Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Of Chaucer, Chichevache and The Question: Chaucer On Women (Part Four)

Of Chaucer, Chichevache and The Question:
Chaucer On Women (Part Four)

"O noble wives, full of high prudence,
Let no humility your tongues nail:
Nor let no clerk have cause or diligence
To write of you a story of such marvail,
As of Griselda patient and kind,
Lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail."
(Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales)

"Since [in the Middle Ages] the psychic relation to woman was expressed in the collective worship of Mary, the image of woman lost a value to which human beings had a natural right. This value could find its natural expression only through individual choice, and it sank into the unconscious when the individual form of expression was replaced by a collective one. In the unconscious the image of woman received an energy charge that activated the archaic and infantile dominants. And since all unconscious contents, when activated by dissociated libido, are projected upon the external object, the devaluation of the real woman was compensated by daemonic features. She no longer appeared as an object of love, but as a persecutor or witch. The consequence of increasing Mariolatry was the witch hunt,that indelible blot on the later Middle Ages." (Psychological Types, C.G. Jung: 1921)

Anyone who wonders what mysogyny, chichevache, witches, and anima might have in common might do well to read my little discussion on the question. I have found no images revealing chichevache, merely descriptions of her as a reputed mythical, legendary beast of yore, fabled to feast upon good women. That this loathsome chichevache is described as having a cow-like body and a human face, but perpetually starved to skin and bone in appearance, supposedly due to the scarcity of good women, is a foreshadowing of the discussion here to follow. May one assume thus that chichevache is an actual, supernatural entity for the time being.

With manly voice, so that all the court heard it:
"My liege lady, without exception," he said,
"Women desire to have sovereignty
As well over her husband as her love,
And to be in mastery above him.
This is your greatest desire, though you kill me.
Do as you please; I am here subject to your will."
In all the court there was not wife, nor maid,
Nor widow that denied what he said,
But said that he was worthy to have his life.
(Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale)

Chichevache has a contrasted counterpart, the bycorn or bicorn in mythology, stuffed and swollen to excess by the consumption of obedient and kind husbands reputed to be larger in numbers. Chaucer does not apparently remind the reader of the bicorn, some things are needlessly said. That these traditional balances in delivery of Middle Ages bogeymen (or cow women) appears slightly skewed in favour of obedient and kind males points to the obvious bones of contention. Chaucer was and is perceived a male chauvinist by feminists. But like many pigs, he has redeeming qualities worthy of review and worthy of note, as all obedient and kind men do, even as all women do, feminist or not. Chaucer shares perspectives and facets of his intelligence in the matters of women. That he consumes much time in the writing about rather than the chasing of women was obviously a boon to his wife and he was only historically charged with rape once in his life. During The Hundred Years War.

So I have jumped to Chapter 15 in concordance with non-linear patterns of learning and perhaps to startle chichevache into revealing more than a rattling, bony shadow of an appearance here. I would love for her to have a full satisfying meal. It is my favourite chapter of West's treatise, and it deals in great balance with The Wife of Bath, Women, and Marriage and proves true that man may not exceed in any subject so greatly as in his discussion of women rather than in his actual knowledge of or experience of them, which paradoxically appears to remain of great benefit to gluttonous bicorn. West is right to highlight that feminist views of Chaucer have altered over time from, "All good women are to Chaucer reflections of the Virgin Mary..." (Burrel, 1908) to, "...the masculine or misogynist aspects of Chaucer's writing are undeniable." (Laskya, 1995). So a hundred years or so means much in feminist evolutionary tastes for Chaucer. Chaucer has not changed unless he has a ghost-writer. I have to admit then, that my favourite female English Literature Teacher, Miss Joyce Balfour, must be some hold over to Victorian times, even though one would never know it from her mini-skirts and fine, shapely legs, one might also perceive her simply to be a most graceful feminist. Regardless, my young impressionable mind was never taught or trained to disdain Chaucer's literature or the teaching of it, and I would confess any knowledge of lurking misogynies there to priests, not feminists. However I was taught to venerate the Virgin Mary, which I continue to do.

Perhaps Chaucer sought in many ways to define simple paradoxies and similarities between high-minded, career-driven prioresses and prostitutes. Certainly they may not have matched his perspectives on women, those he may have accorded to his anima courtesy of Jung's theory on subconscious archetypes. But through the Tale of Melibeus, expressions of any surprises about the discovery of patient, gentle, kind women in a world seemingly haunted by chichevache may only highlight ages old customs of over-dramatics for the purposes of comedy, recitation and spectacle. Poems such as Chaucer's could not have enjoyed such a popular following without parodies and oral renditions of parts and parcels of his work played out in front of audiences and among friends or families. Are you hearing any rattling bones by the way? Far too few English were literate to sit around reading thus many perhaps retained fireside skills of renditioning, entertaining, and reciting, simply out of an interest in after work or dark entertainments. Any starving cows lurking around at the moment? As West accounts, communal perception of what fun-making is has changed irreperably, so much so, that at times one might think that laughter or foolishness should be hidden away in these contemporary times, the sense of humour of English societies has suffered greatly the true bones of chichevache in this regard.

That English Lords and Ladies also enjoyed traipsing around London in their latest stolen French fashions, stolen off the dead or ransomed backs of their enemies, those simply eeking out a living on lands more bountiful, or that fantastically, most English were wool carders, shearers, shepherds, or similar simple folk, labouring ceaselessly upon the farms is easily lost in a history of changing perceptions. The Virgin Mary, herself a shepherd's wife implicates Chaucer's choice of audience if he indeed was first meeting the entertainment of his own anima.

One may ask anyone who has lived upon a farm, whether a married woman there is not accorded her full share of family rights, as she shoulders her heavy share, particularly in family and farming duties. That no women are more accorded the opportunity to laugh at absurd dispositions and humour-loving dispositions than those of farming wives is difficult to imagine, especially wives amused at the most apparent absurdities of high-minded women who might not know a needle about family matters or the tending of the living foods for her family. Most women (and men by the way) of Chaucer's Age were simply scraping by and earning a hard living, or supporting children at least those lucky to escape death in the cradle. Humour for such women is and was the redemption of their hard duties and frequent butter-boxes. It appears clear Chaucer was painting a particular type of woman to be the butt of his jokes, for a highly appreciative, highly specific audience, the most appreciative audience probably being mostly farming women.

Then enters Christine de Pisan, a contemporary feminist of Chaucer's Age, who due to her paid employment as a Court Poet to the King of France is considered a turn-coat to modern-day feminists. Reality sets on these issues to say that chichevache appears never to have been so hungry as among modern day feminists in their perspectives on Christine de Pisan, and contemporary swelling of bicorn for their benefit in the meantime. It should be enough for them that she was one of them, condemned in her time and compared to the Greek prostitute who criticized Theophrastus no less. An obvious proof of her power to provoke scorn and derision. If that is not enough proof of her feminist-ness then truly what is or could ever be? How could one reconcile an anima of Virgin Mary purity with feminists burning their bras and at that in a far more Puritan time anyway?

Chaucer's character of The Wife of Bath is almost embodied by a Russian classical pianist I once knew in Abu Dhabi. A statuesque, noble carriage of a woman, experienced in love, and having had five husbands, an expert in the ways of men, women, and marriage. A woman equally at ease tinkling the ivories of a man's ear or delightfully feeding the finest, freshest unsalted Caspian caviars to her favourite hound at the dinner table instead. Their likenesses, a character to be heeded at all times, perhaps in excess to that of friars, nuns, or preachers for obvious knowledge of marriage beds. However that their dalliances were fairly free during their time little dulls obvious wisdom. The Wife of Bath cites her own interpretations upon various Old Testament passages in description of what she has learned of married life from each husband, including:

At least two husbands who were so old they could barely consummate their marriages. A fourth who was a lecher and kept a concubine. A fifth husband supposedly still alive who had punched her once, but only after she had torn a page from one of his books, supposedly misogynist authors such as St. Jerome, Boccaccio, or Jean de Meun.
The thought of this fifth husband, Jankin, is recounted by West as provoking Alison's invectives against celibate priests having no right to comment upon her affairs. As West relates, The Wife of Bath appears to have some clearly modern thoughts on marriage, namely that she sees it as, "a license to exploit and dominate men". The following exchanges of the Friar, the Host, Harry Baily, the Clerk do not wholey deal with a debate upon matrimony, and move to the Merchant's Tale, the loveless marriage of May and January, or a young girl and an old man. West notes that David Wright claims that Chaucer is the only poet in the English language to, "treat marriage (as distinct from love) seriously and at length in poetry."

However, The Wife of Bath also highlighted by West is recounted as the messenger of Chaucer's perspective on rape. He was accused of it by Cecilia Champaign in 1380. The charge was settled in court and experts agree that 13th Century terminology would only define rape as violent and completed sexual intercourse. Chaucer apparently sold his home and cashed annuities to serve his settlement. West notes that a possible plausible explanation is posited by Derek Persall who suggests that concerning Cecilia, "...there are many things that it might more probably have been than physical rape, including neglect and the betrayal of promise by the man, or some unilateral decision on his part to terminate an affair that he regarded as over but which the woman in retrospect regarded as physical violation."

That the rapist in The Wife of Bath's Tale is one of King Arthur's knights is interesting, especially since she claims to prefer such, "lusty bachelor(s)". The knight is condemned to death for his crime, although in Chaucer's time it was merely a fine, however King Arthur's own Queen and attendants come to his rescue, giving him a year and a day to escape his judgement, by providing the answer to the most interesting of questions, "What thing is it that women most desiren?"

The knight spends a year hearing nonsense (at length as this quote from Project Gutenberg).

He sought in ev'ry house and ev'ry place,
Where as he hoped for to finde grace,
To learne what thing women love the most:
But he could not arrive in any coast,
Where as he mighte find in this mattere
Two creatures according in fere.
Some said that women loved best richess,
Some said honour, and some said jolliness,
Some rich array, and some said lust a-bed,
And oft time to be widow and be wed.
Some said, that we are in our heart most eased
When that we are y-flatter'd and y-praised.
He went full nigh the sooth, I will not lie;
A man shall win us best with flattery;
And with attendance, and with business
Be we y-limed, bothe more and less.
And some men said that we do love the best
For to be free, and do right as us lest,
And that no man reprove us of our vice,
But say that we are wise, and nothing nice,
For truly there is none among us all,
If any wight will *claw us on the gall,
That will not kick, for that he saith us sooth:
Assay, and he shall find it, that so do'th.
For be we never so vicious within,
We will be held both wise and clean of sin.
And some men said, that great delight have we
For to be held stable and eke secre,
And in one purpose steadfastly to dwell,
And not bewray a thing that men us tell.
But that tale is not worth a rake-stele.
Pardie, we women canne nothing hele,
Witness on Midas; will ye hear the tale?
Ovid, amonges other thinges smale
Saith, Midas had, under his longe hairs,
Growing upon his head two ass's ears;
The whiche vice he hid, as best he might,
Full subtlely from every man's sight,
That, save his wife, there knew of it no mo';
He lov'd her most, and trusted her also;
He prayed her, that to no creature
She woulde tellen of his disfigure.
She swore him, nay, for all the world to win,
She would not do that villainy or sin,
To make her husband have so foul a name:
She would not tell it for her owen shame.
But natheless her thoughte that she died,
That she so longe should a counsel hide;
Her thought it swell'd so sore about her heart
That needes must some word from her astart
And, since she durst not tell it unto man
Down to a marish fast thereby she ran,
Till she came there, her heart was all afire:
And, as a bittern bumbles in the mire,
She laid her mouth unto the water down
"Bewray me not, thou water, with thy soun'"
Quoth she, "to thee I tell it, and no mo',
Mine husband hath long ass's eares two!
Now is mine heart all whole; now is it out;
I might no longer keep it, out of doubt."
Here may ye see, though we a time abide,
Yet out it must, we can no counsel hide.
The remnant of the tale, if ye will hear,
Read in Ovid, and there ye may it lear.

Finally he meets up with an old witch who promises to tell him her secret as long as he will promise to obey her as a "toy boy". The crone then tells him he must agree to marry her for she has saved his life with the answer:

With manly voys, that al the court it herde:
"My lige lady, generally," quod he,
"Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistrie hym above.
This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille.
Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille."
In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde,
Ne wydwe that contraried that he sayde,
But seyden he was worthy han his lyf.

King Arthur's knight then resigns himself to the crone's bed but she continues to berate him for expecting to merit a woman of his own age or social class. Finally after delivering the knight of his arrogance she transforms herself into a young and beautiful woman. West traces possible origins of the answer, which I think offers some possible atonement for Chaucer's possible misdeeds to medieval folktales and the "Marriage of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell" courtesy of Polly Young-Esiendrath.

But I also like to think that Carl Jung and his theories on anima, influenced Chaucer's choice of themes in The Wife of Bath's Tale much as the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's Sonnets was also similarly difficult to at first identify with. So accordingly Chaucer might be misunderstood, and much of what feminists appear to be interpreting might have been better interpreted as his wrestling with his crone anima. So I will close with Jung's description of anima, and a short ode to my own theoretical anima, "My dear anima, if you are listening, I have been married to you all of these years, obediently and kindly, so hurry up and transform already! Chichevache really deserves a full meal for once!" Would it be too simple an explanation that most chauvinists might not have dealt with their anima just yet?
Yes, seven or eight hundred year old literary works of art do prove their value on occasion. Ask Chichevache!

"Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint or 'archetype" of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman-in short, an inherited system of psychic adaptation. Even if no women existed, it would still be possible, at any given time, to deduce from this unconscious image exactly how a woman would have to be constituted psychically. The same is true of the woman: she too has her inborn image of man. Actually, we know from experience that it would be more accurate to describe it as an image of men, whereas in the case of the man it is rather the image of woman. Since this image is unconscious, it is always unconsciously projected upon the person of the beloved, and is one of the chief reasons for passionate attraction or aversion. I have called this image the "anima," and I find the scholastic question Habet mulier animam? especially interesting, since in my view it is an intelligent one inasmuch as the doubt seems justified. Woman has no anima, no soul, but she has an animus. The anima has an erotic, emotional character, the animus a rationalizing one. Hence most of what men say about feminine eroticism, and particularly about the emotional life of women, is derived from their own anima projections and distorted accordingly. On the other hand, the astonishing assumptions and fantasies that women make about men come from the activity of the animus, who produces an inexhaustible supply of illogical arguments and false explanations." (Marriage as a Psychological Relationship: Anima and Animus, C.J. Jung: 1925)

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