Gower Bibliography

Chaucer's Canterbury Comedies: Origins and Originality

Beidler, Peter G. "Chaucer's Canterbury Comedies: Origins and Originality." Seattle: Coffeetown Press, 2011 ISBN 9781603810913

Review

This volume collects twenty essays on five Canterbury tales (Miller, Wife of Bath, Shipman, Merchant, and Pardoner), spanning Beidler's career-long engagement with Chaucer. All but one have been previously published, most since 2000, but a few hearkening back to the 1970's. Two compare Chaucer's versions to Gower's in narratives both tell: "Transformations in Gower's Tale of Florent and Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale" (pp. 72-90), which appeared first in R.F. Yeager, ed., Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange (Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Press, 1991, 100-14, rev. JGN), and the single essay to be published here for the first time, "The Owl Similies in the Tale of Florent and the Wife of Bath's Tale," pp. 105-15. The essay expands on the paper of the same title Beidler delivered in London in 2008, at the inaugural Gower Society Congress. His focus is "the striking image of a man hiding like an owl after he marries an ugly old bride" (p.105) which Gower and Chaucer both include. Chaucer borrows this image from Gower ("Gower's tale both preceded and influenced Chaucer's," p. 108) but, Beidler argues, "Gower and Chaucer make quite different uses of the owl similes in their tales and . . . the simile is more organically integrated by Gower than by Chaucer" (p. 108). Gower compares Florent to an owl that travels by night in order not to be seen with his unattractive bride (p. 110). Florent's shame is of a piece with his entire character as Gower limns it, Beidler shows. "For Florent, it is all a question of hiding his wife--by banishment to an island, by cover of night, by closed doors, by clothing--so that 'noman' can see how he has aligned himself with so ugly a bride. Significantly, the two are wedded not in the daytime, as was typical for a wedding, but 'in the nyht' [CA I.366] (p. 112). Beidler also notes the analogous significance of Florent's choice: for a man so motivated primarily by reputation, to have the world think his wife hideous would be a frightful fate indeed. Chaucer's nameless rapist-knight is "never once . . . said to be concerned about his worldly fame or his reputation among others" (p.114). Moreover, because Chaucer's Loathly Lady accompanies the knight to Arthur's court, to claim her promise when her answer prevails--unlike her counterpart who waits for Florent to return--there is no question of keeping the marriage a secret. "Chaucer's knight's hiding like an owl, then, has nothing to do with concealing either his bride or his marriage . . . . Rather . . . [he] hides like an owl for no other reason than that he wants to avoid having to look at his ugly bride between his morning wedding and the approaching night when he must pay his marital debt to her" (pp. 114-15). Beidler concludes that, because "owls by nature hide during the day to avoid being seen . . . not . . . to avoid having to look at their wives" (p. 115), the simile is less naturally adapted by Chaucer from Gower's more fully complementary original. [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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