Feb 19: The Man of Law’s Tale (ll. 1-602)

In The Man of Law’s Tale we get the depiction of two very different women. How does Chaucer set the two women apart? What are their defining characteristics and how are we supposed feel about them? What is significant about so much of the first part of the tale being told through women?

4 thoughts on “Feb 19: The Man of Law’s Tale (ll. 1-602)

  1. Chaucer introduces Custance as an overall perfect woman and daughter. She is described highly in terms of her beauty, humility, generosity, etc. It seems she is given no faults. She is seen throughout the first part of the Man of Law’s tale as a spreader of Christianity and a pious, obedient follower of Christ. The Sultaness, on the other hand, is perceived as a “well of vices” (323), malicious, and conniving as she plots to murder her own son and cast Custance out to sea. She acts as a direct opposite of Custance’s kindness and reliance on faith. Although the Sultaness states that the Sultan is abandoning his faith and therefore requires punishment for it, it seems that her entire plot is for simply selfish reasons. It is interesting, though, that the tale is told through the eyes of the Sultaness and Custance, rather than male characters, allowing us to infer how the Man of Law perceives women through his characters’ descriptions and actions.

  2. The depictions of the two females gives the reader details of two very different personality traits. Is Chaucer saying that all women from the Christian faith are these elevated figures of status and beauty? The Sultaness who I began to call Sataness as I was reading is the polar opposite of Custance. With the morals, principles, and religions separating the two female characters from each other, there is still an existing problem that goes much further than the surface of what is shown in part one. From the previous tales that we have read, the continued parts of these stories have consistently taken a turn in a direction that would have normally been incredibly hard to predict. The set up for this particular tale has placed a large amount of emphasis on theses two female characters, but will fortune, gods, or some man of power eventually intervene to move this story in an alternative direction? Maybe so, but Chaucer, as always, has created a situation that relies heavily on the perspective that it is being told through.

  3. I can’t help but notice the personification of the religion, and therefore religious bias, that they subscribe to in either character. Where Custance is our generically perfect female love interest, upholding all courtly as well as Christian conventions, the Sultaness is portrayed as conniving, murderous, and generally all-around evil. While the Crusades took place well before Chaucer’s writing, the notion of the ideological war between Christianity and Islam is shown to be clearly alive in this tale. Clearly, this being an English writing, spiritual superiority is applied to Christianity over Islam, therefore Custance represents all that is good in womanhood, and the Sultaness represents all that is bad in womanhood (from a patriarchal hetero-normative society’s perspective, of course).

  4. Both female characters are meant to be contrasted throughout the story. Custance is blameless and saintly while the sultaness is lying and deceitful in her plot to overthrow her son through the excuse of preserving their true religion. The way these two women are described are either as a subject to be controlled by men, or as a Jezebel figure who is evil. When the Man of Law describes Custance as being under the control of men, the language can be read in an alternative way than the obvious one. In lines 272-4, the narrator makes a sweeping generalization about the belief that husbands are always good and right men of honor that supposedly is thought by wives themselves which exudes sarcasm. The way the narrator uses this “common” assumption to suggest the opposite reveals the possible feelings of either Custance or the Man of Law or Chaucer himself.

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