“Swiche illusiouns and meschaunces”: magic as a catalytic agent in the Breton lay : and, “Keep it secree, I yow preye”: esoteric alchemy in the Canon’s Yeoman’s tale

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
William Siegfried Smith IV (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Denise Baker

Abstract: Until recently, the function of magic within medieval literature was seen as little more than a convenient plot device; however, with recent scholarship suggesting that, because magical thought affected nearly every aspect of life in the Middle Ages, magic can be used as a means to explore the thoughts and attitudes of those writing during the time period. Examining the use of magic within two Breton lays, Marie de France’s Yönec and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, shows that magic is used to bestow agency upon characters that would not have much power or influence in reality. Comparing the magic within each tale shows that social tensions, particularly related to gender and social class, cause magic to manifest differently for each author, particularly in their portrayal of married women. AND Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale is often overlooked by scholars despite its many unique elements. The priest depicted in the pars secunda is potentially the only clerical figure presented in the Canterbury Tales that fails due to a desire to perform his job competently. Examining the appeal that alchemy would hold for a parish priest demonstrates not only the depth of Chaucer’s alchemical knowledge, but his ability to use the esoteric alchemical tradition as a rhetorical tool to expose the vulnerabilities created by the Church bureaucracy.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
Alchemy, Breton Lay, Geoffrey Chaucer, Magic, Marie de France
Marie, $c de France, $d active 12th century $t Yönec
Chaucer, Geoffrey, $d -1400. $t Franklin's tale
Magic in literature
Chaucer, Geoffrey, $d -1400. $t Canon's yeoman's prologue and tale
Alchemy in literature

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