The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature: Value and Economy in Late Medieval England explores the vital and unde
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Table of contents :
Praise for “The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature”......Page 8
Chapter 1 Introduction: Anxious Interests......Page 10
Chapter 2 Money Walks......Page 21
Chapter 3 Necrophilia, Necropolitics, and the Economy of Desire in the Squire of Low Degree......Page 41
Chapter 4 The Kindness of Strangers: The Perils of Generosity in John Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum......Page 59
“Every wiht hath ther suffisaunce”: Imaginative Geographies of the Medieval East......Page 66
Amores Ereos: Heroes in Love/The Love of Heroes......Page 72
Stranger Danger......Page 78
Chapter 5 Midas’s Touch: Common Property and Erotic Economies in Book 5 of the Confessio Amantis......Page 93
The Body and the City-State: The Classical Debate About Private Property......Page 95
“All Things Are Common Among Us but Our Wives”: Christian Views of Property......Page 101
“Hyhe Walles for to Kepe”: Avarice and Enclosure......Page 105
“Mesure Double and Double Weyhte”: The Usurious Lady......Page 116
Naked and Afraid: Avarice, Jealousy, and “Common” Property......Page 125
Chapter 6 Damaged Goods: Merchandise, Stories, and Gender in Chaucer’s the Man of Law’s Tale......Page 132
A Very Lord of Merchants: Poetry and Rhetoric in the Late Middle Ages......Page 137
“What Nedeth Gretter Dilatacioun?”: Rhetoric, Gender, and Bringing Stories to Market......Page 149
Narrative Dearth, Anxiety, and “Unkynde Abhomynaciouns”......Page 155
Generosity, Gender, and an “Economy of Excess”......Page 162
Chapter 7 Coda: Make America Great Again—The Gender of Money......Page 168
THE NEW MIDDLE AGES
The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature Value and Economy in Late Medieval England Diane Cady
The New Middle Ages Series Editor Bonnie Wheeler English and Medieval Studies Southern Methodist University Dallas, TX, USA
The New Middle Ages is a series dedicated to pluridisciplinary studies of medieval cultures, with particular emphasis on recuperating women’s history and on feminist and gender analyses. This peer-reviewed series includes both scholarly monographs and essay collections. More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14239
The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature Value and Economy in Late Medieval England
Diane Cady Mills College Oakland, CA, USA
The New Middle Ages ISBN 978-3-030-26260-0 ISBN 978-3-030-26261-7 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2019 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover credit: fStop Images GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
A book cannot be written without debts. However, they are the kind of debts that one is both thankful to acquire and happy to acknowledge. I am grateful to the Huntington Library for granting me a two-month fellowship early on in the conceptualizing of this project. It was there, with time and space—and many afternoon walks with colleagues through the gardens—that an idea actualized into a book. Indeed, this book would never have come to fruition without conversations with generous friends and colleagues, including Michael Calabrese, Joseph Campana, Georgiana Donavin, Robert Epstein, David Hay, Eileen Joy, Margaret Kim, Gregory Tomso, Christine Rose, Pete Wetherbee, Bob Yeager, Kim Zarins, and Jan Zioklowski. I am especially grateful to Andy Galloway and Paul Strohm, who provided crucial encouragement and advice when this project was in its most embryonic form. I cannot think of a better place to write a book than my current institution, Mills College. Mills has not only generously funded my research and writing, but also has provided me with a feminist, inclusive environment within which to teach, write, and create. I am thankful for the conversations I have had with students over the years, many of whom are now teachers and scholars in their own right. Some of these students include Gania Barlow, Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer, Sierra Lomuto, Margaret Miller, Kristen McCants, and Kortney Stern. Their insights have made me a better reader and teacher, and I am thrilled at the prospect of them sharing their talents with the next generation of students. Mills also provided me with an amazingly kind and astute group of v
scholars to exchange work with. For their sharp wit, generous spirit, and friendship, I am especially grateful to Rebekah Edwards, Kim Magowan, Ajuan Mance, Kirsten Saxton, Ruth Saxton, Cynthia Scheinberg, Tom Strychacz, and Kara Wittman. I am also grateful to my research assistant, Camille Brown, for putting her excellent research skills to this project. A special thank you to Elizabeth Mathews, who proved to be not only an excellent reader, but also a patient and graceful copyeditor. An earlier version of Chapter 5, “Damaged Goods: Merchandise, Stories and Gender in Chaucer’s The Man of Law’s Tale,” was published in New Medieval Literatures 17 (2017). I am grateful to the publishers for permission to reprint this material. Finally, I cannot overstate my profound gratitude to my family. Despite my being one of the first in my family to attend college—and while other family members shook their heads in disbelief—my parents, John and Kay Peterson, supported my dream to become a scholar and teacher of medieval literature. My brothers, Dave and Keith Peterson, provided support and fun, which has buoyed me. My biggest debt is to my spouse, Timothy Kelly. This project would never have been completed without his enthusiastic support and encouragement, and the love and joy that we share.
Praise for “The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature”
“The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature offers provocative readings of a well-selected set of English poems from the fourteenththrough the early sixteenth-century, in order to show that late-medieval portrayals of money and its uses were steeped in a distinctive range of gendered norms, postures, and metaphorical language, with consequences that inflect visions of both economics and gender to the present. The study excavates not only the misogyny, homophobia, and suppressed contradictions of social and sexual identity in this network of images and fictional relations, but also the poetic and rhetorical complexity of works by Chaucer, Lydgate, and others that elaborate those contemporary as well as very long-enduring issues.” —Andrew Galloway, James John Professor of Medieval Studies, Cornell University, USA
1 Introduction: Anxious Interests 1 2 Money Walks 13 3 Necrophilia, Necropolitics, and the Economy of Desire in the Squire of Low Degree 33 4 The Kindness of Strangers: The Perils of Generosity in John Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum 51 5 Midas’s Touch: Common Property and Erotic Economies in Book 5 of the Confessio Amantis 85 6 Damaged Goods: Merchandise, Stories, and Gender in Chaucer’s the Man of Law’s Tale 125 7 Coda: Make America Great Again—The Gender of Money 161 Bibliography 167 Index 185
Introduction: Anxious Interests
In a speech before the National Republican Convention in 2004, then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger famously aligned fiscal worry with a lack of manly fortitude: “to those who are pessimistic about the American economy, I say, don’t be economic girlie men.”1 The phrase “girlie men” originated not with Schwarzenegger but with the comedians Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon, who, in a series of Saturday Night Live skits, played Austrian bodybuilders who labeled as “girlie” any men whose muscles were smaller than their own. In what we might read as a campy appropriation, Schwarzenegger capitalized on the phrase, adding the economic element to serve his political purposes. Schwarzenegger’s use of “economic girlie men” in a nationally televised speech catapulted the phrase into the cultural imaginary.2 Many Republicans embraced the term, accusing Democrats in general, and the then-Democratic nominee John Kerry in particular, of being “economic 1 FDCH E-Media, Inc., “Remarks by California Gov. Schwarzenegger to the National Republican Convention,” Washington Post, August 31, 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50470-2004Aug31.html (accessed September 4, 2018). 2 For a discussion of this phrase in popular culture, see Edwin Battistella, “Girly Men and Girly Girls,” American Speech 81, no. 1 (2006): 100–10. Despite the passage of time, the phrase still retains currency. In 2014, Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann declared that the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten was an “economic girlie man.” Australian Associated Press, the Guardian, October 17, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/18/mathias-cormann-calls-bill-shorten-an-economic-girlie-man (accessed September 4, 2018).
© The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_1
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girlie men.” Democrats responded: Some fiercely rejected the label, while others secretly worried that their nominee was “girlie” when it came to fiscal matters. Still others concluded that if concern about the salubriousness of the nation’s economy made them “girlie,” they would gladly accept the label. Absent in the wake of Schwarzenegger’s remark was a discussion of what, exactly, an “economic girlie man” was. What did masculinity or femininity have to do with the economic questions and concerns of the moment? And why did so many people seem to understand what Schwarzenegger meant by the phrase? That is, what made this trope immediately legible to so many Americans? The answers reside in gender ideology’s constitutive function in the construction of economy in the West. Here, I am referring neither to the very real effects of gender identity (among other factors) on one’s personal economy, nor on gender ideology’s impact on economic policy and practices on a national stage. Rather, the focus of this book is on how dominant Western theories about the intrinsic nature of money and value are intimately tied to its beliefs about gender and gender difference. Put another way, gender ideology does not simply inform notions of money and value, it actually forms them. The roots of this isomorphic relationship can be traced to the late Middle Ages. In a time before the invention of political economy as a discipline we might recognize today, gender ideology provided medieval writers and thinkers with a ready vocabulary for understanding money and value during a period of rapid economic and social change. Although often occluded, this legacy still lingers in the ways in which the West continues to conceptualize money and value. The late Middle Ages have been described as “an age of anxiety,” and no small part of that anxiety had to do with the rapidly shifting meaning and importance of money.3 It is perhaps hard for us to imagine a time when money did not enjoy its fetishized position. However, for much of the Middle Ages, money served primarily as a supplementary form of value, rather than as the general equivalent of all commodities. As Jim Bolton has noted, England did not begin to develop a monetized economy until the middle of the twelfth century, a process that would take 3 On the late Middle Ages as a time of anxiety, see William J. Bouwsma, “Anxiety and the Formation of Early Modern Culture,” in After the Reformation: Essays in Honor of J.H. Hexter, ed. Barbara C. Malament (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980), 215–46.
1 INTRODUCTION: ANXIOUS INTERESTS
another two centuries to fully materialize.4 Several events contributed to the change in money’s importance, including the growth of international trade, the increase of urban markets, a rise in population, and the discovery of new silver mines. By 1381, there were some 800 tons of silver circulating as coins, which represented almost a 24-fold increase from the number of coins circulating in the mid-twelfth century.5 Alongside this increase in money’s influence and importance emerged new financial practices and instruments that not only facilitated the growth of the monetized economy, but also brought to light new questions about the nature of money and its uses. Much like today, medieval international trade required banking techniques that enabled the flow of money across nations, techniques that, in many ways, required a leap of faith analogous to religious belief. One must believe that money that began, for example, in Florence, would eventually make its way to Lavenham in Suffolk. Chevisance, foreign exchange agreements, and bills of exchange served as creative ways to circumvent prohibitions against usury, all while underscoring how bookkeeping and receipts can say one thing and mean something very different. Even the materiality of money came under scrutiny during this period in the debate over the debasement of coinage, a practice by which precious metal was extracted from a coin and replaced with alloy. Debasement was a popular way of raising funds by some European rulers, and the ability to manipulate money so easily spurred new questions and concerns about the stability of money and its value. This concern about the instability and manipulability of money also found its way to venality satire, a genre that virtually exploded in the fourteenth century in the wake of the burgeoning monetary economy. Venality satire is concerned both with the corrosive effects of money on important
4 Jim L. Bolton, Money in the Medieval English Economy: 973–1489 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), 23–7. 5 On the increasing importance of money in the late Middle Ages and the developments that contributed to it, see John Day, The Medieval Market Economy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987); Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England, c. 1200–1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Peter Spufford’s Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) and his Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003); Diana Wood, Medieval Money Matters (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004); and Bolton, Money in the Medieval English Economy.
4 D. CADY
social institutions, such as the Church and the legal system, and with money’s destabilizing effects on traditional social hierarchies.6 Although the Middle Ages lack a discrete discipline for attending to questions of economy, literary texts provide rich insight into medieval attitudes about money and the rapid economic changes taking place. Over the past ten years in particular, scholars have probed the links between medieval literature and money.7 My contribution to this lively critical conversation is to place gender at the center of our understanding of money and value. Gender ideology’s constitutive role manifests in a number of ways, from the isomorphic links made between the supposedly unstable natures of women and money to the equation of wealth with masculinity and sexual possession of a woman and of poverty with emasculation and cuckoldry. At stake in these instantiations is a form of analogical logic that relies on naturalistic claims about one realm to buttress naturalistic claims about another. For example, the case for the debased nature of both women and money is strengthened through these instantiations, helping to support arguments that both need to be tightly controlled by men, a need that is reinforced by the implication that a lack of money (and a lack of sexual loyalty) results in a loss of manhood. As we will see, seemingly gender-neutral discussions of money have much to tell us about medieval gender ideology, and in turn, medieval discussions of gender help to elucidate medieval ideas about money and value.
6 Many of the issues that I sketch here, such as anxieties around the instability of money, worries about the debasement of currency, and concerns about money’s facilitation of social movement, will be discussed more fully in the next chapter. 7 See, for example, Roger A. Ladd’s Antimercantilism in Late Medieval English Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Craig E. Bertolet’s Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve and the Commercial Practices of Late Fourteenth-Century London (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2013); Jonathan Hsy’s Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2013); Michael Murrin’s Trade and Romance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); Walter Wadiak’s Savage Economy: The Returns of Middle English Romance (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017); Robert Epstein’s Chaucer’s Gifts: Exchange and Value in the Canterbury Tales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2018); and the recent collection of essays Money, Commerce, and Economics in Medieval English Literature, ed. Craig E. Bertolet and Robert Epstein (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).
1 INTRODUCTION: ANXIOUS INTERESTS
Although gender is at the center of this study, this book does not center on the economic lives of medieval women. In recent years, both historians and literary scholars have done excellent work to excavate the economic lives of English medieval women, adding complexity and richness to our understanding of the history of economy, a history that often is read and analyzed through the experiences of men of privilege.8 The contribution of this study is to consider how the very notion of economy and value is gendered, how that gendering is tied to a particular economic history, how this conceptualization of economy and value impacts how women are viewed and treated, and how this conceptualization still lingers in our understanding of value and economy today. This focus exposes how gender serves as a malleable intellectual
8 The scholarship on women and economy is extensive, and what follows is not meant to be a comprehensive list of sources, but rather some studies that I have found particularly useful in shaping my understanding of English women’s economic experiences. Those studies include Lindsey Charles and Lorna Duffin, eds., Women and Work in Preindustrial England (London: Croom Helm, 1985); Barbara Hanawalt, ed., Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Martha C. Howell, Women, Production, and Patriarchy in Late Medieval Cities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); and The Marriage Exchange: Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300–1550 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); J. P. Goldberg, Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire, c. 1300–1520 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992); Marjorie Keniston McIntosh, Working Women in English Society, 1300–1620 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Barbara Hanawalt, The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law and Economy in Late Medieval London (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); the essays collected in Women and Wealth in Late Medieval Europe, ed. Theresa Earenfight (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Sally Livingston, Marriage, Property, and Women’s Narratives (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); the influential work of Judith Bennett on women’s labor, especially Chapter 5 of History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); and, co-authored with Maryanne Kowaleski, “Crafts, Gilds, and Women in the Middle Ages: Fifty Years After Marian K. Dale,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14, no. 2 (1989): 474–501. See also several of the essays in Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras’s The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), including Kathryn Reyerson’s “Urban Economies” (295–310); Jane Whittle’s “Rural Economies” (311–26); and Joanna Drell’s “Aristocratic Economies” (327–42). Particularly illuminating is Martha Howell’s “Gender in the Transition to Merchant Capitalism” (561–76), which argues that the transformation of gender roles helps to rehabilitate commerce in the late Middle Ages, specifically by assigning production (money making) to men and consumption (spending money) to women.
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category that organizes not only the body, but also other social and cultural systems. The reader is likely to notice, too, that I do not extensively treat texts written by women. In addition, although I briefly discuss William Langland’s portrayal of Lady Meed in Piers Plowman, I do not extensively treat other female characters who might seem obvious vehicles for exploring the links between gender and economy, such as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. My aim is to excavate the gendered economy in texts where its presence may seem less pronounced—or even where it seems that the text is taking a decidedly noneconomic, disinterested stance. The texts that I have selected allow me to make two overarching points that are central to this volume: (1) Gender ideology plays a foundational role in the medieval construction of money, and (2) gender ideology plays a foundational role in the medieval construction of value, particularly in areas that post-Enlightenment epistemology would have us believe are free from the taint of economy, such as friendship, love, and poetry. Exploring the gender of money not only enriches our understanding of medieval ideas of economy, but also invites us to reevaluate some of the structural assumptions of political economy, especially in relationship to literature. In recent years, new economic critics have explored the isomorphic connections between money and language, as well as the effects of political economy on particular authors and on the production, circulation, and transmission of writing during particular historical moments. While the work of a number of medievalists has made clear that these issues are germane to premodern literature, the vast majority of new economic criticism has focused on literature written during or after the eighteenth century. Nor has gender played a prominent role in these studies.9 I see these two critical lacunae as linked, a linkage that stems from the invention of political economy itself. Like the Middle Ages, the eighteenth century was a time of rapid social and economic change, and new financial instruments and banking practices catalyzed questions about the nature of money and fueled fantasies and anxieties about its 9 On the absence of attention to gender in new economic criticism, see The New Economic Criticism: Studies at the Interface of Literature and Economics, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen (New York: Routledge, 1999), 4. In this collection of fourteen essays, only one essay focuses on a pre-Enlightenment author (Michel de Montaigne), and none of the essays treat the Middle Ages.
1 INTRODUCTION: ANXIOUS INTERESTS
transformative possibilities. Political economy was invented during this period in large part to answer these emerging questions about money and value. What’s more, political economy becomes the only place to address these questions. That is because the Enlightenment had a penchant for separating knowledge into distinct discursive categories.10 Granted, this separation is not fully actualized in the eighteenth century. As James Thompson notes, alongside questions about the nature of money and value emerged parallel questions about what gave a woman value on the marriage market. Was a woman’s value located in some intrinsic property she possessed or in the property she brought into marriage? These questions of value—economic and romantic—are not unrelated to one another. However, by separating into distinct realms the analysis of money and economy and the analysis of women and marriage, these questions appeared unrelated: “across this period, with all of its monetary experiments and innovations in banking, credit, and paper currency, political economists were gradually forced to acknowledge that, in effect, silver was not always silver, but novelists came to insist that love was always love, because value as such originated in the home and companionate marriage.”11 The consequence, as Pierre Bourdieu famously observes, is to render “other forms of exchange as noneconomic, and therefore disinterested.”12 The situation is decidedly different in the Middle Ages, where there exists a promiscuous commingling of realms that the Enlightenment will later divorce. To take one small example, it is why in a poem like the C-text of Piers Plowman, Holy Church can move so seamlessly from complaining about false speech to monetary malpractice to lechery in a mere sixteen lines.13 This epistemological difference is illuminating when it comes to our understanding of value, particularly in 10 James Thompson, Models of Value: Eighteenth-Century Political Economy and the Novel (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 15–22. 11 Thompson, Models of Value, 22. 12 Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. John E. Richardson, trans. Richard Nice (New York: Greenwood, 1986), 242. 13 William Langland, Piers Plowman: The C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1994), 2.80–96. For a discussion of this moment in Piers Plowman and what it suggests about the synergies among money, language, and sexuality, see Diane Cady, “Symbolic Economies,” in Middle English: Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 124–41, at 135–6.
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realms that are often treated as noneconomic and supposedly governed by selflessness. That “disinterest,” I would argue, is more a product of Enlightenment modes of reading than of the medieval texts themselves. Indeed, as we will see throughout this study, these realms appear to be generous only when we ignore how gender ideology informs who and what is being exchanged as well as how disparate ideas of value (economic, social, literary) are informed by ideologies of gender and sexuality. This study explores gender ideology’s prominence in the way value is configured across cultural categories as it also lays bare what is obscured when we leave that ideology and its effects unexamined. For example, just as wealth is tied to ideals of masculinity and indigence to emasculation, investments in and anxieties regarding the terms of such identity undergird many medieval texts. These investments may account for why a woman’s body, vulnerable and often violated, lies at the center of so many discussions of value and economy, both in the Middle Ages and today. Gender ideology’s presence in discussions of money and value is a palimpsest that can be read by a certain light: what the Enlightenment occludes, the Middle Ages make manifest. Reading the gender of economy in the Middle Ages helps us understand the shadowy prehistory of money. In addition, it exposes the gendered nature of analogical logic, its moves, and its frailties. As Jean-Joseph Goux has argued, analogical logic is “a style of thinking” that informs all of Western metaphysics, and gender plays a largely unrecognized role in that style. General equivalents in all realms—monetary, sexual, gendered, epistemological—tend to be inscribed as masculine. Those that are deemed secondary are feminine.14 This book examines how analogical logic works, and how it attempts to shore up naturalistic claims while simultaneously, like all ideology, folding in on itself. An exploration of the gender of money exposes the vulnerability of the sign and challenges its hegemony. This “style of thinking” saturates the medieval cultural imaginary and is reflected in a variety of texts from a wide range of countries. However, I have chosen to focus on a particular country (England) and a particular time span (roughly 1360–1450) in order to underscore 14 See Jean-Joseph Goux, Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud, trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), especially Goux’s chapter on “Sexual Difference and History,” 213–44. I will take up the implications of Goux’s claims on our understanding of medieval discussions of economy in Chapter 2.
1 INTRODUCTION: ANXIOUS INTERESTS
the pervasiveness with which the gender of money and value seeps into medieval literature, particularly in texts that don’t, on the surface, seem to be about these subjects. Given the polyglottal and intertextual nature of late Middle English literature, it will be impossible, of course, not to bring into the analysis a wide range of non-English works, including texts in Latin, French, and Italian. Some of the texts this study discusses are quite canonical, such as Gower’s Confessio Amantis and Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, while others are less familiar, such as the anonymous Squire of Low Degree and John Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum. My treatment of these works is not chronological, but rather thematic. I use each work as a springboard for exploring some aspect of medieval economy and its intersections with gender ideology. As we will see in the pages that follow, many of these themes and ideas intersect in complex and contradictory ways in late medieval culture. Chapter 2 sets out the larger theoretical framework for the book and the analogical logic that informs it. Drawing on a range of literary, philosophical, and theological texts, I outline the ways in which women and money are imagined to share a similarly unstable character and a propensity for movement. This character is deemed essential to their natures and fundamental to their roles in reproductive and fiscal economies. While that character informs many of the fantasies surrounding women and money, it also animates many of the anxieties circulating in these texts and catalyzes calls to regulate their circulation. These anxieties are exacerbated by the links made in late medieval culture between wealth and masculinity and poverty and emasculation. Often these cultural investments play out on women’s bodies in Middle English literature in disturbing ways. In Chapter 3, I explore some of the complex and contradictory ways in which the gendered ideas of economy I outline in Chapter 2 manifest in Middle English literature through a reading of a single work, the anonymous The Squire of Low Degree. On the surface, this romance presents an extreme fantasy of social mobility through money and wealth, a fantasy articulated through sexual access to a woman. However, in this rags-to-riches romance, we see the limits of money’s ability to translate into social success and sexual freedom. The Squire of Low Degree is framed by a necropolitics that affirms, rather than questions, the importance of patriarchal structures and calls into question money’s potentially transformative effects, while simultaneously reminding the reader that women are an asset that needs to be tightly controlled.
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Starting with Chapter 4, I turn to how gendered ideas of economy impact medieval notions of value, particularly in realms that are often treated as disinterested, such as friendship, love, and poetry. In this chapter, I explore the gendered economy of friendship through John Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum, a text that is often read as antithetical to the values of profit and economy. Although framed by a narrative of generosity, the text expresses an unease at the easy friendship between two merchants and the fiscal, gendered and sexual threats that friendship may pose. In the end, the text underscores the importance of property and wealth for masculine identity and the dangers—monetary and sexual—of being too generous. Book 5 of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis is also read by many scholars as a work that articulates the incompatibility of love and economics. However, in Chapter 5, I argue that fiscal and sexual economies are intimately tied in this most unwieldy book of the Confessio. Book 5 focuses on the sin of avarice, and in the beginning of the book, Genius lauds the practice of holding property in “comun,” rather than through individual ownership. However, when the text imports this preference for public vs. private ownership into the erotic arena, the prospect of sharing one’s lover creates a crisis in masculinity for Amans, a crisis in which sexual and financial dearth overlap and reinforce one another. Gower resolves this crisis not by interrogating the tensions and contradictions inherent in fiscal and erotic economies, but rather by turning Amans’s reluctant lover into a usurer who refuses, selfishly, to share her private property with him. In the end, book 5 insists that women must share their most personal property, but do so in a way that gives one man sole property rights to it. Critics tend to impugn Chaucer’s Man of Law for possessing an economic attitude toward stories and storytelling. Chapter 6 argues that the Man of Law’s view is not a product of poor storytelling or Chaucer’s satirical pen, but rather one shared by a wide range of medieval writers and rhetoricians who present stories as commodities to be merchandized through rhetoric. This economy of storytelling is tied to gender in two key ways. One, stories are depicted not only as commodities, but also as feminine corpora, and their advertising through rhetoric is often framed in sexual terms that take a disturbingly violent turn. Two, those writers who lack poetic property are described not only as poor, but also as emasculated. This chapter examines how gender ideology undergirds
1 INTRODUCTION: ANXIOUS INTERESTS
medieval economies of storytelling and the way in which that ideology is framed by sexual violence and nationalism. When I began this project, the economy was in a much different place than it is today, as I write this introduction. Indeed, those “economic girlie men” Schwarzenegger derided now seem prescient in their concerns about the fiscal health of the economy. In the coda at the end of this book, I reflect on how ideas about the gender of money and value continue to pervade the cultural imaginary, most recently in the United States presidential election of 2016, and the battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. As we will see, the fantasies and fears about money, value and gender that this study investigates, are as germane today as they were in the medieval past.
In this chapter, I sketch with broad strokes some of the ways in which gender ideology informs ideas about money, wealth, and value in the late Middle Ages. My intention here is not to provide a comprehensive picture of all the possibilities, but rather to present a blueprint of two main concepts that will be explored in much greater detail in subsequent chapters from a number of different angles. The first is the idea that money and women have a similar nature, one that is marked by instability and movement. While this nature supposedly makes both money and women impressionable in ways that serve commercial and heterosexual economies, the belief also animates many of the anxieties expressed about each. The second is the link between erotic and fiscal possession in the medieval cultural imaginary and the importance of both for the construction of male identity. In medieval literature, these two types of possession are often joined in fantasies about sudden wealth, where the protagonist (almost always male) gains a great deal of wealth at the same time as he gains the sexual possession of a beautiful woman. This move gives the impression that the acquisition of money is primarily a male, heterosexual enterprise. The isomorphic links between money and gender in late medieval culture not only provide a means of understanding the transformative effects of money at a pivotal time in late medieval history, but also help to affirm certain ideas about gender and gender difference circulating during this period. Put another way, the use of gender ideology as a way to frame theories of money and value becomes another way to © The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_2
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“prove” the veracity of ideas about gender and gender difference. This fact may account for why the language of economy and value so frequently appears in discussions of gender and gender difference and why seemingly gender-neutral discussions of money and value often have a lot to tell us about medieval ideas about gender. Exploring the interdependencies between gender and money in late medieval England provides insight into both realms and into the inner workings of analogical logic more broadly. Using supposed “truths” in one realm (such as gender) to buttress claims about another realm (such as economy) makes legible certain ideas about the latter, but simultaneously provides additional “evidence” of the truthfulness of the claims about the former. At the same time, often unwittingly, such moves expose the fragility of analogical logic more broadly. Medieval constructions of women and femininity are deeply informed by classical theories of procreation. These theories not only shape the construction of gender and gender difference in the Middle Ages, but also provide a framework for understanding money and its nature.1 In De Generatione Animalium, Aristotle describes the different roles that women and men supposedly play in reproduction. He argues that women provide the shapeless, chaotic matter that men organize into form: “The female always provides the material, the male provides that which fashions the material into shape; this, in our view, is the specific characteristic of each of the sexes: that is what it means to be male or female.”2 A similar view appears in the Anatomy of the Living, a text ascribed to Galen and frequently quoted in the Middle Ages: “One can compare the relation which exists between the instrument of reproduction in the man and the instrument of reproduction in the woman to the relation which exists between the seal which leaves its imprint and the impression.”3 In these theories, the key to gender difference is in the
1 The discussion of gender ideology and money that follows draws from my essays “The Gender of Money,” Genders 44 (fall 2006), https://www.colorado.edu/gendersarchive1998-2013/2006/12/01/gender-money, and “Symbolic Economies,” in Middle English: Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 124–41. 2 Aristotle, Generation of Animals, trans. Arthur Leslie Peck (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942), 185. 3 Qtd. in Danielle Jacquart and Claude Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages, trans. Matthew Adamson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 37.
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different roles that men and women play in procreation: It is “what it means to be male or female,” as Aristotle puts it. Stated another way, women are characterized by formlessness and chaos, meant to passively take an impression, whereas men are marked by stability and order, meant to actively make their imprint on feminine matter. These classical ideas about reproduction and gender difference are omnipresent in medieval misogynistic discourse. For a number of medieval writers and thinkers, it is the instability of women that makes them inferior to men, an inferiority that is not only physical, but also moral. As Albertus Magnus puts it in Questiones de Animalibus: Woman’s complexion is more humid than man’s. [The nature] of the humid receives an impression easily but retains it poorly. The humid is readily mobile, and thus women are unconstant and always seeking something new. Hence when she is engaged in the act under one man, if it were possible she would like at the same time to be under another.4
Guido delle Colonne makes a similar observation in History of the Destruction of Troy. He notes that young, unmarried women are constantly seeking a husband, “just as matter seeks form.” However, once they find a husband, they are unlikely to remain loyal to him: Oh, would that matter, passing once into form, could be said to be content with the form it has received. But just as it is known that matter proceeds from form to form, so the dissolute desire of women proceeds from man to man.5
And Andreas Capellanus suggests something similar in The Art of Courtly Love: “[W]oman is like melting wax, always ready to assume fresh shape and to be moulded to the imprint of anyone else’s seal.”6 We see these ideas of impressionability and mobility, and the anxieties and fantasies they animate, in a text like Geoffrey Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale. The narrator of the Merchant’s Tale states twice that the 4 Qtd. in Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 185. 5 Guido delle Colonne, Historia Destructionis Troiae, trans. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1974), 15. 6 Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, trans. John Jay Parry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 204.
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old husband, Januarie, has a “fantasye” about the perfect wife, a young one since, so he believes, “a yong thyng may men gye, / Right as men may warm wax with handes plye.”7 However, as often noted in misogynistic discourse, it is precisely this pliability that makes it unlikely a husband can make a lasting impression upon a wife. Inevitably, she will seek another man’s impression. That is exactly what happens when May turns her attentions toward Damyan, an event Chaucer describes in language reminiscent of the complaints made by Andreas Capellanus and Guido delle Colonne: “this fresshe May / hath take swich impression that day / Of pitee of this sike Damyan / That from hire herte she ne dryve kan / The remembrance for to doon hym ese” [my emphasis] (4.1977– 9). May’s supposed pliability fuels Januarie’s fantasies, but it is precisely the quality that guarantees his impression will not last. As we will see throughout this study, the “fantasye” turned nightmare in the Merchant’s Tale parallels medieval fantasies and anxieties about money. Indeed, from the language of imprinting and molding in the quotations above, a modern reader might think that these writers are describing the making of money, rather than the nature of women. This interchangeable language points to the similar ways in which money and women are imagined in the Middle Ages, as essentially marked by instability, impressionability, and mobility. In terms of money, there are two main theories circulating in the Middle Ages: the metallist theory of money and the conventional theory.8 The metallist theory contends that money, like other commodities, has material properties and therefore is not merely an abstraction. The conventional theory of money observes that money is a commodity, but one with a unique status. As Aristotle notes in the Politics, most commodities have what he calls a “double use”: a use for which a commodity is intended (what Aristotle calls a “natural” use and Marx “use value”) and a use as an item of barter. Aristotle offers a pair of shoes as an example: One can wear a pair of shoes (their “natural” use), or
7 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 4.5177, 4.1610; 4.4129–30. All quotations from Chaucer are from this edition and cited parenthetically. 8 Although Geoffrey Ingham’s focus is on neoclassical economics, he usefully describes these two theories in “Money Is a Social Relation,” Review of Social Economy 54, no. 4 (1996): 507–29.
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one could trade them for another commodity. Money, however, does not have this “double use.” Its sole function is to facilitate trade. While money can be used to purchase necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing, it is not itself a necessity. Thus, Midas’s dilemma: Although he literally has at hand the power to make gold, he cannot eat. For this reason, money is a kind of “nonsense,” a convention created to facilitate exchange, but a commodity without a “natural” use.9 In the Middle Ages, it is the conventional theory that is the most influential, especially among the scholastics. In the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas identifies two types of value, use-value and labor. Like Aristotle, Aquinas sees commodities like food, shelter, and clothing as forms of “natural” wealth that contain use-value because they fulfill basic human needs. One can add value to natural forms of wealth through labor: Fields can be plowed, animals can be bred, etc. Money, on the other hand, is a secondary and “artificial” form of wealth, and there is no way to naturally add to its value through labor. For Aristotle, usury is an unnatural form of production because it is making money from an artificial form of wealth. This claim will also inform the Church’s prohibition against usury.10 Money’s role as a facilitator of exchange means that its value derives not from its materiality, but rather from the imprimatur of a king or a nation. The process by which that happens is not dissimilar to procreation as described by Aristotle in De Generatione Animalium. Just as the father shapes the chaotic feminine matter and gives it form, a ruler or a nation—the symbolic Father—takes matter (precious metal, paper, or some other material) and shapes it into money through a royal signature or mark.11 The importance of such a mark for money’s meaning is 9 Aristotle, Politics, trans. Trevor J. Saunders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 1257a–b. 10 See Odd Langholm, Economics in the Medieval Schools (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), esp. 221–39. On the influence of Aristotle on scholastic views on money, see also Odd Langholm, Price and Value in the Aristotelian Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979). For a fuller discussion of usury and the importance of labor in “naturally” adding value in both monetary and erotic economies, see Chapter 5. 11 Nor does the link between procreation and the minting of money move solely in one direction. One finds in medieval culture a cross-pollination between the language of coining and the language of reproduction. For example, in Alan of Lille’s The Plaint of Nature, Nature describes her role in reproduction in language reminiscent of the striking of coins: “God appointed me as his substitute, his viceregent, the mistress of his mint, to put the stamp on the different classes of things so that I should mould the images of
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suggested in the poem “The Coin and the Sheep,” in which the titular characters debate who has more value. As a commodity with “natural” value, the sheep is convinced of its superiority and dismisses the value of the coin, observing, “If you lose your cross, you lose your value / Then you would not be taken for anything.”12 On the one hand, money’s malleability is an asset. It is a quality that allows money to be made from a number of possible materials since it is the royal imprint and not its materiality that gives money its meaning and value. In addition, the fact that money is always on the move actuates a number of fantasies about money during this period. Much like a lottery ticket, money’s mobility means that it could, theoretically, land in the lap of practically anyone. This is an idea that pervades many of the “rags-to-riches” Middle English romances, like the Squire of Low Degree, which I will discuss in the next chapter. As the opening lines of “The Cross on the Coin” (“De Cruce Denarii”) put it, the little star on the English sterling penny could “make a king of a serf and a serf of a king.”13 However, much like the misogynistic angst surrounding
things, each on its own anvil … striking various coins of things according to the mould of the exemplar and producing copies of my original by fashioning like out of like, gave to my imprints the appearance of the things imaged. He appointed [me] as a sort of deputy, a coiner for stamping the order of things.” See Alan of Lille, The Plaint of Nature, trans. James J. Sheridan (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980), Prose 4, 146. This image is repeated in Jean de Meun’s portion of The Romance of the Rose: Compassionate Nature, seeing that Jealous Death and Corruption are together destroying everything they can find, is continually in her forge, hammering and forging and renewing individuals through new generations. When she has no other solution, she stamps them out bearing the impress of particular letters, for she gives them true forms in coins of different currencies.
See Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, trans. Frances Horgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), l.15975–83, 247. 12 For a copy of the poem, see Achille Jubinal, Nouveau Recueil de Contes, Dits et Fabliaux (Paris: Eduard Pannier, 1839), 2.264. The translation is from Andrew Cowell, “The Fall of the Oral Economy: Writing Economics on the Dead Body,” Exemplaria 8, no. 1 (1996): 145–67, at 154. The coin will go on to argue that it does have inherent value in terms reflective of the metallist theory of money. 13 “Crux est denarii potens in saeculo; / regem et principem facit de servulo; / mendicum servulum facit de regulo” (MS. Reg. 8 B. VI fol.16., 1.1–3), cited in Thomas Wright, ed., The Latin Poems Commonly Attributed to Walter Mapes (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968), 223.
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women in the Middle Ages, the quality that is deemed essential to money (in both the sense of necessary and natural) is the same quality that generates anxieties about it during this period. As Augustine puts it in Enarratio in Psalmos, “What is so uncertain as something that rolls away? It is appropriate that money is round because it never stays in one place.”14 In the medieval cultural imaginary, money is not only imagined to be like a woman, but is also often portrayed as a woman. This portrayal generally takes two forms, both of which merge fiscal and erotic desires and fears. In the first, money is an unfaithful and capricious woman who bestows her gifts indiscriminately on men or withholds them arbitrarily. In the second, money is a generous and seductive woman. William Langland’s personification of Meed in Piers Plowman provides a useful example of the first and Thomas Chestre’s portrayal of Tryamour in Sir Launfal of the second. As John Yunck observed long ago, Lady Meed in Piers Plowman is one of the richest depictions of the power of money in late medieval English literature.15 One of the difficulties in analyzing Meed, both as a concept and as a character, is that the meaning of the term meed, or reward, is far from stable in the poem. Langland is not philosophically opposed to money: He understands its social uses and the need
14 Qtd. in Diana Wood, Medieval Economic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 88. 15 John A. Yunck, The Lineage of Lady Meed: The Development of Mediaeval Venality Satire (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963), 10. While most scholars recognize Meed as an embodiment of money and its potential for corruption, she has also been linked to other persons, figures, and concepts. For example, Bernard F. Huppé and Stephanie Trigg both read Lady Meed as a personification of Alice Perrers, Edward III’s mistress. See Huppé, “The A-Text of Piers Plowman and the Norman Wars,” PMLA 54 (1939): 37–64; and Trigg, “The Traffic in Medieval Women: Alice Perrers, Feminist Criticism, and Piers Plowman,” Yearbook of Langland Studies 12 (1998): 5–29. Anna P. Baldwin argues for Meed as a representation of corrupt, male lords in The Theme of Government in Piers Plowman (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987), 24–31. C. David Benson views her as a Christ-like figure in “The Function of Lady Meed in Piers Plowman,” English Studies 61, no. 3 (1980), pp. 193–205. In my essay “Symbolic Economies,” I argue that Lady Meed symbolizes notions of excess and impropriety more broadly—traversing the linguistic, economic, and sexual realms—and embodies larger anxieties about signification circulating in the late Middle Ages (135–40).
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for wages, although he is critical of workers who withhold their labor in an effort to gain more wages during a time of severe labor shortages.16 Langland objects to unjust reward and the sinful and illegal behavior people engage in for profit. As in much venality satire, his ire is directed primarily at money’s corruption of civic, social, and religious institutions: bribes of government officials and clergy, the paying of witnesses, graft, and simony, to name a few examples. However, he also objects to the “bakers and brewers, butchers and cooks” who profit from selling inferior foodstuffs since “thyse men don most harm to the mene people.”17 The poem makes some attempt to differentiate good reward from bad by labeling the former “mercede” and the latter “mede” (3.332–9). However, that distinction does not always hold. For example, no less authoritative of a figure than Theology says that St. Lawrence “Lokede vp to oure lord and alowed sayde / ‘God of thy grace heuene gates opene / For y, man, of thy mercy mede have diserued’” (2.131–4).18 We see a similar ambivalence in Langland’s portrayal of Lady Meed. On the one hand, all three versions of the poem call her a muliere, a legitimate woman, born in wedlock and, in the C-text, the daughter of Amends.19 It is perhaps for this reason that Theology believes God’s plan was for her to marry Truth, a union that would likely produce positive 16 For a discussion of the politics of labor in the wake of the plague, see David Aers, “Justice and Wage-Labor after the Black Death: Some Perplexities for William Langland,” in The Work of Work: Servitude, Slavery, and Labor in Medieval England, ed. Allen J. Frantzen and Douglas Moffat (Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 1994), 169–90. More recently, Robert Epstein has analyzed Piers’s summoning of Hunger alongside Karl Polanyi’s critiques of the free market, arguing that Piers is more of an advocate of the free market than the landowners who support the labor statutes. See Robert Epstein, “Summoning Hunger: Polanyi, Piers Plowman, and the Labor Market,” in Money, Commerce, and Economics in Late Medieval English Literature, ed. Craig E. Bertolet and Robert Epstein (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 59–76. 17 William Langland, Piers Plowman: The C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1994), (3.80–1). All quotations are from this edition and will be cited parenthetically. 18 For a useful discussion of Langland’s terms for reward and the difficulties in differentiating them, see Robert Adams, “Mede and Mercede: The Evolution of the Economics of Grace in the Piers Plowman B and C Versions,” in Medieval English Studies Presented to George Kane, ed. Edward Donald Kennedy, Ronald Waldron, and Joseph S. Wittig (Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1988), 217–32. 19 Michael Calabrese, An Introduction to Piers Plowman (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016), 49.
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uses of money, rather than the negative ones likely to follow if False becomes her husband.20 Yet, Lady Meed’s lineage has a less savory side. In the C-text, False is her father, and Fickle Tongue is her grandfather. In addition, Lady Meed is a “mayde,” which could signal she is a virgin or simply a young, unmarried woman.21 Given the fetishization of virginity in the late Middle Ages, describing Lady Meed as a maid may seem a compliment. However, as Colette Murphy observes, the label also tells the reader that, unlike Holy Church, whose lover is Leautee, Meed is unattached to a man.22 Meed’s lack of attachment is in keeping with the nature of money. As discussed above, money needs to be able to move, and in Langland’s poem, we see it roll from the palace to the manor, from the chancery to the legal bench, from the confessional to the Pope’s palace. Langland’s characterization of money not just as a woman, but specifically as a maid, also recalls the comments of Guido delle Colonne, who states that young women are always seeking a husband, like matter seeks form. Indeed, whether Lady Meed is actively seeking them out or not, she is surrounded by men—male embodiments of vice, such as Civil, Simony, False-Wytnesse, False, and Favel. While much of the angst about money is projected onto Lady Meed’s female body, their presence is a reminder that although money is often portrayed as an active and potentially damaging agent in society, it is a passive object in the world of the poem that is passed between men. Given the links between mobility and money, and the supposedly similar natures of money and women, it should come as no surprise that there is a whiff of sexual impropriety swirling around Lady Meed. One of Holy Church’s complaints is that Lady Meed is as “pryve” at the Pope’s palace as she is herself (2.23). Pryve has the sense of secrecy and privileged access (something that simony and bribery would certainly afford) but also the
20 The marriage to False never happens—nor does any marriage take place, a point I will return to later in this chapter. 21 See Middle English Dictionary, ed. Hans Kurath and Sherman McAllister Kuhn (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1952), s.v. mayde (definitions 2a and 1a, respectively). 22 Colette Murphy, “Lady Holy Church and Meed the Maid: Re-envisioning Female Personifications in Piers Plowman,” in Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect, ed. Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson (London: Routledge, 1994), 140–64, at 163.
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sense of sexual availability. The innuendos continue in passus 3 when the king instructs a clerk to “maken here at ese” (3.4). She is taken into a private room (a “bourne”) where she meets her beadsman—her “bedman,” as the poem puts it (3.10–44). Here, the poem hints at the sexually improper relationship confessors were often accused of having with their female penitents. Perhaps most condemning is Conscience’s pithy description of Lady Meed: “For she is tikel of here tayl, talewys of tonge, / As comyn as þe cartway to knaues and to alle, / To monekes, to alle men, зe, musels in hegge; / Lyggeth by here when hem lust lered and lewed” (3.166–9). Lady Meed is a slut and a talker. These qualities are linked in very particular, gendered ways in medieval and premodern culture, in which a woman’s open mouth serves as a synecdoche for a woman’s sexually open body and her supposedly greedy nature. The Wife of Bath, for example, famously possesses both a “likerous” tongue and tail and is the figure in the Canterbury Tales who declares that “al is for to selle” (3.D.414). Langland can use this hackneyed stereotype as convenient shorthand for depicting all the excesses of the profit economy. Thus, Lady Meed’s gender, her status as one of the impressionable, debased sex, plays a crucial role in Langland’s presentation of money’s role in society. Langland’s depiction of Lady Meed serves as a useful example of the isomorphic links between money and women. It also performs a kind of double duty: It offers a warning about the dangers and excesses of money while simultaneously cautioning about the dangers and excesses of women, both of which pose a threat to masculine identity and integrity. When the dream narrator first sees Lady Meed, he is “ravysshed” and immediately asks Holy Church her identity and who her husband might be (2.17). The narrator never asks Holy Church about her marital status, and she speaks some sixty lines before he even asks who she is. In asking about Lady Meed’s husband, the narrator is trying to place her in a sexually sanctioned relationship where she is controlled by a man in an effort to contain her prodigious sexuality and his “ravished” response.23 23 Clare. A. Lees, “Gender and Exchange in Piers Plowman,” in Class and Gender in Early English Literature, ed. Britton J. Harwood and Gillian R. Overing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 112–30, at 123. Later in passus 3, the king attempts to address Lady Meed’s unattached status. He suggests she marry Conscience (who vehemently objects), but if she refuses, he promises to enclose her in a religious house as an example so “That alle wantowen women shal be war be þe one / And bitterliche banne the and alle þat bereth thy name” (3.142–3). Meed serves as a warning to all “wanton” women, who might, like the Wife of Bath, choose to “wander by the weye” (1.A.467), as
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Certainly, one meaning of ravished is to be delighted and entranced,24 and Lady Meed’s beauty and rich array would have a powerful, erotic effect. However, it can also mean to be seized, with the particular sense of seizing not just material goods, but bodily ones as well in the form of sexual violence. The dream narrator’s experience of ravishment hints at something that we will see throughout this study: In the medieval cultural imaginary, money and women—and specifically the lack of them— have the potential to threaten masculine identity and the integrity of the social and physical masculine body. If Lady Meed in Piers Plowman illustrates some of the medieval anxieties surrounding money, Tryamour in Sir Launfal depicts some of the fantasies. There are three extant versions of the story of Launfal: Marie de France’s Anglo-Norman Lanval, the oldest and best-known rendition; the anonymous, fourteenth-century Sir Landevale, which serves as an intermediary text; and Thomas Chestre’s Sir Launfal, which is preserved in a single, early fifteenth-century manuscript, but likely dates to the late fourteenth century.25 In each, the basic plot is the same: Finding himself in desperate poverty, Launfal goes on a ride in the country, where he encounters a mysterious and beautiful woman. She proclaims her love for him and offers him both her body and great wealth. The only caveat is that he must keep their relationship a secret.26 Returning to the court, he discovers that her mandate is not so easy to keep, with disastrous consequences for his finances and possibly his life. Guinevere makes sexual advances toward Launfal, which he rejects, telling her that he has a lover whose lowliest maid is more beautiful than she is. Immediately, he loses both the lady and the money. In the meantime, rebuffed, Guinevere accuses Launfal of rape. King Arthur is enraged,
well as a reminder to the reader that women, like money, are likely to wander if they are not controlled by society. 24 See MED, s.v. ravishen (definition 4a and 2b), respectively. 25 On these different versions as well as possible sources, including those from Celtic lore, see Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury, “Sir Launfal: Introduction,” in The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995), https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/laskaya-and-salisbury-middle-english-breton-lays-sir-launfal-introduction (accessed January 18, 2019). 26 The commandment to keep their love a secret is a common trope in the Offended Fée genre. See Tom Peete Cross, “The Celtic Elements in the Lays of ‘Lanval’ and ‘Graelent,’” Modern Philology 12, no. 10 (April 1915): 585–644.
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although not, primarily, because of the accusation of sexual assault: Rather, it is Launfal’s claim that he has a more beautiful lover than Arthur’s that the king finds truly insulting. Launfal is saved only when his lover returns in an elaborate procession that proves to the entire court her superior beauty, as well as her great wealth. All three versions present a rags-to-riches story that illustrates the transformative power of money, although as D. Vance Smith observes, Chestre puts particular emphasis on the economic context of the story.27 Once again, that economic context is framed by gender. We see this framing in the initial encounter between Tryamour and Launfal. In both Lanval and Landevale, Tryamour vaguely promises the knight great wealth and honor. In Sir Launfal, the knight is given a specific object, “an alner / Ymad of sylk and of gold cler, / Wyth fayre ymages thre. / As oft thou puttest the hond thereinne, / A mark of gold thou schalt wynne / In wat place that thou be.”28 While the addition of the purse seems a minor alteration, it has a number of interesting ramifications. First, as a physical object, the purse embodies the concrete materiality of money in a way that an abstract promise of wealth does not. Second, it changes the dynamics of the agreement between the knight and his lover. In the two earlier versions of the story, Launfal’s unnamed lover promises to provide him with whatever wealth he needs; he just needs to ask. In Chestre’s version, the knight does not need to make a request to obtain money; rather, whenever he desires cash, he simply puts his hand in the purse. In other words, once Tryamour provides Launfal with the purse, how he uses it is entirely up to him. This direct access and control over money suggests a certain kind of fantasy about money, a means of obtaining, theoretically, whatever a person may want or need at the moment without the approval or permission of others—in this case, a female intermediary. However, that fantasy may also have a shadow side. Much like Midas, Launfal has the power to generate money literally at hand. Thus, another way of reading the purse is that it provides a kind of enclosed economy of one, where Launfal can “make” money without exchange or labor (if 27 D. Vance Smith, Arts of Possession: The Middle English Household Imaginary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 159. 28 Thomas Chestre, Sir Launfal, ed. A. J. Bliss (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1960), l.319–24. All quotations from Sir Launfal are from this edition and will be cited parenthetically.
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one excludes his sexual “labor” with Tryamour, that is). As noted above, the absence of exchange or labor is part of what made usury so problematic for Aristotle and for many medieval writers and thinkers: It is supposedly a form of unnatural reproduction, making something from nothing. As I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 5, the supposed “unnaturalness” of usury is linked to the supposed “unnaturalness” of same-sex desire in the Middle Ages, both serving as “unnatural” forms of reproduction. Thinking about this linkage gives us another way to read the accusations Guinevere makes against Launfal and his sexual proclivities. It may seem that Guinevere accuses Launfal of same-sex desire because he spurns her advances: She may find it unbelievable that a man could be disinterested in her or may assume that any man who is must not be interested in women. Or angry, she makes the accusation as a way to shame him into a relationship. However, it may also be a reaction to his sudden and inexplicable wealth, especially for someone with a reputation for spending his money so “savagely,” as the poem puts it. One interpretation is that only someone who engages in illicit economic activities, like usury, could find themselves, suddenly, with so much money. The fact that Launfal is so willing to expose publicly his relationship with Tryamour (knowing full well the financial and sexual consequences if he does) may point to his own unease about the ways in which those around him interpret his newfound wealth and what it might imply about his sexuality and his masculine identity. The purse not only brings to light certain economic fantasies and concerns that are less obvious in the two earlier versions of the poem, but also further solidifies the links between sexual and fiscal access in the poem and in the medieval and cultural imaginary more generally. Purse in Middle English, as in Old French, is associated with genitalia, most often the scrotum.29 That association can be connected to the economic as well. Thus, as the Wife of Bath says of her husbands, “Yblessed be God that I have wedded fyve! / Of whiche I have pyked out the beste, / Bothe of here nether purs and of her cheste” (lines 44a–b). That link is not exclusively male, however. A commentary on Isidore of Seville’s On the Secrets of Women notes that the word vulva is said to come from valva because it is the door of the womb, and capable of shutting “like
MED, s.v. purs(e) (definition 4a).
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a purse.”30 And in “The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse,” Chaucer depicts his purse as his “lady dere,” linking its emptiness with sexual disloyalty in terms reminiscent of those described above.31 In Sir Launfal the two aspects of the purse—the fiscal and the sexual—are further connected by the fact that if the knight reveals the existence of Tryamour, not only her bodily “purse” will disappear, but so, too, will the monetary one. Sir Launfal also illustrates another issue that we will see throughout this study: Money is not only feminine, the lack of money is feminizing. This point is underscored by a number of changes that Chestre makes to the story, which emphasize his physical deprivation and his social isolation due to his lack of money. The change perhaps most germane to the conversation at hand is the increased role played by Guinevere in Sir Launfal. In both Lanval and Sir Landevale, it is King Arthur who passes over Launfal during the distribution of land and gifts, an event that catalyzes the knight’s flight from court. In Chestre’s version, it is Guinevere who declines to reward the knight. Stephen Guy-Bray suggests that by increasing Guinevere’s role, Chestre increases the power of women in the story, a power that threatens masculinity and knightly values.32 We might read Guinevere not only as the embodiment of a feminine threat, but also as the embodiment of the threatening side of money, a threat that, as we have seen, is associated with women as well. Guinevere’s inexplicable refusal to give Launfal gifts at the beginning of the story, and her unwanted sexual advances toward the end, replicates the notion that money is fickle, unreliable, and dangerous. In addition, by shifting blame from Arthur to Guinevere for Launfal’s woes, the possible shortcomings of male homosocial bonds in the world of the poem is projected onto women and the money economy. This move, too, is one we will see over and over again in the course of this volume.
30 Kathleen Coyne Kelly, Performing Virginity and Testing Chastity in the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 2000), 24. 31 On the gendered terms of Chaucer’s poem and scholarly anxieties about Chaucer’s financial status at the end of his life, see my essay “‘My Purse and My Person’: ‘The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse’ and the Gender of Money,” in Money, Commerce, and Economics in Late Medieval English Literature, ed. Craig E. Bertolet and Robert Epstein (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 109–26. 32 Stephen Guy-Bray, “Male Trouble: Sir Launfal and the Trials of Masculinity,” English Studies in Canada 34, nos. 2–3 (2008): 31–48.
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As I have suggested thus far in this chapter, the language of gender provides a framework for understanding the nature of money in the late Middle Ages at a time before the existence of political economy, at least as we understand it today. Both women and money are marked by an impressionability and mobility, which fuels fantasies about each, but also causes apprehension. It is not surprising, then, to find that the analogical logic framing discussions of money moves in both directions. That is, not only does the language of gender pervade discussions of money; the language of money and value informs discussions of gender and gender ideology, often with disturbing implications. Chaucer, once again, provides a useful example. In the Reeve’s Tale, Symkyn’s wife is described in decidedly monetary terms: A wyf he hadde, ycomen of noble kyn; The person of the toun hir fader was. With hire he yaf ful many a panne of bras, For that Symkyn sholde in his blood allye She was yfostred in a nonnerye; For Symkyn wolde no wyf, as he sayde, But she were wel ynorrised and a mayde, To saven his estaat of yomanrye. (1A.3942–9)
In order “to saven his estaat of yomanrye,” Symkyn hopes to “allye” his blood with a woman of “noble kyn.” While allye can mean align (in the sense of forming an alliance), it also means to combine or mix ingredients.33 In numismatic terms, an alloy is an inferior metal added to coins to dilute the amount of gold or silver they contain, a common means of debasing currency. Thus, while Symkyn imagines he will increase his social currency by marrying the parson’s daughter and mixing her blood with his, Chaucer’s language suggests the results will be a product of lesser value. A few lines later, Symkyn’s wife is described as “smoterlich” (lA.3963). This is an unusual word in Middle English, and the Reeve’s Tale is the only place in Chaucer’s oeuvre where it appears. Among its meanings is sullied, a link the narrator solidifies when he describes Symkyn’s wife as dignified as water in a ditch (“digne as water
33 See Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. ally (definition 2), http://www.oed.com (accessed January 18, 2019).
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in a diche”). From the beginning, Chaucer’s narrator hints that Symkyn has made a bad investment. The children produced from Symkyn’s marriage further suggest that when you mix the lower classes with the upper classes, you end up with a product that, like a debased coin, has less value. The couple has two children, a daughter, twenty years old, and a six-month-old son. The narrator underscores that there are no other children: They are “withouten any mo” (1A.3970). In that aside resides a subtle hint that Symkyn’s “smoterlich” wife has debased the husband’s value by committing adultery since it would be quite unusual for a couple married for at least twenty years to have only two children with such a wide age gap between them. While the child is described as a “proper page” (1A.3972), the daughter, Malyne, is presented more ambiguously: This wenche thikke and wel ygrowen was, With kamus nose and eyen greye as glas, With buttokes brode and brestes rounde and hyye. But right fair was hire heer; I wol nat lye. (1A.3973–6)
Malyne has some of the physical qualities associated with a courtly lady in a medieval romance, such as gray eyes and high, round breasts. Other characteristics, such as her pug nose and broad buttocks, recall the grotesque body frequently associated with the lower classes. By juxtaposing these qualities in the same lines, Chaucer points to how these supposedly lower- and upper-class physical characteristics do not cancel one another out, but rather produce a “mixed” result. In this way, Malyne, like her mother, is like a debased coin. There may be some precious metal in the form of noble blood and noble qualities, but it is so mixed with the lower qualities that the only positive thing that can be said is that she has fair hair. As his daughter is the product of his marriage with a noble person, Symkyn is as invested in her as he is his wife. He dreams of marrying her to someone of a high lineage, thus improving his social and economic currency even further. When he learns of his daughter’s rape, his immediate reaction is framed by how it impacts her social standing and, by extension, his own: “Who dorste be so boold to disparage / My doghter, that is come of swich linage?” (1A.4271–2). There is an irony in these lines, since one of the meanings of disparage is to degrade one’s lineage through a union with a person of a lower class. This is precisely what Symkyn does when he dares to marry above his class.
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While there is an effort, I would argue, to make Symkyn’s social ambitions seem ridiculous, such ambitions reflect a very real concern in the fourteenth century about social climbing through marriage.34 Chaucer perhaps dilutes this threat by having Symkyn’s hopes dashed when his daughter is raped by the clerk, Aleyn. But more troubling, I would argue, is the depiction of Symkyn’s wife and daughter as a kind of debased currency or counterfeit coin from the very beginning of the tale. This move not only negates the specter of class mobility, but does so through sexual violence against women. In presenting both women as “debased”—sexually and therefore economically—is Chaucer mitigating their rape? That is, is Chaucer calling into question whether rape debases the women in the way that the father imagines since, as the text suggests, they are already debased currency? The Reeve’s Tale exposes two convergences of gender and economy that we see frequently in late medieval English literature. First, there is an analogical logic that deploys the language of money and value that helps to undergird the veracity of gender ideology in much the same way that gender ideology helps to confirm the “nature” of money. Consequently, just as discussions of gender and gender difference often can elucidate our understanding of medieval notions of economy and value, seemingly gender-neutral discussions of money may have much to tell us about medieval views of gender. Second, in late medieval England there is an investment in women’s bodies, which function as the site where male social and economic value is located and where economic and social competition between men often takes place. This investment is underscored in the Reeve’s Tale, not only by Symkyn’s investment in the bodies of the women in his family, but also by the clerks’ decision to “quyte” the miller for his theft of their grain by perpetrating violence on those bodies. As we will see throughout this study, this double investment is the reason that a woman’s body, vulnerable and often violated, resides so frequently at the center of discussions of male “worth” and of value more generally. The instantiations between money and gender I have been tracing point to the power of analogical logic. The cross-pollination between the two helps to buttress naturalistic claims in both realms. As Jean-Joseph 34 For a discussion of social mobility and how urban society provides the opportunity for marriage into nobility, see, for example, John A. F. Thomson, The Transformation of Medieval England: 1370–1529 (London: Routledge, 2014), 110, 125.
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Goux argues, this analogical logic is a “style of thinking” that is both patriarchal and fundamental to Western metaphysics.35 We can see in these brief examples I have sketched both the power of that style of thinking and its effectiveness. However, as is often the case with ideology, the very act of suturing these linkages exposes their gaps. As an illustration, I will conclude with a few observations on debasement. Nowhere is the uncertainty surrounding money more clearly expressed than in the controversy over the practice of debasement in the late Middle Ages. Debasement is the process of extracting precious metals from coins by adding alloy to them or by reducing the weight of a coin. In England, debasement never reached the levels found in France where, without a system of direct taxation, Philip VI found himself relying heavily on debasement in order to raise funds for the Hundred Years’ War.36 Nonetheless, Edward III engaged in a series of debasements in 1344, when his requests for tax increases were repeatedly rebuffed by Parliament. By 1351, he had debased the currency three times in seven years. While these debasements might be insignificant in comparison with those on the Continent, the rapidity with which they occurred contributed to anxieties about the unstable nature of English currency. Fourteenth-century critics like Nicholas Oresme objected to the practice of debasement. This objection might seem surprising, given that, following many of the scholastics, someone like Oresme recognizes the conventional nature of money: “For money does not directly relieve the necessities of life, but it is an instrument artificially invented for the easier exchange of natural riches.”37 Yet, a few lines later, he seems to advocate for the naturalness of money. He argues that gold and silver are especially good materials for making money, since “Providence has ordained that man should not easily obtain gold and silver, the most suitable metals, in quality, and that they cannot well be made by alchemy, as some try
35 Jean-Joseph Goux, Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud, trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 213–44. 36 Within the span of five and a half years, Philip decreased the fineness and weight of French currency by one-half. On this point, see Peter Spufford, Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 305. For an erudite exploration of debasement and its social impact, see Spufford, Money and Its Use, 289–318. 37 Nicholas Oresme, De Moneta, ed. and trans. Charles Johnson (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1956), 4–5. All subsequent quotations are from this edition and are cited parenthetically.
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to do; being, if I may say so, justly prevented by nature, whose works they vainly try to outdo” (p. 6). On the one hand, if money is merely a sign—a form of nonsense that is only given meaning from the shaping of matter by a ruler—one might argue that that same ruler’s decision to debase the currency should have little effect on people’s use or perception of money. However, debasement had different financial impacts on different groups of people. For example, landowners, who depended on rental income, were much more likely to be negatively impacted by debasements. The poor, on the other hand, tended to benefit from debasements because more currency was put into circulation and prices tended to go down. However, concerns about debasement extended beyond its financial impact on different classes. Oresme advocates what he calls “strong money,” money that returns and remains at its weight and fineness before debasement. One of his reasons for supporting “strong money” is a social one: existing laws, statutes, customs and ordinances affecting the community, of whatever kind, must never be altered without evident necessity. Indeed, as Aristotle says in the second book of the Politics, an ancient positive law is not to be abrogated in favor of a better new law, unless there is a notable difference in their excellence, because changes of this kind lessen the authority of laws and the respect paid them and all the more if they are frequent. For hence arise scandal and murmurings among the people and the risk of disobedience. Now it is the case, that the course and value of money in the realm should be, as it were, a law and a fixed ordinance. (p. 12–3)
In these lines, it becomes clear that Oresme’s concern is not only for preserving “strong money”—money that does not move—but also a “strong society”—one in which laws and regulations remain fixed and people stay in their place. Oresme never elaborates on why it is important for institutions and customs to remain fixed. Reading between the lines, one might extrapolate that institutions and customs such as money serve as part of a society’s infrastructure. There is an investment, therefore, in money’s stability. Gender ideology functions in a similar way. It, too, is a form of “nonsense,” albeit one with real effects, as Judith Butler has argued. There is a similar investment in promoting the supposedly “natural” origins of gender difference—advocating for a “strong” gender, if you will.
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Yet, the Middle Ages abounds in examples that point to gender as an ars humana, much like money. Thus, while the isomorphic links between money and gender shore up naturalistic claims about each, they simultaneously provide the tools for dismantling those claims, exposing the vulnerability of analogical logic and signification more broadly. The anxiety about money and gender that this study maps can be read as a trace of that vulnerability, one that, as we will see, still has real effects on the ways in which we understand gender and economy today.
Necrophilia, Necropolitics, and the Economy of Desire in the Squire of Low Degree
In the previous chapter, I outlined some of the ways in which gender ideology informs the cultural imaginary surrounding money and economy in the late Middle Ages. In this chapter, I demonstrate how those ideas manifest in sustained, complex, and contradictory ways in literary texts through a reading of a single work, The Squire of Low Degree. Even by the standards of romance, this anonymous text seems extravagant in its enactment of fiscal and sexual fantasies. Unlike the typical romance, which begins by narrating the social bona fides of the protagonist, the text begins matter of factly: “It was a squyer of lowe degré / That loved the kings doughter of Hungré” (lines 1–2).1 We soon learn 1 All
quotations from The Squire of Low Degree are cited parenthetically and are from the edition of the romance in Sentimental and Humorous Romances, ed. Erik Kooper (Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, 2005), 127–69. Dating of the poem is difficult given the lack of manuscript evidence. There are two printed editions. The only complete text, the Copland edition, was printed around 1560. Two fragments, of 60 and 120 lines respectively, survive from Wynkyn de Worde’s 1520 printing. In addition, there is a severely truncated version preserved in the Percy Folio Manuscript (c. 1650). Based on vocabulary, William Edward Mead dated the poem to 1450 in his 1904 Ginn and Company edition (lxxvi), and John Edwin Wells followed suit in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916), 149. In an updated version of the manual, edited by J. Burke Severs, Lillian Herlands Hornstein offers a later date of c. 1500 (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967), 157. Both A. C. Spearing and Myra Seaman have also advanced a later date of composition, arguing that the poem’s seeming promotion of social mobility is more in keeping with Tudor sensibilities than it is with those of the late Middle Ages.
© The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_3
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that the squire is courteous and polite and loved by everyone (lines 3–4), and courageous in battle (line 10), but we know little about his background or how he ended up in the king of Hungary’s court, where he has served as the marshal of the hall for the past seven years. We do learn that while he is “a gentyll man” (line 20) he does not come from “gentyll kynne” (line 73). The twin challenges of poverty and low social rank seem like impossible barriers to overcome for a man in love with a king’s daughter.2
See A. C. Spearing, “Secrecy, Listening, and Telling in The Squyr of Lowe Degre,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 20, no. 2 (1990): 273–92; and Myra J. Seaman, “The Waning of Middle English Chivalric Romance in ‘The Squyr of Lowe Degre’,” FifteenthCentury Studies 29 (2004): 176. For a summary of the poem’s editions and the questions surrounding its dating, see Erik Kooper’s introduction, 127–8. 2 It is intriguing to consider that despite the fact that the Percy Folio version of The Squire of Lowe Degree is only 170 lines, the author felt the need to explain the squire’s presence in Hungary: It was a squier of England borne, He wrought a forffett against the crowne, Against the crowne and against the fee; In England tarry no longer durst hee (lines 1–4, p. 173 in Kooper’s edition)
The squire’s forfeiture of his property and his flight from England explain his poverty and possibly his lack of social status; these events also insinuate a shadowy history that not only clouds his past, but may point to his current motivations for pursuing the king’s daughter. The Treason Act, passed by the English parliament in 1352, outlined seven categories of treason. As one might imagine, some of these categories have to do with violence, such as murdering the king, his queen, or his eldest son (1); or the king’s representatives, including the chancellor, treasurer, or judges conducting royal business (7). These categories also included what we might think of as property crimes: economic ones, such as counterfeiting the Privy or Great Seal or counterfeiting royal money (5); or knowingly bringing counterfeit money into the realm (6); and libidinal ones, such as violating the queen, the king’s eldest unmarried daughter, or the wife of the king’s eldest son (2). See Frank W. Harris, “The Law and Economics of High Treason in England from Its Feudal Origin to the Early Seventeenth Century,” Valparaiso University Law Review 22, no. 1 (fall 1987): 81–108, especially 87–9. Which (if any) of these crimes—or combination of crimes—might have led to the squire’s exile? And might they be motivating his behavior once again? The squire seems acutely aware of the danger of pursuing the king’s unmarried daughter, telling the princess he has remained silent about his desire because “Ye might have bewraied me to the kinge, / And brought me sone to my endynge” (lines 125–6). The king of Hungary also notes the potential treason in the squire having sex with his daughter, which he sees as a crime both against the realm and against his household. This is an issue I will return to later in this chapter.
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Thus, it is all the more surprising that the squire eventually succeeds not only in marrying the king of Hungary’s daughter, but also in becoming the king of Hungary himself. As in Sir Launfal, money seems to play a pivotal role in the squire’s transformation. The romance is replete with economic language, and the reader is repeatedly reminded of the “golde and fe” that the daughter and, eventually, the father offer the squire to fund the knightly adventures needed to rehabilitate his low social status.3 Those adventures, which one might expect to be the central focus of the tale, are tersely summarized in sixteen lines (884–900). More robustly dilated are the pleasures and luxuries of the court (lines 739–852), which the king hopes will entice his mourning daughter from her chamber. He is unsuccessful, but the description lingers as a potent reminder to the reader of what awaits the squire once he becomes king. The Squire of Low Degree seems to offer a compelling example of the fantasy that, as we saw in the last chapter, money can “make a king of a serf and a serf of a king.”4 Yet in the case of this romance, how are we meant to read this fantasy? Kevin Kiernan suggests we read it humorously. He argues that avarice is the squire’s primary motivation for pursuing the king of Hungary’s daughter, a motivation that corrupts chivalric values.5 Others have argued that it is the princess who is obsessed with money, thinking that with enough treasure anyone can purchase chivalric prowess.6 A. C. Spearing views the text’s preoccupation with money as an acknowledgment that money is needed to become a knight, and that the text provides “a defense of male social mobility.”7 Myra J. Seaman takes this argument one step further, suggesting that the king’s acceptance of the squire, let alone his active assistance in launching his chivalric career and
3 See, for example, lines 118, 251–6, 273–4, and 883. The importance of money is also suggested by the squire’s lament, which begins and ends with his poverty, which he views as the primary impediment to love (lines 69–72, 88–9). Kevin Kiernan observes that even the description of the squire’s shield scrambles the order of the word amor so that gold (or) comes first. See Kiernan, “‘Undo Your Door’ and the Order of Chivalry,” Studies in Philology 70, no. 4 (1973): 345–66, at 353–4. 4 Thomas Wright, ed., The Latin Poems Commonly Attributed to Walter Mapes (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968), 1.1–2, 223. 5 Kiernan, “Undo Your Door.” 6 Carol Fewster, Traditionality and Genre in Middle English Romance (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987), 146; and Seaman, “Middle English Chivalric Romance,” 199, nt. 41. 7 Spearing, “Secrecy, Listening, and Telling,” 275, 282.
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his relinquishing of his crown while he is still alive, provides a radical critique of the conservative ideology of romance.8 More recently, Nicola McDonald has observed that a focus on social mobility has obscured what she sees as the poem’s primary focus, the daughter’s desire for a corpse that she houses in her chamber for seven years. Rather than a poem centered on questions of social mobility, McDonald sees in the daughter’s lengthy and elaborate attentions to a corpse a form of desire not easily assimilated into romance.9 Expanding on McDonald’s insightful reading, I want to examine how desires, both economic and erotic, intersect in this romance. In secluding herself in a chamber with a corpse that she describes as “my treasure” (line 936), the daughter of the king of Hungary, a potentially valuable commodity on the marriage marketplace, takes herself out of circulation in the poem’s heterosexual economy. Her desire, much like the squire’s, might be read as both economic and erotic, potentially calling into question certain ideologies of class, gender, and sexuality that circulate in traditional romance. However, the king’s conduct complicates this reading. What the reader knows all along—and what the daughter discovers only after seven years of intimacy with a corpse—is that the body she has been lavishing her attentions on is not that of her slain lover, but a counterfeit, a false coin. This is not only a fact that her father knows, but also a ruse that he has planned and implemented. As a result, there is a displacement of the daughter’s desires, and also a reminder of the sovereign’s power over everything, including life and death itself. Thus, while the romance seems to offer a radical vision of alternative forms of economic and libidinal desire that subvert the traditional ideologies of romance, in the end the message is that it is the king, and not money, that can improve one’s social status and must approve one’s erotic desires. Before turning to the body that the daughter brings into her chamber, I want to briefly address the idea of the chamber itself. As A. C. Spearing notes, chamber appears twenty-eight times in Copland’s edition of The Squire of Low Degree.10 This repetition suggests the importance of the chamber, an importance that, I would argue, is both erotic and economic in the world of the romance. Throughout the poem, chambers are 8 Seaman,
“Middle English Chivalric Romance.” McDonald, “Desire Out of Order and Undo Your Door,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 34 (2012): 247–75. 10 Spearing, “Secrecy, Listening, and Telling,” 276. 9 Nicola
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places where characters, often concealed, can observe one another. For example, at the beginning of the poem, the daughter is able to spy on the squire from a windowed recess in her chamber: That lady herde his mournyng all, Ryght under the chambre wall, In her oryall there she was, Closed well with royall glas. Fulfylled it was with ymagery; Every wyndowe by and by On eche syde had there a gynne, Sperde with many a dyvers pynne. Anone that lady, fayre and fre, Undyd a pynne of yveré, And wyd the windowes she open set The sunne shone in at her closet. In that arber fayre and gaye She saw where that squyre lay. (lines 91–104)
A. C. Spearing notes that oriel is a relatively rare word in pre-Tudor English. An oriel is a windowed recess that creates a chamber within a chamber. In the oriel, lit with colored glass and projecting from the wall, the king’s daughter can see (and presumably hear) the squire without being seen. It is only when she opens the oriel by means of an ivory pin that her presence is disclosed.11 That the daughter opens her chamber to the squire (at least at this moment in the poem) is significant given the association of chambers with women’s bodies, and closed chambers with virginity, specifically. Medieval literature does not always make an explicit link between an open chamber and a loss of virginity. However, often a character’s reaction to an open chamber suggests the association. For example, in Ipomydon, it is assumed that the eponymous knight had sex with King Mellyager’s queen because of his access to her chamber.12 Later in The Squire of Low Degree, that link is made explicit. The daughter rejects the squire’s repeated request to “undo your door,” 11 Spearing,
“Secrecy, Listening, and Telling,” 277–8. this point, see Hollie L. S. Morgan, Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England: Readings, Representations and Realities (York: York Medieval Press, 2017), 166. Morgan discusses The Squire of Low Degree specifically on pages 167–9. 12 On
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stating: “kepe I shall my maydenhede ryght, / Tyll ye be proved a venturous knyght” (lines 575–6).13 It is clear, too, that the king in The Squire of Low Degree interprets breaking into a woman’s chamber as sexual assault. When the steward falsely reports that the king’s daughter has had sex with the squire, the king says he does not believe it, declaring: I may not beleve, be nyght nor daye, My doughter dere he wyll betraye, Nor to come her chambre nye That fode to longe with no foly. Though she would to hym consente, That lovely lady fayre and gente, I truste hym so well, withouten drede. (lines 361–8)14
While the king states that he does not believe the squire would come near his daughter’s “chamber,” he does instruct the steward to imprison the squire if he discovers that the squire has “her chamber breke” (line 437). He is to be brought to the prison “As traytour, thefe, and false felon” (line 444). The king’s description of a perpetrator of such a crime as both a traitor and a thief reminds the reader that breaching his daughter’s chamber is not only a crime against the state, but a property
13 Bryan Rivers observes that the phrase undo your door appears in both The Avowing of Arthur and Le Bone Florence of Rome, and in the case of the latter romance, it is in the context of attempted sexual assault. See “The Focus of Satire in The Squire of Low Degree,” English Studies in Canada 7, no. 4 (December 1981): 379–87, at 379, nt. 4. On the sexual implications of opening one’s chamber in the romance, see also McDonald, “Desire Out of Order,” 259–60. McDonald notes that Undo Your Door is the title found on the title page of the earliest editions of the romance and is listed in the day book of the Oxford bookseller John Dorne (249). Kiernan also discusses the romance’s original title, arguing that modern editors drop it because it seems inappropriate for a romance. However, he finds the title appropriate for a romance that is meant to be read humorously, rather than seriously. See Kiernan, “Undo Your Door,” 345. 14 It is worth considering precisely what the king is saying in these lines: While he may not trust his daughter to keep closed her “chamber,” he trusts that the squire would not enter, even if the door is open. There is some irony, of course, in the fact that it is the daughter who refuses to open her chamber, at least the second time. However, if the reader is supposed to consider the chamber already opened, through the window—and the father knows it—that breach has already been made, a point I will return to later in this chapter.
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crime against the king’s household.15 Virginity is the most important commodity on the marriage marketplace, and a loss of virginity would result in a loss of value. As Juan Justiniano tells women in his early sixteenth-century translation of Juan Luis Vives’s De institutione feminae Christianae, “I beg you to know your goods. Know that the chamber of your virginity does not have a price.”16 When the daughter does finally undo her bedroom door, it is not to the squire, but to a corpse. As Nicola McDonald observes, this scene has received little attention from scholars, and when it has, it has been quickly dismissed as “a bit of grotesquerie” that the reader quickly forgets once the squire returns to the castle.17 Yet it is not easy for the reader to forget this necrophilic intimacy, not only because it spans seven years, but also because it depicts the most physical contact we ever see between two bodies in the entire romance: And in her armes she toke hym [the corpse] there, Into the chamber she dyd hym bere. His bowels soone she dyd out drawe, And buryed them in Goddes lawe. She sered that body with specery, With vyrgin waxe and commendry; And closed hym in a maser tre, And set on hym lockes thre. She put him in a marble stone, With quaynt gynnes many one, And set hym at hir beddes head, And every day she kyst that dead. … And kysse that body twyse or thryse. (lines 683–99)
this point, see nt. 2. quotation is a translation from Libro llamado instrucion de la muger christiana, cited in Edward Anthony Polanco, “‘The Chamber of Your Virginity Does Not Have a Price’: The Scientific Construction of the Hymen as an Indicator of Sexual Initiation in Eighteenth-Century Spain,” Footnotes: A Journal of History 1 (2017): 67–88, at 67. 17 McDonald, “Desire Out of Order,” 252. The quotation is from Lee C. Ramsey, Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), 197. 16 The
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One might object to describing this intimacy as necrophilia since no sexual intercourse takes place. However, in her study of necrophilia in early modern English drama, Linda K. Neiberg suggests a more flexible application of the term, reading as necrophilic any erotic language about dead or dying persons or seduction scenes that take place in graveyards or around dead bodies.18 This more flexible notion of necrophilia also allows for a more expansive view of erotic acts and pleasures, one that not only avoids fetishizing penetrative sex, but also is more in keeping with the amorphous boundaries of pleasures and bodies that mark premodern sexuality. As Bruce Holsinger observes, a tendency to focus on genital sex “should not keep us from examining the wide variety of ways in which human bodies come together erotically when the goal or referent of the contact was not necessarily genital (or even orificial).”19 Georges Bataille is particularly useful for understanding necrophilia in this expansive way, not only because he outlines a theory of the erotics of the corpse, but also because that theory touches upon economic implications of desire that are particularly germane to The Squire of Low Degree and to the economy of medieval romance more generally.20 Throughout his work, Bataille reads necrophilia both as a desire experienced by a subset of people and as an underlying principle of all erotic desire. Bataille 18 Linda K. Neiberg, “Exquisite Corpses: Fantasies of Necrophilia in Early Modern English Drama” (PhD diss., Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2014), CUNY Academic Works, https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/1420/ (accessed December 20, 2018). 19 Bruce W. Holsinger, “Sodomy and Resurrection: The Homoerotic Subject of the Divine Comedy,” in Premodern Sexualities, ed. Louise Fradenburg and Carla Freccero, 243–74, at 246 (New York: Routledge, 1996). 20 Georges Bataille’s interest in the corpse spans his oeuvre, from The Solar Anus, published in 1927, to Erotism: Death and Sensuality, first published in 1957. For a useful analysis of the ways in which Bataille revalorizes the corpse and its symbolic value in counterpoint to modernists like Schnitzler, Benjamin, and Fromm, see Shane Weller, “Decomposition: Georges Bataille and the Language of Necrophilia,” in Modernist Eroticisms: European Literature After Sexology, ed. Anna Katharina Schaffner and Shane Weller, 169–94, esp. 169–78 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Although Georges Bataille focuses on the alienating effects of modernity, his explorations of abjection and the sacred are deeply informed by his training as a medievalist at the École Nationale des Chartes, his work as an archivist at the Bibliothèque Nationale, and his interest in the broken and leaky bodies of saints and mystics. For a discussion of the influence of the Middle Ages on Bataille’s thinking, see Bruce Holsinger, The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 26–56.
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observes that “the most violent thing for all of us is death which jerks us out of a tenacious obsession with the lastingness of our own discontinuous being.”21 Death is particularly repugnant to humans because of our discontinuity with nature. Humans negate that discontinuity through work. As projective beings, we orient ourselves toward the future, the realm when projects can be completed. The “work” of the corpse calls into question these fictions. Unlike the skeleton or the living body, the corpse both attracts and repulses not only because it reminds us of death, but also because of its liminality. It is not a passive entity: As it decomposes, it is constantly changing and reforming. Nor is the corpse active, either: “the corpse prompts disgust not simply because it is the sign of death, but because it is the sign of a paradoxical life in death—or, more precisely, the blurring or even the loss of the distinction between the living and the dead.”22 The corpse, thus, serves as a site of nostalgia. “Corpses,” Valeria Finucci observes, “are useful only to those who are alive.”23 What, then, might be the usefulness of the corpse for the daughter in The Squire of Low Degree, or for that matter, for the reader? Much like the corpse itself, the daughter’s love is unproductive in terms of the heterosexual economy. For seven years, the daughter remains enclosed in her chamber with her “treasure,” a corpse that she has embalmed and placed in a box, which she keeps at the head of her bed to “kysse … twyse or thryse” a day (line 699). While such love isn’t exactly masturbatory—there is, technically, another “body” in these erotic encounters—it is not economical in terms of heterosexual exchange. As the daughter of a king, she is potentially a valuable commodity whose enclosure has taken her off the marriage market. Like the corpse itself, she is a treasure locked away, no longer available for productive use. In addition, her value has been significantly altered by her enclosure. The physical qualities that made her “so semely of flesh and bone” (skin as white as whale’s bone, ruddy cheeks, and merry eyes) are gone, and she is now “pale as any stone” (lines 710–4). She no longer participates in the kinds of activities deemed appropriate for a marriageable lady, such as singing or playing the harp (lines 715–6), and as the king observes, 21 Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Light Books, 1986 [orig. English pub. 1962]), 16. 22 Weller, “Decomposition,” 174. 23 Valeria Finucci, “Thinking Through Death: The Politics of the Corpse,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 45, no. 1 (January 2015): 1–6, at 2–3.
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instead of dressing in the kind of eye-catching clothing she used to wear (lines 717–22), “nowe ye were clothes of blacke” (line 723). In an effort to cure her “dysease” (line 769), the king offers her a lengthy list of enticing courtly pleasures and luxuries. At nearly a hundred lines, it comprises almost 10% of the poem and serves as an extravagant reminder of the kind of luxuria that is available in the world of romance. The daughter’s response to this dilatio is a taciturn “‘Gramercy, father, so mote I the, / For all these thinges lyketh not me’” (lines 853–4), and with that, “unto her chambre she is gone” (line 855). Nor does the daughter’s investment in the corpse lead to the production of something seemingly of economic value. Rather, after seven years, the corpse disintegrates into nothing, a “powder small” (line 931). Even the masses that she attends five times a day—the only times when she leaves her chamber—could be read as unproductive since, unbeknownst to her, she is making offerings for a man who is not dead. Most readers of The Squire of Low Degree have focused on the erotic and economic fantasy of the squire and his rags-to-riches story. But one might see in the daughter’s extravagant love for a corpse another kind of fantasy that is both erotic and economic in nature. Her necrophilia represents a self-indulgent jouissance that is decidedly anti-economic in the world of romance. That desire, much like the money given to the squire by the daughter, seems to circumvent certain chivalric and patriarchal norms and expectations. Or does it? After all, the corpse that the daughter has invested seven years in is not that of her lover, the squire, but that of her enemy, the steward. It is here where we must turn to the king’s motivations and desires and turn from necrophilia to necropolitics. The motivations and desires of the king seem as shadowy as those of his daughter. The king appears decidedly unperturbed by the prospect of his daughter marrying a squire: For I have sene that many a page Have become men by mariage. Than it is semely that squyer To have my doughter by this manere, And eche man in his degré Become a lorde of ryaltyé, By fortune and by other grace, By herytage and by purchace. (lines 373–80)
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Even more surprising, he makes the squire the king of Hungary while he himself is still alive. Myra Seaman suggests that in The Squire of Low Degree, the king serves as “a spokesperson for social mobility, a promoter of wealth as a suitable source for social advancement.”24 However, it is worth noting that wealth alone does not transform the squire’s fortunes. We can assume that when the squire leaves the court, he does so with a great deal of money at his disposal. He has both the thousand pounds the daughter promised him and additional “golde and fe / And strength of men” (lines 481–2) that the king offers when the squire takes his formal leave for his chivalric adventures. Yet those adventures are disrupted before they can even begin. A mile away from court, the squire feels compelled to return. His explanation—that he has forgotten to take leave of his lady (line 499)—seems flimsy, especially since the narrator has already reported that the two have parted: “Thryes he kyssed that lady tho, / And toke his leve, and forth he gan go” (lines 281–2).25 One explanation for the squire’s return is that the court—and specifically the king at the court—functions like a magnet, pulling him back into its orbit. Indeed, unlike many romances, which may begin and end at court, but spend the majority of their time narrating chivalric adventures, The Squire of Low Degree takes place almost exclusively in the king of Hungary’s court.26 The court’s centrality is highlighted by the fact that the squire’s seven years of chivalric adventures, which a romance reader might expect to be the central action of the poem, are dispatched in sixteen lines. Despite the convention in medieval romance that 24 Seaman,
“Middle English Chivalric Romance,” 185. the years, scholars have offered various explanations for this seemingly inscrutable return. Kevin Kiernan suggests the scene is to be read humorously, as a sign of parody. See Kiernan, “Undo Your Door,” 306. Glenn Wright reads it as an example of the motif of the jealous husband returning, unannounced, to see what his wife has been up to while he is away. See 28–9, nt. 39, in “Other Wyse Then Must We Do: Parody and Popular Narrative in The Squyr of Lowe Degre,” Comitatus 27, no. 1 (1996): 14–41. Bryan Rivers posits a potentially darker motive. He notes that the squire tells the princess he is under attack and needs entry into her chamber before the steward even arrives. He might return with the goal of gaining access—possibly forced—to the princess. See Rivers, “The Focus of Satire,” 382. 26 Erik Kooper, introduction to The Squire of Low Degree, in Sentimental and Humorous Romances, ed. Erik Kooper (Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, 2005), 127–34, at 130. 25 Over
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chivalric adventures outside the court are central to economic, social, and erotic success, in The Squire of Low Degree the relationship between the king and the squire inside the court is, in the end, the most important indicator of the latter’s success and, I would argue, accounts for why the squire cannot easily leave. As in the case of the squire’s relationship with the daughter, the relationship between the squire and the king is not only economic, but also potentially erotic. Shortly after departing from his lady for the first time, the squire returns to his chamber, where he dresses himself in scarlet red, places a chaplet on his head and a belt at his side, and with a horn cast around his neck, goes to the great hall to serve the lords “great and small” (lines 305–12). As he serves he is admired by all the men assembled, including the king: Eche man hym loved in honesté, Hye and lowe in theyr degré. So dyd the kyng full sodenly, And he wyst not wherfore nor why. The kynge behelde the squyer wele, And all his rayment every dele. He thought he was the semylyest man That ever in the worlde he sawe or than. Thus sate the kyng and eate ryght nought, But on his squyer was all his thought. (lines 329–38)
There is something decidedly queer about the king’s desire. Like a lovestruck hero in a romance, the king is hit “sodenly” by his attraction. Like a lovesick hero, he is unable to eat because all of his thoughts are on “his squyer.” The king’s desires are not only sudden, they are also inexplicable—“he wyst not wherfore nor why” (line 332).27 27 Much
like the squire’s return to the court, scholars have offered various explanations for the king’s sudden attraction. Huston Diehl suggests that the squire is a type of Christ figure and that the king and those in the court are drawn to the squire’s humble service. See “‘For No Theves Shall Come Thereto’: Symbolic Detail in the Squyr of Lowe Degree,” American Benedictine Review 32, no. 2 (June 1981): 140–55, at 147. Carol Fewster observes that the device of a hero or heroine falling in love at a feast is a staple of medieval romance, but in having the king fall in love, there is an unexpected dislocation between subject and language. See Traditionality and Genre, 130. Nicola McDonald argues that in the king’s attraction, we see a form of desire that, much like the daughter’s desire for the corpse, cannot be easily accommodated in medieval romance. See “Desire Out of Order,”
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While this scene may seem superfluous to the romance’s plot, I would argue that it is central in setting up the king and his daughter as rivals for the squire. That rivalry is framed in part as erotic and in part as economic. The erotic part is evidenced not only by the king’s physical reaction to the squire in the lines above, but also by the centrality of the king’s chamber, which plays as prominent a role in the romance as does the chamber of his daughter. As noted already, the chamber is a place of “privity,” not only because it is a space of privacy within the court—a place where one can observe others, unobserved—but also because entering a chamber is a euphemism for sexual contact. Although we never see the squire entering the daughter’s chamber, he is in and out of the king’s chamber throughout the romance. For example, after the battle outside the daughter’s door, the squire is immediately transported from the daughter’s doorway to the king’s chamber: “In arme they take that squyer tho, / And to the kynges chambre can they go” (lines 661–2). In addition, the king tells the squire to report to his chamber secretly when he returns from his seven-year quest, “That no man weste but he and he [i.e., the two of them]; / And whan he had his jurnay done, / That he wolde come full soone, / ‘And in my chambre for to be / The whyles that I do ordayne for thee’” (lines 874–8). As in the case of Sir Launfal, desire becomes a way of framing the economic, although in The Squire of Low Degree that desire takes on a slightly different cast. The squire’s relationship with the king’s daughter is, on the surface, much like Launfal’s relationship with Tryamour: Money, and improved social status on account of it, is linked to potential sexual access to a woman’s body. Through his romantic relationship with the daughter of the king of Hungary, the squire potentially gains access to the financial means to improve his social standing. However, unlike in Launfal, in The Squire of Low Degree the acquisition of that body is deferred and access to it is controlled by the father and the sovereign. Indeed, it is access to the king’s “chamber” that leads to the squire’s change in fortunes. (What is happening in that private chamber
258–9. Glenn Wright suggests that the king’s gaze feminizes the squire. See “Other Wyse Then Must We Do,” 23. However, as Richard E. Zeikowitz notes, being the object of the male gaze in chivalric circles does not necessarily feminize either the man being gazed upon or the looker himself. See Homoeroticism and Chivalry: Discourses of Male Same-Sex Desire in the 14th Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 85–100.
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is something we, as readers, are not privy to. Given the erotic connotation of the chamber, both generally and in this romance in particular, there is no reason to efface the erotic possibilities.) We might read in the triangulated relationship among the squire, daughter, and king not only an erotic rivalry, but also an economic one. The romance presents two paths for achieving financial and social success: the traditional lord/vassal relationship, which the king represents, and the newer path of money, which the daughter embodies. What is particularly fascinating is that a romance that, on the surface, seems like a radical promotion of social mobility through money actually serves as a powerful affirmation of the need to go through traditional channels to achieve wealth and social status. The romance reinforces this idea by highlighting the effectiveness of certain tools of sovereignty, such as surveillance and the sovereign’s power over life and death. As A. C. Spearing has observed, The Squire of Low Degree is fairly obsessed with secrecy and spying, and the master of both is the king of Hungary, who, as the reader knows, is pulling all the strings behind the curtain.28 The king has full knowledge of the promises made between the daughter and the squire; arranges for the steward’s mutilated corpse to be placed outside his door; places the squire in jail, only to release him and give him both permission and funds to undertake chivalric adventures; and knows that his daughter has been grieving over the wrong body for seven years. The king of Hungary seems to possess a panoptic view of everything that is happening in his household and his court, both through others who report to him and through his own spying. One particularly disquieting scene of surveillance occurs toward the end of the romance, when the king “… wente forth hymselfe alone, / For to here his doughters mone, / Right under the chambre window, / There he might her counseyle knowe” (lines 915–8). This scene echoes the scene at the beginning of the romance, in which the squire laments his poverty and confesses his love underneath the daughter’s window. Here, however, the king replaces the squire, and the daughter’s mourning replaces that of the squire. The poet’s decision to describe the daughter’s mourning as a “mone” reminds the reader both of the erotic nature of what has been happening in her bedroom the last seven years and of the chamber more generally. It is perhaps for these reasons that
“Secrecy, Listening, and Telling,” 284.
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the king’s presence is unwanted and clearly disturbing to the daughter. At the beginning of her lament, the narrator observes that “Had she wyst, that lady fre, / That her father there had be, / He shulde not, withouten fayle, / Have knowen so muche of her counsayle / Nor nothing she knew that he was there” (lines 919–23). When the king reveals his presence under her window after listening to her complaint, the daughter states, “‘Alas, father, and wele awaye! / Nowe have ye harde what I dyde saye’” (lines 973–4). The king’s decision to spy on his daughter in the same place where she first opened her chamber to the squire through her oriel functions as a powerful reminder to her that, as father and sovereign, he both knows who is going in and out of her chamber and believes he is the one who should be deciding who goes in and out as well. His power in this regard, and his potential displeasure that she has tried to circumvent that power, is revealed in the long description of luxury goods and courtly pleasures the king offers to entice his daughter out of her chamber. While this scene might be read as the ramblings of an indulgent and desperate father, it also contains a mocking rebuke. After noting the change in her appearance and demeanor, the king asks if, perhaps, there is a person whom she loves and whether he can help: Tell me, doughter, for whose sake? If he be so poore of fame That ye may not be wedded for shame, Brynge him to me anone ryght, I shall hym make squyer and knight; And yf he be so great a lorde That your love may not accorde, Let me, doughter, that lordynge se; He shall have golde ynoughe with thee (lines 724–33)
Given that the daughter believes that the squire is now dead, one can only imagine what she might be feeling when she hears her father nonchalantly offer to elevate a person “poore of fame”—that is, someone exactly like the squire—so that she could marry him without shame. Whether at the beginning of the romance the king would have provided the means and the permission for his daughter to marry the squire is unknown. However, in saying that he would, the king is effectively—and cruelly—communicating that her attempts to circumnavigate his role as
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father and king have led to the squire’s death and her unhappiness. A few lines later, we are also once again reminded of the king’s omniscience. The daughter thanks her father for his offer, but states, “I mourne for no man alyve. / Ther is no man, by heven kyng, / That shal knowe more of my mournynge” (lines 734–6). Believing that the squire is dead, she is confident she can both be truthful to her father and keep her grief private. However, as the narrator reminds the reader in the very next line, “Her father knewe it every deale, / But he kept it in counsele” (lines 737–8). Considering the father’s surveillance of his daughter and his court gives us another lens for reading the daughter’s chamber and what happens in it for seven years. As noted already, one way to read the daughter’s necrophilia is as an unproductive form of jouissance. Another way to read it is through the lens of necropolitics. The ability to decide who lives and who dies can be understood as the ultimate expression of sovereign power: “To exercise sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power.”29 As Giorgio Agamben has argued, that control over mortality does not have to be literal death. A person can be placed in the position of “bare life” in which they are physically alive, but are socially and politically dead.30 In other words, much like the corpse as described by Georges Bataille, the person who finds themselves in the position of bare life is also in a position of liminality, not dead, but not quite alive either. While it is true that the father does not physically place his daughter in the chamber, sealing her away from the court and social life for seven years, it is hard to imagine that the daughter would have chosen such a fate if she knew that the corpse she was loving was that of her enemy, the steward, and not that of her lover, the squire. The father not only knows this fact (he is the one who orders the disfigurement of the steward’s face and the swapping of the steward’s clothes for the squire’s), but he also chooses not to reveal it for seven years, despite his daughter’s suffering. Although he has told the steward to refrain from killing the squire since “more ruthe of my doughter dere / For chaungyng of that ladyes chere / (I woulde not for my crowne so newe / That lady chaunge hyde or 29 Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” trans. Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11–40, at 12. 30 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 1–11.
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hewe)” (lines 385–8), this change is precisely what has happened during her seven-year enclosure while she has believed her lover to be dead. As noted above, she has gone from a beautiful, cheerfully dressed woman, to a pale, somber woman who dresses in black. The text even suggests an explicit link between the daughter and the corpse. Toward the end of the romance, as the king reveals the ruse, he states, “thus ye have kept your enemy here, / Pallyng more than seven yere” (lines 1029–30). It is unclear from the syntax if it is her enemy who has decayed these seven years, or if it is the princess herself. In “The Social Function of Medieval Romance,” Stephen Knight observes that Middle English romances often stage economic threats to the traditional economic power of the landed class only to contain those threats by affirming aristocratic values.31 The Squire of Low Degree provides a useful case study of such a practice. On the surface the romance seems to offer a wild fantasy of the social and libidinal heights one can achieve through the power of money. Money seems to provide a means of circumventing the traditional, laborious, male bonds of service, obligation, and reciprocity, bonds that may be broken (as in the case of Launfal) or seemingly unavailable (as in the case of The Squire of Low Degree), and to enter into sexual liaisons that may not be permitted by one’s father or one’s king. As in Sir Launfal, in The Squire of Low Degree, a woman’s body serves as the promised conduit for this wealth and social improvement. Yet, unlike the fairy woman in Launfal, the princess’s body is not hers to give to another, as it is the property of her father and her sovereign. In the end the romance affirms that wealth and social improvement are better accessed through a man’s chamber than a
31 Stephen Knight, “The Social Function of the Middle English Romances,” in Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology and History, ed. David Aers, 99–122, at 101 (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1986). A number of scholars have noted that despite its widening audience, Middle English romance is a conservative genre that reflects upper-class interests and ideologies. See, for example, Harriet Hudson, “Middle English Popular Romances: The Manuscript Evidence,” Manuscripta 28, no. 2 (July 1984): 67–78; Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 175–80; Helen Cooper, “Romance After 1400,” in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace, 690–719, at 690 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); and Jane Gilbert’s introduction to The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance, ed. Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert, 15–38, at 22 (London: Routledge, 2013).
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woman’s. Put another way, money is needed to achieve social and chivalric success in the world of the romance, but money alone is not enough. At the same time, much like the Lady Meed episode in Piers Plowman, this conservative ideological message about class and social mobility contains an ideological message about gender as well. Just as men will be more successful socially if they adhere to traditional bonds versus accessing class directly through money, women who try to circumvent the power of their fathers/sovereigns will find themselves equally thwarted and, like Lady Meed, enclosed. A powerful reminder of this fact is found at the end of the romance. When the king reveals the trick he has played on his daughter, she plaintively asks, twice, “Alas, father, why dyd you so?” (lines 1041 and 1043). The king offers no explanation, although in his silence we can read the answer. As doubly her sovereign—her father and her king—he has the right to do with his daughter as he sees fit, and does not have to explain his motives. Just as money must be carefully contained in order for it to be channeled usefully, so, too, must women.
The Kindness of Strangers: The Perils of Generosity in John Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum
In the previous two chapters, I have explored some of the ways in which gender ideology provides an ontological framework for thinking about money in the Middle Ages. In the next section of this book, I shift my focus slightly to examine value more broadly and the ways in which anxieties about value and dearth are imagined and reconstituted through economy and gender ideology. The purpose of these next three chapters is to think through not only how gender informs ideas about economy, but also how gendered notions of economy inform the ways we think about value, especially in realms that the West often treats as “value-free” or beyond economy, such as friendship, love, and poetics. These realms are sometimes treated as ones that are governed by a generosity that seems disinterested. However, just as the Enlightenment’s sequestering of economy obscures gender ideology’s role in its foundations, the impression of disinterest is a fabrication created by the Enlightenment’s ontological practices. Excavating the roles that gender and economy play in our understanding of value both highlights the structural role that gender ideology plays in realms that, on the surface, seem to have little to do with gender and, simultaneously, illuminates the cultural omnipresence of economy in the midst of the seemingly noneconomic.
© The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_4
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Friendship is the subject of this chapter, and there is no better text to explore its values than John Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum.1 Lydgate’s Fabula is often read as a poem that values idealized masculine friendship over economy and heterosexual romance. While on the surface the poem seems to support this reading, there is also a narrative thread working through the text that casts suspicion on the intense and sudden relationship of two merchants, a relationship that, as we will see, indulges in an economic and erotic generosity that puts both fiscal health and masculine identity at risk. Since the Fabula is not the most frequently read of works, I will briefly summarize its plot. Despite never having met, two merchants, one from Egypt, the other from Baldac (in Syria), hear of one another by reputation and develop a mutual admiration and friendship. When they finally meet in person, the Syrian merchant succumbs to a profound illness, which the text suggests is lovesickness for the Egyptian merchant’s betrothed. Unperturbed, the Egyptian immediately offers her and her dowry to his friend and even pays for their wedding. Shortly after their return to Syria, the Egyptian merchant falls into sudden and seemingly inexplicable poverty. Abandoned by his local friends, he decides to visit the Syrian merchant, but upon arriving changes his mind, lest he be rejected by his friend. Finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is falsely accused of murder but decides to admit to the crime and bring his miseries to an end. When the Syrian merchant discovers the Egyptian merchant being taken to jail, he immediately confesses to the crime in order to save his friend. The actual murderer is so moved by the men’s unselfish love that he admits his guilt, and the Egyptian merchant returns home with the gift of half of the Syrian’s goods.
1 Lydgate’s poem has been known by this title since the edition of Gustav Schleich and J. Zupitza (Fabula Duorum Mercatorum, vol. 83 [Strassburg: Trübner, 1897]). The title is scribal, and appears in London’s British Library, MSS Harley 2251 and Additional 34,360. See nt. 1, p. 7, in Pamela Farvolden’s edition of the Fabula in John Lydgate: Fabula Duorum Mercatorum and Guy of Warwyk (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2016). All quotations of the poem are from this edition and are cited parenthetically.
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The Fabula is a luxurious expansion of Lydgate’s s twelfth-century source, found in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis.2 While Alfonsi’s prose narrative can be contained within fewer than three pages of printed prose, Lydgate’s poem spills out into 130 verses.3 The dilation that has received the most attention has been Lydgate’s expansive treatment of the merchants’ friendship. Lydgate devotes a significant percentage of the poem’s 910 lines to the nature and quality of the men’s friendship. Their bond seems to contain the elements of that “perfect friendship” described by classical writers like Cicero, Aristotle, and Seneca: shared virtue, a willingness for mutual sacrifice, the joint ownership of goods, and a commonality that is so complete that they seem to share a single 2 The Disciplina Clericalis is a collection of stories translated from Arabic to Latin in the twelfth century by Petrus Alfonsi. Alfonsi’s version of this story, also known as “The Whole Friend” or “The Perfect Friend,” brings together a number of motifs about male friendship found in classical Greek, Roman, and Arabic texts. Alfonsi’s text becomes a source for a number of subsequent stories about male friendship, which develop along two different lines. The first strand, which Lydgate’s text is an example of, adheres most closely to Alfonsi’s version. Examples of this strand also include the Alphabet of Tales and William Caxton’s Aesop (the first of the “Fables of Alfonce”). The second strand is perhaps better known and includes the tale of Titus and Gisippus in the Decameron (tenth day, eighth story), which itself becomes a source for subsequent versions of the tale, including several English versions written from the early sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries. There are several notable differences between Lydgate’s and Boccaccio’s renditions of the story. In Boccaccio’s version the setting is Athens, the principals are named and have been friends since childhood, Gisippus’s betrothed is tricked into sleeping with Titus (thinking he is the man she married), and at the end of the tale, Gisippus decides to remain in Rome with his friend rather than return to his native Athens. I will discuss some of these differences and their possible significances later in this chapter. For a useful summary of Petrus Alfonsi as a source and the two narrative strands that develop from it, see Farvolden’s edition of the Fabula, 8–9. 3 Not everyone views positively Lydgate’s lack of economy. Walter Schirmer sees the Fabula as the culmination of Lydgate’s late style, which he characterizes as “an ornate decorative scroll-work of abstract ideas and a predilection for formulations that obscure the sense.” See John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century, trans. Ann E. Keep (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), 76. Derek Pearsall concedes one must admire Lydgate’s style, although he feels the Fabula “sinks” under the weight of its digressions. See John Lydgate (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), 204. Lois Ebin sees the influence of Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale in the poem’s digressions, arguing that they serve to add emotion and intensity to a relatively simple plot. See John Lydgate (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985), 111–2. I will have more to say about the poetic, economic, and gendered motivations behind rhetorical dilation in the sixth chapter of this book, which centers on the Man of Law’s Tale.
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soul.4 Robert Stretter sees in the Fabula’s love triangle a rewriting of the failed and fatal bonds between men in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. While Palamon and Arcite are unable to put their friendship before their desire for a woman, the merchants are willing to sacrifice love, money, and even life itself for one another.5 Pamela Farvolden also reads the poem alongside the Knight’s Tale and through the lens of male friendship, although her focus is on the darker underbelly of that relationship. She argues that Lydgate’s poem makes explicit what is only implicit in Chaucer’s tale: Women are the conduit through which homosocial bonds are made and solidified.6 Although Pamela Farvolden observes that some form of the word love appears ten times in the descriptions of the merchants’ burgeoning friendship, she dismisses the possibility of same-sex desire: “these rather
4 On classical ideas of friendship and their transmission to the medieval and early modern age, see Laurens Mills, One Soul in Bodies Twain: Friendship in Tudor Literature and Stuart Drama (Bloomington, IN: Principia Press, 1937), 16–75; R. R. Purdy, “The Friendship Motif in Middle English Literature,” in Vanderbilt Studies in the Humanities, vol. 1, ed. Richmond C. Beatty, et al. (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1951), 113–41; Ullrich Langer, Perfect Friendship: Studies in Literature and Moral Philosophy from Boccaccio to Corneille (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1994); Reginald Hyatte, The Arts of Friendship: The Idealization of Friendship in Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994); C. Stephen Jaeger, Ennobling Love: In Search of a Lost Sensibility (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999); and James McEvoy, “The Theory of Friendship in the Latin Middle Ages: Hermeneutics, Contextualization and the Transmission and Reception of Ancient Texts and Ideas, from c. AD 350 to c. 1500,” in Friendship in Medieval Europe, ed. Julian Haseldine (Stroud: Sutton, 1999), 3–43. 5 Robert Stretter, “Rewriting Perfect Friendship in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale and Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum,” Chaucer Review 37, no. 3: 234–52. 6 Pamela Farvolden, “‘Love Can No Frenship’: Erotic Triangles in Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’ and Lydgate’s Fabula duorum mercatorum,” in Sovereign Lady: Essays on Women in Middle English Literature, ed. Muriel A. Whitaker (New York: Garland, 1995), 21–44. More recently Lisa H. Cooper has focused on the poem’s economic language and the ways in which it presents poverty as an illness. She argues that the Fabula attempts—although not entirely successfully—to use the courtly language of reciprocity to transform the merchants’ relationship into a noneconomic one: “The double generosity of this gesture—the gift of money as well as of the girl—highlights the degree to which the poem is trying to leave the concerns of the market behind” (322). See “‘His guttys wer out shake’: Illness and Indigence in Lydgate’s Letter to Gloucester and Fabula Duorum Mercatorum,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 30 (2008): 303–34, esp. 313–31. As I will argue below, it is precisely the desire to leave the market behind—to stop thinking like a merchant—that will be a source of opprobrium in the poem.
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strong terms do not imply a homosexual relationship; Lydgate is using the language of courtly love to evoke noble characters moving in an aristocratic setting.”7 Robert Stretter reaches a similar conclusion, noting that “sexual desire … has very little place in medieval friendship conventions … the tradition of ideal male friendship takes pains to place itself at the opposite end of the spectrum from erotic love.”8 And in a more recent treatment of sworn brotherhood in medieval romance, Stretter observes there is “no legible sexual desire” in the depictions of these bonds.9 But what does it mean for desire to be legible in the Middle Ages, let alone our own? As Alan Bray’s seminal work on friendship has made clear, the lines between friendship and desire are blurred and obscured in the premodern period because “they occupied a similar terrain.”10 Consequently, as James Schultz has argued, scholars need a new method for analyzing premodern same-sex relations, “one that does not assimilate male couples of the Middle Ages to modern homosexuality but
“‘Love Can No Frenship,’” 28–9. “Rewriting Perfect Friendship,” 240. 9 Robert Stretter, “Engendering Obligation: Sworn Brotherhood and Love Rivalry in Medieval English Romance,” in Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse, ed. Albrecht Classen and Marilyn Sandidge (Berlin: De Gruyter, Inc., 2011), 501–24, at 512. 10 Alan Bray, “Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England,” repr. in Queering the Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,  1994), 40–61, at 42; and The Friend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 186. Some scholars have found frustrating Alan Bray’s reticence to make definitive claims about desire in the documents and monuments he analyzes. As Valerie Traub observes, it is why both those readers who want to locate same-sex desire in male friendship and those who want to expel it can find in Bray’s work a useful touchstone. However, Traub argues that, as a scholar, Bray took seriously what he calls the “ambiguous borderland” (Bray, Friend, 197) between friend and lover in premodern texts, which makes definitive conclusions so fraught. See Traub, “Friendship’s Loss: Alan Bray’s Making of History,” GLQ 10, no. 3 (2004): 339–65, esp. 345–9. Indeed, in the case of “perfect friendship,” both Aristotle and Cicero observe that its rarity and intensity make it structurally very similar to heterosexual love. For a discussion of this point and the ways in which medieval writers on friendship and medieval texts on friendship underscore the queer possibilities between men, see Robert Zeikowitz, Homoeroticism and Chivalry: Discourses of Male Same-Sex Desire in the 14th Century (New York: Palgrave, 2003), esp. 27–43. 8 Stretter,
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that also does not refuse them the possibility of erotic involvement.”11 A poem like Lydgate’s Fabula, with its preoccupation with the pleasures and perils of male friendship, is a perfect text for probing these methodological questions. What is gained and what is lost by obscuring the poem’s queer possibilities? How do those queer possibilities link with other cultural anxieties and fantasies? What critical investments are revealed in the effacement of those possibilities? In his discussion of premodern, same-sex desire, David M. Halperin reminds us of the larger stakes behind these questions and their erasure. Discussing the funerary monuments that are central to Alan Bray’s argument in The Friend, Halperin observes that it is unlikely two men would be buried together in a churchyard if their relationship was believed to be sexual. However, their burial within Church walls does not preclude the possibility of these men having had sex either: “In most cases, I assume, the evidence does not allow us to draw any firm inferences one way or the other. But I do deduce that the rhetoric of friendship or love employed in these monuments succeeded in sealing off the relationships represented in them from any suggestion of being sodomitical [Halperin’s emphasis].”12 In other words, it is the rhetoric of friendship and love and its expulsion of desire—not the relationship itself—that seals off queer possibilities. One might see a similar rhetorical move in scholarly claims that the merchants’ relationship in Lydgate’s text cannot be queer because the terms of perfect friendship vehemently opposed same-sex desire. In this sense, structurally, desire is much like economy. Just as the Enlightenment sequesters economy from other realms, foisting “interest” onto economy, and making other realms seem “disinterested,” so, too, the sealing of friendship from desire makes such relationships seem strictly platonic. It is not so much that “noneconomic” realms are disinterested, but that they appear disinterested because interest has been compartmentalized and contained within economy. It is not so much that sexual desire is illegible in friendships between men, but rather that the rhetoric of perfect friendship has written over it. 11 James A. Schultz, Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 95. 12 David M. Halperin, “Introduction: Among Men—History, Sexuality, and the Return of Affect,” in Love, Sex, Intimacy, and Friendship Between Men, 1550–1800, ed. Katherine O’Donnell and Michael O’Rourke (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 1–11, at 10, nt. 9.
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One such place where the legibility of same-sex desire can be read is in the practice of sworn brotherhood. Medieval culture’s view of these oaths was complicated and contradictory. On the one hand, such bonds were viewed as culturally normative, and the height of courtly behavior.13 On the other, as Tison Pugh has argued, they are viewed suspiciously because they promoted male-male intimacy: “perceptions of sodomy might construe men who swear fraternal oaths as meriting cultural opprobrium, despite the absence of homoeroticism in their relationships.”14 This cultural opprobrium might account for Chaucer’s satirical treatment of these bonds. In Chaucer’s texts, “when a man swears an oath of brotherhood to another man, the vow is soon repudiated, rejected or otherwise rendered problematic.”15 To describe brotherhood oaths as potentially queer is not to argue for a submerged homosexuality, but rather “to expose the ways in which the latent possibility of homosexuality in male friendships bleeds into narrative circumstances addressing other social phenomena.”16 Pugh’s claims about the queer possibilities in these relationships provide another lens for reading the relationship between the two merchants in the Fabula Duorum Mercatorum. On the surface, it might seem that the merchants’ friendship in Lydgate’s poem offers a counterpoint to failed bonds among sworn friends since the bond not only holds, but holds under extraordinary circumstances. However, Lydgate, an attentive reader of Chaucer, might have picked up on the satirical possibilities of such bonds and their queer potential to make a point about the way these men are willing to put their fiscal and masculine well-being at risk for one another, a willingness that the poet hints is both economically unsound and sexually queer. While one thread running through the text 13 On sworn brotherhood in noble and knightly circles, see Maurice Keen, “Brotherhood in Arms,” History: The Journal of the Historical Association 47 (1962): 1–17. On sworn brotherhood in romance, see the introduction to Amis and Amiloun, ed. MacEdward Leach (1937; repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1960), xv–lxxi. 14 Tison Pugh, “‘For to be Sworne Bretheren Til They Deye’: Satirizing Queer Brotherhood in the Chaucerian Corpus,” Chaucer Review 43, no. 3 (2009): 282–310, at 283–4. Although dismissing the queer potential in these relationships, Robert Stretter notes they undergo a shift in the fifteenth century. Where once they celebrated noble, loving friendship, they now become “a site of anxiety and pessimism about male integrity.” See Stretter, “Engendering Obligation,” 502. 15 Pugh, “Sworne Bretheren,” 282. 16 Pugh, “Sworne Bretheren,” 283.
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celebrates the men’s friendship and generosity, another expresses unease at the easy friendship and prodigality between these virtual strangers. This unease manifests most acutely around the Egyptian merchant, who literally divests himself of both his material and erotic goods in order to please his new friend. As we will see, this poem, set in the Middle East, is particularly English in its concerns, especially for the male, mercantile reader likely to be part of Lydgate’s audience. While generosity is a masculine value, prodigality is linked in the poem to femininity, which is presented as both foreign and potentially queer. Uncontrolled generosity, the Fabula suggests, can lead to both financial and sexual ruin. Thus, the poem’s lesson may be less about lauding friendship or accepting the transitory nature of wealth, and more about the need to practice economy in order to maintain one’s fiscal and masculine self.
“Every wiht hath ther suffisaunce”: Imaginative Geographies of the Medieval East Stable is used frequently to describe the merchants’ friendship, particularly in the first two hundred lines of the poem. The Egyptian merchant, for example, is said to be “of his word as any centre stable” (line 7) and the love between the men “was maad a stable chene” (line 49).17 Such descriptions fit with key components of classical ideas of perfect friendship, such as virtue, constancy, and equity. They also correspond with the poem’s Boethian themes: The men’s stable (male) friendship can be read as a counterpoint to fickle (female) Fortune and the transient nature of earthly goods and happiness.18 Thus, it is all the more surprising that the poem opens not with an image of stability, but rather with one of fluctuation and fluidity: This riche lond, moost passaunt of plenté, With Surry marchith toward thorient, On which syde is eek the Rede Se And Libye stant ful in the Occident. Who castith the coostys of the firmament, The Grete Se northward shal he fynde, And ferre by south, Ethiope and Ynde. 17 See 18 On
also lines 189 and 195. the Boethian themes in the Fabula, see Farvolden’s introduction to the Fabula,
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As auctours witnesse, this lond [Egypt] is desolat Of cloude and reynes aboute in every yle, But yeer by yeer the soil is irrigat And overflowyd with the flood of Nyle, The which endurith but a certeyn whyle, As for a norshyng her fruyts to fecunde, With corn and greyn to make the lond habounde. Of sondry frutys and of marchaundise, Thoruhout envyroun it is so plenteuous, What mercymony that men list devise Is ther ful reedy and ful copious. I hold it best to be compendious: Of al richesse ther is such habundaunce That every wiht hath ther suffisaunce. (lines 15–35)
This three-verse description of the story’s geographical setting is not found in Lydgate’s source. Rather, Petrus simply states that one of the merchants is from Egypt and the other is from Baldac.19 We might dismiss these lines as just one of the many expansions that Lydgate makes to his source material. But why expand this particular moment? What is the purpose of such a detailed description of place and space? We might think about the poem’s opening in terms of the imaginative geography of the medieval West and its complex and contradictory constructions of the East. As Suzanne Conklin Akbari has argued, a wide variety of medieval texts—literary, political, geographical, encyclopedic—“anatomize, categorize, and hierarchize space” and in doing so collectively “reconstruct the contours of an imaginative geography whose status is not that of a universally accepted ‘truth,’ but rather a discourse that is continually in the process of being articulated and thus creating, as it were, its own truth.”20 These “truths” are generated both by climatic theory—the
19 Although these lines are Lydgate’s addition, they likely are not his invention. They may come from a version of John Mandeville’s Travels (the Cotton [British Library, MS Cotton Titus c. xvi] or Egerton [British Library, MS Egerton, 1982]). A closer resemblance might be found in book 15, Chapter 13 of John Trevisa’s, On the Properties of Things. On this point, see the explanatory notes to lines 15–35 in Farvolden’s edition of the Fabula, 57. 20 Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100–1450 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 14.
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idea that the climate where one resides determines the balance of the humors within the body—and through the theory that people literally embody the sea, land, and other physical features found in the places they reside. Put another way, natural surroundings contribute to national characteristics.21 Here, in Lydgate’s opening lines, we find that imaginative geography pulling in two seemingly opposite directions, both of which will be central to my reading. On the one hand, there is the image of the flooding and fecund Nile, which serves as a geographical embodiment of the seeming ethos of Egypt, at least as presented at the beginning of the poem. Just as the soil is “overflowyd with the flood of Nyle,” ensuring an abundance of crops, Lydgate’s Egypt is one where the overflowing (“habundaunce”) of goods and riches supposedly ensures that “every wiht hath ther suffisaunce.” Such a representation corresponds to popular fantasies of Eastern abundance found in medieval travel narratives, in which an “economy of excess” theoretically makes the generous sharing of goods relatively painless.22 We might see Lydgate’s Egyptian merchant as an embodiment of the place he is from: Like the Nile, he generously floods his friends with his goods and enriches others.23 Yet, on the other hand, we might read the overflowing Nile and its geographical locale differently, as an emblem not of the virtue of generosity, but rather of the vice of prodigality. Such a representation of the East also fits the imaginative geography of the medieval West. For someone like Bartholomaeus Anglicus, whose combining of climatic and geographical theories helped generate much of the medieval cultural imaginary around bodily and national difference, “the ideal body, like 21 Akbari,
Idols in the East, 50–66. Lynch coins this phrase to describe the seemingly endless bounty of the medieval East as imagined by the medieval West, a bounty that allows endless sharing without the fear of personal loss. See Kathryn Lynch, “Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy: East and West in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 33, no. 4 (1999): 409–22. As we will see in the final chapter, this fantasy is rarely viable and has both gendered and economic ramifications. 23 Cooper makes a similar point, noting that “both person and place … are veritable treasuries, of goodness on the one hand and of goods on the other” (314). She suggests that Lydgate’s intention may be to hold the merchants up as moral exemplars for his Christian audience, the message being that if these pagan merchants can be generous, then certainly Christians can as well. On this point, see Cooper, “‘His guttys wer out shake,’” 312–3, nt. 20. 22 Kathryn
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the ideal climate, is medium; it is equally balanced between the extremes inhabiting the golden mean. Ideally, none of the four humors should predominate.”24 To Bartholomaeus and many of his contemporaries, the “ideal body” is not an Eastern body. Those who live in hot climates like Lydgate’s Egyptian merchant (who resides in a land “desolate / Of cloude and reynes”) have a disproportionate amount of yellow bile, making them “irascible, impetuous, and (in the words of Bartholomaeus’ Middle English translator) governed by the ‘appetite … of the werkes of Venus.’”25 The specific terms by which Lydgate describes the Syrian merchant’s lovesickness later in the text affirm the idea that those living in warm climates are prone to excess. Once again we find Lydgate significantly expanding his source. While Petrus states matter-of-factly that the Syrian merchant is struck with lovesickness, Lydgate dilates for eleven verses the merchant’s symptoms and the doctors’ analysis of them. Lydgate pays particular attention to the somatic symptoms of the merchant’s illness. The Syrian merchant has a fever, which initially the Egyptian physicians are at a loss to diagnose. Although fever is not the most common symptom of lovesickness,26 it is the perfect way for the poem to communicate the idea of somatic excess that the opening of the poem suggests with the overflowing Nile. According to Bartholomaeus, fever occurs when the natural heat of the body goes out of control.27 All the fevers that the physicians consider and reject are caused when the humors are out of balance due to bodily excess. For example, the ephemeral fever happens from distemperance or if a man consumes “into excess,” too much meat and drink due to “misgovernance” (lines 287–91). Putrida occurs “whan any humour synneth in quantité / Or whan his flowing is too
Idols in the East, 162–3. Idols in the East, 163. 26 Lydgate may have gotten this symptom from the twelfth-century Giles de Corbeil, called the “medical poet” since he produced medical treatises in verse. On this point, see Farvolden, John Lydgate, 16 and also nt. 39 (which is also on this page). On symptoms of lovesickness, see Mary Frances Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and Its Commentaries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990); and Marion A. Wells, The Secret Wound: Love-Melancholy and Early Modern Romance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). 27 Farvolden, John Lydgate, 16. 25 Akbari,
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plenteuous / That he excedith mesoure in qualité / Yif by blood anoon ye may it see” (lines 296–9). And synocha, a type of putrid fever, occurs “yif the humour in qualité exceedith, / Or heete or blood passe his temperament, / Into a fevere anoon a man it leedith” (lines 302–4).28 One might argue that this feverish depiction of love is precisely the point, that idealized male friendship can serve as a stabilizing force, a levee to stop the somatic overflow of romantic, heterosexual love. However, Lydgate’s narrator suggests that heterosexual love isn’t the only fever operating in the poem. In verse 15, the Syrian merchant travels to Egypt to conduct business, and when he lands, he thinks he is in Paradise: O out on absence of hem that loven trewe! O out on partyng by disserveraunce! O ground of woo of her fevere newe! I meene of freendys that langour in distaunce. O bittir bale hangyng in ballaunce, On thee a clamour now I wil begynne, That casuist lovers assondir for to twynne! (lines 120–6)
There is something decidedly odd about these lines. On the one hand, the most obvious reading is that the “fevere newe” is the previous separation of the friends, which is now mitigated by their physical proximity. Certainly, the clarification in line 123 points to that reading, although one might ask why the narrator would make the point in such a way that a clarifying “I meene” is needed. Another possibility is that the “fevere newe” described in line 122 will be the Syrian’s lovesickness, which, as noted already, Lydgate describes as a fever burning out of control. Yet, the poem will not introduce the Syrian’s lovesickness for another eleven stanzas. If the “fevere newe” is the Syrian’s desire for the Egyptian’s betrothed, why mention it now, when he first arrives? There is a third possibility too: the “fevere newe” is this new friendship between the men, which will be the catalyst for the fiscal woes the Egyptian merchant is about to experience. While the narrator’s clarifying “I meene” (line 123)
28 Cooper also reads these fevers in relation to humoral theory and as a type of excess. She notes the irony is that “the Syrian does not need to be emptied by purgatives that the doctors have brought, since what ails him is not a surplus in need of voiding but a lack in need of filling.” See Cooper, “‘His guttys wer out shake,’” 319.
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seems to direct the reader away from such an interpretation, it also highlights its possibilities by signaling that a clarification is needed because the source of the new fever—desire or friendship (or desire in friendship)—is far from clear. Put another way, while the narrator’s clarification (as well as the heterocentric assumptions of some readers of medieval romance) might lead one to conclude that the source of the Syrian’s fever is desire for a woman, it is precisely that clarification and the need for it that makes visible the possibility of same-sex desire between the men. Indeed, early on in the poem, Lydgate’s narrator hints that the budding friendship between the men is “hot.” In describing the men’s gravitation toward one another, the narrator observes that virtue will travel far in order to find its like in another: “Vertu goth ferre; he may nat hyde his liht. / Withoute feet, a gret paas doth he renne, / And wher he shyneth, no dirknesse of the nyht / His beemys dymmen, nor no cloude of synne. / Withoute smoke, fire ne may nat brenne” (lines 64–8). This idea that where there is smoke there is also fire is picked up a few lines later when, again describing the friendship, the narrator tells us that “Love hath her [the merchants] hertys so soore set affyre” (line 91). The men’s “hot” natures make them susceptible to excess, both in romantic love and in friendship. As we will see in the next section, Lydgate’s poem will go out of its way to highlight, rather than to obscure, the similarities between lovesickness and male friendship. Before exploring those similarities, a final point on the poem’s opening, and specifically its claim that in Egypt “every wiht hath ther suffisaunce.” As the reader will soon discover—not just once, but twice—there actually is not enough for each man to have his “suffisaunce” in the world of the poem. Despite a seeming abundance of women in the Egyptian merchant’s household (so many that he can parade them like goods for sale in front of the lovesick Syrian), there is only one woman both men will want and only one man who can possess her. Nor does a fantasy of abundance fit with the Egyptian merchant’s seemingly inexplicable poverty in the second half of the poem (a subject I will return to later in this chapter). Thus, while this poem may, on the surface, seem to be advocating generosity between friends, it is also making clear that wealth is more finite than it may seem, and that it should be shared prudently with others, especially virtual strangers. Just as “medium” is the ideal body for Bartholomaeus, “measured” generosity—enough, but not too much—is the ideal way to manage one’s erotic and material goods in the world of Lydgate’s poem.
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Amores Ereos: Heroes in Love/The Love of Heroes The disease the Syrian merchant is diagnosed with in the Fabula is amor ereos (line 336). Amor ereos, or lovesickness, is an illness thought in the Middle Ages to be brought about by excessive, even pathological love, and deemed fatal if left untreated. The idea of acute lovesickness has its roots in Arabic medical lore and was transmitted to eleventh-century Europe through Constantine the African’s chapter on lovesickness in the Viaticum. Constantine’s treatment of lovesickness was one of the most widely read until the appearance of Avicenna’s Canon Medicinae in the late thirteenth century.29 While the origins of the idea of lovesickness are known, less clear is how the term amor ereos came to be. In the Viaticum, Constantine describes his topic as amor qui et eros dicitur. In his translation of Constantine’s text, Johannes Afflacius routinely alters eros to heros and eriosis to heroicus. Perhaps Johannes understood the term hero to mean hero, lord, or bard, rather than an aspirated form of eros.30 As Marion Wells succinctly puts it, “The conflation of two distinct etymological lines (‘love’ and ‘hero’) seems to have provided sufficient opportunity for the coining of the hybrid term amor hereos.”31 This hybrid term might also stem from the association of lovesickness with the nobility, whose soft and luxurious lives were thought to make them particularly susceptible to the disease.32 Much like sworn brother hood, amor hereos could be treated with both celebration and opprobrium. It was, on the one hand, seen as a noble and ennobling pursuit by the twelfth century: Thus, someone like Chrétien de Troyes’ Lancelot can both swoon at the sight of Guinevere’s hair on a comb and still be considered the greatest knight of the Round Table. On the other hand, lovesickness was a disease that could put one’s masculinity at risk since medieval culture viewed excessive love as feminizing.33 I would suggest that another explanation for the conflation of heroes with romantic love is that heroes in love with women are not that different from heroes in love with one another. Put another way, the love 29 Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages, xiii; Wells, Secret Wound, 60; and Farvolden, John Lydgate, 14. 30 Wells, Secret Wound, 22; and Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages, 46–7. 31 Wells, Secret Wound, 22. 32 Farvolden, John Lydgate, 14. 33 Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages, 13.
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of heroes is—quite literally—the love of heroes. In this regard, it is worth recalling that the Syrian merchant’s diagnosis of amor ereos is far from conclusive. Rather, the diagnosis is made through a process of elimination until, finally, the physicians decide “it was likly that this passioun / Was eithir thouht, or love that men calle / Amor ereos, that he was in falle” (lines 334–6, my emphasis). “It was likly” that “passioun” was the root cause of the Syrian’s disease, but where does that passion stem from and to whom is it directed? There is nothing distinct about the Egyptian’s betrothed, and her description is far from inspiring: She is fair and virtuous; wise, particularly for her age; prudent and honest; void of vices and humble; beautiful and a virgin (lines 374–90). Much like Emelye in the Knight’s Tale (perhaps even more so) the lack of specifics makes her a perfect screen onto which the Syrian merchant can project his desires. The description of their life together is hardly the stuff of romantic love either: “His wif and he of oon herte in quyete, / For with a bettir [wife] no man ne myht mete. / Ther was no stryf between hem, nor debate. / But ful accordid they be bothe nyht and day. / She hym obeyeth in al, erlich and late, / Whan he seid ‘ya,’ she could nat sey ‘nay’; / A bettir wyf was nevir at al assay” (lines 475–81).34 The kind of intensity one might expect in a life-threatening passion is reserved for the merchants’ friendship, culminating in their departure from one another after the wedding: At ther departyng, the moornyng that is for to wite, The wooful teerys, dolour, and hevynesse, Myn herte bleedith whan I therof endite, To knowe her trouble, turment, and distresse. But of this marchaunt, lyst the kyndenesse: His freendys partyng did hym mor to smerte Than love of hir that sat so nyh his herte. (lines 463–9)
Tears, pain, heaviness, and distress: These are words that convey a depth of feeling the reader might expect to be reserved for describing heterosexual wooing and winning. Indeed, the narrator states quite specifically 34 These lines are followed by an antiphrastic verse that, while seemingly praising women and their patience, helps underscore why male companionship is superior to heterosexual love. On the use of antiphrasis in antifeminist discourse in general and Lydgate in particular, see the note to lines 484–6 on p. 66 of Farvolden’s edition. On the conventional aspects of the lady’s description, see also Farvolden, “‘Love Can No Frenship,’” 31–2.
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that the Egyptian experienced more pain at the loss of his friend than at the loss of his betrothed. Significant, too, is the intrusion of the narratorial “I,” which once again makes its presence known. Although Lydgate’s narrator begins with the “wooful teerys, dolour, and hevynesse” of the merchants, he quickly pivots to write (“endite”) of his own bleeding heart. Here, we find ourselves in a triangle, although not the expected one of two men and a woman. Rather, it is of three men (two merchants and a writer) bonding over the loss of male companionship. In these lines, we have an example of the “ambiguous borderland” between love and friendship that Alan Bray surveys in “Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship” and beyond. Yet what is particularly fascinating about the Fabula is not just that the terrain is blurred, but that Lydgate goes out of his way to illuminate the similarities between love and friendship. Put another way, it isn’t so much that one can’t tell if the two are the same but that Lydgate’s narrator is actively encouraging the reader to see them as similar. For example, three times the men are described as lovers (lines 108, 126, 131) and their hearts are said to be set on fire with love for one another (line 91). Twice Lydgate depicts the bond between the men in language reminiscent of marriage: “Honour is weddyd unto worthynesse. / Unto his semblable thus every thyng can drawe, / And nothyng bynde hem but natur by hir lawe” (82–4), and “As oon in two and two in oon forevere, / That nouht but deth her love may disserve” (lines 97–8).35 Lydgate also uses tropes often found in courtly romance to describe the men’s budding friendship, such as the idea of love as a porter who locks the lover’s heart and holds the key: “Love berith the keye and also the cliket / As trewe porteer, that they mot needys dwelle; / So ar they loke withyne myndys selle” (lines 61–3).36 Even his description of the men’s eventual surrender to friendship 35 For comparison, see the description of the Syrian merchant’s relationship with his new wife: “Joyned in oon, thus been her hertys two / That nought but deth her love may fordoo” (lines 482–3). In “Engendering Obligation,” Robert Stretter observes that another term for sworn brothers is “wedded brethern” (510). 36 Perhaps the most famous example of this trope is from The Romance of the Rose:
“With this,” he [Love] said, “I will lock your heart, and I ask no other guarantee. My jewels are under this key, and I promise you on my soul that it is mistress of my jewel-case and thus has very great power.” Then he touched my side and locked my heart so gently that I could scarcely feel the key.
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, trans. Frances Horgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 31.
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deploys one of the most hackneyed tropes of sexual conquest and violence: “the castel of victorye” was won (line 59).37 Another way that Lydgate highlights the links between these two types of love is by presenting as analogous the mechanisms by which one falls into love and one falls into friendship. In the Middle Ages, lovesickness was thought to occur due to a malfunction of the estimative faculty, the part of the brain responsible for instinctive judgments about what to pursue and what to avoid. In his gloss to the Viaticum, Gerard of Berry observes that with lovesickness, the estimative faculty is overridden and misled by an excessively pleasing sensory perception, resulting in an overestimation of the value of the object: “hence the estimation judges a form to be better, more noble, and more desirable than all others.”38 Sight is a vital component of this process, since it is the means through which that impression first enters the imagination. (It is why someone like Andreas Capellanus will insist blind people cannot experience romantic love.39) Once that sensory impression has been taken in, however, love is primarily about what happens in a person’s mind. Lydgate adheres to many of these medieval conventions in his description of lovesickness: The roote whereof and the corrupcioun Is of thilke vertu called estimatiff, As yif a man have deep impressioun That ovirlordshipith his imagynatif; And that the cours be forth successyf, To trowe a with for love mor fayr or pure, Than evir hym ordeyned hath God or nature. (lines 337–43) There is something decidedly queer about this scene. Jewels are a frequent slang for both male and female genitalia in Old French, and here, it is the “jewels” of the male figure, Love, not those of the feminine mistress, that are being locked away in the poet’s heart. 37 On the links between images of sexual violence and siege, see Brian Sandberg, “‘To Have the Pleasure of This Siege’: Envisioning Siege Warfare During the European Wars of Religion,” in Beholding Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Allie TerryFritsch (London: Routledge, 2012), 143–62. 38 Wack,
Lovesickness in the Middle Ages, 56; and Farvolden, John Lydgate, 15–6. is a bar to love, because a blind man cannot see anything upon which his mind can reflect immoderately, and so love cannot arise in him … ” Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, ed. and trans. John Jay Parry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 33. 39 “Blindness
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Like Gerard of Berry, Lydgate sees the “roote” of amor ereos as a mental malfunction: the imaginative function “ovirlordshipith,” as he puts it, the estimative function. Lydgate’s description of a deep impression nicely conveys the way that the love object is engraved upon the mind of the person struck by lovesickness. Also, like Gerard of Berry, Lydgate sees lovesickness as a type of corruption. The idea of lovesickness as something that corrupts the mind is signaled more clearly in the next verse, in which lovesickness is linked to mania and frenzy: This [amor ereos] causith man to fallen in manye, So arn his spiritis vexid by travayle. Allas, that man shuld fallen in frenesye For love of woman; that litil may avayle. For now these leechys, as by supposayle, Konne of this man noon othir fevir espye, But that for love was hool his malladye. (344–50, my emphasis)
These lines are significant not only for their further pathologizing of lovesickness, but also because, once again, the narrator inserts a doubt about the real cause of the Syrian merchant’s illness. It is “by supposayle” that the doctors conclude lovesickness is the source of the merchant’s frenzy. The physicians’ inability to “noon othir fevir espye” summons once again the issue of legibility and same-sex desire. Are the physicians unable to see another kind of fever—lovesickness for a man— because of the cultural effacement of such queer possibilities in the world of the text? And if so, why does the narrator direct the reader’s gaze to such possibilities? Why does the narrator want us to see what others in the world of the text are unable to spy, if not to once again invite the reader to view the parallels between forms of desire? Indeed, Lydgate draws on the same language of contemplation, imagination, and fantasy to describe the development of the men’s relationship: Revolvyth ech by contemplacioun, Al of his freend the lyknesse and ymage, Thykyng hath grave with deep impressioun Ech otheris fourme, stature, and visage. Her hertys eye did alwey her message, And mynde medleth in the memorial, And fet his foode in the fantastical. (lines 50–6)
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As with lovesickness, here friendship forms through contemplation of one another’s likeness, which engraves upon each of the men a deep impression of the other: their “fourme, stature, and visage.” While the poem does not describe this budding relationship as a type of “corrupcioun,” it is not presented in wholly positive terms here either. Lydgate’s narrator associates this process with the “fantastical,” a word that in Middle English contains both the sense of the illusionary and the supernatural. The idea that the friends are feeding their minds with the fantastical suggests the same kind of malfunction of the estimative faculty associated with lovesickness. In addition, Lydgate’s description of the mind mixing (“medleth”) with memory suggests another connection with lovesickness. Lovesickness is primarily internal. Once the initial visual “impression” has been made, the illness develops in the brain, caused by excessive contemplation of the love object. Lydgate’s choice of medleth to describe the mixing of the mind and memory is significant in terms of the queer possibilities of the merchants’ friendship. Medleth in Middle English means not only “to mix,” but also to mix sexually.40 There is, however, one important way in which these two types of love differ. While the catalyst for lovesickness is seeing a person one desires, the merchants fall in love with each other sight unseen. Lydgate’s narrator states twice that the men did not meet before declaring their love for each other (lines 47–9, 85–7). The merchants encounter the “fourme, stature, and visage” of one another second hand, a point that the poem also makes several times. The Egyptian merchant is “named ferre and wyde / For many oon that hym had seen / Spak of his name which gladly wol nat hyde” (37–40); “From ech to othir the name began to fle, / That by report and by noon othir mene / Of her two lovys was maad a stable chene” (47–9); and, a few lines later, “Thoruhout her erys, wellyd of memorye, / The soun of fame of hem so ferre ifet from far and wide” (57–8). In this way, Lydgate’s merchants are like the Sultan in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, who, as we will see in Chapter 6, falls in love not with Custance’s literal “figure,” but rather with the painted rhetoric used by others to describe her. Classical writers like Cicero concede that it is possible for men to develop deep friendships without ever having met. However, Cicero also believes that such perfect friendships are rare and require a long period
“Sworne Bretheren,” 292.
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of maturation and testing in order to determine their genuineness.41 The king at the end of the poem will affirm this idea, musing that few in his kingdom have the kind of friendship that these merchants seem to enjoy (lines 585–60).42 The rarity of such friendships may also account for the Egyptian merchant’s hesitancy to present himself to his friend when he arrives penniless in Syria. Although he goes in order to “preeve his freend at neede” and to “assay” their friendship (lines 642–3), he hesitates to go to the house in the middle of the night lest “he were anoon refusyd / As man unknowe” (lines 657–8)—in other words, viewed as a stranger, rather than as a friend. While one could argue that over the course of the poem the friends will have put their friendship to the ultimate test, the merchants decide to “entircomownyd” their goods (line 93) and “medleth” their minds well before they even physically meet, let alone before any such test can occur. Perhaps the unexpected nature of such trust explains why in his version of the story Boccaccio not only makes Titus and Gisippus childhood friends, but makes their fathers friends as well. In the next section, I will turn to the text’s attitude toward the “medleth” of these friends, specifically in terms of the mixing of their material and erotic goods. While one thread of the text seems to praise the generosity of the merchants, another views such mixing as risky to one’s fiscal health and masculine identity.
Stranger Danger The Fabula often is treated as a poem in two halves, the second beginning when the Syrian merchant leaves for home with his new bride and the Egyptian merchant is left alone, mourning “for his freend in woo” (line 497). Soon the reader will learn that the Egyptian merchant’s woe will become economic in nature as well, as his fortunes take a “sodeyn turn” (line 566). This turn will be the catalyst for the next two acts of generosity in the poem, the Syrian merchant’s confession to murder to save his friend and the actual murderer’s confession to the crime. But before these events, the reader encounters yet another intrusion by the narrator:
41 Hyatte, 42 On
The Arts of Friendship, 4–5. this point, see Farvolden, John Lydgate, 13, nt. 23.
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But now, allas, who shal my stile guye? Or hensforth who shall be my muse? For verray dool I stond in jupartye, Al merthe of makyng my mateer mot refuse, Me into stoon transmued hath Meduse, For verray stonyng of Fortunys fikylnesse, That for the merveyle no woord I can expresse. Allas, Meggera, I mot now unto thee Of herte calle to helpe me compleyne, And to thy sustir eek Thesiphone, That aftir joye Goddessys been of peyne. O weepyng Mirre, now lat thy teerys reyne Into myn ynke, so clubbyd in my penne, That rowthe in swaggyng abrood make it renne. (lines 498–511)
We might read the narrator’s rudderless and clogged pen and his loss for words as the kind of humility topos common to medieval poetry.43 Yet if the narrator is expressing insecurities about writing—even as a fictional convention—why not express them at the beginning of the poem, rather than halfway through it? A clue to the source of the narrator’s distress is suggested seventy lines later, after a lengthy complaint about poverty that is filled with pathos, evocation, and Boethian observations about the fickleness of fortune: O seely marchaunt, myn hand I feele quake, To write thy woo in my translacioun, Ful ofte I weepe also for thy sake For to beholde the revolucioun Of thy degree and transmutacioun. Allas, to thee I can no bet diffence, Than thee to arme strongly in pacience. (lines 589–95)
Here, the narrator collapses the Egyptian merchant’s financial woe with his own. But why should the merchant’s situation make the narrator’s hand quake and the ink in his pen clog? I would suggest that just as the presumably male narrator can imagine himself taking part in a scene of homosociality (lines 463–9), as a man he can also imagine the social consequences of the merchant’s fiscal misfortunes. Poverty in medieval 43 Farvolden,
John Lydgate, 66, nts. 498–501.
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and premodern England was thought to have not only material ramifications, but social ones as well. For men, those social ramifications were gendered. “Economic impotence,” to use Alexandra Shepard’s phrase, undermined manhood in a number of key ways. Indigency made men dependent on others, a situation that was not only emasculating, but deemed potentially dangerous. Without means, men were excluded from important credit networks and might be deemed less trustworthy since they did not have the fiscal means to fulfil oaths or promises made. “They were men of no account, and reminiscent of the politically impotent ‘fourth sort of men.’”44 While the poem briefly mentions the “hongir, thrust … [and] cold” (lines 568–70) brought on by poverty, it spends most of its time describing the kind of social isolation from other men that Shepard describes. Like Thomas Chestre’s Launfal, the Egyptian merchant flees society: “Allone he drouh hym, fleeyng al presence” (line 528), and he goes “Out by hymsilf, walkyng in wildirnesse” (line 547). And the fleeing seems mutual: The merchant’s riches and friends disappear simultaneously (line 524). Three times within a span of fourteen lines, the merchant laments how his onetime friends have abandoned him now that he is poor (lines 545–6, 549–50, 555–9). Once the subject of his fellow citizens’ praise, he is now an object of their gossip: “Now am I repreef to my freendys alle, / Markyd of many and of the peeple fable” (lines 554– 5). Lydgate also makes explicit the Egyptian merchant’s exclusion from the kind of homosocial networks described by Shepard: “now destitut, I am beshet withoute” (line 553). It is here where we can see that, despite the poem being set in the Middle East, it is particularly English in its themes and concerns. While we do not know precisely the intended audience of the Fabula, it is likely that this poem, like Lydgate’s many other works, was intended for an audience in part comprised of civic elites, which would include wealthy merchants. Pamela Farvolden suggests that a portrayal of merchants behaving in a noble
44 Alexandra Shepard, “Manhood, Credit and Patriarchy in Early Modern England c. 1580–1640,” Past & Present 167 (2000): 75–106, at 89. Women’s economic success was also linked to their personal and social credit. On this subject, see Marjorie Keniston McIntosh, Working Women in English Society, 1300–1620 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 10–2.
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and virtuous way might appeal to the aspirations of a mercantile class.45 Also appealing for an English merchant-reader would be the fantasy of a place— even if imaginary—where “every wiht hath ther suffisaunce” (line 35). Such a place certainly did not exist for merchants living in late medieval England. As Sylvia Thrupp notes, merchants in the fifteenth century had many opportunities, but also faced many challenges. While an increase in international trade and the growth of urban markets provided opportunities, a constant influx of merchants, both foreign and domestic, and an increase in the number of young, unemployed craftsmen, made for increased competition. For this reason, most merchant wealth did not last for more than one generation.46 Thus, the vulnerabilities described by Shepard would be especially acute for merchants living in late medieval England. We might read the narrator’s commiseration with the merchant’s grief through the lens of what Travis Johnson has called “a masculine affective community.”47 In his analysis of Lydgate’s Bycorne and Chychevache, Johnson argues that Lydgate rehabilitates melancholy—usually seen as a feminine and feminizing emotion—into a shared experience that bonds men. Men, anxious about their domineering wives, can take their melancholy and anxiety about their dwindling power—a potentially emasculating situation—and turn it into a shared experience that is a marker of what it means to be a man. As a result, loss creates an affective community that helps valorize feelings of grief and suffering: “Lydgate legitimizes the men’s affective state by reframing their humble statuses within the virtue of humility. Domination by a maystress becomes a symbol of righteousness.”48
John Lydgate, 24. L. Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London, 1300–1500 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 191–233. 47 Travis W. Johnson, “Lydgate’s Affective Turn: Masculinity and Melancholy in Bycorne and Chychevache,” English Studies 93, no. 4 (2012): 427–51, at 431. 48 Johnson, “Lydgate’s Affective Turn,” 441. Johnson will go on to argue that Lydgate “revis[es] melancholy to challenge the borders of gender identity and remake what it means to be a man in fifteenth-century London. Lydgate crafts a narrative of loss and sorrow that seeks to unite men and quell certain anxieties by appropriating an affect that the drama figures as feminine” (431). I do not see the same kind of affective rehabilitation in Lydgate’s Fabula. Rather, fiscal misfortune and its social effects are projected onto queer, foreign, and feminine bodies. 46 Sylvia
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The maystress that dominates the world of the Fabula is not a controlling wife, but another woman, fickle Fortune. As often is the case in late medieval culture, Fortune attacks when one least expects it. The merchant finds himself in a “sodeyn poore estaat” (line 548); his fortunes take a “sodeyn turn” (line 566), and his possessions seemingly vanish overnight (line 522). The narrator begins by focusing on the suffering of the merchant at Fortune’s hands: “To hym Fortune hir falsnesse hath overt, / Hir swift wheel turned up so doun” (lines 519– 20), and “For now Fortune hath chaungid newe his weede, / Freend nor foo ne took of hym noon heede” (545–6). However, very quickly it moves into the general suffering men experience at Fortune’s hands: How many a man hath fortune assayled tested With sleight icast, whan he best wende ha stonde, Her habiriownys of steel also unmayled For al her trust she nolde the lasse wonde To pleye this pleye bothe with free and bonde. For who stood evir yit in sureté That in some siht infect was his degré? (666–72)
Here in these lines, we find all the conventional tropes about Fortune. Fortune is sly and deceitful, striking when a person feels most secure. The arbitrariness of Fortune links this allegorical figure with money, which, as we saw in Chapter 2, tends to bestow and withdraw its gifts arbitrarily. The emasculating threat of such withdrawal is perfectly captured in the image of Fortune stripping the habergeons from men, leaving them “unmayled” and, as a result, “un-maled.” The narrator’s quaking and clubbed “pen” becomes a perfect symbol of impotent masculinity at the hands of loss. Just as a feminine figure, Medusa, immobilizes the writer, so the merchant stands frozen by Fortune’s fickleness: “Me into stoon transmued hath Meduse, / For verray stonyng of Fortynys fikylnesse, / That for the merveyle no woord I can expresse” (lines 502–4). The text perhaps tries to mitigate the emasculating threat by making it a shared experience, something that could happen to anyone: “many a man.” This idea is also expressed earlier: “So ar we travailed with solicitude” (line 580, my emphasis) and “every man on lyve, / How hih in throne he sittith exaltat / Lat hym nat tempte ageyns God to stryve” (lines 596–8).49 49 This same image of a narrator’s quaking hand also appears in Lydgate’s Letter to Gloucester, a complaint poem that laments Lydgate’s empty and ill purse: “Right mythy prince, and it be your wille, / Condescende leiser for to take / To seen the content of
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The idea that Fortune strikes “unwarly” (line 569) and that a turn in fortune can impact any man are both precepts of Boethian philosophy, which the poem is so frequently associated with. The fickleness of feminine fortune may also provide a kind of affective bonding in the way that Johnson describes. But how “sodeyn” is the merchant’s financial fall? And is it solely due to Fortune’s arbitrary whims? While on the surface, it seems that the poem praises the generous and self-sacrificing nature of the men’s friendship and projects onto feminine Fortune the Egyptian merchant’s fiscal woes, there is another narrative thread that is dubious about the wisdom of giving so much of one’s goods—material and erotic—to a virtual stranger. This suspicion would also be in keeping with ideas about wealth and masculine integrity operating in medieval England. While miserliness was seen as potentially ruinous for a man’s social reputation, so, too, was reckless spending: “The most prudent way to sustain a credibly masculine social self … was through moderation in the treatment of one’s own material resources.”50 If we return to the beginning of the poem, we find that while both of the merchants are described as wealthy, they are not described in exactly analogous terms. The Egyptian merchant is rich, and also generous: “Nat oonly riche but bounteuous and kynde, / As of nature to hym it was innat” (lines 3–4). The naturalness of the merchant’s bounteous inclinations recalls the fecund and overflowing Nile, described a few lines later and discussed in the first section of this chapter. The Egyptian
this litil bille, / Which whan I wrote, myn hand I felte quake.” See The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Part II: Secular Poems, ed. Henry Noble MacCracken (London: Oxford University Press, 1934), 665–7, lines 1–4. Cooper observes that “For the poet of the Letter, economic and corporeal distress go virtually hand in hand; for the writer of the Fabula, the mere contemplation of a fictional character’s poverty has a literal, deleterious effect on the hand that pens the tale.” See “‘His guttys wer out shake,’” 326–8. In the opening of book 4 of Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer’s narrator will also observe “my penne … / Quaketh for drede of that I moste endite” (lines 13–4). The context for the narrator’s quaking pen is quite similar to that found in Lydgate’s poem: “Fortune / that semeth trewest whan she wol bygyle” (lines 2–3) has turned against Troilus. See The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). Significantly, Troilus’s loss will be erotic, rather than economic. Yet as we will see, while the Egyptian merchant’s loss seems primarily material, the loss of the girl and the loss of his goods are intimately tied in the poem. 50 Derek G. Neal, The Masculine Self in Late Medieval England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 62.
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merchant’s “nature” is much like the nature of the place he lives. The Syrian merchant is also rich (“eek a worthy man” [line 43] and “Ful weel beloved also in his contré” [line 44]), but there is no mention of his generosity. Rather, the reader is told that he looked after his property and was honest: “in trouthe he hadde al that evyr he wan, / And hym governyd evirmore in honesté” (lines 45–6). The description of the Syrian merchant as a good governor is noteworthy. As Derek Neal observes, good governance of one’s household and one’s property was seen as a product of self-restraint and moderation, and a marker of male integrity.51 Perhaps in this vein, it is not insignificant that it is business that brings the Syrian merchant to Egypt: “he of Baldac to Egipt must goo / For marchaundise that was in that contré / Ful glad he was that he his freend shal see” (lines 101–3). While he is glad at the prospect of seeing his friend, the structure of these lines suggests that pleasure is a secondary consideration for the trip. Pleasure, rather than business, seems to be the Egyptian merchant’s priority. When the Egyptian merchant hears that his Syrian friend will be traveling to Egypt “for verray joye he felte his herte pleye” (line 136). Lydgate’s choice of the word pleye here seems significant given its association with amorous dalliance and actual sexual intercourse,52 and it hints at the queer potential in the burgeoning friendship. One of the first things that the Egyptian merchant does is to offer everything that he owns to the Syrian merchant: “Wherfore wolcom, also, God me save, / Unto your owne and to al that I have” (lines 153–4). This offer to give all that he has is followed by four verses that lavishly dilate the kinds of goods that the Egyptian merchant makes available to his friend: Of mete and drynk, deyntees and vitaille, Of divers wynes, ther was no skarseté; Of straunge viaundys in sondry apparaille, That nevir aforn was seen such roialté. To moore and lasse it snowyd doun plenté. To rekken the fare and cours in thrifty wyse, A somerys day ne myht nat suffice. (lines 155–61)
Masculine Self in Late Medieval England, 58. W. Gust, Chaucerotics: Uncloaking the Language of Sex in the Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 87. 52 Geoffrey
4 THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS: THE PERILS OF GENEROSITY …
These lines evoke the fantasies of pleasure and abundance that Saracen bodies are imagined to enjoy and that Christian bodies are expected to eschew. Late medieval texts are replete with scenes of Saracens enjoying hedonistic pleasures, such as lavish banqueting and drinking, despite the fact that the prohibition against alcohol was one of the aspects of the Islamic faith that was well-known in the Christian world. Such pleasures extended to sexual pleasures too, with both men and women, with whom Saracen men were imagined to “pleye.”53 Thus, this scene is complex in its presentation of the merchant’s behavior. While it can be read as an example of laudable sharing and perhaps even enviable jouissance, it also serves as an example of the kind of excessive and perhaps wasteful consumption linked to the Middle East. The narrator’s observation that there is so much food and drink flowing at the merchant’s house that it “snowyd doun plenté” seems a clear nod to Chaucer’s Franklin: “It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke.”54 Although Lydgate is a frequent borrower from Chaucer, I would argue that this is not a casual appropriation, especially if we consider this poem, set in the Middle East, to be especially English in its preoccupations and concerns. In medieval England franklins, like merchants, were part of a growing group of people who possessed a great deal of wealth, despite lacking noble bona fides. The food and drink that snows in the Franklin’s house is a form of conspicuous consumption that, much like the Franklin’s meditation on “gentilesse,” could speak to an anxiety about how one can display one’s “worth” when that worth is financial, rather than familial. A medieval mercantile reader might feel an uneasy commiseration with the Egyptian merchant’s need to display his wares in such a way. Yet there is another way to read such an exhibition. As Mary Carruthers observes, by Chaucer’s time the Franklin’s form of hospitality would seem somewhat old-fashioned, reflective of the kind of noble household practices described in Robert Grossetest’s “Rules of the Household,” written for the Countess of Lincoln in the thirteenth century. The text encourages public dining and generous portions so that leftovers could be distributed as alms. Eating privately in one’s 53 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “On Saracen Enjoyment: Some Fantasies of Race in Late Medieval France and England,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31, no. 1 (2001): 113–46, at 124–5. 54 Chaucer, General Prologue, Riverside Chaucer, line 345.
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chamber would thwart such a generous practice. While the “Rules” circulated widely for seventy years, no manuscript survives from the late fourteenth century and only one exists from the fifteenth century, perhaps suggesting that the household practices described in a text like this were no longer in fashion. Carruthers observes that just because the Franklin’s household practices might be deemed old-fashioned does not mean that Chaucer is satirizing his pilgrim.55 However, Lydgate might be. Just as the Egyptian merchant’s hospitality could be read as lavish generosity or foolish expenditure, so, too, this older form of hospitality that Chaucer links to the Franklin could be read as old-fashioned generosity or wasteful expenditure. This latter possibility seems particularly germane when we recall that merchants are likely to be part of Lydgate’s audience. Medieval merchants, occupying a fiscally precarious position, would be acutely aware of how such expenditures could deplete one’s fiscal resources. A few lines later the text makes clear just how imprudent the Egyptian merchant’s behavior is: They ryde aboute with hauk and eek with houndys, He shewith hym maneers, castellis, and eek tours; Thoruh al his lordship he lat hym in the boundys, By park, by forest, by meedwys fresh of flowrs. And list he were pryked with paramours, Ful many a lady and maide by his side On white palfreys he made for to ryde. Of al his tresour withyne and withoute, Nothyng he hidith; of al he hadde a siht. He saide, “Freend, withouten any doute, What so I have is platly in your myht, I feffe you fully in al my good and riht. Beth glad and wolcom! I can say you no more, Have her myn hand for now and evirmore.” (lines 169–82)
This image of two companions riding and hawking seems lifted out of a medieval romance and once again invites us to think of the two men as knightly heroes, rather than as medieval merchants. However, there
55 Mary J. Carruthers, “The Gentilesse of Chaucer’s Franklin,” Criticism 23, no. 4 (1981): 283–300, at 289–92.
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is also language in this passage that strikes a note of caution about this seemingly bucolic scene. The Egyptian merchant puts all of his goods on visual display for his new friend: “Of al his tresour withyne and withoute, / Nothyng he hidith; of al he hadde a siht.” Such open, visual display of wealth is intended perhaps to produce pleasure or perhaps even envy. Or perhaps it is simply a way for the merchant to signal his worth to his new friend, in a way reminiscent of Chaucer’s Franklin. Yet, the problem with displaying one’s goods is that they transform personal property into commodities that can be desired by others, and such a transformation can have personal as well as material effects. The danger the Egyptian merchant is courting here is suggested at the beginning of this passage: “Thoruh al his lordship he lat hym in the boundys.” Boundaries both mark property as private and provide protection. The Egyptian merchant’s easing of those boundaries may seem like an act of generosity, but it is also foolish given that the goods that the Egyptian merchant possesses are not only part of his “lordship” in the sense of his household or kingdom, but also part of his “lordship” in the sense of the honor, power, and authority of his personage.56 Thus, the boundaries the Egyptian is allowing the Syrian to cross are not just material, but also personal. Perhaps significant in this regard is the use of the word feffe in line 180. While it can have the sense of giving a gift in Middle English, a more common meaning is to legally endow someone—often with hereditary rights—with lands or property. Thus, the language here implies a legal bound that may not be easily undone. In addition, a less common definition of feffe is affianced, an echo of which might be at play not only in the queer possibilities of friendship that I have been tracing throughout this chapter, but also in the context of this specific passage: “Have her myn hand for now and evirmore,” language reminiscent of a marital ceremony. Here, the merchant is giving not only his goods, but also his body. Finally, there may even be a fourth meaning of feffe evoked here: the idea of putting oneself in a fix, such as in the phrase “ben wel feffed in a stede.”57 By letting a stranger cross his boundaries—national,
56 See Hans Kurath and Sherman McAllister Kuhn, eds., Middle English Dictionary (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1952), s.v. lordship (definitions 1a, 2a, and 5a). 57 See Kurath, MED, s.v. feffe (definitions 2a, 1a, 3a, and 1d).
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material, and, as I will turn to now, erotic—the Egyptian merchant is risking not only his financial health, but also his social standing. As the structure of this passage makes clear, women—tucked between the “maneers, castellis, and eek tours” and “al his tresour withyne and withoute”—are among the items the Egyptian merchant displays before his friend, signaling that they, too, are part of his household goods.58 Here, we find another significant difference between Petrus’s version of the story and Lydgate’s: In Petrus’s version, the women are paraded before the Syrian merchant only once, after he has been diagnosed with lovesickness. In Lydgate’s version, the women are displayed twice: first, in front of the merchants as they ride along on horseback with the two men, and second in an effort to cure the Syrian’s lovesickness, but after the damage has been done. As with the display of other kinds of goods, the intention here seems to be to produce pleasure: “And list he were pryked with paramours, / Ful many a lady and maide by his side / On white palfreys he made for to ryde.” However, the word pryked, with its sexual (and especially sexually violent) connotations, suggests the risk that the merchant is taking in displaying his goods before his friend, a risk that, as in the Reeve’s Tale, will impact his social standing as well. Indeed, the Syrian will fall into a “rage” (line 455) for a woman the Egyptian has “kep for his owne stoor” (line 244).59 Of course, his friend has not kept this woman for his “owne stoor” since he has taken her out of storage and put her on display. The fact that the Syrian would fall in love with his friend’s betrothed seems inevitable given their friendship and the dynamics of homosociality, and perhaps becomes a heteronormative way to channel the “passioun” that may be the true cause of his fever. But despite the invitation to cross his boundaries, the Syrian will understand his love of his friend’s betrothed as a transgression of another man’s property rights: He describes his desire as a “trespas” (line 397) and as a theft (“I am abowte falsy hym to reve” [line 254]).
58 On the commodification of the Egyptian merchant’s betrothed, see Farvolden, “‘Love Can No Frenship’”; Stretter, “Rewriting Perfect Friendship,” 247; and Cooper, “‘His guttys wer out shake,’” 319–20. 59 On the sexually violent connotations of Middle English rage, see Douglas Moffat, “Rage, Play, and Foreplay in Middle English Literature,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 94, no. 2 (1993): 167–84.
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It is immediately after the Egyptian merchant invites the Syrian “Thoruh al his lordship … in the boundys” that we have yet another narrative interruption: This straunge marchaunt thankyth hym with herte, Nay, straunge nat; allas, why seid I soo? I spak amys; this word now me asterte, Sith in accord confederat been they two, The boond is maad bothe for wele and woo. I erryd foule to speke of straungenesse, Of tweyne allyed so kneet in stabilnesse. (lines 183–9)
The narrator calls the Syrian a strange merchant, only to immediately ask, why did I say that? Strange indeed. Derek Pearsall reads this moment as an example of dubitation or feigned hesitation.60 Pamela Farvolden sees the move as a clarifying one, arguing that the narrator wants to make sure that the reader understands that the Syrian merchant is only strange in the sense of being from a foreign land, not strange in the sense of unknown.61 However, I take the narrator at his word when he says that the word “me asterte”: That is, escaped me. Here, I would argue, anxiety bubbles to the surface of the text at the prospect of a stranger crossing this man’s boundaries: geographical, economic, and erotic. And as if to affirm this reading, the narrator will again call the Syrian a stranger a few lines later: “This straunge marchaunt hath caught infirmyté” (line 201). Here, there is no explanation or correction. Thus, while the poem invites us to see the Egyptian merchant’s financial difficulties as the arbitrary whim of Fortune, it also makes quite clear that the “unmayling” that takes place is primarily of his own doing: To hym relesyd, he hath his hertly glorye, Himself dismyttid of his inward joye, The briht myrour, the liht of his memorye, Which al his rancour by refut cowde coye; He hath forsake the guyere of his joye, His lives laterne, staff of his crokyd age, To bring his freend in quiete out of rage.
John Lydgate, 203. John Lydgate, 60–1, nt., line 184.
82 D. CADY Of this mateer what shuld I write mor? I wil entrete this processe forth in pleyn: Hir and hir jowellys, hir richesse and hir stor, He hath hym yoven, the stoory seith certeyn. (lines 449–58)
Lydgate’s choice of the word dismyttid nicely encapsulates the two competing narratives about generosity that I have been tracing in this chapter. In its transitive form, dismyttid means to send away or release, which of course is what the Egyptian merchant does when he gives to his friend the gift of the woman and his goods. However, in its reflexive form, it means to divest or deprive oneself.62 While Fortune will be blamed for “chaungid newe his weede” (line 545) and leaving him “nakyd in necessité” (line 570), it is the Egyptian merchant who has divested himself of his goods, material and erotic. The links between both kinds of goods and their impact on masculine identity are neatly tied in the narrator’s observation that “Hir and hir jowellys, hir richnesse and hir stor, / He hath hym yoven.” The lady is goods—part of the merchant’s store—and, simultaneously, comes with goods that he is depriving himself of. It is not surprising that shortly after these lines, the merchant’s fortune takes a “sodeyn turn.” As we saw in Chapter 3 in the case of Launfal, the money and the girl often appear (or disappear) simultaneously. More importantly, perhaps, what disappears with the loss of material and erotic goods is a masculine identity and a social self. One might argue that by the end of the poem these tensions are smoothed over and the anxious specter that haunts the poem has been exorcised. After all, the Syrian merchant makes what might seem like an even bigger sacrifice: He offers his life in exchange for his friend’s. Thus, we might read the Egyptian’s investment in this friendship as one that has paid off. But interestingly, at the end of the poem, the Syrian merchant does not make the same economic sacrifice as the Egyptian merchant did: “Freend, your pensiffheed asswage, And for povert ne beeth no more in rage. But here anoon, as ferre as it may laste, Of al my good, halvendeel is youre. I wyl that it departyd be as faste 62 See
Kurath, MED, s.v. dismyttid (definitions 1 and 2).
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At your devise, your povert to socoure. For our frenship shal every sesoun floure, And in short tyme, I telle it you in pleyn, Ye shul to richesse restooryd be ageyn.” (lines 874–82)
The narrator’s description of poverty as a “rage” recalls lovesickness as a “rage” and links fiscal and erotic lack, not to mention the potentially emasculating violence of poverty that puts a man’s body—physical and social—on display and at risk. While the Syrian merchant offers to “socoure” the Egyptian merchant’s poverty, he does not, as his friend did, offer all of his goods. Rather, he offers half, knowing that this amount won’t be enough to immediately return him to his previous state: “And in short tyme, I telle it you in pleyn, / Ye shul to richesse restooryd be ageyn.” The Syrian merchant, unlike his friend, is careful to keep part of his “stor” for himself. Such prudence may also operate behind his decision to cure his “passioun” with his friend’s lover, rather than the friend himself. Nor do the merchants live out their remaining days together, as they do in Boccaccio’s version of the story. Rather, “Right into Egipt he is goon ageyn. / Of her frenship what shuld I you moor seyn?” (lines 895–6). Perhaps the less perilous friendship is one where a safe distance is maintained. Shortly after arriving in Syria, the Egyptian merchant, “So weyk, so wery, forwandryd, and format” (line 662), slumps against the wall of the temple where he will spend a miserable night and witness a murder. “Take heed, ye ryche,” the narrator says, “of what estat ye bee, / For in this marchaunt your myrour ye may see” (lines 664–5). One way to interpret these lines is through the lens of Boethian philosophy: The Egyptian merchant is a mirror for all men, who, no matter where they are today, fiscally or socially, are likely to be the victims of arbitrary Fortune. However, the “myrour” that the Egyptian provides for the rich reader may not be that earthly goods are transitory or that perfect friendship is permanent. Rather, as I have argued throughout this chapter, the narrator, while seemingly praising the friendship and sacrifice of the Egyptian merchant, is equally doubtful about why someone would put at risk their wealth for a virtual stranger. The Egyptian merchant—perhaps due to an excessive “fevere”—did not “take heed” of his estate, resulting in a cascading series of losses, both material and erotic. For a wealthy and possibly mercantile audience—perhaps the “ryche” who are being warned here—such generosity would be imprudent, particularly for a
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group whose financial lives were so precarious. By setting the tale in the East, the anxiety of that fiscal precariousness—and its potential impact on masculine identity—is safely jettisoned away from England and onto foreign bodies. Or, so it seems. These fiscal and gendered anxieties are a specter that haunts Middle English texts. As we will see in the next chapter, they apparate once more in the most English of works, John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, and once again in a seemingly disinterested realm, romantic love.
Midas’s Touch: Common Property and Erotic Economies in Book 5 of the Confessio Amantis
Book 5 of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis is the poem’s least economical. At almost 8000 lines, it is nearly double the length of any other book in the Confessio with the exception of book 7, although it is still twice the length of book 6. Length, however, is only one of its excesses. Gower divides avarice into twelve categories, twice the number of divisions he uses to classify any other sin in the poem. In addition, 746 lines in, the text lurches into a 1200-line “digression” on the world’s religions that G. C. Macaulay infamously called “ill-advised” and “inexcusable.”1 Equally puzzling is the relationship between the individual tales that Genius tells and the theme of avarice in love. As Peter Nicholson notes, the individual stories often seem broken from their frame, and readers are hard pressed to understand, let alone recall, how the stories exemplify the sins they supposedly illustrate.2 It is perhaps in 1 G. C. Macaulay, ed., The English Works of John Gower, by John Gower, vol. 1 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co., Ltd., 1900), 515. Russell A. Peck counters that the history of the religions section is appropriate in a discussion of avarice given the links some writers made between idolatry and the Catholic Church’s venality. Kingship and Common Profit in Gower’s Confessio Amantis (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), 100–2. Gower may also have had in mind the association of avarice with the worship of money, which Alan of Lille condemns as a daughter of Idolatry. See Alan of Lille, The Plaint of Nature, trans. James J. Sheridan (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980), 175–7. 2 Peter Nicholson, Love and Ethics in Gower’s Confessio Amantis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 254.
© The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_5
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part for these reasons that the individual tales in book 5 have received more attention than the poem between the tales. Again, G. C. Macaulay may have been influential in this regard: He argued that Gower’s “true vocation … [was] as a teller of stories,” and that the stories are the “main thing” and the rest of the poem “machinery.”3 In this chapter, my focus is on a particular section of the Confessio’s “machinery”—the first 746 lines of book 5. These lines provide a roadmap for reading the book’s complex and seemingly contradictory approach to avarice and the synergies and tensions between fiscal and erotic economies. Drawing on classical, patristic, and scholastic ideas about property, Gower opens book 5 by evoking a prelapsarian world where supposedly goods were shared. This world has been lost with the introduction of avarice and the demand for private property. Genius presents sharing as the antidote to avarice: Gold is meant to be “despended”4 among the community, rather than greedily kept out of circulation, and so, too, is love. It is here where scholars have suggested that the book’s analogy between love and money breaks down. Although Nicholson sees an explicit logic in the structure of book 5, that logic dissolves when Amans applies too literally to love the metaphor of commerce and its expectations of payment and reward: “he reduces love to a quid pro quo that annihilates both her [his lady’s] real choice in the matter and also everything that makes love more valuable than a mere possession.”5 Fundamentally, Nicholson argues, the rules of love and gold are different because “love is meant to be held narrowly and closely; it is not meant to be shared.”6 Nicola McDonald reaches a similar conclusion: In Gower’s hands, the analogy between love and money “pushes the poem beyond
3 Macaulay, English Works of John Gower, x. The practice of separating the tales from the rest of the poem continues in the classroom, with most anthologies and editions summarizing—or simply omitting—the poem that occurs between the tales. A notable exception is Russell Peck’s three-volume edition (Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, 2004). On this point, see Nicholson, Love and Ethics, 77. 4 John Gower, Confessio Amantis, vol. 3, ed. Russell A. Peck, Latin trans. Andrew Galloway (Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, 2004), 5.136. All quotations are from this edition of the Confessio and will be cited parenthetically. (For book 2, see volume 2 of this edition, published in 2003). 5 Nicholson, Love and Ethics, 281. 6 Nicholson, Love and Ethics, 265.
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its breaking point.”7 While the poem advocates sharing, McDonald argues that such largesse is incompatible with Christian codes of conduct, which demand monogamy: “Book Five simply does not work.”8 In this chapter, I argue that the logic of book 5 is actually sound— disturbingly so. The fact that the poem does not advocate the sharing of erotic goods does not mean that love is antithetical to money or outside the frame of economy. On the contrary, the poem creates an elaborate argument that outlines why women must share their “goods” with men while, at the same time, ensuring that those goods are the exclusive property of one man. Central to this argument is linking an unwillingness to love with avarice. As we will see, Amans accuses his lady of usury because of her unwillingness to share. Usury is a monetary sin that, in Gower’s text, as in late medieval culture more generally, is tinged not only with avarice, but also with sexual impropriety. While Amans’s insistence on generosity may potentially solve the problem of his lady’s dangier, it also opens up the possibility of her sharing with men other than him, a prospect that is anxiously—and repeatedly—narrativized throughout book 5. How can he ensure that her generosity is directed solely at himself? The answer is also provided in the poem’s first 745 lines. The opening section distinguishes erotic property as a special kind of property that cannot be held in common, both because of the role that it plays in masculine identity and because the “common” nature of women requires private ownership in order to keep their largesse under control. Thus, in the heterosexual economy, a woman’s body is property that has value only if it is in circulation, but must circulate to only one man.
The Body and the City-State: The Classical Debate About Private Property In order to lay the groundwork for a discussion of medieval property and property rights, I will begin with an overview of classical views of property. These views inform medieval conceptions of property, in both explicit and implicit ways. A number of classical poets wrote nostalgically
7 Nicola F. McDonald, “‘Lusti Tresor’: Avarice and the Economics of the Erotic in Gower’s Confessio Amantis,” in Treasure in the Medieval West, ed. Elizabeth M. Tyler (York: York Medieval Press, 2000), 135–56, at 153. 8 McDonald, “‘Lusti Tresor,’” 144.
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about a Golden Age when property was communally shared, rather than cordoned off for private use: “No fences parted fields, nor marks nor bounds, / Distinguished acres of litigious grounds; / But all was common.”9 Many of these Golden Age narratives link the rise of private property with the emergence of avarice. Seneca imagines Avarice itself as a kind of boundary-crosser that invades the world of communal sharing, insisting on the fences and markers required to make property private: “Avarice broke in upon a condition so happily ordained, and, by its eagerness to lay something away and to turn it to its own private use, made all things the property of others, and reduced itself from boundless wealth to straitened need.”10 Ovid expresses a similar sense of loss due to enclosure: “The land that was once common to all, as the light of the sun is, and the air, was marked out, to its furthest boundaries, by wary surveyors.”11 In Ancient Greece, the debate about whether property should be held privately or communally goes back at least to Plato.12 In the Republic, Plato argues that in his ideal city-state, the Guardians or ruling class would possess no private property “except what is absolutely indispensable.”13 All guardians would live in communal quarters and eat communally, and their shelter, food, and clothing would be provided by the state (420a, p. 122). Plato opposes the ownership of private property by the Guardians because it would focus their attention on their individual needs and desires, rather than those of the community (462c, p. 177). Indeed, Plato believes that the city-state should be thought of as an individual—literally as a body—that experiences pain or pleasure when any of its members experience those sensations:
9 Virgil, Georgics, qtd. in Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, “The Golden Age and Sin in Augustan Ideology,” Past and Present 95, no. 1 (1982): 19–36, at 23, lines 122–3. 10 Seneca, Letter 90, qtd. in Hagit Amirav and Bas ter Haar Romeny, From Rome to Constantinople: Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 34. 11 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Anthony S. Kline, University of Virginia Library Ovid Collection, 2000, http://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Ovhome.htm (accessed September 19, 2018), 1.128–43. 12 The debate may even be pre-Socratic. See Odd Langholm, Economics in the Medieval Schools: Wealth, Exchange, Value, Money and Usury According to the Paris Theological Tradition, 1200–1350 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), 72. 13 Plato, Republic, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 121, 416d. Quotations will be cited parenthetically.
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when someone’s finger is hurt, the whole federation, which encompasses body and mind in its span and forms a single organized system under its ruling part, is aware of the pain and feels it, as a whole, along with the injured part, and that’s why we say that the person has hurt his finger. And the same principle applies to any other part of a person, whether it’s experiencing the discomfort of pain or the relief of pleasure … So in this kind of community, any experience—whether good or bad—of any of its members will in all likelihood be regarded as its own experience, and the community as a whole will share the affected member’s feelings of pleasure or pain. (462d–e, p. 177)
Although Plato permits the individual possession of “indispensable property,” he never defines what category of property that would be. Certainly, it is not familial or erotic property, since in Plato’s republic wives and children are also held in common: “There’s to be no such thing as private marriage between these women and these men: all the women are to be shared among all the men. And that the children are also to be shared, with no parent knowing which child is his, or child knowing his parent” (457c–d, p. 170). In making this argument, Plato applies to the ownership of familial property the same logic he applies to the ownership of material property. When people collectively call property “mine,” they share feelings of pleasure and pain. However, when each have their own houses into which they pull anything they can keep out of the hands of others, and when they each have their own wife and children… this situation introduces into the community the personal pleasures and pains of private individuals. Aren’t they more likely to be genuine guardians if they all regard the same things as within their circle of interest, tend in the same direction, and feel pleasure and pain, as much as possible, under the same circumstances? … And won’t trials and lawsuits against one another be almost non-existent, since they’ll own nothing except their bodies and share everything else? And consequently they’ll be free of all the conflict that arises when people have money or children and relatives. (464a–e, pp. 179–80)
As Plato reminds us in this passage, the Guardians should hold all property in common and receive their support from fellow citizens for their work so that they are not distracted by the idea of “mine,” thus dragging off to their individual homes that which they individually acquire. Taking women and children into one’s private home is a type of individual
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acquisition to be avoided. Once again, Plato links this idea of shared property with shared pleasure and pain: They must “feel pleasure and pain, as much as possible, under the same circumstances.” Under this structure, one’s only private property will be one’s own body, and not any goods—or the body of another, including a wife or child. Aristotle will take a decidedly different approach to the question of private property; an approach that, as with Plato, is informed by his theories about what the ideal city-state might look like. While Plato advocates thinking of the state as a single body that feels pleasure or pain whenever anything happens to any of its members, Aristotle contends that a city-state cannot exist as a single body: But obviously a state which becomes progressively more and more one will not be a state at all. For a state is by nature a plurality of some sort, and the more it becomes one, it will turn from a state into a household into an individual person. For we would say that the household is more one than the state, and the single individual than the household. So, even if someone proved to achieve this, it ought not to be done; for it will destroy the state.14
What becomes clear as book 2 of the Politics unfolds is that for Aristotle the ideal city-state is one made of many bodies, rather than a single body, and private ownership of property is key to the creation of the individual subject. This link between individual ownership of property and individual identity will have repercussions for the gendering of economy in ways that will reverberate in the Middle Ages and beyond. Aristotle begins book 2 of the Politics by outlining three different ways a city-state can organize property: (1) one in which all citizens own everything in common; (2) one where they own nothing in common; and (3) one in which some things are held in common and others are not (2.1260b, p. 22). He concedes that some common property is inevitable given that a city-state is a community, attached to a particular locale. However, the fundamental question is, is it better for a city to hold in common all property that can be held in common, or to hold some things in common and others privately? (2.1261a, p. 22). Immediately after posing this question, Aristotle offers an 14 Aristotle, Politics, trans. Trevor J. Saunders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 23, 2.1261a. Quotations will be cited parenthetically.
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example: “It is possible for citizens to go shares with each other in children, in wives, and in possessions, as in the Republic of Plato. For in that work Socrates says that children, wives, and property ought to be held in common. So is present practice better, or observance of the law proposed in the Republic?” (2.1261a, p. 22). As with Plato, here Aristotle does not differentiate women and children from other forms of property. Rather, they are, along with general “possessions,” examples of items that one can own privately or communally. It is worth noting that at various points in book 2, Aristotle does seem to distinguish wives and children from other categories of property. For example, at the end of 1262b, he asks, what if we continue to own wives and children privately: Should we own other kinds of property communally? Aristotle will go on to outline four reasons he believes private property is preferable. First, Aristotle argues, if property is held in common, disputes are bound to arise between those who work more and take less and those who work less and take more. Second, those who own their own property are more likely to take care of it. Third, owning a thing creates pleasure. Fourth, liberality, which is a virtue, requires private property (2.1262b–3b, pp. 27–8). These arguments for the preferability of private property will be particularly influential in the Middle Ages. Yet, despite Aristotle’s framing of the question at the end of 1262b, the subject of women as property has not been completely abandoned in this section of the text. Aristotle concludes his summary of why private property is preferable by noting that those who advocate communally owned property “make the state an excessive unity,” fail to achieve the results of owning property described above, and “openly suppress the actions of two virtues: restraint with regard to women (for it is a fine action to keep off a woman if she belongs to another, through restraint), and liberality with regard to property. For a man will neither be seen to be liberal, nor do any liberal act; for it is in the use made of possessions that liberality has its function” (2.1263b, p. 28). Here, Aristotle claims that private property takes unification too far (thus preventing the citystate from existing). This claim is the one that has, perhaps, received the most attention since it is part of the argument of Adam Smith (among others) about the need for individual property in order to have both individuality and a city-state. However, less discussed but equally striking is Aristotle’s claim that the private ownership of women allows men to practice the virtuous behavior of not stealing the erotic property of their friends and neighbors. Put another way, the ownership of women
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requires men to modulate their desires for the property of others. (Notably absent is the idea that women own their own “goods”). That Aristotle so seamlessly moves from a general discussion of property (one he begins by excluding women and children) to a discussion of a specific kind of property (women) is a reminder that erotic and material property are one and the same for him and that in the realm of a heterosexual economy, owners are male and property is female. Before turning to how this debate informs patristic and medieval discussions of private and common property, it is worth reiterating that Plato and Aristotle are not offering special reasons for why the family should or should not be communally owned. Rather, they are applying to the family the same logic (Plato for sharing, Aristotle for not sharing) that they apply to the ownership of all property. In other words, erotic property is not a special kind of property that requires special rules, but rather the different rules and beliefs that govern these two philosophers’ approaches to the distribution of goods inform the distribution of children and romantic partners. This fact is important because it will be lost in the Middle Ages: erotic and familial property will not only be separated from the analysis of other kinds of property, but also, due to that separation, the impression is given that it is a kind of property that is non-economic in a number of ways. Yet, the legacy of these classical ideas will still linger, uneasily, in the Middle Ages. This unease can also be found in scholarly discussions of Plato and Aristotle’s differing approaches to property. For example, Sir Ernest Barker finds Plato’s views of the family “to be one of the most repulsive things in the Republic” and describes Plato’s outlook as “mediaeval” and “based on pessimism”: “it is impossible that men and women should come together merely for sexual intercourse, and instantly depart.”15 Aristotle’s views, on the other hand, he describes as “modern” and “based on optimism.”16 Women and men meet not just for sex, but “for a life’s friendship, for the sake of a permanent interest in a common welfare; and in the ‘friendship’ or permanent interest of true marriage lies one of the greatest influences towards a good life.”17 Such a celebratory interpretation of Aristotle’s views on heterosexual relationships seems hard to extrapolate from the 15 Ernest Barker, The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), 150, 148. 16 Barker, Plato and Aristotle, 150. 17 Barker, Plato and Aristotle, 148.
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Politics, and it perhaps says more about modern investments in such relationships than it does about Aristotle’s own views. However, more relevant to the discussion at hand is Barker’s disparagement of Plato’s views as “mediaeval.” As we will see in the next section of this chapter, it is precisely the medieval, Christian context that fabricates this split between material and erotic property that Barker finds so modern.
“All Things Are Common Among Us but Our Wives”: Christian Views of Property Early Christian writers will walk a fine line between Plato and Aristotle. While sharing property corresponds to Christian notions of charity and generosity, sharing wives does not. As Tertullian succinctly puts it, the Christian community is “one in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives.”18 For Plato, the sharing of erotic and familial property produces a sense of shared community; for Tertullian engaging in such practices would result in the loss of community: “We give up our community where it [the sharing of wives] is practiced alone by others, who not only take possession of the wives of their friends, but most tolerantly also accommodate their friends with theirs.”19 Tertullian will go on to wonder if wives who are shared agree to this arrangement. Perhaps not surprisingly, his question is not framed by a concern about the potential for sexual coercion or violence if women are considered property, let alone property shared among friends. Rather, his concern is about how such sharing might encourage a wife’s lascivious behavior. Why, he asks, should a wife be concerned about her chastity if her husband is not?20 In other words, Tertullian’s insistence that women should not be treated
18 Tertullian, Apology, in The Writings of Tertullian, vol. 1, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1869), 53–140, at 120. Sir R. W. Carlyle and A. J. Carlyle submit that early Christians may not have shared their property with one another as much as Tertullian’s comment suggests. On this point, see A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West (New York: Putnam, 1903), 99–100, 135. For a useful overview of the economic practices of the early church, see Roman A. Montero, All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2017). 19 Tertullian, Apology, 120. 20 Tertullian, Apology, 120.
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like shared property does not translate into a belief that they should not be treated like property at all. Like their classical counterparts, many early Christians associated the rise of private property with a loss of a Golden Age.21 In a Christian context, this Golden Age existed in a prelapsarian world, when property was shared. After the fall, avarice was introduced and with it the demand for private property: “the Lord our God wished this earth to be the common property of all and its fruits to be at the disposal of all, but avarice divided the rights of possession.”22 Many early Christians saw private property as a perversion of God’s intention that humans share goods: “God in the beginning made not one man rich, and another poor … He left the earth free to all alike. Why then, if it is common, have you so many acres of land, whilst your neighbor has a portion?”23 Gregory of Nazianzus expresses a similar idea in his Oration 14. Unlike God, who indiscriminately gives his gifts to all, sinners and just alike, men squirrel away gold and silver and quantities of soft and superfluous clothes and glittering jewels and similar items that bear the stamp of war and dissension and of the first act of rebellion … poverty, wealth, what we call freedom, slavery, and such kinds of terms were introduced into human history at a later stage and stormed upon the scene like so many epidemics.24
21 Langholm, Medieval Schools, 73. The Romance of the Rose will also depict the prelapsarian world as one of ease and of sharing, although the romantic sharing that the poem envisions is not what these early Christian writers had in mind. See Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, trans. Frances Horgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 128–30. For a discussion of this aspect of The Romance of the Rose, see Paul Milan, “The Golden Age and the Political Theory of Jean de Meun: A Myth in Rose Scholarship,” Symposium 23, no. 2 (1969): 137–49. 22 Ambrose, Psalm 118, qtd. in Boniface Ramsey, Ambrose (London: Routledge, 1997), 50, 8.22. Ambrose’s own behavior reveals he was not completely opposed to private property. While he gave his gold and silver to the Church, he gave his estate (with the exception of a life interest to his sister) to his brother to manage, and he retained the legal rights for himself. See Rev. John A. Ryan, “The Church Fathers on Wealth and Ownership,” Common Cause 2, no. 1 (July 1912): 163–71, at 163. 23 John Chrysostom, “Homily 12,” in The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. John Henry Parker (London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1853), 93–103, at 101–2. 24 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 14, in St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Select Orations, trans. Martha Vinson (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 39–71, at 58, 14.25.
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In language reminiscent of Plato, Gregory goes on to make the argument that all goods should be shared because all are one in the body of Christ: we must look after the physical needs of our neighbors, both the healthy and those consumed by the same ailment, no less than we do our individual persons. For we are all one in the Lord, rich or poor, slave or free, healthy or sick in body; and there is one head of all, Christ, who is the source of all things; and the same relationship that exists between the members of the body exists between ourselves, both as individuals and collectively.25
It is a commonplace in the Middle Ages to associate communal property with divine or natural law and private property with human law and custom. One might assume, then, that if society were to follow divine law, all property would be shared. However, the concept of natural law and its application are quite elastic in the Middle Ages, a fact that is particularly convenient for those writing about property. Augustine is especially influential in this regard. Augustine viewed human laws and institutions as an unfortunate necessity after the fall. However, that did not mean that they were incompatible with divine law. Rather, the kings and emperors who establish and maintain human laws and institutions are the agents of divine will. Therefore, any laws that they make (including laws about property) have divine sanction. For Augustine, private property is not, in and of itself, the problem. Indeed, he viewed private property as a necessity in a prelapsarian world. However, that does not mean it should be fetishized. For Augustine, humans are simply “passing pilgrims” in this world, and any earthly good is a temporary possession. One’s focus should be on the eternal possession of salvation.26 Medieval writers will apply these same principles to their understanding of law and property. In that application, there is a perceptible shift in attitudes toward private possession. While in classical Golden Age narratives and in some early Christian writings private property is a scourge introduced by avarice and sin, it now becomes an unavoidable necessity,
Oration 14, 44, 14.8. Wood, Medieval Economic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 19–21. 26 Diana
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and even a salubrious one. For example, while Thomas Aquinas believed that the first principles of natural law could not be changed, they could be added to or subtracted from.27 He observed that in a state of innocence, humans could have held property in common without discord, but it is no longer possible to do so due to humankind’s fallen nature and a growth in population: “In this state when owners multiply there has to be a division of possessions, because possession in common is fraught with discord, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] says.”28 The thirteenth-century Franciscan Alexander of Hales also advocated a flexible approach to natural law, based on context. For example, a doctor might think that drinking wine was healthy, but he would not give it to a sick person. In the case of property—and in somatic terms reminiscent of Plato—Alexander contends that before the fall the world was healthy and in that healthy state property could be shared. Now, however, it was fallen and diseased and private property provides a cure for that illness.29 The fifteenth-century English lawyer John Fortescue will argue something similar, stating that private property is necessary for preventing crime. For Fortescue, the issue is not that natural law has changed, but rather that the nature of humankind has changed after the fall, making private property a necessity.30 Although John of Fortescue’s claim that private property is needed after the fall is a relatively standard one by the fifteenth century, he, and John of Paris (writing at the turn of the fourteenth century), will take the discussion of private property and property rights into a new direction. Both will argue that the right to property resides in one’s labor. For both men, labor is an investment that gives one the right to own a particular good. John Fortescue and John of Paris’s theories about property serve as a surprisingly early articulation of John Locke’s theories about labor and property.31 As we will see, in the
Medieval Economic Thought, 22. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: Volume 13: Man Made to God’s Image, ed. and trans. Edmund Hill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 153, 1a.98.1. 29 Wood, Medieval Economic Thought, 22. 30 Wood, Medieval Economic Thought, 21–2; Langholm, Medieval Schools, 123–4. 31 Wood, Medieval Economic Thought, 24–5. On the radical nature of John of Paris’s theory of property, see Janet Coleman, “Medieval Discussions of Property: Ratio and Dominium according to John of Paris and Marsilius of Padua,” History of Political Thought 4, no. 2 (1983): 209–28, esp. 216–9. 28 Thomas
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Confessio Amantis the idea of labor as an investment that gives one the “right” to own what one works for will be an important line of argument for Amans.
“Hyhe Walles for to Kepe”: Avarice and Enclosure Book 5 of the Confessio Amantis opens with a brief synopsis of the origins of private property that braids together many of the classical, patristic, and medieval ideas outlined above. Ferst whan the hyhe God began This world, and that the kinde of man Was falle into no gret encress, For worldes good tho was no press, Bot al was set to the comune, Thei spieken thanne of no fortune Or for to lese or for to winne, Til Avarice broghte it inne; And that was whan the world was woxe Of man, of hors, of schep, of oxe, And that men knewen the moneie. Tho wente pes out of the weie, And werre cam on every side Which alle love leide aside And of comun his propre made, So that insteade of schovele and spade The scharpe swerd was take on honde. And in this wise it cam to londe. (5.1–18)
Like Ovid, Virgil, and Seneca, and like Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nazianzus, Genius associates the emergence of private property with the end of a Golden Age when all goods were held in common. Although Gower does not explicitly link the rise of private property to original sin, the word falle in line 3 suggests the connection. In addition, like Thomas Aquinas, Gower connects the emergence of private property to population growth (“gret encress”) with a resulting “press” for goods. In these opening lines, Gower does not seem to address amatory property per se, limiting his discussion to what a reader might conventionally think of as property, such as “hors … schep … [and] oxe” (line 10). However, there is a foreshadowing
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here of what is to come. The causal effects Genius draws among population growth, increased demand for goods, and the eventual creation of private property will reemerge in Amans’s concern that his lady is surrounded by a “press” of men, a situation that makes him anxious to secure exclusive property rights to her.32 After these lines, Genius moves from an explanation of the origins of private property to a description of its techniques: Wherof men maden dyches depe And hyhe walles for to kepe The gold which Avarice encloseth. Bot al to lytel him supposeth, Thogh he mihte al the world pourchace; For what thing that he may embrace Of gold, of catel or of lond, He let it nevere out of his hond Bot get him more and halt it faste, As thogh the world scholde evere laste. (2.19–28)
Here, Genius moves smoothly from the techniques of enclosure (such as the deep ditches and high walls) to its tactile pleasures: Property is something to embrace, to hold fast, and to never let out of one’s hand, language that evokes the erotics of possession that will undergird book 5. In these lines and those that immediately follow, he also articulates the problem with avarice, which is twofold. One, it is excessive; it wants “al the world [to] pourchace.” Two, as Genius goes on to describe in the lines that immediately follow this passage, it is unproductive. The avaricious man “dare noght use” (5.38) his money for fear of its depletion and keeps it locked away (5.30–9). As a consequence, the rich, avaricious man is rendered poor. Genius associates such a person with a beast of burden because he, too, does not enjoy the fruits of his labor (5.40–9). And in a reversal of the terms of enclosure, it is the avaricious person (and not his money) that is immobilized (“teid”), resulting in the avaricious person becoming money’s “thral” (5.52–4). But what if one does not want to purchase the entire world? In the context of desire, what is “too much”? These are the questions that 32 Amans has already expressed his anxiety about the men surrounding his lady in the description of the Court of Cupid in book 2, the subject of which is envy (2.39–78).
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will vex book 5 and contribute to its complexities and contradictions. As book 5 unfolds, it becomes clear that any kind of private ownership, whether of material or amatory goods, requires enclosure and protection from others, an enclosure and protection that takes on a decidedly disturbing valence when it comes to love. When Amans speaks for the first time in book 5 a few lines later, he seems to have no trouble translating the opening lesson about avarice to his own romantic situation: If I that tresor mihte gete, It scholde nevere be forgete, That I ne wolde in faste holde, Til god of love himselve wolde That deth ous scholde parte atuo, For lieveth wel, I love hire so That evene with min oghne lif, If I that swete lusti wif Mihte ones welden at my wille, Forevere I wolde hire holde stille And in this wise, taketh kepe, If I hire hadde, I wolde hire kepe; And yit no Friday wolde I faste, Thogh I hire kepte and hielde faste. Fy on the bagges in the kiste! I hadde ynogh, if I hire kiste. For certes, if sche were myn, I hadde hir levere than a myn Of gold. For al this worldes riche Ne mihte make me so riche As sche, that is so inly good. I sette noght of other good, For mihte I gete such a thing, I hadde a tresor for a king; And thogh I wolde it faste holde, I were thanne wel beholde. Bot I mot pipe nou with lasse, And suffre that it overpasse, Noght with mi will, for thus I wolde Ben averous, if that I scholde. Bot, fader, I you herde seie Hou th’averous hath yit some weie,
100 D. CADY Wherof he mai be glad; for he Mai whanne him list his tresor se And grope and fiele it al aboute, Bot I fulofte am schet theroute, Ther as my worthi tresor is. (5.69–105)
Central to this passage is Amans’s claim that he cannot be avaricious because, unlike the avaricious person, he does not possess “tresor.” The word tresor appears four times in nearly forty lines, and for a medieval audience reading a poem about love, the word would immediately connote not just material wealth, but also virginity.33 The link between material and erotic goods is further underscored in lines 76–77, when Amans states that “If I that swete lusti wif / Mihte ones welden at my wille.” While welden can mean to subdue to one’s will, it also can mean to shape or manipulate raw material, such as metal.34 Amans’s desire for his “tresor” to “welden at [his] wille” recalls Januarie’s fantasy in the Merchant’s Tale of a young wife whom he imagines will be equally pliable: “But certeynly, a yong thyng may men gye, / Right as men may warm wex with handes plye.”35 As noted in Chapter 2, this pliability informs fantasies about both women and money. However, the very quality that supposedly makes such pliability possible is what creates anxiety, and as in the other texts discussed in this volume, we will see similar anxieties emerge in the Confessio. Despite Amans’s initial insistence that he is not avaricious, in these lines he very quickly begins to fantasize about possessing his lover in language that echoes Genius’s earlier depiction of avaricious enclosure and its tactile pleasures. Three times Amans claims that if he could he would hold his love fast (lines 71, 82, and 93), he would hold her still (line 78),
33 For a useful discussion of virginity as a kind of treasure, see Sally Livingston, Marriage, Property, and Women’s Narratives (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 63–74. Genius makes explicit this link between material treasure and virginity later in book 5 in the description of Neptune’s rape of Cornix (5.6144–224). 34 For example, one way to debase coins was to break a coin in half or punch out its center, replace it with alloy, and weld it back together. See Sidney Sherwood, The History and Theory of Money (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1893), 70–1. 35 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 4 (E) 1429–30.
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and he would keep her (line 80).36 Given that we are clearly talking about the possession of a woman, Amans’s envy that a miser is able “to grope and fiele al aboute” his “tresor” whenever he wishes (5.102–3) is decidedly disturbing, and hints at the dark violence bubbling underneath this erotic economy. While in this passage Amans states a preference for romantic love over love of money, his use of rime riche in lines 70–90 continually calls attention to the similarities between physical and monetary desire.37 Amans tells Genius to “taketh kepe”—that is, to pay attention—that if he ever had his lover he would “keep her”—that is, possess her (5.79–80). He would not fast even on Fridays (evoking the mandate to abstain not just from meat on this day, but also from sex), and he would hold her “faste” if able to possess her (5.81–2). He rejects “bagges in the kiste” (bags in a chest), if only he could “kiste” her, that is, kiss her (5.83–4).38 Nor, he claims, would he want a “myn / of gold” “if sche were myn” (5.85–6). Despite all these links that the opening lines draw between erotic and monetary treasure, there is one notable way in which Amans shifts the 36 On the links between sexual and economic groping in these lines see also McDonald, “‘Lusti Tresor,’” 151. 37 Rime riche is a common device in medieval poetry, and it appears to be a favorite technique of Gower’s. There are 383 uses of rime riche in the Confessio Amantis, and this passage represents the largest cluster of the device in the poem. See Masayoshi Itô, John Gower, Medieval Poet (Tokyo: Shinozaki Shorin, 1976), 214–31. As Alexandra Hennessey Olsen observes, the purpose of rime riche is to call attention to the similarities between two concepts that seem different. See Betwene Ernest and Game: The Literary Artistry of the Confessio Amantis (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), 55–7. Kim Zarins argues that rime riche is a sententious device that undercuts the morally dubious authority of those who try to oppress, making it the particular device of peasants and women. In the Confessio, Amans may be using rime riche as a way to “quyte” Genius. See “Rich Words: Gower’s Rime Riche in Dramatic Action,” in John Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation, and Tradition, ed. Elisabeth Dutton, John Hines, and R. F. Yeager (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 239–53. 38 In “Gower’s Kiste” (John Gower in England and Iberia: Manuscripts, Influences, Reception, ed. Ana Sáez-Hidalgo and R. F. Yeager [Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2014], 193– 214), Andrew Galloway observes that many of the examples of useful goods in chests in the Confessio are women’s bodies, “those persons who, always serving or made to serve some lord or husband, are transported and contained in boxes, coffins, and small rooms, brought forth for wider social ‘use’ and production, or, in failed cases, kept cloistered or imprisoned in pernicious hoarding” (203). He suggests that these “enchested” women may serve as a way both to naturalize the credit and debt economy and the use and reuse of goods and to suggest how a poet might refashion themselves into a valuable political commodity (204).
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terms of Genius’s initial comments about avarice, a shift that points to the labor of love and the fruits that Amans expects to gain from it. As noted earlier, Genius suggests that an avaricious man who is afraid to use his money is like a beast that does not profit from its labor. Although Amans does not possess his “tresor,” he argues that he, too, is like the unprofiting ox, albeit for different reasons: That ye me tolden hier tofore, Hou that an oxe his yock hath bore For thing that scholde him noght availe. And in this wise I me travaile; For who that evere hath the welfare, I wot wel that I have the care, For I am hadd and noght ne have, And am, as who seith, loves knave. (5.107–14)
Amans claims that like the ox he labors without profit, making him love’s servant. At this moment in the text, Genius will not directly address Amans’s complaint. Rather, he will reiterate his earlier observation that keeping rather than spending money turns one into cash’s servant, and that money is meant to be “despended” (5.120–36). However, this initial complaint about unprofitable labor recalls John Fortescue and John of Paris’s claims that investing labor in a thing is what gives one the right to own it. Genius’s statement that treasure is meant to be spent will also become crucial to the book’s later suggestion that those who possess “tresor” are obligated to help those in “need.” It is at this point in the poem that Genius introduces his first example of avarice, the tale of Midas. While Midas is a conventional choice as an exemplum of avarice, in Gower’s hands his story makes explicit the links between erotic and material desire that I have been tracing so far. Among Gower’s alterations is a significant expansion of the initial scene between Midas and Bacchus. When asked what “thing … of worldes good” (5.178–9) he wants for preserving the dignity of Bacchus’s drunk priest, Midas does not immediately choose the power to turn objects into gold, as he does in the classical sources. Instead, Gower gives Midas an internal dialogue of some forty lines in which he ponders the advantages and disadvantages of asking for delight, worship, and profit as his reward.39 39 On Gower’s addition, see Judith C. G. Moran, “The Tale of Midas,” in John Gower’s Literary Transformations in the Confessio Amantis: Original Articles and Translations,
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Midas rejects delight and worship because of their transitory nature: Delight passes with age (5.189–94), and worship is also transitory, since everyone, regardless of their station, will experience the same final fate (5.195–202). Midas also sees material goods as a temporary pleasure, but not, as Augustine claimed, because we are “passing pilgrims” in this world. For Gower’s Midas, the threat is not time, but theft: “For every thief upon richesse / Awaiteth for to robbe and stele” (5.206–7). While casting his mind for a means “to gete him gold withoute faile” (5.230), Midas turns to the power of touch: This king with Avarice is smite, That al the world it myhte wite, For he to Bachus thanne preide, That wherupon his hond he leide, It scholde thurgh his touche anon Become gold, and therupon This god him granteth as he bad. Tho was this king of Frige glad, And for to put it in assai With al the haste that he mai, He toucheth that, he toucheth this, And in his hond al gold it is, The ston, the tree, the lef, the gras, The flour, the fruit, al gold it was. Thus toucheth he, while he mai laste. (5.265–79)
Asked to select a “thing” of the “worldes good,” he does not select a thing at all, but rather the ability to turn things into gold through touch, a word that is mentioned four times in these lines.40 Through touch,
ed. Peter G. Beidler (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982), 55–8, at 56. Moran reads this addition and other changes differently than I do. She sees them as an effort to make Midas a more sympathetic figure than in the classical sources: He is a foolish king who undergoes reform. 40 On the tactile nature of Midas’s greed and the seemingly childlike pleasure he initially derives from it, see Christopher Ricks, “Metamorphosis in Other Words,” in Gower’s Confessio Amantis: Responses and Reassessments, ed. A. J. Minnis (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1983), 25–49, at 38.
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wealth is always—literally—at hand, an image that recalls Amans’s fantasy of “groping” his treasure like the avaricious man. Midas’s ability to make wealth on his own, through the power of touch rather than through the practice of exchange, suggests usury as understood in the Middle Ages. According to Aquinas (whose views on usury were deeply informed by Aristotle and scholastic commentators on Aristotle), the problem with usury was threefold. The first problem has to do with money’s status as a fungible good and the question of who owns money once it is loaned. All goods can be considered either fungible or durable. Fungible goods are possessions that are consumed in their use, such as wheat or wine. Durable goods are possessions that are not depleted when they are used. For example, one can live in a house, but the house is not consumed with that use. Consequently, durable goods, like a house, can be loaned to others without being expended, and obtaining a fee for the use of durable goods was permissible in the Middle Ages. However, one cannot loan someone a fungible good and expect it to be returned unused. For example, if I borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbor, I can return to them another cup of sugar, but not the same cup of sugar since, presumably, I borrowed it in order to use it. Money was considered a fungible good because it functions in a similar way. If I borrow two deniers from a friend (or a merchant), I can repay that money, but I will not be able to return the exact same coins since I am likely borrowing them in order to spend them. Therefore, ownership of money transfers to the person who is borrowing it. Like the usurer, who makes money from money, rather than through exchange, Midas makes money not from exchange, but through the power of his hand.41 41 For
useful and pithy discussions of scholastic and medieval views of usury, see Odd Langholm, The Aristotelian Analyses of Usury (Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1984) and Wood, Medieval Economic Thought, 159–205. See also John T. Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957). The Middle Ages’ approach to usury is complex and far from static. On this point, see Elaine S. Tan, “An Empty Shell? Rethinking the Usury Laws in Medieval Europe,” Journal of Legal History 23, no. 3 (2002) 177–96. One reason for this flexibility and complexity is that despite prohibitions, the machinery of the late medieval economy depended on the ability to borrow money at interest. On money as a fungible good, see Ian P. Wei, “Discovering the Moral Value of Money: Usurious Money and Medieval Academic Discourse in Parisian Quodlibets,” Mediaevalia 33 (2012): 5–46, at 8–10. Joel Kaye notes that in the wake of the commercial revolution, Aquinas’s argument against usury centers on the fact that it is charging a fee for the use of something (money) that has already been sold. See his “Changing Definitions of Nature, Money, and Equality c. 1140–1270, Reflected in
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The second problem with usury is that it is making money from something that does not reproduce on its own. As Aristotle observes in the Nicomachean Ethics, money, unlike fruit trees or livestock, does not breed when stored.42 In the Politics, Aristotle makes more explicit the idea of usury as a form of unnatural breeding: for coinage came into being for the sake of changing round, whereas interest increases the amount of the thing itself. That is where it got its name from: for what resembles a parent is precisely the offspring, and interest is born as coinage from coinage. And so, of all ways of acquiring goods, this one is actually the most contrary to nature. (1.10, p. 16)
It is perhaps due to this link between usury and unnatural reproduction that usury often is linked to sodomy in medieval and premodern discussions. As Will Fisher explains, “the usurer attempts to consume a barren thing and thus make it nourishing, the sodomite consumes a potentially productive thing, thereby making it barren.”43 This issue of usury’s unproductiveness also relates to a third element of the critique of usury, one that is particularly germane to the Confessio’s argument about property and property rights. Usury was considered problematic not only because money is a fungible good and not a natural organism meant to reproduce, but also because it was thought that no physical labor was required to make money from money.
Thomas Aquinas’ Question of Usury,” in Credito e usura fra teologia, diritto e amministrazione: Linguaggi a confronto (sec. XII–XVI), ed. Diego Quaglioni, Giacomo Todeschini, and Gian Maria Varanini (Rome: l’Ecole française de Rome, 2005), 25–55 42 Aristotle,
Nicomachean Ethics, 4.1122. Fisher, “Queer Money,” ELH 66, no. 1 (1999): 1–23, at 14. On the links between the unnaturalness of money breeding because it is not a natural organism, see Langholm, Medieval Schools, 265. By “sodomy” I am invoking here the broadest notion of the term, which covers not only a panoply of sexual activities and pleasures, but also other practices deemed “unnatural” by late medieval culture, including usury and counterfeiting, heresy and treason. Thus, while Will Fisher is right to note that there may be an inverse logic in connecting usury and sodomy, their connection also exemplifies a larger tendency to pathologize certain practices and people by associating them with sodomy. The introduction to Jonathan Goldberg’s Sodometries remains one of the best descriptions of this cultural practice. See Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992; New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 1–28 (Stanford edition). 43 Will
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For example, labor turns wheat into bread or leather into shoes, but one does not need to put in physical labor in order to produce interest from money. Albert the Great differentiates the borrower and the lender by noting that the borrower “by hard labour has acquired something as profit on which he could live, and this the usurer, suffering no distress, spending no labour, fearing no loss of capital by misfortune, takes away, and through the distress and labour and changing luck of his neighbour collects and acquires riches for himself.”44 The investment of labor in legitimizing a transaction becomes so important that the informal definition of usury becomes not just making interest from money one loans, but more generally making a profit without working for it.45 Simon Ravenscroft suggests that this link between a lack of labor and usury is fundamental for understanding Dante’s depiction of usurers and sodomites in the seventh circle of hell in the Inferno. Dante places usurers and sodomites in the same circle because they are, as he puts it, “two opposite sides of the same coin” in the medieval cultural imaginary: Sodomites turn something culturally fabricated as productive (heterosexual, marital, vaginal intercourse) into something culturally fabricated as unproductive (sodomy). The usurer tries to make money, something “naturally” unproductive, productive. In Dante’s hell, the usurer and the sodomite both are punished by burning sand beneath them and a rain of fire falling on them from above. However, while the sodomites are made to constantly wander, the usurers are crouched and still. The usurer’s lack of labor in their earthly life may account for their immobility in the afterlife.46 Returning to Gower, we find many of these ideas about usury lingering in the story of Midas, in both explicit and implicit ways. For example, Midas’s ability to produce gold solely through the power of his own touch (“He toucheth that, he toucheth this, / And in his hond al gold it is”) recalls the critique of usury as unproductive, both because it is masturbatory (an economy of one) and because labor is not needed to make money reproduce. The choice of objects that Gower’s Midas turns to gold is significant in this regard as well: “The ston, the tree, the lef, the gras, / The flour, the fruit, al gold it was” (5.278–9). All these objects come from 44 Albert
the Great, Super Lucam, qtd. in Langholm, Medieval Schools, 197. Medieval Economic Thought, 177. 46 Simon Ravenscroft, “Usury in the Inferno: Auditing Dante’s Debt to the Scholastics,” Comitatus 42 (2011): 89–114, at 97–8. 45 Wood,
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the natural world, thus emphasizing the idea that Midas is perverting both the laws of nature and the laws of economy. Also significant is the situation that makes Midas realizes he has made a terrible mistake: “...hunger ate laste / Him tok, so that he moste nede / Be weie of kinde his hunger fede. / The cloth was leid, the bord was set / … / Bot whanne he wolde or drinke or ete / Anon as it his mouth cam nyh, / It was al gold, and thanne he syh / Of Avarice the folie” (5.280–9). Midas has the ability to make money, a fungible good, through the power of his own hand, but as a result he cannot procure for himself the fungible goods that he needs to satisfy the most “kinde,” or natural, need—hunger. The problem is not that Midas wants wealth, but in wanting to produce wealth with his own hand he, like the avaricious person in general, “excedeth[s] / Mesure” (5.247–8). Excess is the quintessential characteristic of avarice; a desire for “al the world [to] pourchace,” as Genius puts it in the opening lines. Gower makes this connection explicit in the story of Midas by likening avarice to the illness of dropsy: Men tellen that the maladie Which cleped is ydropesie Resembled is unto this vice Be weie of kinde of Avarice. The more ydropesie drinketh, The more him thursteth, for him thinketh That he mai nevere drinke his fille, So that ther mai nothing fulfille The lustes of his appetit. (5.249–57)47
These lines help prepare the reader for the next exemplum of greed Genius will provide, Tantalus. For Genius, Tantalus’s punishment is an example of the kind of “peine” that the avaricious person will experience if they do not give their goods to those who “falle in nede” (5.359–62). On the surface, Tantalus may seem like a strange example of greed since in some versions of his story the crime he is punished for—stealing ambrosia from Mt. Olympus and sharing it with his fellow humans—could be seen as an audacious act of generosity. 47 On the links between avarice and disease, see Richard Newhauser, “The Love of Money as Deadly Sin and Deadly Disease,” in Sin: Essays on the Moral Tradition in the Western Middle Ages (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007), 315–26. Jealousy, too, is linked with disease, a topic that I will return to later in this chapter.
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However, a wide variety of writers, including Horace, Macrobius, Lydgate, Erasmus, the sixteenth-century legal humanist Andrea Alciati, and the seventeenth-century political theorist James Harrington, all use Tantalus as an example of greed.48 Tantalus’s inability to quench his thirst or slack his hunger becomes a perfect image of the insatiable nature of avarice, and it ties in with Midas’s inability to satisfy his “kinde” needs due to avarice. Gower makes this connection clear at the end of his description of Tantalus’s punishment: “Lich to the peines of this flod [the water Tantalus stands in] / Stant Avarice in worldes good. / He hath ynowh and yit him nedeth, / For his skarsnesse it him forbiddth” (5.391–4). Tantalus is a particularly useful personage for Gower to evoke as well because he serves not only as an emblem of greed, but also as an image of the suffering of the unrequited lover.49 Given the book’s dual focus on avarice and on love, Tantalus’s double symbolism enables Gower to bring together two kinds of suffering: The suffering of the avaricious person and the suffering of the unreciprocated lover. However, it is not entirely clear how we are supposed to read Tantalus here in the context of heartache. One possibility is that the infatuated lover is much like the avaricious person described by Genius so far: One who is surrounded by wealth, but cannot satisfy his physical needs and, perhaps, one who wants “too much.” However, another possible interpretation is hinted at here too: Tantalus’s “peine” foreshadows the suffering that Amans imagines his lady will experience in the afterlife because she refuses to share her “goods” with him in his time of need, a refusal that he will also tie to usury.
“Mesure Double and Double Weyhte”: The Usurious Lady Amans’s rather unchivalrous claim that his lady is a usurer occurs later in book 5, after the long discourse on world religions (5.750–1970). As noted in the introduction, the poem’s seeming swerve into the subject 48 H. David Brumble, Classical Myths and Legends in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: A Dictionary of Allegorical Meanings (London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998), 317–8. 49 On Tantalus as an image of unrequited love, see Katherine Heinrichs, “Love and Hell: The Denizens of Hades in the Love Poems of the Middle Ages,” Neophilologus 73, no. 4 (October 1989): 593–604, at 593–5.
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of religion has puzzled critics.50 Whatever its intended purpose, there is a marked shift in the poem’s tone and focus when it resumes after this long interlude. Gower’s poem moves away from a general exploration of property ownership, avarice, and enclosure into an examination of the various kinds of avaricious vices and the need for “measured” ownership in order to avoid them. This focus on measure may explain why when Genius resumes his discussion of the sins of avarice he begins with covetousness. Avarice and covetousness were used interchangeably in a number of medieval texts and both were viewed as vices in opposition to moderation and self-control.51 Genius’s description of usury begins rather conventionally and in familiar terms. Usury, Genius tells Amans, tends to reside with the rich (5.4395). Like Midas, the usurer is someone who “excedeth Mesure,” specifically by taking excessively through deceit: “To al that evere he beith and selleth / He hath ordeined of his sleyhte / Mesure double and double weyhte” (5.4396–8). Even expecting or hoping to receive more than one is owed (whether one actually receives it or not) could be considered usurious in a medieval context.52 The goal of the usurer is to lend as little as possible and to take as much in return as he can: “For wher he schal oght give or lene, / He wol ageinward take a bene, / There he hath lent the smale pese” (5.4407–9). Even the masturbatory nature of usury suggested in Midas’s story is present here: “His love is al toward himselve / And to non other” (5.4404). Quickly, Genius moves from a discussion of usurious financial practices to usurious romantic practices. Usurious lovers share a number of similarities with their financial counterparts. Usurious lovers also expect a large return from a small investment: “thogh thei love a lyte, / That scarsly wolde it weie a myte, / Yit wolde thei have a pound again, / As doth Usure in his bargain” (5.4411–4). Usury in love, as well as possessions, is most likely to reside among the rich (5.4416–7). Genius’s discussion then takes an unexpected turn. He notes that few of the poor are able to “recovere” in love unless they are very deserving. While recovere in Middle English has the general meaning of “recoup,” it more specifically 50 See
Davis, Medieval Market Morality: Life, Law and Ethics in the English Marketplace, 1200–1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 50. 52 Jacques Le Goff, Your Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages (New York: Zone Books, 1990), 26–7.
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means to recover property through legal means. Thus, Genius may be implying that the law—civic or romantic—rarely favors the poor when it comes to property rights. To some, employing a broker may seem like the solution to this unfair system: “Men se poverte / With porsuite and continuance / Fulofte make a gret chevance / And take of love his avantage, / Forth with the help of his brocage” (5.4422–26). Genius’s “men se” seems like an equivocation, perhaps one intended to distance himself from the idea that using brokers is a legitimate way for a poor person to tip the legal and romantic scales. While the idea of a broker or intermediary has a neutral connotation in Modern English, in Middle English it is a term often associated with deceit and monetary vice.53 In the Confessio, Genius affirms this negative meaning of “brocage.” He views it as a form of false advertising, making it appear as if a person has more wealth than they actually do: “That maken seme wher it is noght. / And thus fulofte is love boght / For litel what, and mochel take, / With false weyhtes that thei make” (5.4427–30). Genius’s observation that “brocage” is a form of “false weyhtes” recalls the “double weyhte” of Midas and of usury in general. Thus, while Genius begins by claiming that usury is most often found among the rich, he ends by suggesting that the poor are just as likely to engage in the kind of duplicitous behavior he associates with usury. Perhaps for this reason, Genius concludes by asking Amans if he is guilty of this vice. In a word, Amans’s answer is no. He claims that, unlike a usurer, he does not take more love than he gives by the use “of sleyhte … be double weyhte” (5.4441–2). If anything, he takes significantly less profit than he is owed given his investment: “I wol you be mi trouthe
example, in the Mirour de l’Omme, Gower directly links brokerage with bribery: O le conspir, o le brocage, Dont l’en requert, prie et brocage Qe le visconte aider voldra A luy qui d’autri l’eritage Demande avoir de son outltage. (lines 24889–93) (O the conspiracy, O the intrigue [brocage] with which one request, begs and bribes the sheriff so that he will help the man who is trying outrageously to get someone else’s inheritance!) Qtd. in Matthew Giancarlo’s Parliament and Literature in Late Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 101. For a discussion of brokerage as a kind of manipulation, see Giancarlo, 101–2.
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assure, / Mi weyhte of love and mi mesure / Hath be mor large and more certein / Than evere I tok of love agein” (5.4437–40). He even suggests that he would be happy if in return for the love he has “lent” to his lady he could recoup at least half (5.4447–51). Such measly profit, he argues, is “non excess” (5.4457). Genius has not asked Amans if his lady is usurious. Nonetheless, very quickly, Amans moves from his behavior to hers. He is unhappy with his current amatory situation and worries he has made a bad bargain: For every day the betre I se That hou so evere I give or lene Mi love in place ther I mene, For oght that evere I axe or crave, I can nothing ageinward have. Bot yit for that I wol noght lete, What so befalle of mi beyete, That I ne schal hire give and lene Mi love and al mi thoght so clene, That toward me schal noght beleve. And if sche of hire goode leve Rewarde wol me noght again. I wot the laste of my bargain Schal stonde upon so gret a lost, That I mai neveremor the cost Recovere in this world til I die. (5.4460–75)
This passage is replete with double entendres that, like the rime riche discussed earlier in this chapter, highlight the links between the erotic and the economic. Amans gives and lends to his lady; he does not know what will become of his possessions (“beyete”) “if sche of hire goode leve / Rewarde wol me noght again” (a line that could mean “if she of her good faith will not reward me again” or, possibly, “if she will not reward me with her goods”); and the agreement that he has made (“the bargain”) is so bad that he may never be able to legally recoup (“recovere”) the “cost.” Amans seems to recognize the possibility of confusion in these lines, a confusion he attempts to clarify in line 4463: “Mi love … I mene.” But this clarification does not really refine matters. What are the “beyete” that he is lending and giving? Which “goods” is he expecting in return for his investment? When he says he will be unable to “recovere” from the loss, is he saying that he will not recover (legally?) from his
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broken heart or is he suggesting, as Genius did earlier, that a poor person is unlikely to recover their goods, material or libidinal? In some sense, the answer to these questions may not matter. What Amans is articulating is a theory of give and take, a principle of exchange, that is at play whether one is talking about fiduciary or erotic matters. As he puts it, “What thing it is mi ladi eilleth?” (5.4482) and later, “good reson wolde / That sche somdel rewarde scholde” (5.4497–8). Only someone who is unreasonable or ill—perhaps someone struck by the illness of avarice—would abandon these principles of exchange. It is at this moment that Amans will explicitly accuse his lady of usury. Amans seems aware of the discourteous nature of his accusation. Before he begins, he evokes the cloak of private conversation to give license to his free thoughts: “I have herd seid that thoght is fre, / And natheles in priveté / To you, mi fader, that ben hiere / Min hole schrifte for to hiere, / I dar min herte wel desclose” (5.4485–9). Here, Gower reminds the reader of the device of the confessional that is framing Amans and Genius’s discussion, a safe space where one can confess one’s deepest and perhaps darkest thoughts. We might also see this space of “priveté” as a private, homosocial space between men, where the truths and anxieties about amatory exchange can be aired. “Touchende Usure,” Amans starts, “as I suppose, / Which as ye telle in love is used, / Mi ladi mai noght ben excused” (5.4490–2). “Touchende” in this context has the sense of “on the subject of,” but also serves as a nice echo of the touch linked to the “unnaturalness” of usury. In this section, Amans moves from complaining that he will never be able to “recovere” what he has given or lent to his lady to objecting that he has not received goods that he has paid for: Be large weyhte and gret mesure Sche hath mi love, and I have noght Of that which I have diere boght, And with myn herte I have it paid. Bot al that is asyde laid, And I go loveles aboute. Hire oghte stonde in ful gret doute, Til sche redresce such a sinne, That sche wole al mi love winne And gifth me noght to live by; Noght als so moche as “grant mercy”
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Hir list to seie, of which I mihte Som of mi grete peine allyhte. Bot of this point, lo, thus I fare As he that paith for his chaffare, And beith it diere, and yit hath non, So mot he nedes povere gon. (5.4508–24)
The reference to the lady’s “large wehyte and gret mesure” recalls the kind of “double weyhtes” Genius associates with usury, both in this section of the poem and in the depiction of Midas. However, what Amans describes does not accord with usury as traditionally understood (making excessive interest on the loaning of money—or even simply hoping to) or in the terms of book 5 (giving little and expecting a lot in return). Rather, Amans’s complaint is that he has “boght” and “paid” for goods that he has not received. This sounds less like usury and more like theft. Confidence that one will receive the material goods one pays for is at the heart of successful economic exchange. But what are the implications if the “goods” one thinks one is “owed” are a woman’s body? And who owns those goods in the first place? These questions are tackled quite explicitly in “The Tale of the King and His Steward’s Wife,” which Genius offers as an example of covetousness. In this story, a lustful king asks his steward to procure a woman for him to serve his sexual needs. Wanting to pocket for himself the cash the king is willing to offer, he forces his wife to sleep with the king. When the steward attempts to reclaim his wife the next day, the king refuses: “And seith hou that he hath hire boght, / Forthi sche schal departe noght” (5.2781–82).54 Genius’s focus in this story is on the steward’s greed, by which he “was trapped in his oghne net” (5.2708). My focus here is on the woman’s “goods.” What is clear in this story is that those goods—what one might consider one’s most private property—do not belong to the woman. She is forced by her husband to give them to the king, suggesting they are his property to distribute. Genius puts a positive spin on the story, noting that the wife now has a better husband than the foolish
54 For a recent discussion of this tale as an exploration of the values of feudal vs. monetary economies, see Craig E. Bertolet, “‘Money Earned; Money Won’: The Problem of Labor Pricing in Gower’s ‘Tale of the King and the Steward’s Wife,’” in Money, Commerce and Economics in Late Medieval English Literature, ed. Craig E. Bertolet and Robert Epstein (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 143–156.
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one she had before. However, her desires are not consulted when the king claims his property. Amans is applying a similar kind of logic in his understanding of women’s goods. They are property that must belong to some man. It does not seem to matter that the lady has not made a “bargain” with Amans, nor has she asked for him to give or lend his possessions, amatory or otherwise. Like the money that the avaricious man hoards in his coffers, women’s “tresor” must circulate in the heterosexual economy to have value: Like coins, it must be “despended” in order to avoid accusations of avarice. Amans has labored for these goods and therefore feels they are owed to him. This expectation may account for why Amans associates his lady’s behavior with usury. Her refusal to circulate takes her out of the heterosexual economy and puts her in an economy of one. Immediately, an objection to this reading might be raised. While Amans may advocate the application of the laws of exchange to love, Genius seems to reject his reasoning for two primary reasons. The first is that although Amans complains that he is getting very little for what he has paid, he himself has admitted that just one look from his lady has taken his whole heart. Thus, the “weyhtes” may not be as uneven as Amans believes them to be: “So has thou wel thin herte sold, / Whan thou has that is more worth” (5.4544–5). Second, the laws of love are not the same as the laws of exchange: And ek of that thou tellest forth, Hou that hire weyhte of love unevene Is unto thin, under the hevene Stod nevere in evene that balance Which stant in loves governance. Such is the statut of his lawe, That thogh thi love more drawe And peise in the balance more, Thou miht noght axe agein therfore of dueté, bot al of grace. For love is lord in every place, Ther mai no law him justefie. (5.4546–57)
One cannot expect even weights to be applied in love. Just as the poor person is unlikely to recover their goods, one cannot expect to receive what one is owed except by grace.
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However, Genius’s comments may not serve as the poem’s last word on the subject. The two monetary vices that Genius describes next are parsimony and ingratitude. While these vices are both connected to avarice, why should these vices in particular follow a discussion of usury? The reason may be that parsimony and ingratitude are two sins that, like usury, are associated with “unkyndeness” in the late Middle Ages and serve to reaffirm, rather than refute, Amans’s claim that his lady is usurious because she refuses to share her goods. Take, for example, the Latin verse that opens the discussion of parsimony: Pro verbis verba, munus pro munere reddi Convenit, vt pondus equa statera gerat. Propterea cupido non dat sua dona Cupido, Nam qui nulla serit, gramina nulla metet. (5.vi) (It is fitting to pay back words with words, and a gift with a gift, so that balanced scales carry the weight. Wherefore Cupid [Cupido] does not give his gifts to the avaricious [cupido]; for whoever sows nothing, harvests no hay). (p. 138)
Here, the text seems to be offering a direct counterpoint to Genius’s earlier claim in the discussion of usury that reward and reciprocity should not be expected; it is fitting (“kynde”?) to pay back words and gifts. While the verse does not address love per se, Amans’s longing for the mere exchange of a kind word from his lady (let alone a “gift” from her) recalls his earlier complaints of unequal weights in his relationship. So, too, does the description of the parsimonious person’s refusal to give to anyone in need, even if God himself asked: “no good let out of honde / Though God Himself it wolde fonde / Of gifte scholde He nothing have; / And if a man it wolde crave / He moste thanne faile nede, / Wher God Himselve mai noght spede” (5.4677–82). The parsimonious person’s refusal to let goods “out of honed” suggests the grasping economy of one that the text has associated with both fiscal and amatory usury. Like the avaricious person, the parsimonious one practices the techniques of enclosure and refuses to “despend” their goods: “He takth, he kepth, he halt, he bind” (5.4691). The Latin verse that opens the discussion of parsimony also points to an aspect of property rights discussed earlier in this chapter: the role of labor. The verse’s observation that whoever sows nothing will reap
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nothing could be an encouragement to Amans to keep laboring to win his lady. Indeed, Genius even suggests that if Amans gives gifts he will eventually be rewarded: “after that thou wel deservest / Of gifte” (5.4714–5). Again, this thinking runs counter to Genius’s earlier claims that one should not expect reciprocity, especially in love. But the evoking of labor also recalls John of Paris and John of Fortescue’s idea that labor gives one a right to property. Here, the text may be implying not only that labor will be rewarded but that labor gives one the right to material and amatory goods. The links among “unkyndeness,” avarice, and usury are made even more explicit in the text’s discussion of ingratitude, which immediately follows parsimony. As Andrew Galloway has noted, the word gratitude is not new in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but its meaning and social impact widen during this period. Once more narrowly used to suggest religious generosity or for describing gift-giving in aristocratic circles, reciprocity comes to be expected in social relations more broadly. For example, Vincent of Beauvais defines gratitude as the virtue that motivates one to recognize and requite benefits given to us. “Vincent even declares that those who do not return a benefit with interest (cum usura) are ingrati, a direct use of the ethic in support of the profit economy.”55 The most frequently used words to translate gratitude and ingratitude are kynde and unkynde,56 suggesting not only that such reciprocity is expected, but that foregoing it is unnatural. Gower’s description of ingratitude reflects many of these emerging ideas about gratitude and its wider social impact. Like parsimony, Genius describes ingratitude as a refusal to give, and specifically a refusal to reward: “He wol nothing rewarde agein” (5.4905). Gower highlights the social context of gratitude by noting the isolation of the parsimonious person who has few friends and eschews companionship (5.4909–14). The unnatural state of such isolation is foregrounded by the repetition of kynde and unkynde. Some formation of the word kynde appears no less than seven times in a mere eighteen lines (5.4908–25). Finally, like Tantalus—and like Amans’s lady whom he suspects will experience “peine” in the afterlife—the “unkinde man” is “dampnen” by 55 Andrew Galloway, “The Making of a Social Ethic in Late-Medieval England: From Gratitudo to ‘Kyndenesse,’” Journal of the History of Ideas 55, no. 3 (1994): 365–83, at 369. 56 Galloway, “Social Ethic,” 372.
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the “lawe” (5.4921–2). It is not clear which law Genius is evoking here, although both the social and the divine could certainly be at play. The larger point is that the unkind person who refuses to share is, much like the usurious lady, living outside the bounds of social and perhaps also religious conventions. While the stories that Genius tells to illustrate both parsimony and ingratitude feature men, the descriptions of these vices serve as a tacit reminder to the reader that there is something avaricious and “unkynde” about a woman who locks away her goods and refuses to share them with others. The supposedly “natural” economy of heterosexual exchange demands that women circulate among men rather than avariciously hoard their private property. Book 5 builds this argument first by lauding the sharing of property, then by critiquing avaricious practices that keep goods out of circulation, and finally by linking such avariciousness to the “unkynde” practice of usury. In making such a case for generosity, however, the text faces another problem: How does a man demand a woman’s largesse while ensuring that such generosity is directed only toward him? Tackling this conundrum will be the work of the remaining half of the opening lines of book 5.
Naked and Afraid: Avarice, Jealousy, and “Common” Property Genius concludes the story of Tantalus with some parting thoughts on the nature of avarice, thoughts that will be particularly germane as the text turns more explicitly to one type of avarice in love—jealousy: Men oghten Avarice eschuie; For waht man thilke vice suie, He get himself bot litel reste. For hou so that the body reste, The herte upon the gold travaileth, Whom many a nyhtes drede assaileth; For thogh he ligge abedde naked, His herte is everemore awaked, And dremeth, as he lith to slepe, How besi that he is to kepe His tresor, that no thief it stele. Thus hath he bot a woful wele. (5.417–28)
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Here, Gower ties together many of the ideas about avarice described so far in book 5. Like Midas, the avaricious man worries about how to keep one’s treasure from theft. Like Tantalus, he is unable to enjoy the wealth he is surrounded by, in this case because of his fear of loss. The image of the avaricious man “ligge abedde naked,” worrying about the loss of his “tresor,” is a potent way to communicate the corrosive effects of greed. Like Midas and Tantalus, the avaricious man cannot enjoy a “kinde” need (in this case sleep) because of his “drede.” But why is the avaricious man described lying awake naked? We might read this detail as an aporia in the “kynde” economy of heterosexual romance. To be naked is not only to be without clothes, but also to be physically vulnerable. As we have seen in Fabula Duorum Mercatorum, the loss of wealth can bring about not just poverty but the loss of masculinity. That loss is even more acute when the “goods” in question are a woman, the possession or loss of which impacts directly a man’s masculine identity. It is this potential loss that animates the discussion of jealousy that immediately follows and the conclusion that a woman cannot be shared property. Gower moves smoothly from his concluding remarks about avarice to his opening statement about jealousy: And riht so in the same wise, If thou thiself wolt wel avise, Ther be lovers of suche ynowe. That wole unto no reson bowe. If so be that thei come above, Whan thei ben maistres of here love. (5.429–34)
“And riht so in the same wise” draws a direct connection between jealousy and avarice and invites the reader to see the discussion of the former as a continuation of the discussion of the latter. In doing so, Gower is not unique. Rather, he is drawing on synergies between jealousy and avarice recognized in late medieval culture. Both vices were thought to stem as much from a person’s fears as from actual threats; both compel a person to lock away their goods in order to prevent theft; both are described as a type of wasting disease that eats away at a person possessed by it; and both result in an inability to take pleasure in what one owns. Gower taps all these ideas in his description of jealousy. Like the avaricious person, the jealous person wants to “holden al” (5.437) and perceives threats around every corner: “every man be thief / To stele awey that hem is lief” (5.439–40). Repeatedly, Gower will describe jealousy as
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a self-induced illness (5.464, 468, 511, 569, 579, 617), a “fieverous maladie, / Which caused is of fantasie … Thurgh feigned enformacion / Of his ymaginacion” (5.549–94). And just as the avaricious man stays up all night worrying about the theft of his bags, the jealous man worries about potential rivals for his lady’s love. As a result, neither the avaricious nor the jealous man can enjoy the wealth he possesses (5.595–610). There is nothing unexpected in these connections. However, what is surprising is Amans’s claim that he has no personal experience with jealousy: “Mi fader, for that ye nou telle, I have herd ofte time telle Of Jelousie, bot what it is Yit understode I nevere er this. Wherefore I wolde you beseche, That ye me wolde enforme and teche What maner thing it mihte be.” (5.445–51)
Why would Amans insist that he has heard about jealousy but has never fully understood it? Certainly, one does not have to have firsthand knowledge of an emotion or vice in order to comprehend its qualities. After all, the jealous husband is one of the most hackneyed tropes of late medieval vernacular literature. But more to the point, Amans’s own statements thus far in the Confessio point to a keen familiarity with jealousy. He has already expressed a desire to avariciously hold and grope his lady, an act motivated not only by his desire to possess her, but presumably also by his desire to keep her away from the “press” of men who surround her. Even more surprising is Genius’s response to Amans’s request: “Mi sone, that [describing jealousy] is hard to me. / Bot natheles, as I have herd, / Now herkne and thou schalt ben ansuerd” (5.452–4). Genius’s claim that jealousy is hard to describe is puzzling. Thus far, Genius has not struggled to describe other vices, and his opening description of jealousy (5.429–45) hits the conventional points, as noted above. Also, why does Genius state that he, like Amans, has only “herd” of jealousy? Why does he wish to convey that what he is reporting is coming secondhand? We might read Amans and Genius’s claims as an attempt to distance themselves from the feminine and feminizing effects of jealousy. According to Genius, a “lacke of manhode / in marriage” (5.455) is one
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cause of jealousy. Russell Peck glosses manhood as “courteous behavior (gentility)” (p. 45). However, we might also read this lack as a lack of marital management or a general lack of masculinity, which lies at the heart of jealous feelings. Gower further confirms this reading when he describes jealousy as a malady that a man “conceiveth” (5.458). Equally telling is Genius’s choice of a tale to exemplify jealousy, the tale of Vulcan, Mars, and Venus. If jealousy is a product of one’s “ymaginacion,” the tale of an adulterous wife seems an odd way to illustrate that point. It is true that, on the one hand, the tale reaffirms a number of points about the nature of jealousy and its links to avarice. For example, Vulcan’s entrapment of the lovers recalls the avaricious man who wishes to enclose his goods, albeit often to no avail. In addition, Genius’s version of the tale seems to confirm his earlier point that some kind of masculine “lacke” is at the root of jealousy: The gods “ … seiden that he [Vulcan] was to blame, / For if ther fell him eny schame, / It was thurgh his misgovernance; / And thus he loste contienance” (5.691–4). As with the “lak of manhode in marriage,” it is not entirely clear what is meant by misgovernance in these lines. In his study of medieval masculinity, Derek Neal suggests we might think of governance as synonymous with husbandry, which is characterized by “moderation, self-restraint, and self-control….Husbandry included being a ‘husband’ in the modern sense, but also in the now archaic sense of ‘manager,’ one who both orders and sustains.”57 Misgovernance, on the other hand, is a lack of management of one’s household and one’s property, and a sign of masculine lack.58 Vulcan’s “misgovernance” might be his inability to govern himself and his jealous feelings, or it might mean his mishandling of the governance of his household. Either way, it is once again suggested that such “misgovernance” results in a loss of manhood, especially since continence is a type of self-restraint associated with manly virtue in particular in the Middle Ages. The concluding moral of Genius’s story is far from comforting. If one is faced with an adulterous wife, “Bot feigne, as though he wiste it noght: / For if he lete it overpasse, / The sclaundre schal be wel the lasse, / And he the more in ese stonde” (5.710–4). No wonder at the story’s close, Amans finds “this ensample is hard” (5.729).
57 Derek G. Neal, The Masculine Self in Late Medieval England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 58. 58 Neal, Masculine Self, 60.
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I would argue that the tale is less an “ensample” of jealousy and more a justification of why women are a type of property that must be owned, but owned by only one man. With this tale, the source of loss shifts. No longer is the threat coming from the outside, from thieves who wish to steal goods, but rather from the inside, from the goods themselves. The wandering nature of women, much like the wandering nature of money, requires its tight control. This threat is made even more explicit in the text’s second depiction of Venus, which occurs in the long section on religions: Sche made comun that desport, And sette a lawe of such a port, That every womman mihte take What man hire liste, and noght forsake To ben als comum as sche wolde. Sche was the ferste also which tolde That wommen scholde here bodi selle. (5.1425–31, my emphasis)
The repetition of “comun” here is significant. It recalls the issue of common property that the text begins with and invites us to consider the kind of communal sharing of property—including erotic property—that Plato advocates and Aristotle condemns. But here, comun has the sense of being sexually available to many. Venus is like Lady Meed, who, as we saw in Chapter 2, is “as common as the cartway,” distributing indiscriminately her goods, sexual and economic. Jealousy may be an emotion that is a “comun wone” among men, but sexual prodigality is “comun” among women, thanks to Venus’s example. Women, as particularly “moveable” goods, require containment. Kurt Olsson describes Venus’s promotion of “comun love” as “self-interested,” a self-interest that is in contradistinction to the poem’s celebration of courtesy and gentilesse.59 However, there is nothing disinterested or genteel about the romantic economy presented in book 5, nor, in the end, does book 5 demonstrate that, as Nicholson puts it, the rules of love and gold are different. Gower’s poem lauds the sharing of private property in order to make a sophisticated argument about the 59 Kurt Olsson, “Aspects of Gentilesse in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Books III–V,” in John Gower: Recent Readings, ed. R. F. Yeager (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1989), 225–73, at 228.
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“kynde” values of heterosexual exchange. To avoid accusations of usury, a woman is required to share her most private of property to a man in need, a property that has no value if hoarded. At the same time, just as medieval commentators argued that private property was a necessity due to man’s fallen nature, the private ownership of women is necessary due to woman’s supposedly fallen nature, which makes women prone to excessive generosity. That book 5 ends with a discussion of prodigality is no surprise. While one might argue that prodigality is the exact opposite of avarice—excessive spending, rather than excessive hoarding—it is the common theme of excessiveness that links them.60 Book 5’s final argument is less about the dangers of avarice per se, and more about ensuring that women share their goods with men while also ensuring that men enjoy exclusive access to those goods. The “middle wey” that the text strikes between parsimony and prodigality and the “measure” it advocates is a way for men to both own and keep women, the most moveable of goods. That this is where Gower intended to take us all along is foreshadowed by the Latin verse that opens book 5: Obstat auaricia nature legibus, et que Largus amor poscit, striccius illa vetat. Omne quod est nimium viciosum dicitur aurum, Vellera sicut oues, seruat auarus opes. Non decet vt soli seruabitur es, set amori Debet homo solam solus habere suam. (5.i) (Avarice obscures the laws of nature, and those things that generous love requests, she [Avarice] very stingily denies. All gold that is excessive is called vicious; as a sheep preserves its coat, so an avaricious man preserves his wealth. It is not fitting that coin should be kept for one alone. So in love, one single man ought to have his sole woman.) (p. 35)
60 Thus, in Dante’s Purgatario, Statius resides in the fifth terrace, which is occupied both by the avaricious and the prodigal. See Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio, trans. Charles S. Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), Canto XXII, lines 19–48, 236–7. My thanks to the anonymous reader at Palgrave for reminding me of this moment.
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Avarice’s stinginess obstructs the laws of nature required by generous love, an idea that is emphasized in the first portion of book 5. However, the analogy that the verse draws strikes the reader, initially, as odd: An avaricious man is like a sheep that preserves its wool. This example of avarice seems a strange one since, presumably, the sheep’s wool is not simply a commodity: It is a part of itself. Why, then, is it excessive and vicious to keep it? The verse implies what the poem will later confirm: That the sheep’s wool is not valuable until it is “of use”—that is, it has been converted into a commodity to be used by others. Similarly, the lady’s desire not to give a part of herself to Amans—or, it seems, to anyone—means, according to the logic of the poem, that she is wasting a valuable commodity. This analogy is particularly vexing when one considers that virginity, unlike wool, is a “treasure” that, in the Middle Ages, cannot be regained once it is used. Although the verse will next advocate generosity (“it is not fitting that coin should be kept for one alone”), the final conclusion will be not about sharing but about possession: “So in love, one single man ought to have his sole woman.” I read this “so” as a nervous adumbration, one that tries to fabricate a logical conclusion in a rather holey argument. The logic here does not fit the law of generosity, although it fits the concerns about erotic property and masculine identity sketched in this chapter. Thus, the text begins where it ends: It may be proper for some kinds of property to be common, but the common nature of women makes it improper for erotic property to be held in common.
Damaged Goods: Merchandise, Stories, and Gender in Chaucer’s the Man of Law’s Tale
In the previous two chapters, I have explored the ways in which gendered ideas of value infuse two realms often treated as n oneconomic, friendship and love. In this chapter, I turn to a third realm, one that seems, perhaps, more abstract, but where the patrolling of the economic is more virulent: language and aesthetics. As Barbara Herrnstein Smith observes, critics often display a discomfort and distaste when the intimate ties between money and language and economics and aesthetics are laid too bare. While critics acknowledge the economic circumstances in which art is produced and its potential value as a commodity, there remains a longing to differentiate the supposedly intrinsic value of a piece of art from its economic worth.1 Thus, Smith notes, “an aesthetician deplores a pun on ‘appreciation’ appearing in an article on art investment and warns of the dangers of confusing ‘the uniqueness of a painting that gives it scarcity value … with its unique value as a work of art.’”2 Yet that such confusion is possible belies the fantasy that these spheres are separate; that the confusion is described as “dangerous” suggests the ideological stakes in this phantasmic separation.3 1 Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 30–5. 2 Smith, Contingencies of Value, 33. 3 Marc Shell makes a similar point in Art and Money, observing that “precisely how such confusion occurs, if it does not already exist, is not so clear” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 141, nt. 1.
© The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_6
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As I have been tracing throughout this study, economy’s isolation from other realms is a postmedieval phenomenon, but its investments inform how we read medieval texts today. In the case of economics and aesthetics, these investments are no better exposed than in readings of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale. Critics often impugn the Man of Law for having a mercantile attitude, an attitude that is said to impede his ability to understand the spiritual significance of the tale he tells. In the tale’s prologue, the Man of Law indulges both in an enthusiastic encomium dedicated to merchants and their wealth and in a lengthy rant against poverty. Such speeches seem wildly inappropriate for a tale that, ostensibly, is about a woman’s patient tolerance of penury. In addition, the Man of Law seems to convert everyone and everything in the world of the story into commodities, from Custance to Christ’s providence.4 Even stories become commodities for the Man of Law, commodities that are in limited supply and that possess a range of values. Those stories that are new (or at least appear new to a particular audience) have the most value in the literary marketplace. The Man of Law worries these valuable stories are in short supply because Chaucer, albeit “lewedly,” has told them all.5 The Man of Law’s belief that storytelling is a zero-sum game runs counter to many of our working assumptions about the production of medieval narrative, in which “the important thing is not the originality of the basic story, but rather the artist’s execution of it.”6 These
4 On this point see, for example, Laurel Hendrix, “‘Pennance Profytable’: The Currency of Custance in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Exemplaria 6, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 141– 66. Hendrix contends that the Man of Law “converts the enigmatic workings of God’s providence into the logic of the marketplace” (154) and “collapses the distinction between spiritual, verbal and monetary exchange, attempting to reduce Custance and Christ into signs which are freely traded and manipulated for profit, and the act of ‘enditing’ into a form of merchandising” (141). Roger A. Ladd identifies the Man of Law as the first in a series of mercantile misreaders in the Canterbury Tales who are “unable to pull fruyt from narrative chaf” due to their commercial self-interest. See Ladd’s, “The Mercantile (Mis)Reader in The Canterbury Tales,” Studies in Philology 99, no. 1 (Winter 2002): 17–32, at 19. 5 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Tale, in The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 87–104, line 47. All quotations that follow are from this edition and are cited parenthetically by line number. 6 Chauncey Woods, “Chaucer’s Man of Law as Interpreter,” Traditio 23 (1967): 149– 90, at 156.
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working assumptions may explain why scholars tend to ascribe the tale’s approach to storytelling to its narrator, rather than to its author. R. A. Shoaf views the Man of Law as a “property master,” one who is “obsessed with retention” and wants to possess, rather than circulate, the story of Custance.7 Kathryn Lynch associates the Man of Law’s “‘pinching’ commercial mentality” with an “economy of possession,” resulting in a failure to understand that storytelling, with its practice of repeating stories and drawing inspiration from the work of others, operates from an “economy of excess.”8 Chaucer, in contrast to his narrator, is a more sophisticated storyteller, one who understands the roles of intertextuality and influence in narrative production. R. A. Shoaf argues that Chaucer is “a better storyteller than this lawyer. For Chaucer, who is a poet, knows that the sign must circulate, the coin get dirty, the manuscript corrupted.”9 Marc Pelen contends that the Man of Law “exposes himself to Chaucer’s irony” and that Chaucer’s condemnation of his narrator “awards a clear, if unstated, victory to the poet’s sovereign Muse.”10 Lynch observes that given that Chaucer is the authorial presence behind a narrator who is complaining about Chaucer’s robust oeuvre, the idea that Chaucer would be worried about the repetition of stories would contain an “illogical regressiveness … [that] dramatizes its absurdities.”11 However, the conflict between economics and storytelling, and author and narrator, that critics locate in the Man of Law’s Tale is more a product of post-Enlightenment, critical positionality than Chaucer’s satirical pen. In the prologue and opening scenes of the Man of Law’s Tale, Chaucer draws upon a wide range of medieval writers and rhetoricians who present the telling of stories as an activity analogous to the trading
7 R. A. Shoaf, “‘Unwemmed Custance’: Circulation, Property, and Incest in the Man of Law’s Tale,” Exemplaria 2, no. 1 (1990): 287–302, at 293. 8 Kathryn Lynch, “Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy: East and West in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 33, no. 4 (1999): 409–22, at 413–4. Kathryn Lynch links this “economy of excess” with the East as imagined by the medieval West. I will return to this claim and its gendered ramifications in the final section of the essay. 9 Shoaf, “‘Unwemmed Custance,’” 288. 10 Marc M. Pelen, “Providence and Incest Reconsidered: Chaucer’s Poetic Judgment of His Man of Law,” Papers on Language and Literature 30, no. 2 (1994): 132–56, at 154–5. 11 Lynch, “Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy,” 414.
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of goods. In these texts, much like in the Man of Law’s Tale itself, stories are commodities, and those that are new, or at least can be made to appear new through the transformative power of rhetoric, have the most value in the literary marketplace. Merchants are often deemed particularly gifted storytellers, not only because their travels expose them to new stories, but also because rhetorical prowess is essential to their profession. Such a reading might help us to better understand two questions about the tale that have puzzled generations of scholars: its mercantile concerns and its obsession with incest. In the prologue, I see the Man of Law lamenting not poverty per se, but rather his perceived poetic lack due to Chaucer’s supposed poetic prowess. His compliment to merchants is not to their financial wealth, but to their literary possessions, which they are able to acquire through their extensive travel. The Man of Law’s eschewing of incest is intimately tied to this poetic economy. In a move that oddly anticipates Harold Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence, Chaucer combines the idea of poetic property with the threat of incest: to be in a state of poetical need is depicted in the Man of Law’s Tale as both economic and sexual. Examining the economics of storytelling not only helps us better understand this enigmatic tale and medieval investments in storytelling, but also invites us to think about scholarly investments in sequestering poetics from economics. If there is a perceived danger in collapsing the economic with the aesthetic, and the monetary with the poetic, there is also a danger in not acknowledging their structural links: In both, we see an effacement of gender ideology. Medieval writers depicted texts not just as commodities, but also as feminine corpora, and used stories are likened both to inferior goods and to sexually “used” women. These damaged goods can be sold by repackaging them in rhetorical techniques that risk exposure to a violence often depicted in sexual terms and described in economic ways. Such renderings are not a product of a particular economic outlook of individual storytellers like the Man of Law, but rather are embedded in the very structure of storytelling as understood and described by a wide variety of medieval authors. Labeling the Man of Law as the “mercantile” poet and Chaucer as the non-mercantile and thus “real” poet obscures the ways in which this gendered economy undergirds all storytelling.
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Gender and economics are linked to storytelling in this tale in another way as well. To be in the position of telling another’s story places one in a position not only of poetic need, but also of effeminacy. Ironically if, as many scholars now believe, Chaucer obtained the story of Custance from John Gower, it is very likely that it is Chaucer, and not his narrator, who finds himself in a state of poetic poverty. Chaucer’s solution to this dilemma again resembles that proposed by Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence: He creates a rivalry between himself and the Man of Law to obscure his own secondary position. I read the Man of Law not as Chaucer’s dupe, but rather as his doppelganger, one from whom he attempts to distance himself by creating a fictional competition between himself and his narrator. Generations of readers have assisted Chaucer with this project, not only by distancing Chaucer from the Man of Law, but also by creating a second rivalry between Gower and Chaucer. While this rivalry has long been discredited, it still retains a certain haunting currency, a currency that helps to maintain the portrait of Chaucer as an independent and “masculine” poet.12 To engage this reading, I begin with a section that explores the economy of narrative by sketching how a wide variety of medieval writers imagine storytelling and merchandising as analogous enterprises. In the second section, I examine how that economy intersects with the gender ideology that undergirds medieval storytelling to produce a structure in which texts are imagined as both feminine corpora and feminized commodities. In the third section, I link the Man of Law’s aversion to incest with anxieties about poetic property, anxieties that, I argue, are as likely to be Chaucer’s as they are the Man of Law’s. In the final section, I explore the implications when we efface the gendered economy of storytelling.
12 For a discussion of the persistence of the idea of a rivalry between Gower and Chaucer and its gendered implications, see Carolyn Dinshaw, “Rivalry, Rape and Manhood: Gower and Chaucer,” in Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange, ed. R. F. Yeager (Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Press, 1991), 130–52. For a discussion of the supposed rivalry between Gower and Chaucer and its relationship to masculine identity, fiscal anxieties, and scholarly investments, see my essay, “My Purse and My Person: ‘The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse’ and the Gender of Money,” in Money, Commerce and Economics in Late Medieval English Literature, ed. Craig E. Bertolet and Robert Epstein (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 109–26.
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A Very Lord of Merchants: Poetry and Rhetoric in the Late Middle Ages Recently, a number of scholars have analyzed the presence of merchants in Chaucer’s London and their influence on late medieval literature.13 In this chapter, my focus is primarily on travel narratives, the role that they play in the cultural imaginary, and the synergies between the marketing of goods and the telling of stories. Specifically, I am interested in the way that travel narratives stage the gathering of stories as the particular work of merchants. More importantly, travel narratives are a genre that meditates, self-reflexively, on the role that rhetoric plays in the successful selling of stories. These ideas resonate not just with the Man of Law’s presentation of storytelling and the literary marketplace, but with that of late medieval culture as well. We have no way of knowing whether Chaucer had firsthand knowledge of particular travel narratives like those of John Mandeville or Marco Polo. We do know that Chaucer came from a family with mercantile connections and concerns, and critics have found echoes of Mandeville’s writings in particular in Chaucer’s work.14 It is likely that Chaucer was exposed to travel narratives in some form given their wide circulation in the fourteenth century. Travel narratives were extremely popular at that time, making them what Kathryn Lynch has called part of the “cultural geography” of
13 See, for example, Roger A. Ladd, Antimercantilism in Late Medieval English Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Craig E. Bertolet, Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve and the Commercial Practices of Late Fourteenth-Century London (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013); and Jonathan Hsy, Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2013). 14 On the possible influence of Mandeville’s Travels on Chaucer’s work, see Hugo Lange, “Chaucer und Mandeville’s Travels,” Archiv für das Studium der Neuren Sprachen und Literaturen 74 (1938): 79–81; Josephine Waters Bennett, “Chaucer and Mandeville’s Travels,” Modern Language Notes 68 (1953): 531–4; C. W. R. D. Moseley, “Chaucer, Sir John Mandeville, and the Alliterative Revival: A Hypothesis Concerning Relationships,” Modern Philology 72, no. 2 (1974): 182–4; David May, “Mandeville’s Travels, Chaucer, and The House of Fame,” Notes and Queries 34, no. 2 (June 1987): 178–82; and Kathryn L. Lynch, “East Meets West in Chaucer’s Squire’s and Franklin’s Tales,” Speculum 70, no. 3 (1995): 530–51. In this chapter, I follow the practice of Ronald Latham and refer to Marco Polo’s text as The Travels, rather than The Description of the World. See Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. and ed. Ronald Latham (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1958).
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a writer like Chaucer.15 There are 150 extant manuscripts and fragments of Polo’s Travels and an astonishing 300 copies of Mandeville’s Travels, and both texts were translated into over a dozen languages.16 Such facts underscore the popularity of travel narratives and their potential as a very valuable commodity—sometimes quite literally. As Josef Krása notes, in London, Paris, and Bruges, for example, Mandeville’s Travels could be used as a fair medium of exchange.17 Travel narratives were popular in part because they enabled people to visualize objects and places that they could not see with their own eyes. As Patricia Parker observes, in a travel narrative, a writer’s words must stand in for direct, ocular experience. Such a situation requires the skillful use of evidentia. Etymologically linked to the verb video, evidentia enables the reader or listener to see through language what they cannot see with their own eyes.18 As Marcus Fabius Quintilian explains in the 15 Lynch,
“Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy,” 410. Polo’s Travels was originally written in French or Franco-Italian and, twenty years after its first appearance, existed also in Venetian, Latin, German, and Tuscan as well. For a description of these versions of Marco Polo’s text, see John Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 105–15. Mandeville’s Travels was translated from French into over a dozen languages, including Welsh, Old Irish, and Czech. A pictorial edition of the Travels even exists. For a discussion of the various versions of the Travels, see M. C. Seymour, Sir John Mandeville, in Authors of the Middle Ages 1 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1993), 8–49 and Iain Macleod Higgins, Writing East: The “Travels” of Sir John Mandeville (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), xii–xiii. For the general influence of Mandeville on medieval texts and audiences, see Rosemary Tzanaki, Mandeville’s Medieval Audiences: A Study on the Reception of the Book of Sir John Mandeville (1371–1550) (London: Routledge, 2003). C. W. R. D. Moseley notes that the popularity of Mandeville’s Travels extends well into the early modern period. The text was printed more than any other secular work, suggesting that printers were well aware they had a valuable commodity on their hands: “Early printers, for whom speculative commercial production does become a reality, would have known that Mandeville was a book for which there would be sure demand. These many manuscripts created, in fact, both market and taste for the multiple copies made by the new technology.” Moseley, “‘New Things to Speak of’: Money, Memory, and Mandeville’s Travels in Early Modern England,” The Yearbook of English Studies 41, no. 1 (2011): 5–20, 9. On the influence of Mandeville’s Travels on early modern literature, see the essays collected in A Knight’s Legacy: Mandeville and Mandevillian Lore in Early Modern England, ed. Ladan Niayesh (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010). 17 Josef Krása, ed., The Travels of Sir John Mandeville: A Manuscript in the British Library, trans. Peter Kussi (New York: G. Braziller, 1983), 13. 18 Patricia A. Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, 1987), 138–40. 16 Marco
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Institutio Oratoria, evidentia is imago quodammodo verbis depingitur (“an image painted with words”); ab aliis [evidentia] dicitur proposita quaedam forma rerum ita expressa verbis, ut cerni potius videatur quam audiri (“a representation of facts that appeals to the eyes rather than to the ears”); and a technique that enables one to see something oculis mentis: literally, in the mind’s eye.19 Given their extensive travel, merchants were particularly well positioned to obtain stories about distant places and, once home, to paint evocative pictures of those places in the minds of their listeners or readers. In book 15 of The Travels, John Mandeville depicts a scene that illustrates the importance of storytelling as part of merchants’ labor. During a private audience, the Sultan of Damascus asks Mandeville about the moral conduct of Christians in England. Although Mandeville insists that English Christians are morally upright, the Sultan demurs and rattles off an extensive laundry list of English vices, including gluttony, licentiousness, and extravagant dress. Perhaps wisely, Mandeville does not refute these charges. However, he is perplexed: How does the Sultan know so much about the habits of a people so far away?: And than I asked him how he knew the state of Cristene men. And he answerde me that he knew all the state of alle contres of Cristene kynges and princes and the state of the comounes also be his messangeres, that he sente to all londes, in manere as thei weren marchauntes of precyous stones, of clothes of gold and of othere thinges, for to knowen the manere of euery contree amonges Cristene men.20
The Sultan’s response is revealing. While one might assume that the primary business of merchants is to buy and sell goods, in the Sultan’s kingdom merchandising is actually a cover for merchants’ real business: collecting information about distant lands and people. Mandeville does not address the role rhetorical prowess plays in successfully rendering one’s travel experiences into narrative.
19 Marcus Fabius Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, ed. and trans. H. E. Butler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921), 8.3.63, 9.2.40, 8.3.62. 20 John Mandeville, Mandeville’s Travels, ed. M. C. Seymour (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 15.19–25.
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However, an early scene in Marco Polo’s Travels suggests its importance. Polo observes the great interest that the Khan takes in foreign lands and cultures and the Khan’s dismay that his emissaries do such a poor job translating into language what they see and experience while traveling on his behalf. Polo sees an opportunity in his colleagues’ deficiencies. On his next business trip for the Khan, he makes careful note of what he sees and hears and, when he returns, provides a detailed report of his experiences. The Khan is pleased, and Marco Polo becomes an important emissary, one who not only conducts the Khan’s business but also successfully “brings back word of many novelties and curiosities.”21 The Khan’s desire for “novelties and curiosities” suggests both why travel narratives might be popular and the importance of rhetoric in translating supposed firsthand knowledge into narrative. While it was a well-known fact that many travelers’ tales were embellishments at best and out-and-out fabrications at worst, the desire to learn something new is what gives these stories their appeal and their value.22 The links among travel, trade, and rhetorical prowess suggested by Mandeville’s and Polo’s texts converge in Hugh of St. Victor’s description of commerce in The Didascalicon and underscore the synergy between merchandising and storytelling:
21 Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, ed. and trans. Ronald Latham (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1958), 41. 22 Christian Zacher notes that critics of medieval pilgrimages often claimed that curiosity, and not religious fervor, was the primary motivation for traveling on pilgrimages. Curiosity was seen as a sensation that could be satisfied especially through sight. Travel narratives, with their painted rhetoric, would be one way for those back home to quench their curiosity as well, albeit by secondhand means. Christian Zacher, Curiosity and Pilgrimage: The Literature of Discovery in Fourteenth-Century England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 19–33. Zacher notes that “to be ‘busy’ is one delight of the curious, and Mandeville himself is always ‘busy’”: for example, he stresses that he “did great busyness” at the Kahn’s court to learn the trick of making metal birds dance and sing (157). The links between curiosity and busyness provide another interpretive lens for reading the lines in the portrait of the Man of Law, which state that “Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas, / And yet he semed bisier than he was” (Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, “General Prologue,” lines 321–22, in The Riverside Chaucer).
134 D. CADY Navigatio continet omnem in emendis, vendendis, mutandis, domesticis sive peregrinis mercibus negotiationem. Haec rectissime quasi quaedam sui generis rhetorica est, eo quod huic professioni eloquentia maxime sit necessaria. Unde et hic qui facundiae praeesse dicitur, Mercurius, quasi mercatorum kirrius, id est, Dominus appellatur. Haec secreta mundi penetrat, litora invisa adit, deserta horrida lustrat, et cum barbaris nationibus et linguis incognitis, commercia humanitatis exercet.23 (Commerce [literally, navigation] contains every sort of dealing in the purchase, sale, and exchange of domestic or foreign goods. This art is beyond all doubt a peculiar sort of rhetoric—strictly of its own kind—for eloquence is in the highest degree necessary to it. Thus the man who excels others in fluency of speech is called a Mercurius, or Mercury, as being a mercatorum kirrius (+kyrios)—a very lord of merchants. Commerce penetrates the secret places of the world, approaches shores unseen, explores fearful wildernesses, and in tongues unknown and with barbaric peoples carries on the trade of mankind.)24
Hugh of St. Victor’s brief definition of trade is striking in a number of ways. While it is clear from the first sentence that Hugh intends to describe trade (the purchase, sale, and exchange of goods), he calls it navigatio (literally, navigation), rather than the more common commercium (commerce) or mercatum (trade; traffic). Such a choice makes travel synonymous with trade. In addition, he anthropomorphizes trade, making it a kind of traveler itself, one that crisscrosses the globe, penetrating, exploring, and approaching “the secrets of the world” and its supposedly “barbaric” people. Much like Mandeville and Polo, Hugh of St. Victor calls attention to one of trade’s less obvious commercial aspects: the trafficking in stories. Indeed, Hugh aligns commerce with literary endeavors by describing it as an art and “a peculiar sort of rhetoric,” one that greatly depends on fluent speech. Nor is the relationship between merchandising and rhetoric
23 Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalicon: De Studio Legendi, a Critical Text, ed. Brother Charles Henry Buttimer (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1939), 2.23.10–7. 24 Hugh of St. Victor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts, ed. Jerome Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 76–7.
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unilateral: Hugh dubs anyone who skillfully deploys rhetoric as a successful merchandiser—“a very lord of merchants.”25 Hugh of St. Victor never elaborates on why eloquentia is essential to commerce, nor does he explain why a rhetorically effective person is like a successful merchant. However, a clue to their relationship is offered by Hugh’s contemporary, Alberic of Montecassino. In his Flores de Rhetorici, Alberic defines metaphor in similarly commercial terms: Suum autem est metaphorae modum locutionis a proprietate sui quasi detorquere, detorquendo quodammodo innovare, innovando quasi nuptiali amictu tegere, tegendo quasi praecio dignitatis vendere. Quid enim aliud nisi vendere dixerim, dum historiam in sui simplicitate vilem, quadam altitudine variationis celebras, semper novam semper gratam repraesentas?26 (Metaphor’s way of speaking is, as it were, a twist away from the proper meaning: a twist, so to speak, for innovation; innovation as if for dressing in a nuptial gown; and such dressing as if for selling at a dignified price [lit: price of dignity]. For what else is it, shall I say, except for selling, when, a story base in its simplicity, you celebrate by a kind of snootiness of variety and variation, representing it as always new, always pleasing?)27
Much like Hugh of St. Victor’s depiction of trade, Alberic imagines rhetoric as an active agent, twisting away from proper meaning, an effect that is intensified by his use of anadiplosis in this passage. Alberic describes less valuable stories as vilis, a word that means not only “base,” but also “low-priced” and “well-known.” Alberic simultaneously deploys all three of these definitions when he suggests that if a number of people have 25 As
Eugene Vance notes in a discussion of this passage from The Didascalicon, it is impossible to trace precisely how and by what means the language of commerce and rhetoric influenced one another: “the multiple discourses that constitute any given speech community not only develop together; they also act upon and interfere with each other, even though we cannot always be sure in which discourse new concepts first arise, and even though certain innovating discourses of the past are not audible to us now. There obviously was a specifically mercantile discourse in the twelfth century, and the oratores obviously heard it, if from a distance.” Mervelous Signals: Poetics and Sign Theory in the Middle Ages (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 118. 26 Alberic of Montecassino, The Flores Rhetorici, ed. D. M. Inguanez and E. H. Willard (Montecassino: Miscellanea Cassinese, 1938), 6.45. 27 Qtd. and translated by R. A. Shoaf, Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word: Money, Images, and Reference in Late Medieval Poetry (Norman, OK: Pilgrim, 1983), 116.
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access to a story or to information, it becomes something common and thus less valuable. Metaphor is a way to cover inferior goods: stories that are cheap because they are too familiar. To cover a base, low-priced story with rhetoric is, quite literally, to renew it (innovare) and to transform it into something desirable that can be sold for an inflated price. Through Alberic’s language, we can see more clearly the link between rhetoric and merchandising suggested by Hugh of St. Victor: A successful merchant is a skillful rhetorician, just as a popular storyteller effectively merchandises his or her poetic wares through rhetoric. As we will see later in this chapter, these links have gendered ramifications as well. In the opening scenes of the Man of Law’s Tale, Chaucer makes a number of changes to his sources, changes that, collectively, highlight the role of merchants and rhetoric in the merchandising of stories.28 One of these changes is to alter the reason the merchants are summoned before the Sultan when they return from Rome. In both John Gower’s and Nicholas Trevet’s versions, the Sultan orders the merchants to appear so they can explain why they converted to Christianity. In Chaucer’s text, no such conversion takes place. Instead, as David Wallace notes, in the Man of Law’s Tale the merchants’ audience with the Sultan appears routine29: Now fil it that thise marchantz stode in grace Of hym that was the Sowdan of Surrye; For whan they cam from any strange place, He wolde, of his benigne curteisye, Make hem good chiere, and bisily espye Tidynges of sondry regnes, for to leere The wondres that they myghte seen or heere. (2.176–82)
Chaucer’s language in this passage underscores the importance of both alterity and novelty in the merchants’ storytelling. Much like the sultans described in Mandeville’s and Polo’s texts, the Sultan of Syria expects his merchants to report to him whenever they come from any “strange place.” The word strange contains both the sense of “foreign,” as well 28 For further information on Chaucer’s sources, see Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel, Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, vol. 2 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2005). 29 David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997), 185.
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as “new” or “unknown,”30 and since the merchants travel to “strange place[s],” they pick up “strange” stories, stories of “wondres” unknown to those back home. Chaucer further emphasizes the importance of innovation with the word tidynges. Middle English tidynges underwent a shift in the late fourteenth century: The word no longer meant just new, but also stories—and in particular, new stories.31 As Jonathan Hsy suggests, in the Man of Law’s Tale the acquisition of new stories is not a casual enterprise. If the merchants wish to stand “in grace” with the Sultan, they will not return to Syria empty-handed or silent tongued.32 The stories that they collect on their travels are as much a part of the “chaffare [ … ] so thrifty and so newe” (2.138) as the silks and spices they peddle around the world. Thrifty is a telling word in this regard; it means both “suitable” and “profitable,”33 and it is precisely because the merchants’ stories are “newe” (or, perhaps more importantly, appear new) that they are suitable for the Sultan’s consumption and therefore profitable for the merchants to tell. Thus, while part of the merchants’ business in Rome is to sell merchandise, it is essential that they make a kind of purchase while they are there: that they collect new stories that they can dilate before the Sultan’s eager ears much as Marco Polo does before the Khan’s. Custance provides just the kind of “thrifty” tale sought by the merchants. In another alteration to his sources, Chaucer has his heroine enter the tale not as a character, but rather as a story. This change underscores Custance’s role as both narrative and commodity in the text.34 The merchants first learn of Custance through the praise of others; it is the “commune voys” of Rome that she is the most beautiful and 30 See Middle English Dictionary, ed. Hans Kurath and Sherman McAllister Kuhn (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1952), s.v. strange (definitions 2a and 2b). 31 See R. C. Goffin, “Quiting by Tidings in the Hous of Fame,” Medium Aevum 12 (1943): 40–1. In Curiosity and Pilgrimage, Christian Zacher quotes Mandeville, whose language suggests this link between novelty and tidynges: “men hang ret liking to have speke of strange thinges” and that “newe things and newe tydynges ben plesant to here” (228). 32 Hsy, Trading Tongues, 68. 33 See entry for thrifty in A Chaucer Glossary, ed. Norman Davis, Douglas Gray, Patricia Ingham, and Anne Wallace-Hadrill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 154. 34 In Gower’s text, Custance is considerably more active, converting the merchants to Christianity. On Custance as narrative, see Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 95. On the commodification of Custance, see also Sheila Delany, “Womanliness in The Man of Law’s Tale,” Chaucer
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virtuous woman in all the world (2.155–9). As Nancy Vickers observes, to praise something is to put a price on it,35 a link neatly conveyed in the Middle English word pris. The cause and effect between praising and selling is connected to the relationship between verbal display and merchandising. Rhetorical embellishment helps sell something (whether a material object or a literary product) by inciting desire. As Alberic of Montecassino observes, praising something profusely, even if it is a story, base in its simplicity, transforms it into something with a high price. By reporting Custance’s “pris” in the streets (her “excellent renoun” [2.150]), the “commune voys” of Rome establishes her value. The economic consequences of the townspeople’s praise are revealed in the word rekene: By recounting Custance’s virtues, they calculate a high price for her (2.158).36 The merchants, in turn, recount the tale of Custance before the Sultan: Amonges othere thynges, specially, Thise marchantz han hym toold of dame Custance So greet noblesse in ernest, ceriously, That this Sowdan hath caught so greet plesance To han hir figure in his remembrance, That al his lust and al his bisy cure Was for to love hire while his lyf may dure. (2.183–9)
Review 9, no. 1 (1974): 63–72; and Laurel Hendrix, “‘Pennance Profytable.’” Not every reader views Custance as a passive object, however. David Raybin, for example, argues that Custance uses her speeches in order to get back at her tormentors, including her parents. “Custance and History: Woman as Outsider in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 12 (1990): 65–84. Robert B. Dawson also sees Custance’s rhetoric as more complex and aggressive than it might seem at first and argues that the Man of Law is a more complex narrator than he initially appears to be as well. “Custance in Context: Rethinking the Protagonist of the Man of Law’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 26, no. 3 (1992): 293–308. 35 Nancy Vickers, ‘“The Blazon of Sweet Beauty’s Best’: Shakespeare’s Lucrece,” in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (New York: Methuen, 1985), 95–115. 36 David Wallace notes that “this term rekenynge is a curious one: in the CT it denotes the kind of detailed calculations associated (most commonly) with mercantile trade, astrology, or the state of the soul. It appears three times in the GP: the Shipman is said to ‘rekene wel his tydes’ (line 401); the Reeve makes his own ‘rekenynge’ of his young master’s stock value (line 600); and the pilgrims pay their ‘rekenynges’ before leaving the Tabard (line 760).” Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 185.
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As these lines suggest, Custance is among the “thynges” with which the merchants return to Syria, and like “the commune voys,” their enthusiastic praise advertises Custance as a valuable commodity. Here, Chaucer highlights the role of rhetoric in this process. Much like his counterpart in Mandeville’s Travels, the Sultan in the Man of Law’s Tale is able to “bisily espye” (2.180) the “wondres” (2.182) of the world, thanks to the merchants’ verbal reports. Bisily, as noted earlier, suggests curiosity, particularly a desire to see things, an idea that is reinforced here with the word espye. Espye, which derives from French espionner, means to discover not only in a general sense, but also more specifically in a visual sense, as Modern English spy would suggest. The term figure further underscores the role of rhetoric in marketing Custance’s story. As Carolyn Dinshaw observes, it denotes both a person’s form and a rhetorical trope.37 Given that the Sultan proclaims his love for Custance after having only visualized her by means of the merchants’ painted rhetoric, it is clear with which “figure” he really falls in love. We might extrapolate that the merchants follow Quintilian’s advice, skillfully using evidentia so that the Sultan sees “hir [Custance’s] figure in his remembrance”—that is, sees her “figure” in his oculis mentis (mind’s eye). The merchants, on the other hand, see Custance’s actual “figure,” but it seems to have little impact on them.38 For the merchants, life returns to normal, and they “doon hir nedes,” part of which is to return to Syria and tell the Sultan the most breathtaking stories they can. There they prove through their rhetorical prowess to be the kind of “lord[s] of merchants” that Hugh of St. Victor describes. If we accept the premise that the prologue and opening of the tale are at least in part an exploration of the economics of storytelling, the Man of Law’s seemingly inappropriate lament about poverty and his panegyric to merchants and their wealth begin to make sense. At the end of the prologue, the Man of Law says of merchants: Ye seken lond and see for yowre wynnynges; As wise folk ye knowen al th’estaat Of regnes; ye been fadres of tidynges And tales, bothe of pees and of debaat. (2.127–30) 37 Dinshaw,
Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 95. Wetherbee, “Constance and the World in Chaucer and Gower,” in John Gower: Recent Readings, ed. R. F. Yeager (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1989), 65–93, at 84. 38 Winthrop
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In these lines, Chaucer emphasizes the importance of travel to commerce as much as Hugh of St. Victor: Merchants must journey over land and sea in pursuit of their profits. As a consequence, merchants are “wise folk” because they possess a particular kind of wealth; they know stories and thus are “fadres of tidynges and tales.” The presence of the word tidynges hints that, in the prologue, the Man of Law is praising precisely what is demonstrated by the tale he tells: Merchants have access to new stories because of their travels; they are wise and “ful of wele” (2.122) because they possess such a valuable commodity. While travel keeps the merchants in the Man of Law’s Tale well stocked in stories, Chaucer’s narrator regrets to report he does not possess such good fortune. Due to Chaucer’s industriousness, little literary material remains from which to choose: I kan right now no thrifty tale seyn That Chaucer, thogh he kan but lewedly On metres and on rymyng craftily, Hath seyd hem in swich Englissh as he kan Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man; And if he have noght seyd hem, leve brother, In o book, he hath seyd hem in another. For he hath toold of loveris up and doun Mo than Ovide made of mencioun In his Episteles, that been ful olde. What sholde I tellen hem, syn they been tolde? (2.46–56)
Chaucer-as-the-Man-of-Law presents Chaucer-as-poet as a writer who, albeit “lewed,” is more prolific than Ovid, a striking piece of self-promotion that I will return to later in this chapter. For now, I note that olde is repeated twice in these lines. What the Man of Law seems to regret is the fact that there are no new stories left to tell. It is revealing that the Man of Law describes his problem as want of a “thrifty tale.” It is precisely the newness of stories (or the appearance of newness) that makes them “thrifty.” As the Man of Law asks, why should he retell a story that everyone already knows? Just as it is not material wealth that the Man of Law praises, but merchants’ access to a wealth of stories, it is not literal poverty that he deplores, but his lack of a new story. The structure of this section helps convey this point. The complaint immediately follows the Man of
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Law’s musings, for a second time, on what story he is going to tell. He describes poverty as a condition that requires one to “stele, or begge, or borwe thy despence!” (2.105). Borrowing (or perhaps stealing?) is precisely what the Man of Law does when he repeats a story told to him by a merchant: I were right now of tales desolaat, Nere that a marchant, goon is many a yeere, Me taughte a tale, which that ye shal heere. (2.131–3)
It is fitting that the story he tells comes from a merchant, a person whose business, at least in part, is storytelling. Desolaat is a word that appears only one other time in the tale, in a description of David’s dilemma as he stands before Goliath: O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe, Hou myghte David make thee so maat, So yong and of armure so desolaat? (2.934–6)
Rodney Delasanta notes that this is a misreading of the David and Goliath story because David chooses to remove the armor given to him by Saul.39 One could therefore read these lines as an example of the kind of misreadings and misstatements made by the Man of Law and often attributed to Chaucer’s satire. However, like the other changes that I have traced thus far, this alteration makes sense if one sees the economics of storytelling as a central concern of the tale. David may have chosen to remove his armor, but the Man of Law does not imagine he has a choice: He sees himself as a helpless child before Chaucer, who seems a literary giant. If he had not been equipped with the story from the merchant, he would be, like Custance, bobbing helplessly in a rudderless boat. Anxiety is always lurking in the project of storytelling; one wishes to tell a story that is deemed valuable to readers and the literary marketplace more generally. While often the anxiety expressed in the prologue to the Man of Law’s Tale is ascribed to its narrator, we will see that there is good reason to read this anxiety as Chaucer’s as well.
39 Rodney Delasanta, “And of Great Reverence: Chaucer’s Man of Law,” Chaucer Review 5, no. 4 (1971): 288–310, at 296.
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“What Nedeth Gretter Dilatacioun?”: Rhetoric, Gender, and Bringing Stories to Market So far in this chapter, I have focused primarily on the relationship between rhetoric and merchandising. It is not, however, the only structure undergirding medieval storytelling. As many scholars have noted, storytelling in the Middle Ages has a decidedly gendered structure as well. Texts are often imagined as feminine corpora to be read and interpreted by male readers, and such reading and interpreting is rendered in decidedly heterosexual and heterosexist terms.40 What interests me here is the ways in which this gendered structure works with the poetic economy I have been outlining. Texts in the Middle Ages are presented simultaneously as both feminine bodies and literary commodities. By examining the synergy between these gendered and economic renderings, we develop a fuller picture of ideas about literary value and readerly desire. Returning to Alberic of Montecassino’s Flores de Rhetorici, we can see these gendered and economic structures at work in a term like vilis. As noted earlier, Alberic advocates using rhetoric as a way to restore used goods: stories that are low-priced or common due to their overexposure on the marketplace. However, vilis means not only low-priced and common in the sense of well known, but also common in the sense of sexually known by a number of people. Alberic plays on this third meaning of vilis when he describes metaphor as a kind of nuptial gown with which tired goods are disguised (innovando quasi nuptiali amictu tegere). What gives stories their value is the same characteristic that makes women a valuable commodity on the marriage market in the Middle Ages—their virginity. In the case of narratives, a virginal story is one that has not circulated to the point where it has become “common,” or at least one 40 On texts as feminine corpora, and the gendered structure of medieval poetics more generally, see, for example, Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 3–27; Paul Allen Miller, “Laurel as the Sign of Sin: Laura’s Textual Body in Petrarch’s Secretum,” in Sex and Gender in Medieval and Renaissance Texts: The Latin Tradition, ed. Barbara K. Gold, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997), 139– 63; Robin R. Hass, “‘A Picture of Such Beauty in Their Minds’: The Medieval Rhetoricians, Chaucer, and Evocative Effictio,” Exemplaria 14, no. 2 (October 2002): 383–422; Jill Ross, Figuring the Feminine: The Rhetoric of Female Embodiment in Medieval Hispanic Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 13–14, 44–49; and Mary Frances Brown, “Critique and Complicity: Metapoetical Reflections on the Gendered Figures of Body and Text in the ‘Roman de la Rose,’” Exemplaria 21, no. 2 (2009): 129–59.
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that appears to be virginal because it has been transformed by rhetoric’s regenerative powers. The regenerative possibilities of rhetoric are explored in Boccaccio’s story of Alatiel in The Decameron, a possible analogue for the story of Custance.41 Like Chaucer’s heroine, Alatiel drifts from port to port. Unlike Chaucer’s heroine, Alatiel does not remain “unwemmed” (2.924): She is raped by nearly every man she encounters.42 Her situation alters when she reunites with her native countryman, Antigono. He is not only the first person she can communicate with (none of her captors speak her language), but he is also the first man she encounters who sees her value not in terms of how her beauty can give a man personal pleasure, but rather in terms of how a man might curry favor with her father by returning her to him. In this way, Antigono is much like the merchants in the Man of Law’s Tale who see Custance’s value in commercial rather than sexual terms. Alatiel wants to return home, but is terrified her father will reject her if she is not returned “pristino stato.” Antigono reassures her that he will return her without anyone knowing about her ordeal and, in the process, make her even more dear to her father than she was before: “Madonna, poi che occulto è stato 41 Giovanni Boccaccio, “The Seventh Story on the Second Day,” in The Decameron, ed. Aldo Rossi (Bologna: Cappelli, 1977). Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s heroines share a number of similarities: Both women are given to husbands to solidify political bonds, both are desired by men who have only heard of their beauty (rather than seeing it firsthand), both women travel in a boat, both leave behind violence in their wake, and both hesitate to reveal their identities at various moments in the tale. On the links between the two stories, see Thomas H. McNeal, “Chaucer and the Decameron,” Modern Language Notes 53, no. 4 (April 1938): 257–8; and Robert W. Hanning, “Custance and Ciappelletto in the Middle of It All: Problems of Mediation in The Man of Law’s Tale and Decameron 1:1,” in The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question, ed. Leonard Michael Koff and Brenda Deen Schildgen (London: Associated University Presses, 2000), 177–211. 42 Despite all the similarities between the two women and their stories, two significant differences are their religious and national identities: Alatiel is Muslim and Egyptian, and Custance is Christian and Italian. How those differences impact the different ways in which two European authors present their stories is disturbing and telling. If Alatiel were European and Christian, like Custance, she, too, would likely have escaped “unwemmed” as well. Indeed, faced with rape at the hands of a “theef,” both Mary and Christ come to Custance’s aid, and her attacker is thrown overboard (2.915–24). Alatiel receives no such aid. The ways in which these two European writers market their stories not only point to the role that gender ideology plays in that marketing, but also to how the national and religious identity of a character—and an audience—impacts the way in which that story is marketed, a subject that I will return to at the end of this chapter.
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ne’ vostri infortuni chi voi siate, senza fallo piú cara che mai vi renderò al vostro padre.”43 (“Madame, [ … ] since in your misfortunes it has been hidden who you are, I will, without fail, restore you, dearer than ever, to your father.”)44 Her restoration involves Antigono creating an alternative story that narrates what has transpired since Alatiel left home, one that has her spending the entire time living chastely in a convent. The Sultan of Babylon accepts the story, rewards Antigono, and marries Alatiel to her betrothed, the king of El Gharb. The text ends with these telling words, “Bocca baciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnuova come fa la luna.”45 (“Lips for kissing forfeit no favor, no, they renew as the moon does ever.”)46 Thanks to Antigonus’s skillful storytelling, Alatiel is renewed as a valuable commodity. While the story of Alatiel suggests the restorative power of rhetoric, it also illustrates its dangers. Covering a “used” women or text with rhetoric may restore her or it to a seemingly new and valuable state, but in order to adequately sell such a restoration, one needs to create desire by opening at least a portion of it to the curious gaze of the reader. Dilatio is one rhetorical technique writers can use to create such desire. To dilate a text is to open it up and extend its length through digressions, metaphor, and other rhetorical devices. As Patricia Parker has noted, the word derives from the same Latin root as Jacques Derrida’s différance, and it contains the same combination of difference and deferral, expansion and dispersal, both in terms of time and space.47 Just as with vilis, dilatio has 43 Boccaccio,
Rossi, Decameron, 254–5. Boccaccio, The Decameron, ed. John Payne (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 149. 45 Boccaccio, Rossi, Decameron, 258. 46 Boccaccio, Payne, Decameron, 153. 47 Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, 9. Early modern writers will make explicit the economic potential inherent in this kind of rhetorical opening. The early modern period called dilatio copia, a word that etymologically underscores its link to wealth and power. See Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1979), 3. In his treatise on copia, Desiderius Erasmus explains precisely how rhetorical abundance can elicit desire and, consequently, sell a text: 44 Giovanni
The first method of enriching what one has to say on any subject is to take something that can be expressed in brief and general terms, and expand it and separate it into its constituent parts. This is just like displaying some object for sale first of all through a grill or inside a wrapping, and then unwrapping it and opening it out and displaying it fully to the gaze.
See Desiderius Erasmus, “Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style,” in Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 24, ed. Craig R. Thompson, trans. Betty I. Knott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 280–659, at 574.
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a decidedly gendered meaning. The term describes not only a technique that opens a text to the mind of the reader, but also one that opens a woman’s body to the gaze of a spectator, as the word’s use in gynecological treatises would suggest.48 Rhetoric’s power to take a used story/used woman and renew it/ her provides an alternative lens for reading Harry Bailey’s meditation on time in the opening of the Man of Law’s Tale. Time, the Host claims, is more valuable than “gold in cofre” (2.26) because, like virginity, it supposedly cannot be replaced: For “Los of catel may recovered be, But los of tyme shendeth us,” quod he. It wol nat come agayn, withouten drede, Namoore than wole Malkynes maydenhede, Whan she hath lost it in hir wantownesse. (2.27–31)
However, as we have seen, the Host’s observations are not exactly true. Spending time by expanding a text through the use of rhetoric will increase its value by taking a story, base in its simplicity, and turning it into a rejuvenated, virginal narrative. Rhetoric is the “gold in cofre” that can increase a text’s value, taking damaged goods and converting them into valuable property. The link between opening a text to sell it and opening a woman’s body to view it invites us once again to consider how gender and economics merge in medieval rhetoric, and the ramifications of that merger. Outlining the economy of early modern sonnets, Nancy Vickers observes that when sonneteers praise their lovers in front of others, they are turning those lovers into commodities for purchase: “the relationship so constructed involves an active buyer, an active seller, and a passive object for sale.” The problem arises when a person or object is praised before another without the intention to sell it. Doing so “dangerously flirts with theft.”49 It is the reason that, as Vickers notes, the narrator of Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece will ask plaintively: “Why is Collatine the publisher / Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown / From thievish
Literary Fat Ladies, 15. “‘Blazon of Sweet Beauty’s Best,’” 97.
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ears, because it is his own?”50 If the intention is not to sell, one should keep one’s possessions to oneself, for rhetoric excites desire and invites violence. In many medieval and early modern texts, this incitement is depicted in sexually violent terms. We see this situation occur repeatedly in Boccaccio’s story of Alatiel. Alatiel’s beauty becomes the subject of public knowledge, either by the praise of the person who possesses her at a given moment or by the general praise of others. Each time that she is praised in front of someone else, she is raped.51 The languages of rhetoric, selling, and violence are not solely the purview of medieval discussions of storytelling; they inform postmedieval political economy as well. A telling moment appears in book 1 of Capital where, in a short chapter on exchange, Karl Marx describes the process by which commodities are brought to market. In language reminiscent of Nancy Vickers’s description of the economy of early modern sonnets, Marx outlines the buyer, seller, commodity triangle: Commodities cannot themselves go to market and perform exchanges in their own right. We must, therefore, have recourse to their guardians, who are the possessors of commodities. Commodities are things, and therefore lack the power to resist man. If they are unwilling, he can use force; in other words, he can take possession of them.52 50 William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus (New York: Norton, 1997), lines 33–5. And of course as we saw in Chapter 4 in the case of Lydgate’s Fabula Duorum Mercatorum, one does not have to actively “publish” in the way that Collatine does to turn one’s erotic goods into commercial wares. Simply displaying them before another can have a similar effect. 51 On rhetoric and literary rape, see R. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 111; and Robin R. Hass, “‘A Picture of Such Beauty,’” 396. I am mindful of the danger of collapsing metaphors of sexual violence with actual physical violence perpetrated against women and men. However, as Carolyn Dinshaw reminds us, they cannot be entirely separated either: “To equate reading with rape would be to underestimate drastically the transgressive reality of rape, on the one hand, and to slight the potentially positive value of literary interpretation, on the other. But this fact also invites us to consider causal relationships between gendered representation and actual social relations between men and women; it invites us to consider the relations that form the bases for figurative discourse and that, in turn, are affected by literary representation” (Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 11). 52 Karl Marx, “Exchange,” in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, ed. Frederick Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1967), 88–96, at 88.
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Here, commodities are passive things that must be taken to market by “their guardians” because they cannot take themselves. Commodities are passive and unable to resist the advances of their buyers. If unwilling, they must be forced.53 But why does Marx have recourse to such language, and what might this language tell us about the economics of storytelling? I believe that the reason he depicts commodities as feminine and lacking resistance is the same reason that medieval poetics renders stories as feminine corpora: Women and stories are viewed as passive goods to be displayed and consumed by men. Although it may be tempting to think that only bad storytellers like Shakespeare’s Collatine, Boccaccio’s Panfilo, or Chaucer’s Man of Law turn women into stories and stories into commodities, all storytelling is undergirded by this same economy and haunted by this same kind of violence. Imagining some stories and some storytellers as economic and others as disinterested occludes that structure. Early on in the Man of Law’s Tale, Chaucer’s narrator seems to reject the role of rhetoric in advertising stories when he announces somewhat peevishly, “What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?” (2.232). As made clear by the travel narratives and rhetorical treatises discussed above, every writer needs “dilatacioun” to elicit desire and to add value to a text. Indeed, while Chaucer has his narrator reject dilation, the Man of Law engages in it extensively, making him one of Chaucer’s most prolix narrators.54 Chaucer is aware of the delicate balance to be achieved. While a text must be dilated in order to return a used text to a whole, virginal state, ironically, too much display can make a text too familiar and therefore like a cheap commodity or sexually “used” woman. Rather than hoarding the story of Custance because the Man of Law has mercantile
53 On the sexual violence embedded in this description of exchange, see Karen Newman, “City Talk: Women and Commodification: EPICOENE (1609),” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991), 181–95, at 183. 54 It is perhaps not surprising that another of the narrators who indulges in rhetorical embellishment is also one of the Canterbury Tales’ most prolix: the Wife of Bath. She is the pilgrim who insists that her body is still of value, although she concedes perhaps less so than when she was “new.” On the role of dilation in the tale, see Lee Patterson, “‘For the Wyves love of Bathe’: Feminine Rhetoric and Poetic Resolution in the Roman de la Rose and the Canterbury Tales,” Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 58, no. 3 (July 1983), 656–95.
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concerns that make him a bad storyteller, Chaucer, as a good storyteller, is acutely aware that he needs to merchandise effectively—and therefore carefully—this familiar story of a Christian heroine.
Narrative Dearth, Anxiety, and “Unkynde Abhomynaciouns” Perhaps the only element of the Man of Law’s Tale that has puzzled scholars as much as its mercantile concerns is its odd treatment of incest. Incest does not appear in either Trevet’s or Gower’s versions of the story of Custance, versions that we know to be Chaucer’s likely sources for the tale. Consequently, Chaucer might be unaware of the pivotal role that incest plays in the story’s analogues. However, such a scenario seems unlikely given the popularity in the fourteenth century of the so-called “accused queen” genre, of which the story of Custance is a type.55 The Man of Law’s prudishness is one explanation often offered for his rejection of incest narratives. However, as Carolyn Dinshaw asks, if prudishness is the explanation, why is incest the particular focus of the Man of Law’s opprobrium, as opposed to some other form of sexual transgression, such as adultery or sodomy? Dinshaw sees in the Man of Law’s insistence that he will avoid incest “if that I may” (2.89) a nervous adumbration: a recognition that incest narratives may not easily be avoided.56 I see the discomfort with incest expressed in the prologue as intimately tied to the gendered economy of storytelling that I sketched above. 55 In the “accused queen” stories, the heroine often flees her homeland to avoid her father’s sexual advances. For a discussion of the popularity of this genre in the Middle Ages, see Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer’s Constance and Accused Queens (New York: New York University Press, 1927); Elizabeth Archibald, “The Flight from Incest: Two Late Classical Precursors of the Constance Theme,” Chaucer Review 20, no. 4 (Spring 1986): 259–72; and Nancy Black, Medieval Narratives of Accused Queens (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003). Carolyn Dinshaw suggests that vestiges of these older incest narratives might linger in the Man of Law’s Tale, accounting for Custance’s reluctance to identify herself to those around her both in Northumbria and upon her return to Rome (Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 101–2). For other discussions of incest’s role in the Man of Law’s Tale, see Marc M. Pelen, “Providence and Incest Reconsidered”; R. A. Shoaf, ‘“Unwemmed Custance’”; and Elizabeth Scala, “Canacee and the Chaucer Canon: Incest and Other Unnarratables,” Chaucer Review 30, no. 1 (1995), 15–39. 56 Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 94–5. Dinshaw reads the gaps and disruptions inherent in patriarchal ideology in the Man of Law’s admission that incest may be unavoidable (90).
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Specifically, the state of poetic poverty that the Man of Law mourns requires him to retell the stories of others, a situation that he describes in terms of incest. While it seems that this is the Man of Law’s exclusive concern, Chaucer’s presentation of himself in the prologue as the Man of Law’s rival betrays the poet’s own anxiety about possibly slipping into incestuous poetics. We might understand the link between incest and storytelling in the context of the long history of connecting poetics with sex. Sodomy is perhaps one of the most frequently analyzed topics in this regard. Thanks in large part to Michel Foucault, as critics we readily recognize sodomy as a mobile signifier, one that can represent a panoply of behaviors well beyond the sexual. Alan of Lille’s conflation of sodomy with bad grammar, which brings together sexual and poetic practice, is perhaps one of the most frequently analyzed by medievalists.57 Although less frequently discussed, incest, much like sodomy, is a slippery signifier, one that has a much broader meaning in medieval culture than it does today. Formed from the Latin castus with the negative prefix in- and the vocalic alternation of /a/ and /e/, incest originally signified sexual transgression more generally, particularly debauchery or defilement that would make one unable to perform a religious ritual. Like sodomy, incest is conflated with a variety of transgressions. For example, the fourteenth-century writer Robert of Flamborough deems sleeping with an infidel an incestuous act.58 Thus, incest, like sodomy, 57 For
example, in the opening of The Plaint of Nature, Alan of Lille’s narrator complains
that The active sex shudders in disgrace as it sees itself degenerate into the passive sex. A man turned woman blackens the fair name of his sex. The witchcraft of Venus turns him into a hermaphrodite. He is subject and predicate: one and the same term is given a double application. Man here extends too far the laws of grammar. Becoming a barbarian in grammar, he disclaims the manhood given him by nature. Grammar does not find favour with him but rather a trope. This transposition however, cannot be called a trope. The figure here more correctly falls into the category of defects.
See Alan of Lille, The Plaint of Nature, trans. James J. Sheridan (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980), 67–8. For other moments when Alan’s text conflates certain grammatical excesses with sodomy, see pp. 133–4, 156–9, and 164. For an excellent discussion of the links between sex and writing generally, and in Alan’s text in particular, see Jan Ziolkowski, Alan of Lille’s Grammar of Sex: The Meaning of Grammar to a TwelfthCentury Intellectual (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1985). 58 Anna Walecka, “The Concept of Incest: Medieval French and Normative Writings in Latin,” Romance Languages Annual 5 (1993): 117–23. The example of sex with an infidel as a type of incest seems counterintuitive, given that such an act might be read as
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encompasses acts and identities that extend well beyond the sexual, making it equally mobile and flexible as a signifier. Like Alan of Lille (with whose works we know Chaucer to have been intimately familiar), I speculate that Chaucer draws on sexual practice—in this case, incest—as a way to explore concerns about writing—in this case, poetic poverty. This reading is supported by the prologue’s very structure. The subject of incest, which appears in the tale’s prologue in lines 77–89, is framed by the Man of Law’s two speeches in which he expresses his need for a story, lines 45–76 and lines 90–8, respectively. This positioning invites the reader to contemplate incest in conjunction with the Man of Law’s lack of a “thrifty” tale. The “cursed stories” (2.80) the Man of Law eschews extend not only to narratives that depict literal incest, but also to those that represent a figural incest: stories that are incestuous in the sense that they have already been told. What worries Chaucer’s narrator is that he will be forced to repeat someone else’s story because Chaucer has already told all the “thrifty” tales: “Of swiche unkynde abhomynacions, / Ne I wol noon reherce, if that I may” (2.88–9). His choice of the word reherce is revealing in this respect: While reherce can mean “tell,” it also more specifically means to repeat. The “if that I may” tagged on the end of line 89 may serve as an admission that a lack of a “thrifty” tale might make incestuous poetics unavoidable. Further evidence linking incest and the retelling of stories can be found in the Man of Law’s second complaint about his lack of a “thrifty” tale: “But of my tale how shal I doon this day? Me were looth be likned, doutelees, To Muses that men clepe Pierides— Metamorphosios woot what I mene; But nathelees, I recche noght a bene Though I come after hym with hawebake. I speke in prose, and lat him rymes make.” (2.90–6)
ultra-exogamous, rather than endogamous. It therefore serves as a useful example of how, like sodomy, the label is less about specific acts and practices, and more about the representation of those acts and practices. On incest and intercultural relations, see Leslie Dunton-Downer, “The Horror of Culture: East West Incest in Chrétien de Troyes’s Cligés,” New Literary History 28, no. 2 (1997): 367–81.
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These lines are, initially, puzzling. Given the Man of Law’s stated insecurity about his poetic skills, wouldn’t the Muses be precisely the entities he would wish to be “likned” to? As the Riverside Chaucer notes, Chaucer’s narrator is probably confusing the nine Muses (called Pieria, from their birthplace), with the daughters of King Pierus, who, swollen with pride, challenge the Muses to a poetry contest at the end of book 5 of the Metamorphoses.59 The daughters narrate the battle between the gods and the giants, describing the beastly shapes the gods adopt in order to hide from Typhoeus. The Muses, on the other hand, tell a tale that, technically, is a tale of incest: the abduction of Proserpina by her uncle, Pluto.60 The Muses win, and the nine sisters are changed into magpies, creatures that, as Ovid notes, can only imitate what they hear.61 The contest between the Muses and the nine women echoes the “contest,” at least as the narrator presents it, between himself and Chaucer. The Man of Law tries to approach the situation with bravado: “I recche noght a bene / Though I come after hym with hawebake” (2.94–5). Yet, he is acutely aware that he is too late—that he “come[s] after” the supposedly more prolific poet who has already rendered into English all possible tales. His concern is not that if he tries to compete with Chaucer he will be compelled to tell literal stories of incest, as the victorious Muses do, but rather figurally incestuous ones—twice-told tales. He is “looth be likned” to the magpies that lose their contest with the Muses and consequently can only “reherce” the words of others.
59 Larry D. Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 856, note on lines 921–92. 60 Book 5 of Metamorphoses begins with a story of thwarted uncle–niece incest as well (the battle between Phineus and Perseus), making incest the frame of the entire book. Whether the relationship would be considered incestuous in Chaucer’s time is unclear; sexual relationships between uncle and niece were not necessarily considered illegal (Benson, Riverside Chaucer, 1074, nt. 2602). H. A. Kelly observes that authorities may have thought such relations were illegal due to a misinterpretation of neptis for niece rather than granddaughter. See H. A. Kelly, “Canonical Implications of Richard III’s Plan to Marry His Niece,” Traditio 23 (1967): 269–311. See also Kelly’s “Shades of Incest and Cuckoldry: Pandarus and John of Gaunt,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 13 (1991): 121– 40. Kelly argues that Pandarus and Criseyde’s relationship would be read as incestuous by Chaucer’s audience. 61 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Anthony S. Kline, University of Virginia Library Ovid Collection, 2000, http://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Ovhome.htm (accessed September 19, 2018), 5.299.
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While dated, Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence provides a fascinating lens through which to consider this conflation of sexual impropriety and poetic property in the Man of Law’s Tale. Bloom famously relies on the trope of incest to describe the anxiety a writer feels when he encounters his artistic vision in the work of his literary “forefathers” (never foremothers). Less discussed is how Bloom frames this anxiety in economic terms, as well as sexual. As in the Man of Law’s Tale, new stories are the most valuable merchandise. Being first with an idea places a poet in a position of power because “the commodity in which poets deal, their authority, their property, turns upon priority [Bloom’s emphasis].”62 Being a latecomer, on the other hand, leaves a poet in a state of “poverty” (35), “bankrupt” (70), and experiencing an “anxiety of indebtedness” (5). As in Alberic of Montecassino’s text, in Bloom’s the characteristic that makes stories valuable is their apparent “purity” as well as p riority. Bloom likens the discovery of one’s ideas in another’s work to sexual betrayal: “he is compelled to accept a lack of priority in creation [ … ] his word is not his word only, and his Muse has whored with many before him” (61). If one is a latecomer, not only does one lack the priority and thus the property, but also one is a cuckold. Bloom’s poetic economy is gendered in another way as well. “Weak” poets succumb more readily to the temptation of incest. They are more likely to acknowledge their literary forefathers “through a generosity of the spirit” (43). “Strong” poets, on the other hand, do not: “the stronger the man, the larger his resentments.” To be a strong poet is to be a masculine poet: “he who will not work does not get the bread but remains deluded, as the gods deluded Orpheus [ … ] deluded him because he is effeminate, not courageous, because he was a citharaplayer, not a man” (72–73). As Bloom makes clear throughout his text, rivalry is the only way to resist incest’s “enchantment.” It is tempting to locate the anxiety about incestuous poetics in the Man of Law’s Tale in Chaucer’s narrator, rather than Chaucer himself. After all, it is the Man of Law who complains in the prologue about “coming after” Chaucer. However, it is generally accepted by scholars that it is Chaucer who is the “latecomer” to the story of Custance, likely borrowing the tale from Gower. Chaucer’s solution to the incestuous 62 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 64. All subsequent quotations are cited parenthetically by page number.
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potential of such a borrowing is to deploy the same method Bloom argues is adopted by “strong poets”: He creates a rivalry between himself and another “poet,” in this case, the Man of Law. By presenting himself in the Man of Law’s Tale as the industrious rival of its narrator, Chaucer distances himself from the possibility of not being his own man, poetically speaking. The Man of Law’s complaint about Chaucer’s productivity becomes a deft form of advertising, making Chaucer a more prolific writer than Ovid. The Man of Law’s guarantee that Chaucer would never recount stories of incest reassures the reader (and perhaps Chaucer himself) that he will not engage in incestuous poetics. Generations of scholars have assisted Chaucer in this project of avoiding incestuous poetics. In an early article by Alfred David, significantly titled “The Man of Law vs. Chaucer: A Case in Poetics,” David begins with the observation that Chaucer may very well be feeling anxious as he begins the Man of Law’s Tale: The Man of Law’s doubts about his ability to tell a “thrifty” story may, therefore, reflect Chaucer’s own uncertainty on the same score [ … ] It looks as though, after a brilliant beginning with his first fragment, Chaucer [was] no longer entirely sure. The Lawyer’s discussion of poetry can be construed as a humorous projection—with serious implications—of Chaucer’s own search for fit materials to carry out his great plan.63
This insightful observation occurs on the first page of David’s study. However, the remainder of the article is dedicated to distancing Chaucer from it and as far from the Man of Law as possible. In David’s reading (one that helped launch some forty years of reading Chaucer’s portrait of the Man of Law satirically), Chaucer’s narrator becomes Chaucer’s worst critic, someone sententious and straitlaced, too morally uptight to enjoy the humor found in the bawdier Canterbury Tales. David adds another rivalry as well: The supposedly real-life figure behind the critic becomes “moral Gower.” Chaucer’s comments about incest in the prologue become a “good-natured” joke: “The implication that the author of the Confessio Amantis was, like the Man of Law, humorless and pedantic, hits close to home.”64 63 Alfred David, “The Man of Law vs. Chaucer: A Case in Poetics,” PMLA 82, no. 2 (1967): 217–25, at 217. 64 David, “Man of Law vs. Chaucer,” 220.
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A quarrel between Gower and Chaucer has long been discredited. Nonetheless, the idea has had a surprisingly long shelf life. Carolyn Dinshaw observes that the terms of that imagined rivalry are far from gender-neutral. Traits associated with Gower—dullness, fickleness, insincerity, passivity, timidity, and unctuousness—are traditionally seen as “feminine” attributes in Western society. This “femininity” was thought to permeate Gower’s writing as well, writing often criticized for being obsequious, imitative, and didactic. Chaucer, on the other hand—who, in this narrative, refused to ingratiate himself with the new court— demonstrates the “masculine” traits of sincerity, integrity, and strength. Such “manly” behavior leads to superior verse: unencumbered by self-interest, Chaucer’s work expresses pure poetry, language, and aesthetics. What goes unacknowledged in this critically constructed rivalry, Dinshaw argues, is how masculine identity necessitates that expulsion of the feminine, and the violence that such an expulsion reveals and reflects.65 While in our own critical moment we have dispensed with the quarrel between Gower and Chaucer, we have replaced it with an equally productive quarrel, the quarrel between Chaucer and the Man of Law. As a result, Chaucer can continue to hold on to his poetic property and, at the same time, be his own man. Admittedly, we have no way of knowing if Chaucer was anxious about his status as an author in the ways that I have imagined in this chapter. Would a late medieval writer like Chaucer have a sense of poetic property? After all, writers like Chaucer retell the stories of others all the time. Certainly, ideas of originality in the Middle Ages do not exist in the same imaginative way that we might conceive of them today. However, as Stephanie Trigg has argued, late medieval authorship may be more complicated than previously recognized. Trigg identifies three independent models of authorship coexisting in late medieval culture, one of which is the writer as a professional author striving to establish the terms of his posterity. She argues that Chaucer engages in a more complicated way with models like Petrarch and Boccaccio, desiring to “place himself and his own writerly authority at center stage.”66 Whether we can establish 65 Dinshaw,
“Rivalry, Rape and Manhood,” 134. Trigg, Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 50–5. David Wallace also observes that in the Man of Law’s Tale, a “sense of commercial aspects of fiction writing—storytelling as commodity production—places him [Chaucer] much closer to Boccaccio than to Petrarch” (Chaucerian Polity, 205). 66 Stephanie
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Chaucer’s anxiety or not, the more important question is, if we can imagine Chaucer imagining a narrator who is anxious about his poetic shortcomings, why can’t we imagine that Chaucer as a writer might share in those anxieties? It is this failure of imagining that interests me. I see in it a nostalgic longing for a poetics that is free from the taint of the economic, and, as I’ll suggest in the next section, for an aesthetics that does not collude with gendered systems of value.
Generosity, Gender, and an “Economy of Excess” Thus far, I have read the economic underpinnings in the Man of Law’s Tale not as a sign of satire, but rather as a reflection of a time less invested in quarantining literature and aesthetics from money and value. In these final pages, I want to take up the question that I posed at the beginning of this chapter: What are the ramifications of proceeding as if proper storytelling is a noneconomic enterprise, one inflected by economics only when, as is often argued in the case of the Man of Law’s Tale, it is done improperly? Perhaps not surprisingly, the ramifications are once again framed by gendered ideas of value, ramifications that also require and sustain linked and dangerous fantasies of nation and race. As a way to explore these issues, I want to return to Kathryn Lynch’s article “Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy: East and West in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale.” As noted in the introduction to this chapter, Lynch argues that the Man of Law’s “parsimonious and ‘pinching’ commercial mentality” causes him to commodify stories and to deem only new, untold stories as valuable. Such an attitude, she contends, reflects an “economy of possession.” Medieval storytelling, on the other hand, operates from an “economy of excess”: “Whatever anxieties of influence a poet may feel, art can generate more art, and traditional stories furnish an opportunity rather than an inhibition.”67 Lynch likens this “economy of excess” to “the advanced and exotic civilizations of the Orient,” which appear to take a more generous view toward exchange (412). As an example of such generosity Lynch offers an episode from Chapter 4 of Marco Polo’s Travels, in which Polo describes the tradition in Kaindu of men offering a passing stranger sex with their wives in 67 Lynch, “Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy,” 414. All subsequent quotations will be cited parenthetically by page number.
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exchange for a bolt of cloth. Although acknowledging that the husband’s perspective is limited (the stranger has enjoyed three days of sex with the “wittol[’s]” spouse), neither husband nor wife is reported to have felt cheated by the transaction since they, unlike the stranger, receive tangible goods in exchange for sexual access to the wife: “We have got this of yours, you poor fool, and you have nothing to show for it.”68 Such an exchange reflects “a kind of unbridled sexual sharing or exchange … where property, even sexual property, can be shared, shifted, and multiplied endlessly to the harm of no man” (412). Lynch sees in this ever-generative economy an analogy to medieval storytelling: “Tit for tat may work for trade, but storytelling, love, and forgiveness require at least some of the excesses of the exotic East” (419). Lynch’s concluding line, which posits that storytelling and love are immune from economy, recalls James Thompson’s statement about eighteenth-century fantasies of disinterest that I quoted at the very beginning of this book: “silver was not always silver, but … love was always love.”69 The echo suggests a shared nostalgia for a space of disinterest, which both love and storytelling are believed to provide. This nostalgia is already present in the late Middle Ages as well. As noted in Chapter 4, the late medieval cultural imaginary often fabricates the East as a place of economic abundance and sexual jouissance. However, as we saw in Chapter 4, although certain cultural geographies present the East as a space of abundance and excess, that abundance and excess does not always manifest in a way that, as the narrator of the Fabula Duorum Mercatorum puts it, “Every wiht hath ther suffisaunce.”70 This fact proves to be the case, too, in the story from Marco Polo, cited above. In the Travels, the story that Lynch cites is sandwiched between two other vignettes that suggest a less carefree attitude toward value and exchange. The first story, which immediately precedes the story about the Tibetan man and the foreign traveler, describes a lake in the province filled with a multitude of pearls. Despite their numbers, the Khan forbids the removal of the pearls without his 68 Polo, Travels of Marco Polo, 175–6. All subsequent quotations will be cited parenthetically by page number. 69 James Thompson, Models of Value: Eighteenth-Century Political Economy and the Novel (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 22. 70 John Lydgate, Fabula Duorum Mercatorum, ed. Pamela Farvolden in John Lydgate: Fabula Duorum Mercatorum and Guy of Warwyk (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2016), line 35.
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permission upon pain of death (174–5). The Khan’s concern does not seem to be one of supply (the reader is informed that there are plenty of pearls), but rather a concern about a loss of value. The Khan believes that “if all the pearls that were found there were taken out, so many would be taken that they would be cheap and lose their value” (174). The worry sounds uncannily similar to that expressed by Chaucer’s narrator in the Man of Law’s Tale: It is overcirculation that makes commodities familiar and therefore less valuable. The story of the husband and wife immediately follows this story about the lake of pearls. At first glance, it might seem like the story about the exchange of the wife and the prohibition about removing the pearls are articulating two drastically different economies, the latter haunted by loss and the former, like Tryamour’s magic purse in William Chestre’s Sir Launfal, constantly self-generating. However, I do not see the ordering of these stories as coincidental. The conventional link between pearls and women’s purity would not escape Marco Polo’s medieval readers.71 Indeed, the link is made explicit when the reader learns that the Great Khan tries to prohibit the circulation of women’s bodies, much as he does the circulation of pearls: “the Great Khan has forbidden it; but they continue to observe it nonetheless, since, as they are all addicted to it, there is no one to accuse another” (175). Unlike the pearls, the Great Khan does not own these women, but his motivation for trying to curb the practice may be the same: If the women circulate too much, they, too, lose their value. The Latin in the Z text of Marco Polo’s Travels is suggestive in this regard. The pearls are prevented from circulation because si extrahi posset ad libitum, pre multiudine eficerentur viles.72 The presence of viles recalls the link between gendered and economic value present in medieval discussions of storytelling, specifically as it relates to newness. Here, the text seems to be suggesting that both the pearls and, I would argue, the women can become damaged goods if they circulate too much. Thus, although on the surface the text appears to make fun of the poor profit that the traders make in the exchange,
71 On this connection, see G. A. Luttrell, “The Mediaeval Tradition of the Pearl Virginity,” Medium Aevum 31 (January 1962): 194–200. 72 Marco Polo, Milione: Redazione Latina del Manoscritto Z, ed. Alvaro Barbieri (Parma: Fondazione Pietro Bembio, 1998), 55.9, my emphasis.
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it presents an economics that favors traders because they can purchase sexual favors so inexpensively. That message is reinforced by the second story, which occurs immediately after the story of the husband and wife’s seeming generosity. In it, Marco Polo describes the rarity of salt in the mountains of Kaindu. As a rule in the province, eighty blocks of salt are worth a saggio of gold. However, those living “among the mountains in wild and out-of-the-way places” have an abundance of gold and a scarcity of salt, which they need to preserve food. Therefore, the people sell their “gold cheap,” and a merchant can obtain a saggio of gold for sixty, fifty, or even forty blocks of salt: “They [the traders who come with salt] make an immense profit, because these people use this salt in food as well as for buying the necessities of life” (176). I read this story and its surrounding context as an articulation of two prominent fantasies the medieval West had about the medieval East, one about their men and the second about their women. The first is that Eastern men are much like “the base Indian, [who] threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe”73: They are unaware of the value of what they have, and therefore can be easily duped by supposedly more “savvy” Western Europeans who can take economic advantage. The second is that Eastern women are readily available to Western men and eager to please them; they are, as Marco Polo describes them in an earlier chapter, “beautiful and vivacious and always ready to oblige.”74 The exchange of the woman of Kaindu takes on another valence if read in light of this story. By ordering these three stories in this way, Marco Polo’s narrator may be suggesting that the husband in the second story, much like the mountain people, may not know the value of what he has due to his needs, circumstances, or ignorance. While the man and woman scorn the
73 William Shakespeare, Othello, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katharine Eisaman Maus (New York: Norton, 1997), 5.2.356–7. 74 Polo, Travels of Marco Polo, 88. This comment is made by Marco Polo’s narrator in the context of the hospitality practices in the province of Kamul, in which men bid their wives provide guests with anything they ask for, including sex. No one, the narrator reports, is ashamed by it, and the women are “ready to oblige,” as noted in the quotation. Perhaps not insignificantly in the context of this discussion, Mongu Khan also tries to stop this practice without success. Eventually he gives up, stating, “since you desire your own shame, you may have it” (88).
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foreigner’s supposedly bad bargain, they don’t really get much for it, just a “trinket of trifling value” (175). This second fantasy informs, I believe, one of the greatest differences between Boccaccio’s story of Alatiel and Chaucer’s story of Custance. Custance remains decidedly “unwemmed” throughout the tale. Even during her wedding night, in which it was “skile and right” that Custance “leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside,” the narrator passes over in silence the activities in the bedroom (lines 708, 714). Alatiel, however, is not so lucky: The text’s narrator tells the reader she is raped in every port she drifts to and, unable to communicate with those she encounters, is rendered mute and passive. In the economy of storytelling, European women are not allowed to be “used” by European writers in such a way without a serious reduction in their value and, given how fantasies of nation are reflected both in stories and in women’s bodies, the nation’s value as well. This is certainly economic, but not in the ways that have traditionally been linked to the Man of Law’s Tale and its narrator. Both texts, Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s, are informed by an economics of storytelling, one invested in women’s bodies, but with different kinds of investments informed by ideologies of race, religion, and nation. I will end with one additional point about the story of the exchange of women from Kaindu. While the narrator reports that it is the husband and wife who jump up and down in celebration of the supposedly good bargain that they have struck with the foreigner, it is clear that it is the woman, like gold, salt, or pearls, who functions as a commodity in this exchange. She is the one given to the foreigner; Marco Polo does not speculate on what might happen if the foreigner wishes to sleep with the husband. “Wommen are born,” as Custance puts it, “to been under mannes governance” (lines 286–7). Even if willing participants, women are always, as Gayle Rubin notes, the ones being exchanged.75 In “The Forms of Capital,” Pierre Bourdieu observes that Economic theory has allowed to be foisted upon it a definition of the economy of practices which is the historical invention of capitalism; and by reducing the universe of exchanges to mercantile exchange, which is objectively and subjectively oriented toward the 75 Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157–210.
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As I have argued in this chapter, the Man of Law’s Tale is, indeed, mercantile in its outlook. However, that outlook is not due to the Man of Law’s flaws or Chaucer’s satirical pen. Rather, Chaucer’s tale and medieval poetics more broadly are invested in a very particular economy of storytelling, one in which commodification and desire are entwined with ideologies of gender and value. The problem arises when we attempt to quarantine storytelling from economics. This attempt is rooted in the same nostalgic desire that led Enlightenment writers to imagine, as James Thompson describes it, a place where “silver was not always silver, but … love was always love.” The result is that economics (perhaps much like Chaucer’s narrator) bears the brunt of self-interest, which allows other realms, like storytelling and romance, to masquerade as noneconomic and therefore disinterested in the ways that Pierre Bourdieu describes. Ironically, although the Man of Law has been lambasted for his poor storytelling, this story, perhaps more so than any other in the Canterbury Tales, exposes those interests. As I have argued throughout this book, the cultural imaginary surrounding money and value (economic, filial, romantic, and poetic) is deeply imbricated by gender ideology. In the brief coda that follows, I meditate on how these ideas still linger in contemporary Western culture and the ramifications of that inheritance.
76 Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” trans. Richard Nice, in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. John E. Richardson (New York: Greenwood, 1986), 241–58, at 242. In a recent, excellent analysis of gift exchange in the Shipman’s Tale, Robert Epstein sketches some of the limitations of Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of “disinterest” when applied to the tale. Chief among them is that for Bourdieu, all social relations and exchanges are marked by competition and materialism, leaving very little room for other kinds of motivations, such as love and friendship. See “The Lack of Interest in the Shipman’s Tale: Chaucer and the Social Theory of the Gift,” Modern Philology 113, no. 1 (August 2015): 27–48. As a reader of the Man of Law’s Tale, I continue to find Pierre Bourdieu’s observations about disinterest particularly useful, not because storytelling and romance cannot, theoretically, be read as disinterested, but rather because it is almost always assumed that they are disinterested. Perhaps the larger question is why do we read interest or disinterest in some of the tales (and in certain social and cultural institutions and relations) and not in others? What ideological work is being done in these readings?
Coda: Make America Great Again—The Gender of Money
Much like the late Middle Ages, America finds itself immersed in its own “age of anxiety,”1 and like that earlier period, much of that anxiety centers on money and economy. Only recently has the U.S. emerged (and for many sectors and people is emerging still) from one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression, a crisis that has altered profoundly how many view money, value, and economic security. Some of the financial realities of today, such as dark money in politics or banks that are too big to fail, would be foreign to a person living in the Middle Ages. Others, like a lack of access to criminal justice for those without money or a lack of a living wage, would be all too familiar. In the U.S. there has been a seismic shift in the job market in the last seventeen years. Labor has become more specialized and technologized, requiring college degrees or advanced training. At the same time, there has been a significant loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.—some five million since 2000.2 Some of these jobs have gone overseas. Others have become obsolete or redundant due to technological changes and 1 The phrase comes from William J. Bouwsma’s, “Anxiety and the Formation of Early Modern Culture,” in After the Reformation: Essays in Honor of J.H. Hexter, ed. Barbara C. Malament (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980), 215–46. For a discussion of the economic context of this anxiety, see Chapter 1. 2 Heather Long, “U.S. Has Lost 5 Million Manufacturing Jobs Since 2000,” CNN Business, March 29, 2016, https://money.cnn.com/2016/03/29/news/economy/ us-manufacturing-jobs/index.html (accessed January 18, 2019).
© The Author(s) 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7_7
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advances. Alienated labor is nothing new, of course, but in a world where corporations have become people, workers perhaps feel more acutely and more consciously the fact that they are commodities. Such a moment was ripe for the election of a president like Donald Trump. After the election, many pundits and critics wondered, how could someone like Donald Trump be elected? How could someone who filed bankruptcy six times (four, if you follow President Trump’s calculations: He counted the first three as one filing3) be seen as a successful businessman? How could someone who has hired more former Goldman Sachs employees than any other president be seen as a reformer of Wall Street?4 How could someone who bragged about grabbing women when and where he wanted be the leader of a country composed of over 50% women? How could someone who spoke in such openly racist ways about African-Americans, Mexicans, and Muslims be the leader of the United States? But these questions miss the point: Donald Trump was not elected primarily for his business acumen, his reformer streak, or his views on women and minorities. Rather, it is because he embodies fantasies about money and power, fantasies that deploy the tropes of wealth, sex, and ideology in the ways that I have been sketching in this book. These tropes prove to be particularly compelling during a time of rapid economic change and anxiety. As Mike Konczal observes, during the election Donald Trump always scrupulously avoided criticizing the rich.5 There were corrupt players— media, politicians, lobbyists—many of whom had money, but having money was not in and of itself something to criticize. Donald Trump understood that wealth is something that many people aspire to. With his penthouse dripping in gold and white, not unlike Tryamour’s tent 3 Michelle Lee, “Fact Check: Has Trump Declared Bankruptcy Four or Six Times?” Washington Post, September 26, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/ politics/2016/live-updates/general-election/real-time-fact-checking-and-analysis-of-the-first-presidential-debate/fact-check-has-trump-declared-bankruptcy-four-or-sixtimes/?utm_term=.7e69c5fca201 (accessed January 18, 2019). 4 Marcus Stanley, “Government Sachs and the Trump Administration,” Inequality.org, October 13, 2017, https://inequality.org/research/government-sachs-trump-administration/ (accessed January 18, 2019). 5 Mike Konczal, “We Missed What Was So Effective About Donald Trump’s Campaign Speeches,” Vox, December 6, 2016, https://www.vox.com/the-bigidea/2016/12/6/13853314/trump-speeches-lessons-democrats-economics-trade (accessed January 18, 2019).
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with its lavish gold eagle with a ruby eye, Donald Trump represents a kind of exotic caricature of wealth. And, at the same time, with his love of meatloaf and KFC and his ill-fitting suits, he seems like a regular guy to those who support him. Along with the other markers of wealth, Donald Trump has a beautiful wife. As noted earlier, this is a necessary accessory for proving one is “worthy,” both economically and socially. The display of such a woman is an important part of the worth-building project (hence Launfal’s challenge—he possesses the most beautiful of women, but he cannot tell anyone about her). And, of course, having a woman who is more beautiful than another man’s becomes a way not only to solidify one’s own worth, but also to emasculate other men. We saw this with King Arthur, who is angered more by the idea that Launfal’s lover is more beautiful than his wife than the idea that Launfal raped her. We saw this with Ted Cruz and the attempts to shame and emasculate him by circulating sideby-side pictures of Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump with the caption, “The Images Are Worth a Thousand Words.”6 Owning beautiful things, including women, is a sign of wealth. In an interview with Larry King, Donald Trump said that Angelina Jolie is “not a great beauty,” something that he claims to have a particular expertise on: “I do own Miss Universe. I do own Miss USA. I mean I own a lot of different things. I do understand beauty.”7 This commodification might be understood as a form of containment: It turns a woman into a good, rather than an actor who possesses goods. Thus, Donald Trump noted, “I would never buy Ivana any decent jewels or pictures. Why give her negotiable assets?”8 That is, why turn her into someone who owns goods, rather than someone who can be owned? One needs, then, to contain these beautiful women, and a certain kind of marriage—one circumscribed by traditional gender roles—may serve as the perfect container. In another interview with Larry King, Trump 6 Donald J. Trump, Twitter post, March 23, 2016, 8:55 PM, https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/712850174838771712 (accessed January 18, 2019). 7 Donald J. Trump, interview by Larry King, Larry King Live, October 15, 2007, transcript, CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0710/15/lkl.01.html (accessed January 18, 2019). 8 Marie Brenner, “After the Gold Rush,” Vanity Fair, September 1990, https://www. vanityfair.com/magazine/2015/07/donald-ivana-trump-divorce-prenup-marie-brenner (accessed January 18, 2019).
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states, “The way I look at it, there’s nothing like a good marriage and there’s nothing like having children … If you have the money, having children is great. Now, I know Melania. I’m not going to be doing the diapers. I’m not going to be making the food. I may never even see the kids. She will be an unbelievable mother. I’ll be a good father.”9 Melania will stay in the home, while Donald Trump will be out in the world. Like the ravishing appeal of Lady Meed, Melania will be contained within marriage and the home, brought out only for orchestrated displays. As noted in the previous chapter, commodities are passive things, according to Marx, which “lack the power to resist man.”10 We might think of this justification of force alongside Donald Trump’s bragging that he can grab any woman at any time and anywhere that he pleases. While many people found this comment repugnant, it also reflects an idea of masculine privilege and economic power that is appealing to others.11 What I am suggesting is that when we think about what is happening with the atrophying of women’s rights in the United States—the virtual impossibility of getting an abortion in many states now12; the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood; the claims by Breitbart that birth control makes women fat, unattractive, and promiscuous13; the recent Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, whose primary defense when accused of sexual assault was that he was a “worthy” man and went to 9 Donald J. Trump, interview by Larry King, Larry King Live, May 17, 2005, transcript, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0505/17/lkl.01.html (accessed January 18, 2019). 10 Karl Marx, “Exchange,” in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, ed. Frederick Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1967), 88–96, at 88. 11 Shortly after the election a colleague shared with me a story that one could only hope was exaggerated for effect. His daughter and a friend were standing on a DC subway platform, waiting for a train late at night. A man jumped off a train, grabbed one of them by the crotch, and then jumped back on, shouting, “America is great again.” 12 Rebecca Harrington, and Grace Panetta, “23 Creative Ways States Are Keeping Women from Getting Abortions in the US—That Could Erode Roe v. Wade without Repealing It,” Business Insider, July 14, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/stateabortion-laws-reoding-roe-v-wade-reproductive-rights-2018-7 (accessed January 18, 2019). 13 Milo Yiannopoulos, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” Breitbart, December 8, 2015, https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2015/12/08/birth-control-makeswomen-unattractive-and-crazy/ (accessed January 18, 2019).
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Yale14—we can and must think about these situations as fundamentally misogynistic. But they are also economic. To be a commodity is to be feminized—to be taken to market, rather than taking things to the market or taking them from the market. Perhaps, then, in a world where many men are feeling increasingly commodified, there is a dark comfort in keeping women as commodities rather than as powerful actors in their own right. It is why at this particular moment, regardless of what one thinks about Hillary Clinton or the campaign she ran, it is not surprising that she would not be elected. It is depressing, but not surprising, that as with Lady Meed, the cry was “lock her up.” It is perhaps tempting to conclude that the United States finds itself thrown back to a “medieval” way of thinking. Such an idea is appealing in a world where medieval has come to signify any behavior or mode of thinking that a society wishes to distance itself from. Thus ISIS has been described repeatedly by media and politicians as a medieval organization, despite its very modern—even ultramodern—origins.15 But what I have 14 Jennifer Wright, “The Benefits of Privilege: Being Rich and White Is Proof You Must Be Good,” Harper’s Bazaar, October 5, 2018, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/ politics/a23603815/brett-kavanaugh-privilege-sexual-assault/ (accessed January 18, 2019). 15 Recall, too, Carly Fiorina’s touting her degree in medieval history and philosophy as a qualification for fighting ISIS, claiming that the organization makes use of medieval “techniques” (“the crucifixion, the beheadings, the burning alive”) and is one that “wants to take its territory back to the Middle Ages.” See Jordyn Phelps, “Carly Fiorina Says Knowledge of Medieval History Will Help Her Defeat ISIS,” ABC News, October 5, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/carly-fiorina-medieval-history-degree-helps-defeat-isis/story?id = 34256597 (accessed January 18, 2019). Although never stated outright, the implicit logic seemed to be that a commander-in-chief familiar with a medieval past would be especially well equipped to confront its modern manifestations. However, as a number of commentators have noted, ISIS’s origins, methods, and technologies are decidedly modern, even ultramodern. Associating ISIS with the Middle Ages has less to do with a misunderstanding of history and more to do with a nostalgic investment in a fictional past that can conveniently serve as a screen onto which a society can project anything that it wishes to distance itself from. For a discussion of the link of ISIS to the Middle Ages, see John T. R. Terry, “Why ISIS Isn’t Medieval,” Slate, February 19, 2015, https://slate. com/news-and-politics/2015/02/isis-isnt-medieval-its-revisionist-history-only-claimsto-be-rooted-in-early-arab-conquests.html (accessed January 18, 2019). For a response to Fiorina’s association of ISIS with the Middle Ages, see David M. Perry, “No, Carly Fiorina, a Degree in Medieval History Doesn’t Qualify You to Fight ISIS,” Guardian, October 6, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/06/carly-fiorina-medieval-history-degree-fight-isis (accessed January 19, 2019). More recently, Donald Trump has embraced the medieval, calling the wall a “medieval solution.” See Tim Marcin,
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wanted to suggest in this book is that we have inherited from the Middle Ages an economic foundation that is deeply steeped in gendered ideology, even if political economy tends to insist that economics is a discipline free from the taint of gender. Excavating that history enables us to better understand what Marx calls the vorgeschichte of money, its shadowy prehistory. But perhaps more importantly, it exposes how analogical logic works, how it attempts to shore up naturalistic claims while simultaneously, like all ideology, folding in on itself. As Jean-Joseph Goux has argued, the only way to exit from metaphysics—if such an exit is possible—is to launch a fourfold challenge against patricentrism, phallocentrism, logocentrism, and monetarocentrism. Put another way, it requires tracing precisely how the father becomes the general equivalent of subjects, the phallus the general equivalent of objects, the spoken word the general equivalent of language, and money the general equivalent of commodities.16 The gender of money in the Middle Ages provides an example of the effectiveness of analogical logic as well as its frailties. An exploration of the gender of money exposes the vulnerability of the sign and challenges its hegemony. That is a project that not only enables us to better understand the medieval past, but also seems particularly pressing today.
“Donald Trump Says Border Wall Is a ‘Medieval Solution’ but Claims It Still Works,” Newsweek, January 1, 2019, https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-border-wall-medieval-solution-1285670 (accessed January 18, 2019). 16 Jean-Joseph Goux, Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud, trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 9–63.
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A Agamben, Giorgio, 48 Alan of Lille, 18, 85n1, 149, 150 The Complaint of Nature, 17 Alfonsi, Petrus, 53, 59, 61, 80 Disciplina Clericalis, 53 Analogical logic, 4, 8, 9, 13–14, 27, 29, 30, 31–32, 166 Andreas Capellanus, 15, 16, 67 The Art of Courtly Love, 15, 67 Aquinas, Thomas, 17, 96, 97, 104. See also Money, scholastic views of Aristotle De Generatione Animalium, 14, 17 Nicomachean Ethics, 105 Politics, 16, 17, 90–93, 105 Augustine, 19, 95, 103. See also Money, scholastic views of Avarice avarice in love, 85, 99–102, 117 enclosure and, 97–101 the fall and, 94–96 ingratitude and, 115–117
jealousy and, 117–121 loss of golden age and, 87–88, 94, 95 measure and, 107, 109, 122 Midas as exemplum of, 102–104, 106–107 parsimony and, 115–117, 122 private property and, 10, 86, 87–88, 94–95, 97–98, 113, 121–123 prodigality and, 60, 122 Tantalus as exemplum of, 107–108 B Bataille, George, 40, 41, 48. See also Necrophilia Bloom, Harold, 128, 129, 152 Boccaccio, Giovanni, 53, 70, 83, 143, 144, 146, 147, 154, 159 Boethius, 58, 71, 75, 83 Bourdieu, Pierre, 7, 159, 160 Bray, Alan, 55, 56, 66 Butler, Judith, 31
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2019 D. Cady, The Gender of Money in Middle English Literature, The New Middle Ages, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26261-7
186 Index C Chaucer, Geoffrey, 57 “The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse”, 26, 129 The Franklin’s Tale, 77, 78 The Knight’s Tale, 54, 65 Man of Law’s Tale, 9, 53, 60, 69, 125–128, 136–141, 143, 145, 147, 148, 152–155, 157, 159, 160 Merchant’s Tale, 15, 16, 100 Reeve’s Tale, 27–29, 80 Troilus and Criseyde, 75 Wife of Bath’s Tale, 6, 22, 25, 147n54 Chestre, Thomas Sir Launfal, 19, 26–29, 35, 45, 49, 72, 82, 157, 163 D de Lorris, Guillaume and de Meun,Jean The Romance of the Rose, 18, 66, 94 Derrida, Jacques, 144 F Femininity vs. feminization anxiety and, 14–16, 100 inferior writing and, 129, 152–155 jealousy and, 119–120 lovesickness and, 64 poverty and, 23, 71–75, 118, 128 prodigality and, 58 Foucault, Michel, 149 Friendship. See also Lovesickness; Masculinity classical views of, 53–54, 70, 148 danger and, 10, 70–84 risks to financial well-being, 52, 58, 77–84
risks to masculine identity, 10, 52, 57–58, 70–73, 84 same-sex desire and, 54–57, 63 sworn brotherhood and, 57 G Gender, 2, 4–6, 8–9, 11, 13–15, 22, 24, 26, 27, 29, 31–32, 36, 50, 51, 53, 129, 145, 160. See also Femininity vs. feminization; Masculinity; Women as a form of nonsense, 31 as a vocabulary for money and value, 2, 14–19, 29 Goux, Jean-Joseph, 8, 30, 166 Gower, John Confessio Amantis, 9, 10, 84–87, 97, 101–103, 121, 148, 154 feminization of, 154 “rivalry” with Chaucer, 129, 152–154 H Halperin, David M., 56 I Incest. See also Bloom, Harold accused queen genre, 148 relationship to rivalry, 129, 149, 152–154 storytelling and, 128, 129, 148–153 J Jealousy. See also Femininity vs. feminization As illness, 118–119 avarice and, 117–121 emasculation and, 119–120
L Langland, William, 6, 19–21 Piers Plowman, 7, 22–26, 50 Lovesickness amor ereos, 64–65, 68 as a disease, 61–62, 64 and femininity, 64 same-sex desire and, 54–56, 62–63 similarities to friendship, 65–69 sensory perception and, 67–69 Lydgate, John Fabula Duorum Mercatorum: Bycorne and Chychevache, 51, 52, 54, 57, 72, 118, 146, 156 M Marx, Karl, 146–147, 164 Masculinity. See also Friendship; Property authorship and, 152–155 economic girlie men, 1–2, 11 homosociality and, 71–72, 81 hospitality and, 76–80 rivalry and, 129, 152–155 same-sex desire and, 54, 57, 63 social worth and, 9, 23, 29, 76–77, 162–165 sworn brotherhood and, 57 Merchants fiscal vulnerability of, 72–73, 78, 84, 129 as storytellers, 128, 131–139, 141 Middle East anxieties regarding, 77 fantasies regarding, 60, 77, 155–159 function in storytelling, 60, 77, 84, 155, 156 imaginative geographies, 58–61, 63 Money. See also Avarice; Usury anxiety regarding, 2–4, 6, 9, 18–19, 29–32, 100, 161, 162
classical views of, 16–17 conventional theory of, 16–17 debasement, 3, 4, 19, 30–32 fantasies regarding, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 23, 24–25, 33–35, 42, 49, 162–165 as general equivalent, 2, 8, 166 isomorphic links to language, 6, 7 isomorphic links with gender, 4, 13, 28–29 as a kind of “nonsense”, 17, 31 masculinity and, 71–76 metallist theory of, 16 mobility, 16–18, 21, 29 natural use vs. use value, 16, 17 rise of moneyed economy, 2–4 scholastic views of Thomas Aquinas, 17, 104, 106 similarities to women, 13–32 social mobility and, 9, 35, 46, 50 venality satire and, 3, 23 N Necrophilia, 39–40. See also Bataille, George erotics of the corpse, 40–41 as noneconomic, 41–42 New economic criticism, 6 O Ovid, 88, 140, 151 metamorphoses, 97, 140, 153 P Parsimony. See also Femininity vs. feminization ingratitude and, 115–117 relationship to “unkyndness”, 115–116
188 Index Plato, 88–93, 95, 96, 121. See also classical views of property Poetry. See also Story telling as commodities, 127, 128, 130, 137–139, 142, 147, 152 poetic rivalry, 129, 152–155 poverty and, 128, 129, 140–141, 149, 152 relationship to incest, 128, 129, 149–153 rhetoric and merchandising, 10, 132–139, 142–148 rime riche, 101, 111 Political Economy, 2 invention of, 6–7, 56 separation from gender, 6–7, 27, 56 Poverty. See Femininity vs. feminization; Poetry feminization and, 72–76, 82, 118, 128 in poetry, 128, 129, 140–141, 149, 152 Property. See also Avarice; Masculinity avarice and, 10, 88–89, 94–95, 97–99 classical views of, 86, 87–93 common property, 87–97, 121, 123 early Christian views of, 93–95 the fall and, 94–96 Golden Age and, 87–88, 94, 95, 97 late medieval views of masculine identity and, 10, 71–73, 87–88, 118, 120–122, 129, 152–155 as a necessity, 95–97, 121–123 stories as, 126, 136–141, 147, 152–155 women and children as, 89–90, 91–93, 95–97, 121–123
R Race climatic theories and, 59–60 imaginative geographies, 58–61, 63 storytelling and, 155–160 Rhetoric advertising and, 10, 128, 129, 130–141, 147 desire and, 130–141, 142–148 dilatio/copia, 144 renewing old stories and, 135–136, 139, 142–148 Rubin, Gayle, 159 S Sexual Violence, 11, 23, 67, 93, 101 relationship to masculinity, 19, 24–25, 163–164 relationship to poverty, 83 value, 19–20, 143, 145–146, 159 Shell, Marc, 125 Smith, Barbara Herrnstein, 125 Sovereignty necropolitics, 9, 42, 48–49 surveillance, 46–48 Squire of Low Degree, 9, 18 Storytelling anxiety regarding, 129, 141, 148–149 importance of novelty, 136, 137 merchants as storytellers, 128, 130–137, 139–141 relationship to incest, 129, 148–153 relationship to merchandizing goods, 10, 128, 129, 130–141 relationship to rivalry, 129, 152–155 stories as commodities, 10, 126, 128, 131, 137–138, 147, 155 travel narratives and stories, 130–136
T Thompson, James, 7, 156, 160 Travel narratives. See also Story telling as commodities, 131, 147 John Mandeville’s Travels, 59, 130–134, 136, 139 Marco Polo’s The Travel’s, 130, 131, 133–134, 136, 137, 155–159 role of rhetoric, 132–139, 142–148 U Usury relationship to avarice, 87, 104–108 relationship to love, 87, 108–114, 115 relationship to sodomy, 24–25, 105–106 V Value friendship and, 54, 55, 58, 125 gender ideology and, 2, 4, 6, 8, 13–14, 19–22, 122–123, 129, 142–148, 152–155, 157–159 love and, 9, 67, 121 money and, 2–4, 7–9, 11, 13, 14, 19, 22, 88, 155, 160 storytelling and, 142, 148, 152–155
Virginity as commodity, 39, 123, 142 as something renewable, 143, 145, 147 as treasure, 100, 123 W Women, 4–7, 9, 10, 13–16, 19, 21–23, 25–27, 29, 39, 50, 54, 63–65, 77, 80, 87, 89, 91–93, 100, 101, 117, 121–123, 128, 142–144, 146, 147, 157–159, 162–164. See also Femininity vs. feminization; Money anxiety regarding, 15–16, 22–23, 24–25, 120–123, 164–165 as property, 41–42, 80–81, 100– 101, 118, 121–123, 142–148, 157–159, 163–164 containment and, 23, 48–49, 50, 100–101, 119, 121–123, 163–165 impressionability and, 14–16 marriage and, 15–16, 21, 28–29, 35, 38–39, 41–42, 47–48, 89–90, 91–94, 120–123, 163–164 movement and, 9, 13–16, 19, 21 as stories, 128, 142–148