “sovereign” and each other, suggesting that national identities, like all human culture, are anything but stable. Chapter 4 examines friction between the Knight’s Tale’s imperial and national plots. It compares the infamously anachronistic tale’s classic readings, which celebrate Theseus’s will to order, with antiwar readings that heed ubiquitous death, destruction, and exile as a call for peace. I extend the antiwar readings to stress the tale’s admission that imperial violence cannot establish national identity without also destroying homes and capitalizing on exile. While medieval political thinkers accept consent, divine ordinance, and just war and conquest as legitimate ways to establish sovereignty, the Knight’s Tale asks if any warfare is just, finally lifting consent above all else. Chaucer prioritizes the nation, a state of being at home with sovereignty, over empire, a force of exile that warps communication between sovereign and subjects. Putting sovereignty, domesticity, and exile into conversation, this chapter discovers a conventional tale’s radical hopes. Part II, “Sovereignty and Anachronism,” argues that the Man of Law’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale promote English nationhood by revising the insular past. The Canterbury Tales cannot imagine an English nation without revisionist histories that project fourteenth-­century English sovereignty and domesticity into the sixth century. Anachronism, a type of error, admits the perils of Chaucer’s nationalism and the difficulties of disentangling it from imperialism, which the Knight’s Tale belies. Chapter 5 shows how the Man of Law intervenes after the Fragment I fabliaux expose crises in English institutions, the Church, the law, and marriage, and argues that Chaucer remedies national decline in his own moment by rooting English sovereignty in a British past. National sovereignty redeems England but depends on anachronistic misunderstandings of Syria and Islam: on erroneous and discriminatory internationalism. The Man of Law places Britain in a sixth-­century world whose political and cultural contours are already shaped by Islam’s revolutionary seventh-­century Quran; then his English imagination of British sovereignty retroactively iconizes England, claiming for it a future befitting an old, hallowed nation. A similar anachronism drives the Wife of Bath’s Tale, which enlightens Arthurian Britain with Dante’s fourteenth-­century writings. Chapter 6 explains how the Wife of Bath counters the Man of Law’s descending model of sovereignty and regulation of feminine agency with a powerful heroine who wields ascending sovereignty. This sixth-­ century

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woman lives in her Arthurian present and its English future at once by engaging in fairy magic and translating Dante into English to extend expectations of love, continuity, and solidarity beyond the biological family, the nuclear nation, to the English nation, a political and cultural family. The moral of her story is that national sovereignty depends on intermediate institutions like the household and gossip as well as on the common English folk who participate in them. Here, nations like marriages presuppose their own perpetual endurance yet require periodic renegotiation of sovereignty to continue as legitimate hierarchies. Both romances English the insular past, twisting British history into sovereign English futures through analogies between past patterns of crisis and redemption and present redemptive potential: anachronism consistently sustains English sovereignty. Together, Chaucer’s sixth-­ century romances confess that the only past empowered to redeem England counterfeits history and forges into the future with the force of carefully told lies. Chaucer pitches the Man of Law’s Tale and Wife of Bath’s Tale as “Matter of Britain” romances by conflating British with English history and annexing all Britain to English sovereignty. These tales pose as British history, but I mean to recognize them precisely as English nationalist mythography and to expose their erroneous colonial moves: both romances aspire to naturalize English sovereignty over Britain. Stressing their consistent anachronism, my reading divulges the error endemic to Chaucer’s English nationalism in order to resist conventionalizing it. Part III, “Fear and Form,” holds that the Man of Law’s, Squire’s, and Monk’s claims of English linguistic exceptionalism are instances of error akin to Man of Law’s and Wife of Bath’s anachronistic national fantasies. In their tales, the vernacular, romance, anachronism, occupatio, inexpressibility, and modesty all work as literary forms through which fear and anxiety develop into nationalism and with which the Canterbury Tales constructs fictions of race and Englishness. Despite tolerant moments, xenophobia shapes Chaucer’s situation of England relative to the world beyond Europe, especially as his pilgrims look east to non-­Christian lands and back to pre-­Christian Britain. Chapter 7 argues that the Man of Law, Squire, and Monk use the English vernacular to racialize and excommunicate noblewomen Donegild, Canacee, and Zenobia, respectively. Drawing on Anderson’s, Renan’s, and Edward Said’s views of nationalist inclusivity and exclusivity, I compare the narrators’ fear of these women and reveal that by tying English exceptionalism to racial exclusivity through English language and distorting time to entomb them in

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oblivion, the Tales contributes not only to discourses of English nationalism but also to more dubious legacies of medieval orientalism. Here, Chaucer’s vernacular polices the gates of national community and English sensibilities seem more exclusive than European attitudes. Chaucer’s national project materializes and its xenophobia stings as English language leaks nationalism’s secrets. Similarly, sovereignty terrifies where romance fails to imagine the world differently, accepting reality with its political and social injustice. My epilogue considers the conceptual bonds among romance and the nation through a close reading of sovereignty in the painfully realistic Clerk’s Tale and the fantastic Franklin’s Tale, set just beyond English borders. While the Franklin’s Tale illuminates sovereignty’s tenacity by yoking it to changing notions of possibility, the Clerk’s Tale compares sovereignty and tyranny by resisting cooperation and imagining sovereignty itself as a yoke. Sovereignty defined through flexible metaphors ultimately appears brutally absolute in plot and practice. Reading key passages through the form of romance as well as through Agamben’s and Schmitt’s theories, I engage sovereignty as an ideal concept and a historical problem through which the Tales interrelates nationalism, internationalism, and transnationalism in a distinctly artistic yet deeply political fashion. Living in the Future shows how these romances present the history of political ideas as a perpetual negotiation between theory and practice, a rocky shore exposed to reality and fantasy: they reshape history by testing lines between reality and fantasy. The following pages aim to convince readers that the Canterbury Tales must be included in serious discussions concerning sovereignty and internationalism in both English literature and late medieval political thought.


Sovereignty Limited The Concept in Later Medieval Theory and Practice

In Chaucer’s day, practical political conflicts tested nationalist ideals including sovereignty, homeland, and common history. Dante Alighieri, Marsiglio of Padua, William of Ockham, Jean of Paris, and Nicole Oresme debate the limits of such ideals, yet they share the goal of legitimizing lay political sovereignty and defending it against the papacy. As Chaucer tells it, sovereignty frees the nation from the crises that its characteristic antagonisms cause without denying those contentions and sacrifices. Sovereignty makes ignoring nation’s political nature impossible in the Canterbury Tales, as elsewhere in late medieval literature, thought, and practice. For postcolonial theorists like Hardt and Negri, sovereignty is the unamendable problem. “The nation,” they write, “is a kind of ideological shortcut that attempts to free the concepts of sovereignty and modernity from the antagonism and crisis that define them.”1 Nevertheless, Hardt and Negri regard medieval models of sovereign community defined by love more optimistically than medievalists like Butterfield, Schiff, Pearsall, and Wallace, for whom nation and sovereignty remain dismal categories. Giorgio Agamben, offering no hope at all, interrogates sovereignty as an absolute and originary political act, which necessarily simplifies late medieval sovereignty’s matrices of legitimization. He understands the sovereign realm as “a zone of indistinction between sac-

1.  Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, 95.


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rifice and homicide.”2 For Agamben as for Carl Schmitt before him, sovereignty rests within the sovereign’s monopoly on legal violence.3 While justification of violence and the nation’s own legitimacy subtend recent concepts of political sovereignty, medieval sovereignty rests on the limits of shared ownership and judgment. Such sovereignty legitimizes and redeems a decadent nation in the Canterbury Tales. This chapter surveys political backgrounds—­ intellectual tradition and fourteenth-­century political and cultural practice—­to contextualize Chaucer’s original conception of national sovereignty. I consider the Tales through both contexts, beginning with relevant events and struggles, then continuing to philosophy, particularly Marsiglio’s and Dante’s writings on universal imperial sovereignty and Jean of Paris and Nicole Oresme on national sovereignty. Finally, I address the politics of Dante’s language theory. Historical events suggest that fourteenth-­century people from the nobles who signed the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath to the common rebels of 1381 understood relationships between rulers and ruled, the very terms of sovereignty, as somewhat negotiable.4 Together these varied contexts reveal a political culture animated by tendentious claims yet grounded in more critical attempts to legitimize secular sovereignty through shared ethics. They reflect diverse though related notions of sovereignty itself and wide-­ranging perspectives on homeland, language, and nationhood, which together affirm the limits that legitimize medieval secular sovereignty. According to Hardt and Negri, “the nation sustains the concept of sovereignty by claiming to precede it.”5 Fourteenth-­century British linguistic and military history supports this observation about nationhood’s interdependence with sovereignty. The Middle English Dictionary records the first uses of the word soverainte in the fourteenth century, when it indicated a moderate range of powers and authority applicable in spiritual, political, and romantic contexts.6 Political theorists were actively 2.  Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-­ Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1998), 83. 3. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985 [1922]). 4.  On class tensions in the Scottish Wars of Independence and the Declaration of Arbroath as “part of larger political processes rather than an autonomous reflection of those processes,” see R. James Goldstein, The Matter of Scotland: Historical Narrative in Medieval Scotland (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1991), 79–­103, 101. 5.  Hardt and Negri, Empire, 101. 6.  The first use with an explicitly political denotation is in 1387. Middle English Dictionary Online, s.v. “soverainte” (accessed May 27, 2015).

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engaged in distinguishing spiritual sovereignty from temporal sovereignty, divine from papal sovereignty, papal from regnal sovereignty, and imperial from national sovereignty. Both descending and ascending theories of secular sovereignty’s origins were popular, with Dante’s 1313 De monarchia representing the former and Marsiglio’s 1324 Defensor pacis offering an important ascending theory based on communal functionalism. In political practice, Richard II’s prolific creation of titles attested to the force of descending kingly power.7 Both Richard’s 1399 and Edward II’s 1327 depositions exemplified the extent to which kingship depended upon ascending magnatic approval. Institutional and military history shows law to have been a major determinant of English political sovereignty beyond England’s undisputed boundaries: for English kings vying for Scotland and France, the right to hear appeals from smaller courts, duchies, and kingdoms was key.8 Nevertheless, political practice revealed gaps left by academic and legal understandings of sovereignty. Late medieval sovereignty was neither exclusively juridical nor tied absolutely to sovereign discretion, but was rather a negotiable role. Despite evidence of sovereignty’s significance in secular and national terms, a basic argument against accepting medieval imaginations of political community as national has been that medieval Christianity, its notions of time and the papacy in particular, nullified significant political distinctions among medieval Christians. Such nullification would have prevented medieval Christians from imagining nations more political than the Rapist Knight’s family, his kin-­based “nacioun” in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, or smaller than the entire pagan world, the strange and barbarous “nacioun” to which Custance goes in the Man of Law’s Tale (III. 1069, II. 268, 281). Chapters 5 and 6 argue that the fundamental interest of these romances, which Chaucer wrote during the Western Papal Schism (1378–­1417), is England, a nation lying between these poles. But how might we locate a time or place on earth wherein religious institutions have not shaped imaginations of political community and political realities? From ancient Israel to modern Israel, from medieval France to French Lebanon, and from Elizabethan England to George W. Bush’s United States of America, the question has never been whether or not religion might nullify political distinctions among adherents, but

7.  Miri Rubin, The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages (New York: Penguin, 2006), 169. 8.  On how law and literature shaped early English theories of political sovereignty, see Sturges, Law and Sovereignty, especially Manion’s chapter.

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rather how religion influences nationalism.9 Despite their differences, Dante, Marsiglio of Padua, Jean of Paris, and Nicole Oresme all struggle to define secular authority proceeding from the same tenet, namely that the most noble form of human community is religious community, and from the same problem, the papacy’s monarchial character. These terms necessitate the strong concern with religious identity that characterizes the aforementioned thinkers’ views of sovereignty. Thus, my discussion of political theory considers distinct political positions less than debates over lay sovereignty’s precise limits. Consciously or not, Chaucer demonstrates the relative compatibility of these theories by integrating their various values and structures into his original model of national sovereignty as a negotiable form of shared ownership and judgment legitimized by its own limits and its capacity for communal continuity.

Sovereignty in Political Practice Fourteenth-­century English claims to kingship reveal the simultaneous interdependence and dissonance between sovereignty in theory and in practice. As Davies explains, Edward I had solidified de facto control of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England, four separate countries, as “king of England” by the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. The name of sovereignty could not erase differences among the lands or the peoples it controlled, but it claimed to control them anyhow. In the case of Edward I’s empire, sovereign claims came first: “once allegiance had been secured, a measure of political participation and consultation might be considered.”10 Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England have never formed a seamless nation. Nevertheless, in the late Middle Ages England dominated the other British nations, and one could easily describe their relationship in imperial terms. Yet Chaucer imagines Scotland, a troublesome frontier that a strong English king confronts in the Man of Law’s Tale, and conjures Wales, the legendary heart of Arthurian Britain in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, as integral parts of England’s own national past, a past based on conflict, camaraderie, and cross-­class cooperation, as well as on rape, exile, and murder. In Chaucer’s regional context, England, one major national political power with imperial ambition,  9. Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997) argues this point at length, demonstrating how religion shapes English, Welsh, Scots, and Irish, among other nationalisms. See especially 65, 70–­ 76, 186–­203. 10. Davies, The First English Empire, 29–­30.

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dominated others that would never be able to claim sovereignty to match that of the English King. Fourteenth-­century monarchs behaved arbitrarily in the name of sovereignty, so although it was never absolute in late medieval political theory, sovereignty came to suggest something more destructive, unidirectional, and complete than philosophical understandings allow.11 Chaucer stabilizes the idea of sovereignty by linking it with a historical and continuous image of the English nation that fourteenth-­century English monarchs would have liked to see; but at the same time, English national sovereignty appears in Chaucer’s poetry as a necessarily flexible form of rule, equally redemptive and coercive. Such sovereignty describes a negotiable relationship of governed to governor, and a role that may be filled by different persons at different times. More absolute models of sovereignty, closer to Agamben’s and Schmitt’s theories, appear on the margins of English community in the Clerk’s Tale’s Saluzzo and the Franklin’s Tale’s Brittany, where they contextualize Chaucer’s focus on national sovereignty. Concepts of sovereignty and national identity can stand alone, but they seldom do; they imbricate greatly in the Hundred Years War, easily the most significant influence on English identity in our period. Anne Curry ascribes this view to Edward III’s claims to the French throne, rather than to some radical escalation of violence.12 This war is perhaps 11.  Susan Reynolds, “Medieval origines gentium and Community of the Realm,” History 68 (1983): 375–­90. 12.  See Anne Curry, The Hundred Years War (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993) for a definitive study of England in the Hundred Years War. On thirteenth-­and early fourteenth-­ century struggles between Plantagenet and Capetian kings for Normandy, Poitou, Anjou, and other Angevin domains, see also John Gillingham, “The Fall of the Angevin Empire,” and Robin Studd, “England and Gascony 1216–­1337,” in England in Europe 1066–­1453, ed. Nigel Saul (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1994), 88–­96; 97–­108. As Gillingham writes, “Since 1066 England had been ruled by Frenchmen. . . . It is not surprising that some modern English historians have, in effect, breathed a patriotic sigh of relief when discussing the [1203–­04] loss of Anjou and Normandy. Now at last the Plantagenets were free to become true English rulers.” Gillingham explains that said freedom was not received as such by English kings, rather “both John and Henry III made attempts in 1214, 1230 and 1242, to recover their ancestral dominions” (89, 96). Studd begins where Gillingham ends to discuss the costly and humbling business of maintaining Angevin rule in Gascony, which required Plantagenet kings of England to pledge liege homage to Capetian kings of France and “to provide military service in person if summoned, among other things.” Studd notes that when, in February 1254, Henry III “conferred an appanage upon . . . the future Edward I” granting him “all the remaining territories of the Crown in France—­Gascony, Orleon and the Channel Islands—­which he was told to hold on such terms ‘that they should never be separated from the crown . . . but should remain to the kings of England in their entirety for ever . . . Gascony ceased . . . to be the private property of the king and was formally annexed to the English crown” (103, 104). This attempt to link French territory to

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the largest stage on which tensions between practical and theoretical sovereignties unfold. Edward III’s moves demonstrate how sovereignty in name and sovereignty in institutional and territorial terms might diverge, for his sovereignty in Gascony alternately appeared to be titular and compromised, and effective yet undesignated. Edward first claimed the French throne in 1340 when military and other practical methods of maintaining legal jurisdiction and territorial control over his Aquitaine lands had failed. He essentially dropped his claims and the title King of France between 1360 and 1369, when the Treaty of Bretigny helped secure the legal and territorial sovereignty he sought. Edward resumed his claims to French kingship and title when his lands in Aquitaine were reseized and his control threatened. So in practice Edward lived as a sovereign duke, without the titles King of Aquitaine or King of France, but with the legal right to hear Gascon appeals, the power of the last word, and solid territorial control. At the times when he called himself King of France, his control over the duchy was severely compromised despite de facto legal and patchy territorial control.13 That sign of sovereignty, the name of kingship and the practice of sovereignty, instantiated by legal jurisdiction and territorial control, remained mutually exclusive for Edward III. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Edward I and Edward II claimed sovereignty over Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France as a variable strategy for extending and conserving control over lands and peoples beyond England’s established bounds. Their claims, mottled means to similar ends, rendered sovereignty an unreliable yet seductive concept, whose variability matched its force. For generations before, after, and throughout Chaucer’s lifetime, England engaged actively in imperial pursuits: military endeavors that challenged the national aspirations of other peoples. Yet English kings, poets, and political thinkers avoided describing such English influence in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and France in imperial terms.14 Edward III’s French campaign was hardly the only fourteenth-­century theater characterized by disjunction between theoretical claims to sovereignty and practical experiences of it. In 1378, the year after this King of England and sometimes France died, two popes claimed spiritual soverthe English crown is an early instance of an English king using the name and idea of English sovereignty as if they were tools equipped to break temporal bounds, conceptual devices to ensure future territorial control. 13. Curry, The Hundred Years War, 67. 14.  Turville-­Petre, England the Nation, esp. 7–­9.

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eignty, providing a rallying point for French, Scots, and English national rivalries. France and Scotland supported Pope Clement VII in Avignon, and England backed Pope Urban VI in Rome. The Western Schism showed that people, lands, and leaders could divide themselves into competing domains with parallel rival religious hierarchies yet still profess faith in one true Church. Meanwhile the claims of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath lingered. By signing it, Scots barons declared that their people had originated in Scythia, had a history separate from that of the English, observed their own laws and customs, and owed loyalty to their kingdom above their king, whose sovereignty was contractual.15 Despite the signers’ aristocratic identity and the contributors’ clerical standing, this declaration seemed to erase longstanding tensions between Scottish aristocrats and commoners in projecting a national identity that embraced a cross-­class community.16 Together Arbroath and the Western Schism resist understandings of medieval sovereignty as absolute, simple, or inert. Available notions of sovereignty multiplied before the English field of vision as English kings and lords fought to annex Scotland and France to England’s sovereign domain: its inheritance, as Philippe de Mézières positioned it.17 While the English crown and nobility envisioned an expansive English realm, dissenters promoted a more limited though no less sovereign England, including a direct relationship between English nation and English sovereignty. Miri Rubin approaches the Rising of 1381 as a domestic response to practical tax burdens resulting from the French wars that also reflected serfdom’s symbolic and traditional burdens.18 The rebels’ rhetorical appeal to truth and their professed loyalties to the king proposed to reconfigure society without completely delegitimizing the sovereign or sovereignty. Strohm notes that the rebels’ adoption of the name “true commons” seemed to increase the number and significance of the former menus commons and erased the middlemen, the barons and the House of Commons, while maintaining loyalty to the king and lamenting his 15.  Reynolds, “Medieval Origines Gentium and the Community of the Realm,” 385. 16.  Edward J. Cowan, ‘For Freedom Alone’ the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 (East Lothian: Tuckwell Press, 2003) examines the declaration’s practical and theoretical angles, linking it with Jean’s and Marsiglio’s writings and noting some class tensions it obscures (7, 65, 70–­ 80, 87). Its theoretical implications are fascinating, yet I offer Arbroath primarily as practical evidence of debates about sovereignty’s limits because of its fourteenth-­century strategic political function. 17.  Philippe de Mezieres, Le Songe du Viel Pelerin, ed. G. W. Coopland (London: Cambridge UP, 1969). 18. Rubin, The Hollow Crown, 122–­28, esp. 123–­24.

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misleading by bad counsel.19 The rebels imagined themselves as greater than feudal subjects and envisioned their sovereign English community as capable of existing without strict class hierarchies or much mediation. As Rubin writes, the “‘true commons’ . . . asserted themselves as an alternative citizenry, by taking an oath to defend King Richard.”20 According to ecclesiastical chronicles, the rebels demanded serfdom’s abolition so all would be of one condition; rank would be respected, but only the king would exercise lordship, and there would be a single bishop in England.21 In the Rising of 1381, England’s domestic voice addressed its international political aspirations, pleading for an expanded citizenry instead of expanded legal and territorial sovereignty. For the rebels, in Rubin’s words, “The problem was not the country’s laws, but those charged with applying and safeguarding them.”22 The Rising protested major discrepancies between the theory and practice of English sovereignty. The rebels reimagined England, while reminding their countrymen that they still imagined England and its king as sovereign. Chapter 5 shows how such an England, with a free yet deeply hierarchical citizenry, accords with the Parson’s ideal of sovereignty. Sovereignty, or soverainte, appears as a dynamic political concept in fourteenth-­century England as well as a new word in Middle English. John Trevisa’s 1387 translation of Higden’s Polychronicon draws the word into English through a political context that preserves and illuminates its practical disputability. Here “sovereignty” emerges as a form of governance over the Scots to which the English have no right. From the beginning, the concept of English political sovereignty negotiates boundaries between insular communities and queries the legitimacy of the authority that binds communities as they expand, ultimately shaping a relationship between cultural limits and political legitimacy. Trevisa imports soverainte from Old French. Translating for the Latin superioritas, he employs it to describe Scots’ challenges to English claims on Scotland: “The Scottes seide that they knewe non such sovereynte that longed to the kyng of Engelond.”23 Considering the Declaration of Arbroath, this insular context evokes the historical and cultural diversity that challenges English national sovereignty’s legitimacy.24 Trevisa’s Polychronicon transla19. Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow, 41. 20. Rubin, The Hollow Crown, 124. 21.  Alan Harding, Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State (New York: Oxford UP, 2002), 264. 22. Rubin, The Hollow Crown, 124 23.  Middle English Dictionary Online, s.v. “soverainte” (accessed May 29, 2015). 24.  Subsequent appearances of the word suggest its spiritual and domestic valences. Ibid.

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tion reflects the declaration’s denial of sovereignty to the English through its subordination of political and military legitimization to cultural and historical legitimization of sovereignty. The English cannot have sovereignty over Scotland, because they lack cultural authority over it. Sovereignty within England was never absolute, as the fourteenth-­century depositions of Edward II and Richard II demonstrate; however, the disputability of sovereignty extended beyond England’s cultural boundaries severely compromises its connotation of legitimate governance. The idea of political sovereignty thus enters English as an occasion for debate and a concept whose practical application as an expansive form of coercive power threatens its meaning as legitimate rule. England was striving to expand its territorial and legal jurisdictions at a moment when new ideas of lay political sovereignty were emerging; hence, Chaucer’s approach to sovereignty reflects a predictably urgent concern with limits. Concepts of sovereignty tend to be equally powerful and unreliable because sovereignty’s power often derives from its limitations while its nature as power propels its self-­subverting desire to multiply and expand itself, to break its proper limits at any given moment. Chaucer experiments with such concepts by binding sovereignty to an exclusive, insular brand of English national identity in the Canterbury Tales. This union seems at moments only to mock cooperation across class and gender lines; yet at other times it surfaces as England’s best hope for redemption and continuity.

Sovereignty in Political Theory The Canterbury Tales reflects various imperial and national theories of sovereignty current in the fourteenth century, especially those of Marsiglio of Padua, Dante Alighieri, Jean of Paris, and Nicole Oresme. For Chaucer and his contemporaries, lay political sovereignty suggested shared ownership and judgment and drew strength from its flexibility within critical limits. I seek not to ally Chaucer seamlessly with any of the aforementioned theorists. Rather, after surveying their debates over sovereignty’s limits, I will explain how the Tales’ approach to national sovereignty is of Chaucer’s time, yet it is innovative and distinctly artistic.25 Hardt and Negri invoke an enduring problem and a similarly persistent truth about political sovereignty that would unite late medieval politi25.  As Michaela Paasche Grudin, “Credulity and the Rhetoric of Heterodoxy: From Averroes to Chaucer,” Chaucer Review 35 (2000): 204–­22 argues, “Chaucer partook of a deep current of heterodoxy—­more likely a reflex of his artistic intelligence and curiosity, rather than a philosophical or theological position” (204).

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cal thinkers of different stripes when they write, “We need to stop confusing politics with theology. The predominant contemporary form of sovereignty—­if we still want to call it that—­is completely embedded within and supported by legal systems and institutions of governance, a republican form characterized not only by the rule of law but also equally by the rule of property.”26 Speaking from a moment entrenched in political sovereignty more absolute than the prevailing fourteenth-­century model, Hardt and Negri address both the perennial desire to free politics from theology and sovereignty’s enduring nature as rule of law and property, judgment and ownership. They urge us to disobey oppressive structures of belief and of civic life. Perhaps surprisingly for students of contemporary politics, the late medieval theory I survey extricates political sovereignty from theology’s ambit more effectively than it resists entanglement with legal and economic institutions. Dante and Marsiglio argue for a strong Roman Empire, but as nostalgic fiction. They knew its medieval translation, the Holy Roman Empire, as a papal creation that had played a crucial role in the Gregorian reforms but held little political power by the fourteenth century. Their arguments for empire are, for all intents and purposes, lay arguments against papal political sovereignty.27 Schmitt’s twentieth-­century theory of juridical sovereignty is far more absolute than 26.  Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2009), 5. 27.  Michael Wilks, The Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1963) distinguishes between advocates of hierocratic papal sovereignty, Augustinus Triumphus and Agedius Romanus, and advocates of lay or popular sovereignty such as Marsiglio of Padua, Jean of Paris, William of Ockham, and Dante Alighieri. He explains century political the difficulties of categorizing schools of thirteenth-­and fourteenth-­ thought: despite “superficial resemblance, there was in reality a bottomless ideological gulf fixed between the Christian body of Augustinus Triumphus and the Christian unity of Aquinas, between the societas christiana of the hierocrat and the societas humana of the Averro-­Aristotelian” (17). Although almost all writers attempted to harmonize reason and faith and “paid lip-­service to an all-­embracing universalism,” there was no consensus on the place of universals in society. “Realists” like Augustinus maintained a very realistic correlation between universal spiritual truths and individuals in civil society, while “nominalists” like Marsiglio and Ockham reduced “all existence to individual existence” and viewed the religious community as a collection of individuals united by the “oneness of its faith” alone (93, 92). These philosophical views and the institutional question of lay or clerical monarchy shaped thirteenth-­and fourteenth-­ century imaginations of political community broadly. Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997 [1957]) reconsiders Wilks’s categories; he further categorizes models of sovereignty developed from the beginning of the twelfth century through the sixteenth as “Christ-­centered kingship,” “law-­centered Kingship,” the most important proponent of which was John of Salisbury, “polity-­centered Kingship,” and “man-­centered kingship” conceived by Dante (451).

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such medieval imperial models, which limit themselves via concepts of peace, love, and time. Jean of Paris and Nicole Oresme present national forms of political sovereignty limited by geographic and cultural (including linguistic) boundaries that never limit spiritual sovereignty, thus distinguishing politics from theology while refusing empire. Time (the end of human history) and love (which grounds sovereign nobility) limit the political ideal of sovereignty in Dante’s De monarchia.28 History, with its lessons and its exigencies, sets limits as well as standards here, where community is not simply educated man’s telos but his very obligation. Education transmits past authority to great men; knowledge of the past then obligates them to repay the community: obligation passes unidirectionally, diachronically, from generation to generation. Contemporary community is a third-­party recipient rather than a relationship among parties engaged in reciprocal exchange. In contrast with Dante’s Commedia, De monarchia concerns itself only peripherally with sin and eternal salvation and justifies secular sovereignty with universal human history. This historical model contrasts with the Declaration of Arbroath’s projection of Scots history as the continuity of a particular community, culture, and kingdom. For Dante, human history (education in a universal intellectual tradition) obligates man “to contribute something to the common welfare” (ad rem publicam aliquid afferre) or risk functioning as a “pernicious sink hole that is always taking in and never giving up what it has swallowed” (potius perniciosa vorago semper ingurgitans et nunquam ingurgitata refundens) (I. 1. 2, pp. 2–­3).29 According to Arbroath, national history offers rights and influences sovereignty; meanwhile, Dante’s universal history imposes obligations without directly offering rights or participation in sovereignty, though participation in intellectual tradition may amount to such. Sovereignty emerges as the human capacity for love and the sum of temporal power. Because men have diverse individual wills and, left to their own devices, behave accordingly, justice needs sovereignty (monarcha) to temper human behavior. Thus, only a strong empire delivers peace and happiness, the ultimate common goods: peace fosters happiness, justice fosters peace, and love strengthens justice, while greed impedes justice. 28.  Hardt and Negri define the end of human history as the end of the Hegalian dialectical relationship of master to slave (Empire, 189). Here, I follow Dante: the end of human history is contiguous with the end of humanity’s separation from the divine. 29.  Quotations are from Dante Alighieri, Dante’s Monarchia, ed. and trans. Richard Kay (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1998). Hereafter cited only parenthetically.

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Love defines sovereign nobility. The emperor is a good leader not because of obligation or interdependence with his subjects but because his jurisdiction encompasses the whole earth and renders him exempt from desire and supremely capable of love (I. 5–­13). This vast magnanimity limits, justifies, and empowers Dante’s sovereignty. Here, sovereignty and love influence each other inversely: sovereignty frees love and love limits sovereignty. Once the object of desire disappears, the potential for greed also vanishes: “the monarch has nothing he can desire, for his jurisdiction has only the ocean as its boundary” (Monarcha non habet quod posit optare: sua nanque iurisdictio terminatur Occeano solum) (I. 11. 12, pp. 56–­59). Dante thus erases greed from and institutes love in the monarch’s being; this sovereign owner and judge then becomes the universal mortal standard of benevolent love. Following Orosius, Dante takes Jesus of Nazareth’s human birth during and registration in Caesar’s great census as divine complicity with Roman imperial authority, which slightly predates the Church (II. 10, pp. 178–­87).30 The political and spiritual become simultaneously independent and mutually beneficial: Dante’s imperial sovereignty empowers and limits itself independent of pope and Church.31 But we must not read Dante literally. Although he associates sovereignty with Rome’s golden age, he bases secular sovereignty not on historical examples but on love’s capacity to pool human power and goodness. Dante asks, “who would doubt that in the doing of justice the monarch is most powerful, unless he did not understand the word ‘monarch,’ since one who is monarch is not able to have enemies” (Quod autem Monarcha potissime se habeat ad operationem iustitie, quis dubitat nisi qui vocem hanc non intelligit, cum, si Monarcha est, hostes habere non possit?) (I. 11. 19, pp. 62–­63). Every man has enemies; every man wants something. Hence, we best understand monarcha figuratively. Rather than argue for a living institution, Dante conjures a definitively human sovereign ideal through the personified figure of “Secular Human Sovereignty” called “Monarch” or “Emperor.” Sovereignty becomes a unitary position and set of shared values for decision-­making. Temporal ownership and the sheer strength 30.  According to Charles Till Davis, “Dante’s stylized view of Roman history demanded that it tell the story of a chosen people parallel to that of the Jews. Only Rome, asserts Dante, aimed at the good of the whole human race” (“Dante and the Empire,” in The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed. Rachel Jacoff [Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993], 67–­79, 71). Thus Dante takes a national story of a people with a particular culture and religion and inflates it to imperial proportions. 31.  Donna Mancusi Ungaro, Dante and the Empire (New York: Peter Lang, 1987).

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of human love challenge clerical claims on spiritual goodness and justice fused with papal sovereignty. Dante thus severs ecclesiastical from secular imperial jurisdiction yet maintains respect for Christianity.32 Marsiglio of Padua’s theory of communal functionalism, like Dante’s De monarchia, aims for world peace through unified temporal sovereignty. Marsiglio dismisses national sovereignty more forcefully than Dante by positing that multiple sovereign governments lead invariably to war, which together with epidemics might moderate population growth and demand for natural resources (I. xvii. 10, p. 85).33 Dante’s empire functions through sovereign love and benevolence, which compel all men to recognize their common interests as the effects that flow from sovereignty’s being, the cause for their union. Defensor pacis appeared in 1324 to imagine a vast imperial community wherein peaceful, efficient, observably good government limits sovereignty. Dante limits sovereignty through philosophical and historicist concepts of ownership and judgment; Marsiglio’s limits are empirical, materialist, and historical by comparison. Marsilian sovereignty rests on communal functionalism, which itself depends upon diversity. Communal functionalism systematically evaluates community in terms of what works, practically and secularly. According to Marsiglio, investment in synchronic human experience and reciprocal exchange promise observable conditions of peace and material sufficiency, politically functional civic community, the good temporal life: a worthy end. He sets an unobservable spiritual life beyond both his scope and human comprehension (I. iv.3, p. 13). Marsiglio’s delineation of sovereignty itself is relatively exclusive, yet it justifies a community whose utilitarian and flexible structure overshadows its other features. He awards “the human authority to make laws . . . to the whole body of the citizens or to the weightier part thereof” (legumlacionis auctotitatem humanam . . . civium universitatem aut eius valenciorem partem), considering the quantity and quality of the citizenry (I. xii. 4–­5, pp. 45–­47, at 5 p. 46; I. xii. 4–­5, pp. 64–­66, at 5 p. 65). Thus, following Aristotle, he excludes women, children, aliens, and slaves from lawmaking. But since Marsiglio preserves a large autonomous, private space for citizens whose value derives from what they bring to the table for ex32.  Nevertheless, as Davis explains, Dante makes no strict distinctions between moral and theological virtues (“Dante and the Empire,” 70). 33.  Marsilius of Padua, Defensor pacis, ed. and trans. Alan Gerwith (New York: Columbia UP, 2001[1956]). For the Latin text, see Marsilius von Padua, Defensor Pacis, ed. Richard Scholz (Hanover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1932). Quotations cited hereafter parenthetically. Single citations refer to the Gerwith translation.

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change, Cary J. Nederman argues that Marsiglio’s communal functionalism lends itself to radical possibilities that Marsiglio himself could never have imagined.34 In fact, Marsiglio equates ethics so strongly with functionalism that Marsilian society embraces heretics when heresy does not compromise citizens’ functions.35 He recognizes the significance of diversity and considers the advantages of national government for linguistic and cultural groups but sets sovereignty apart (I. xvii. 10, pp. 84–­85). Reynolds clarifies that Marsiglio’s acceptance of national diversity entails no preference for national government or sovereignty.36 In contrast with Dante, Marsiglio does not idealize the polity’s inherent identity or formal unity, for his government is sovereign, legitimate, and singular due to consent (I. xvii. 11, p. 85). The optimal state is a self-­sufficient sum of its diverse and specialized parts: “This assemblage, thus perfect and having the limit of self-­sufficiency, is called the state” (hec autem congregacio sic perfecta et terminum habens per se sufficiencie vocata est civitas) (I. iv. 5, p. 14; I. iv.5, p. 19). Even more directly that Dante, Marsiglio puts faith in the pooled power of men. He explicates that the supreme ruler need not “be one in number with respect to person but rather with respect to office” (non . . . unicum numero principantem secundum suppositum humane speciei, sed secumdum officium) (I. xvii. 2, p. 81; I. xvii. 2, p. 113). Several men may simultaneously occupy the sovereign role, for unity of decision-­making, not individuality, is operative. Accounting realistically for the affections and animosities that attend friendship and enmity in human experience, Marsiglio maintains that judges need law because “the law lacks all perverted emotion; for it is not made useful for friend or harmful for foe, but universally for all those who perform civil acts well or badly” (lex omni caret affeccione perversa. Non enim facta est ad amicum aut `inimicum utilem vel nocivum, sed universaliter ad agentem civiliter bene aut male) (I. xi. 1, p. 38; I. xi. 1, p. 52). He continues, “Since, then, the law is an eye composed of many eyes, that is, the considered comprehension of many comprehenders for avoiding error in civil judgments and for judging rightly, it is safer that these judgments be made according to the law than according to the discretion of the judge” (Cum igitur lex sit oculus ex multis oculis, id 34.  Cary J. Nederman, Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration c. 1100–­1550 (University Park: Penn State UP, 2000), 84. 35.  This is especially provocative considering Marsiglio’s own excommunication and the medieval association of religion with race, which parallels recent twenty-­first-­century associations. 36. Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities, 323.

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est comprehensio examinata ex multis comprehensoribus ad errorem evitandum circa civilia iudicia et recte iudicandum, tucius est ea ferri secundum legem, quam secundum iudicantis arbitrium) (I. xi. 3, p. 40; I. xi. 3, p. 57). This description of law’s virtue illustrates the benefits of decisions rendered by a multitude of subjectivities, a detail Hardt and Negri should appreciate. Absolute sovereign discretion is a problem rather than a goal for Marsiglio, who harnesses individual intellectual diversity for communal advantage. In doing so, he complicates yet preserves perspective, soothing if not curing the ill Hardt and Negri name “the rule of the one.”37 Jurisprudential authority is as widely applicable and as perfectible for Marsiglio as the sovereign’s love is for Dante. Form of law and lawmaking (rather than content or truth of law) serve as the transcendent bonds that justify Marsilian polity and sovereignty. Despite sharing scope and many practical goals, Marsiglio’s prioritization of diversity, exchange, and observable, synchronic historical experience siphons authority from truth, love, and transhistorical continuity, Dante’s ideals. Marsilian community needs optimal diversity and specialization to fulfill its potential and makes cooperative exchange the supreme purpose of political organization (I. iv. 5, p. 14). Here historical evidence, including lessons of the past and peace in the present, limits sovereignty. This is as close as Marsiglio gets to truth. Love is beside the point. Marsiglio maintains that the lived experience of peace trumps metaphysical ideals of authenticity or truth. Indeed, Chaucer shares with Marsiglio a deep appreciation for the authority of lived experience missing in Dante. Marsiglio distinguishes ecclesiastical law from civil law, recognizing two separate realms, religion and politics, and corresponding types of transgression, sin and crime, which relate functionally. Experience suggests that they should continue to coexist somewhat interdependently, because religion facilitates politics, although spirituality is irrelevant beyond the individual. Alternatively, for Dante, spiritual truths confirm the political regime’s validity and exalt lay temporal sovereignty over papal sovereignty. The upshot remains secular sovereignty independent of the papacy. Marsiglio, however, doubts claims of spiritual truth one might ascribe to religion, yet he praises religion’s strategic function (I. v. 10, pp. 18–­19). Spiritual law increases awareness of and responsibility for man’s concealable vices, thus mitigating social interactions (I. v. 11, p. 19–­20). Every state needs a religion, and Christianity works well enough as a spiritual 37.  Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 330.

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means to the secular end of functional lay sovereignty. Through such sovereignty, Marsiglio puts the unseen in service to the seen: observable good government.38 Marsiglio’s English ally, William of Ockham, argues for the same basic separation of spiritual and temporal realms but presents a set of principles to limit an exceedingly flexible form of sovereignty. Ockhamist sovereignty incorporates both jurisprudential and discretionary modes of rule and depends heavily on reasoned truths. Ockham’s approach resonates with Chaucer’s in promoting Christian religion’s particular value as well as negotiability over time. In his Breviloquium de principatu tyrannico, exclusive temporal lordship, or political sovereignty, derives sometimes from God and sometimes from man: “For although God gave man the power of appropriating and dividing temporal things among themselves, he did not transfer such power away from himself but kept it himself. . . . And thus it is plain that some exclusive lordships have been from divine law and some from human” (Quamvis enim Deus dederit hominibus potestatem appropriandi sibi et dividendi inter se res temporales, a se ipso tamen non transtulit huiusmodi potestatem, sed sibi retinuit . . . Et ita patet quod quaedam dominia propria fuerunt ex iure divino et quaedam ex iure humano) (III. 10, p. 94; III.10, p. 183.)39 Sovereignty may descend from God or ascend from man and originates legitimately in three ways: consent, just war and conquest, and divine ordinance (IV. 10, pp. 124–­ 25). Ockham holds that “[a]lthough [these ways of establishing sovereignty] can be separated, they can also be mixed with respect to different regions—­that is, a ruler may get his rulership over one region or province in one way and over another in another” (quamvis valeant separari, tamen etiam misceri possunt respectu diversorum, ut scilicet aliquis princeps super unam regionem vel provinciam principatum accipiat uno istorum modorum et super aliam alio) (IV. 10, p. 125; IV. 10, p. 215). Sovereignty is not an absolute power with a simple origin but a diversely established, temporally and geographically variable power: expedient for medieval English kings with catholic tastes. 38. Wilks, Sovereignty, 113–­16. Dante performs the inverse; he puts the seen in service of the unseen. As Davis argues, Dante “believed men must be saved not only from within but also from without, and that the emperor is the essential agent for this task,” thus refusing firm lines between moral and theological virtues. “The emperor too, Dante says in Monarchia I, xi, 13, should be moved by ‘caritas’ in establishing justice, for ‘caritas’ is the opposite of cupidity. And cupidity is the chief obstacle to justice” (“Dante and the Empire,” 67, 70). 39.  William of Ockham, A Short Discourse on the Tyrannical Government, ed. Arthur Stephen McGrade, trans. John Kilcullen (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992). Latin text from Opera politica IV, ed. H. S. Offler (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997). Quotations cited hereafter parenthetically. Single citations refer to the Kilcullen translation.

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Ockham holds that relationships between political and spiritual rule might change over time, periodically reshaping lay sovereignty: sovereignty’s terms are renegotiable over history’s course. He observes, “Sometimes, therefore, tyrannical and usurped regimes are changed into just and legitimate ones, just as sometimes, according to Aristotle in his Politics, royal rule is changed into tyrannical” (Nonnumquam igitur principatus tyrannici et usurpati in iustos et legitimos transmutantur, sicut interdum secundum Aristotelem in Politicis principatus regalis transmutatur in tyrannicum principatum) (IV. 11, p. 126; IV. 11, p. 216). Here royal rule indicates sovereign legitimacy, while tyrannical rule implies usurpation and illegitimacy, though not irredeemable illegitimacy. Ockham idealizes empire, noting that it may begin dubiously. He cannot tell us how, when, or where the Roman Empire became legitimate but insists that it had become legitimate by Jesus of Nazareth’s time. Sovereignty is thus more effective as a community-­legitimizing power than as a community-­ constituting force. Ockham shares both Dante’s appreciation for truth’s value and Marsiglio’s emphasis on synchronic communal experience, ultimately exalting an ideal of reasoned truth. For Marsiglio, there is nothing truer, nothing more reasonable than the fruits of communal functionalism and the consensus of communal will. Marsiglio and Dante establish models of lay sovereignty; meanwhile, Ockham offers ethical principles. As Wilks explains, “for Ockham truth was not something handed on by those who had in the past preserved it, but was to be tested by the mind in the light of present experience.”40 Ockhamist philosophy maintains that consent and jurisprudence as well as discretion and conquest limit and legitimize sovereignty over time. Ockham sets religious history in service to individual reason. Thus, by limiting sovereignty with both reasoned truth and historical analysis, Ockham ensures continuity and innovation in statecraft. In this way, negotiation over time shapes sovereignty’s very legitimacy. French thinkers offer perhaps the most powerful medieval justifications for national sovereignty. These nationalists reserve legitimate sovereignty for communities of moderate proportions with shared cultural and geographic particularities, typically excluding empire. Their tendency corresponds with their historical experience. Together tensions between English and French kings in the decades leading up to the Hundred Years War and the conflict over clerical taxation between Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII put the French crown on 40. Wilks, Sovereignty, 109.

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the defense. Jean of Paris’s and Nicole Oresme’s theories of sovereignty are poised to defend French lands, people, culture, and kings from English ambitions and papal threats. They see empire as an unnatural political form distinct from and inferior to nationhood. National language, culture, and geography limit sovereignty for Oresme and Jean. Like their imperialist contemporaries, they read Aristotle to argue for lay sovereignty but also refuse temporal empire by limiting sovereignty with national particularities. Jean’s De potestate regia et papali insists that the Roman Empire actually failed to keep the peace, often fostering unnatural quarrels instead. Jean casts negative light on Rome’s foundation upon Remus’s bones, reminding us that “brother killed brother and mother killed son” throughout the empire’s golden age (21, p. 117).41 Drawing on Aristotle’s Politics, Jean explains that “the development of individual states and kingdoms is natural, although that of an empire or monarchy is not” (3, p. 15). Likewise Oresme insists that a kingdom of excessive size “is not a natural kingdom, but a violent thing, which cannot last” (ne est pas royalme naturel, mes chose violente et qui ne peut durer) (292).42 Jean deploys Augustine’s City of God to remind us that “the state is better and more peacefully ruled when the rule of any one man extends only to the limits of his own territory” (De potestate, 3, p. 15). Referencing the books of Numbers and Daniel, he concludes that the Roman Empire should collapse for good. Jean’s attitude toward the Roman Empire accords with his appreciation for human cultural diversity and conditions of everyday life. He presents Christianity as a religion available to all nations, while maintaining the Church community’s distinction from national community and its transcendence of natural, human particularities and cultures. Despite their divergent readings of Roman imperial history, Jean and Dante hold that the Church can be central without wielding temporal 41.  Jean de Paris, De potestate regia et papali, trans. Arthur P. Monahan (New York: Columbia UP, 1974). Hereafter noted by chapter and page alone. 42.  Nicole Oresme, Le livre de politiques d’Aristote, ed. A. D. Menut (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1970). Translations of Oresme are my own. Hereafter noted by page number alone. On Oresme’s influence in Chaucer’s day, see Elizabeth B. Edwards, “The Cheerful Science: Nicole Oresme, Home Economics and Literary Dissemination,” in Medieval Latin and the English Tradition: Essays in Honour of Jill Mann, ed. Christopher Cannon and Maura Nolan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011), 91–­112; and Alastair Minnis, “‘I speke of folk in seculer estaat’: Vernacularity and Secularity in the Age of Chaucer,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 27 (2005): 25–­58, which also considers Ockham among thinkers who valued secular life.

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or material power. In fact, Jean insists that its centrality depends on avoiding such exertions: “It is easier to extend a word than a sword” (3, p. 14). Abstract force succeeds where concrete power creates unnecessary problems for the Church. Words and ideas command spiritual obedience, while the sword commands temporal power alone. Furthermore, because man’s physical, geographical, and cultural conditions are exceedingly more diverse than our spiritual conditions, governments and temporal leaders should be more numerous and diverse than spiritual leaders. Such diversity is necessary, natural, and ultimately political. In these ways, Jean uses the obvious global diversity of climate, language, and culture, and ultimately the legitimacy of self-­ determination, to limit political sovereignty. His national sovereignty accommodates experiential cultural particularities and divides Church and State more completely than other models of sovereignty we have surveyed. Jean distinguishes kingdom from empire, recognizing kingship as that form of government that best serves the political and cultural needs of diverse peoples (3, pp. 12–­15). Ultimately, Church and political power are discrete, elegant, focused, and effective. Oresme interprets geography and linguistic diversity to argue that God has destined empire to fail. If God and nature had intended universal monarchy the world would not be divided into regions “separated by seas or by great rivers or swamps, by forests, by deserts, by mountains, by uninhabitable or inaccessible places because of which people cannot communicate with one another in such a way that is required among the people of a kingdom or a polity” (separees par mers ou par grans fleuves ou palus, par forests, par desers, par montaignes, par lieus inaccessibles ou inhabitables pourquoi les uns ne pevent converser avec les autres de tele conversation comme requise est entre gens d’un royalme ou d’une policie) (Livre de Politiques, 291). Oresme links geographic disparateness directly with communication. Geography reads as a sacred text that transmits divine intention and natural law. At the same time, it shapes political community practically by culturally and geographically circumscribing communication, the most significant form of political experience. Anderson also takes communication as integral to political form. He acknowledges that premodern “administrative vernaculars” contributed to Christendom’s decline as an imagined community, yet he insists that national political communication was impossible before modern print capitalism. Six centuries earlier, Oresme opposed empire by arguing that geography, not technology, circumscribes sovereign nations through a similarly valued

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political communication.43 Chaucer’s commitment to English places a comparable weight on national language in context of England’s trilingual literary culture and the ways Gower and others approached it in their day.44 Oresme concludes that it is “basically beyond nature that a man reign over people who do not understand his maternal language” (comme hors nature que un homme regne sus gent qui ne entendent son maternel langage), because political communication is the primary purpose and unifying force among political communities (291). John of Salisbury expresses similar views on the requisite cultural and affective affinities of leader and people, resting kingship on a familial love that sets ethnic limits and sustains national communities. Quoting Deuteronomy, Salisbury notes, “you cannot make a foreigner—­one who is not your brother—­king over you” (IV. 4., p. 35).45 Neither judgment, which depends on political communication, nor true ownership, which hinges on a king’s ethnic identity and familiarity, is possible for communities led by foreigners who speak foreign tongues. John and Oresme suggest that cultural sympathies like language and kinship bind a true king to his true people and limit sovereignty through love, culture, and shared history. King and people should understand and feel invested in each other as kinfolk. We have seen that Dante’s imperial sovereignty rests squarely on the emperor’s benevolent capacities. Oresme’s ideal of sovereignty is democratic by comparison, lending itself readily to polities limited by time, space, language, and geography. Oresme intensifies Aristotle’s notion of political community as mankind’s telos by insisting furthermore on political communication as the purpose of all political community. He maintains that Jesus’s “kingdom will be without end” (royalme sera sans fin), but no other kingdom “lasts for all time, no other ought to stretch itself to all places” (dure tous temps, nul ne se doit estendre par tous lieu). And so it follows that only “one [being] could be prince of all the world, and that is God” (un soit prince de tout le munde, et ce est Dieu). In agreement with Jean, Oresme maintains that, while the entire world lives as one spiritual body, it fails as one political body: “the multitude of all men is not a body nor a thing that can be ordained under one man” (la multi43. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 41–­46. 44.  For an alternative take on Chaucer’s English see Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness,” esp. 289–­92. 45.  John of Salisbury, Policraticus, in The Statesman’s Book of John of Salisbury: Being the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books, and Selections from the Seventh and Eighth Books, of the Policraticus, trans. John Dickinson (New York: Russell and Russell, 1963).

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tude de tous les homes ne est pas un corps ne chose qui ne puisse estre ordenee sous un homme) (Politiques, 292). Although communities have heads, the purpose of each from household to kingdom is not hierarchy but cooperative communication. Oresme names communities gens d’un potage and gens d’une fumee, invoking the hearth to describe the cooperation and communal benefits that define such communities. The household is political, hierarchal, and functional providing basic needs from soup to warmth, but communication is its purpose, limit factor, and glue. The household communicates about daily life; cities and kingdoms communicate about matters of justice. Cooperation and common language remain essential. Unlike the other major political texts I discuss, Oresme’s Livre de Politiques provides “no coherent theory of national sovereignty, but Oresme’s attitude toward external threats to the sovereignty of the nation-­state” expresses compelling anti-­imperial, pro-­national sentiments that must have thrived on both sides of the channel in the later fourteenth century.46 I posit that Oresme ultimately idealizes a partially natural, partially contrived, necessarily imagined yet locally experienced community that thus resembles Anderson’s modern nation, even though Anderson explicitly precludes the possibility of premodern nations. Oresme’s nation need not, indeed it cannot, be purely organic or established entirely through civic processes involving consent, reason, and will. As long as such a community limits itself to a moderate size, it might endure and prosper; only an excessively large community “is not a natural kingdom, but a violent thing, which cannot last” (ne est pas royalme naturel, mes chose violente et qui ne peut durer) (292). Oresme imagines national communities bound by both ethnic ties and communal deliberation, a preference that contrasts with Marsilian principles whereby a kingdom is sovereign because its citizens will it to be. According to Oresme, a kingdom is sovereign because its culture predisposes its people to consent to political unity, structure, and finally participation. Such a national kingdom is a body politic made of individual people and simultaneously a republic, a new thing that belongs to the public and that the people bring into being by communicating as distinct individuals in vernacular voices about local issues. Chaucer imagines a sovereign English community limited by the linguistic and cultural borders that the French nationalists prioritize, funded 46.  Susan M. Babbitt, “Oresme’s Livre de Politiques and the France of Charles V,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 75 (1985): 60. See pp. 33–­68 for more on Oresme and national sovereignty.

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by the historical and emotional narratives that propel Dante’s universal ideal, and fueled by the productive diversity and contention that distinguish Marsilian communal functionalism. The Canterbury Tales pilgrims symbolize an English nation that must negotiate diversity, consent, participation, imagination, and experience, thus resembling Marsiglio’s ideal. But for Chaucer, idiosyncrasies and cultural types constitute national political identities. Chaucer melds Marsilian values of functionalism, primarily in the frame narrative, with Dante’s universal and Christian human nobility, notably in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, and applies them to the English nation. Like Marsiglio, Chaucer understands internal diversity through individual functions, what people do.47 Yet Marsiglio establishes meaningful secular citizenship without national identity, for he refuses to limit political community geographically or linguistically.48 Meanwhile, Chaucer imagines a discrete, vernacular English political community that deliberates via storytelling: narrative, historical, and political exchange. Chaucerian polity reflects Marsilian ideals in function but not form. Marsiglio’s values of diversity, exchange, and lived experience resonate with those of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and Pardoner, typically considered his most daring, community-­defining pilgrims, although feminine sovereignty would not have appealed to Marsiglio. Marsilian toleration leaves room for diversity of lifestyle and opinion. My next chapter reads the frame narrative to argue that Chaucer takes diversity further through art to affirm and fuel public deliberation. Chaucer and Marsiglio each consider contention’s destructive and constructive potentials. Contention, regulated by standards of justice, facilitates functional diversity in both models. While Marsiglio argues that jurisprudential sovereignty (legitimized by empirical results) governs contentious citizens best, Chaucer makes poetry that experiments with the functional values of diversity, exchange, and law. His Canterbury Tales romances dramatize the practical limitations of such values without disavowing them: romance extends sovereignty to an English nation by deploying history and language, their key components, as currencies that negotiate between fantasy and reality, between the transcendent bonds and the corrupt institutions so necessary to love, religion and nationhood. 47.  An estates satire, the Canterbury Tales pointedly comments on the functions and failures of communal diversity. On medieval estates and estates satire, see: Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980); and Jill Man, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the “General Prologue” to the “Canterbury Tales” (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1973). 48. Wilks, Sovereignty, 112. Pages 110–­13 contain a useful discussion of tranlatio imperii.

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Marsiglio’s resonance with Chaucer corresponds to Chaucer’s dissonance with Dante. Dante’s empire resembles Hardt and Negri’s multitude, a counter-­empire resistant to identity politics and driven by love. Dante, however, preserves ownership and hierarchy; he marries ethical goals to human tendencies toward expansion so that love supports sovereignty’s hierarchies, rather than supplanting them as Hardt and Negri hope. For Dante, human time parallels divine or cosmological time, and imperial authority precedes the Church, existing independently.49 For Chaucer, the nation precedes national sovereignty, existing independently, though not successfully. Through romance, the Tales admits that the marriage of love and sovereignty empowers the pair yet fails to satisfy sovereignty’s demand for sacrifice. Exchange among mutually intelligible individuals, not identification among homogenous constituents, incorporates Marsilian community; likewise, Chaucer’s tale-­telling exchange broadens his pilgrims’ identities, complicating them beyond their simple portraits as it knits them together. Nederman explains that for Marsiglio, “the parts [of a community] do not perform their functions in isolation, but rather . . . in relation to the other elements of the civil community”; ultimately such “interdependence entails inclusion”; each individual whose function contributes to the sufficient material life enjoys “full civic identity” and “a full set of citizen rights.”50 In Defensor pacis as in the Canterbury Tales, diverse fellows who share responsibilities and rights argue. As Nederman writes, “an extensive, inclusive and participatory form of citizenship represents for Marsiglio the best protection against contention.”51 Marsiglio admits that interdependence and increased occasion for conflict arrive in tandem, warning that routine disputes arising among sundry citizens destroy the state without a regulated justice system (Defensor, I. iv. 4, p. 13). Here, participation prevents not contention but its destructive potential. For Chaucer, as for nationalist thinkers, sovereignty is shared ownership and judgment of communities with emotional, linguistic, historical, and cultural (including religious) affinities. Chaucerian sovereignty ap49.  As Davis notes, “This grandiose vision of the empire and human history is the central revelation that Dante believed he was called upon to make. It was his particular originality to sacralize secular or at least imperial government without in any way clericalizing it or neglecting its natural function” (Davis, “Dante and the Empire,” 78). Chaucer scrutinizes a hyper-­clericalized religious establishment that influences secular government. 50. Nederman, Worlds of Difference, 73, 71, 74. 51.  Ibid., 74.

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pears primarily in romantic and marital contexts that function as microcosms of the nation, reflecting Oresme and John of Salisbury on the pseudo-­familial love between sovereign and subjects. In the Tales, English nationhood depends on sovereignty’s negotiability over time, which mirrors Ockham’s model; sovereignty beyond England in the Clerk’s Tale and Franklin’s Tale is more rigid and oppressive, as my epilogue shows.

Sovereignty in the Vernacular Jean and Oresme use language to limit and justify their philosophies of sovereignty. Dante’s approach to language in his Convivio and De vulgari eloquentia emphasizes language’s cultural value beyond its political value, yet he associates it with both the royal courts and the law courts, thus also with communal ownership and authoritative judgment. Dante explicates the power of language, be it classical or vernacular, rather than using language to limit national (or imperial) sovereignty in French nationalist fashion. He presents the vernacular as an intimate form of language fortified by light from distant realms. This section demonstrates how Dante’s illustrious vernacular, like Chaucer’s English, invests local color with international purchase. Dante’s Convivio defends its own Italian language yet holds that Latin’s permanent form empowers it in contrast with a perpetually changing vernacular. Latin is nobler by virtue of its stability and sovereign (sovrano) because of this stability as well as its beauty (I. v. 7–­15, pp. 22–­23).52 Nevertheless, Dante zealously defends Italian against the likes of Provencal.53 The vernacular is an intimate language because we learn it first, and it unites us with loved ones. Dante suggests that, through personal sympathies, the vernacular binds kinfolk and fellow citizens into a cultural, ethnic, and civic, though not political, nation (Banquet, I. xii. 5, p. 36). This beloved, defensible, useful vernacular remains subject to Latin’s sovereign virtue, its supreme capacity to communicate ideas, its noble stability (I. x. 12, p. 32). Hence the vernacular is culturally and politically subordinate, just as Dante subordinates the limited kingdom to universal 52.  References to the Convivio are from Dante Alighieri, Convivio, ed. Giorgio Inglese (Milano: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1993) cited parenthetically hereafter. English translations are from Dante Alighieri, The Banquet, trans. Christopher Ryan (Saratoga: ANMA Libri & Co., 1989). Single citations refer to the Ryan translation. 53.  Dante’s best defense is his inclusion of Sordello, a thirteenth-­century Lombard poet who wrote in Provencal, in Purgatario VII. There, Sordello speaks eloquently on universal human nobility not in Provencal but in his native Italian vernacular, or something closer to it: the language of Dante’s Comedia.

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sovereignty, citing such sovereignty’s greater potential for stability. Latin’s noble and sovereign stability, moreover, offers universal intelligibility. Alternatively in Dante’s Latin De vulgari eloquentia, the vernacular is the nobler language because of its universal accessibility to all. All humanity participates in the common process of acquiring and refining the vernacular, which allows for international linguistic and literary diversity. De vulgari prioritizes continuity and perfectibility over essential stability as nobility’s salient criteria, but direct reference to sovereignty fades.54 Nobility is a side issue and a gloss vis-­à-­vis the national political value of Dante’s illustrious vernacular. Dante describes a simultaneously innate, cultivated, and shared vernacular as an illustrious national language that is also cardinal, aulic, and curial. It enlightens specifically by reflecting light it receives from other places, which glorifies and honors its users in turn. Dante explains, “That it is exulted in power is plain. And what greater power could there be than that which can melt the hearts of human beings, so as to make the unwilling willing and the willing unwilling, as it has done and still does?” (Quod autem exaltatum sit potestate, videtur. Et quid maioris potestatis est quam quod humana corda versare potest, ita ut nolentem volentem et volentem nolentem faciat, velutipsum et fecit et facit?) (I. xvii, pp. 40–­41).55 This vernacular is illustrious, because it reflects the light of justice and charity in new directions, and powerful, insofar as the reflection has a capacity to reverse human wills. The adjective cardinal appears among these epithets because, like a door hinge, which controls the direction of the door, this vernacular controls the direction of other Italian vernaculars. Here we find a national language fit for the political communication that Oresme and Jean idealize; indeed, Dante describes a language strong enough to negotiate the sort of dynamic sovereignty that Ockham theorizes and that Chaucer imagines for England. It remains for Chaucer to apply vernacular eloquence to English national sovereignty, to elaborate the link between cultural and political discourse. The final two modifiers are perhaps most vital to this vernacular’s national import. Dante calls the vernacular “aulic” because its dwelling-­ place is the royal court, “the shared home of the entire kingdom” (aula totius regni comunis est domus) (I. xviii, pp. 42–­43). He describes a domes54.  On Dante’s views of Latin and vernacular nobility, see Cecil Grayson, “Nobilior est vulgaris: Latin and Vernacular in Dante’s Thought,” in Centenary Essays on Dante, ed. Colin Hardie (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1965), 54–­76. 55.  Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, ed. and tr. Steven Botterill (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996). Hereafter cited parenthetically.

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tic polity, a sovereign homeland. The vernacular dwells at home, characterizing it and those who use it wherever they go, identifying them with that home, despite and because of linguistic portability. This vernacular “is common to all yet owned by none” (omnibus sit comune nec proprium ulli) (I. xviii, pp. 42–­43). All members of the kingdom may claim it, yet no claim excludes any other. Dante finally associates the illustrious vernacular with the law courts, dubbing it “curial” (curiale). He explains, “the essence of being curial is no more than providing a balanced assessment of whatever has to be dealt with; and because the scales on which this assessment is carried out are usually found only in the most authoritative of tribunals, whatever is well-­balanced in our actions is called ‘curial’” (quia curialis nil aliquid est quam librata regula eorum que peragenda sunt: et quia statera huismodi liberatonis tantum in excellentissimis curiis esse solet, hinc est quod quicquid in actibus nostris bene libratum est, curiale dicatur) (I. xviii, pp. 42–­43). Dante suggests a language capable of assessing important matters and well balanced itself. By matching this language with both the royal courts and the law courts, Dante elegantly identifies it as an instrument of communal ownership and authoritative judgment. Although he does not explicitly link ownership, judgment, and sovereignty here, either ownership, judgment, or both subtend many late medieval theories of sovereignty, including his own laid out in De monarchia and Chaucer’s in the Canterbury Tales. In De vulgari, then, Dante expands the group who might participate in sovereignty by linking the vernacular indirectly but evocatively with ownership and judgment, sovereignty’s typical foundations. Chaucer traces and innovates this move. We have already learned how for Jean and Oresme linguistic particularity legitimizes political sovereignty. Dante’s illustrious vernacular is both linguistic and literary, because it depends on poets and cultivation to reach its potential. This language binds a people by representing a common home (including shared ownership of that space/idea) and by serving as a common medium for both authoritative judgment and rhetorical persuasion (hence its epithet, illustrious). Dante’s illustrious vernacular is a tool through which its users might enact sovereignty: the legitimate ownership and judgment of public goods and ideas. Its power is its potential to facilitate a common future for its users. In this way the illustrious vernacular’s nobility, continuity, and particularity is more national—­political and cultural—­than Latin nobility, universal intelligibility. Because the vernacular is not only aulic and curial but also illustrious, reflecting light from other places, it might also connect its users with places beyond their homeland. It is not simply insular or universal

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but rather distinct and driven by light from distant realms: the illustrious vernacular wields international influence. In the Canterbury Tales, as well as in the writings of the aforementioned fourteenth-­century political thinkers, sovereignty indicates shared ownership and judgment and entails both hierarchy and limitation. Considering the values implicit in the wider field of medieval political thought, drawn from institutional history including secular legal treatises and evidence of lay judicial procedure, Reynolds explains that medieval “Kings were . . . never absolute in theory, however arbitrary they might be in practice.”56 Likewise, sovereignty in the Tales is never absolute in theory, though it often seems arbitrary in practice. When Chaucer attaches sovereignty to Britain, it works both culturally and politically; it becomes national and ultimately English. This sovereignty functions as a model, a vernacular form of power, equally dependent on theory and practice, and developing over time and in accord with Ockhamist thought like the vernacular language through which Chaucer describes it. A tool like Dante’s illustrious vernacular, Chaucerian sovereignty complicates the relationship between universality and particularity rendering its users somehow more distinct, engaged with each other, and interdependent with distant international authorities that mark its borders. Dante does not insist on the interdependence of vernacular language with political sovereignty as nationalist thinkers do. Nevertheless, his understanding of the relative merits of Latin and the vernacular contextualizes Chaucer’s insistence on interdependence among the universal human capacity for Christian nobility, vernacular eloquence, and national sovereignty, as chapter 6 argues via the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. Petrarch grew to favor Latin over Italian language during the course of his career, adopting an unabashedly elitist pose and disapproving of popular interpretations of vernacular literature. Dante alternatively balances his admiration for Latin’s stability and sovereignty with appreciation for common processes that render the illustrious vernacular nobler. Later, Chaucer refuses Petrarchan elitism and embraces vernacular eloquence in the prologue to his Clerk’s Tale, which compares sovereignty with the marriage yoke.57 Throughout the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer knits together Dante’s ideas about human nobility and the vernacular, accentu56.  Reynolds, “Medieval Origines Gentium,” 381; see also Reynolds, “Law and Communities in Western Europe, c. 900–­1300,” American Journal of Legal History 25 (1981): 205–­24. 57. David Wallace argues that Chaucer aligns Petrarchan humanism with Lombard tyranny and reads Boccaccio and Dante as proponents of Florentine polity; my epilogue elaborates (Chaucerian Polity, 1).

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ating their political import for an English nation. In translating Dante on the vernacular into the English context, Chaucer reifies his national values expressly by imagining English sovereignty as a political and cultural structure.58

Living in the Future: Sovereignty, Love, Anachronism Of all Chaucer’s engagements, those with Dante best explain the English national significance of his work. Ernst Kantorowicz tells us that while “theologians, jurists, and political philosophers” in Dante’s day set forth “conceptions of kingship centering in the God-­man, in the ideas of justice and law, in the corporate bodies of political collectivities or institutional dignities . . . [i]t remained to [Dante] the poet to establish an image of kingship which was merely human and of which man, pure and simple, was the center and standard.”59 Chaucer shares Dante’s fascination with human sovereignty free of ecclesiastical or clerical control. But the English poet lacks confidence in his centrality. Instead, from his intellectual backwater, he imagines himself, his language, and his homeland as odd particularities, foreign to the Roman centrality that the Convivio and De monarchia envision.60 There, Dante—­unapologetically, if also ironically imperialist—­imagines Rome as a champion runner, who simply outran its rivals for world domination (Monarchia, II. vii–­viii, pp. 147–­63). Dante’s universal humanism provides tools and imperatives that Chaucer uses to motivate his English characters and even his readers to contribute to their communities. Chaucer, however, must first adjust these tools to his particular tasks. Dante’s zealous espousal of Virgil, Livy, Euclid, of classical intellectual and literary tradition, render mar58.  There is some debate over Chaucer’s reading of Dante vis-­à-­vis Petrarch and humanism. While most recognize Petrarch as the father of Renaissance humanism, some scholars consider Dante an important humanist precursor. See Steve Ellis, “Chaucer, Dante, and Damnation,” Chaucer Review 22 (1988): 282–­94; Richard Neuse, Chaucer’s Dante: Allegory and Epic Theater in the Canterbury Tales (Berkeley: U of California P, 1991); R. A. Shoaf, “‘Noon Englissh Digne’: Dante in Late Medieval England,” in Dante Now: Current Trends in Dante Studies, ed. Theodore J. Cachey Jr. (Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame P, 1995), 189–­203; Glenn Steinberg, “Chaucer in the Field of Cultural Production: Humanism, Dante, and the House of Fame,” Chaucer Review 35 (2000): 182–­203; Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 261–­98. I agree with Steinberg and those maintaining that Chaucer curbs Dante’s classicism, for Chaucer puts Dante’s humanism to more particular uses than those of Petrarch and the Renaissance Humanists. 59. Kantorowicz, King’s Two Bodies, 451. 60.  Kathy Lavezzo, “Beyond Rome: Mapping Gender and Justice in The Man of Law’s Tale,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 24 (2002): 149–­80 analyzes Chaucer’s view of England in relation to Roman centrality.

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ginal Chaucer’s enthusiasm for English and other vernacular writing. Nevertheless, the Convivio’s defense of Italian significantly challenges Latin learning’s cultural politics. Chaucer’s steadfast use of English throughout his oeuvre makes a powerful English counterpart to Dante’s defense of the vernacular. Chaucer’s conception of sovereignty as a form of power both human and domestic is indebted to Dante’s slightly older ideas about sovereignty and vernacularity; yet Chaucer imagines a sovereign English community bound not only by linguistic particularities but also by time and space, thus resembling Jean’s and Oresme’s ideals. Despite their differences, the thinkers I survey reflect a burgeoning interest in the contributions that citizens make to sustain their sovereign communities. This interest opens questions regarding relationships among history, community, and sovereignty. When Hardt and Negri write, “the nation sustains the concept of sovereignty by claiming to precede it,” they aim to expose the nation’s deceptive chronology, its charade of antique authority.61 They accuse the nation of a false claim, maintaining that nations actually follow sovereignty. And so, they contend, nations are unfit to legitimize the politics of sovereignty, since nations insist on identifications that deny diversity of perspective, fail to moderate conflicts, and mask a mottled network of true multiplicity. Instead of nationhood and sovereignty, they propose multitude and constituent power: “Constituent power . . . is a decision that emerges out of the ontological and social process of productive labor; it is an institutional form that develops a common content; it is a deployment of force that defends the historical progression of emancipation and liberation; it is, in short, an act of love.”62 Such an act of love is the only thing that can set historical life right, the only thing that can rectify living out of synch—­living in a “present that is already dead and a future that is already living”—­by pushing beyond historical limits, propelling human political community “like an arrow into that living future.”63 Hardt and Negri offer love as redemption, apparently distinguishing love from nation, sovereignty, 61.  Hardt and Negri, Empire, 101. See also Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983). Hobsbawm argues that modern nationalism was unprecedented, so its histories had to be invented and invested with symbolism (2–­3, 7–­8, 12–­14, 283). He warns, “We should not be misled by a curious, but understandable, paradox: modern nations and all their impedimenta generally claim to be the opposite of novel, namely rooted in the remotest antiquity, and the opposite of constructed, namely human communities so ‘natural’ as to require no definition other than self-­assertion” (14). 62.  Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 351. 63.  Ibid., 358.

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and evil. Indeed, they outline the transhistorical “tendency to link a notion of evil as an invariant of human nature to a politics aimed at restraining evil,” developing from Paul the Apostle to Carl Schmitt, who regard sovereignty as a katechon, a lesser evil that restrains greater evils.64 Hardt and Negri escape this politics of lesser evils by recognizing evil essentially as love gone bad: “love is ultimately the power of the creation of the common, evil is the dissolution of the common or, really, its corruption.”65 So, the most effective way to combat evil is to resist love’s particularizations and corruptions, including the forms of national sovereignty and identity to which such corruptions lead. Thus, reclaiming love as a common, political force reconciles present with future. Medieval political thinkers often relate love with sovereignty, whether imperial or national. Hardt and Negri’s constituent power resonates with Dante’s vast political love and Marsiglio’s sovereignty, an ascending power dependent on a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent multitude, a commonwealth wherein identity is subordinate to functionalism. Chaucer scrutinizes love and history in a spirit of revelation similar to that of Hardt and Negri’s scrutiny of the nation. The Canterbury Tales reveals that in leading to sovereignty, both love and history function as political strategies that legitimize national politics. Love and history are best suited to the task of legitimization regardless of any truth one might ascribe to them. In this context, love is a decisive problem, which turns on the question: does love set or extend limits? The same question applies to history. Does history mark or break limits? Medieval theorists understand history in a variety of ways: synchronically, diachronically, as obligation, as the educated domain or a common inheritance, as an aspect of cultural particularity or as a universal narrative that binds this whole world. “There is no single ‘medieval’ conception of time and history,” as Kathleen Davis teaches us.66 Chaucer’s art consistently joins romantic love to sovereignty, but sovereignty always manages to outshine love, which refuses the redefinition Hardt and Negri propose. In Chaucer’s sixth-­century romances, anachronistic pasts facilitate the match. Chaucer negotiates an English future according with present interests by projecting flexible forms of sovereignty forward, yet through the British past. Although Schmitt’s sover64.  Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 197. 65.  Ibid., 193. 66. Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty, 104. On medieval time, see also Bloomfield, “Chaucer’s Sense of History,” in Essays and Explorations, 13–­26, and Humphrey and Ormrod, Time in the Medieval World.

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eign and Dante’s monarcha bear a superficial resemblance, Schmitt’s absolute sovereignty contrasts with suppler medieval theories of sovereignty. For Schmitt, “sovereignty (and thus the state itself) resides . . . in determining definitively what constitutes public order and security, in determining when they are disturbed and so on.”67 Here sovereignty claims not necessarily to precede or to follow the state but to sustain it entirely through the pursuit of order. Meanwhile, Chaucer uses anachronism to create a temporal disorder that nonetheless achieves a certain cultural order and legitimizes sovereignty. Reading Bede on time in context of Schmitt and his followers, Davis finds a political theology of time far more complex than that of an imperial katechon, which opposes two positive factors—­a restraining force and an impending end-­time. Bede’s conception, by contrast, recognizes that such logic appropriates and at least partially cancels out ‘‘mystery’’ and messianic promise . . . the futurity of which—­along with its meaningfulness for each individual—­becomes moot when cast as an already determined form . . . time for Bede calls measure and regulating practice into being as a way of arcing toward an unknown and incalculable, but always promised, future.68

Medieval theories of time and sovereignty are more limited, hence more flexible, negotiable, and hopeful than those of Schmitt, Agamben, and the like. However, as Davis’s Periodization and Sovereignty demonstrates at length, they are as relevant to secular understandings of history and politics, according with Aristotelian terms whereby changing power dynamics define politics. As we shall see in part two of the reading ahead, Chaucer’s sixth-­ century romances tell history that—­true or false, for better or worse—­ breaks its own limits, just as it renders love interdependent with national sovereignty. Despite their symbolic weight and ideal regalia, love and history emerge from Chaucer’s work as strategic instruments. Chaucer debunks fictions of sovereignty, be they national fictions of perfect solidarity and identity or imperial fictions of truth, love, and the guarantee of peace. Over strict political order, he prefers cultural continuity: a cyclic revision of history partially instantiated and further symbolized by the General Prologue’s tale-­telling agreement. This is to say that sovereignty never appears to be fair or perfectible through Chaucer’s eyes, 67. Schmitt, Political Theology, 9. 68. Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty, 109.

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but it works to ensure national continuity in the Canterbury Tales. Such continuity is less ideal, more practical than these other values. It propels national life through national sovereignty without fully justifying anything and by disordering rather than homogenizing time, truth, or communities of individuals.69 And so, the past provides the best meaning and most comfort, sentence and solace, when read through the present. As Walter Benjamin writes, “[h]istory is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now.”70 Here, both the future and history’s very cogency depend on presentist rereading, on anachronism. Canterbury Tales anachronisms often take the form of important texts from other lands that appear out of place in time. For example, in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, Chaucer translates “the wise poete of Florence, / That highte Dant” into English “rym,” giving the central character, a lower-­ class British woman, access to a text and a poet that appear more than seven hundred years after the fall of the Arthurian regime under which she lives (III 1125–­27). This anachronism ultimately serves as a tool through which the woman reshapes ideals of sovereignty and domesticity, transforming both into cross-­class, cross-­gender vernacular institutions. Dante in Camelot is one creative temporal device through which Chaucer allows a character to live in the future, thereby reworking the British past to support a sovereign English nation. We also find the Quran in the Man of Law’s imagination of sixth-­century Syria decades before Muhammad receives it. Meanwhile, the Knight disorders and critiques his ancient Greek legend with a twelfth-­century-­style tournament. And the Monk, whom we expect to preserve history, reshuffles it instead, terrifying the Knight and boring the Host with his De casibus collection. As Taylor writes, “Through the Monk, as lordly as the Knight though in clerical garb, Chaucer includes history under the sign of Fortune as part of what the Canterbury collection complicates in the Miller’s Prologue.”71 69.  For an alternative reading of the relation between sovereignty and continuity, see Kathleen Biddick, “Arthur’s Two Bodies and the Bare Life of the Archives,” in Make and Let Die: Untimely Sovereignties (Earth, Milky Way: punctum books, 2016), 57–­80. 70.  Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 261. Please see Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty, 77–­102; there, she revises Benedict Anderson’s misreading of Benjamin to recover the power of Benjamin’s historicism. Davis explains, “By imagining a form of history that keeps the miracle but shuns decision, Benjamin offers . . . a radically alternative method of thinking events in time . . . [with] specific potential for connecting with ‘medieval’ events, given its messianic structure and redemptive perspective” (101). 71.  Taylor, “Chaucer’s Uncommon Voice,” 64.

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The pilgrimage to Canterbury nevertheless continues. Hayden White has demonstrated that the “value attached to narrativity in the representation of real events arises out of a desire to have real events display the coherence, integrity, fullness, and closure of an image of life that is and can only be imaginary.”72 Yet more than any other medium or lived experience, narrative art communicates the real pain and frustration of thwarted desires, life’s messiness, love’s biases, home’s discomforts, and sovereignty’s triumphs and failures. The readings ahead pursue the satisfactions and frustrations of English national desire.

72.  Hayden White, The Content of the Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990 [1987]), 24.

P art I

Home and Away

thre e

At Home on the Road Belief and Nation in the Canterbury Tales General Prologue and Frame Narrative Like the Latin domus, the English word “home” functions unlike any other common noun, acting like an adverb, a peculiarly ambiguous, unsettled word that establishes our place in the world as both a place and a mode of being. More disturbingly, the double discourse of the domus suggests that we are neither of those things, or that we exist somewhere in between them, between objects and existence, between a real place and a place we cannot grasp because we cannot ever fully be ourselves.

—­d . vance smith 1

I guess whoever Bailey was—­if there was a Bailey—­he knew this place had to be real real mobile.

—­g loria naylor 2

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales interrogates English community through ideals of sovereignty and domesticity and rhetorics of history and the vernacular. England appears as a sovereign kingdom, a transhistorical cultural community, a linguistic group, and a homeland. Surprisingly, perhaps, home succeeds as the most vexed and least optimistic of these national forms. Chaucer’s representation of the relationships diverse English folk have with their homes and with each other on that terrain exposes the coercion, controversy, and contention typical of national com1.  D. Vance Smith, Arts of Possession: The Middle English Household Imaginary (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003), xiii. 2.  Gloria Naylor, Bailey’s Café (New York: Vintage, 1992), 28.


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munities. At the same time, his frame narrative binds these problems to belief in the power of place and desire for the comforts of being at home, of being understood. Home is our own place in the world, our customs of fellowship, language, of sharing food and drink, of proving ourselves: our mode of being ourselves, as Vance Smith writes. Desire for such belonging remains even when being at home means negotiating a politically flawed, deeply contentious nation. Turville-­Petre argues that “[t]he very act of writing in English is a statement about belonging. . . . The desire to belong to [a] larger protecting community is the urge behind nationalism.”3 The Canterbury Tales is such an act of writing and more, for it reads the nation with bifocal insight into belief in secular cultural community and the serious, hidden costs that even communities established by consent incur. This dual focus queries belief in home and desire for belonging, yet disavows neither. Chaucer’s pilgrims are as likely to protect as to require protection from each other precisely because they are at home together, even on the road, especially when they boast international connections.4 Scholars of nationalism like Anderson routinely dismiss medieval nationhood assuming that the Church’s influence erased secular communal identities or that other transnational ideologies like chivalry were similarly overpowering. Meanwhile many medievalists eschew nationhood in our period due to negative impressions of nationalism and greater interest in internationalism and transnationalism. However, the General Prologue addresses both objections through the ideal of domesticity. Christian belief assembles Chaucer’s pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, but a more complicated secular sense of belief soon displaces it, propelling their journey forward and elucidating their cross-­class, cross-­ gender English identity. Herry Bailly’s reimagination of how the pilgrims use vernacular language and history to be at home together propagates 3.  Turville-­Petre, England the Nation, 11. 4. The Canterbury Tales General Prologue and frame narrative inspire one of the richest reception histories in English literature. Critics find it difficult to exhaust this fragmentary yet encyclopedic work. In addition to works treated in detail, the following shape my perspective: Alfred David, The Strumpet Muse: Art and Morals in Chaucer’s Poetry (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1976); Steve Ellis, Chaucer at Large; Donald R. Howard, Writers and Pilgrims (Berkeley: U of California P, 1980); P. M. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry; Anne Middleton, “Chaucer’s New Men”; Traugott Lawler, The One and the Many in the Canterbury Tales; Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History; Ian Robinson, Chaucer and the English Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1972); Karla Taylor, “Chaucer’s Volumes: Toward a New Model of Literary History in the Canterbury Tales,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 29 (2007): 43–­85; Marian Turner, Chaucerian Conflict (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007); Winthrop Wetherbee, Chaucer; Christian Zacher, Curiosity and Pilgrimage.

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this national identity and the belief it demands, diminishing pure Christian devotion to reprioritize home’s secular comforts.5 Nationalism and internationalism together shape the domestic realm throughout the Canterbury Tales. As this book’s introduction explains, nationalism’s explicit critical history in Chaucer studies moves from the sixteenth century through the twentieth, beginning with cooptation by visionaries peddling an essentialist, xenophobic English nationalism and ending with an equally narrow refusal of all Chaucer’s interest in nationhood. The latter argument depends on the former camp’s limited conception of nationhood, which misunderstands internationalism as an alternative approach although it remains interdependent with the nation as a particular form of nationalism. When Turville-­Petre, Pearsall, Salter, and Wallace cite Chaucer’s internationalism they evoke cosmopolitanism.6 Cosmopolitanism might resist nationalism through its universal values and customs while internationalism never does.7 But, regardless of what Chaucerians mean in naming Chaucer’s attitudes “internationalist,” his writing resembles the most effective national literature in Édouard Glissant’s postcolonial formulation: it probes the concept of nationhood by exploring cultural difference, sometimes celebrating diversity, sometimes performing xenophobia, and always calling itself into question in the process.8 Despite evident differences between the medieval English and postcolonial Caribbean writers, deep similarities attest to internationalism’s necessity for linguistically and culturally marginal writers imagining their own nations.9 Reading Chaucer through lenses borrowed from Glissant, we shall see how international imports are most useful at home where they refine the shape of English national identity. 5.  For an alternative reading of the General Prologue and frame narrative as a reaction to and spiritualization of the Rising of 1381 and its more political concerns, see Stephen Knight, Geoffrey Chaucer (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, Ltd., 1986), 69. Despite excellent points, Knight oversimplifies Chaucer’s interest in political and secular community. The pilgrimage to Canterbury may reverse the rebel’s march to London, but if so, we shall see that Herry Bailly reinvents that reversal and inspires the pilgrims to blaze a third trail. 6.  Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness”; Salter, English and International, 244; Turville-­ Petre, “The Brutus Prologue to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”; Wallace, Chaucerian Polity. 7. On medieval cosmopolitanism, see John M. Ganim and Shayne Aaron Legassie, Cosmopolitanism and the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and Ganim, “Cosmopolitanism, Sovereignty, and Medievalism.” 8. Glissant, Le discours antillais, 327–­28. 9.  On affinities between Chaucer and Caribbean writers, including analysis of Chaucer’s Caribbean reception, see Michelle R. Warren, “‘The last syllable of modernity’: Chaucer in the Caribbean,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 6 (2015): 79–­93.

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Glenn Burger and Peggy Knapp elucidate Chaucer’s national discourse; this chapter builds on their insights to dispel misconceptions about Chaucer studies’ incompatibility with national discourse.10 Specifically, it explores interdependences between Chaucer’s internationalism and his domestic imagination to demonstrate how Christian belief prepares English subjects for secular belief in England as a national home throughout the Canterbury Tales frame narrative.11 The first section considers how belief strengthens experiences of nation and home; the second probes relationships between domesticity and internationalism; and the third concentrates on Herry Bailly’s framing of home through national as opposed to marital, household domesticity. Thus, I seek to demonstrate how presumably opposing forces, Christianity and Englishness, internationalism and nationalism, shape England as a contentious yet comforting home and the pilgrims as an emblem of the nation.

Belief and National Identity As Knapp argues, Chaucer’s imagination of community according with Anderson’s classic “definition of imagining” involves “bringing forth something previously in existence, though differently experienced.”12 Imagination works as a catalyzing transformer that elaborates real world experience without departing from it. Knapp explains how Chaucer’s pilgrims engage with each other by using language to appeal to their international religious identity as well as to English national identity: They are assembled on and competitive over the distinctive social and economic terrain of late medieval England. To contend this 10.  Akbari, Davis, Ingham, and Lavezzo also analyze Chaucer’s national imagination, though their work figures more prominently in chapters 1, 5, and 6. Akbari, “Orientation and Nation in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales”; Glenn Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation; Kathleen Davis, “Time Behind the Veil: The Media, the Middle Ages, and Orientalism Now” and “Hymenial Alogic: Debating Political Community in The Parliament of Fowls”; Patricia Clare Ingham, “Pastoral Histories: Utopia Conquest and the Wife of Bath’s Tale”; Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England (In English)”; Lavezzo, “Beyond Rome: Mapping Gender and Justice in The Man of Law’s Tale.” 11. Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood sustains my view of the relation between English nationhood and Christianity in the Tales. Hastings argues that “[n]ation, ethnicity, nationalism and religion . . . are . . . so intimately linked that it is impossible . . . to write the history of any of them at all adequately without at least a fair amount of discussion of the other three,” and notes that “the best literary expression of national maturity to be found in the fourteenth-­century English renaissance may still be its most widely read product, the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” (1, 47). 12.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England (In English),” 132.

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way, they use the varied registers available to Middle English and disclose their various takes on English controversies. To present them this way Chaucer’s text both creates what is not in being and interprets what is.13

Chaucer’s pilgrims converge from a familiar Christian and insular background, where they live distinct but mutually recognizable lives. Many do not know each other before meeting at the Tabard, but they all know of others like their fellows. Hence they are ready to think together, sharing their beliefs, even and especially when they disagree, for their portraits show that they arrive embroiled in national debates. The pilgrims belong to one stratified religious, cultural, linguistic, and economic society. But belief is not simply content here; like imagination, belief is a form, a transformer: a catalyzing force. Before turning to the General Prologue, through which I argue that Herry Bailly secularizes the belief already uniting the pilgrims, let us revisit Reynolds on belief and the production of nationhood. Belief enlightens both medieval and modern nations as she describes them. Reynolds solves the problem of locating medieval nations among other historical forms by stressing that regardless of nomenclature, we better understand past political solidarities when we admit that the process of coming to national consciousness often works . . . the other way around, with units which are perceived as nations as the product of history rather than its primary building-­blocks. National character is that which is attributed to any group thought of as a nation: the nation itself is the product of its members’ belief that it exists. In medieval terms, it was the fact of being a kingdom (or some lesser, but effective, unit of government) and of sharing a single law and government which promoted a sense of solidarity among its subjects and made them describe themselves as a people—­irrespective of any relationship we can now trace between the medieval “people” and its kingdom on the one hand and the modern ‘nation’ and its state on the other.14

By reversing this common ontological trajectory: a nation exists, hence its members believe that they are part of it, behave as if parts of it, and obey its laws and leaders, Reynolds clarifies the interdependence be13.  Ibid., 142. 14. Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities, 253.

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tween the concrete facts and abstract theories that hold nations together. Both the practical facts of nationhood (like inhabiting the same homeland, speaking the same language, using the same currency, “sharing a single law and government”) and the theory of nationhood (“its members’ belief that it exists”) render nations extant. Such “belief” is a catalyst that enables members to actualize and process their political and cultural solidarity, broadening it beyond immediate experience. Belief and imagination invest community with transcendence, which links members across space and time.15 The General Prologue reveals that sharing a home helps harness belief, imagination, and identity. Here, as in Smith’s domestic formulation, setting is necessarily a “real” place, a collection of people, and their abstract modes of living together. Pearsall notes that through the reference to pilgrims from “every shires ende / Of Engelond” in the General Prologue, England is “being fully recognised, so to speak, perhaps for the first time, as a real place,” yet he reduces this to an innovation of setting (I. 15–­ 16).16 Meanwhile, Chaucer invokes England both as the place where his characters dwell and the spatial, linguistic, and sentimental setting that is their home: a land enveloped not exactly in mist and fog but in belief and possibility. England and Englishness remain most intelligible internationally, in relation to foreign shores. From the General Prologue’s start, the narrator celebrates relationships that flourish beyond discrete temporal, cultural, and spatial boundaries in a world where geographic and spiritual spaces are distinct yet interconnected. Chaucer juxtaposes concrete and conceptual details of English life, reflecting nationhood’s practical and theoretical double nature and describing an organic whole that transcends conventional restraints and expected divisions. Chaucer’s mise en scène is a string of causes and effects that span time and space, yoking together disparate earthly elements with spiritual and heavenly forces:

15.  Reynolds’s “belief” parallels Anderson’s imagination of nation. However, Anderson describes a sequential course, where nations imagine themselves as discrete units with the right to self-­determination and then demand sovereignty, extricating themselves from empires, while Reynolds sees a stream flowing in at least two directions. Rigid adherence to Anderson’s sequence would negate the possibility of more than a handful of nations (Imagined Communities, 9–­36). And, as Kenneth Hodges notes, sometimes sharing a sovereign spurs people to believe in their solidarity and to imagine themselves as a community of comrades (“Why Malory’s Lancelot Is Not French: Region, Nation, and Political Identity,” 558). 16.  Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness,” 282–­83.

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Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne with swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne (I. 1–­8) April’s “shoures soote” reach back to March, reversing its “droghte,” penetrating the roots of plants, undoing the ground’s dryness, and ultimately yielding flowers (1–­2). Meanwhile, Zephirus, the west wind, imports classical culture with international appeal, sweeping across the land and inspiring crops in “every holt and heeth” (I. 5). International influence particularizes this insular land, shaping even local flora. Here Old English vocabulary describes the land: the image of interplay between Zephirus and “every holt and heeth” integrates classical, continental culture with bucolic, insular foundations as discrete yet symbiotic elements.17 Similarly, natural regeneration fosters the spiritual and cultural phenomenon of religious pilgrimage in Chaucer’s scheme. While the practical advantages of making pilgrimage in spring rather than winter are obvious, the narrator links pilgrimage with deep yearning, emphasizing the belief in the holiness of spaces that pilgrimage implies. Springtime is when “longen folk to goon on pilgrimages” (13). Transcendent, widespread desire connected with belief as opposed to reason, common sense, or seasonal practicalities drives pilgrimage. Thus, the pilgrims’ own faith in the power of place, which predates their association under Herry’s guidance, invests them in this venture. Even as they set out individually and in small groups, they respond collectively to spring. But spring moves them to spiritual pilgrimage—­rather than to romance or biological reproduction. This break with expectations renders fungible biological modes of ensuring continuity and conceptual models of imagining community. The journey challenges the pilgrims’ perspectives on society’s traditional foundations, which include the Church, marriage, chivalry, monarchy, and family; meanwhile, they bring curiosity and wanderlust to the table. The General Prologue’s setting works as a mixed tem17.  For more on these opening lines’ political philology, see Seth Lerer, Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language (New York: Columbia UP, 2007), 70–­84.

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poral and spatial landscape constructed by calculated logic as well as by ardent belief. To be a pilgrim here is to be willing to cross the psychological, emotional, and intellectual borders of the self as well as to venture beyond physical geographic boundaries including those of hometown and neighborhood. We shall see that this pilgrimage transforms our pilgrims’ familiar social roles: to be a pilgrim is ultimately to question one’s own identity by placing oneself in situations and spaces that complicate and broaden that identity.18 The Christian and English identities that Chaucer’s pilgrims bring to bear on each other alternately obscure and refine images of England as a nation. By introducing spiritual desire and belief within both supranational and subnational contexts, the narrator promptly reminds us that these pilgrims are not the only believers about in the world or even members of the only communities that have called Britain home. Nature and belief are as effective in motivating international journeys as insular travels, for they push . . . palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; And specially from every shires ende Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for to seke That hen hath holpen whan that they were seeke. (13–­18) Our Canterbury-­bound pilgrims come expressly from England, but they appear in a “sondry londes” milieu that simultaneously draws them into closer familiarity with each other as it situates them on the capacious field of international religious devotion.19 The narrator conjures people whose belief takes them to shrines beyond their own shores at the same time that he invokes particular affiliations that draw our own pilgrims to 18.  Drawing on the work of Jill Mann and that of H. Marshall Leicester Jr., Lee Patterson shows that Chaucer’s “pilgrims are usually conceived less as objects to be detailed than as subjects caught in the very process of self-­construction” (Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 27–­30; citing Liecester, “The Art of Impersonation: A General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” PMLA 95 [1980], 221, 217; and Mann, Chaucer and the Medieval Estates, 66, 194). Leicester and Mann argue that the pilgrims are at once intensely individual and clearly drawn from pools of similar folk. 19.  Wallace reads the reference to palmers as a “somewhat” gratuitous allusion “to the dominant theme of the division of labor” in the Tales and notes that “even pilgrimage has its professional specialists” (Chaucerian Polity, 67). These lines also address the issue of foreign/local affinities and divisions.

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the Canterbury shrine of St. Thomas, the martyr known for his resistance to secular sovereignty’s claims and consequent death on order of an English king.20 Thus, readers realize the pilgrims’ distinctive familiarity with each other, with England and Canterbury, English Christianity’s home, in context of worldwide religious belief. Chaucer carefully limits our pilgrims’ famed diversity with their English language and home as well as with a modicum of Christian devotion. As Anderson tells us, the nation always has its limits. Here, it is a common spiritual desire rooted in the English Church’s history and emblematized by the Canterbury shrine, which predominantly attracted southern English, middle-­class pilgrims in Chaucer’s day. The General Prologue thus prepares us to understand the Canterbury-­bound community as new and known, insular and expansive, rooted in physical geography and adaptable—­because characterized by spiritual belief and the practice of pilgrimage. From its start, England is both a particular homeland and the locus of a particular faith: a community best imagined “nationally” in relation to distant shores. St. Thomas’s Canterbury shrine conjures England’s own history of conflict between religious and secular powers.21 But perhaps even more relevant is its attraction of pious folk “from every shires ende / of Engelond” (15–­16). The narrator thus specifies political communities smaller, more narrowly drawn and practically experienced than all of England. Shires are particularly significant as durable intermediary political units that hold together yet smaller communities regardless of changes at the national or royal level. They send representatives to Parliament, once including Chaucer himself, thus sustaining secular government. The shire reminds us how political communities coexist within and alongside each other in England and that these communities experience change and continuity over time.22 The Old English derivation of most of the vocabulary leading up to the mention of shires in lines 13 and 14 (seken, strondes, ferne, halwes, kowthe, sondry, londes) reinforces this emphasis on the island’s long, enduring cultural history.23 Chaucer presents his pilgrims and constructs their identities, com20.  Hastings, 203. 21.  On Becket in the South English Legendary, see Turville-­Petre, England the Nation, 63–­ 65. 22.  On the shire as an institution that produced the English nation, see Hastings, 40. For a detailed history of shires and hundreds, see Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities, 224–­29. 23.  Only the words straunge (Old French) and palmers (Anglo-­Norman), which gesture beyond insular boundaries, come from languages beyond Anglo Saxon.

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munal and individual, by juxtaposing concrete and abstract details, demonstrating that here English nationhood is both lived and imagined. Before we ever meet the pilgrims we learn that there are “wel nyne and twenty” of them (I. 24–­25). This practical description confronts us first with a number. The pilgrims are primarily a group of like things that fit into a category. Next we see them as a more cohesive “compaignye” and then immediately as “sondry folk,” which testifies to cohesion’s compatibility with diversity. Similarly chance and destiny combine to ensure that these individuals fall “by aventure” into fellowship (24–­ 25). But the interplay of present and future is even more striking here. Soon we see that “pilgrimes were they alle, / That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde” (25–­27). Their pilgrim identity precedes the journey that characterizes it and on which it partially depends. Their most basic commonality is, in fact, pilgrim status: they are believers in the powers of place and boundary crossings. They are voyagers who have left their private homes to travel toward a shared goal, albeit one we never see them reach. Just as this grand and ever unrealized outline of their association comes into view, the picture shifts, and Chaucer—­ as if randomly—­ adds new material information about a specific place, Southwark’s Tabard Inn, where “the stables and the chambers weren wyde” (28). This jostling between the abstract and concrete conditions of pilgrim togetherness evokes a community that is neither perfectly practical nor primarily conceptual, but is a meaningful combination of both. Material memories, intangible beliefs, and plans for a shared future introduce this community, a community bound by lived experience as well as imagination, in accord with Anderson. As Smith might say, both physical places and cultural modes of being together characterize the national home that their fellowship creates. Looking to the General Prologue’s end, we see how Herry’s storytelling proposition politicizes the pilgrims’ common experiences. It also exploits controversy’s power to knit them into a particular, decidedly political and cultural English community, which, Knapp explains, “is not one of unanimous agreement, but one that shares distinctive beliefs and distinctive controversies over belief.”24 Chaucer’s imagination molds his historical moment into a present conscious of a distinctly English future, wherein engaged and abiding controversy over belief binds community just as well as shared belief. In fact, Herry himself catalyzes a process of association already in progress. Although he has been read as the pseudo-­ 24.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England (in English),” 148.

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ruler of the pilgrim community and even an authorial voice, he cannot reliably control the new identities that their developing association produces.25 His plan requires the pilgrims’ belief in their own unity and elicits their diverse narratives, which simultaneously compromise that unity yet increase its national significance by committing them to sharing their imaginations of the past and future. By executing Herry’s plan, the pilgrims perform a kind of nationhood: they behave as a limited community under sovereign rule even as they transcend their moment by sharing what the past has taught them and looking toward a common future. Herry unifies the pilgrims through shared belief, but he fails to direct their beliefs as a religious leader might. I propose that we read Herry best as a catalyst, because he is the standard-­bearer of belief and imagination and (regardless of his much debated successes and failures) his leadership supplants Christian belief with the pilgrims’ belief in their own belonging to a community of storytellers and listeners. Reading him primarily as a catalyst clarifies how the pilgrims function as a nation, not simply how they parallel national form in miniature. By the end of the General Prologue, the pilgrims cohere primarily to reimagine their past and future through narrative, and only secondarily because they are English and Christian. As Michael Ignatieff writes, “nationalism is the claim that while men and women have many identities, it is the nation that provides them with their primary form of belonging.”26 The pilgrims’ English Christianity precedes their unity as storytellers, but this sequentially secondary identity eventually takes primary importance. Because storytelling demands sustained engagement and interpretation, the pilgrims’ belief in a shared identity as storytellers allows them, even commits them to debating virtually every other matter of national and international belief. The pilgrims, though not a nation alone, emblematize England and demonstrate how belief, debate, and sovereignty work in national community. The General Prologue presupposes the pilgrims’ Christianity and Englishness, more curiously exploring the nature of their belief in community and its connection to contro25.  On Herry as a pseudo-­ruler of the pilgrim body and an authorial voice in the Tales see David R. Pichaske and Laura Sweetland, “Chaucer on the Medieval Monarchy: Harry Bailly in the Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer Review 11 (1977): 179–­200 and Judith Ferster, Chaucer on Interpretation (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 1985), 139–­56, respectively. More recently, Craig Bertolet reads Herry as a sovereign power and communal gatekeeper, who excludes and terrifies pilgrims into silence capriciously in the style of Schmitt’s sovereign decider. Bertolet, “The Anxiety of Exclusion: Speech, Power, and Chaucer’s Manciple,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 33 (2011): 183–­218. 26. Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging, 5.

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versies over belief. This opening thus illuminates the form of this belief-­bound community (that it is imagined), leaving its content (that it is limited by English Christianity) largely in the shadow. Since we meet the pilgrims before they consent to Herry’s rule, we see how will, integrating both consent and belief, legitimates their incorporation. If the others are anything like pilgrim Chaucer, who approaches pilgrimage “with ful devout corage,” they are eager to participate in community based not solely on practical experience but also on belief in unities that transcend time and space. These pilgrims believe that “the hooly blissful martir . . . hem hath holpen whan that they were seke,” and they are social enough to converse and to enter into the casual fellowship Chaucer mentions. Herry’s governance and rules function much like laws and other facts of national existence in Reynolds’s view. Herry’s “laws” advance the pilgrims’ sense of solidarity and educe their avowed belief that they are one company with “oon assent” and their own “conseil” to offer, for Herry’s governance encourages the future-­looking oaths they finally make. Yet coercion and contradictions lace the process that nurtures this solidarity, implying that even communities founded on consent and shared belief are bound to corruption. Reynolds’s insights illuminate belief’s force in Herry’s proposal, which he frames with a reminder of the pilgrims’ Christian belief in St. Thomas’s healing power and a wish that “the blissful martyr quite” them their “meede” (770). While they are in a faithful mood, he turns their minds toward secular aspects of social and political community, insisting that their jovial spirit inspires him and that formalizing their social life simply responds to their nature. He says, And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye, Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye; For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon To ride by the weye doumb as a stoon; And therefore wol I maken yow disport, As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort. (771–­76) Herry thus matches the seeming gratuitousness of his guidance with the predictability of the pilgrims’ playful tale-­telling; their predilection for comfort and silence’s inability to deliver such things warrants Herry’s intervention. He presents himself as both judge and insurer, suggesting that since the pilgrims already believe in comfort, play, and storytelling, his governance will only sustain a good thing in progress.

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Though not quite menacing, Herry’s presentation seems contrived, because it promotes the status quo so overzealously. Although he asks for and enjoys the pilgrims’ consent, his ban on extramural speech and debate about his judgment reeks of tyranny.27 Herry continues, And if yow liketh al by oon assent For to stonden at my juggement And for to werken as I shall yow seye Tomorowe, whan ye ridden by the weye, Now, by me fader soule that is deed, But ye be myrie, I wol yeve yow myn heed! Hoold up youre hondes, withouten moore speche. (777–­83) It is unclear whether Herry’s prohibition of “moore speeche” is self-­ reflexive or aimed at the pilgrims; and readers must ask whether he means to put an end to his pitch or ensure that it succeeds. Regardless of his intent, the ban works in both directions and complicates the obviously positive value of speech to which Herry points saying, “For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon / To ride by the weye doumb as a stoon” (773–­ 74). Thus after marking silence with a negative value and the playful exchange of tale-­telling with a positive one, he forbids discussion of his governorship, thereby designating verbal exchange for the realm of merry-­making rather than for that of decision-­making. Decision-­making beyond the simple offering of consent (any decision-­making that entails deliberation or judgment) remains formally with Herry. Despite these relegations, the diverse and multiple opinions of the Canterbury pilgrims as well as those of the imagined readers circulate vigorously, evidenced by authorial anxiety. In fact, the elaborate and deliberative judgment the pilgrims pass on each other in their narrative offerings prove more powerful and memorable than any official arbitration or trophy-­ meal (the supposed stakes of the game) could be. If we read Herry as a pseudo-­king of a pseudo-­nation, he is a king without absolute jurisdiction; he ultimately shares his limited jurisdiction like a true sovereign according with most medieval political theory despite his absolutist boasts and tyrannical tendencies.28 The failed circumscription of decision-­making is neither the only 27.  Bertolet, “The Anxiety of Exclusion” provides a slightly different perspective. 28.  On Herry’s character both in the Tales and in the rich critical history, see Tara N. Williams, “The Host, His Wife, and Their Communities in the Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer Review 42 (2008): 383–­408.

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overturned premise nor Herry’s boldest attempt to control the pilgrims’ uncertain future. Herry’s oath, “Now, by me fader soule that is deed, / But ye be myrie, I wol yeve yow myn heed!” makes demands on both past and future, on both spiritual and secular life (781–­82). This oath binds his integrity to his father’s soul and promises the pilgrims his head if his plan fails and they are not merry. Thus we should understand that Herry ultimately rests not only his own fate, both literally and figuratively signified by his head, but also the remains of his dead father—­the senior Bailly’s soul as well as Herry’s ancestral integrity—­in the pilgrims’ hands, on their tale-­telling abilities, and future happiness. His oath reinvests all he and his patrimony are worth in the pilgrims’ sociability and common future; in this way, Herry binds his own identity to the pilgrims’ ability to behave as a national group. Although Herry’s oath may seem entirely absurd and is indeed poised for comic-­effect on the surface, it performs a fundamental movement away from clan and family-­based understandings of nacioun toward a cross-­class governmental, civic, and political understanding of national community. At the same time, Herry catalyzes the pilgrims’ faith in spiritual life, producing their belief in secular social life. Regardless of whether we read Herry’s fervor as desperation, humor, earnestness, or a mixture of the three, he is first to admit that he believes in the pilgrim community. He believes that together they are and will be something more than what they individually and immediately appear to be. His oath juxtaposes and submits, for his share in the compact, vital material and immaterial components of his individual identity. In this way, belief binds Herry’s identity to the group’s continued prosperity. This scene not only characterizes the pilgrim community but also reveals deep functional similarities between oath-­making and other modes of national constitution. According to Anderson, war builds nations by providing an opportunity to demonstrate belief in national futures; nations demand that their members believe in them enough to fight, or to force others to fight, for their continuity: to kill and die for the nation. Linking Anderson’s imagined national community with Chaucer’s “nine and twenty in a compagnie assembled at the Tabard and on the road to Canterbury—­for centuries,” Knapp posits, “One might say that the community the pilgrims form is only an imaginary one—­nobody will fight a war for it. But then again, people who will fight wars have to encounter images of those of their fellows whom they have not met, and those images must resonate with their sense of those they have in order for a community to form.”29 Here 29.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England,” 132.

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Knapp explains what both Chaucer and Anderson suggest: national communities require a combination of imagination, familiarity with some fellows, and enough belief in community to generate willingness to sacrifice for it. War and sacrificed lives build nations by anticipating a people’s common future and by providing an opportunity to demonstrate belief in the nation and its future. As his constant swearing testifies, Herry is fascinated with oaths’ potential to negotiate the future and perhaps to secularize belief expressly by taking the lord’s name in vain and thereby investing secular vanities with meaning. By competing for a meal, the pilgrims diffuse the harm differences pose and enjoy opportunities to preserve, assert, and share their local and personal peculiarities in meaningful ways. Thus Herry imagines a fellowship that works like a nation by secularizing belief: he prepares the pilgrims to participate in their larger English nation. Herry may not fight a war, but he does risk himself for his belief in the community he imagines. Likewise, by making their oaths and swearing to follow Herry’s rules, the pilgrims perform their belief in an uncertain future. In theory, their belief in the same contestable and unpredictable future unites them like warriors; they are in the thick of things together yet retain their own distinct beliefs and exchange them through storytelling. Herry’s desire for a unanimous decision, “oon assent,” early in this community’s story accentuates the pilgrims’ following lack of unanimity and characteristic diversity of opinion.30 It also harkens back to that common spiritual desire that draws them to the Tabard on the road to Canterbury. Here the pilgrims accept Herry’s governorship unanimously, relatively quickly, without debate, but with a sort of resignation. Their unanimous assent, whether voluntary or coerced, performs their belief in their unity as well as in their own future potential. As Chaucer the pilgrim remembers it: “Oure conseil was nat longe for to seche. / Us thoughte it was not worth to make it wys, / And graunted hym withouten more avys” (785–­86). The pilgrims, failing to muster energy for a good decision, opt for an easy one. At the moment, this community would seem to accept speech as a mode of merry-­making and pleasure-­seeking rather than the public tool for decision-­making it aspires to be in many of their tales. Their uncharacteristic apathy facilitates their incorporation as a community then vanishes as the tales proceed to test the meaning of consent and its legitimacy in founding social structures. Herry’s zealous enthusiasm meets the pilgrims’ apathy, their resistance to rigorous thinking, and finally their unanimous affirmative decision in this 30.  Paul Strohm, Social Chaucer, 176, notes the rarity of oon assent.

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scene. This exchange dramatizes the place of zealousness in community building, specifically Herry’s willingness to die or to sacrifice honor for sociability’s sake, yet perhaps more significantly, it examines the function of apathy in nation formation. The pilgrims’ formal relationship begins with a sentimental disjunction, bringing us to these questions: who must imagine a community to make it exist? How much must members believe in their imagined community to keep it afloat? Must they all believe the same thing with the same fervency? Can dissonance attend the process of coming to national consciousness? Of course, the dissonance here is harmonized before readers learn of it. The pilgrims’ unanimous decision, which formalizes their unity as the merry group their catalyst recognizes, depends on their emotional disconnection from him. They need not believe fervently in perfect unity but believe just enough to pledge belief. Herry converts spiritual to secular unity, functional solidarity, though no unity is absolute here. Significantly, after Herry explicates the game’s rules, the pilgrims accept him and his project more enthusiastically. As in Reynolds’s explanation of dynamics between practical government and belief in nationhood, the institutionalization and regulation of the pilgrims’ relationship energizes their solidarity. But Herry offers more than governance. His rules commit the pilgrims to a narrative past and a performative present; they swear their own oaths only after they learn that he will judge their abilities to put the group in productive contact with both. Belaboring the projected course, Herry offers, This is the point, to speken short and pleyn, That eche of yow, to shorte with oure weye, In this viage shal telle tales tweye To Canterbury-­ward, I mene it so, And homward he shal tellen othere two, Of aventures that whilom han bifalle. And which of yow that bereth hym best of alle—­ That is to seyn, that telleth in this caas Tales of best sentence and moost solaas—­ Shall have a soper at oure aller cost Here in this place, sittynge by this post, Whan that we come agayn fro Canterbury. (790–­801) He clarifies with phrases like “short and pleyn,” “I mene it so,” “That is to seyn,” and “in this caas.” At the outset, Herry scripts the pilgrimage so

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tightly as to preclude the unexpected: the start and end points are the same, and tales that recount the past while aiming for best meaning and most pleasure will pave the road. To offer both wisdom and fun in the present moment, the pilgrims must imagine as already past the storytelling pilgrimage that will sustain their communal life. Thus Herry invests the pilgrims simultaneously in a narratable past and a present made meaningful by belief in continuity and future rewards. Looking closer, we see that the future is, nevertheless, uncertain—­depending as it does on narratives yet to be told and on a game anyone might win. Still, it remains a shared future full of possibility because of its uncertainty, as Burger posits.31 Here, as in religion, belief fills certainty’s void. Herry asks the pilgrims to enact their national unity: before the past has actually happened, they must imagine, share, and believe in it in order to sustain their present and future communal life. The pilgrims’ consent to Herry’s rules and imagination invests their belief, their money, and their desires for belonging and being understood, their domesticity, in the possibilities of an uncertain but shared future. Herry not only compels their return to his inn but also makes it pivotal in their journey by christening it a sort of home: the way there from Canterbury is “homward” (794).32 The Tabard’s transformation into a communal (if temporary) home shows how the term’s mutability parallels communal mutability—­as the pilgrims add a home, they add a communal identity. Their journey’s terminus is a homecoming to be celebrated with the incomparable comfort of a meal and the strains of an exclusive victory that will cost losers and interject new hierarchy into the community. In the frame tale as in the cycle tales, home signifies tense disparities and rare comforts. Herry first claims his game will “coste noght,” but he soon admits that comfort and camaraderie will surely cost each pilgrim a little and potentially cost gainsayers much more (as rebels pay all they “spenden by the weye”) (768, 806). Regardless of who wins the competition, Herry wins their business. This association, like the historical English nation from which its constituents come, requires not only belief and obedience to government but also monetary investment. At this juncture the pilgrims show enough interest to negotiate “a soper at a certeyn pris” and also to reiterate and strengthen many of their compact’s original terms, including unanimity (815). Nevertheless, communal participation’s costs are complicated. Actual 31. Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 186–­207, esp. 198–­99. 32.  For a different view see Akbari, “Orientation and Nation,” 104–­5.

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participation, storytelling, depends on narration; narrative success depends on narrative capacity to transmit meaning and pleasure to the community. This transmission necessitates English language and access to cultural history. As Chaucer imagines it, Herry’s tale-­telling game transforms human history into a currency of social contribution and, ultimately, a means of communal continuity. Shared currency usually appears as a concrete fact of national existence, but by using stories as communal contribution Herry conflates currency with imagination, pulling the pilgrims into an emblematic national community through concrete and abstract means at once. Payment and creativity fuse in storytelling here. At any rate, the pilgrims’ oaths affirm their own belief in their community. By the time they swear “[w]ith ful glad herte,” they seem truly excited to participate (811). Nevertheless, Herry’s failure to mention the costs of comradeship immediately and his earlier ban on deliberation admit that even nations bound by law, belief, and a shared past and future rest on foundations of coercion and dishonesty. “It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny,” writes Anderson, invoking the randomness that subtends national communities.33 Nations are not essential communities predestined to spring magically from the land with political force, but rather those whose constituents will believe some such myth. Nations are able to translate shared memories through cultural performance into communal identity and national narrative, thereby rendering their phenomenological circumstances politically significant and investing their chance occurrences with meaning. They are communities that neither enjoy perfectly homogenous beliefs and experiences nor where everything goes according to plan and sequence, but communities that enjoy enough cohesion to ensure continuity long enough to be imagined. Take for example the Knight’s chance ascendancy to the Canterbury Tales’ inaugural storytelling position, which the pilgrims receive gladly as if fated “were it by aventure, or sort, or cas” (844). Likewise, Chaucerians typically consider the Miller’s belligerent usurpation of the Monk’s “rightful” position in the order of tellers typical of Chaucer’s communal imagination, even though it appears most obviously as a strange and unfortunate mistake. The pilgrim body does not disintegrate when the rules break and the Miller bucks Herry’s judgment. Instead codes of conduct and interaction transform: tale-­telling fast becomes a tool, even a weapon for insult in addition to repayment, and a string of disruptions that finally seem custom33. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 12.

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ary commences early. The pilgrims’ unanimous consent transforms into their capacity to cohere on the road to Canterbury even as ideological divides proliferate, as they do in all nations over time. Herry Bailly’s representation of Chaucer’s pilgrim community through concepts of domesticity and belief upsets divisions among more recent national formulations as well as among those of his own time, reminding us how old and messy a political concept the nation is. Ignatieff’s distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism clarifies this. He describes civic nationalism as a doctrine of belonging based not on any exclusive identity, ethnic or otherwise, but on citizens’ subscription “to the nation’s political creed,” and ultimately on common law.34 In contrast, ethnic nationalism claims to bind people through ethnicity. Ignatieff cites post-­Napoleanic occupation Germany as an exemplar of Western ethnic nationalism: What gave unity to the nation, what made it a home, a place of passionate attachment, was not the cold contrivance of shared rights but the people’s preexisting ethnic characteristics: their language, religion, customs, and traditions. . . . Ethnic nationalism claims . . . that an individual’s deepest attachments are inherited, not chosen. It is the national community that defines the individual, not the individuals who define the national community.35

Turville-­Petre holds that medieval English forms of nationhood are ethnic in this way.36 Predictably, many Chaucerians reject the possibility that Chaucer’s serious concerns include the English nation. Chaucerian domesticity nevertheless resonates with Turville-­ Petre’s and Ignatieff’s terms, depending upon the English vernacular, religion, and culture, yet it revises them with its incorporation of deliberation, consent, and storytelling. As we have seen, Chaucer imagines a nation of English pilgrims who come to be at home together through both chosen and inherent attachments. They characterize their home via “passionate attachment” as well as prejudice and rivalry, and even comfortable detachments: they somehow harmonize desire to believe and willingness to pledge with reticence. The General Prologue imagines a nation that is neither wholly ethnic 34. Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging, 6. 35.  Ibid., 7–­8. Igatieff’s use of the word “creed” reminds us that national belonging depends on belief akin to that which unites religious bodies like the Church. 36.  Turville-­Petre, England the Nation, 17.

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nor purely civic in Ignatieff’s terms, but rather a hybrid form. I contend that for Chaucer as for Nicole Oresme, who emphasizes natural geography alongside contrived social processes of communication, cooperation, and deliberation in sovereignty, deep hybridity is key: ultimately, the nation is partially natural and partially artificial.37 Chaucer’s pilgrim community is based in cultural, including religious, affinities and yet contingent on communal deliberation and political participation. The pilgrims’ behavior suggests investment in both ethnic and civic modes of belonging to their insular community. This community derives from preestablished ethnic national characteristics like language, religion, and custom; it continues due to belief in the possibilities, solidarities, and flexibilities that civic nationhood negotiates.

Internationalism and Transcendence: National Language and Literature at Work For Chaucer, as for Glissant, internationalism and the nation define each other. In Glissant’s formulation, national literature’s very function is to foster international relationships and conversations. Despite the above-­ noted Chaucerian insistence on an internationalism that precludes nationalism, several twenty-­first-­century Chaucerians elucidate the Canterbury Tales’ complicated imagination of community and its meditation on the particular debates, desires, civic institutions, and international relationships that define fourteenth-­century England. According to Burger, the Tales reflects a pre-­nation-­state nation, which is perpetually in process and unpredictably moving “beyond things as they are.”38 Burger shows that because of both the flexibility with which the Tales imagines an English national community and the oppositional ways in which postcolonial theory allows readers to imagine the Tales, Chaucer’s work illuminates the modern nation-­state’s successes and limitations. Meanwhile, Knapp reads the Tales as an imagination of England very much invested in present and practical realities, while actively interpreting them to move beyond, to produce, and to reveal national possibility based on its citizenry’s linguistic affinities and common beliefs.39 Even Ardis Butterfield, who finds national discourse deeply problematic, acknowledges late fourteenth-­century Englishness as an especially capacious and dynamic concept to which Chaucer contributes with his linguistic innova37. Oresme, Le livre de politiques d’Aristote, 291–­92. 38. Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 199. 39.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England,” 142.

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tions as well as his examinations of prejudice and tolerance in the General Prologue.40 All these Chaucerians suggest that the Canterbury Tales scrutinizes and intervenes in an evolving narrative of English nationhood. Here, the nation sustains (and is sustained by) ideas and networks of exchange that often transcend the modern nation-­state, xenophobia, and absolute government, yet they generate identities and institutions that resist universal transcendence, reinforce international boundaries as well as alliances, and exclude others. David Wallace’s remains the most compelling voice against using national discourse to read Chaucerian community, and yet his central insights call that position into question in light of medieval literature’s obsession with Troy and Thebes and the postcolonial nation’s decidedly flexible form. Wallace argues that guild consciousness rather than national consciousness “generates and sustains the felaweshipe of the Canterbury Tales.”41 He presents “the medieval guild as a shape-­shifting phenomenon, forever responsive to and generative of new cultural and economic pressures, rather than as an ideal, hence ahistorical, form,” yet his formulation idealizes the guild, associating it with perpetual fellowship and flexibility, while relegating nation to its associations with absolutism and tyranny.42 Wallace chooses the guild model in part because of its temporary, “protean” nature, which matches the pilgrim company’s expected trajectory and clashes with the modern nation’s desire for continuity. Nevertheless, specters of Troy and Thebes, medieval literary tradition’s ubiquitous fallen nations, characterize nationhood as an inevitably temporary arrangement as does Oresme’s philosophy.43 So, too, postcolonial formulations of nationhood like Glissant’s revel in temporary association and change. Oddly enough, while the pilgrim community shows no interest in eternal incorporation, we never see them go their separate ways. This may reflect the Tales’ supposed unfinished nature. However, the Parson’s Tale and Chaucer’s “Retraction” firmly bookend our fissured volumes, leaving the pilgrims on the road, not quite at a “thropes ende,” and us in suspension, which perpetuates our imagined 40.  Butterfield, “Nationhood.” 41. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 76. 42.  Ibid., 84. 43.  According to Oresme, Christ’s “kingdom will be without end” (royalme sera sans fin), while no other kingdom “lasts for all time, no other ought to stretch itself to all places” (dure tous temps, nul ne se doit estendre par tous lieu) (Le livre de politiques d’Aristote, 292). See Sylvia Federico, New Troy: Fantasies of Empire in the Late Middle Ages (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003) and Alex Mueller, Translating Troy: Provincial Politics in Alliterative Romance (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013) on the politics of Troy in medieval literature.

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community’s unity, even as Chaucer backs out of the narrator’s role and into the author’s to retract it (X. 12). At any rate, guild consciousness and national consciousness do intersect for Wallace: “guild membership nurtures political intelligence through the internal workings of corporate procedures, and also through the imagining of local, national, and transnational structures of authority.”44 Wallace’s “guild consciousness,” like Andersonian national consciousness, is both imaginary, linking members who will never meet, and transcendent, conjuring a community composed of living and dead members.45 It works as a displaced form of national consciousness, while Wallace’s observations about guilds indicate a national horizon beyond what the guilds themselves instantiate. In fact, his argument delineates what Burger and Knapp recognize: Chaucer’s imagined community depends equally on the new and the known, on present practicalities and on that which can only be experienced via belief because it belongs to the future. Guild consciousness is an important component of late medieval English national consciousness as well as a factor that points toward a more transcendent national whole. Chaucer’s sundry folk literally revel in the possibilities of imagined community; they celebrate, drink, and play because they believe in a simultaneously historical and ideal, local and transcendent nationhood. They tell tales about the past (recent as well as ancient), thus sustaining their community in the present and performing their desire for a yet unknown future.46 Chaucer introduces various professions, hometowns, international spheres of knowledge, and languages along with his pilgrims, thus positioning Englishness as one among several important markers of cultural identity, some more general and others more specific than En­ glish itself. Thus Englishness emerges as a national identity primarily through cultural relationality: the Canterbury Tales’ mise-­en-­scène and its pilgrims’ portraits scrutinize nationality by expressing “le rapport d’un people a l’autre,” or diversity, as Glissant presents it.47 This diversity “signifie l’effort de l’esprit humain vers une relation transversale, 44. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 83. 45. Ibid. 46.  The Canterbury-­bound pilgrims are both pedagogical objects and performative subjects in Homi Bhabha’s formulation. The Canterbury Tales offers a landscape on which “the scraps, patches and rags of daily life” are “repeatedly turned into the signs of a coherent national culture, while the very act of narrative performance interpellates a growing circle of national subjects” (“DissemiNation,” 145). 47. Glissant, Le discourse antillais, 332.

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sans transcendence universaliste.”48 Glissant specifies the value of relationships between discrete groups—­groups that somehow manage to elude universalist transcendence, remaining distinct even as they forge cross-­cultural connections. Glissant describes an internationalism that is neither cosmopolitanism nor transnationalism; such internationalism is an essential ingredient in every viable national literature. But Glissant’s internationalism is no essence, no category, nor even a form of authenticity; it is rather national literature’s “fonction analytique et politique,” effected by a certain set of literary processes, “laquelle ne va pas sans remise en question de soi-­même.”49 Such internationalism is how nationalism ought to work in the world. Here nationalism and internationalism are interdependent in and with the complex analytic, political, and (I would add) artistic process that we call literature. National literature registers cultural similarities and differences through this model; accordingly, opacities, or impasses, and points of connection and transmission coexist on this international field. Both Chaucer and Glissant work in vernaculars, Middle English and Creole respectively, changing rapidly in the shadow of more stable French literatures. Each writes for an insular, vernacular audience that is culturally marginal on the international scene in his own moment, and each works to increase the cultural capital of his mother tongue. Their historical contexts and relation to Frenchness, however, are different and unique. Glissant, a twentieth-­century black Martinican writer, is more wary of universal transcendence’s consequence for his national culture. Chaucer, whose nation’s strong military belied its cultural anxieties, presents transcendence and international affiliations somewhat less problematically. Building upon the above-­noted Chaucerian insights in light of Glissant’s theory of national literature, the following readings demonstrate how the General Prologue functions as national literature by engaging in internationalism. Ultimately, the text puts both a historical England and a more ideal Englishness into conversation with internationalism, emphasizing diversity and calling Englishness into question through its very performance. Across the board, the pilgrims’ lived experience remains significant even as they join a fellowship that pushes them to adopt new roles and to idealize, romanticize, sensationalize, anachronize, and otherwise break with historical reality in their tales. Many of the pilgrims do bring their 48.  Ibid., 327. 49. Ibid.

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local experiences with them, traveling in groups, continuing to be involved in their local lives and communities even on the road.50 Others bring international connections to bear on the decidedly insular pilgrimage. Chaucer describes the pilgrims not simply as “twenty-­nine” but rather “nyne and twenty,” an expression that emphasizes the divisibility of subgroups within groups. The Knight, Squire, and Yeoman, three male members of one household, are the first pilgrims and also the first subgroup we meet. The Parson and Plowman are brothers, the Summoner and Pardoner are friends (and singing partners), the Man of Law and Franklin arrive together, and the Prioress brings along another nun and three priests (presumably of one order and priory). A faceless parish guild, reified by fine livery, “[f]ull freshe and newe . . . geere,” also appears at the Tabard Inn with a cook hired for the occasion (I. 365, 369). Here subgroups defined by older more seemingly natural biological and spiritual affinities arrive alongside those bound by contrived or artificial secular and social ties. This particular induction of whole groups as well as individuals into the pilgrim body cogently expresses the Canterbury Tales’ interest in federal organization of smaller communal units. Although these units exist for various reasons, the pilgrims seem to ratify the fellowship for the same reasons in their unanimous agreement. In any case, their incorporation federates the subgroups, just as those groups ground the member-­pilgrims, rendering them more realistic, tangible, and historical. Regardless of whether our pilgrims come with groups or from named locales, most are involved with their local hometowns and communities. Several hail from specific places and directions such as Norfolk and Dartmouth, yet the narrator identifies even those dwelling in unnamed places through their local affiliations. For example, he reports the Friar’s familiarity with franklins in his vicinity (I. 215–­16), while our own Franklin is known as “Seint Julian . . . in his contree” for his great hospitality; the Summoner is a fine “felawe” and—­for better or worse—­confidant and advisor to “[t]he yonge girles of the diocise” (340, 648, 664). Such 50.  Our pilgrims’ ability to be at home on the road is especially interesting considering the mobility of England’s late medieval royal court, which also travelled as a group with its specific culture and laws. Though the king’s household appeared as strings of wagon and horses less frequently in fourteenth century than earlier, Gerald Harriss explains that “Edward’s preference for a monument to chivalry meant that the English monarchy continued to govern not from a palace in the capital but from a series of country houses between which it was in constant peregrination. The court moved between 50 and 100 times a year, on average every 3.5 to 7 days, covering a distance of between 10 and 20 miles each day” (Shaping the Nation: England 1360–­1461 [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005], 15–­16).

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descriptions usher the pilgrims’ local experiences into the tale-­telling fellowship along with the pilgrims themselves. Sociability and local affiliation mark these English folk regardless of their character flaws, and their local experiences prepare them to engage with and to recognize their new fellows as old familiars. Such primarily practical associations often stand alongside belief and imagination-­bound identities, characterizing our pilgrims as ideals and exemplars within their expansive English or international ambits. Chaucer describes the pilgrims’ merits and spheres of knowledge with a string of diverse ranges, showing readers how authoritative spheres overlap. For example, our Friar is the most articulate and social individual in all four fraternal orders, and “[n]oher so bisy a man” as Sergeant of Law “ther nas”; the Shipman’s skill is unparalleled from Hull to Carthage, and he, moreover, “knew alle the havens . . . / From Gootlond to the cape of Fynyster, / And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne” (I. 321, 407–­9). Certainly, “in al this world ne was ther noon” like our own Physician, meanwhile the Manciple deceives a dozen lawyers “[w]orthy to been stywardes of rente and lond / Of any lord that is in Engelond”; and our Pardoner is unique “of his craft . . . fro Berwyk unto Ware” (412, 579–­80, 691). Finally, as our Host appears, the narrator assures us that he is the fairest burgess in all Cheapside (754). These intersecting spheres immediately impress readers with each pilgrim’s extraordinary scope: whether the narrator conjures the space between the Swedish and the Galician coasts or that between Jutland and Brittany in the Shipman’s portrait, he means that the Shipman really knows his way around the sea; so too the space from Berwick to Ware indicates the Pardoner’s peculiarity; likewise all of Cheapside is the field that proves the Host’s exemplary fairness. Each different unit holds power to corroborate the narrator’s exceptional claims; thus Chaucer insists that such diverse expanses are both authoritative and relative, refusing to use any one unit consistently. There is no final resolution or circumscription of all ranges into one definitive super-­space; no space prevails as the most outstanding; they are mutually inclusive. Rather than insist that the entire world or all England is the sole field on which greatness must be proven, the narrator offers several authoritative national and international spheres of influence. One might suggest that he fails to name his nation’s proper limits here, and yet this string of spaces so aptly expresses Chaucer’s attitude toward internationalism as English national literature’s very function. Specific pilgrims represent these spaces, from neighborhood to all creation, thus bringing them into con-

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tinuing and unfixed interrelation. Chaucer is less concerned with demarcating England’s limits than with considering the sundry ways English folk negotiate them ultimately to create a nation-­space. Even more interesting are the ideas, opinions, and experiences—­ foreign and local—­that they collect within home’s insular sphere. Geographic boundaries, which are neither simply natural nor solely cultural, are of special significance, because as John Armstrong points out, they “are not only tangible” but also intensely “symbolic.”51 Here they unite people through practical experiences of local life, but also imbue identity with symbolic values and England with worth even and especially when they characterize the Canterbury-­ bound pilgrims by transcending England. The Knight’s portrait exemplifies geography’s significance best, reinvoking and personalizing the reality of crossable boundaries that the General Prologue suggests earlier. His world is divided into two grand belief-­based domains in which he proves himself as a knight and vassal: “Ful worthy was he in his lordes were, / And thereto hadde he riden no man ferre, / As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse” (47–­49). Chaucer does not present these territories geographically but rather in terms of their inhabitants’ beliefs and, by extension, religious politics. Yet insofar as our Knight’s “worthynesse” takes center stage and these disparate lands equally offer distances for the Knight to cross and thereby to distinguish himself, their differences are incidental (50). At the same time we can differentiate between beliefs and investments within these idealized realms of cristendom and hethenesse; for example, the Knight’s own interests appear divisible from those of his lord. Despite his great worthiness, he still fights “his lordes were” as a loyal vassal rather than a faithful patriot fighting a national war. When matters of belief come into sharper focus, stark differences even between “cristendom” and “hethenesse” fade among nuanced and intermediate communal distinctions. Although the Knight sweeps from Russia to Morocco, “only campaigns against Moslems, schismatics (Russian Orthodox), and pagans are enumerated”; Chaucer thus betrays his special interest in how religious identity shapes political identity, military conflict, and cultural boundaries.52 This crusader’s portrait confronts readers with rifts among Christian folk, as does his son the Squire’s, and ultimately also with greater divisions between more disparate religious communities. We see at last a 51.  John A. Armstrong, Nations Before Nationalism (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1982), 9. 52. Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, 801.

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multihued spectrum of religious difference and conflict. Chaucer reifies the Knight’s English Christian identity in relation to a spectrum of international religious communities from schismatics to pagans. This informative portrait begins generally and grows quite specific. It also includes the first direct reference to nation in the Canterbury Tales. We apprehend the Knight’s superlative worthiness first through comparison with peers from “alle nacions,” which presumably includes nations of hethenesse, and then in the narrower league of Christian nations: Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne Aboven alle nacions in Pruce; In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce, No Cristen man so ofte of his degree. (52–­55) This is the first time the word nacioun appears in the Canterbury Tales. It cannot reasonably indicate family or kin, but instead suggests England and the English not only as a linguistic and ethnic group but also as a community represented by a national military. Here knights represent nations; this presentation temporarily neutralizes their individuality just as it evokes a chivalry that crosses political, linguistic, and national boundaries. We cannot be sure whether our Knight takes this place of honor because of his nation’s worthiness or his own, but this honor simultaneously increases that of both individual and nation. For a moment, the individual and his nation are inseparable, their worth and identities intertwined.53 Our Knight emerges as both a participant in the international institution of knighthood, a trained and noble warrior with important ties to international counterparts, and as an eminent representative of his own English nation, synecdochically standing in for it. The second example of his worthiness sets him above members of his own group; the narrator distinguishes the Knight because his experience 53.  I have noted that Chaucer’s oft-­commended internationalism entails a false distinction between national and international triumphs. Turville-­ Petre explains the fourteenth-­century appearance of fine Middle English works like the Canterbury Tales as evidence “that English could now take its place as one of the established vernacular languages of literature. As Elizabeth Salter says of Chaucer: ‘his use of English is the triumph of internationalism’” (“The Brutus Prologue to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” 341). In the Glissantian sense that internationalism expresses relation between comparable, but discrete ethnic groups, its prerequisite would be nationhood. The Knight exemplifies this. In accord with Salter and Turville-­Petre, I see Chaucer’s project as participatory, based on a relational imagination of literary culture and political community, and, drawing on Glissant, I must also recognize this imagination as national.

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exceeds all others in his religion and class-­based category. We understand his prominence, nonetheless, through his categorization with Christian men of his rank, a category that includes those beyond the borders of Englishness, yet within Christian knighthood’s limits. In this context, the Knight is more standout than typical. Here affinity cooperates with exception: the Knight towers above groups to which he clearly belongs. By naming, isolating, and juxtaposing various pools of comparison—­national on one hand and religious and class-­based on the other—­Chaucer insists that we recognize both their divisibility and the ways in which they dovetail. He delineates individual identity primarily in context of comparable identities; likewise he defines English national identity in relation to comparable, though not identical nations: internationally. Here, national identity calls itself into question by performing and unraveling itself through intricate cross-­cultural relationships, as in Glissant’s national literature. Criticism stresses that Chaucer’s pilgrims are a well-­traveled bunch boasting much international experience, but those who remain near home can also teach. Our pilgrims span the spectrum from sophisticated world-­travelers to provincial bumpkins. Even sheltered pilgrims like the Prioress and Friar illuminate the interdependence of nation and internationalism. These pilgrims have important relationships with both international languages of cultural power and the domestic spaces in which they wield that power, relationships that the universal Church cannot contain even as it scripts their conventional social roles. Their ways of speaking demonstrate how language, like national literature, works as a cultural tool, forging transnational associations, and serves simultaneously as a cultural marker, imparting national distinctiveness to its users. The Prioress and Friar routinely use language as cultural currency at home in England, anticipating how narrative defines a national community even as it queries national identity within the pilgrims’ competitive storytelling community. The Prioress’s language use makes two statements about English nationhood. Her sensational, anti-­Semitic tale admits that those who stay closest to home tend toward crude xenophobia, yet her Stratford French implies that one need not look beyond England for learned refinement. These statements fit uncomfortably together probing the roles domesticity and language play vis-­à-­vis English nationhood. We first encounter the Prioress between the Knight-­Squire-­Yeoman household and the lone out-­riding Monk. She leads one of the two largest (five-­member) subgroups, but the narrator covers the other four members of her priory in

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just two lines. W. Rothwell explains that the Prioress’s juxtaposition with two “different brands of uncompromising masculinity” and her French “of Stratford atte Bowe,” which is only misunderstood as an inferior form, signify her “insular horizon” (125). He maintains that she appears as “an intelligent upper-­class woman who is cultivated but not versed in the ways of the world.”54 Regardless of whether we accept Stratford French as “proper” French, that language testifies to England’s own cultural and linguistic diversity. This notion that one can be cultivated in England but not quite versed in worldly ways affirms the particularity of English national identity effectively, yet modestly. Even as the Prioress’s French presents a distinctive view of multilingual English culture, her elegant yet contrived mastery of it reminds us that English society includes domestic spaces, like convents, where one might garner a small but noteworthy degree of cultivation. Not simply Anglo-­Norman, this French spoken precisely “[a]fter the scole of Stratford atte Bowe” is both borrowed and homespun, English and learned: neither an aristocratic mother tongue nor an utterly foreign tongue. Indeed, as Butterfield writes, “To gain real cultural power, a language must be both more and less than a mother tongue.”55 French is never simply the Prioress’s own, and it ultimately obscures distinctions between worldly and domestic, international and national, spheres of knowledge. Although “Frenssh of Parys” remains “to hire unknowe,” the Prioress’s ability to speak Anglo-­ French “ful faire and fetisly” at home challenges the fields of knowledge and skill that the men appearing before and after her exemplify (124–­ 26). Despite following a military household at a time when francophone English kings routinely claimed France’s throne, she is the pilgrim most fluent in a language with immediate continental roots and the one who tells the most fiercely xenophobic tale. The nationalisms Chaucer engages here are not simple or predictable constructs: xenophobia and insularity arrive in tandem, yet the Prioress’s isolationist subjectivity boasts continental conduits. Her uses of language define her national identity even as they call its ethics into question in Glissant’s terms. The Prioress’s French is notable, because it is neither her mother 54.  W[illiam] Rothwell, “Stratford Atte Bowe Re-­visited,” Chaucer Review 36 (2001): 184–­207, 186, 201, 187. On the cultural and political circumstances of the Hundred Years War, the linguistic diversity of Chaucer’s times and texts, and teaching, learning, and speaking French in medieval England, see Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy; Lerer, Inventing English, 54–­69; and Andrew Taylor, “‘Moult Bien Parloit et Lisoit le Franchois,’ or Did Richard II Read with a Picard Accent?” in The Vulgar Tongue, 132–­43. 55. Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 347.

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tongue (being learned at school and spoken artfully, skillfully) nor a true and predictable international import (given the overlap among French and English speakers in fourteenth-­century England). The Friar keeps a firmer grip on his language, which is remarkable because of his uncompromising ownership of it and all it wins him: his language asserts his claims to Englishness and simultaneously insinuates him into local networks of power, rendering his country his home. “So plesaunt” is “‘his In principio’” that it wins him farthings from shoeless widows (254). He fashions “his Englissh,” moreover, to match his other accessories making it “sweete upon his tonge,” thereby concretizing the language just as it reinforces his Englishness—­here each symbiotically reifies the other. The Friar’s language (his utterly oral English and his fragmentary, scriptural Latin) belongs to him, cementing his belonging. Perhaps most significant is “his absolucioun,” ritual words that routinely yet powerfully perform spiritual work and ensure that our Friar is “ful wel biloved and famulier” at home, “with frankeleyns” who benefit from new trends in English land ownership “over al in his contree” (215–­16). In other words, the Friar’s command of language garners him power and ownership ranging from absolution (incontestably valuable yet utterly intangible, spiritual, and extra-­national) through the favor of important local community members (potentially less steadfast and surely less assessable but also quite useful) to farthings (if trivial to the worsted-­wearing friar, still concrete and monetary). The Friar claims and objectifies language from his lisped, vernacular English to his sacred, learned Latin, commodifying it, making it his own, despite his requisite vocational disavowal of material ownership. The Friar’s and the Prioress’s portraits demonstrate how all England’s languages are most useful at home in England, where one’s languages are regarded most generously—­where one might work them most deviously, venially, even hypocritically to one’s own benefit. The Prioress’s French reflects on her more favorably in England than it would in Paris, while the Friar’s Latin obtains more for him in England than it could in mono-­linguistic, more fluently Latinate societies, or perhaps even where romance languages would be the common vernacular of the local widows and his other prey. Language marks these pilgrims distinctly as fourteenth-­century English folk, binding them securely to their English homes even as they use it to claim international connections. Here concepts of home and language query the nation’s value as a communal form, while holding it in focus. Language is a cultural marker that imparts distinctive Englishness, even to English folk who use other languages at home, and a cultural tool that constructs national community, even as it challenges national character’s purity.

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Language anchors the Friar and Prioress in their home waters and accentuates their Englishness especially when performing international connections. Yet domesticity and Englishness often pull in opposite directions in the General Prologue. The humble Parson’s portrait shows how local commitments interfere with national ones. Adherence to the poverty they all avow separates this cleric from his fellows. He appears as “a povre Persoun of a Toun” rather than a parish or some more religiously evocative designation. Later we learn that although “[w]yde was his parisshe, and houses fer asunder,” the Parson knits it tightly by traveling to the furthest reaches himself when needed (478, 491). As the narrator explains, London holds little charm for this pious man, who “dwelt at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,” remaining humble and meek in speech (512). Thus the Parson demonstrates that simple personal interaction on the local level can draw a town or a parish together into a home. The necessity of personal interaction and irrelevance of London here imply that the most valuable communal relationships are experienced practically, locally, and in person. Our Parson eventually contributes the “tale” that most clearly aspires to spiritual transcendence, because it aims to redeem souls rather than political, social, or cultural losses. However, as chapter 5 shows, it can hardly accomplish one task without the other, complicating any firm distinctions one could make between local investment and transcendent reach. Such interplay among domesticity, the local, the transcendent, and the nation evidences what I call Chaucer’s postnationalism, for much like Glissant’s postmodern idea of national literature, Chaucer’s Englishness anticipates its own failure by calling itself into question as a function of establishing its cultural and political value. Throughout the Canterbury Tales, practical characteristics of lives lived in England and in English put Englishness into conversation with the nation and internationalism. The Knight, Prioress, Friar, and Parson join in fellowship despite their divergent experiences of language, home, and international currencies like Latin and Christian redemption. Figures like the Prioress and Friar expose a powerful relationship among such experiences. The languages they speak at home differentiate them from their international linguistic milieux, magnifying their Englishness, rooting them within England, yet flaunting their associations beyond it.

Home beyond the Household Herry Bailly secularizes spiritual belief and draws diverse pilgrims with local commitments and international connections toward a domestic

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center, anchored and funded by English vernacular storytelling in the General Prologue. In the frame narrative, he stretches his idea of domesticity more explicitly beyond the household by routinely obliging the pilgrims to respond to his familiar expectations just as he reveals the disappointments of his own life with his wife in his proper household. Medieval sacramental marriage, an institution intimately bound to the household, and the sovereign medieval nation root their legitimacy in consent but tend toward exploitation; both institutions endure in modern forms, remaining attractive to many, despite what others consider dismal success rates. Herry’s juxtaposition of domestic relationships reveals how their characteristic frustrations and exploitations nevertheless fail to extinguish belief in or desire for the emotional comforts, domestic security, and shared identities that marriage and nation promise. Reynolds urges us beyond narrow definitions of nation by examining the rather inconsistent beliefs, ideas, and feelings connected with nationalism in her discussion of the commerce lacking between medieval historians and nationalist concepts. Regardless of its reprehensible condition, Reynolds maintains, nationalism exceeds the sum of its most offensive manifestations. If it were not more than this, nationalism would not be as infectious as it has been. It would be easier to resist. Reynolds writes, Most medieval historians would deny that they are nationalists, but that is because  .  .  . they see [nationalism] as something aggressive, xenophobic, and deplorable, but do not look hard at the ideas which underlie it. Nationalist ideas, however, are more widespread than the unpleasant manifestations of nationalist emotions. The most important is the belief, widely held though seldom recognized and articulated, that “the world is naturally divided into nations, each of which has its own particular character and destiny” and that nations by their very existence have the right to be self-­governing and independent. The nationalist’s nation is therefore a corporate body, with essentially political rights. The nation is “the body which legitimizes the state,” whether the state is governed by democratic or authoritarian means, and the nation-­state, however governed, is the one sort of state which is by its nature both legitimate and internally cohesive.56

However specious the nation’s claims of common pasts, communal identities, sociable cohesion, and destined futures may be, they entice enough 56. Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities, 251.

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to excuse its nastier traits in many contexts. Nationalism binds cultural community with political legitimacy and self-­determination. Chaucer does somewhat less than he could to suggest that this world is naturally divided into nations. Yet he also imagines that English Christians cohere through history as a cultural community, perhaps because of the ways they perform both identities; and he legitimizes the political decisions such communities make, thus rendering the lens of nationhood useful even to Chaucerians who would deny that xenophobia and exclusion mark Chaucer’s writing. Despite the positive threads, Chaucer never thoroughly idealizes England as a nation, past, present, or future; instead his imagination queries the meaning, function, and extent of national cohesion and ideals themselves, admiring and performing—­ though never axiomatically adopting—­them. Chaucer remains an artist who contributes to political thought with a poetic ambiguity that separates him from ideologues. As Reynolds suggests, most familiar European forms of nationhood take internal cohesion as a given, despite practical experience to the contrary.57 Alternatively, Chaucer dramatizes processes of internal association and illuminates the dynamic networks of difference, familiarity, and negotiation that make nations cohere at all. The Canterbury Tales ultimately debunks easy fictions of national communities as associations based either on pure aggression or on uncompromised cohesiveness. Thus Chaucer pushes beyond the Arthurian double performance of celebrating national cohesion against Rome and other enemies while mourning the lost local particularities that entails, and he complicates cohesion’s meaning by insisting that it entails diversity, adaptability, and angry debate.58 In the Canterbury Tales, camaraderie and conflict are ingrained and inseparable parts of the same national body that secures continuity despite and sometimes even through disparity. Marriage, like nations, stereotypically makes prolific misrepresentations, dispensing the bitter with the sweet, exploitation with legitimacy, advertising the positives but sometimes delivering only the negatives. Marriage fails Herry Bailly, refusing to deliver the home and domestic comforts it promises, the feelings of belonging and security it pledges. His pursuit of these needs within English society propels the frame narrative: the Canterbury Tales is the ironic story of an innkeeper who is most at home on the road. Herry favors tales that invest belief in community 57.  Meanwhile, Glissant’s Caribbean nationhood takes difference across national lines as a widely unspoken yet foundational truth. 58. Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies.

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and friendship and revels in hearing them away from his conventional household and marriage.59 Late in the Tales’ seventh fragment, in the Prologue of the Monk’s Tale, Herry reveals that his hopeless marriage moves him to reinvest his hopes in the story of English community. After Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee, wherein the consummate prudent wife teaches her husband the ways of peace, neighborly forgiveness, and the common good, Herry reveals that his own wife demands he fight to defend her individualistic sense of honor. Goodelief routinely pits him against their neighbors, thereby complicating his involvement in civic and national life. If he refuses, she turns him out of their home: from the household into the wild. She renders Herry a lion, a sovereign among beastly creatures, a menace to neighbors, rather than an arbiter among fellows. He bewails his situation: This is my lif, but if that I wol fighte; And out at dore anon I moot me dighte, Or elles I am but lost, but if that I Be lik a wilde leoun, fool-­hardy. I woot wel she wol do me slee som day Som neighebor, and thanne go my way . . . (VII. 1913–­18) Herry’s warm and familiar association with the pilgrims compensates for his failure to find home, security, or belonging in his household or neighborhood, as a consequence of his marriage. Herry’s belief in the comradeship the pilgrims represent reflects the unfulfilled domestic desires he voices above. Marriage and the nation make similar promises; 59.  Thus the Canterbury Tales registers yet diverges from the theme of marriage as it appears in other major medieval frame narratives. Boccaccio’s Decameron, the most immediate formal model for the Tales, is propelled by the conventional expectation that marriage shapes and redeems social and historical life. The ten young and single Florentine nobles who flee their plague-­ridden city are ripe for romance and marriage, though no marriage comes of their retreat away from their political and cultural center. Alf Layla wa Layla, the thousand and one “Arabian Nights,” unravels in the heart of King Shahrayar’s court: his bedroom. There his last wife, Shahrazad, the teller of all of the main cycle tales, redeems his faith in women and the stability of his kingdom by keeping him engaged with the strangest, most wonderful characters and places she can conjure. A victim of adultery, Shahrayar had instituted the practice of marrying each night and executing his bride each morning, thus depleting his kingdom of women and protecting himself from infidelity. While hope for marriage sustains the limited society of the Decameron, it is Shahrazad’s brave hope for society that propels her marriage and ultimately sustains society. I do not suggest that Chaucer read Alf Layla, but I observe that his frame narrative and tale cycle engages seriously with the question of marriage as does its intercultural counterparts.

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and, as chapter 6 shows, marriage and the household often represent and sustain the nation as a microcosm of that grand institution. That Chaucer the author assigns pilgrim Chaucer the tale that elicits Herry’s story emphasizes its relevance. Although Herry’s marriage disappoints him, his belief in the transcendent emotional potential of relationships based on consent, obedience, and domesticity springs eternal; and he pursues it, if through a similarly dubious form. Wallace reads Herry’s emotional history on this pilgrimage as a record of confusion and fantasy. I want to add that it also indicates the magnitude of his capacity to identify with others and to seek domesticity, and by extension the very resilience of national desire. Wallace writes, His tendency to confuse the visceral reactions of his own body with the interests of the corporate body he supposedly governs poses dangers for the compagnye throughout the Tales. In fragment 6, for example, when the Physician’s Tale brings him to the brink of cardiac arrest (“cardynacle,” 6.313), he turns in desperation to “thou beel amy,” the Pardoner, desperate for some “myrthe or japes” to restore him (his body) to health. Similarly in fragment 7, the narrative leaves him in a state that calls for immediate treatment. Forced to contemplate his own life (“This is my life,” 7.1913), Herry is overcome by a sense of sexual and marital, hence social, failure. And so he delivers himself into the hands of a strong man, a “maister” or “governour”—­or rather, to his own fantasy of a virile man, since the Monk has yet to speak.

Wallace concludes, “Neither the Monk . . . nor the Pardoner can sustain the saving fantasies conceived by the Host in his moments of personal crisis,” yet Herry’s interactions with both remind us how little it takes to sustain fantasies of national and marital domestic comfort.60 Whether or not marriages and political communities ever deliver the comforts of home they promise, people like Herry continue to imagine they will. Despite its alleged failures, the Monk’s Tale does important work: it simultaneously returns Herry from his solitary introspection yet refuses his desires by insisting on disorder and insecurity as ordinary national experiences, inevitable parts of political life and cultural history. The Monk broadens and extends Herry’s personal anxieties through history. The Miller’s interruption of the tale-­telling sequence in Fragment I in60. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 310.

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verts social order because it displaces the Monk, the Knight’s conventional successor according to prevailing hierarchies. But when the Monk finally tells his tale, disorder rises to new levels by sinking deeper into the past, into history. The Monk’s orderly telling would have affirmed the ternary estates model of social order; nevertheless, the Monk’s Tale itself threatens those atop that hierarchy. This tragedy in the De casibus tradition essentially guarantees the lonely downfall of powerful historical leaders. As Wallace notes, this tale follows Herry’s desperate mediation on his own domestic failures and refuses Herry’s displaced hopes for reassurance, comfort, and a performance of triumphant masculine virility. Instead the Monk confronts the pilgrims, particularly the Knight and Herry, with ongoing instability in human history via his tale’s “tendency to dwell upon the making and undoing of history in the present moment,” which “is exemplified by Chaucer’s most significant departure from the Petrarchan model: his decision, following Boccaccio, to add ‘modern instances’ to his ancient, biblical, and classical exempla.”61 The Monk’s medieval collection of tragedies revokes our Knight’s sense of security precisely by disordering its own sequence, by inserting the “modern” tragedies between the ancient and insisting that seemingly discrete time periods are neither fully disparate nor fundamentally different. The Monk’s Tale dramatically challenges order, suggesting the inevitability of social disruptions regardless of participation like the Miller’s, the Pardoner’s, or even the Parson’s.62 Nations, marriages, and other domestic unions must endure considerable upheaval to survive over time. If Fortune struck the Canterbury pilgrims in her way, the Knight, because of his estate, would have the most to lose with the possible exception of Herry (given his temporary leadership role). Old and simple schemes of privilege and self-­interest are unhelpful here. In the Monk’s collection, Fortune bothers only famous, powerful, and aristocratic political players; she has no time to topple average folk. The Knight’s reaction is exceedingly curious in this light: “Hoo!” quod the Knyght, “goode sire, namoore of this! That ye han seyd is right ynough, ywis, And muchel moore; for litel hevynesse Is right ynough to muche folk, I gesse. I seye for me, it is a greet disese, 61.  Ibid., 313. 62.  See Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 206–­7.

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Whereas men han been in greet welthe and ese, To heeren of hire sodeyn fal, allas! And the contrarie is joye and greet solas, As whan a man hath been in povre estaat, And clymbeth up and wexeth fortunat, And there abideth in prosperitee. Swich thyng is gladsome, as it thynketh me, And of swich thing were goodly for to telle.” (VII. 2767–­79) Although downward-­spiraling narratives unsettle the Knight, he welcomes tales of upward mobility, which would benefit him least. Strohm sees this as evidence of the Knight’s “forward think[ing].”63 Certainly, within the frame tale, pilgrims turn out to be surprisingly unconventional, diverging from the dictates of their estates and positions. Meanwhile Herry heckles the Monk, protesting his tedium: “Youre tale anoyeth al this compaignye / . . . For sikerly, nere clynkyng of your belles / . . . I sholde er this han fallen doun for sleep” (2789, 2794, 2797). And Wallace explains that the Monk’s “failure [to find friends on the pilgrimage] enacts something of a mimetic fallacy: in telling of the fall of viri illustrs, this physically ‘myghty’ and putatively virile Monk reenacts their isolation from human ‘compaignye’ through the monotony of his narrating, and so becomes doomed to repeat their fate.”64 Herry and the Knight thus recognize how the Monk’s images of singularity and friendlessness, leading to his victims’ downfalls, threaten the pilgrim company’s ideal of domesticity. The Monk’s tale and his social performance reveal that the comforts, security, and interdependences that domestic communities proffer are never guaranteed. This community-­shaking thread is more poignant when we recognize the above-­noted reactions to the Monk’s Tale as simultaneously “terrorizing and stupifyingly boring” in Fradenburg’s words.65 Thus, the tale is absolutely threatening to this community, gathered particularly for comfort and entertainment, because it shakes these very underpinnings. The Knight (speaking for himself) and Herry (speaking for the group) must terminate this tale for it causes more instability than either the Miller or Pardoner produce. Nevertheless, from a critical perspective, it triumphs: boring and annoying, the tale does, 63. Paul Strohm, Politique: Languages of Statecraft Between Chaucer and Shakespeare (Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 2005), 91. 64. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 312. 65. L. O. Aranye Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love: Psychoanalysis, Historicism, Chaucer (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002), 146.

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after all, inspire two specific and nuanced responses, making a consequential splash into the frame narrative and reminding us that the nation’s promised camaraderie could fail at any moment. The Monk shakes Herry’s domestic fantasies of belonging and camaraderie with tragedies of loneliness and disorder, exemplifying the tensions at the heart of most national aspirations. Consistent annoyances, interruptions, and interventions on the road to Canterbury reflect the pilgrims’ surviving diversity, the trials that come with communal comforts, and ultimately their investment in each other and in their belief-­bound community. The Knight intervenes in the story’s most pivotal moments, including when tensions between Herry and the Pardoner erupt. Herry threatens to strip the Pardoner not only of his right to speak but also of his testicles, which may be more or less abstract than his rights given the narrator’s impression of him as a eunuch, again reminding us of that necessary combination of material and immaterial assets on which national identities and continuities rest. Nations build themselves upon the bodies, voices, and rights of community members. Here the most personal effects and components of their beings (ranging from the most painfully tangible to most powerfully abstract) are articles in the same contract that incorporates individuals into a newer, more expansive and meaningful body. Indeed, Herry’s threat of physical dismemberment allegorizes communal disintegration, but the situation never escalates because of the Knight’s intervention. After Herry silences the Pardoner, he announces that he “wol no lenger pleye / With [the Pardoner], ne with noon oother angry man” (VI. 958–­59). He thus makes the Pardoner an example, though “the peple” are unimpressed with his threat (961). The Knight immediately neutralizes any social constraints Herry implies by initiating a gesture of reconciliation: . . . right anon the worthy Knyght bigan, Whan that he saugh that al the peple lough, “Namoore of this, for it is right ynough! Sire Pardoner, be glad and myrie of cheere; And ye sire Hoost, that been to me so deere, I prey yow that ye kisse the Pardoner. And Pardoner, I prey thee, drawe thee neer, And, as we diden, lat us laughe and pleye.” Anon they kiste, and ryden forth hir weye. (960–­68)

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We never hear apologetic words pass between these men; yet we witness the rare power of gesture in their kiss, which—­corroborated by the vital news that they “ryden forth hir weye”—­performs reconciliation. A durable community characterized by flexibility, affection, and negotiable rules emerges. The Knight reveals that Herry has “been to” him “so deere,” making peace: reversing his warrior identity (964). Acknowledging a personal relationship built during the pilgrimage evinces the growing importance of the pilgrims’ lived communal past, their changing roles, and the transformative power of their domestic and political union. Chaucer’s multivocal communal imagination underlies Herry’s deceptively simple wish for domestic sociability. This imagination flourishes insofar as narrators make English poetry into sharable tales, superseding the lone dreamers and scholars of Chaucer’s earlier dream visions; these citizen pilgrims invest themselves in a community that lives on poetic language. Herry envisions a band of fellows on the road yet carrying a portable sense of domesticity, which pulls them back to the costly comforts of his home, the Tabard Inn.66 He promotes this community by contrasting “confort” with silent isolation (I. 773). As the community thrives, we get a Knight who serves as peacemaker rather than war-­wager, a Physician more apt to cause than cure cardiac arrest, a Pardoner who is so memorably pardoned, and a Monk who upsets rather than preserves history. These pilgrims become new things to themselves and to each other, transcending their conventional social identities through the demands and policies of their transformative association. The Canterbury-­bound community, like the English nation it emblematizes and the institution of marriage for which it compensates, produces new identities along with its new sense of domesticity. Language ultimately emerges as a tool for deliberation, decision-­making, personal gain and more, despite Herry’s protestations to the contrary. Chaucer’s nation does not make the ruler’s body seamlessly synonymous with the community. It is, rather, an experiment that exposes the pitfalls, failures, and impossibilities of such national formulations, even as it dramatizes the desire and belief that vernacular subjects made of language feel for each other and for their homes. In closing, I want to consider how taxonomy undercuts Pearsall’s un66.  Of all the pilgrims, Herry is the most consummate “Englishman,” who, according to Matthew Browne, “carries his nationality with him all over the world as a sort of enlarged domesticity” (Chaucer’s England, 251).

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derstanding of English nationhood in the Canterbury Tales. Pearsall treats the prospect of Chaucerian nationhood as progressive, teleological, and absolute, conflating modern nationalist ideologies, sentiments, and categories with medieval ones. Accordingly, medieval English nationalism is a system that functions for and through xenophobia. Chaucer reflects the nationalistic chauvinisms of his moment but is relatively uninterested in them. Pearsall alternately eschews English nationalism and searches for an ideal portrait of England as nation, which he expects would be “a place for which we are encouraged to feel a particular affection, as a beloved land or heritage site.”67 This is a reasonable expectation, yet national portraits do not necessarily flatter their nations; not every citizen’s experience of home comforts her. Not every concept of nationhood reduces to category: Chaucer deploys nation as a formal, poetic process of imagination. Likewise, in the Socratic gadfly tradition, a nation’s most credible characterizations come from those who demonstrate their patriotism by critiquing and thus fortifying their nations. Pearsall excludes from the English nation pilgrims and characters of the unsavory sort we find in both the frame and those tales set in England, in the first fragment fabliaux: the Miller’s Tale, the Reeve’s Tale, and the Cook’s Tale, the third fragment exempla: the Friar’s Tale and the Summoner’s Tale, as well as the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Man of Law’s Tale, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, and the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale.68 While these tales harbor some very selfish characters, they also debate selfishness and its consequences for the English nation. They concentrate on questions of crime (murder, rape, adultery, and theft), law, tradition, and civic institutions (from marriage to the university). Thus, the larger debate about selfishness proceeds through examination of the legal boundaries and consent-­based associations that characterize English national life. The pilgrims tell these tales, moreover, when most engaged with one another in competitive circuits of quiting. They imagine England when they want to send each other the boldest messages possible. These tales bare the cracks in Herry’s original fantasy of camaraderie, rendering England neither dystopia nor utopia but rather the familiar homeland and the common landscape through which the pilgrims communicate most powerfully, just as English is the common language through which they best understand each other. In the Tales, almost every home is a political and cultural space that ensures comfort and contention, being understood 67.  Derek Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness,” 291. 68.  Ibid., 299, n. 34.

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and being harshly judged, if also nominally accepted. By imagining England as a national homeland, Chaucer presents nationhood not as a simple category but as a complex approach to understanding why and how people live together in political community despite abundant evidence that its costs outweigh its benefits. Chaucer’s pilgrim body, like the individual pilgrims—­once sick, now thankful for healing—­is above all resilient. So too is the desire to believe in the transcendent power of national relationships and the familiar comforts of home.


At Home in Exile National Disaster in the Knight’s Tale Nationalism is an assertion of belonging in and to a place, a people, a heritage. It affirms the home created by a community of language, culture and customs; and, by doing so, it fends off exile, fights to prevent its ravages.

—­e dward w. said 1

A shared sense of home, or domesticity, emerges as an ideal that stimulates national consciousness in the Canterbury Tales’ frame narrative and endures as the Knight’s apparent hope for his tale’s characters. The Knight nevertheless celebrates a cold, calculating empire that impedes national comradeship, including domestic and civic engagement. Thus his tale diverges from its sources as from other episodes in the Tales, revealing discrepancies between Chaucer’s approaches to empire and nation, imperial and national sovereignty. Here, imperial order trumps domesticity and works as an absolute power that contrasts with the characteristically negotiable and national power for which Chaucer reserves the term sovereignty throughout the Tales. Meanwhile, domesticity holds a vital, decidedly political position in the Tales’ national communities, as I argue the Wife of Bath exemplifies in chapter 6. The Knight’s Tale is a free and condensed adaptation of Boccaccio’s Teseida. Both narratives extend beyond the fall of Thebes and Theseus’s alliance with the widows of the Seven Against Thebes, which Statius’s 1.  Edward W. Said, “Reflections on Exile” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002), 176.


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Thebaid originates, to present Athens as a new nation poised to recuperate the failures of old Thebes. But Chaucer’s version excludes cooperation among Athenian citizens such as its sources applaud, celebrating instead Theseus’s worthiness and orderly empire. The Knight transports the General Prologue’s fascination with national affinities and shared experiences of domesticity to his particular Athens, where domestic cohesion wanes and fails through the plot Boccaccio fashions as a critique of war. Boccaccio illustrates Thebes’ ongoing national disintegration alongside Athenian unification.2 Alternatively, the Knight’s Athens devolves into an imperial seat with no new nation to redeem old Thebes: war structures an orderly empire but no national home. In Middle English, home expresses a set of polarized ideas that interweave prudential management of owned property with the emotional bonds and expectations that foster communal senses of belonging and even national cohesion. As Vance Smith explains, “In the history of the household, the words domus and familia intertwine around each other like twin strands of DNA, reminding us that the household is neither simply a space nor a collection of people.”3 Similarly, both space and people shape exile and the homes it mourns in the Knight’s Tale. According to the MED, the noun hom denotes homes smaller and larger than those signified by household, a fourteenth-­ century addition indicating people and goods belonging to a dwelling place. Hom, from the Old English ham, evokes deeper emotional resonance than the political spaces and territories specified by the word contre, derived from the Old French contrée, also common in the Knight’s Tale.4 Home’s resonances include native land and final resting place, individual abode and communal homeland, household estate and congenial atmosphere: spaces that were particularly vulnerable, distinctly losable in Chaucer’s England.5 2.  Jane Chance, The Mythographic Chaucer (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995), 184–­213. 3.  D. Vance Smith, Arts of Possession, 1. On the spaces and networks of people signified by the late medieval English household, see also David Starkey, “The Age of the Household: Politics, Society and the Arts c. 1350–­1550,” in The Later Middle Ages, ed. Stephen Medcalf (London: Methuen, 1981), 225–­90. Starkey roots the significance of the late medieval English household, the basic unit of the national economy from the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries, in the family’s prudential attachments rather than its presumed emotional affinities. 4.  Middle English Dictionary, s.v. hom (n.), 1 and 2; MED, s.v. household (n.); MED, s.v. contre (n.). 5.  Lisa H. Cooper, “No Place Like Home: Legends and Locales in Fragment I,” Chaucer on the Continental Divide Session, MLA National Convention, Chicago, IL, December 2007 inspires this reflection on home’s resonance with loss and disaster in the Knight’s Tale.

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Edward Said illuminates the fundamental association between nation and exile, home and loss. Said writes, “Exile is predicated on the existence of, love for, and bond with one’s native place; what is true of all exile is not that home and love of home are lost, but that loss is inherent in the very existence of both.”6 The Middle English verb exilen, which has Old French and Middle Latin roots, first appears in the early fourteenth century. What begins as an expression of deracination and loss of one’s native land soon comes to signify ruin, devastation, figurative homelessness, and the loss of anything one loves or needs to survive.7 This etymology suggests that all serious losses trace and elaborate home’s loss: from homelessness come lovelessness, insanity, and ruin. At the same time, as Said notes, “All nationalisms in their early stages develop from a condition of estrangement.”8 Exile serves as a beginning as well as an end; it works as a punishment and a creative condition, a destroyer and builder of nations. While late medieval political thinkers routinely list consent, divine ordinance, just conquest, and sometimes lineage as legitimate modes of establishing sovereignty, rapacious conquest alone establishes rule in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. Ever since Charles Muscatine’s 1957 formalist reading identified the “struggle between noble designs and chaos” at this tale’s core, critics have debated the championship, querying the values of war and chivalry, through which Theseus tames his disorderedly world.9 The Tale’s symmetrical plot (marriage, war, destruction of edifices, funeral, construction of edifices, war, destruction of forests, funeral, and marriage) belies its elegiac view of the domesticity we lose when war, plunder, and conquest pretend to reorder alliances among characters that remain in exile. As Lee Patterson writes, “the Knight’s Tale functions in an important sense as the other against which the project of the Canterbury Tales is ultimately defined.”10 Likewise, Wallace explains the Knight’s break thus, “having constructed an associational form with such painstaking care in his General Prologue, Chaucer then moves abruptly to consider the unpicking or unraveling of associational bonds under a ruler who refuses to countenance any form of political

  6.  Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 185.  7. MED, s.v. exilen (v.).   8.  Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 176.  9. Charles Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition: A Study in Meaning and Style (Berkeley: U of California P, 1957), 190. 10. Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 169.

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felaweshipe.”11 More specifically, I read the Tale as a foil that sets off Chaucer’s national project, which appears most clearly in the frame narrative and romances set in Britain. This chapter recovers the significance of homeland, a phantom that haunts Theseus’s vision and the Knight’s narration yet eludes the Athenian empire they celebrate. Comparing Chaucer’s idiosyncratic imagination of community with those of his sources, we see that the Knight and his characters miss a sense of domesticity that Chaucer refuses to translate. Blighted by rapacious war, characters’ experiences and conceptions of home shift and disappear, admitting that imperial conquest cannot build nations, networks of belonging, or even new alliances without also exploiting exile.12 Theseus’s chivalry destroys the domesticity it pretends to institute, exacerbating conditions of exile and homelessness. The Canterbury Tales, whose central nationalist subplots this book excavates, begins appropriately and ironically with the Knight’s tale of exile, where new bonds form most often in marginal social spaces from prison cell to borderland forest. These places are decidedly neither homes nor Athens but spaces of exile lacking the dignity and authority conferred by states, official political identities, and standing armies. There and in the Knight’s occupatio, his marginal narration, wretches grasp at fragments of belonging and we encounter the tale’s most poignant verse as well as the domestic aspirations that contextualize its destructive plot.13 Alternatively in the frame narrative, marginal subjectivities transcend isolation and reemerge as mutually intelligible, socially productive voices, and ultimately as identities visible across a national horizon. While the pilgrim community is no paragon of perfect order, it never arrives at utter chaos thanks to the Knight.14 In his tale, however, The11. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 4. 12.  Postcolonial readings of this tale include Juliet Dor, “Chaucer’s Viragos: A Postoclonial Engagement? A Case Study of the Man of Law’s Tale, the Monk’s Tale and the Knight’s Tale,” in Intersections of Gender, Religion and Ethnicity in the Middle Ages, ed. Cordelia Beattie (Basingstroke and London: Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2011), 158–­82; Keiko Hamaguchi, Non-­European Women in Chaucer: A Postcolonial Study (Frankfurt am Main: Pater Lang, 2006); and Tory Vandeventer Pearman, “Laying Siege to Female Power: Theseus the ‘Conqueror’ and Hippolita the ‘Asseged’ in Chaucer’s ‘The Knight’s Tale,’” Essays in Medieval Studies 23 (2006): 31–­40. 13.  See Maria Rosa Menocal, Shards of Love: Exile and the Origins of the Lyric (Durham and London: Duke UP, 1994) on exile, love, and medieval lyrical expression. 14.  Let us recall that at the frame tale’s most heated moment the Knight persuades Herry Bailly and the Pardoner to kiss and make up by invoking their past and future potential. The Knight also derails the Monk’s catalogue of tragedies before it unmoors all hope

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seus’s individual “struggle between noble designs and chaos” develops into a universal human problem, instantiating, in Robert Hanning’s words, “the tense relationship between the human capacity to control and order life and the forces, internal and external, that resist or negate order.”15 In the frame tale, national values of camaraderie and belief in a shared past keep the pilgrims moving on a common course. Juxtaposed with the frame’s simple yet significant success, Theseus’s inability to foster domesticity through war or chivalry, which are nearly indistinguishable, appears as a grand failure doomed by excessive imperial ambition. Thus, the Knight’s Tale asks if any warfare is just, lifting consent above other modes of legitimizing sovereignty and homeland. By negative example, Chaucer prioritizes nationhood, a condition of being at home with sovereignty, over empire, a force that erodes distinctions between home and exile, mercilessly ravaging and reordering all it captures.

Home: Troubling Concepts, Situating Hostility The Knight’s Tale’s beginning, like the General Prologue’s conclusion, imagines a homecoming that never arrives, but instead revises the ideal of home. Chaucer’s diction, syntax, and assignment of this story to the Knight, who earnestly represents both a moribund chivalry and our nascent pilgrim body, insist we ponder concepts of home and domestic affinities that distinguish empire from nation and nation from aristocracy. Home and homecoming emerge early as concepts that this tale’s brash imperial plot and lyrically mournful characters will struggle to define. By destabilizing the notion of home so seriously so early, the Knight belies his praise for Theseus’s project. Home in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale is a direction, a destination, and an essential, albeit abstract and troubled concept, yet home never materializes as an inhabitable or even reachable space, much less a social experience uniting Theseus’s imagined community. From the beginning of the Knight’s narration, home speciously promises a national future led by Theseus and his bride. But as the tale in the power of camaraderie. Likewise, the Miller’s threat to go his own way moves Herry to let him speak instead. Thus, sociability and a commitment to solidarity between the Canterbury shrine and the home of the Tabard keep the company on track. 15.  Robert Hanning, “‘The Struggle Between Noble Design and Chaos’: The Literary Tradition of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale,” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 69–89, 70. Chance, The Mythographic Chaucer, 184–­213 and Sylvia Tomasch, “Mappa Mundi and ‘the Knight’s Tale’: The Geography of Power, the Technology of Control,” in Chaucer’s Cultural Geography, 193–­224 also illuminate Theseus’s aggrandizement of strife and chaos.

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proceeds, shared senses of ownership and belonging that could indicate home fade faster than old hostilities. Loosening affinities among the tale’s denizens mark its move toward empire: Amazon and Theban nations fall, an Athenian empire rises, and as the plot progresses, Athenian rule tightens while domestic bonds dissolve alongside the meanings of hoom and hoomcomyng. We glean a simple yet telling understanding of home’s conceptual and practical instability in the Knight’s Tale by considering diction and grammar alone. The word hom, or hoom, appears twelve times, including the compounds homward (1217, 1879, 2956) and homcomynge (884, 905). In each instance, homward works as an adverb and homcomynge as a noun. The other seven uses of hom are adverbial and modify verbs of motion, bringing, or sending. For example, after Palamon and Emelye sacrifice to their gods in part three, we learn, “with glad herte he wente hym hoom ful soone,” “[a]nd hoom she goth anon the nexte weye” (I 2270, 2365). While home consistently denotes directions and destinations that describe ways of traveling, it never establishes itself as an inhabitable communal place—­or even a consistently revisited place. The most revisited and significant locus is the grove outside Athens. So although diction both emphasizes the gravitational pull that “home” exerts and exaggerates the performative value of a fantastic homecoming, home itself never stabilizes enough to harbor a community in this tale. Moving beyond grammar, we see how the Knight’s description of Theseus’s homecoming performs and celebrates a new political structure. He aims to narrate Theseus’s triumphant story but also testifies to Ypolita’s catastrophe: What with his wysdom and his chivalrie, He conquered al the regne of Femenye, That whilom was ycleped Scithia, And weddede the queene Ypolita, And broghte hire hoom with hym in his contree With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee, And eek hir yonge suster Emelye. And thus with victorie and with melodye Lete I this noble duc to Atthenes ryde, And al his hoost in armes hym bisyde. (I 865–­74) One comprehends neither the magnitude of Theseus’s victory nor the power of suggesting that Athens is now Ypolita’s “hoom” without also

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witnessing Ypolita’s downfall, meeting her sister, contemplating her “regne,” and imagining her lost homeland, “[t]hat whilom was ycleped Scithia.” Even as the Knight’s past tense ostensibly inters “al the regne of Femenye,” sealing it hermetically in the past, he subliminally conjures that polity’s defunct political and territorial parameters. Finally, switching to the present tense in line 873 (“Lete I this noble duc to Atthenes ryde”), he leaves Theseus with “al his hoost in armes hym bisyde,” his proper political body, perpetually on the road. The Knight projects a triumphant Athenian entry, in which Ypolita, Emelye, Theseus, and “al his hoost” arrive together, but ceremonial homecoming never seals Theseus’s victory over the reign of women on the level of plot: this homecoming is only imaginary. Chaucer leaves us with the Knight’s overt desire to deliver this homecoming, two possible homelands (Athens and Scythia), but no definitive homecoming. The Knight’s inability to focus on one plot line, like Theseus’s failure to focus on Athens, further disrupts fantasies and concepts of homecoming early in the tale. Both warriors want too much. As we shall see, the Knight’s first of many occupatios gives way to an interruption by the widows of the Seven Against Thebes, which results in separate homecomings and an intervening war. Taken together, the ensuing narrative turns and digressions offer evidence of dissonance where familiarity, cohesion, and understanding should be. Before examining the occupatio itself, let us consider the Knight’s peculiar explanation for it. He says, I have, God woot, a large feeld to ere, And wayke been the oxen in my plough. The remnant of the tale is long ynough. I wol nat letten eek noon of this route; Lat every felawe telle his tale aboute, And lat se now who shal the soper wynne; And ther I lefte, I wol ayeyn bigynne. (886–­92) Curtailing a fuller report of Theseus’s Amazon war and homecoming expressly to avoid disrupting the pilgrims’ tale-­telling game, the Knight instead interrupts the Athenian conquest of a sovereign Amazon polity by reflecting on his own participation in a consensual social body. Imagining himself as a plowman with “a large feeld to ere,” the Knight vividly sacrifices his urge to deliver a sprawling tale by deferring to the rules of his mixed-­class fellowship. The preeminent pilgrim figuratively steps into the shoes of his lowliest fellow. In doing so, he momentarily relin-

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quishes the expansionist license he holds as a member of the class of those who fight. This metaphor emphasizes the pilgrim company’s class diversity, enabling the Knight to cross class lines to identify vividly with his most distant fellow, he who works most humbly. The Knight’s elaborate refusal to impinge on his fellows at once delays Theseus’s imperial march and promotes cross-­class communal identifications. Thus he interrupts his narration with sentiments that subvert Athenian empire by prioritizing the pilgrims’ domestic experience of English tale-­telling on the road to Canterbury soon after Athenian expansion begins. Looking forward to his own homecoming meal with his fellows at the Tabard, the Knight lifts the pilgrims’ contemporary national moment above Theseus’s ancient imperial project, implying that the Athenian past can learn as much from the English present as that present learns from “aventures that whilom han bifalle” (795). The Knight’s frequent occupatio not only interrupts his tale, but also insists that we understand it as a fragment of a larger, more complicated story.16 His first occupatio essentially memorializes Scythia. Focusing on his peers’ hearing rather than his own telling, he begins, And certes, if it nere to long to here, I wolde have toold yow fully the manere How wonnen was the regne of Femenye By Theseus and by his chivalrye; And of the grete bataille for the nones Bitwixen Atthenes and Amazones; And How asseged was Ypolita, The faire, hardy queene of Scithia . . . (874–­82) With this, the Knight’s Tale has named Ypolita’s loved and lost home five times by three different names thereby perpetuating its memory long enough to compromise the tale’s overt praise of Athens as Ypolita’s new home. In this passage, the Knight not only superfluously conjures the “regne of Femenye” and its Scythian homeland but also invokes the cultural force of “Amazones,” which means “breastless.” This particular name reminds us that the Amazons remove their own breasts, irrevocably prioritizing military capacities to defend their insular community 16.  Muscatine’s classic reading, however, asks that we read the work as a symmetrical whole rather than dwell on its surface, its lack of characterization or the “incomplete perception of the wailing women” in its margins, thus precluding discussion of the fragmentary (Chaucer and the French Tradition, 190).

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over motherly capacities for fostering gendered and biological forms of national continuity or forging exogamous bonds. Here, digressing from the narrative he means to tell, the Knight remembers that Theseus’s “faire, hardy queene” is an Amazon, the queen of an entirely female warrior community, which admits the difficulty of making one functional, patrimonial community of “Atthenes and Amazones.” Our narrator cannot describe the battle or siege, yet he conveys the dubiousness of domesticating Amazons by casting Scythia’s shadow over Athens. Pitting “Atthenes” against “Amazones,” so variously described, the Knight sets a conquering duke and his city against a reigning queen and her more culturally vibrant realm.17 In these ways, the first occupatio highlights serious domestic instabilities underlying Theseus’s grand imperial project. The wisdom of Theseus’s chivalry remains doubtful even after ten narrative years and the poem’s remaining 2226 lines roll away. In fact, six hundred years of sustained critical attention have failed to settle the matter. Knapp helps explain why. Not only does the Knight complicate Theseus’s expansionist goals with his deference to the Canterbury-­bound fellowship, but also the meaning of the word chivalrye varies. Knapp writes, If the word would just hold still, these expressions could be unequivocally taken to mean that these kingdoms were overcome by the recognized values of wisdom and valor . . . of which the chivalric hero was the authorized figure. But of course the word could also signify mounted troops themselves, and its valence would then vary with the behavior of known armed cavalries—­if enough of them were merely marauding mercenaries, the meaning of the word would shift. At the middle point, Theseus’ whole project is fair game for scrutiny of its ideology—­do his victories signify his moral ascendancy, or are they merely the next turn of Fortune’s political wheel?18

As this question lingers, one thing is certain: cheerfully accepting Athens’ conquest and Ypolita’s homecoming would be a mistake. The Knight 17.  Elaine Tuttle Hansen traces Chaucer’s “striking” choice of “the term ‘Femenye’” to a “place name (from Latin femina, woman)” and argues that with “its generalizing abstracting, quality” it “equates Amazons with women in general and with Woman as an idea and a territory” (Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender [Berkeley: U of California P, 1992], 217). Theseus conquers Ypolita’s regne, her feminist polity, the territory of Femeye and of Scythia, the power of women generally along with the force and particularities of Amazon culture: he disposes of all this with his “wysdom and his chivalrie,” whose value and meaning are ambiguous at best (865). 18.  Peggy Knapp, Chaucer and the Social Contest (New York: Routledge, 1990), 22.

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queries empire immediately by praising it and illuminating the difficulty of distinguishing noble designs from random plunder. Correspondingly, the parallel line structure of the Knight’s additions to what he will not tell, “. . . of the feste that was at hir weddynge, / And of the tempest at hir hoom-­comynge,” subtly suggests the interchangeability of the words “feste” and “tempest” (883–­84). A tempest seems more appropriate than the wedding feast, a consequence of defeat rather than a celebration from the Amazon perspective. One easily finds more fitting meanings in this couplet by interchanging the above-­ suggested words thereby retheorizing—­perhaps detheorizing—­Ypolita’s hoom-­comynge. These lines intimate the appropriateness of a tempest at Ypolita’s miserable wedding and a feast at any return to Scythia, a true homecoming from Athenian exile. By troubling “home” and “homecoming” so thoroughly and so early, this tale affirms the hostility between Athens and the Amazons and questions Theseus’s project of imperial absorption of cultural and political difference. By beginning his tale with a homecoming that aims to put all wanderings to rest, but more efficiently exposes critical cultural clashes, the Knight inadvertently announces that home’s significance is up for grabs.

War: Disrupting Homecoming, Feeding Empire The Theban widows’ appearance further disrupts Theseus’s homecoming. This event, the tale’s first true plot point, stokes the flames of imperial ambition, foreclosing national potential even more powerfully than the occupatio that precedes it. Comparing the widows’ intervention with analogous scenes in Chaucer’s sources, we see that the Athenians of Statius’s Thebaid and Boccaccio’s Teseida resemble the General Prologue’s English pilgrims more closely than Chaucer’s own Athenians, who wilt beneath their duke’s imperial ambition. In this tale, women (wives, widows, and virgins alike) most keenly realize and illuminate the toll that war and exile take on national potential. Of all three versions, Chaucer’s tale offers the most specific critique of imperial domination—­of power that thrives on conquest and dismisses mercy. Both the Knight’s Tale’s placement of Athens’ monuments and its lack of civic activity characterize it as an imperial seat rather than a national homeland. The precise setting of the widows’ disruption is key for it exemplifies the precarious position of women and compassion in his tale. Uniquely, the Knight’s Athens stops short of Clementia’s temple. Moving Clementia, or the goddess of Mercy, from city-­center to city-­ periphery helps transform Athens from a national home into a mere

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imperial seat, from a space of mercy and mutual understanding to a national disaster zone. Statius reports that Athenians unite bitterly against Hyppolyte during Theseus’s homecoming parade and resent what they perceive as her share in Athens’ glory. This acrimonious homecoming occurs just before Theseus’s encounter with the widows of the Seven Against Thebes; they accost him at a temple of Clementia that stands “in the midst of the city” (“urbe fuit media”) (Thebaid XII. 481).19 In contrast, the Knight’s Tale replaces domestic and civic concerns with imperial prospects. No sooner does the Knight resume just where he first interrupts himself than the “compaignye of ladyes, tweye and tweye” enlist Theseus in avenging Creon and taking Thebes (898). Before Theseus can reenter Athens, when he is “almost unto the toun,” the widows, installed in an outlying “temple of the godesse Clemence,” change his direction, rendering his imperial trajectory even more rapacious (894, 928). After their meeting, the duke is off: he heads “To Thebes-­ward, and al his hoost biside. / No neer Atthenes wolde he go ne ride” (967–­68). Chaucer locates the bereaved widows (and the temple) outside the city, thus he diverts Theseus’s attention and derails the Knight’s triumphal merger of Athens and Scythia. Instead of entering Athens with his Scythian spoils, he continues warring under “his baner” and sends Ypolita “unto the toun of Atthenes to dwelle” in the company of her sister and fellow Amazon (965). Alternatively, in both the Thebaid and the Teseida, Theseus’s homecoming with Hypolita magnifies the significance of their union and his victory. In Chaucer’s plot, the Amazon warriors’ “hoom-­ comynge” and that of Theseus and “his hoost” are discrete events (884, 1026). With one breath the Knight links them, but with the next he exposes the incompatibility between constant warring abroad and domestic harmony, the disparity between imperial warfare and national life. When mercy is peripheral, positive national potential fails and tyranny overcomes sovereignty.20 19. Statius, Thebaid Books 8–­12, in Achillied, ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003). All following Thebaid citations are given parenthetically. 20.  In the Thebaid, the central temple of Clementia is dedicated to the human capacity for compassion rather than to a lordly god or goddess. There, Athenian society comforts those whom protections of fortune and class abandon. Chaucer twists this ethos of camaraderie in the Knight’s Tale. Here, Clemence is a goddess and mercy is foreign to Athenian culture. Conquest and aristocratic rank outweigh national ideals like cross-­class inclusion and camaraderie. Thus Theseus’s realm contrasts with Chaucer’s Parson’s ideal realm, where sovereignty renders obligatory mercy and measure, compassion and reason. Chapter 5 argues that the Parson’s idea of sovereignty pertains particularly to the nation rather than to empire or any other polity.

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Although Boccaccio does not specify such centrality for Clementia’s temple, he keeps it within Athens, which appears as a home and national community. Boccaccio’s Athens encompasses a warm, hospitable, and civically active society complete with women ready to attend the widows at the temple, more Athenian women to adorn themselves for public celebration, and elites, who bestow a custom-­made chariot, laurel, and robe upon the conqueror (Teseida 2:17–­21).21 The widows in both sources provide occasion for capable, opinionated, yet stratified citizens to participate as members of a national society. Chaucer’s widows’ political identity also reveals opposition between empire and nation. They identify themselves by their nobility in all accounts, with nuances. Statius’s version stresses the widows’ Argive home (“domus Argos”) (Thebaid XII. 549). Boccaccio’s widows petition Theseus adding that their husbands “were born of the same blood as you and like you they are still called Greeks” (“efurno teco gia dun sanghue nati/ echome tu anchor greci chiamati”) (Teseida 2:34). In Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, neither the widows’ birthplace nor their current home, but rather the site of their husbands’ demise, the cause of their current exile, unites them. As the former “wyf to kyng Cappaneus” exclaims, their men “starf at Thebes—­ cursed be that day!”; she continues, “We losten alle oure housbondes at that toun,” describing Thebes, no longer a great nation, as the time and space of loss and mourning (932–­33, 936). This widow insists, “For certes, lord, there is noon of us all / That she ne hath been a duchesse or a queene / Now be we caytyves, as it is wel seene,” clarifying the gravity of their situation for an otherwise oblivious Theseus (922–­24). While Statius’s and Boccaccio’s widows emphasize the dead kings’ humanity and former status, Chaucer’s widows’ lamentations and their own past nobility, their precipitous falls from queenship to exile, from sovereignty to thralldom, are more noteworthy. These emphases render social unity an increasingly dismal enterprise: here only loss and defeat assemble community. The inconsistency with which Chaucerians name the widows further clarifies the problem of their political identity and the sense of exile that pervades the Knight’s Tale. Patterson, for example, calls them the “widows of Argives”; Fowler’s widows are “Athenian,” and Hansen styles them “Theban widows.”22 This inconsistency reflects both the women’s various 21.  Giovanni Boccaccio, Teseid of the Nuptials of Emilia, ed. and trans. Vincenzo Traversa (New York: Peter Lang, 2002). Teseida citations will be given parenthetically hereafter. 22.  Elisabeth Fowler, “The Afterlife of the Civil Dead,” in Critical Essays of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Thomas C. Stillinger (New York: G. K. Hall, 1998), 59–81, 61; Hansen, Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender, 217; Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 198.

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homelands according with classical lore and the deracination particular to Chaucer’s account. Though the women do come from various cities and nations in Chaucer’s sources, I propose that Chaucerians have not settled on some standard mode of identifying them (acknowledging this diversity or not), because Chaucer obscures their national affiliations so deeply. The ensuing haziness has two important functions: it deflects attention from internationalist coalitions beyond Theseus’s own imperial design and it emphasizes the costs of war. Here war costs the women much of their identity. They lack the dignity of being understood particularly according to their values or their investments in any homeland, for they are most profoundly bereaved women. Correspondingly, Theseus’s treatment of Thebes reflects misunderstanding of both the widows’ surviving cultural values and their political losses; thanks to his plunder, Thebes embodies lost domesticity and sovereignty. Patterson has argued that while the Knight narrates “the disarming of an aboriginal Theban ferocity by Athenian civilization,” Chaucer ultimately “soften[s] the polarizations” between Athenian and Theban politics.23 Although slaying Creon helps to fulfill Theseus’s promise to the widows, I want to suggest that the Knight’s diction and syntax associate this ferocious assassination with escalating devastation of homes and community. The detail that Theseus slays Creon “in pleyne bataille” has been a favorite example of his nobility; yet the structure of the passage containing this positive note more effectively signals Theseus’s plundering style and disrespect for homeland. The Knight says: But shortly for to speken of this thing, With Creon, which that was of Thebes kyng, He fought, and slough hym manly as a knyght In pleyne bataille, and putte the folk to flyght; And by assaut he wan the citee after, And rent adoun bothe wall and sparre and rafter; And to the laydes he restored again The bones of hir freendes that were slayn, To doon obsequies, as was tho the gyse. (985–­93) The Knight immediately remembers Creon, “which that was of Thebes kyng,” by his sovereignty, forgetting his tyranny. He lingers on this simple description for almost an entire line, distending it beyond necessity. And 23. Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 201, 229.

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while the following line and a half relate courageous and honorable battle, noble activity flows directly into admission of plunder and destruction. Instead of protecting the Thebans from Creon’s tyranny, Theseus “put the folk to flight.” Even if he honorably slays Creon, he continues past his original, perhaps justifiable, martial goal to win “the citee after.” Soon we learn that Theseus takes Thebes explicitly “by assaut,” which, as the MED reminds us, suggests “evil,” “unlawful” attack.24 Here Theseus exacerbates Theban loss by emptying the territory of its “folk” and rending down its homes and buildings “bothe wall and sparre and rafter.” Making matters worse, Theseus leaves to scavengers “a taas of bodyes dede” strikingly similar to the unburied “bodyes on an heep” that so offended the widows’ cultural sensibilities at first (1005, 944). Theseus’s rapacious imperial agenda trivializes networks of understanding and local experience. It is no surprise when he does “with al the contree as hym leste,” appearing as much a tyrant as Creon (1004). Chaucer presents a Theseus ravenous for military glory and imperial conquest; however, his sources offer a Theseus more focused on his national community’s health. Chaucer’s point that militarism destroys at least as much as it builds diverges from his sources. For example, in Boccaccio’s Teseida, Creon’s tyrannical cultural offenses rally a cohesive Athens. Meanwhile Hypolita supports Teseo’s project, volunteers for battle, and finally defers only to his assumed wishes that she abandon combat. Here Teseo reminds his troops of their purpose: to make their “memory famous among the new nations of the future” (“mimorie famose / alle foture ennuove nationi”) (Teseida 2:45). In Boccaccio’s version, a respectful Teseo buries the dead and gives the widows control of Thebes; they decide to burn it and leave for Argos, taking responsibility for that destruction. Similarly, Statius maintains that Theseus’s folk cooperate from every corner of Athens; some actually “hang up their ploughs and go forth to grim battle” (“horrida suspensis ad proelia misit aratris”) (Thebaid XII. 628). He also claims that Hyppolyte would have led Amazon troops against Creon if not for a pregnancy. Thus the sources witness a well-­established domesticity, common Athenian values, and willingness to sacrifice and cooperate to uphold them. The Knight’s Tale’s characters display no such camaraderie or national consciousness. Even the national continuity that Hyppolyte’s pregnancy represents is missing. In this tale of sweeping national decline, as the conqueror’s influence extends, domesticity disintegrates, opposing national community to imperial conquest. 24.  MED, s.v. assaut (n.).

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Although the widows primarily feed Theseus’s appetite for empire, their cultural sensibilities do complicate the picture. Just as the Knight’s first occupatio insinuates the mutual threat that fellowship and conquest pose for each other, the appearance of the widow “compaignye” has both pro-­and anti-­imperial resonances (898). The widows encourage Theseus’s imperialism in the name of cultural preservation (observation of funerary rites), yet they reveal the shakiness of the ground on which all allegiances are sworn and alliances built. Theseus’s fresh capture of “the regne of Femenye” evinces his hostility to female self-­determination; predictably, he initially accuses the widows of jealously. Theseus finally understands their plea when he recognizes the imperial opportunity they represent and seizes it. The widows are thankful for his help in this instance; however, despite their limited alliance, they disrupt Theseus’s planned homecoming, subversively signaling their affinities with their fellow Amazon and Theban “caytyves” and war spoils (924). All are political exiles. Focusing more closely on the language of homecoming as the plot proceeds, we see that the widows’ intervention reorients the concept of homecoming to preserve some of its integrity. Because the widows intervene, the Knight’s Tale’s main characters enter Athens in three separate groups. The Knight’s diction reflects the significant differences among these homecomings. As he tells it, Theseus “sente” Ypolita and Emelye not home but rather “[u]nto the toun of Atthnes to dwelle,” likewise the duke “sente” Arcite and Palamon, survivors of the Theban conquest, “to Atthenes to dwellen in prison,” and finally “He took his hoost, and hoom he rit” (I 971, 973, 1023, 1026). In this way, the Knight links the Amazon exiles’ time dwelling in Athens with the Theban prisoners’ jail-­stay and contrasts their respective entries with Theseus’s triumphant homecoming. The widows instigate this divergence, denying Theseus his originally planned “homecoming” with Amazons in tow, while setting him on course to destroy Thebes. This is no communal pilgrimage to a shrine but a road that diverges dramatically at mercy’s temple, just where imperial and national sovereignties part ways for Chaucer. The following pages consider how exile and war (disguised as love and limited in tournament) erode experiences of belonging and mutual understanding, experiences that elsewhere unite fellows around shared senses of home.

Palamon, Emelye, Arcite: At Home, at War, in Exile The relationship patterns we find as the Knight’s Tale rolls on vivify this erosion. Although empire creates a dynamic political fluidity, the unlim-

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ited and absolute nature of Theseus’s imperial sovereignty diminishes the agency of all but Theseus himself and dissolves horizontal comradeships: relationships founded on voluntary loyalties, shared rule, or domestic identities. The tale’s various diverging pathways reflect empire’s uneasiness with such national values, implying that imperial order dissolves domestic attachments in solidifying itself. Theseus’s failure to enter Athens with his Amazon captives seals their identity as exiles and explains their protracted if subtle resistance to Theseus’s sovereignty; likewise, as Elizabeth Fowler explains, dissolving bonds between Arcite and Palamon, the Theban cousins whom Theseus drags back from war, appear as a serious consequence of Athens’ prioritization of imperial conquest over national cooperation and consent. “The empire built upon the grounds of Theseus’ conquest is not society in general, but a particular kind of society. Its justification by conquest has a number of consequences,” writes Fowler.25 She considers the Knight’s meditation, “Ful sooth is seyde that love ne lordshipe / Wol noght, his thankes, have no felaweshipe,” on the cousins’ forsaken kinship and sworn brotherhood (1625–­ 26). Fowler concludes, The kind of tyrannical love and lordship generated by conquest are equally intolerant of the horizontal social bonds that securely bind the good society. “Felaweshipe” is an important word for Chaucer: like Aristotle’s earlier philia and Edmund Spenser’s later “friendship,” Chaucer’s “felaweship” is a general word that covers all kinds of voluntary social bonds—­from the marital to the political. Whether it is expressed in sexual or political arrangements, dominion by conquest dissolves such voluntary bonds.26

I want to particularize and elaborate Fowler’s point by showing that here, in the Knight’s Tale, such voluntary bonds dissolve concomitantly with the dissolution of home as a stable place, an experience of identification, and a concept. The horizontal bonds that dissolve or fail are domestic in character; their politics is national. Empire’s aversion to such bonds troubles the tale’s subtext. Empire and nation bolster each other elsewhere but clash here. The Knight’s Tale’s new blossoming loyalties, those of Theseus to the widows of the Seven and Arcite and Palamon to Emelye, pivot on war as opposed to home. These new associations, which are warlike even in the 25.  Fowler, “The Afterlife of the Civil Dead,” 68, 66. 26.  Ibid., 68.

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guise of love, run on aggression and selfishness rather than mutual understanding, common local investments, territorial loyalties, or reciprocity. Meanwhile preexisting relationships, between Ypolita and Emelye and between Palamon and Arcite, are voluntary—­based on both kinship and longstanding oaths of political and emotional fellowship in the Theban case, and kinship, homeland, and shared feminist values for the Amazons. Vertical, steeply hierarchical alliances supplant these horizontal bonds. While the trajectories Arcite and Palamon travel bespeak dramatic sociopolitical possibility, they also diverge around communicative impasses and domestic obfuscations, diminishing the resulting society’s national potential. These paths suggest that Theban and Amazon nations devolve into empire under Theseus’s tyranny. When we meet Arcite and Palamon they are “liggynge by and by,” in a “taas of bodyes dede” (1011, 1005). “Nat fully quyke, ne fully dede,” they walk the line between life and death together, still reflecting their kinship, class and Theban identity: “Both in oon armes,” “and of sustren two yborn” “[t]he heraudes knewe hem beste in special / As they that weren of the blood roial / of Thebes” (1015, 1012, 1019, 1017–­19). “Palamon and his felawe Arcite” are the same (1031); hence, their shared sentence is life without ransom together in an Athenian prison: “For everemoore; there may no gold hem quite” (1032). Enter Emelye. She imports a “love” that destroys loyalty and understanding as efficiently as war itself. This moment parodies love at first sight: it simultaneously mocks that possibility, insists on Emelye’s Amazon cultural identity, and demonstrates how empire corrodes horizontal relationships by fissuring language and understanding. Cupid, or Eros, would be the standard arrow bearer in such a scene, but Emelye our resident Amazon archer unseats him. Susan Crane shows how the Thebans experience (an oblivious) Emelye’s attractiveness as aggression: Courtship in the Knight’s Tale begins with Palamon and Arcite interpreting their own desires as the onslaught of a life-­threatening adventure . . . from their first sight of Emelye the lovers perceive her attractiveness as aggression. Their unreturned gaze upon her becomes her act upon them: “I was hurt right now thurghout myn ye / Into myn herte, that wol my bane be,” Palamon declares, and Arcite later echoes, “Ye sleen me with youre eyen, Emelye! / Ye been the cause wherefore that I dye.” (I 1096–­97, 1567–­68)27 27.  Susan Crane, Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Princeton: Prince­ ton UP, 1994), 172. On Emelye’s Amazon traits, see also Juliet Dor, “Chaucer’s Viragos.”

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Emelye appears as an exile, captive in a courtyard far from Scythia, and an obstinate Amazon warrior, whose war-­like mien will not fade. Her dangerousness signals both her enduring Amazon identity and the disintegration of Theban national affinities. Emelye fiercely exiles Thebes from the locus of the cousins’ domestic desires: Emelye/Eros devastates patriotism. Where they could love Thebes as home together, eros is a “regne that wolt no felawe have” (1624). Emelye undermines both the cousins’ mutual understanding as comrades and Thebes’ power as their beloved homeland. Arcite and Palamon’s mutual understanding steadily atrophies from this point forward. These cousins and brothers “[y]sworn ful depe” are also the only Thebans to survive Athens’ assault (1132). But even after years confined together in prison, Arcite misreads Palamon’s cry, which heralds their relationship’s deterioration and eventually ripens them for Theseus’s imperial picking. Arcite’s misunderstanding of Palamon marks the beginning not only of an epic rivalry but also of the collapse of a national camaraderie: it is as if they are losing their common language. In Boccaccio’s Teseida Emilia sings, luring Arcites to the window where he and Palamon sympathize over her loveliness, but Chaucer’s Thebans spar. In this narration, Palamon spots Emelye from “a chamber an heigh” (1065): And therwithal, he bleynte and cride, “A!” As though he stongen were unto the herte. And with that cry Arcite anon up sterte And seyde, “Cosyn myn, what eyleth thee, That art so pale and deedly on to see? Why cridestow? Who hath thee doon offence? (1078–­83) Arcite rises just as Emelye’s stinging wound reaches Palamon’s heart. Arcite assumes he knows Palamon’s heart and proceeds to console Palamon for nearly ten successive lines, acknowledging the horror of their prison, advising patience, and deferring to Fortune’s power (1081–­91). But Arcite’s consolation fails, because he and Palamon no longer understand their environment and relationships to it similarly. In fact, Palamon’s announcement, “Cosyn, for soothe, of this opinioun / Thow hast a veyn ymaginacioun” is followed by his own absurd imagination of Emeyle as Venus (1093–­94). Thus, Emelye’s conquest of Theban hearts divides the last members of the Theban nation. Chaucer translates the moment of love at first sight into a communicative impasse that signals the lovers’ diverging approaches to the universe and their places in it. Arcite’s immediate attempt to comfort Pal-

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amon supposes that he feels what is in his cousin’s heart, but their ensuing explanations only push empathy further from possibility. Palamon’s twenty-­line rant (1130–­50) about sworn brotherhood and the intimate “conseil” that Arcite betrays proclaims the depth of their split (1141). Meanwhile Arcite announces that Emelye’s beauty slays him and predicts certain death, if he can’t have her (1118–­22). Palamon bemusedly counters, “Wheither seistow this in ernest or in pley?” as if Arcite’s words were as perplexing as Palamon’s inarticulate cry (1125). Chaucer’s Thebans never commiserate in love as Boccaccio’s do. Instead, Palamon marvels at Emelye’s divine beauty, which prompts Arcite to suppose that Palamon feels agape as opposed to his eros, and they proceed to debate her nature. Their disagreement swells until at last they meet in Theseus’s newly built war arena. There they entertain a primarily Athenian audience by leading opposing armies that represent Thebes’ division into two weaker nations that the Athenian empire has essentially absorbed.28 Details that alternately confirm and confuse the significance of homeland and camaraderie pave the road to Theseus’s tournament round, mourning nation en route to empire. When Perotheus, a mutual friend of Arcite and Theseus, intercedes, Theseus frees but also exiles Arcite (1206–­17). In place of Boccaccio’s peculiarly grateful Arcites, Chaucer’s Arcite cries, “Allas, that evere knew I Perotheus!” (1227). He vehemently mourns his one viable horizontal bond as well as this small victory of friendship over enmity, querying the value of such bonds altogether and declaring himself “exiled” twice in fewer than thirty lines (1244, 1272). This diction confirms that Thebes is no longer home, for Arcite will be exiled there. Between his mentions of exile, Arcite’s Boethian lament exemplifies the ironic dangers of domesticity, echoing the internal fissures riddling his relationship with Palamon: Some man disireth for to han richesse, That cause is of his mordre or greet siknesse; And some man wolde out of his prisoun fayn, That in his hous is of his meynee slayn. Infinite harmes been in this mateere. We witen nat what thing we preyen heere; We faren as he that dronke is as a mouse. A dronke man woot wel he hath an hous, 28.  For a psychoanalytic reading of Emelye “as an image of the enjoyment at stake in” Palamon and Arcite’s submission to Athenian chivalric law, see Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love, 155–­75, 164.

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But he noot which the righte wey is thider, And to a dronke man the wey is slider. (1255–­64) Arcite muddles his own most obvious message: happiness and health depend both on knowing the way home and on trust among members of the same household. Home does not always indicate protection or security, just as money does not always bring prosperity according to the lines above. Whether home is a metaphysical or physical location, Arcite loses his way. Even as he hurries “homward” to Thebes, he insists that his banishment is exile, locating his “wele” with Emelye in Athens instead of looking forward to rejoining civil society in his native Thebes (1217, 1272).29 By framing desire and fulfillment in terms of the opposition between exile and domesticity, Arcite intimates the relevance of recovering lost senses of home even as he further obfuscates an already unstable concept of home. He marks his journey away from Palamon’s fellowship and toward subjection in Theseus’s imperial scheme, first by failing to communicate with Palamon about Emelye’s loveliness, next by challenging Perotheus’s testament to the power of affectionate bonds, and here by doubting home’s capacity to guarantee protection, stability, or safety. Once the cousins’ paths diverge, Palamon imagines Arcite’s feelings and intents with comparable inaccuracy. From his cell, Palamon imagines that Arcite “walkest now in Thebes” aiming to “assemblen alle the folk of oure kyndrede” for war against Athens (1283, 1286). Instead, Arcite assumes a false name and identity, leaves these kindred to Palamon, and returns to Athens, the land of his imprisonment. There “Theseus hath taken hym so neer” that he seems part of the Athenian regime “in pees and eek in were” yet collects “ful pryvely his rente,” which “men broghte hym out of his contree / From yeer to yeer” (1439, 1447, 1443, 1442–­43). Thebes reemerges as a collection of fragmentary concepts and comforts that equals no place of stability or allegiance: it is the lost nation and the land of exile; it is utterly ravaged, desolate yet a source of income and powerful potions. Indeed, Palamon, a prisoner stripped of all civil capacities, still manages to find a “freend” as well as “nercotikes and opie of Thebes fyn,” with which he drugs his jailer (1468, 1472). He escapes and heads “Thebes-­ward, his freendes for to preye / on Theseus to help him to werreye,” hoping his nation of origin will help him win Emelye (1483–­84). The cousins’ paths, imaginations, and values seem 29.  In Middle English as in English, the primary connotation of exile is separation from homeland. Though it can be used more figuratively, as it is here, it retains important connotations of homeland and nation.

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fully opposed: while Arcite’s invocation of exile destabilizes his native values of friendship and Thebanness, Palamon clings to both ideals. Yet by chance the two meet in the no-­man’s land of the grove “at unset stevene” (1524). As Arcite asks, “who shal yeve a lovere any lawe” (1164)? With no common law or lexis, Arcite and Palamon fight “[u]p to the ancle . . . in hir blood” (1660). As they fight, the Knight vivifies their exile from each other’s sympathy and comprehension by comparing them to wild animals and to Thracians, classically known for their stubborn refusal to learn Greek (1638, 1656–­57). The next turn depends upon another feminine plea for mercy, which morphs instead into a bellicose spectacle, mocking national sovereignty and its dependence on mercy, while exalting imperial military power. When Theseus happens upon the cousins on a hunt in the grove outside Athens, he naturally decides to execute them—­but Ypolita, Emelye, and their attending ladies make a strange intervention: “Have mercy, Lord, upon us wommen alle! / And on hir bare knees adoun they falle / And wolde have kist his feet ther as he stood” (1757–­59). Although they ask directly for mercy and even specify that women should receive it, Theseus and the Knight misread their plea as a tribute to love and aristocracy. The widows of the Seven Against Thebes have already demonstrated that mercy is neither a central nor legitimate emotional concern in the Knight’s narration. “Mercy” is not mercy but rather a pretext for imperial pursuit throughout this tale. In line with the strategic poses of Theseus, who conquers Thebes while professing compassion for the widows, and the cousins, whose “love” for Emelye conveniently reinstates them into the noble position of courtly lovers, the Amazons, surmising that they are next to be condemned, now preempt further injury by begging for mercy.30 Given the status they share with the Thebans as human plunder and exiles in Athens, the Amazons should indeed fear a fate similar to Arcite and Palamon’s. They perform this fear by behaving as the desperate exiles they are. Thus, they offer to kiss Theseus’s feet “[t]il at the laste aslaked was his mood” (1760). Such conduct would not become members of an equitable community, much less a queen and her ladies, in Chaucer’s day. This performance is neither as dignified as wifely counsel nor as incisive as a gadfly’s dissenting sting. The deterioration of voluntary bonds that Fowler identifies proliferates as Arcite and Palamon pledge allegiance to Theseus, simultaneously 30.  Fowler presents a cogent discussion of the power of erotic love vis-­à-­vis the Thebans’ recovery of courtly positions (“Afterlife,” 67–­69).

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abandoning both their amusing repartee (1078–­1186, 1234–­74, 1580–­ 1620) and efforts to settle the meaning of their bond. In fact, once they reconcile with Theseus, they never again address each other directly. After the Thebans pledge “nevere mo” to “dere” Theseus’ “contree,” accept his lordship, and even become his “freendes in al that [they] may,” he pardons them (1822, 1824). And although Emelye persists in her desire to remain a virgin, Theseus arranges an elaborate tournament for her hand. He may be assembling a polity of sorts, but it roots itself in war and patriarchy, excluding mercy for women like Emelye, despite the tale’s superficial nods to mercy. Here, wailing women on Athens’ outskirts again send warring men straight to Thebes. Their ambiguous outburst, like others before it, reroutes trajectories, restating the question, “which way is home?” This we wonder as Arcite and Palamon, reunited, head “homward . . . to Thebes with his olde walles wyde” in preparation for Theseus’s tournament (1880). Can this be the same Thebes Theseus “rente adoun bothe wall and sparre and rafter” (990)? In Boccaccio’s telling, Thebes remains more or less ruined, but Chaucer’s Thebes is fantastically capable of regeneration and continually requires recapture—­ the grove scene is, after all, the second time Theseus apprehends Arcite and Palamon. As William F. Woods writes, “When Palamon and Arcite enter at opposite sides of the vast amphitheater, each heads a body of one hundred picked knights—­ small armies, reminiscent of small nations.”31 Thebes, unfit to house a nation at one moment and well-­ equipped to support expatriots the next, ultimately breaks into two strange nations. As Theseus’s rule destabilizes national affinities practically, the other characters adjust—­sometimes silently, sometimes vociferously, yet always perplexingly, demonstrating political fluidity and empire’s uneasiness with relationships founded on lasting loyalties, emotional attachments, or domestic identities. As imperial time rolls on, it rolls over domesticity. From this perspective, the tale subversively critiques imperial fantasy as a thinly veiled impediment to national affiliation, a desire that flattens experiences of mutual understanding. Neither the Canterbury fellowship nor the English national society from which it springs eliminates asymmetrical or hierarchical politics, yet the pilgrims enter their new fellowship voluntarily, nonviolently, and by consent, if also with their Host’s coercive nudging. Their accord both reflects and par31.  William F. Woods, “Up and Down, To and Fro: Spatial Relationships in The Knight’s Tale,” in Rebels and Rivals: The Contestive Spirit in The Canterbury Tales, ed. Susanna Greer Fein et al. (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1991), 37–57, 53.

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ticularizes existing affinities, working as “a daily plebiscite,” Renan’s classic formulation of national consensus.32 Sovereignty, through which the Canterbury Tales imagines England, emerges as a negotiable role that governs shared ownership and judgment; by contrast, Theseian rule is tyranny. In the frame tale, debates regarding the orderliness, use, and meaning of speech produce fluidity and even transcendent solidarity among the pilgrims, who continue along the same path despite disagreements. Indeed their linguistic and domestic affinities prepare them to understand each other well enough for incisive engagement and debate about complex historical and political questions.33 But in the Knight’s Athens, characters struggle with language to explicate rather simple emotions: imperial ambition interrupts communication and mercy, which foster and reflect domesticity elsewhere in the Tales. Take for instance the domestic trend of familiar sociability and narrative exchange that Herry Bailly identifies and catalyzes in the General Prologue; Theseus’s empire performs its inverse. Despite their constant competition, the Canterbury-­bound pilgrims stick together, losing not even a Miller and gaining a Yeoman. Alternatively, this tale’s split trajectories dramatize the possibilities of political transformation through a pattern of losses that distinguishes between national and imperial desire, home and exile, sovereignty and tyranny.

Theater of War: Tournament and Domestic Politics Theseus’s costly tournament for Emelye means to magnify the values of war and chivalry in deciding important questions. However, even in the controlled environment of the arena (whose description commands over two hundred lines), war fails to secure justice or settle the contest effectively.34 The Knight’s Tale’s mounting critique of chivalric pomp culminates in the tournament and subsequent funeral. Both events challenge aristocratic attempts at empire building in the tale and reflect beyond it on the Hundred Years War, which exacted a severe domestic toll in Chaucer’s moment.35 32.  Renan, “What is a Nation?,” 154. 33.  Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England,” 142–­57. 34.  On the tournament, grove, and failure of resolution, see Joshua Eyler and John P. Sexton, “Once More to the Grove: A Note of Symbolic Space in the Knight’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 40 (2006): 433–­39. 35.  See Anne Curry, Essential Histories: The Hundred Years’ War 1337–­1453 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002), 77–­82. Curry notes the impact the Hundred Years War and related fear of raids made on Kent, the shire Chaucer served as a justice of the peace and represented in Parliament in the 1380s: “the lack of defence afforded by the crown was certainly a factor in Kentish involvement in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381” (77). Popular resentment

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Transnational aristocratic endeavors here hold little domestic value past entertainment. Focusing on tournament preparation, we see that the knights whom Arcite and Palamon enlist epitomize the bifurcation Woods identifies; their physical strangeness illustrates the chasm between the tale’s familial and military cleavages. With Palamon comes “Lygurge hymself, the grete kyng of Trace,” who looks about like a griffon with eyes “gloweden bitwixen yelow and reed” (2129, 2132). The warrior’s frighteningly bizarre features, perfect for intimidating opponents on the battlefield, would be disturbing in the domestic realm. Yet Lygurge imports something beyond martial prowess: he arrives standing in a golden chariot, “as the gyse was in his contree,” and thus widens the national rift between the Thebans by wedging in Thracian cultural traditions (2137). Meanwhile Arcite drafts “[t]he grete Emetreus, the kyng of Inde,” India, earth’s ends in Chaucer’s idiom, to fight his cousin (2156): His nose was heigh, his eyen bright citryn, His lippes rounde, his colour was sangwyn; A fewe frakenes in hys face yspreynd, Bitwixen yelow and somdel blak ymeynd; And as a leon he his lookyng caste. (2167–­71) Now the Theban knights, who enter the tale “[b]othe in oon armes,” prepare to battle each other under different banners represented by foreign kings who wear hostile inscrutability on their faces and in their eyes (1012). Thebes has become two strange nations, whose warriors’ physical differences emblematize their political disparity and rivalry. Despite Theseus’s proclaimed concern with reuniting “eyther syde ylik as ootheres brother,” his grand exploit remains squandering Athens’ resources on a stadium where Thebans perform and proliferate the discord separating them (2734). Theseus’s magnanimous gesture clothes the conflict in international regalia, thereby escalating rather than assuaging the original dispute’s proportions, which he might have reduced to a personal or familial feud, moving nacioun in its other direction. Here, chivalric displays create more problems than they solve, much as cross-­channel aristocratic endeavors did from a 1380s domestic English perspective. of this war, which benefitted the aristocracy and cost English commoners, grew in the years before Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales. See also Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 179–­87 for an alternative critique of war: Butterfield reads the Knight’s Tale as a repudiation of war between kin, which she likens to English-­French clashes.

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Chaucerians interpret the tournament in diverse ways, the most compelling of which illuminate its assessment of war and chivalric history. Bruce Kent Cowgill reads Chaucer’s fourteenth-­century literary revival of a twelfth-­and thirteenth-­ century style tournament not simply as anachronism but as a powerful “identification with the old order and its more exalted concept of chivalry.”36 Cowgill focuses on the tale’s fourth part, reading it as a comparison of nationalist warmongering and internationalist peace, where nationalism promotes war. For him, the tournament works as both an indictment of “the debased nationalistic ideals of the Hundred Years War” and “a quiet plea for peace.”37 Hanning describes the tournament round as “a true theatrum mundi: an image of the universe, with men below and gods above,” which either controls or intensifies human suffering depending on one’s perspective.38 Tomasch highlights the tournament’s failure and with it Theseus’s failure to reorder the world, for although Arcite wins the contest, his victory lap tumble means he loses Emelye. Thus the tournament round is a failed T-­O mappa mundi—­a medieval world map with Jerusalem as its center, yet still “a world in minature,” which signifies internecine war escalating toward international conflict.39 Intensifying strife overflows the arena’s proportions, recalling us to the grove, the prison, and Clementia’s temple: spaces that represent and contain those excluded or fallen from the aristocracy. In these margins, we hear Cowgill’s “quiet plea for peace.” More specifically, we recall sounds of mourning and fear insisting that war, no matter its form, goal, or ideology, interrupts domestic harmony, bringing dissonance and pain. Theseus’s theater of war becomes a theater of death as Arcite falls, injures himself, and dies. An epic occupatio then describes his funeral via forty-­three lines of verse, comprising the longest sentence in all Chaucer’s oeuvre (2919–­62). Theseus sacrifices vast natural, economic, and spiritual resources for this pageant, which brings widespread homelessness. The extravagant ceremony requires such a large pyre that the felled trees execute a collective eviction of “[n]ymphes, fawnes and amadrides” from the grove; spirits and animals alike are “[d]isherited of hire habita36.  Bruce Kent Cowgill, “The Knight’s Tale and the Hundred Years War,” Philological Quarterly 54 (1975): 670–­79, 674. 37.  Ibid., 677. 38.  Hanning, “The Struggle Between Noble Design and Chaos,” 82. 39.  Tomasch, 209. The tournament fails for lack of a Jerusalem, a consequence of Theseus’s paganism. Alternatively, a successful mappa mundi “uses scenes of the visible world” to “intimate the invisible,” thereby leading “pilgrims to territory beyond” the map (217).

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cioun” (2928, 2926). The Athenian habit of plundering national resources and sending various creatures into exile remains the Knight’s Tale’s most dependable trend, the one to which the Knight devotes his longest sentence. This fresh wave of exile crashes above and beyond the human sphere, maximizing the tournament’s profligacy.40 As imperial pomp and power intensify, Athens appears not as a national home but as an expanding state of waste and homelessness. My reading attempts to show that Theseus’s systematic, orderly conquest obstructs national consciousness, promoting instead exile and plunder. Tellingly, the Knight’s Tale’s first lines imagine a homecoming it never realizes. We have followed the trajectories through which the tale’s fantasies of home and homeland disintegrate. Fantasies of home and realities of exile define each other, tracing and then erasing nationhood’s form. Ultimately, home appears as a discourse of desire; meanwhile, exile prevails as a practical experience of natural and cultural space, an expression of serious communal failures. Thus the Tale queries the ideal of domesticity by exploring the reality of exile, which even wars waged in the names of love and nation beget. Romance is a literary tradition of approaching history by putting reality in touch with fantasy and finding meaning in ensuing chance alliances and adventures.41 Likewise, nationalism is a political tradition of imagining history by putting reality in touch with fantasy and thereby attempting to empower and authorize the chance alliances and adventures that have already begun to assemble a people. While the romance tradition informs the Knight’s Tale, Theseus’s understanding of community is hardly romantic.42 The plot yields a well-­ordered empire led by a transnational aristocracy, but no sense of home or domesticity survives. This lack pivots to challenge the value and practicality of the empire that secures it. Theseus’s assiduous ordering superficially sutures together a world of exile and desire; yet it eludes his control, illuminating tensions between empire and nation. According to Hanning, Chaucer not only expands our understanding of Theban history to reflect human possibility generally but also con40.  On the political and cultural implications of the grove’s destruction, see Fowler, “Afterlife,” 74. 41. Heng, Empire of Magic, 45. 42.  On genre in the Knight’s Tale, see Crane, Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, 169–­79; Hanning, “‘The Struggle Between Noble Design and Chaos,’” 88–­89; Knapp, Chaucer and the Social Contest, 28–­31; Robert M. Stein, “The Conquest of Femenye: Desire, Power, and Narrative in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale,” in Desiring Discourse: The Literature of Love, Ovid Through Chaucer, ed. James J. Paxson and Cynthia A. Gravlee (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna UP; London: Associated UP, 1998), 188–­205.

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tracts it by allowing the Knight to transmit this story, thereby exposing the tensions Chaucer saw specifically in late medieval chivalry.43 However, the constant struggle between chaos and noble designs is neither so tightly circumscribed nor a universally human problem. It is a national problem appropriate to the demands of nations: legitimate sovereignty and domesticity, being at home with that sovereignty. The nation makes these demands, which seem to require martial force as well as moral authority. These requirements, in turn, call for order. But in the Knight’s Tale order is all we get, and order is never enough. Chaucer leaves it to the Man of Law to tell a more satisfying yet also more anachronistic national story of empire, exile, and return. The following section on erroneous histories that project English sovereignty and domesticity into the British past considers how law, religion, and networks of exchange achieve what war and chivalry pursue in vain here.

43.  Hanning, “‘The Struggle Between Noble Design and Chaos,” 70.

P art I I

Sovereignty and Anachronism

f i ve

Sovereignty Matters Anachronism, Chaucer’s Britain, and England’s Future’s Past There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.

—­w alter benjamin 1

Chaucer consistently approaches the matter of English nationhood in terms of sovereignty. This chapter exposes the tensions through which he ultimately defines national sovereignty. As chapter 2 suggests, sovereignty in the Canterbury Tales describes the legitimate power that governs a hierarchical relationship, and it indicates shared ownership and judgment. Although Chaucer uses the terms soveraynetee and nacioun sparingly—­soveraynetee five times in all the Canterbury Tales, and nacioun just four times—­the contexts are telling. Nacioun appears twice in the Man of Law’s Tale and once in the Wife of Bath’s Tale; soveraynetee appears once in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and once in her tale. Together, these sections accomplish Chaucer’s nationalist revision of insular history, his Englishing of the British past. Read in the traditional Ellesmere order, these romances respond to the Fragment I fabliaux, which trace a well-­ known trajectory of decline by illustrating small-­scale crises that threaten national institutions. The fabliaux introduce clerks and a parson who are more interested in extramarital sex than in Christian morality, a miller who would rather steal than sell his services, and a wife who is all too 1.  Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” 256.


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ready to sell her services. This fragment exposes a contemporary English nation characterized by pathological transgressions of the order that Church, law, and marriage impose. Both the Man of Law and the Wife of Bath respond with stories that recall how sovereignty saved sixth-­century Britain from similar depredations. Sovereignty appears not as the absolute power of an absolute monarch but as a particular form of government capable of redeeming communities bound by shared law, language, and religious identity. Meanwhile, the nation emerges as that particular form of political and cultural community defined by such sovereignty. The Man of Law’s Tale uses the British past to address two sets of contemporary national concerns: anxieties about the future of English institutions in crisis and questions about England’s place in the world (given its insular pagan history, limited vernacular language, and claimed continental inheritances). The Man of Law renders the British past capable of producing an English future by citing an episode of crisis and redemption that signals contemporary redemptive potential. He ultimately presents a historical case for national sovereignty as the antidote to the problems plaguing England, its language, and its institutions of marriage, Church, and law. Chaucer elucidates the significance of nationhood and sovereignty precisely by engaging these concepts with each other. I preface my reading of the Man of Law’s Tale with an interpretation of sovereignty elsewhere in the Canterbury Tales, and particularly in the Parson’s Tale, which defines sovereignty most straightforwardly. After considering Chaucer’s general understanding of sovereignty, I argue that the Man of Law’s Tale imagines English national sovereignty through anachronism and internationalism.2 Both the Man of Law and the Wife of Bath present sovereignty as a talismanic agent that redeems England’s failing political and cultural institutions, yet neither pilgrim offers this key to redemption without also querying the viability of sovereignty as a political plan. English images of sovereignty come into focus only after the tale-­tellers excuse violence and invoke the help of internationally influential texts written after the moments in which they set their tales. Chaucer situates sixth-­century Britain in a world whose political and cultural contours have already been shaped by the seventh-­century Quran in the Man of Law’s Tale and by Dante’s fourteenth-­century Commedia and 2.  On time in the Man of Law’s Tale, see Bloomfield, “Chaucer’s Sense of History”; Davis, “Time Behind the Veil”; Sue Niebrzydowski, “Monstrous (M)othering,” in Consuming Narratives: Gender and Monstrous Appetite in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Liz Herbert McAvoy and Teresa Walters (Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2002), 202–­7; and Sarah Stanbury, “The Man of Law’s Tale and Rome,” Exemplaria 22.2 (2010): 119–­37.

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Convivio in the Wife of Bath’s Tale. These texts produce the sovereign structures that redeem the English nation, implying that the only power that might redeem England’s institutional and moral decadence to ensure its continuity is the power of an impossible British past. In this light, the Man of Law’s Tale declares the nation’s need for history while also admitting that this history need not be true to be useful. Bloomfield sees Chaucer’s temporal mixing in this tale as unconscious. In the present and following chapters, I demonstrate that, whether conscious or unconscious, Chaucer’s anachronisms consistently serve national imagination by promoting images of a distinctly Christian and viably sovereign England. These anachronisms simultaneously testify to the error endemic to Chaucer’s English nationalism. While earlier readings proclaim the Man of Law’s Tale a new beginning for the entire Christian community and admire its sympathetic and tolerant treatment of Islam, recent criticism shows how the tale speaks for a comparatively narrow and exclusive English national community.3 Geraldine Heng and Kathy Lavezzo, who investigate the continuities and oppositions that characterize the relationship between England and empire, most influence my view of the relationship among England, Rome, and Syria. Lavezzo reads the Man of Law’s Tale as an assertion of English legal and geographical sovereignty as opposed to Roman sovereignty.4 She shows that even though the English need Custance, the Roman Emperor’s daughter, to reach their sovereign “religio-­juridical potential,” the Man of Law obtains Roman legal and religious authority for England 3. On MLT as a new beginning, see Helen Cooper, The Structure of the Canterbury Tales (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1984), 121; V. A. Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: The First Five Canterbury Tales (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1984), 297–­358; Derek Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales (London: Routledge, 1985), 244–­94, 256. On Islam, see Anthony Bale, “‘A maner Latyn corrupt’: Chaucer and the Absent Religions,” in Chaucer and Religion, ed. Helen Cooper (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 52–­64; Bloomfield, “Chaucer’s Sense of History”; and Roger Ellis, Patterns of Religious Narrative in the Canterbury Tales (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1986), 119–­68. Susan Schibanoff turns the critical tide arguing that the tale’s orientalist and sexist rhetoric is poised to reunify the Christian Englishmen of the Canterbury pilgrimage after the class-­ based antagonisms of the first fragment (“Worlds Apart: Orientalism, Anti-­Feminism and Heresy in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Exemplaria 8 [1986]: 59–­96). Davis probes the Man of Law’s orientalist discourse, concluding that his orientalism “works through women,” because women bear their communities’ collective ethnic and religious identities. English identity emerges through a world order wherein an unconvertible Islamic East opposes Christian Europe, including England (“Time Behind the Veil,”116). 4.  Heng, “Beauty and the East: Women, Children, and Imagined Communities in The Man of Law’s Tale and Its Others,” in Empire of Magic, 178–­237; Kathy Lavezzo, “Beyond Rome.”

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without the usual burden of obligation to the empire.5 I agree with Lavezzo’s reading of Custance’s providential arrival on England’s strange shores with only a Christian identity and no trace of her Roman imperial lineage as part of the Man of Law’s attempt to wrest legal sovereignty from Rome for England.6 Focusing less on opposition and more on continuity, Heng argues that English nationalist impulses help to refound England in the Man of Law’s Tale, where they appear contiguous with ancient imperial civilization (as in other Constance romances). Viewed in the wider context of the Canterbury Tales, establishing continuity between sixth-­century Britain and Chaucer’s own English moment seems just as crucial to the national refounding—­or perhaps redemption—­at the heart of the Man of Law’s project. I would therefore extend Lavezzo’s point about legal sovereignty to English national sovereignty, which is historical and political as well as legal and geographical. At the same time, I follow Heng’s insights about English nationalist impulses and continuity with the ancient past forward to the Man of Law’s own late medieval present. Crucial here again is Hardt and Negri’s view that the nation sustains and legitimizes the idea of sovereignty by imagining itself as a preexisting community that warrants sovereignty as a form of self-­determination.7 In claiming to be sovereign, the modern nation presupposes a particular yet transcendent experience of national culture, identity, and homogenous subjectivity rooted in its own immemorial past.8 A similar observation might be made about medieval conceptions of nationhood, although medieval thinkers were less fascinated by the transcendent, transformative magic of the immemorial nation, which they regarded as a common, inescapable form of cultural community. Medieval nationalists were more interested in sovereignty’s capacity to sustain the community when limited to the nation’s discrete and familiar space.9 The rela5.  Lavezzo, “Beyond Rome,” 167. 6.  As Lavezzo explains, the Man of Law “simultaneously references and resolves the shortcomings of his class of legal professionals by depicting Custance both as the potential victim of a flawed Anglo-­Saxon legal system and the means by which that system achieves judicial supremacy” (Ibid.; see also 156–­62). 7.  Hardt and Negri, Empire, 101. 8.  See also Anderson, Imagined Communities and Bhabha, “DissemiNation.” 9.  As chapter 2 explicates, Jean of Paris links the natural diversity of climate, language, and culture among the world’s peoples with a need for political sovereignty and insists that efficient and peaceful state government rests on a king’s recognition of his dominion’s territorial limits (De potestate regia et papali, 15). Similarly for Nicole Oresme, a kingdom of

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tionship between nation and sovereignty in the Canterbury Tales resembles that between modern understandings of these concepts in respect to chronological sequence, for the English nation is immemorial, while Chaucer recounts moments and ways in which sovereignty is established. But this relationship diverges from its modern counterpart in terms of agency: in the Tales sovereignty is the talisman that restores nationhood’s moral value. Both in a modern context and in Chaucer’s medieval context, the nation exists before sovereignty. In Hardt and Negri’s modern formulation, however, the nation supports inexcusable forms of sovereignty, while in the Tales sovereignty is the redemptive agent. For Chaucer, sovereignty appears as a legitimate form of government in line with shared religious identity: a power that refounds and sustains the otherwise decadent England of the Tales’ first three fragments. Innovative anachronism animates Chaucer’s understanding of the relationship between sovereignty and the English nation. This technique shows that the nation’s power derives not from its truth but from its professed age, its capacity for continuity, and especially its sovereignty. To understand Chaucer’s message about national sovereignty, we must read the Canterbury Tales intertextually, comprehend its dialogic frame-­ narrative sequentially, and recognize as “national history” the subnarratives that turn on anachronistic textual interventions. In other words, comprehending the message requires that we accept that the tales do bear on each other, that we consider how the Ellesmere order raises and answers the question of English nationhood, and that we admit that anachronism in the ancient British romances both supports and complicates the Tales’ grand story of England. By commissioning his pilgrims to tell England’s national history and licensing them to prioritize cultural truth over historical truth in the storytelling game, Chaucer reprioritizes the three elements common to influential models of medieval sovereignty: community, love, and truth. In short, he solves the problem of national sovereignty by authorizing anachronism. Chaucer reveals that sovereignty, like history, is a kind of story that requires collaboration—­ and history, like sovereignty, is a form of power that requires participation. The omnipresence of violence and coercion in the Man of Law’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale queries sovereignty’s legitimacy. The main excessive size “is not a natural kingdom, but a violent thing, which can not last” (“ne est pas royalme naturel, mes chose violente et qui ne peut durer”) (Le Livre de Politiques d’Aristote, 292).

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questions here are, how can sovereignty be legitimate when it cannot be established without violence? And, what is sovereignty worth if its costs always include the pain and suffering of innocent people?

Sovereignty in the Canterbury Tales In all but one of its five appearances in the Canterbury Tales soveraynetee refers to power in marriage and more specifically to the complex power structures that link the sentimental dimensions of the institution of marriage with social culture—­and with its public, political, and national consequence. The Wife of Bath first uses the word in her prologue to indicate the “governance” she achieves over “hous and lond” and over her violent husband’s “tonge, and of his hond also” (III 814–­15), which effectively renders her head of household and resolves her long-­standing marital problems. In her tale, King Arthur’s wayward knight learns that “Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee / As wel over hir housbond as hir love” (1038–­39). This answer clarifies the distinct social and emotional dimensions of marriage: the roles of husband and wife carry social rights and responsibilities, while “love” specifies a role that carries emotional responsibility. The Franklin similarly distinguishes between dominance in emotional opposed to public affairs; he presents a knight who marries a lady of higher rank, promising not to take mastery over her, but to obey her “As any lovere to his lady shal, / Save that the name of soveraynetee, / That wolde he have for shame of his degree” (V 750–­52). Sovereignty reduces to a requisite name, seemingly without much substance, to which Arveragus is entitled because of social rank.10 While sovereignty pertains to a public role (as always in the Canterbury Tales), it governs a relationship that is both public and private, both social and emotional here.11 Soveraynetee appears again in the Clerk’s Tale, where it indicates governance of marriages and polities and marks the tensions linking such institutions. Sovereignty is meant to secure familiarities, but instead it upsets hierarchies, if only momentarily. The concept surfaces at the very 10.  Unlike the Wife of Bath’s sovereignty, which changes hands, sovereignty in Franklin’s Tale is the one nonnegotiable power in Dorigen and Arveragus’s marriage; my epilogue expounds. 11.  This section builds on the readings of Donald C. Green, “The Semantics of Power: ‘Maistrie’ and ‘Soveraynetee’ in ‘The Canterbury Tales,’” Modern Philology 84 (1986): 18–­23, which establish sovereignty as governing “role-­defined relationships” (23). I depart from Green on how various pilgrims refine the terms through use.

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moment when a sovereign’s people tell him what to do: “Boweth youre nekke under that blisful yok / Of soveraynetee, noght of servyse, / Which that men clepe spousaille or wedlok” (IV 113–­15). This imperative reverses the chain of command between governor and governed. Despite the people’s attempt to render marriage appealing by associating it with sovereignty, marriage remains a yoke that characterizes sovereignty as much as sovereignty characterizes marriage. Whether or not such sovereignty offers additional power and bliss, it clearly functions as a social and political burden. The people use the idea of marital sovereignty to manage their marquis’ political sovereignty. They fear rule by strangers who do not share their identity and so constrain him to marry to produce an heir who might protect their community from conquest by a “straunge successour” (138).12 Although we cannot define sovereignty completely based on these instances, we see that Chaucerian sovereignty governs relationships with distinct emotional and social dimensions. Chaucer consistently uses sovereignty to describe the politics of relationships that are both public and private: relationships based on familiar affinities and a warm sense of belonging, and also on hierarchies and cold institutional practice.

Sovereignty in the Parson’s Tale Although the Parson does not directly mention English national sovereignty, his tale contains Chaucer’s fullest definition of national sovereignty, showing how sovereignty governs relationships not only among married couples but also among folk who share religious and political identities, like the fourteenth-­century English.13 The Parson begins his meditation on sovereignty by presenting the relationship of lords to slaves in anti-­Aristotelian, Christian terms.14 The undue oppression of 12.  See Angela Florscheutz, “‘A Mooder He Hath, but Fader Hath He Noon’: Constructions of Genealogy in the Clerk’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 44 (2009): 25–­60 on hereditary succession in the Canterbury Tales. 13.  See Susanne Sara Thomas, “The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in the Wife of Bath’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 41 (2006): 87–­97. Although the Parson does not offer a direct and systematic definition of sovereignty, it is considerably more definable in his view. 14.  Sustained scholarly attention to questions of sovereignty and thralldom in the Parson’s Tale is rare. Useful readings include Peggy Knapp, “The Words of the Parson’s ‘Vertuous Sentence,’” in Closure in The Canterbury Tales: The Role of The Parson’s Tale, ed. David Raybin and Linda Tarte Holley, (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Press, 2000), 95–­113; Judith Ferster, “Chaucer’s Parson and the ‘Idiosyncracies of Fiction,’” in Closure in The Canterbury Tales, 115–­50; Paul Olson, The Canterbury Tales and the Good Society (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986), 283; and Larry Scanlon, Narrative, Authority and Power, 17–­22.

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slaves, whom sin—­not nature—­binds, appears as an extreme case of avarice, that is, as an abuse of ownership privilege. The Parson emphasizes the limits implicit in Dante’s ideal of sovereignty by juxtaposing Dante’s notions of imperial ownership and of mankind’s common origin and nobility. In Convivio IV, Dante challenges Aristotle, maintaining that the human race is descended from one man and that nobility is variable among a man’s descendants based on common virtue irrespective of particular lineage. Likewise, quoting Augustine citing Genesis, the Parson explains, “the firste cause of thraldom is for synne” (X 755), asserting that imperial ownership imposes rather than negates obligation to treat hierarchical inferiors fairly. The Parson continues, “the lawe seith that temporeel goodes of boonde-­folk been the goodes of hir lordshipes, ye, that is for to understonde, the goodes of the emperour, to deffenden hem in hir right, but nat for to robben hem ne reven hem” (758). In Dante’s De monarchia, beneficence flows from the emperor’s absolute jurisdiction, seemingly without obligation (Monarchia, 1.1–­13). God limits the emperor’s ownership and judgment, yet imperial word is law unlimited on earth. Chaucer marries Dante’s Christian proto-­humanism to imperial power, thereby prioritizing empire’s capacity for mediation above its absolute temporal sovereignty. From this perspective, imperial ownership obligates lords to thralls, requiring lords to defend bondsmen. The Parson notes that, “Thilke that thou clepest thy thralles been Goddes peple, for humble folk been Cristes freendes; they been contubernyal with the Lord,” and, moreover, “of swich seed as cherles spryngen, of swich seed spryngen lordes. As wel may the cherl be saved as the lord” (X 760–­61). All humanity thus shares political and spiritual potential. The emperor acts as a mediator, whose supreme jurisdiction limits all lordly treatment of thralls according with their common humanity and the impermanence of thralldom. According to the Parson, emperors mitigate in cases of thralldom, hence cases of imperial rule. Alternatively, soveraynetee moderates among free subjects who share a religious identity. Chaucer’s final use of sovereignty pertains to situations in which shared religious identity overwrites thralldom and subjects share the same condition (though not the same rank or degree). With shared faith comes freedom, and with freedom, mutual obligation (though not equality). The Parson explains, “in somme contrees, ther they byen thralles, whan they han turned hem to the feith, they maken hire thralles free out of thraldom. And therfore, certes, the lord oweth to his man that the man oweth to his lord” (771). Shared lay religious identity works much like contemporary forms of

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secular national identity, bonding people to their coreligionists, to those who share their culture, while mitigating yet preserving hierarchies that define them.15 Sovereignty maintains hierarchies as thralldom disappears and folk share a decisive cultural and religious identity. God ordains sovereignty, a reasonable and human power, for earthly rule among believers. Yet the Parson’s presentation of hierarchy is exceptionally complex; he suggests that the Pope occupies both the top and the bottom rungs on the ladder of political sovereignty: The Pope calleth hymself servant of the servantz of God; but for as muche as the estaat of hooly chirche ne myghte nat han be, ne the commune profit ne myghte nat han be kept, ne pees and rest in erthe, but if God hadde ordeyned that som men hadde hyer degree and som men lower, / therefore was sovereyntee ordeyned, to kepe and mayntene and deffenden hire underlynges or hire subgetz in resoun, as ferforth as it lith in hire power, and nat to destroyen hem ne confounde. (772–­73)

One possible reading would have the Pope, by his own admission, occupying the bottom rung of the hierarchy of lords and free servants: God sits at the top, followed by his faithful servants, who are followed by their servant the Pope. Alternatively, one could read the first clause as an admission that the Pope calls himself by a misleading name, given his station atop the first (clerical) estate, whence he guards the “commune profit . . . pees and rest in erthe” through sovereign government. This ambiguity suggests that it matters less who occupies the highest hierarchical position than that there is such a position: sovereignty pertains to communities wherein members share a faith but not a class. Indeed, sovereignty ensures that all never share one class.16 In Chaucer’s national romances, sovereignty institutionalizes hierarchy just as it hierarchizes institutions of marriage, court, and Church, which always include people who hold disproportionate amounts of power. Even though the communal identity that a shared faith implies is crucial to political identity in sovereign polities, conversion may ground such an identity, according to the Parson. And even when all subjects share religious identity—­a free15.  Ferster interprets this section as evidence that the Parson sees serfdom as incompatible with Christianity (“Chaucer’s Parson and the ‘Idiosyncracies of Fiction,’”147). 16.  Olson reads this detail as admission that, in the Parson’s ideal society, “everyone is properly a servant” (The Canterbury Tales and the Good Society, 283).

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dom that resists equality—­religious leadership does not translate directly into political sovereignty without reason. The difference between religious leadership and political sovereignty is clearest when we consider sovereignty’s ethics in the simplest terms. Sovereignty is an ethical form of governance because of its earthly function (ensuring “commune profit . . . pees and rest in erthe”) and its “resoun,” but not because of faith—­even if God is its source and it averts the sin of avarice. Source, earthly function, and spiritual function are each distinguishable. Not faith but reason rules members of hierarchical, religiously homogenous communities. Sovereignty maintains legitimate order in a multiclass society, imposes mutual obligation among the governed and governors, and promises to secure common profit, earthly peace, and the Church’s property and condition. The Parson holds that God’s ordinance is intelligible in human terms: sovereignty is ethical for observable reasons. The last three clauses in the passage above delineate sovereignty’s earthly nature as legitimate ownership and judgment; men of higher degree may neither destroy nor confound “hire underlynges or hire subgetz.” The verbs “destroyen” and “confounde” distinguish between the material and intellectual interests of subjects in the sovereign realm. The nouns “underlynges” and “subgetz” suggest components of a kingdom, both animate and inanimate, human and material. Sovereignty thus precludes absolute ownership of communal resources and absolute judgment in intellectual matters without regard for common profit; but because citizens of sovereign realms hold different ranks, we must not assume that they will profit equally. The most resonant point is also the humblest, hidden in a subordinate clause that admits that sovereigns maintain their subjects only “as ferforth as it lith in hire power.” Earthly sovereignty has discrete spatial and temporal limits; it extends only so far ahead before it requires serious renegotiation. Chaucerian sovereignty’s functionality and legitimacy derive from particular limits rather than from a universal breadth limited only by time and the sovereign’s nobility (as in the case of Dante’s sovereignty).17 Thus the Parson’s Tale marks Chaucer’s human sphere of sovereignty. Beyond sovereign realms lies rule by “lordes that been lyk wolves, that devouren the possessiouns or the catel of povre folk wrongfully, withouten mercy or mesure” (774). Wolfish lords behave as if outside the 17.  Dante argues that love defines sovereign nobility: the emperor is a good leader because, owning everything, he is thus exempt from desire and most capable of love (Monarchia, 1.11–­13).

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human community of “povre folk,” the bounds of legitimate ownership. In contrast, sovereignty renders obligatory mercy, measure, compassion, and reason. In this context, the Parson addresses mercantile agency, using the negative example of “deceite bitwixe marchaunt and marchant” (776). Distinguishing between “bodily” and “goostly” merchandise, he describes only the former as “honest and leveful” (776), suggesting that the immaterial or material nature of goods legitimizes or delegitimizes their exchange: Of thilke bodily marchandise that is leveful and honest is this: that, there as God hath ordeyned that a regne or a contree is suffisaunt to hymself, thanne is it honest and leveful that of habundaunce of this contree, that men helpe another contree that is moore nedy. / And therfore ther moote been marchantz to bryngen for that o contree to that oother hire merchandises. (777–­78)

Merchants act not as official citizens of a country but as agents marking the boundaries that separate self-­sufficient, sovereign countries as well as their intersections with each other. Exchange beyond one’s essential needs defines relationships across sovereign boundaries, wherein ownership is not shared but changes hands. Thus material goods may be exchanged across sovereign boundaries legitimately, and a principle of fair economic trade (rather than mercy or reason) legitimizes mercantile exchange. As we have begun to see, emotional obligation, intellectual engagement, and their absence from mercantile exchange distinguish Chaucer’s ideal of sovereign government from other legitimate forms of mediation. Discussing sovereignty primarily in marital situations concerning adults who hold different types and amounts of power, Chaucer characterizes relationships governed by sovereignty as those that require emotional and intellectual participation. Here sovereign rule does not approach divinity, and it fails its purpose when it falls short of humanity’s emotional or intellectual depths. For the Parson, sovereignty ultimately indicates legitimacy as well as shared ownership and judgment, yet he acknowledges that ownership and judgment are never easily or evenly shared. The presence of sovereignty puts ethical pressure on the relationships sovereignty governs just as it exposes the inequalities that facilitate that very government. The Parson presents sovereignty as a cultural, political, and perhaps spatial boundary within which no external religious or political intervention is legitimate. His discussion accentuates distinctions among three types of

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ownership: (1) ownership mediated by imperial power; (2) ownership within sovereign domains, where compassion, reason, and reciprocity mediate; and (3) ownership exchanged across self-­sufficient domains. For the Parson, sovereignty excludes both thralldom and equality because it requires both freedom and hierarchy. The term pertains particularly to realms wherein mutual obligation binds men of different degrees and shared religious identity together in hierarchical relationships.18 In such communities, ethical demands extend past what is basic to humanity, embracing the particular demands of nation, reason, and mercy: intellectual and emotional reciprocity. The Parson uses the term soveraynetee to prescribe how rulers should rule subjects who share their religious identity, which is crucial to fourteenth-­century national and racial identities. Even so, sovereignty preserves rather than abolishes hierarchical inequalities among people. Sovereignty’s propriety is particularly difficult to judge in these cases, because universal human rights are too broad to represent ethical imperatives and principles of fair economic trade are too narrow. Hence, the Parson’s conception of sovereignty serves as a necessary yet somewhat variable barometer of how (and how fairly) national government works elsewhere in the Tales.

Sovereignty, Nation, and Marriage in the Man of Law’s Tale Like other Canterbury tales that tackle the question of sovereignty, the Man of Law’s Tale considers its relationship with love and the institution of marriage. Like the Parson, the Man of Law asks how religious faith and identity shape sovereignty. The Man of Law complicates the Parson’s ideals of sovereignty, thralldom, conversion, and religious identity by testing them in particular cultural and historical contexts. Comparing the Parson’s own ideals with those of the Man of Law’s characters, we find that the most definitive distinctions between Christian and Muslim, or England and Syria, are also the most superficial: their names. In fact, the tale’s Muslim villainess follows the Parson’s rhetoric more closely than any of Chaucer’s Christian characters. Only the Man of Law and the Wife of Bath apply the ideal of sovereignty circulating through the Tales directly to England itself. Interestingly, the noun soveraynetee does not appear in the Man of Law’s Tale, though concepts of political, legal, territorial, and cultural sovereignty abound, and the adjective sovereyn appears twice. Sovereyn first describes the Roman Empress and later her husband, the Emperor (II 18.  Knapp, “The Words,” 107.

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276, 1089). Yet Roman sovereignty is not in question, nor is it as critical an issue as English and Syrian sovereignty are here, where images of sovereign English and Syrian nations emerge dramatically and with consequence. Drawing on ideas expressed by other Canterbury pilgrims, particularly the Parson, the Man of Law shows how sovereignty works through religious identity to define Syria and England as nations. The Man of Law begins his own story as benevolent Syrian merchants relay their stories about the Roman emperor’s daughter to the Syrian Sultan, who falls in love with her reputation. Neither Nicholas Trevet’s Life of Constance nor John Gower’s Tale of Constance, the closest analogues, specifies Syria, which Chaucer mentions seven times by name (134, 173, 177, 279, 387, 441, 955). Trevet’s merchants and Sultan hail from “la grande Sarazine” (165), while Gower’s occupy an even more generic “Barbarie” (599).19 Chaucer distinguishes Syria and Syrians (153, 394, 435, 963), defining a nation. After the Sultan and his barons convert to Christianity in exchange for Custance’s hand, his steadfastly Muslim mother claims sovereignty, preserving Islamic law and culture by killing her son and the converts. She banishes Custance on a rudderless boat that takes her to Saxon Britain. There, Custance inspires more bloody crimes and more conversions. She also rehabilitates the nation’s feeble institutions by querying the judicial system’s capacity to protect marriage and life, and simultaneously she exposes the knighthood’s corruption. Custance ultimately marries the converted Saxon king Alla, who (like his fellow sixth-­century king Arthur) should know better than to leave the homeland vulnerable with relatives like his. He is nevertheless fighting the ever-­troublesome Scots when Custance delivers their son. Donegild, Alla’s mother, exiles Custance and son, so Alla kills her upon his return. Years later, Alla seeks papal absolution in Rome, where he is reunited with his family. When his grandfather dies, Maurice, son of an English king and Roman princess, becomes Roman emperor. Thus England provides continuity for Rome though Maurice, while Rome imparts Christianity, order, and justice to England through Custance. At the tale’s close, England emerges as a sovereign Christian nation, interdependent with yet distinct from the Roman Empire. It also appears as England by name, though the Man of Law first introduces Alla’s kingdom as Northumberland (1130, 508, 578). 19.  References to Nicholas Trevet’s “Life of Constance” and John Gower’s “Tale of Constance” are to Margaret Schlauch’s editions, in Sources and Analogues of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1941), 155–­206. References to Trevet are by page number; those to Gower are by line number.

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This final image of England is all the more powerful when we consider that the Man of Law’s Tale begins with mercantile commerce and the possibility of conversion, two important posts along the trajectory through which the Parson’s Tale explicates sovereignty. In the analogues, Constance converts the merchants; alternatively Chaucer lingers over the merchants’ description, yet it is business as usual when they go back to Syria, unconverted, “And doon hir nedes as they han doon yoore” (174). Chaucer’s merchants are distinctly outside Christian community or any national community that the Sultan and Custance might create.20 By the Parson’s standards, their mediation is purely mercantile, the sort that is unnecessary where sovereignty mediates among those who share religious identity. But these merchants are absolutely necessary. In fact, the Sultan falls in love with Custance based solely upon their report. The Man of Law explicates the Sultan’s adoption of Custance’s religious identity thus, the Sowdan and his baronage And alle his liges sholde ycristned be, And he shal han Custance in mariage, And certein gold, I noot what quantitee; And heer-­to founden sufficient suretee. (239–­43) This agreement presents particular problems. A dowry seems apt and reasonable, but Chaucer matches spiritual conversion with an unknown yet quantifiable “quantitee” of gold. This intercultural exchange resembles simony. The deal and its promise to “founden sufficient suretee” elicit questions of conversion, politics, and continuity: can any amount of gold legitimately be involved here? What might this marriage yield: love, fidelity, continuity? If the Sultan and his barons convert to Christianity, how will that identity alter their sovereign nation’s character? Chaucer always joins concepts of nation and sovereignty through women who are intimately involved in hierarchical relationships with men. Thus he constantly reminds us that national sovereignty depends on both cooperation and inequality among citizens of different sexes and genders. This pattern reminds us how marriage and the nation-­state attempt to institutionalize love (eros and patriotism) and harness that emotion’s stratum-­blurring force for the purpose of continuity through 20.  For an alternative interpretation of the merchants’ relationship with Christianity, see Stanbury, “The Man of Law’s Tale and Rome,” 130.

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the logic of sovereignty. What we learn about sovereignty in marriage applies to sovereignty in larger political contexts; likewise, what we learn about sovereignty in the national context applies to sovereignty in marriage. Perhaps Chaucer’s most challenging message about love is his insistence that it belongs with sovereignty, which his Franklin alternately asserts and contradicts. Both concepts function through structures of expectation but often fail to meet them. Nonetheless, Chaucerian nationhood depends on these undependable concepts for continuity. Even though Custance and the Sultan’s marriage promises to promote “Cristes lawe deere” (237) and is arranged by “the popes mediacioun” (234) and mediation “by tretys and embassadrie . . . al the chirche, and al the chivalrie” (233, 236), neither the Man of Law nor Custance appears hopeful as Custance turns toward Syria. We find Chaucer’s second and third uses of the word nacioun in this hopeless context. To the Man of Law’s mind, it is no wonder Custance “wepte, / That shal be sent to strange nacioun . . . to be bounden under subjeccioun” (267–­68, 270) of a mysterious husband. As he explains, neither sanction by Church and the social hierarchy nor diplomatic attempts will familiarize the Sultan’s strange nation. The Man of Law has already reported the great diversity between “bothe lawes” (221), Christianity and Islam; he now assumes that the cultural and legal particularities of these religious laws will produce a relationship characterized by subjection, the very opposite of sovereignty. Here cultural particularity overwhelms the possibility of legal universality, since the Sultan’s nation remains strange, foreign, and inassimilable, despite legal and clerical mediation. Custance herself meets his conversion to Christianity, a purportedly universal religion available to all, with xenophobic insistence on his nation’s terrible otherness. Custance takes the Man of Law’s skepticism even further. In her farewell address to her father, she describes herself as an exile, a “wrecched child” (274). She idealizes the home she leaves, condensing all its comforts into the figure of her “mooder, my soverayn plesance” (276). Referencing father, mother, and child, Custance invokes the biological family, the basic reproductive unit of society on which national continuity conventionally depends. Although Custance presumably leaves home to start her own family, she sees family exclusively as her family of origin, herself as a daughter and child; and she mourns her exile to a foreign nation as if it could have no redeeming consequence. She associates her mother with both the homeland from which she is exiled and with sovereignty, the highest state on earth—­the furthest from thralldom. Pro-

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claiming her exile as a consequence of her sex and condition, Custance explains, “Wommen are born to thraldom and penance, / And to been under mannes governance” (286–­87). She has, in fact, so enthralled the Sultan that he has converted to her religion and compelled his barons to follow suit, yet she perceives this marriage as demanding her own painful political and cultural alienation rather than as facilitating the spread of her religion to ensure Roman Christian continuity, dynastic or otherwise. She misses the Parson’s lesson about thralldom and shared religion. Neither potential motherhood nor the conversion she inspires interests Custance, who maintains that her womanhood trumps the specific details of her situation. Female sovereignty (or subjection) vis-­à-­vis national affiliation and residence is at issue. As she leaves a realm where she can associate sovereignty with motherhood and, by extension, womanhood, Custance not only insists that exile from mother and homeland is a negative consequence of womanhood but also that this exile is tantamount to thralldom and suffering. Womankind is a transnational underclass without rights to freedom or stability of homeland, for when women marry they must leave home. From Custance’s perspective, woman is a political class outside nationhood’s promises of continuity and justice, yet needed for both.21 Custance describes a realm beyond foreign that exceeds the usual limitations of national boundaries in Chaucer’s text. Syria is not simply strange; it is “the Barbre nacioun” (281). Here Custance suggests a community much larger than “nacioun” might reasonably indicate in any other Canterbury Tales instance. To call one a barbarian is to define him as other: one whose utterance is absolutely outside the bounds of the name-­caller’s linguistic comprehension. Nevertheless, this particular tag belies such distinctive otherness. In Trevet’s story, Constance complains that she must live “entre estraunges barbaryns” (166), but Chaucer’s Custance evokes a national group. In its other Canterbury Tales contexts, the word nacioun indicates a rather refined group: we first see it in the General Prologue, where the Knight represents England above other nations (I 53), while the knight in the Wife of Bath’s Tale uses it to indicate his noble family (III 1068). But this tale joins nationhood with barbarity, as Custance’s oxymoronic epithet conflates religious difference with linguistic difference. As she describes her future husband’s nation with an 21. Like the exile in Edward W. Said’s On Late Style (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2006), the women of MLT, whether exiled away from the nation or murdered within it, deliver meaning to national communities without being able to enjoy the rewards of the knowledge they import or export (146).

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onomatopoeic word that imitates the flat, repetitive sound of indecipherable nonsense and denotes foreigners whose speech sounds like babble, she also admits the common human experience of hearing foreign languages as nonsense. Her use of nacioun reminds readers that that which sounds barbarous to one may be another’s national language; indeed, what strikes some as barbarity strikes others as nationalism. This reference to the barbarous or Barbary is among the first in English.22 Although the word barbre comes to English directly from Old French and Latin (and came to Latin from Greek), it has synonymic homophones in Arabic. The Arabic root beh, alif, ra, pronounced bara, a verb (or beh, waw, ra, pronounced bur, an adjective) indicates the state of being uncultivated. Bur’bara (feminine) and bur’bar (masculine) are colloquial Lebanese pejoratives that designate a person who talks too much and incomprehensibly. According to the OED, the relationship among the Greek, Arabic, and English words remains unclear.23 The onomatopoeic quality of this repeated syllable might explain its ubiquity across languages; it is sound that is beyond yet never prior to language. Barbre mimics sound that is audible to those who have a certain language but indecipherable in the particular ways that its hearers comprehend linguistic meaning.24 Custance does not seek to invoke basic human ways of understanding and failing to understand. Nevertheless, at the very moment that she draws a line between her culture and the Sultan’s, her words proclaim a culture-­defying similarity. Those who call others barbarians would rather not admit humanist similarities, but, in this case, the transcultural similarity that barbre discloses is especially poignant due to the Muslim and hence Arabic context. Custance persistently ignores anything that might facilitate her assimilation with the Sultan and other Syrians, insisting instead on Syrian alterity. Her later equation of “Surrye” (1108) with “hethenesse” (1112) forecloses conversion as a means of interdependence, collaboration, or exchange between Syrians and Romans, because Custance refuses to calculate her husband’s conversion, the expectations marriage implies, or his willingness to assimilate to her ways. Her view of 22. The MED gives the Wicliffite Bible (ca. 1384) as the first reference. The OED names an English Psalter of 1300. 23. The OED also reports that in the sixteenth century barbarousness came to indicate vulgarity and uncultivated speech or diction as opposed to classical or refined culture and language. 24.  Of course, no language, linguistic group, or nation holds the key to deciphering all others. All language must be cultivated and those who are not learned in a particular language hear that language as babble, that is, as barbarous ciphers of sound.

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the Sultan’s nation as barbarous resists sympathy, instantiating prejudice, despite his stated intentions; and her reference to barbarism conflates linguistic and religious difference, rendering insurmountable the overall national difference between her and the “Barbre nacioun.”25 Despite Custance’s words, Chaucer does not present Syria as a particularly barbarous place: while it is violent, it is neither uncultivated nor lacking in sophisticated language. Chaucer neglects details about sixth-­ century Syrian religion and language as he presses his English nationalist case for Britain’s exceptional inheritance of Roman religious and legal authority, yet he points toward real fourteenth-­century English anxieties regarding Islamic culture. His romance acknowledges that by the sixth century, Latin had begun its decline. While Trevet’s Constance speaks “Sessoneys” (Saxon) (168), Custance speaks her own “Latyn corrupt” (519) when she washes up on Northumbrian shores, simultaneously indicating Italian and noting Latin’s declining state.26 The Sultaness, this 25.  Anachronism makes religious conversion a larger problem than it would have been if Chaucer were historically consistent. The sixth-­century Syria to which Custance goes may have seemed foreign and incomprehensible to a historical Roman Christian princess, but it was not uncultivated—­nor was it pagan or even Muslim, as Muhammad did not receive his first prophetic revelation until the early seventh century. Kamal Salibi, A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered (Berkeley: U of California P, 1988), 87–­90, explains that sixth-­century Syrians belonged to many churches and were primarily Monophysites. They believed that Christ had only one (divine) nature, rather than two (human and divine) natures, and were thus heretics according to Byzantine and Roman orthodoxy. According to Bernard Lewis, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 33–­47, “After the death of the emperor Theodosius in 395 CE, the [Roman] empire was split into two, a western empire ruled from Rome, and an eastern empire ruled from Constantinople. Within a comparatively short time, the western empire was submerged in a series of barbarian invasions, and in effect ceased to exist. The eastern empire survived these difficulties, and was able to maintain itself for another thousand years” (34). While we cannot be sure exactly how Lewis means to qualify these “barbarian” invaders, it seems certain that the historical sixth-­century Syria had been no more touched by barbarians than Custance’s Roman home. Furthermore, Mount Lebanon, Antioch, Aleppo, and other cities in what Chaucer would have meant by Syria have been home to Ghassanite, Maronite, and other small Christian communities since Jesus of Nazareth’s first followers established a church at Antioch following his death. According to Salibi, “by the sixth century, most if not all of [the Arab tribes of Syria] were Christian” (89). So the sixth-­century Syria that Chaucer imagines as a potential and then impossible site of Christian conversion was already Christian. In fact, it had been Christian before Rome was Christianized. 26.  Chaucerians read Custance’s language in various ways from an attempt at historical verisimilitude to the gift of xenoglossia. Excellent contributions include Christine F. Cooper, “‘But algates therby was she understonde’: Translating Custance in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Yearbook of English Studies 36 (2006): 27–­38, and Jonathan H. Hsy, “‘Oure Occian’: Littoral Language and the Constance Narratives of Chaucer and Boccaccio,” in Europe and Its Others: Essays on Interperception and Identity, ed. Paul Gifford and Tessa Hauswedell (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), 205–­24.

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tale’s most antiassimilationist figure, understands Syria as a sovereign nation and defends it as such. She reveals the oxymoronic quality of Custance’s “Barbre nacioun” by stressing the refinement that comes with national particularity. The Sultaness’s Syria is too cultivated and too well defined by the “hooly lawes of our Alkaron” (332) to succumb to Christianity. This reference amplifies the anachronism in Trevet’s and Gower’s tales. Although it did not exist at the time of Alla’s Britain, the Sultaness names the Quran, known (throughout the Muslim world, including medieval Spain) not only for its powerful religious rhetoric but also for its poetic perfection as a complete text revealed to Muhammad directly by God and fit to revolutionize Arabic language and literature. “Alkaron” might thus epitomize Arabic culture’s challenge to the fourteenth-­ century vernacular poet struggling to perfect a fledgling English language. While we cannot be absolutely sure what Chaucer knew about Arabic, Muhammad, or the Quran, utter ignorance is unlikely. Indeed, Europe’s writers and thinkers from the twelfth century onward persistently struggled with the formidable force of Arabic learning.27 Chaucer’s anxieties about English appear most clearly when the Man of Law denounces Custance’s second mother-­in-­law as a traitor so far beyond English’s pale that he cannot describe her treachery in English (778–­79). English does not reach her behavior either because the Anglo-­Saxon Queen Mother is so vile a creature or because English language lacks sophistication, as chapter 7 elaborates. In any case, the Sultaness refer27.  On the place of Arabic culture and language in medieval England and Spain, see Dorothee Metlitski, The Matter of Araby in Medieval England (New Haven: Yale UP, 1977), and Maria Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (New York: Back Bay Books, 2002). Both Menocal and Metlitski discuss Peter the Venerable’s commissioning of the first translation of the Quran, from Arabic to Latin. This translation was completed by the Englishman Robert of Ketton in 1143 and includes a biography of Muhammad (Menocal, 179–­81; Metlitski, 30–­ 35). They also note Chaucer’s important references to Petrus Alfonsi, author of Disciplina clericalis and practically the first professor of Arabic in England (Metlitski, 18–­19; Menocal, 147–­54), and to Pedro of Castile, whom Chaucer visited in Spain in 1366 (Metlitski, 159). Menocal writes, “Virtually everywhere in Peter’s kingdom was the musty smell of old books that Chaucer already knew well, the books of the old Arabic libraries translated into languages men like Chaucer could read, as well as the fresh smell of new stucco, carved out in arabesques and in Arabic” (243). See also, Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Karla Mallette, eds., A Sea of Languages: Rethinking the Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2013); Thomas E. Burman, Reading the Qur’an in Latin Christendom, 1140–­1560 (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2007); Alice E. Lasater, Spain to England: A Comparative Study of Arabic, European, and English Literature of the Middle Ages (Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 1974); and Menocal, The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990).

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ences law three times (332, 336, 337) in her plan to subvert her son’s conversion. She insists on her nation’s virtue, legal cultivation, and particularity, showing readers that Syria’s barbarity—­and barbarity in general—­is relative at best. Through the Sultaness, Chaucer imagines that the Syrian people might already have been armed with a Quranic law, language, and culture capable of challenging Roman Christianity, a well-­ founded anxiety among fourteenth-­century nations still grappling with the crusades. Chaucer’s actual familiarity with the detailed chronologies of Islam and Syrian history is less significant than his anachronistic reimagination of reality. Whether Chaucer knew it or not, his alternative romance history exposes a powerful link between national identity and the impossible just as it erases a line between ignorance and imagination. Historical sixth-­century Syria was not a nation against which Chaucer could easily distinguish Roman or English religious identity. It was a largely Christian land, populated by Christian sects, whose clerics’ power never extended beyond the region, and whose rites never assumed imperial proportions. Many sixth-­century Syrian Christians spoke Syriac, a western Aramaic language descended from the earlier form spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Of those who spoke an Arabic vernacular, most used Aramaic as a liturgical language, and Aramaic was also the lingua franca.28 But this does not deter Custance from describing sixth-­century Syria as the “Barbre nacioun,” hopelessly unresponsive to Christian conversion. She imagines a threatening pagan world, a crude empire whose power and alterity are impossible to limit. In contrast, the Sultaness presents Syria as a land ruled by Quranic legal and linguistic perfection, a formidable nation prepared to resist the expansion of imperial Roman religion and culture. The truth about Chaucer’s sense of sixth-­century Syria may lie somewhere between these imaginary cultural poles. In the Man of Law’s Tale, explaining Custance’s inability to stay in Syria, her arrival in Northumberland, and, ultimately, the rise of England as a nation means obfuscating Syria by revising its history anachronistically and polarizing its culture. The discrepancies between this romance and the historical facts suggest that Chaucer’s English national history depends on error. Because we cannot determine Chaucer’s intentions, we should not attempt to draw conclusions about his personal beliefs or understanding, yet his tale’s anachronism exposes the tendency of national history to insist on the perpetual inassimilability of some other. Whether the impetus to tell 28. Salibi, A House of Many Mansions, 85, 90; and Lewis, The Middle East, 24–­25, 44.

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an impossible history comes from Chaucer himself, from the exigencies of national romance, or from elsewhere, he cannot tell this English history without anachronistic error. Even though Custance’s passivity and the Sultaness’s aggressiveness push them toward opposite poles of femininity, confirming difference between their nations, the two display parallel aversions to assimilation and evince comparably deep attachments to their own religions. Furthermore, in Chaucer’s romance, they even speak remarkably similar lines.29 Custance’s lament—­“Wommen are born to thraldom and penance, / And to been under mannes governance”—­is echoed by the Sultaness’s instructive query: “What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe / But thraldom to oure bodies and penance / And afterward in helle to be drawe[?]” (286–­87, 337–­39). Each responds to imminent melding of their cultures; each voices concern about her changing political condition; each expects thralldom, which is to say sovereign dispossession. But looking more closely, we find grave ideological disparity. While Custance thinks that birth (nature) causes thralldom, the Sultaness understands that living outside of proper religious law (sinfulness) causes first earthly thralldom—­ a condition that strips away political identity—­ and then damnation of the soul to hell. Custance reflects the Aristotelian idea that some humans, women, are born to servitude. Surprisingly, the Sultaness represents the Parson’s views that religious identity grounds political identity, that shared religious law and political condition coincide, that thralldom is transitory.30 The Sultaness’s alignment with the Parson does not erase Syrian Muslim nationhood’s particularity. Rather, the Sultaness’s certainty about the mutual exclusion of correct faith and thralldom suggests that the principle the Parson uses to legitimize national sovereignty actually serves to legitimize Muslim as well as Christian national sovereignties. At 29. See Kathryn Lynch, “Storytelling, Exchange and Constancy: East and West in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 33 (1999): 409–­22, and Brenda Deen Schildgen, Pagans, Tartars and Jews in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” (Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2001). 30.  The Sultaness is from Syria, a country much closer to Jerusalem, Christianity’s focal point, while Custance is from Rome, a city closer to Athens, Aristotelian philosophy’s original locus, than Jerusalem. From a geographic perspective, informed by Oresme’s view of geography, language, and political communication as expounded in his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, it seems fitting that the Sultaness would find Christian ideas about thralldom more appealing than Aristotelian ideas, and the Roman Emperor’s daughter would find Aristotle more persuasive than Christianity. These differences subvert the idea that Rome is the rightful inheritor of Christianity, before we even approach the issue of England’s Roman inheritance.

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least in theory, such sovereignties are distinct and interdependent, analogous in form but not in content. Heng argues that “the Constance romances show no interest whatsoever in imagining a re-­beginning for the Islamic nation and its people as a newly (re)formed Christian community, suggesting the unimaginability—­ the unspeakability—­ of the 31 project.” I agree with her point about Christianity, which holds no part in Chaucer’s agenda for Syria; yet the Man of Law’s Tale does imagine the Islamic nation as a newly reformed and redeemed Islamic community. The Sultaness interprets adherence to proper religious law as salvific and explains to her countrymen that keeping their law “shal make us sauf for everemoore” (343). She assumes her nation’s sovereign seat in the name of salvation, a concept inseparable from redemption and rebeginning. Here the Sultaness redeems Syria from her son’s Christianity, his decadent abandonment of “his olde sacrifices” (325). Save for her insistence on Islam as the true faith, the Muslim woman aligns more closely with Christian views about politics, religious identity, thralldom, and the redemptive power of faith than our most Christian princess. So while I affirm Heng’s important and specific observation, I also caution against applying it more broadly to devalue the Man of Law’s Tale’s general investments in nationhood or its imagination of a particular Syrian Muslim nation. Although the Sultaness understands the form of Christian politics better than Custance, Christian rituals neither intimidate nor persuade her. She and her cohort even “feyne . . . Christendom to take”; they pretend to be baptized, confident that “Coold water shal nat greve us but a lite!” (352). The Sultaness refuses to let “Makometes lawe out of myn herte” (336) and defends her nation, confident that running blood is more powerful than holy water. She murders her son, his Syrian converts, and the Roman Christians attending Custance, thereby preserving Islam in Syria. But she allows Custance to live, sending her off in a new direction, though in a rudderless boat. For better or worse, the Sultaness instantiates the difference between faith and intellectual understanding. Despite Custance’s demeaning labeling of Syria as a barbarous nation, Syria—­embodied by the Sultaness—­understands Custance, her religion, and the politics of conversion well enough to subvert them all, at least for the moment. Custance’s father destroys the Sultaness and her queendom before the tale ends, yet as “Surrye” recedes into the distance, it matches Ander31. Heng, Empire of Magic, 227.

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son’s image of the nation at least as closely as England does in this romance.32 No nation is eternal, but all nations imagine themselves to be so, holding fast to continuity’s value. At this moment, Syria has been defended by its sovereign and her community of comrades, men who swear “To lyve with hire and dye, and by hire stond” (345), forming a cross-­ gender, hierarchical, yet cooperative fellowship willing to kill and be killed for their nation.33 It remains a polity ruled by a sovereign strong enough to defend its laws, order, and religion—­the supreme cultural element that directs all others—­by exterminating traitors. The Syrians proceed with one faith among them, having rejected a mercantile deal confirmed by imprudent religious and political authorities, a deal to exchange a woman and some money for the spiritual conversion of folk with a perfectly functional national religion. Syria remains free, a sovereign domain resistant to thralldom by both its sovereign’s own standards and the Parson’s formal standards. As the Man of Law explains, the Sultaness “Hath with hir freendes doon this cursed dede, / For she hirself wolde al the contree lede” (433–­ 34). Syrian nationalism disproves Custance’s charge of barbarism yet refuses her culture, maintaining a sovereign, self-­determined realm supported by a hierarchical comradeship. The nation in which Custance arrives next is no such sovereign realm. By some standards, it is more barbarous than Syria. While the Sultaness redeems Syria from Christianity, Christianity redeems England: Saxon Britain needs Custance, her faith, religion, and law. The people she meets there already form a nation, but without her they fail to grasp sovereignty’s redemptive potential for them. As Lavezzo has observed, even though the English need Custance to reach religious and juridical sovereignty, the Man of Law’s telling of her story effectively obtains this Romanized authority for England without incurring the usual obligations.34 Custance does not come to Britain as she did to Syria, as an imperial princess. Her worldly political identity is unknown when she lands alone on a strange island surrounded by a “wilde see” (506) and ruled by a king whose troubles with the Scots distract him from domestic matters. She lands within a decadent community fissured by religious difference, 32. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 1–­7. 33.  This reading of the Sultaness complements Chaucer’s limited sympathy for two other non-­Christian, Levantine queens, Dido and Zenobia, whom I discuss in chapter 7. While Chaucer portrays the Sultaness as a devious nationalist killer, some sympathy for her lingers. 34.  Lavezzo, “Beyond Rome,”167.

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a community of pagan Britons with a secret Christian minority, a Welsh Christian refuge at its border, and a pagan monarch. The Church itself has vanished. While Custance’s British arrival brings conversions, her presence also exposes the knighthood’s lacking honor and crisis in the institutions of marriage and the law. Custance inspires lust and violence as readily as conversion. Soon a local knight comes to “[l]ove hire so hoote, of foul affeccioun” that he must, “of hire / . . . / . . . ones have his wille” (586, 588). It gets worse. Custance will not consent to his illicit desires, so he concocts a revenge plot. He stabs and kills Hermengyld, the constable’s wife, places the bloody knife beside Custance and accuses her of the crime. We meet no other British knights in this tale, so we must take this one as typical. If even the king’s retainers do not see fit to propose marriage before trying to satisfy their sexual desires with innocent creatures like Custance, both the kingdom’s knighthood and its institution of marriage are in deep trouble. In the courtroom, King Alla sits as a judge unsure of whom to trust: Custance, exemplar of justice, or one of his own knights. Custance “hast no champioun” (631) and her lineage is unknown. But when she testifies, swearing on “A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles” (666), the hand of God blinds the knight, and the voice of God proclaims Custance’s innocence. It is as if the marriage of this Roman princess’s pledge with the Briton Bible, a remnant from the isle’s first Christian days, summons God’s judgment direct. Alla condemns the knight and many of his people convert. But who needs Alla’s judgment, when God has given his? Alla’s judgment appears redundant: An hand hym smoot upon the nekke-­boon, That doun he fil atones as a stoon, And bothe his eyen broste out of his face In sighte of every body in that place. A voys was herd in general audience, And seyde, “Thou hast desclaundred, giltelees, The doghter of hooly chirche in heigh presence; Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees!” (669–­76) The public witnesses God’s punishment, yet sovereign mediation is required. Alla must pronounce a judgment and a sentence. Apparently the knight even needs to be killed again: “This false knyght was slayn for his untrouthe / By juggement of Alla hastifly” (687–­88). These

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lines suggest that Alla, the newly converted Christian king of an English nation achieving judicial supremacy, must distribute justice in his sovereign nation as an independent human agent of sovereign judgment, regardless of its divine source or revelation. Custance, embodying justice, helps Alla to revitalize a flawed legal system, maintaining that here, as in Dante’s scheme, divine and temporal power are independent and mutually beneficial.35 After the Man of Law shows that the legal system is recovering, he implies that the other English institutions—­ Church and marriage—­ follow suit. Alla emerges from Custance’s trial a Christian king, with a Christianizing people, and a faith worth defending. He marries Custance and after the wedding feast, They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right; For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges, They moste take in pacience at nyght Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges, (708–­12) This marriage heralds redemption for the institution. The false knight’s transgressive, destructive, and unfulfillable desire is replaced by sex within marriage’s holy bonds: fulfilled desire and reproduction for folk compliant enough with institutional expectation to wed ritually. When Alla leaves for Scotland, Custance remains with “a bisshop and his constable eke” (716), suggesting that the institutions under siege in the Canterbury Tales’ first fragment, the Church, law, and marriage, are on the mend. Thus, Custance helps redeem the Church, which had nearly disappeared from Britain, and marriage, which the false knight disrespected. Ancient Britain thus begins to resemble Chaucer’s ideal England.36 In this tale the protections of constable and bishop fail against royal traitors. Sovereignty never equals invincibility, but Alla’s sovereign rule mirrors that of the Sultaness at its most destructive. Like the Sultaness, Alla employs parricide when traitors threaten his nation: when his mother exiles Custance and his would-­be heir, he kills Mom, “For that she traitour was to hire ligeance” (895). Custance’s exile adds pressure 35.  On sovereignty and justice in this tale, see Jaime K. Taylor, Fictions of Evidence: Witnessing, Literature, and Community in the Late Middle Ages (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013), 24–­54. Taylor demonstrates that, “in the Man of Law’s Tale, documents obscure sovereign power, while the body testifies to it” (52). 36.  Davis, “Time Behind the Veil.”

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to ideas of national allegiance, pushing the destructive potential of sovereign power to parricide again. In the first nation Custance visits, she inspires a mother to kill her son, reversing the natural flow of life from mother to child. In the second, a son kills his mother, his own life’s source. Custance repeatedly destroys or inverts the intense and logic-­ defying love expected to bind families into communities of extraordinary identification, causing members to be loyal despite the costs. In each case, Custance moves a sovereign to eliminate a traitor to whom s/ he is closely related in favor of national values, religious law, and political continuity. In this way, Chaucer admits that no emotional bonds, not even familial love and loyalty, are assured. Custance presents situations that clarify inevitable conflicts between national belonging and familial belonging. Nations, although modeled on the family and often perpetuated by prominent families and interfamilial alliances, provide competing centers of home, love, and allegiance. Only after Alla kills his mother does he have occasion to repent, make pilgrimage to Rome, and ultimately rediscover Custance and their child. England comes clearly into view on their way home from Rome. Now Alla learns the lesson that Custance refuses at the beginning of the tale: one must abandon one’s family of origin to begin a new family. However, by the time that sovereign England emerges, Alla’s own family is incomplete: Alla and Custance only turn toward “Engelond” (1130), so-­named, after we learn that their “child Maurice was sithen Emperour / Maad by the Pope” (1121–­22). The Man of Law explains that readers will have to look “in the olde Romayn geestes” (1126) for his story. He offers no mention of Maurice’s reign in England, no mention of his story in English, and Rome owns the rights to his Latin story. But England materializes as Custance and Alla sail there from Rome. England trades Maurice for Constance, institutional continuity, and an image of itself as a geographically, historically, and juridically sovereign nation. England gets institutional redemption and continuity from Rome through Custance’s gift of jurisprudential sovereignty. Rome gets dynastic continuity from England through Maurice’s discretionary sovereignty as emperor. Although Alla acts in the name of national sovereignty distinct from divine sovereignty in the courtroom, here Roman sovereignty and English sovereignty are distinct and interdependent. The Man of Law’s Tale demonstrates how national sovereignty can be interdependent with yet distinct from other sovereignties such as the Roman Empire and Church. Medieval national sovereignty never indicates autonomy. Chaucer’s version nevertheless redeems and sustains national institutions

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even as it consistently demands sacrifice: Northumberland loses Hermengyld and Maurice but gains an image of itself as a sovereign English nation. Other national ideals, like camaraderie, counsel, and continuity obfuscate hierarchy and sacrifice, but sovereignty exposes and preserves the hierarchy involved in these ideals by revising and claiming to limit hierarchical structure. Chaucerian sovereignty excuses the inequalities that nationhood entails without erasing them. Although they arrive at different conclusions about sovereignty and its relationship with nationhood, Hardt and Negri’s approach to national sovereignty resembles Chaucer’s in two crucial ways. It challenges strict distinctions between past, present, and future, and it insists that the concept of love commonly restricted to marriage and the family must adopt a more diverse political community. Hardt and Negri insist that nations are revolutionary and progressive only when they resist stronger nations, empires, and political, ideological, or economic structures. They aim to demonstrate that nations actually follow sovereignty and are unfit to legitimize its politics, expressly because nations impose identifications that deny diversity of perspective.37 In place of nation and sovereignty, they propose multitude and constituent power: a decisive force intimately knotted with labor and love, as chapter 2 notes.38 This constituent power of love is utterly creative and sharply refuses history’s limits; it corrects historical life’s oppressive, deadly ossifications and releases human political community “like an arrow into that living future.”39 Hardt and Negri thus offer love as salvation, while pitting love against sovereignty. Their slogan “Another world is possible” means “sovereignty and authority must be destroyed.”40 This is a future imperative. Chaucer is less confident about the advantages of such programs and uncertain about the general parameters of the possible and impossible. Like Hardt and Negri and most philosophers of political sovereignty, Chaucer understands the relevance of transhistorical imperatives to communal identity and survival. His imperative, however, is a present imperative that renegotiates the past. Chaucer’s anachronistic depiction of an Islamic Syria instantiates and demands the interdependence of the possible with the impossible, of historical experience with nostalgic revision, and of political practice with political imagination. In the Man of Law’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale, history renders love interdependent 37.  Hardt and Negri, Empire, 101. 38.  Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 351. 39.  Ibid., 358. 40.  Ibid., 353.

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with national sovereignty and tells how this union transforms ancient Britain into contemporary England by breaking its own limits. Despite their ideal images, both love and history are tactics. Continuity emerges as the key to nationhood, while the past seems most cogent when read through future desires. Hardt and Negri refuse the choice between anarchy and sovereignty; their multitude moderates between the two, and it works as a “new science” that preserves differences.41 Recognizing sovereignty as a dynamic two-­ sided relationship, they address the contradictions that appear within it: “Political sovereignty and the rule of the one, which has always undermined any real notion of democracy,” is “not only unnecessary, but absolutely impossible. Sovereignty, although it was based on the myth of the one, has always been a relationship grounded in the consent and obedience of the ruled.”42 Likewise, marriage has always been a relationship founded on consent and obedience. The rule of the one and marriage are, at least theoretically, mutually exclusive. Chaucer understands this similarity and simultaneously explores marriage, sovereignty, and love (as a notion on which the other two depend) through his national romances. For Hardt and Negri, love is the answer and the problem, because it has become too private of an affair. “We need to recuperate the public and political conception of love common to premodern traditions,” such as Judaism and Christianity, which “conceive love as a political act that constructs the multitude,” they urge.43 Yet the former religious tradition has participated in patterns of nationalist exclusivity, while the latter has accumulated a history of hegemonic imperialism and violent proselytizing as consequences of constructing their multitudes. Neither could survive without claiming to synthesize and erase important differences beneath a valorized, transmittable identity. Even though Hardt and Negri deny their equation’s dependence on the nation, eschatology, metaphysics, and utopian dreams, their invocation of love is naïvely utopian and makes an end where old Chaucer begins. “Love means precisely that our expansive encounters and continuous collaborations bring us joy,” they write near the end of their second book.44 Yet there is much more to say about love, its limits, and its demands. Their theory lacks critical perspective on the potentially joyful yet inevitably painful encounters we call love. Chaucer looks squarely at 41.  Ibid., 355. 42.  Ibid., 340. 43.  Ibid., 351. 44. Ibid.

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this illogical and approximate conglomeration of things, addressing up front the problems of pain and possibility, the questions that disempower utopianism. In the national romances, he addresses his English nation through narratives that work as both pedagogical imaginations of impossible pasts and performative claims on foregone actualities that can no longer be chosen: the facts of nationhood, the chance encounters that have already assembled a people. Chaucer’s deployment of error in narrating national continuity exposes national paradoxes: continuity depends on anachronistic revision and temporal disorder produces cultural order. Exile, murder, and treachery all come with sovereignty and are funded by love in the Man of Law’s Tale, where neither love nor history is true. As Fradenburg explains, late medieval sovereignty masters disguise employing love and otherness to create discontinuities; ultimately, “sovereign love is a means of shaping desire so that its creativity may be captured.”45 In the Canterbury Tales, love begets sovereignty, and the latter is the more ideal, creative, flexible concept. The next chapter demonstrates how the Wife of Bath amends the Man of Law’s view of this relationship by insisting that both love and sovereignty are best understood in the household and in the vernacular.

45.  L. O. Aranye Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991), 71.


“Rowned She a Pistel” The Household and Chaucer’s National Values

R. R. Davies evokes the combination of firm hierarchy and fluid desire that structures Chaucer’s national imagination, writing, “countries are not defined merely by power and political sovereignty, but by the traditions, sentiments and aspirations of those who live in them.”1 Davies focuses on Irish, Scots, and Welsh resistance to English sovereignty, which the Wife of Bath, Chaucer’s only character to use the word sovereignty twice, intimates by naming Britons early in her tale.2 While her tale stages national desire in Davies’s nuanced terms, it ultimately overshadows competing senses of British identity and myth with a primarily vernacular but ultimately political English national sovereignty: it “hijack[s] . . . the Matter of Britain . . . to convert it into a colourful backcloth for the history of England before the coming of the English.”3 The Wife’s treatment of sovereignty complicates any distinctions among political goals, sentiments, and aspirations we might assume, because she insists on medieval sovereignty’s negotiability and its promises of transhistorical continuity and shared national identity. Here, in Chaucer’s only Arthurian romance, Christian nobility crystallizes as a particular form of class-­crossing national identity. There, in the legendary British past, the Wife of Bath interposes Dante’s understanding of nobility as a matter of character distinct from aristocratic lineage and wealth and tied instead to Christ’s own goodness. Borrowing from the Italian Trecento to edify Arthurian Britain, the Wife of Bath’s Tale rede1. Davies, The First English Empire, 82. 2.  Ingham, “Pastoral Histories.” 3. Davies, The First English Empire, 48.


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fines English nobility as a national form of identity available to different classes and genders within English Christian bounds. The Wife thus uses internationalism as a technique to subvert aristocratic identity with a cross-­class/cross-­gender national identity that slyly twists the British past into an English present and future. Set in King Arthur’s fairy-­filled sixth-­century Britain, the Wife of Bath’s Tale tethers Christian nobility to the genre of romance signaling investment in courtly love, and hence in a set of class and gender relations that promulgate romantic love and female sovereignty as transcendent ideals. Yet the further we read the more disputable and mundane these “ideals” appear.4 The romance first undermines its ideals with the opening rape, and then with the claim that women want sovereignty more than love and can find it within a married household that celebrates both affection and the crossing of gender and class lines. In Chaucer’s poetry, love acts as the central concept subtending marriage and the household, two overlapping national institutions that have their own philosophical and political bearing on the concept of sovereignty—­and on the grand institution of the state.5 As Hardt and Negri remind us, love has long been understood as more than a feeling: “love is an essential concept for philosophy and politics.” Although they do not cite Chaucer by name, Hardt and Negri do acknowledge a debt to medieval understandings of love as they refuse to “[l]eave it to the poets to speak of love.”6 Likewise, Chaucer will not leave it to kings, jurists, philosophers, and Italians (like Dante, whom Hardt and Negri do mention) to debate the politics of sovereignty. In the Wife of Bath’s experience, such debates belong in the heart of the household, in the bedroom, near the hearth, and always in the English vernacular. Previous chapters explicate that sovereignty describes the legitimate power governing a hierarchical relationship and indicates shared ownership and judgment throughout the Canterbury Tales. Like the Man of Law, the Wife of Bath defines the English nation through an ideal of 4. On Chaucer’s tense relationship with ideals and ideologies, see Marion Turner, Chaucerian Conflict. Stephen Knight’s reading of the Man of Law’s Tale’s relation to the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, especially his positioning of Christianity as “the one possible location of a standpoint for a non-­feudal and dissenting consciousness” in the Canterbury Tales, also makes a useful, somewhat contrasting comparison with my view of Christianity (Geoffrey Chaucer, 155). I agree largely with Knight’s analysis, but am more suspicious of Christianity’s role as a national limit-­factor that fuels xenophobia even as it promotes intra-­ communal justice throughout the Tales. 5. Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow, 124. 6.  Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 179.

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sovereignty and a marriage plot. The previous chapter demonstrates how the Man of Law’s Tale roots English sovereignty in anachronistic misreadings of Islam and insular Christianization. The present chapter shows how the Wife of Bath reworks the Man of Law’s concept of sovereignty, rendering it a cross-­class, cross-­gender affair that extends hopes for love and continuity from the nuclear family to a larger national family.7 The Wife idealizes sovereignty more than other pilgrims that consider it, yet she boldly confronts the practicalities, failings, and mundane negotiations through which sovereignty is achieved. In fact, she insists that all sovereignty—­sexual, emotional, social, political, and ultimately national—­originates and takes its most remarkable form in the household: that late medieval space shaped by magnanimity and prudence and energized by tensions between emotional sentiment and rational calculation.8 Adopting Dante’s understanding of Christian nobility, the Wife promotes a cross-­class national identity that collapses this space, integrating concepts as seemingly disparate as love and sovereignty. Her tale demonstrates that neither concept belongs exclusively to the traditional ruling class of those who fight, those who also star in most medieval romances. The Wife of Bath’s Tale focuses on domestic solidarities, suggesting that state-­sponsored institutions such as the court and the Church do not operate without more immediate connections to the lived experience of English folk of all classes. Predictably, Chaucer’s one Arthurian romance is also his most direct reflection on national ideals.9 However, rather than scrutinizing competing British national claims as do the Arthurian texts in Ingham’s and Warren’s seminal work, the Wife concentrates on cross-­class and cross-­gender inclusion. More surprisingly, but consistent with this concentration, the tale locates authority for its communitarian national fictions in such alternative and intermediate institutions as gossip, the household, and folk magic. The Wife of Bath’s particular imagination of national sovereignty ultimately redeems a community in turmoil, but not without complications. As Lavezzo has demonstrated, the Man of Law’s imagination of ancient Britain claims Roman legal and re7.  Hobsbawm explains that nationalist institutions employ semifiction to invent historical continuity and ultimately to promote power sharing across classes. Hobsbawm and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 7, 12, 283. 8.  David Starkey’s discussion of medieval English readings of Aristotle’s megalopsychia and phroeonesis, magnanimity and prudence (or providence) shapes my understanding of magnanimity in the household. Starkey, “The Age of the Household,” 225–­90. 9. Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies and Warren, History on the Edge establish Arthurian literature’s national import.

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ligious authority for England without the usual subordination and obligation to the empire, rendering England sovereign and strong.10 In the Man of Law’s Tale, sovereignty descends from international sources, namely the Roman Empire and Church; in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, sovereignty ascends from domestic institutions. The Wife, whose tale follows the lawyer’s in the Ellesmere order, amends his concept of sovereignty with her own concerns about class and gender dynamics and her learned yet anachronistic interpolation of Dante, an international source she translates and domesticates. In this way, the Wife exploits both history and Dante’s wisdom as strategies that shape politics subjectively, rather than as objective truths to be revered. She exacerbates the lawyer’s erroneous anachronism and applies his general principle of relation between sovereignty and nation: the claim that exults sovereignty as that which both follows and might redeem the nation.11 Karma Lochrie and Paul Strohm also inform my reading of the Wife and her tale, for they identify gossip and the household, respectively, as the alternative and intermediate institutions through which the Wife’s plot unravels.12 The Wife of Bath’s Tale’s engagement with these two institutions can certainly be taken on its own terms, but I want to argue that Chaucer reads these domestic relations as emblematic of the larger national structures in which they are imbricated. In other words, Chaucer finds an emblem of the nation and its history in vernacular exchanges between husbands and wives. English national sovereignty becomes a cross-­gender, cross-­class relationship through the Wife’s own anachronistic reimagination of Arthurian sovereignty.13 10.  Kathy Lavezzo, “Beyond Rome,” 167. 11.  Kenneth Hodges challenges such claims: “The rise of nationalism may not be a simple process in which imagined communities develop the sense that they ought to be sovereign; it may include groups that begin to imagine themselves as a community because they share a sovereign” (“Why Malory’s Launcelot is not French,” 558). Hodges elucidates a political trend in historical life. My reading does not refute Hodges but explores how Chaucer’s art approaches the historical relationship between nation and sovereignty that Hodges posits. 12.  Karma Lochrie, Covert Operations: The Medieval Uses of Secrecy (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1998), 56–­92; Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow, 121–­44. 13.  So much has been written about the Wife of Bath’s feminist and antifeminist moves that a complete review would preclude further commentary. The following works examine literary, legal, and political form and influence my thinking on the Wife and feminism: R. J. Blanch, “‘Al was this land fulfild of fayerye’: The Thematic Employment of Force, Willfulness, and Legal Conventions in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale,” Studia Neophilologica 57 (1985): 41–­51; Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 79–­100; Crane, Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989), 113–­31; Ruth Evans, “The Devil in Disguise: Perverse Female Origins of the Nation,” in

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Strohm notes that in 1352 Parliament declared the rebellion of wives against husbands treasonous, classing it with rebellion against other persons thought to have special responsibilities and thus to be owed faith and obedience. He considers this application of the idea of treason as a “protective deterrence to a category of previously unprotected institutions,” that is “‘intermediate’ institutions—­the guildmaster’s workshop or merchant’s salesroom, the husband’s household or private chamber, the parish church or college or chantry or monastic precinct.” This legal extension “recognizes the political character of these ostensibly non-­ political institutions, asserting that the master in his shop and the husband in his household and the priest in his parish participate analogically and symbolically in the regality of the king.” According to Strohm, “Royal and other [patriarchal] interests alike are ultimately served by the institution and protection of an accessible and influential model of hierarchy at a level close to the lived experience of most of the middle strata.”14 By linking Alisoun of Bath’s erotic and economic desires, he argues, Chaucer makes her an example of a fourteenth-­century treasonous wife, one who challenges legitimate hierarchies and by extension sovereign power. Lochrie argues that gossip constitutes her mode of resistance, because the Wife uses it to rival more traditional authoritative discourses. I want to extend Lochrie’s reading of the Wife’s political force by demonstrating the constructive strength of her resistance in context of Strohm’s interrelation of the household with the political realm. In the Wife of Bath’s Tale, national sovereignty is neither fully intelligible nor fully achievable without cultural institutions like gossip and the household. Although Alisoun of Bath herself appears as a treasonous wife resisting the sanctioned discourses of her day, her Arthurian legend Consuming Narratives: Gender and Monstrous Appetite in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Elizabeth Herbert McAvoy and Teresa Walters (Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2002), 182–­95; L. O. Aranye Fradenburg, “Fulfild of Fairye” and “The Wife of Bath’s Passing Fancy,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 8 (1986): 31–­58. Kathleen Davis’s work on how the Man of Law’s Tale’s orientalism “works through . . . women” also influences my reading of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. According to Davis, the Man of Law suggests that women bear their communities’ collective ethnic and religious identities and are thus the sites through which a distinct English identity emerges in a world order wherein an unconvertible Islamic East opposes Christian Europe, including England (“Time Behind the Veil,” 116). I argue that the Wife of Bath makes women similarly necessary to defining Englishness, but in her view women must challenge temporality’s constraints and shape identity as participants in sovereignty, rather than as bearers of identity or of children. See also Hansen, Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender, 26–­57; Kathleen E. Kennedy, Maintenance, Meed and Marriage in Medieval Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2009), 31–­60; Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 280–­321; and Thomas, “The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in the Wife of Bath’s Tale.” 14. Strohm, Hochon’s Arrow, 124–­25.

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insists that British wives from the queen down to the loathliest lady have long held a legitimate stake in national sovereignty. Her tale claims legitimacy for sovereign women: here sovereignty’s legitimacy is rooted in the fact that it is necessarily shared and consolidated across class and gender lines. Chaucerian sovereignty ultimately depends on the Wife’s alternative and intermediate institutions and, specifically, on her valorization of vernacular language and domestic bonds.

Negotiating Sovereignty in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue The Wife of Bath uses the word sovereignty first in her prologue. Beginning with her own lived experience, she carefully shapes sovereignty and the commitments it entails through negotiations that render legal, verbal, emotional, material, and cultural assets fungible. This sovereignty might be absolute, or extreme, in that at first the Wife holds ultimate power, then it is her young husband Jankyn’s to use and abuse until she finally regains it—­but it is neither an eraser of multiple wills and agencies nor a permanent role. It is political in the Aristotelian sense, precisely because it changes hands. The Wife’s domestic story focuses closely on the practical ways in which power changes hands in an ordinary world. Thus Chaucerian sovereignty develops as a resolutely human variety that works through negotiable relationships, through consent and exchange, rather than through absolutely autonomous individuals.15 The trajectory the Wife takes in her fifth marriage shows how women can win sovereignty despite the fact that whatever power they hold never equals the physical and cultural power of the men with whom they must negotiate. When Alisoun marries Jankyn she has outlived four former husbands amassing lands and other property. Early in this story, we learn that the Wife gives Jankyn “al the lond and fee” that she had inherited (III 630); she also names him “oure sire,” a conventional title that indicates his authoritative and institutional household role (713). Alisoun’s sacrifice of control emboldens Jankyn, who abuses his power by ceaselessly reading to her from his deeply disparaging, misogynist book of 15.  Chaucer’s original audience would likely find absolute autonomy unfamiliar if not impossible to imagine. On agency and constraint in hierarchical yet negotiable relationships, see Kennedy, Maintenance, Meed, and Marriage, 31–­59. Reading Chaucer’s poetry in its medieval legal context, Kennedy demonstrates that unequal relationships, such as those between husbands and wives or lords and retainers, could limit individual autonomy in both directions. Such limitations might illuminate the Wife of Bath’s conception of sovereignty, rendering it necessarily cooperative, hence less offensive to some modern sensibilities and more appealing than modern concepts of sovereignty.

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wicked wives. So Alisoun takes matters back into her own hands and slaps him hard enough to cast him into their hearth, the home’s proverbial center. There, in the household’s physical center, power shifts most rapidly: recovering swiftly, Jankyn knocks Alisoun out with a blow to the head. Unconscious, she appears to be near death. Returning to consciousness, she asks, “O! hastow slayn me, false theef? . . . / And for my land thus hastow mordred me?” (800–­801). The Wife’s rhetorical question construes Jankyn’s physical violence in legal and economic terms, accusing him of murder and naming him a thief. He may be physically stronger, but her language use shows that she better understands both the confluence of economic, legal, ideological, and physical domination and the contemporary institutional discourses through which Jankyn achieves such dominance. Thus the Wife renegotiates the terms of their relationship. Playing on Jankyn’s fear of his crime’s consequences, Alisoun rises from her near-­death experience with “al the soveraynetee” (818). The Wife’s keen use of vernacular language ultimately multiplies her power: through it, she interprets Jankyn’s cultural attitudes as emotional oppression, translates emotional oppression into physical violence, and names that physical violence in familiar terms of legal and economic violation, murder, and theft.16 Mercifully, when the Wife regains sovereignty she does not abuse it; she is immensely kind and true to Jankyn, as he is to her. They live happily ever after. Recalling Fragment I, which frames marriage’s decline as a contemporary institutional problem, this marriage’s recovery bodes well in terms of Chaucer’s running commentary on the state of English social institutions. A brief review of the preceding tales in the Ellesmere order clarifies this point: the first fragment moves from the Knight’s Tale with its forced marriages; to the Miller’s and Reeve’s fabliaux, which revel in crossing marriage’s sexual boundaries; to the Cook’s Tale, where prostitution appears as the healthier and more lucrative of these two sexual institutions. Marriage in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue then responds to the first fragment’s view of marriage as an institution in decline and seeks to redeem it. Reading the tales intertextually, we might even interpret the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale as moments of reversal and, in Christological terms, resurrection. The Wife’s resurrection, like Christ’s own, has redemptive force. Looking closely we can see that her domestic story imi16.  Burger makes a similar equation, concluding that the brawl with Jankyn expresses the Wife’s “desire to make the most of the present based on a clear-­sighted, multiple understanding of that present moment” (Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 99).

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tates the Passion of Christ, taking the same trajectory: love, sacrifice, death (or near death), and glorious resurrection. Despite her imitation, however, the Wife is not Christ; and so her resurrection’s redemptive value beyond her marriage is more limited. Alisoun’s resurrection redeems the English institution of marriage rather than the souls of the faithful. Likewise, the Wife’s earth-­bound sovereignty, rather than being ordained by God, is achieved only through rhetorical strategies and irrecoverable physical losses. However ideal the final portrait of her marital life without “debaat,” we cannot discount the difficulties and irreparable costs she incurs for it, costs which her husband does not share (822). One of the first and most important things Chaucer tells us about the Wife is that “she was somdel deef”; and she mentions twice herself that Jankyn’s blow leaves her deaf (I 446; III 636, 668). What’s more, the Wife’s introduction of herself as a voice authorized by lived experience in spite of written authority and as a gossip means that she relies heavily on her ears for access to social and political information. Domestic violence causes irreparable sensory damage and emotional trauma here. Her story provides a thoroughly human explanation of how worldly sovereignty is won at great cost, divulging this truth: what is gained with sovereignty never exactly equals what is lost. Deciding whether sovereignty is worth the cost is a separate judgment. Chaucerian sovereignty’s temporary and negotiable nature and its dependence on painful sacrifice seem to resist the utopian and fantastic terms of the Arthurian world to which the Wife of Bath transports it. Indeed, Ingham has shown that Arthurian literature consistently knits sovereignty to pain and destruction, illuminating intimacies of loss and fantasy.17 About the particular pastoral setting of Wife of Bath’s Tale, Ingham argues that utopian dreams “can be revolutionary insofar as they help us see alternatives,” namely Welsh sovereignty, “to the institutions,” such as the English nation, “we have been taught to think of as necessary, as unavoidably ‘real.’”18 My reading pushes beyond the tale’s setting, which does take “the utopian dreams of the medieval colonized as a serious strategy of resistance,” toward the Wife’s selective awareness of romantic utopianism’s limitations.19 I read the Wife’s relatively sober views of love 17. Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies. 18.  Ingham, “Pastoral Histories,” 40. 19.  Ibid., 37. Ingham’s “Pastoral Histories” addresses the Wife of Bath’s pastoral utopian imagination. Departing from a critical history that has short-­shrifted the idealized in this tale’s Arthurian setting, she emphasizes that the “Wife of Bath’s pastoral medievalism . . . encode[s] a particular scene of conquest and political resistance between England

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and sovereignty as admission that neither of these concepts can be experienced as ideals. The characters in the Wife’s life story and in her Tale access love and sovereignty only through institutional forms whose content always depends more on laborious negotiation than on idealization. In my reading, such national institutions as marriage and the law are necessary and necessarily revisable. The Wife’s prologue and tale redefine sovereignty within the household, in the English vernacular, and through particular concepts of love and marriage: she thus redefines the British past as its own English future.

Revising History to Ennoble Sovereignty in the Wife of Bath’s Tale The Wife of Bath’s Tale introduces Arthur’s Britain with nostalgia, reverence, and doubt. Although the Wife’s nostalgia portrays the past as a sacred and powerful space, the tale ultimately measures Camelot, that epitome of patriarchal British nationhood, against the Wife’s authoritative experience of contemporary English marital relations.20 From the start, the tale’s vision of history is anything but straightforward. The Wife begins by nostalgically invoking “th’olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour, / Of which that Britons speken greet honour,” noting the common opinion that the good “olde dayes” of the Arthurian past were the island’s golden age, and that pastness plus kingship offer authority, practically equaling honor according to Briton opinion (857–­58). But she also complicates that opinion. First of all, the name “Britons” conjures both archaic imand Wales occurring around the time of Chaucer’s writing” (37). Her postcolonial reading draws on Raymond Williams to demonstrate how the Wife points toward a time before the capitalist “commodification of land, people, and things” before capitalism’s link with colonialism (37, 40). Ingham reminds us that this story, despite its seemingly unrealistic, utopian view of love, “suggests that affairs of love are the intimate sites wherein social institutions are destroyed or changed,” even as the tale raises structures of erotic desire and political conquest “at their most oppressive, their least utopic” (41, 43). 20.  Arthurian legend worked as an important vehicle for various British nationalisms in the later Middle Ages, as Ingham and Warren have established. Although Camelot seems almost synonymous with utopia, Arthurian literature poignantly mourns the sacrifices that English nationhood demands. Here we might note in passing that while Arthurian legendary history turns on Arthur’s successful fight against Rome, his domestic life disintegrates while he fights the Empire for national sovereignty. The alliterative Morte Arthure trades Arthur’s marriage for national sovereignty, ending with the image of Arthur as a weeping woeful widow longing for lost family. For thorough analyses of Arthurian literature and legend see Catherine Batt, Malory’s Morte Darthure: Remaking Arthurian Tradition (New York: Macmillan Publishers, 2002); Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies; Warren, History on the Edge.

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ages of the island’s ancient Celtic inhabitants, Arthur’s continental kin in Brittany, and a contemporary Welsh “insular minority . . . linked linguistically and culturally with the name Britain itself . . . a group with long-­ standing experiences of English annexation,” images useful “in Welsh nationalist discourse well into the eighteenth century,” as Ingham argues.21 Whether the Wife claims to be communicating with past Britons, making this her initial instance of anachronism, or speaking for the present Welsh resistance (her Britons do speak in a present tense), her invocation queries British authority even as she asserts it. What we learn next impeaches the morality of an already historically and politically suspicious scene. In this romance, one of Arthur’s knights rapes a soon forgotten maiden, yet he lives happily ever after with a lovely and faithful wife. Of course, he must first marry a hag and then learn a lesson: female sovereignty is to be respected. But the tale’s happy ending seems too happy for the Rapist Knight, no matter what he has learned. Even before the plot begins, the Wife of Bath recalls lessons learned from the domestic violence in her personal story: women generally live in greater danger of physical violence than men. And sex, idealized as the ultimate consummation of the supreme utopian ideal, love, is related closely to violence against women. Violent crime against women often takes the form of rape; and in other cases, sex excuses and assures the continuity of destructive relationships, as in the Wife of Bath’s relationship with Jankyn, the youngest, most sexually attractive and physically violent of her husbands. In the Wife’s view of history, such violence is inescapable: the main difference between Arthurian past and clerical present is the nature and source of violence against women. In the past women feared the supernatural malevolence of incubi; in the Wife’s moment, “Wommen may go saufly up and doun” fearing only the “dishonour” that friars might do them (878, 881). Here the Wife focuses on the social nature of the harm that clerical authority poses for women and the fact that when a woman is sexually violated, she both loses honor and suffers physical violence. Thus the Wife points out that women also live in greater danger of violence to their reputations, their social standing and honor, than men. Whether or not this is any less threatening than the supernatural menace that fairies and incubi pose is obscured by Chaucer’s ever-­ironic tone. Questions of exactly how supernatural force, fantasy, and the human name of sovereignty affect structures of public 21.  Ingham, “Pastoral Histories,” 38. For a complex discussion of the term Briton, the nationalist politics of the Riverside Chaucer’s glosses, and “the invisibilities produced by ‘realist’” history,” see pages 37–­40, (39).

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opinion and social honor remain open until the end, though history emerges as a tool that shapes such national political structures—­rather than functioning as a sacred truth that simply grounds them. The action begins when Arthur’s knight, in lieu of some friar or incubus, rapes a maiden. The Wife’s presentation first associates this knight closely with Arthur and then makes a one to one equation between his personal integrity and that of the woman he violates. The knight seems at first to be Arthur’s responsibility; as the Wife says, “this kyng Arthour / Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler” (882–­83). Arthur’s household contains the Rapist Knight, so his actions reflect on it more directly than on any other house or community. But the questions of free will and a knight’s relationship to his sovereign come quickly into play as we learn that despite the fact that Arthur houses this knight, he rapes a maiden on his own after hunting one day: it “happed that, allone as he was born, / He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn” (885–­86). Shall we apply the phrase “allone as he was born” to the knight or to the maiden? The phrase could indicate that this knight himself was as alone as when he was born when he saw the maiden. Or, it could report that, when he first saw her, he perceived her to be as alone as he was at birth. This ambiguity suggests that every human being, regardless of class, enters this world as alone as the next. Every human needs the help of a woman, a mother, but the Wife deemphasizes this. Instead, she introduces these two characters as individuals, invoking their singular and parallel arrivals on earth as opposed to their class or their particular families of origin. Most important is the fact that they live in Arthur’s kingdom, under Arthur’s law. Next we learn that “maugree hir heed, / By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed” (887–­88). Since these two people enter the world in the same lonely manner, how is it that the will of one comes to outweigh that of the other? The Rapist Knight never pauses to consider the ethics of this question, but rather uses verray force to overcome the maiden, bringing dishonor upon her, himself, and Arthur’s house: the entire national kingdom. This beginning swiftly resets Camelot on earth. Despite its own utopian desires, the tale thus acknowledges that—­nostalgic or forward-­ looking—­there has never been a utopian time or place on earth, not even in Camelot. Like many tales told en route to Canterbury, the Wife of Bath’s Tale takes place in a Britain characterized by disrespect for the institutions of marriage and the law. The Church is nowhere in sight. There is nothing fair about the state of affairs in Camelot: the most honorable king is compromised by his association with a dishonorable

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knight, and women live in extreme danger. As Herry Bailly notes, woman’s virginity is irrecoverable, like time it “wol nat come agayn, withouten drede, / Namoore than wole Malkynes maydenhede” (II 29–­30). Nevertheless, the tale offers sovereignty as a form of mitigation. In response to the queen’s entreaties, Arthur will share his sovereignty and that changes the course of justice. The rape cannot be undone, but sovereignty can still redeem marriage and, more indirectly, national community. The Wife, having made her own sacrifices for marital sovereignty, translates the rape into a more general “oppressioun,” sacrificing the maiden’s personal sovereignty for a communal version.22 As she explains, For which oppressioun was swich clamour And swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour That dampned was this knyght for to be deed, By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed—­ Paraventure swich was the statut tho—­ But that the queene and other ladyes mo So longe preyden the kyng of grace Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place, And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille, To chese weither she wolde hym save or spille. (III 889–­98) This passage reveals that justice depends on civic intervention, proceeding neither from the law nor the queen’s discretion alone. First, popular “clamour” and legal “pursute” bring the rapist to be damned “by cours of lawe.”23 Arthur, the sovereign, seems likely to have remained oblivious otherwise. Next, “the queene and other ladyes mo / So longe preyden the kyng” that he “yaf” the knight to the queen. The king can delegate his sovereignty because it depends on the civic will from the beginning. As in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, sovereignty is legitimate because it changes hands and thus can be shared. Arthur’s delegation essentially produces a feminine reduplication of the same dynamic. The Rapist Knight’s life belongs to the queen, speaking for herself as well as for the 22.  Fradenburg observes an inverse transformation. In her reading, the tale ends on a less revolutionary note, backpedaling by exchanging communal fantasies of sovereignty and continuity for a private, individual fantasy of fulfillment. As Fradenburg explains, “through the hag’s transfiguration—­the threat of change posed by group fantasy is privatized and domesticated” (“The Wife of Bath’s Passing Fancy,” 54). 23.  On this language’s legal significance, see Kennedy, Maintenance, Meed, and Marriage, 55–­56.

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other ladies. The queen does according to a new ordinance, one oriented specifically toward this newly established form of public female sovereignty: to live he must tell her what “wommen moost desiren” within “twelf-­month and a day” (905, 909). As the Rapist Knight rides through the kingdom asking what women want, he encounters no dragons, no monsters, no Saracens, no Scots, no treacherous relatives or any of the usual occupational hazards. Diversity of public opinion is his only obstacle. He will find an authoritative solution in the network of feminine gossip, which, as Lochrie argues, “offers a rival interpretive community to that of conventional medieval auctoritas.”24 After more than twenty-­five lines recounting the various things that “somme seyde wommen loven best” and about thirty more relaying an Ovidian story that proves woman’s inability to keep secrets, the knight gives up and turns, sadly, “homward” (925, 988).25 At this point, it seems he will never learn what he needs to know to save his life. All he has learned is that women form a community at once too vocal and too diverse for him to comprehend. However, on the way home, he meets the “olde wyf,” who understands this alternative institution (1000). Lochrie explains that gossip’s “primary distinguishing feature is exchange.”26 The old woman presents this feature as both a lesson and a secret—­that is, as something offered in exchange for an as yet unnamed favor. She assures the knight that no woman will gainsay “of that I shall thee teche”; and “[t]ho rowned she a pistel in his ere” (1019, 1021). This short line’s diction encrypts a deeply significant answer—­not only to the Rapist Knight’s quest but also to the Wife of Bath’s signature question regarding authority’s relation to experience. The Middle English words rounen and pistel present multiple meanings including “[t]o speak about (sth.) in secret or private, whisper” and “[a] written legend or story” as well as “[a] spoken communication,” respectively; together they intimate the compatibility of lived experience and written authority.27 This pistel encodes a message that, conflating such auctoritee with experience, works as a written character, a letter, an epistle, and most precisely—­in this context—­a powerfully runic whisper. The Wife of Bath’s word choice casts the Old Wife’s mes24. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 59. 25.  The classic discussions of the Wife’s Ovidian revision are Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History, 280–­321, and D. W. Robertson Jr. “The Wife of Bath and Midas,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer (1984): 1–­20. 26. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 65. 27.  Middle English Dictionary, s.v. rounen (v.), 2 (a); MED, s.v. pistel (n.), 4 and 5.

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sage as an article of both written and spoken authority and signals their compatibility symbolically if not literally. The Rapist Knight learns that sovereignty is what earthly women desire. As it resolves the opposition between written authority and experience, the principle of exchange that this knowledge instantiates effectively enables sovereignty to return from the feminine to a more public form, and enables marriage to become a fully competent model for national community. The Rapist Knight returns to find “[t]he queene hirself sittynge as a justise” (1028). She has become “lige lady” and “sovereyn lady queene,” because of the clamor and legal suits that bring him to public justice in the first place, the ladies who joined her in praying for the king’s grace, and finally because of that grace (1037, 1048). To this forum the Rapist Knight must report “[w]hat thing that worldly women loven best” (1033): he is constrained to act as an emissary from the feminine world of gossip. The secret he now reveals, that women desire sovereignty, certainly looks back to Alisoun’s agreement with Jankyn. But in the current context it also affirms the public—­as opposed to domestic—­character of this desire, for he now speaks before a queen sitting in judgment as if she were king. Almost as soon as the Rapist Knight announces that every worldly woman wants “sovereynetee, / As wel over hir housbond as hir love,” the old woman reappears demanding that the “sovereyn lady queene” force the knight to comply with his agreement to grant her next request (marriage) in exchange for teaching him this answer (1038–­39, 1048). While this exchange returns our focus to the domestic, it also takes the domestic as the origin of a revaluation of English national community. The Rapist Knight’s response to the Old Wife is unequivocal: “‘My love?’ quod he, ‘nay, my dampnacioun! / Allas, that any of my nacioun / Sholde evere so foule disparaged be!’” (1067–­69). As the end rhyme of “dampnacioun” with “nacioun” implies, the knight assumes that his fortune, his identity, his reputation, and the continuity or demise of it all, his very damnation and redemption, are bound to that of his aristocratic family: the exceptionally particular “nacioun” he invokes here.28 This common Middle English understanding of nacioun as aristocratic bloodline or family, however, does not stand for long. The woman meets the knight’s objection on its ground. With an anachronistic invocation of Dante Alighieri she redefines the Rapist Knight’s “nacioun” to include poor, ugly, and common folk like her. The Wife of Bath puts Dante’s 28.  Ingham, “Pastoral Histories,” 42 offers a different yet related reading of nacioun’s collective meaning here.

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fourteenth-­century Purgatario into the mouth of a sixth-­century British wife, thus offering her an English national future. As if already living in this future, the Old Wife uses Dante to reject the Rapist Knight’s antiquated understanding of the nation as his aristocratic, genealogical family. She reeducates him, replacing his nacioun with her concept of the nation as a cross-­class political and cultural family, governed lovingly yet cunningly: governed best by sovereign wives. The anachronism of the appeal to Dante is nearly as significant as its content. Here, the Wife of Bath equates the ubiquity of fairies and incubi with the contemporary ubiquity of friars and clerks. As Fradenburg observes, such a comparison shows us that “[r]eality shifts over time and space, and what can seem the very touchstone of reality in one context will seem an elaborate dream in another.”29 Similarly, as Robert Blanch notes, the Wife of Bath’s “deliberate invocation of the present through the use of anachronism (fourteenth-­century penalty for rape) blurs the pastness of the tale—­the remote Arthurian setting.”30 The Old Wife’s anachronistic reference to Dante in her bedroom lecture also blurs Arthurian Britain’s pastness. However, the effect here is to clarify England’s national present and future. As the archaic fantasies of the Wife of Bath’s Tale return to the problem of female sovereignty, a discourse at once learned and vernacular, intimate and institutional, they reveal a truth about historical continuity. The Old Wife speaks through Dante, helping the Rapist Knight to decide which values are worth carrying from the past to the present, which solidarities should shape future reality, and what kind of “gentillesse nys but renomee” (1159). Her lecture urges us to see that what seems the very touchstone of gentility, of political and cultural solidarity in one context, can be an obstacle to English redemption, an elaborate excuse that deters national continuity, in another. The Rapist Knight will submit to her sovereign judgment, agreeing to ally himself with her and with folk like her by extension. Responding to the Rapist Knight’s concern for his family’s reputation, the lady acknowledges his aristocratic ties and explains why they are inadequate. With the conventional title “deere housbonde,” she reminds the knight that he is participating in the institution of marriage (1087). “Fareth every knyght thus with his wyf as ye? / Is this the lawe of kyng Arthures hous?” she asks (1088–­89). The Rapist Knight has, of course, already broken the law of Arthur’s house by committing rape, and yet he 29.  Fradenburg, “Fulfild of Fayerye,” 217. 30.  Blanch, “Al was this land fulfild of fayerye,” 44.

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complains out of loyalty to his house. Now he is married to the lady before him; she is his own wife and he her deere housbonde. He has failed to honor his loyalties to the aristocratic nacioun he invokes above, but the wife’s reminder promotes a different form of patriotism. He can honor the law of Arthur’s sovereign nation, understood to include women of all classes, by honoring the symbolic and analogous solidarities of his own lawful household. “I am youre owene love and youre wyf; / I am she which that saved hath youre lyf,” she explains (1091–­92). There is a form here, a protocol, and the Old Wife means to follow it. She also offers additional help: her fantastic combination of elvish shape-­shifting and Christian redemption. She assures her husband that she “koude amende al this,” her loathliness, her age and her base-­lineage “er it were dayes thre,” invoking the time between Christ’s death and resurrection (1107). This conflation of magic and religion relocates redemption in a new form of vernacular English nationhood, which itself affirms a fuller political and cultural English nation that claims continuity with the British past as in the Man of Law’s Tale. The Old Wife begins her lecture by attacking the supposition that lineage ensures gentility, a point that Dante and his contemporaries refute. As she professes, lineage grants “old richesse,” but “Crist” makes it possible for men to do “gentil dedes,” the source and sign of gentility, respectively (1110, 1117, 1115). She seems certain of this opinion, which was widespread by the fourteenth century, and goes on for twenty-­five lines before mentioning Dante. When she does mention him she makes it count, stretching the allusion over three lines, naming Dante twice: “Wel kan the wise poete of Florence, / That highte Dant, speken in this sentence. / Lo, in swich maner rym is Dantes tale” (1125–­27). Here she defines national community through a learned but anachronistic reference to a text that had not been written by the moment of her tale’s setting. The Old Wife turns the Rapist Knight’s attention from his family of origin toward his own behavior and his marriage by lecturing him in English on Dante’s wisdom originally delivered in Italian. Here the vernacular language of household exchange becomes as important in the Wife of Bath’s Arthurian legend as it is in her own fourteenth-­century English household, for the Old Wife redefines national community by replacing exclusive aristocratic nobility with a more inclusive spiritual and moral nobility, supported by lines directly translated from Dante’s Purgatorio VII: “Rade volte risurge per li rami / l’umana probitate; e questo vole / Quei che la dà, perché a lui si chiami” (Rarely does human worth rise through the branches. / And this He wills who gives it, / so

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that it shall be sought from Him [Purgatorio VII 121–­23]).31 Dante could not possibly have composed these lines until seven or eight centuries after Arthur’s legendary sixth-­century reign, under which the character speaking lives. She does not preserve Dante’s end-­rhyme even though she claims she will, subtly hinting that his Italian verse is only fully accessible in its original Italian and implying that deeper differences lie beneath the text’s surface. Nevertheless, she translates his meaning line by line saying, “Full selde upriseth by his branches smale / Prowesse of man, for God, of his goodnesse, / Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse” (1128–­30). The Old Wife does not need to cite Dante in order to substantiate her argument with credible auctoritee. Her subsequent chronologically correct references (“Reedeth Senek, and redeth Boece”) do just that, rendering her discourse learned and even Christian, in the case of Boethius (1168). This gratuitous dropping of Dante’s name does two things that the other references cannot do. First, it admits that Chaucer’s ideals of national sovereignty and his definitions of national community depend upon error, on anachronistic revision of national history. Secondly, it demonstrates how thoroughly the spiritual and national spheres interpenetrate with each other through the domestic. This second function is less obvious, but, if we follow Dante back to the original context in which these lines appear, we learn a deeper spiritual lesson about sovereignty in English national politics. Dante delivers the original wisdom through Sordello, a thirteenth-­century Italian poet who wrote in Provençal and appears in the Purgatorio to lead Dante and Virgil through the Valley of Princes. Sordello makes his wise digression in his native Italian as he identifies the souls of eight international Christian princes who died in the late thirteenth century, and are all singing the hymn “Salve, Regina” to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven. We learn that some of them produce heirs less noble than themselves and others, notably England’s own Henry III, produce sons who surpass them in nobility.32 But these various kings, emperors, and dukes 31.  As chapter 1 notes, Richard Helgerson’s Forms of Nationhood reflects a similar preference for national over aristocratic forms of community. See also Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, 227–­28 for an important critique of Helgerson. All references to and translations of the Purgatorio are to Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, ed. and trans. Jean Hollander and Robert Hollander (New York: Anchor Books, 2004). Hereafter cited parenthetically. 32. Alighieri, Purgatario, 134 nn, 61–­63, 157 nn. 82–­84. While Henry III compromised English national sovereignty by favoring foreign French nobles in England and submitting as a vassal to the king of France to retain his lands in Gascony, his son Edward I emerged as a nationalist hero who blamed the French for aiming to exterminate the English language. On the nationalist moves of this father and son, see Turville-­Petre, England the Nation, 3–­9, 110.

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all depend on the Queen of Heaven for spiritual salvation, as they spend their time in purgatory singing her praise. The dead princes’ hopes for salvation rest on the Queen of Heaven’s saintly sovereignty, reinforcing the respect for female sovereignty that the Old Wife and the queen attempt to teach the Rapist Knight. Sordello implies that family lines of aristocratic and royal nobility pale in comparison with the Virgin’s heavenly sovereignty—­ and his wise analysis seems to depend on the thirteenth-­century examples that immediately inspire it in the Purgatorio. Thus Chaucer stages the impossible by deploying anachronism to transmit this historically inspired fourteenth-­century wisdom back to ancient Britain, which becomes a double for England. Dante introduces these ideas about the relation of human nobility to God and spiritual nobility in his earlier Convivio.33 This earlier context may be most important to understanding the stakes of Chaucer’s borrowing. In the Convivio, Dante explains that nobility does not descend from “l’antica ricchezza,” or “old richesse” through family lines: “ché ‘l divino seme non cade in ischiatta, cioè in istirpe, ma cade ne le singulari persone . . . la stirpe non fa le singulari persone nobili, ma le singulari persone fanno nobile la stripe” (the divine seed does not descend into a stock or family; it descends, rather, into individual people . . . it is not a family line that makes individuals noble, but individuals who ennoble a family-­line [Convivio IV. iii. 7, IV. xx. 5]). Dante is everywhere wary of the particular threats to spiritual and public nobility that familial ties—­ especially inflated impressions of aristocratic lineage’s value—­ might pose. In fact, he begins the Convivio by explaining that the philosophical wisdom he is about to deliver is inaccessible to many not only because of internal causes such as physical deafness or spiritual obsession with vices but also because of external causes such as family and civic responsibilities or living in a land remote from learned people and institutions—­a land much as England must have appeared to continental intellectuals in Chaucer’s day. Let us remember that the Wife of Bath who draws Dante into this tale is herself partially deaf; this detail challenges the Convivio’s assumptions about internal obstructions. However, learning’s external obstructions are most suggestive: Di fuori da l’uomo possono essere similemente due cagioni intese, l’una de quail è induttrice di necessitade, l’altra di prigrizia. La prima è la cura familiare e civile, la quale convenevolente a sé tiene de li 33.  On the Convivio’s role in framing sovereignty here, but with rather different emphases, see Alastair Minnis, “‘Dante in Inglissh’: What Il Convivio Really Did for Chaucer,” Essays in Criticism 55.2 (2005): 97–­116.

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uomini lo maggior numero, sì che in ozio di speculazione esser non possano. L’alta è lo difetto del luogo dove la persona è nata e nutrita, che tal ora sarà da ogni studio non solamente privato, ma da gente studiosa lontano. (Likewise two causes external to man can be specified, one resulting in unavoidable constraint, the other in laziness. The first is family and civic responsibilities, which quite properly absorb the energies of the majority of men, with the result that they cannot find the leisure required for cultivating the mind. The other is the deficiency in the place where a person is born and raised: this is sometimes such that it not only lacks any institute of higher learning, but is even remote from the company of learned people. [Convivio I. i. 4])

Dante originally offers the wisdom that moves the Rapist Knight to ally himself with the Old Wife as a gift to those unable to learn it on their own because of civic and family responsibilities, la cura familiare e civile, which he classes together. As we have seen, Arthur’s knight needs to reconsider this link’s value and meaning. By importing this wisdom from the Purgatorio and Convivio back to sixth-­century Britain, Chaucer simultaneously mitigates his own familiar anxieties about English institutions of learning, Dante’s concern about the distractions that family and civic affairs present to searching minds, and the Rapist Knight’s misunderstandings about his national responsibility. Chaucer imagines a learned British wife who actually brings her husband closer to the very wisdom that wives and other family and civic responsibilities obscure in Dante’s Convivio. Thus Chaucer invents a context in which family and civic responsibilities actually lead one to (rather than away from) wisdom, regardless of what Jankyn and his book of wicked wives preach. That wisdom—­that sinless living, rather than aristocratic lineage and wealth, equals nobility—­in turn leads Arthur’s wayward knight to understand how his civic and family responsibilities are classed together and that they have little to do with aristocratic or economic constructions of class. He must find solidarity with his common wife; such solidarity is his legal, civic, family, and ultimately national responsibility. Through this vernacular exchange with his wife, Arthur’s Rapist Knight becomes more civically, spiritually, and philosophically aware. Although the feminine world of secrecy and gossip and the masculine world of conventional authoritative discourses appear definitively separated by rigid boundaries earlier

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in the Wife’s prologue and tale, the bedroom lecture merges them in celebrating the flexibility of class and gender roles. Because of the Purgatario allusion, English sovereignty and solidarity become visible in ancient Britain through Dante. The Old Wife encounters Dante as an ally (despite his warning about the dangers of family) and redeploys him as a lens through which English folk can identify those to whom sovereignty binds them and with whom they must forge national solidarities: each other, regardless of class or wealth. Only after this Dante-­inspired bedroom lecture is the Rapist Knight able to put himself under the sovereign judgment and “wise governance” of his lower-­class, English-­speaking wife (1231). Only then do this husband and wife follow the model of Arthur’s house, where sovereignty is negotiable and shared between partners. The household of Rapist Knight and Old Wife, who each stand for a number of English Christian identities, elaborates the make-­up of Chaucer’s sovereign English community: it includes men, women, old, young, aristocratic, poor, lowborn, learned, vernacular, criminal, and loathly. This nation signifies redemption and solidarity across sundry yet flexible identities and classes. Once the Knight accepts his wife’s sovereignty, English institutions, particularly marriage, the law, and the knighthood (which languish throughout the preceding tales), regain strength and health—­and she gains youth and beauty. Though the Old Wife marries a rapist, she improves the case for lower-­class women, because even as she transforms into the picture of a sovereign lady, the Rapist Knight’s decisive submission to her judgment, which she distinguishes from youth, aristocratic lineage, and wealth, implies that England’s sovereign national future belongs to commoners.34 The Rapist Knight comes to his lecture under the impression that his gentle identity is rigidly bound to his family, passed down genealogically like possessions or titles. His wife sets him straight, informing him that property, titles, and renown: the sum of ancestral goods “is a strange thing to thy persone” (1161). Thus she echoes the Wife of Bath who reminds us that every human enters this world as alone as the next when she sets the scene in which the knight spots the maiden he rapes, “allone as he was born” (885). Particular families of origin are irrelevant, as “men may wel often fynde / [a] lordes sone do shame and vileynye” (1150–­51).35 The Rapist Knight is the prime example: regardless of the 34.  See Fradenburg, “Fulfild of Fayerye” and “The Wife of Bath’s Passing Fancy.” 35.  This reading is supported by Burger’s observation that “[t]he Wife does not men-

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titles and things he owns, “al” the “good” that he offers the Old Wife in place of his body when she demands marriage, his impoverished judgment leads him to commit churlish deeds (shame and villainy) when he is alone with the maiden (1061). The Old Wife’s rhetoric demonstrates that the Rapist Knight’s singular identity is linked with hers just as his integrity is linked with that of his rape victim through his behavior. Taking precedence are their identities as individual citizens under the law, proto-­English subjects, living in Arthur’s realm under Arthur’s law, where judgment appears to be even more important than ownership in determining sovereign community’s nature and composition. The Rapist Knight’s new wife teaches him that the identity he believes he inherits from his family, his nacioun, is not his national inheritance, insisting that all ancestral goods are foreign to individual identity. It may seem that the marriage context, which conventionally supports ancestral ties, undermines this claim, yet I read the Old Wife and Rapist Knight’s marriage as an unconventional intellectual union based on ethical and political rather than biological regeneration. Here national continuity, like gentility, depends on rejecting ideas of the nation based in ancestral history and adopting instead nationhood rooted in shared ethical standards of virtuous living and civic responsibility. National solidarity, like national sovereignty, requires collaborative decision-­making and the shared identity to which people formally consent when they marry and form new households. The Old Wife does not discard the ideals of shared identity or familial domesticity, but she revises them significantly. When, in response to her husband’s complaint about her appearance and age, the Old Wife asks him to choose whether she be young, beautiful, and potentially unfaithful or old, ugly, and absolutely faithful, he, like the Canterbury-­bound pilgrims to Herry Bailly in the General Prologue, consents to his wife’s sovereign rule with a hint of reticence, realizing that it is at once the best and least he can do: This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh, But atte laste he seyde in this manere: tion lands or movable goods provided by her family as dowry, nor indeed anything at all about the social situation of her family. Her autobiography would insist that she is only able to draw on what is ‘natural’ to her as a woman, that is her body, as her equivalent to family name, movable goods, or land in the marriage business” (Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 88). By consistently denaturalizing aristocratic views of the family as nation and as all that is inheritable socially, economically, institutionally, and politically, the Wife heralds an emerging cross-­class, cross-­gender English nation.

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“My lady and my love, and wyf so deere, I put me in youre wise governance; Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance And most honour to yow and me also. I do no fors the wheither of the two, For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.” (1228–­35) Although the Rapist Knight’s bitter sighing may be interpreted as disingenuousness, his air of resigned consent matches the pilgrims’ resignation in the frame narrative as well as that of Alisoun and Jankyn in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue. This is to say that resigned consent, whether careful or careless, regularly establishes sovereignty in the Tales. The form of resignation instantiates collaborative judgment, signaling both a history and an expectation of love, affection, and congeniality; thus it commits to shared identity and continuity. Here the Rapist Knight admits that his honor and pleasure are bound to that of the Old Wife. He participates in the institution of marriage, the form of love, which—­in the Canterbury Tales—­is at best an expectation that serves political and cultural functions: national cohesion and continuity. Whether the Rapist Knight means it or not, the Old Wife has supplied the content of the form: an ethics of national sovereignty, wherein judgments are particularly English cross-­class, cross-­gender affairs that instantiate solidarity and promote continuity. And whether readers believe he empathizes with her or not, the Old Wife responds as if he does. After the Rapist Knight consents to the Old Wife’s sovereignty, both temporality and the threat of national decay disappear with her moribund body. In the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the Old Wife defeats temporality’s threat. She refuses to wait for generations, or to invest hope for continuity in ancestral lines such as those on which her husband originally depends. Instead she embodies a presentist nationalist dream, enacting continuity by regenerating her own body and youth, by magically transforming herself into a woman young, beautiful, and true. National sovereignty makes the old woman’s transformation into a young woman possible; but at this moment hers appears to be a new, nonreproductive, erotic, and intellectual continuity of youth.36 Even so, this fantastic and impossible transformation reflects a common patriarchal fear about hu36.  This continuity inverts the genealogical, biological, and dynastic continuity that Custance offers Rome and England through Maurice in the Man of Law’s Tale, which we expect in conventional romance. The Wife thus informs the Man of Law and his sect that women themselves are worth more than the infants they bear.

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man nature: women can turn the clocks back in ways that men cannot imitate by reproducing life within their bodies. Though the Old Wife’s transformation bypasses conventional reproduction, she amplifies this biological fact by both celebrating the power it represents and refusing its limitations, for she exceeds and innovates them through her own spectacular regeneration. Indeed, this transformation teaches yet more about human culture: national continuity depends on real or feigned belief in impossible transformations such as the Old Wife’s, real or feigned belief in the transcendent force of love, despite proof that what humans call love is often as lackluster as that ever-­unsatisfying resignation that establishes political sovereignty. Ultimately, national continuity depends on a suspension of disbelief that accepts anachronism as national history; Chaucer suggests that a national community is one that joins in such irrational hope across familial, age, gender, class, and intellectual divides. This is the moral of national sovereignty in the Wife of Bath’s Tale: sovereignty matters because it compares ownership with judgment and ultimately finds judgment to be heavier and more useful. Sovereignty extends the expectation of solidarity and love from the family, which conserves wealth and bequeaths possessions through genealogical lines, to the nation, which pools judgment toward a common wealth. Here, sovereignty legitimizes extant institutions and unions, complicates identity, and upsets hierarchical structures by demanding cooperation across lines of difference. Thus Chaucerian sovereignty shapes a particularly transmutable English nation, which itself is “not defined merely by power and political sovereignty, but by the traditions, sentiments and aspirations of those who live” in the Wife of Bath and Chaucer’s England.37 After listening to the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, moreover, it is difficult to imagine how one might distinguish political sovereignty from even the most intimate sentiments and most softly whispered aspirations of Chaucer’s English pilgrims. Glenn Burger has explained that the Canterbury Tales presents a pre-­ nation-­state nation, a queer nation perpetually in process and unpredictably moving “beyond things as they are.”38 The Old Wife’s transformability is the ultimate complex metaphor for Chaucer’s English nation. In Fradenburg’s words, “The old woman’s magical changeability works to 37. Davies, The First English Empire, 82. 38. Burger, Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 199. Burger shows that because of both the flexibility with which the Tales imagines an English national community and the oppositional ways in which postcolonial theory allows readers to imagine the Tales, Chaucer’s work illuminates the successes and limitations of the modern nation-­state.

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reassure the knight—­and by extension the aristocracy—­that it can mingle, even in marriage, with the common (poor, ugly) body without losing its own identity.”39 Although the final image of the young, happy couple suggests that cooperation across lines of difference will produce a homogeneous noble identity for all involved and, taken further, might even imply that commoners do not matter, we can neither escape the abundant loss and sacrifice here nor can we disregard the unsettling and revolutionary valences of the Old Wife’s transformation. No attentive reader fully forgets the maiden whom the Knight rapes at the plot’s start. The maiden’s haunting memory represents the costs of English national sovereignty: the Welsh, Scots, and Irish national desires that Britain’s transformation into England represses. English national redemption, like Christian redemption, requires both sacrifice and belief in the impossible, in myths that could not possibly have happened as reported: in anachronism, in resurrection of the dead.40 As Geary writes, “[c]ongruence between early medieval and contemporary ‘peoples’ is a myth”; indeed, the Wife of Bath engages in such myth-­making.41 Her romance admits that neither love nor history is true, but compels us to imagine an English national future by believing such institutional lies. We might rest here, dissatisfied with the Wife’s reductive ending, its resolution of “social conflict through sexual fulfillment, and sexual conflict through upward mobility,” its insinuation that “problems of class and gender” might “marvelously vanish into thin air”—­however, the incredible transformation delivers another truth about human nature.42 The Old Wife’s magical makeover represents the one true thing on which Chaucer’s national imagination depends: humanity’s endless ca39.  Fradenburg, “Fulfild of Fayerye,” 219. 40.  Here missing female bodies (the maiden’s and now the Old Wife’s) take the sacrificial place of Jesus’s body, as in the quem quaeritis trope of the medieval liturgy. 41. Geary, The Myth of Nations, 37. On the regenerative potential of nationalist myth, see Anthony D. Smith, Myths and Memories of the Nation (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999), 85–­88. Smith binds modern nations to earlier cultures through the “elements of myth, memory, symbol and tradition,” from which “modern national identities are reconstituted in each generation, as nation becomes more inclusive and as its members cope with new challenges” (9). See also N. J. Higham, King Arthur: Myth-­Making and History (London: Routledge, 2001). Higham follows Arthur from his ninth-­century emergence as a warrior and symbol of a refounded Brittonic Britain in the Historia Brittonum, which competes against Bede’s English nationalist Historia Ecclesiastica, to his twelfth-­century incarnation as King of all Britain, a symbol useful to English kings in their sovereign pursuits. Higham shows that telling Arthurian “history” consistently legitimizes tendentious presentist claims as only myth might do. Aptly, Chaucer summons Arthur precisely when he wants to make a contemporary English national case for sovereignty. 42.  Fradenburg, “The Wife of Bath’s Passing Fancy,” 54.

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pacity for recreation. Hardt and Negri base their ideal commonwealth on the same truth: “[t]he most important fact about human nature . . . that it can be and is constantly being transformed. A realist political anthropology must focus on this process of metamorphosis,” they explain.43 From this perspective, the Old Wife’s transformation into a beautiful new wife is not simply or necessarily a homogenization. It is also startling evidence that neither political community nor individual identity is ever only what it seems to be on the surface—­and that human relationships, whether political, sexual, domestic, institutional, or all of the above, will have to accommodate unexpected changes if they will survive over time.

Love’s Not Time’s Fool: Love as Transportation beyond Things as They Are For the Wife of Bath, as for Hardt and Negri, love is a concept, a power, and an action: a vehicle that moves those it unites beyond things as they are. Approaching love as an action rather than as a sentiment, Hardt and Negri explain, “When we engage in the production of subjectivity that is love, we are not merely creating new subjects or new objects in the world. Instead we are producing a new world, a new social life.”44 Thus they transport love beyond romantic convention—­or rather ask it to transport them there—­by insisting on its revolutionary potential, its capacity to transform social life, not merely to idealize it or to envision it differently. There is no William Shakespeare here proving love is not love that alters when it alteration finds. Oh no—­in this case, it is a never-­fixed mark: love is not love that fails to alter what it finds. Hardt and Negri specify a radical love of the other and stress such love’s power to displace corrupt institutions, like the modern nation and even the family, and to replace the sovereignty that defines them with “constituent power,” and yet they cling to institutional form. “The central difference” between conventional definitions of institution and theirs “has to do with agency: whereas according to the conventional sociological notion institutions form individuals and identities, in [their] conception singularities form institutions, which are thus perpetually in flux.”45 Similarly, Chaucer’s reading of the Arthurian past suggests that institutions like the nation, law, literature, and even history itself coexist in flux, depending not only 43.  Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 191. 44.  Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 180–­81. Likewise, as Fradenburg writes, “Love . . . seems to have the power to make as well as unmake being” (City, Marriage, Tournament, 71). 45.  Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 358.

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on alternative and intermediate institutions like the household and gossip but also on transmutable individuals like the Old Wife, singularities, in Hardt and Negri’s terms, who redefine these overlapping institutions by finding ways to be included in an ever-­evolving social life. Despite Hardt and Negri’s desire to imagine a commonwealth free of national identities, sovereignty, and corruptible institutions, their vision bears an unlikely yet striking resemblance to Chaucer’s identity-­obsessed imagination of England as a sovereign nation. Chaucer’s is decidedly a queer nation, in Burger’s vital formulation: it is in constant flux, being transported by something called love past time and convention, past things as they are even as it rests on history—­but a history as the past never was, even though it includes sacrifice and pain. National sovereignty depends on institutions; it is only an idea without them. In Chaucer’s view, national institutions represent the possible and practical, the tangible ways in which even commoners might experience and influence national sovereignty. However, Chaucerian sovereignty also requires anachronism. Sovereignty is seldom compelling on a national scale without claiming to found or be founded on fantasy, unlivable myth, anachronism, a past that could not have been. The Wife of Bath’s mythic Arthurian history is not only utopian but also tendentiously anachronistic and shrewdly in touch with the real power of Chaucer’s institutional realities.46 Her national memory is selectively nostalgic, sick for a mythic home that never was, and so all the more determined to make it present. Bhabha’s double discourse of nation’s narration paves a way for anachronism: we imagine and address the nation-­people as both “performative subjects” and “pedagogical objects”—­living out of synch, simultaneously in the present and in a transcendent, diachronic history.47 At the same time that the Wife of Bath represents the immediately accessible and historicized fourteenth-­century English institution of marriage (along with the closely related intermediate institution of the household and the alternative institution of gossip), she also experiments artistically with anachronistic national romance, unleashing the power of an otherwise inaccessible and impossible history. She admits that remembering a past that did not happen, mythology, is critical to 46.  In fact, Burger analyzes the Wife’s female masculinity, her manner of behaving like Ann Middleton’s new men by using “the forms of another’s institutional power to further her own ends (rather like an upwardly mobile ‘gentil’ man who will act like his betters to further his own ends)” (Chaucer’s Queer Nation, 95). 47.  Bhabha, “DissemiNation,” 151. See also Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, esp. 12–­13, 45–­ 50, on Bhabha and all medieval Arthurian history as tendentiously anachronistic.

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crafting a national future; meanwhile participating in unreliable, imperfect institutions is essential to living a national present, a present continuous with both past and future. The Wife of Bath reveals that local, synchronic experience and transcendent, anachronistic imagination are not simply compatible but symbiotic in reifying and realizing national fantasy. Although the anachronism in the Wife’s story funds the continuity of a relatively pluralistic and inclusive national community, the moral is hardly one of absolute or timeless inclusion. Like most medieval romances, the Wife of Bath’s Tale puts enormous value on the hetero-­ normative couple and claims that dyad as the building block of the nation, the very commonweal. This attitude foreshadows traditionalist arguments against marriage equality and conservative reluctance to acknowledge the legal legitimacy of same-­sex marriages or households in recent UK and US national debates.48 Furthermore, although the tale advocates crossing class and gender lines for love and solidarity, it avoids color and religious lines, markers of medieval and twenty-­first century race. Dante’s view of Christian nobility overshadows the power of folk magic and its bond with pre-­Christian British religious practice here. Regardless of Chaucer’s internationalism, exclusivity marks Chaucer’s location of England and Englishness even as their boundaries stretch to include commoners. Chaucer’s internationalism and inclusivity cannot erase the impact that nationalism and xenophobia make on his imagination. Certainly, when Chaucerians like Pearsall, Butterfield, Salter, Turville-­Petre, and Wallace present Chaucer as a relatively tolerant observer among more xenophobic medieval writers, interpreting his “internationalism” as a distinct alternative to nationalism, they suggest attitudes more universalist and less provincial than the fears and hatreds represented by Chaucer’s orientalist Man of Law and Squire and his anti-­ Semitic Prioress, whose xenophobia does situate Chaucer’s English among other nations. I want to reiterate that Chaucerian internationalism has signified something closer to cosmopolitanism in our critical discourse, although cosmopolitanism is not the term Chaucerians have favored. This chapter recognizes the interdependence of nationalism with internationalism by exposing Chaucer’s exploitation of that relationship in his Wife of Bath’s Tale, where Italian literature illuminates English national identity. The tale adds particularly national and social va48.  For an incisive reflection on the politics of sex, marriage, and religion in medieval and contemporary English texts, see Carol Braun Pasternack, “Text, Sex, and Politics: Present and Past Reflections,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 1 (2010): 361–­71.

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lences to Dante’s Christian nobility by applying it to Chaucer’s cross-­class, cross-­gender model of English nationhood; it presents Christian nobility and mixed-­class marriage as the keys to delivering English sovereignty as well as to reaching more sentimental aspirations, without which the tale’s leading lady lives for so long. These keys work like love—­opening the doors of the nation to the beloved, opening the concept of the nation to new identities within critical limits, opening the arms of the nation to embrace others, but not all others. The next and final chapter turns to excluded others; it demonstrates how vernacular language excommunicates an English nation’s feared and hated others in the Man of Law’s Tale, the Squire’s Tale, and the Monk’s Tale.

P art I II

Fear and Form

s e ve n

Beyond the Pale Chaucer’s Other Women in English In Renan’s eyes, the nation was before all else a solidarity between modern and autonomous subjects, wishing to live under a single sovereignty. Why modern? Because the nation was a political idea created by people with free will. 1 —­s hlomo sand

Language is perhaps most obviously a form of communication, connection, and transmission from individual to individual, place to place, moment to moment. Chaucer’s self-­conscious descriptions of women excluded from the English Christian nation that his Canterbury Tales imagines, however, consistently feature language as a form of limitation, obstruction, even excommunication, a mode of severing and refusing connections. Chaucer admits doubts about the English language and its fitness for literary greatness throughout his work, but his most poignant and extended queries appear in the Man of Law’s Tale and the Squire’s Tale, which begin with romantic visions of the East and proceed to perform their anxieties about Englishness in ostracizing their other women. Indeed, as English language contributions to late fourteenth-­century British literary culture surged, so did literary expressions of modesty and anxiety.2 Such moves approximate the inexpressibility topos; and while we could consider them a subset, they work more curiously and even 1.  Shlomo Sand, On the Nation and the “Jewish People,” trans. David Fernbach (London and Brooklyn: Verso, 2010), 18. 2.  Wogan-­Browne et al., The Idea of the Vernacular, 4.


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more rigorously than classic appeals to inexpressibility.3 Both modesty and inexpressibility topoi function rhetorically to control language even as they disavow agency and responsibility. However, while pure inexpressibility suggests eternal and universal truths, the modesty topos insists on more limited realities tied to particular identities in the cases I examine.4 In the Man of Law’s Tale and the Squire’s Tale, Chaucer’s expressions of modesty and anxiety about English make cultural and political distinctions between English and its others, whereas invocations of utter inexpressibility make more transcendent claims about language, human nature, or the divide between the eternal and the temporal. At any rate, these topoi do not stand alone in Middle English writing, certainly not in Chaucer’s poetry, which counterbalances such disavowals with firm statements of narrative control.5 Chaucer’s Monk openly admits his narrative prerogative at the start of his tragedy of Zenobia; but upon close scrutiny, this pose, much like that of modesty, appears as a rhetorical attitude through which the text decisively rejects its essential others even as it disavows the capacity and need to build its walls so actively. Focusing on the rhetoric of Chaucer’s descriptions of other women, I argue that xenophobic and nationalist attitudes play a larger role in the Canterbury Tales than previously acknowledged. However, this chapter includes no promise to uncover Chaucer’s own intentions or to expose his political, cultural, or racial attitudes. Instead it demonstrates how Chaucer’s poetry and Chaucerian criticism help readers to understand the careful yet brazen work that nationalist exclusivity requires.6 Ultimately, this chapter identifies the linguistic precision and energy of this self-­conscious work 3.  On inexpressibility and modesty topoi, see Ernest Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990 [1953]), 83–­85, 159–­62. Chaucer’s own appeals to modesty seek to put audiences “in a favorable, attentive, and tractable state of mind,” as ancient models do, and then go further to indoctrinate audiences in exclusive understandings of English and Englishness, as I argue (83). 4.  On inexpressibility in Middle English literature, see Donald W. Fritz, “The Prioress’s Avowal of Ineptitude,” Chaucer Review 9 (1974): 166–­81, and Ann Chambers Watts, “Pearl, Inexpressibility, and Poems of Human Loss,” PMLA 99.1 (1984): 26–­40. 5.  Wogan-­Browne et al. consider Chaucer’s “desire to exercise an enduring control over the textual dissemination of his work” such as we see in Troilus and Criseyde and “Adam Scriven” (The Idea of the Vernacular, 10–­12). 6.  See Juliet Dor, “Chaucer’s Viragos.” According to Dor, “By discrediting the reliability of his narrators, Chaucer . . . blurs [their] categories of difference . . . creating a space in which the medieval racial and racist clichés concerning Oriental viragos may be reconsidered” (176).

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as warning signs that gesture toward the interconnected world that race, xenophobia, and its secular excommunications belie.7 As previous chapters note, Chaucerians such as Salter, Pearsall, and Turville-­Petre reject the idea of Chaucer as a nationalist writer by citing his internationalism, his use of continental traditions, and his apparent lack of interest in Englishness, xenophobic exclusivity, or in an English nation.8 Nevertheless, xenophobia consistently makes a powerful impact on Chaucer’s situation of England in relation to the world beyond Europe. Susan Schibanoff and Kathleen Davis show how the Man of Law’s Tale uses both orientalism and antifeminism to unite Christian Englishmen against their female and oriental others.9 Likewise, Alan S. Ambrisco demonstrates that the Squire’s Tale alternately exoticizes and assimilates its characters, thus enacting the orientalist strategy of containment.10 Keiko Hamaguchi notes that in the Monk’s Tale Zenobia blurs the very binary categorizations that “reveal [the Monk’s] Orientalism”; and so the Monk first praises then punishes her, ultimately condemning this threatening woman and pushing her away despite her virtues.11 At first glance, these three women, a dowager with a taste for forgery; a young, prudent yet compassionate princess who talks with birds; and a 7.  Excommunication was a secular as well as a spiritual condition in late medieval English law and practice. In fact, excommunicates were often transferred to lay authorities for punishment (Elisabeth Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages [Berkeley: U of California P, 1986], 32). I use “secular excommunication” figuratively; yet, as I note below, some details of my reading more directly parallel historical excommunications. On the theory and practice of medieval excommunications, see also E. D. Logan, Excommunication and the Secular Arm in Medieval England: A Study in Legal Procedure from the Thirteenth Through Sixteenth Century (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1968). 8.  Pearsall, “Chaucer and Englishness”; Salter, English and International; Turville-­Petre, “The Brutus Prologue to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” 9.  Davis, “Time Behind the Veil”; Schibanoff, “Worlds Apart.” For a tangentially related consideration of race, religion, and color in the Man of Law’s Tale, see Carolyn Dinshaw, “Pale Faces: Race, Religion, and Affect in Chaucer’s Texts and Their Readers,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 23 (2001): 19–­41. 10. Alan S. Ambrisco, “‘It lyth nat in my tonge’: Occupatio and Otherness in the Squire’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 38 (2004): 205–­28. See also Kenneth Bleeth, “Orientalism and the Critical History of the Squire’s Tale,” in Chaucer’s Cultural Geography, 21–­31; Kathryn Lynch, “East Meets West in the Squire’s and Franklin’s Tales,” Speculum 70 (1995): 530–­51. For a useful general discussion of medieval orientalism, see Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100–­1450 (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2009), 5–­15. 11. Hamaguchi, “Transgressing the Borderline of Gender: Zenobia in the Monk’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 40 (2005): 183–­206, 185.

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learned, multilingual warrior queen seem to share little beyond class and gender. The cruel old mother is native to Britain, the kind young daughter hails from far-­off Mongolia, and the hardy queen rules much of the Eastern Roman Empire from Palmyra until her defeat. Closer inspection exposes them all as ethnic others whose extraordinary language skills as well as their femininity contribute to their dangerousness and may even account for our narrators’ strident attempts to stop us from imagining them too much as individuals, as people with faces, despite their narrative centrality.12 These women all fit John Fyler’s description of the other in the Squire’s Tale: they are “at once imaginable and inaccessible or untranslateable” and ultimately, I would add, essential to the more fully imagined English nation at the heart of the Canterbury Tales.13 We shall see that these women actually model the finesse with language through which their narrators excommunicate them. Simultaneously imagining other women, admiring them, learning from them, but then rejecting any possibility of their membership in national community means that our narrators must manipulate their English as slyly as possible. Chaucer’s orientalist tales and moments develop the vernacular into a range of excommunicative strategies that deny other women communal membership, comradeship, and futurity, thereby strengthening identification within the particular cultural, spatial, and temporal bounds through which Chaucer defines England. Race in late medieval literature, as Heng explains, “is a thing that can be conferred on an individual by virtue of religious status, or membership in a community of culture, as much as by phenotype,” and is ultimately “a fantasy, with fully material effects and consequences.”14 Al12. See Irina A. Dumitrescu, “Bede’s Liberation Philology: Releasing the English Tongue,” PMLA 128.1 (2013): 40–­56 for a foundational explication of how Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica relates “linguistic disability to bodily deformity as well as to political and spiritual enslavement” and demonstrates the English vernacular’s power to draw alien men and boys into secular as well as spiritual community (42). I locate in the Canterbury Tales a later moment in this tradition; but here, English language works the gates of national community to exclude feared women who boast formidable linguistic ability. 13.  John Fyler, “Domesticating the Exotic in the Squire’s Tale,” ELH 55 (1988): 1–­26, 10. 14.  Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic, 14. See also Heng, “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages I: Race Studies, Modernity, and the Middle Ages,” and “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages II: Locations of Medieval Race.” There, Heng elaborates her definition of medieval race and argues that we must use the term “to bear witness to important strategic, epistemological, and political commitments not adequately served by the invocation of categories of greater generality (such as ‘otherness’ or ‘difference’) or greater benignity . . .” (265). See also Randy P. Schiff, “On Firm Carthaginian Ground: Ethnic Boundary Fluidity and Chaucer’s Dido,” postmedieval 6 (2015): 23–­35, which builds on Heng to demonstrate how race and gender intersect, keeping Dido and

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though Chaucer’s social and political rumination tends toward subtlety, his orientalist tales combine race with language to erect barricades that keep their feared women out. Using race as a pretext and language as a medium, these tales introduce, consider, then excommunicate other women, ensuring that we never imagine them too vividly, too sympathetically, or too much as individuals. Nevertheless, Chaucer cannot resist spotlighting them, letting his audience know that such women are out there in the world, back there in Britain’s past. Whether the woman is exceedingly nasty, immensely virtuous, or extraordinarily lovely, together these tales suggest that English itself stops short of women who must be expelled from the English Christian community in which our narrators are so invested. The Man of Law and Squire invoke a mix of anxiety and modesty to pretend that even if they wanted to acquaint us with the dangerous attributes of their other women, their language would—­or perhaps should—­bar such communication. In the first tale, the Man of Law presents his English as unsuited to the task of describing Anglo-­Saxon Queen Donegild’s terrible treachery, despite the nasty mother-­in-­law’s stereotypical familiarity. In the second, the Squire complains that his English could only fail to illustrate Tartar Princess Canacee’s mind-­blowing beauty, leaving her face veiled in the mystery of her exotic culture, even as he praises her character in detail. Finally, the Monk carefully censors dark beauty out of Zenobia’s legend, refusing to translate it with the rest of her story. His diction indicates a particular conflict between the Monk’s English and Zenobia’s beauty, absent in Chaucer’s Latin and Italian sources. Thus, all three tales use the English vernacular itself as a decisive essentializing, even racializing form that willfully transforms religion, color, or culture into exclusionary material that fuels the othering processes. By tying English exceptionalism to racist exclusivity through the English language, the Canterbury Tales makes bold contributions not only to the discourse of medieval orientalism but also to that of English nationalism. The first three sections introduce each of the main characters I analyze, one by one, concentrating on how their narrators use English to push them beyond the pale in spite of their narrative importance. Thus we shall see that nationalist xenophobia shapes all three modes of narration, where the vernacular works performatively, almost ritually, to excommunicate these women, though the dynamics of their excommuniPhoenician cultural at bay in Chaucer’s House of Fame and Legend of Good Women. Schiff’s reading traces a similar xenophobic impulse to that which I identify here.

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cations vary.15 Donegild appears as a perfidious insider close to key members of an emergent English community, yet she must be relegated to its past, cut off from its future. Meanwhile, Canacee and Zenobia are sympathetic outsiders who must never enter English community or associate too closely with English folk regardless of their power or allure. The fourth section reconsiders all three figures together to illuminate the broad political, linguistic, and literary investments attached to the Canterbury Tales’ nationalist and orientalist project, while the penultimate section clarifies this project’s grave costs. Finally, the closing remembers the Persian Zenobia legend to reclaim some of what Eurocentrism and orientalism have erased from the Canterbury Tales.

Donegild in Sixth-­Century Britain As Davis writes, “the Man of Law’s Tale reaches back to the sixth century in order to tell a story of England’s Christianization and inclusion within the political domain of Europe.”16 A quick plot review will contextualize Donegild, the character who most seriously threatens the English nation. This orientalist tale begins with a failed alliance between a Christian Rome and a proleptically Muslim Syria. The Sultaness, Islam’s fierce championess, kills her Christian-­convert son and banishes Custance, his Roman bride, rather than allow Syria to be Christianized. The tale then abandons Syria for a country it calls England, but when Custance washes up on pagan Northumberland’s shores, that place is no more hospitable to her Christianity. Soon she is framed for murder. But when the very voice of God vindicates her, thereby moving many of Northumberland’s pagans to conversion, their king marries Custance, making her a queen. Enter Donegild, the Anglo-­Saxon Queen Mother. Standing apart from her son and the other converts, she persists in seeing Custance as too “strange a creature” to be his queen (II 700). Although Chaucer’s immediate English 15.  For a description of “anathema, the solemn ritual of excommunication” and the Latin curses through which it was performed, see Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages, 45–­46, and Richard H. Helmholz, “Excommunication in Twelfth-­Century England,” Journal of Law and Religion 11 (1994–­95): 235–­53, esp. 237–­44. Helmholz identifies two competing forms of excommunication: “one was a judicial sanction; the other was a powerful curse” (237). He also discusses Thomas Becket’s liberal use of excommunication as a weapon against his opponents (240–­44). In this light, we can appreciate how pilgrims en route to Becket’s shrine might view excommunication and adapt it as a secular and vernacular tool to expel their own others. 16.  Davis, “Time Behind the Veil,” 113.

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Christian audience might expect similarity between Custance and Donegild, religious difference separates them, and Custance appears the stranger, the foreigner, from Donegild’s insular pagan perspective. So mirroring her formidable predecessor the Sultaness, Donegild exiles her daughter-­in-­law and grandson while the king is away. However, England, unlike Syria, manages to contain and kill what Davis calls “the threatening aspect of its past—­the mother-­in-­law who would reject the new power alignment” and refuse Northumberland’s transformation into England.17 Chaucer’s fourteenth-­century English lawyer seizes and forces Donegild’s pre-­Christian view of strangeness out, beyond the pale of the new religious power alignment that makes pagan Northumberland recognizable as Christian England by the tale’s end. Ultimately, the Man of Law claims both Christianity and Britain for England. Just how does the Man of Law do this? Allowing Custance and her king to consummate their marriage and killing off Donegild more quickly than the Sultaness helps, but his anxiety about English, working together with formal narrative interruptions of apostrophe and occupatio, is at least as important as the exciting yet unoriginal plot. Beginning almost uncontrollably, the Man of Law apostrophizes Donegild, calling out as if he sees her walking there among the Canterbury-­bound pilgrims. This apostrophe interrupts his account of how Donegild banishes Custance with counterfeit letters, an act that itself queries language’s reliability in representing reality even as it instantiates language’s terrible usefulness in perverting political and personal experience, a point we shall revisit below. Nevertheless, the lawyer argues that his English will not accurately depict Donegild’s maliciousness. The following rhyme royal stanza feigns doubt in English even as it meticulously constructs English community through exclusion; meanwhile its form, original to Chaucer, exemplifies his vernacular poetry’s aesthetic potential. Identifying himself with English and Donegild with fiends and fiendishness, the Man of Law asks his audience to consider her, but only as a part of England’s disavowed British past. In these ways, the Man of Law uses language to sever Donegild from the Christian England that his tale imagines. Much more than modesty is in play as he exclaims, O Donegild, I ne have noon Englissh digne Unto thy malice and thy tirannye! And therefore to the feend I thee resigne; 17.  Ibid., 117.

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Lat hym enditen of thy traitorie! Fy, mannish, fy!—­o nay, by God, I lye—­ Fy, feendlych spirit, for I dar wel telle, Thogh thou here walke, thy spirit is in helle! (778–­84) Our narrator’s reference to “noon English digne” suggests that his English freezes up, failing to reach the actual thing it might describe; but is this so because the Anglo-­Saxon Queen Mother is so vile a creature or because his English lacks sophistication? Either way, the phrasing initially admits anxiety about English’s own potency and range. This is not all. Before the Man of Law denies his ability to describe Donegild with any immediacy, he conjures her with a vocative apostrophe: thus he figuratively holds her there in the presence of the other pilgrims. He goes on, specifying her “malice” or bad intentions, her “tirannye” or illegitimate use of power, her affinity with the fiend, her “traitorie” or highly politicized treachery (her treason), and her mannishness, implying an unnatural lack of femininity, before admitting that yes, he is actually offering a substantial description. I lie, he admits, interrupting his interruption. This stanza relegates Donegild to the cultural, moral, and political past: by its end, she represents newly illegitimate and outmoded forms of British femininity and government. We could read “Fy, mannish, fy” and the following lines as the fiend’s voice interjected (782–­84). However, the voice does say that Donegild walks “here” as opposed to in hell.18 Thus the lawyer finally invokes a punishment Dante describes, in Italian in the Inferno, wherein traitors’ souls go to hell even as their living bodies walk the earth. That said, by referencing English while leaving Donegild to the fiend, this English lawyer, perhaps channeling Gratian, employs vernacular form in his national excommunication. As Helmholz writes, the Decretum describes “excommunication as equivalent to ‘handing a person over to the Devil.’”19 Donegild has no English future, no future in English, which fails to fit her. But yet she must travel the road to Canterbury as a negative example, warning Chaucer’s English pilgrims that 18.  I thank audience members at my NCS 2012 session, especially Karla Taylor, for this suggestion. 19.  Helmholz, “Excommunication in Twelfth-­Century England,” 235. While “excommunication” may seem an odd choice given that Donegild had never been Christian, many non-­Christians experienced medieval excommunication. See Hannah Meyer, “Making Sense of Christian Excommunication of Jews in Thirteenth Century England,” Jewish Quarterly Review 100.4 (2010): 598–­630, which explains that even individual Jews were not exempt from excommunication at moments in English history.

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their native land might dispossess them; their English language might excommunicate them too if they are not nice. The pilgrims’ English identity depends in part on a politicized, national Christianity in which they are currently participating by making pilgrimage to Canterbury. The Man of Law reinforces that national identity by conjuring Donegild, exhibiting her, and then using English to expel her beyond the borders of national community. Telling us just enough about the past we must forget, the Man of Law dares to use English as a tool fit for insulating community through exclusion and for claiming territory. His false assertion that English is unfit to convey Donegild’s treason nevertheless tells a truth about the relationship among language, divine power, and nationalist desire to exclude some other. Anderson’s seminal explanation of language’s role at the foundation of nationalism relies on Said’s view of how, thanks to late eighteenth-­century philological studies, “language became less a continuity between an outside power and the human speaker than an internal field created and accomplished by language users among themselves.”20 As Anderson writes, “the old sacred languages—­ Latin, Greek, and Hebrew—­were forced to mingle on equal ontological footing with a motley plebian crowd of vernacular rivals.”21 The Man of Law blurs Said’s and Anderson’s pre-­eighteenth-­century lines between sacred and vernacular languages. He brandishes an embarrassingly vernacular English as if it were a sacred language channeling an outside power and constraining him, the human speaker who would prefer to use English more freely on his own terms. The Man of Law thus obfuscates his own dispossession of Donegild, yet he uses English to create boundaries between users and their others, even when their others use English. We find ambiguity and perhaps even ambivalence here. Nevertheless, by suggesting that English limits what he can relay about Donegild, the Man of Law invokes an outside and practically sacrosanct—­if not properly sacred—­power to authorize his position. In this way, the English he does have discourages contemporary English users from seeking to know anything more about Donegild. Chaucer’s Man of Law mediates: like a priest translating the Latin Bible for his simple parishioners, he tells us all we need to know about the gender, spiritual, and governmental power dynamics of England’s pre-­Christian past and persuades us that his translation of this past is the best we will find. 20. Said, Orientalism, 136. 21. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 70.

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Donegild is the most threatening of all Chaucer’s other women because she is both British and other. She produces anxiety about Englishness for she is British, yet without Christianity not English (according to Davis’s argument); even so, she is native to the island England claims and imagines as continuous with itself. Here we see Heng’s definition of medieval race borne out: religion and culture are central to medieval racial categories and, I contend, to medieval national identities. Although Donegild’s descendants will succeed within England and even rule as Christian royalty, the Man of Law must excommunicate her and seal her off in a past before Northumberland means England.22 Thus the Man of Law imagines an exclusive English nation by writing pagan Britain out of England’s present and future with a potent English vernacular. Donegild is necessary to and necessarily excluded from the particular vision that transforms Britain into England.

Canacee in Thirteenth-­Century Mongolia While the Man of Law links excommunication with anxiety about English, Englishness, and the British past, the Squire leans more heavily on modesty as he schemes to convince us that his English will not suffice to describe Princess Canacee’s Mongolian beauty. Following Elizabeth Scala, Ambrisco reads the Squire’s literal occupatio as an atypical form that actually describes nothing and sees Canacee’s invisibility as a domestication strategy that softens impressions of Mongolian racial difference.23 Unlike the pilgrims whom Chaucer encourages us to imagine in detail down to the shade and texture of the hairs on their heads, Canacee remains shrouded in mystery.24 Ambrisco notes that the tale is not kind to her and suggests that she is the locus where English anxiety is strongest and where English triumphs, yet where England excludes. She serves ultimately as a mercenary agent and dangerous ally whose abilities must be enlisted, though she holds no stake in the struggle for English ascendency.25 Canacee is an ally, not a comrade. Nevertheless, this occupatio describes not only Canacee but also her relation to the Squire and 22.  On excommunication and familial relationships, see Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages, 59–­67. 23.  Ambrisco, “‘It lyth nat in my tonge,’” 209–­12; Elizabeth Scala, “Canacee and the Chaucer Canon: Incest and Other Unnarratables,” The Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 15–­39. 24.  On imagining elsewhere in the Canterbury Tales, please see Peggy Knapp, “Chaucer Imagines England (In English).” 25.  Ambrisco, “‘It lyth nat in my tonge,’” 221–­24.

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to Englishness even as it insists on her invisibility. I want to consider the ways in which such invisibility banishes her and women like her beyond the access of English imagination and so beyond national community’s borders—­just as the Squire divulges this as a practical choice. The Squire introduces Canacee last among Ghengis Khan’s family at the start of his oriental romance. He notes her royal status, her youth, great beauty, and extreme foreignness, before offering concrete and abstract reasons for failing to describe her completely. These reasons, however, include detailed information about how the Squire views himself and his place in the world vis-­à-­vis Canacee and her place in his world. He says, A doghter hadde this worthy kyng also, That yongest was, and highte Canacee. But for to tell yow al hir beautee, It lyth nat in my tonge, n’yn my konnyng; I dar nat undertake so heigh a thyng. Myn Englissh eek is insufficient. It moste been a rethor excellent That koude his colours longynge for that art, If he sholde hire discryven every part. I am noon swich, I moot speke as I kan. (V 37–­41) Using eight first-­person pronouns in almost as many lines, the Squire particularizes his responsibility for Canacee’s disappointing description; and in doing so, even under the pretense of modesty, he separates her from himself and his world evermore decidedly. His first reason is firmest. Saying it “lyth nat in my tonge,” the Squire holds that fuller disclosure is utterly impossible. Yet the word “tongue” complicates things. Its most obvious reference is the literal, the anatomical organ: the Squire cannot tell us how Canacee looks because there is some material incompatibility between her particular phenotype and his own basic lingual capacity. But “tonge” also denotes speech, vernacular language, and the very communities held together by particular national or regional languages.26 The Squire’s self-­obsession recalls us to his individual story and lineage. According to the General Prologue, his father proudly and fiercely represents England when fighting abroad, though the Squire has not traveled beyond Flanders himself. Canacee’s beauty is hardly inexpress26.  Middle English Dictionary, (accessed July 17, 2013).

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ible or beyond human description; it is simply beyond the national borders of this English nobleman’s tongue.27 So the Squire’s inability to access Canacee’s beauty appears to be cultural, intellectual, and practical not only because of tongue’s various meanings but also because he adds the more abstract and acquired “konnyng,” which indicates knowledge and understanding in addition to education, training, skill, and cunning.28 What the Squire would like us to accept as a physical impossibility comes more clearly into focus as a racial inclination, a particularly medieval racial inclination, as attributable to religious or cultural training as to phenotypical or physical features. Here, as in most Chaucerian occupatio, the narrator discloses somewhat more than part of him thinks wise. He labels his English “insufficient” or lacking but then invokes rhetoric, which takes language as a learned art and a skill, not some given, outside force beyond users’ field of control. We already know the Squire practices music, dancing, jousting, poetry, and writing; so it seems he could work at this, reprioritize his practice. This is the same pilgrim who sleeps no more than a nightingale; he has time and energy. He understands the concept of practice. Furthermore, the Squire acknowledges rhetoric, intimating the cunning and persuasion in which he is engaged. He begins by pushing Canacee’s exotic beauty beyond English imagination, insisting that he dare not attempt to make her any more accessible, but effectively confesses that progress is possible: Canacee could become familiar in English through a different rhetoric, for race itself is essentially a rhetorical construct, if it is essentially anything at all. Canacee’s appearance, in particular her complexion (one of the most consistently racialized elements of human phenotype), retains its hold on the Squire’s curiosity despite his initial protestations of modesty and inaccessibility. When an emissary from the King of Arabia and India appears bearing gifts for the great Khan, he remembers Canacee as well, bestowing on her a magic ring, considered below, and a mirror through which she is able to unmask pretenders to love and enemies of state.29 As the strange knight explains, this mirror works best for “any lady bright,” 27.  See Hamaguchi, Non-­European Women in Chaucer: A Postcolonial Study (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2006) on Mongolian women and standards of beauty available to Chaucer via the travel narratives of missionaries and medieval orientalists like Marco Polo, William of Rubrick, and John Mandeville, esp. 50, 61. 28.  Middle English Dictionary, (accessed July 17, 2013). 29.  Fyler, “Domesticating the Exotic,” discusses the roles of all four gifts “to unmask doubleness or hypocrisy” (3).

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suggesting Canacee’s beauty, and perhaps light as opposed to dark coloring (137). Later the Squire himself compares Canacee with the sun, which rises “rody and bright” (385): he renders her as vivid as the sun, while somehow still refusing her a face and thus any possibility of membership in the Canterbury Tales’ imagined community. Despite his early refusal to describe Canacee, the Squire cannot resist making oblique yet meaningful references to her color. Soon we learn that Canacee is so happy with her gifts “that twenty tyme she changed hir colour” (370). Hamaguchi uses William of Rubruck’s reports of excessive Mongolian cosmetic use “to interpret the line 370 as ‘Canacee frequently painted her face before the mirror,’” but we can find a better interpretation in context.30 This enigmatic phrase draws together two possible meanings that reflect the Squire’s commentary on race and recall his earlier remarks about rhetoric. First, it presents skin color as negotiable and changeable at least through magic, and thus nonessential, nonabsolute. Secondly, recalling the Squire’s mention of the rhetorician’s colors, the phrase reinvokes rhetorical devices, skill, and various arguments promoted thereby. The Squire again confesses that understandings of skin color and, by extension, theories of race are fused with rhetoric and so every bit as malleable. The racial and the rhetorical are not forever as fixed or inaccessible as the Squire first suggests, for race is but “a fantasy,” though one “with fully material effects and consequences” in Heng’s formulation.31 The Squire’s early invocation of English excommunicates Canacee, but she will not disappear; quite the reverse, she grows more vivid and more appealing as the tale progresses. As Fyler notes, Canacee is imaginable, yet she is not here fully translatable, assimilable, or absorbable. Canacee remains an outsider, whose attractiveness must be contained, despite the Squire’s resurgent desires and attempts to imagine her. Regardless of his xenophobic unwillingness to complete her image in English, the Squire himself demonstrates that Canacee herself is imaginable.

Zenobia in Third-­Century Syria The Monk’s Tale strands Zenobia, Palmyra’s legendary third-­ century queen, in the sea of Fortune’s male victims. But that hardly inhibits her. This Syrian woman’s story overflows the Monk’s standard spatial limits: 30. Hamaguchi, Non-­European Women in Chaucer, 61n50. 31. Heng, Empire of Magic, 14.

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he devotes sixteen eight-­line stanzas to her tragedy, while her closest competitor for space, Roman Emperor Nero, occupies only eleven stanzas. Thus her very narrative fulfills misogynist and xenophobic fears: she is both the other woman who encroaches on male territory and the oriental who overwhelms the occidental. Similarly, the Monk’s Tale as a whole inspires fear by suggesting that past tragedy might invade the present as it disturbs temporality by mixing ancient with “modern” tragedies in some manuscripts.32 Chaucer’s Monk focuses authoritatively on details through which we define literary form, including measure, the options of verse and prose, character, and plot (VII 1973–­82), even as he upsets historical order (which he admits, 1983–­90). However, insofar as plot is a kind of sequential (if not always historical or chronological) order, plot, form, and order work together in all tragedy, where they are thoroughly interdependent, especially in the medieval De casibus tradition to which the Monk’s Tale contributes. As Strohm explains, by fusing “past and present horizons” this genre “relayed excitement and even a whiff of danger to large numbers of readers over a period of four centuries.” The “‘danger’ rests in the relation it establishes between the past and the present . . . the constancy of the genre’s appeal rests in the unfixed and highly adaptable nature of its exemplarity.”33 In a sense, Zenobia epitomizes this unfixity, this tendency to reach past place and time, to exceed measure, and ultimately to invoke tragedy even more effectively than the Monk’s other victims because she also reaches beyond gender. The singular woman here, Zenobia threatens to cross every frontier. As Hamaguchi argues, the “Monk’s binary categorizations: high status versus low status, male versus female, Christianity versus paganism, West versus East, helmet versus headdress, sword/knife/scepter versus distaff/spindle” reveal his orientalism. She continues to explain that even though Zenobia defies these dichotomies the Monk does not instantly punish and ostracize her, but first admires and praises her for her virtues. Thus, Hamaguchi notes, the Monk’s tragedy of Zenobia demonstrates medieval orientalism’s characteristic ambivalence and complexity relative to contemporary orientalism.34 While the Monk fails to stop himself from raving about Zenobia past his standard limits, he does manage to suppress a key component of her 32. Benson, Riverside Chaucer, 930. See also Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love, 146–­54, and Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 313. 33. Strohm, Politique, 88. 34.  Hamaguchi, “Transgressing the Borderline of Gender,” 185–­86, 185.

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story.35 Zenobia, or Cenobia as he calls her, surpasses all creatures in military skill, hardiness, lineage, and even gentility. But his praise excludes beauty: “I seye nat that she hadde moost fairnesse, / But of hir shap she myghte nat been amended” (2253–­54). The Monk begins with a firm grip on his own narration, resolute in his withholding. In contrast with the Squire’s occupatio and his and the Man of Law’s uses of the modesty topos, the Monk asserts himself in refusing to record Zenobia’s legendary beauty with a strong, declarative, “I seye nat.” Instead of obfuscating agency he unequivocally inhabits it and then audaciously naturalizes his claim. What begins as a refusal to admit beauty, a withholding, ends as an informative statement that claws at Zenobia’s actuality as a historical figure: “but of hir shap she myghte nat been amended.” These lines ensure that none will accuse the Monk of translating or communicating Zenobia’s elsewhere celebrated beauty, but he goes an extra mile to reveal one way authorial prerogative makes and unmakes history as well as race. Zenobia’s form never posed problems for admirers translating and adapting her legend via the Historia Augusta’s Latin tradition before the Monk’s resolution not to tell her beauty. She also appears as an attractive and alluring figure in the Arabic legends begun by ‘Adi ibn Zayd and made famous by Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-­Tabari, though Chau35. Information about Zenobia is abundant and sometimes contradictory, deriving from three general areas. First is the record of Zenobia’s life and reign in Palmyra assembled largely through archaeology and numismatics. See Warwick Ball, Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire (London: Routledge, 2000); G. W. Bowerstock, Roman Arabia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1983); Richard Stoneman, Palmyra and Its Empire: Zenobia’s Revolt Against Rome (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992); Pat Southern, Empress Zenobia: Palmyra’s Rebel Queen (New York: Continuum, 2008); Javier Teixidor, “Palmyra in the Third Century,” in A Journey to Palmyra: Collected Essays to Remember Delbert R. Hillers, ed. Eleonora Cussini (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005), 181–­225. Then we have legendary histories and fictionalized writing on Zenobia, which we might further divide into Latin and Arabic based legends. See Historia Augusta Volume III, ed. and trans. David Magie (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1932); al-­Tabari, The History of al-­Tabari, Volume IV: The Ancient Kingdoms, trans. Moshe Perlman (Albany: State U of New York P, 1987), 139–­50; Giovanni Boccaccio, De Casibus Virorum Illustrium, ed. Louis B. Hall (Gainsville, FL: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1962); Giovanni Boccaccio, The Fates of Illustrious Men, trans. Louis B. Hall (New York: Frederick Unger Publishing, 1965); Giovanni Boccaccio, De Claris Mulieribus, ed. V. Zaccaria (Milano: A. Mondadori, 1967); Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women, trans. Virginia Brown (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003); Francis Petrarch, Rime (Milan: Hoepli, 1987); Francis Petrarch, The Triumphs of Petrarch, trans. Ernest Hatch Wilkins (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1962). Accounts of the Zenobia we meet through archeology and numismatics vary greatly here, with even her name changing. However, she remains the formidable third-­century Palmyrene queen who routinely left powerful men in her shadows. I am concerned primarily with the Zenobia of Latin legend and Chaucer’s treatment of that tradition. Zosimus also writes of Zenobia in Greek in the late fifth or early sixth century. See Zosimus, New History, trans. Ronald T. Ridley (Sydney: U of Sydney, 1982).

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cer works within the Historia Augusta’s more effusive tradition.36 And so the Monk’s steadfast pose affirms what we learn by reading the Squire and Man of Law: Englishmen must mind their other women vigilantly. As we shall see, what the Monk refuses to say about Zenobia tells us more about race, beauty, and power within the context of English and Englishness than about Zenobia, Syrian women, or the orient as a context. As with most orientalist writing, this subject of study serves best as a mirror that reflects the speaking subject’s agenda and digs most deeply into his own self-­understanding. Zenobia appears as a dark beauty in the late fourth-­century Historia Augusta, which chronicles Roman emperors and was considered a largely true record in Chaucer’s day, though we read it now as legend blended with myth. There, Zenobia emerges as a woman who rules like a man and surpasses emperors in courage and skill. Roman eyes regard her as an emblem of the East: she is “mulier omnium noblissima orientalium feminarum et . . . speciosissima” (“the noblest of all the women of the East, and  .  .  . the most beautiful”) (Tyranni Triginta, XV 8).37 They also admire her virtuous habits, including her learning and sexual restraint, and recognize her great dark beauty: “fuit vultu subaquilo, fusci coloris, oculis supra modum vigentibus nigris, spiritus divini, venustatis incrediblis” (“Her face was dark and of a swarthy hue, her eyes were black and powerful beyond the usual wont, her spirit divinely great, and her beauty incredible”) (XXX 15). As in the Monk’s Tale, the Historia’s section on Zenobia eclipses other sections, formally replicating the misogynist fears of encroachment she instills. Zenobia’s chapter includes twenty-­seven lines, while the next-­longest chapter, treating Macrianus, contains eighteen. Unlike the Monk’s Tale, the Historia Augusta harbors no need to mask dark beauty or to pretend that darkness and beauty are mutually exclusive. Zenobia remains attractive in the tale’s immediate sources. Neither Petrarch’s Trionfi nor Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium mentions her color. Petrarch, whom the Monk cites without following, relays Zenobia’s beauty with basic

36.  For a thorough analysis of this arm of Zenobia’s legend see David S. Powers, “Demonizing Zenobia: The Legend of al-­Zabba’ in Islamic Sources,” in Histories of the Middle East: Studies in Middle Eastern Society, Economy and Law in Honor of A. L. Udovich, ed. Roxani Eleni Margariti, Adam Saba, and Petra M. Sijpesteijn (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 127–­82. 37.  Zenobia, Odaenathus, and their son Herennianus appear among the “Thirty Pretenders” or tyrants who claimed the imperial throne. There, Zenobia has just one fellow female, a woman called Victoria. All references are from Historia Augusta Volume III, hereafter cited parenthetically.

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derivations of the Italian word bella (108–­17).38 In Boccaccio’s Latin De casibus, which contributes some material to the Monk’s Tale, Zenobia is simply “formosa”—­beautiful and well-­shaped (liber octavus, xciii). But in his De mulieribus claris, which the Monk follows without citing, Zenobia “had a beautiful body despite being somewhat darkskinned,” “Erat hec speciosa corpore, esto paululum fusca colore” (C 5).39 Here Boccaccio downplays her darkness but relates it. Petrarch and Boccaccio convey an image of Zenobia in line with the Historia Augusta legend; thus her dark beauty carries forward to the tale’s most certain source, De mulieribus claris.40 As we shall see, the Monk’s selective memory of Zenobia breaks firmly from the Latin tradition, exposing a peculiarly English rejection of dark, foreign women. Darkness appears on a spectrum in Boccaccio, but the Monk excommunicates dark women. Dark beauty fails to conform to English fairness, so the Monk must push it away, beyond beauty’s pale and the possibilities of community and intermarriage. At first consideration, the Monk appears eager to change Zenobia’s legend by marking her unattractive and thereby pushing her and those like her away.41 But looking more closely, it seems he may be reporting Zenobia’s particular form somewhat more innocently in English and from an English perspective that had itself equated beauty with light coloring through the words “fair” and “fairness” for about a century before Chaucer or his Monk approached Zenobia.42 38.  References are from Boccaccio, De Casibus Virorum Illustrium; Boccaccio, The Fates of Illustrious Men; Petrarch, Rime; Petrarch, The Triumphs of Petrarch. Hereafter cited by line parenthetically. 39. Boccaccio, De Claris Mulieribus; Boccaccio, Famous Women. Hereafter cited parenthetically. 40.  For a comparison of Chaucer’s sources and discussion of his various borrowings, see B. W. Lindeboom, “Chaucer’s Monk Illuminated: Zenobia as Role Model,” Neophilologus 92 (2008): 339–­50. 41.  On Zenobia’s beauty, commentators generally ignore Chaucer (or misread him, as do Lindeboom and Stoneman cited above). Although Valerie Wayne doesn’t mention Cenobia’s lacking fairness, she explains that, “While the Middle Ages celebrated Zenobia for deeds writers thought of as masculine, Renaissance writers gave more emphasis to her typically feminine qualities. One effect of this change was that the issue of her gender became less important than the control of her sexuality and her assumption of a conventional role, for once a writer accepted Zenobia as a woman, she was a potential temptation and a potential wife” (Wayne, “Zenobia in Medieval and Renaissance Literature,” in Ambiguous Realities, ed. Carole Levin and Jeanie Watson [Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1987], 55). Wayne also notes that said writers consistently remove Zenobia “from the field of sexual desire” (59). 42.  Middle English Dictionary, (accessed July 18, 2013).

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I do not mean to suggest that the Monk lacked other vocabulary to record Zenobia’s beauty in English in the late fourteenth century, but rather to note that Zenobia had never been fair, as in of light complexion, according to the Historia Augusta or De mulieribus claris. So in one sense Chaucer’s Monk, true to his predecessors’ reports, simply notes that Zenobia was not light or fair. However, fair and fairnesse, which come to Middle English from Old English, denote beauty consistently—­even more than lightness—­in the Canterbury Tales and in Middle English texts by other authors.43 Nevertheless, the careful, detail-­oriented, and deliberate Monk might supply the Middle En­ glish beaute, from Old French, to clarify and avoid misunderstandings related to fairnesse’s range of meanings.44 He does not. Instead he plods ahead to naturalize his claim, resting it on Zenobia’s own unchangeable form by proclaiming that “of hir shap she myghte nat been amended”: he covers Zenobia’s lovely face with a cloud, ignoring rather than explicating his English language and its very amendable conflations. The Monk’s use of English reverses the Squire’s and Man of Law’s moves with English in their descriptions of other women. While they blame English language for the cultural, political, even racist and nationalist attitudes that they themselves inherit, and then actively adopt and employ, the Monk essentially excuses English vocabulary for its intrinsic racist implication: brown is never beautiful. Authoritatively occupying the narrator’s position, he circumvents Zenobia’s beauty, then promptly naturalizes and propagates the English language’s bias against dark beauty. He thus makes a small yet significant contribution to constructions of race and nation. The Monk’s English takes a legendary dark beauty and turns her into an ugly duckling beyond any makeover’s help by corroborating and perpetuating English’s own tendentious and racialized interrelation of color with beauty. And so, English excommunicates another outsider, keeps her at bay, shores up its own national boundaries.

On Daring Language and Daring Women Each of the excommunications discussed above is unique, relying on nuanced forms of narration and excluding specific women, though all render the excommunicates racial and ultimately national others. This pat43. Ibid. 44. Ibid.

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tern consistently juxtaposes daring with focused energy and precision, all of which characterize our narrators’ as well as their characters’ uses of language. This section considers how Chaucer’s other women exemplify the very willingness to take risks with language for cultural and political purposes that I identify in the Monk, Squire, and Man of Law. Chaucer’s orientalist storytellers work to contain the political and cultural dynamics of language that other women represent in the Canterbury Tales, but they ultimately demonstrate the boundary-­defying adaptability of these stealthy linguistic moves insofar as they engage similar strategies toward their own ends. Surveying early nineteenth-­century orientalism leading up to the work of Ernst Renan, one of history’s most influential orientalists, Said illustrates the scholarly pose of the “learned Westerner surveying as if from a peculiarly suited vantage point the passive, seminal, feminine, even silent and supine East, then going on to articulate the East, making the Orient deliver up its secrets under the learned authority of a philologist whose power derives from the ability to unlock secret, esoteric languages,” a pose that predates but endures in Renan.45 Chaucer’s orientalist tales bend this scheme, partially diluting their yet potent orientalism: not Western or English men but Chaucer’s other women “whose power derives from the ability to unlock secret, esoteric languages” themselves make English “deliver up its secrets” at last. Chaucer’s other women use language for cultural and political purposes, although they divulge no oriental secrets. Instead, they expose their English narrators, who react to the daring foreign women so strongly that they finally deliver up their own subsurface English nationalist attitudes. Donegild and Canacee use language in daring, forceful, even secretive and mystery-­defying ways. Canacee holds the power to converse with any bird in the world, thanks to her magic ring, a gift from the King of Arabia and India. Thus with the force of international sponsorship, the Mongol princess threatens to pull back a curtain even more opaque than the cultural and political veils the Squire’s English casts over her face. Though Donegild is no linguist, she derives much political power from her own secretive use of language by counterfeiting letters that swiftly displace her son’s heir. She works “pryvely . . . subtilly . . . synfully” (II 744, 746, 747). For this, the Man of Law vilifies her as a traitor beyond the English language, though we might reasonably decide she forges her letters in Old English. Donegild’s counterfeit letters change her tale’s plot, 45. Said, Orientalism, 137–­38.

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provoke the narrator’s own disruptive laments, and separate her son’s family for most of his remaining years, though he quickly kills her for daring to wield this power. Language and the question of who dares to control it sit at the heart of the Canterbury Tales’ national project. The Man of Law and the Squire initially distract us with their anxiety and the modesty topos, complaining that their clumsy English stops them from working at the top of the narration game. Yet all the while, they use their embattled vernacular in daring, if not always rigorous, ways.46 Both use the verb daren and both dare to use language experimentally, trying out new relationships with language and with race, but not with their other women. “Fy, feendlych spirit, for I dar wel telle, / Thogh thou heere walke, thy spirit is in helle!” exclaims the Man of Law (II 782–­84). Meanwhile the Squire excuses himself from the obligation of describing his main character saying, “I dar nat undertake so heigh a thyng” (IV 36). Describing Canacee is something that the Squire might do if he dared, but as he concedes, he dares not imagine this young marriageable woman too vividly. Marriageable women are particularly dangerous.47 It is after all the detailed description of Custance relayed by storytelling Syrian merchants that instigates the disastrous cross-­cultural romance and conversion early in the Man of Law’s Tale. Has the Squire been listening to and learning from the older Man of Law? If so, he 46.  For a somewhat different approach to the modesty topos, see Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy. While reading Usk, she mentions, “In a manoeuvre also used by Chaucer’s Franklin and others, the self-­deprecation twists in two directions simultaneously: the author sets himself up as a weak rhetorician unable to hold his own in exalted company. On the other hand, suddenly revealing some bite, plain speaking is better, he says, because it avoids the pretensions and distractions of the learned and takes its audience straight to the truth” (338–­49, 338). 47.  Wayne, “Zenobia in Medieval and Renaissance Literature” addresses this. See also Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman, “The Mont Saint Michel Giant: Sexual Violence and Imperialism in the Chronicles of Wace and La3amon,” in Sexual Violence Against Women in Medieval Texts, ed. Anna Roberts (Gainsville: U of Florida P, 1998), 56–­74. Drawing on Georges Duby, Finke and Shichtman suggest that medieval literature and culture’s widespread “view of women as resources in dynastic expansion no doubt explains the extent to which abduction and rape collapse into each other in medieval law” (62). In their readings of vernacular chronicles, rape works almost as a replacement for marriage that achieves a similar political and geographic influence, though in a forced way. If raptus and marriage signify dynastic expansion in literature, the inverse ban on sex, marriage, and even the possibility of imagining certain other women as viable sexual partners reinforces exclusive national boundaries. While the Historia Augusta speculates about possible endings to Zenobia’s story including that Zenobia and her children were able to live out their days naturally in Rome, it also notes that those who think they died a natural death think so “si quidem Zenobiae posteri etiam nunc Romae inter nobiles manent” (XXVII. 2). This possibility reflects the danger Chaucer’s other women pose: they have children who infiltrate other nations’ ruling classes.

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learns to avoid inspiring his fellow Englishmen with the kind of interest in other women based on reputation that prompts Syria’s doomed Christianization. What he does dare instead is to imitate the Man of Law in dramatically blaming his xenophobia on the English language as if it were beyond his control while slyly using that language and its rhetorical figures to persuade listeners to believe in an English community based as much in forgetting and exclusion as in memory and inclusion. Despite its relatively limited place in Chaucer’s work, xenophobia masquerading as modesty boldly shapes his representations of relationships among women, language, and Englishness. Zenobia, perhaps the most straightforwardly powerful linguist and obviously daring woman, appears in both Arabic and Latin tradition as a deeply learned queen who has “of sondry tonges ful knowyng” (VII 2307).48 The Monk not only dares to revise the Historia Augusta’s classical Latin memory of Zenobia’s beauty according with the English vernacular’s particular bias against dark beauty, he also uses the verb daren three times in Zenobia’s tragedy, but always in the past tense. Daring is the most central and widespread quality driving both the Latin and Arabic Zenobia legends. The Arabic versions of ibn Zayd and al-­Tabari feature a Zenobia who dares to expose her long, braided pubic hair to Jadhima, an adversary to whom she insincerely proposes marriage and dynastic merger.49 Early on the Monk tells us that “[s]he dorste wilde beestes dennes seke,” always encroaching into territory beyond her proper boundaries (2263). Later we learn that Zenobia successfully dares to surpass boundaries with her husband, and together they expand their territory. Zenobia maintains sovereignty within her boundaries “myghtily” after his death, insulating Palmyra with the field of strength and fear she effects (2327). Neither foreigner nor familiar dares penetrate her sphere: The Emperour of Rome, Claudius Ne hym before, the Romayn Galien Ne dorste nevere been so corageus, Nor noon Ermyn, nor Egipcien, No Surrien, nor noon Arabyen, 48.  Lindeboom notes that although Chaucer leaves it at that, Boccaccio enumerates the Eastern and Western languages Zenobia had, including Latin, Greek, Egyptian, and Syriac (“Chaucer’s Monk Illuminated,” 343). 49.  Jadhima had already assassinated Zenobia’s father. This self-­exposure comes with the quip, “do you see the concern of a bride” and changes their interaction from false pretense to Zenobia’s very real murder of her adversary (al-­Tabari, The History of al-­Tabari, 139–­50, 142).

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Withinne the feeld that dorste with hire fighte, Lest that she wolde them with hir handes slen, Or with hir meignee putten hem to flighte. (2335–­42) Zenobia’s own might and daring mean that few men of any nation or empire, East to West, dare challenge her in hand-­to-­hand combat. This description accentuates the sharpness of her eventual downfall and the prowess of Aurelian who finally defeats her. However, in context of Chaucer’s more general treatment of other women, this stanza’s double focus on daring and men of various nations also hints at Chaucer’s own daring. In fact, it illuminates the dangerous project in which all three orientalist narratives are invested. Here the Monk teaches his fellow Englishmen how to excommunicate other women by learning from Zenobia’s example. The Monk’s Tale dares to imagine the other woman, yet it uses English to erase her face, ensuring that she need not be faced or confronted again after her excommunication. All three narrators use the English language to insulate a familiar field of power; their “internal field created and accomplished by language users among themselves” is one within which other women cannot compete.50 The Monk, Squire, and Man of Law dare to use their English as brave Zenobia uses her might and army, as a threat that serves to keep faceless others at bay. Similarly, as Helmholz explains, the holy blessed martyr Thomas Becket “wielded the sword of excommunication as if it were in fact a weapon.”51 In the orientalist tales, Europeanness is not as exclusionary as Englishness, which consistently bares its peculiar orientalist claws and nationalist teeth. The other woman must remain a legend beyond the pale even as she occupies more space than any other character. So our narrators’ dangerous and audacious project wills the power of English language to exclude foreign, racially other women from the imagined community of the Canterbury Tales. They approach their other women with vigilant, even anxious care that walks a line between daring and wariness. Thus they ritually excommunicate and marginalize their necessary others, even as they pique our curiosity and leave us wanting more.

Friendly Warnings Readers should approach these narrators just as carefully as they approach their other women: with prudent skepticism and curious scru50. Said, Orientalism, 136. 51.  Helmholz, “Excommunication in Twelfth Century England,” 241.

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tiny. Scala juxtaposes the Man of Law’s Tale with the Squire’s Tale to demonstrate that the Canterbury Tales is not simply a story about storytelling but more distinctively a story about what escapes authorial control.52 She holds that these tales and their narrators warn us not to trust literature too completely. Meanwhile, Fradenburg sees the Monk’s Tale specifically as a warning to “treat all Chaucer’s poetry with due caution. Chaucer may not be as cute as we think; or, more precisely, cuteness may be scarier than we think.”53 Canacee and Zenobia become scarier and more dangerous the cuter and more congenial they seem, at least to their English narrators. And so the Squire and the Monk protect their English audience by shielding readers and listeners from these exotic beauties and their charms. At any rate, all three tales use rhetoric to trap threatening women beyond Englishness even as the warnings that Fradenburg and Scala issue help us to recognize their tellers’ veiled attitudes and agendas. While the Man of Law’s Tale and Squire’s Tale herald themselves as being somewhat beyond their narrator’s control, they subtly divulge the truth about their content, which is very much within their and even our control, for cultural politics is within our own control: a field of power like a vernacular language that we create. Their expressions of anxiety and modesty together with the careful Monk’s authoritative, bold, yet politically concurrent pose of control over Zenobia’s form all instantiate Chaucer’s xenophobic use of language. Together these orientalist tales bind national identity and character to language and to controlling language, to discourse, both one’s own and one’s other’s.54 Language emerges as double marker of cultural difference: from one angle it appears to be a staining essence, an element of natural difference, but despite and perhaps because of our narrators’ efforts to sell it as such, if we look from a slightly different angle, we can watch English working as a fluid process of exclusion. So, now that we have been warned, when the Squire and Man of Law make claims about English, we must not simply believe them. When the Monk seems a little too officious, we ought to be skeptical. This does not necessarily mean that Chaucer’s xenophobic manipulations should outweigh our more generous impressions of him. Chaucerian irony demands that we always reconsider the upshot of the fear and hatred Chaucer exposes. Ultimately, through these clumsy excuses and slick moves, Chaucer offers a peek at how orientalism works and how language has 52.  Scala, “Canacee and the Chaucer Canon,” 15–­16. 53. Fradenburg, Sacrifice Your Love, 151. 54.  On Chaucer’s discursive use of the vernacular see Ralph Hanna, “Chaucer and the Future of Language Study.”

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been used to construct, excuse, and authorize race and nation. Chaucer’s poetry issues a warning (if we take Fradenburg’s and Scala’s own warnings a little further) about how we might continue to allow xenophobic language and related fictions of race such sway, if we are not more careful. The Squire and Man of Law leak their rhetorical secrets claiming that English controls them while in the process of persuading their audience to forget that British women could be tough pagans or that beautiful, nurturing women live in the East without Christianity and with dark faces. The Monk keeps a firmer grip on his English and his narrative, but close reading shows how he applies English language correspondingly to distort and push Zenobia’s illustrious dark form beyond the possibility of English recognition or beauty, away from her capacity to inspire England’s rival nations and cultures. Similarly, Renan leaks nationalism’s secrets; he admits, “To forget and—­I will venture to say—­to get one’s history wrong, are essential factors in the making of a nation; and thus the advance of historical studies is often a danger to nationality.”55 Renan explains this while deploying history to substantiate that France, Germany, England, Italy, and Spain achieve “full national existence” though “the Turkish policy of separating nationalities according to religion has . . . entailed the ruin of the East.”56 Chaucer and Renan reveal that any criterion nationalists might use to exclude or to include (religion, color, history, culture, gender, even language) is an arbitrary tool, and often a weapon. What matters in making nations and excluding feared others is how effectively nationalist stories shape common memories of the past. In Renan’s words, “Now it is the essence of a nation that all individuals should have much in common, and further that they should all have forgotten much.”57 Both the Man of Law and the Monk forget key elements in Syrian history in order to insulate common English ideas of sovereignty, beauty, and nation. The Man of Law asks his audience to erase Donegild from English national history as well. By boldly burying dangerous memories of English’s other women, and more subtly admitting how contrived English views of otherness are, Chaucer reminds us that our language, our imagination, our national communities, and our definition of our enemies are all in our own hands. As Ruth Evans observes, a “mix of misogyny and orientalism . . . informs English thinking on the vernacular”; this intersection also locates 55.  Renan, “What is a Nation?,” 145. 56.  Ibid., 144, 145. 57.  Ibid., 145.

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England and English within a European context.58 Reciprocally, the vernacular informs that mix in Chaucer’s writing, for the vernacular itself consistently excommunicates and circumscribes certain noblewomen beyond the English pale, even when such women register vividly and positively within a continental European context, as in Zenobia’s Latin and Italian portraits. Thus English seeks to limit its speakers and readers within a white, patriarchal, Christian, European nation called England. Certainly, as Ganim explains, Renan and other nineteenth-­century orientalists transformed “linguistic groupings . . . into cultural, even political history.”59 Though they do so with study as opposed to story, they were not nearly the first to do this bold, painstaking, political work.

Postscript: Zenobia in Persian I would like to consider a final detail through which the Riverside Chaucer mistakes history and thus provides material for a lesson about language, identity, and nationalism. The Riverside’s forgetful erasure instantiates the cost of the orientalist and nationalist poses that structure our study of language, literature, and the past. Returning to the start of Zenobia’s tragedy, we see that Petrarch, cited in the tenth stanza, is neither the first nor the only source the Monk admits to knowing. He also mentions that “writen Persiens of hir noblesse,” thus acknowledging widespread interest in Zenobia and conjuring her legend’s Eastern tellings (2248). The Riverside’s note misinforms readers that “[n]o Persian account of Zenobia is known” and directs us to Henry Ludeke, who argues “that Chaucer misread Boccaccio’s ‘priscis testantibus literis’ (ancient letters testifying) as ‘persis testantibus literis’ (Persian letters testifying),” thus writing Persian contributors to her legend out of their intersection with English literary history.60 Nevertheless, al-­Tabari’s History of Prophets and Kings, known as “the most important universal history produced in the world of Islam,” includes a version of Zenobia’s story.61 The Persian-­born al-­Tabari finished his history in Arabic around 916, but he was neither the first nor the last to write of Zenobia in this tradition. Al-­Tabari was only the most famous. “‘Adi ibn Zayd  .  .  . an educated and accomplished Nestorian 58. Evans, The Idea of the Vernacular, 369–­70, 370. 59.  John M. Ganim, Medievalism and Orientalism (New York: Palgrave, 2005), 88. 60. Benson, Riverside Chaucer, 932 n2248; Henry Ludeke, “Chaucers persische Zenobia,” in Festschrift zum 75. Geburstag von Thedor Spira (Heidelberg: Viebrock, Helmut, 1961), 98–­99. 61.  Ehsan Yar-­shater, “Preface,” in The History of al-­Tabari, vii.

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Arab, fluent in Persian and Arabic,” mentions Zenobia in a sixth-­century poem upon which al-­Tabari draws.62 And in 963 ‘Abu Ali Muhammad Bal’ami began translating al-­Tabari’s history into Persian, a project to which other Persians contributed.63 Whether Chaucer knew al-­Tabari’s or his translators’ names is unclear, though he could have learned of their tradition while in Spain in 1366.64 There are two points of real interest here. First, Chaucer’s mention of Persians does not include the language in which those Persians write; he simply reports that Persians had written about Zenobia, focusing more squarely on ethnic identity than on language. The Monk erases Zenobia’s beauty by conflating fairness with beauty, then the Riverside Chaucer marches on to erase Zenobia’s Persian and Arabic records by conflating Persian language with Persian ethnic identity and then fixating on Chaucer’s possible misunderstanding of Latin. Though the Riverside claims that “[n]o Persian account of Zenobia is known,” Persians had in fact written significant accounts of Zenobia in at least two languages by the time Chaucer got into the business. Regardless of the quality of Chaucer’s Latin, he does note Persian accounts that remain unknown to the Riverside’s editors. Chaucer allowed Persians the freedom to write about Zenobia in Arabic, Persian, or any other language they might manage. Here growing Eurocentrism and focus on Latin erases transnational scholarly projects in Arabic and Persian. The dissonance between Chaucer’s identity-­focused words and the Riverside’s more linguistically inflected note queries what we can know about relationships between language or political and cultural identity as long as we remain locked in national—­or even Eurocentric—­stances. This dissonance reminds us not only of the dangerous power of national and cultural conceptions but also that we should study national and regional imaginations of community internationally, transnationally, and cross-­culturally. Denying nationalism, national interest, or the enduring utility and power of national models and concepts anywhere we find them only provides safe cover for nationalism’s insidious work. 62.  Powers, “Demonizing Zenobia,” 138. 63.  Louise Marlow, “Translation, Arabic into Persian,” in Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, ed. Joseph W. Meri (New York: Routledge, 2006), 824; Shahnaz Razpush, “Bal’ami,” in Historians of the Islamic World: Selected Entries from the Encyclopedia of the World of Islam, ed. Gholamali Haddad Adel, Mohammad Jafar Elmi, and Hassan Taromi-­Rad (London: EWI Press, Ltd., 2013), 11–­19; Southern, Empress Zenobia, 12. 64.  In fact, the tenth-­century Cordoban scholar, Arib ibn Sa’id, translated and continued al-­Tabari’s history. See J. Castilla Brazales, “Ibn Sa’id, ‘Arib,” in Biblioteca de al-­Andalus, ed. Jorge Lirola Delgado (Almeria: Ibn Tufayl Foundation, 2007), 119–­26.

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Secondly, despite some overlap, the Eastern legends and legacies of Zenobia that the Riverside forgets treat gender and ethnicity differently. Zenobia remains the third-­century Palmyrene Queen who successfully dares to challenge male counterparts, the historical figure corroborated by numismatics and archeology. But while the Latin legend’s Zenobia considers her most precious partner to be her husband, Odeanathus, the Zenobia of Persian and Arabic tradition relies primarily on fellow women, including her sister Zabibah and a female soothsayer. Solidarity among heroic women is a more common theme in Arabic and Persian literature than some may expect.65 And here it is not Aurelian but ’Amr ibn ’Adi who finally defeats Zenobia, after which ’Amr goes forth to found a new Arab dynasty.66 According to archeologist Warwick Ball, Western sources see Zenobia as a Saracen, but the Arabic sources forget the West and see her tragic downfall as “an entirely Arab affair,” even though an Arab-­Roman coalition, including both Aurelian and ’Amr, was necessary to defeat Zenobia. Ball calls this “a salutary lesson in just how much we accept our own sources for a one-­sided view of events,” a view that is usually much more complex, I would add, than conservative nationalists admit.67 While Chaucer and Boccaccio make tragedies of Zenobia after her defeat, Youssef Choueiri explains that even though “Zenobia failed in her endeavors, the legacy she left behind is held up to posterity as an example of Arab patriotism and institution-­building,” indicating later views of Zenobia.68 Her end in al-­Tabari is suicidal, but much prouder than the Historia Augusta’s version, which showcases her as a trapped animal and an ornament. Memories of Zenobia as a strong Arab nationalist heroine survive even though her defeat exalts an Arab founding father. As Choueiri explains, Zenobia participates in a long tradition of Arab women who were “full partners in conquests, socio-­cultural affairs, and even political activities” before Islam and celebrated later by modernist historians.69 The ancient leader’s face even reappears on modern Syrian currency, despite Chaucer’s attempt to strike it from memory.70 Zenobia’s brazen trickery in the Arabic and Persian records, which includes flashing Jadhima be65.  Alf Layla wa Layla, the thousand and one Arabian nights, makes cooperation between sisters, like Shahrazad and Dinarzad, classic in Arabic and Persian literary history. 66.  Powers, “Demonizing Zenobia,” and Southern, Empress Zenobia, 107–­8. 67. Ball, Rome in the East, 85; Bowerstock, Roman Arabia, 136–­37; and Powers, “Demonizing Zenobia,” 157. Powers includes deep detail about pure Arabs and proto-­Arabs. 68.  Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: a History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 36. 69. Ibid. 70. Stoneman, Palmyra and Its Empire, figure 25d.

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fore assassinating him, does not sink her reputation. Her deviousness, even matched with this audacious exhibition, overwrites neither the triumphs of her people nor her own admirable qualities. The Riverside implies that Zenobia, like Donegild, is forgotten by people of her own region and culture—­sealed away in a past accessible only by grace of Latin legends. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Zenobia survives in Arabic and in Persian. We can still visit her there; we can recognize her by her beautiful brown face. We can accept Zenobia, if we want, with her successes, her failures, her languages, with her unruly, hairy female body and all.

Epilogue Sovereignty on the Rocks

Romance, as Heng suggests, “is a cultural invention that participates in both fantasy and reality, existing in oscillation between two modes . . . a medium . . . that is neither wholly fantastical nor wholly historical, but in which history and fantasy collide, the one vanishing into the other, almost without a trace, at the location where the advantage of both can most easily be mined.”1 Extending Heng slightly, this book posits that romance’s most significant political function is its capacity to remake cultural and intellectual history by negotiating that shifting space between reality and fantasy, the space of the possible. The historical problem of national sovereignty is equal parts chivalry and magic: an art of wielding the power to rule, the right to kill legitimately so that somehow, like magic, a community shares ownership and judgment. Mirroring the Franklin’s Tale’s landscape, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’ romances approach the history of political ideas as a rocky brink between a shore of reality and a sea of fantasy: a site of perpetual negotiation between theory and practice. Romance—­a liminal space between reality and fantasy, chivalry and magic—­is the shifting political, social, and emotional landscape of Chaucerian sovereignty. Chaucer’s distinctly artistic model of national sovereignty is precisely romantic. In developing this theory of Chaucerian sovereignty, I break with medievalists who centralize Carl Schmitt’s comparably cynical, absolute theory of sovereignty alongside Giorgio Agamben’s seminal adaptation

1. Heng, Empire of Magic, 43, 45.


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and critique.2 I engage Hardt and Negri’s theories consistently instead, because they elucidate Chaucerian sovereignty’s original range of positive and negative attributes and its intersections with nationalism, internationalism, and anachronism in the Tales. “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception. . . . Only this definition can do justice to a borderline concept . . . one pertaining to the outermost sphere,” writes Schmitt, insisting that we associate his definition “with a borderline case and not the routine.”3 Such sovereignty exerts absolute power within this outermost sphere, in part by including even what it excludes: “it is the originary structure in which law refers to life and includes it in itself by suspending it,” as Agamben writes, clarifying this sovereignty’s biopolitical nature, its necessary power over life and death.4 Sovereignty thus functions as a structure that creates and maintains states. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s national sovereignty serves primarily to redeem and legitimize an extant community; this sovereignty allows flexibility within its own limits: the English nation it ostensibly mends. Pilgrims like the Man of Law, Squire, and Monk use the English vernacular, rather than sovereignty, to exclude, as chapter 7 argues. Although their exclusions are essential to the national structure (limited community), these secular excommunications are not necessary to sovereignty’s structure itself. They are not “inclusive exclusion[s]” but absolute exclusions that energetically expel other women beyond the English pale through claims of inexpressibility.5 The English vernacular thus emerges as somewhat more powerful and pernicious than sovereignty, and Chaucer’s national project appears starkly xenophobic in moments of formal failure when the vernacular leaks English nationalism’s distressing secrets despite those claims. Similarly, Schmitt and Agamben help explain how sovereignty fails its national potential in the Clerk’s and Franklin’s tales, appearing most ter2.  Schmitt and Agamben nevertheless inspire important Chaucerian readings, including Craig Bertolet, “The Anxiety of Exclusion: Speech, Power, and Chaucer’s Manciple”; Ruth Evans, “The Production of Space in Chaucer’s London,” in Chaucer and the City, ed. Ardis Butterfield (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), 41–­56; William McClellan, “Ful Pale Face: Agamben’s Biopolitical Theory and the Sovereign Subject in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale,” Exemplaria 17 (2005): 103–­34; Robert Sturges, “The State of Exception and Sovereign Masculinity in Troilus and Criseyde,” in Men and Masculinities in Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde”, ed. Tison Pugh and Marcia Smith Marzec (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008), 28–­42. 3. Schmitt, Political Theology, 5. 4. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 28–­29, 28. For an important recent critique of Agamben and biopolitics as a sign of modernity distinct from medieval sovereignty, see Kathleen Biddick, Make and Let Die. 5. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 7, 8, 21, etc.

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rifying there, where romance fails to reimagine the world free of painful realities. The Franklin’s Tale, a lai, scrutinizes sovereignty by binding it to radically changing notions of possibility. Meanwhile, the Clerk’s Tale exposes a chasm between sovereignty’s theory and practice by contextualizing it in unromantic realities that belie the Wife of Bath’s cross-­class, cross-­gender fantasy of English national sovereignty. Each tale engages romance’s forms differently to clarify the nature of sovereignty as both an ideal concept and a historical problem whose absolute practice cruelly belies its theoretical flexibility. Romance clarifies Chaucer’s theory of national sovereignty and reveals the Schmitt/Agamben paradigm’s limitations. Scala argues that, “More than mere romance such as the Wife offers . . . The Clerk’s Tale presents marriage as always signifying something beyond itself,” something deeply political.6 I will follow Scala’s keen move to consider how the Clerk develops the Wife’s concerns by departing from romance, though I retain my own sense of Chaucerian sovereignty. The Clerk’s Tale begins thematically as a romance with Walter, a hawking, hunting marquis “of lynage, / The gentilleste yborn of Lumbardye” (IV 71–­72). Chaucer’s vernacular rhyme royal verse traces romance’s formal conventions in adapting Petrarch’s Latin and Boccaccio’s prose narratives, yet the Clerk explicates the poem as allegory just as its folktale and hagiographic aspects overwhelm its romance conventions. Analyzing absolutist politics through setting, Wallace reads this as a tale “of Lombard tyranny,” which critiques both Petrarch’s Latin translation and the despotism Chaucer observed in Lombardy.7 The plot reflects tyranny insofar as Walter tortures his wife and manipulates public opinion to serve individual whims over shared interests. Thus Chaucer distinguishes Walter’s power from the national sovereignty we find in the Tales. Nevertheless, this tale begins with a metaphor true to Chaucerian national sovereignty’s flexibility. Walter’s people urge him to marry thus: “Boweth youre nekke under that blisful yok / Of soveraynetee, noght of servyse, / Which that men clepe spousaille or wedlok . . .” (113–­15). They envision sovereignty as a structure that yokes sovereign with subject such that the ruler must coordinate with the ruled to move forward; and they request a modicum of sovereign humility, a bowed neck and head. Their sovereignty is a yoke: a less absolute, more cooperative and contingent power in contrast with Schmitt’s sovereign decision. Walter’s people 6.  Elizabeth Scala, Desire in the Canterbury Tales (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2015), 143. 7. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 261–­300, 294.

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make this request expressly to secure political stability, moreover, demonstrating that they understand how realms of love and politics, private and public, interpenetrate via the domestic in marriage. But Walter sharply refuses the social world their speech constructs. He not only demands wifely obedience but also erases Griselda’s will, absorbing it into his own (351–­64). Walter pretends to murder their children, annul their marriage, and find a new bride all to test his wife’s constancy, which he irrationally doubts (736–­63). He resists his people’s romantic, metaphorical understanding of sovereignty as a yoke, a negotiation between theory and practice as well as between two creatures with distinct wills and shared interests. He instead practices sovereignty as an absolute and cynical force, which singularly spans religious, social, biopolitical, and emotional realms and flouts his subjects’ theory of sovereignty. We might, with Wallace, read Walter’s practice as tyranny. Alternatively, we could follow William McClellan’s biopolitical reading of Griselda as “a personification of the human subject . . . transformed by sovereign power into a political subject” within a tale that “shows that . . . cruelty and abjection are structural components of sovereignty itself, intrinsic to the relation between sovereign and subject.”8 Either way, Walter’s practice diverges from Chaucer’s English national sovereignty and from the concept his people’s metaphor delineates at the start of the Clerk’s Tale. Ultimately, romance yields to allegory, hagiography, and folktale—­and sovereignty, staged by metaphor, yields to tyranny, to its own nature, or perhaps to a corrupted form of itself. The Clerk’s Tale admits that the name sovereignty guarantees nothing. The Franklin’s Tale, set on Brittany’s rocky coast, requites the Clerk’s Tale with another powerful metaphor that isolates the name of sovereignty. This tale uses romance’s form to clarify sovereignty’s nature, a historical problem. The Franklin introduces sovereignty as a role that marks the threshold between public and private life. He centers on an aristocratic couple, including a higher-­ranking lady, and describes their marriage thus: And for to lede the moore in blisse hir lives, Of his free wyl, he swoor hire as a knyght That nevere in al his lyf he, day ne nyght, Ne sholde upon hym take no maistrie Agayn hir wyl, ne kithe hire jalousie, 8.  McClellan, “Ful Pale Face,” 132–­33.

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But hire obeye, and folwe hir wyl in al, As any lovere to his lady shal, Save that the name of soveraynetee, That wolde he have for shame of his degree. (V 744–­52) Even before supplying the hero’s name, the Franklin notes his obedience to his lady, which is psychological and intellectual as it aligns two free wills. This obedience is not absolute as in the Clerk’s Tale, but it is emotional, aimed at preventing jealousy and increasing bliss. Next, the Franklin fits this situation to courtly love’s gendered conventions (750). Sovereignty finally emerges as an addendum, a façade with no bite, reason, or goal beyond the requisite propriety of the husband’s social role within the institution of marriage (751). Sovereignty is only a name, a hierarchical, socially imposed role; yet it staves off shame by standing between two ecosystems, courtly love (a magical fiction that romance reifies) and late medieval English marriage (a realistic institution subtending societies that inspire romance). This arrangement works for our central couple, Arveragus and Dorigen, until Arveragus sails away to prove himself as a knight in England. Dorigen then obsesses over the beach, “thise grisly feendly rokkes blake,” and swears they have slain “[a]n hundred thousand bodyes of mankynde” (868, 877). In facing challenges to her long-­distance marriage on the rocky coastal cliffs, Dorigen meets them in that liminal space between reality and fantasy, where romance’s advantages and liabilities surface most boldly. The beach is where people first feel climate change and other ecological shifts. In a sense, romance is history’s beach: a liminal site where we meet political, ethical, intellectual, and social change. Here Dorigen imagines her husband’s boat crashing against the cliffs, never to enjoy safe homecoming. So when Aurelius, a smitten neighbor, offers his services, Dorigen rashly promises to love him if only he removes those rocks one-­by-­one. This request, he instantly recognizes, “were an inpossible” (1009).9 Yet both romance characters fail to note how magic and fantasy shape their possibility as much as reality and history do. Eventually, Aurelius’s scholar brother and a French magician exploit their romance setting by making the rocks vanish, a possibility that Dorigen maintains she never anticipated. As her very reality shifts, her obsession with rocks and impossibility progresses into contempla9.  Aurelius uses the same word with which Wife of Bath describes the probability of clerks speaking well of wives (III 688). On this detail, see Scala, Desire in the Canterbury Tales, 123–­31.

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tion of suicide, which she prefers to sex with Aurelius, although she agrees she owes that.10 When she shares her predicament with Arveragus, whose boat docks safely before the rocks disappear, sovereignty suddenly reemerges as the most significant name in the game. Arveragus exercises sovereignty by deciding against Dorigen’s stated will and feelings, but for her rash promise. Arveragus forces her to keep it by surrendering herself to Aurelius—­with a cruel addendum: if anyone learns of this, she dies. Then Aurelius suddenly releases Dorigen from her promise just as the magician forgives his rock-­removal debt, and the Franklin ends his romance musing on masculine virtue. Even though sovereignty enters the lai in “name” only, a flimsy romantic façade for a complex marriage, it endures more firmly than any other force or element: the rocks, magic, and love all emerge more compromised. Crucial here is that Dorigen’s will is her marriage’s routine law, yet Arveragus readily suspends it (ostensibly in order to preserve it with the value of her promise). Schmitt insists that we identify his concept of sovereignty with such suspensions of the norm: “The exception is more interesting than the rule. The rule proves nothing; the exception proves everything: .  .  .  In the exception the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.”11 Sovereignty survives in this lai because when reality shifts, this name thrives, despite its specious simplicity. Arveragus’s exceptionally harsh decision to “putte his wyf in jupartie” resonates with Schmitt’s sovereignty (1495). Arveragus’s sovereignty differs from English national sovereignty, which fantastically redeems England in the Man of Law’s and Wife of Bath’s tales. His sovereignty responds to magic, the exception, rather than importing exceptional magic. Here, magic breaks through a rigid mechanism and sovereignty reacts; romance, as if it were the power of real life, summons the sovereign decision. Throughout the Canterbury Tales and intellectual history, sovereignty endures as a concept whose variation and flexibility ensure its continuity. The Franklin’s Tale insists that the name sovereignty guarantees everything. The Franklin experiments with sovereignty in ancient Brittany, a rocky beach lying between chivalric England and magical France. His tale galvanizes the pressures of a world that accommodates “France,” “England,” and “Brittany” as discrete territories still meaningfully united 10.  On these rocks, shifting reality, and terror, see J. Allan Mitchell, “In the Event of the Franklin’s Tale,” in Dark Chaucer: An Assortment, ed. Myra Seaman, Eileen Joy, and Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn, NY: punctum books, 2012), 91–102. 11. Schmitt, Political Theology, 15.

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by cultural authorities, terms, and practices.12 The Franklin’s is the only Canterbury tale that contains both names, England and France. Arveragus establishes his worth as a knight “[i]n Engelond, that cleped was eek Briteyne” (810); Aurelius finds his magician “at Orliens in Fraunce” (1118). England serves as a ground on which Brittany’s men prove power; meanwhile, France imparts a power through which they move ground. The Franklin’s Tale suggests a deeply transnational perspective, in Schiff’s formula, by engaging “networks of meaning” (like love, magic, and chivalry) that traditionally bridge national boundaries through the discourse of romance.13 The Franklin considers how England-­tested chivalry and France-­based magic might each work to woo Dorigen, the same Breton beauty. Since Aurelius goes to France for help and remains ever unloved, while England-­approved Arveragus retains his sovereignty and his wife, this tale may herald the triumph of English nationalism. Nevertheless, it depends upon transnational relationships. The Squire’s Tale, which the Franklin interrupts and displaces, depends more heavily on internationalism. This tale’s well-­known orientalism fails to erase such reliance on relations between similarly defined kingdoms.14 The Squire’s glowing introduction of Ghengis Khan sets Tartary, the Mongol empire, under this perfect sovereign, who “lakked noght that longeth to a kyng” (16). Consciously or not, the name Tartarye reflects his empire’s transnational nature: Mongol warrior Ghengis Khan’s conquest of the Tartars and the Tartar name’s ensuing absorption of him and his empire. Moving ahead, the Squire introduces an emissary from “the kynge of Arabe and of Inde” to the Great Khan’s court (110). He thus relates two sovereign realms internationally via the gift-­bearing knight, whom he also compares favorably with Camelot’s own Gawain (95). The ambassador signifies international distinction and goodwill between the kingdoms. He also represents one king who rules two places, perhaps two peoples, but at the very least a place with two names, Arabia and India, bringing the idea of transnational empire to bear on that kingdom and on his internationalist mission. Chapter 7 examines the Squire’s nationalist approach to Englishness and English: his racialization and exclusion of Princess Canacee, which he accomplishes by claiming his vernacular is insuffi12.  For an excellent new political reading of Brittany in this tale, see Shannon Godlove, “‘Engelond’ and ‘Armorik Briteyne’: Reading Brittany in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 51.2 (2016): 269–­94. 13.  Randy Schiff, Revivalist Fantasy, 8. 14. Ibid.

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cient to her exotic beauty. Whereas English functions as a nationalist tool to exclude a Mongol other in the Squire’s Tale, England works as a transnational site of authority that links itself to Brittany and France via Breton aristocrats in the succeeding Franklin’s Tale. Positive and negative internationalisms characterize the Squire’s narration, and the Franklin’s romantic Breton setting accentuates transnational culture. Both the Franklin’s ability to share his tale and these pilgrims’ association with each other depend, nonetheless, upon a national present that empowers the Franklin to compete in a cross-­class English tale-­telling contest and even to imagine the Squire, a ranking knight’s noble son, as his own: I have a sone, and by the Trinitee, I hadde levere than twenty pound worth lond, Though it right now were fallen in myn hond, He were a man of swich discrecioun As that ye been! Fy on possessioun. (682–­86) Here, the Franklin interrupts his social superior by insisting on his English eloquence, despite the Squire’s prior politically loaded allegation of English deficiency. The Franklin also reemphasizes vernacular nationalism as a political paradigm and paves the way from the Squire’s tale to his own by invoking franklins as a new class that could buy land to increase their wealth and status since 1299. He soon adds that his wealth affords his own son opportunities to seek virtue and to “lerne gentillesse aright” through education, slyly supplanting nobility with gentility as something English folk of all classes might learn and acquire (694). Christianity binds this society through the Trinity, but as one wherein class mobility and new opportunities for competition knit common and noble Christians into one gentle nation. By highlighting both vernacular eloquence and the exchange of wealth between classes, this “twenty pound worth lond” that could so easily drop into his hands, the Franklin shifts from an international to an English national model of political community, though he seems merely to be making polite conversation. By mentioning “discrecioun,” a kind of judgment, and “possessioun,” a sort of ownership, the Franklin also cites medieval sovereignty’s essential components. The Franklin knits himself, his moment, and his tale to the Squire and his own tale. He thus draws three distinct models of political and cultural community into dialogue: the Squire’s fourteenth-­century En-

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glish conception of Ghengis Khan’s thirteenth-­ century international Mongol empire (the Squire’s tale’s setting), the Franklin’s transnational retrospective of ancient Brittany suspended between chivalric England and magical France (his subsequent tale’s setting), and the Franklin’s imagination of their late fourteenth-­century English nation, which propels his interruption. Neither international empire, transnational association, nor cross-­class national community works as a political standard that can account for all the tensions and worldviews that the Canterbury Tales presents, even here in Fragment V alone. We need at least three models of political community and their respective conceptual languages to grasp Chaucer’s subtle and original politics. In my view, the sovereign international regimes and transnational aristocracies of the Squire’s and Franklin’s tales pale in comparison with the national statement that the nurturing, fatherly, unranked Franklin expresses in gently interrupting the noble Squire, yet firmly insisting on a paradigm that embraces them both within the same national family. No longer can nacioun indicate simple blood or class-­based kinship alone. The Franklin and Squire deftly alternate between national, transnational, and international lenses, refusing to choose, producing various political effects. These three approaches are never mutually exclusive in the Canterbury Tales, where all contribute to postcolonial critique in helping to analyze important political powers, processes, and tensions. We have seen that Chaucer uses the term sovereignty only five times in the Tales, yet he insists that diverse concepts of sovereign community and an apposite range of worldviews are available to his own English nation, which the pilgrim taletellers represent. The Franklin introduces an innocuous concept of sovereignty as a simple name that is actually wildly capricious, because it hinges on chance, magic, study, human magnanimity, and an unstable sense of possibility—­on the deep, shifting interdependence of reality with fantasy: on romance. In the Clerk’s Tale, sovereignty emerges romantically as a yoke synonymous with marriage but crystallizes as a mere cover for tyranny. These two tales take sovereignty out of the English context that the Man of Law and Wife of Bath establish for it. They warn that no matter how legitimate and limited sovereignty appears in theory, as their metaphors suggest, more pernicious powers often overtake and seep through “sovereignty” in practice, as their plots reveal. Literary scholars might learn from the agility of Chaucer’s art. The nation—­that sovereign political and cultural community we imagine as a limited comradeship, transcendent yet riddled with hierarchies and exclusions—­is itself older and more variable than some critics acknowl-

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edge. It persists in a form that late medieval British sensibilities, events, and laws often reflect. But even if medieval states and peoples defied the form absolutely, medieval literature would remain that space where artistic imagination bends and defies historical experience’s boundaries. This flows equally from literature’s nature as art and the nation’s dependence on mythography. Artistic political interventions are definitively more diverse and ambiguous than nonartistic political interventions. Bloomfield observes that, “The sense of the historic serves Chaucer in his satire and in his humor”; though he also attributes Chaucer’s anachronism to “ignorance, thoughtlessness, or superior claims of artistic fitness.”15 But anachronism appears often as a literary device and more powerfully than as a critical pitfall in Chaucer studies. We have only begun to appreciate how Chaucer’s romantic, anachronistic sense of history as reality wedded to fantasy serves nationalist politics and philosophy. Indeed, medievalist literary scholars require national, international, and transnational models of political culture, because such models overlap and inform each other without erasing their own force or integrity in literary art. Chaucerians have long celebrated Chaucer’s internationalism even as his poetry has anchored the English literary canon. My readings endeavor to persuade you that together political concepts of nationalism, internationalism, and transnationalism can help us to reread Chaucer, his artful reflections on sovereignty, and perhaps even his place in the English canon.

15. Bloomfield, Essays and Explorations, 24, 17.


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absolutism, 27–­28, 93, 101–­2, 241. See also sovereignty: absolute; tyranny Agamben, Giorgio, 37, 41, 43, 45–­46, 49, 75, 239–­48 Akbari, Suzanne Conklin, 5, 25n72, 97n32, 213n10 Alf Layla wa Layla (The Thousand and One Arabian Nights), 114n59, 237n65 Alighieri, Dante, 9, 41–­43, 45–­48, 53–­54, 72–­74, 76, 181, 183, 194, 196, 199; and Christian nobility, 66, 68–­69, 71–­72, 158, 180–­82, 188–­207; and illustrious vernacular, 34, 68–­72  —­works: Commedia, 37, 55, 152–­53; Inferno, 218; Purgatario, 68n53, 193–­97, 199 Convivio, 34n100, 68–­69, 72–­73, 152–­ 53, 158, 197–­98 De monarchia, 38, 47, 55–­67, 70, 72–­75, 158, 160, 175 De vulgari eloquentia, 34n100, 68–­72 alliterative Morte Arthur, 20–­21, 188n20 Alliterative Revivalism, 13, 17 Amazons, 126–­44 Ambrisco, Alan S., 213, 220 anachronism, 4, 23–­24, 29–­39, 41–­43, 72–­77, 103, 146, 148, 151–­207, 240, 248 Anderson, Benedict, 2, 14, 31–­32, 43, 63, 76n70, 86n15, 89, 90, 94–­95, 98, 101–­2, 172–­73, 219 Anthony, St., 8 antifeminism. See misogyny anti-­Semitism, 27, 108, 206 apostrophe, 217–­18

Aquinas, 54n27 Aquitaine, 50 Arabic, 167–­70, 225, 231, 235–­38 Aramaic, 170 aristocracy, transnational, 144–­45, 147, 245–­47. See also chivalry; class: aristocracy; identity: aristocratic Aristotle, 57, 157–­58; 61–­65, 75, 137, 157–­ 58, 171, 182n8, 185 Armstrong, John A., 106 Arthur, King, 163, 188n20, 203n41; Arthurian Britain (Camelot), 36, 42–­ 43, 48, 76, 180–­81, 187–­91, 194–­97, 200, 203n41; Arthurian literature, 20–­21, 113; 36, 188n20, 203n41. See also romance: Arthurian Athens, 21, 123, 125, 128–­47, 171n30 auctoritee, 187–­88, 192–­93, 196 Augustine, 62, 158 Augustinus Triumphus, 54n27 Aurelian, 232, 237 autonomy, 57–­58, 176, 185; poetic, 10–­11 Babbitt, Susan M., 65 Bal’ami, ‘Abu Ali Muhammad, 236 Ball, Warwick, 237 barbarity, 151, 163–­73 beauty, 26, 36, 140, 215, 220–­28, 231, 234, 245–­46; and fairness, 225, 227–­28, 236 Becket, Thomas, St., 88–­89, 92, 216n15, 232 Bede, 75, 203n41, 214n12 belief, 8, 25–­26, 32–­33, 35, 41–­42, 54, 81–­ 121, 126, 202–­3, 231


262  •  Index Benjamin, Walter, 76, 151 Bertolet, Craig, 91n25, 240n2 Bhabha, Homi K., 17, 31, 102n46, 205 Biddick, Kathleen, 76n69, 240n4 Blake, William, 12 Blanch, Robert J., 194 Bloomfield, Morton W., 29, 153, 248 Boccaccio, Giovanni, 71n57  —­works: Decameron, 7–­8, 25, 114n59, 241 De casibus vivorum illustrium, 116, 226–­ 28, 237 De claris mulieribus, 226–­28, 231n48, 235, 237 Teseida, 122–­23, 131–­35, 139–­40, 143 body politic, 25, 65 Boethius, 140, 196 Boniface VIII, 61–­62 Botterill, Stephen, 34n100 Britain, 8–­9, 10, 35–­37, 40, 41, 42–­43, 71, 88, 125, 151–­207, 214, 215, 216–­20; Matter of, 43, 180. See also Arthur, King: Arthurian Britain; England: and Britain; identity: British; nationalism: British Britons, 173–­74, 180, 188–­89 Brittany, 49, 188–­89, 242–­47 Browne, Matthew, 23–­24, 119n66 Burger, Glenn, 5, 12, 28–­31, 84, 97, 100–­ 102, 186n16, 199–­200n35, 202, 205 Bush, George W., 47 Butterfield, Ardis, 3, 15, 24, 28, 37, 45, 100–­101, 109, 144–­45n35, 206, 230n46 camaraderie, 31–­32, 41–­42, 48, 97–­98, 113–­14, 117–­21, 122, 125–­26n14, 126, 132n20, 135, 139–­40, 173, 177, 214, 247–­48. See also fellowship Cannon, Christopher, 15–­16 canon, 26, 248 Canterbury, 19, 29, 89, 219 Chaucer, Geoffrey: as father of English poetry, 3, 4, 6–­12, 14, 25n72; as laureate poet, 3, 4, 6–­12  —­Canterbury Tales: Ellesmere order, 151–­52, 155–­56, 183, 186–­87; first fragment, 42, 115–­16, 120–­21, 151–­ 52, 153n3, 155, 175, 186; second fragment, 155; third fragment, 120–­ 21, 155; fifth fragment, 237–­48;

sixth fragment, 115, seventh fragment, 22–­23, 114–­15; General Prologue and frame narrative, 17–­23, 26, 41–­42, 65–­67, 75–­76, 81–­121, 122–­26, 131, 144, 155, 166, 200–­201, 221; Knight’s Tale, 21, 39, 42, 76, 122–­48, 186; Miller’s Prologue and Tale, 76, 120, 151, 186; Reeve’s Prologue and Tale, 120, 186; Cook’s Prologue and Tale, 120, 151, 186; Man of Law’s Introduction, Tale, and Epilogue, 21–­22, 33–­34, 36, 39, 42–­44, 47, 48, 76, 120, 148, 151–­79, 181–­83, 183–­84n13, 191, 195, 201n36, 207, 208–­20, 225–­26, 228–­34, 244, 247; Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, 5, 10, 21, 33–­34, 36–­39, 42–­43, 47, 48, 66, 71–­72, 76, 120, 122, 151–­53, 155–­ 56, 162, 166–­67, 177–­79, 180–­207, 241, 243n9, 244, 247; Friar’s Tale, 120; Summoner’s Tale, 120; Clerk’s Prologue and Tale, 6–­9, 44, 49, 68, 71, 156–­57, 240–­43, 247; Squire’s Introduction and Tale, 21, 26–­27, 43–­ 44, 207, 211–­16, 220–­23, 225–­26, 228–­35, 240, 245–­47; Franklin’s Prologue and Tale, 21, 44, 49, 68, 156, 165, 230n46, 239–­48, 22–­23; Physician’s Tale, 115; Pardoner’s Tale, 116, 118–­19; Shipman’s Tale, 22; Prioress’s Prologue and Tale, 108–­9; Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas, 20, 22–­23; Tale of Melibee, 22–­23; Monk’s Prologue and Tale, 27, 43–­44, 76–­77, 114–­18, 125–­26n14, 207, 211–­16, 223–­38, 240; Nun’s Priest’s Tale, 120; Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, 120; Parson’s Tale, 30–­31, 33–­34, 53, 101–­2, 116, 132n20, 152, 157–­64, 166, 171–­73; Chaucer’s Retraction, 30, 101–­2  —­other works: “Adam Scriven,” 212n5; House of Fame, 214–­15n14; Legend of Good Women, 214–­15n14; Parliament of Fowls, 19n54, 41; Troilus and Criseyde, 15, 38n116, 41, 212n5 Chesterton, G.K., 12 chivalry, 18, 22–­23, 82, 87, 107–­8, 124–­27, 130–­31, 140n28, 144–­48, 163, 174, 199, 239, 243–­47 Choueiri, Youssef, 237

Index  •  263 Christianity: conversion to, 159–­60, 162–­ 75, 216, 230; Eastern and Arab, 36, 168n25, 170; and England, 84–­85, 87–­92, 163, 173–­74, 216–­20, 234, 236; and nationhood, 47, 62–­63, 171–­72, 178, 181n4; and sovereignty, 56–­57, 59–­60, 157–­62. See also Church; England: Christianization of; identity: Christian Church, 10, 42, 51, 56–­57, 62–­63, 67, 82, 87, 89, 99n35, 108, 152, 159–­60, 165, 174–­76; 182–­83, 190 class, 46n4, 89, 115–­17, 132n20, 138, 153n3, 159–­62, 183, 190, 203–­4, 214, 241; aristocracy (nobility), 17–­19, 37, 107–­8, 126, 132n20, 133, 142, 144–­45, 180–­82, 193–­207, 242–­43; commoners, 26, 43, 52, 76, 144–­45n35, 199, 203, 205–­6; cross-­class alliances, 21, 29–­30, 36–­37, 39, 48, 51, 53, 76, 82, 94, 128–­29, 181–­207, 246; nobility v. gentility, 194–­201, 246–­47; and the vernacular, 8, 76, 108–­9, 199. See also aristocracy, transnational; identity: aristocratic Clement VII, 51 colonialism, 4, 31, 36–­37, 39, 43; and internationalism, 23–­25; postcolonialism, 4, 5, 16, 21, 26, 31, 37, 40, 45, 83, 100–­103, 125n12, 188–­89n19, 202n38, 247 comfort, 41, 76, 82–­84, 92, 97, 112–­21, 141 conquest, 13, 15, 23, 60, 61, 124–­25, 128, 130–­37, 139, 157, 187–­88n19, 237, 245 consent, 21, 42, 58, 60, 61, 65–­66, 97, 99, 112, 115, 120, 124–­26, 137, 185; and coercion, 38, 81–­82, 92–­93, 95, 143; and marriage, 178; and resignation, 200–­201 contact zone, 15, 24 continuity, 19, 37–­38, 48, 87, 89, 98–­99, 163–­66, 191n22, 244; cultural, 70; English, 36, 53, 153–­54, 195, 201; national, 10, 42–­43, 75–­76, 94, 113, 129–­30, 135, 155, 166, 173, 177–­79, 182, 194–­95, 200–­202, 206; political, 61, 176; religious, 166; transhistorical, 39, 55, 59, 180, 194–­95; vernacular, 69, 70. See also history: transhistorical community

conversion, 159, 162–­79, 216, 230. See also Christianity: conversion to Cooper, Christine F., 168n26 Cooper, Lisa H., 123n5 cosmopolitanism. See internationalism: and cosmopolitanism Cowan, Edward J., 51n16 Cowgill, Bruce Kent, 146 Crane, Susan, 138–­39 crusades, 106, 170. See also romance: crusade and Saracen currency: figurative, 4, 9, 12, 35, 66, 98, 108–­11; literal, 86, 98, 237 Curry, Anne, 49–­50, 144–­45n35 Curtius, Ernest Robert, 212n3 Davies, R. R., 35–­36, 48, 180, 202 Davis, Charles Till, 56n30, 57n32, 60n38, 67n49 Davis, Kathleen, 5, 29n85, 74–­75, 76n70, 153n3, 183–­84n13, 213, 216–­17, 220 debate poetry, 17–­20 De casibus tradition, 71, 116–­18, 224–­28 Declaration of Arbroath, 46, 51–­53, 55 Dido, 173n33, 214–­15n14 Disraeli, Isaac, 14–­15 diversity, 4, 52–­53, 58, 62–­63, 69, 154–­ 55n9; Glissant on, 83, 102–­3; intra-­ communal, 20, 25, 37, 39–­40, 57–­ 60, 65–­68, 73–74, 81–­82, 89–­91, 109, 111–­13, 118, 128–­29, 177–­79, 192; of perspective, 20, 55, 73, 91, 93, 95, 177 divine ordinance, 31, 33–­34, 42, 56, 60, 63, 124, 160 domesticity, 4, 18, 23–­29, 33–­34, 41–­42, 76, 81–­148, 180–­207, 241–­42. See also home Dor, Juliette, 212n6 dream vision, 11, 17–­20, 119 Dryden, John, 3, 12–­13 Dumitrescu, Irina A., 214n12 Edinburgh Review, 15 Edmondson, George, 39n121 Edward I, 16, 48, 50, 196n32 Edward II, 47, 50, 53 Edward III, 41, 49–­51, 104n50 Elizabeth I, 18; Elizabethan culture, 37, 47 Ellis, Steve, 23

264  •  Index empire, 26, 54–­61, 67, 72, 158–­59, 245–­ 46; cultural, 13–­15; and internationalism, 14, 26, 33, 246–­47; and nation, 21, 26, 31, 39, 40, 42, 48–­50, 61–­65, 75, 86n15, 122–­48, 153–­54, 163, 177–­78, 182–­83. See also Rome England: and Britain, 36–­37, 42–­43, 48–­ 49, 151–­207, 216–­17, 220; Christianization of, 153–­54, 170–­78, 182, 216–­ 17, 220, 235; as historical community, 16–­17, 24–­26, 28–­29, 30, 35–­36, 47–­53, 64, 69, 88–­89, 97, 99, 100, 103, 104n50, 106, 108–­11, 123, 152, 166, 169n27, 187–­88n19, 196–­ 97, 203, 218n19, 221, 234, 247; as imagined national community, 3–­4, 13–­17, 18, 21, 24–­26, 29–­33, 36–­37, 40–­43, 48–­49, 68, 72n60, 76, 81–­82, 84–­92, 97, 99, 100–­101, 105–­8, 111, 119–­21, 144, 151–­207, 214, 216–­17, 220, 234–­35, 243–­47. See also Christianity: and England Englishness. See identity: English epic, 17 error, 5, 23, 34, 42–­43, 153, 170–­71, 179, 183, 196. See also anachronism Esolen, Anthony M., 10n18 estates satire, 66n47 ethnicity, 84n11, 99–­100, 107, 214, 236–­ 37. See also identity: ethnic; nationalism: civic v. ethnic Euclid, 72–­73 Eurocentrism, 26, 216, 236–­38 Europe, 28–­29, 43–­44, 113, 153n3, 169, 183–­84n13, 213, 216, 234–­35; attitudes and culture of, 232, 235 Europeanness. See identity: European Evans, Ruth, 234–­35 exceptionalism, 43–­44, 105–­6, 168, 215 excommunication, 43, 58n35, 211–­38 exile, 41–­42, 48, 122–­48, 165–­66, 175–­76, 179; etymology of, 124

fantasy, 36, 43–­44, 115, 117–­18, 143, 120, 189–­ 90, 191n22, 195, 205–­7, 214; and reality, 38–­39, 44, 66, 147, 194, 201–­2, 239, 241–­44, 247–­48. See also utopianism fellowship, 28, 82, 90, 92, 94–­95, 102n44, 103–­5, 111, 128–­30, 136–­44, 173 feminism, 183–­84n13 Ferster, Judith, 159n15 Finke, Laurie, and Martin B. Shichtman, 230n47 Florscheutz, Angela, 157n12 f/Fortune, 76, 116–­17, 130, 132n20, 139, 193, 223 Fowler, Elizabeth, 133, 137–­38, 142–­43 Fradenburg, L. O. Aranye, 38–­39, 117, 140n28, 179, 191n22, 194, 202–­3, 204n44, 233–­34 frame narrative (genre), 114n59 France, 17, 28, 40, 47, 49–­50n12, 50–­51, 61–­62, 109–­10, 196n32, 234, 244–­47 Fyler, John, 214, 222n29, 223

fabliaux, 42, 120, 151–­52, 186 family, 37, 64, 87–­88, 123, 145, 165–­66, 176–­77, 182, 188n20, 197–­200, 202, 204; as nacioun, 43, 47, 94, 107, 166, 193–­95, 200, 246–­48; and natio, 11. See also love: familial Fanon, Frantz, 40

Hamaguchi, Keiko, 213, 222n27, 223, 224 Hanna, Ralph, III, 16, 233n54 Hanning, Robert, 126, 146, 147–­48 Hansen, Elaine Tuttle, 130n17, 133 Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri, 33, 37–­39, 41, 45–­46, 53–­54, 55n28, 59,

Ganim, John, 27n79, 235 Gascony, 49n12, 50, 196n32 Geary, Patrick, 34–­35, 37, 203 gender, 130–­31, 165–­66, 211–­38, 242–­43; alliance, cross-­gender, 36, 53, 76, 82, 164, 173, 180–­207, 241 Geoffrey of Monmouth, 21 Gerald of Wales, 21 Gillingham, John, 49n12 Glissant, Édouard, 23n65, 83, 100–­103, 107n53, 108, 109, 111, 113n57. See also diversity: Glissant on Goldstein, R. James, 46n4 gossip, 43, 182–­85, 187, 192–­93, 198, 205 Gower, John, 14, 17, 64, 163, 169 Gratian, 218 Green, Donald C., 156n11 Grudin, Michaela Paasche, 53n25 guilds, 101–­2, 104 Guy of Warwick, 22

Index  •  265 67, 73–­74, 154–­55, 177–­79, 181, 204–­ 5, 240 Harrington, James, 14 Harriss, Gerald, 104n50 Hastings, Adrian, 48n9, 84n11 Hebrew, 219 Helgerson, Richard, 10–­11, 37, 196n31 Helmholz, Richard, 216n15, 218–­19, 232 Heng, Geraldine, 17, 26, 153–­54, 172, 214–­15n14, 220, 223, 239 Henry III, 16, 49n12, 196 Henry V, 10n18 Higham, N. J., 203n41 Historia Augusta, 225–­28, 230n47, 231, 237 Historia Brittonum, 203n41 history: as cultural currency, 35–­36, 83–­ 83, 97–­98; and historicism, 5–­6, 29–­ 44, 55, 66, 73–­76, 147, 170, 177–­79, 183, 203n41, 205, 225, 234–­35; revisionist, 151–­79, 180, 188–­207, 234; making, remaking, and unmaking, 14, 24, 116–­19, 225; and romance, 75–­76, 147, 239, 243, 248; transhistorical community, 33, 41, 81, 113, 177, 180, 182, 194. See also anachronism; continuity: transhistorical Hobsbawm, Eric, 73n61, 182n7 Hoccleve, Thomas, 6, 11–­12 Hodges, Kenneth, 33n98, 86n15, 183n11 home, 33, 41–­42, 77, 81–­148, 176, 186, 205; etymology of, 123; homecoming, 97, 126–­36, 147, 243; and homeland, 29, 41, 45, 46, 69–­70, 86, 88, 89, 120, 123, 125–­26, 128–­29, 131, 133–­34, 138–­40, 141n29, 147, 163, 165–­66; homelessness, 124–­25, 146–­ 47; household, 33, 43, 65, 84, 104n50, 111–­15, 123, 156, 179, 180–­ 207. See also domesticity household. See home: household Hsy, Jonathan, 22n63, 169n26 humanism, 71–­72; proto-­humanism, 158 Hundred Years War, 41, 48–­50, 61–­62, 109n54, 144–­45, 146

97–­99, 106–­9, 119, 125, 134, 138–­39, 154, 157, 177–­78, 200–­205, 235; aristocratic, 51, 180–­207; British (Irish, Scots, Welsh), 46n4, 47–­53, 180–­81, 220, 234; Christian, 107, 154, 170; English, 3–­6, 9, 17, 21–­24, 28–­29, 31, 36, 41–­43, 49, 53, 82–­84, 86, 91–­92, 100–­103, 107–­9, 111, 114, 153n3, 180–­ 81, 183–­84n13, 206, 211–­38; ethnic, 64–­65, 153n3, 183–­84n13, 236; European, 3; national, 19–­20, 34–­35, 39, 41–­42, 49, 51, 74–­75, 84–­100, 102, 108–­9, 118, 154, 158–­59, 170, 181–­ 207, 219–­20, 233; pilgrim, 30, 87–­88, 90–­91; political, 133, 157–­64, 171, 173; religious, 48, 106, 152, 155, 158–­ 60, 162–­64, 170–­72, 183–­84n13 Ignatieff, Michael, 28n83, 91, 99–­ 100 imagination, 3–­5, 14, 17, 24, 25n72, 26–­ 27, 29–­39, 40, 42, 47, 66, 82–­86, 90–­ 91, 97–­98, 100, 105, 107n53, 113, 119, 120, 125, 153, 170, 177, 179, 180, 182–­ 83, 187–­88n19, 202n38, 203–­7, 221–­ 22, 234, 236, 248. See also England: as imagined national community imperialism. See empire inexpressibility topos, 211–­12, 221–­22, 240 Ingham, Patricia Clare, 17, 21, 36–­37, 182, 187–­89, 196n31, 205n47 internationalism: and colonialism, 23–­ 24; and cosmopolitanism, 27, 28n83, 83, 103, 206; and nationalism, 3–­6, 10–­11, 14, 23–­29, 40, 42, 44, 82–­84, 100–­103, 107–­11, 152–­53, 180–­81, 193–­99, 206–­7, 213, 245–­48; and transnationalism, 25–­26, 44, 71, 82, 102–­3, 108, 245–­48. See also empire: and internationalism; nationalism Islam, 26, 36, 42, 153, 162–­73, 177, 182, 183–­84n13, 216–­17, 235, 237. See also Quran; Muhammad Italy, 6–­9, 28, 40, 234

ibn ’Adi, ’Amr, 237 ibn Sa’id, Arib, 236n64 ibn Zayd, ’Adi, 225–­26, 231, 235–­36 Idea of the Vernacular, 16–­17 identity, 6, 39, 58, 66–­67, 74, 88, 91, 94,

Jadhima, 231, 237–­38 James I, of Scotland, 9n16 Jean of Paris, 41, 45, 46, 48, 51n16, 53, 54n27, 55, 62–­63, 64, 69, 70, 73, 154–­55n9

266  •  Index Jerusalem, 146, 171n30 Jesus of Nazareth, 56, 61, 64, 168n25, 170, 203n40; as Christ, 168n25, 187 John, King of England, 49–­50n12 John of Salisbury, 25, 54n27, 64–­65, 67–­ 68 Jonson, Ben, 10 Judaism, 26, 56n30, 178, 218n19 Kantorowicz, Ernst, 54n27, 72 Kean, Patricia. M., 15n39 Kennedy, Kathleen E., 185n15, 191n23 Kent, 144–­45n35 King Horn, 20–­21 Knapp, Peggy, 5, 18n51, 19, 25, 32–­33, 84–­85, 90, 94–­95, 100, 102, 130 Knight, Stephen, 83n5, 181n4 knighthood. See chivalry Langland, William, 17, 20n56 Latin, 6–­9, 13, 27, 31, 100n34, 40, 68–­71, 73, 110–­11, 168, 176, 215, 219, 225–­38 laureateship. See Chaucer: as laureate poet Lavezzo, Kathy, 5, 22, 36–­37, 72n60, 153–­ 54, 173, 182–­83 law, 10, 18–­19, 33n98, 42, 47, 50–­54, 57–­ 60, 66, 68, 70–­71, 85–­86, 92, 98, 99, 152–­54, 165, 173–­76, 182, 184–­95, 198–­200, 204–­6, 213n7, 240, 248; religious, 168–­72, 176, 182–­83 Lawler, Traugott, 25n74 Lebanon, 47, 168n25 Leicester, H. Marshall, Jr., 88n18 Lerer, Seth, 9 Levi, Primo, 24 Lewis, Bernard, 168n25 Lindeboom, B. W., 227nn40–­41, 231n48 Livy, 72–­73 Lochrie, Karma, 183–­85, 192 Lollardy, 17 Lombardy, 71n57, 83n5, 241 London, 28, 29, 111 love: agape, 140; courtly, 142, 181, 243; eros, 138–­40, 164; familial, 37, 43, 64, 68, 176–­77, 182, 202; and marriage, 37, 43, 156–­57, 162–­65, 176–­ 78, 180–­207, 230n47, 241–­44; patriotism, 14, 23, 120, 164, 195, 237; as political force, 37–­38, 42–­43, 137–­ 40, 176–­79, 187–­88n19, 202, 204–­7;

and sovereignty, 33–­34, 38–­39, 45, 54–­57, 59, 66–­68, 72–­77, 155–­57, 160n17, 162, 164–­65, 176–­79; 180–­ 207, 241–­45 Ludeke, Henry, 235 Lydgate, John, 6, 8–­10, 11–­12, 14, 27 Machan, Tim William, 16 magic, 42–­43, 182, 195, 201–­4, 206, 222–­ 23, 239, 243–­45, 247; of nationalism, 98, 154–­55 Manion, Lee, 21n57, 35n105, 47n8 Mann, Jill, 88n18 mappa mundi, 146 marriage, 10, 19n54, 37, 42–­43, 87, 124, 152, 227, 230, 241; and household, 33, 43, 84, 112–­21, 156, 180–­207; and nation, 113–­16, 164–­65, 178, 180–­ 207; and sovereignty, 71, 156–­57, 159; 162–­79, 180–­207, 242–­47. See also home: household; love: and marriage Marsiglio of Padua, 8, 41, 45–­48, 51n16, 53, 54, 57–­61, 65–­67, 74 masculinity, 109, 116, 205n46, 227n41 Matthews, David, 16 McClellan, William, 242 Menocal, Maria Rosa, 125n13, 169n27 mercy, 5, 21, 38, 131–­36, 142–­44, 160–­ 62 Metlitski, Dorothee, 169n27 Meyer, Hannah, 218n19 Meyer-­Lee, Robert, 9–­10 Middleton, Anne, 11n24, 205n46 Milton, John, 10 Minnis, Alastair, 62n42, 197n33 misogyny, 183–­84n13, 185–­86, 213, 224, 226, 234–­35 Mitchell, J. Allan, 244n10 modesty topos, 43, 211–­38 Mongolia, 214, 220–­23 Muhammad, 76, 168n25, 169 multilingualism, 22, 108–­11, 213–­14, 231, 236 Mum and the Sothsegger, 18–­20 Muscatine, Charles, 124, 129n16 myth, 28, 34–­35, 43, 98, 180, 203, 205–­6, 226, 248 nation: definitions and concepts, 5–­6, 21, 31–­33, 45–­46, 98–­101, 107, 152,

Index  •  267 154–­55, 164–­65, 177–­79, 194, 247–­ 48; consciousness, national, 32–­33, 40, 85, 96, 102, 122, 135, 147; institutions, national, 9–­10, 151–­53, 163, 176–­77, 180–­207; literature, national, 14–­15, 23n65, 100, 103, 105, 108, 111; medieval, 32–­35, 65, 85–­86, 112–­13, 162; modern, postcolonial, and postmodern, 13, 19–­20, 30–­33, 35, 37, 39–­41, 65, 73–­74, 85, 100–­ 101, 112, 154–­55, 202n38, 203n41, 204, 211, 232; and nacioun, 47, 94, 107, 145, 151, 165–­69, 193–­95, 199–­ 200; and natio, 11; nation-­state, 25–­ 26, 28–­30, 100–­101, 112–­13, 164, 202. See also empire: and nation; En­ gland: as imagined national community; internationalism; magic: of nationalism; sovereignty: national nationalism: British (Irish, Scots, Welsh), 35–­37, 40, 41, 46–­53, 48n9, 180, 182, 187–­89, 203; civic v. ethnic, 64–­65, 68, 94, 99–­100, 107; English, 8, 28–­29, 35–­36, 43–­44, 48n9, 83–­ 84, 120, 153–­55, 168, 206–­7, 212–­13, 215–­16, 221, 229, 240, 245–­46; essentialist and modern, 3–­4, 12–­13, 37, 83, 120, 154–­55, 219; exclusivity and inclusivity of, 24–­27, 36–­37, 43–­44, 53, 99, 153, 178, 180–­207, 211–­38; French, 40, 61–­65, 68; medieval, 13, 16–­17, 20n56, 21, 61–­65, 112–­13, 120, 146, 154–­55; postnationalism, 109–­ 11. See also identity: national; internationalism; nation Naylor, Gloria, 81 Nederman, Cary J., 57–­58, 67 negotiation, 42–­43, 66, 74, 95–­100, 113, 118–­19, 239; and sovereignty, 5, 32, 41, 43, 44, 46–­49, 60–­61, 68–­69, 75, 122, 144, 156n10, 160, 180–­207, 242 Nero, 224 Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, 40 Nolan, Maura, 18 Northumberland, 163, 168, 170, 177, 216–­ 17, 220 nostalgia, 11, 39, 177, 188–­90 occupatio, 43, 125, 128–­31, 136, 146, 217–­ 18, 220–­22, 225 Olson, Paul, 159n16

Oresme, Nicole, 41, 45, 46, 48, 53, 55, 62–­65, 68–­69, 70, 73, 100–­101, 154–­ 55n9, 171n30 orientalism, 226, 229; medieval, 22, 27, 36, 44, 153n3, 183–­84n13, 206, 213–­ 16, 222n27, 232–­38; medieval, modern, and contemporary compared, 224 Orosius, 56 otherness, 21, 26–­27, 165–­66, 179, 207, 211–­38 Padua, 6–­8 Palmyra, 214, 223, 225n35, 231 papacy. See Pope Parliament, 89, 144n35, 184 parricide, 175–­76 Pask, Kevin, 28n81 Pasternack, Carol Braun, 206n48 Patterson, Lee, 11n24, 88n18, 124, 133, 134 Paul the Apostle, 74 Pearsall, Derek, 3, 24, 26–­29, 45, 64n44, 83, 86, 119–­21, 206, 213 Pedro of Castile, 169n27 Persian, 216, 235–­38 Peter the Venerable, 169n27 Petrarch, Francis: and De casibus tradition, 116; and Griselda, 6–­9, 241; and humanism, 71–­72; on Zenobia, 226–­27, 235, 241 Petrus Alfonsi, 169n27 Philip IV, of France, 61–­62 Philippe de Mézières, 51 pilgrimage, 30–­31, 83n5, 87–­89, 96–­97, 119, 219 pilgrims, 12, 19, 21, 25, 35, 37–­38, 41–­42, 66–­67, 81–­121, 125–­26, 128–­29, 131, 144, 155, 200–­201, 218–­19, 220, 247; Canon’s Yeoman, 19, 26, 144; Chaucer (pilgrim-­narrator), 20, 22–­23, 86–­89, 101–­2; Clerk, 6–­9, 241; Cook, 104; Franklin, 104, 165, 230n46, 242–­48; Friar, 104–­5, 108, 110–­11; Guildsmen, 104; Herry Bailly (the Host), 6–­7, 18n51, 19, 20–­21, 22, 30– 31, 37–­38, 41–­42, 76, 82–­84, 85, 87, 90–­99, 105, 111–­12, 113–­20, 125–­ 26n14, 143–­44, 199, 200; Knight, 76, 98, 104, 106–­8, 111, 116–­19, 122–­ 32, 142, 147–­48, 166; Knight’s

268  •  Index pilgrims (continued) Yeoman, 26, 104, 108; Man of Law, 21, 27, 42–­43, 104, 148, 152–­54, 162–­63, 165, 169, 181–­83, 183–­ 84n13, 201n36, 206, 215–­20, 225, 226, 228–­34, 240, 247; Manciple, 105; Miller, 19, 98, 115–­17, 125–­ 26n14, 144; Monk, 43, 76, 98, 108–­ 9, 115–­18, 119, 125–­26n14, 212–­13, 215, 223–­28, 229, 231–­36, 240; Pardoner, 19, 66, 104, 105, 115, 116, 117, 118–­19, 125–­26n14; Parson, 30–­ 31, 52, 104, 111, 116, 132n20, 161–­62, 163, 164, 166, 171, 173; Physician, 105, 119; Plowman, 104, 128; Prioress, 27, 104, 108–­11, 206; Shipman, 26, 105; Squire, 26–­27, 43, 104, 106, 108, 206, 215, 220–­23, 226–­34, 240, 245–­47; Summoner, 104; Wife of Bath, 5, 42, 66, 122, 152, 156, 162, 179, 180–­207, 241, 243n9, 247. See also identity: pilgrim; pilgrimage Pope, 62, 159, 165, 163, 176; sovereignty, papal, 41, 45, 46–­48, 54, 56–­57, 59, 61–­62; Western Papal Schism, 47, 50–­51 Powers, David, 226n26, 237n67 presentism, 36n110, 201, 203n41 provincialism, 27, 206 quem quaeritis, 203n40 Quran, 37, 42, 76, 152, 169–­70 race, 21, 26, 36, 43, 162, 206, 211–­38, 245–­46. See also xenophobia: and race rape, 48, 120, 189–­92, 194–­95, 199–­200, 203, 230n47 redemption, 32–­33, 35, 39, 42–­43, 49, 53, 73–­74, 111, 114n59, 152–­56, 172–­ 73, 175–­77, 180–­207, 240, 244 Renan, Ernest, 4, 43–­45, 143–­44, 211, 229, 234–­35 Reynolds, Susan, 32–­33, 35, 58, 71, 85–­ 86, 89n22, 92, 96, 112–­13 Richard II, 47, 52, 53 Richard Coer de Lion, 21 Rising of 1381, 17, 41, 46, 51–­52, 83n5, 144–­45n35 Riverside Chaucer, 106, 189n21, 235–­38 Robert of Ketton, 169n27

romance, 17–­18, 43–­44, 66–­67, 75, 77, 125, 147, 155, 159, 170–­71, 178–­79, 239–­48; alliterative, 20–­21; Arthurian, 20–­21, 36, 42–­43, 48, 180–­207; crusade and Saracen, 21; tail-­rhyme, 20–­21, 22–­23 Rome, 8, 34–­35, 72, 113, 168n25, 201n36, 216, 230n47; Eastern Roman Empire, 214; Holy Roman Empire, 54; Roman Empire, 8n5, 14, 54, 56, 61–­ 63, 153–­54, 162–­63, 171n30, 176, 182–­83, 188n20 Rothwell, W., 109 Rubin, Miri, 51–­52 Rymer, Thomas, 13–­14 Said, Edward W., 43–­44, 122, 124, 166n21, 219, 229, 232 Salibi, Kamal, 168n25 Salter, Elizabeth, 3, 15, 26–­29, 83, 107n53, 206, 213 salvation. See redemption Sand, Shlomo, 211 Scala, Elizabeth, 220, 232–­34, 241, 243n9 Scanlon, Larry, 7–­8, 20n56, 25n72 Schibanoff, Susan, 153n3, 213 Schiff, Randy, 13, 24, 25–­26, 45, 214–­ 15n14, 245 Schmitt, Carl, 37, 41, 44, 46, 49, 54–­55, 74–­75, 91n25, 239–­48 Scogan, Henry, 11n24 Scotland. See Scots Scots, 9, 35–­36, 40, 41, 46n4, 47–­53, 55, 163, 173, 180, 203. See also identity: British; nationalism: British Scythia, 51, 127–­32, 139 self-­determination, 33, 35, 63, 86n15, 113, 136, 154, 173 Seneca, 196 Shakespeare, William, 204 shires, 89 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 21 Smith, Anthony D., 203n41 Smith, D. Vance, 81–­82, 86, 90, 123 solidarity, 32–­33, 39, 43, 75, 85–­86, 92, 96, 100, 125–­26n14, 144, 182, 194–­ 95, 198–­202, 206, 211, 237 Sordello, 68n53, 196–­97 sovereignty: absolute, 8, 37, 44, 45–­46, 49, 51, 53, 54–­55, 59, 60, 71, 74–­75, 136–­37, 152, 239–­48; biopolitical,

Index  •  269 240, 242–­44; as a concept, 5, 33–­34, 41, 44, 45–­77, 155, 177–­79, 204–­5, 234, 241, 244, 247; etymology of, 46–­47, 52–­53; feminine, 66, 166, 180–­207, 231; imperial, 14, 46, 47, 55–­61, 64, 67, 68, 122–­48, 158, 171–­ 72; modern, 33, 39, 45–­46, 54, 73–­ 77, 154–­55, 177–­79, 185n15, 204–­5, 240n4; national, 5, 20n56, 21, 29–­ 39, 41, 42–­43, 45–­48, 49, 52, 56, 57, 61–­69, 71, 74, 75–­76, 86n15, 91, 100, 122, 142, 144, 148, 151–­207, 239, 240–­42, 244; as ownership and judgment, 5, 34, 41, 46–­48, 53–­54, 57, 64, 67, 68, 70–­71, 144, 151, 158–­ 62, 181, 200–­202, 239, 246. See also Christianity: and sovereignty; love: and sovereignty; marriage: and sovereignty; negotiation: and sovereignty; Pope: sovereignty, papal; tyranny: and sovereignty; vernacular: and sovereignty Spain, 169, 234, 236 Spenser, Edmund, 10, 13, 137 Starkey, David, 123n3, 182n8 state, 58–­60, 62–­63, 67, 75, 85, 112, 125, 154–­55n9, 181, 240, 248; absolutist, 27–­28; poetry and poets, 9–­10. See also absolutism; nation: nation-­state Statius, 122–­23, 131–­33, 135 Steinberg, Glenn, 72n58 storytelling. See tale-­telling Strohm, Paul, 7n11, 25, 33, 51–­52, 117, 183–­85, 224 Studd, Robin, 49–­50n12 Sturges, Robert, 47n8 subjection, 141, 165–­66. See also thralldom Syria, 26, 36, 37, 42, 76, 153, 162–­73, 177, 216–­17, 223–­28, 230–­31, 234, 237 Syrians. See Syria Tabari, Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-­, 225, 231, 235–­38 tale-­telling, 20, 23, 25, 30, 38, 66–­67, 75–­ 76, 90–­95, 97–­99, 104–­5, 108, 111–­12, 115–­16, 128–­29, 155, 233, 246 Taylor, Jaime K., 175n35 Taylor, Karla, 8, 10–­11, 16–­17, 22–­23, 38n116, 76, 218n18 temporality, 4, 7–­8, 11, 29n85, 31–­33, 36,

38–­39, 41–­43, 47, 49–­50n12, 54–­56, 64, 67, 73–­77, 86–­87, 92, 152–­53, 160, 179, 183–­84n13, 191, 194, 201–­2, 214, 224. See also anachronism Thebes, 101, 122–­23, 128, 132–­36, 139–­43, 145 theology, 54–­55 Thomas, Susanne Sara, 157n13 thralldom, 133, 158–­62, 165–­66, 171–­73 time. See temporality Tomasch, Sylvia, 126n15, 146 transnationalism: See aristocracy, transnational; internationalism: and transnationalism treachery, 169–­70, 179, 215, 218 treason, 18, 184–­85, 218–­19 Treaty of Bretigny, 50 Trevet, Nicholas, 163, 166, 168–­69 Trevisa, John: translation of Higden’s Polychronicon, 52–­53 Troy, 101 Turner, Marian, 181n4 Turville-­Petre, Thorlac, 16n45, 26–­28, 82–­83, 99, 107n53, 196n32, 206, 213 tyranny, 61, 71n57, 93, 101, 138, 218; and sovereignty, 8, 40, 44, 131–­36, 144, 241–­42, 247. See also absolutism United States of America, 47 Urban VI, 51 Usk, Thomas, 230n46 utopianism, 39, 120, 178–­79, 187–­90, 205 vernacular, 4, 7–­8, 10, 23, 34n100, 35, 40, 63, 65–­66, 82–­83, 112, 119; English, 6, 9, 12–­23, 28–­29, 43–­44, 73, 99, 107n53, 110–­12, 152, 169–­70, 181, 188, 195, 215–­23, 226–­35, 240–­41, 245–­46; as excommunication, 207, 211–­38; French, 10, 15, 40, 108–­11; Italian, 7, 15, 40, 68–­72, 73, 195–­96, 226–­27, 235; and mother tongue, 14, 40, 64, 103, 109–­10; and sacred languages, 110, 219; and sovereignty, 34, 64, 68–­72, 73, 76, 179, 180–­207. See also Alighieri, Dante: illustrious vernacular; class: and vernacular; continuity: vernacular Virgil, 9, 72–­73, 196 Vodola, Elizabeth, 213n7, 216n15, 220n22

270  •  Index Wales. See Welsh Wallace, David, 3, 26–­28, 45, 71n57, 83, 88n19, 101–­2, 115–­17, 124–­25, 206, 241–­42 Warren, Michelle R., 36–­37, 83n9, 182, 188n20 Washington, George, 12 Watson, Nicholas, 16–­17 Wayne, Valerie, 227n41 Welsh, 9, 35–­36, 40, 48–­49, 50, 173–­74, 180, 187, 188–­89, 203. See also identity: British; nationalism: British Wetherbee, Winthrop, 5 White, Hayden, 77 Wilks, Michael, 54n27, 61 William of Ockham, 14, 41, 45, 54n27, 60–­61, 62n42, 68, 69, 71 William of Rubruck, 223 Williams, Raymond, 187–­88n19 Williams, Tara N., 93n28 Wogan-­Browne, Jocelyn, 212n5

womankind. See women women, 38, 43–­44, 114n59, 130n17, 131–­ 34, 142–­43, 153n3, 164–­66, 171, 181, 183–­84n13, 184–­85, 189, 190–­93, 195, 199, 201n36, 201–­2, 211–­38, 240; femininity, 21–­22, 42–­43, 171–­72, 214, 218, 227n41. See also Amazons; misogyny; sovereignty: feminine; xenophobia: and women Woods, William F., 143, 145 Wynnere and Wastoure, 18–­19 xenophobia, 21–­22, 24, 40, 43–­44, 83, 101, 108–­9, 112–­13, 120, 165, 181n4, 206, 240; and race, 26–­27, 212–­13, 214–­15n14; and women, 211–­38 Yar-­shater, Ehsan, 235 Zenobia, 26, 27, 43–­44, 173n33, 211–­16, 223–­38