Tag: chaucer

The difference between a sincere and earnest representation of women’s capabilities and a half-hearted attempt to make a sorry-not-sorry apology.


The difference between a sincere and earnest representation of women’s capabilities and a half-hearted attempt to make a sorry-not-sorry apology.

Christine De Pizan was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, writing around the same time as he was during the middle ages in Europe. Being an educated and capable woman in the middle ages, it irritated her to see many of her male contemporaries paint women in a negative or slanderous light. She got so fed up with this horrible misrepresentation of her gender that she wrote an entire book to refute many of the criticisms she’d heard against women. She set her story up with a framework where she is the main character and is visited by three celestial ladies sent to her by God, who inform her that she has been chosen to build a city just for awesome and worthy women from the past and present. So, like Noah’s Ark but without the whole flood thing and it’s really just a cool place for women to go and get away from all the men. It is compared to Amazonia, which you may recognize from either Greek Mythology, or Wonder Woman comics/movies.

NO BOYS ALLOWED Red White Sign on Timber Wall Background

De Pizan constructs her city with the help of these three ladies, Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. Since Christine has a lot of internalized misogyny going on due to all the men like Ovid constantly writing about how terrible women are, the first two-thirds of the book are reserved for Reason and Rectitude getting her out of that mindset. She asks questions like, “why do all these men say women are unfaithful?” and they tell her, “Stop reading Ovid! He was a player when he was young and now he tries to ruin everything for everyone else because he’s aged out of his salacious little lifestyle.”  Every time she asks a question like this, they give her numerous of examples of women who proved themselves to be faithful, intelligent, powerful, and otherwise worthy. All of these women, and any women from the past, present, and future who prove themselves worthy will all be able to Reside in the City of Ladies Christine is building.

Image title : “…splashy banner…thanks for another great year, peasants!” by cartoonsource on stock.adobe.com File #72669384 Also, pretend those three people are the Ladies Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. It’s funnier that way.

Chaucer wrote something similar, The Legend of Good Women, in that he gives a few examples of women who he thought were “good.” That’s pretty much where the similarities stop though, because Chaucer really didn’t seem as invested as De Pizan was in representing women and how they are just as capable intellectually and emotionally to men. Really, Chaucer seemed to be writing his Legend of Good Women more as a response to a slap on the wrist for portraying some women in his works unfavorably. He basically came out with Legend of Good Women as a way to say, “Hey, I’m not a bad guy! Here’s some women that I think are great!” and proceeds to primarily list women who don’t do much other than suffering for the men in their lives, usually enduring some pretty horrendous treatment and tragedy.

Chaucer spends the majority of The Legend of Good Women on the prologue where he, similarly to Pizan, is visited by celestial beings, only they are the God of Love and his Queen, and the God of Love is there to wreck him for being totally disrespectful to love in his works. Thankfully for Chaucer, the God of Love’s Queen Alceste intercedes and says that Chaucer just needs to pay some penance, do some community service and all that. She says that he needs to write a book about great women who were faithful despite the men in their lives being total garbage. And he needs to give the book to the Queen of England when he’s done.

Reading the two works, you can see the difference in conviction and motivations for Chaucer and De Pizan. Chaucer just clearly wants some people to get off his back. It’s like a modern day person saying, “How can you criticize my work for being misogynist? I totally love women!” and kind of going on a rant unrelated or irrelevant to the initial criticism. He spends very little time talking about most of the women, and he takes out all of the most interesting parts of one of Greek mythology’s best anti-heroes, Medea. (Although to be fair, De Pizan leaves out some of the more extreme stuff for Medea in order to make her appeal a bit more to her Christian ideology, too) The specific issue here seems representative of the whole work, where Chaucer does not really center the women in his Legend of Good Women. In Medea’s story her male counterpart is centered and she is reduced to how she was useful to him. In Legend of Good Women, Chaucer, in a sense, is reducing all of his female examples to their usefulness to his own purpose, redeeming his own reputation as a good guy.

De Pizan, however, gives us the perspective of a woman in the middle ages earnestly and seriously arguing that women are, in fact, capable and good and intelligent on their own. She’s not perfect, and unfortunately the ending of the Book of the City of Ladies is disappointing from a modern feminist perspective, but the first half of her book reads like an early version of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication on the Rights of Women, which is pretty amazing. She uses similar arguments, one example on women’s lack of exposure to education and experience as the more logical reason to why women at the time may not have had the same knowledge as women, and that if they were exposed to the same educational resources and experiences they would be just as intellectually capable as men in learning. Who would have thought?! For some perspective, De Pizan published the Book of the City of Ladies a whopping 387 years before Wollstonecraft’s Vindication. So, although De Pizan ends her book with an appeal to women to put up with their awful and even abusive husbands so they can be rewarded in Heaven, which is, again, from a modern feminist perspective, pretty disappointing, it is amazing to read a woman’s work from the early 1400’s that stands up to the misogyny of her day and makes sound arguments in defense of women.

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-Arielle S. Arnold

Chaucer, Martin, and the Church.

One of the core parts of a fantasy novel, really honestly like any form of fiction, is tropes. Recently, tropes have gotten a bad rep, and I don’t think that’s particularly fair. 

First, I guess I should explain what a trope is. The simplest explanation is this: a trope is a commonly used idea or plot point in fiction. 

Think a young, nobody guy that suddenly receives a magical weapon and must now go save the world.

Am I talking about Luke Skywalker? Harry Potter? Literally so many other characters? That’s a trope.

There are plenty of videos on youtube that talk about them but I have an issue with the fact that most of these refer to tropes as “cliches” which, again, I don’t think is fair. Especially if you’re going to automatically say all cliches are bad. They’re not. I promise. Tropes done badly are bad because the writer messed up, not because the device is bad. 

Now that I have established what a trope is, I can talk about what I ACTUALLY want to talk about which is the deconstruction of tropes. To understand what it means to subvert, or change, a trope you need to know what they are in the first place which is why I wasted that time up top giving a brief explanation of the concept. Because, I believe to properly deconstruct tropes you need to understand them, maybe even love them. 

We could say, easily, that one of the first examples of a deconstruction of a trope is in The Canterbury Tales, though I will add that it’s not REALLY the same because the tropes would not have been…y’know…tropes. At that point. They were characters, ideals, plots, that would later go on to become tropes. The shining knight of “The Knight’s Tale” or the drunken laborer of “The Miler’s Tale.” All of which would become VERY common parts of stories. But, let’s say there are some common character types at the time of Chaucer writing, religious folks mostly or tales of morality such as the play Everyman. Within The Canterbury Tales, there is STILL deconstruction of those ideas. 

The first examples come directly from the “General Prologue” of the story, where Chaucer introducers his characters and the reason they’re together. Both of the characters are religious men, a friar, and a monk, and both of them are far from the holy man ideal that would have been overt in many morality plays or texts of the time. The monk is described as being very well dressed, with many horses, and loving hunting. The text goes so far as to say he “gave not a plucked in for that text” (line 13.) So, he’s not exactly a high holy man. Then comes the friar, who is explicitly said to take money from rich people to make himself rich while he ignores the poor people that may actually need his guidance because they cannot pay him. So, that’s great, good things happening here. For sure not at all a HUGE drag on the Catholic Church and indulgences (when priests and others would take money from parishioners and say that money would get them into heaven.) 

It would not at all be a leap to see how these two men, men of the church, being corrupt signals something greater. The idea that the Catholic Church is infallible, it isn’t, because it is run by men like these who use that religion to enrich themselves. 

This may be common enough for us now, specifically when it comes to organizations such as the church, but what about the less common deconstructions? Or, at least, the ones we are less likely to see as deconstructions? Such as, oh IDK, high fantasy based on a combination of the War of the Roses and climate change? 

I mean A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, obviously. (As a quick note, I won’t talk about the show because I deeply hate it but that’s on me.) 

There are some obvious ones about, like, the government in general, but I’m not gonna talk about those I want to talk about CHARACTERS. 

Actually, more specifically, two relationships and how they’re deconstruction of class fantasy tropes in the same way that Chaucer was deconstructing morality play tropes with the monk and the friar. Renly/Loras and Jaime/Cersei (Jaime/Brienne too but it’s a different trope) both function as deconstructions of Courtly Romance ideals. 

Forbidden love between a royal and a knight is an INCREDIBLY common idea dating all the way back to stories about King Arthur (Guinevere and Lancelot, anyone?) But these two ships have some obvious, uh, differences. One of them is a gay relationship, not something you’re likely to find being explicitly written in a courtly romance. The other is incest and also, just, a really wild relationship in every possible way. 

But, honestly, that’s a way different and longer post so I’m not gonna dwell on them just wanted all of you to have to deal with the knowledge that Jaime and Cersei are Lancelot and Guinevere equivalent. Let that live in your brain forever like it lives in mine. 

Obviously, the Chaucer tropes and what Martin is using are very different, but my interest lies less in WHAT tropes are deconstructed more in…like…what it means, if that makes sense. It doesn’t but I’ll try and explain. Those ideas, religious men of valor and courtly romances, are fundamental tropes. They have defined much of the stories we use. Despite having nothing in common in form they are similar in impact, is what I mean, I guess. Both stories show romanticized or normalized versions of an idea, religion or love or honor or really so many things, and tear those things down.

Within A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s notable that the primary church of the Seven Kingdom, the Seven, is a corrupt organization, all of the septons (priests) we meet are either using the religion to enrich themselves or using it to enact a violent agenda. The High Septon is, after all, responsible for unleashing the Faith Militant, the people going around fighting and killing for the church (Martin,) and the Silent Sisters are responsible for torture and the Walk of Shame that Cersei must undergo, and she is far from the only one they put through that, just the POV character we read about. That is hardly a great view of the dominate organized religion of the time. Just like Chaucer talking about not the IDEA of god but the domination that the Catholic Church has on religion. 

What is the Faith Militant but a version of the Crusades? What about the Silent Sisters? How many horror stories are about nuns? A LOT. 

Without Chaucer taking the forms of ideal religious men and smearing dirt just ALLLLLLLL over them would trope deconstruction evolved in a way that allowed Martin to make his version of the church? Obviously, there’s no way to know for sure but I like to think not, that there’s some alternate universe where Chaucer decided to write these men different which meant that the way our literature has developed is completely different. 

Or, think of it this way, someone had to pave the way, right? Towards being able to overtly comment on the crimes of the church, or really any organization, and the first steps towards that were unlikely to be explicit. They were going to be hidden, something that requires deeper reading, something like The Canterbury Tales, not something like A Song of Ice and Fire which needed the framework that made subversion of accepted tropes to even work. 

Anyway, long story short, read the books because the show sucks and I will fight Benioff & Weiss in hell! 


Work Cited


Chaucer, Geoffrey, et al. Reading Chaucer: an Interlinear Translation of Selections in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th Ed. W.W. Norton, 2006.

Martin, George RR. A Feast for Crows. Bantam Books. 2011.