The Knight’s Tale

sisterhood and brotherhood in “THe knight’S TALE”

chris chism


1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 3 The Knight’s Tale is both a fitting and a deeply unsettling way to open The Canterbury Tales. It is fitting because it is told by the pilgrim with the highest rank, and thus aristocratically ratifies the tale-telling fellowship under Harry Bailey that the pilgrims swear at the end of the General Prologue. At the tale’s beginning Chaucer highlights the social gap between the Knight’s gentle status and the rest of the pilgrimage. By joining in this rowdy tale-telling pilgrimage, the Knight is essentially slumming, and his rusty and stained armor, which he does not pause to clean up, performs a kind of class-crossing drag (I.75-78). In another instance of down dressing, the Knight takes on his tale by imagining himself as a plowman with weak oxen and a large field to plow (I.885-91). The Knight wears fellowship creakily, with good natured but measurable condescension, like the behavioral equivalent of his deliberately shoddy armor.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 3 The knight’s awkwardly humble adoption of the persona of plowman, however, prefaces a tale that makes no such social concessions. It is unabashedly chivalric, complicated, barely in control of its own narrative energies, bristling with rhetorical devices such as ekphrasis (graphic detailed descriptions of a work of art, like the descriptions of the three temples in Book III) and occupatio (a rhetorical refusal to recount something while actually alluding to it at length – one of the Knight’s more exasperating, runaway habits). It is closer to an out-of-control stallion than a weak team of oxen. The contrast between the Knight’s meek, submissive, comradely persona and his grim and demanding tale makes the Knight’s bid for fellowship also a bid for dominance. The Knight intends to win this contest and he brings out his narrative big guns to prove it. This, paradoxically, actually helps to ratify the worthiness of the story-telling pilgrimage itself. If a member of the gentle class is eager to devote such effort to the contest that enlivens the road to Canterbury, then it really must be a contest worth competing in, which is probably why Harry Bailey (and Chaucer) select the Knight to inaugurate the contest in the first place. Imagine how different the Tales would be if the Cook were to start things off! In sum, the Knight’s participation in the contest, his massive narrative offering, and his theatrical deference to Harry Bailey’s authority is the first act of brotherly fellowship that we see in his Tale. It is also the only one that will survive it.


3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The Knight’s Tale is unsettling, because, although it is offered in fellowship, it explores fellowship’s impossibility. It creates a world where brotherhood and sisterhood cannot hold when desires come into conflict. Brotherhood and sisterhood are crucial social bondings not because they endure or triumph but because they fail, while refusing to die. Rather they mutate, from resistance to accommodation of these new regimes, while reshaping those regimes in turn.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 Why were brotherhood, sisterhood, and fellowship important for Chaucer and his readers? Sworn brotherhood was idealized as the noblest form of friendship in the Middle Ages and it was a common theme in clerical and popular writings. This was partly because of its ambiguities, which provoked writers continually to adapt and transform the idea of friendship. This form of ennobling love was inspired by the classical writings of Aristotle, Cicero, and many others. The ideal of sworn brotherhood was exclusive. It underscored the value of loving fidelity among the most apparently valued social agents, aristocratic men. Its practice was believed to ennoble them further as they sacrificed their own interests for the sake of those they loved, a form of noblesse oblige that circulated its benefits back to the nobles themselves.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 This idea of ennobling friendship was adapted and spiritualized in monastic writings that praise the love between cloistered monks, mutually sworn to the love of Christ and to each other as brethren. Aelred of Rievaulx is the strongest proponent of spiritual brotherhood. His treatise De spirituali amicitia, “On Spiritual Friendship,” (1164-7 CE), shows how love of one’s spiritual brothers intensifies love of Christ. However, it also illuminates spiritual brotherhood’s essential contradictions. How should a monk balance friendship with his brethren at large with that of particularly dear brothers, and at what point does loving one’s cloistered brother distract from the primary friendship with Christ? The idea of spiritual friendship influenced popular genres such as romance. Some romances, such as the many versions of Amys et Amile, combine aristocratic and monastic forms of writing about sworn brotherhood into a form of secular hagiography. Proven friends who suffer willingly for the love of their friend become virtual saints, though again not without contradictions. The Middle English Amis and Amiloun, for instance, questions whether sworn brotherhood is worth the sacrifices it demands, which sometimes include wives and children.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 The Amazons feminize the idea of sworn brotherhood and make it the basis of a political matriarchy. They are a nation of warrior women who exist without any men in their society at all, replacing the bonds of marriage and family with those between warrior sisters and their queen. Theban society is similarly driven by brotherhood. They have just emerged from a tragic dynastic struggle between two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices. Their backstory is the legendary matter of the Seven Against Thebes, recounted in Statius’s Thebaid (80-90 CE); and it is a story of men allying with men, against other men, and achieving terrifying prowess and slaughter. When Theseus conquers the Amazons he disrupts their sisterly social organization by marrying their queen, Hippolyta, and adopting her sister, Emelye as a member of his household, effectively replacing sisterly organization with a form of autocratic patriarchy. When he conquers the Thebans, he puts an end to a downward spiral of fraternal slaughter, abuse, and vengeance, and imprisons the only surviving nobles, the sworn brothers who will become the chivalric heroes of the narrative. Yet after this seeming victory, Chaucer does not allow the imperatives of brotherhood and sisterhood to vanish. Theseus is left on the one hand with Palamon and Arcite, imprisoned perpetually, and the enormity of their misery demands redress. Meanwhile in his household, a gorgeous unattached Amazon begins roaming his gardens. It is not surprising that there are hearts moved and blood shed when these imprisoned former brothers and sisters collide.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 2 In that process Theseus himself learns accommodation. At the beginning of the poem, Theseus responds to resistance by imprisoning and domesticating his former opponents; but Palamon and Arcite, and even Hippolyta and Emelye are ultimately uncontainable. In the middle of the poem, when Theseus discovers the brothers fighting in his forest — one a jailbreak and the other an exile — and determines to kill them, all the women of the court, including the former Amazons, join together in piteous intercession to save the Thebans, and Theseus is unable to resist the power of women joining together in solidarity to weep at his feet. By the end of the poem, Theseus is conflagrating a funerary forest to exalt the lost brother, Arcite, now a national hero whose death is so traumatic that the narrative itself halts till years have passed. The ending of the tale shows Theseus as frustrated as the rest of the characters, making a virtue of necessity and patching together the best ending he can under the circumstances by marrying off the survivors. The untrammeled sisterhood of the Amazons and fierce brotherhood of the Thebans have been domesticated, but in the process the autocratic head of state and household has himself lost control.


sisterhoods of sorrow

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In writing this narrative Chaucer profoundly changes his main source, Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1340 epic poem the Teseida. Book 1 of the Teseida describes Amazon society and recounts Theseus’s conquest of the Amazons. Boccaccio’s Amazons are violent, gaining independence by murdering their fathers and sons, but incredibly strong in their mutual solidarity. They put up a formidable military resistance to Theseus and his invading army until he gives up direct attack and undermines the walls of their fortress, thus gaining their surrender through cunning rather than force. While satirizing the supposed unnaturalness of Amazon matriarchy, Boccaccio nonetheless highlights the mutual love and respect that binds together the Amazons with their queen, Hippolyta, and all other women. Hippolyta welcomes every women as friend and citizen: “if women chanced to arrive from any place at all, she ordered them to be received with all kindness and allowed to join them if they so pleased, so that the places of those who had died might be taken by those who came from other regions.”[1] Boccaccio’s Amazons differ from the demimondaine Amazons of classical legendry, who reproduce by capturing men as temporary lovers, and then keeping female children while expelling the sons and the fathers from their lands. Rather Boccaccio’s Amazons are all virgins, dedicated to hunting, warfare, and the goddess of the woods, Diana. Sisterhood is thus the Amazons’ primary method of reproduction, and its power as a social bond is perceptible, even after their surrender and domestication into Athenian society. When Hippolyta sees the Argive widows in their sorrow, she asks to join Theseus in the fight to avenge them, so long as it pleases her husband. Predictably, it doesn’t, but Hippolyta is on the record; in Boccaccio, even domesticated Amazons still wish to fight for sisterhood.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 In contrast to Boccaccio, Chaucer starts his narrative with the breaking of the Amazon sisterhood, the return to Athens of Theseus with Hippolyta and her sister, Emelye. He cuts out any description of the structure of Amazon society and the faithful bonds between women that held it together. Amazonian sisterhood persists in Chaucer’s text, but emerges only in utmost privacy, in Emelye’s prayer to Diana in Book III:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Chaste goddesse, wel wostow that I
Desire to ben a mayden al my lyf,
Ne nevere wol I be no love ne wyf.
I am, thow woost, yet of thy compaignye,
A mayde, and love huntynge and venerye,
And for to walken in the wodes wilde,
And noght to ben a wyf and be with childe.
Noght wol I know the compaignye of man
Now help me, lady, sith ye may and kan. (I, 2304-12)

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 [Chaste goddess, you know very well that I desire to be a maiden all my life. I never want to be a lover or a wife. I am, you know, still a maid of your entourage, and I love hunting and venery and walking in the wild woods, and not to be a wife or pregnant. I don’t wish to know the company/fellowship of men.   Now help me, lady, since you have the power to do so.]

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 This rare moment where Emelye speaks her heart is crucial because we can see that her previous silence masked resistance. Rather than becoming a tool in Theseus’s dynastic machinations, which is her fate as a sister-in-law to Theseus, she wishes to continue to live as an Amazon.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 3 Yet Emelye’s prayer is multiple and her desires shift surprisingly according to circumstance. This is both narratively interesting and disturbing to feminist readings, some of which would join Emelye in preferring Amazonian self-determination over Athenian domestication. Emelye’s changing heart may result from the Knight’s narratorial disinterest in her independence, or the generic expectations of being a beloved woman in a chivalric romance, but I think there is also a larger purpose. All the characters in this romance (even Theseus) undergo changes – in heart, appearance (Arcite becomes unrecognizable, even to himself), and aims. When Emelye bends to circumstance, it humanizes her and immerses her in similar problematic negotiations. Thus even as Emelye prays, multiple desires begins to emerge that complicate her simple wish to remain Diana’s virginal devotee. Her second prayer is for Palamon and Arcite (I. 2314-21) Emelye expresses concern for the two knights fighting over her and prays for peace to touch their hearts: that they might renew their brotherly love for each other and forget about her. She then proceeds to a third, fallback prayer should her first and second prayers not be answered: that she should marry the knight who loves her the most (I.2322-25). This layering of first, second, and third desires shows Emelye reimagining herself and her would-be lovers in complex circumstances, hoping fantastically for a dea ex machina to turn back the narrative, but prepared to accede to a forced marriage as long as she will be loved.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 During the tournament in Book III, Emelye’s desires appear to shift further, even as her prayers are fulfilled one by one. Perhaps in response to Diana’s grisly post-prayer portents, perhaps in excitement at the dramaturgy of seeing hundreds of men dare battle for her sake, Emelye looks with favor upon the victor, Arcite – at first proud during his victory lap and then stricken when he falls. During Arcite’s illness, Emelye’s second prayer is answered: Arcite is reconciled to Palamon and the two brothers renew their love and stop fighting over her. Arcite’s horrible death is what finally seals her heart to him. Coincidentally or not, this death allows Emelye to gain her first prayer for maidenhood, at least temporarily “by lengthe of certeyn yeres” (IV, 2967), while she sequesters herself in mourning for Arcite. Ultimately, all three of Emelye’s prayers are answered, just not in the ways she imagined. Amazonian sisterhood in arms has been domesticated, but not without engaging Emelye’s desires, which themselves change in the process.

breaking brotherhood

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 1 The brotherhood between Palamon and Arcite is even more fraught with violent change. Chaucer is one of many medieval writers who test the powers of male-male friendship and explore brotherhood’s relationship to social justice, and he does so even more fiercely than most. There isn’t a brotherhood sworn in the whole Canterbury Tales that isn’t almost instantly betrayed. Broken brotherhood oaths litter the Knight’s Tale, the Friar’s Tale, the Shipman’s Tale, and, murderously, the Pardoner’s Tale. Even the Nun’s Priest’s Tale features a nightmare story of a friend failing to aid his companion, with deadly consequences. Why does Chaucer seem so hostile to the idea of sworn brotherhood? Several critics impute it to homophobia, which may well be the case, but I would like to suggest a slightly different answer: that broken brotherhoods allow Chaucer to individualize his characters in the midst of tight social bonds, and thus to intensify questions of desire, agency, and social justice, which are at the heart of the Canterbury Tales at large.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 1 Palamon and Arcite begin the tale literally as indistinguishable zombies, plucked from a heap of bodies after Theseus’s leveling of their city of Thebes: , “two yonge knyghtes liggynge by and by,/ bothe in oon armes . . . Nat fully quyke, ne fully dede they were” (1011-12, 1014) [Two knights lying side by side, both wearing the same coat of arms . . . they were neither fully alive, nor fully dead]. This inauspicious entrance shows them at their most similar and also their most inert. Throughout the tale, although they are both competing against each other for Emelye, neither character seems able to act effectively without the other being near. At the same time, as their friendship turns first into rivalry and then deadly enmity, they begin to grow different, both from each other and from what they had been. At the beginning of the poem, no one can tell them apart; by the end of the poem, they are still bound to each other, but have become different characters, praying to different gods for different fates – victory or love.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 1 This double transformation: from mortal (zombie) friend to mortal (deadly) enemy, and from utterly alike to differentiated, speaks back to one of the most influential classical writers on friendship, Cicero. Cicero’s end-of-life treatise Laelius: On Friendship (44 BCE) idealized friendship between those who were most alike and argued that true friendship endowed noble friends with a kind of immortality. Laelius, the narrator, describes his friend Scipio as intimately compatible with himself: “Both in our public and private lives he and I have shared all the same interests. We lived in the same home; we soldiered together in the field. Our tastes and aims and views were identical – and that is where the essence of a friendship should always lie.”[2] Later he speaks of friendship as granting a kind of memorial half-life that extends beyond death: “Even when [a friend] is dead, he is alive,” he says, “because his friends still cherish him, and remember him, and long for him.”[3] Chaucer effectively zombie-fies this description of friendship in the way that Palamon and Arcite enter the Knight’s Tale, as true friends, utterly alike, soldiering together on the field, and neither fully alive nor dead. The moment they see Emelye, they break their vow of friendship to each other and begin to become different characters, though still bound to each other in rivalry.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Chaucer significantly changes his source, Boccaccio’s Il Teseida, when he deadens Palamon’s and Arcite’s friendship, and creates this instant rivalry between the two brothers. In Boccaccio’s version, while in Theseus’s prison, the two brothers cooperate in loving Emilia, sharing their passion, delight, and agony without rivalry. Palamon sees her first but actually shows her to Arcite; Arcite sees the God of love with two arrows in his bow, one for each of them, and they chart together how each in turn is struck by love. They both are uncertain whether she is a woman or a goddess and marvel over it together, rather than taking sides on the issue. And it is brotherly love that gets each in turn out of Theseus’s prison. Arcite is freed because a dear sworn brother of Theseus intervenes on his behalf, and Palamon jailbreaks successfully with the help of another faithful friend. When Palamon discovers Arcite sleeping in a grove after his escape, he admires the beauty of his changed face, and refuses for the sake of love to disturb his sleep. It is only when both are at large and free to fight for Emelye that violence enters their relationship and it soon passes. Once Theseus stops their mad fight in the woods, enlists them in his tournament plan, and gives them estates in Athens from which to organize their tournament parties, they take up their loving brotherhood again and live for a year in peace and luxury as bonded noble celebrities within Athenian society.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 By contrast, Chaucer’s version never allows us to see them behaving as loving brothers to each other. They argue from the moment Palamon first glimpses Emelye, and their differences develop much faster as a result. In sum, Chaucer goes out of his way to capitalize not the friendship and love between the two men, but their rivalry and mutual hatred.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 1 Why does Chaucer make these changes? Why turn brothers into rivals and sisters into mourners? I think there at least three reasons. First, as forms of social alliance and solidarity, brotherhoods/sisterhoods are at once powerful and difficult to control. In medieval England, sworn brotherhoods, and other forms of friendship were strategic ways of securing alliances and obtaining support in a society of unprecedented risk and mobility in the wake of the great plague that struck England in 1348. Such alliances could serve many interests, and it was very difficult to legislate against them or regulate them. In twenty-first-century societies, similar corporate old boy networks have not gone away. Problems of nepotism and insider trading illustrate why friendships of this kind might function, especially among the powerful, as insidious monopolies.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Another reason for suspecting sworn friendships was ethical. Sworn friends were expected, as Palamon rebukes Arcite, to be faithful to each other until death, even on pain of torture:

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 ech of us til oother,
that nevere, for to dyen in the peyne,
Til that the deeth departe shal us tweyne,
Neither of us in love to hyndre oother
No in noon oother cas, my leeve brother,
But that thou sholdest trewely forthren me
In every cas, as I shal forthren thee –
This was thyn ooth, and myn also, certeyn. (I, 1132-1139)

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 [each of us mutually should not hinder each other in love, or in any other situation, my dear brother, even if we were tortured to death, till death do us part; but rather that you should faithfully promote me in every circumstance, as I shall promote you. This was your oath, and mine also, assuredly.]

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 1 The language of fidelity Palamon uses echoes that of marriage. This is a formal vow of absolute mutual endorsement regardless of circumstances and without moral nuance. No matter what each brother is trying to do: in love, war, or violence, he should be able to rely on the support of his sworn brother. The absoluteness of the vow of fidelity is what troubles classical and medieval writers on friendship. Friendship could construct strong alliances in right or wrong, for good or for evil. This lack of ethical anchoring impelled theorists such as Aristotle and Cicero to posit (against experience and logic) that friendship of this sort could only truly obtain between people of the highest virtuous character, who would never consider using the support of their friend to do any wrong. If friendship were to be used for mere mutual profit, or mere mutual pleasure, it was not, at least in theory, true friendship. Naturalizing this form of friendship within the aristocracy attempts to anchor it in a specific ethos of virtuous courtly behavior.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 1 In actual practice, as Chaucer shows, Palamon and Arcite turn out to be fair-weather friends, who break apart as soon as their desires come into conflict. In all the Canterbury Tales where brotherhood oaths occur, Chaucer seems to go out of his way to deny the possibility of the truly self-sacrificing, other-centered friendship that Palamon espouses. It seems too rarified to exist in the realistic marketable world he is interested in exploring, where, as the Wife of Bath declares, “wynne whoso may, for al is for to selle” (III, 414). In that world a truly selfless, self-sacrificing love is a prodigy: awesome, extraordinary, and a little monstrous, whether actuated by martyrdom like Cecilia’s in the Second Nun’s Tale, or by marriage as martyrdom like Griselda’s in the Clerk’s tale. Chaucer is fascinated by how people construct themselves within particular social circumstances, not for virtue only, but in entanglements of virtue, pleasure, and profit. Chaucer asks not only how do people make a virtue of necessity, as Theseus enjoins, but also how do people like Palamon and Emelye, Alison of Bath, and the Pardoner, learn not only to survive but also to take pleasure and profit from their situations?

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Yet I think there is a more profound reason that Chaucer is more interested in breaking friendship oaths than in keeping them, and, again, it turns on classical and medieval theories of friendship. Cicero and his medieval followers find in idealized friendship a potential for escaping time and change; a triumph for the steadfastness of the virtuous human heart. Medieval texts buttress Cicero’s less formalized friendship with a solemn oath of fidelity (often called truth, troth, or trawthe in medieval texts) to signify this steadfastness. Swearing this kind of absolute fidelity to another, whether it is in friendship, marriage, or feudal loyalty, is a gamble on the future and a way to ensure persistence through time. Such troths purport to freeze the self, set it against change and contingency, and thus declare a mastery over both time and the self. When Palamon and Arcite swear to serve each other’s interests till death separates them, they are swearing in this one instance to remain the same, hearts and intentions locked in mutual book report writing service.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 2 When, all over the Canterbury Tales, these oaths are broken, their swearers effectively surrender to change and contingency. They become different subjects. Emelye changes from a warrior virgin to a sorrowing lover. Palamon and Arcite change from sworn brothers in arms to rivalrous lovers, to deadly enemies, to friends once more, stricken by separation and death. In the process, they align themselves toward different ends or desires, which themselves intensify when silhouetted against the characters’ original intentions: the shattered remains of their oaths.[4] If a kept troth is a triumph of the individual will over time, and the power of a spoken word over reality, then broken troth accentuates subjectivity, the interplay of individual choices and social determinations that means we are never entirely free nor entirely controlled. It also highlights the mismatch of word and reality, oath and behavior: it signals language’s innate fictiveness. As such, broken troth resides at the heart of the meld of story-telling and subjectivity of both the Tales and of Chaucer’s writing more broadly.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Ultimately Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is profoundly uninterested in forms of immortality. From its springtime opening to the lengthening shadows that mark the pilgrimage’s end, Chaucer uses his tales to investigate timeliness — being in time and subject to it. He explores how characters accommodate mutability, contingency and change in a multitude of ways and through a range of literary genres. The Knight’s Tale approaches this problem philosophically. It is interested not only in how people experience and deal with change but also how they think about it. Chaucer imbues the Knight’s Tale with questions raised by a philosophical work he was translating in the early 1380s, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (524-5 CE). Boethius’s treatise purports to show how to escape subjection to tragically changing circumstances by cultivating the capacity to reflect upon them from a distance. The consolation that philosophy offers is a longer perspective, fixated not on earthly contingencies but on God as an unchanging, trustworthy frame of reference. Chaucer incorporates Boethian themes throughout the Knight’s Tale, from Arcite’s prison meditation on fate to Theseus’s culminating First Mover speech, which tries to compensate for uncontrollable change by foregrounding the continuities ensured by natural generation.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 These philosophical reflections operate most needfully in a thoroughly entropic universe, where nothing is exempt from change. The Knight goes out of his way to construct such a universe, by casting his story in a Pagan rather than Christian setting, by putting not Jupiter but Saturn (pretty much the god of entropy) in control to resolve the plot, by showcasing characters who cannot get what they want. To maintain unbroken fidelity to brother or sister in such a universe would be to undo the foundations of this world, and it would evacuate the philosophical questions the tale is most interested in exploring. In this way, the failures of brotherhood and sisterhood in the Knight’s Tale are productive. Bond-breaking becomes both social diagnostic and tool for individual analysis. In the Canterbury Tales Chaucer will test many forms of human relationship – not only brotherhood and sisterhood, but marriage, parents and children, and fellowship, including the fellowship sworn by the pilgrims themselves.


discussion questions and exercises

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 1. How is friendship idealized in contemporary culture?  Is it seen as safe, dangerous, or both?  Select a contemporary model for a same-sex friendship that undergoes significant evolutions: for instance Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Thelma and Louise, Captain America and Iron Man, or the “Sestras” of Orphan Black.  How do such intense friendships augment solidarities strong enough to change society?  How do they function as safety zones or survival tactics?  What are their pleasures and dangers?  How do these differ from Palamon and Arcite?

2. Passionate friendship is often sexually ambiguous in ways that simultaneously imbue friendship with power, pleasure and intensity, and highlight anxieties of sexual regulation.  Discuss passionate friendship’s relationship to queer culture; where is same-sex love enjoyed and where is it regulated?  For instance the Knight narrates Emelye’s temple rites with a mixture of polite respect and masculine squeamishness – why? – and what does that show about the Knight as narrator?  How do medieval forms of homophobia differ from contemporary forms of homophobia?

3. The gender politics of friendship as a basis for broader social coalitions:  We have a lot of words that use the vocabulary of male friendship to organize ideas of the public sphere: brotherhood, fraternity, fellowship, bros, guys. List some political words and phrases that rely on an underlying metaphor of male friendship – in what contexts are they used?  How do they shape the public sphere?  Are there equivalent terms that rely on female friendship?  Do they shape the public sphere in analogous ways?  Make some up and discuss how those might reshape public politics if they became normalized.

further reading

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, tr. Chase, D. P., Kaufman, William (San Francisco: Dover, 2013).

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Boccaccio, Giovanni, The Book of Theseus; Teseida delle Nozze d’Emilia, tr. Benadette Marie McCoy (New York: Medieval Text Association, 1974).

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Boethius, Ancius, The Consolation of Philosophy, tr. Victor Watts, rev. ed. (London: Penguin 1999).

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Cicero, On the Good Life, trans. Michael Grant (London: Penguin, 1971).

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Classen, Albrecht and Sandidge, Marilyn, eds., Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse (Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010).

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Derrida, Jacques, The Politics of Friendship, tr. George Collins (London: Verso, 2005).

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Fowler, Elizabeth, “Afterlife of the Civil Dead: Conquest in the Knight’s Tale, in Critical Essays on Geoffrey Chaucer (New York: G. K. Hall, 1998), 59-81.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Jaeger, C. Stephen, Ennobling Love: In Search of a Lost Sensibility (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Pugh, Tison, Sexuality and its Queer Discontents in Middle English Literature (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008).


42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 [1] Giovanni Boccaccio, The Book of Theseus; Teseida delle nozze d’Emilia, tr. Bernadette Marie McCoy (New York: Medieval Text Association, 1974), p. 21.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 [2] Cicero, On the Good Life, trans. Michael Grant (London: Penguin, 1971), 184.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 [3] Cicero, Good Life, 189.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 [4] David Schalkwyk analyzes the peculiar temporality of the oath as speech act in “Shakespeare’s Speech” given at the conference on Performances of Power in Premodern England, Rutgers University, Feb. 27, 2009.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0  

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