In ‘The Man of Law’s Tale’, Chaucer repeatedly opposes ‘Goddes sonde’, God’s providence, with the counterfeited ‘sonde’ of the oft-drunk messenger. The Sultan and Custance’s inability to distinguish between divine, authoritative ‘sonde’ and earthly forgery suggests that, for Chaucer, the transmission of messages, tidings, or literary works necessarily perverts and distorts them: it is then impossible to distinguish between truth and lies, auctoritas or counterfeit. While such writers as Alan of Lille and Jean de Meun had focused on this concept before, Chaucer supplies in ‘The Man of Law’s Tale’ an additional economic, mercantile dimension to the flawed transmission process: the ‘fadres of tydynges’ are merchants, and the corruption of the letter is due to the messenger’s desire ‘to doon his avantage’ by stopping at Donegild’s palace. This paper shall investigate the ways Chaucer builds upon Alain de Lille and Jean de Meun to reflect on the distortive effect of the diffusion, interpretation, or reformulation of a literary work, and the ways Chaucer conceived both patronage and writing as a trade as important contributors to the instability of literary transmission.
We become the Other at death. The castle of the Faerie King in Sir Orfeo – a stand-in for the Underworld of the classical myth the romance retells – seems to illustrate this paradox through a contrast of beauty and horror: the castle’s exterior is golden and gem-encrusted, yet it is full of mutilated mortals who are always experiencing their moment of death. This contrast between gruesome death and shimmering façade, besides evoking Heaven and Hell, also evokes the tension between beautiful reliquaries and the cadavers of saints they concealed or revealed. I suggest that Sir Orfeo borrows imagery from reliquaries in order to raise associations between Faerie and depictions of saints, simultaneously tortured to death and glorified. Among other things, such a connection demonstrates that medieval borders between the monstrous and the holy are often as porous as flesh and blood.
Shakespeare’s own theatre was but sparsely furnished with the material fabric of the architectural worlds within which his dramas are enacted. Nevertheless, the poet was keenly conscious of such structures, employing a language of architectural components – walls, doors and windows – by which degrees of ‘otherness’ are defined and negotiated. The walls of the domestic house – like those of the sovereign city – establish a line of demarcation defining ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, distinguishing ‘citizen’ from ‘stranger’. Justified as a protection against the ‘other’ they bestow identity to what is enclosed within, while engendering a sense of alterity to what is beyond. The paper will explore the varieties of ‘otherness’ which Shakespeare’s walls construct together with the apertures that perforate those walls and by which ‘otherness’ may be qualified.