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

STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER substitute for crucial transitions. Kimmelman, however, has a truly ad­ mirable knowledge of scholarship and medieval philosophy, rhetoric, grammar, and literature, and his work shows that literature is the most interdisciplinary form for understanding the world. AMY w. GOODWIN Randolph-Macon College ANNE LASKAYA. Chaucer's Approach to Gender in the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer Studies, vol. 23. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995. Pp. viii, 224. $63.00. Anne Laskaya's welcome book delivers up a full discussion of gender in Chaucer's Tales, masculinity as well as femininity, beginning with an investigation of the ideals of gendered behavior prevalent in late­ fourteenth-century England. Previewing her arguments in the intro­ duction, she writes: Just as [Chaucer's} work cm be said to call other ideals into question, so it can be said to call gender ideals into question. It offers up a sophisticated discus­ sion ofmasculinity ... while still remaining firmly homosocial and homopho­ bic. Its representations offemininity are also created at a conjunction ofinquiry and reinscribed misogyny. (p. 13) Because so many of Chaucer's narrators are male, the book spends a great deal more time exploring the varieties of male rather than female expe­ rience represented in the Tales. But this approach results in a study that does not skew our reading of the entire work along an axis that includes only the Wife of Bath, the Second Nun, and the Prioress of the frame, along with several female characters who reside within tales told by male pilgrims. Instead, Laskaya's discussion can close with an acknowl­ edgement of the structural and thematic importance of The Parson's Tale: On the one hand, the game [of storytelling} is a civilizing agent, channelling aggression into play; on the other hand, the Parson's Tale, placed in an author­ itative final position in the Tales, chastises men for their rivalries and expresses 288 REVIEWS a desire for the oneness of man and man, thereby voicing criticisms of a cul­ ture which increasingly encouraged competition. (p. 201) This is no mean feat, as will be evident to all who have followed the in­ fluence of feminist criticism on interpretations of Chaucer's texts, and Laskaya is to be thanked for setting her sights on the whole, rather than on a part, ofthat encyclopedic work. Her second chapter will perhaps be the most widely cited, as it clearly delineates "four different literary discourses of ideal heterosexual male behavior" that, she readily admits, "were often in tension with one an­ other" (p.15).She names them: the heroic, or epic, discourse; the dis­ course of Christian masculinity; the discourse of courtly love; and a "fourth prescription for masculinity [which} promoted the virtue of knowledge above all else" (p. 18). In subsequent chapters, she examines the appearance and critique of these ideals in several tales, including The Knight's Tale for heroic discourse, the Miller's and Merchant's Tales for courtly love, the Canon's Yeoman's and Clerk's Tales for the intellectual male, and the Friar's, Summonor's and Parson's Tales for the ideal of Christian masculinity. Further, Laskaya helpfully articulates gender ideals for both women and men as two series of questions.Since men were expected to rule over others, she says, they were occupied with such questions as: "What are the limits of governance? When does rule become tyranny? What should be the relationship between punishment and mercy? What con­ stitutes just governance for a king, a bishop, a confessor, a husband" (p.20), or an innkeeper-turned-judge? And since women were expected to submit to the rule of men, they were often represented as considering such questions as "Are there any limitations on my obedience to my husband or father? How can I influence the governor? When does in­ fluence become rebellion? When does submission become slavery? How do I submit and still maintain self-respect?" (p. 42).Prudence in The Tale of Melibee comes out looking quite good in comparison with Custance, Griselde, Virginia, and Dorigen in the chapter entitled "Masculinity, Representations ofldeal Femininity in Men's Narratives, and the Challenge," as Chaucer "depicts in Prudence ...a strong fe...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 288-290
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.