Gender nominalized: Unmanning men, disgendering women in Chaucer's "Legend of Good Women"
Doctor of Philosophy
In the Legend, Chaucer manipulates the language of the narrator and the women, turning analytic attention toward the problem of gender categories, thereby undermining proscribed behavior and the language that represents that behavior. Nominalism, with its emphasis on singularity, is particularly suited to the problem of gender categories because it forces attention to the particulars of the man or woman, eventually draining the category of that which gives it substance. Examining the legends closely with the nominalist principle of the particularity of language firmly in mind reveals women who are radically different from one another, who are not faceless victims. Cleopatra, Hypermnestra and Thisbe, for example, are imprisoned in a patriarchial system which rewards passivity and punishes independent thought and action. However, Chaucer allows these three characters to use their bodies and linguistic license to reach beyond the bars of the hierarchical prison, thereby disgendering the text in complex ways. Again, the legends of Lucrece and Dido are connected to Troilus and Criseyde through the exploration of the tension between public and private experiences and the imagery of seeing and invisibility. Finally, Philomela's story is the most anomalous story in the poem, and thus it reveals Chaucer's attempt to reassert a particularized view of experience. These surprisingly clear-cut distinctions between characters, behavior, and reader expectations grow out of attention to the particulars of experience and language. The demand for universals made by Alceste and the God of Love provides a contrast for the close attention to language and experience in the legends themselves.
Medieval literature; English literature