|TITLE:||"A Mooder He Hath, but Fader Hath He Noon:" Constructions of Genealogy in the Clerk's Tale and the Man of Law's Tale|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 44 no1 25-60 2009|
In the early fourteenth century the kingdoms of England and France were in conflict over the issue of women's power to transmit heritable rule in their own right. The disposition of France's throne hung in the balance. In 1316, Philip of Poitiers, brother of the reigning king Louis X and future Philip V of France, set out to disinherit his infant niece, Jeanne, of the French throne, setting the stage for eventual conflict with England.(FN1) From 987, with the establishment of the Capetian monarchy, until the death of Louis X in 1316, no French king had failed before to provide a son who survived his father's death. The question of female eligibility for the throne had thus never been broached, giving Philip an opportunity to argue for the exclusion of women from succession, yet no clear precedent upon which to base that argument. In the absence of precedent, Philip cast about for a way to invalidate Jeanne's claim to the throne.
As an infant female, and quite possibly illegitimate due to her mother's well-known indiscretions, Jeanne presented French aristocrats with a somewhat unappealing candidate for the throne, yet Louis X had publicly acknowledged her as his legitimate child.(FN2) Philip was left in a peculiar bind. Prominent medical discourses based in Aristotelian biology supported his claim by suggesting that only men could inherit and transmit bloodlines. As a daughter, Jeanne would then be ineligible to claim a birthright to her father's throne through blood, and even if she herself inherited by right of her relation to her father, her own children would carry the blood of her husband, effectively spelling the end of the Capetian royal line. As Louis's brother, Philip thus would be a much better choice for the throne; as a man, he could both carry and transmit the Capetian bloodline to his own heirs. However, Philip could not employ this argument without difficulty, as he had previously petitioned Louis X to allow his own patrimony to pass to his daughter in the case that his sons died, appealing to "reason and natural law" to support the right of daughters to inherit in the absence of brothers.(FN3) Through negotiation and outright bribery, Philip eventually succeeded in disinheriting Jeanne, and French lawmakers passed, without elaboration, a law which stated that a woman could not rule France in her own name.(FN4)
Women's ambivalent status in relation to genealogy -- their disputed ability to carry and transmit the patriline -- returned dramatically to plague France in the 1337 claim of Edward III to the throne of France through his mother, Isabelle, the last surviving child of Philip IV. So long successful in producing male heirs to the throne, the kings of the Capetian line failed to do so twice more in the span of twelve years. In the second instance, however, a direct male descendent of the primary Capet line did exist. Awkwardly for the French, this descendant was the current king of England. The English based their claim to the French throne on the assumption that a woman could in fact transmit her father's bloodline to her son. If this model of genealogy was accepted, then Edward III of England (reigned 1327-77), the only direct grandson of Philip IV of France, became the clear rightful heir to the throne of France after each of his three maternal uncles died heirless.(FN5) In 1337, nine years after the last of these uncles, Charles the Fair, had died, Edward III claimed the throne on behalf of his mother's right, challenging the legitimacy of Philip VI's rulership.(FN6) For their part, the French understandably wished no part of an English king ruling France, and thus they claimed that a woman was not only ineligible to claim the right of the crown for herself but also could not transmit the claim to the French throne to her children.(FN7) With this justification, the French had chosen Charles the Fair's cousin Philip of Valois (then Philip VI) as the new king of France in 1328, bypassing Edward III, the only living direct male descendant of Philip the Fair. The maneuverings of both France and England around the question of the potential for the female transmission of a bloodline reveal not only the high stakes involved in the claim for male transmission of lineage but also the interest in and political difficulty of establishing precedents and mechanisms for excluding women's transmission of bloodline and thus birthright.
In the Clerk's and Man of Law's Tales Chaucer draws attention to the patriarchal fantasy of autonomous male reproduction of the patriline, the desire to imagine male lineages as self-reproducing without the interference of maternal influence. In these tales, Chaucer examines the construction of autonomous male genealogy and suggests that it leads to a pair of contradictory, yet mutually reinforcing ways of imagining women's relationship to genealogy. The first is the representation of the mother or potential mother as infinitely fungible or arbitrary, and thus interchangeable with other women. After all, if women contribute nothing directly to the bloodline or formation of their children except for raw material, one woman is as good as another, as Walter implicitly claims in his seemingly capricious and arbitrary choice of Griselda. The second preoccupation that arises from the investment in purely male constructions of biological influence and genealogy is an obsessive anxiety that maternal influence will manifest in the heir to an overwhelming degree, displacing paternal influence altogether. The specters of maternal hijacking of men's bloodlines figure resultant children as exclusively the product of the maternal bloodline, and imagine them as other, even monstrous. While the Man of Law's Tale appears ultimately to validate maternal transmission and the Clerk's Tale seems to retreat from it, Chaucer roundly critiques and dismantles the reflex that in both narratives makes maternal transmission an object of horror. In these narratives Chaucer undermines the desire for self-replication inherent in fantasies of exclusively male-identified genealogies, representing this desire as transgressive, associated with both narcissism and incest. Perhaps more damning yet, Chaucer identifies these strategies as ultimately self-defeating and potentially destructive to both bloodlines and political stability.
BLOODLINE TRANSMISSION IN FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND AND FRANCE
While questions of heritability and bloodlines are always important within a society organized explicitly into classes determined at least nominally by birth, the question of what exactly could be inherited from one's father or mother had particular relevance in the context of the Hundred Years War. Pragmatically speaking, the Hundred Years War was waged in order to settle a feudal dispute between the French monarchy and English kings who owned land in France and thus acted as (oft en recalcitrant) vassals of the kings of France.(FN8) In ideological terms, however, the war's rhetoric focused on the disputed potential for women to transmit bloodlines, as the Valois and English kings based their claims to the French throne on differing interpretations of this very question.
Medieval Europe's inheritance of multiple classical models of human generation, which existed in uneasy tension with each other, enabled England and France to advance contradictory biological justifications for their claims of maternal transmission. Indeed, these conflicting models had coexisted for centuries in both nations, each being privileged on a case-by-case basis as lineal and political exigencies required. Aristotelian medical theory suggested a unilaterally male transmission of bloodline, while the Galenic theory suggested that either or both parents could transmit characteristics to off spring. While Aristotelian discourse tended to dominate in medieval discourse, the Galenic alternative hovered in the background, oft en emerging to shore up potentially faltering or failing bloodlines. Aristotelian models of reproduction supported the notion of exclusively male bloodlines by suggesting that the father's seed organized the passive material of the maternal menstruum in the image of the bloodline.(FN9) According to this logic, "fathers' contributions [to off spring] are superior, for it is their seed which provides the defining essence, the actualizing form for the off spring, whereas mothers' contributions are inferior, for the incompletely processed surplus nutriment which they produce is the more passive matter out of which the more active, form-bearing seed shapes the off spring."(FN10) Familial and social structures and procedures of inheritance imported from the continent with the Norman Conquest reinforced this understanding of biological transmission of bloodlines.
Within this understanding of generation, women seem to disappear from the genealogical landscape. In biological discourse, this elision made sense, as according to Aristotelian models of procreation "a woman's body was constructed to be nothing but the container of this pure procreative blood [provided by the husband in the form of semen, or 'seed'], awaiting the introduction of seed for the production of male heirs."(FN11) Thus, within Aristotelian-based constructions of reproduction, a mother did not (ideally) contribute heritable form to her children, and a daughter did not pass on her father's bloodline to her children, who belonged to and were formed in the image of her husband's bloodline. According to this formulation, while a woman's birth family might be important in terms of political alliance through marriage or in the perceived social status she brings into her husband's household, it would generally have little or no genealogical import.(FN12)
Less prominent, but coexisting with the Aristotelian model of generation, the Galenic understanding of procreation (based on Hippocratic literature) did leave some room for maternal contribution. Under this model, both mother and father contributed seed to the child, and those seeds would in effect compete for dominance in the formation of the child.(FN13) John Trevisa's translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus provides a description of parental influence that leans strongly towards the Galenic model, though he cites Aristotle, Galen, and Constantine as sources: "If þe vertue of þe blood in þe fadir seed has þe maystre, þe child is liche to þe fadir, and agenward. If þe vertue is ilighe strong in ai þir, þe childe is liche to boþe þe fadir and þe modir."(FN14) This description of influence allows for competition between maternal and paternal seed, but also for coexistence. Maternal matter, in addition to seed, might also affect the child during gestation, as could the uterine environment.(FN15) Within the Galenic model, therefore, children of either sex might be the product of either parental bloodline or a mixture of the two, and might or might not successfully transmit that legacy to their children. This model coexisted with the Aristotelian version of generation and haunted it, even as medieval writers tended to emphasize and exaggerate the differences between them.(FN16)
While the patrilineal model was the ideal and ideologically dominant pattern for maintaining social and political stability in the late Middle Ages, reproductive and social circumstances complicated the realization of that ideal, and thus led to the incomplete elision of women in the genealogical transmission of name and inheritance in both England and France. In England, male heirs were privileged as transmitters of bloodline, but in the absence or death of male heirs who had not produced their own sons, with few exceptions a daughter inherited, in accordance with common law.(FN17) Her inheritance was based in the premise that, in the absence of brothers, she provided the only legitimate means of continuing her father's lineage.(FN18) The demographic crisis of the Black Death contributed to the visibility of these heiresses in England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.(FN19) When such an heiress married, she oft en brought to her husband, and in some cases her children, not only her inheritance but also her name and heraldic devices, particularly when her heritage outranked that of her spouse.(FN20)
In France, following customary law, "Women succeeded to duchies, fiefs, and appanages, and rendered homage for them."(FN21) In addition, in some cases where women did not themselves inherit directly, they successfully passed their inheritance rights on to their children. Specific rules about female succession and transmission of succession rights were oft en determined on the regional rather than national level. For this reason, different areas of France and England recognized different levels of heritability in women.(FN22) Inheritance of the throne in England followed the same pattern as other inheritances. First-born male heirs inherited; in lieu of male heirs, there was no law that prohibited a woman from inheriting the throne from her father or from passing on succession rights to her own children, a prospect refused by the French with regards to their own throne, with the exclusion first of Jeanne of Navarre and later Edward III from succession.(FN23) Both France and England thus generally espoused and applied patrilineal logic to inheritance and accountings of lineage, yet in the absence of direct male descendents tolerated inheritance by women, implicitly acknowledging women's inheritance and transmission of bloodlines.
In the wake of Edward III's belated claim to France's throne, French lawyers, churchmen, and nobles scrambled to justify the exclusion of women from the throne of France or from transmitting that right to their off spring. The ensuing spate of discourse was oft en inconsistent with observed practice in both England and France. The Salic Law had not yet been resurrected and adapted to fit the political need to avoid an English king's inheritance of France, so other grounds for female exclusion were necessary. The death of Philip V made recourse to Aristotelian models of biology tenable again, and French scholars and politicians used the supposed female inability to produce seed as a reason to exclude women from both inheritance and transmission, declaring Edward III a product of his father's bloodline, and thus ineligible to inherit the throne of France.(FN24) Predictably, the English were not impressed by this maneuvering and pressed their own hereditary claims upon the French throne, based largely in an insistence that women could both inherit and transmit bloodlines truly, as was the rule for the English throne. Certainly, this is the implicit claim embedded in Edward III's letter challenging the right of Philip of Valois to the French throne: "Since it has happened that, in succession to our dear uncle Lord Charles, King of France, we are heir to the realm and crown of France by a much closer degree than you are, who are in possession of our heritage."(FN25) Edward's breezy claim that he was much more closely related to Charles than Philip assumed that men and women equally share the ability to manifest, carry, and transmit bloodlines with men, a claim the French would vociferously argue against during successive English claims on the French throne. If the specter of female influence upon and participation within bloodlines traditionally marked as patrilineal had earlier lurked about the edges of English and French practices and discourses in the fourteenth century, it had certainly emerged from the shadows, championed (at least in this prominent case) by the English, and vehemently rejected by the French.
Within the context of the Hundred Years War, Chaucer's decision to explore the question of what exactly fathers and mothers might pass on to their children in both the Clerk's Tale and the Man of Law's Tale alerts his audience to his participation within an ongoing debate, one that critics of these texts have traditionally missed. Critics responding to the Clerk's Tale have largely been split between those advocating religious or sociopolitical readings of the narrative. Feminist readings of the tale, in particular, have rejected a strictly allegorical interpretation of the narrative, oft en focusing instead on its representation of female experience under patriarchal domination, that is, valorizing Griselda as a strong character or repudiating her as either weak, masochistic, or otherwise complicit in her own subjugation. While these readings oft en helpfully draw attention to the question of female interiority and agency obscured or foreclosed by allegorical readings of the Clerk's Tale, they tend simultaneously to divert critical attention from one of the major priorities of aristocratic marriage in the Middle Ages: the production of an heir. As is the case with Griselda, treatments of Custance as heroine have oft en depended on whether the critic views her as an allegorical or exemplary model of a Christian soul or as a representation of a more humanized character. Here, as in treatments of the Clerk's Tale, a critical split emerges depending on whether the critic reads the tale as a religious or as a secular narrative. Examples of the first set tend to act to some extent as apologies for the discomfort the tale's focus on Custance's suffering and victimization oft en causes to modern readers, while readings focusing on the tale as primarily a secular narrative tend to examine its representation of gender, race, and religious issues and institutions through the use of feminist and, more recently, postcolonial theory.(FN26) My reading of both of these tales draws upon feminist understandings of patriarchy in its interest in patrilineal primogeniture and the discourses that defined and contextualized it, but rather than focusing on female experience within these discourses and institutions, I suggest that Chaucer critiques the patriarchal construction of motherhood as internally incoherent and ultimately self-defeating.
"THAT A STRAUNGE SUCCESSOUR SHOLDE TAKE YOURE HERITAGE": CHAUCER'S CLERK'S TALE AND THE PROBLEM OF MATERNAL INFLUENCE
Throughout the Clerk's Tale Chaucer meditates on the logic and ideologies that inform the practice of patrilineal primogeniture, as well as the problematic place of women within that practice. From the first lines of the Clerk's Tale, Chaucer addresses a cluster of issues that converge around the practice of patrilineal primogeniture: the interplay between family and political history; reproduction and power; and the role of the biological family in mediating between mortal bodies, ideally permanent social roles, and the passing of time. Like many Middle English romances of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Chaucer's Clerk's Tale begins with a crisis of heirlessness and a meditation on the reasons why the lack of a viable heir constitutes a political emergency.(FN27) Typically, as in Octavian and Sir Gowther, the childless lord broaches the subject of the lack of an heir, generally with tears and a short sketch of the likely consequences of dynastic failure: political strife, invasion, and disaster. Oft en he follows this brief description wiTheither a total breakdown into weeping or an ultimatum to his wife that she must conceive quickly or be set aside. In these romances, the liege not only acknowledges his responsibility to provide the realm with an heir, but actively seeks out or initiates solutions to the crisis by looking for a more fecund wife or asking advice from counselors and God. The opening of the Clerk's Tale is reminiscent of these family romances in that it introduces the problem of heirlessness and the political stakes involved in that crisis, but differs in proposing that the threat to lineal continuity does not always rest solely on the vagaries of human reproduction. Instead, Chaucer suggests a more human culprit, the lord himself, as a potential cause of genealogical disaster. Chaucer increasingly associates Walter's culpability with his potentially disastrous attempts to negate, avoid, and deny the possibility of maternal transmission and female agency within a patrilineal system of inheritance.
Unlike other family romances, the Clerk's Tale locates the cause of the dynastic crisis in the unwillingness of the liege to give proper attention to mortality, time, and political expedience. Historical and genealogical time are fused in the description of the establishment of Saluzzo, "That founded were in tyme of fadres olde" (IV 61). If the Clerk links cultural foundation to fathers, he goes on to associate stability and continued prosperity with lineage and the illustrious fathers from whom Walter is imagined to come. Before the Clerk mentions Walter by name, he introduces the lord as a marquis descended from "worthy eldres hym bifore" (IV 65). He then links the obedience and good will of Walter's vassals to their love for Walter's lineage and the continuity he promises to ensure from the rule of his excellent forebears and his superior "lynage" (IV 71). However, despite his superlative pedigree, Walter presents his people and the Clerk with a difficulty: while he is a product of and represents the smooth transmission of political power between generations, he himself threatens that continuity by his reluctance to marry and continue his line, driving his people to urge him to take a wife. By requiring the narrator and people to broach the problem of the lack of an heir to Walter, Chaucer gives himself the opportunity not only to dwell upon the stakes of heirlessness even more than is common in family romance, but also to emphasize Walter's anomalous resistance to the need to procreate, and perhaps more tellingly, his resistance to the means through which procreation must be achieved -- a wife.
In their appeal to Walter, his people, like the Clerk, emphasize the intersection of time, genealogy, and political stability, reminding their lord that "deeth manaceThevery age, and smyt/In ech estaat, for ther escapeth noon" (IV 122-23). Chaucer links individual mortality to political instability in the declaration that should Walter die without an heir, social upheaval would arrive in the guise of a "straunge successour," leading to "wo" (IV 138, 139). The initial focus in the speech upon Walter as an individual shift s to his status as a representative of a desirable lineage, as the people elaborate their concerns to their lord:
"For certes, lord, so wel us liketh yow
And al youre werk, and evere han doon, that we
Ne koude nat us self devysen how
We myghte lyven in moore felicitee,
Save o thynge, lord, if it youre wille be,
That for to been a wedded man yow leste;
Thanne were youre peple in sovereyn hertes reste."
Even as Walter's people proclaim their approbation of Walter and his "werk," they invoke his institutional status and thus lineage in their foregrounding of Walter's position as "lord," and in the assurance that their approval of him is just as they "evere han doon." The use of this phrase emphasizes the foundation of Walter's identity and authority in a past that exceeds the span of his own life, extending instead to the "tyme of fadres olde" already invoked by the Clerk. At the conclusion of their appeal, Walter's people emphasize their genealogical concerns much more explicitly, linking their desire for Walter to marry with their primary interest in the continuance of his bloodline:
"Delivere us out of al this bisy drede,
And taak a wyf, for hye Goddes sake!
For if it so bifelle, as God forbede,
That thurgh youre deeth youre lyne sholde slake,
And that a straunge successour sholde take
Youre heritage, O wo were us alyve!
Wherfore we pray you hastily to wyve."
Whereas initially Walter's people focus upon Walter and his work, their final concern is for Walter's line and heritage, that is, the continuation of the stable history celebrated in the opening of the poem. The identification of Walter with his vaunted line cannot survive his death unless that line is perpetuated through an heir.(FN28) In fact, it is in his production of an heir, the people suggest, that Walter will cease embodying his line entirely; in other words, Walter must reproduce his line in order to prove his continuity with it, yet by doing so, he passes on the task of embodying the line and its future in his son.(FN29)
As Chaucer reproduces and expands upon family romance conventions in his dramatization of a dynastic crisis and the explication of why such a crisis matters, he offers in Walter's response a counter-discourse that at first appears to undermine the genre's investment in bloodlines as guarantors of political and social stability. Faced by his people with the obligation to reproduce, Walter questions the efficacy of the bloodline in transmitting personal or family traits between generations: "For God it woot, that children oft e been/Unlyk hir worthy eldres hem bifore" (IV 155-56). Having attacked the principle of intergenerational consistency, Walter goes on to refute the principles of the social and political system that has produced him: "Bountee comth al of God, nat of the streen/Of which they been engendred and ybore" (IV 157-58). By setting the idea of aristocratic continuity through the transmission of a particular bloodline in opposition to the idea of God's bounty, Walter questions the connection between rulership and divine authorization, a connection that underwrites and ultimately legitimates the political system he represents and embodies. Furthermore, in his demand that his people "worshipe" (IV 166) his wife, despite her birth status, as if she "an emperoures doghter weere" (IV 168), Walter again undermines the significance of aristocratic birth by severing behavior and obedience from social rank determined by birth. In this response to his people, Walter appears to demolish the linchpin of the request -- the apparent continuity promised by the reproduction of the bloodline -- and thus the need to accede to the request. For if, as he suggests, lineal continuation does not ensure lineal continuity, there is no guarantee that by producing an heir Walter will actually provide his people with what they have asked for.
However, what follows makes it clear that Walter's interrogation of genealogical continuity is tactical. He actually has his sights on a less radical intervention, that is, limiting the role of the mother in the formation of the desired child. For example, Walter's claim that God and not bloodline determines the resemblance of parent and child immediately follows his declaration that he himself will choose a wife rather than accept a well-born candidate chosen by his people (IV 152-54). After declaring that he will trust in God's bounty, Walter reiterates that because of the trust he bears in God, he will choose whatever wife pleases him. In couching his potentially revolutionary statements about genealogy as the justification for his own freedom in choosing a wife (as opposed to simply designating a non-lineal heir), Walter shift s the apparent arbitrariness of reproduction away from the male's role in reproduction and onto the female's. At the same time, he interjects the idea of maternal influence into a conversation from which it has so far seemed entirely absent. For while his people's request does focus upon the need for Walter to acquire a wife who will produce an heir, they clearly intend her role in this process -- however necessary -- to enable the reproduction of Walter's line and not her own. When discussing a potential bride for Walter, his people suggest a woman "Born of the gentilleste and of the meeste/Of al this land" (IV 131-32), yet they do so not, apparently, for dynastic reasons. Rather, her rank is suggested to be a matter of their respect for both God and Walter. Walter's demand that his people treat his wife as an emperor's daughter despite her true birth, and his insistence that he wed as his "herte is set" (IV 173), again imply that the choice of a wife is a matter strictly of personal preference, and thus unrelated to the actual substance of his subjects' request (the production of a viable heir). While he might be required to wed a woman in order to produce an heir, any woman would equally serve the genealogical purpose of lineal correlation.
Walter's apparent rejection of genealogy in his answer to his people seems to dismiss both the people's conviction that by procuring a well-born woman they will provide their lord with a good wife, and also the unspoken idea of a wife's potential to influence the formation of children in his own bloodline. Yet Walter's opening up of the question of female contribution to bloodline only to close it by insisting on female interchangeability in procreation suggests a defensive rejection founded in an anxiety of lineal contamination, an anxiety that could upset the identification of father with son. In the Clerk's Tale Chaucer stages the way that maternal influence always haunts the patrilineal system, slipping unwelcome into every discussion of paternal replication, however sincere and traditional the intent may be. Confronted by his people with the duty to reproduce himself, Walter seems compelled to raise the possibility of maternal inheritance, only to lay it to rest -- for a time.
If Walter's response to his people seems perverse in its move to both invoke and then deny maternal influence in procreation, his program of transforming and then "testing" Griselda enacts a similar move. By simultaneously searching for an essential difference between himself and his wife that might legitimate his anxiety that she could pass on such a difference to "her" children and at the same time demanding that Griselda hide evidence of any such distinction from himself, Walter enacts both the patriarchal fantasy of female non-transmission and the nightmare of maternal influence. His "tests" of Griselda constantly point back to the possibility of maternal inheritance even as his acts of mastery over his wife and children position him as the sole determinant not only of his children's identity, but also of Griselda's. The erasure of any trace of Griselda's behavioral and emotional agency seems to double the attempt to ensure the erasure of Griselda's biological agency as well. Within that system, maternal influence upon children becomes paradoxical even as it is foregrounded as a perceived threat. Thus, by "emptying" Griselda out, Walter attempts to eliminate her threat as a dynastic contaminant. In emphasizing Griselda's opacity and her suffering, accompanied by the specter of incest that arises as a means to guarantee the elimination of maternal influence, Chaucer identifies how the obsessive desire to evacuate mothers from accountings of lineage is perverse and threatening both to women and to dynastic bloodlines.
With the birth of Griselda's first child, Chaucer reintroduces the genealogical thread into the Clerk's Tale. Soon after the marriage between Walter and Griselda, the birth of their daughter brings both dynastic disappointment and hope:
Al had hire levere have born a knave child;
Glad was this markys and the folk therfore,
For though a mayde child coome al bifore,
She may unto a knave child atteyne
By liklihede, syn she nys nat bareyne.
The daughter's birth following shortly upon the marriage of Walter and Griselda confirms Griselda's fertility, and so promises the likelihood of an heir while not producing one outright. Following the remarkable transformation of Griselda and a description of her popularity and magnificent fulfillment of her political duties, Chaucer recalls his audience to Griselda's primary purpose in Walter's life, which is the production of an heir to continue his bloodline. Griselda's performance in this arena is a little less spectacular, but encouraging. Her ability is proven, but the delay in appearance of a true heir to Walter's line reiterates that a son is necessary if there is to be a successful conclusion to the Clerk's narrative.
In this episode and the ensuing tests to which Walter puts Griselda, Chaucer follows a declaration of dynastic desire with a compulsive return to the question of maternal influence. Walter's lack of self-mastery is implicitly contrasted with Griselda's seemingly inhuman self-possession, which paradoxically manifests itself as an utter loss or denial of selfhood. For it is with the birth of his daughter that Walter becomes consumed with a desire to "assaye" (IV 454) his wife, with the implicit accusation that Griselda's base heritage has hijacked his daughter's identity. Chaucer represents Walter as compelled by this obsession, even unwillingly: Walter "in his herte longeth so/To tempte his wyf.../That he ne myghte out of his herte throwe/This merveillous desire" to test Griselda (IV 451-54). Chaucer increasingly links Walter's tests of Griselda with his lack of self-mastery, even as Walter attempts to assert control over a bloodline co-identified with himself. For each time Walter removes one of his children from his wife, the Clerk interjects critiques of Walter, couched in a general observation about a certain class of people to which Walter implicitly belongs. After the removal of Walter's daughter, the Clerk remarks upon Walter's reaction: while Walter feels some "routhe" for his actions, "nathelees his purpos heeld he stille,/As lordes doon, whan they wol han hir wille" (IV 579, 580-81). Walter's behavior is thus compared to the expected behavior of lords who wish to have their own way. This relatively neutral claim takes on a much more critical cast just before Walter demands that Griselda hand over their son: having "caughte yet another lest" (IV 619) to tempt his wife, Walter is excoriated as an unreasonable husband, a example of the axiom that "wedded men ne knowe no mesure,/Whan that they fynde a pacient creature" (IV 622-23). Chaucer identifies Walter's desire to test his wife by removing the heir as a mark of his lack of "mesure," or sense of proportion. He also implies a sense of repetitive loss of control in Walter; he has "caught yet another" desire to test his wife in this way.
In the second round of Walter's tests of Griselda, Chaucer revisits and intensifies the sense of compulsion introduced in Walter's initial desire to test Griselda and expands the critique to include a declaration of uncontrolled and irrational behavior immediately following the removal of Walter's son:
But ther been folk of swich condicion
That whan they have a certein purpos take,
They kan nat stynte of hire entencion,
But, right as they were bounden to that stake,
They wol nat of that firste purpos slake.
Right so this markys fulliche hath purposed
To tempte his wyf as he was first disposed.
This critique centers simultaneously on lack of control, willfulness, and a sense of compulsion. The reference to "folk" removes the discussion of Walter's behavior from the context of the social hierarchies and privileges implied by the first two categories to which Walter is compared -- lords and husbands. Instead, Chaucer identifies Walter as belonging to a group of people "of swich condicion" that they are unable to stray from their course. Chaucer thus pathologizes Walter's behavior, severing it from a social role and attributing it instead to a personal affliction over which Walter has no control. He describes Walter as "bounden to that stake," incapable of behaving in any other way. The image proves apt in terms of genealogy, simultaneously suggesting both stasis and self-destruction as potential consequences to the patriline. Likened to a captive, Walter becomes less a figure of an overbearing husband or a willful lord and more a prisoner of his own inability to escape his compulsion, instigated by his wife's fertility and satisfied, at least temporarily, by the removal of the evidence of that fertility. This linking of Walter's compulsion with outright censure occurs at the moment that the full genealogical purpose of Griselda's childbearing is realized: the birth of an heir.
Walter's tests of Griselda follow a genealogical logic whereby he represents Griselda as a lower-class and lineal intruder, one who transmits her own class heterogeneity to "her" children. In his first test, Walter recalls the great poverty from which he raised Griselda and contrasts it with the "present dignitee" (IV 470) which she now enjoys. Walter then claims that Griselda's elevation has become a particular sore point with his people after the birth of their daughter, suggesting that her class origins matter most in the context of her reproductive capacity and thus dynastic role as vessel to Walter's heirs. In his remarks to Griselda regarding their daughter, Walter's consistent reference to the child as exclusively Griselda's -- "thy doghter" (IV 484, 489) -- implicitly invokes Griselda's own class heterogeneity, apparently passed wholesale along to her child.
The genealogical aspect of Walter's accusation becomes much more explicitly articulated when he comes to warn Griselda of the impending loss of their son, the long-awaited heir. In this encounter, Walter claims the child as "my sone" (IV 626), acknowledging the blood connection he shares with the child, yet suggests that this connection is not accepted by the people who had before so strongly desired an heir. They see his son as a usurper who will supplant Walter's privileged heritage with a much less honorable bloodline:
"Now sey they thus: 'Whan Walter is agon,
Than shal the blood of Janicle succede
And been oure lord, for oother have we noon.'"
(IV 626, 631-33)
While Walter distances himself from the claim that Griselda has effectively hijacked and diverted Walter's off spring from their proper line, he elaborates Griselda's status as a potential threat to legitimate lineality, reinforcing his initial reference to their daughter as exclusively Griselda's. Tellingly, in his fantasy Walter does not identify Griselda herself as the genealogical contaminant, but rather her father, Janicula. Walter's son, the product of his blood transmitted through Griselda's body, becomes instead Janicula's child, suggesting not only a violation of class systems, but also a hint of sexual perversity, as the idea of Griselda's having borne her own father's son smacks less of genealogical influence and more of father-daughter incest. Walter thus simultaneously foregrounds the nightmare of maternal influence by recasting it as paternal in the specter of Janicula and his debased influence. Finally, by linking the fantasy of maternal influence directly to dynastic logic and then dynastic catastrophe, the apparent murder of Walter's son and heir, Chaucer at once lays out the stakes of the patriarchal nightmare of maternal interference. At every stage of the narrative so far, he counters the genealogical imperative to continue the patriline with a persistent obsession with maternal inheritance, one that leads the patrilineal representative to endanger his own line in his compulsive desire to insulate it from maternal contamination.
Critics have long identified the transformation scene in which Walter has Griselda stripped of her old clothes and clothed in rich garments as a crux of the Clerk's Tale. I would like to focus on this moment and subsequent moments where Griselda's radical emptiness and mobility function as markers of the patriarchal fantasy of women as empty vessels. Chaucer explicitly points to Walter's motivation in publicly transforming his wife before she enters his home as founded in his desire to exclude markers of Griselda's old life from her new:
And for that no thyng of hir olde geere
She sholde brynge into his hous, he bad
That wommen sholde dispoillen hire right theere.
According to Chaucer, Walter's transformation of Griselda is done to protect his house from Griselda's "olde geere," which, it seems, is so nasty that the ladies entrusted with the duty are "nat right glad" (IV 375) of the task. Walter's translation of Griselda from Janicula's daughter to his own wife is stunningly successful. Not only does Griselda enter Walter's home without any markers of her father's home or the life she led there; the change effected in her makes it impossible, even for those who knew her all her life, to identify Griselda as Janicula's child:
To every wight she woxen is so deere
And worshipful that folk ther she was bore,
And from hire birthe knewe hire yeer by yeere,
Unnethe trowed they -- but dorste han swore-
That to Janicle, of which I spak bifore,
She doghter were, for, as by conjecture,
Hem thoughte she was another creature.
Thus Chaucer represents Griselda's transformation, subsequent marriage, and behavior as Walter's wife not only as an enactment of class elevation, but also as a radical break with her own genealogical and social identification. Once Walter transforms Griselda, she becomes unreadable as Janicula's child, and thus Walter's people imagine her to be a completely separate person. Griselda's transformation appears to exemplify what Lynda Boose has identified as the "alien" status of the daughter, who, destined to be traded into the household of her husband, enters into her father's home as a transient figure who never fully participates in the father's family or bloodline.(FN30) Fathers (and husbands destined to become fathers) register as presence while daughters (and wives cut off from paternal bloodlines) function as absence, as signified by the empty space of wombs capable only of carrying the seed of other families' bloodlines.(FN31) Defined first by reference to her father, Griselda becomes wholly identified by the Clerk in her new role as Walter's wife, leaving not only her old gear behind, but also all identification with her father and his bloodline.(FN32) Chaucer equates Griselda's genealogical break with Janicula with her class transformation, as the "newe markysesse" (IV 394) becomes indistinguishable from the emperor's daughter Walter has insisted she be treated as. Walter's radical and apparently successful transformation of Griselda marks her radical fungibility, and her susceptibility to his defining influence.
Chaucer marks Griselda's external and public transformation in terms of class, as is mirrored by her promise to conform both her public demeanor and interiority to Walter's own desires and interiority. Asked by Walter never openly to disagree with him by word or demeanor, Griselda offers a much more radical form of conformity:
"And heere I swere that nevere willyngly,
In werk ne thoght, I nyl yow disobeye,
For to be deed, though me were looth to deye."
(IV 362-64, emphasis mine)
When Walter tests this resolve later in the text, the extent of Griselda's identification of her consciousness with Walter's and its connection to Walter's act of transformation is made even more explicit:
"I wol no thyng, ne nyl no thyng, certayn,
But as yow list.
For as I left e at hoom al my clothyng,
Whan I first cam to yow, right so," quod she,
"Left e I my wyl and al my libertee,
And took youre clothyng."
(IV 646-47, 654-57)
Griselda describes her will and liberty as some of the gear that, like her clothing, was left behind at her marriage. This construction of her marriage and its consequences imagines selfhood as if it were a physical item that could be carried or dropped at will. Confronted by Walter with the problem and consequences of her heterogeneity in his household, Griselda agrees and sets forth a construction of herself as effectively emptied of all interiority and identity other than that represented by Walter and his wishes. Griselda's resultant status as a double of Walter is presaged and reinforced by her ability to stand in for Walter in his absence, as
Though that hire housbonde absent were anon,
If gentil men or othere of hire contree
Were wrothe, she wolde bryngen hem aton.
Griselda's status as empty vessel seems uncannily assured; emptied of her former identity, she seems to embody Walter's identity so fully as to act as his (idealized) double.
Upon Walter's removal of her children, Griselda not only references her own doubling of her husband, her status as a person defined by and in some way created by Walter, but also suggests that she passes the same radical identification with Walter on to her children, whether as a result of her own "emptiness" or as an actual form of maternal influence that paradoxically can do nothing but make the children susceptible to the shaping influence of their father's seed. For example, when Walter demands that Griselda hand over "her" daughter, Griselda both acknowledges her bond to the child and insists that her own identification with Walter also defines their daughter:
"My child and I...
Been youres al, and ye mowe save or spille
Youre owene thyng."
When Walter informs her of the incipient loss of their son, Griselda again emphasizes this simultaneous claiming of her children and insistence that, like herself, her children are defined solely by Walter. After reiterating the absence of her own will except to mirror Walter's back to himself, Griselda again suggests that she and her children are defined solely through their shared connection to Walter:
"Naught greveth me at al,
Though that my doughter and my sone be slayn-
At youre comandement, this is to sayn.
I have noght had no part of children tweyne
But first siknesse, and after, wo and peyne."
"Ye been oure lord; dooth with youre owene thyng
Right as yow list."
Even as Griselda seems to claim her children through her choice of pronoun, she insists that, like herself, her children are entirely Walter's "owene thyng." As Larry Scanlon has noted, it is precisely in her handing over of her children to Walter that she most clearly legitimates the idea that they belong to him and him alone.(FN33) In addition, she claims to have had no part of her children but for the experiences of illness, sadness, and pain. Implicit in this claim is the sense that as Griselda has had no part of her children, so, too they have had no part of her. Being herself wholly defined by Walter, Griselda implicitly suggests, she cannot pass anything of herself to the children that was not Walter's in the first place. Even if she does, the text suggests, the threat of maternal contribution is ultimately neutralized by Griselda's overdetermined association with Walter as both his product and double.
Upon her separation from Walter, Griselda again subverts Walter's claims of maternal influence in her bargaining for a smock to replace her maidenhead. The status of her womb as "thilke wombe in which youre children leye" (IV 877), the status bestowed by Walter's children is retained, even in the absence of those children. Whereas Walter has suggested all along that Griselda might mark her children with her difference, here she suggests that it is they who have irrevocably put their mark on her, a mark that justifies the covering of her womb, obscuring it from the sight of the people. At the same time, Griselda's desire to obscure her womb from sight echoes Walter's own project of erasing traces of the mother, evidence of her own role in the continuation of his line. Ironically, this explicit mention of Griselda's womb comes quick on the heels of the suppression of another womb. While relinquishing her claim to the clothes and jewels bestowed upon her by Walter, Griselda remarks, recalling Job: "Naked out of my fadres hous," quod she,/"I cam, and naked moot I turne agayn" (IV 871-72). As Allyson Newton notes, "Griselda's self-description of having left and returned naked to her father's house displaces Job's similar claim of having left and returned naked to his mother's womb."(FN34) Griselda's erasure of the womb from the most canonical text available to a Christian medieval audience underscores the extent to which maternal transmission has been rendered taboo and implicitly critiques this erasure as problematic in its implacable revision of all other constructions of generation. Walter's program of eliminating the threat of maternal transmission threatens to overwhelm all other discourses.
I have suggested that in the Clerk's Tale Chaucer locates within the desire for patrilineal autonomous self-replication a simultaneous desire to discount maternal influence and an obsessive fear that such lineal contamination is always threatened by the very necessity of using a woman's body to transmit seed. Chaucer constructs Walter's attempts to undermine maternal transmission by associating it with incest and by constructing a wife as inherently dangerous not only to individuals such as wives and children, but also to the survival of legitimate bloodlines. Chaucer offers an implicit critique of Walter's program through his ratcheting up of the tale's cruelty and his further obscuring of Griselda's interiority.(FN35) In Walter's near-marriage to his daughter, Chaucer presents a model of the only marriage that might conceivably fulfill the compulsive desire to eliminate any chance of maternal influence. Recalling his earlier suggestion that in bearing his son, Griselda was in fact carrying her father's child, Walter sets up a marriage that, following the logic that maternal transmission is equivalent to the bearing of one's father's child, ensures that his influence alone could affect the projected progeny.
Chaucer's unique addition of a discussion of the potential product of this marriage, the "fairer fruyt" (IV 990) that should fall between Walter and his new bride, ensures that genealogical concerns come back into focus regarding this proposed marriage.(FN36) By marrying his daughter, a daughter who has been defined as Walter's "own thing," Walter would create a situation in which he could be absolutely certain that any new heirs would be his and his alone. Totally defined by her father/husband, Walter's daughter/wife would operate, like Griselda, as a double of Walter. In this way, the narcissism inherent in the desire to replicate the self identically becomes linked by Chaucer not only to incest but to narcissistic self-impregnation. In addition, Chaucer represents this solution as one that would undermine legitimate inheritance law, not only because of its violation of the incest prohibition, but also because of its disregard for the claim of Walter's first-born son, potentially supplanted by his sister's son, should one be born of the proposed marriage. This potential desire obviously goes unfulfilled, but the degree to which Chaucer has already identified Walter's wife and children as doubles for Walter actually makes this looming incest threat a model for what has already transpired in the Clerk's Tale. In transforming and marrying Griselda, Walter has in effect married and produced children with his double. While Chaucer's reinstatement of Griselda as Walter's wife and hasty marrying-off of Walter's daughter to "oon of the worthieste" (IV 1130) lords in the land draws the attention away from the incest threat, the brief reconfiguration of Walter's family whereby his first-born heir is potentially displaced in favor of his progeny derived through incest offers a glimpse into the ultimate fantasy of an autonomous male line, a fantasy that threatens to undermine rightful transmission of inheritance altogether. Through the model of incestuous disinheritance, accompanied by the pathetic specter of the displaced and suffering wife, Chaucer demonstrates the genealogical risks entailed in the fantasy of a self-perpetuating male line. Such a fantasy, he suggests, not only threatens women -- abused wives and daughters -- but also the bloodline itself, represented by the apparently murdered children and the potentially disinherited heir whose desired birth motivates and underwrites the entire narrative.
MATERNAL TRANSMISSION AND FATHERLESS SONS: THE MAN OF LAW'S TALE
Whereas in the Clerk's Tale Chaucer does not appear to settle the question of maternal transmission, instead focusing on the ultimately self-destructive patriarchal impulse to negate or deny the possibility altogether, in the Man of Law's Tale he represents in Custance -- the heiress of Rome -- an unmistakable and uncanny maternal tradition, as evidenced by Maurice's near-identical likeness to his mother. Like Griselda, Custance is persecuted in her marital home after the birth of her child on account of her potential to pass on her heterogeneity (both real and imagined) to her off spring. At the same time, the demonization of maternal transmission is rendered questionable by being posited by the two villainous mothers-in-law, each of whom identifies the mother as a sinister agent of lineal, religious, or cultural change and then takes condemnable action accordingly. In the Man of Law's Tale Chaucer again counters attempts to deny or demonize maternal transmission with an alternative narrative of genealogy that displaces maternal transmission with (figurative) paternal incest. Contradictory treatments of incest appear in the Man of Law's anti-incest diatribe in the prologue to his tale and in the tale's conclusion, where an autonomous maternal transmission is inadequately obscured by the fiction of paternal incest. Within such a framework, Chaucer suggests, even the transgressive narrative of father-daughter incest proves more palatable to patriarchal institutions than the lineal disorder suggested by maternal transmission.
Chaucer represents Custance, like Griselda, as a figure of marital and maternal heterogeneity and thus lineal anxiety. In both of her marriages, Custance represents otherness within her new home: national, racial, religious, and class differences all are invoked at different points of her stays in both Syria and Northumberland. Chaucer emphasizes Custance's radical heterogeneity from the court at Syria by commenting on the initial impossibility of their marriage due to religious difference. The Sultan's advisors, having come to the conclusion that marriage offers the lovesick Sultan his only opportunity to possess Custance, explain that, as things stand, such a marriage is impossible,
By cause that ther was swich diversitee
Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn
They trowe that no "Cristen prince wolde fayn
Wedden his child under oure lawe sweete
That us was taught by Mahoun, oure prophete."
Religious difference between the Sultan and Custance is done away with by the conversion to Christianity of the Sultan and much of his court, but the Sultan's mother and her "conseil" (II 326) resist by murdering the Sultan, Custance's Roman escort, and all those who had converted to Christianity, sparing only Custance, whom they set adrift in a rudderless boat. Upon her second marriage to Alla, king of Northumberland, Custance is again persecuted by her mother-in-law for the diff erence she seems to embody as an anonymous woman cast up on the shores of England, whose mysterious past is exacerbated by feigned amnesia. Chaucer locates Donegild's hostility as a response to Custance's otherness: "Hir thoughte a despit that he sholde take/So strange a creature unto his make" (II 699-700). Donegild's objection to Custance's strangeness has a great deal to do with her status as a stranger without a past. As an apparent amnesiac victim of a shipwreck, Custance offers no clues as to her true identity or history. No trace of her class or lineage remains, and her national origin is likewise effaced, as her language, "a maner Latyn corrupt" (II 519), offers intelligibility in terms of speech, but little in terms of identification. Custance arrives in Northumberland as a complete blank, upon whom desires and fears are easily imposed by all those who encounter her.(FN37) Like Walter, Donegild interprets the apparent empty fungibility of a married woman as a sham, concealing an underlying difference that threatens her husband's dynastic integrity through her potential influence upon their children. Donegild's later accusation against Custance -- that she is "an elf" (II 754) who has corrupted the bloodline by giving birth to "a feendly creature" (II 751) -- suggests that her hostility arises from a specifically dynastic concern, the potential for her son's mysterious wife to hijack his lineage by producing a child marked by her own strangeness.
Custance's status as foreign outsider in both of her marital homes, as well as the hostility this status engenders, is emblematic of the experiences of many aristocratic women, especially queens, who, because of exogamous marriage practices, could expect to marry into a household located at a great distance from their natal families. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler suggest that in the Middle Ages, the liminal position of traded women located between, rather than within, families ensured that, for these women, "their negotiations of divided loyalties between paternal and affinal lineages were fundamental to their careers and self-understanding."(FN38) In turn, this suspended position precariously balanced between potentially conflicting loyalties oft en led to anxieties and even resentment in a bride's new home, where members of the household saw her position as both necessary and threatening in terms of her sexual relationship to her husband and her influence over both him and her future children.
Chaucer represents this anxiety of domestic influence in the form of the enmity of Custance's mothers-in-law, yet undermines the validity of their fears by representing these women as evil, perverse mothers whose monstrous acts endanger or destroy the products of their own maternity: the Sultan in the case of the Sultaness, and Maurice in the case of Donegild. Oppositional juxtapositions of maternity between the mothers-in-law and Custance set up not only a dichotomy of "bad" versus "good" mothers, but also a dichotomy of mothers defined by negation of their own maternity versus those defined by their dominating biological influence over their children. Through this opposition, Chaucer implicitly constructs a model of genealogy in which either parent may transmit resemblance and bloodline, but both cannot. Bloodline transmission in this system is an all-or-nothing matter; either a mother fully determines the child's appearance and bloodline, or she transmits nothing. This formulation of genealogy presents a sort of amalgation of specific aspects of both Aristotelian and Galenic constructions of biological influence. The unitary principle of bloodline transmission from Aristotelian accounts of reproduction is preserved, while the Galenic model's allowance for the influence of female seeds is also invoked, as is its characterization of the two seeds as essentially antagonistic and competing. In fact, this hybrid construction of genealogical transmission might prove to be the most anxiety-producing formulation possible for those invested in a system of patrilineage: it allows for the possibility that a legitimate child might plausibly inherit nothing in terms of bloodline from his father. Such a formulation suggests that every birth represents either a complete reproduction of the patriline or an absolute rejection of it, even if one should be lucky enough to produce a son.
In a sort of extension of that logic, Chaucer marks his evil mothers-in-law as completely disconnected with the identities of their maternity. Chaucer labels the Sultaness and Donegild as monstrous mothers, not according to Donegild's definition (which centers on the monstrous nature of their children), but rather by pointing to these women as the source (coded as maternal) of other forms of monstrosity. For example, in a long diatribe after the Sultaness lays out her plan to kill her son and his counselors, Chaucer invokes comparisons with Semiramis, the Biblical serpent, Satan, and Eve:
O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee!
Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde!
O serpent under femynynytee,
Lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde!
O feyned womman, al that may confounde
Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malice,
Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice!
O Sathan, envious syn thilke day
That thou were chaced from oure heritage,
Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
Thou madest Eva brynge us in servage.
Semiramis is a figure of unnatural or monstrous maternity, an eastern queen associated in the Middle Ages with unbridled lust, and oft en with incestuous love towards her son, through whom she ruled.(FN39) Eve's status as mother of humanity is referenced solely with her role in condemning all of her progeny to the "servage" of sin and death. While references to Semiramis and Eve invoke mothers who prove disastrous to their children, other appellations accorded the Sultaness instead suggest that while she is undoubtedly a mother, what she has primarily brought forth is not her son. For example, the Man of Law defines her, respectively, as the root of iniquity, the nest of every vice, and one who breeds everything that might confound virtue or innocence. Each of these epithets associates the Sultaness with reproductivity, identifying her as being a source that brings forth not children but rather social ills: iniquity, vice, and everything inimical to virtue. Finally, having associated the Sultaness with unnatural mothers and unnatural maternity, the Man of Law severs the Sultaness from femininity altogether, describing her as a virago, a serpent hidden by femininity, and a feigned woman. Likewise, the Man of Law repeatedly reminds his audience that Donegild is the king's mother, but in descriptions of her omits any markers of this characteristic, instead associating her first with the masculine vice of "tirannye" and then describing her as both "mannysh" and "feendlych" (II 779, 782, 783).(FN40) The examples of both the Sultanness and Donegild thus foreground the biological fact of their maternity in order to deny any significance to it other than betrayal of their dynastic bloodlines.
Chaucer pairs his displacement of the Sultaness's and Donegild's maternity with repeated claims of Custance's overwhelming status as Maurice's mother. The narrator of the Man of Law's Tale consistently points to Custance as the nearly autonomous source of Maurice's production and identity. While the brief mention of Maurice's conception by Alla -- "On hire he gat a knave child anon" (II 715) -- makes explicit Alla's engendering of the child, Maurice functions, from the moment he is born, as a double of and substitute for his mother. For example, in Donegild's slanderous letter to Alla, she claims that Maurice's supposed monstrosity provides incontrovertible evidence of Custance's true nature:
The lettre spak the queene delivered was
Of so horrible a feendly creature
That in the castel noon so hardy was
That any while dorste ther endure.
The mooder was an elf, by aventure
Ycomen, by charmes or by sorcerie.
In Donegild's calumnious fantasy of miscegenation, the child's monstrosity paradoxically denotes his unnaturally strong connection to his mother. A fiendish child "proves" the existence of an elfin or demonic mother, whatever appearance she presents to the world at large. By recasting Custance's miraculous survival at sea as the result of "charmes" and "sorcerie," Donegild correlates Custance's hidden parentage and mysterious past to a monstrous nature. The substitution of monstrosity for the unknown underlines Donegild's anxiety concerning the mysterious interloper in her family.
Donegild's accusation of a monstrous birth invokes the problem of maternal influence in two ways. The first, of course, is the idea of an inherited monstrosity passed in the form of a bloodline. Medical discourses linked monstrous birth to maternal influence, which operated outside of and in opposition to the influence of bloodlines, which were associated with paternal transmission. As Margo Hendricks has observed, "For most [medieval and early modern] theorists who write about reproductive aberration, the female imagination is one of the principal causes of monsters and marvels."(FN41) These theorists constructed the unborn child as vulnerable to the deforming influences of the mother's uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable imagination.(FN42) In particular, unwary or uncontrolled thoughts or desires could deform the child physically and emotionally, reconfiguring the child to resemble or in some way manifest the object desired or feared by the mother. Contemporary texts on gynecology, as well as medical treatises written by classical Greek authors, warned that excessive fears or desires (or even stray or unschooled thoughts or glances on the part of a pregnant woman) could have profound consequences for the formation of her child, consequences that might include monstrosity, resemblance to someone other than the father, or even death.(FN43) This construction of maternal influence places it in direct competition with the authorized influence of the paternal bloodline. While the model does not substitute a maternal bloodline for a paternal one, it does suggest the chaos and capriciousness denoted by maternal whimsy, desire, or fear. Thus by invoking Maurice's supposed monstrosity, Donegild doubly implicates Custance in a deviant act of maternal influence, related to accusations of genealogical hijacking by a foreign and strange bloodline, and contamination brought about by maternal misdeeds, resulting in a monstrous birth.
In her letter to her son, Donegild represents the birth of Maurice as an occasion of genealogical deviance, equivalent to similar episodes of calumniation in other romances, such as Octavian, in which the accusation against a new mother centers on alleged infidelity. Monstrous maternity and infidelity both threaten the integrity of the patriline by substituting for it another, unauthorized bloodline. Within a patrilineal system, whether the hijacking bloodline is that of the mother or her lover, it works equally to displace that of the father. Visible evidence of the displacement in the form of monstrous appearance, resemblance to another man, or inappropriate behavior in the child all act as signifiers of the disrupted patriline.(FN44) Chaucer underscores Donegild's conflation of maternal transmission, infidelity, and illegitimate off spring in the punishment she allots to Custance and Maurice by means of a forged letter: exposure at sea in a rudderless boat. As Helen Cooper notes, "Most English stories of women in open boats have them cast adrift as a consequence... of real or supposed sexual misdemeanors, along with the baby born as a result of those."(FN45) By proposing that Custance has given birth to a child that embodies starkly his mother's radical difference from her husband, Donegild suggests that Maurice functions only as Custance's child and thus is just as illegitimate for carrying his mother's bloodline as he would be if he were carrying her lover's. In fact, it is only through the child's appearance, she suggests, that we can find revealed the true hidden nature of the mother undisguised by an evil spirit's glamour.
If Donegild's intention is to motivate her son to set his foreign wife aside, as seems likely, she is soon disappointed. While Alla does not reject the logic his mother sets forth in her letter, he suggests in his response that the case might not be hopeless, while explicitly acknowledging the dynastic implications of Donegild's slander:
"Kepeth this child, al be it foul or feir,
And eek my wyf, unto myn hoom-comynge.
Crist, whan hym list, may sende me an heir
Moore agreable than this to my likynge."
Like his mother, Alla recognizes a link between the status of mother and child, as well as the problems such a linkage might pose in terms of the child's eligibility to succeed his father. At the same time, however, he suggests that Christ might intervene in the future to ensure the production of a more viable heir for Northumberland. While Donegild's solution to the problem of a mother's influence over an heir parallels the one suggested by Walter's temporary setting-aside of Griselda for a more noble wife, Alla rejects such a solution, relying instead on divine providence to supply an heir despite catastrophic maternal transmission. Ironically, however, despite Maurice's non-monstrous status, his extraordinary likeness to his mother does in fact eventually result in the loss of an heir for Northumberland, as Maurice becomes his maternal grandfather's heir by papal decree.
While Donegild's accusation against Custance as a monster who produces unnatural children is of course false, Chaucer suggests that Donegild's accusation of lineal displacement might not be entirely unfounded. The striking resemblance between mother and son effectively marks Custance rather than Alla as the dominant source of lineal transmission, and it does so in such a way that no one who sees them apart or together can deny their relation. Chaucer describes Maurice as "lyk unto Custance/As possible is a creature to be" (II 1030-31). In fact Maurice resembles his mother to such a degree that the first thing his father and grandfather think of when they meet him is Custance. Confronted as he believes by a "fantome" (II 1037) of his mind, Alla nearly flees from the table at which he first meets his son. The sight of Maurice likewise affects the Emperor of Rome, as Custance's father looks "bisily/Upon this child, and on his doghter thoghte" (II 1095-96). The first piece of information Alla receives about his son is uncannily apt; having asked who the child is, his host replies that he does not truly know, for "A mooder he hath, but fader hath he noon" (II 1020). For all intents and purposes, Maurice is a fatherless child. The later swift demise of his father and risen status of Maurice as heir to Rome (rather than Northumberland) privileges his connection to his mother's bloodline.(FN46)
Maurice's visible biological connection to his mother makes his inheritance of Rome ostensibly through his mother's birthright intelligible, while it also accords to some extent with English common law practice in the case of land-owning families who lacked male heirs yet had produced daughters. The legal explanation for the transmission of inheritance rights through daughters in the absence of sons was, however, equivocal at best, in its assertion that women might transmit bloodlines truly. As J. C. Holt explains,
A woman inherited not because of any title... but because, in the absence of male heirs in the same generation, she was the only means of continuing the lineage, the only legitimate route whereby her father's blood could be transmitted. Her children were his grandchildren just as her brother's might have been. This determined the woman's position as heir. If there were legitimate male heirs to her father then she could not expect to succeed. If there were no male heirs then the inheritance was 'hers' in the sense that it was no one else's, that the claim which she embodied was stronger than anyone else's. But it was not hers in the sense that she could succeed as a spinster. She brought her lands to her husband and ultimately to her children.(FN47)
If English common law recognized a woman's ability to transmit paternal blood, the inherited blood did not entitle her to any property or rank in her own right. Instead, the law defined her lineal status as the vessel through which her children might inherit her father's blood, and it recognized this potential of maternal transmission only in cases of dire genealogical need, when no males of the patriline remained to pass their bloodline on to sons of their own. Even in this exigency, the potential for maternal transmission was oft en seen as a familial catastrophe, as Felicity Riddy notes.(FN48) Many understood the marriage of an heiress as the transfer of the patrimony to another patriline, thus obliterating the continuity of the heiress's own bloodline.
Custance's superior imperial bloodline also ostensibly helps to explain the transfer of Maurice as the heir to Rome rather than to Northumberland, as in England a man of lower descent who married an heiress would oft en see his sons go on to take the family names and regalia of his wife's more prestigious family instead of his own.(FN49) This practice at least implicitly suggests the Galenic claim that a stronger seed, perhaps a seed from a stronger bloodline, might overcome the influence of a weaker seed. In this context, Maurice's status as his maternal grandfather's heir, rather than his father's, would have some precedent and coherence to a contemporary audience. The utter disappearance of Maurice's legacy from his father (no mention at all is made of the disposition of Northumberland after Alla's death) seems less explicable, however, and it creates a situation in which Rome's gain of an imperial scion robs Northumberland of its only direct heir. The tale's implicit understanding that Maurice can function as either his mother's or his father's heir, but not as both, maintains the underlying logic throughout the narrative that a child can manifest or embody only one line at a time.
Maurice's self-evident manifestation of Custance's bloodline in his resemblance to his mother justifies the cooptation of Alla's son into his wife's bloodline, handily solving the apparent dynastic crisis of Rome, if not that of Northumberland. The brief reunion of Alla and Custance results in a year-long sojourn for husband and wife in Northumberland, despite Custance's stated desire to be sent "namoore unto noon hethenesse" (II 1112), a category to which Northumberland seems to be consigned, despite its recent Christianization. In light of Custance's feelings, the return to Rome makes a certain amount of emotional sense. Maurice is made Emperor of Rome by the Pope, and Custance and her father reunite until the Emperor's death. However, the reconstituted Roman family consisting of the Emperor, Custance, and Maurice problematizes the reunion and Maurice's ascension by re-imagining Maurice's nuclear family and thus his lineal history. This closing has been the focus of much critical attention as it seems to point back to the Man of Law's diatribe against stories about incest in the tale's prologue. Chaucer describes Custance's final reunion with her father in Rome, as Carolyn Dinshaw has noted, in terms that closely echo those of contemporary wedding vows; they "lyven alle, and nevere asonder wende;/Til deeth departeth hem" (II 1157-58).(FN50) The apparent absence of Custance's beloved mother allows the restoration of a primary nuclear family made up of a father, mother, and child -- Emperor, Custance, and Maurice. In any case, Maurice's status as the Emperor's heir renders him the functional son of the Emperor. Various critics have been quick to point out that a large proportion of the cognate narratives to the Man of Law's Tale, including Emaré, begin with the flight of an only daughter from her father's incestuous advances.(FN51) Dinshaw has suggested that the Man of Law's position as a practitioner of family law implicates him in patriarchy's need to suppress narratives of incest, even when they are "there for the telling."(FN52) I would suggest that the Man of Law's formation of a structurally incestuous family unit at the conclusion of this narrative works to suppress a potentially even more subversive narrative of unilateral maternal inheritance.
In making this argument, I do not suggest that the romance implies any literal incest between Custance and her father, nor, as Dinshaw argues, that the Man of Law's initial diatribe against incest and subsequent telling of a tale recognizably structured by incest represents an attempt to suppress a narrative anathema to patriarchal discourse.(FN53) Rather, I would argue that Chaucer deliberately stages an inadequate attempt by a representative of patriarchal family and inheritance law to obscure maternal transmission as such and not merely as paternal transmission by proxy. In the fantasy of lineage that the final domestic arrangement of the Emperor, Custance, and Maurice enacts, the Man of Law subtly asserts a model that allows us to imagine Custance as the empty vessel through which her father's bloodline is transmitted unadulterated to her son, much as in the paternal incestuous fantasy Walter stages in his mock marriage to his daughter. Yet the reconfigured family presented at the end of the Man of Law's Tale serves as a flimsy screen for the self-evidently dominant influence of Custance on Maurice, which names Custance, rather than her father, as the point of origin and influence.(FN54) The Man of Law never describes Custance in terms that compare her to her father, so the imprint of her image upon Maurice begs the question of what exactly has been passed on to Custance's son, and how confidently one might assume that an unadulterated paternal bloodline has indeed been transmitted to Maurice. The tale's repeated insistence upon transmission of a single bloodline, in the absence of a resemblance to the Emperor, leaves open an implicit possibility that the bloodline Custance passes to her son originated in her mother, a proposition anathema to the patriarchal ideology underpinning patrilineal primogeniture.
In both the Clerk's Tale and the Man of Law's Tale Chaucer examines the consequences of the logic of inheritance law that depends on the idea of unilateral lineal transmission of bloodlines, which are associated primarily with men. In each narrative, the ideological investment in the singular, complete transmission of one parent's bloodline proves problematic, as it encourages an understanding of parental transmission as entirely competitive, where a child's total embodiment of one parent's line necessitates the total absence of the other parent's line. Of course, this is the implicit claim underlying the preferred mode of inheritance transmission in the late Middle Ages in both England and France, that is, patrilineal primogeniture. However, Chaucer's narratives critique the consequences of this claim, both for individual women -- who become othered and ostracized for their potential contamination of their husband's bloodlines -- and for the genealogical project of reproduction itself. This all-or-nothing approach to patrilinality, Chaucer suggests, threatens genealogical and political stability by encouraging pathological attempts to avoid or deny the potential for maternal transmission. In both tales Chaucer exposes the patriarchal fantasy of unitary patriline transmission and its potential threat to individuals, families, and even nations, as he presents two fantasies of autonomous male reproduction taken to their most extreme extent. In both narratives Chaucer suggests that attempts to avoid lineal contamination lead to incest and disinheritance, undermining the class and social stability that the ideology of lineal transmission promises.
Chaucer's pathologization of the desire to avoid or at least deny maternal influence even when it is self-evident undermines what was becoming the increasing focus of the French rejection of England's claim to the French throne. French justifications for excluding women from inheritance -- and, later, heritable transmission -- shifted throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and were always contingent upon the needs of political necessity and patriotic fervor. In contrast, the English position was firmly based in an implicit claim of maternal heritable transmission, a claim in which the English persisted despite a certain uneasy awareness that it sat uncomfortably with preferred practice within their lived experience. In England maternal transmission was championed in cases of either necessity (as in the lack of better, that is, male lines of inheritance) or opportunistic fabrication (as in the adoption of the family name of a more prestigious wife). Within this context, Chaucer never definitively advocates the claim for maternal transmission, but instead examines and demolishes the strategies of denial and avoidance of maternal influence that characterized the French approach to the problem.
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1. Sarah Hanley, "Identity Politics and Rulership in France: Female Political Place and the Fraudulent Salic Law in Christine de Pizan and Jean de Montreuil," in Michael Wolfe, ed., Changing Identities in Early Modern France (Durham, N.C., 1997), 78-94, at 79.
2. Jules Viard, ed., Les Grandes Chroniques de France, 10 vols. (Paris, 1920-55), 8:297-98.
3. John Milton Potter, "The Development and Significance of the Salic Law of the French," English Historical Review 53 (1937): 235-53, at 236.
4. Hanley, "Identity Politics," 79.
5. Colette Beaune, The Birth of an Ideology: Myths and Symbols of Nation in Late-Medieval France (Berkeley, 1991), 248.
6. Edward's claim followed the seizure of his lands in Gascony by Philip VI. Thus, while the content of the argument was genealogical, the motive was territorial. See Christopher Allmand, The Hundred Years War: England and France at War c. 1300-c. 1450 (Cambridge, U.K., 1988), 10.
7. Potter, "The Development and Significance of the Salic Law," 237-39.
8. The feudal rather than genealogical basis of the war is insistently, even testily affirmed by historians of the Hundred Years War, who oft en appear as if still fighting a rearguard action against the longevity of the genealogical propaganda surrounding the Hundred Years War. For two examples, see Edouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War (Bloomington, Ind., 1959), 69; and Allmand, The Hundred Years War, 10.
9. Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge, U.K., 1993), 23.
10. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference, 24.
11. Philip Barker, "The Politics of Primogeniture: Sex, Consciousness and Social Organisation in North-Western Europe (900-1250 AD)," in Edmund Leach, S. N. Mukherjee, and John Ward, eds., Feudalism: Comparative Studies (Sydney, 1985), 87-104, at 97.
12. Laura Barefield notes the tendency for medieval genres such as chronicle and romance, which have an ideological investment in patrilineal bloodlines, to downplay or elide maternal contribution to offspring (Gender and History in Medieval English Romance and Chronicle, [Oxford, 2003], 13, 23).
13. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference, 35.
14. M. C. Seymour, gen. ed., On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa's Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum, A Critical Text, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1975-88), 1:295. One might note that the passage mentions the possibility that the father's seed will have precedence or that both seeds will manifest equally. The precedence of the mother's seed is conspicuously absent.
15. A prominent belief that the uterine environment and the mother's blood contained within it might potentially affect the child had to do with the potential for maternal emotions or fancies to become embodied in the child. This belief operated in classical and medieval medical and literary discourse. For the most part, the potential influence upon the child was considered negative, subverting paternal influence. For detailed treatment of this belief, see William F. MacLehose, "Nurturing Danger: High Medieval Medicine and the Problem(s) of the Child," in John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler, ed., Medieval Mothering (New York, 1996) 3-24; and Douglas Kelly, "The Domestication of the Marvelous in the Melusine Romances," in Donald Maddox and Sarah Sturm-Maddox, eds., Melusine of Lusignan: Founding Fiction in Late Medieval France (Athens, Ga., 1996), 32-47, at 39-40.
16. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference, 109.
17. For example. S. J. Payling notes that "It is surprisingly difficult to find among the families chronicled examples of cases in which the heir general was largely, if not entirely, disinherited in favour of a male collateral, whether by an earlier settlement in tail male or an ad hoc settlement" ("Social Mobility, Demographic Change, and Landed Society in Late Medieval England," Economic History Review 45 : 51-73, at 59).
18. J. C. Holt, Colonial England 1066-1215, (London, 1997), 247.
19. Payling, "Social Mobility," 52. Payling notes that the Black Death disrupted the generally stable ratio of land-owning families who left direct male and female heirs, or no heirs at all: "from the reign of Henry III... to the Black Death, there was very little variation in the pattern. About 72 per cent of male landowners left sons (or sons of sons) as their heirs, 10 per cent left daughters (or the issue of daughters), and the remaining 18 per cent left no issue... The plague-ridden years of the second half of the fourteenth century, however, brought about a sudden and profound change. Population fell rapidly.... Comparing the half century that followed the Black Death with the period that went before it, the proportion of landholders leaving sons fell to 57 per cent; leaving daughters rose to 15 per cent; but leaving no children rose to as much as 29 per cent (this crisis in male succession was at its height in the late 1370s and early 1380s, when less than half of landowners left sons to succeed them). It was not until after c. 1450 that the pattern recovered to approximate to that prevailing before the Black Death" (54).
20. David Crouch, The Image of Aristocracy in Britain, 1000-1300 (New York, 1992), 10.
21. Hanley, "Identity Politics," 79.
22. Hanley, "Identity Politics," 79; and Colette Beaune, The Birth of an Ideology: Myths and Symbols of Nation in Late-Medieval France (Berkeley, 1991), 48. Thus, as Hanley notes, a woman in Paris could transmit inheritance rights to her son or grandson yet not claim them for herself. Yet in other counties and fiefdoms in France, female inheritance in the absence of brothers was the norm, and, at least until the English laid claim to the French throne, this practice was openly accepted by Capetian kings.
23. Potter, "The Development and Significance of the Salic Law," 237-39.
24. Sarah Hanley, "Mapping Rulership in the French Body Politic: Political Identity, Public Law and the King's One Body," Historical Reflections/Reflections Historiques 23 (1997): 129-49, at 136.
25. "Comme ensi soit que par le sucession de nostre chier oncle monseigneur Charlon, roy de France, nous soiions hiretier de l'hiretaige et couronne de France par trop plus prochain degré que vous ne soiiés, qui en le possession de nostre hiretaige" (Jean Froissart, Chroniques, ed. George T. Diller, 5 vols. [Geneva, 1991], 1:174). The translation is mine.
26. Edward A. Block, for example, sees Chaucer's many additions to his sources as part of a project to render Custance an allegorical figure of Christian fortitude who can also gain sympathy on a human level narrative ("Originality, Controlling Purpose, and Craftsmanship in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale," PMLA 68 : 572-616). In contrast, Stephen Manning points to Custance's inadequate humanization as a central fl aw in the tale ("Chaucer's Custance, Pale and Passive," in Edward Vasta and Zacharias P. Thundy, eds., Chaucerian Problems and Perspectives: Essays Presented to Paul Beichner C.S.C. [Notre Dame, 1979], 13-23). Feminist readings of MLT frequently deal with the question of incest; see, most notably, Carolyn Dinshaw's reading of the Man of Law's frantic disavowal of incest as a relatable narrative alongside his rendering of a narrative haunted by incest ("The Law of Man and Its 'Abhomynacions,'" Exemplaria 1 : 117-48). For a reading that merges feminist and postcolonial concerns, see Geraldine Heng's chapter on "Beauty and the East," in her Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York, 2003), 181-237.
27. For a reading of ClT that links Walter's need to produce an heir with Richard II's notorious failure in this duty, see Michael Hanrahan, "'A Straunge Successour Sholde Take Your Heritage': The Clerk's Tale and the Crisis of Ricardian Rule," Chaucer Review 35 (2001): 335-50, at 336.
28. For an example of a psychoanalytic reading of CIT that locates Walter's resistance to marriage and aggression towards Griselda in a denial of the necessity of death, see Ruth Barrie Straus, "Reframing the Violence of the Father: Reverse Oedipal Fantasies in Chaucer's Clerk's, Man of Law's, and Prioress's Tales," in Eve Salisbury, Georgiana Donovin, and Merrall Llewelyn, eds., Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts (Gainesville, Fla., 2002), 122-38, at 122.
29. Larry Scanlon expands this idea to include the preservation of social order: "The people's initiative recalls Walter to the structural basis of his own power, and reminds him that the function of that structure was not simply to produce him, but also to produce social order, which can only be maintained if the structure is maintained" (Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition [Cambridge, U.K., 1994], 182).
30. Lynda E. Boose, "The Father's House and the Daughter in It: The Structures of Western Culture's Daughter-Father Relationship," in Lynda E. Boose and Betty S. Flowers, eds., Daughters and Fathers (Baltimore, 1989), 19-74, at 22.
31. Boose, "The Father's House," 21.
32. This reading conforms to anthropological and historical readings of the construction of women under exogamous patriarchy. For representative examples, see Boose, "The Father's House," 19-74; and Edmund Leach, Culture and Communication: The Logic by Which Symbols Are Connected (Cambridge, U.K., 1976), 74-75.
33. "What Griselda's submission assures him is that her children belong entirely to him. She can only do that if she freely grants to him even the right to destroy them. Her total submission to his power over her as father of her children reinstates the principle of heritability her ascension to the ruling class may have violated" (Scanlon, Narrative, Authority, and Power, 187).
34. Allyson Newton, "The Occlusion of Maternity in Chaucer's Clerk's Tale," in John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler, eds., Medieval Mothering (New York, 1996), 63-76, at 63.
35. John Finlayson notes that "it is generally agreed that Chaucer has drawn attention much more than Petrarch to the human suffering of Griselda and the pathos of her position" ("Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Chaucer's Clerk's Tale," Studies in Philology 97 : 255-75, at 264-65). In addition, Robert Worth Frank, Jr., notes many of Chaucer's modifications to the Griselda narrative, suggesting that Chaucer's obscuring of Griselda's interiority represents "possibly Chaucer's most significant change" ("Pathos in Chaucer's Religious Tales," in C. David Benson and Elizabeth Robertson, eds., Chaucer's Religious Tales [Cambridge, U.K., 1990], 39-52, at 48).
36. "In a... significant departure from his source materials, Chaucer pauses over the lineage and breeding potential of Walter's second wife, who will produce the worthy heir ("fairer fruit") that prompted his subjects to urge him to marry in the first place" (Hanrahan, "A Straunge Successour," 343).
37. Heng, Empire of Magic, 192. Custance's status as a blank space or emptiness upon whom others' desires are written has become a critical truism. For example, Dinshaw suggests that "'Woman' in the ideology of the Man of Law's Tale is an essential blankness that will be inscribed by men and thus turned into a tale; she is a blank onto which men's desire will be projected; she is a no-thing in herself" (Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 110). Similarly, Heng has referred to Custance as "the blankest of blanks" (192) as well as "an enigmatic cipher, a self-masking blank for the fantasy of others" (191).
38. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler, "Introduction: Medieval Mothering, Medieval Motherers," in Parsons and Wheeler, eds., Medieval Mothering (New York, 1996), ix-xvii, at xv.
39. Sue Niebrzydowski, "Monstrous (M)othering: The Representation of the Sowdanesse in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale," in Liz Herbert McAvoy and Teresa Walters, eds., Consuming Narratives: Gender and Monstrous Appetite in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Cardiff, 2002), 196-207, at 202.
40. Helen Cooper. The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford, 2004), 295.
41. Margo Hendricks, "Monstrosity and the Mercurial Female Imagination," in McAvoy and Walters, eds., Consuming Narratives, 95-103, at 96.
42. Kelly, "The Domestication of the Marvelous," 39-40.
43. Kelly, "The Domestication of the Marvelous," 39-40. Kelly notes the prevalent belief in the "mother-mark," a birthmark or other physical mark or deformity on a child which corresponded to an imagined object of fear or desire, even of idle musing on the part of the pregnant mother. See also MacLehose "Nurturing Danger," 8; and Susan Karant-Nunn, The Reformation of Ritual: An Interpretation of Early Modern Germany (London, 1997), 78. According to Karant-Nunn, for example, pregnant women were advised to avoid looking upon the graves of women who had died in childbirth for fear that their resultant morbid imaginations would harm or even kill their unborn children.
44. Alcuin Blamires notes the prevalence in medieval romance of the idea that "where the off spring fails to conform to elite social expectations, medieval society is prepared to allege contamination in the succession" ("The Twin Demons of Aristocratic Society in Sir Gowther," in Nicola McDonald, ed., Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance [Manchester, U.K., 2004], 44-62, at 50). Sir Gowther and Cheuelere Assigne offer representative examples of women accused of infidelity with devils, men, or dogs, resulting in deformed, demonic, or bestial children (in the case of Cheuelere Assigne, the women are framed to make it look as if their misbehavior has resulted in deformity). The flip side of this ideology, of course, is that a lost heir, even one raised in mean circumstances, will show his true breeding through physical markers or an effortless conformity to social norms. For examples of this sort of resolution, see the romances Octavian, Havelok the Dane, and Lai le Freine.
45. Cooper, The English Romance in Time, 116.
46. A comparison with a close cognate of MLT helps to foreground the prevalence of the question of unitary maternal transmission in this narrative. The nearly contemporary Middle English Breton lay Emaré repeatedly associates the child Segramour, Emaré's double of Maurice, with images of hybridity and the visible coexistence of multiple bloodlines. For example, the description that Emaré's mother-in-law uses to slander Segramour imagines the infant as a monstrous figure of multiplicity. In her letter to her absent son, she claims the "qwene had born a devyll;/Durste no mon come her hende./Thre heddes hadde he there-/A lyon, a dragon, and a beere:/A fowll, feltred fende" (lines 536-40; Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury, eds., The Middle English Breton Lays [Kalamazoo, Mich., 1995], 145-99, at 168). Later, this nightmare of miscegenation is replaced by a more harmonious image of the true child, one who gracefully manifests evidence of his biological inheritance from two royal lines. The poet describes Segramour as "A fayr chyld borne, and a godelé;/[who] Hadde a dowbyll kynges marke" (503-4). The poem's inclusion of an identifying mark on a potentially illegitimate heir offers proof to the audience and to his estranged father and grandfather that their bloodlines indisputably inhere in the child. Segramour's "double king's mark," apparently a stylized birth mark, attests to his link to both maternal and paternal bloodlines, and the mark on his body specifically denotes social and political status, rather than specific personal links to either parent. By contrast, MLT marks Maurice more specifically through his close correlation to his mother. No birthmark or other evidence marks Alla's contribution and, indeed, no mentioned paternal inheritance is conferred upon Maurice upon his father's death.
47. Holt, Colonial England, 247.
48. Felicity Riddy, "Middle English Romance: Family, Romance, Intimacy," in Roberta L. Krueger, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance (Cambridge, U.K., 2000), 234-52, at 245.
49. Crouch, The Image of Aristocracy, 10.
50. Dinshaw, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 102.
51. Dinshaw, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 100; and Straus, "Reframing the Violence of the Father," 134.
52. Dinshaw, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 95.
53. Dinshaw, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 95.
54. Gail Ashton points out a similar logical problem for a claim of autonomous male self-replication, in this case, on Alla's part: "What Alla sees, then, when he looks upon the boy for the first time, is his wife's image, not his own; patriarchy is patently not perpetuated in his own image" ("Her Father's Daughter: The Realignment of Father-Daughter Kinship in Three Romance Tales," Chaucer Review 34 : 416-27, at 422).