The man of law’s tale and crusade
The Man of Law's Tale does not usually leap to mind as a Chaucerian evocation of late medieval crusade, perhaps because it seems determined to skirt ideas of armed conflict over religion, referring only briefly to Romans 'brenn[ing and] slee[ing]' Saracens (II.964) and emphasizing instead Custance's individual religious devotion. Scholars of this tale who do mention historical crusades tend to do so briefly, in a passing reference in their analyses of other matters. For example, in her study of race and religion in the Man of Law's Tale, Carolyn Dinshaw suggests that the text's anxiety about the efficacy of conversion is informed by awareness of the military failures of the crusades, while Brenda Deen Schildgen ties the centrality of Rome in this tale to British support for the Roman papacy and concomitant opposition to French crusading plans during the Papal Schism. Even Geraldine Heng, who describes the tale's relationship to crusade much more fully, argues that this tale represents a distinctive, feminine rewriting of crusading ideals. She writes, 'There should be little doubt that what Custance accomplishes in her story is the enactment of a successful crusade, cultural-style, feminine-style.' As valuable as these studies are, they raise the question of how directly and fully Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale engages the fourteenth-century discourse of crusade. Is crusade merely a passing reference in this tale, or something Chaucer depicts only to rewrite? Might one instead perceive a very full, and decidedlyd less revisionary, engagement of the historical rhetoric and experience of crusading in Chaucer's day? In this essay, I argue the latter.
Calkin, S. (2009). The man of law’s tale and crusade.