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The Amazon Voice in the Knight's Tale: An Annotated Bibliography
by Rita M. Jones
Web posted at 3:04 PM on 5/2/96 from 26.salc.wsu.edu.
"The Merchant's Wife's Tale: Language, Sex and Commerce inMargery Kempe
and in Chaucer." Exemplaria 2 (1990): 595-626.
Ellis demonstrates how the intersection of language, commerce, and sexualitydefined
the roles of medieval women, particularly as means of exchange. Amerchant's
wife highlights the restrictiveness of this role. As a result,women used
language to subvert the male power structure in order to forge alimited
and typically unrecognized place for themselves. Ellis notes the linkbetween
May and Proserpina' return to the world from Hades in the Spring. WithProserpina's
intervention, May transcends "male ownership through femalelanguage."
May employs women's language to gratify her sexual appetite withoutpunishment.
Her language, unrecognized by the male discourse, remainsincomprehensible
to January, who therefore finds no basis for penalizing her.
Kristeva, Julia. "The Speaking Subject." On Signs. Ed.
MarshallBlonsky. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 1985. 210-220.
In a continuation of the following entry, Kristeva suggests Western Culture
isexpeienceing a "crisis of reason." Women, because they are simultaneouslyexcluded
from and immersed in the dominant discourse, will provide the socialconstructions
for the future. She explains the differences between thesemiotic and symbolic.
She defines the semiotic as the pre-Oedipal bond,during which meaning is
fluid and no disruption between the signifiers andsignifieds occurs. Once
the bond is broken, humans move into the symbolic, orLacanian Law of the
Father, in which the links between words and meanings breakdown and are
arbitrarily established. Under the dominant discourse, "marginalexperiences,"
such as women's, do not make "sense." Sense, however, is definedby
the discourse in power thereby allowing it to censure that which threatensto
---. "The System and the Speaking Subject." The Tell-Tale
Sign: ASurvey of Semiotics. Ed. Thomas A. Sebeok. Lisse, Netherlands:
Peter deRidder P, 1975. 47-55.
In this piece, Kristeva lays out the ground work for the elaboration in
theprevious entry. She posits the study of semiotics moves us closer torecovering
the often-termed Adamic language. Semiotics allows us to speakoutside the
dominant discourse through the archaeology of how and whysignifiers match
signifieds. Dominant discourses pre-empt minority discourses'entries into
speech patterns. Those systems necessarily question the"naturalness"
of the social principles on which the dominant is based.
Martin, Priscilla. Chaucer's Women: Nuns Wives, and Amazons. IowaCity:
U Iowa P, 1990.
Martin focuses her evaluation of Chaucer's women on their relationship todiscourse.
In most cases, the women are either excluded from or given aminimal space
in the male-centered discourse. While including information fromChaucer's
socio-historical moment, Martin also emphasizes a reader-basedinterpretation
of Chaucer's female characters. In chapter four, "The Amazonand the
Wise Woman, or `God Knows What She Thought,'" Martin discusses the
roleof Emelye in the Knight's Tale and points out differences among
it,Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Boccaccio's Teseida.She
notes the significance of Theseus' conquest of the Amazons represents hisdominance
of the natural and female worlds. Martin revises several critics'suggestions
that Emelye's aristocratic convention of shyness prompts her desireto forgo
child-bearing. Emelye's wish is based on her Amazonian background.Martin
explores Chaucer's female characters that appear in various gardens inchapter
seven, "Real Women in Imaginary Gardens." She notes the similaritiesbetween
Chaucer's gardens and the Garden of Eden. Several of Chaucer's femalesare
also tempted in various gardens, which serve the double purpose of themeeting
place of culture and nature.
Showalter, Elaine. "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness."
The NewFeminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory.
Ed. ElaineShowalter. New York: Pantheon, 1985. 243-270.
Showalter presents the problem many women encounter in attempting to speak
inthe dominant discourse, knowing they also speak from a view purposefullyexcluded
from that discourse. Showalter points out that men and women share alarge
space of existence that is similar. However, each sex claims a smallportion
of their lives that are specific to that sex. The females occupy a"wild
zone." The males' equivalent is merely a male zone, to which females
aredenied physical access but about which they receive information. The
male zoneis incorporated into various legends. Because males deny the value
of the wildzone, it remains inexpressible through language, and therefore
unknown bymales. Any attempt to express the wild zone or to speak from it
must followthe forms of the dominant discourse. Once it moves into the sphere
oflanguage, the males appropriate its use.
Woods, William F. "`My Sweete Foo': Emelye's Role in The Knight'sTale."
Studies in Philology 88 (1991): 276-306.
Woods suggests Emelye occupies the role of mediator between Palamon and
Arciteand between the natural world and the world of human law. Theseus
exemplifiesthe world of human law. The first extensive view of Emelye is
in the garden,which sets up her affinity with natural world. Emelye's alliance
with naturepermits her to demonstrate its power. However, she also exerts,
at a pivotalmoment, an agency that represents "God's will in man."
Emelye's devotion toVenus and Diana exhibits the necessary connections between
love and naturalorder in human life. Woods notes the brevity of the description
of Diana'stemple in comparison to that of the other two gods and determines
the theme ofchange present in Diana's prompts the speaker to move over it
quickly. Woodssuggests that in the scene immediately before the death of
Arcite, Emelye andTheseus occupy similar positions of power. Both want one
man to marry her.She prays for the one who desires her most, and she receives
her wish. Woodsfinds the golden flames arising from the green woods burning
in Arcite'sfuneral pyre to represent the metamorphoses of divine and natural
change,respectively. Emelye undergoes a change as she repositions herself
in theworld of law and forgoes the law of nature.
Ardener, Edwin. "The `Problem' Revisited." 1975. Perceiving
Women.Ed. ShirleyArdener. London: J M Dent, 1977. 19-27.
Ardener approaches the relationship between women, men, nature and culture
froma social anthropological perspective. He accepts the view that women
and menoccupy much of the same space of existence and that each sex also
occupies anarea unique to their sex. Because they cannot occupy it, each
sees the othersex's separate realm as "wild." The females receive
some information aboutthe male wild as it is occupied by members of the
dominant discourse. Thefemales' wild remains unknown to males whose discourses
pre-empts expressionfrom that zone.
Bleeth, Kenneth A. "The Image of Paradise in the Merchant's Tale."The
Learned and the Lewd: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature.Ed.
Larry D. Benson. Cambridge: Harvard U P, 1974. 45-60.
Bleeth discusses how Chaucer's variations of the Garden of Eden in theMerchant's
Tale set up the complications in the fabliau at the end ofthe tale.
January builds his own Paradise in his back yard. His lust in thegarden
works against him as Damyan slips into January's role. Rather than thefruit
allowing January to see fully, he only gains his physical sight butretains
a sense of moral blindness. January builds the garden to control May'smonogamy,
but it instead serves as the source of her unfaithfulness. Bleethpoints
out the connections between January's song to May and the Song of Songs,as
well as the association between May and "paradise."
Brooks, Douglas and Alastair Fowler. "The Meaning of Chaucer's Knight'sTale."
Medium Aevum 39 (1970): 123-146.
Brooks and Fowler follow the astrological associations between the charactersand
the deities they worship in the Knight's Tale. They point out thatDiana
is often associated with Proserpina, and they imply Emelye's connectionto
Proserpina as both rise in the Spring. Emelye maintains connections toVenus,
the morning star, as Emelye is an early morning riser. Emelye therebymaintains
a quasi-pivotal position as both the huntress and the rejuvenator oflife.
Though they focus mainly on Emelye, Brooks and Fowler suggest thecharacters
represent various changes in human life based on their rulingplanetary influences.
Cameron, Allen Barry. "The Heroine in The Knight's Tale."Studies
in Short Fiction 5 (1968): 119-27.
Cameron focuses on the allegorical representations of Emelye and other maincharacters
of the Knight's Tale. Though he finds all exhibiting traitstying
them to the natural world, Emelye is a "symbol on the level of thenatural
order." Emelye's characteristics are associated with spring, Palamon'swith
summer and Arcite's with winter. The marriage must take place betweenEmelye
and Palamon to insure a productive crop. Cameron sees Emelye'savailability
for marriage as a continuation of the aristocratic sect. Shehelps solidify
the chivalric quest.
Chance, Jane. The Mythographic Chaucer: The Fabulation of SexualPolitics.
Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1995.
Chance investigates Chaucer's use of mythic tradition. Chance's study isthoroughly
researched and includes detailed analyses of the deities used byChaucer
and his source authors. She points out changes he made from his sourcetexts
and discusses both the possible causes and implications of hisalterations.
Chance discusses in chapter six, "Feminizing Theseus in theKnight's
Tale: The Victory of Pallas Athena over Mars," how Chaucer'schange
in deities alters the readers' perceptions of Theseus. Statius'Thebaid
focuses on Pallas Athena and Mars. Chaucer substitutes Dianafor Athena and
adds Venus. Theseus is often surrounded by and directed bywomen. His attention
to women's concerns is based largely on his move indevotion from only Mars
to a combined worship of Mars and Diana.
Collette, Carolyn P. "Umberto Eco, Semiotics, and the Merchant'sTale."
The Chaucer Review 24 (1989): 132-138.
Collette begins her reading with a defense of her semiotic method. Sheacknowledges
a difference between the fourteenth century's semiotic system andour modern
system. She agrees with Eco's requirement to read,self-consciously, texts
according to their socio-historical moment ofproduction. While remembering
the time of the Canterbury Tales, we canalso implement a semiotic
reading because the systems both then and now are inconstant change. Such
a self-conscious approach permits us to locatesimilarities and differences
between fourteenth-century systems and our own.
Collins, Marie. "Love, Nature and Law in the Poetry of Gower and
Chaucer."Court and Poet: Selected Proceedings of the Third Congress
of theInternational Courtly Literature Society (Liverpool 1980). Ed.
Gly S.Burgess. Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1981. 113-128.
Collins demonstrates the Medieval act of balance between the law of Nature
andnatural law. Humans, especially in affairs of love, tend to subjugate
rationaland moral law to their baser animal instincts. She suggests Chaucer
has somesense of hope that humans can learn to temper passion with reason.
Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender.Berkeley:
U California P, 1992.
In chapter 8, "`Women-as-the Same' in the A-Fragment," Hansen
discusses theKnight's Tale in terms of Theseus' assertion of power
over the Amazonwomen. She acknowledges the vast amount of critics who note
the presentabsence of Emelye. She finds the absence functioning as a reassertion
ofTheseus' and the Knight's dominance in the society. In beginning the taleafter
the conquest of the Amazons, Chaucer avoids exposing the potential threatthe
women warriors posed. However, the tale opens with the very implicationthat
a strong force exists in the margins of the culture, and that force rivalsthe
male power structure within the culture. In ending the tale with themarriage
of Emelye, Theseus not only gains an ally in Palamon, but contains thereproductive
power of Emelye.
Hefferman, Carol Falvo. "The Two Gardens of The Franklin's Tale."Court
and Poet: Selected Proceedings of the Third Congress of theInternational
Courtly Literature Society (Liverpool 1980). Ed. Gly S.Burgess. Liverpool:
Francis Cairns, 1981. 177-189.
Hefferman posits that two gardens manifest themselves in the Franklin'sTale:
the gardens of conjugal and courtly love. We meet Dorigen in theconjugal
garden, but she enters the second at the request of friends duringAveragus'
absence. In the courtly garden, Aurelius tempts her. He allows herto return
unharmed to the conjugal garden because he respects her maritalallegiance
Middleton, Anne. "War by Other Means: Marriage and Chivalry in Chaucer."Studies
in he Age of Chaucer: Proceedings 1 (1984): 119-133.
Middleton examines the Knight's Tale, the Franklin's Tale
and theSquire's Tale. She determines that physical battle remains
on theoutskirts of the narratives, which then become dominated by "a
marriage plotand the making of a fabulous spectacle." The love presumed
in a marriage,combined with the exploits of a brave knight, comprise two
main components ofchivalry. Middleton views marriage and chivalry as means
of social control.Marriage asserts authority over women's and men's sexual
impulses. Chivalrydominates their interactions with the rest of society.
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women inClassical
Antiquity. 1975. New York: Schocken, 1995.
Pomeroy provides a well-researched study of the role of women in Ancient
Greeceand Rome. Her evidence includes artifacts unearthed by archaeologists,
writtentexts, and legends. In her discussions of Artemis (Diana) and Amazons,
shenotes the similarities between the two in their dress, abilities as archers,and
voluntary physical removal from male-dominated society. Women were valuedas
producers of legitimate heirs. Artemis' refusal to participate in amonogamous
relationship not only permitted her escape from the restrictions ofthe patriarchy
but allowed to assert her independence. Pomeroy points outHerodotus' statement
concerning Amazons and language. Though they learned themale language, the
males never understood the Amazons'.
Olson, Paul A. "Chaucer's Merchant and January's `Heven in Erthe
Heere.'"English Literary History 28 (1961): 203-214.
Olson reads the tale as one highlighting the oppositions between the temporaland
spiritual worlds. On earth, humans lead lives centered around theaccumulation
of wealth, specifically in the form of material possessions.Medieval thinkers
equated women with any physical possession. January refersto May in terms
of natural objects, such as fruit or animals. January sees Mayas his paradise
on earth. January's garden is not one of "divine love" but"earthly
lust." Olson finds Chaucer juxtaposing greed with spiritual wealth,or
that which cannot be visibly possessed.
Ortner, Sherry B. "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?"
Woman,Culture, and Society. Ed. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise
Lamphere.Stanford: Stanford U P, 1974. 67-87.
Although Ortner acknowledges her rather generalized approach, her study
holdsvalue in the implicit assumptions in place in most societies today
thatrelegate women to the plane of nature and men on the level of culture.
Allmodern civilizations are founded on their reliance on and control of
naturalresources. Women are not necessarily equated with nature, but women's
naturalprocesses of menstruation, childbirth and nursing provide the existing
powerstructure enough evidence to suggest their affinity with nature. As
societyasserts its authority over the natural world, it easily does the
same to women,whom they associate with nature. Women are thereby more likely
to occupy aposition between culture and nature than are men.
Roberts, Jeanne Addison. The Shakespearean Wild: Geography, Genus,
Lincoln: U Nebraska P, 1991.
While Roberts discusses Shakespeare's texts, she simultaneously providesinformation
concerning the development of the equation between women andnature. Roberts
traces this movement back to fifth century Greece when womenwere associated
with nature and barbarians. Though speaking of Shakespeare,Roberts' claim
that many male characters first establish their separatenessfrom the maternal,
brave the Wild to find a mate, and return to Culture tocultivate and control
that mate, can be applied to several other authors' textsas well. Roberts
notes that though Amazons seemed to threaten male dominance,the authors
of the Middle Ages accepted them as mere myth, hence impotent.Chaucer's
use of the myth includes Christian influences, thereby placing itunder the
authority of the patriarchal church.
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology ofEarth
Healing. San Francisco: Harper, 1992.
In her discussion, Ruether points out the typical association of women tonature
and men to culture. She sees Christianity as a main influence on andtransmitter
of this notion in Western Culture. Christianity also sets of the"natural"
acceptance of human dominance over animals and men over women.Rather than
denying the close relationship between women and nature, Ruethercelebrates
it and explains that because of women's close connections, they arebest
able to protect the environment and rectify the pre-exisitingenvironmental
Schwartz, Robert B. "The Social Character of May Games: A PopularBackground
for Chaucer's Merchant's Tale." Zeitschrift fur Anglistikund
Jahrung 1979: 43-51.
Schwartz notes connections between the figures of Robin Hood and Gamelyn,
bothpeasants who usurp the authority of knights. He suggests Chaucer places
Damyanin a similar role, particularly during the month of May. The May Gamesresembled
a type of Dionysian festival during which class structures werepermeable,
and peasants freely participated in revelries without fear ofpunishment.
None of the characters in the Merchant's Tale strikereaders as wholly
benign at the close of the tale. They do note that Damyandisrupts the class
and social hierarchy without punishment.
Stock, Lorraine Kochanske. "The Two Mayings in Chaucer's Knight'sTale:
Convention and Invention." Journal of English and GermanicPhilology
85 (1986): 206-221.
Stock concentrates her study on the two May scenes. The first is theintroduction
to Emelye in the garden, and the second is Arcite's maying song.Stock finds
similarities between the description of Emelye and the Romangoddess Flora.
Flora and her mate, Zephyr, oversee the fertility of spring.Stock points
out the conflict in Chaucer's underlying premise, which alternatesthe alliance
of the young Amazon with Flora and Diana. The former promisesfertility whereas
the latter protects her chastity. Stock then exploresArcite's song and determines
a variant reading. She argues he sings for avirgin to "deflower,"
which corresponds with the florid/green appearance ofEmelye.
Storm, Melvin. "From Knossos to Knight's Tale: The Changing Face
ofChaucer's Theseus." The Mythographic Art: Classical Fable and
the Rise ofthe Vernacular in Early France and England. Ed. Jane Chance.
Gainesville,FL: U Florida P, 1990. 215-31.
Storm traces the changes in Theseus' character in Chaucer's works.Specifically
in the Knight's Tale, Theseus returns from the conquest ofthe Amazons.
In completing such an act, he has fulfilled one of therequirements of the
courtly love tradition. Storm notes Theseus' allegiance todeities differs
throughout Chaucer's pieces. Theseus once worshipped Venus,but in the Knight's
Tale he is a devotee of Mars and Diana. Storm viewsthis as the medieval
model of control of reason over passion in marriage.
Tyrell, William Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Myth-Making.Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins U P, 1984.
Tyrell provides a thorough historical and literary study of the Amazon myth.He
does not intend to prove whether or not the Amazons existed but rather totrace
the influences of the myth on Athenian society. Initially the legendappears
to be a role reversal of the patriarchal-based society. Upon furtherreflection,
Tyrell point out that the Amazons provide an alternate perspectiveof that
society. They offer a lifestyle where women's roles are not determinedby
their ability to reproduce. Tyrell suggests the male-dominated powerstructure
created the legendary race as a powerful one in order for the males'conquest
to appear more glorious.
Weissman, Hope Phyllis. "Antifeminism and Chaucer's Characterizations
ofWomen." Geoffrey Chaucer. Ed. George D. Economou. New York:McGraw-Hill,
Weissman places Emelye in the position of the courtly damsel created by
thechivalric tradition. To prove their worth, the knights need to rescue
thesewomen in distress. In the main portion of her study, Weissman reads
the Knightas the narrator of the Knight's Tale. The Knight allows
Emelye to move"freely within courtly romance conventions" until
he needs to trap her formarriage to Palamon or Arcite. Weissman sees Emelye
as more than just a staticportrait but as an emblem for the courtly tradition
and for the natural world.Weissman later moves to Chaucer's alterations
of Boccaccio's text. As Emilia'sagency is lessened when she becomes Emelye,
Weissman finds her changed into an"automaton." Emelye accepts
the Athenian role of women unquestioningly.
Woods, William F. "Chivalry and Nature in The Knight's Tale."Philological
Quarterly 66 (1987): 287-301.
Woods explores the various positions the main characters and deities of
theKnight's Tale represent. Palamon and Arcite are assimilated into
thecode of chivalry, influenced by Theseus and nature. Theseus commands
war andEmelye suggests an affinity with nature. The two young lovers ally
themselvescloser to Emelye and nature as they seek to possess her as their
own. Thoughthey follow the courtly love tradition in gaining her favor,
they distancethemselves too much from the society represented by Theseus.
As a resultPalamon and Arcite submit to the powers of fate rather than the
powers of humanartifice in the form of laws. The deities become mere projections
of the humanworshippers and they play out the conflicts of courtly love
in an etherealsphere. Theseus' final speech suggests the humans' acceptance
of the powers ofnature while still asserting an attempt at human control.
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