|AUTHOR:||Marc S. Guidry|
|TITLE:||THE PARLIAMENTS OF GODS AND MEN IN THE KNIGHT'S TALE|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 43 no2 140-70 2008|
In a plangent lament in the Knight's Tale, the Theban warrior Palamon accuses the gods of injustice upon suffering perpetual imprisonment after the fall of his city to a withering Athenian siege:
"O crueel goddes that governe
This world with byndyng of youre word eterne,
And writen in the table of atthamaunt
Youre parlement and youre eterne graunt,
What is mankynde moore unto you holde
Than is the sheep that rouketh in the folde?
What governance is in this prescience,
That giltelees tormenteth innocence?"
(I 1303-8, 1313-14)(FN1)
Palamon's complaint is typically grouped as one of the Boethian speeches in the Knight's Tale, as it reverberates with the theme of the suffering of innocents voiced by Boethius's persona in the first book of the Consolation of Philosophy.(FN2) From a Boethian perspective, Palamon's complaint against the gods' "parlement" and "graunt" -- synonymous terms for a decree or decision reached through consultation(FN3) -- appears vainly directed against the sublunary realm of Fortune, to which the art of politics belongs and which is to be transcended. Yet, curiously, the Knight holds out the possibility that temporal government is part of the solution to human suffering rather than part of the problem, as his tale purports to demonstrate at its resolution (which after all is a political assembly despite the Boethian resonances of Duke Theseus's celebrated "first mover" speech).(FN4) Not coincidentally, neither parlement nor the substantive form of graunt appears in Chaucer's translation of the Consolation. I point to the peculiar use of this terminology in Palamon's speech because it provides a key to understanding the derivation and function of another major speech, Saturn's counsel to Venus "in the hevene above" (I 2439), which in turn provides an eye-opening gloss on Theseus's speech at the Athenian parliament.
The rhetorical thread running through all of these passages is the deliberative episode of classical epic. Saturn's speech is an example of the "councils of the gods" topos, with which Chaucer would have been conversant through his reading of Statius' Thebaid as well as Ovid's Metamorphoses and Virgil's Aeneid.(FN5) The first two are established sources for the Knight's Tale, while the third may have aided Chaucer in creating the conciliar exchange between Saturn and Venus.(FN6) I mention these texts because all three speeches referenced above are additions Chaucer made to his main source, Boccaccio's Teseida. Chaucer's employment of the discourse of counsel provides an interface between literature and history in the work of an author who intimately knew both the fictional councils of Olympus and the real-life assemblies of Westminster. This essay seeks to explore that interface by focusing on both the rhetorical and political contexts of the discourse of counsel in the Knight's Tale.
In particular, I am interested in the use of parliamentary language in the deliberative passages of the Knight's Tale. In order to provide an historical context for several passages that maintain traces of parliamentary rhetoric, I will apply a cluster of premodern norms of English political discourse to the narrative: excessive deference, powerful patronage networks, extreme secrecy, strict exclusivity, and the belief that aristocratic rule is inherently rational and that, conversely, the opinion of the masses is inherently irrational. While the Knight's Tale makes us aware of how these norms function to control discourse within aristocratic culture, it also inevitably makes us aware of their constructedness. Rather than functioning as a metanarrative that would sacralize Theseus's secular authority, the Olympian council reveals the systematic violence and factionalism at the heart of his government. The Athenian parliament and the Olympian council turn out to operate under the same cynical set of rhetorical conditions, and the fact that they are informed by parliamentary discourse makes them a troubling critique of the real-life councils Chaucer knew firsthand as a member of Richard II's court.
David Anderson has reconstructed how Chaucer appropriated Boccaccio's Teseida not for its own sake, but to draw out those patterns in his narrative that are most imitative of the Thebaid, namely the mixing of human with divine characters and the association of Palamon and Arcite with the Theban princes Eteocles and Polynices.(FN7) Twin sons of the debased and exiled king Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices have a falling-out when the former breaks his agreement to alternate the reign of Thebes annually, inciting the latter to seek aid from the city-state Argos, into whose royal house he has married. This quarrel in turn leads to the war of "the seven champions" against Thebes. After the brothers savagely kill each other, their uncle Creon seizes control of Thebes and perversely refuses to allow for the burial of Polynices, whom he declares a traitor, as well as the other Argive champions. In the final book of the Thebaid, Theseus, ruler of Athens, defeats Creon and restores justice, piety, and harmony to Thebes, after having subdued the Amazons in Scythia, the point at which the Knight's Tale opens.(FN8)
Returning to Palamon's complaint, it is premised upon interaction between the human and divine worlds and pervaded by the Statian theme of fraternal strife, marking it as one of the Thebaid-like passages of the Knight's Tale:
"But I moot been in prisoun thurgh Saturne,
And eek thurgh Juno, jalous and eek wood,
That hath destroyed wel ny al the blood
Of Thebes with his waste walles wyde;
And Venus sleeth me on that oother syde
For jalousie and fere of hym Arcite."
It should be noted that Palamon's complaint directly cites the Thebaid. His phrase "waste walles wyde" is a rendering of Statius' "murorum patet omne latus" (XII.704).(FN9) In the Thebaid this image serves as a metaphor for the breakdown of Theban polity brought about through Eteocles' and Polynices' unregulated pursuit of self-interest over the commonweal. It is fitting that Palamon utters this phrase, for just as the Theban princes had put dominion before fraternity, he and Arcite have already broken their "sworn" (I 1147) brotherhood over the conquest of Emily. Arcite has all too quickly become an object of his fear rather than his love. I will return to the connection between romantic and dynastic rivalry, and hence between Palamon-Arcite and Eteocles-Polynices, below. Here, I would like to highlight the other characteristically Thebaid-like aspect of this passage: the close intersection it draws between the lives of humans and gods.
Palamon's association of his imprisonment with Saturn anticipates the god's appearance at the Olympian council, where he presents a resume of his planetary powers (i.e., his malign influences on human behavior), which include "the prison in the derke cote" (I 2457). Palamon's further association of his imprisonment with Juno's jealousy -- an allusion to Jove's amours with the Theban women Semele and Alcmena -- leads back to the first divine council in the Thebaid, the moment at which, according to Anderson, human and divine interaction is first initiated:(FN10)
At Iovis imperiis rapidi super atria caeli
lectus concilio divum convenerat ordo
Now at Jove's decree the chosen hierarchy of the gods had assembled in council in the hall of the whirling firmament, at the sky's centre. (2:55)
In the celestial sphere Jove unfolds his plan to foment a war of mutual aggression between Thebes and Argos for the former's unregenerate wickedness, which includes the violence of Cadmus, whom Chaucer expressly mentions in one of Arcite's laments (I 1546-47). Making a pointed reference to Jove's union with Semele, to whom he revealed his full majesty with thunder and lightning, Juno responds by declaring her hatred for Thebes and her allegiance to Argos, her patron city:
illam odimus urbem,
quam vultu confessus adis, ubi conscia magni
signa tori tonitrus agis et mea fulmina torques.
facta luant Thebae: cur hostes eligis Argos?
I hate that city where you go and do not hide your face, where you make thunder, the signal and accomplice of our mighty union, and hurl my bolts. Let Thebes expiate her deeds; but why choose Argos as her foe? (2:59)
Juno goes on to aid not only the Argive champions but also their widows. She plays a pivotal role in assisting them to gain favor with Theseus (XII.464-80), who in the Boccaccian/Chaucerian strand of the Theban story becomes the human face of Palamon and Arcite's jailer.
Palamon's complaint in the Thebaid therefore hearkens back to the role of the pagan gods in the civic life of Thebes, while in the Knight's Tale it extends their influence over the lives of the characters. In addition, it conjures the fatalistic and capricious governance of the gods envisioned by Statius. By placing Saturn alongside Juno in a speech directed against the gods' "parlement," Chaucer recalls the topos of concilia deorum in Statius' text and anticipates his own use of the device in Part III of the Knight's Tale, where Saturn will assume the menacing role Statius had reserved for Jove in the Olympian assembly.
Alistair Minnis has classified Saturn's speech as an "'assembly of the gods' episode."(FN11) Winthrop Wetherbee has identified a possible model for it in Book I of the Aeneid -- the scene on "aethere summo" (I.223) (the sky's summit [1:257]) in which a consoling Jupiter advises a tearful Venus not to worry over the fate of her son after the fall of Troy because he is destined to conquer Italy.(FN12) Although not a plenary assembly of the gods, this scene has been identified as a paradigmatic example of the deliberative episode by Thomas Greene.(FN13) In Reading Epic, Peter Toohey sees it as a complement to the divine council in Book I of the Thebaid because in each case Jupiter settles the destiny of a fabled city-state, Rome or Thebes.(FN14) The standard treatment of Saturn's speech, however, is not as a divine council, but as an example of the medieval tradition of assigning planetary influences to pagan deities. The planets were thought to bring about certain dispositions in humans under the aegis of Providence, and they were therefore aligned with allegorical types of virtues and vices. There is no doubt that Chaucer assimilates the divine council to the medieval astrological tradition as a way of making it more plausible to his contemporary Christian audience, but its rhetorical structure is that of a deliberative speech.
Gilbert Highet has analyzed the structure of the deliberative speech typically found in the Aeneid, and William Dominik has done much the same thing for the deliberative speeches in the Thebaid.(FN15) Both identify several possible parts to the deliberative speech: an exordium or introduction; a narratio that surveys the situation and gives any facts necessary to support the speaker's proposal; the propositio or proposal itself, which may contain a tractatio or presentation of reasons for supporting the proposal; a refutatio or rebuttal of opponents' arguments; and a peroratio or conclusion. Dominik states that the deliberative speech is less systematic than a formal forensic speech and usually lacks one or more of the above parts, in accordance with the context for the speech and the style of the poet.(FN16) Highet singles out the propositio as the most essential part.(FN17) Dominik also observes that the expediency of implementing a given proposal is more important than ideas of justice and rightness in the deliberative speeches of the Thebaid.(FN18) Such is certainly the attitude taken by the opportunistic Saturn.
Chaucer sets up Saturn's speech as a divine council by mentioning the "strif" created "in the hevene above" by Mars's "grauntyng" (I 2438-39) of victory in the tournament to Arcite after Venus had already granted Palamon's prayer for possession of Emily. This contradiction creates a seemingly intractable situation since the winner of the tournament is to receive her hand in marriage according to the terms laid down by Theseus. Jupiter, who is "bisy" to "stente" (I 2442) the dispute, finds himself in an uncustomary position. He is unable to settle it until his father, "Saturnus the colde" (I 2443), steps in, relying on his "olde experience" (I 2445) to negotiate a solution. At the mention of the ancient titan, Chaucer cites a commonplace reminiscent of the Melibee, Chaucer's manual on counsel-taking:
As sooth is seyd, elde hath greet avantage;
In elde is bothe wysdom and usage;
Men may the olde atrenne and noght atrede.
The verb atreden, an idiom meaning roughly 'to outwit' that contains the Anglo-Saxon root for giving counsel or advice (reden) in its stem, signals Saturn's qualifications as a counselor.(FN19) Similarly, the Melibee recommends that the ideal counselor be "of age, swiche as han seyn and been expert in manye thynges" because "in olde men is the sapience, and in longe tyme the prudence" (VII 1163-64). But one senses that, in Saturn's case, cunning more so than wisdom has been the outgrowth of his experience, and it is just such craftiness that uniquely recommends him as a counselor in this situation.
Saturn begins his speech with a kind of exordium that boasts his terrible "power" over the affairs of men -- a list of destructive forces including imprisonment, execution and judicial punishment, the incitement of rebellion, mishaps in war, treason and palace plots, and the spread of pestilence (I 2453-69). This sinister list is calculated to arouse his audience's attention and convince them that he possesses the decisive ability to dictate the outcome of the tournament. Dispensing with a narration of facts, since it is clear that the gods already know the situation, Chaucer moves on to Saturn's proposal, addressed directly to his granddaughter Venus but slyly including Mars's interest:
"Now weep namoore; I shal doon diligence
That Palamon, that is thyn owene knyght,
Shal have his lady, as thou hast him hight.
Though Mars shal helpe his knyght, yet nathelees
Bitwixe yow ther moot be som tyme pees,
Al be ye noght of o compleccioun,
That causeth al day swich divisioun.
I am thyn aiel, redy at thy wille;
Weep now namoore; I wol thy lust fulfille."
There is obviously no need for a refutation since neither Venus nor Mars objects to Saturn's proposal, and there is no formal peroration, just a closing couplet that rounds out the speech. Although it does not have all of the formal elements of the deliberative speech, Saturn's address clearly takes place before an assembly of the gods in the heavens and contains the core of the topos: an exordium that darkly establishes his authority and a proposal that plays upon his audience's self-interest or "lust" in order to move them to accept it. This kind of compactness is consistent with how Chaucer handles narration throughout the Knight's Tale.(FN20) Moreover, as Highet and Dominik point out, condensation of the deliberative episode is typical even in classical epics.
The political implications of Saturn's counsel are troubling. There is no concern for whether Palamon or Arcite has a rightful cause. He sophistically takes advantage of the fact that the former's narrow-minded prayer for "possessioun" (I 2242) of Emily need not equate with success in the tournament. This allows Venus to grant Palamon's prayer while Mars can still grant Arcite's prayer for "victorie" (I 2405), thereby enhancing each god's sphere of influence. The tacit understanding is that Arcite must be destroyed after he wins the tournament, which Saturn will accomplish through the violent agency of a Fury (I 2684), a mechanism appropriately enough derived via Boccaccio from the Thebaid. Polynices is flung from his chariot after a Fury sent by Apollo spooks one of the horses of his team, nearly resulting in his death (VI.495-506).(FN21) While Chaucer's creation of the divine council probably derives from his overall reading of Virgil, Ovid, and Statius, Saturn is closest to the Statian depiction of the pagan gods as humanized figures of savagery and amorality.(FN22) The political message of his speech is that self-interest, or "lust," can be pursued by those in power without concern for what is right or just -- an attitude that comes dangerously close to the medieval definition of tyranny (a topic to which I return below). In medieval astrological lore, Saturn was associated with malevolence and violence, in contrast to Jupiter, who was associated with justice and the bringing of peace.(FN23) In Chaucer's vision, Jovian justice (in the Virgilian sense) is absent from the gods' consult; it is replaced by Saturnian expediency, which allows Palamon and Arcite to indulge the concupiscence and wrath represented by their tutelary deities, Venus and Mars, without concern for the needs of Thebes or Emily, whose interests go unrepresented at the proceedings.(FN24)
Chaucer follows Statius' lead on the depiction of the pagan gods as not only fallible but also projections of the worst impulses of temporal governance. In other words, the divine council serves as a political reflection on the abuse of power and authority within the human sphere of the narrative. While Theseus eventually attempts to restore order to the Theban polity and contain the violence of Palamon and Arcite's rivalry, he is, like Saturn, a cruel and arbitrary jailer, imprisoning the knights "[p]erpetuelly" (I 1024) in his "chief dongeoun" (I 1057), where they are kept "[i]n cheynes and in fettres" (I 1343; compare I 1279). This depiction contrasts starkly with Boccaccio's courteous Teseo, who keeps the cousins under minimum security in his palace, where they are served seemingly at their pleasure (II.99). And like Saturn, who raises the specter of "The fallynge of the toures and of the walles/Upon the mynour or the carpenter" (I 2464-65), Theseus is associated with the horrors of siege warfare, razing Thebes after he has already defeated Creon and routed the Theban army:
And by assaut he wan the citee after,
And rente adoun bothe wall and sparre and rafter.
While Chaucer passes silently over the casualties to Theseus's own forces, he ominously comments that he "dide with al the contree as hym leste" (I 1004), which is to say, he allowed his soldiers to "ransake" (I 1005) and pillage as a "cure" (I 1007) for their "disconfiture" (I 1008). This outcome is not far from the Saturnian "remedie" of appealing to Venus's (and Mars's) "lust" at the expense of others.(FN25)
Consonant with the classical topos of the councils of the gods is the leitmotif of the spellbinding power of the divine word. This feature is evident in Diana's reply to Emily's prayer to release her from having to marry the winner of the tournament between Palamon and Arcite:
"Doghter, stynt thyn hevynesse.
Among the goddes hye it is affermed
And by eterne word writen and confermed,
Thou shalt ben wedded unto oon of tho
That han for thee so muchel care and wo,
But unto which of hem I may nat telle."
(I 2348-53; emphasis added)
While Chaucer takes the gist of Diana's speech from the Teseida (VII.89), the description of the gods' "eterne word" is his addition. He uses the same phrase in inverted form in Palamon's complaint, where the gods' "word eterne" is said to have a "byndyng" (I 1304) effect upon human affairs. At the second divine council in the Thebaid, an enraged Jove threatens to raze Thebes with his own hands if the other gods attempt to avert his retribution, even though Juno herself should suffer "in turbine rerum" (III.251) (in universal turmoil [2:169]). The other gods are left stunned by his words, so much so that they suddenly appear mortal before him:
Dixit, et attoniti iussis; mortalia credas
pectora, sic cuncti vocemque animosque tenebant.
He spoke and they were amazed at his ordinance. You might have thought them mortal hearts, so did they all hold voice and mind in check. (2:169)
The Statian leitmotif of the immutable power of Jove's "sanctis verbis" (I.212-13) (holy words [2:57]) may contribute to the emphasis Chaucer places on the collective effect of the gods' "eternal word" on Palamon and Emily. Diana's imperious reply leaves Emily "astoned" (I 2361), which is precisely the effect Jove's speech has upon the humanized gods of the Thebaid.
Yet, if the scene in Diana's temple underscores Chaucer's compositional practice of reflexively looking back to Statius for his rendering of Boccaccio, he was doing more than just classicizing his text. In Diana's reply to Emily and in Palamon's complaint, Chaucer imagines the gods' decisions as written texts. Palamon's complaint describes how the gods "writen in the table of atthamaunt" their "parlement and... eterne graunt." Similarly, Diana states that the gods' decision regarding Emily has been "writen and confermed." The immediate source for Palamon's speech, the Consolation of Philosophy, does not contain such an image, nor does the immediate source for Diana's speech, the Teseida.(FN26) Furthermore, the trope of divine writing is not used in the Thebaid. What, then, was Chaucer drawing on for his conceptualization of a written record of divine deliberations? A possible model familiar to his audience was the English parliament roll. At the September 1353 parliament of Edward III, it was underscored that one of the key factors distinguishing the medieval parliament from all other royal councils was the fact that its business was recorded:
les ordinances et acortes faites en conseils ne soient de recorde, come s'ils fuissent faitz par commune parlement. (ii.253)(FN27)
the ordinances and agreements made in councils are not matters of record as they would be if they were made by common parliament.
Chaucer's Knight comes from the social class that comprised the nucleus of the actual parliaments of Edward III and Richard II. Appropriately, the roule de parlement provides him with an intuitive model for the recording of the gods' "parlement" in his tale.
Diana's language that the gods have "affermed" and "confermed" their decision that Emily must marry is pertinent to this point. The relationship between writing and the confirmation of parliamentary business is particularly marked in the October 1386 parliament, the so-called "Wonderful Parliament" Chaucer attended as a knight of the shire of Kent.(FN28) The commons brought impeachment charges against the king's chancellor, Michael de la Pole, for, among other things, allegedly exploiting his office as chancellor to acquire royal estates at less than market value to the impoverishment of the crown. They rejected his defense of his real estate transactions on the grounds that although he claimed
les douns a luy issint faitz feurent confermez par plein parlement, il y a nulle tiel record en roulle de parlement. (iii.219)
the gifts thus made to him had been confirmed by full parliament, there is no such record in the roll of parliament.
I should add that Chaucer's doubling-up of the active verbs affermen and confermen mimics the overdetermined legal formulas for the ratification of parliamentary business. For instance, in the October 1377 parliament, the commons made the following petition to the king in regard to William Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, for war profiteering:
Qe plese a vostre noble hautesse, de l'avys et commune assent des prelatz, duc, countes, barons et autres grauntz et communes, affermer, approver, ratifier, et confermer en cest present parlement voz dites chartres, ove touz les articles, pardons, graces, remissions, et cercumstances qecunqes en ycelles comprises. (iii.24)(FN29)
May it please your noble highness, with the advice and common assent of the prelates, dukes, earls, barons, and other great men and commons, to affirm, approve, ratify, and confirm in the present parliament your said charters, with all the articles, pardons, graces, remissions, and circumstances contained in the same.
The king has "affermez... et confermez" (iii.24) (affirmed and confirmed) the petition, thereby extending the general pardon to Wykeham.
To be sure, I am not arguing that the Knight's Tale alludes to the Wonderful Parliament, the October 1377 parliament, or any other specific parliament of Richard's reign, in the manner of political allegory.(FN30) I am claiming only that Chaucer assimilates divine deliberations to the institutional model of the English parliament by envisioning a heavenly parliament roll and using language in a quasi-legal and parliamentary manner. One might counter that words like affermen and confermen are too common to have legal significance.(FN31) Yet, when we consider that such language is being delivered by the only full-fledged member of the ruling class on Chaucer's pilgrimage, that it is employed in a work culminating in a full-blown parliament not found in any of Chaucer's analogues, that Chaucer regularly heard such language used in an institutional register as a civil servant and member of parliament, and that his literary circle of chamber knights would also have been well acquainted with legal speech and clerical culture, it is plausible that he drew on the speech of parliament at some level for the rhetoric of the deliberative passages in the Knight's Tale.(FN32) In fact, it is harder to imagine that he would not have modified and made relevant what would otherwise have been a strange trope to his contemporary audience, doing so by rewriting the councils of the gods in the language of his own age.
One way to attain a better grasp of the special effects of such language is to apply the political norms of premodern England to the Knight's Tale, that is, the conditions that determine who gets to say what to whom, who is privy to what is said, what is accepted as true and false, whose speech changes the perception of reality, and whose speech is suppressed as irrelevant. Conveniently, David Zaret has reconstructed several norms for English political discourse prior to the revolutionary era of 1640-1660: deference, patronage, secrecy, exclusion, and the belief that the opinion of the male aristocracy is inherently rational and that of everyone else inherently irrational.(FN33) The first norm I would like to draw attention to is deference in the act of petitioning, which was a special form of institutionalized speech in Ricardian England.
By Chaucer's time there had developed in parliament a formal process for presenting the king with "common petitions" as opposed to "private petitions" (i.e., petitions presented by the commons on behalf of a community or group rather than those of a single individual), but the act of petitioning the king was still marked by elaborate shows of humility and supplication.(FN34) The whole process of hearing petitions was based on a relationship of dominance and subordination that kept the king's subjects strictly dependent upon his grace. Nigel Saul has traced the increasing verbal displays of deference contained within petitions during Richard's reign, particularly the piling up of honorifics like "prince," "your majesty," and "your highness."(FN35) A case in point is the heading of the commons' petitions in the roll of the 1391 parliament:
A tres excellent et tres redoute et tres puissant Prince, et tres gracious signour, nostre seignour le Roi, supplient voz povres liges, communes de vostre roialme d'Engleterre, qe plese a vostre hautesse et roiale mageste, en ese et supportacioun de voz ditz communes, et en sustenance de voz bones loyes, graciousment granter les petitions souzescriptz. (iii.290)
To the most excellent and most redoubtable and most potent prince, and most gracious lord, our lord the king, your poor lieges the commons of your kingdom of England pray that it may please your highness and royal majesty, in ease and support of your said commons, and in sustenance of your good laws, graciously to grant the following petitions.
Theseus's solemn description in his address to the Athenian parliament of "Juppiter, the kyng,/That is prince and cause of alle thyng" (I 3035-36) strikes a similar chord. The effect of this new vocabulary of kingship was to elevate the status of the ruler by wrapping him in "mystique."(FN36)
Petitioning for remedy, and the subjugation it enacts, is an exercise that occurs over and over again in the Knight's Tale, from its very outset. The Argive widows prostrate themselves before Theseus and beg for "mercy" (I 950) in an attempt to move him to aid their cause against the tyrant Creon, who has passed a law against the burial of their fallen husbands. This opening scene, which along with the closing parliament frames the narrative as a test of the ability of chivalric governance to respond to civic crises, is shaped by parliamentary discourse. Quickly assuming his executive role as "governour" (I 861) of Athens, Theseus inquires whether their cause may be "amended" (I 910). The same term is used by chancellor de la Pole in his call for petitions at the October 1386 parliament for any grievances that have not been "amendez ne redressez" (iii.215) (amended nor redressed). Redoubling the opening scene of the Knight's Tale, in Part II Hippolyta, Emily, and the other ladies of Theseus's court beg for his "mercy" (I 1757) to spare the lives of Palamon and Arcite when he catches them dueling in the grove outside his palace in violation of the laws of judicial combat, as well as in violation of the terms of imprisonment and exile respectively imposed upon them. Subsequently, in Venus's temple Palamon begs the goddess to accept his "humble preyere" (I 2226) for possession of Emily. In Mars's temple Arcite prays for "routhe" upon his "sorwes soore" (I 2419). And, as we have seen, Emily pleads for Diana's "proteccioun" (I 2363) in her plight to remain unwed.
The Olympian council also employs the language of petitioning. Saturn's speech to Venus is prefaced by the narratorial remark that its purpose is to find a "remedie" (I 2452) for the strife between her and Mars. During Richard's reign the French term remede is used repeatedly by his chancellors in their opening speeches as part of a routine call for petitions for any matter that cannot be settled without the direct intervention of parliament. For instance, at the October 1378 parliament, the chancellor Richard, Lord Scrope, promised to provide "bone ordinance et due remede" (iii.33) (good ordinance and due remedy) in response to petitions. In the April 1379 parliament, Scrope likewise promised to address anything that had been done improperly or contrary to the law and that "ne poet mye estre remediez sanz parlement" (iii.56) (cannot be remedied without parliament). Scrope's successor, Sir Simon Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, gave as one of his reasons for convening the January 1380 parliament the redress "de greef ou tort... dont remede n'ad este encores purveuz, ne ne poet estre sanz parlement" (iii.71) (of any harm or injury... for which remedy had still not been provided and could not be so without parliament). Chaucer thus turns Saturn into a kind of medieval chancellor who must remedy an injury to the immortal body politic, so to speak, that the Olympian king Jove is incapable of healing on his own.
What all of the petitions by mortals have in common is excessive deference to authority, including physical abasement, particularly on the part of the women. The Argive widows "fillen gruff and criden pitously" (I 949) before Theseus. The ladies of Theseus's court fall down before him "on hir bare knees.../And wolde have kist his feet ther as he stood" (I 1758-59). As David Wallace has observed about this scene, "The women are represented as petitioners to Theseus in a way that images political subjection through physical abjection."(FN37) Palamon and Arcite, along with "every maner wight" of the court, go "doun on knees" (I 1875) and repeatedly thank Theseus after he commutes their sentence. Palamon later "kneleth" (I 2219) before Venus's statue to do his orisons. Emily cries "bittre teeris" (I 2327) during her prayer to Diana. Arcite's petition to Mars is the least abject, but, provided his prayer is answered, even he offers to cut off his long hair and beard, "That nevere yet ne felte offensioun/Of rasour nor of shere" (I 2416-17). The narrative thus aligns the act of petitioning Theseus as ruler of Athens with prayers to the gods as rulers of the cosmos, and in both situations excessive deference is required to speak need to power.
Theseus's patronage and the power he amasses through it are everywhere apparent in the narrative. This is certainly the case in his offer of Emily as the prize for the tournament between Palamon and Arcite, which makes his erstwhile enemies beholden to him and makes possible the eventual consolidation of Thebes under his aegis. But it is no more spectacularly so than in his construction of the unprecedented amphitheater for the tournament between Palamon and Arcite, adorned with exquisite statuary and elaborate murals. There is no artist or craftsman in the land whom
Theseus ne yaf him mete and wages
The theatre for to maken and devyse.
As a space in which the combat between Palamon and Arcite can be sanctioned and, in theory, controlled, the amphitheater serves as a metaphor for the establishment of order on a microcosmic level.(FN38) Theseus presides over his little world much like the austere "Juppiter, the kyng" (I 3035), whom he invites his subjects to imagine as setting his divine "ordinaunce" (I 3012) incontrovertibly over the universe. Indeed, shortly before the tournament, Chaucer describes Theseus publicly posing at a palace window "Arrayed right as he were a god in trone" (I 2529). He is further aggrandized when he leads a procession through "the citee large,/Hanged with clooth of gold" (I 2567-68) to the amphitheater, where he is placed "ful riche and hye" (I 2577) with the rest of his court seated below him "in degrees" (I 2579). After the tournament, he wraps up this impressive spectacle with a three-day feast complete with gift-giving according to each guest's "degree" (I 2735). His patronage is thus tied to a kind of theatrics of statecraft through which he projects an enthralling authority that magnifies his image, amplifies his speech, and reifies his sovereignty. His subjects respond accordingly by paying him "heigh reverence" and hearkening to "his heste and his sentence" (I 2531-32). It is worth mentioning that none of these scenes except for the feast is contained in the Teseida, where the amphitheatre pre-exists the tournament.
Saul writes of Richard's selective granting of lands and lordships in the 1380s to create a courtier party and, later in the 1390s, to form "a magnate-style affinity."(FN39) He also patronized the visual and plastic arts in order to convey "the reality and effectiveness of his power" and to bear "visible witness to wisdom."(FN40) In so doing, he was tapping into a trend in Western Europe in the late fourteenth-century towards an "'international' courtly culture" that promoted a "cult of the king as a figure in majesty."(FN41) This international court culture was cultivated through the building of great palaces, halls, and cathedrals; the commissioning of paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and objets d'art; and the staging of regality through expensive dress, civic processions, lavish gift-giving, crown-wearing, throne-sitting, and ever more elaborate tournaments and banquets. Outstanding examples of this "international" court culture were the households of Charles V in Paris, which Chaucer had the opportunity to visit on diplomatic missions, and of Richard's father-in-law, Emperor Charles IV, in Prague.(FN42)
As a squire in service at the royal court, Chaucer was no doubt aware of these cultural developments. He would, of course, become intensely aware of the connection between cultural patronage and royal power as Clerk of the King's Works during Richard's reign, in which capacity he supervised the construction of the lists for the tournament at Smithfield in 1390.(FN43) Like the tournament in the Knight's Tale, the 1390 tournament was preceded by an elaborate procession along city streets and featured a magnificent banquet at which the king sat enthroned in full regalia.(FN44) While it is tempting to see a direct connection between this tournament and the tale, it was probably completed before 1390.(FN45) But the 1390 tournament is just one of many occasions during Richard's reign for the "lustre that patronage" could "shed on his monarchy."(FN46) The king also hosted a major tournament at Smithfield in 1386. The procession accompanying the 1390 tournament is similar to the joyeuses entrées staged in Paris and London during the last quarter of the century. There were three such civic pageants in London around the time the Knight's Tale was written: July 1377, when the boy-king rode with a large company through London to Westminster to be crowned; January 1382, when Londoners met Queen Anne of Bohemia at Blackheath and escorted her through a series of pageants constructed to mark her progression through the city; and August 1392, when the resolution of a feud between Richard and the citizens of London was celebrated by a series of remarkable pageants presenting a celestial theme (one tableau featured angels in attendance upon the Almighty) following a route lined with cloth of gold along which Richard and Anne passed.(FN47) The remark about "the tempest" at Hippolyta's "hoom-comynge" (I 884) may be an allusion to Anne's joyeus entrée into the city in 1382, which was preceded by a storm at sea. I mention these events not because the tale is a snapshot of any one of them, but to illustrate the degree to which it captures the prevailing social norm of patronage and is even predictive of the court culture in which Chaucer worked. As cotextual constructs, literature and history are implicated in each other, yet neither can be reduced to the other.
According to Saul, the impetus for the new formality of the international court culture was a growing assertiveness among "the lower orders."(FN48) In response to popular movements such as the rising of the ciompi or wool-carders in Florence in 1378 due to oppressive working conditions, the Great Revolt of 1381 in England over restrictive labor laws and regressive poll taxes, and the Maillotin uprising (a riot of mallet-wielding laborers) in Paris in 1382 due to high taxation, rulers across Western Europe reaffirmed the old hierarchies and emphasized "people's obligation of obedience."(FN49) This was the theme of chancellor de la Pole's opening speech to the October 1383 parliament:
Et si avant come rebellion si estoit et est le sours et commencement de meschief et truboille deinz le roialme, si est areremain verroi obeissance au roi et ses ministres foundement de tut paix et quietee en mesme le roialme. (iii.150)
And just as rebellion was and is the source and instigator of trouble and misfortune in the kingdom, so, conversely, true obedience to the king and his ministers is the foundation of all peace and tranquility in the same.
Obedience is a key point of Theseus's speech at the Athenian parliament. After invoking Jupiter as "prince" (I 3036), he warns against being a "rebel... to hym that al may gye" (I 3046). Chaucer's concern for revolt against authority also surfaces in Saturn's speech, where "The murmure and the cherles rebellyng" (I 2459) -- one of only a handful of possible references in Chaucer's oeuvre to the Great Revolt -- is ascribed to the planet's "power" (I 2455). Theseus's speech, which is said to issue from "his wise brest" (I 2983; compare I 865), is meant to overcome the discordant power of Saturn by reasserting the "natural" order of things (Jupiter over Saturn, nobility over peasantry, order over disorder). It also would confirm the image of Thesean authority and wisdom fashioned throughout the rest of the tale. In short, Chaucer attempts to present Theseus's court as a fictional paradigm of the international court culture of late fourteenth-century Western Europe. Of course, the problem is that Theseus and the knighthood need the violence of Saturn to thrive, a realization that threatens to collapse the distance between him and Saturn and expose the ideological nature of his cultural program.
In regard to the political norm of secrecy, at the first parliament of Richard's reign (October 1377), the lords and prelates elected to the young king's council were summarily required to take an oath stipulating that "toute chose qe y doit estre tenuz en secret sanz descovrir, ne descovriront a aucun estrange, autrement qe nel doivent faire par reson" (iii.7) (all which ought to be kept secret without disclosure, should be disclosed to no other person without good reason).(FN50) Despite a limited right of "free speech" in the medieval English parliament, debate on public issues was strictly prohibited outside its halls. Consequently, a good deal of what took place at medieval parliaments is left out of the rolls, and the chronicles generally do not contain much additional information. An exception is the Anonimalle Chronicle's detailed account of the Good Parliament of 1376, which A. L. Brown takes as authoritative for reconstructing the routine proceedings of the institution during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.(FN51) According to the Anonimalle chronicler, the first thing the members of the commons did after gathering in the chapter house at Westminster Abbey was to take an oath to speak openly amongst each other but, otherwise, to keep their proceedings confidential:
Et en le dit secunde iour toutz les chivalers et communes avauntditz assemblerent et entrerent en chapiter et ses assis-trerent en viroune, chescune pres de autre; et comencerount de parlere de lour mater de les poyntes de le parlement, disoy-unt qe bone serroit al commencement destre iurrez chescune a autre de tener conseil ceo qe fuist parle et ordine entre eux et loialment treter et ordiner pur profit de la roialme saunz conselement. (80-81)(FN52)
And on the said second day all the knights and commons assembled and entered together into the chapter house and sat down in a circle, each next to the other; and they began to talk of their business in regard to the points of the parliament, saying that it would be good at the beginning to be sworn each to the other to keep secret what was spoken and ordained between them and to treat and ordain loyally for the profit of the realm without concealment.
While the discussions of the commons went unrecorded, the rolls do record their petitions, which from the time of the Good Parliament were presented in full session by one of their members elected as "speaker."(FN53) The lords met separately from the commons and never had an individual assigned to speak collectively for them, with the result that their discussions were even more covert than those of the commons.(FN54) Brown describes their meetings as a kind of inner sanctum where all the definitive business of parliament, with the exception of grants of taxation (which could only issue from the commons), took place behind closed doors.(FN55)
In his discussion of the development of the medieval English parliament, Brown ironically describes it as an example of the norm of political exclusion rather than inclusion:
'Counsel and consent' and sharing power are ideas with which our age sympathizes, but the medieval conception of them was not ours. Rights were based on property and status, not on egalitarianism. True, all men had rights, but in practice in the country as a whole, in the counties and the towns, the men whose voice counted in government were drawn from a restricted circle of substantial, propertied men numbering at most ten or twenty thousand.(FN56)
Even among this privileged group, it was the opinion of the forty or so lay lords that regularly attended sessions that "'mattered' most in parliament."(FN57) In fact, when both houses met together, only the lords were seated "in their respective grades." The commons were left "presumably standing."(FN58) There was also "a great deal of evidence of social division" between the county knights and burgesses who comprised the commons. No burgess was ever elected speaker during the Middle Ages, for instance.(FN59) Despite increasing assertiveness by the commons on determining conditions for the granting of taxes, the overall impression of parliament during our period is of an assembly in which "in practice it must have been difficult to refuse support for policies recommended by the king and the lords who had often discussed them earlier in great councils."(FN60)
The "parlement/At Atthenes" (I 2970-71) with which the Knight's Tale ends is a dramatic instance of the political pageantry that went into manufacturing consent through an assembly that was, in fact, based upon extreme secrecy and exclusionary privilege. Theseus convenes the parliament in order to arrange an "alliaunce" (I 2973) between Athens and Thebes and thereby obtain the latter's "obeisaunce" (I 2974). His key strategy for the alliance is the marriage of Emily to Palamon, yet he informs neither of his plans prior to the parliament. It is also worth noting that while Chaucer's narrator mentions the presence of "every lord and burgeys" (IV, 345) at the Trojan parliament in Troilus and Criseyde (a text written around the same time as the Knight's Tale), the Knight mentions the presence of only Theseus's "conseil and the baronage" (I 3096) at the Athenian parliament. Clearly, in the Knight's eyes, it is their opinion that truly counts.
While Emily is physically present at the parliament, she never speaks. Theseus's speech elides her response to the proposed marriage alliance.(FN61) There is no record of her voice at the parliament precisely because her marriage is a fait accompli, having been prearranged:
"Suster," quod [Theseus], "this is my fulle assent,
With al th'avys heere of my parlement,
That gentil Palamon, youre owene knyght,
That serveth yow with wille, herte, and myght,
And ever hath doon syn ye first hym knewe,
That ye shul of youre grace upon hym rewe,
And taken hym for housbonde and for lord.
Lene me your hond, for this is oure accord.
Lat se now of youre wommanly pitee."
If Theseus received actual and not merely symbolic "avys" on the marriage alliance, it must have taken place off the page, presumably in a meeting with his "conseil" and "baronage" prior to the plenary session of parliament, since no one else speaks either before or after him.(FN62) A similar dynamic occurs when Theseus pronounces judgment on Palamon and Arcite back at the grove: "My wyl is this, for plat conclusioun,/Withouten any repplicacioun" (I 1845-46).(FN63) This line is echoed when Chaucer describes the Athenian Parliament as the occasion when Theseus "seyde his wille" (I 2986). Theseus's speech is totalizing: it forecloses dialogue. As such, like the marriage arrangement itself, Emily's response to Theseus's will has been predetermined. Her subject position is to show men pity, and only while showing pity is she allowed any voice at all.
The scenario that unfolds in the Athenian parliament is strikingly similar to the Olympian council, where Emily's position goes entirely unrepresented, unlike that of Palamon and Arcite, who have powerful divine advocates. Back at the grove, Theseus had claimed to "speke as for my suster Emelye" (I 1833) when offering her to the knights as the tournament prize. He does the same thing in the parliament. In sum, the Olympian council is not far removed from chivalric governance in the tale. It is Theseus, the "god in trone" (I 2529), who repeatedly makes the decisions about Emily's future in a manner no more open to debate than the mystified pronouncements of the Olympians, who leave Emily to wonder futilely "What amounteth this, allas?" (I 2362), after Diana has refused to reveal anything about the deliberations of the gods to her except their command that she must marry.(FN64) The Miller, who announces in the prologue to his tale that he will "quite the Knyghtes tale" (I 3127), mocks the Thesean claim to esoteric knowledge by creating a character in Nicholas who manipulates his inferiors by deciding when he will and "wol nat tellen Goddes pryvetee" (I 3558). In the end, he is comically undone, but in the somber world of the Knight's Tale, there is no fabliau justice. Theseus is empowered to command Emily to marry Palamon, and she is not allowed to question him any more than she can question Diana.
As David Aers points out, Theseus could have followed the lead of Nature in the Parliament of Fowls and allowed Emily to choose which knight she would prefer to marry.(FN65) The archetypal mediator and agent of earthly peace, Nature grants the formel "eleccioun" to choose "whom hire lest" (621-22) in marriage. The formel is empowered to assert her prerogative "to avise" herself and to have her "choys al fre" (648-49), rather than being forced by parliament to marry one of the tercel eagles against her will. But for Theseus, allowing Emily free choice in the matter instead of holding the tournament would have been to preempt his own dominion, as well as to shun the militarism on which chivalric culture was based. Rather than allowing for the participation of his subjects in governance, "Thesian polity," in the words of David Wallace, consists of "one-man rule... without benefit of queenly or wifely counsel."(FN66)
As Margaret Schlauch has observed, in medieval English political discourse a tyrant was a lord who pursued his private good in derogation of the law and, therefore, to the detriment of the common good.(FN67) Significantly, "the primary mechanism which assured that the medieval monarch behaved in accordance with the law was his feudal obligation to seek the consent of his vassals prior to undertaking any novel or important action."(FN68) This consent is precisely what Theseus obtains by convening his parliament. Marriages were commonly arranged in Chaucer's time, and, in fact, he participated in at least one diplomatic mission to arrange a marriage for Richard II.(FN69) On the surface, there is nothing awry in regard to Theseus's actions in the narrative. It is unlikely Chaucer's historical audience would have regarded him as a tyrant.(FN70) Some Chaucerians even consider him to be the ideal medieval ruler, a philosopher-king who progressively turns away from violence towards diplomacy to solve civil problems.(FN71) However, due to feminist and postmodern readings of Chaucer, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that the Knight's Tale makes us uncomfortably aware of Emily's secret desire not to marry. In other words, we can no longer ignore her virtual exclusion from the assembly. She is the absent center of its proceedings.
The final political norm that I will apply to the Knight's Tale is that of the proportionality between rank and rationality. In Alexander Murray's interdisciplinary study of the spread of rationalism in the European Middle Ages, he observes the prevalence in the fourteenth century of the literary trope of the "foolish" peasant, which is especially marked in the early Italian humanism of Petrarch: "Petrarch uses with great regularity a figure of speech which contrasts the 'wise' -- who are 'rare' or 'few', with the volgar gente, turba, or vulgus."(FN72) Murray notes that European humanism was a movement spawned by a new class of intellectuals -- largely bourgeois, secular, and legal/administrative -- who sought to legitimate their emerging status by distancing themselves from the masses. As Derek Brewer has pointed out, Chaucer was just such a "new man."(FN73) Chaucer captures the tone of early humanist antipopulism in the Clerk's Tale in the apostrophe to the "stormy peple! Unsad and evere untrewe!" (IV 995), spoken by certain "sadde folk" in the "citee" (IV 1002), who complain that public opinion is arbitrary, undependable, and inconstant, when the subjects of the tyrannical ruler Walter abandon their loyalty to his saintly wife Griselda -- whom he has claimed to have divorced -- upon seeing how beautiful his new bride-to-be is.(FN74) It is no coincidence that the Clerk's Tale is adapted from Petrarch's version of the Griselda story.(FN75) Murray also observes that in the Middle Ages rationality was bound up with moral valuation.(FN76) Regarded as more than just an intellectual activity, rationality was considered to be the basis of virtuous or reasonable (i.e., moderate, prudent) conduct. The moral dimension of rationality is the basis behind Chaucer's comment that Walter is able to discern Griselda's virtue beneath her common appearance, in contrast to "the peple," who are described as having "no greet insight/In vertu" (IV 242-43).
Likewise, whereas Chaucer is quick to associate the common people or "cherles" with "murmure" (I 2459) in the Knight's Tale, he associates Theseus with the voice of reason. As we have seen, he is described as speaking from "his wise brest" (I 2983) at the Athenian parliament. And Chaucer credits him with following his "resoun" (I 1766) rather than "ire" (I 1765) when he commutes the sentence of Palamon and Arcite. Only when the vox populi is in the service of power is it allowed to sound enlightened. When Theseus modifies the rules of the tournament to eliminate mortal combat, he predictably receives unanimous praise from the masses:
The voys of peple touchede the hevene,
So loude cride they with murie stevene,
"God save swich a lord, that is so good
He wilneth no destruccion of blood!"
Despite the valorization of Theseus as the voice of reason, the murals in the temples of Venus and Mars he has had built into the amphitheatre depict the two great cultural productions of European knighthood -- love and war -- as dangerously irrational activities. In a passage reminiscent of the Ovidian elegies, love is portrayed as beyond rational control. After describing a catalogue of the passions of love ("Plesaunce and Hope, Desir, Foolhardynesse" [I 1925], etc.), Chaucer declares:
Thus may ye seen that wysdom ne richesse,
Beautee ne sleighte, strengthe ne hardynesse,
Ne may with Venus holde champartie,
For as hir list the world than may she gye.
The "derke ymaginyng" (I 1995) of war is even more graphic than the pictorial throes of love, though it is linked to the latter by a painting representing all those "Who shal be slayn or elles deed for love" (I 2038). The murals in the temple of Mars depict the very emotion Theseus ostensibly has mastered -- "[t]he crueel Ire" (I 1997) -- as well as images that recall his conquests of Scythia and Thebes: "The open werre, with woundes al bibledde" (I 2002); "A thousand slayn, and nat of qualm ystorve" (I 2014); "The toun destroyed, ther was no thyng laft" (I 2016). At the outset of the narrative, Chaucer repeatedly calls Theseus "a conquerour" (I 862, 916, 981, 998, 1027). In the midst of the large white banner his troops carry into battle is "The rede statue of Mars, with spere and targe" (I 975). The climactic image of the murals in the temple of Mars is, then, a metonymy for Theseus himself:
Saugh I Conquest, sittynge in greet honour,
With the sharpe swerd over his heed
Hangynge by a soutil twynes threed.
The temple scenes depict the ruling class as subjugated by its twin discourses of love and war. Against the portrayal of the supremely rational Theseus, Chaucer sets the destructive figure of Conquest dangling by the thread of its own demise.
Despite the initial grandeur of Theseus's Boethian vision of the return of all created things in a perfect progression to their source in divine love, his parliamentary speech is an exercise in realpolitik. He wants to expand the Athenian state, and in order to do so, he must establish the authority of positive law -- that is, his unquestioned authority -- by invoking a hierarchical conception of natural law. Conveniently, the lesson to be gleaned from the cosmic order of things is that the only apparent alternative to monarchical authority is social rebellion. His imperious tone belies the narrative's fairy-tale ending, in which there is perfect harmony between Theseus's council and baronage, as well as between Emily and Palamon. Closer to the real conditions of political crisis and civil war in Ricardian England -- which in the 1380s included a royalist plot on the life of Chaucer's patron, John of Gaunt; the aforementioned impeachment of chancellor de la Pole; and the capital conviction of no less than seventeen household ministers at the Merciless Parliament (several of whom were personal acquaintances of Chaucer) -- is the specter of "The derke tresons, and the castes olde" (I 2468) raised in Saturn's speech.(FN77) The image of a palace revolt conjured by Saturn is particularly appropriate since the occasion of his address is the virulent debate between Venus and Mars, which mirrors the nearly fratricidal romantic rivalry between Palamon and Arcite, which in turn channels the dynastic rivalry between Polynices and Eteocles in the Thebaid. That romantic rivalry in the narrative is different only in degree but not in kind from dynastic rivalry is neatly summed up in Arcite's quip to his former blood brother after they realize they are both in love with Emily:
"And therfore, at the kynges court, my brother,
Ech man for hymself, ther is noon oother."
The disjunction between Theseus's vision of cosmic harmony and the unruliness of the Olympian council is revealing. As we have seen, Jupiter is merely a figurehead at the Olympian council, not the sovereign architect of cosmic order Theseus posits. It is left up to the Machiavel Saturn to broker a deal. The gap between what actually happens at the Olympian council and what Theseus envisions in his speech cannot be covered over at the end of the Knight's Tale. The resulting dramatic irony exposes chivalric governance as an unstable institution that relies on official discourse and other ideological productions (like the theatrics of the tournament) to project an image of perfect rational control concealing the sectarian violence at the heart of chivalry.(FN78) After all, Theseus has engineered the marriage alliance through the violence of the tournament -- a master stroke of political pageantry -- and his earlier and brutal sacking of Thebes.
In the quasi-public space of Theseus's court, decisions appear to be based on orderly deliberations in a participatory forum whose outcomes seem reasonable, equitable, and mutually beneficial to the common good of the state. But the Olympian council has a disenchanting effect on the outcome of the Knight's Tale, for the metasocial guarantees of the Thesean vision -- which depicts temporal governance as a reflection of a harmonious, stable, and perfectly rational cosmos presided over by the benevolent reign of "Juppiter the kyng" -- turn out to be fictional in light of the gods' consult, where Jupiter is but a feckless figurehead of a factious and malevolent assembly. In the parallel realm of Jupiter's court, as portrayed by Chaucer, justice is executed on the basis of expediency within an exclusive forum whose deliberations are secret and whose grant is arbitrary -- the outcome of casuistry in response to special pleading by powerful interests to whom extreme deference must be paid. Moreover, although Theseus attempts to channel military force as a valid and civilizing means of governance (when he defends the Argive widows and modifies the rules of combat to prevent fatalities), the Olympian council reminds us that raw violence is an inevitable and even desirable technique of chivalric power. Saturn, the real power broker at Jupiter's court, relishes his role in arranging for the death of Arcite as the means of settling the feud between Venus and Mars, who are represented as dual aspects of the chivalric impulse for conquest in the lurid murals of their temples. Thus, over the course of the narrative, a gap between the ideals and norms operating within the Thesean polity opens. In this respect, the setpiece of the divine council is similar in its capacity to the nightmarish temple scenes of love and war, which function as a kind of cultural unconscious, exposing the ideals of chivalry to the destructive reality of its practices.(FN79)
As I have endeavored to demonstrate, parliamentary discourse is the rhetorical interface between chivalric governance as practiced at the Ricardian court and the scenes of divine and human council in the Knight's Tale. While eschewing political allegory, Chaucer reflects on the political norms of late fourteenth-century England by employing parliamentary terminology and the deliberative model of the English parliament in the parallel spheres of heavenly and earthly councils depicted in the narrative. Chaucer, it seems, held an ambivalent attitude toward those norms, perpetuating them even as he exposed their ideological nature. The fact that he was a non-noble at the Ricardian court in an atmosphere of intense factionalism may account for his sensitivity to Emily's plight and his penchant for exploring the dark underside of chivalric governance.(FN80) Chaucer would further explore the tension between the standards and actual practices of the aristocracy, as well as the social norms of speech, through the guise of the Wife of Bath. In her prologue the Wife is audaciously empowered to reject male counsel: "Men may conseille a womman.../But conseillyng is no comande-ment" (III 66-67); and in her tale the old woman gives the rapist-knight a pillow lecture on the true nature of gentilesse.(FN81) It strikes me that the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale was precisely the type of reply Theseus was trying to suppress.
Marc S. Guidry
Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, Texas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. All Chaucer citations are from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987).
2. For instance, see Bernard Jefferson, Chaucer and the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius (Princeton, 1917), 69-71; R. M. Lumiansky, "Chaucer's Philosophical Knight," Tulane Studies in English 3 (1952): 47-68, at 52-53; Patricia M. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry, 2 vols. (London, 1972), 2:12-13; A. Kent Hieatt, Chaucer, Spenser, Milton: Mythopoeic Continuities and Transformations (Montreal, 1975), 38-39; Elizabeth Salter, Chaucer: The "Knight's Tale" and The "Clerk's Tale" (London, 1962), 150-51; A. C. Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry (Cambridge, U.K., 1985), 48-49; Derek Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales (London, 1985), 121-23; and Helen Cooper, Oxford Guides to Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1996), 70.
3. See the MED, s.v. parlement, 1c; and s.v. graunt, 2c.
4. David Aers has stated that Theseus's rhetoric "transforms the Consolation of Philosophy into a Consolation of Political Authority" (Chaucer [Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1986], 30).
5. Mason Hammond surveys the "council of the gods" topos in all of these works ("Concilia Deorum from Homer through Milton," Studies in Philology 30 : 1-17). Thomas Greene's breakdown of classical epic into two basic types of scenes -- executive (action scenes, especially involving warfare) and deliberative (dialogue, including both divine and human councils) -- is still pertinent (The Descent from Heaven: A Study in Epic Continuity [New Haven, 1963], 19-22). William Dominik has done a detailed analysis of the concilia deorum topos in the Thebaid (The Mythic Voice of Statius: Power and Politics in the Thebaid [Leiden, 1994], esp. 3-22). D. C. Feeney makes a useful comparison between the divine councils in Book I of the Thebaid and Book I of the Metamorphoses (The Gods in Epic [Oxford, 1991], 199-200, 353-59).
6. In the updated Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, William Coleman places the Thebaid among Chaucer's main sources for KnT and states that Chaucer also had the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses in his "mind's eye, if not also on his desk" (Robert Correale and Mary Hamel, eds., Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, 2 vols. [Cambridge, U.K., 2002, 2005], 2:87). For Chaucer's appropriation of the Thebaid in KnT, see David Anderson, Before the Knight's Tale: Imitation of Classical Epic in Boccaccio's Teseida (Philadelphia, 1988). See also Robert Hanning, "'The Struggle between Noble Designs and Chaos': The Literary Tradition of Chaucer's Knight's Tale," Literary Review 23 (1980): 519-41. Although Chaucer does not refer directly to the divine assembly in Book I of the Metamorphoses, he draws repeatedly on Ovid's text for his characterizations of the gods in KnT, particularly in the temple scenes (Richard L. Hoffman, Ovid and the Canterbury Tales [Philadelphia, 1966], 39-113). Chaucer's knowledge of the Aeneid is evident in HF and LGW as discussed by Christopher Baswell (Virgil in Medieval England: Figuring the Aeneid from the Twelfth Century to Chaucer [Cambridge, U.K., 1995], 220-69). I discuss the Aeneid's possible influence on Saturn's speech below.
7. Anderson, Before the Knight's Tale, 199. Likewise, W. Coleman states that "Chaucer used the Thebaid 'through' the Teseida" (2:134). And Dominique Battles states that Chaucer "recuperates much of the pagan flavor of Statius' Thebaid" (The Medieval Tradition of Thebes: History and Narrative in the Old French Roman de Thèbes, Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Lydgate [New York, 2004], 114).
8. Several manuscripts of CT include a motto at the beginning of KnT drawn directly from Book XII of the Thebaid, which refers to Theseus's return from Scithia to his native Athens: "Iamque domos patrias, Scithice post aspera gentis prelia, laurigero, Etc." See The Riverside Chaucer, 37, and Vincent J. DiMarco's explanatory note to KnT, Part I (828).
9. All citations of the Thebaid are from Statius, 3 vols., ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, Mass., 2003). The Latin text is cited by book and line number; Bailey's English translation is cited by volume and page number. For verbal echoes of the Thebaid in KnT, see Boyd Wise, The Influence of Statius upon Chaucer (1911; repr., New York, 1967), 46-54.
10. Anderson, Before the Knight's Tale, 148.
11. Alistair J. Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity (Cambridge, U.K., 1982), 139. Minnis's purpose, however, is not to trace the classical locus of Saturn's speech, but to analyze it as a medieval allegory of the pagan gods.
12. Winthrop Wetherbee, Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, U.K., 2004), 40. The citation of the Aeneid is from Virgil, 2 vols., ed. and trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, 2nd edn. (London, 1947). The Latin text is cited by book and line number; the English translation is cited by volume and page number. HF 212-18 directly cite this scene from Virgil.
13. Greene, The Descent from Heaven, 22.
14. Peter Toohey, Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives (London, 1992), 187.
15. Gilbert Highet, The Speeches in Vergil's Aeneid (Princeton, 1972); William J. Dominik, Speech and Rhetoric in Statius' Thebaid (Hildesheim, 1994).
16. Dominik, Speech and Rhetoric in Statius' Thebaid, 74.
17. Highet, The Speeches in Vergil's Aeneid, 51.
18. Dominik, Speech and Rhetoric in Statius' Thebaid, 76.
19. See MED, s.v. atre-den, "[Cp. re-den to counsel.] To surpass in counsel, outwit."
20. For a discussion of Chaucer's "conciseness and tightness of structure" in KnT, see Cooper, The Canterbury Tales, 64-68, 73-76. Chaucer uses a truncated version of another epic device, the descent of the celestial messenger to exhort a human figure to action, at I 1381-98, where Mercury appears to the exiled Arcite in a dream to urge him to return from Thebes to Athens in order to be near Emily. Like Saturn's speech, this passage is original with Chaucer's text. His use of the device is relatively brief, but it has been compared to full-blown celestial descents of Mercury in the Metamorphoses and the Aeneid, as well as to the nighttime visit of the shade of Laius to his grandson Eteocles in the Thebaid. See Hoffman, Ovid and the Canterbury Tales, 61-63; W. Bryant Bachman, "Mercury, Virgil, and Arcite: Canterbury Tales, A 1384-1397," English Language Notes 13 (1976): 168-73; and Ann M. Taylor, "Epic Descent in the Knight's Tale," Classical Folia 30 (1976): 40-56.
21. Boccaccio borrows the machinery of the Fury for Arcita's death in the Teseida. See Il Teseida in Vol. 2 of Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, gen. ed. Vittorio Branca, 12 vols. (Milan, 1964), IX.4. All citations of the Teseida are from this edition. Chaucer's use of the Fury is another example, following Anderson's argument, of his appropriation of the Thebaid -- like elements of the Teseida in KnT.
22. In regard to the derivation of the divine council in KnT, an observation by Wise is apt: "Not a few of Chaucer's allusions which lack the telling phrase that points to the original, might have been taken equally well from Statius, Ovid, or Virgil" (The Influence of Statius upon Chaucer, 2). But in regard to the effect produced by Saturn's speech, I agree with Hanning that KnT uncannily reproduces Statius' "pessimistic vision" of "the death and destruction which fate and the gods have rained down on Thebes throughout the epic" ("The Struggle," 523).
23. Cooper, The Canterbury Tales, 78.
24. Feeney credits Statius for his innovation in transforming Jupiter from Virgil's majestic otherworldly adjudicator into a flawed and nearly "human emperor." In the Thebaid, "the Olympians must surrender their claims to moral authority" (The Gods in Epic, 355, 357). Kathleen Coleman has registered the positive reassessment of the Thebaid in the late twentieth century as a work that, far from being derivative of the Aeneid, "deepens" our understanding of Virgil's "grim subtext" by infusing epic "with something of the tenor of Euripidean tragedy" and "exploring the savage irrationality of war" ("Recent Scholarship on the Thebaid and Achilleid: An Overview," in Bailey, ed., Statius, 1:9-37, esp. 18).
25. Similarly, Hanning argues that neither Theseus nor the Knight himself can escape the shadow of Saturn, as the narrative ultimately "supports a dark view of life as a succession of equally brutal operations of imprisonment and release performed upon humanity by an indifferent or hostile universe" ("The Struggle," 538). Ann Astell also aligns Theseus with Saturn as counterparts who take counsel and mediate disputes on parallel levels. Although she does not find Saturnian/Thesean justice to be disproportionately cruel, she does acknowledge a certain malignancy behind the figure of Saturn (Chaucer and the Universe of Learning [Ithaca, 1996], 102-5).
26. These are the only sources W. Coleman adduces for these passages (Correale and Hamel, eds., Sources and Analogues, 2:127).
27. Both the Anglo-Norman text and the accompanying modern English translation are from The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, CD-ROM (Scholarly Digital Editions), gen. ed. Chris Given-Wilson (Kew, Richmond, Surrey, 2005). The CD-ROM conveniently follows the same division by volume and page number used in the standard edition of the parliament rolls: J. Strachey, ed., Rotuli Parliamentorum (London, 1783). All citations of the parliament rolls are from the Given-Wilson digital edition. For a discussion of the fourteenth-century English parliament as a "court of record," see A. L. Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England: 1272-1461 (London, 1989), 174-76.
28. Martin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records (Oxford, 1966), 364-69.
29. William Wykeham had been excluded from the general pardon at the previous parliament by Edward III's ministers as punishment for participating in the trial of Edward's chamberlain, Lord Latimer. A general pardon was an act of royal clemency for all but a few specified offenses available to the better-off in exchange for a fixed fine in chancery (Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England, 138-39).
30. For an example of this kind of reading of KnT, see Peter Brown and Andrew Butcher, The Age of Saturn (Oxford, 1991), 205-39. In particular, they read KnT as allegorizing the Merciless Parliament of 1388 and the Hilary Parliament of 1397, and they align Palamon with Richard II, Arcite with Richard's uncle and bitter rival Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, and Theseus with Richard's eldest uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
31. However, Derek Brewer has made a list of words with "a Parliamentary flavour" found in PF, including "statute," "ordenaunce," "delyvered," "presente," "accepteth," "common profit," and "remedie," the last of which I treat at length below in regard to Saturn's speech at the Olympian council (The Parlement of Foulys, ed. Derek Brewer [Manchester, 1960], 37-38, and 119, note for lines 387 and 390).
32. Four of the chamber knights known to be acquaintances of Chaucer were frequent attendees at the standing king's council in the 1380s: Sir John Clanvowe, Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir William Neville, and Sir Richard Stury. For Chaucer's literary circle in the 1380s, see Paul Strohm, Social Chaucer (Cambridge, Mass., 1989), 41-46; and Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography (Oxford, 1992), 181-85. On the chamber knights' attendance at the king's council, see James F. Baldwin, The King's Council in England during the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1913), 489-504. A fluid body that is not easily defined, the king's council (concilium regis) was essentially a fixed curia consisting mainly of the king and his courtiers (household officers like the chancellor, treasurer, and keeper of the privy seal and civil servants like the chamber knights) that exercised executive, judicial, and legislative functions as needed. Reinforced sessions of the king's council attended by the magnates and prelates were called meetings of the "great council" (magnum concilium). Over time, plenary sessions of the council became known as parliaments, which included shire knights and burgesses (theoretically, all the estates of the realm) mainly for the purpose of levying taxes. A statement in the late thirteenth-century legal digest Fleta is instructive regarding the interrelatedness of these three tribunals: "habet enim Rex curiam in concilio suo in parliamentis suis" (for the king has his court in his council in his parliaments) (H. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayles, eds. and trans., Fleta, Selden Society Annual Series, Vol. 72 [London, 1955], II.109).
33. David Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England (Princeton, 2000), 20-43.
34. For the distinction between common and private petitions, see Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England, 167-69, 173, and 215-24.
35. See Nigel Saul, "Richard II and the Vocabulary of Kingship," English Historical Review 110 (1995): 854-77. In his biography of Richard II, Saul states that "Richard's insistence on deference appears to have been exceptional even by the standards of his age" (Richard II [New Haven, 1997], 339).
36. Saul, Richard II, 341.
37. David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford, 1997), 116.
38. V. A. Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative (Stanford, 1984), 112.
39. Saul, Richard II, 129, 268.
40. Saul, Richard II, 354-55.
41. Saul, Richard II, 346.
42. Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 44-53.
43. Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 402-76.
44. Saul, Richard II, 340.
45. The Riverside Chaucer places the composition of KnT in the mid-to late-1380s (DiMarco, 826-27). Pearsall argues for a date of composition around 1382 (The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 151). D. W. Robertson places the date of composition around 1394 ("The Probable Date and Purpose of Chaucer's Knight's Tale," Studies in Philology 84 : 418-39). Paul Olson assumes a late date, relating the narrative to the Anglo-French peace movement of the mid-1390s ("Chaucer's Epic Statement and the Political Milieu of the Late Fourteenth Century," Mediaevalia 5 : 61-87).
46. Saul, Richard II, 453.
47. See G. Kipling, "Richard II's 'Sumptuous Pageants' and the Idea of the Civic Triumph," in D. M. Bergeron, ed., Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theatre (Athens, Ga., 1986), 83-103.
48. Saul, Richard II, 345.
49. Saul, Richard II, 345.
50. The tradition of the royal counselors' oath of secrecy dates back to 1257. For a discussion of the "Councillor's Oath," see Baldwin, The King's Council, 345-54.
51. "The historian must search the formal statements and documents on the rolls for snippets of information to reconstruct the life of parliament. Chronicles often mention parliament but generally too briefly to be of much additional help; the exception is the Anonimalle Chronicle... This opens a door into the commons and lords" (A. L. Brown, "Parliament, 1377-1422," in R. G. Davies and J. H. Denton, eds., The English Parliament in the Middle Ages [Manchester, U.K., 1981], 109-40, at 110).
52. V. H. Galbraith, ed., The Anonimalle Chronicle (Manchester, U.K., 1970), 80-81. The English translation is my own.
53. The shire knight, Sir Peter de la Mare, was designated as the speaker of the Good Parliament. The identity of the speaker "is known in six of the next seven parliaments, and, after a gap, the list is almost complete after 1397" (Brown, "Parliament, 1377-1422," 129).
54. In the parliaments held at Westminster, the lords met in the White Chamber and the commons in the Painted Chamber (Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England, 212). Zaret notes that only during Elizabeth I's reign did parliamentary speeches and proceedings begin to be copied in larger quantities than any other kind of scribally published text, and only in 1626 did parliament set the precedent of a formal newsletter giving full accounts of major speeches (Origins of Democratic Culture, 44).
55. Brown, "Parliament, 1377-1422," 124.
56. Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England, 159.
57. Brown, "Parliament, 1377-1422," 117 (compare 132).
58. Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England, 212-13.
59. Brown, "Parliament, 1377-1422," 120-21.
60. Brown, "Parliament, 1377-1422," 133.
61. The Knight also erases the "regne of Femenye" (I 866) from the tale when he recounts how Theseus conquered the Amazonian queen Hippolyta (Mark Sherman, "The Politics of Discourse in Chaucer's Knight's Tale," Exemplaria 6 : 87-114, at 89).
62. The Athenian Parliament can be contrasted with the "parlement" that opens the Alliterative Morte Arthure, in which several knights as well as King Arthur make long speeches in regard to the issue of whether to go to war against the Roman emperor Lucius (Alliterative Morte Arthure, in King Arthur's Death, ed. Larry D. Benson [Indianapolis, 1974], lines 243-406).
63. Jesse Gellrich focuses on this line as a prime example of Theseus's use of oral strategies to gain complete political authority over others ("'Withouten Any Repplicacioun': Discourse and Dominion in the Knight's Tale," in his Discourse and Dominion in the Fourteenth Century: Oral Contexts of Writing in Philosophy, Politics, and Poetry [Princeton, 1995], 227-72).
64. Helen Cooper has analyzed the way Chaucer revises the epic convention of the celestial descent of the divine messenger in regard to the story of Aeneas's abandonment of Dido in HF and LGW in a manner sympathetic to his female character. He rejects Virgil's explanation of Aeneas's motivation in the Aeneid, where Mercury sternly summons him to fulfill his divinely ordained destiny to found the future Rome, for Ovid's version in the Heroides, which re-envisions the situation from Dido's perspective as male betrayal. Cooper calls Mercury's instructions to Aeneas "a self-serving male excuse for infidelity" and claims "Chaucer is unquestionably on the side of Ovid, and Dido" ("The Classical Background," in Steve Ellis, ed., Chaucer: An Oxford Guide [Oxford, 2005], 266). Interestingly, when Mercury appears in the exiled Arcite's dreams to rouse him to return to Athens to be near Emily (a scene discussed above), there is no sense that the human will triumphs by conforming itself to a grand and divinely ordained destiny, just the impression of an emotionally distraught young man whose dreams mirror his own self-absorbed desire. Diana's descent to Emily is no more ennobling or credible than Mercury's shadowy apparition to Arcite.
65. Aers, Chaucer, 28.
66. Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 107.
67. Margaret Schlauch, "Chaucer's Doctrine of Kings and Tyrants," Speculum 20 (1945): 133-56, at 134.
68. Cary Nederman and Kate Langdon Forhan, Medieval Political Theory -- A Reader: The Quest for the Body Politic, 1100-1400 (London, 1993), 13.
69. Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 49.
70. For the contrary perspective, see Terry Jones, Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (Baton Rouge, La., 1980), 192-21.
71. John Reidy summarizes several readings of Theseus as a type of philosopher-king and presents a modified version of this thesis ("The Education of Chaucer's Duke Theseus," in Harald Scholler, ed., The Epic in Medieval Society: Aesthetic and Moral Values [Tübingen, 1977], 391-408).
72. Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978), 240-44.
73. Derek Brewer, "Class Distinction in Chaucer," Speculum 43 (1968): 290-305, at 304. For other discussions of Chaucer as an early humanist, see Anne Middleton, "Chaucer's 'New Men' and the Good of Literature in the Canterbury Tales," in Edward Said, ed., Literature and Society: Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1978 (Baltimore, 1980), 15-56; Janet Coleman, "English Culture in the Fourteenth Century," in Piero Boitani, ed., Chaucer and the Italian Trecento (Cambridge, U.K., 1983), 33-64; and John H. Fisher, "The New Humanism and Geoffrey Chaucer," Soundings 80 (1997): 23-39.
74. Antipopulism is also expressed in Mel, which Chaucer appears to have translated from Latin into English for Richard II's court precisely as part of his role as humanist educator. Prudence, Chaucer's ideal counselor, instructs the ruling class to avoid "conseils that been at congregaciouns and multitudes of folk," which are given over to "fooles," and, instead, seek out the "wise men" of the realm for counsel (VII 1258-59). The author of the anonymous early fifteenth-century political complaint poem Mum and the Sothsegger (appended to Richard the Redeless) advocates on behalf of the gentry for the importance of advising the king but denies that privilege to laborers, derisively referring to them as the "unwise people" (line 1463) who incessantly "clappeth" (James M. Dean, ed., Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger [Kalamazoo, Michigan, 2000], 127 [line 1469]). Even Langland, unique among Ricardian poets for placing a peasant in the role of national hero, discounted the possibility of popular sovereignty. In the fable of the Rat Parliament in Piers Plowman, a "mous þat moche good couthe" (C.Prol.196) asserts that if the mice (who personify the commons) were freed from monarchical authority, they would only waste the kingdom's resources: "For many mannys malt we muys wolde distruye" (C.Prol.213; Derek Pearsall, ed., Piers Plowman by William Langland: An Edition of the C-Text [Berkeley, 1978]). The Rat Parliament appears to be a satire of the Good Parliament of 1376, at which the commons elected their first ever "Speaker" (as discussed above).
75. However, David Wallace argues that Chaucer ultimately reverses the direction of Petrarchan humanism by translating Petrarch's elitist Latin version into the vernacular and rejecting the tyrannical regime of Walter ("'Whan She Translated Was': A Chaucerian Critique of the Petrarchan Academy," in Lee Patterson, ed., Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain: 1380-1530 [Berkeley, 1990], 156-215). Along the same lines, Susan Yager has keenly observed, "Walter has done much to create the 'stormy peple'... Over the course of the Clerk's Tale, peple shifts in meaning, largely by means of Walter's own words and actions, from a neutral term depicting Walter's subjects to a term encompassing sightseers, gossips, and the 'rude' and 'unsad'" ("Chaucer's Peple and Folk," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 100 : 211-23, at 222).
76. Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages, 7.
77. For the plot against Gaunt and the convictions of the Merciless Parliament, see Saul, Richard II, 131-34, 191-94. For Chaucer's acquaintance to the executed ministers and his survival of the factionalist politics of Richard's reign, see Strohm, Social Chaucer, 24-46. Chaucer knew at least seven of the men condemned at the Merciless Parliament: the chamber knights Sir Simon Burley, Sir John Beauchamp, Sir James Berners, and Sir John Salisbury; Chief Justice Robert Tresilian; Thomas Usk, under-sheriff of Middlesex; and John Blake, a royal sergeant-at-law. Burley was subchamberlain when Chaucer was an esquire in the royal household and was constable of Dover Castle, making him Chaucer's supervisor when he was a justice of the peace for Kent. Burley's younger brother John went with Chaucer on a mission "on secret business of the king." Like Chaucer, Beauchamp and Salisbury were esquires in the royal household. Tresilian served as one of Chaucer's fellow justices of the peace for Kent between 1386 and his death. See Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 23-24, 43, 360-61.
78. "The Knight's Tale reveals that the claims of earthly power to ground itself in the pattern of the cosmos are no more than empty claims; they are grounded on nothing more, or less, than entirely human constructions" (James Simpson, "Chaucer as a European Writer," in Seth Lerer, ed., The Yale Companion to Chaucer [New Haven, 2006], 55-86, at 77).
79. Lee Patterson states that the temples of Venus and Mars witness to the Knight's "repressed knowledge of military chivalry's darker, more malevolent valence" (Chaucer and the Subject of History, 226). Jane Chance comments that Saturn's speech effectively installs the 'Temple of Saturn' in the narrative (The Mythographic Chaucer: The Fabulation of Sexual Politics [Minneapolis, 1995], 211).
80. T. F. Tout has stated that "it is most unlikely" Chaucer "ever raised a voice" in the October 1386 parliament due to the fact that he was a low-level official of the court at a time when it was under attack by powerful lords and their allies in the commons ("Literature and Learning in the English Civil Service in the Fourteenth Century," Speculum 4 , 365-89, at 385).
81. Elsewhere, I have argued that Chaucer incorporates a paradigmatic situation into many of his works in which a vulnerable female is exchanged at a male council without her consent as a displacement of his own tentative status as a non-noble "advisor to princes," as well as a vehicle for exploring the limits and conditions of discourse within chivalric society. Strikingly, this paradigm is reversed in WBT, where a knight is exchanged in marriage against his will by a matriarchal counsel (Marc S. Guidry, "Advice without Consent in Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales," in Scott Troyan, ed., Medieval Rhetoric: A Casebook [New York, 2004], 127-45).