Essay: Skepticism Tinged with Realism – Olde Wyrlde Style

Skepticism Tinged with Realism – Olde Wyrlde Style

by A.D. Shaffer

{Graduate Studies; originally written for Humanities 520 Fall 2014}

Chaucer depicts romanticism as trifle in numerous works such as The House of Fame. His gilded words and elegant thoughts are turned upon the weak-minded lover as an instrument of mockery. Love affairs are equated to simple trysts: “As thus: of oon he wolde have fame / In magnifying of his name, / Another for friendship, seith he; / And yet ther shal the thridde be, / That shall be taken for delyt, / Lo, or for singular profit” (Chaucer 305-10). Chaucer devalues intimacy by placing separate levels of treatment with variant women – as if one woman is not enough to fully satisfy a man’s needs. The first woman is in response to the desire for fame – this would be the wife, the woman to increase a man’s standing by position, title, or wealth. The second woman, the mistress, can be a friend to the man, someone to confide in and ask advice. The third woman, the whore, is reserved for physical intimacies and masculine pleasure. These levels of feminine placement are not wholly the fault of Chaucer as time period understanding of sex roles were rigid and limited in Medieval world. In the grain of Medieval thought, women, and her frivolous emotions and considerations for love and romance, were of no importance in comparison to the issues of men: war, land, riches.

Medieval woman, then, was unable to own anything – even the love of a man. For this love is truly self-directed desire, the man is easy to pretend to be the things a woman wants to imagine in efforts to lull her into submission: “For this shal every woman finde: / That som man of his pure kinde / Wol shewen outward the faireste, / Til he have caught that what him leste, / And thanne wol he causes finde / And swere how that she is unkinde, / Or fals, or privy double was” (Chaucer 279-85). Once the man has seduced and enjoyed the woman to his fullest, he is able to shrug her off as unfaithful and undeserving of his love. Chaucer speaks calmly of these atrocities, easy to blame the woman for a weak heart or delirious nature. Queen Dido does not feel that the love felt and lost between herself and Eneas was as trifle as Chaucer illustrates. She could not abide without him, and takes her own life rather than face existence without her lover: “But, what, whan this was seyd and do, / She roof hirselfe to the herte, / And deyde thurgh the wounde smerte. / But al the maner how she deyde, / And al the words that she seyde, / Whoso to knowe it hath purpos, / Reed Virgile in Eneidos, / Or the Epistle of Ovyde {…}” (Chaucer 372-79). Without the returned love of a man, or at least his acceptance of a woman’s love, the fate of lovestruck women sides more with suicide than continuing an empty life. Symbolically, this depicts the feminine as lackluster and unlivable without the attentions of a male presence. Chaucer highlights the absence of love as a feminine weakness, leaving Eneas ample room to apply his intentions to the growth of state – a more reasonable and trusted area for concern.

Chaucer, while indeed a famous poet, was also a man whose career lay in the lap of the monarchy. Dido was the Queen of Carthage while Eneas was the heir to the annihilated lands of Troy. Queen Dido offers to give up everything she has if only Eneas will remain with her – Carthage and her queendom was self won and created yet Dido is willing to lay down anything for the love of Eneas. She offers him people, castles, riches; yet, Eneas follows the advice of Venus who has reserved a place for the Trojans in Italy. The Trojans must continue on to Italy – as they will form the Roman Empire in generations to come. While extremely unromantic, the needs of reason and logic must trump the desires of the heart: issues of the state must come before issues of passion. Duty of the privileged requires thinking en masse, Eneas must satisfy the needs of his people over the wants of his emotional being.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The House of Fame.” Ed. Kathryn L. Lynch. New York: W W

Norton & Company, 2007. pp. 43-92.

Picture c/o:  http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/328423/3751050/1249268180633/chaucer.jpg?token=hxyh5b5wqwMM0Te%2BW1BDBPdJnHM%3D

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