Feb 9: Stanbury, Ecochaucer

To quote Stanbury directly, she argues that Chaucer displays “a disenchanted skepticism about nature’s benevolence as well as a canny or even postmodern understanding of how social institutions call on “the natural” to justify their own privileges.” Likewise, she asserts that “as readers of Chaucer’s poetry, we mark our relationships to nature through a skeptical appraisal of the powers we credit to nature and also of our own responses to her laws” (13).

Do you agree with her assertion, both in regard to Chaucer and to our role as readers? Use evidence from The Book of the Duchess and, if you would like to, from the modern world.

4 thoughts on “Feb 9: Stanbury, Ecochaucer

  1. Throughout her essay, Stanbury consistently equates Chaucers metaphors about nature to a tool to show the actual arbitrariness of the concept itself and it is in fact a human construct that serves to justify humanity’s authority. To exemplify how Chaucer’s use of nature is actually objectified, Stanbury states: “When Chaucer speaks of the “goods” of nature, these are specifically human traits, as when the Parson says ‘the goodes of nature stonden outher in goodes of body or in goodes of soule’ (X 451). These goods of nature are gifts rather than acquisitions.” She is introducing the idea that nature is constructed though however an artist or person decides to construct it and at least for Chaucer that means expressing a social hierarchy. She stresses this again with regards to the Book of the Duchess and the pleasure gardens, explaining how Nature is consistently shown as containing a social order. Nature, however as displayed by Chaucer and other writers, has little to no actual authority and “human guardianship carries little accountability.”

  2. One of the biggest roles of Nature that can be seen in Book of the Duchess is the role of Fortune, who is not nature as we modernly perceive it, but Nature as in the natural flow of the revolving world. The man in black is most profoundly affected by Fortune directly in this poem, but it is implied and can be inferred that Lady Fortune makes her way to us all, either with good or bad tidings. As modern readers, we often do not credit Fortune with this form of natural power, however she, and the hand she dealt the man in black, is the driving force that leads him to sit against the oak tree and mourn so strikingly. This can be conceptualized into Fortune’s ability to be a natural equalizing factor; Fortune has the power to take the love of a courageous knight, and she has the power to do the same to a peasant or a king or anyone else as she pleases. Fortune is an element of the natural world that affects all, and in that she is capable of breaching hierarchical bonds and creating a unifying, if not always happy, connector among the ranks.

  3. Chaucer’s depiction of nature in this narrative lines up pretty well with our own assumptions about nature; the entire narrative seems to center around how nature is helping man “discover” or at least figure out what his role in the world is, and how he should be responding to the conditions that surround him. Instead of assuming nature to be and independent force, nature is instead seen as a way for the characters to “find themselves” or at least find the solutions to their own problem, something that is often found in modern literature as well.

  4. Chaucer personifies nature in a way to make it more relatable to human beings. His nature does not appear to possess any benevolent qualities due to its ability to give and take away. Such is the case in “The Book of the Duchess”. Nature has taken away the black knight’s love so how can it be seen as a benevolent force? Giving nature characteristics of human beings almost makes it less sacred and gives more room for it to be taken advantage of, which could be why it does not always reciprocate fairness in certain tales.

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