In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS ness, masculinity, and Englishness—in other words, everything the city is not). This pair of essays inspires a number of questions both about this current volume and about our contemporary critical practices. Why is the idea of London currently (or recently) so central to Chaucer studies ? Where does our interest in the city place us? And what, or where, might be next? Sylvia Federico Bates College Carolyn P. Collette. Performing Polity: Women and Agency in the Anglo-French Tradition, 1385–1620. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006. Pp. 218. $75.00. Powerful and original in its insights, richly detailed and suggestive in its readings of individual texts, Carolyn Collette’s Performing Polity will almost certainly become required reading for any Chaucerian interested in women’s writing and history, late medieval political theory and its relation to literary culture, or Chaucer and French literature. It’s impossible within the confines of a short review to do justice to the complex and various arguments of the eight chapters that make up the book, so I will focus my detailed discussion to the first three chapters as containing material most likely to be of immediate interest to Chaucerians. Chapter 1 discusses how Christine de Pizan’s Livre des Trois Vertus maps the routes to agency a culturally authorized social androgyny made possible for late medieval women. Even while the default template of action and being is male, and a woman must prove herself as an ideal woman, nonetheless, Collette argues, women, ‘‘particularly of the aristocracy and the merchant classes, regularly perform successfully as socially androgynous members of society who are fully able to step into male positions and roles, fully able to function as men’’ (p. 24). Thus, in order to act successfully as surrogate men, Christine advises women to use speech as an offensive and defensive weapon, to preserve the good reputation that will afford her power and leverage over others, to cultivate the foundational social and political virtue of late medieval French culture, Prudence. Exploring the social construction of gender as powerfully as she does thus allows Christine to articulate women’s goals, propPAGE 473 473 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:15 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER erly defined, as social goals advancing the common good and to thus assert that ‘‘men and women demonstrate an equal capacity to engage in the same range of human activity’’ (p. 39). Chapter 2 addresses the tradition of female conduct literature from which Christine’s more radical interventions develop, focusing in particular on Philippe de Mézières’ Le Livre de la vertu du sacrament de marriage. In contrast to Christine, and her emphasis on a female agency and access to power that could be constructed via a culturally sanctioned social androgyny, Philippe’s stories of married women center on the connections to be made among virtue, marriage, and the public good. Thus Philippe emphasizes the role of ‘‘Prudence as an important female virtue . . . in the private life of the individual woman rather than as part of the strategies that enable her public life’’ (p. 42), or emphasizes the Saint Cecilia story as an exemplum of marriage as much as of martyrdom. And his narrative endpoint, the story of Griselda, casts her as the most exalted exemplar of female virtue—greater even than any of the nine ancient worthy women—because she conquers herself and manifests an unwavering self-control. Philippe’s work, Colette argues, epitomizes a larger ideology of women as participants in shaping polity, one influential on both sides of the Channel, and thus one that ‘‘helps define the field of reference and the literary sociolect in which Chaucer’s stories of Prudence, Cecilia, and Griselda were written and received.’’ Chapter 3 reads the late fourteenth-century play L’Estoire de Griseldis through the lens of contemporary French political theory, notably Nicole Oresme’s translation and commentary on Aristotle’s Politiques (completed at the request of Charles V). In a detailed and fascinating close analysis of the play, Collette notes that the play’s emphasis on dialogue and the scenes it selects for inclusion ‘‘re-presents the story of Gautier and Griselda within a wider social context than the...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 473-475
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.