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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.
Ellis, Deborah. "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 topple it.

---. "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 to Averagus.

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, andGender.

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 damage.

Schwartz, Robert B. "The Social Character of May Games: A PopularBackground for Chaucer's Merchant's Tale." Zeitschrift fur Anglistikund Amerikanistik 27

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, 1975. 93-110.

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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