This essay reconciles the sweet wife Cecilia who appears at the beginning of Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale with the public preacher she has become by the end by attending to what pastoral books, such as confessional manuals and hagiographical narratives, said and assumed about wives, women saints, and preachers. Reading the tale from this perspective offers a way to understand Cecilia's speaking behaviors and, by extension, how her passio is wholly congruent with the Second Nun as teller. Here, Cecilia is an orthodox wife whose persuasive skills are as evident in her initial nuptial conversation with her husband Valerian as in her conventional hagiographical debate with the pagan Almachius. Contextualized by pastoral expectations of wives and late medieval assessments of women's speech, this interpretation of Cecilia suggests her potential as a rhetorical model to late medieval readers who wanted to emulate her persuasive talent and commitment to orthodoxy regardless of marital or clerical status.


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pp. 159-190
Launched on MUSE
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