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The Pardoner Unveiled

  • Robert S. Sturges
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The dust jacket on my hardcover copy of David E Greenberg’s book The Construction of Homosexuality1 features a drawing by Dennis An-derson of two figures, shown from the shoulders up against a vaguely modern urban background; one figure has its (his? her?) hand around the other’s shoulder. The most striking aspect of the drawing is that both heads are heavily veiled in white cloths like pillowcases, whose folds, loosely clinging to their features, both reveal that there are invisible faces underneath the veils, and conceal what those faces look like. I notice that current paperback reprints of this book have an entirely different cover; perhaps this mysterious drawing puzzled other readers as much as it does me. Given the book’s topic, is it meant to suggest that there is an authentic face of homosexuality whose true nature is hidden by the veil of social construction, and that the relationships of gay people, more than others, are mediated by these social veils? Or have the veils actually made the depicted encounter possible, allowing the two figures to recognize their similarities in structure (or construction) as more important than their differences in detail? Gender itself seems to be at issue here as well: the veils prevent us from identifying the two figures as male or female, and perhaps this gender ambiguity, too, is to be seen as a component in “the construction of homosexuality.”

Keywords

Gender Identity Gender Theory Imaginary Status Canterbury Tale Dust Jacket 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    David E Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (1992; repr. HarperCollins: New York, 1993), pp. 304–52.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    C. David Benson, “Chaucer’s Pardoner: His Sexuality and Modern Critics,” Mediaevalia 8 (1982), p. 339Google Scholar
  4. Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 256–57, n. 1Google Scholar
  5. Ralph W. V. Elliott, Chaucer’s English (London: André Deutsch, 1974), pp. 87–88Google Scholar
  6. Ewald Standop, “Chaucers Pardoner: das Charakterproblem und die Kritiker,” in Geschichtlichkeit und Neuanfang im sprachlichen Kunstwerk: Studien zur englischen Philologie zu Ehren von Fritz W. Schulze, ed. Peter Erlebach, Wolfgang G. Müller, and Klaus Reuter (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1981), pp. 63–64Google Scholar
  7. Walter Clyde Curry, Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences, p. 59; J. Swart, “Chaucer’s Pardoner,” Neophilologus 36 (1952), p. 45. (And I realize that I myself am taking the pronoun “I” for granted along with the subjectivity it implies, as lying outside the scope of this book.)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 5.
    Houri K. Bhabha, “Are You a Man or a Mouse?” in Constructing Masculinity, ed. Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 57.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See James F. Rhodes, “The Pardoner’s Vernycle and His Vera Icon,” Modern Language Studies 13 (1983), pp. 35–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 9.
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  11. 13.
    I am indebted to D. W. Robertson, Jr., A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 291, 294, and 319–20 for all of these examples of the veil as a figure for Scriptural allegory.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    O. B. Hardison et al, eds., Medieval Literary Criticism: Translations and Interpretations (New York: Ungar, 1974), p. 20; Robertson, Preface, p. 280.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Jacques Derrida, Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles/Eperons: Les Styles de Nietzsche, trans. Barbara Harlow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 94–101.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
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  15. 25.
    Beryl Rowland, Blind Beasts: Chaucer’s Animal World (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1971), p. 100Google Scholar
  16. John Boswell, Christianity, Social ‘Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 137–38,306.Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    Goux,“The Phallus,” p. 43. The Osiris myth was well known in the West-ern Middle Ages; Martianus Capella, for instance, refers to it in The Mar-riage of Philology and Mercury, a text with which Chaucer claims familiarity in The Merchant’s Tale (IV, 1732–1735). See Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 1.4, in Martianus Capella Accedunt Scholia in Caesaris Germanici Aratea, ed. Francis Eyssenhardt (Leipzig: Teubner, 1866), p. 3. For medieval commentaries on Martianus Capella’s references to OsirisGoogle Scholar
  18. Remigius of Auxerre, Remigii Autissiodorensis Commentum in Martianum Capellam, 1.6.2, ed. Cora E. Lutz, 2 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1962–1965), 1:73Google Scholar
  19. Bernardus Silvestris, The Commentary on Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii Attributed to Bernardus Silvestris, 5.874–95, ed. Haijo Jan Westra (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986), p. 123. Dionysos, whose connection with the Pardoner was exam-ined in chapter 1, is a similarly phallic god, one whom Detienne associates with Osiris: see Marcel Detienne, Dionysos at Large, trans. Arthur Gold-hammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 1 and 32.Google Scholar
  20. 34.
    Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra,” in his Simulation and Sim-ulacra, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), p. 3.Google Scholar
  21. 42.
    Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy, The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), pp. 132–33.Google Scholar
  22. 47.
    Calvin Thomas, Male Matters: Masculinity, Anxiety, and the Male Body on the Line (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), p. 115. Thomas follows Leo Bersani’s celebrated essay, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” (1987), repr. in Reclaiming Sodom, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 249–64, though Bersani’s understanding of the rectal potential for deconstructing an idealized phallic subjectivity is more positive:“… if the rectum is the grave in which the masculine ideal (an ideal shared-differently-by men and women) of proud subjectivity is buried, then it should be celebrated for its very potential for death…. It may, finally, be in the gay man’s rectum that he demolishes his own perhaps otherwise uncontrollable identification with a murderous judgment against him,” p. 262.Google Scholar
  23. 62.
    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 136.Google Scholar
  24. 63.
    Joan Rivière, “Womanliness as a Masquerade” (1929), repr. in Formations of Fantasy, ed. Victor Burgin, James Donald, and Cora Kaplan (London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 35–44. See also Butler’s discussion of Rivière, Gender Trouble, pp. 50–54.Google Scholar
  25. 64.
    Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 230.Google Scholar

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© Robert S. Sturges 2000

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