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12 - The Prioress’s Tale

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 August 2020

Frank Grady
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, St Louis
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Summary

The Prioress’s Tale, one of only three Canterbury Tales assigned to a female narrator, raises a number of questions related to gender and especially female devotion. But the central question has long been how to grapple with the explicitly antisemitic story she tells, and whether the antisemitism of the tale “belongs” to Chaucer, or, alternatively, to the tale-teller, whom Chaucer treats at least somewhat satirically in his portrait of her in the General Prologue. This chapter puts to one side the ultimately unanswerable question of whether Chaucer himself is or is not antisemitic, instead focusing on how the tale’s antisemitism is structured. The story, analogous to a number of Miracles of the Virgin that circulated widely in England and Europe, deploys several anti-Jewish tropes - concerned with the body and materiality, voice and spirit, spatiality, and temporality - to develop a simultaneous celebration of Christianity and denigration of Judaism. In analyzing the “economy” of antisemitism within the tale, we can begin to understand how powerfully attractive such constructions might be at the same time that we come to understand more fully how to confront and dismantle them.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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