Chaucer’s Clergeon, or towards holiness in "The Prioress’s Tale"

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2007

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Adam Mickiewicz University

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Abstract

A narrative aestheticized in Pre-Raphaelite visual arts and a politically charged issue in contemporary criticism, Chaucer’s Prioress’s tale focuses on the figure of an “enigmatic child”, whose body is severed by the Jews. The boy’s uncanniness and holiness are constructed in stages, while the ethnic identity of his persecutors may not be as important as some critics once thought, since the Jews function as yet another group of “infidels” in Chaucer. The clergeon symbolizes otherness through his deformity, which makes him similar to the Jews as embodiments of difference. However, only the contrast between the child and the Jews is emphasized. Middle English dramatizations of the Slaughter of the Innocents could be read as yet another source influencing Chaucer. A parallelism between the clergeon’s suffering and the persecution of Christ typified by the slaughter can be traced in the two tales. At the end of The Prioress’s tale the boy achieves holiness, while violence is directed against ethnic others. The highly aesthetic Victorian representation merely continues to show this narrative of violence as primarily a work about Marian devotion.

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Studia Anglica Posnaniensia, vol. 43 (2007), pp. 251-264

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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego