Chaucer’s Pardoner and Gender Theory: Bodies of Discourse - download pdf or read online

By Robert S. Sturges (auth.)

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And at this time of the morning {the king} advised the archbishop of Canterbury and the others who were in the Tower, to go down to the litde water-gate, and take a boat and save themselves. f 8 The beheading of the archbishop-one of the defining moments of the Revolt-follows in short order. Such examples imply that the paradigm of woman as unruly body, opposed to things of the mind or spirit (as in the medieval Orpheus tradition explored in chapter 6), is unconsciously at work here in tandem with the metaphor of the body politic.

26 Perhaps more precisely than "feminine" or even "effeminate," the term "not-masculine" may serve to indicate the Pardoner's problematic gender status. "Not-masculine" may imply more, or other, than the previous terms; it may, for instance, refer to boys as well as to women or girls. Although he is an adult, the Pardoner's high-pitched voice and beardlessness might be read as a reference to prepubertal youth as well as to the feminine, though critics have been uninterested in doing so. 27 His apparently receptive erotic practice with regard to the Summoner's "stif burdoun" would be understandable in this light: if, as in so many homoerotic ancient and medieval poems, puberty, signaled by the deepening of the voice and the growth of a beard, is regarded as the cutoff point for male samesex eroticism, the Pardoner's boyish characteristics would make him a more likely candidate than most adult men for the role of catamite.

The patron-poet relationship can be deconstructed as a relation that is, in a fairly complex fashion, both gendered and eroticized: like any discourse of desire or lack, the economic discourse has its gendered aspect. I do not wish to argue that this is Chaucer's intention. But the discourse of gender-and perhaps poetic discourse itself-is so slippery and ambiguous that it seems inevitably to deconstruct itself, to allow prohibited meanings to manifest themselves in the very language that attempts to silence them.

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