Chaucer: Legend of Good Women
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE LEGEND OF
- What is the only thing that motivates Chaucer to toss aside his books?
- What flower does he seem obsessed with?
- Why is the God of Love pissed off at Chaucer?
- Alceste negotiates what kind of repentance for Chaucer?
- Essay: Is it a satire? If so, on what?
Finally we have Chaucer’s decasyllabic couplet, well suited for running narrative.
Are the legends partly an experiment in writing short narrative in this new poetic form? They may have preceded composition of the Prologue.
Alceste is mentioned in TC and ML: she seems the ideal of womanhood. Does she represent the Virgin Mary, “Daisy,” Anne of Bohemia? Temporarily circulated the theory of Alceste being an “Alice of Chester,” but Alice turned out, as J.M. Manly discovered, to be an elderly laundrywoman.
The God of Love is Richard II?
Was the Cult of the Marguerite (the Daisy) in France an influence? (The rose as the love flower is old and hackneyed by now.)
Did the Cult of the Flower and the Leaf play a bigger part than Chaucer admits?
Everything is nebulous: critics can¹t even decide if the poem is good or bad literature. The Riverside intro praises it as an attempt at a “collection of tales more ambitious in scope” than The Monk’s Tale (587), failing to mention that The Monk’s Tale is interrupted as being hideously tedious. Other awkward apologies include the corrective that passages noting Chaucer’s boredom with writing this are actually occupatio and rhetorical pattern (yeah, rhetorical patterns signalling boredom) and, well, his description of the sea battle in the Legend of Cleopatra is pretty good (but an inappropriate investment of talent given the nature of the task at hand).
See the Introduction to The Man of Law’s Tale (pp. 8788).
See the Retraction too.
How many legends were there, or did Chaucer claim there were?
“Legend” = Collection of Saints’ Lives [as in Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend) and The South England Legendary]. These are often sado-masochistic tales you read for pleasure and instruction (“sentence” and “solas”).
The “God of Love” is Cupid, so “Saints” to love are those who suffer.
The Prologue has received the most attention, while the legends receive only backhanded compliments. [For source study, Froissart, Deschamps, and Machaut are the relevant French authors.]
We have two versions of the Prologue:F (sometimes labelled B) and G (sometimes A). G is more logical and consecutive while F is more lyrical. Queen Anne is alluded to in F (496-497), but dropped in G; she died in 1394.
Some think the G-text is a scribal revision because it’s structured better, is less poetic and lyrical. Scribes would remember associative ideas, not lyricism.
The Prologue has been called “fashionable dilly-dallying on the subject of love,” except for the solemn beginning on the subject of the afterlife. Is it a tribute to books and learning? Is the daisy a symbol of literature?