When analyzing the figure of the Sowdanesse in Geoffrey Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale, critics have tended to perceive her characterization as a reflection of fourteenth-century Western patriarchal culture's misogyny or anti-Muslim sentiment. However, the Sowdanesse also functions in the tale as a case study for the problematics of forced religious conversion and the potential for feigned conversion. When Chaucer elaborates the Syrian portion of the narrative from his source texts, he adds the detail that the Sowdanesse is advocating for feigned baptism, a practice that remained the focus of debate throughout the medieval period, attracting the attention of Gratian II and Thomas Aquinas, among others. Due to the issues of tactical maneuvering and community integrity raised by the Sowdanesse's plan to feign baptism, this essay argues that she should not primarily be read as either a sympathetic figure or villainess but rather in terms of her function: to illustrate the secular ramifications of religious deception and the importance of those who can uncover deceit.


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pp. 240-260
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