Willed Women : Female Bodies & Subversive Being in the Knight’s and Second Nun’s Tales Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/ks65hj51v

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  • This project examines two understudied female characters from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales who emerge as subversive figures by striving to maintain control over their bodies and being. Through my analyses of the Knight’s and Second Nun’s Tales, I reveal how virginity correlates with bodily autonomy for the narratives’ respective protagonists, Emelye and Cecilia. I discuss how the personal sovereignty their virginal condition affords them becomes not only problematic in terms of the heteronormative ideology that grounds patriarchal values but also inherently threatening to the stability of masculine power. Specifically, this project investigates the correlation between virginity and bodily autonomy for these female protagonists, as well as how they exercise agency to the extent that their individual circumstances allow. Employing Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects as a theoretical framework, I demonstrate how Emelye and Cecilia emerge as trans-historically “willful” women worthy of additional attention in scholarly conversation, at the same time that their nuanced characterization recommends modifications for our analytical approach to gender and relationships in the Canterbury Tales. While this project demonstrates how sexual control of women’s bodies was, in the Middle Ages – as it continues to be today – a central feature of masculine power structures, it also reveals a lineage of willful behavior by women that has afforded them agency when they would otherwise have none.
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