The Man of Law (1-602)

So far, the agency of women has been presented from numerous perspectives throughout the Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath is among the few thus far that seems to have a pretty firm grip on her destiny. The Miller’s wife, in a way, did too. Other than that though the female characters in these stories seem to be without any agency at all. The Knight’s Tale is an obvious example: Emelye, already a prisoner of war, forced to marry the winner of those two scrubs Palamon and Arcite. In the Man of Law’s tale–at least in the part we’ve read–Custance has a similar sort of powerlessness. All of these decisions are being made by the Sultan and Constantine for her. What interests me is how Chaucer sort of zooms in his perspective at certain points. We get all this summary of events, punctuated with little snippets that zoom in on Custance’s despair. She’s going to be “bounden under subicioun” for the rest of her life, and she can’t do a thing about it but grow pale and weep in the corner.

The Sultan’s mother adds another layer to the role of woman’s agency. I mean she rallies a gang of Syrrians together to kill her son and all his friends. At least she’s got some influence.

I wonder why she sent food on the boat with Custance when she threw her out to sea.

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