Interpretation: Critique of Sovereign and the Exemplarity of the Suffering Subject

  • William McClellan
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Referring to Giles of Rome’s cardinal political virtues, it is argued that Chaucer’s tale reveals that the subject’s suffering is caused by a moral flaw in the sovereign. What is unusual about Chaucer’s critique is that this lack is found in all legitimate sovereigns, not only in tyrants as medieval theory posits, thus suggesting that the subject’s suffering is a normative, not exceptional, consequence of her relation to the sovereign. The book’s final point is that while Chaucer’s tale depicts dramatically the extreme suffering of the exemplary subject, he suggests that there is no other alternative; that is, the subject can only exist in relation to the sovereign. It is perhaps Chaucer’s most despairing vision of political relations.


Critique of sovereignty Giles of Rome Cardinal political virtues Sovereign’s moral lack Subject’s inescapable suffering Chaucer’s despairing vision 

Works Cited

  1. Briggs, Charles F. 1999. Giles of Rome’s De Regimine Principum: Reading and Writing Politics at Court and University, c. 1275–c.1525. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Rigby, Stephen H. 2009. Wisdom and Chivalry: Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale and Medieval Political Theory. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  3. Trevisa, John. 1997. The Governance of Kings and Princes: John Trevisa’s Middle English Translation of the De Regimine Principum of Aegidius Romanus, ed. David C. Fowler et al. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • William McClellan
    • 1
  1. 1.Baruch College, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations