W104 | Chaucer’s Perplexing Legend of Good (?) Women | Mary Rogers

Wednesdays 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. | Six Sessions on Zoom - 1/24, 1/31, 2/7, 2/14, 2/21, 2/28
Limit: 25


The Prologue to Chaucer's Legend of Good Women is a dream vision turned nightmare when the dreamer is suddenly arraigned for treason by the God of Love and sentenced to atone for his crime by writing in praise of 'good' women who died for love. The dream trial scene is a mini masterpiece of Chaucerian humor. The tale collection which follows is recognized as seminal for The Canterbury Tales, but until recently modern critics have regarded it as problematical at best and a failure at worst. The Legend's ten 'martyrs' for love - Cleopatra, Thisbe, Dido, Hypsipyle, Medea, Lucrecia, Ariadne, Philomela, Phyllis and Hypermnestra - would have been familiar to Chaucer's audience from classical stories recounted in sources such as Ovid's Heroides and Boccaccio's Concerning Famous Women. 'Good' is hardly the first adjective that would have sprung to a medieval mind to describe them. So, what is going on here? What is Chaucer up to? Is he deliberately subverting the sentence handed down by the God of Love? Is he undermining the entrenched tradition of patriarchal misogyny? Is he even really writing about women? Let's try to find out by exploring how Chaucer is playing with his text in the context of his sources and the literary, social, and political environment of his day. Prepare to have fun -- remember, this is Chaucer!

Suggested Readings: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women, translated and with an introduction by Ann McMillan (Houston: Rice University Press, 1977). This text is out of print but often available on used book sites such as AbeBooks. The introduction is very useful. A free 2008 translation of The Legend of Good Women by A.S. Kline is available online at poetryintranslation.com

Note: Jamie Keller and Mary Rogers will both be considering the story of Dido as told by Ovid and Chaucer. Taking both classes may offer participants a chance to consider the different ways in which these classic tales of love are portrayed.

Mary Rogers received an Honors A.B. in Philosophy & English from the University of Toronto, an M.A. in English from Seton Hall University, and an M.A. and ABD in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. After a decade of teaching at Seton Hall University, she moved to the Berkshires and taught for several years at Monument Mountain Regional High School. She also studied Arthurian literature on an NEH summer fellowship at the University of Puget Sound.

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