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Canacee's Mirror: Gender and Treasons in Medieval Literature

  • Author(s): Bradfield, Joanna Lee Scott
  • Advisor(s): Ganim, John M
  • et al.
Abstract

Canacee's Mirror: Gender and Treason in Medieval Literature examines the multifaceted and constantly shifting definitions and applications of treason law in several key texts of the Middle Ages. Whether in the form of political treason or romantic infidelity, treason presents a serious problem, the very idea of it revealing anxieties about discerning truth, judging speech and appearances, and performing loyalty. These anxieties become most pointed when examined through the lens of gender. Each chapter moves chronologically through the shifts in French and English law, drawing on the work of legal scholars to explore Roman and Germanic antecedents as well as contemporary applications of treason law. The changes in the laws are reflected and refracted in medieval literature by the way individual authors and texts present nuanced and varying depictions of treason, betrayal, guilt, and truth.

These nuances are magnified and complicated when the traitor in question is a woman, and thus the chapters alternate between analysis of both male and female traitors. While the charge of treason for men could be levied for deceptive disloyalty in either realm of the political or the romantic, as Ganelon shows on the one hand, and the men of The Legend of Good Women show on the other, for many women in the literature of the Middle Ages romantic treason necessarily involves a breach of political or feudal bonds as well. In general, with the notable exception of Lancelot, female characters such as Béroul's Iseut, Chaucer's Criseyde, and Malory's Guinevere demonstrate a much greater awareness of the repercussions of their betrayal, in both reputation and physical punishment, than their male counterparts. Each chapter, thus, examines the complicated nexus of expectations and behaviors with which medieval authors negotiated the definition, presentation, and consequences of treason for both men and women.

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