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Chapter 3 Exchequers and Balances: Anxieties ofExchange in Chaucerian Fictions [The man ofsystem] seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members ofa great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle ofmotion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board ofhuman society, every single piece has a principle ofmotion ofits own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse {sic] to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game ofhuman society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree ofdisorder. -Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (VI.2.17) In the second book of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Criseyde catches sight of Troilus from her window, and her vision prompts her to argue "in hire thought" about the pros and cons of returning his love.1 Although initially swept away by"his excellent prowesse, I And his estat, and also his renown:' Criseyde quickly begins to consider the drawbacks to such a union (2.660-61).2 She is keenly aware that spurning her "'kynges sone"' might endanger her already precarious situation in Troy (2.708). At the same time she worries that loving Troilus will comprise her independence- "Allas! Syn I am free, I Sholde I now love, and put in jupartie I My sikernesse , and thrallen libertee?" (2.771-73)-and she revels in the autonomy conferred on her by her status as a widow: I am myn owene womman, wel at eseI thank it God-as after myn estat, Right yong, and stonde unteyd in lusty leese, 96 Chapter 3 Withouten jalousie or swich debat: Shal noon housbonde seyn to me "Chek mat!" (2.75--54) Criseyde's use of chess in this passage, a continuation of the gaming discourses that dominate the poem, is notable.3 Serving as a shorthand for the economics of exchange underlying a marriage contract, the metaphor makes clear that love, a heady emotion that causes Criseyde to blush when she first sees Troilus, differs from a relationship between a wife and her husband. "Unteyd in lusty leese;' Criseyde can give her love freely. Married, she cannot . And if a marriage is a chess game where freedom and sexual obligation are at stake, then Criseyde does not even want to play. Whereas Crisedye's chess metaphor appears as a briefaside in a lengthy speech, in the Book ofthe Duchess the game becomes an extended allegory. Again chess marks a heterosexual relationship. Or at least it seems to function as such. While spouses do not play against each other-the Black Knight loses his lady, White, to his opponent, Fortune-the game encodes the same economic powers and patriarchal structures as it does in Criseyde's brief aside. In this game the male lover is mated when Fortune, his female opponent , takes his queen. Notably, however, his queen carries with it a double representation; not only is she his queen on the board, she is also his lady. Thus, like Criseyde, who fears being "mated" by her husband, White becomes an object to be won or gained in the process of play, and the Black Knight uses economic terms to express sorrow about her loss. He mourns his own "account;' sighing that "ther lyeth in rekenyng, I In my sorwe for nothyng" (BD 11. 699-700). As evinced by this reference to "rekenyng," the Black Knight and Fortune have effectively made a trade: Fortune has remunerated the Black Knight with "sorwe." That Chaucer uses chess in Troilus and the Book ofthe Duchess to highlight the process and pitfalls ofimbalanced material exchange marks a break with texts like the Liber and Les Echecs amoureux, where chess embodied either an abstract system of values or represented (at least in its ideal form) an equal exchange that ended in a draw. As noted above, Jacobus, in his late thirteenth-century Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium ac popularium super ludo scachorum, uses chess to represent an ideal society. In order to make his allegory work, he tries to negate the symbolic violence associated with the game and to detach it from gambling...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812201048
Related ISBN
9780812239447
MARC Record
OCLC
859160604
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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