Gold THE GEOFFREY CHAUCER PAGE


Susan Crane

 

Medieval Romance and Feminine Difference in The Knight's Tale

 

 

RECENTLY THE learned and classicizing aspects of Geoffrey Chaucer's Knight's Tale have received more favor than the tale's affiliations with romance. A. C. Spearing argues in his Medieval to Renaisance in English Poetry that "we must recognize in Chaucer, wherever we look, a contempt for romance of all kinds."1 A. J. Minnis, Derek Brewer, Robert Frank, and J. A. Burrow have also noted Chaucer's lack of interest in or sympathy for romance, especially for its narrative illogicalities and unmotivated marvels.2 Much in The Knight's Tale is not best understood in terms of romance; for example, emphasizing Chaucer's classicism illuminates ideas about order and justice in the tale, and mythographic analyses consider Chaucer's use of Boccaccio's Teseida. Yet readers have long recognized that the romance genre informs The Knight's Tale more fully than any other genre. Spearing concurs with earlier critics in calling the tale a "classical" or "philosophical romance," a generic modification that simplifies and clarifies plot and makes wonders explicable or historicizes them "as part of the religion of the classical past."3 Chaucer's generic revisions, in this view, free The Knight's Tale from disorder and irrationality, precisely the qualities that characterize romance from the classical perspective.

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1 A. C. Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 36. All Chaucer quotations are from Larry Benson, gen. ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton, 1987).

2 A. J. Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, N. J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1982), pp. 7-8, 133; Derek S. Brewer, Symbolic Stories: Traditional Narratives ofthe Famly Drama in Enghh Literature (Cambridge: D. S Brewer; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield. 1980), pp. 92-97, 99; Robert Worth Frank, Jr., Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 111-33; J. A. Burrow, "The Canterbury Taies, 1: Romance," in Piero Borrani and Jill Mann, eds., The Cambridge Chaucer Companion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 109.

3 Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 38-39; see also Minnis. Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity; William Frost, "An Interpretation of Chaucer's Knight's Tale," RES 25 (1949): 289-304; John Halverson. "Aspects of Order in the Knight's Tale," SP 57 (1960): 606-21.


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I believe that Chaucer's sense of romance illogicalities and marvels contributes to his treatment of gender, justice, and order in The Knight's Tale. The scene in Diana's temple, which seems from classical and Boccaccian perspectives to be marred by a number of compositional weaknesses, is particularly meaningful when considered in terms of romance conventions. In this scene and beyond, romance informs the tale's representation of Emelye as an occasion for adventure and courtship. Both Emelye and Diana contradict the tale's governing ideals and structures and do so in the unmotivated mode of romance. Emelye expresses a desire not to love or be loved that may seem simply coy, but that does not make easy sense in relation to her other manifestations in the tale. Diana's manifestations are similarly imponderable. Around both figures Chaucer has generated illogicalities from Boccaccio's more coherent presentation. The omens Diana shows Emelye, for example, predict a future that Diana should not know. Chaucer attributes an unexplained prescience to Diana by moving the scene in her temple from its place following the gods' determinations in the Teseida to a moment preceding Arcite's prayer to Mars and the ensuing dispute among the gods. This and several similar compositional adjustments to the Teseida might be thought careless or insignificant for their illogicality, but I would like to reconsider them as aspects of a romance sensibility that permeates The Knight's Tale.

Diana tells Emelye that the omens on her altar reveal "thyn aventure of love" (line 2357). "Adventure" evokes both the Boethian hierarchy of apparent causes, as a near synonym for "sort" and "fortune," and the generic field of romance, as the term of choice for encounters with the unknown.* Diana's uncanny foreknowledge in this scene strengthens the term's romance associations over its rationalized philosophical ones. The significance of adventure in romance differs, indeed reverses, the significance assigned it in Boethian philosophy, where all apparent accidents are subsumed in a providential design. A few illustrations may clarify how differently adventure signifies in romance and how romance prepares Emelye's and Diana's roles. My examples do not imply Chaucer's direct knowledge of particular romances; the idea of adventure is so pervasive in romance that particular illustrations are everywhere available.

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4 The former sense is illustrated in lines such as "Were it by aventure or destynee" and "For falling nys nat but an avenue" (lines 1465, 2722), the latter in Arcite's "For which I tolde thee myn aventure" and "Thy" is the victorie of this aventure" (lines 1160, 1235). On "aventure" as a synonym for "fortune" see Howard R. Patch, The Goddess Fortuna in Mediaevai Literature (CambrIdge. Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1927), pp. 39-40.

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Adventure is the critical term most specific to romance, indicating the arbitrary, the random, and the unmotivated that divide the experience of romance from the clear necessities of epic struggle, the transcendent assurance of hagiography, and the instructive designs of chronicle. Adventure encompasses a persistent generic tendency to counter one position with its reverse and to answer each voice with its contradiction. Yet in romance encouters with threatening, magical, or exotic forces do not tend to be simply adversarial. Sometimes a knight such as Erec of Chrétien de Troyes's Erec et Enide kills three or five attacking villains, but more important are his defeat of Yder son of Nut, his long joust with Guivret le Petit, and his final combat with Mabonagrain, in which the anonymous adversaries turn out to be knights rather like Erec himself, even potential companions and allies. Bevis of Hampton defeats a pagan giant, Ascopart , who then follows him across Europe as faithfully and meekly as Guy of Warwick's lion follows him. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the magic that seems to doom Gawain proves to be strangely benevolent. Adventure has an element of the ambiguous and ineffable that complicates its challenge.

Courtship, whose vocabulary is so often that of combat, is the central adventure of many romances. Stephen Nichols believes that the representation of courtship is precisely the origin of romance, the point at which the isolation of love lyric and the monologism of earlier narrative poetry yield to a dialogue between the lover and the resisting, unknowable woman who "subjects love to interpretations other than those flattering constructions placed on it by the bemused lover in his solitary lyric reverie. The voice of the beloved may be the first intimation of alterity intruding into the monologism of the lover."5 Alterity extends from women's voices to the unpredictable and exotic forces encountered in other adventures, forces which like the beloved both resist and attract the hero. Adventure is combat but also contact with the alien -- a woman, an enemy, the pagan, the animal. These adversaries may remain irreversibly strange, yet adventure often culminates not simply in conquest but in appropriation -- in marrying the woman, seizing the enemy's lands and titles, converting the pagan, taming the animal. At the culmination as throughout, adventure's validity inheres in that strangeness or alienness which provides occasions for expanding and transforming the heroic self.

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3 Stephen G. Nichols, "Amorous Imitation: Bakhtin, Augustine, and Le Roman d'Enés," in Kevin Brownlee and Marina Scordilis Brownlee, eds., Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrétien de Troyes to Cervantes (Hanover, N. H. and London: University Press of New England, 1985), pp. 49-50.

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The context of adventure clarifies why romance constructs gender primarily as difference. Further, the constitution of a "masculine" heroic and narrative perspective specifies the nature of "feminine" difference as that which is beyond the hero's experiential knowledge and the plot's discursive anticipation. Jean-Charles Huchet concludes that in Enéas Lavinia "incarne l'alterité dont le héros et le roman ont besoin, qui pour voyager, qui pour iiécrire. La prise en compte de la femme par le roman ne s'est jamais donneé pour la reconnaissance de la spécifité d'une différence, mais pour l'introduction en son sein d'une métaphore de l'alterité qui permette de parler et au roman de s'écrire."6 Woman lies outside the narrative trajectory and the lover's understanding. She is the locus of the impossible demand, the uncanny intuition, the unimaginable passion. Narrative and lover move toward encompassing her through adventure: Ipomedon both fulfills and deconstructs La Fié's demand that the hero become the best of knights; Chrétien's Lancelot wins mercy from an all-knowing Guinevere; and in countless romances women who, like Emelye, embody love and impersonate Venus occasion plots concerning their lovers' courtship and experience of love. Romance configures women in terms of male desire, as fundamentally different from men yet ultimately appropriated by them.

"Ye sleen me with youre eyen, Emelye"
Courtship in The Knight's Tale begins with Palamon and Arcite interpreting their own desire as the onslaught of a life-threatening adventure. From their first sight of Emelye the lovers perceive her attractiveness as aggression. Their unreturned gaze upon her becomes her act upon them: "I was hurt right now thurghout myn ye / Into myn herte, that wol my bane be," Palamon declares, and Arcite later echoes, "Ye sleen me with youre eyen, Emelye! / Ye been the cause wherfore that I dye" (lines 1096-97, 1567-68). The narrator's presentation is rhetorically consonant with the lovers' in these respects. He praises Emlye's beauty; he compares her to an angel and cannot judge between the rose and her complexion, rather as Palamon compares her to Venus and cannot distinguish between her womanhood and divinity; and he concurs with the lovers' sense of victimization by love: "with that sighte hir beautee hurte hym so, / That, if that Palamon was wounded sore, / Arcite is hurt as muche as he, or moore" (lines 1114-16). In terms of romance's conventions of courtship, whether The Knight's Tale

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6 Le Roman médiéval (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1984). p. 218.

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narrator is at every moment the Knight or entirely a Chaucerian narrator created before the composition of The General Prologue or a complexly mingled presence is not relevant. The narrating voice is importantly masculine throughout, and when Emelye first appears, the consonance of narrator and lovers helps naturalize the lovers' sense of victimization and license their consequent passivity with regard to Emelye herself.

Palamon and Arcite experience Emelye in lyrical self-absorption for some years. It may seem that their imprisonment enforces a distant and unchanging experience of desire, buth their prison "evene joynant to the gardyn wal" (line 1060) has more metaphorical than circumstantial meaning. ' Later the disguised Arcite enforces silence on himself, expressing his love only in the name Philostrate and in compliants voiced alone. Palamon and Arcite perceive Emelye as all-powerful and free in contrast to their own imprisonment by love, but the distance they maintain from her identifies the experience of love as their own and not hers. Why exclude her? For a Gaston Paris or a C. S. Lewis the lady's apartness encouraged the lover's improvement; recent and not entirely incompatible interpretations are that the lady's apartness allows lovers to project what is lacking in themselves onto the concrete distance separating them from their goal, or into the unresponsive passivity of the beloved lady.8 In the latter readings the lover's sense of improvement may be delusory, but the distance between lover and lady remains crucial to the claim that male desire is an improving experience. Palamon and Arcite are willing to die to determine whether Emelye is "my lady" or "thy lady" before she has responded in any way to their love (lines 1581, 1617, 1619). In the end each man does win Emelye's answering devotion, Arcite at the time of his victory and death and Palamon at his marriage. The "aventure of love" is Emelye's only in the moments of outcome -- as each suit ends, which is what Diana's omens reveal -- whereas the narrative as a whole concerns Palamon's and Arcite's adventure of love, their imaginative engagement with an idea of Emelye and their participation in the events that will "darreyne hire by bataille" (lines 1609, 1853).

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7 See. for example, V A. Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: The First Five Canterbury Tales (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1984), pp. 85-105.

8 See, for example, Gaston Paris, "Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde: Lancelot du Lac, II, Le Conte de la Charrette." Romania 12 (1883): 459-534; C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936); compare Huchet, Le Roman médiéval: Henri Rey-Flaud, La Névrose courtoise (Paris: Seuil, 1983); Barbara Johnson, The Critical Difference : Essay in the Contempory Rhetoric of Reading (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 3-20.


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The difference between male and female experiences of courtship generates adventure in romance, although Chaucer perhaps heightens from the norm Palamon's and Arcite's expressions of embattled helplessness on the one hand and their functional independence from their beloved on the other. Her lovers' detachment determines a social passivity in Emelye as in other heroines, but feminine passivity is less important to understanding romance than is the striking difference that woman embodies in the genre despite her relative inaction, despite a process of courtship that absents her from the narrative and reconstitues her to the specifications of her lovers' desire. In her configuration as a ground of adventure for male protagonists the beloved lady acquires a oppositional identity that challenges courtship. Emelye's most overt opposition, her assertion to Diana that " I / Desire to ben a mayden al my lyf, / Ne nevere wol I be no love ne wyf" (lines 2304- 2306), exemplifies a perpetual contradictoriness that makes her finally indecipherable. Emelye is the most evident instance of a multivoiced ambiguity that characterizes The Knight's Tale and that for romance has its origin in gender difference. Theseus as well as Emelye speaks differently from the lovers, but Theseus's perspective is normative insofar as it tallies extensively with the narrator's perspective and invokes common sense, chivalry, and an idea of order.

Emelye's resistance, like adventure itself, is unmotivated: acquiescing to Theseus's plan for giving her away but then praying to remain a virgin, lamenting Arcite's death but then loving Palamon, she is as diffused in her scattered manifestations as the subdivided heroine of The Romance of the Rose. Several explanations might be proposed for Emelye's dispersed gestures, and I review them briefly in sequence to suggest that Emelye is constituted by unverifiability, rather than by the text's validation of one explanation over another.

Some readers conclude that Emelye "fears the primal curse of childbearing" or "is afraid to enter on the next stage of life, marriage, with all that that signifies": she is an affectionate but timid young woman.9 Boccaccio's Emilia, so young that "non chiede amore intero," fits this explanation in asking Diana for protection from both men yet admitting that, if she must have one, "io nol so in me stessa nomare, / tanto ciascun piacevole mi pare."10 Emelye, in contrast, is unexplained. Given that she represents

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9 Joseph Harrison, "' Tears for Passing Things': The Temple of Diana in the Knight's Tale," PQ 63 (1984): 112; Douglas Brooks and Alastair Fowler, "The Meaning of Chaucer's Knight's Tale," MÆ 39 (1970): 127.

10 Teseida, 3.19, 7.85. This and subsequent quotations are taken from Giovanni Boccaccio, Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccacio, ed. Alberto Limentani, vol. 2 (Verona: Mondadori, 1964).


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virginity as her chosen way of life and expresses no desire at all for her suitors, her prayer is in itself unambiguous and considered, however much it differs from her expressions elsewhere. But in the absence of textual cues it is possible to imagine her motive to be a momentary fear or coyness.

On the scant evidence of the tale, we could just as plausibly (or implausibly) say that Emelye is Athenian in manner but still Amazonian within, behaving properly to all appearances but tacitly maintaining her independence and her "compaignye" of maidens for as long as possible (line 2307). In this view the plea for mercy on Palamon and Arcite in which Emelye participates would illustrate the braking function of "verray wommanhede" (line 1748) in chivalric literature as in history, a function that provides masculine warmaking and justice with opportunities for peacemaking and mercy. Emelye's prayer for virginity would in contrast recall the independence of Amazonian life that for Boccaccio was unnaturally masculine in requiring "virile animo uomini fatti, non femine." If the prayer does express an Amazonian sensibility, it neutralizes Boccaccio's condemnation by encompassing a "womanly" request for "love and pees bitwixe hem two" (line 2317) and by aligning isolation from men with chastity and maidenhood rather than with "virile" aggression.

A third version of Emelye's behavior might be based in the couplet that glosses the "freendlich ye" she casts on Arcite at the end of the tournament: "For wommen, as to speken in comune, / Thei folwen alle the favour of Fortune" (lines 2680-82). The couplet does not appear in several manuscripts, including Hengwrt, Ellesmere, and Cambridge Gg. 4.27; if it is Chaucer's, it seems to come to us sous rature, or it might represent an early copyist's attempt to make sense of Emelye.12 Linking Emelye to Fortune explains her reversals as inexplicable -- determined by mere accidents -- and at the same time integrates her inexplicability into the tale's broader concern with the place of accidents in the providential scheme. In this reading Emelye presides over the circular tournament ground as Fortune over her wheel, or at most as Venus over lovers and Diana over maidens -- apparently mistresses but finally handmaidens of destiny. The couplet's dubious authority is appropriate both to the tale's evasion elsewhere of interpretative comment on Emelye and to the suppressed but still operative role of misogyny in romance, where the challenge a beloved lady

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11 Boccacio, Teseida. 1.24. I2 See John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, eds., The Text of the Canterbury Tales, III (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), p, 434 n.; and John H. Fisher's account of more recent theories of transmission, "Animadversions on rhe Text of Chaucer, 1988," Specuhm 63 (1988): 779-33.

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embodies can seem at once an inspiration and a capricious folly typical of womanhood.

These explanations are obviously not compatible in most respects, and they illustrate how Emelye's unmotivated nature can make her a site for our projections of motive as she is for her lovers' (e. g., "Venus, if it be thy wil. . ," "She that dooth me al this wo endure / Ne reccheth nevere . . ," lines 1104, 2396-97). Explaining Emelye's few manifestations in terms of each other is so conjectural that her significance is surely not in any unified personality but in her very contradictions. That is where all critical attempts to understand her coincide: She is changeable, and in that she is feminine -- she is like "wommen . . . in comune." In relation to her lovers she is both attratctive and resistant, elusive and threatening, as befits the terrain of adventure in romance.

"But hou she dide hir ryte I dar nat telle"
The scene in Diana's temple clarifies that Emelye's strangeness is not idiosyncratic but feminine. Complementing Emelye's desire that Palamon's and Arcite's love be extinguished or turned away from her are indications that her opposition is related to her gender, to a community of difference. Her only words in the tale are spoken as part of a maidens' ritual that sets her apart from men. The narrator's refusal to describe Emelye's rite of bathing may express a distance from the pagan past, as Spearing and Minnis argue,' 3 but since other pagan rites and myths are described without demur, the narrator's "I dar nat telle" (line 2284) suggests that in this case gender distances him from the rite. His refusal resonates with Acteon's punishment for seeing Diana bathing. The narrator avoids making Acteon's error, as if recalling the painted depiction on the temple wall (lines 2065-68):
There saugh I Attheon an hert ymaked,
For vengeaunce that he saugh Diane al naked;
I saugh how that his houndes have hym caught
And freeten hym, for that they knewe hym naught.
Emelye's bathing ritualizes a division between female and male that her Amazonian past, her prayer for virginity, and Diana's vengeance on Acteon

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13 Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 41-42; Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity, pp. 108-109.

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reinforce. Although the assertion that "it were a game to heeren al" (line 2286) does not take the situation seriously, the rite's gendered oppositions continue in a closing explanation cast in the masculine: "To hym that meneth wel it were no charge; / But it is a good man been at his large" (lines 2287-88). The meaning of "at his large" is problematic (out of prison? free to imagine?), but more important is the vaguely antagonistic distance between the maidens in Diana's temple and the masculine observer who edits out Emelye's body. The prohibition implicit in "I dar nat telle" and the transgressive pleasure in "it were a game to heeren al" both recognize feminine separateness and adumbrate its violation.

I believe that the gendered narration in the temple scene invokes the sexual connotation of the word queynte, which is repeated five times in Emelye's prayer and its answering omens. Larry Benson has argued that queynte cannot carry a prurient second meaning in this scene because the term can be a sexual euphemism only when the context invites it: "If we are led to expect the obscenity and hear queynte instead, we have a pun. Unless we are led to expect the obscenity, no pun is possible with this word."14 Queynte has primary meanings that are not euphemistic, like the modern "peter" or "pussy." Benson argues that, since the word queynte does not function euphemistically by replacing a sexual term in the temple of Diana scene, queynte means here only "strange" and "extinguished" (lines 2333-37):

But sodeynly she saugh a sighte queynte,
For right anon oon of the fyres queynte
And quyked agayn, and after that anon
That oother fyr was queynt and al agon;
And as it queynte it made a whistelynge, . . .
The context does not equate the word with its sexual referent, but such referents do not always behave so politely as to sit still until expressly invited to come forward. I believe that punning occurs in this passage despite the double obstacle of syntax (queynte in adjectival and verbal form rather than nominal) and the absence of obscene meaning for entire phrases. According to Benson, punning is impossible in these circumstances, but his

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14 Larry Benson, "The 'Queynte' Punnings of Chaucer's Critics," in Paul Strohm and Thomas J. Heffernan, eds., Studies in the Age of Chaucer; Proceedings, no. 1, 1984: Reconstructing Chaucer (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1983). pp. 23-47 (quotation at p. 45).

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closing paragraph illustrates on the contrary that a generally suitable context invites obscene connotations:
should [those finding obscene puns in Chaucer] publish, should they expose themselves in public, let us screw up our courage. Let us say with the accused in Trial by Jury: "Be firm, be firm, my pecker." And let us collectively put an end to the punsters!'15
"Let us screw up our courage" is only an approximate pun, depending for its obscene implication on context and the euphemistic sense of the morpheme screw alone, not on the phrase's syntax (" screw up") or an evident obscene meaning for the entire phrase. But the exhortation is clearly a double entendre and would make an entirely recognizable medieval one: Charles Muscatine notes Gautier le Leu's puns on con within verbs such as consentit and conquis; Frederick Ahl analyzes many approximate puns in Ovid, Isidore of Seville, and other Latin authors; R. A. Shoaf writes of "the dual and duel of sounds" in John the carpenter's unconscious pun "Allas, now comth Nowelis flood" (line 3818).16

Following Benson's exhortation that we "screw up our courage," I suggest that in Diana's temple double meaning does arise from the conjunction of context and the morpheme queynte. The narrator's opening recognition of gender difference and his double assertion that "I dar nat telle and yet it were a game to heeren al" prepare rhetorically for a pun. The context is that of a prayer for virginity that is being answered in the negative; Emelye admits the relevance of her lovers' "hoote love and hir desir" (line 2319) but seeks to withhold her body from them as from the sight of all men during these rites. Even (or especially) her refusal itself invites the unruly connotation from the morpheme's many repetitions. If the passage were modern and the omens were five talking pussycats, even the most sober readers might sense a surreptitious unveiling of the female body that was earlier forbidden to us. The tale's normative perspective is masculine, Emelye's rites are feminine, and the disparity between perspective and rites makes

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15 Ibid., p. 47.

16 Charles Muscatine, The Old French Fabliaux (New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 115 (see also pp. 105-51); Frederick Ahl, Metaformations: Soundplay and Wordplay in Ovid and Other Classical Poets (Ithaca, N. Y. : Cornell University Press, 1983); R. A. Shoaf, "The Play of Puns in Late Middle English Poetry: Concerning Juxtology," in Jonathan Culler. ed., On Puns: The Foundation of Letters (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. 54. Culler's essay, "The Call of the Phoneme: Introduction," in On Puns. pp. 1-16, is a useful reconsideration of theoretical and critical approaches to puns.


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Diana's temple a scene of difference that clarifies woman's absence from the masculine experience of love in romance.

Outside the temple Emelye is Theseus's "suster" and Arcite's "wyf" (lines 1833, 3062, 3075), recuperated into the program of courtship that Palamon and Arcite initiate and Theseus modifies. Only in the temple does she dissent from courtship, in the company of maidens and the presence of Diana. The context of Emelye's resistance suggests that her gender accounts for the disparity between her perceptions and those of her suitors.

To this analysis it might be objected that Emelye aligns herself with Acteon, in praying to Diana "As keepe me fro thy vengeaunce and thyn ire, / That Attheon aboughte cruelly" (lines 2302-2303). In a scene illustrating particular gender divisions, the equivalence Emelye finds bemeen her fate and Acteon's may seem out of place, but in effect the story of Acteon reiterates gender difference with peculiar force.

The trope of asking divine protection with reference to the divinity's own record parallels Palamon's request that Venus aid him "For thilke love thow haddest to Adoon" (line 2224) and Arcite's request that Mars "rewe upon my pyne / For thilke peyne and thilke hoote fir / In which thow whilom brendest" with desire for Venus (lines 2382434). The two men ask for aid in winning Emelye with reference to stories of divine passion, and Emelye asks for aid in remaining a virgin with reference to a story of divine chastity. Still, it might seem more appropriate for Emelye to imagine herself as a new Daphne than as a new Acteon. How is his situation like Emelye's? In terms of Palamon and Arcite's courtship, Emelye's fear of Acteon's fate reinterprets the familiar poetic image of courtship as hart hunting, illustrated in the allegorical frame for The Book ofthe Duchess (lines 348-86, 1311-13) and in many contemporary works.17 The image of lover-hunters in pursuit of the woman's heart reverses the aggression that Palamon's and Arcite's images attributed to Emelye's wounding beauty. More important, the specific instance of Acteon's death alters the conventional image of love's hunt from a desirable to a horrifying situation: according to the story : Emelye chooses, her very identity is in jeopardy, her pursuing lovers bestial and unable to perceive her humanity. The Acteon story's underlying analogies with courtship's hunt give it particular appropriateness to Emelye's prayer. The parallel Emelye draws between herself and Acteon is not gender-neutral in terms of her situation; indeed, Emelye's reinterpretation

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17 See Marcelle Thiebaux, The Stag of Love: The Chase in Medieval Literature (Ithaca, N. Y.. and London: Cornell University Press, 1974). pp. 115-27, 144-66. 244-46.

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of love's hunt by means of Acteon's story sets her again in gender-determined opposition to the lovers.
"Smokynge the temple"
The scene in Diana's temple is further set against the normative masculine world of the tale by the goddess's uncanny prescience. Like a heavenly Cassandra, Diana is unable to affect the course of events that she foresees. She recounts Emelye's fate as a decision beyond herself and seems forbidden even to articulate all she knows, yet her knowledge is peculiarly complete. One of the fires on Diana's altar seems to go out, then burns again; the other fire goes out, and bloody drops run from the extinguished sticks. Emelye weeps in alarm, and Diana comes to console her (lines 234% 57),
And seyde. "Doghter, stynt thyn hevynesse.
Among the goddes hye it is affermed.
And by eterne word writen and confermed,
Thou shalt ben wedded unto oon of tho
That han for thee so muchel care and wo,
But unto which of hem I may nat telle.
Farwel, for I ne may no lenger dwelle.
The fires which that on myn auter brenne
Shulle thee declaren, er that thou go henne,
Thyne aventure of love, as in this cas."
Boccaccio's gloss to the omens notes that the first fire represents Palamon's briefly quenched and then rekindled hopes when Arcite wins the tournament but then dies, and the second fire represents Arcite's death. 18 The meaning is easy to deduce, recalling similar wonders in the Aeneid, Metamorphoses, and Inferno, but it is obscured in The Knight's Tale by a double displacement: Diana's words connecting the two suitors to the two fires follow the omens' appearance on the altar, rather than preceding it as

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18 For the text of Boccaccio's gloss see Limentani, ed., Tutte le opere, 2: 484; see also the note to KnT 2339-40 in Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer; Nicholas R. Havely. Chaucer's Boccaccio: Sources of "Troilus" and the "Knight's" and "Franklin's Tales" (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, N. J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980), pp. 133-35, 209nn. Robert A. Pratt argued against Chaucer's knowledge of Boccaccio's glosses in "Conjectures Regarding Chaucer's Manuscript of the Teseida." SP 42 (1945): 745-63; Piero Boitani makes the case for Chaucer's knowledge of the glosses in Chaucer and Boccaccio, Medium Ævum Monographs, n. s., Vol. 8 (Oxford, 1977), pp. 190-97.

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in the Teseida; and Chaucer has shifted the whole scene in Diana's temple from its chronologically plausible site in the Teseida to a much earlier moment, before Arcite's prayer to Mars, the dispute between Venus and Mars in heaven, and Saturn's ominous forecast of a solution that will settle the dispute.

Yet Diana asserts that as in the Teseida the fires on her altar reveal the future. I believe that Chaucer's relocation of the scene responds to a romance imagining of the "aventure of love," and particularly to adventure's components of the mysterious and the unmotivated. Diana's foreknowledge does not submit to rational explanation. Some editors propose that Chaucer relocates Boccaccio's scene in order to place it at Diana's astrological "houre inequal" (line 2271), between the hours of Venus and Mars.19 I have not found any analysis of the resulting prevenience of Diana's omens, omens that in Boccaccio merely report the solution that has just been worked out among the gods. We might dismiss the omens' revelations in Chaucer as a compositional error introduced by the relocation of the scene, but Chaucer's further relocation of Diana's speech, to follow rather than precede the omens, suggests that his reorderings are deliberate attempts to render the omens wonderfully strange, and strangely out of place.

Deliberateness is perhaps the wrong characterization for a compositional process that introduces inconsistencies and errors into a handsomely ordered tale. This process more sensitive to mystery than to accuracy might account as well for the erroneous translation of Boccaccio's "Fu mondo il tempio e di bei drappi ornato" into the wonderfully evocative "Smokynge the temple, ful of clothes faire" (line 2281). Most editors posit that Chaucer mistook fu mondo for fumando; in contrast, J. A. W. Bennett suggests a deliberate attempt to condense Boccaccio's long account of sacrificial fires into one phrase.20 Between simple mistakes and deliberate revisions is the romantic possibility of meaninful error, an errant uncanniness that helps make Diana's temple a site of women's difference. According to Spearing, The Knight's Taile has a "classical simplicity and rationality of structure" in

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19 Editors also note the inversion of order within the scene, Diana's speech following rather than preceding the omens; on both reorderings see Thomas Tyrwhitt and Charles Cowden ' Clarke, eds., The Canterbury Tales, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Nimmo, 1868), 1: 208; J. A. W. Bennett. ed., The Knight's Tale, 2ded. (London: Harrap, 1958), pp. 135-37; A. C. Spearing, ed., The Knight's Tale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966). p. 181; Gene H. Kovetz, "Canterbury Tales. A 2349-52," N&Q, n. s., 5 (1958): 236-37.

20 Boccaccio, Teseida, 7.72; The Knight's Tale, in Benson, gen. ed., Riverside Chaucer, A 2281n.; Bennett, ed., Knight's Tale, p. 136.


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which there are "no narrative complications, no irrelevancies, none of that procedure by digression that is the typical method of medieval romance."* 1 Certainly The Knight's Tale is handsomely designed, and its romance "complications" and "irrelevancies" are part of that design, introducing oppositional voices that interrogate the tale's most fully articulated visions.22 Just as Emelye's desire not to be loved confuses the image of courtship in the tale, Diana's reply disrupts the progression of surrounding episodes, not only chronologically but metaphysically. Diana should not know the outcome at this moment, and more important, she should not know it at any moment.

Diana's assertion that there is an "eterne word writen and confermed" does have precedent in The Knight's Tale. Often characters vacillate between resigning themselves fatalistically to a fixed destiny and applying to capricious gods who may be swayed to intervene in earthly events. Arcite muses that love has wounded him so terribly "that shapen was my deeth erst than my sherte" (line 1566), yet he asks Mars to intervene in the tournament. Palamon believes that the future is "writen in the table of atthamaunt" (line 1305) but asks Venus to intervene. Reading The Knight's Tale for its classicizing but Christian perspective, Minnis and others make sense of the tale's metaphysical scheme by establishing a distinction between the capricious accidents that the gods seem to control and God's serene providence that guides the universe but that even Theseus's final speech can barely articulate. Thus Theseus's positive vision of a "wise purveiaunce" (line 3011) informing the universe can be reconciled with the squabble among the gods and the resolution cobbled together by Saturn: from Chaucer's Christian perspective, as in Theseus's partial understanding, events apparently at the whim of the gods are in fact providentially designed. The characters in the tale, Minnis concludes, are "benighted pagans, wasting their devotions on false gods. The implicit Christian standard in The Knight's Tale is thereby indicated, and a focus provided for Christian distrust of the 'rytes of payens."23 Diana's words to Emelye break down these metaphysical distinctions. Providence is within Diana's purview, an "eterne word writen and

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21 Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, p. 39.

22 A complication similar to Diana's foreknowledge but much smaller and without narrative implications is the depiction of Caesar's and Nero's deaths on the walls of Mars's temple (A 2031-38); see also n. 25 below.

23 Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity, p. 135; see also Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative, pp. 136-49.


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confirmed" in the pagan heavens, "among the goddes hye." Her access to this eternal word and the accuracy of her omens are at odds with the strife-torn and capricious behavior of the gods in surrounding scenes. Those gods exist chronologically in relation to the world, arguing and weeping into the lists until Saturn brings about his catastrophe, whereas Diana is already living in a harmonious sempiternal order in which all is forseen and foreordained.

Diana is Emelye's celestial complement, feminine in romance's terms through her contradictory manifestations as well as her articulated contradiction of the celestial order that is projected elsewhere in the tale. Outside the temple, Diana like Emelye seems in consonance with the orderly Athenian court that Theseus heads, "for after Mars he serveth now Dyane" (line 1682) in sociable hunting parties. Diana's oratory is located between the temples of Mars and Venus and is built "of alabastre whit and reed coral" (line 1910), suggesting that she may mediate between the lovers who fight under the red banner of Mars and the white banner of Venus. Retrospectively it seems that Emelye's red-and-white complexion and the red-and-white flowers she wove together in her green garden adumbrate a concord in marriage that is more fully predicted in Diana's temple.24 But Diana's connections to concord, mediation, and stasis are countered in the images of her vengeance and changeability: She stands on a phasing moon; she transforms her victims. In a final contradiction, the temple's images of change are themselves reversed in Diana's knowledge of the eternal word.

Diana's foreknowledge is so disruptive of the tale's metaphysical design that critics tend not to notice or believe in the omens' prediction of Palamon's and Arcite's fates, glossing the fires and the bleeding sticks instead as representations of Hymen's and Venus's torch, "the blood shed in menstruation, defloration and childbirth," or "the loss of virginity."25 If the omens predicted only Emelye's marriage, Diana would still know a future to which she should not have access, but denying the omens' relation to Palamon and Arcite mutes the scene's disturbing prescience to some

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24 Robert J. Blanch and Julian N. Wasserman argue for the "ontological unity of white and red" in "White and Red in the Knight's Tale: Chaucer's Manipulation of a Convention," in Wasserman and Blanch, ed., Chaucer in the Eighties (Syracuse, N. Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986), pp. 175-91 (quotation at p. 184).

25 Brooks and Fowler, "Meaning," p. 127; Spearing, ed., Knight's Tale, p. 181. There is a muted suggestion that Venus in some sense knows the outcome as well, in that her omen to Palamon "shewed a delay" (line 2268) that presages the lapse of time between tournament and marriage. Although Venus does not elsewhere seem prescient (perhaps because of her association with Palamon rather than a feminine cult), her omen suggests like Diana's a gender-related foreknowledge.


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degree. I would like to emphasize that prescience, because it is a complication that typifies the procedure of romance. Like Emelye's resistance to love, Diana's foreknowledge exemplifies the genre's juxtaposition of contradictory voices, which, to quote Stephen Nichols again, "calls into question the very possibility of erecting a unified philosophical system within the romance narrative. The dialectical indeterminacy of romance made it by nature a genre subversive of the privileged discourse requisite for unity in the totalizing systems favored by medieval society."26

Two privileged discourses are at issue in Diana's temple, that of chivalric courtship and that of metaphysical order. Although The Knight's Tale cannot be treated solely in terms of the romance genre, courtship and social order are central concerns of that genre, not least because they are central to the validation of the nobility as the estate that "does justice and keeps it."27 In romance (as in wider cultural expressions) the nobility's ordering and rationalizing identity is specifically masculine. Chivalric courtship designs sexual relations and dynastic succession through heroic adventuring: Palamon, Arcite, and Theseus all assume that Emelye will marry and disagree only on how to "darreyne hire." Social and metaphysical ordering in romance involves distinguishing what is just, virtuous, or Christian from the unjust, evil, or pagan. Again Palamon, Arcite, and Theseus are aligned in their preoccupation with such distinctions, from the first dispute over priority in love to the final discourse on heavenly and earthly order.28

It is particularly Chaucer's identification of feminine positions located outside the masculine designs of courtship and social order that connects The Knight's Tale to an idea of romance. Emelye's experience of courtship differs from that of her lovers: she prefers not to be won and prays to remain a virgin. Her prayer immediately meets omens of refusal that Emelye might indeed understand as a phallic drama of impregnation. In these smoky omens the romance dynamic of feminine aloofness overcome by persistent courtship is elevated to the status of holy mystery and foreordained design.

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26 Nichols, "Amorous Imitation," pp. 50-51.

27 Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Chronique des ducs de Normandie, quoted in Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1982). p. 273 et passim. Halverson, "Aspects of Order," discusses The Knight's Tale in terms of the ordering function of the second estate.

28 On dynastic succession in romance see R. Howard Bloch. Etymologies and Genealogies: A Literary Anthropology of the French Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); for a fuller discussion of ordering in romance see my Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986).


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Yet Emelye's pleading for virginity and her terrified weeping at the omens reveal in courtship a coerciveness that contradicts Palamon's and Arcite's stances of respectful worship. Similarly, Diana's serene prescience disturbs the tale's metaphysical distinction between the classical gods and Christian providence. Her words collapse the antique heavens into the medieval Christian universe, according a providential design to the former and leaking intimations of chaos into the latter. The Knight's Tale becomes, here as elsewhere, not just an antiquarian exercise but a subversively anachronistic exploration of accident and disorder in all or any time.

The feminine ritual in Diana's temple contradicts the tale's rituals of courtship and justice, not in open argument and refutation but surprisingly and mysteriously. In such adventures romance questions its every ideal and refuses a reductive evasion of difference. To deny The Knight's Tale its romantic complications and irrelevancies is to mute the tale's most ;. profound interrogations and to elide its gendered oppositions.29

&npsp; 29 I am very grateful to Monica McAlpine for her advlce on bibliography, and to Thomas Hahn for the opportunity to read an earlier version of this paper at the conference "History/Text/Theory: Reconceiving Chaucer," University of Rochester. April, 1988.

 

From Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 12 (1990), pp. 47-63. Printed with permission of the author.

 

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