|TITLE:||Griselda's Pagan Virtue|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 44 no1 61-83 2009|
"And in myself this covenaunt made I tho,
That ryght swich as ye felten, wel or wo,
As fer forth as it in my power lay,
Unreprovable unto my wyf od ay, The same wolde I fele, lyf or deth."
CLEOPATRA TO ANTONY Legend of Good Women (F 688-92)
"But certes, lord, for noon adversitee,
To dyen in the cas, it shal nat bee
That evere in word or werk I shal repente
That I yow yaf myn herte in hool entente."
GRISELDA TO WALTER Clerk's Tale (IV 858-61)(FN1)
Chaucer's Clerk's Tale and Legend of Good Women are rarely compared in critical studies, even though the two works are similar on a number of counts.(FN2) Both works focus on female virtue, and in both works such virtue is at least partially defined by the unwavering devotion of a female protagonist toward her of en cruel lover. The Clerk's Tale and the Legend also mix secular and Christian elements in ways that have at times frustrated critics, and many a study of each work opens with an acknowledgment of the tantalizing and seemingly purposeful difficulty raised by the presentation of feminine virtue in each text.(FN3) In this essay, my claim is that these similarities are not coincidental. Rather, comparing the Legend of Good Women to the Clerk's Tale provides a framework for interpreting Griselda's challenging mode of female virtue by locating this virtue not only within Christian contexts (a common approach to the Clerk's Tale), but also within pagan ones. Although Griselda is no pagan in a literal sense, her fidelity to Walter makes her an analogue to the famous wives and lovers of classical antiquity who devoted themselves to and at times sacrificed themselves for their male lovers. It is my argument that pagan women such as Dido, Lucretia, and Medea played important roles in Chaucer's representations of femininity, even when he worked with characters far removed from classical antiquity, including the Clerk's Griselda.
In thinking about the relationship between the Clerk's Tale and the Legend, I draw from Peter Beidler's recent attempt to clear up fuzzy terminology regarding sources and analogues in Chaucer studies. Beidler proposes five terms for texts related to Chaucer's, one of which is the "soft source," which Beidler defines as a "work that Chaucer almost certainly knew and probably remembered (consciously or not) as he wrote that provided at least a general or distant influence upon some elements in his own work."(FN4) According to Beider, one of Chaucer's own works can be a soft source for another.(FN5) Certainly Chaucer's Clerk's Tale has what Beidler terms "hard" sources in Petrarch's and an anonymous French author's versions of the Griselda story.(FN6) I suggest that the Legend, in which Chaucer foregrounds the difficulty and complexity of depicting idealized female virtue, can be viewed as a soft source for the Clerk's Tale. Relating the Legend and the Clerk's Tale in this way is useful because it places both works within a larger network of late medieval texts in which similar questions about female virtue emerge. In other words, recognizing Chaucer's use of classical models of female virtue in his version of the Griselda legend creates a fuller picture of the complex web of ideals and associations that went into the making not just of Griselda, but also of late medieval constructs of female virtue. Therefore, at the end of this essay, I briefly consider two other late medieval texts that take up questions about classical women and their virtue: Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus and Christine de Pizan's Livre de la Cité des Dames.
In identifying medieval understandings of pagan women as a new context for understanding Griselda's virtue, I seek to complicate interpretations of Griselda that rely on versions of medieval Christianity to explain her devotion to Walter.(FN7) Certainly the Clerk invites a religious reading at the end of his tale when, following Petrarch, he allegorizes Griselda's devotion in terms of Christian faith (IV 1149-62). In the tale itself, the Clerk and Walter create a biblical ambience through their attestations that the greatest virtue (that is, Griselda's virtue) is found in the humblest of people (the last shall be first, in other words) (IV 155-61, 206-12). The poem's numinous quality is further enhanced by nonspecific references to a "welle" (IV 276), "thresshfold" (IV 291), "water pot" (IV 290), and twice to the "oxes stalle" (IV 207, 291), and Job is evoked both through explicit reference (IV 932-38) and verbal echoing (IV 871-72). In addition to this web of biblical reference and allusion, critics have read the basic events of the Griselda story -- her obedience, trial and suffering, willingness to sacrifice her children and self, and eventual return to Walter's favor -- in terms of Job, Abraham, the Virgin Mary, Rebecca, Rachel, and Christ.(FN8) Other religious readings of the Clerk's Tale have sought to locate it within specific late medieval Christian contexts, including nominalism and hagiographic traditions.(FN9)
Clearly, not all religious readings of the Clerk's Tale are the same: a religious reading might focus on the allegory comparing Griselda's obedience and Christian faith; compare Griselda to specific biblical figures such as Christ; or relate Griselda to developments in late medieval Christianity such as nominalism. Despite the discrepancies among them, these religious interpretations of the Clerk's Tale share a common advantage when it comes to legitimizing their interpretive methodology. Appeals to modes of medieval Christian belief or practice that are now unfamiliar to modern-day audiences can, as Mark Miller has suggested, be employed to account for the "sheer ugliness" of the Clerk's Tale; that is, the modern-day reader's discomfort with Griselda's sufferings can be dismissed as "nothing more than an anachronistic projection of modern concerns on to the text, fueled by a failure to appreciate the Christian ideals to which the Clerk adheres."(FN10) Yet, as Miller and other critics have suggested, the discomfort generated by the Clerk's Tale is not due simply to modern sentiment. Griselda's extreme willingness to fulfill Walter's will, including consenting to the sacrifice of her own children, fits uncomfortably with late medieval ethics and religious morality.(FN11) I too am interested in the discomfort and "scandal," to use Miller's term, of Griselda's extreme devotion in the Clerk's Tale, and I see Chaucer's influence from pagan models of female virtue as one way of accounting for the tale's more problematic elements. What is interesting about focusing on Griselda's "pagan" qualities is not that such an interpretation discounts Christian elements of the Clerk's Tale or sets up an either/or dichotomy in which Griselda's extreme virtue must be viewed as pagan instead of Christian. Rather, in this essay I identify an at-times discordant overlapping of "Christian" and "pagan" elements in the Clerk's Tale that resembles the complexity generated by Chaucer's adaptation of pagan women to the hagiographic framework of the Legend of Good Women.
Chaucer makes a key change to his sources for the Clerk's Tale that pulls his version of the Griselda legend closer to his treatment of pagan women in the Legend, for the Clerk's Tale, like the Legend, centers on feminine virtue. As Elaine Tuttle Hansen notes:
[A]ccording to the Clerk, what he [Walter] is seeking and testing in his wife is not her patience or obedience or ability to live up to her vows but her "wommanhede." Whereas in Petrarch (as in the anonymous French version) Walter is said to admire her [Griselda's] virtutem eximiam supra sexum supraque etatem (a virtue beyond her sex and age), the Clerk gives us Walter... "Commendynge in his herte hir wommanhede,/And eek hir vertu, passynge any wight/Of so yong age" (239-41).(FN12)
Griselda's "wommanhede," or feminine virtue specifically represents the ability of a wife to devote herself to or suffer for her husband. Here is where classical women become important, for pagan women such as Alcestis, Lucretia, and Penelope frequently occupied a privileged place when it came to medieval discussions of virtuous wives. One important source for this tradition is Ovid's Heroides, which medieval commentators frequently framed as a didactic illustration of good and bad lovers.(FN13) Another important source is the misogamist tradition stemming from Jerome's Against Jovinian, in which Jerome frequently castigates women of his own day by comparing them unfavorably to the Lucretias and Penelopes of the pagan past.(FN14) Indeed, pagan women of en are the best sorts of wives precisely because they are pagans and therefore freer to devote themselves fully to their husbands than were their Christian counterparts. Suicide, a frequent ending for the virtuous pagan wife and ultimate manifestation of her spousal devotion, was of course sinful in a Christian context. Also, unlike Christian women, pagan women need not divide their attentions between an earthly and a heavenly bridegroom. While medieval accounts of female saints and holy women typically feature virgins and/or married women whose relationships with their husbands operate as a conduit to a higher relationship with God, the virtuous pagan matrons view devotion to their husbands as their highest ideal.(FN15)
Given these characteristics of the virtuous pagan wife, her relevance to Griselda becomes more obvious. Similarities between Griselda and the self-sacrificing women of classical antiquity were not lost on Petrarch, who, in a letter to Boccaccio, compared Griselda to Portia, Hypsicratea, and Alcestis, pagan women whose deaths resulted from their devotion to their husbands.(FN16) Although Chaucer makes no such overt comparisons, his treatment of womanly, wifely virtue in both the Clerk's Tale and the Legend of Good Women not only links these texts but suggests that pagan women operated in Chaucer's works as a means for thinking through some of the complexities of wifely virtue. In addition to the Legend, I wish to examine Chaucer's engagement with virtuous pagan women more broadly, since Chaucer's sustained interest in pagan women provides a useful framework for considering the contradictions in femininity that manifest themselves so powerfully in the Clerk's Tale.
Despite the prevalence in the later Middle Ages of virgin martyr stories and accounts of other saintly women, out of Chaucer's surviving works only Cecilia of the Second Nun's Tale and Custance of the Man of Law's Tale seem to fit directly late medieval models of Christian, feminine sanctity. Pagan women, on the other hand, including Criseyde, Dido, Alcione, Virginia, and the many subjects of the Legend of Good Women, appear frequently in Chaucer's works. Not all of these women adhere to the model of classical female virtue described above; most notably, Criseyde's "slydynge of corage" (Tr, V, 825) is opposed to the fidelity of a Penelope or Lucretia. Still, on a number of occasions Chaucer employs virtuous pagan women to explore the nature and validity of models of female virtue that circulated in late medieval literature. Frequently the pagan women are virtuous in terms of either their marital fidelity or their preservation of virginity. Yet this "virtue" results in an ethical quandary when its manifestations (such as suicide) prove sinful in a Christian context. Even without suicide, complete devotion to a spouse could itself represent a form of idolatry, as the Parson points out in his tale (X 376, 860). Interestingly, several of Chaucer's works or parts of works featuring pagan women, including the Physician's Tale, the Legend of Good Women, and Dorigen's excursus on pagan women in the Franklin's Tale, have traditionally been considered some of Chaucer's weaker creations. In reviewing some of these works, we see that the ethical ambiguity or confusion created by these pagan women, which can come across as a sign of artistic weakness, can also be viewed as part of Chaucer's long-term engagement with late medieval constructs of feminine virtue. Chaucer frequently plays on the fact that in medieval literary traditions pagan women such as Dido, Lucretia, and Medea are controversial figures whose virtue and vice were attributable to the same source: excessive devotion to a lover or husband. In the Franklin's Tale, set in pre-Christian Brittany, the devotion to her husband that leads Dorigen to consider pagan suicide as a means of maintaining her chastity potentially distances her from Christian values. While the Physician's Tale features a virtuous virgin rather than a virtuous wife, it too reveals fissures in constructs of female virtue through its juxtaposition of hagiographic narrative conventions and a pagan setting.
In the Franklin's Tale, when Dorigen believes that Aurelius has removed the rocks from the coast of Brittany and that she is therefore bound to sleep with him, she laments her situation and turns to classical examples for guidance. Such a turn is less predictable than one might expect of the pre-Christian Dorigen. Through much of the tale she seems to be one of those enlightened pagans who comes close to Christian belief; unlike Aurelius, who prays to Apollo, Dorigen prays to "Eterne God" (V 865). Dorigen's distress initiates a lengthy list of classical examples of virtuous women, including Lucretia, Alceste, Penelope, Laodamia, and Portia (V 1367-1456), and she concludes that suicide is preferable to either dishonor or marital infidelity. Critics tend to condemn this exposition of pagan women as excessive and confused.(FN17) Furthermore, as M. R. Golding has noted, this speech distances Dorigen from her quasi-Christian status, for it can be read as "a complete alienation from Christian principles and recourse to the pagan virtue of honour through suicide."(FN18) Such a sentiment is supported by other moments in Chaucer, including the narrator's advice to the suicidal, lovesick Black Knight in the Book of the Duchess: "And ye for sorwe mordred yourselve,/Ye sholde be dampned in this cas" (724-25). The narrator then lists classical examples of murders and suicides motivated by love, most of which are female and include Medea's murder of her children, and Phyllis's and Dido's suicides. Yet an act that is sinful in one Chaucer text is virtuous in another, and, in the Legend of Good Women, Medea, Phyllis, and Dido all achieve martyrdom for their controversial actions. Chaucer's multiple and at times contradictory depictions of virtuous pagan women make it difficult to decide how to judge Dorigen's interest in suicide. Even the conflict between "pagan" and "Christian" values in Dorigen's examples that Golding identifies is not as straightforward as it might seem. Although the women whom Dorigen cites are pagan, Chaucer's source for these examples is Jerome's Against Jovinian, in which the saint Jerome praises these pagan women's actions.
While Dorigen is a quasi-Christian character who, through her devotion to the ideals of pagan matrons, risks becoming pagan, Virginia of the Physician's Tale seems to exemplify Christian virtue in a pagan moment. Chaucer's Physician's Tale focuses to a much greater degree on Virginia's virtue than do other medieval versions of the story, including Chaucer's sources, which "almost always told [the Virginia story] as an exemplum of evil government."(FN19) Yet the Physician's Tale is no straightforward exemplum; as many critics have noted, Chaucer seems purposefully to have departed from his sources to render the Virginia story ethically confusing.(FN20) Virginia's virginity and willingness to sacrifice herself mesh poorly with the pre-Christian setting of the tale, for, as Corinne Saunders notes, "[t]he deployment of ideas of virginity, martyrdom and virtue raise expectations that are foiled by the total absence of [Christian] 'grace.'"(FN21) In other words, the Physician's Tale manipulates its pagan setting to raise the question of what the practices constituting one version of female Christian virtue -- virgin martyrdom -- would look like if Christianity were taken out of the equation. In doing so, the tale renders ambiguous the degree to which such practices in any context, pagan or Christian, are wholly desirable.
The text in which Chaucer most extensively employs classical women to consider feminine virtue is, of course, the Legend of Good Women, and it is this text that bears so many similarities to the version of female virtue depicted in the Clerk's Tale that the former can be thought of as a soft source for the latter. It is not the case that all of the women of the Legend are identical; yet a number of features of feminine virtue are sufficiently pronounced in this work to allow for some generalizing. First, to make an obvious but nonetheless useful point, the subject of this poem is specifically female virtue, not women who adhere to a gender-neutral mode of virtue or who rise above their femininity to achieve a masculine virtue, and the virtue coded feminine in this poem is absolute devotion to a husband or lover. Thus the narrator praises the Legend women for their "womanhod" (F 1041, regarding Dido) and "wifhod" (F 1687, regarding Lucretia), and he repeatedly suggests that while this mode of virtue is common among women, it is unheard of among men. The female devotion depicted in the Legend is specifically wifely devotion, for Chaucer transforms many of the Legend women into wives, whether classical accounts depicted them as married or not.(FN22) Thus Cleopatra is repeatedly referred to as Antony's "wif" (F 615, 632, 663), and Ariadne is similarly referred to as Theseus's (F 2152 and 2171). Although not all of the relationships between the Legend women achieve what, by medieval ecclesiastical standards, would be considered a binding marriage, Alastair Minnis notes that "Chaucer's heroines are married, or are implied to be married, and/or are eager to be married in the fullest possible manner."(FN23) Since female devotion is regularly defined as spousal devotion in the Legend, the desires and actions of almost all of the poem's women center upon their husbands or lovers. Thus, in the first epigraph to this article, Cleopatra proclaims that she will feel the same thing as Antony, whether it is "wel or wo" (F 689) or results in "lyf or deth" (F 692). Thisbe is willing to go to a similar extreme of devotion when right before committing suicide she tells a dying Pyramus: "Thow shalt no more departe now fro me/Than fro the deth, for I wol go with thee" (F 898-99). Such statements become something of a refrain in the Legend. Dido states of Aeneas: "al my love and lyf lyth in his cure" (F 1176) and "In hym lythal, to do me live or deye" (F 1181). Lucrece "sayde that, for hir gylt ne for hir blame,/Hir husbonde shulde nat have the foule name,/That wolde she nat suffre by no wey" (F 1844-46), shortly before her suicide. In summing up his story of Medea, the narrator comments that Medea "lovede hym [Jason] beter than hireself, I gesse" (F 1665).
It is, however, not enough for a woman to say that she is completely devoted to her man. In the Legend feminine virtue is performative, and it is manifested by repeated and seemingly interminable acts of suffering. Of course, Chaucer's pagan women are not the only women in medieval literary traditions who suffer to establish their virtue; the same could be said of female saints in hagiographic traditions. In the Legend, however, most of the women suffer quite specifically for or on account of their husbands or lovers. Thus we can go so far as to say that in the Legend, feminine suffering requires cruel men, a point underscored in the Prologue when Alcestis requests stories about both women "trewe in lovynge" (G 475), and the "false men that hem betrayen" (G 476). In many (although not all) of the legends, the two go together. Since Chaucer draws most of his legends from Ovid's Heroides, the preferred mode of masculine perfidy in the Legend is abandonment of a true and loyal woman, oft en for a new bride. Given that the extreme devotion to men ostensibly lauded in the Legend could, in Christian contexts, be construed as idolatry rather than virtue, and given that the outcome of this mode of feminine virtue is always death, critics have disagreed on whether to interpret the poem ironically or as a genuine endorsement of female virtue.(FN24) Indeed, the tensions created by the pagan content of the Legend of Good Women and its hagiographic structure raise a number of questions for the medieval and modern reader alike. Can the particular mode of wifely virtue exemplified by the Legend women successfully mesh with Christian values? Does the pagan status of these women suggest that their actions are undesirable and obsolete in a Christian society? Or does the fact that only pagan women exemplify this particular mode of wifely virtue suggest, as a sort of antifeminist joke, that good women constitute an extinct breed who only exist in the distant past?(FN25)
Given how closely many of these features of the Legend are repeated in the Clerk's Tale, it seems unlikely that Chaucer did not in some way have the Legend and its cast of pagan women in mind when writing his Griselda story. As mentioned above, Chaucer subtly changes his sources to make Griselda specifically exemplify feminine virtue. This renders the ethical focus of the Clerk's Tale more similar to that of the Legend, especially considering that, like the Legend, the Clerk's Tale focuses on the ideal of the married woman. The manifestations of Griselda's virtue also resemble the actions and mindset of the Legend women. When Walter proposes to Griselda, she promises to go above and beyond Walter's marital demands to achieve a matching of the minds with her spouse. While Walter demands an outward show of devotion on Griselda's part, manifested by her "grucch[ing]" of him "Neither by word ne frownyng contenance" (IV 354, 356), Griselda swears "In werk ne thoght, I nyl yow disobeye,/For to be deed, though me were looth to deye" (IV 363-64). Griselda's obedience will not be just a show of devotion -- Walter's demand -- but rather a correspondence of her thoughts to his that is so complete that even death cannot threaten it. Griselda, of course, keeps this promise: at Walter's command she willingly gives up her two children, supposedly to their deaths, and also her position as Walter's wife. Throughout these episodes Griselda's language is highly reminiscent of the professions of the Legend women. Griselda seeks to match wills with her husband and, while she does not contemplate suicide, she repeatedly professes her willingness to die for Walter. Thus, when Walter asks Griselda to sacrifice her first daughter, she states:
"Ther may no thyng, God so my soule save,
Liken to yow that may displese me;
Ne I desire no thyng for to have,
Ne drede for to leese, save oonly yee.
This wyl is in myn herte, and ay shal be;
No lengthe of tyme or deeth may this deface,
Ne chaunge my corage to another place."
Similarly, when asked to give up her second child, Griselda tells Walter:
"And certes, if I hadde prescience
Youre wyl to knowe, er ye youre lust me tolde,
I wolde it doon withouten necligence;
But now I woot youre lust, and what ye wolde,
Al youre plesance ferme and stable I holde;
For wiste I that my deeth wolde do yow ese,
Right gladly wolde I dyen, yow to plese."
"Deth may noght make no comparisoun
Unto youre love."
Other such testimonies of Griselda's devotion to Walter appear throughout the Clerk's Tale, leading David Aers to comment: "I can find no theological, let alone Christocentric, focus in these utterances" and "All her desire, she says, is for this man; her sole fear is to lose him (IV.498-511), not, we should note, to cut herself off from God."(FN26) Although Griselda's statements might not fit Christian models because they fail to indicate a spiritual motivation for her actions, her statements work quite well with the standards of feminine virtue established in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, for Griselda could indeed be numbered among "wyves,/That were trewe in lovynge al here lyves" (G 474-75). Even the extremity of Griselda's actions -- the sacrifice of her children -- finds a classical parallel in one of the Legend women, Medea, although the details of Medea's child-killing are not mentioned the Legend. Certainly their circumstances vary in that Griselda sacrifices her children at Walter's behest while Medea does so to spite Jason. However, both women's extreme actions can be interpreted as the monstrous outcome that can result when a wife is motivated solely by her passionate interest in her husband. Nor is the disturbing nature of Griselda's actions occluded from the Clerk's Tale; at the moment when Griselda gives up her second child, her perfect fulfillment of the demands of "womanhede" troubles even Walter:
This markys wondred, evere lenger the moore,
Upon hir pacience, and if that he
Ne hadde soothly knowen therbifoore
That parfitly hir children loved she,
He wolde have wend that of som subtiltee,
And of malice, or for crueel corage,
That she hadde suffred this with sad visage.
Herein lies the paradox of wifely virtue, for Griselda's devotion to Walter reaches an extreme that in this instance borders on malice and cruelty, and Walter himself appears somewhat taken aback by his wife's ability to fulfill his behest.
Structurally, too, the Clerk's Tale resembles the Legend of Good Women, for the Tale closely follows the model of the virtuous abandoned woman who is replaced with a new bride, a narrative motif particularly prevalent in the Legend accounts of Medea, Dido, and Ariadne. The Clerk's Tale is, at least from Griselda's perspective, a very similar story up until the moment when Walter reveals the nature of his tests. Griselda certainly accepts her abandonment better than do the Legend women, but even the seemingly imperturbable Griselda allows a subtle display of emotion when, after being ordered away from her husband's home, she comments:
"O goode God! How gentil and how kynde
Ye semed by youre speche and youre visage
The day that maked was oure mariage!"
Virgin martyrs, who typically feel neither pain nor regret during their persecution, do not make such statements. Pagan women, in the tradition of Ovid's Heroides, do. The Medea of Chaucer's Legend, for example, comments regarding Jason, "Why lykede me thy youthe and thy fayrnesse,/And of thy tonge, the infynyt graciousnesse?" (F 1674-75). Although Griselda's and Medea's statements differ in that Griselda seems only to regret the change in Walter, not her love for him, this backward glance toward a kinder, gentler lover nonetheless creates a similarity between the two. As for Walter, his tests of Griselda reveal an interdependency of feminine virtue and masculine cruelty that is also reminiscent of the Legend of Good Women, for the exceptionality of the degree to which Griselda is willing to match minds with Walter is only perceivable if she is asked to perform what would seem to be the most painful acts imaginable to a mother and wife.(FN27)
Finally, the Clerk's Tale resembles the Legend in that it creates ambiguity as to how the reader is to judge Griselda's wifely virtue. Throughout his tale the Clerk disapproves of Walter's cruel treatment of Griselda (IV 460-62, 621, 696-707, 740, 785), and near its end he claims that Griselda should not be taken as an example for wives (IV 1142-44). Yet the reason for this rejection of Griselda as a wifely exemplar is not entirely clear. According to the Clerk, even if women of his day wanted to imitate Griselda, it would be "inportable" (IV 1144), an ambiguous word choice since, as J. Allan Mitchell asks, "Does he [the Clerk] mean to say that it would be intolerable for wives if they would behave as Griselda? And if so, is it because wives could not bear to follow Griselda as they should? Or, does he mean that we would find it intolerable if wives would follow Griselda, because no one ever should?"(FN28) This ambiguity is compounded by the fact that Griselda is presented as belonging to a distant past, or "olde tymes yoore" (IV 1140) to quote the Clerk. As is the case with the Legend women, temporal distancing can operate either to bury Griselda's undesirable mode of virtue-as-suffering in a distant past, or to suggest that the virtuous woman no longer exists in the fourteenth century, a possibility that the Clerk makes explicit when he compares Griselda to pure gold and contemporary women to gold alloyed with brass (IV 1163-69). Finally, at the end of his tale the Clerk turns to the Wife of Bath and all her sect and satirically urges all married women to avoid the sufferings of Griselda by being loud, domineering, and manipulative in their dealings with their husbands. The Clerk's final words on marriage differ so radically from his presentation of the virtuous Griselda that they raise unresolved questions regarding the Clerk's attitude toward Griselda's extreme wifely devotion.(FN29)
Given the extensive crossover of thematic and narrative material between the Clerk's Tale and the Legend of Good Women, and given that Chaucer made changes to his sources for both of these works in order to focus them more squarely on wifely virtue, it seems fair to posit the Legend as a soft source for the Clerk's Tale in accordance with Beidler's terminology. The question now is what might be the payoff of locating the Clerk's Tale within a network of texts and traditions focusing on pagan women and their virtue. To start with, consideration of the "pagan" elements of Griselda's virtue allows us to see Chaucer's interest in pagan women as being even more extensive and sustained than was previously thought. Not only does Chaucer repeatedly write about and reference pagan women throughout his career, but even in instances where Chaucer does not directly consider a Dido or Alcestis, the characteristics and behaviors of such women can inflect his depiction of femininity.
In further considering the ramifications of pagan concepts of feminine virtue in the Clerk's Tale, I turn to Alcuin Blamires's recent comment on Chaucer's mixing of classical Stoic ethics and Christian morality:
What Chaucer... scrutinizes is the awkwardness of the medieval patching together of ethical teaching and Christian morality.... If we envisage Stoic ethics as one sort of cloth and Christian morality as another laid partly over it, Chaucer's narratives... show creative awareness of ragged seams, and of overlaps where the nap of each cloth does not run quite in the same direction.(FN30)
The "Stoic ethics" that interests Blamires is not the same as the passionate devotion to a husband exhibited by the Legend women or even the more composed devotion to Walter exhibited by Griselda.(FN31) Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of pagan feminine virtue and Christian morality in Chaucer's writings formally parallels the "patching together of ethical teaching and Christian morality" described by Blamires. In both the Legend and the Clerk's Tale, we can detect the "ragged seams" that occur when the model of virtue characteristic of the pagan wife is overlaid on Christian values. Such tensions are more obvious in the Legend, with its pagan subject matter and hagiographic framework, than in the Clerk's Tale. However, viewing the Legend as a soft source helps make visible similar patterns in the Clerk's Tale. Chaucer's Griselda does not conform solely or simply to the virtue of classical matrons, as Petrarch at one point suggests. Nor does Griselda's feminine virtue constitute a form of sanctity, as some medieval conduct books suggest.(FN32) Because the occasional allusions to Christian figures or values and the Christian allegory of the Clerk's Tale at times mesh uncomfortably with Griselda's more pagan devotion to Walter, the Clerk's Tale lays bare the multiple traditions and values informing late medieval concepts of female virtue, and, in doing so, exposes the "ragged seams" of "womanhede" itself.
Recognition of the pagan elements of Griselda's virtue might also contribute to our understandings of late medieval engagements with classical antiquity more generally. Scholars have long been interested in representations of virtuous pagans in late medieval English literature. In his recent book on this subject, Frank Grady makes two points that are useful in considering the potential impact of values and behaviors associated with pagan women on late medieval constructs of femininity. First, Grady notes regarding scenes of encounter between a virtuous pagan and a Christian that
the scene typically offers some kind of historical self-reflection -- not merely the recognition that the esteemed pagan and his Christian counterpart belong to different and sometimes historically remote worlds, but the acknowledgement of some connection or continuity between those worlds that is historical (because of the pagan figure's literal or figurative association with the actual past of the Christian's present) as well as moral (because both individuals recognize similar codes of virtue).(FN33) Second, Grady notes that in late medieval texts, pagan virtue is literally vir-tue; that is, virtuous pagans are always men.(FN34) No medieval narratives exist in which Lucretia or Alcestis is rewarded for her virtue with actual Christian salvation, as is the Roman Emperor Trajan, perhaps the most famous virtuous heathen of the Middle Ages. Yet virtuous pagan matrons, who are praised by Saint Jerome, numbered among the virtuous heathen in Dante's Inferno, and presented as saints in Chaucer's Legend, do at times merit the respect and admiration of Christians. So how might these women fit in with late medieval engagements with heathen virtue? And particularly, do virtuous pagan matrons allow for a sense of continuity between the present and the past as, Grady remarks, virtuous male heathens do? Such questions are the subject of a much longer study than this essay, but in closing, I wish to suggest that the extreme acts in which pagan feminine virtue manifested itself -- suicide and murder -- complicate a sense of historical identity with virtuous pagan women. This complication is what proved useful to Chaucer in presenting the complexity of female virtue in the Clerk's Tale. We can also see both the desirability and the difficulty of connecting with pagan matrons in Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus and Christine de Pizan's Livre de la Cité des Dames.
Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus is devoted exclusively to the depiction of women of classical antiquity, and it provides a wide array of pagan women, including virtuous women -- scholars, poets, military leaders, political rulers, and, of course, chaste and virtuous wives -- and wicked women -- most oft en prostitutes, adulteresses, and lascivious women. In a dedication and preface, Boccaccio provides a rationale for his work, and here is where one gets the sense of the complexity involved in connecting women of the pagan classical past and Christian medieval present. On the one hand, Boccaccio suggests a fundamental difference between classical women and their Hebrew and Christian counterparts. He overtly states his reason for not including all three types of women in his work: "it seemed advisable, as I want to make plain, not to mix these women, nearly all of them pagan, with Hebrew and Christian women (except for Eve). The two groups do not harmonize very well with each other, and they appear to proceed in different ways."(FN35) According to Boccaccio, Hebrew and Christian women are motivated in their actions by their devotion to "true and everlasting glory," while pagan women act out of "some natural gift or instinct or, as seems more likely, through a keen desire for the fleeting glory of this world."(FN36) Clearly such comments suggest the superiority of Hebrew and Christian women to pagan ones. Yet elsewhere in his introductory comments Boccaccio frequently praises pagan women over Christian women and suggests that the latter should take the former as a model. In his dedication to Countess Andrea Acciaiuoli, Boccaccio informs his dedicatee that she "should surpass in spiritual excellence not only your contemporaries but even the women of antiquity," thus implying that the "women of antiquity" have achieved a higher degree of virtue than have fourteenth-century Christian women.(FN37) A similar implication occurs when Boccaccio states:
Whenever you, who profess the Christian religion, read that a pagan woman has some worthy quality which you feel you lack, blush and reproach yourself that, although marked with the baptism of Christ, you have let yourself be surpassed by a pagan in probity or chastity or resolution.(FN38)
In the examples that follow these remarks, of the various ways in which a pagan woman might establish her virtue, marital chastity and devotion are the values most frequently praised by Boccaccio and the values that he hopes women of his own day might uphold too.
The multiple and at times opposing attitudes toward pagan women that one finds in Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus creates a number of contradictions in the text. To mention one here, the statement that pagan women are fundamentally different from Christian ones and that Christian women are superior is contradicted by Boccaccio's suggestion that for women of his own day to be virtuous, they need to be like pagan women, particularly in their marital chastity and devotion. It is these dual attitudes toward pagan women (that their behavior is at once desirable and exemplary but inferior and superseded), as well as the contradictions in thinking about femininity that these dual attitudes imply, that Chaucer so deftly exploits in his writings.
In Christine de Pizan's Livre de la Cité des Dames, we seem to encounter a very different attitude toward pagan women and feminine virtue. In writing this work, Christine sets herself the task of countering much of the misogynistic discourse circulating in the Middle Ages about women. Christine constructs an allegorical city constituted and inhabited by virtuous women, and, unlike Boccaccio, she includes pagan, Hebrew, and Christian women in this single literary work. Christine's concept of female virtue has been praised for its inclusiveness: pagans, Hebrews, Christians, virgins, wives, widows, warriors, matrons, and saints all find a place in her city. Yet Christine's city is not without its hierarchies. Some modes of feminine virtue are more virtuous than others; the Virgin Mary and the saints unsurprisingly rank as the most virtuous. Also, certain modes of virtue, such as the martial prowess of the Amazons, are presented as relevant in their own time but no longer a viable or beneficial mode of feminine behavior. Such hierarchies are underscored by the fact that certain types of women occupy each of the three sections of the work. Pagan women dominate the first section, which is largely devoted to women who fight and rule. Christians necessarily occupy the final section, devoted to the Virgin Mary and the saints. The gradual movement toward Christian virtue, which is kept distinct from other modes of feminine virtue, presents Christianity as a culmination and a telos. Yet the second section of the book seems to go against this hierarchy, since it contains pagan, Hebrew, and Christian women. Significantly, Book Two focuses largely on wifely virtue, and can therefore be thought to suggest that such virtue transcends historical, religious, and cultural difference in a manner in which other modes of feminine virtue do not.
Such a depiction of wifely virtue would seem to paint a very different picture of Christian and pagan women than that implied by Boccaccio. Yet despite her desire to present wifely virtue as a mode of virtue available to all women, Christine nonetheless runs into some troubles in doing so. Near the end of Book Two, Christine the narrator asks Rectitude, her allegorical guide for this particular book, whether it is true what men say, that few women are faithful in love. Rectitude rejects this claim and relates a series of examples to counter it; this series includes four pagan women -- Dido, Medea, Thisbe, and Hero -- and two Christian -- Ghismonda and Lisabetta from Boccaccio's Decameron. All of these women in some way lose their husbands or lovers, and, with the exception of Medea, they all commit suicide or die on account of this loss. Although such women disprove the notion that women cannot be faithful in love, the author Christine does not seem completely comfortable with these women as a model of female virtue and views their extreme devotion to their husbands or lovers as excessive. She relates that Dido "loved too much," that Medea "loved Jason with a too great and too constant love," and that Hero "perished from having loved too much."(FN39) At the end of this section on female fidelity Rectitude says:
"What more can I tell you? I could always relate to you the stories of women overcome by such foolish love that they loved too much, too deeply, and too constantly.... Thus there is no doubt that the love of a constant woman in which she commits herself totally is very great, despite other women who are not constant.
But these pitiful examples, as well as many others which I could also tell you, should in no way move women's hearts to set themselves adrift in the dangerous and damnable sea of foolish love, for its end is always detrimental and harmful to their bodies, their property, their honor, and -- most important of all -- to their souls."(FN40)
Based on such comments, it is difficult to tell whether feminine fidelity in love is desirable or not.
What is also interesting about Rectitude's comments here is that they need not be limited only to the specific women she provides as examples of marital fidelity but could apply to any number of other women in Book Two. Indeed, several of the women praised earlier in this book display the same "foolishly" extreme devotion to men criticized by Rectitude. Julia, wife of Pompey, so loves her husband that she falls down dead when she incorrectly suspects that he might have been murdered; Portia, wife of Brutus, commits suicide by swallowing hot coals after her husband dies, and Pompeia Paulina, wife of Seneca, attempts to commit suicide along with her husband but is prevented from doing so by Nero. However, Pompeia "so greatly mourned her husband's death that she did not survive for very long afterward."(FN41) How such women are different from Hero and Dido, women whom Rectitude labels foolish, is not at all clear. Significantly, most of the women who display such extreme acts of devotion to their husbands or lovers are pagan women. Consequently pagan women occupy a privileged position in Christine's account of virtuous married women, yet they also are the exemplars of the foolish love against which women are warned. Christine's use of pagan women to exemplify extreme marital fidelity and the ambiguity with which she presents such fidelity bring Christine's discussion of marriage into dialogue with works like Chaucer's Legend of Good Women.
Christine's discussion of marriage also relates in interesting ways to Chaucer's Clerk's Tale, for one of the Christian women exemplifying wifely virtue in Book Two is none other than Griselda. Griselda is not presented as an exemplar of "foolish love" but is instead labeled "a woman strong in virtue."(FN42) Yet Griselda's devotion to Walter is no less absolute than that of the "foolish" Dido, Medea, and Hero to their husbands and lovers. Indeed, after revealing his tests, Walter tells Griselda: "this is a sufficient test of your constancy and of the faith, loyalty and great love, obedience and proven humility which you feel for me."(FN43) Extreme constancy, faith, loyalty, and great love are the same characteristics that amount to foolish love later in Book Two. Although the potentially tragic outcome of Griselda's actions is averted, Griselda is willing to sacrifice her property, her children, and her life, all attributes of the foolish lover according to Rectitude, and, in so doing, Griselda could, in certain Christian contexts, also risk sacrificing her soul. Despite Christine's different treatment of Griselda and the foolish pagan women, the lack of distinction in their behavior and their proximity in Book Two invite one to consider Griselda as a foolish lover on a par with these pagan women of classical antiquity. Here Christine de Pizan ends up producing, almost certainly inadvertently, a pagan-inflected Griselda much as Chaucer does.
This brief tour of late medieval texts demonstrates that questions about how virtuous pagan women relate to Christian women were not a concern for Chaucer alone. Whether authors seek to highlight or obscure the differences between pagan and Christian models of virtue, these differences raise questions regarding the continuity between a pagan past and Christian present and regarding the degree to which a married woman can and should be fully devoted to her husband. Locating Chaucer's Clerk's Tale within a network of texts focusing on pagan women not only enhances our understanding of his version of Griselda, but points toward new avenues for exploring medieval representations of pagan antiquity and feminine virtue.
Idaho State University Pocatello, Idaho (email@example.com)
Versions of this essay were presented at the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference (2005), the London Chaucer Conference (2007), and the Medieval Lecture Series at the University of Georgia (2005). I would like to thank audience members from all three venues for their helpful and stimulating comments. Completion of this essay was partially supported by Grant No. 997 from the Faculty Research Committee, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho. Susanna Fein, David Raybin, and the two anonymous readers for The Chaucer Review provided invaluable guidance in revising this essay. Finally, special thanks go to Carolyn Dinshaw and Leif Sorensen, who have helped me think about female pagans for a long time now.
1. All quotations of Chaucer in this essay are taken from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987).
2. Elaine Tuttle Hansen is the only critic, to my knowledge, who draws comparisons between these two works; see her Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender (Berkeley, 1992), 195-201, 204, 206. Hansen focuses largely on the narrators of ClT and LGW, and while she does not extensively compare Griselda and the pagan heroines of LGW, she does draw attention to the status of both Griselda and the heroines as martyrs for love (196). She also notes that, in the case of each work, the particular changes Chaucer makes to his sources end up casting Griselda and each of the heroines in a role of "feminine powerlessness with respect to a ruthless, self-centered, all but omnipotent man with whom she herself purports to be in love" (198).
3. For example, Carolyn P. Collette has recently referred to LGW as "arguably Chaucer's most enigmatic poem, polysemous in its gestures and allusions to multiple social, literary, and religious systems" ("Introduction," in Carolyn P. Collette, ed., The Legend of Good Women: Context and Reception [Cambridge, U.K., 2006], vii-xviii, at vii). Regarding ClT, Mark Miller comments that this tale produces among critics "a collective uncertainty more powerful than that produced by anything else Chaucer wrote" (Philosophical Chaucer: Love, Sex, and Agency in The Canterbury Tales [Cambridge, U.K., 2004], 219).
4. Peter Beidler, "New Terminology for Sources and Analogues: Or, Let's Forget the Lost French Source for The Miller's Tale," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 28 (2006): 225-30, at 226-27.
5. For example, Beidler states that "The Knight's Tale itself... [is] as of source for The Miller's Tale" ("New Terminology," 227).
6. Beidler defines the "hard source" as "a specific work for which we have an extant copy and that we know, from verbal similarities, character names, and plot sequences, that Chaucer used" ("New Terminology," 226).
7. Religious interpretations of ClT are sufficiently pervasive that one of the editors of a book collection entitled Chaucer's Religious Tales identifies ClT as one of four tales "that most obviously fit our title" (C. David Benson, "Introduction," in C. David Benson and Elizabeth Robertson, eds., Chaucer's Religious Tales [Cambridge U.K., 1990], 1-7, at 1). Derek Pearsall also classifies ClT as a religious tale, although he acknowledges that the tale is "vulnerable, in its exploitation for exemplary purposes of certain terms of a relationship both complex and deeply human, to the intrusion of other kinds of interpretation, and in Chaucer's version of the story these vulnerabilities are fully exposed" (The Canterbury Tales [Boston, 1985], 267).
8. Studies of this type include Charles Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition (Berkeley, 1957), 195-97; Elizabeth Salter, Chaucer: The "Knight's Tale" and the "Clerk's Tale," (London, 1962), 45-46; D. W. Robertson, A Preface to Chaucer (Princeton, 1962), 82-83; Ann W. Astell, "Translating Job as Female," in Jeannette Beer, ed., Translation, Theory, and Practice in the Middle Ages (Kalamazoo, 1997), 59-69; C. David Benson, "Poetic Variety in the Man of Law's and the Clerk's Tales," in Benson and Robertson, eds., Chaucer's Religious Tales, 137-44; and Jill Mann, "Suffering Woman, Suffering God," in her Feminizing Chaucer, 2nd edn. (Woodbridge, 2002), 100-128.
9. For nominalist readings of ClT, see David Steinmetz, "Late Medieval Nominalism and the Clerk's Tale," Chaucer Review 12 (1977): 38-54; Linda Georgianna, "The Clerk's Tale and the Grammar of Assent," Speculum 70 (1995): 793-821; Elizabeth Kirk, "Nominalism and the Dynamics of the Clerk's Tale: Homo Viator as Woman," in Benson and Robertson, eds., Chaucer's Religious Tales, 111-20; and Rodney Delasanta, "Nominalism and the Clerk's Tale Revisited," Chaucer Review 31 (1997): 209-31. For a reading of ClT as a hagiographic romance, see Kathryn L. McKinley, "The Clerk's Tale: Hagiography and the Problematics of Lay Sanctity," Chaucer Review 33 (1998): 90-111. Barbara Newman relates Griselda of ClT to the development of the "maternal martyr" of late medieval hagiography, the maternal martyr being a woman who abandons her children in order better to serve God (From Virile Woman to WomanChrist [Philadelphia, 1995], 96-101).
10. Miller, Philosophical Chaucer, 216.
11. Critical studies highlighting the difficulty of Griselda's virtue within late medieval cultural contexts that have been particularly useful to me include Mark Miller's chapter "Love's Promise: The Clerk's Tale and the Scandal of the Unconditional," in Philosophical Chaucer, 216-48. Miller argues that "Chaucer... intends the Clerk's Tale to throw into relief what is simultaneously deeply attractive and deeply disturbing about unconditional love. Further, conflicting attitudes towards unconditional love in the tale are of interest in Chaucer partly because of how they open into a broader ambivalence concerning autonomy and the ideal of an unconditional will" (219-20). Also useful is J. Allan Mitchell's chapter on ClT, "Griselda and the Question of Ethical Monstrosity," in his Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Gower and Chaucer (Cambridge, U.K., 2004), 116-40. Here Mitchell compares Griselda's devotion to the Parson's discussion of idolatry in his tale: "The Parson notes that if a man loves his wife or child or 'any worldly thing' above God he is an 'ydola-stre' (X. 860), words that could very well apply to Griselda when she treats her husband as though he were, as the Clerk says, her 'verray worldly suffisance' (IV. 759)" (127-28). Finally, David Aers extensively explores the networks of religious contexts available for considering ClT and argues that Griselda's extreme devotion to Walter can be read as a "reification" of worldly goods rather than Christian devotion ("Faith, Ethics, and Community: Reflections on Reading Late Medieval English Writing," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 28 : 341-69, at 360-61).
12. Hansen, Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender, 198-99.
13. For a useful overview of medieval receptions of Ovid's Heroides, see Suzanne Hagedorn, "Ovid's Heroides and the Latin Middle Ages," in her Abandoned Women: Rewriting the Classics in Dante, Boccaccio, and Chaucer (Ann Arbor, 2004), 21-46.
14. Despite Jerome's general disdain for women and the institution of marriage, he nonetheless exhorts Christian women to show the same degree of devotion to their spouses displayed by pagan women such as Penelope and Lucretia. Jerome comments, "If they [Christian women] despise the fidelity that Christian chastity dictates, maybe they will at least learn chastity from the pagans" (Against Jovinian, Bk. 1, para. 47: "Ut que Christiane pudicitie despiciunt fidem, discant saltem ab ethnicis castitatem"). Quotations of Jerome (original and translation) are taken from Ralph Hanna III and Traugott Lawler, eds., Jankyn's Book of Wikked Wyves: The Primary Texts (Athens, Ga., 1997), 174-75.
15. Although married female saints could demonstrate compassion and love for their husbands, the husbands are usually of secondary interest. Saint Cecilia, for example, was married, and, by convincing her husband Valerian to convert to Christianity, she brings about his salvation. However, if we look at Chaucer's version of this saint's life in SNT, it is clear that Cecilia's highest priority is her sanctity and devotion to God, not to her husband. On her wedding night Cecilia warns Valerian that if he attempts to have sex with her and thus violate her holy virginity, an angel will kill him (VIII 155-58). One finds a similar pattern in high and late medieval accounts of the English saint AEthelthryth, who was married twice but maintained her holy virginity. At one point, AEthelthryth flees her second husband, who wishes to consummate their marriage against her will. For one of the more extensive medieval accounts of Saint AEthelthryth, see the Anglo-Norman Vie seinte Audree (ca. 1200) as it appears in June Hall McCash and Judith Clark, trans. and eds., Life of Saint Audrey (Jef erson, N.C., 2006). For an extensive consideration of the Saint AEthelthryth legend in England, including in late medieval England, see Virginia Blanton, Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. AEthelthryth in Medieval England, 695-1615 (University Park, Pa., 2007).
16. The context for Petrarch's comparison is that supposedly a friend has criticized Petrarch's Griselda story on the grounds that Griselda's extreme virtue is impossible and therefore not believable for the reader. Petrarch records his reaction as follows: "But the answer was simple: that there are some who consider whatever is dif cult for them, impossible for everyone, and they so judge everything by their own measure as to put themselves in first place; whereas there have been many, and perhaps still are, for whom things that seem impossible to the multitude are simple. For who is there, for example, who would not think the tale of Curius and Mucius and the Decii among our people are fictitious, or Codrus and the Philaeni brothers among foreigners, or, since we are speaking of women, Porcia, Hypsicratea, or Alcestis and others like them? And yet the stories are true. Well, I do not understand what one who shrugs of his own life for another could not shrug of or endure" (Seniles XVII, 4; Petrarch, Letters of Old Age: Rerum Senilium Libri, I - XVIII, trans. Aldo Bernardo, Saul Levin, and Reta A. Bernardo, 2 vols. [Baltimore, 1992], 2:670). For the Latin original, see Elie Golenistchef-Koutouzof, L'histoire de Griseldis en France au XIVe et au XVe siècle (1933; repr. Geneva, 1975), 268 (lines 591-603).
17. As Pearsall notes, "The complaint is isolated, as a rhetorical set-piece, and done in a formal rhetorical manner, and thus tends... to draw the reader away from any close emotional participation in the action" (The Canterbury Tales, 155). He further states that in giving this speech Dorigen "behaves like the melodramatic heroine of a bad Italian opera," and that she does not really stay on topic because she ends by referencing a number of virtuous pagan women who do not commit suicide (155).
18. M. R. Golding, "The Importance of Keeping 'Trouthe' in The Franklin's Tale," Medium AEvum 39 (1970): 306-12, at 309.
19. C. David Benson, "Explanatory Notes" to PhysT, in The Riverside Chaucer, 902.
20. Anne Middleton, for example, argues: "The Physician's Tale presents ethical complexities evoked by no other version of the story, by inviting us to consider the undeserved wrongs of the victims as well as the deserved death of the evil judge" ("The Physician's Tale and Love's Martyrs: 'Ensamples Mo Than Ten' as a Method in The Canterbury Tales," Chaucer Review 8 : 9-32, at 14).
21. Corinne Saunders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (Cambridge, U.K., 2001), 282.
22. Alastair Minnis discusses at length Chaucer's transformation of the unmarried women of classical antiquity into wives; see his "Repainting the Lion: Chaucer's Profeminist Narratives," in Roy Eriksen, ed., Contexts of Pre-Novel Narrative: The European Tradition (Berlin, 1994), 153-83, at 163-65.
23. Minnis, "Repainting the Lion," 165. Minnis notes of the LGW women that, given medieval understandings of marriage, even in instances where LGW women are not officially married, their relationships to their lovers can be construed as a form of matrimony: "Where marriage is neither proclaimed nor implied through deliberate obfuscation, we are offered the next best thing: a firm plighting of troth, a solemn undertaking to marry in the future, what was technically known as desponsatio by verba de futuro" (164). Minnis further notes that "Phyllis, Ariadne, and Medea... have achieved... [this] relatively weak form of desponsatio" (165).
24. As Catherine Sanok has noted, "the twentieth-century reception of the poem [divides] between those who find it sincere and largely pro-woman and those who find it thoroughly satiric and ultimately misogynist (whether the sentiment is attributed to Chaucer, the narrator, or the God of Love)" ("Reading Hagiographically: The Legend of Good Women and Its Feminine Audience," Exemplaria 13 : 323-54, at 331). This critical debate goes at least as far back as H. C. Goddard, "Chaucer's Legend of Good Women," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 7 (1908): 87-129, 8 (1909): 47-111, who views LGW as an ironic and antifeminist poem; and John Livingston Lowes, "Is Chaucer's Legend of Good Women a Travesty?," Journal of English and Germanic Philology 8 (1909): 513-65, who responds to Goddard and argues for the poem's sincerity. Up until recently, ironic interpretations of LGW tended to dominate Chaucer criticism; see, for instance, John Fyler, "The Legend of Good Women: Palinode and Procrustean Bed," in his Chaucer and Ovid (New Haven, 1979), 96-123; and Lisa Kiser, Telling Classical Tales: Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983). Carolyn Dinshaw provides an important feminist study in this vein, stating that through the formulaic suffering of LGW women, "Woman's story... becomes dull, a formula. The female character is reduced to a never-varying caricature" ("'The naked text in English to declare': The Legend of Good Women," in her Chaucer's Sexual Poetics [Madison, Wisc., 1989], 65-87, at 86). Increasingly, critics view LGW as simultaneously inviting both anti-and profeminist readings; see Sanok, "Reading Hagiographically"; Minnis, "Repainting the Lion"; and Florence Percival, Chaucer's Legendary Good Women (Cambridge, U.K., 1998).
25. Percival argues that the antifeminist joke that good women no longer exist is "hinted at" in LGW (Chaucer's Legendary Good Women, 7). Percival also notes that in making this joke, Chaucer's LGW was taking part in a longstanding tradition in medieval literature; similar suggestions about the non-existence of good women can be found in the Roman de la Rose, Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium, and Guillaume de Machaut's Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre. And then there is the legendary cow Chichevache, referenced among other places at the end of ClT (IV 1188), who feeds on virtuous wives and is therefore starving. On the tradition of the non-existent good wife, see Percival, 7-8, 70-74.
26. Aers, "Faith, Ethics, and Community," 361, 360.
27. Tara Williams has recently commented on the necessity of masculine cruelty to establish Griselda's perfection: "Perversely, his [Walter's] cruelty... creates the environment necessary for Griselda to prove herself an exemplar of womanhood. Like the spouses themselves, the two qualities -- cruelty and perfect womanliness -- are interdependent: womanhood is most apparent (and possibly most meaningful) in the context of unreasonably demanding male authority" ("'T'assaye in thee thy wommanheede': Griselda Chosen, Translated, and Tried," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 27 : 93-127, at 124).
28. Mitchell, Ethics and Exemplary Narrative, 123.
29. For an astute reading of the difficulty of the Clerk's final Envoy, see Dinshaw, Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 152-55.
30. Alcuin Blamires, Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender (Oxford, 2006), 18-19.
31. "Stoic ethics" here entails the Ethics of Aristotle and Roman Stoicism as they were inherited and interpreted by medieval authors and scholars; for Chaucer, this notion of ethics involved primarily "self-sufficiency and governance of the self (of emotions as well as appetites)" (Blamires, Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender, 16). Therefore Stoic ethics differs from the passionate outbursts of the LGW women and even from the patient sufferings of Griselda, for although her self-possession at times resembles Stoic composure, her motive is not to remove herself from the vicissitudes of the world but rather to please and match wills with one particular man of that world, her husband.
32. See in particular the late fourteenth-century conduct book Le Mesnagier de Paris, purportedly written by a well-to-do Parisian for his new young bride. In this work the Mesnagier frequently presents spousal obedience and devotion as contributing to a wife's spiritual well-being, and it is in this context that he tells the Griselda story (Le Mesnagier de Paris, ed. Georgina Brereton and Janet Ferrier [Paris, 1994], esp. 186-231).
33. Frank Grady, Representing Righteous Heathens in Late Medieval England (New York, 2005), 7.
34. Grady, Representing Righteous Heathens, 7.
35. Preface, para. 9: "visum est, ne omiserim, excepta matre prima, his omnibus fere gentilibus nullas ex sacris mulieribus hebreis christianisque miscuisse; non enim satis bene conveniunt, nec equo incedere videntur gradu." The original Latin and its English translation are taken from Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women, ed. and trans. Virginia Brown (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), 12-13.
36. Preface, para. 10: "eternam et veram gloriam"; "quodam nature munere vel instinctu, seu potius huius momentanei fulgoris cupiditate percite" (Boccaccio, Famous Women, 12-13).
37. Dedication, para. 9: "pre ceteris, non tantum coevis tuis, sed priscis etiam, animi integritate prestantior fias" (Boccaccio, Famous Women, 6-7).
38. Dedication, para. 9: "et quotiens in gentili muliere quid dignum, christianam religionem professa legeris, quod in te fore non senseris, ruborem mentis excita et te ipsam redargue quod, Christi delinita crismate, honestate aut pudicitia vel virtute superis ab extera" (Boccaccio, Famous Women, 4-5).
39. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York, 1998), 189, 193. Original French: "trop amoit"; "ama de trop grant et de trop ferme amour Jason"; and "par trop amer fu perie" (Maureen Cheney Curnow, ed., "The Livre de la Cité des Dames of Christine de Pisan: A Critical Edition" [Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt University, 1975], 931, 937).
40. Christine de Pizan, Book of the City, 202. Original French: "Que t'en diroye? Tousjours te pourroye racompter de histories de femmes en telle folle amour surprises qu trop on amé de grant amour sans varier.... Sy n'est mye doubte que moult est grande l'amour d'une constant femme ou elle se assiet, quoy qu'il soit des femmes legieres. Mais ses piteux exemples et assez d'autres que dire te pourroye ne doivent mie estre cause d'esmouvoir les couraiges des femmes de eulx fichier en celle mer tres perilleuse et dampnable de folle amour: car tousjours en est la fin mauvaise a leur grant prejudice et grief en corps, en bien et en honneur et a l'ame, qui plus est" (Curnow, ed., Livre de la Cité, 951-52).
41. Christine de Pizan, Book of the City, 131. Original French: "tant se doulousa de la mort de son epoux que guaires après ne vesqui" (Curnow, ed., Livre de la Cité, 838).
42. Christine de Pizan, Book of the City, 170. Original French: "forte femme en vertu" (Curnow, ed., Livre de la Cité, 900).
43. Christine de Pizan, Book of the City, 175. Original French: "il doit assez souffire l'esprouve de ta constance et de la vraye foy, loyaulté et grant amour, obeyssance et humilité esprouvee que tu as vers moy" (Curnow, ed., Livre de la Cité, 909).