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'But algates therby was she understonde': translating Custance in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale.


This paper examines a problematic occurrence of translation in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale, specifically when Custance is understood by the Northumbrians as she speaks in her 'corrupt Latin' tongue. The paper argues that Custance's being understood is best explained by recognizing the tale's reliance on the hagiographical trope of xenoglossia, the sudden, miraculous ability to speak or understand a foreign language. By emphasizing the ambiguous nature of this moment of translation, however, Chaucer exposes the narrative conventions of different genres (saint's life, chronicle history, and romance) that allow foreign speakers to be understood through very different means.

In his 1989 essay 'Chaucer as Translator', Tim William Machan, arguing that translation is central to 'Chaucer's conception of himself as a vernacular writer', called for increased attention to 'the ways in which this centrality of translation is evinced' in Chaucer's works, particularly those which do not articulate an obvious theory of translation. (1) More recent studies have responded by considering the way in which the idea of translation is at the core of many of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, including those told by the Wife of Bath, the Summoner, and the Squire. (2) In this essay I take up the centrality of translation in the Man of Law's Tale (MLT), arguing that Chaucer there incorporates acts of miraculous translation in order to draw attention to the varying means by which translation is imagined to function in different genres of literature, specifically the saint's life or vita, the romance, and the chronicle history.

Within the Man of Law's Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue Chaucer covers a range of approaches to literary and cultural translation. The work is full of moments of successful and unsuccessful translation, as well as translation that is at times highlighted, and at other times ignored or suppressed. In the Prologue, the Man of Law presents Chaucer as a wholly successful literary translator, one who has even surpassed his Latin authority, Ovid. (3) The tale the Man of Law tells is not, however, an English translation of a Latin Ovidian romance or history, as we would expect, but rather a tale the Man of Law claims was told him by merchants, one that Chaucer actually translates from a French chronicle. (4) The tale itself opens with a detailed description of merchants travelling to sixth-century Rome and bringing back to the Sultan of Syria reports of Princess Custance's beauty and renown. These reports represent successful, lived experiences of translation, which mediate between languages and cultures. Unsuccessful translation is figured by man's inability to translate the prophetic message of 'the book of the stars' to see Custance's fate, for man is not learned enough to know the stellar tongue. (5) Translation ignored or suppressed is seen when Custance, her family, and entourage arrive in Syria for her wedding and attend the banquet; no mention is made of linguistic difference between the Romans and Syrians, and we are left to wonder how they understand each other, if at all. Physical translation is enacted by Custance when she is set afloat in a boat without an oar several times over the course of the tale. Miraculous translation occurs when Custance lands in Northumbria, and her Latin language is understood by the Northumbrians, even though she does not speak English. Ambiguous translation is embodied by the 'Britoun Evaungiles' or Gospels, which are not clearly identified as Latin or English. Lastly, in some manuscripts the tale ends with an epilogue that essentially shuts down the possibility of Latin translation: the Shipman claims that the tale he tells will not be learned, for 'Ther is but litel Latyn in my mawe' (l. 1190), and the Host threatens those who swear (and, by extension, perhaps those who translate Scripture) with the label of Lollard. (6)

While I do not have space here to explore all of these instances of translation, in this paper I shall focus on one in particular, the strange occurrence of Custance's being understood when she arrives in Northumbria. I argue that in rewriting Custance from his sources, Chaucer creates a monolingual, Latin-speaking woman whose words are translated into English by means of a miracle usually experienced by medieval saints, the gift of xenoglossia, or the miraculous ability to speak, understand, or be understood in a foreign language that the recipient has never learnt formally. (7) Custance's experience of xenoglossia, however, is not openly declared a miracle, and her ability to be understood by the Saxons in Northumberland has several possible explanations; this is a purposeful ambiguity on Chaucer's part that points to larger issues of translation in the tale and in Chaucer's work in general, specifically his ongoing exploration of how translation is imagined to function through various means, mundane or miraculous, depending on the genre of the text at hand. Moreover, because Chaucer elsewhere employs the metaphor of a man in a boat that he is unable to steer as a figure for the translator at the mercy of his authoritative sources, Custance, who is 'translated' about the Mediterranean and Atlantic in a rudderless boat she cannot steer, therefore, in addition to being a figure of the translated text from Latin to English, becomes an apt figure of the translator him/herself, who is outwardly passive, seemingly at the mercy of seas and sources, but surreptitiously active, quietly 'steering' his or her way through the source material to form a new kind of text.

When Custance's rudderless boat is cast upon the shores of Northumberland after 'yeres and dayes' (l. 463) at sea and she is found by the local constable, the Roman princess begs for mercy in her own tongue, which is identified as a kind of 'corrupt Latin'. As a number of scholars have noted, in having Custance speak Latin Chaucer has made an important change from his source, the fourteenth-century Anglo-Norman Les Cronicles of Nicholas Trevet: (8) rather than being learned in many languages and able to speak Saxon to the constable, Custance speaks only her own language, which is nevertheless understood by the Northumbrians. During this encounter, the narrator calls particular attention to Custance's native tongue:</p> <pre> In hir langage mercy she bisoghte, The lyf out of hir body for to twynne, Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne. A maner Latyn corrupt was hir speche, But algates therby was she understonde. (ll. 516-20, emphasis added) </pre> <p>In contrast to Trevet's educated woman who can speak Saxon, Chaucer's Custance is a monolingual Latin speaker who can communicate only by having her language understood by the Saxon Northumbrians.

Many critics have attempted to explain why Chaucer alters Custance's language abilities. Some, including J. A. Burrow and A. C. Spearing, argue that Chaucer was trying for 'historical verisimilitude' by reflecting what he understood to be the early medieval linguistic situation as Latin evolved from classical to 'corrupt' Latin or Italian, as spoken in Italy or possibly throughout Europe as the 'lingua franca' of merchants. Others assert that Chaucer intended the mention of 'corrupt Latin' to signal a significant language barrier between Custance and the early British, and that it therefore serves a thematic purpose by reflecting on Custance's character and/or heightening her experience of vulnerability and outsidedness. (10) David Raybin suggests that Custance's language contributes tomaking her 'the consummate outsider', as her speech is 'foreign-sounding and difficult to the inhabitants of northern England. [...] Existing without name, without provenance, without her host's language, and without prescribed status, Custance is, in essence, the unaccommodated woman, idealized as untainted constancy, form, and spirituality.' (11) For Kathryn Lynch, Custance's 'serious language barrier' in Northumberland makes England seem a place 'more foreign and strange' than even the East. (12)

No one, however, has suggested that Custance's strange linguistic situation results from the tale's heavy reliance on the genre of the saint's life. (13) In having Custance being understood in Latin by the Saxon-speaking Northumbrians, Chaucer is very clearly implying that she receives a gift of xenoglossia, the sudden, miraculous ability to speak, understand, or be understood in (or indeed, read and write) a foreign language previously unknown to the recipient, a miracle that is described in a number of late medieval vitae and visionary texts. Because Chaucer makes a point of stating that Custance's Latin is understood 'algates' or 'nevertheless' by the Northumbrians, it seems clear that we are meant to find it remarkable, if not miraculous. In translating and adapting Trevet's chronicle, Chaucer rewrites his source in order to suggest that the saintly Custance (whose holiness he also chooses to emphasize in comparison with his sources) experiences a gift of miraculous translation, much like those xenoglossic gifts that enable a number of medieval holy men and women to be received and understood by foreign-speaking audiences in order that they may preach the word of God (if they are men), give spiritual counsel, and engage in pious conversation and devotional practice. Because this tale owes much of its form and content to the saint's vita and incorporates into it a number of hagiographic tropes, including the performance of miracles and conversion of pagans, an occurrence of a gift of xenoglossia would be quite fitting, perhaps even expected. (14)

Vernacular xenoglossia is relatively common in later medieval saints' lives. A number of prominent holy men receive the gift, including Saints Dominic, Anthony of Padua, Norbert, and Vincent Ferrer. (15) This allows them either to be understood in the languages of their listeners (an aural miracle), or suddenly to be able to speak languages that they have never learnt (an oral miracle). The gift of miraculous translation enables these men to engage in preaching and missionary work; however, it also facilitates pious conversation, spiritual guidance, and confession. In comparison with holy men, relatively few medieval holy women receive gifts of vernacular xenoglossia. (16) The women's gifts are never granted for the purpose of public preaching, but rather for individual spiritual guidance, often when they are approached by another in need. Far more frequent than vernacular xenoglossia in medieval holy women's lives, however, are gifts of miraculous Latinity that enable them to read scriptural texts, engage in more literate forms of pious practice, and participate in liturgical activities. (17)

Custance's experience draws from the patterns and tropes of xenoglossia in later medieval vitae, while incorporating some striking adaptations. One similarity is that holy women are often granted the gift of vernacular translation when they are in vulnerable situations. That Custance can be understood means that, marooned on some strange shore and at the mercy of the inhabitants, she can be taken care of by others. Her situation can be compared to those of later medieval holy women. For example, St Colette of Corbie is granted the ability to speak the language of her attackers when she and her fellow nuns are threatened by marauders in a strange land. (18) Margery Kempe is likewise granted a xenoglossic miracle when, thrown out of the hospice of St Thomas of Canterbury for English pilgrims, she must seek out another English-speaking priest in Rome to confess and express her mystical 'dalliances'. (19) Elsewhere, the gift allows a holy woman to help someone in need, as with the Flemish-speaking St Lutgard of Aywieres, who brings a despairing woman back to sanity after conversing in French with her for a short time, or St Bridget of Sweden, who aids a Finnish pilgrim when he cannot find a confessor who speaks his language in Rome. (20) Custance's gift, however, does not, as with these other women, last for a short period, but rather (I assume) for the length of time she stays in England, or until she learns the Saxon language, an event that is never actually referred to.

Whereas late medieval holy women gifted with xenoglossia are all vernacular-speakers who either receive the gift of speaking or understanding another vernacular language in order to engage in private, spiritual conversation, or are given literacy in Latin and are suddenly able to speak, write, or understand some Latin without ever having studied it, Custance is a woman whose mother tongue is Latin. In effect, she is the only medieval example of a xenoglossic holy woman who possesses a complete access to and mastery over Latinity. As she speaks Latin, her words are presumably received by the Britons in their own language; it therefore appears to be some kind of aural miracle facilitating the vernacular translation of Latin that occurs in the ears of the listeners, rather than in Custance's mouth.

Custance's Latinity, however, is not a clerical or scriptural variety but rather a 'vulgar' or 'common' one learnt on the knee, a 'corrupt' form of classical Latin that is fast approaching vernacular Italian. In this way Custance's native tongue represents an ambiguous, difficult-to-define state of linguistic development and modification, as she herself hovers half-way between learned Latin and vernacular language. Thus, her speech partakes of both the Latin and vernacular worlds, while strictly belonging to neither. Chaucer imagines Custance's language as existing at a time before clerics were relied upon as the authoritative translators and glossers of Latin Scripture in England. Therefore, by imagining Custance as taking part in the early Christianization of England, Chaucer can imagine a Latin-speaking woman who is able to preach and teach in Latin without appearing in any way heretical. (21) She is Latinate, but not too Latinate; she is authoritative but not too clerical.

Custance's being unable to speak the Saxon language, but nevertheless being understood while speaking Latin, is an example of unidirectional translation, that is, communication that is entirely (and only) effective in one direction, speaker to audience. The 'text' (Custance's words) is received by the Northumbrian culture, influencing that culture and initiating change within it, without Custance herself being affected. Custance's ability to create change in the Northumbrians is emphasized throughout this tale, for her prayers and pious example create new converts to Christianity. Yet what is the Saxons' effect upon her? Nothing, for she remains 'unwemmed', as Shoaf puts it (p. 287). Indeed, it is never clear whether she learns the language of the Northumbrians, or how she comes to understand them, because the important thing in the tale is not that she listens, but that she speaks, for there is nothing that the Northumbrians have to say to her that is more important than what she can say to them. (22)

Custance's experience of unidirectional xenoglossia is similar to that of a number of holy men, such as Saints Anthony of Padua and Norbert, and the early Welsh missionaries David, Padarn, and Teilo, whose words are miraculously translated into the language of their audience; in these instances, the holymen's own ability to understand those to whom they are preaching is never mentioned, because it is perceived as unimportant. (23) What this unidirectional miracle indicates is the importance of the holy person's words being translated and received by others in need. Custance therefore receives the linguistic miracle so that her pious words can be translated like an authoritative text from Latin into the vernacular.

Xenoglossia enables Custance to preach and teach like famous later medieval holy men who are granted gifts of xenoglossia in order to preach to and convert large audiences. However, Custance is shown as converting just one person through preaching alone; in other instances it is both her actions and her words that convert people. In this way, her preaching miracle granted for the sake of conversion resembles the more intimate, private xenoglossic experiences of holy women, experiences that are usually shared between the woman and only one other person.

The importance of Custance's proselytizing words is revealed in the first speech she makes after settling in Northumbria. In this scene, Chaucer redirects attention away from the miraculous curing of a blind man in order to focus on Custance's role as a xenoglossic preacher converting the local pagan constable. When a blind man confronts Hermengyld and Custance while they are 'romen to and fro' (l. 558) one day and begs for the return of his sight, Custance encourages her friend to perform the miracle and then explains the laws of Christianity to the surprised constable until the sun goes down:</p> <pre> 'In name of Crist,' cride this blinde Britoun, 'Dame Hermengyld, yif me my sighte agayn!' This lady weex affrayed of the soun, [...] Til Custance made hire boold, and bad hire wirche The wyl of Crist, as doghter of his chirche. The constable weex abasshed of that sight,

And seyde, 'What amounteth al this fare?' Custance answerde, 'Sire, it is Cristes myght, That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare.' And so ferforth she gan oure lay declare That she the constable, er that it was eve Converteth, and on Crist made hym bileve. (ll. 561-63, 565-74) </pre> <p>Although the implication is that Hermengyld returns sight to the blind man when urged to do so by Custance, the passage never actually states that this happens. The miraculous return of the blind man's vision, which is described in detail in Chaucer's sources, is glossed over, 'under-described', and even neglected in the MLT.

Indeed, a comparison between Trivet's version and Chaucer's underscores the latter's startling changes. Trivet focuses on the healing of the blind man:

Hermengild, before Elda and his household that followed him, in good and firm faith made the holy cross on the eyes of the blind man, and said to him in her Saxon tongue, 'Blind man, in the name of Jesus, slain on the rood, have thy sight!' And he was immediately enlightened, and saw well and clearly. When Elda had seen this, he wondered greatly where his wife had learned such wonderful authority. (24)

In Chaucer's rewriting, however, after Custance makes Hermengyld 'bold' through her verbal encouragement, the focus immediately shifts to Custance's verbal persuasion of the constable through her 'lay declaring' or explication (and hence translation) of Scripture and Christian doctrine. In addition, the household which accompanies Elda, as described in Trivet, has been completely eliminated in Chaucer's version; Custance preaches only to the constable, discreetly, without an audience.

To de-emphasize and 'sidestep' the miracle of restored sight is quite an interesting move on Chaucer's part. After all, medieval vitae and miracle accounts focus without exception on the miracles themselves. (25) That Chaucer avoids describing the actual miracle has caused some critical comment. In his essay 'Miracles in the Man of Law's Tale', Johnson argues that Chaucer avoids directly attributing several miracles to God in order to highlight the human agency involved in the events. (26) Whereas Johnson sees this sidestepping of the miraculous event as Chaucer emphasizing the human doubt that arises regarding 'what we can feel and what we can understand' about an event (p. 64), I see Chaucer making the miraculous ambiguous for two very different reasons: first, because he chooses to focus on Custance's verbal activity instead of what many have identified as her utter passivity, and second, because he is experimenting with the implications of xenoglossia in genres other than the 'strict' saint's vita.

Chaucer obscures the miraculous because he wishes to focus on Custance as an active agent in conversion. De-emphasizing the miraculous scenes calls attention to Custance's persuasive verbal activities. Whereas many critics see her as a figure of utter passivity, subject to male authority, both earthly and divine, as she is translated across the Mediterranean and English Channel in a rudderless boat and likewise unable to control her own path on land, I argue that the implication of xenoglossia emphasizes her importance not as a passive listener but rather as an active preacher, much like renowned xenoglossic holy men. (27) Chaucer refocuses the scene with the blind man so that the most prominent event is that Custance speaks and is heard by both Hermengyld and then the constable, who is persuaded by her after listening to her explications for hours. It is not important that Custance herself hears and understands; what matters is that she preaches persuasively and her language is ingested. Custance's words of Latin Scripture and spiritual explication are understood and fully appreciated by the constable: if we imagine a gift of xenoglossia is occurring, then her Latin words of Scripture and explication are miraculously translated into his Saxon vernacular, a pure and equivalent 'word and sense' translation that persuades the man to convert. Whereas in the early fifteenth-century Margery Kempe can preach the Latin words of Holy Writ only by having them miraculously translated from English into Latin in the mouth of a cleric, as a saintly figure from the remote past Custance is able to preach and be translated for the sake of conversion without the worry of being labelled a heretic. (28)

But there is another good reason why Chaucer 'mules the miraculous' in the story, never directly referring to Custance's ability to be understood while speaking Latin as a miracle and offering both a divine and a human explanation for each miraculous event. This is, of course, because Chaucer is not writing a strict saint's life. As many scholars have discussed, several genres are at work in the tale, specifically the (vernacular) saint's life, romance, and chronicle history, which combine to form a sort of 'hagiographic romance' or 'homiletic romance'. (29) Events are not clearly described as miracles, as in a saint's life, because Chaucer is exploring places where the expectations of romance, vita, and history overlap and diverge; one such is how the practice of translation and the ability to communicate between languages are conceptualized. (30) Much as she acts like one, Custance is not truly a saint; she becomes a married woman who must have sex as good wives do (ll. 708-14) and can follow her religious life only after being released from the duties of marriage by widowhood. (31) Because she belongs to the literary worlds of history, romance, and vita, Custance's xenoglossia cannot be fully developed as it is in the lives of medieval saints. Generic overlapping in the tale explains how she can be xenoglossically gifted and an example of 'historical verisimilitude', her 'corrupt Latin' at the same time a linguistic barrier and no barrier at all. Just as she exists between classical Latin and vernacular language, Custance is both a translator and no translator.

The ambiguity of Custance's xenoglossic situation urges the tale's readers to consider how linguistic communication and translation are imagined to operate and function in different genres. To think of the tale as a vita allows us to see her ability to be understood 'algates' as a miracle of xenoglossia, something to marvel at because it lies beyond normal human capability; the claim of xenoglossia also attests to the pious speech of the holy woman and arms her words as supported by God. If we consider the tale to be a chronicle history, then Custance's ability to be understood can be interpreted as commenting not so much on her own personal state as on the mundane linguistic abilities of the Northumbrians and the situation of Latin comprehension in early medieval Britain; either Chaucer is imagining that the Saxons' language is quite similar to Custance's and can therefore be mutually understood, or that the Northumbrians are actually bilingual, since Latin was the lingua franca of merchants, or that perhaps there was an interpreter on hand, one rendered 'invisible' in the annals of history. (32) If we consider the tale to be a romance, we can, as Burrow has suggested, imagine that Chaucer was relying 'on the unrealistic language-conventions of romance' that ignore natural linguistic divisions, and therefore we may interpret her being understood as a comment about neither her own language nor that of the Northumbrians, but rather as a way of calling attention to how mundane translation is often ignored in romance literature.

In all these cases, Chaucer is exposing the narrative conventions of different genres that allow foreigners to speak and be understood through different means. Indeed, the references to translation that occur throughout the tale (like the book of the stars that man is too 'lewed' to read) mean that we must also puzzle over the fact that no interpreters are mentioned when Custance attends the banquet in Syria or Alla travels to Rome, despite the fact that the merchants are such conspicuous translators at the opening of the tale. In these moments we are forced to wonder if communication occurs through the conventions of historical narrative, romance, or saint's life: is there an invisible interpreter (historical narrative), a gift of xenoglossia (saint's life), or an ignored linguistic barrier (romance)? Is the difficulty so great that it must be magically or miraculously surmounted, or else humanly conquered (through learning), or is it no difficulty at all? I believe that by not clearly defining how Custance is understood in Northumberland, Chaucer intends his audience to consider other moments or situations of likely translation in the poem in order to explore the questions of just what can and cannot be translated, and by whom, in which genres. Just as Chaucer's frequent claims of 'word for word and sense for sense' translation draw our attention to how his works are not, moments of actual, difficult, or miraculous translation in the tale draw our attention to those places where translation is not mentioned at all, or to those places in which translation is purposefully ambiguous, such as the inclusion of the Briton Gospels. (33)

The difficult and intriguing questions about language and translation in this tale, therefore, suggest that Custance herself becomes a figure for the vernacular translator's complex relationship to his authoritative, Latinate sources. In the Proem to Book ii of Troilus, the narrator claims to be at the helm in a boat, at the mercy of the tempestuous waves of his matter and sources:</p> <pre> Owt of thise blake wawes for to saylle, O wynd, O wynd, the weder gynneyth clere;

For in this see the boot hath swych travaylle, Of my connyng, that unneth I it steere. This see clepe I the tempestuous matere

Of disespeir that Troilus was inne. (II. 1-6) </pre> <p>Chaucer imagines the translator at the mercy of his respected, Latinate sources, which dictate to him what he must say; theirs is a force almost too great for him, for he can scarcely ('unneth') steer the boat (i.e. his translation) through the violent and powerful matter. He therefore excuses himself: 'Disblameth me if any word be lame, | For as myn auctour seyde, so sey I' (II. 17-18). Claiming to be at the mercy of matter he has no control over, the translator appears almost completely helpless; similar logic appears at the beginning of Book IV, when the narrator states, 'And now my penne, allas, with which I write, | Quaketh for drede of that I moste endite' (IV. 13-14). Chaucer presents the translator as a humble interpreter of language, unable to control his sources and compelled to write exactly what they say; he simply renders one language into another, attempting to translate 'word for word and sense for sense'. Of course, this is a familiar stance adopted by medieval translators, for it both excuses their work and asserts the translations' authority as direct models of their sources. Chaucer is doing anything but this in Troilus, and it is precisely at those points where he claims to be translating exactly that he is most experimental. (34)

In the MLT Chaucer joins the image of translator in the boat at the mercy of his authoritative sources with that of the Christian soul afloat in the sea of the world (representing the pilgrimage of man in the world), besides the boat as the Christian Church with the soul of man within it. (35) Custance, who repeatedly travels the seas in her rudderless boat, can therefore be read as a metaphor for the position of the translator at the mercy of his or her authoritative sources. She is a figure of both the translated Latin text (she is translated physically over the seas, her words are translated miraculously or mundanely into Saxon) and the translator, appearing entirely passive, at the mercy of her sources, travelling out and returning again and again to her 'Latin source', Rome. (36)

Chaucer identifies the public position of the humble Middle English translator, the fidus interpres, with the figure of the female translator in the MLT. As Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and others have argued:

when [Chaucer] chooses to identify one of his own texts as dependent on a source, he tends to emphasize passivity, and such passages are usually attached to works that themselves have a particularly passive, receptive, or suffering protagonist whose situations are mirrored in the narrator-translator's passivity, lack of free will, and powerlessness to change the preordained plot. (p. 9)

By identifying Custance as a figure for the outwardly passive stance of the translator, the position of the translator, therefore, becomes somewhat feminized. But just as the translator in Troilus, although admitting to having only a 'little steering', actually charts new territories with his translation, Chaucer's Custance, although outwardly passive and tossed about on the waves of seas and sources, is subtly active in her xenoglossic preaching, charting new religious territories for pagan England.

I take this opportunity to thank C. David Benson and Frederick M. Biggs for their advice on this paper.

(1) Tim William Machan, 'Chaucer as Translator', in The Medieval Translator: The Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, ed. by Roger Ellis, assisted by Jocelyn Price, Stephen Medcalf, and Peter Meredith (Cambridge: Brewer, 1989), pp. 55-67 (p. 67).

(2) Susan Signe Morrison, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell: The Wife of Bath and Vernacular Translations', Exemplaria, 8 (1996), 97-123; Fiona Somerset, '"As just as is a squyre": The Politics of "Lewed Translacion" in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 21 (1999), 187-207; Alan S. Ambrisco, '"It lyth nat in my tonge": Occupatio and Otherness in the Squire's Tale', Chaucer Review, 38 (2004), 205-28.

(3) See ll. 53-55. All quotations of Chaucer in this article are taken from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).

(4) For the (in)appropriateness of this introduction to the tale, see Ann Astell, 'Apostrophe, Prayer, and the Structure of Satire in The Man of Law's Tale', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 13 (1991), 81-97, esp. pp. 82-86; V. A. Kolve, 'The Cook's Tale and The Man of Law's Introduction: Crossing the Hengwrt/Ellesmere Gap', in Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: The First Five Canterbury Tales (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), pp. 257-96, esp. p. 293, and 'The Man of Law's Tale: The Rudderless Ship and the Sea', ibid., pp. 297-358.

(5) See ll. 190-96, 202-03, and 309-15.

(6) The Epilogue is found in 35 of 57 manuscripts (Riverside Chaucer, p. 862). For the Host calling the Parson a 'Lollere', see ll. 1170-77.

(7) I use the term xenoglossia to refer to both speaking and being understood in a human language previously unknown to the speaker, whereas glossolalia refers to speaking in tongues unknown to man. See Stanley M. Burgess, 'Medieval Examples of Charismatic Piety in the Roman Catholic Church', in Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism, ed. by Russell P. Spittler (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), pp. 14-26 (p. 19).

(8) Studies on the sources of the MLT generally agree that Chaucer's tale is a translation and adaptation of this work, with some additional borrowing from Gower's Confessio Amantis, ii. 587-1707. For Chaucer's adaptations see Edward Block, 'Originality, Controlling Purpose and Craftsmanship in the Man of Law's Tale', PMLA, 68 (1953), 572-616, and Robert Correale, 'Chaucer's Manuscript of Nicholas Trevet's Les Cronicles', Chaucer Review, 25 (1991), 238-65. According to most critics, Chaucer's version borrows from Gower and not vice versa. See Peter Nicholson, 'Chaucer Borrows from Gower:T he Sources of the Man of Law's Tale', in Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange, ed. by R. F. Yeager (1991), pp. 85-99, and Nicholson, 'The Man of Law's Tale: What Chaucer Really Owed to Gower', Chaucer Review, 26 (1991), 153-74.

(9) J. A. Burrow, 'A Maner Latyn Corrupt', Medium Aevum, 30 (1961), 33-37, argues that 'corrupt Latin' was a phrase used in medieval sources to characterize the language of the imperial period (p. 34). Either Chaucer knew that Custance, during the antique period, would have spoken corrupt Latin (as gleaned from Isidore of Seville), or 'he simply brazened it out, relying, perhaps, on the unrealistic language-conventions of romance' (p. 37). Burrow quotes H. J. Chaytor, From Script to Print: An Introduction to Medieval Vernacular Literature (Cambridge: Heffer, 1945), who argues that corrupt Latin was the lingua franca of merchants and therefore concludes that Chaucer was trying accurately to reflect the important presence of trade in the early Middle Ages (p. 28, in Burrow, p. 36). A. C. Spearing, 'Narrative Voice: The Case of Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale', New Literary History, 32 (2001), 715-46, asserts: 'That sense of historical change in language, coordinated with a larger setting in which northern Britain had been invaded by pagan Saxons who had driven the Christian Britons into Wales, is not at all characteristic of pre-Chaucerian saints' lives' (p. 740). That Chaucer realized that language changes over time is supported by the Proem from Book II of Troilus, ll. 22-26.

(10) R. A. Shoaf, '"Unwemmed Custance": Circulation, Property, and Incest in the Man of Law's Tale', Exemplaria, 2 (1990), 287-302, asserts that the mention of her corrupt Latin, followed by the reassurance that she was understood, 'insists that corruption really has not affected Custance' (p. 288).

(11) David Raybin, 'Custance and History: Woman as Outsider in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 12 (1990), 65-84 (p. 70). There is, however, no indication that Custance's language is difficult for the Northumbrians to understand.

(12) Kathryn L. Lynch, 'Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy: East and West in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale', Chaucer Review, 33 (1999), 409-22 (pp. 418-19). Lynch's main point is that 'both the Islam of the Syrians and the paganism of the Northumbrians are made shockingly alien and "Other" in the Man of Law's Tale' (p. 410).

(13) Elizabeth Robertson comes closest to this point in 'The "Elvyssh" Power of Constance: Christian Feminismin Geoffrey Chaucer's The Man of Law's Tale', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 23 (2001), 143-80, in which she argues, 'As an agent of conversion, Constance is translatable, despite her foreigness' (p. 165).

(14) Michael Paull, 'The Influence of the Saints' Legend Genre in the Man of Law's Tale', Chaucer Review, 5 (1971), 179-94.

(15) According to their vitae, medieval holy men who have received this gift include Saints Pachomius, Christopher, David, Teilo, Padarn, Anthony of Padua, Dominic, and a number of others. For Dominic, see Acta sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur, published by the Bollandists (hereafter abbreviated AASS), August, 1, 405; for Anthony of Padua, see RaphaelM. Huber, St. Anthony of Padua (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1948), pp. 46, 54; for Norbert, see John Capgrave, OESA (1393-1464), The Life of St. Norbert, ed. by Cyril Lawrence Smetana (Toronto: Pontifical Institute, 1977), pp. 58-59; for Vincent Ferrer, see AASS, April, 1, 495.

(16) Those holy women who do receive gifts of vernacular xenoglossia are St Lutgard of Aywieres, St Colette of Corbie, St Clare of Montefalco, St Bridget of Sweden, and Margery Kempe.

(17) Holy women do not receive the full gamut of Latin literate abilities; they receive, however, the ability to read certain scriptural texts, or to speak aloud their visions in Latin, without being able to parse the Latin itself. See Cooper, 'Miraculous Translation in The Book of Margery Kempe', Studies in Philology, 101 (2004), 270-98.

(18) For St Colette of Corbie, see Les Vies de sainte Colette Boylet de Corbie, reformatrice des Freres mineurs et des Clarisses (1381-1447), ecrites par ses contemporains, le P. Pierre de Reims, dit de Vaux, et saeur Perrine de La Roche et de Baume, ed. by Ubald d'Alencon, Archives franciscaines, 4 (Paris: Picard, 1911).

(19) The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. by Lynn Staley (Kalamazoo,MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), ll. 1908-24.

(20) For Lutgard, see Thomas de Cantimpre, The Life of Lutgard of Awyieres, ed. and trans. by Margot H. King, rev. edn (Toronto: Peregrina, 1989), p. 81. For Bridget, see Revelation 115 in Revelaciones, Book 6, ed. by Birger Bergh, Samlingar utgivna av Svenska Fornskriftsallskapet, Ser. 2, Latinska skrifter, 7:6 (Stockholm: Almqvist@Wiksell, 1991).

(21) As Robertson argues, 'By placing Constance firmly in the past, Chaucer avoids directly affirming a woman's ability to preach' (p. 170).

(22) In this way Custance shares something in common with the fifteenth-century Margery Kempe, who, when she relates her pilgrimage travels to Rome and Jerusalem, in general chooses to elaborate only upon her own ability to be understood rather than on how she understands others.

(23) For David, Padarn, and Teilo, see G. H. Doble and D. Simon Evans, Lives of the Welsh Saints (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1971).

(24) Quoted in William C. Johnson, 'Miracles in The Man of Law's Tale', Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, 28 (1974), 57-65 (p. 59), from Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, ed. by W. F. Byran and Germaine Dempster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), pp. 169-71.

(25) For example, in Gower's version the blind man prays to Hermengyld, who hears his prayer and then tells him to 'See'; he regains his sight and Elda concludes 'That he the feith mot nede obeie' (Confessio Amantis, ed. by Russell A. Peck (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), l. 778).

(26) Indeed, as Johnson argues, in two other miracles in the tale, the smiting of the murderous knight with the axe and the drowning of the attempted rapist, Chaucer rewrites the scenes in order to make the cause of the event more ambiguous, either human or divine (pp. 61-64).

(27) For Custance's passivity, see, for example, Carolyn Dinshaw, 'The Law of Man and its "Abhomynacions"', Exemplaria, 1 (1989), 117-48, in which she states that 'Constance's minimal self-awareness allows her no more than passivity' (p. 141); Susan Schibanoff, 'Worlds Apart: Orientalism, Antifeminism, and Heresy in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale', Exemplaria, 8 (1996), 59-96, esp. pp. 62-63. According to Robertson, however, 'Whether or not Constance can be called active or passive [...] seems indeterminate' (p. 161).

(28) See The Book of Margery Kempe, ll. 2288-99.

(29) For the term 'homiletic romance', see Helen Cooney, 'Wonder and Immanent Justice in the Man of Law's Tale', Chaucer Review, 33 (1999), 264-87. Cooney borrows this term from Dieter Mehl, The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London: Routledge, 1968) (Mehl, pp. 120-22, quoted in Cooney, p. 264).Many reflect on the mixed genres of the tale; see, for example, Dinshaw, who states, 'The Tale is a mixture of hagiography, romance, and chronicle history, in which Constance plays roles of saint and romance heroine that prove finally contradictory in the narrative' (p. 117).

(30) Of course, Chaucer's mixing of genres has been noted by many. See, for example, Derek Pearsall, 'Chaucer's Religious Tales: A Question of Genre', in Chaucer's Religious Tales, ed. by C. David Benson and Elizabeth Robertson (Cambridge: Brewer, 1990), pp. 11-19.

(31) The example of St Bridget and other married saints would suggest that married women could become saints in the later Middle Ages, either after the death of their spouse or when the husband had entered a monastery and released his wife from her spousal duties.

(32) For more on the invisibility of translators in certain genres (including travel literature), see Lawrence Venuti, The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation (London: Routledge, 1995).

(33) For the question of the language of these Gospels, see Andrew Breeze, 'The Celtic Gospels in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale', Chaucer Review, 32 (1998), 335-38.

(34) See 'Authorizing Texts and Writer,' in The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literature, 1280-1520, ed. by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Nicholas Watson, Andrew Taylor, and Ruth Evans (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), pp. 3-14. See also Roger Ellis's discussion of Troilus in 'Translation', in A Companion to Chaucer, ed. by Peter Brown (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 443-58 (pp. 452-53).

(35) See Kolve, Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative, pp. 297-358.

(36) Chauceralso uses the image of traveling toRomeby diverse paths as a metaphor for translation in his Treatise on the Astrolabe (ll. 25-40). For more on this image, see Ellis, 'Translation', p. 447.


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Author:Cooper, Christine F.
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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