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The Gender of Song in Chaucer Nicolette Zeeman King’s College, Cambridge Madame, ye ben of al beaute shryne As fer as cercled is the mapamounde, For as the cristal glorious ye shyne, And lyke ruby ben your chekes rounde. Therwith ye ben so mery and so jocounde That at a revel whan that I see you daunce, It is an oynement unto my wounde, Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce. For thogh I wepe of teres ful a tyne, Yet may that wo myn herte nat confounde; Your semy voys that ye so smal out twyne Maketh my thoght in joy and blis habounde. So curtaysly I go with love bounde That to myself I sey in my penaunce, ‘‘Suffyseth me to love you Rosemounde, Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce.’’ Nas never pyk walwed in galauntyne As I in love am walwed and ywounde, For which ful ofte I of myself devyne That I am trewe Tristam the secounde. My love may not refreyde nor afounde, I brenne ay in an amorous plesaunce. Do what you lyst, I wyl your thral be founde, Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce.1 In the ballade ‘‘To Rosemounde,’’ we are in the realm of desire and its substitutions, of Freudian narcissism and the Lacanian imagiMy thanks to Jonathan Burt, Christopher Cannon, Rita Copeland, Sarah Kay, David Wallace, and the SAC readers. 1 The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), p. 649; for verbal parallels to this subtly comic poem in other lyrics, see Rossell Hope Robbins, ‘‘Chaucer’s ‘To Rosamounde,’ ’’ Studies in the Literary Imagination 4 PAGE 141 141 ................. 16596$ $CH5 11-01-10 14:06:38 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER nary. The lady is variously described in the glittering language of the fetish (shryne, mapamounde, cristal); in her the singer fantasizes his own completeness and identity (she is the all-enclosing shrine of the ‘‘world,’’ the ‘‘ointment’’ to his ‘‘wound’’); she represents a kind of pregendered ‘‘sufficiency’’ from whom he cannot imagine separation (‘‘Suffyseth me to love you,’’ ‘‘Do what you lyst, I wyl your thral be founde’’). And the singer repeatedly attributes the impossibility of his desire to the distant lady, who never ceases to demonstrate his irrelevance, not so much by refusing him, as by ignoring him entirely. The singer himself has an unstable and even amorphous quality. His self-figuration in terms of lack contradicts the claims he makes about his imagined satisfactions (he is ‘‘wounded’’ but cured, weeping but full of blis, marginalized but bounde); his very form and size seem to oscillate (his tears fill ‘‘a barrel,’’ he compares himself to Sir Tristam, he is like a fish); he is marginalized and apparently irrelevant to the lady and her social scene, but he is also peculiarly self-contained, if diminutized, by his contentment with small satisfactions (‘‘So curtaysly I go . . . That to myself I sey . . . ‘Suffyseth me . . .’’’). This is the fantasy and the narcissism, but also the contradictory and uncertain shape of the ‘‘lover.’’ This comic poem also draws on a tradition of love song in which varying degrees of social awareness, irony, and humor play a substantial role. Its subtle exaggerations archly situate the singer as a solipsistic and nonintegrated member of courtly society. This social awareness is reinforced by the recognition of threatening ‘‘others,’’ the evocation of a crowded social scene (‘‘at a revel whan that I see you daunce’’); in this scene the lady is the most mobile figure of all, engaging in implied daliaunce with unspecified others. As the ballade proceeds and Rosemounde is named, repetition of the refrain increases its pointed comment on her lack of interest, especially in contrast to the hypnotized watcher with his immobilizing imaginary of love (‘‘Maketh my thoght in joy and blis habounde . . . with love bounde . . . in my penaunce, / ‘Suffyseth me to love you’’’; ‘‘My love may not refreyde nor afounde, / I brenne ay in an amorous plesaunce . . . I wyl your thral be founde’’). All this culminates in the last stanza with the mock-heroics of ‘‘trewe Tristam the secounde’’ and its bathetic counterpart, the fish on a dish...


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