The Canterbury Tales

The Commodification of Custance: A Feminist Reading of Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale

In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, each tale's genre is an integral component of its respective meaning. The task of interpreting the meaning of a tale from its genre, however, is complicated by Chaucer's frequent deviation from a genre's conventions. In some cases, Chaucer even uses the conventions of more than one genre per narrative; this is the case with the Man of Law's tale. In "The Narrative Style of the Man of Law's Tale" Paul M. Clogan defines the tale's genre as "hagiographic romance" (217). That is, the genre of the tale straddles the line between a medieval romance, and a saint's legend (pseudo-biographical narratives of saints' lives). The tale can be considered a romance, in the sense that it tells of adventures in "sondry" lands, and has a protagonist on a quest. It is also not particularly interested in working under the confines of realism, as its episodic events of melodrama are numerous: Custance, the protagonist, escapes rape, massacre and false accusations. Unlike conventional romances of the period, however, the Man of Law's tale does not focus on courtly love, nor does it preoccupy itself with the chivalric traditions of other medieval...

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