Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 7865
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Weckström , Mari Pakkala.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Rise and Fall of the Faithful Wife: Chaucer's Griselda and Dorigen Seen Through Dialogue
  • Source: Gender and Conflict in the Middle Ages. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, York, January 5-7 2001.. 2001.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Chaucer, Geoffrey, Poet- Canterbury Tales- Clerk's Tale Chaucer, Geoffrey, Poet- Canterbury Tales- Franklin's Tale Dorigen (Literary Figure) Griselda (Literary Figure) Husbands in Literature Literature- Verse Power in Literature Wives in Literature Women
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
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  • Abstract: Chaucer’s "Canterbury Tales" brings forward a vast array of issues important to the late medieval society. One of the issues that seem to have greatly intrigued Chaucer is the balance of power in marriages, i.e. the issue of "maistrie." The position of married women in the medieval society is, at times, difficult to determine; on the one hand, there are the ideals of virtuous silence and submission; on the other hand, a woman’s task was to act as councellor and mediator for her husband. Also, a clear distinction between "good" women and "bad" women exists. All these roles are represented by the wives in the "Canterbury Tales." Most importantly, the marriage discourse in the "Canterbury Tales" offers a cross-section of genres and styles, the characters representing all social classes. The purpose of this study is to explore the power relations between spouses in Chaucer’s "Clerk’s Tale" and "Franklin’s Tale" through dialogue. From the outset, the two tales represent almost opposite poles in the distribution of power between husband and wife. In the "Franklin’s Tale," the husband, Arveragus, surrenders his "maistrie," i.e. power, upon his marriage to Dorigen; in the "Clerk’s Tale," the husband, Walter, makes it a condition of his marriage to Griselda that she always obey him. The issue of social class is also present: the powerless Griselda is a peasant girl while Dorigen is a lady. Both heroines find themselves in the middle of crisis caused by promises they have made; Griselda to her husband and Dorigen to her admirer. My aim is look into the linguistic strategies used by the two women to create and/or overcome their crises, and to restore a balance of "maistrie." Interestingly, despite her low birth, it is Griselda who seems to be linguistically more resourceful, turning total submission into personal victory; Dorigen shifts registers and creates confusion, thus, in a way, causing her own fall from power. On a general level, my approach to study the marriage discourse and particularly dialogue in the "Clerk’s Tale" and the "Franklin’s Tale" is that of historical pragmatics. The core idea of pragmatics is to uncover what is really communicated in the course of conversation or dialogue, which is very suitable for studying something as elusive as the fluctuations in the power balance between a man and a wife. On a more specific level, for a more detailed analysis of the dialogue and the immediately surrounding narrative, I shall apply politeness theories, focusing on negative politeness and positive politeness; the choice between using these can convey much about the relationship and distance between the participants of the conversation. It is important to bear in mind that in the medieval context the distance between two people married to each other can be huge; a fact particularly obvious in the "Clerk’s Tale." [Reproduced by permission of Gender and Medieval Studies Conference organizers].
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Helsinki
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2001.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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