Michael Erik Bigley
BA, The University of Montana, Missoula, 2003
presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
Master of Arts
in English Literature
The University of Montana
Missoula, MT
Spring 2007
Approved by:
Dr. David A. Strobel, Dean
Graduate School
Dr. Ashby Kinch, Chair
Department of English
Dr. John Hunt
Department of English
Dr. James Randall
Department of Music
Bigley, Michael, Master of Arts, May 2007 English
Musicality, Subjectivity and The Canterbury Tales
Chairperson: Dr. Ashby Kinch
This thesis is concerned with musicality as an interpretive category in the reading of
Middle English literature in both lyric and narrative texts. The anonymous musical lyrics
of thirteenth century England emphasize the individual subjectivity of the speaker, a
quality which is enhanced by their musical settings. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written
at the end of the fourteenth century, uses music in a narrative framework to critique the
operation of this subjectivity.
Because the lyric poetry of the period was nearly always set to music, the status of the
texts as songs has an important impact on the way in which those texts create meaning.
Specifically, music deepens and expands the way in which the lyric "I" creates an
anonymous subjectivity into which the hearer or, especially, the performer of the song is
called to enter. This emphasis on subjectivity reflects the ideology of affective piety,
which was being disseminated in England in the thirteenth century by Franciscan friars,
partly through the composition of songs. The same subjectivity is present in non-religious
songs of the period as well, revealing a broader ideology that placed great importance on
the individual.
The Canterbury Tales feature many characters—both among the pilgrims and within the
tales told by those pilgrims—whose practice of music reveals important aspects of their
personality. Chaucer's narrative technique offers these practices up for critique without
commenting on them directly. Separate chapters of this thesis are devoted to identifying
the critiques of religious and amatory musical practices. In each of these chapters,
musicality raises two interlocking issues: the degree to which music can evoke affective
response in the hearer, and the relative values of rationality and natural wisdom.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Ideology, Literature and Music in the English Late Middle Ages………….1
Chapter ne: !E pur ceo dit un Engleis en teu "anere de pite#: The $acant %ub&ect and
the Affecti'e b&ect in the Middle English Anony"ous Lyrics of 1(th Century……….)1
Chapter T*o: !+er,neth "y song that seith in this "anere#: Music, -eligion and the
Author in the Canterbury Tales…………………………………………………………..)
Chapter Three: !/epe *el thy tonge#: Courtly Music and Ethical 0iscourse in the
Canterbury Tales………………………………………………………………………...11
2or,s Cited……………………………………………………………………………...34
Introduction: Ideology, Literature and Music in the English Late Middle Ages
!2hat is too stupid to be said is sung.# 5$oltaire
$oltaire6s bon mot is stri,ing because it re'erses, in *ay that *e recogni7e
i""ediately as 'alid, a co""on and deep8seated con'iction of our culture: that "usic
adds "eaning to *ords. As post8-o"antics, *e ta,e it for granted that e"otional i"pact
inheres in "usic in a *ay that e9ceeds the po*er of intellect alone. 2e e9perience this
e'ery ti"e *e are "o'ed by a pop song or feel so"e physical analogue of spiritual uplift
*hen the singer cli"bs a *hole octa'e o'er the course of the *ords !A"a7ing grace,
ho* s*eet the sound that sa'ed a *retch li,e "e,# stretching that last, self8directed
syllable into a soaring, fi'e8beat e9altation of personal connection to the di'ine. At the
sa"e ti"e, as creatures of the post8Enlighten"ent, *e see in $oltaire6s *ords a reflection
of our o*n suspicion to*ards this e9tra8intellectual "eaning, *hether it is put to the
ser'ice of a century8old spiritual or the latest erotically8charged hit single. This uncritical
reception of $oltaire6s sentence is buttressed another deeply ingrained habit, one
triggered by :ualities intrinsic to the *ords: their lyricality. The sentence is so *idely
cited in English conte9ts ;I, for instance, found it first on a tea bag< in part because of its
appealing sound patterns, fro" the buried rhy"e in !too stupid,# to the string of fi'e s6s,
to the une9pected i"balance of the synta9 against the regularity of the logical e:uation,
in *hich the long 98ter" !too stupid to be said# runs up against the succinctness of the y:
!sung.# At the sa"e that $oltaire6s *ords "oc, the role of "usicality in lending authority
to the undeser'ing, his o*n sentence is traded *ith a currency that dra*s on the sa"e
fund of sound8deri'ed e9tra8intellectual 'alue. That this is the case is de"onstrated by the
ease of finding the citation in English and the difficulty of finding it in =rench.
The opposing syste"s of 'aluation that can 'ie* the effect of "usic *ith such
*ildly di'ergent conclusions did not originate in the eighteenth century, &ust as the proto8
-o"antic acceptance of e9tra8rational "eaning "oc,ed by $oltaire is ob'iously not
original to the century after his. In any gi'en period of *estern intellectual life, the
dialectic bet*een rationalist and e"otionally8oriented discourse is e'ident, e'en as the
relati'e e"phasis bet*een the t*o fluctuates> in the late "edie'al period, the intellectual
influences e"anating out*ard fro" =rance *ere pushing to*ards the latter of these. The
"a&or religious trend of the age, centered around the influence of the t*elfth century
"ystic ?ernard of Clair'au9, *as to*ard an e"otionally8centered, at ti"es fran,ly anti8
rationalist, affecti'e piety that *as a'ailable to all. The popular literature of ti"e,
especially the lyric literature, *as si"ilarly influenced by ?ernard6s conte"poraries the
@ro'enAal troubadours, *hose a"orous lyrics e9hibited an analogous ,ind of reflecti'ely
e"otional 'alence. ?y the end of the fourteenth century, these trends *ere sufficiently
established and corrupted that a *riter such as Beoffrey Chaucer could both in'o,e and
criti:ue such ideology *ithin a fictitious *or,.
The ideology under discussion here is not the specific tenets of a particular group
Csay, the Christian e"phasis on the necessity of connecting to the di'ine or the DcourtlyD
rhetoric of an ideali7ed earthly lo'eCbut the sense identifiable in both of these that an
indi'idualEs sub&ecti'e person is a uni:uely i"portant location of 'alue. The e"phasis on
the indi'idual as distinct fro" the society in *hich it operates is co""only held to be a
pheno"enon of "odernity, but an e9a"ination of so"e thirteenth century English lyrics
in the first chapter of this thesis locates &ust such an ideological e"phasis that is closely
tied to their "usicality. 2ith that foreground, the larger argu"ent of this thesis is that
ChaucerEs Canterbury Tales, *ritten a century after those lyrics, presents a thorough
e'ocation and a subtle ethical criti:ue of the *ay that this ideology operates in relation to
"usical perfor"ance, both in its religious and secular "anifestations.
The early lyrics display t*o ,ey issues related to their sub&ecti'ity that are then
opened for inspection by ChaucerEs narrati'e. The first of these is the issue of affecti'ity.
In the religious conte9t this is an e"otional response *ithin the sub&ect that can lead hi"
to sal'ation> in the secular conte9t it is the e"phasis on the e"otional response of the
lo'er to his belo'ed, and the hope that the perfor"ance of this suffering *ill lead others
to pity hi". ChaucerEs characters, both the pilgri"s and the characters *ithin their tales,
in'o,e these sa"e tropes *ith their "usical perfor"ances in conte9ts that call their
ethical 'alidity into :uestion. The second issue raised by the lyrics is the authority of the
lyric 'oice itself, *hich esche*s the rationalist discourse that appeals to authority in
fa'or of an appeal to e"otion and e9perience> as ?ernard says at the beginning of his
third ser"on on the Song of Songs, DToday the te9t *e are to study is the boo, of our o*n
e9perience. Fou "ust therefore turn your attention in*ardsD ;11<. The issue of
e9perience 'ersus authority is ob'iously pre'alent in the Canterbury Tales, "ost
e9plicitly in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, and it has recei'ed copious critical attention in
that conte9t. ?ut this sa"e concern *ith e9perience and authority is specifically tied to
"usicality in se'eral other places throughout the Tales through the contrast bet*een the
learned, highly trained "usical perfor"ances of so"e characters and the natural, physical
perfor"ances of others, and this conte9t has not been critically e9a"ined. It is not,
ho*e'er, al*ays the "ost affecti'ely8oriented perfor"ers *ho practice the "ost
naturalistic "usical styles> the lac, of correlation bet*een the affecti'e rhetoric and the
anti8rationalist stance is specifically telling, and it is only one of the co"plicating
circu"stances that "a,e ChaucerEs e9a"ination of these issues so rich.
In both of these earlier discoursesCthe religious one follo*ing ?ernard and the
courtly one follo*ing the troubadoursCthe central action is the e"otional response of the
sub&ect in relation to his perception of the ob&ect> Gulia /riste'a notes in an essay on
?ernard that !affectus, as the na"e suggests... is basically passive. An outside agent is
needed for the soul, thus set in "otion, to sho* an affect in response# ;1H1<. 2hile
e"otional response to an ob&ect, *hether it is pity or desire, is natural to hu"ans, it "ust
be aroused e9ternally. As /riste'a :uotes fro" ?ernard: !Affects, si"ply called, are
found in us naturally, it see"s as though they e"anate fro" our o*n being, *hat
co"pletes the" co"es fro" grace> it is indeed :uite certain that grace regulates only
*hat creation has gi'en us, so that 'irtues are nothing but regulated affects# ;1H1<. As the
affect is *holly hu"an, so is flesh, and affect therefore is roused by the incarnational and
not the resurrected Christ, especially through the $irgin Mary and her recogni7ably
hu"an e"otion. The affecti'e response to flesh, of course, is also hu"anity6s failing, and
thus it is al*ays dangerous to e'o,e in a religious conte9t. -eligious poetry and secular
lo'e poetry co"e perilously close on e9actly these grounds, and it is in this blurring of
discourses that "edie'al lyric has the "ost startling resonance to conte"porary ears. If
grace, as ?ernard says, "ust order that affect into 'irtue, there is al*ays the possibility of
the unordered affect doing the opposite. =or the troubadours, it *as e'idently a "atter of
recogni7ing a different sort of 'irtue, but the "echanis"s of arousal *ere "uch the sa"e.
/riste'a sees the *illingness to flirt *ith this danger as ?ernard6s funda"ental brea,
*ith rationalist neoplatonis" and the source of his continuing rele'ance: !this carnal
affect liable to disgrace if not *ell ordered see"s astonishingly conte"porary because of
the i""anence of the signifier> indeed it suggests the great distance separating
Christianity fro" the @latonistic or neo8@latonistic uni'erse, both of *hich e'entually
renounce the body# ;1HI<.
This sense of sub&ecti'ity begins on the le'el of gra""ar> *ithout the presence of
a first8person spea,er it *ould be i"possible to begin tal,ing about that spea,er6s
sub&ecti'ity. This presence is so central to the lyric tradition that any definition of !lyric#
no* see"s inco"plete *ithout an account of the !lyric I,# the sub&ecti'e 'oice that
obser'es the *orld through the pris"s of its o*n e"otions. Fet the I does not denote one
specific person> for @aul Ju"thor, an i"portant t*entieth century critic of "edie'al lyric,
at the sa"e ti"e that !the Klyric6 I constitutes... the referential a9is of discourse on the
courtly grand chant,#
the pronoun *ithin the te9ts the"sel'es is merely gra""atical, an
e"pty signifier ;1I1<. The songs in the grand chant tradition operate al"ost e9clusi'ely
in pronouns, describing an e"otional tension or conflict bet*een an I and a she, the latter
ter" occasional substituted for by you or !(mi)lady, a ter" of the greatest generality, and,
perhaps, originally "etaphorical#
;1I3<. Leither she nor either of the alternati'es ser'es
to indi'iduali7e the spea,er in any real *ay, in the sense of li"iting his identity to any
one person, real or fictional, but this lac, of indi'iduality does not pre'ent that spea,er
fro" re"aining the central sub&ect of the poe", despite the e"phasis on the lady or the
All translations, unless other*ise noted, are "y o*n. In such cases, the original te9t is gi'en in footnote:
!Le e M lyri:ue N constitue... l6a9e rOfOrentiel du discours dans le grand chant courtois#
!;"a<da"e, ter"e de la plus grand gOnOralitO, et peut8Ptre, originelle"ent "Otaphori:ue,#
triangulation of the relationship *ith a third agent, *hether Bod, nature or a co"petitor
for her affection. =or Ju"thor, this is the defining characteristic of the "edie'al lyric:
%uch is, I thin,, the center of this art. If it !says# so"ething, if it refers to
the li'ed *orld, it contains a uni'ersal situation of conflict. This is
e9pressed in ter"s t*ice bound in a triangular fashion: e!ternal forces "
me " she> or: me # she " the $thers. In both cases, I ser'es as a !the"e,# in
the "usical sense of the *ord, founding the discourse, both in its
gra""aticality and in its se"ic "oti'ations, sustaining its "odulations
and pro'iding the point of origin for its dra"atic energy.
The lyric cannot function at allCit cannot achie'e this !uni'ersal situation of conflict#C
if the I of the lyric beco"es indi'iduali7ed beyond the ability of the reader to participate
in its sub&ecti'ity. 0espite this re:uire"entCor rather, precisely because of itC
sub&ecti'ity itself beco"es the lyric6s "ain concern. Ju"thor is describing courtly songs,
in *hich the she Q you Q ;mi<lady figure is a figure of erotic desire, but the affinity of this
"ode of lyric *ith affecti'e religious discourse is clear: in both discourses, *hate'er the
stated ob&ect ;a lady, Bod<, the real sub&ect is the sub&ect6s e"otions.
This feature is also pro"inent in "any of the "ost re"ar,able English lyrics of
the period, *hether religious in orientation or secularly a"orous> indeed, for se'eral of
the "ost interesting, this latter distinction is collapsed. There is, of course, no end of
counter'ailing e9a"ples in the corpus of Middle English 'erse, but the :uality of radical
sub&ecti'ity bent on self8negation in relation to a belo'ed other is obser'able in a great
nu"ber of lyrics, especially a"ong those of an identifiable thirteenth century pro'enance.
%tri,ingly, this is e'en truer of those lyrics *ith sur'i'ing "usical settings> although the
'ery s"all nu"ber of such te9ts "a,es "eaningful generali7ations difficult if not
!Tel est, &e le pense, le fond de cet art. %Eil M dit N :uel:ue chose, sEil rOfRre au "onde 'Ocu, cEest S une
situation uni'erselle de conflit. Celle8ci est e9pri"Oe en ter"es deu9 fois liOs de faAon triangulaire : les
forces e!t%rieures # moi # elle & ou ' moi(elle(les )utres* 0ans le deu9 cas, e sert de M thR"e N, au sens
"usical du "ot, instaurant, S la fois dans sa gra""aticalitO et dans ses "oti'ations sO"i:ues, le discours>
soutenant ses "odulations, et fournissant le point dEorigine a son Onergie dra"ati:ue.#
ludicrous, analysis of se'eral of the finest of these see"s to sho* a correlation bet*een
"usical perfor"ance and affecti'e lyrical sub&ects> the 'ery "usicality of the lyrics
deepens the e9tent to *hich they participate in the ideology of affecti'ity. E'en *ithout a
larger sa"ple si7e of songs *ith "usic, the trend re"ains clear in the larger corpus, all of
*hich is "ar,ed by the influence of continental lyrics, "uch of it decisi'ely.
The "ost ob'ious for"al inno'ation of the period, in ter"s of the de'elop"ent of
English poetry, *as the adoption of the stan7a as a for"al unit, a feature *hich highlights
the connection to song ;0uncan 999'iii<. 0espite this *ide applicability, the first chapter
of this thesis is focused on the s"all handful of clearly "usical te9ts that "ost intensely
illustrate the connections bet*een the sub&ecti'ity of the te9ts and the religious and social
forces shaping the". T*o of these, !=o*eles in the frith,# and !?rid one brere,# both
de"onstrate this ,ind of sub&ecti'ity and sur'i'e *ith "usic, allo*ing an e9a"ination of
ho* the te9t and "usic interrelate in perfor"ance. A third, !Lou goth sunne under
*ode,# has no sur'i'ing "usical setting, but its 'ery interesting "anuscript conte9t is
re'ealing of the ,ind of authority granted to lyricalityCthat is, to the sa"e ,ind of e9tra8
intellectual "eaning dis"issed by $oltaireC*ithin a "ainstrea" intellectual "ilieu. ne
last lyric, !%tond *ell "oder under rode,# has been included to sho* that the sa"e
intellectual "aterial, e'en in a "usical setting, does not necessarily re:uire this
engage"ent *ith sub&ecti'ity> the obser'able *ea,ness of this lyric in relation to the
richness of the other three can thus help to de"onstrate *hat constitutes their
2hat is noticeably absent in these enig"atic *or,s is one pro"inent feature of
both troubadour song and "odern lyrics: a strong authorial presence. Troubadour songs
are so larded *ith autobiographical clai"s and boasting autono"ination that their initial
critical reception too, the for" of detailed fictional vidas and the great "a&ority of the"
re"ain attributable to na"ed *riters. In contrast, the lyrics of thirteenth century England
are, nearly to a one, and despite the speculati'e *ishes of any nu"ber of critics,
anony"ous. And they are anony"ous not &ust in the literal sense that they do not na"e
their author, but also in the te9tual sense that their referents rarely appeal to
autobiographical details, fictional or other*ise. This anony"ity has the effect of a "uch
stronger interpellation of the indi'idual e9periencing the song, be it a listener or, e'en
"ore funda"entally, a perfor"er. Indeed, nati'e popular song re"ains a strong influence
on these songs ;although the "anuscript conte9ts of these songs "a,e it i"possible to be
certain in any one case, any or all of the" "ight actually be legiti"ate popular song,
recorded by a cler, *ho heard it on the road or in the "ar,et<, and popular song, by
definition, is gi'en to "e"ori7ation and repetition by "any and di'erse 'oices. E'ery
listener beco"es, at so"e point, the perfor"er, *hether in the for"al conte9t of facing an
audience, in the infor"al conte9t of participation in a group6s singing, or in the purely
personal conte9t of singing for oneself alone, e'en if it is only in the "e"ory. It is this
last conte9t, perhaps, *here the !anony"ous# song "ost fully reali7es its sub&ecti'e
po*er. Each singer !acts# the te9t as surely as an actor acts the part of +a"let, and yet
this is precisely not the case, for the singer of the anony"ous song does not inhabit a
foreign characterCan act of "i"esisCbut perfor"s the *ords of the song as e9pressi'e
of his o*n person. 2ithout this act of assu"ed sub&ecti'ity, the practice of psal"ody, for
e9a"ple, *ould be "eaningless> the singer does not assu"e the dra"atic character of
/ing 0a'id, but rather praises Bod in the *ords of 0a'id as "eaningful of his o*n
?ut *hereas psal"ody and its descendent, hy"nody, are dependent on their
singers6 deliberate intellectual participation, anony"ous song operates in a far "ore
subtle fashion, and this, in turn, enriches it *ith a special ,ind of authority. The songs of
the troubadours *ere undoubtedly perfor"ed by a "ultiplicity of singers, but the te9ts
the"sel'es often insist on the authority of the poet, estranging the singer and the listener
fro" that sub&ecti'ity> hy"ns and psal"s ali,e are presented as part of for"al religious
practice, as scripture and as ecclesiastical te9t. The perfor"ance of these songs, then, is
al*ays underta,en in the conscious assu"ption of religious or artistic authority.
Anony"ous, popular song, on the other hand, is a largely unconscious part of daily life.
%ongs are heard, re"e"bered, and repeated, *ithout a conscious authority granted to
their *ords. 2hen subse:uent singers then assu"e that sub&ecti'ity, that authority
beco"es their o*n. This happens to each indi'idually, and it happens in a po*erful *ay
collecti'ely, such that popular song can then beco"e a repository of authority in its o*n
right and be dra*n on in conte9ts, such as ser"ons and treatises, that are accusto"ed to
appealing to the authority of scripture or a handful of i"portant authors. /arin ?o,lund8
Lagopulou, in a *ide8ranging study of the place of popular song in Middle English
literature, connects this process to a larger, trans8historical property of orality:
The oral tradition has pro'ed capable of absorbing and assi"ilating ;not
*ithout considerable "eta"orphosis at ti"es< "aterial fro" a *ide
'ariety of sources: *ritten or oral, of high or lo* status, scared or secular.
The ,ey ele"ent in the "odern conception of fol,song is not oral
co"position but *hat the International =ol, Music Council calls Kthe re8
fashioning and re8creation6 of the "aterial as it is circulated orally Kby the
co""unity6. ;1.<
The replacing of an indi'idual artist *ith a broader !co""unity# as the authorial source
of a *or, of art has deep i"plications for any sense of sub&ecti'ity found in that art*or,.
It begs, as its first :uestion, that *e identify the co""unity in :uestion. Thirteenth
century England *as no "ore one ho"ogenous co""unity than late nineteenth and early
t*entieth century A"erica, and no one *ould *ish to ascribe the fol, tradition of the
blues song to the culture of, say, Taft and -oose'elt. The rhetorical stance of the Middle
English songs is inseparable fro" the co""unity fro" *hich they spring, and our sense
of *hat co""unity that "ight be is inseparable fro" the "anuscript conte9t in *hich *e
find the songs. ?ecause the technology of *ritten trans"ission *as entirely confined to
courtly and ecclesiastical hands, any access *e clai" to popular song is suspect fro" the
start. ?o,lund8Lagopulou places this proble" in the conte9t of !high# and !lo*# culture
The high culture of the Middle Ages, courtly or ecclesiastical, is a culture
of the *ritten *ord. Much of the po*er of the church as an institution in
"edie'al society can be understood as deri'ing fro" its centuries8long
role as custodian of the *ritten *ord, and courtly culture, though less
ob'iously boo,ish, nonetheless capitali7es on the a'ailability of boo,s and
is largely trans"itted in *ritten for". ;1I814<
The distinction bet*een high and lo* culture, as it applies to Middle English song, is
difficult at best. It is true that the distinction "ust ha'e e9isted, and that there *ere songs
that *ere co"posed and trans"itted in a *ay that is funda"entally different than
!literary# te9ts, but the sur'i'ing corpus e9ists because they *ere recorded by
representati'es of !high culture,# and *hether or not *e feel that any specific song
originally belonged to !lo* culture,# our access to the" is "ediated by those
?oth Ju"thor6s sense of the operation of sub&ecti'ity in "edie'al lyric and
/riste'a6s, deri'ed fro" and oriented to*ards the reading of =rench and @ro'enAal te9ts,
nonetheless ha'e considerable resonance *hen applied to the early Middle English lyrics
clearly influenced by those earlier te9ts. Another po*erful and "ore e'en influential
"odern theoretical "odel of the lyrical sub&ect, ho*e'er, articulated in Theodor Adorno6s
!Lyric @oetry and %ociety,# is, on the surface, harder to bring to bear, because its central
conception depends on the idea of lyricis" as a response to "odernity. This, though, is
only a natural e9tension of his con'iction that the lyric, in its heightened indi'idual
sub&ecti'ity, is al*ays in reaction to the society that produces it ;H3<> because he analy7es
"odern lyrics, he reads the" as reactions to "odernity. A lyric such as !?rid one brere#
or !=o*eles in the frith# operates in 'ery "uch the sa"e *ay in reaction to a 'ery
different society. In fact, analy7ing anony"ous lyrics, gi'en the absence of an author to
*ho" *e can allocate the sub&ecti'e role, the role of society in shaping the discourse of
the te9t loo"s all the larger. In the end, the presence of the sa"e :uality of sub&ecti'ity in
these pre8"odern lyrics that Adorno finds in "odern poetry points to a "uch earlier
origin of this ideology than a Mar9ist critic such as Adorno *ould nor"ally clai".
In Adorno6s "odel, lyric e9pression is located at the ne9us of language, e"otion
and sub&ecti'ity. This "odel6s resonance is only deepened by the addition of "usic as a
fourth ter". 2hat Adorno calls the !specific parado9# of the lyric, the turning of a
sub&ecti'e 'oice into one that can ha'e ob&ecti'e resonance, deri'es its possibility fro"
the focus on for", *hich he "eans in a purely linguistic conte9t ;1)<. =or a "odern lyric,
this is ob'iously located in language alone, but for a "usical te9t, for" has a broader
"eaning. Li,e language, "usic is a culturally8bound "ediu", and e'ery listener is
trained by their culture to hear "eaning in the "usic that is supple"ental to the linguistic
te9t. According to Adorno, that linguistic te9t, e'en if it is e"otionally oriented, tends to
e'o,e other ,inds of discourse, through its !double aspect# as both the "ediu" of
e"otions and the "ediu" of concepts. This latter aspect !establishes our indispensable
relation to generalities and hence to social reality# ;ibid<. ?ecause this !double aspect# of
language is so central to the operations of the lyric, its presence in the poe" is, for
Adorno, a "easure of an indi'idual lyric6s *orth:
The "ost subli"e lyric *or,s, therefore, are those in *hich the sub&ect,
*ithout a trace of his "aterial being, intones in language until the 'oice of
language itself is heard. The subect’s forgetting hi"self, his abandoning
hi"self to language as if de'oting hi"self co"pletely to an ob&ectCthis
and the direct inti"acy and spontaneity of his e!pression are the sa"e.
The !direct inti"acy and spontaneity# of the e9pression, as e9perienced not by the author
but by the reader, is only "ore e'ident *hen the author as such disappears behind the
,ind of co"plete anony"ity that *e find in the Middle English songs. Indeed, that
inti"acy and spontaneity e9pand e9ponentially *hen it is not a reader but a singer *ho is
e9periencing the"> if language is the "ediu" of both e"otion and ideas, "usic is a "ore
purely e"otional "ediu", affecting the perfor"er on a sub8rational le'el. ?ut the relation
to society, as "ar,ed by the *ay that !language re"ains the "ediu" of concepts and
ideas,# operates as forcefully as e'er. This is another for"ulation of the sa"e dialectic
that ?ernard reads in the Song of Songs and that *e obser'e in Mary and Christ6s debate
in !%tond *ell "oder#Cthe difficult interplay bet*een a rational understanding of a
concept and the e"otional response to its bearerCbut the !specific parado9 of the lyric
poe"# re"ains its "ost highly charged locus, in the "edie'al as *ell as in the "odern.
Adorno6s "odel is "ost specifically useful in analy7ing the relation bet*een the
lyric utterance and the ideology that is encoded in that utterance, an analysis that pro'ides
a rubric for "easuring the not8:uite8tangible but definitely discernable differences in the
effecti'eness of a lyric:
It is commonly said that a perfect lyric must possess totality or
universality, must comprehend the whole within its bounds, reveal
infinitude in its finiteness... [This] signifies that in every lyric poem the
historical relation of subject to object, of individual to society within the
realm of subjective spirit thrown back on its own resources—this
historical relation must have been precipitated in the poem. This
precipitation will be more perfect, the more the poem eschews the relation
of self to society as an explicit theme and the more it allows this relation
to crystallize involuntarily from within the poem. (61)
Li,e the nineteenth and t*entieth century lyrics on *hich Adorno bases his obser'ations,
the anony"ous lyrics of the thirteenth century achie'e their greatest resonance by
focusing on the self and allo*ing the language to guide the conclusions. The spea,ers of
the lyrics, so often e9plicitly alone, beco"e the lens through *hich *e can see their
If the ob&ecti'e of a lyric is a totality achie'ed through uni'ersality, the ob&ecti'e
of a narrati'e te9t such as The Canterbury Tales is funda"entally different. Chaucer6s
te9t is, a"ong "any other things, an a"bi'alent criti:ue of the ,ind of authority in *hich
lyrics trade. As the te9t is inclusi'e of "any different 'oices, *ith no one 'oice gi'en
"ore than passing pro"inence, there is no sustained atte"pt to open up a sub&ecti'ity that
the reader can enter into. -ather, a series of sub&ecti'ities is presented in a *ay that
re"ains ob&ecti'e in 'ie*point> through the te9t these characters are allo*ed to e9pose
their sub&ecti'ity to our 'ie*, and thus our criti:ue. The gra""atical first8person of the
te9t, the Chaucer8pilgri" or Chaucer8narrator, so"eti"es see"s to participate in this
criti:ue, but only subtly and, usually, ironically. =or by far the greater part, he is content
to let the other pilgri"s re'eal the"sel'es *ithout co""ent, and, e'en *hen he does
co""ent, the te9t steadfastly refuses to gi'e this narrator the authority of the author.
Lo*here in the te9t, for instance, is this pilgri" na"ed as !Chaucer,# e'en as another
pilgri", the Man of La*, spea,s in the prologue to his tale about the "any *or,s of one
!Chaucer, thogh he ,an but le*edly Q n "etres and on ry"inyg craftily# ;II..38.I
<. At
the sa"e ti"e that this ,ind of deprecating authorial reference underscores the author6s
absence fro" the te9t, it playfully re"inds the reader of his ine'itable presence. E'ery
*ord of this te9t constituted by do7ens of sub&ecti'ities co"es, in fact, fro" one
indi'idual *ho refuses to re'eal his o*n sub&ecti'ity. As a single, focused, and e"pty
sub&ecti'ity is the center of the lyric art, so this "ultiple, diffuse, and, finally, e"pty
sub&ecti'ity is the center of Chaucer6s narrati'e art.
This is, in its *ay, as startling a de'elop"ent in literary history as that of the
troubadours, and, li,e theirs, "ar,s a shift in ideology, as Lee @atterson has argued:
U%Vurely Chaucer6s uncanny ability to present hi"self as the historically
undeter"ined poet of a correspondingly dehistorici7ed sub&ecti'ity is itself
a historical e'ent, &ust as *e "ust si"ilarly ac,no*ledge that the
un"as,ing of ideology is itself, inescapably, ideological ;al*ays
understanding, of course, that by ideology *e "ean not si"ply a crude
false consciousness but rather an organi7ed syste" of beliefs, "eanings,
and 'alues by *hich people endo* their *orld *ith significance and
thereby "a,e it accessible to practical acti'ity<. ;11.<
If the finest lyrics of thirteenth century England allo* us to hear a "eaning beyond the
se"antic, the finest narrati'e te9t of fourteenth century England allo*s us sufficient
distance fro" the singer to say, *ith $oltaire, !2hat is too stupid to be said is sung.#
All Chaucer references throughout are to The +iverside Chaucer, -
.d. Ed. Larry ?enson. ?oston:
+oughton Mifflin, 14I3. Canterbury Tales references are to frag"ent ;ro"an nu"eral< and line nu"ber
;arabic nu"eral<.
Affecti'e theology had e9erted a certain a"ount of cultural influence, but it had failed to
beco"e the do"inant ideology of a church "ostly concerned *ith "aintaining its o*n
influence, especially under the leadership of the infa"ous Tho"as Arundel, *ho *as the
Archbishop of Canterbury fro" 1(44 to 1.1.. @ro"inent a"ong Arundel6s passions *as
his atte"pt to sta"p out the Lollard heresy, *hich held, a"ong other things, that
ecclesiastical authority *as suspect, and that "usic *as a dangerous distraction fro"
proper religiosity. Chaucer6s te9t brings these issues to the reader6s attention, but it is
al*ays *ithin a co"plicating narrati'e *eb that denies any authoritati'e cha"pioning of
either side.
0espite the "assi'e and 'aried corpus of Chaucerian scholarship dating fro"
i""ediately after his o*n day to our o*n critically prolific era, only occasional attention
has been paid to the issue of "usic and "usicality *ithin the Canterbury Tales, and 'ery
little of that scholarship has been concerned *ith the interpretation of the te9t, "uch less
*ith "usicality itself as an interpreti'e category that "ay help us to hear resonances
bet*een characters and across tales. Close reading of the 'arious appearances of "usic
and "usicality in the te9t, in both narrati'e and "etaphoric conte9ts, can help not only to
sound :uestions of interpretation that "ight other*ise go unnoticed, but to re'eal broader
trends in the *or, as a *hole and its status as a ne* ,ind of literary pro&ect. Music ne'er
rises to the le'el of a "a&or the"e in the *ay that se9ual relations, ecclesiastical
corruption, lay religiosity, and tension bet*een social estates can be read as i"portant
concerns spread o'er and bet*een se'eral tales, but its near8ubi:uity allo*s it to ser'e as
a *ay of touching on all of those the"es, ac,no*ledging their connecti'ity, and
e9tending their local concerns to a consideration of the Canterbury Tales as a single te9t.
Clearly it is beyond the scope of this thesis to gi'e a detailed reading of any one tale,
"uch less of se'eral> "y intent instead is to follo* the the"e of "usic in religious and
a"atory pursuits through the larger structure of the Canterbury Tales and to sho* a
pattern of contradictory attitudes and practices, a tension that is central to Chaucer6s
techni:ue in this continually astounding te9t. In particular, the 'arious "usicians in the
te9t and their attitude to*ards their perfor"ance touch in une9pected *ays on t*o "a&or
and intert*ining debates of the period in both their religious and secular "anifestations.
The first of these is the efficacy and propriety of affecti'e piety in religion and
affecti'e perfor"ance in *ooing. In the case of religion, "usic is sho*n to be less an
instru"ent of affecti'e de'otion and "ore a li,ely path to the dangerous sensuality *ith
*hich it can be contiguous. In the case of a"atory practice, it is si"ilarly i"plicated in an
ethically 'acant ideology, as those lo'ers "ost acco"plished in "usic and "ost dedicated
to "usical perfor"ance as a "ode of seduction are those least concerned *ith an ethical
se9ual relations. The second thread of debate concerns the relati'e 'alue of natural
,no*ledge and learned doctrine. In the religious conte9t, this ta,es the for" of the si"ple
faith 'alori7ed by the Lollards and the authority8centered discourse of the orthodo9y,
both of *hich are called into :uestion by their practitioners6 actions throughout the tales.
In the secular for", the contrast bet*een the rational, ?oethian conception of "usic and
natural, bodily reali7ed perfor"ance o'erlaps concerns about the proper relationship
bet*een the se9es, both inside and outside of "arriage. In both discourses, "usic
beco"es a 'ehicle to e9plore larger ethical concerns.
2hile se'eral critics ha'e e9a"ined references to "usical practice in Chaucer6s
*or,, 'ery fe* of the" ha'e done so recently, and, *ith one 'ery i"portant e9ception,
none ha'e read the "usical references as contributing to the larger the"es of the te9t.
=ran7 Montgo"ery, in 14(1, and Claire lson, a decade later, both produced nearly
e9hausti'e catalogues of "usical references in the Canterbury Tales, but Montgo"ery
*as pri"arily interested in the te9t as a *itness to real8*orld instru"ental practice and
lson6s concern *as to :uantify *hat Chaucer did and did not ,no* about "usic theory
and practice. ther "usicologists ha'e troubled the"sel'es *ith identifying specific real8
*orld analogues to "usical *or,s that appear in the Tales, as e9e"plified by =letcher
Collins and Beorge =rost6s interesting e9change in the 14(( 'olu"e of Speculum, a
tradition that has been continued "ore recently by Christopher @age. ?ruce +olsinger,
then, *as plo*ing fresh earth in )TT1 *hen he published /usic, Body, and 0esire in
/edieval Culture, a *or, that established "usical practices as an i"portant interpreti'e
category in se'eral i"portant "edie'al te9ts, i"plying particularly for Chaucer the
possibility of a *hole *ay of reading> %eth Lerer, in a re'ie*, *ent so far as to co"pare
+olsinger6s *or, to !a ne* Preface to Chaucer# ;(I.<. ?ecause his focus *as "uch
broader than &ust Chaucer, +olsinger6s reading is necessarily li"ited to a handful of
passages. As e9hilarating as his *or, is, it is the first *ord on this sub&ect, not the last.
Chaucer ca"e to the Canterbury Tales late in his career, and not before
co"posing !"any a song and "any a leccherous lay,# as he notes in the retraction at the
end of that te9t ;W.1TI1<. 0espite this clai", and despite the se'eral instances of song
*ritten into 'arious narrati'e poe"s, no record has co"e do*n to us preser'ing "usical
settings or e'en indicating that Chaucer co"posed or perfor"ed any of his *or,s in a
"usical setting. Indeed, lson, in a 14.1 broad o'er'ie* of Chaucer6s "usicality,
concluded that his apparent interest in the technical "atters of "usic *as "ore li,ely part
of !a broad interest in se'eral aspects of life,# easily pic,ed up fro" general sources and
not e'idence of ha'ing read technical treatises or ha'ing any practical "usical e9perience
;31<. ?ut this is not to say that his lyrical *or,s *ere not influenced by "usical sources>
Buillau"e de Machaut, ad"ired for his "usical co"position at least as "uch as for his
poetic output, has long been ac,no*ledged as a pri"ary influence on se'eral of
Chaucer6s early *or,s ;-i'erside ()4, 2i"satt .48HT<. The Canterbury Tales, *ith their
"any 'i'id characteri7ations and their often startlingly natural e'ocations of speech, feel
at ti"es 'ery re"ote fro" these lyrical *or,s, and yet there is a linearity to the
de'elop"ent fro" an increasingly reali7ed spea,er present in the poe" to a fully ficti'e
teller of a tale. Andre* Ballo*ay has recently argued that Chaucer6s later lyrics often
ha'e !elusi'e points of 'ie*# unusual for lyrical *or,s and unli,e his o*n earlier poe"s
;H(I<, and this clearly anticipates the co"ple9 relationship of tale to teller throughout the
Canterbury Tales. This co"plication of the lyric "ode, a de'elop"ent that appears to
correspond positi'ely to its distance fro" "usicality, achie'es at its best *hat Gay -uud
called !the illustration of the uni'ersally applicable lyric thought through an incident
pro'iding a specific narrati'e or dra"atic conte9t# ;1TT<. There is an ob'ious tra&ectory
fro" this ,ind of conte9tuali7ed lyric *ith a reali7ed ficti'e spea,er to a full8blo*n
fiction such as the Canterbury Tales, in *hich the poet creates and adopts the 'oices of
do7ens of i"aginary people, the first of *hich happens to be called !Chaucer.#
?ut is it !Chaucer# or Chaucer *ho" *e encounter in that retractionX 2hiche'er
Chaucer *e feel is spea,ing to us, he renounces the *riting of those !"any a song,# and
the list of appro'ed te9tsC!the translacion of ?oece de Consolacione, and othere boo,es
of legendes and seintes, and o"elies, and "oralitee, and de'ocioun#Coffer no proper
"usical counterpart to the !"any a leccherous lay# ;W.1TI3<. The clear i"plication is
that either Chaucer or !Chaucer# finds, in the end, no place for "usic *ithin ethical
discourse. The second chapter offers a *ider consideration of the relationship bet*een
"usical practice and religiosity throughout the Tales, re'ealing a subtle and co"plicated
criti:ue of that relationship that is by no "eans as una"biguously negati'e as the tone of
the retraction, but is ne'er una"biguously positi'e in its assess"ent either. ?y the
fourteenth8century, "usic had been part of Christian religious practice for a 'ery long
ti"e, but the proper relationship bet*een "usicality and de'otion *as far fro" clear or
uncontested, and in the Canterbury Tales Chaucer does not shy a*ay fro" depicting this
tension as part of the larger structures of religious debate. As Licholas 2atson has argued
about the te9t as a *hole, !"any of Chaucer6s encounters *ith religion reflect a di'ision
of e9pectation in fourteenth8century thought about the education, purity and 7eal, not
only of priests and other religious professionals, se'eral of *ho" the poet i"agines as
pilgri"s on his Canterbury &ourney, but also of "e"bers of the laity *ho "a,e up "ost
of the party# ;31<. In this light, the second chapter traces the debate o'er the proper lin,
bet*een religion and "usical perfor"ance not only through the characters of the =riar,
@ardoner and @rioressCall professional "e"bers of the religious estate and enthusiastic
"usiciansCbut also in the stridently non8"usical @arson and the apparently irreligious
Miller, *hose tale 'i'idly connects "usical practice in its religious for"s to se9ual desire
and fulfill"ent. Although religious practice is far fro" the only "a&or the"e of the
Canterbury Tales, *e as readers *ould do *ell to ,eep in "ind that the fra"e narrati'e is
that of a pilgri"age, and that the propriety of the conte"porary practice of pilgri"age
itself *as an issue of so"e contention bet*een the Church and its Lollard critics, se'eral
of *ho" Chaucer had the opportunity to ,no* ;2atson I1<.
The third chapter turns fro" this religious criti:ue to a secular analogue,
courtliness> set against ;and at ti"es o'erlapping< the religious discourse in the
Canterbury Tales is an e:ually contentious discourse of courtliness and gentility, and, li,e
religious practice, the perfor"ance of courtliness is ine9tricably tied to the perfor"ance
of "usic. As the second8 or third8hand inheritor of the troubadours6 rhetoric of fin amor,
filtered by this ti"e not only through English lyrics but also, 'i'idly, through northern
=rench and Italian sources, Chaucer sub&ects the ideals of courtliness to the sa"e ficti'e
criti:ue as the ideals of religiosity. Li,e the religious criti:ue, the criti:ue of courtliness
plays out across se'eral characters and their tales: this occurs "ost directly in the
characters of the %:uire and =ran,lin and in the *ay the tale of the latter interrupts and
responds to the tale of the for"er, but it is also echoed in the fantastical settings of the
Lun6s @riest6s tale of a courtly coc, and the Manciple6s tale of that archetypal "usician,
@hoebus. Throughout these tales, the highly artificial perfor"ance of courtliness runs
counter to both natural feeling and to rationalist argu"entationCthe secular counterparts
of the si"ple faith and learned theology encountered in the religious discourseCand in
each case "ust finally be resol'ed *ith an ethical stance that ta,es these both into
account, but that ethical stance al*ays re"ains 'isible as the ideology of the tale teller,
e'en as it is constructed in criti:ue of another teller6s.
“E pur ceo dit un Engleis en teu manere de pite”: The vacant subject and the
aective object in the Middle English anonymous lyric o !"th century
One of the most intriguing aspects of the lyrics of thirteenth century England—
their existence at the very fringes of the official, recordable culture—makes them very
difficult to study in any thorough fashion. Except for the manuscript Harley 2253, which
preserves some thirty-eight lyrics in English but probably wasn’t copied until sometime
after 1326 (Revard 23), early Middle English lyrics are found copied on the fly leaves or
versos of more valuable documents, recorded among other miscellany in commonplace
books, or preserved by citation in sermons or treatises. Nearly all of these manuscript
contexts are religious; most, in fact, are monastic in origin. Any sense of a society which
can be seen through them is therefore necessarily refracted through the views of
practicing professional religious members of that society.
These lyrics record the interplay of several currents of influence coming from
across the channel; competing waves of innovation from France’s remarkable twelfth
century overlapped in England’s more restricted intellectual waters, mingling with
existing but largely unattested popular song and giving early Middle-English lyrics their
unique character. Bernardian theology is prominent among these currents, and its main
conduit was the newly minted Franciscan order, whose members first arrived on English
soil in 1224, bringing affective spiritual ideas to the island and seeking to make them
popular through their dissemination in song (Fleming 353-54). Competing with this
trend, although quite likely conducted through many of the same channels, was the
influence of the troubadours and their highly artistic love songs. This latter was largely
filtered through the songs of the northern French trouvères, although there remains the
tantalizing historical possibility that Marcabru, as a guest of Henry I, and Bernart de
Ventadorn, as a guest of Henry II, spent time in London during the twelfth century like an
order of secular Friars (Chaytor 34-35). What these ioculatores dei and ioculatores
amoris had in common was the radical subjectivity of their artistic practice, a sense that
the specific conclusions in a given work could only be arrived at by the specific
emotional connections undergone by the first-person speaker of the lyric. This chapter
examines a few of these lyrics in this light, locating in them an anonymous subjectivity
that is closely tied to their musicality.
Although the four line poe" beginning !Lou goth sonne under *ode# is not
a"ong the s"all nu"ber of lyrics *ith sur'i'ing "usical conte9ts, se'eral aspects of its
"anuscript conte9t "a,e it an e"ble"atic entry*ay into this issue, not least that it is
*illfully inscribed *ithin a tote"ic te9t of !high culture.# It appears e9clusi'ely in
"anuscripts of the *idely8distributed Speculum .cclesie of %t. Ed"und of Abingdon,
follo*ing a passage describing Mary6s co""it"ent to Gohn at Cal'ary and :uotations
fro" both the Boo1 of +uth and the Song of Songs. Although Carleton ?ro*n felt in 14()
that +. 2. -obbins had offered a !conclusi'e de"onstration that the *or, *as originally
co"posed in =rench# and that the English lyric e"bedded in the te9t *as !li,ely#
co"posed by Ed"und hi"self ;?ro*n 11H811<, the "ore recent edition of the te9t edited
by +elen =orsha* sho*s both an original Latin 'ersion titled Speculum +eligiosorum
that does not include the English poe" and a $ulgate Latin 'ersion *ith the fa"iliar title
de"onstrably translated fro" the =rench that does ;Ed"und 4)84(<. Clearly, at so"e
point relati'ely early in the treatise6s disse"ination but after Ed"und6s death, a translator
*as sufficiently ta,en by the appropriateness of the English lines to include the" near the
end of the passage. The subse:uent translations of the treatise bac, into Latin then
retained the English addition. The insertion of the poe" co"es in the "idst of a flurry of
scriptural :uotations, and it is gi'en 'ery "uch in the "anner of an appeal to authority.
The authority, ho*e'er, is noted as general rather than specific:
E pur ceo dit un Engleis en teu "anere de pite:
Lou goth sonne under *ode >
Me re*es, Marie, Yi faire rode.
Lou goth sonne under tre >
Me re*es, Marie, Yi sone and Ye. ;?ro*n 111<
UAnd on that account says an English"an in such a "anner of pity:
Lo* goes sun under *ood>
I pity, Marie, thy fair face.
Lo* goes sun under tree>
I pity, Marie, thy son and thee.V
The attribution to !un Engleis,# in the absence of any ,no*n or identifiable English"an,
grants authority to the language itself. The =rench translator clearly 'alues the for"al
properties of language, as he has rendered the Latin prose surrounding this poe" into
;un"etered< rhy"ed couplets, ta,ing liberties in doing so e'en *hen the original is
directly scriptural. This is illustrated by the pre'ious "atter referred to by the
introductory line, a citation of the Song of Songs> in the original Speculum +eligiosorum
it reads !Le "ire"ini si fusca si", :uonia" decolora'it "e sol# U0o not "ar'el if I a"
dar,, for the sun has discolored "eV, *hich is rendered in the =rench as !Le 'us
a"er'eille7 "ie Q :ue io su brunecte e haslOe, Q car le solail "e ad descolurOe# U0o not
"ar'el at "e Q that I a" bro*n and sunburnt, Q for the sun has discolored "eV. In this
brief passage, the si"ple !fusca# is e9panded into the "ore 'erbose and not8:uite8
e:ui'alent !brunecte e haslOe,# apparently only for the sa,e of the rhy"e. This 'aluing of
rhy"e, e'en if it *as only for the sa,e of its "ne"onic :ualities, "ust ha'e contributed
to the urge to insert the English poe"> it certainly dictated the decision to lea'e it in
English, a decision follo*ed by the later Latin ;re<translator, *ho did not atte"pt to ,eep
any of the =rench rhy"es.
2hile Ed"und is ,no*n to ha'e been buried in 1).T ;?ro*n 11H<, the earliest
=rench "anuscripts of the te9t, *hich first record !Lou goth sonne,# can be dated to the
last :uarter of the thirteenth century ;Ed"und 1H811<. It *ould be going too far to insist
that the lines belonged to a popular song, in the absence of any corroborating e'idence
;after all, the introduction tells us that the anony"ous English"an !dit# UsaysV thus<, but
the close syntactic repetition and the strong rhy"es that "a,e the lines so "e"orable
clearly belong to the relati'ely ne*, song8based lyric that does not appear in English
before the 1(
century ;0uncan 999'iii<. The translator, in including the", is not adding
"eaning to the te9tCthe passage in :uestion already calls for the reader to pity Mary and
lin,s her directly *ith the bride of the CanticleCbut adding the authority of a lyrically
e9pressed condensation of that "eaning.
This last e9pectation co"es to a central parado9 of the anony"ous lyric: *hile its
'ery for" ;and hence its 'alue as a pastoral tool or other "ethod of ideological
disse"ination< depends on and attests to its popular, anony"ous nature, its gra""atical
and rhetorical structures are highly sub&ecti'e, i"plying a singular 'ie*point. As
Ju"thor stressed regarding the trou'Rres, the sub&ecti'e spea,er of !Lou goth sonne# is
ne'er indi'iduali7ed, e'en *hen the you of the lyric is the 'ery specific !Marie.# In this
case, the fictionality, and therefore the potential uni'ersality, is preser'ed through the
anony"ity of the lyrical sub&ect granted access to the scene described. The triangulation,
too, is affected by the specific situation. !Lou goth sonne# fits neatly under Ju"thor6s
me # she # e!ternal forces rubric in that the tension is built out of the relationships
bet*een the spea,er, Mary ;she in its you alternation< and the e9ternal forces ;both nature
and Bod, a collapsed distinction in this case<, but the *o"an, here, is not the ulti"ate
ob&ect *ith the e9ternal forces as an inter'ening obstacle. -ather, Bod is clearly the
ulti"ate ob&ect and both nature and Mary are inter"ediary ob&ects that finally bring the
sub&ect to Bod. The poe" *or,s by capitali7ing on and sub'erting the literary "odel.
E'en as it does so, it preser'es the lyric6s unrelenting focus on the spea,er6s
e"otions, e'en on the gra""atical le'el. Analysis of the !lyric I# in !Lou goth sonne# is
co"plicated by its surface absence> *hile the lines clearly i"plicate a single spea,er, I is
not a gra""atical sub&ect any*here in the poe". The second and fourth lines, in *hich
*e learn of the spea,er6s e"otional state, both present the I in its ob&ecti'e case: !Me
re*eth, Marie, thi faire rode# and !Me re*eth, Marie, thi sone and the.# The e9pression
!"e re*eth# is highly idio"atic and found throughout Middle English literature, but it is
gi'en here in an especially co"pressed for". It is typically follo*ed by a dependent noun
clause acting as the agent grie'ing the spea,er: !"e re*eth that ! is y.# Less co""on is
the sense in these lines, *hich in e'ery other case cited in the /iddle .nglish 0ictionary
ta,es the preposition !for# or !of,# as in Chaucer6s !Me re*eth sore of hende Licholas#
;i.e. !I sorely pity handy Licholas#< In the poe" at hand, the agent causing the sorro* is
first Marie6s !faire rode,# and second both her and her son, Christ. !Me re*eth# is
fre:uently glossed in this poe" as !I pity,# but this glosses o'er the fact that I is no*here
an actor in these four lines. The poe" creates, by its insistent anony"ity and by its
ob&ectified ego, *hat Ju"thor called !a separation of poet and poe", an exit of the poet
out of the poem or the poem out of the poet# ;141<.
E'ery reader is thus in'ited to
substitute hi" or herself into that sub&ect 'oid. The e"pty sub&ect, e9terior to the
un,no*n poet, allo*s the reader to participate in an intensely interior e9perience of pity.
The re"ainder of the poe", *hich depicts the e9ternal in order to establish the
internal, in'ites this sa"e substitution in a 'ery different "anner, but in order to see this
clearly, the faulty traditional reading of the poe" needs to be discarded. The first and
third lines of the poe" present a scenic obser'ation as ob&ecti'e fact: !Lou goth sonne
under *ode# and its 'ariant !Lou goth sonne under tre.# E'er since ?ro*n included
these lines as the first poe" in .nglish 2yrics of the Thirteenth Century and ga'e the"
the title !%unset on Cal'ary,# this i"age has been largely interpreted in light of its
"anuscript conte9t. %ince ?ro*n "aintains that the poet *as !li,ely# Ed"und hi"self,
the &u9taposition of the lines *ith the citation of the Song of Songs *as i"possible to
ignore, as *as the conte9t gi'en by the opening of the passage. In the original, this reads:
!Cogita de dolore "atris Iesu, :uanto dolore repleta fuit :uando stetit ad de9tera" filii
sui crucifi9i# ;Ed"und 4)< UThin, of the suffering of the "other of Gesus, ho* full she
*as of suffering *hen she stood at the right hand of her crucified sonV. 2hen the poe" is
encountered in an apparently sea"less te9t, *ith the scene 'i'idly and e"otionally set at
Cal'ary, the poe" is naturally assu"ed to be set in the sa"e. 2hen it follo*s directly
upon a reference to a *o"an discolored by the sun, it is only natural to interpret the poe"
as ?ro*n suggests: the sight of the sun setting behind the cross "o'es naturally to pity
o'er Mary6s sunburned face. The assu"ed essential unity of the scene leads us to read
!*ode# and !tre# as "etony"s for the cross, because that is the "ost i"portant feature of
that scene. +o*e'er, than,s to =orsha*6s editorial *or,, it is not only no* possible but
!une sOparation du poRte et du poR"e, une sortie du poRte hors du poR"e ou du poR"e hors du poRte.#
i"perati'e to i"agine !Lou goth sonne# as a *or, co"pletely independent of Ed"und6s.
Ta,en in isolation, it is "uch "ore natural to ta,e !*ode# and !tre# as literal. The
spea,er is not a fictional obser'er of the scene at Cal'ary, but a natural, conte"porary
person in a natural conte"porary landscape dri'en to conte"plate Mary !in such a
"anner of pity.#
The associati'e logic of the poe" is thus: the spea,er ;an ordinary person in
ordinary England< obser'es the sunset through an actual forest> the unusual and beautiful
e9pression of this natural i"ageCthat the sun literally goes under the *oodC
i""ediately con&ures a typological reading in *hich di'ine, creati'e po*er ;the sun as a
type for the di'ine Christ< is subsu"ed into hu"an, created flesh ;the *ood as a type for
the hu"an Christ<> the e"otional response to this "iracle is pity for Mary, the "ost
natural conduit for an e"otional, affecti'e response to Christ6s suffering. The repetition
allo*s this not only to sin, in, but to be subtly e9tended, fro" pity caused by Mary6s
grie'ing face alone, to pity for her and her son, the incarnational Christ. All of this is
triggered not by the "ere natural i"age, but by the 'ery odd, 'ery sub&ecti'e rendering of
that co""on i"age, thus highlighting the sub&ecti'ity of the spea,er e'en as he is not
gra""atically acti'e, in'iting the reader, as the spea,er, as the perfor"er, as, perhaps, the
singer of the te9t, into that sub&ecti'ity. This effect *ould be nullified by the insistent
presence of an author, and it *ould be i"possible *ithout the specific effects of the
languageCthe pun on sonneQsone, the t*o perfect rhy"es, the idio"atic !"e re*eth#C
in short, the poe" can only function as an anony"ous Middle English lyric, a fact
recogni7ed by Ed"und6s anony"ous translator. If it *ere ,no*n as a popular song, this
sense *ould operate e'en "ore po*erfully> e'en as is, its po*er is largely deri'ed fro"
the :ualities it shares *ith song.
The connections bet*een rhy"e and "usic, "eaning and e"otion can be "ore
easily seen in another, slightly later lyric: !%tond *ell, "oder, under rode,# the only lyric
in the i"portant "anuscript +arley ))H( to be copied *ith "usic. This song, li,e !Lou
goth sonne under *ode,# focuses on the spea,er6s e"otional response to Mary6s suffering
at Christ6s death, but it does so in a "uch "ore protracted *ay and *ith less success. The
difference in effect of the t*o lyrics is precisely a difference of affect> before the song
e'er e9presses a sub&ecti'e 'ie*point of its o*n, it recounts in nine stan7as a dialogue
bet*een Mary and Christ leading up to the "o"ent of his death. The sub&ecti'e response
of the spea,er then "eaningfully enlarges the relationship fro" one e9clusi'e to Mary
and Gesus to one inclusi'e of all hu"anity, as in !Lou goth sonne,# but this response is
confined to the relati'ely co"pact final t*o stan7as. Each of the nine dialogic stan7as is
structured as a three8line reasoned plea fro" Christ to his "other begging her not to
*eep, follo*ed by her three8line refusal. The *hole song is set in the for" of a se:uence,
in *hich Christ6s *ords introduce a "elody and Mary6s *ords follo* the sa"e> each
stan7a uses a discreet "elody, but Mary6s response al*ays echoes Christ6s note for note.
This repetition of "elody creates e9tra8te9tual connections bet*een the lines, doing *or,
si"ilar to rhy"e. 2hen Christ declares:
Moder, do *ey thi *epinge>
I thole this deth for "annes thinge, ;0uncan 1).<
UMother, put a*ay your *eeping>
I endure this death for "an6s affairs,V
the rhy"e dra*s a connection bet*een Mary6s !*epinge# and !"annes thinge,#
suggesting e'en before Mary does that *eeping is proper to hu"an beha'ior. ?ut *ithin
the line itself, !*epinge# is dra*n out o'er a graceful "elis"a in the "ostly syllabic
"elody, falling step8*ise fro" the d6 to the b in the first syllable, rising bac, through the
c6 to repeat the sa"e fall on the second syllable, and co"ing to rest on the a ;the
te"porary final *ithin this stan7a< on the unaccented final 'o*el ;0obson and +arris
)H.<. This lo'ely little "otif, dra*ing out Mary6s pathetic plight, is ans*ered by her "ost
forceful state"ent of grief:
%one, I fele the dedestound,
the s*ert is at "in herte grounde
U%on, I feel the "o"ent of death,
the s*ord is at "y heart6s groundV
The stri,ing !dedestound# is arranged o'er the sa"e "elis"a as Christ6s !*epinge,#
lin,ing the" both e"otionally ;*eeping for death< and in argu"entati'e response ;ho*
can I stop *eeping at the "o"ent of deathX<. The "usic thus functions in a pri"arily
discursi'e "anner, dra*ing attention to the argu"entati'e le'el of the poe" and a*ay
fro" its e"otional, affecti'e properties.
This use of the se:uence as a fra"e for debateCunattested in earlier Latin songC
recalls the troubadour tenso, in *hich t*o poets, identified by na"e, trade argu"ents, the
second al*ays set in the "elody gi'en by the first. The rhetorical effect of this is that the
first poet al*ays has the pri'ilege of setting the ground, forcing the responder into a
certain pattern, but the second poet al*ays has the pri'ilege of the last *ord. In Mary6s
case, this is the pri'ilege of refusal. It is curious, in fact, that the poe" clearly
sy"pathi7es *ith Mary throughout, e'en as she consistently refuses to obey Christ or
heed his argu"ents. Each stan7a plays out as a "iniaturi7ed 'ersion of the affecti'e
"o'e"ent6s response to rationalist scholastic theology:
!Moder, if I dar thee telle:
Fif I ne dye, thou gost to helle>
I thole this deth for thine sa,e.#
!%one, thou beest "e so "inde,
Le *it "e nought, it is "y ,inde,
That I for thee this sor*e "a,e.# ;1)H<
U!Mother, if I dare tell you:
If I do not die, you go to hell>
I bear this death for your sa,e.#
!%on, you are of "e so "indful,
?la"e "e not, it is "y nature,
That I for you this sorro* "a,e.V
2hereas Christ e"phasi7es repeatedly that his death is a light burden in co"parison to
the sal'ation it *ill bring to all, and in this stan7a especially e"phasi7es *hat should be
Mary6s selfish concern, to ,eep herself fro" da"nation by allo*ing hi" to die for her,
Mary e"phasi7es her natural hu"an response. The rational, proto8utilitarian argu"ent,
that Christ should not be pitied because his suffering brings about our sal'ation, is
re&ected on the grounds that pity is natural to the hu"an. As -ose"ary 2oolf notes, this
distinction bet*een Christ6s spea,ing !dog"atically *ith an i"passi'eness befitting his
di'inity# and Mary6s !unrestrained hu"an distress# is a dra"atic e9a"ple of a "otif that
*as co""on throughout the Middle Ages ;).1<. 2hile the ulti"ate ob&ect is al*ays
Christ, it is Mary, as one of our !,ynde,# to *ho" *e can relate. Mary is thus both the
stand8in for hu"an response to di'ine suffering, and our conduit to channel that response
to Bod. This hope is e9pressed in the spea,er6s inter&ection that closes the song by
turning abruptly fro" narrati'e to apostrophe, addressing Mary sy"pathetically before
as,ing directly for inter'ention on hu"anity6s behalf:
2hen +e ros, tho fel thi sor*e>
Thy blisse sprong the thridde "or*e.
2el blithe "oder *ere thou tho.
Moder, for that il,e blisse,
?isech oure Bod oure sinnes lisse>
Thou be oure sheld ayayn oure fo.
?lissed be thou, :uen of he'ene,
?ring us out of helle le'ene
Thurgh thi dere sones "ight.
Moder, for that heighe blode
That +e shadde upon the rode,
Led us into he'ene light.
U2hen he rose, then fell thy sorro*>
Thy bliss sprung on the third "orro*.
A blissful "other *ere thou then.
Mother, for that sa"e bliss,
?eseech our Bod our sins to re"it>
Thou be our shield against our foeZ
?lessed be thou, :ueen of hea'enZ
?ring us out of hell6s fla"es
Through thy dear son6s "ight.
Mother, for that noble blood
That +e shed on the cross,
Lead us into hea'en6s light.V
The "usic throughout is *ritten for only one 'oice, and the e9act repetition of "elody
"a,es it unli,ely that it *as "eant to be perfor"ed in dialogue bet*een t*o singers of
different se9es. ne singer, then, "ust ha'e assu"ed both roles throughout, the shift in
'oices noted for the listener by the address gi'en in each ne* half8stan7a. %ince Mary6s
*ords, especially, are fran,ly e"oti'e, the singer is called upon to undergo these sa"e
e"otions in a direct *ay. This sort of dialogue lyric, *hich %iegfried 2en7el belie'es to
be an English creation ;.I<, only reaches its full affecti'e possibility *hen, ha'ing
undergone the e"otions of the characters, the singer is then led to relate to the" in his
o*n person. That this transition *as relati'ely difficult to "a,e "ay be attested by the
fact that, in so"e "anuscripts, the final stan7as are o"itted. The stan7as the"sel'es do
not contain any shoc,ing theological pronounce"ents, of course, and they are perhaps
not of re"ar,able :uality, but their addition does deepen the poe" by triangulating the
e"otional relationship bet*een the $irgin and Christ into one that general hu"anity can
enter. If only the additional stan7as e9ploited that opening of that triangle to focus on the
ne* spea,er6s specific e"otional response, rather than the generalities of praising the
$irgin and hoping for sal'ation, the song "ight ha'e the chance to open as resonantly as
!Lou goth sonne.#
If affect is passi'e and e9ternally aroused, its co"pli"ent is desire, an acti'e
e"otion aroused not by a pro9i"al ob&ect but by the recognition of its lac,. =or an
incarnational theology, this is an e'en "ore po*erful connection, for a desire for Bod can
be fulfilled only if Bod first desired the sub&ect. 2hile affect is said to be *holly hu"an,
desire is possible in the di'ine. /riste'a identifies this as a !"irrorli,e "otion: "y desire
*ill be fulfilled through +i", for +e has fulfilled his o*n by creating "e in his i"age#
;11T<. Fet desire, the recognition of a lac,, is al*ays suffering, and this suffering is
necessary to sal'ation: !%uch a suffering produced by the lac, of the other is the
indispensable lining of beatific satisfaction, assu"ed and accepted. %uffering *ould thus
condition ouissance, *hile ouissance *ould be the spur of a ne* suffering :uest# ;111<.
In !%tond *ell "oder,# it is the recognition of the i"pending loss of her son that causes
Mary6s suffering, and it is the pro"ise of a return to hi" gi'en by his resurrectionCand
thus her sal'ationCthat is her !blisse.# Mary6s e"otional response to her i"pending loss
is a recognition of a distance bet*een the", and this is our o*n proper attitude: !There is
no better *ay to stress the dissi"ilarity, the heterogeneity bet*een the lo'er and the
friend, the bride and the bridegroo", "an and his Bod, than to e"phasi7e the desire that
causes the one to lose co"posure and faint, cry, "oan, and fret in an atte"pt to &oin the
other# ;/riste'a 111<. ?ernard, of course, arri'es at this conception through his reading
of the Song of Songs, and it is therefore hardly surprising that /riste'a6s for"ulation of it
is e:ually applicable to a fran,ly religious lyric such as !%tond *ell "oder# and to any
nu"ber of songs that gi'e purely erotic e9pressions of desire.
ne such song is !?ryd one brere,# *hich is found copied, of all places, on the
bac, of a copy of a papal bull by Innocent IIICthe "an responsible both for the political
e'ents that destroyed troubadour culture in @ro'enAe and for the authori7ation of the
rder of =riars Minor. [nli,e !%tond *el "oder,# *hose relati'ely co"plicated se:uence
for" defies easy "e"ori7ation, !?ryd one brere# has a si"ple, repetiti'e "elody and
stan7aic repetition, "ar,ing it as 'ery li,ely a popular song recorded by our scribe on
*hate'er paper *as handy ;60onoghue )1(<. Li,e !Lou goth sonne,# it in'ol'es a clear
triangulation of I 5 she3you 5 nature and a ru"ination on pity, but the directions are
re'ersed: the spea,er as,s the titular bird to !re*e# on hi", for he is sic, *ith lo'e for an
absent lady> the spea,er suffers fro" desire for a distant ob&ect and e9pects the pro9i"al
other to be affecti'ely "o'ed by his o*n display of sorro*. Although he as,s the bird to
share his sorro*, his hope is in the fulfill"ent of his desire to "atch the bird6s &oy:
?ryd one brere, brid, brid one brere,
/ynde is co"e of Lo'e, lo'e to cra'e>
?lithful biryd, on "e thou re*e,
r greith, lef, greith thou "e "y gra'e.
Ich a" so blithe so bright bird one brere
2han I see that hende in halle>
%he is *hit of li"e, lo'ely, tre*e,
%he is fair and flour of alle.
Mighte Ich hire at *ille ha'e,
%tedfast of lo'e, lo'ely, tre*e,
f "i sor*e she "ay "e sa'e,
Goy and blisse *ere "e ne*e. ;0uncan 1I<
U?ird on a briar, bird, bird on a briar,
Lature is co"e of Lo'e, lo'e to beg>
?lissful bird, ha'e pity on "e,
r :uic,ly, dear, prepare for "e "y gra'e.
I a" as blithe as a bird on a briar
2hen I see that gracious one in the hall>
%he is *hite of li"b, lo'ely, true,
%he is fair and the flo*er of all.
If I "ight ha'e her as I *ill,
%teadfast of lo'e, lo'ely, true,
=ro" "y sorro* she "ight sa'e "e,
Goy and bliss *ould be to "e rene*ed.V
The three stan7as of this song proceed by a natural8see"ing pattern: fro" suffering desire
for the absent ob&ect to a 'isual description of the lo'ed ob&ect to a clai" of the bliss to be
had in the fulfill"ent of that desire. ?ut this last clai" is "ade suspect by the "iddle
ter" of the se:uence: *hile the first stan7a contrasts the suffering of the spea,er *ith the
!blithful# bird, the second stan7a asserts that the sight of the belo'edCnot the as8yet
unattained possession of herC"a,es hi" !so blithe# as the bird itself. Li,e Mary in
!%tond *ell "oder,# the spea,er "a,es great protest of the suffering engendered by his
desire, but e'en *ithin the e9perience of that desire, that lac,, suffering 'acillates *ith
the sa"e bliss pro"ised by the fulfill"ent of the desire, a process re"ar,ably consonant
*ith *hat /riste'a, still discussing ?ernard6s theology, calls, the !"asochistic dialectic
of &ouissance#: !'erta,en in turn by bliss 5that "erging identification *ith the ideal, ad
unumCit ne'ertheless parta,es of an e9ceptional i"pulse to*ard stability and li"itation
of desire. 2ithout repression but assu"ing e'en the "ost paro9ys"al states of passion in
order to e9press the"# ;111<. The !stability and li"itation of desire# in !?rid one brere#
ta,es place in t*o separate planes. n a rhetorical le'el, this is achie'ed by the granting
of bliss to a still purely 'isual fulfill"ent of desire, the "ere sight of the Lady in a social
sphere, *hile "aintaining that this bliss *ill be "ade ne* *hen the spea,er "ight !hire
at *ille ha'e,# thus allo*ing the desire to be gratified and denied, fulfilled but e"pty. n
an e9pressi'e le'el, this sa"e dialectic is achie'ed by the singing itself, as bliss is
e:uated fro" the first line on *ith the bird, a con'entional figure of happiness "ar,ed by
its e9pression in song. [ncertainty o'er the syllable8to8note relations, especially after the
first 'erse, "a,es it difficult to gi'e any detailed reading of the e"otional :ualities of the
tune, but the insistent "ensural rhyth"s, relati'e bre'ity of "elis"as, and dra"atic
up*ard leaps follo*ed by graceful step8*ise descents all gi'e the i"pression of a &oyful
e9pression rather than a "elancholic one ;0obson and +arris )14<.
2hile !?rid one brere# does not ha'e the co"ple9ity of a troubadour lyricCa
co"ple9ity *hich *ould be unheard of in a popular songCit nonetheless parta,es of
"any of the co""on aspects of one, particularly in the relationship to the unna"ed lady.
+er attributes are described in general, idealistic ter"s: *hite of li"b, lo'ely, fair ;the
last of these, of course, *e ha'e already encountered in reference to Mary<. 2hile she
re"ains the no"inal ob&ect of desire, the true the"e is the e'er8prolonged pro"ise of
!Goy and blisse,# posited here in a *orldly sphere, but in rhetoric nearly indistinguishable
fro" the pro"ise of paradise. As /riste'a notes of the troubadours:
In point of fact, at the li"it, courtly songs neither describe nor relate. They
are essentially "essages of the"sel'es, the signs of lo'e6s intensity. They
ha'e no ob&ectCthe lady is seldo" defined and, slipping a*ay bet*een
restrained presence and absence, she is si"ply... a prete9t for the
incantation.... This latter focus of incantation soon led to an inscription of
courtly rhetoric into religion and changed the Lady into a $irgin Mary#
If the ob&ect is di"inshed, it is in the ser'ice of an a"plified sub&ect. As in !Lou goth
sonne,# the spea,er of !?rid one brere# is concerned to collapse his roles as sub&ect and
ob&ect, pro&ecting onto the bird of the first stan7a the 'ie* he has of hi"self and
de"anding of it an affecti'e identification.
!=o*eles in the frith# is *idely regarded to be as !subli"e# a lyric as any, to use
Adorno6s ter", but that subli"ity "ust be 'ie*ed in light of the fact that its basic
"eaning cannot be agreed upon. If a lyric transfor"s the sub&ecti'e into the ob&ecti'e,
and the "ost subli"e is that in *hich !the 'oice of language itself is heard,# ho* can
these fi'e lines be at the sa"e ti"e ob&ecti'e and obscure, the "anifestation of the
!"ediu" of ideas# and a cipherX:
=o*eles in the frith,
The fisses in the flod,
And I "on *a9e *od.
Mulch sor* I *al,e *ith
for beste of bon and blod. ;Luria and +off"an 3<
U?irds in the forest,
The fish in the flood,
And I "ust gro* "ad.
Much sorro* I *al, *ith
for ;best Q beast< of bon and blod.V
The center of the a"biguity, of course, and the defining ter" of the debate, is the *ord
!beste,# e:ually li,ely in this conte9t to "ean !best# or !beast.# E'en *ith this one ,ey
*ord decided in either direction, both secular and religious readings re"ain a'ailable,
rendering four distinct "eanings, each *ith a different slant of sub&ecti'ity. Ed"und
-eiss allo*ed for the t*o possible religious "eanings nearly forty years ago, and t*enty
years later Tho"as Moser criti:ued these both and added his fa'ored secular 'ersion
Moser ()3<. -eissEs t*o religious readings point to t*o different religious traditions, one
based in each Christian Testa"ent. If the *ord is !best# and the intent religious, it has a
clear Le* Testa"ent orientation that is fran,ly affecti'e: the spea,er *al,s *ith sorro*
because of the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. If the *ord is !beast# and the intent
religious, the orientation is to the ld Testa"ent: the spea,er6s sorro* co"es fro" his
a*areness of his original sin and his ani"al nature, a reflecti'e sub&ecti'ity *ithout
e9ternal ob&ect. Moser6s fa'ored reading "a,es the lyric a secular lo'e song> if the *ord
is !best# and the intent secular, the spea,er *al,s *ith sorro* because of his longing for
a Lady, describes as !the best of bone and blood# in the sa"e general *ay that the
spea,er of !?rid one brere# longs for a lady *ho is the !flo*er of all.# !=o*eles in the
frith,# in this reading, functions in 'ery close parallel to !?rid one brere# in co"pressed
for" ;or, because the possibility al*ays e9ists that *e ha'e only the first 'erse of a
longer song, a "erely abbre'iated for"<. This third reading has the benefit of being
supported by at least t*o other lyrics in *hich a lady is definitely praised in ter"s
including !best of blood and bone# ; Moser ()38)I<. The fourth reading in this
sche"atic, although untouched by Moser, re"ains &ust as possible as these three fro" a
purely linguistic perspecti'e> if the *ord "eans !beast# and the intention is secular, then
the spea,er only notes his sorro* in co"parison to the other beasts *ithout gi'ing a
source. This last consideration e'en opens the possibility that the spea,er does not
differentiate hi"self fro" the ani"als at all, i.e., that the !and# of line three introduces
not an independent clause but the third ite" in a serial sub&ect: the birds, the fishes and I
"ight all go "ad.
Ad&udicating bet*een these four readings *ould be as arbitrary as it *ould be
"eaningless: the song is not accidentally a"biguous on the basis of "issing conte9t> the
song is funda"entally a"biguous. Moser locates this fact in the "ind of the "edie'al
The Middle Ages understood, in *ays that "odern critics are no*
beginning to unra'el, that ho* a te9t !reads# depends on *hat the reader
*ishes to dra* fro" it. I a" not saying that a "edie'al te9t *ill ad"it
*hate'er "eaning a "edie'al or "odern e9egete brings to it, or that all
"edie'al te9ts *ere supposed to be allegorical, but rather that to anyone
schooled in "edie'al e9egetical thought, or e9posed to that tradition
through art and ser"ons, an e'ocati'e little lo'e song li,e !=o*eles#
*ould al*ays ha'e been fair ga"e for "ultiple interpretations. ;((.<
This is a fair point, but it should also be noted that this tradition of e9egesis is continuous
*ith our o*n, as are the "edie'al and "odern lyric traditions that each critical tradition
is responding to. According to /riste'a6s account of troubadour lyric, the poe"6s refusal
!to hold the 'ocabulary to a concrete meaning, let alone the 'ocabulary of lo'e,# is the
"ethod by *hich the poe" turns fro" the ob&ect to*ards *hich it has only feinted and
instead refers only to its o*n perfor"ance of e"otion through language ;)I3<. =ar fro"
being a hindrance to the lyricEs subli"ity, in the Adornian sense, the a"biguity of the
language is its source. To*ards the end of his essay, Adorno e9plicitly co"pares this
:uality in a lyric to a "usical analogue: Dgreat *or,s of art are those *hich succeed
precisely in the "ost doubtful places: as, for e9a"ple, the "ost subli"e "usical *or,s
are not entirely subsu"ed by their for"al sche"es, but radiate beyond the" *ith a fe*
superfluous notes or "easuresD ;3T<. This :uality pre'ents the *or, fro" being a "ere
trans"ission of e9plicit ideology, as it "ight be if the poe" *ere identifiably religious,
but in the sa"e "o'e"ent it co""unicates all the "ore forcefully the underlying
ideology, a per'asi'e sub&ectification of the reader. In a single *ord that is irreducible to
a single "eaning, the poe" achie'es this subli"ity in the *ay that Dthe language flees the
sub&ecti'e intention *hich called up the *ord,D in AdornoEs *ords, but it does so by
,eeping a finite nu"ber of readings legible ;3T<. 2hate'er 'ector *e read for the
sub&ecti'ity of !=o*eles in the frith#Cdeter"ined in large part by the "eaning *e
choose for !beste#Cthe *or, of the poe" is in creating that sub&ecti'ity, allo*ing it to be
!precipitated in the poe",# as Adorno says earlier in his essay ;11<.
2hile it is not conclusi'e, the "anuscript conte9t of D=o*eles in the frithD see"s
to point to a prior e9istence as a popular song. It is certainly not insignificant that this
subli"e little lyric *as set to "usic> indeed, that see"s to be the only reason for its
preser'ation. The poe" is found in a =riarEs "iscellany, M% 0ouce 1(4, *ritten
underneath a t*o8'oice descant. The "elody that I ta,e to be the original is relati'ely
straightfor*ard, operating al"ost entirely in the range of a si9th, *ith an appropriately
dra"atic setting of the cli"atic third line, Dand I "on *a9e *odD: the first three syllables
are each gi'en a si"ple long note on the c, the top of the range thus far, before the three
syllables of D*a9e *odD rise to the d, turn around the b and the c, and conclude on the a,
thus falling a fourth, or nearly the entire range of the "elody. This ,ind of si"ple "elody
is both highly appropriate to a popular tradition and ser'es to e"phasi7e the e"otional
'alence of the lines by "apping the "ost dra"atic "usical "o"ents onto the "ost
dra"atic te9tual "o"ents. ?y co"parison, the upper 'oice tends to*ards "ore orna"ent,
*ith ele'en "ore notes *ritten for the sa"e thirty syllables ;fifty8nine in the descant
'ersus forty8eight in the "elody<. This, and the fact that the 'oices are *ritten in discreet
ranges ;=8d for the "elody and d8cE for the descant<, "ar,s the polyphony as being close
to the @arisian Lotre80a"e school ;/napp H11<. This is in contrast to the English style,
*hich "ade fre:uent use of crossed 'oices throughout the thirteenth century ;Croc,er
311<. =urther e'idence that the scribe *as "ore interested in the "usical e9ercise than
*ith preser'ing the te9t is e'idenced by the hapha7ard insertion of the preposition into
the last line of the song by "eans of a caret. It is easy to i"agine a =riar trained in =rance
*ho finds hi"self in England *ith an i"perfect grasp of the language but *hose ear is
caught by a local song. If the song originated outside of the rder of =riars Minor but
"ade its *ay in, it is e'idence that the ,ind of affecti'e sub&ecti'ity pro"ulgated by the
=riars *as less an alien i"port and "ore si"ply in tune *ith the "o'e"ent of the society
at large.
The lin, bet*een the sub&ecti'ity that "anifests itself in a lyric and the "ores of
society as a *hole is the central clai" of an Adornian reading of lyricis", but Adorno
"a,es this clai" based on the lyricEs response to "odernity:
The generality of the lyric poe"6s content is, ne'ertheless, essentially
social in nature. nly he understands *hat the poe" says *ho percei'es in
its solitude the 'oice of hu"anity> indeed, the loneliness of the lyric
e9pression itself is latent in our indi'idualistic and, ulti"ately, ato"istic
societyC&ust as, by contrast, its general binding 'alidity deri'es fro" the
denseness of its indi'iduation. ;H3<
If this is the central tenet of Adorno6s e:uation of lyricality *ith a reaction to "odernity,
then a si"ple re'ersal of ter"s should carry us close to a sense of "edie'al lyricis": the
sense of community in the lyric e!pression is itself latent in the communality of medieval
society(ust as, by contrast, its individual validity derives from its embrace of
community* That this is "anifestly not al*ays the caseC"edie'al lyric, as *e ha'e seen,
trades in loneliness as *ellCde"onstrates only that Adorno6s larger analytical "ode of
reading lyric has a good degree of applicability to pre8"odern lyrics. That it could be said
to be the case for a *ea,er lyric, say the turn in the last stan7as of !%tond *ell "oder,#
"ay indicate that Adorno6s for"ulation has a "ore ancient 'alidity than he i"agined
because our !indi'idualistic and, ulti"ately, ato"istic society# has been e9tant longer
than generally ac,no*ledged. I *ill lea'e it to a :ualified classicist to declare *hether
the sa"e can be said of Catullus or %appho, but the t*inned "o'e"ents of radical
sub&ecti'ity in ?ernardian theology and Troubadour poetics, and particularly the *ay that
'ersions of both are legible in anony"ous songs in another language across the channel a
century later, attest to the fact that indi'idualistic society and indi'iduating lyrics ha'e a
long and intert*ining history. In fact, the actual "usicality and anony"ity of these lyrics
display this sub&ecti'ity e'en "ore strongly than "odern poe"s that esche* "usicality
for "ere lyricis" and anony"ity for an unna"ed spea,er *ho stands in for the na"ed
poet. The lyrics of the thirteenth century do not offer the "eans to criti:ue this insistance
on sub&ecti'ity, being content to "erely let it DprecipitateD *ithin the language, but this
e9act criti:ue is central to a te9t *ritten a century later, ChaucerEs Canterbury Tales.
“#er$neth my song that seith in this manere”: Music, %eligion and the Author in
the Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales is, on the "ost basic le'el, the story of a religious
pilgri"age, and the religiosity of its participants is thus one "a&or thread of discussion.
This religiosity is e9pressed in "usic fro" the 'ery outset, as Chaucer6s pilgri"s begin
their &ourney to the auspicious acco"pani"ent of the Miller6s bagpipes, described in an
especially "e"orable couplet:
A baggepipe *el ,oude he blo*e and so*ne,
And ther*ithal he broughte us out of to*ne. ;I.H1.81H<
2ith a punning suggestion that the Miller played !out of tune,# that his "usical
perfor"ance literally brought the co"pany into discord, the e9pectation of social tensions
bet*een the pilgri"s is faintly foreshado*ed, a reading that *ould be harder to &ustify if
it *eren6t the Miller hi"self *ho first 'oices those tensions follo*ing the 4night’s Tale.
?ut on the le'el of realis", the bagpipes stand out as a particularly ill8suited
acco"pani"ent for a putati'ely religious obser'ance, as noted by Ed*ard ?loc, in a
brief article in 14H1. The bagpipe is not, ho*e'er, untestified in a religious setting, as a
recently disco'ered 1.
century East Anglican psalter sho*s> in an illu"ination depicting
the annunciation of Christ6s birth, one of the shepherds is depicted as blo*ing bagpipes
e'en as the archangel addresses the" ;Montagu 141<. In both the Macclesfield @salter
and the Canterbury Tales, the bagpipes are selected as a sign of rusticity, but this alone
does not auto"atically denote a lac, of religiosity, as an unlearned si"plicity *as 'alued
as a religious 'irtue by thin,ers fro" the desert fathers, a thousand years prior to
Chaucer6s ti"e, up to and including his conte"poraries, the Lollards ;2atson 3383I<.
The Lollard criti:ue of pilgri"age *as not its rusticity, of course, but its
festi'eness, and in this conte9t the bagpipe *as singled out by at least one critic. ?loc,
cites testi"ony gi'en by 2illia" Thorpe, an ad"itted Lollard, during an interrogation by
Archbishop Arundel, in *hich he co"plains of !di'ers "en and *o"en,# *ho arrange
for their pilgri"age to be acco"panied by !both "en and *o"en that can *ell sing
*anton songs,# and e'en others *ho !*ill ha'e *ith the" bagpipes# ;).T<. Arundel *as
dis"issi'e in his reply, clai"ing that Thorpe !seest not far enough in this "atterZ for thou
considerest not the great tra'ail of pilgri"s#:
.... I say to thee, that it is right *ell done> that the pilgri"s ha'e *ith the"
both singers and also pipers: that *hen one of the" that goeth bare foot
stri,eth his toe upon a stone and hurteth hi" sore and "a,eth hi" to bleed
it is *ell done, that he or his fello*, begin then a song or else ta,e out of
his boso" a bagpipe for to dri'e a*ay *ith such "irth, the hurt of the
fello*. =or *ith such solace, the tra'ail and *eariness of pilgri"s is
lightly and "errily brought forth. ;).T8.1<
There are se'eral things going on here *ith direct i"plications for the Canterbury Tales.
n one le'el, there is the naturalness of the bagpipe6s use, and e'en the specific
appropriateness of its presence on a pilgri"age as a physical sy"bol of the festi'eness of
the occasion. Close to that is the 'e9ing :uestion of *hether or not Chaucer *as
celebrating that festi'eness or criti:uing it fro" a point of 'ie* sy"pathetic to Lollardy.
In the case of the bagpipe, *e probably don6t ha'e enough to go on, but I *ill argue o'er
the course of this chapter that criti:ues of religious practice consonant *ith those of the
Lollards are often e'ident but by no "eans deter"inant in Chaucer. It "ay *ell be that in
in'o,ing the out8of8tune bagpipes as the at"osphere for the pilgri"age6s departure, the
poet intends both to celebrate the festi'eness of the occasion and ac,no*ledge that it is
not properly religious *ithout necessarily connoting a 'alue &udg"ent. 2hat is certain is
that *e cannot be certain, and that see"s central to the techni:ue of the te9t.
Also notable in this Arundel anecdote is the co"plicated relationship bet*een the
instru"ent and the body. +olsinger "a,es a persuasi'e case for the habitual lin,ing of
"usic to body in "edie'al thought, and that is e'ident here, but it does not operate in any
unidirectional "anner. Thorpe lin,s the bagpipe to *anton songs ;and ?loc, notes their
use in pictorial depictions of gluttony and lechery<, the i"plication being that such bodily
pleasure acts counter to the act of contrition that a pilgri"age is supposed to represent.
Arundel, ready to defend pilgri"age in general, doesn6t try to argue that bagpipes lead
one to Bod, but he does argue specifically that the solace and "irth they offer is a
distraction fro" bodily toil. The ideal of affecti'e piety *ould e"phasi7e e9actly the
opposite ob&ecti'e: a concentration on physical suffering as a connection to Christ6s
passion ;2atson 33, 34<, and this doctrine *as inti"ately connected to "usic through the
practices of the =ranciscans, *ho brought both the doctrine and its "usical e9pression to
England in the 1(
century ;Geffrey (18(1, 114<. This trans"ission of doctrine through
"usic *as a natural and effecti'e "ethod for an ideology that e"phasi7ed hu"an feeling,
and as such it "ade its *ay into popular song, as %iegfried 2en7el has sho*n:
The "ost i"portant thrust of this change lay in its ne* and strong appeal
to e"otions and senti"ent, an appeal that found its "ain sti"ulus in
focusing attention on Christ6s hu"anity and particularly on his @assion.
The early English lyric fully re'eals the i"pact of this ne* !affecti'e
piety,# *ith its conse:uent changes fro" public liturgy to pri'ate de'otion,
fro" Christ in "a&esty to the suffering %on of Man, fro" rational and
speculati'e "editation to an affecti'e e9ploration of Christ6s suffering and
his hu"an relation to his "other and her o*n feelings, fro" the fruits of
rede"ption to its price, e'en fro" the &oy and hope of cos"ic triu"ph to
the "ore self8centered an9ieties of a penitent sinner. ;11<
And yet Arundel6s argu"ent sho*s that "usic is si"ply too slippery to fit into such a
deter"inistic conception. =or e'ery instance in *hich "usic figures as an in*ard8
directed, pri'ate "eans of de'otional piety, there *ill be a counter'ailing e9a"ple of
"usic as an out*ard8directed, social "eans of inter8personal connection. In both
instances the "usic "ay ser'e to connect "ore directly *ith the body, as in an affecti'e
"editation or an a"orous song, or it "ay distract fro" the physical, as in the case of
Arundel6s bagpipes.
Chaucer6s @arson, *ho" the +ost playfully accuses of Lollardy ;II.113)83(<,
recapitulates this criti:ue of "usic in his o*n tale, contrasting the urge to sing *ith a
penitent Christian6s fear of &udg"ent: !2hoso thane *olde *el understande thise peynes
and bithyn,e hy" *eel that he hath deser'ed thil,e peynes for his synnes, certes, he
sholde ha'e "oore talent to si,en and to *epe than for to syngen and to pleye# ;W.))3<.
Li,e Arundel, the @arson sees "usic as a potential distraction fro" suffering, but, unli,e
Arundel, he insists that that suffering is proper. Indeed, he ends his discussion of
penitence *ith the assertion that *ithout Christ6s pity, !a sory song *e "yghten alle
synge# ;W.(1H<. %ong is figured as a respite fro" suffering, but an una'oidably *ea, one
in co"parison to the di'ine possibility offered by Bod.
The +ost is surely right to align the @arson *ith Lollardy, at least by dint of his
sy"pathies, but the @arson6s 'oice is &ust one of a great "any assu"ed by Chaucer. ur
desire as readers to identify any one of the pilgri"s6 'oices *ith that of the poet is not a
ne* one> one of Chaucer6s first readers of record, the +eng*rt scribe, *as si"ilarly eager
to identify a specific passage *ith his author. At the end of the Cler,6s Tale, as the teller
is struggling to reconcile his tale *ith an e9tractable "oral, he resorts to song, saying,
I *ol *ith lusty herte, fresh and grene,
%eyn yo* a song to glad yo*, I *ene>
And lat us stynte of ernestful "atere.
+er,neth "y song that seith in this "anere: ;I$.113(8331<
0espite the clear te9tual conte9t, in *hich the Cler, positi'ely identifies the song as his
o*n, the scribe follo*s these lines *ith !+ere is ended the tale Q of the cler, of Q
9enford# and titles the te9t of the song *ith !Lenuoy de Chaucer.# %ince *e sadly lac,
Chaucer6s autograph "anuscript, *e can only ta,e this attribution to be a scribal
interpolation. +o*e'er a*,*ard his solution, the scribe6s an9iety o'er allo*ing this song
to re"ain in the "outh of the Cler, is understandable> there are t*o clear reasons *hy the
cler, should not be e9pected to sing this song. The first reason is that the song6s intent
runs directly counter to the story he has &ust told> The Cler1’s Tale proper presents as
i""easurably 'irtuous the long8suffering Briselde, yet !Len'oy de Chaucer# begs
*o"en not to follo* her e9a"ple, to !Lat noon hu"iltee youre tonge naille# ;I$.11I.<.
The scribe, by labeling this rhetoric as Chaucer6s, recogni7es his author6s *illingness to
create tellers *ho can tell tales that he *ouldn6t and therefore e9press opinions that are
not his o*n, but in doing so he also betrays both a belief that the Cler, could not be
si"ilarly co"ple9 and a desire to hear a 'oice that is authentically Chaucer6s.
The second reason to be surprised at the Cler,6s song has nothing to do *ith its
content, but the fact that he *ould sing at all. As portrayed in the Beneral @rologue, the
Cler, is other*ise disinclined to*ards "usic. [nli,e Licholas, the !hendy# cler, in the
/iller’s Tale, he
…*as le'ere ha'e at his beddes heed
T*enty boo,es, clad in bla, or reed,
f Aristotle and his philosophre,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie ;I.)4(841<
Li,e the scribal interpolation, this fondness for boo,s lin,s the Cler, *ith his author, but
this identification is not synony"ous *ith piety> it is *orth noting that the only na"ed
author in the Cler,6s library is a pagan. Although the @arson "ust surely appro'e of this
austerity, it is a :uality that is specifically lin,ed to the Cler,6s lac, of a successful
ecclesiastical career, for he !Le *as so *orldly for to ha'e office# ;I.)4)<. It "ay be
Chaucer6s purpose in these lines to conde"n the "ore *orldly ecclesiasts, but this
portrait is surely co"plicated by the Cler,6s later singing, as t*o of the three re&ected
"etony"s for clerical corruptionC!robes riche,# !fithele# and !gay sautrie#Care
"usical instru"ents.
If the Cler,6s re&ection of a !gay sautrie# is i"plicitly presented as a re&ection of
*orldliness, then Licholas6s possession of that 'ery ob&ect is e'en "ore fitting. The
Miller consistently identifies Licholas6s "usicality *ith his pursuit of se9, re'ealing a
close relationship bet*een the t*o that is proble"atic for the church6s practice. In his
roo", Licholas lays in bed, not *ith a boo,, as *e i"agine the Cler,, but *ith his
instru"ent, !n *hich he "ade a8nyghtes "elodie Q %o s*eetly that all the cha"bre
rong# ;I.()1(81H<. It is the 2ife of ?ath *ho introduces the phrase !cha"bre of $enus,#
;III.11I< and the resonance of the sa"e euphe"is" can be heard here. The instru"ent,
both in Licholas6s enthusias" for it and in the Cler,6s re&ection of it, co"es to stand not
only for *orldliness in general, but for se9uality specifically. The sa"e use of the
instru"ent as a "asturbatory substitute for se9 appears *hen Licholas and Alison ha'e
"ade their first contact:
2han Licholas had doon thus e'erideel
And tha,,ed hire aboute the lendes *eel,
+e ,iste hire s*eete and ta,eth his sa*trie,
And pleyeth faste, and "a,eth "elodie. ;I.((T(8T1<
The persistent lin,age of the "usical perfor"ance to the se9ual *ould read less li,e a
criti:ue if Licholas *ere not bound for a clerical career, and therefore one that is either
religious or political. These t*o disparate real"s are e'o,ed in the songs Licholas
perfor"s in his cha"ber, !Angelus ad 'irgine"# and !the /ynges Lote.# This latter tune,
although not positi'ely identified, "ay be the se:uence !A'e re9 gentis Angloru",# a
song fle9ibly applied to %aints Ed"und, Ed*ard and Aethelbert in 'arious "anuscripts,
all canoni7ed /ings of England and therefore a clai" for the sanctity of the figure of
secular po*er ;Collins 141<
. Licholas, aspiring by his training to parta,e in one of these
t*o real"s, is e9posed by the narrati'e as blithely hypocritical.
The !Angelus,# sur'i'ing *ith "usic in at least ele'en "anuscripts, offers a fuller
picture of Licholas6s perfor"ance ;+ughes (I<. ne of these "anuscripts, ?. L. Arundel
).I, preser'es a "ensural notation of bre'es separated by se"ibre'es that gi'es the
"elody a strident, ringing :uality, strongly e"phasi7ing the "etrics of the opening line:
!\ngel]s ad '^rginO" sub^ntrans ^n concl_'O.# The first t*o long notes are the highest
notes in the range, g`, separated by a short e` on the unaccented syllable, a "elody *ell
suited for "a,ing a cha"ber ring. The e"phasis in the latter half of the line suits
Licholas6s purpose as *ell: the "usic allo*s us to hear the repeated syllable !in# *ith
special attention, suggesting perhaps, to a "ind li,e Licholas6s, repeated, al"ost 'iolent,
penetration. If a !cha"ber# ser'es as a suitable euphe"is" for the fe"ale genitalia, then
the Latin e:ui'alent !concla'e#Cliterally !*ith a ,ey#Csuggests its relationship to the
"ale. The sa"e Arundel "anuscript preser'es an English 'ersion of the te9t, but it
pro'ides no si"ilar opportunity for a deliberately per'erse "isreading, and therefore
This is, of course, *holly speculati'e, and see also =rost for an apolitical and te9tless candidate for the
tune. +o*e'er, e'en a te9tless tune that *as identified as !The /ing6s Lote# *ould carry so"ething of the
resonance I ha'e argued for here.
gi'es Licholas no reason to sing it. All of this co"plicates the relationship of the
sub&ecti'ity inherent in a lyric, sho*ing that the authority of popular lyric is as easily
sub'erted as it is e"phasi7ed, and it is the construction of the fiction that allo*s us, as
readers, to see this co"plication. E'en that techni:ue of fiction, though, relies on the
popularity of the lyric> *e as "odern readers ha'e to reconstruct the ,no*ledge of the
song that a conte"porary reader *ould ha'e possessed. That sa"e conte"porary reader,
ho*e'er, *ould e9perience the e9posure of this reading through the sa"e layers of
fiction that *e do: the se9uali7ation of this orthodo9 song is seen through Licholas, the
se9uali7ation of religiosity through the telling of the MillerCa character other*ise
in'ested in upsetting the directions of social authorityCand *e see the place"ent of this
criti:ue in the Miller through Chaucer, lea'ing us incapable of pinning do*n any one
uni'ocal position on the issue, but forcing us instead to face the "any intricacies of the
f course, Licholas is not yet a practicing religious official, and there is no
e9plicit indication that he intends to beco"e one. The connection bet*een "usical
carnality and religious de'otion only beco"es e9plicitly e'ident in the Miller6s
description of Licholas6s night in bed *ith Alison> the relationship bet*een "usicality
and se9uality is consu""ated in the sa"e "o"ent as the illicit affair:
2ithouten *ordes "o they goon to bedde,
There as the carpenter is *ont to lye.
Ther *as the re'el and the "elodye>
And thus lith Alison and Licholas,
In bisynesse of "yrthe and of solas,
Til that the belle of laudes gan to rynge,
And freres in the chauncel gonne synge. ;I.(1HT8H1<
At the 'ery "o"ent *hen Licholas achie'es his se9ual goal, that achie'e"ent is lin,ed,
through a "usical "etaphor, to the ,ind of acti'ity to *hich his energies *ould be "ore
properly de'oted. At the sa"e ti"e, the tone of the passage and the playfulness of the
associations pre'ent the criti:ue fro" stinging too harshly. The te9t chides Licholas *ith
a *in,, not *ith a lash ;although he does later recei'e an !iren hoot#<. The Miller is not
especially concerned *ith critici7ing Licholas for his indiscretions, and e'en gi'es a sort
of boisterous appro'al through the &oyfulness of the description. The *hole passage
faintly recalls the aubade tradition, in *hich the bells of laude often signal the lo'ers6
ine'itable separation, but here they are a "etony" for the cli"a9 itself, and the
connection to the friars6 singing i"plies that the !solas# that the lo'ers find in each
others6 bodies is e:ui'alent to the solace the friars find in their de'otions.
The sa"e set of concerns are present in a "ore straightfor*ard *ay in Absolon,
Licholas6s ri'al for Alison6s affection. Absolon, *ho is connected to the parish church,
also perfor"s "usic, and he does so *ith the e9press intent of *ooing Alison *ith the
song. In a tale that is full of e'ocations of !inside# and !outside,# it is significant that
Absolon has to perfor" his song in the street, addressing it to a !shot8*yndo*e,# *hile
Licholas6s, fro" inside the house, is said to "a,e the *hole roo" ring. ?oth cler,s sing a
song in'ol'ing Mary: Licholas6s )ngelus ad virginem is a *ell8docu"ented song on the
annunciation ;@age<, and Absolon6s couplet, as @eter ?eidler has argued in a recent
Chaucer +evie5 article, is an a"alga" of co""on Marian de'otional lyrics. Addressing
Mary in song allo*s Absolon to sing blatantly ro"antic lyrics under Alison6s *indo*
*ithout her !&alous# husband thin,ing he is anything "ore than o'erly pious ;14H841<.
The lin,ing of Alison to Mary perfor"s the sa"e ,ind of criti:ue of the cler,s6 religiosity
as the connection of Licholas and Alison6s tryst *ith the bells of laude, but the 'ery
con'entionality of erotically8charged Marian lyrics should pre'ent us fro" reading this
criti:ue as 'ery radical. Licholas and Absolon, *hile they are figures of clerical duplicity,
are not the instru"ents of a righteous attac, on a corrupt church. They do not, as does the
@ardoner, cynically profit on their conscious "anipulation of the parish6s belief. Their
"anipulations, and their e'entual co"euppances, are slight and co"ical. n the other
hand, the criti:ue i"plied of the religious practice of de'otion is "ore serious. If Marian
lyrics are so indistinguishable fro" erotic lo'e lyrics that Absolon can sing the" *ith
such e'ident se9ual desire, the popular de'otion to her is suspect, and the e9pression of
this de'otion in "usic is doubly so.
The =riar, !a *onto*ne and a "erye# *ho !*el ,oude U…V synge and pleyen on a
rote,# shares "any of Absolon6s features, including the relati'e uni"portance of his
shortco"ings ;I.)TI, )(1<. The =riar6s portrait in the 6eneral Prologue, ho*e'er, is one
of the "ost una"biguously critical, detailing, in "ore lines than are gi'en to any of the
other portraits, a da"ning catalogue of his *orldly affectations: lo'e of *ealth, dalliance
!*ith *orthy *o""en of the toun,# ; I.).T< and a decided distaste for the co"pany of
lepers. The description of his "usical abilities, including his !"urye note,# is part of this
catalogue, and a recent study of the "iniatures in the Elles"ere "anuscript has suggested
that scribal an9iety softened this criti:ue by o"itting the =riar6s instru"ents in his
illustration ;-osenblu" and =inley, 1.H<. =riars, of course, *ere fa"ous as Ioculatores
0ei, and historical e'idence sho*s e'en professional "instrelsy *as at least an
occasional part of de'otional practice> Ed*ard III ga'e dispensations to "instrels found
perfor"ing before the i"age of the $irgin in Canterbury t*ice during Chaucer6s ser'ice
in his court ;-astall<. Fet e'ery "edie'al authority confir"s that "usical perfor"ance in
church should not dra* attention to the person of the perfor"er. Lo less a figure than
?ernard of Clair'au9 *arned that:
The chant if it is e"ployed should be :uite sole"n, nothing sensuous or
rustic. Its s*eetness should not be fri'olous. It should please the ear only
that it "ight "o'e the heart, ta,ing a*ay sorro* and "itigating *rath. It
should not detract fro" the sense of the *ords, but rather "a,e it "ore
fruitful. It is not a little blo* to spiritual profit *hen "ore attention is paid
to feats of 'oice than to the "eaning of *ords. ;Treatises 1I1<
That ?ernard felt it necessary to co""unicate such stipulations indicates that such
distractions *ere a real danger in the "edie'al church, and ?ernard, as a pri"ary engine
behind the spread of affecti'e theology, had particular cause to be concerned. The
a*a,ening of an affecti'e attraction to*ards the di'ine carries the ris, that the attraction
*ill beco"e "isdirected, especially to*ards the agent of the a*a,ening. This
"isdirection is e9actly *hat Absolon, for one, *as hoping to produce, and the =riar
probably *ouldn6t be abo'e it hi"self. The =riar6s !"urye note,# ho*e'er, *as e'idently
not "ost often e9ercised inside the church> his "usical abilities are gi'en in the sa"e
catalogue that lists the !pynnes# he ,ept !for to ye'en faire *y'es# and his recitations of
ballads, both char"s "ore natural to the parlor than the pulpit ;I.)(.8(3<.
In any case, to ha'e a !"urye note# is not necessarily to 'iolate ?ernard6s ter"s,
*hich call for a 'oice able to be !s*eet,# to !enchant the ears# and !lighten the heart.#
Certainly this is *hat another religious figure of less8than8perfect practices, the @ardoner,
"ust ha'e been able to do, as his perfor"ance in church *as certainly lucrati'e:
=or *el he *iste, *han that song *as songe,
+e "oste preche and *el affile his tonge
To *ynne sil'er, as he ful *el ,oude>
Therefore he song the "urierly and loude. ;I.31T81.<
+olsinger has argued that, since the @ardoner *as already said to ha'e a 'oice !as s"al as
hath a goot,# his "usicality "ust be such that it is !able to adapt to "any purposes by
constantly sliding and shifting, altering its tone, ta"ber, 'olu"e and pitch as the situation
*arrants# ;1I)<. This ,ind of dangerous "utability is certainly offered as a criti:ue, but it
is central to Chaucer6s art that this criti:ue is left unspo,en. The @ardoner6s is the last
portrait of the prologue, and by the ti"e *e get to it, *e as readers ha'e beco"e *ell
ac:uainted *ith the pattern of the portraits. =irst and fore"ost, *e arenEt e9pecting the
@ardoner to be any "ore ethical or honest in his religious office than his clerical
colleagues, but at the sa"e ti"e *e arenEt e9pecting the narratorEs e9plicit conde"nation
of this corruption. In fact, the opposite attitude is detectable. The @ardoner is certainly a
nasty piece of *or,, but there is an undeniable sort of glee to the description as *ell, and
*e get that sa"e ,ind of glee in parta,ing of the description. 2hen Chaucer8narrator says
of this scoundrel that !he *as in chirche a noble ecclesiaste# ;I.3TI<, it is not said in
nai'etOChe goes on to e9plain that this noble "anner in church is 'ery useful in his
atte"pts to !*ynne sil'er# Cbut the irony is a shade deeper than "ere sarcas"> the
narrator see"s to ha'e an actual degree of respect for the @ardoner6s perfor"ance in
church. Tone, that crucial indicator of irony, is i"possible to :uantify, but the shift
bet*een lines 3T1 and 3T3 is telling. +ere6s the full transition fro" the description of
ho* the @ardoner routinely dupes country parsons to the clai" of his graceful church
"anner cited abo'e:
And thus, *ith feyned flaterye and &apes,
+e "ade the person and the peple his apes.
?ut tre*ely to tellen atte laste,
+e *as in chirche a noble ecclesiaste. ;I.3TH83TI<
The shift in diction is ,ey, fro" !&apes# and !apes# to !tre*ely to tellen.# The hyperbole
of !noble ecclesiaste# tends to*ard irony, but !atte laste# steps a*ay fro" it, as if
signaling a turn fro" &apery to seriousness> this then reads as actual ad"iration of the
@ardoner6s talents. ?ut e'en in recogni7ing this ob'ious shift in tone, it "ust be pointed
out that the corresponding shift in attitude is "uch subtler. The playful "ood that is
e'inced by the diction of !&apes# and !apes# 'ery nearly condones the @ardoner6s
sche"es by ta,ing a 'icarious delight in describing it, &ust as the "ore re'erent language
of the follo*ing lines is full of ad"iration for the @ardoner6s ability to play the role of
noble ecclesiaste, e'en *ith the ,no*ledge that it is a conscious and duplicitous act.
The references to !apes# and !goot,# both tied to the @ardoner6s perfor"ance
practices, encircle the "ore infa"ous ani"al reference in the portrait, the narrator6s clai"
that !I tro*e he *ere a gelding or a "are# ;I.141<. The @ardoner6s perfor"ance of
se9uality, *hich see"s to be as unfi9ed as his singing 'oice, is lin,ed to that 'oice fro"
his first appearance, *hen he is heard singing !Co" hider, lo'e, to "e#Ccertainly a song
unfit for a noble ecclesiastCacco"panied by the %u""oner6s !stif burdoun# ;I.13)8.<.
This !stif burdoun# does double duty as a signifier of se9uality, able to "ean both !stiff
staff# and !strong bass.# 2hether the relationship described is "erely a "usical one or
also a thinly8'eiled se9ual one, the @ardoner is left *ith the fe"inine role and an
effe"inate 'oice, a "usical trait specifically conde"ned by "ore than one pole"icist.
Gohn of %alisbury, a highly placed 1)
Century English clergy"an, co"plained of singers
*ho profane the ser'ice *ith !a lasci'ious 'oice and a ,ind of ostentation,# *hich he
called !effe"ini7ing# and !effete,# saying they "ight be "ista,en for !a chorus of %irens,
not a choir of "en# ;McBee )(<. The reference to %irens is not incidental> Gohn actually
fears that this singing *ill cause both its hearers and perfor"ers to beco"e se9ually
aroused at the e9pense of their rational faculties: !The ears of the singers are al"ost
co"pletely di'ested of their critical po*er, and the soul, *hich has yielded up to the
en&oy"ent of so "uch s*eetness, is not capable of &udging the "erits of the things heard.
Indeed, *hen such practices go too far, they can "ore easily occasion arousal in the loins
than de'otion in the "ind# ;ibid.<. Ailred of -ie'aul9 is e'en "ore colorful in his
description of o'erly theatrical singers, going so far as to affir" the lin, bet*een
lasci'iousness and a bestial 'oice:
%o"eti"es, and this is sha"eful to say, the 'oice is distorted into horse6s
neighing, so"eti"es "anly strength is set aside and it is sharpened into
the high pitches of the fe"ale 'oice... %o"eti"es the entire body is
agitated in actor6s gestures: the lips t*ist, the eyes roll, the shoulders
hea'e, and at e'ery note the fingers are fle9ed to "atch. This laughable
dissipation of the 'oice is called religion, and *here these things are
perfor"ed "ost fre:uently it is proclai"ed that Bod is ser'ed *ith "ore
honour. ;McBee ).<
Li,e the @ardoner6s, Ailred6s singers6 'oices are co"pared to those of ani"als and are
e9plicitly fe"ini7ed, but, also li,e the @ardoner, their "ethods are "et *ith popular
In instructi'e contrast to the @ardoner stands the !litel clergeon# of the @rioress6s
Tale: *here the @ardoner inappropriately se9uali7es his singing, the clergeon is pre8
se9ual> *here the @ardoner6s style is studiously unorthodo9, the clergeon6s is si"ply
unstudied> *here the @ardoner6s intent is "alicious, the clergeon6s is pious> *here the
@ardoner6s perfor"ance is "endacious, the clergeon6s is ingenuous. 0espite this, the
clergeon6s sensualist perfor"ance of a te9t he cannot understand, a perfor"ance that, in
Ti"othy McBee6s boo, The Sound of /edieval Song' $rnamentation and 7ocal Style according to the
Treatises, in addition to being a lucid guide for perfor"ers of early "usic, usefully collects "usical
treatises fro" do7ens of other*ise hard8to8find "edie'al authors. All references to his *onderful little
'olu"e in this essay refer to McBee6s original translations of the treatises, and not to his analysis of the".
the @rioress6s narrati'e, earns hi" a "iraculous inter'ention fro" the $irgin, places hi"
in an opposition to the sa"e scholastic doctrine of "usicality that *ould conde"n the
2hen he learns that the )lma redemptoris is a hy"n to Mary, the anony"ous
clergeon 'o*s to learn it by rote, e'en though !Lought *iste he *hat this Latin *as to
seye,#;$II.H)(< and despite the fact that he i"agines he *ill be punished for neglecting
his other learning:
!And is this song "a,ed in re'erence
f Cristes "ooderX# seyde this innocent.
!Lo*, certes, I *ol do "y diligence
To ,onne it al er Criste"asse be *ent.
Though that I for "y pry"er shal be shent
And shal be beten thies in an houre,
I *ol it ,onne ure Lady for to honoureZ# ;$II.H(38.(<
T*o co"peting and opposed Christian idealsCsi"ple faith and scrupulous learningCare
already irreconcilable in the "ind of this clergeon !se'en yeer of age# ;$II.HT(<. Ailred
appro'ingly cites Augustine6s assertion that ta,ing "ore delight in the singing than the
te9t is a punishable sin ;McBee ).<, and the clergeon can hardly be said to ta,e delight in
a te9t that he cannot understand> his *ords, in fact, directly oppose the rote "e"ori7ation
of the song to his education, and he is de'oted to pursuing his faith e'en though it "eans
regular corporal punish"ent. n the other hand, Licholas 2atson e"phasi7es that the
clergeon6s unlearned de'otion is "eant to contrast *ith the tale6s "alicious Ge*s, *ho
not only understand the te9t, but ta,e offence because it goes against their learned !la*es
re'erence,# and that the for"er is a :uality cited appro'ingly by the Lollards ;IT<. The
@rioress, ho*e'er, is certainly no Lollard, *ith her lo'e of refine"ent and her &e*eled
brooch, and her ideali7ation of the clergeon6s unlearned faith and *illingness to suffer is
in ironic contrast to her ostentatious =rench and her co"fortable, e'en lu9urious
Li,e the other ironies discussed, ho*e'er, the discrepancy bet*een the @rioress6s
'aluation of the clergeon6s si"plicity and her o*n sophistication is not a si"ple one: the
'ery :ualities she ascribes to the unlearned boy can be traced bac, to her o*n aristocratic
upbringing. The =rench that !she spa, ful faire and fetisly, Q After the scole of %tratford
atte ?o*e# ;I.1).8)H<, is often ta,en as a sign that she pretended to "ore sophistication
than she actually had, but Eli7abeth Leach has recently published research that sho*s the
@rioress6s is perhaps "ore proper to her i"plied high station than *as pre'iously thought.
Leach *rites that !it see"s that *hile not all people *or,ing *ithin the upper strata of
English society *ere =rench8 English bilingual by 'irtue of birth, "any ac:uired =rench
collo:uially in the course of e'eryday businessCa group *hich included not &ust
business"en and nobles but also *o"en *ho ran households# ;)H(<. The /ani8res de
langage that are the focus of her research are te9ts designed to supple"ent the oral
learning of =rench, and one of the pri"ary "eans of this, significantly, is through rote
learning of song: !the /ani8res’ ne*er e"phasis on the oral Kperfor"ance6 of a learned
language see"s to ha'e led to the use of songs in that language as part of the pedagogical
pac,age. Gust as singing had been a funda"ental part of second language ;or Kfather
tongue6< literacy earlier in the Middle Ages, *hen boys in choir schools learned Kcantus
et gra""atica6 ;i.e. Latin<, singing also see"s to ha'e been part of the pedagogy of the
increasing *ritten 'ernacular Kfather tongue6 in late 1.th8century England# ;)H.<.
Although Leach does not e9tend her analysis to the Prioress’s Tale, high8born students
such as the @rioress *ere encouraged to learn songs before they could understand the
*ords in e9actly the "anner that the clergeon does. The @rioress, presented in the portrait
as eager to display her refine"ent, "aps one "eans of achie'ing this refine"ent onto her
character in such a *ay that it beco"es an e"ble" of his si"pleness, a :uality the tale
This irony bet*een the @rioress6s self8perfor"ance and *hat she ascribes to the
clergeon e9tends to "usical perfor"ance, as *ell. The @rioress, *e learn, is as
acco"plished in singing as she is in =rench: !=ul *eel she soong the ser'ice dy'yne, Q
Entuned in her nose ful se"ely# ;I.1))8)(<. Arnulf of %t. Bhislain, a 'ery near
conte"porary of Chaucer, *rites that singers !of the fa'oured fe"ale se9# are especially
pri7ed if they articulate their notes !in the epiglottis of the s*eet8sounding throat,# a
bodily8reali7ed singing far fro" the @rioress6s o'erly8!se"ely# nasals ;McBee )H<. +er
self8conscious and affected 'ocal style accords *ell *ith the reco""endations of Gohn of
%alisbury and Ailred, *ho insist on the de8e"phasis of the sensuality of the song, but the
clergeon co"es closer to Arnulf6s sensualist ca"p:
+is fela*e taughte hy" ho"e*ard pri'ely,
=ro day to day, til he ,oude it by rote,
And thanne he song it *el and boldely,
=ro *ord to *ord, acordynge *ith the note.
T*ies a day it passed thurgh his throte,
To scole*ard and ho"*ard *han he *ente>
n Cristes "ooder set *as his entente. ;$II.H..8HHT<
Instead of !se"ely,# the clergeon sings !*el and boldely.# Instead of e"phasi7ing the
te9t, as authorities fro" Augustine to Ailred ha'e insisted, he "erely passes through it
!=ro *ord to *ord,# shaping the perfor"ance instead !acordynge to the note.# In re*ard
for this lusty and bodily perfor"ance, his de'otion and his song are allo*ed to sur'i'e
his 'iolent, bodily death. The song, as before, "ust pass !thurgh his throte,# for no* the
connection to his "outh is bro,en: !Ther he *ith throte y,or'en lay upright, Q +e )lma
redemptoris gan to synge Q %o loude that al the place gan to rynge# ;$II.11181(<. 0espite
the fact that the song allo*s hi" to transcend his 'iolent death, the song itself re"ains
connected to his corporal being. This ,no*n song is in contrast to the celestial song that
he *ill learn *hen he has left that body behind, as the @rioress clai"s *hen she
apostrophi7es the boy:
"artir, so*ded to 'irginitee,
Lo* "aysto* syngen, fol*ynge e'ere in oon
The *hite La"b celestialC:uod sheC
f *hich the grete e'aungelist, %eint Gohn,
In @ath"os *root, *hich seith that they that goon
?iforn this La"b and synge a song al ne*e,
That ne'ere, flesshly, *o""en they ne ,ne*e. ;$II.H348IH<
The !song al ne*e# that is his hea'enly re*ard is lin,ed to his 'ery bodily perfor"ance
of the )lma redemptoris specifically because of its status as a replace"ent for that other
bodily perfor"ance: the !flesshly# ,no*ing of *o"en. Li,e Licholas and Absolon, the
clergeon sings in putati'e de'otion to the $irgin. [nli,e the duplicitous cler,s, the pre8
pubescent boy is sincere in the direction of his de'otion.
The ironic distance bet*een the attitudes that the @rioress 'alori7es in her tale and
those she acts out in the 6eneral Prologue do not re'eal her as si"ilarly duplicitous, but
rather "erely lac,ing in self8a*areness. ur author, Chaucer, gi'es us the e9cess of
'ision necessary to see this distance, but in doing so he does not e9plicitly condone or
critici7e either character6s practice. Lee @atterson, in analy7ing the class tensions that
do"inate the early structure of the Canterbury Tales, has posited that Chaucer6s fluent
'entrilo:uis" of 'arious class consciousnesses a"ounts to an !uncanny ability to present
hi"self as the historically undeter"ined poet of a correspondingly dehistorici7ed
sub&ecti'ity# ;11.<, a position that allo*s hi" to both ac,no*ledge and contain class
tension. In lin,ing i"portant differences of religious doctrine to differences "usical
perfor"ance, Chaucer achie'es this sa"e ,ind of distance in regards to religious tension.
Gust as he can present the Miller6s peasant aggressi'eness sy"pathetically *ithout
necessarily endorsing it ;@atterson 1)(<, Chaucer can present criti:ues of religious
practice through narrati'e "eans *ithout necessarily endorsing anything as radical or as
cheerless as a Lollardist theology, and he can present sy"pathetic instances of affecti'e
theology, and e'en :uestion obli:uely the rationalist, ?oethian philosophy that he had
spent so "uch ti"e *ith, *ithout ha'ing to endorse or re&ect either approach. The
o'erriding spirit of the Canterbury Tales is one of play, in *hich e'en the "ost serious
narrati'es, the "ost ob&ectionable ad"issions, and the "ost pi:uant yearnings are
undercut by their constant opposites. 2hate'er *e "a,e of the author6s intent in the
retraction, *e cannot i"agine that the author of the /iller’s Tale, the 9un’s Priest’s Tale,
and the Wife of Bath’s Prologue could really belie'e, *ith the @arson, that !he sholde
ha'e "oore talent to si,en and to *epe than for to syngen and to pleye.#
“&epe 'el thy tonge”( )ourtly Music and Ethical *iscourse in the Canterbury Tales
Gero"e Mandel argued con'incingly in 14IH that Dthere is no courtly lo'e in the
Canterbury TalesD ;)I3<. 0espite the se'eral characters in se'eral tales *ho perfor"
Dodd"ents of courtly beha'ior,D there is no real e9ploration of the psychology of courtly
lo'e such as appears in Troilus and Criseyde. Mandel ta,es this to "ean that Dby the ti"e
he ca"e to *rite the Canterbury Tales, UChaucerV no longer loo,ed upon the language,
tenets, or characteristics of courtly lo'e as a 'iable *ay of e9pressing *hat occurs in the
hu"an heartD ;)II<. Fet, as MandelEs article partially catalogues, 'arious bits of the
trappings of courtly lo'e discourse surface in se'eral places throughout the Tales. Learly
all of these trappings are related to "usical perfor"ance, as befits a tradition handed
do*n in 'arious per"utations fro" the troubadours. ChaucerEs e'ocations of these
"usical perfor"ances in courtly conte9ts operate as criti:ues of the ethical clai"s of
courtliness "uch as the perfor"ance of "usic in religious conte9ts operate as a criti:ue
of the ethical clai"s of religious practice.
The Canterbury Tales is able to "a,e this criti:ue effecti'ely because it does so in
a sidelong fashion. Courtliness is raised as yet another point of contention bet*een
'arious pilgri"s, *ho then articulate their understanding of its *or,ings *ithin their o*n
tales. @rinciple a"ong these is the e9change bet*een the %:uire, hi"self a consciously
courtly figure, and the =ran,lin, *hose social aspirations include achie'ing a DgentilesseD
that he ta,es pains to distinguish fro" the sort of courtliness that the %:uire enacts, both
in his person and in his tale. The S:uire’s Tale and the ;ran1lin<s Tale for" an e9plicit
unit, and they co"e at the "idpoint of the te9t in its usual editorial arrange"ent. The
the"e of courtliness and "usic, then, recei'es a later introduction than that of religion
and "usic, but the t*o are not entirely separable> the discussion of the /iller<s Tale in the
preceding chapter, could, in "any *ays, be profitably included in this chapter, &ust as a
lyric such as D=o*eles in the frithD is legible both in religious and secular conte9ts. The
e9change bet*een the %:uire and the =ran,lin, ho*e'er, begins a debate that centers on
courtly "usical perfor"ance as an ethical act, and, follo*ing the =ran,lin, both the LunEs
@riest and the Manciple *eigh in on the sub&ect. As *ith the religious discourse, one
central locus of this debate is the distinction bet*een perfor"ance that is "ar,ed as
natural and perfor"ance that is "ar,ed as studied and therefore artificial> the for"er is
lin,ed to a 'alori7ation of instinct and e9periential *isdo", *hile the latter is lin,ed to
rationalis" in both its positi'e and negati'e connotations, to learned discourse and to
cynically "anipulati'e deceptions. The conclusions of the four taletellers in regards to
these issues 'ary *ildly, of course, and the end effect is a te9t that e9plores the ethical
di"ensions of courtly discourse through its "anifestation in "usical perfor"ance *ithout
offering the solace of a definiti'e state"ent on the sub&ect. The conclusion of Beorge
/ittredge that the =ran,linEs 'ie*s can be read as ChaucerEs o*n ;.13< is hopelessly
co"plicated by the fact that it is e'entually follo*ed by both the 9un<s Priest Tale and
The /anciple<s Tale. The last of these, in fact, is clearly lin,ed to the concluding piece of
the entire te9t, the Parson<s Tale, and thus should ser'e as a sort of su""ation. The fact
that The /anciple<s Tale presents the "ost clearly cynical 'ie* of the ethical debate leads
"ost of us to naturally resist that inference, and thus de"onstrates ho* deliberately the
te9t resists any uni'ocal state"ent.
The te"ptation to place an undue e"phasis on the "oral status of the =ran,lin lies
in the co"prehensi'e and deliberate "anner of his criti:ue of the character of the %:uire.
It should be noted in this conte9t that the Chaucer8narrator ne'er "a,es this sa"e
&udg"ent of the %:uire> in his 6eneral Prologue portrait, any criti:ue of courtliness is on
the le'el of caricature. +is hair and clothing are perhaps a trifle too *ell8,ept, especially
in relation to his father, the /night, but he has not failed to ca"paign, e'en if he did so
!in hope to stonden in his lady grace# ;I II<. +is "usical perfor"ance is noted as
co"petent, if perhaps e9cessi'e, since !%yngynge he *as, or floytynge, al the day# ;I 41<.
+is a"orousness is also appropriately e9tre"e: !%o hoote he lo'ede that by nyghtertale Q
+e sleep na"oore than doth a nyghtyngale# ;I 4I<. +e is, in short, described as a perfect
courtly figure, and, as such, is only open to criticis" through criticis" of courtliness
itself, *hich is not e'ident in the portrait. In the list of these courtly attributes, ho*e'er,
is the clai" that !+e ,oude songes "a,e and *el endite# ;4H<, and it is in his later
de"onstration of this that the criti:ue of courtliness begins to arise through the narrati'e
The S:uire’s Tale itself does not shed "uch light on the criti:ue of courtliness
e9cept in the :uestion of *hat "ight be occluded by its interruption by the =ran,lin.
?efore that interruption, courtliness is gi'en full e9pression, e9a"ined and reaffir"ed
through the story of a bird noted for its gentility. This story is itself fra"ed *ithin a scene
that e:uates gentility *ith affecti'e co"passion and sorro* *ith desire, as CanaceeCa
,ing6s daughter *hose beauty, in a co""on courtly trope, defies the ability of the %:uire
to describe itCco"es upon a *ounded falcon. The bird cries so !pitously# that Canacee
as,s !Is this for sor*e of deeth or los of lo'eX Q =or, as I tro*e, thise been causes t*o Q
That causen "oost a gentil herte *o> Q f oother har" it nedeth nat to spe,e# ;$ .HT8H.<.
In a *ay that directly recalls D?ryd one brere,D the e9perience of lo'e is figured as a
"usical perfor"ance that de"ands pity fro" its auditors. Canacee is, of course, e9actly
right in her guess, for the falcon is suffering fro" a bro,en heart "ore than fro" her
physical *ounds, affir"ing, through the %:uire6s narrati'e, the basic conceits of courtly
lo'e. The bird6s story of a tercelet *ho *on her lo'e through a con'incing false
perfor"ance of desireChe !,epeth in se"blaunt alle his obser'aunces Q That so*neth
into gentillesse of lo'e# ;$.H11813<C"ight call those sa"e conceits into :uestion, *ere
it not for the depth of her o*n response to his treachery. The i"plication is not that the
courtly perfor"ance of lo'e is inherently false, but that the tercelet has so *ell feigned
the proper Dobser'auncesD that the poor falcon could not help but be *on, &ust as Canacee
could not help but be "o'ed by the falconEs o*n perfor"ance of sorro*.
Leither the falcon6s story nor Canacee6s, ho*e'er, is resol'ed, as the S:uire’s Tale
is interrupted by the =ran,lin. The "oti'es for this interruption are not clear, but since the
=ran,lin praises, at so"e length, the !gentilesse# of the %:uire and follo*s *ith his o*n
tale of courtliness and gentility, it see"s that the rift "ust lie in that ne9us. Gust before the
interruption, the %:uire had foreshado*ed the de'elop"ent of the narrati'e, pro"ising to
tell !of Ca"balo, Q That faught in lystes *ith the bretheren t*o Q =or Canacee er that he
"yghte hire *ynne# ;11381I<. %ince Ca"balo is hi"self Canacee6s brother, the
i"plication that he "ight !*ynne# her in the ro"antic sense "ay indicate a "oral reason
for the =ran,lin6s disco"fort *ith the S:uire’s Tale> he singles out for praise the %:uire6s
!discressioun,# *hich could only be "eant ironically if he detected the pro"ise of incest
in the tale. Eli7abeth %cala has thoroughly spelled out this possibility in relation to the
Man of La*6s earlier praise of Chaucer for a'oiding !cursed stories# such as that of
!Canacee, Q That lo'ed hir o*ene brother sinfully# ;1I<. In doing so, she rightly calls
attention to the degree that narration itself beco"es the !sub&ect# of the Canterbury Tales
;11<. The effect of this, in the course of the ;ran1lin’s Tale, is a heightened attention to
both the =ran,lin6s and Chaucer6s clai"s about their "ethod of discourse and the ethical
i"plications of tale8telling.
The specificity of an incest story ser'ing as an instance of courtliness i"plicates
the %:uireEs understanding of courtliness "ore than it i"plicates courtliness itself, as
incest is not generally a part of that discourse. Fet the 'ery fact that a character such as
the %:uire could so ostentatiously perfor" all the "ar,ers of courtliness and still tell such
a tale e9poses those "ar,ers as "ere perfor"ance. 2hether or not the =ran,linEs
ob&ection is specifically to the pro"ise of incest, the ;ran1lin’s Tale is a direct criti:ue of
the courtly rhetoric that is represented by both the %:uire and his Tale. In the ;ran1lin’s
Tale, courtliness is carefully distinguished fro" gentilesse, a correction ai"ed at *hat
Goyce @eterson called the !co"ple9 of frustrated e9pectations# raised by the S:uire’s Tale
;1.<. Aurelius, the s:uire in the ;ran1lin<s Tale *ho !syngeth, daunceth, passynge any
"an Q that is, or *as, sith that the *orld began# ;$ 4)48(T<, is as clearly a personification
of courtliness as is that other %:uire, but it is Ar'eragus, the nearly8cuc,olded husband,
*ho is described throughout as the paragon of !gentilesse.# This is not to say that
Ar'eragus lac,s attributes associated *ith courtliness, as his o*n *ooing of 0origen
plays out according to the standard narrati'e up until their "arriage: she is, of course,
!oon the fairest under sonne#> he cannot tell her of !his *o, his peyne, and his distresse#>
and she is *on by !s*ich a pitee... of his penaunce# ;3(.83.T<. The first sign of so"e
difference co"es *hen he s*ears to !hire obey,# li,e any good courtly lo'er, and she
... !%ire, sith of youre gentilesse
ye profre "e to ha'e so large a reyne,
Le *olde ne'er Bod bit*i9e us t*eyne,
As in "y gilt, *ere outher *erre or stryfe.
%ire, I *ol be youre hu"ble tre*e *yfC
+a'e heer "y troutheCtil that "yn herte breste.# ;3HH8H4<
This sort of reciprocal de'otion, *ith "utual e9pressions of sub"ission, is directly
counter to any sort of courtly tradition. @laced at the beginning of the tale and so soon
after the interruption of the S:uire’s Tale, this fact is stri,ing enough, but the =ran,lin
goes on to "editate on its significance, e'en clai"ing that !Lo'e *ol nat been
constreyned by "aistre. Q 2han "aistre co"th, the Bod of Lo'e anon Q ?eteth his
*ynges, and fare*el, he is gonZ# ;31.811<. At the sa"e ti"e that he "aintains, contrary
to courtly ideology, that lo'e cannot thri'e under sub"ission, he co8opts the language of
the courtly tradition in the personified Eros. +e goes on to clai" an e:uality bet*een the
se9es based in nature, saying that !2o""en, of ,ynde, desiren libertee, Q And nat to been
constreyned as a thral> Q And so doon "en, if I sooth seyen shal# ;31I83T<. The use of the
*ord !thral# here is in conscious opposition to the rhetoric of courtliness, *hich "a,es
constant appeals to the concept in regard to both se9es. Li,e Builhe"6s castles, lo'ers are
constantly said to be under the thrall of a belo'ed. -hetorically, as *ith the falcon6s
tercelet, it is usually the "an pledging !obeisaunces# to his Lady ;$ H1H<> in practice,
again as *ith the tercelet, it is usually the "an *ho retains the agency to later pledge his
lo'e else*here. Ar'eragus and 0origen, in the =ran,lin6s unusual for"ulation, retain both
the passion and co"passion of the courtly narrati'e and the *or,able partnership of a
"arriage> their "utual sub"ission beco"es no sub"ission at all:
+eere "ay "en seen an hu"ble, *ys accord>
Thus hath she hir ser'ant and hir lordC
%er'ant in lo'e, and lord in "ariage.
Than *as he bothe in lordshipe and ser'age.
%er'ageX Lay, but in lordshipe abo'e,
%ith he hath bothe his lady and his lo'e>
his lady, certes, and his *yf also,
The *hich that la*e of lo'e acordeth to. ;34184I<
The e:ual ethical e9change bet*een 0origen and Ar'eragus does not di"inish the ardor
inherent in the courtly "odel, but adds to it the security of la*ful partnership> the gentle
Ar'eragus has both his courtly !lady# and his secure !*yf.# If this *ere the e9tent of the
criti:ue of courtliness, it *ould a"ount to no "ore than the positing of a "ore *or,able
alternati'e. The "arriage of Ar'eragus and 0origen, ho*e'er, is not the story but the
ground on *hich the story is enacted, the roc, against *hich courtliness, in the person of
Aurelius, brea,s.
Li,e Ar'eragus, Aurelius suffers !*o# on account of his lo'e for 0origen, but
unli,e the successful suitor, he turns his suffering into "usical e9pression:
+e *as despreyred> no thing dorste he seye,
%a'e in his songes so"e*hat *olde he *reye
+is *o, as in a general co"pleynyng>
+e seyde he lo'ede and *as bilo'ed no thing.
f s*ich "atere "ade he "anye layes,
%onges, co"pleintes, roundels, 'irelayes,
+o* that he dorste nat his sor*e telle,
?ut lang*issheth as a furye dooth in helle> ;$ 4.(8HT<
0espite the i"pressi'e list of "usical for"s in *hich he finds relief, Aurelius6s "usical
e9pression of grief is "ore perfor"ance than enact"ent of real feeling> it is !a general
co"pleynyng,# e9pressing not his desire, but his frustration o'er the ine9pressibility of
that desire. The list of for"s also highlights the "anner in *hich Aurelius6s "usicality is
"ediated by a learned engage"ent *ith tradition far fro" the @rioress6s clergeon6s
e9perience, &ust as his "annered perfor"ance of longing and its rhetoric of capti'ity is
alien to the desire, fulfilled in the "arriage of Ar'eragus and 0origen, for freedo", a
desire that the =ran,lin notes as being !of ,ynde,# natural. f the ite"s in the list of
"usical for"s in *hich Aurelius e9presses his sorro*, only the si"ple DsongesD see"s
appropriate for a natural, relati'ely un"ediated e9pression. D-oundelsD and D'irelayesD
are both styli7ed for"s of dance song ;%te'ens (44, ...<, and DlayesD and Dco"pleintesD
are e'en "ore co"ple9, differing fro" the dances principally in Dthe "agnificence of
their scopeD ;.)I<. The co"ple9ity of the "usical co"position does not necessarily i"ply
that AureliusEs de'otion *as any less sincere, of course, but it stands in direct contrast to
the si"ple, natural e9pression of Ar'eragus.
It is thus significant that Aurelius resorts to arcane learning in order to fulfill the
ter"s set by 0origen. The cler,6s "ethod for re"o'ing the roc,s, the =ran,lin tells us, is
…to "a,en illusioun,
?y s*ich an apparence or &ogelryeC
I ne ,an no ter"es of astrologyeC
That she and e'ery *ight sholde *ene and seye
That of ?ritaigne the ro,,es *ere a*eye, ;$ 1)1.81H<
!Gogelrye,# here, can "ean sorcery, but it is a *ord else*here associated *ith a courtly
"usical perfor"ance, and, as such, connects Aurelius6s practice in general *ith "ere
!apparence.# The learned, rational, scientific practice of the cler, is rhetorically reduced
to !s*iche illusions and s*iche "eschaunces Q As heathen fol, useden in thil,e dayes#
;$ 1)4)84(<. E'en as he describes it, the =ran,lin is at pains to clai" ignorance of these
"ethods, &ust as his prologue disa'o*s participation in the "usical tradition fro" *hich
he dra*s his "aterial:
Thise olde gentil ?ritouns in hir dayes
f di'erse a'entures "aden layes,
-y"eyed in hir firste ?riton tonge,
2hich layes on hir instru"ents they songe
r elles redden he" for hir plesaunce>
And oon of he" I ha'e in re"e"braunce,
2hich I shal seyn *ith good *yl as I ,an.
?ut, sires, by cause I a" a burel "an,
At "y begynnyng first I yo* biseche,
+a'e "e e9cused of "y rude speche.
I lerned ne'ere rethori,, certeyn>
Thyng that I spe,e, it "oot be bare and pleyn. ;$ 3T48)T<
The =ran,lin, in lin,ing his Tale to *hat has co"e before it, the %:uireEs fantastical tale
of Canacee, cites a "usical tradition only to e"phasi7e that his o*n discourse is re"o'ed
fro" that tradition. The "annered, learned perfor"ance through "usic is rendered
Dpleyn.D As the central distinction bet*een his tale and the S:uire<s Tale is ethical, so this
declaration of plainness beco"es an ethical distinction. 0espite his protestations, the
=ran,lin is a subtle and tactful spea,er, able to interrupt the S:uire’s Tale *ith praise and
criti:ue it *ithout arousing ire. +e spea,s !*ith good *yl# in the sense that he has "oral
and ethical intent in his discourse, and his ethics are tied directly to spea,ing !bare and
pleyn,# tying speech, and not song, to truth 'alue> as Ar'eragus, !he that *as of chi'alrie
the flour# ;$ 1TII<, says, !Trouthe is the hyeste thing that "an "ay ,epe# ;$ 1.34<. +is
is essentially a pedagogical "ethod, and his story is told *ith the intent that, li,e
Aurelius, the %:uire "ay see his o*n courtly, perfor"ati'e discourse as distinct fro" real
gentilesse through the e9a"ple of the characters6 infectious *illingness to sacrifice their
selfish desires to this ideal. Thus he ends his tale *ith a :uestionC!2hich *as the
"ooste fre, as thyn,eth yo*X#Cthat interpolates the hearers directly, calling on the" to
:uestion their o*n ethical stance, and the reader of the Canterbury Tales cannot help but
e9perience this sa"e interpolation. Fet, as *e ha'e seen throughout, the =ran,lin is not
Chaucer, *ho certainly cannot clai" ignorance of the !ter"es of astrologye,# ha'ing a
*ell docu"ented ,no*ledge of the astrolabe. As authoritati'e as the =ran,lin6s discourse
is, it is subsu"ed under our assu"ptions about our ,no*ledge of the author6s
sub&ecti'ity, assu"ptions that he is only too *illing to play upon.
The LunEs @riest, *hen he is later called upon to tell a tale, pic,s up the =ran,linEs
e9a"ination of the relationship bet*een courtly "usical perfor"ance and the 'alue of
learning, but his tale focuses less directly on the ethical i"plications of this connection
and concentrates "ore directly on rationality. The 9un’s Priest’s Tale, by "ost critics6
accounts co"posed *ith both the larger sche"e of the Canterbury Tales and the specific
narrator in "ind ;Chaucer 4(H<, spends a great nu"ber of its relati'ely brief 1)1 lines in
engaging 'arious rationalist discourses in both their classical and conte"porary
iterations. The authorities cited in the debate bet*een Chauntecleer and @ertelote range
fro" Cato to Macrobius, and the LunEs @riest hi"self refers to Augustine and ?oethius,
a"ong others, in his narration. At the sa"e ti"e, the narrati'e dra*s attention to its
participation in courtly discourse, directly na"ing Beoffrey of $insauf and !the boo, of
Launcelot de La,e# as stylistic touchstones ;$II.((.3, ()1)<. The coe9istence of these
t*o discourses in an essentially fri'olous ani"al fable has the effect of calling both into
:uestion, at least in their popular for"s, but it is the courtly "otif that is the "ore directly
i"plicated by the narrati'e e'ents, as Chauntecleer, "ar,ed throughout by his
perfor"ance of courtliness, particularly in his singing, 'ery nearly "eets a grisly end
through that perfor"ance.
The fact that the protagonist of the tale is an ani"al colors all of its engage"ent
*ith all this learned discourse in a deliberate *ay, constantly undercutting the grandeur of
its o*n rhetoric *ith the re"inder that such grandeur is being attributed to a barnyard
rooster. Chauntecleer is initially described in ter"s dra*n directly fro" Beoffrey of
$insauf6s Poetria 9ova, as pointed out decades ago by Le'ille Coghill and Christopher
Tol,ien> as applied to this !"oc,8heroical coc,,# the ter"s intended for the praise of a
lady shade into the preposterous. As Coghill and Tol,ien *rite, !Chaucer is ha'ing as
"uch fun *ith $insauf as he is *ith Chauntecleer# ;.1<. E'en as the courtly tradition is
in'o,ed, it is brought to the basest le'el i"aginable:
+is coo"b *as redder than the fyn coral,
And batailled as it *ere a castel *al>
+is byle *as bla,, and as the &eet it shoon>
Ly, asure *ere his legges and his toon>
+is nayles *hitter than the lylye flour,
And ly, the burned gold *as his colour.
This gentil co, hadde in his go'ernaunce
%e'ene hennes for to doon al his pleaunce,
2hiche *ere his sustres and his para"ours, ;$II )IH48)I13<
Lot only does this description follo* $insauf6s dictu" that the description should
proceed !fro" the top of the head to the 'ery root,# and !be polished to the toe8nail,# it
"anages to in'o,e the lordly do"inion e"bodied by a castleClocated here in the
ani"al6s physical body, since he cannot ha'e a stone castleCand the 'irility e"bodied by
an o'erabundance of !para"ours.# This sa"e configuration is present in the earliest
troubadour, Builhe" IW> in his song !Co"panho, farai un 'ers tot co'inen,# he e:uates
the possession of t*o *o"en *ith the "astery of t*o castles, insisting in the final line
that !they belong to "eZ# ;2ilhel" H(<. Chaucer6s transference of this ,ind of lordship
onto the lord of the barnyard recasts the playfulness of Builhe"6s boastingCthe t*o
*o"en in his poe" are described throughout as !pretty good fillies#Cinto a light8hearted
"oc,ery of itself. 2hereas Builhe"Es casting of his do"inion into ani"al ter"s
highlights the reality of his po*er, the description of ChantecleerEs brood of hens as
Dpara"oursD highlights their barnyard actuality.
The tale in'o,es a "ore local instance of the courtly lyric tradition *hen
Chauntecleer begins to sing. +is choice of song, !My lief is faren in londe,# places hi"
s:uarely in the continuing tradition passed do*n fro" the troubadours at the sa"e ti"e as
it e9poses his enact"ent of that tradition to be "ere perfor"ance. The song,
pro'identially, is recorded *ithout "usic in an other*ise unrelated "anuscript:
My lefe is faren in a lond.
Allas, *hy ys she soX
And I a" so sore bound
I "ay nat co" her to.
%he hath "y hert in hold
2here euer she ryde or go,
2ith tre* lo'e a thousand foldZ ;-obbins 1H)<
This lyric, *hile not especially acco"plished, "anages to hit the ,ey notes of the distant8
lo'e "otif: a belo'ed at so"e distance, the separation "aintained by e9ternal forces, the
desire heightened by the distance. And yet Chauntecleer sings it in the presence of not
only @ertelote, of *ho" *e ha'e been told t*o lines prior !he lo'ed her so that *el *as
hy" there*yth,# but !a"ong his *y'es alle# ;$II.)I31, )II(<. The courtly perfor"ance
is thus sho*n to be blatantly artificialCas affected as affecti'eCat the sa"e ti"e that it
is lin,ed to the natural ,no*ledge of the ani"al, for Chauntecleer6s singing is repeatedly
lin,ed to his instinctual ,no*ledge of the sun6s position ;he is still a rooster, after all<.
This latter ,no*ledge is described as being his !by nature,# !by ,ynde, and by noon
oother loore# ;$II )IHH, (141<. The courtly perfor"ance, on the other hand, is ob'iously
This ,ind of natural ,no*ledge is also contrasted throughout the Tale *ith
another ,ind of discourse, the learned rationalis" first 'oiced by @ertelote, although both
are allo*ed to be subsu"ed under the courtly ethos. After Chauntecleer a*a,es in fright
fro" his drea"8'ision of the fo9, @ertelote tries to con'ince hi" to ignore it, attributing
the drea" to an i"balance of hu"ors and citing as authority !Catoun, *hich that *as so
*ys a "an# ;$II )4.T<. Chauntecleer is dri'en by this clai" to respond at great length,
citing !"any a "an "oore of auctorite Q Than e'er Caton *as# ;$II )43H831< and se'eral
lengthy anecdotes, all pro'ing !that "any a dree" ful soore is to drede# ;$II (1T4<.
0espite this triu"ph of authority8endorsed rationalis" in confir"ing the natural
,no*ledge of drea"s, both are then i""ediately cast aside in fa'or of a courtly
insistence on a *o"an as the greatest co"fort to a "an:
=or *han I feele a8nyght your softe sydeC
Al be it that I "ay nat on yo* ryde,
for that oure perch is "aad so nar*e, allasC
I a" so ful of &oye and of solas,
That I diffye both s*e'en and dree". ;$II (113831<
Again, the rhetoric of courtliness ;!&oye and solas#< is co"ically *edded to the sordid
details of ani"al life ;the narro* perch in place of a Lady6s cha"ber<, and both natural
,no*ledge and learned rationality are *illfully ignored. E'en *hen faced *ith the real
fo9, Chauntecleer not only fails to recogni7e the de"on of his drea", he ignores his
natural instinct, !=or natureelly a beest desireth flee Q =ro his contrarie, if he "ay it see, Q
Though he ne'er erst hadde seyn it *ith his ye# ;()I4841<. This instinct is o'erridden by
his pride in his singing, as the fo9 praises both hi" and his father at great length. The
ter"s of this flattery 'alori7e the 'ery physicality of "usical perfor"ance, e"phasi7ing
the abandon"ent of the self to the song: Chauntecleer6s father !*olde so peyn hy" that
*ith bothe his yen Q +e "oste *yn,e, so loude he *olde cryen, Q And stonden on his
tiptoon ther*ithal, Q And strecche forth his ne,,e long and s"al# ;((TH8TI<, a
perfor"ance in ,eeping *ith courtly song6s rhetoric of full personal abandon"ent. This
singing is said to be !of herte,# and to contain !*isedo" and discrecion,# i"plying a
naturalness of its origin and a 'alidity of its rhetoric that are re'ealed to be ludicrous the
"o"ent that Chauntecleer enacts the sa"e singing and thereby e9poses his nec, to the
hungry fo9. E'en the fo96s oratorical seduction is described in courtly8se9ual ter"s, as
Chauntecleer is said to be !ra'ysshed *ith his flaterie# ;(().<.
If the tale as a *hole is concerned *ith the relati'e 'alidity of learned and natural
,no*ledge, courtly perfor"ance is sho*n to be essentially false, 'alid, finally, only in
;literal< predation. And yet it is in precisely this 'ein that the fo9 in'o,es an authority
e'en higher than Chanticleer6s father6s, that of ?oethius: !There*ith ye han in "usy,
"oore feelynge Q Than had ?oece, or any that can synge# ;$II.()4(84.<. These lines ha'e
attracted "ore than their fair share of attention, but the basic issue is unresol'ed. Is the
fo9 truly flattering Chanticleer by clai"ing he had "ore feeling than ?oethius, or is he
"oc,ing hi"X The first possibility assu"es that the fo9 thin,s ?oethius a fine "odel for
a "usician, the second that he dis"isses his authority as too cold and calculated. ?oth
possibilities assu"e an ironic intent, but in the first it is the fo96s irony at Chanticleer6s
e9pense, *hile in the second it is Chaucer6s irony at ?oethius6s e9pense ;Cha"berlain
1II<. 0a'id Cha"berlin, for instance, argues against @eter 0ron,e6s reading of these
lines, insisting that Chaucer "ust ha'e held an essentially ?oethian ;that is rationali7ing<
'ie* of "usical perfor"ance, if only because that *as the accepted 'ie* of the ti"e and
?oethius re"ained a great authority, not least to Chaucer. Chaucer, after all, had not only
in'ested no s"all a"ount of ti"e in his translation of the Consolatione Philosophiae, but
included it a"ong the fe* *or,s he e9e"pted fro" his retraction. Albert %eay has
*ritten that, a"ong all of the authorities *ith s*ay o'er the practice of "edie'al "usic,
Dthe outstanding figure is ?oethius, for it *as his early inco"plete treatise, the 0e
/usica, that furnished "ost of the foundation for later ages# ;14<. ?oethius6s theory of
perfor"ance *as anything but passionately e9pressi'e in a Chanticleerian 'ein: !At the
root of ?oethiusEs ideas is the concept that "usic is nu"ber "ade audible# ;ibid<. The
correct e"phasis, in this 'ie*, is on reason, rather than feeling, in "usical perfor"ance,
and in this Chanticleer co"es up short. The fo9, in other *ords, is "oc,ing the dense,
courtly rooster in the sa"e ter"s as Gohn of %alisbury and Ailred of -ie'aul9 co"plained
of o'er8enthusiastic "on,s. This line of argu"ent is absolutely con'incing *hen applied
to Chaucer the translator of ?oethius, but its application beco"es blurred *hen applied to
the Chaucer *ho e"beds the ?oethian reference in a "ulti8layered fiction and lets it be
'oiced by a tric,ster figure li,e the fo9. ?oethian rationality, through this figure, beco"es
no "ore than a tool to lead the e9pressi'ist "usician to his doo", and the fact that
Chanticleer is :uic, enough to learn the fo96s o*n de'ice and tric, his *ay to safety only
reinforces this sense of the essential a"orality of rationality.
?oth the ethical conclusions of the ;ran1lin’s Tale and the distrust of rationalis"
in the 9un<s Priest<s Tale are called directly into :uestion by another tale that lin,s
courtly "usicality to honesty of speech, the /anciple’s Tale. If the =ran,lin is
conspicuous for his honest, ethical speech, the Manciple is conspicuous for the opposite.
Li,e the =ran,lin, he is possessed of an intelligence that has allo*ed hi" to rise abo'e
his birth, but *hereas the =ran,lin is cited for his ser'ice and generosity, the Manicple
has gained his !good staat# through constant deception of his patrons. The 6eneral
Prologue praises hi" for the "anner in *hich he has achie'ed this, celebrating his
triu"ph o'er the "ore educated:
Lo* is nat that of Bod a ful faire grace
That s*ich a le*ed "annes *it shal pace
The *isdo" of an heep of lerned "enX ;I H3(83H<
Li,e the =ran,lin, the Manciple has an in'est"ent in opposing hi"self against !lerned#
speech. ?oth "en are concerned *ith entering into a certain ,ind of higher discourse, but
the =ran,lin6s "oti'ation is a relati'ely "ild ethical correction of that discourse, *hile
the Manciple *ould &ust as soon preser'e the status :uo that he has learned to "anipulate
so *ell. +is tale, correspondingly, is "ore cynical in its ai", depicting a truth8teller *ho
is silenced and a courtly figure *ho renounces "usic but preser'es his po*er.
The Manciple6s @hebus is the perfect courtly figure, possessed of all the /night6s
"ilitary pro*ess at the sa"e ti"e he has all the lusty "usicality of the %:uire, *ith both
attributes a"plified to di'ine proportions. In ter"s e'en the =ran,lin could appro'e, he
*as !ther*ith fulfild of gentilesse, Q h honour, and of parfit *orthynesse# ;IW 1)(8).<.
0espite this, and in perhaps direct repudiation of the =ran,lin, the Manciple assures his
listeners that, no "atter the pains a "an "ay ta,e to ,eep his *ife faithful, !it a'ailleth
noght# ;IW 1.3<. 2hate'er his disagree"ents *ith the =ran,lin, the Manciple has si"ilar
faith in the irrepressibility of nature, if a different idea of its ai"s, for it is the sa"e
!natural# desire for freedo" that dri'es @hebus6s *ife to be unfaithful:
?ut Bod it *oot, ther "ay no "an e"brace
As to destreyne a thing *hich that nature
+ath natureelly set in a creature. ;IW 11T811<
Although @hebus6s gentilesse is "ar,ed by both "ilitary and "usical pro*ess, it
is the latter that beco"es the principle ob&ect of his *rath, in the character of the cro*,
*hen he learns of his *ife6s affair. @rior to @hebus6s punish"ent, the cro*, *hite !as is a
sno*8*hit s*an,# sings so *ell that !no nyghtyngale Q ne ,oude, by an hondred thousand
deel, Q %yngen so *onder "yrily and *eel# ;IW 1((, 1(18(4<. @erhaps because they share
this trait, it is the "usicality of the god and not his "artiality that the cro* singles out
*hen he "a,es his report:
!@hebus,# :uod he, !for al thy *orthynesse,
=or al thy beautee and gentilesse,
=or al thy song and thy "ystralcye,
=or al thy *aiting, blered is thy ye
2ith oon of litel reputacioun,
Loght *orth to thee, as in co"parisoun,
The "ontance of a gnat, so "oot I thry'eZ
=or on thy bed thy *yf I saugh hy" s*y'e# ;IW ).48H1<
n hearing the full tale, @hebus ta,es up both his *eapons and his instru"ents, but *ith
different intents. +is bo* he uses to ,ill his *ife> the instru"ents he ne'er plays again. In
re"orse for the "urder of his *ife he destroys not only the *eapon but !both harpe, and
lute, and gyterne, and sautrie# ;IW.)1(<, as though "usic *ere as "uch an instru"ent of
her death as the bo*. In li,e "anner, he conde"ns the cro* to ne'er again sing, but to
!e'ere crye again te"pest and rayn, Q In to,enynge that thrugh thee "y *yf is slayn#
;IW.(T18T)<. Although the rage is transparently "isplaced, the Manciple goes out of his
*ay to a'er that such a reaction is !certeyn# ;IW (1(<> because of its co"plicity *ith
adultery, the god of "usic hi"self destroys song. 2hile the Manciple dra*s fro" this
tale the "oral that he *ho *ishes to get along in the *orld ought not spea, truth to
po*er, that he should, re"e"bering the cro*, !,epe *el UhisV tonge,# a strategy that has
ser'ed the Manciple *ell, the place"ent of the /anciple’s Tale at the end of the debateC
it is the last tale proper before the @arson6s ser"onClea'es us *ith the conclusion that
"usic8centered courtly discourse, *ith its perfor"ati'e sub&ecti'ity and ethical
li"itations, has been superseded by the "ulti8layered critical discourse a'ailable to the
author in a narrati'e "ode. This "ode, in Chaucer6s practice, deri'es its richness fro" its
refusal to re'eal any si"ple sub&ecti'ity, but that sa"e refusal ulti"ately bloc,s it fro"
any fully reali7ed ethical conclusions. As Louise =radenberg has argued:
The /anciple<s Tale, as the last poe" in The Canterbury Tales, precedes
the abdication of +arry ?ailey in fa'or of the parson, precedes the
reco'ery of plurali7ed carni'al by penitential prose. Its positioning thereby
"ar,s for us the ideological li"itations of The Canterbury Tales as a
*hole, but also ChaucerEs a*arenessCon *hat le'el *e need not
speculateCof those ideological li"itations. ;111<
The trade8off is both deliberate and re'olutionary. Through it, Chaucer6s te9t beco"es,
instead of a 'ehicle for the e9pression of an ideology, the "eans by *hich an entire range
of ideologies are e9posed for criti:ue. If, in doing so, the te9t loses it ability to perfor"
"usically, it adds "usicality itself to the sub&ects it can e9a"ine.
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