April 1 2013
Dr. Paul Farkas Memorial Scholarship
Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Eunuchs
Chaucer and Shakespeare have created literature that has lasted for centuries by no coincidental matter. Many similarities link the two men together, but I believe that the most prominent characteristic that the men share is their innovativeness. More specifically their innovative construction of gender confused characters. Dinshaw’s examination of the eunuch Pardoner in her essay “Eunuch Hermeneutics” distinguishes The Pardoner to be a partial character because of his in-between state. Chaucer and Shakespeare’s construction of partial characters reveals that we cannot trust everything to be true in fiction literature and plays on our desires of wanting it to be true. The characters strive to restore wholeness, just as the reader of a text strives to correctly interpret a story, but neither can be fully satisfied. I find it arguable that most of the characters in The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s works mirror the eunuch pardoner in their partialness. For Chaucer I will primarily focus on “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale” and how her inner animus creates conflict within herself and the characters around her ultimately placing her in an in-between state between male and female characteristics. Meanwhile Shakespeare creates the character of Viola in Twelfth Night whose cross-dressing places her in the role of a man while she must maintain her female characteristics as well. The characters in both of these men’s works do not achieve restoration of their rightful gender identity and are therefore partial characters and essentially eunuchs; Chaucer and Shakespeare do this in order to relate with the reader’s own desires for wholeness. The Wife of Bath mirrors the pardoner’s eunuch characteristics through her psychological partialness. Alison of Bath is an animus driven female. Her lack of polarity between her feminine and masculine characteristics puts her somewhere in-between male and female. D. W. Fritz argues that because Alison is animus-possessed she represents a partial character. “The Wife of Bath is not complete or whole; she has not assimilated her masculine soul, but rather projects her animus on the men in the world around her (Fritz 176). Her lengthy prologue and finely tuned tale reveal confusion and conflict that stem from Alison’s rejection of her inner-male. Her attempt to conceal her partialness in her relationship with men essentially fails based on her argumentation and leaves her character a eunuch because full gender restoration is never restored. Alison of Bath’s animus is displayed through her discourse provided in her confessional prologue. She presents a scholarly and religious argument that Michael Masi argues in his book, Chaucer and Gender, is and was primarily looked at as a male trait. “The ability to think and speak logically has been seen throughout the Middle Ages, and right into Modern times, as a male prerogative. Philosophical discourse as well as logic was a male attribute. Clearly illustrated in the all-male student bodies in the Medieval University” (Masi 128). Alison’s argument mirrors the methods used by instructors to provoke discussion. “Wher can ye seye in any manere age/ that hye God defended marriage/ by expres word? I pray you telleth me/ or where commanded he virginitee/” (WOB Prologue 59-62). Her argument is essentially made up of questions, which provokes the discussion of the traveling pilgrims. The pilgrims who speak up are men, signaling her relationship with male characteristics and the ability to engage with them. In the preceding lines The Wife references several religious men. “I woot wel Abraham was an holy man/ and Jacob eek as hadde wyves mo than two/ and many another holy man also” (WOB Prologue 55-58). Alison’s animus allows her to produce logical discourse that is uncommonly associated with women and also makes her relatable to men. The Wife of bath...