viernes, 23 de junio de 2017

WAR, INTOXICATION, MANNISH WOMEN...

act i. the absent husband

After six months, Allan leaves Constance in the care of Olda and Lucius and goes off to repel an invasion of his territory by the Scots.  He charges her two guardians to keep his queen at ease.

Following, Allan does not receive news from Olda and Lucius; rather, he is given falsified letters that contain reports of the evil, hideous nature ...   In approximately 170 words, Trevet describes the reaction of the king to these reports fabricated by the king’s mother and her clerk:

The messenger charged with delivering the letters from Olda and Lucius takes his leave of Domild, the king’s mother, and promises to return that way again.  
In spite of an apparent hangover, the messenger reaches Allan and orally relates the joyful news about the king’s new family. The king, however, sternly forbids the messenger to speak further of Constance because he is instantly distressed by what he reads in the letters.
Allan can scarcely believe the news, but, trusting the supposed sources, he writes a reply immediately, ordering the guardians to keep Constance safe until he returns.


The king is supremely glad when he discovers that Constance is expecting, but he must ride to war.  Before he departs, Allee appoints Elda and Lucien, men he knows to be holy, to watch over the queen. 
As in the source version, Allee is informed, but in his slightly different description, Gower uses only some 70 words:
The messenger awakens unaware of Domilde’s deception and delivers to the king a letter that dishonestly notifies him of an unnatural child born to his wife, who, it is claimed moreover, is a fairy.  The king writes in a wise manner that Lucien and Elda should keep Constance from going at large until he informs them further.
  King Allan’s charge that Olda and Lucius should watch over Constance and her monster “tanqe a son retourner” [“until his return”] (NLC, 316-17) betrayed a greater concern for his business at hand than for his family issues at home.  It seemed he could not be bothered with this domestic issue while he was at war and sought to put it on hold until he returned home.  Gower’s change is subtle, but it is significant nonetheless.  Allee’s charge to Elda and Lucien is that they guard Constance “til thei have herd mor of his wille” (CA, II, 996).  This order reveals his intentions to deliberate on the matter and to act decisively while he is still attending to the necessary business of war.  The “problem” with Constance is of great enough importance for Gower’s Allee to give it at least some of his attention now, and his love for them therefore seems greater here.  Thus, we see in the response to the falsified letters further evidence of the noble love of King Allee.

Gower changes other elements in an effort to encourage our sympathies for the deceived king.  One such adjustment is Gower’s removal of Allan’s request that he should be informed “quant ele fut delivrée d’enfant” (NLC, 263-64).  In Gower, King Allee goes off to war without ever mentioning a desire to be informed of the birth.  Again, this is a slight alteration, but one possible explanation for Gower’s decision to make the change is that Allee’s acceptance of the strange news is more plausible—and perhaps more forgivable—if the news is unexpected.  If Allee had not asked for an update, why would the guardians send him news, unless something really was amiss?  Furthermore, whereas Trevet’s messenger had contradicted the letters’ contents and “de bouche lui counta veritable novele et joyouse” [“related to him by word of mouth the truthful and joyful news”] (NLC, 308-09), the conspicuous silence of Gower’s messenger further relieves the king of blame.  Where Gower’s king has no information to counter what he reads in the letter, precisely because Gower silences the messenger, Trevet’s king actively elected to believe a slanderous lie over a truthful report and, in fact, forbid the messenger to speak further. 
Gower’s Allee once again appears less worthy of censure if he actually does doubt the good, Christian nature of his new wife.

act ii. the substitute letters

In Trevet’s version of the story of Constance, King Allan must leave Constance soon after their marriage in order to defend his land in Scotland against the people of Albany.  He employs Olda and Lucius as the protectors of his wife’s safety and comfort, particularly in view of the imminent birth of her son.  I will briefly summarize an excerpt from the scene from Trevet’s tale describing the exchange of letters between Olda and Lucius and the king, which occurs in nearly 530 words:

 Olda and Lucius quickly send the good news to the king by means of letters.  The messenger, however, must travel through Knaresborough, a place halfway between England and Scotland where the king’s evil mother, Domild, lives. When Domild hears the news from the messenger she feigns joy and “celebrates” by intoxicating the messenger to the point of delirium so that she can do her evil.  While the messenger lies insensible, Domild, by the consent of her clerk, opens the letters sent to the king and replaces them with her own fabrications.  She writes that ... Domild makes sure to mention at the end of the letter that the messenger knows nothing of such matters.

The messenger charged with delivering the letters from Olda and Lucius takes his leave of Domild, the king’s mother, and promises to return that way again.  
In spite of an apparent hangover, the messenger reaches Allan and orally relates the joyful news about the king’s new family. The king, however, sternly forbids the messenger to speak further of Constance because he is instantly distressed by what he reads in the letters.
Allan can scarcely believe the news, but, trusting the supposed sources, he writes a reply immediately, ordering the guardians to keep Constance safe until he returns.

Another important change for Gower is his removal of Domilde’s agency in writing the letter to her son.  In Trevet’s version Domild herself opened the letters and counterfeited them under the same seals.  By having Domild take up the pen, a traditionally male instrument in the Middle Ages, and impersonate her son, Trevet de-feminized the king’s mother, allowing readers to differentiate between ... the behaviour of the other “mannish” women in the text.  Here I do not speak of the phallic pen when calling a pen a “traditionally male instrument.”  Female literacy in medieval England was considered a threat to the patriarchal order, and most women were not given an authoritative voice even over their own work (Margery Kempe, for example, had to have two male scribes to validate her text in the male-dominated medieval tradition)Domild’s direct agency in writing the letters, then, made her masculine.  Gower, on the other hand, maintains Domilde’s femininity by suppressing her literal authorship of the letters.  In Gower’s version, Domilde takes the letters “and let do wryten othre newe” (CA, II, 958), thus removing Domilde’s direct agency and authorship of the letters.  Later, Gower’s choice of death for Domilde further evinces his attempts to effeminize Trevet’s Domild.  In Trevet’s version, Domild was slaughtered (beheaded) by the sword, a traditionally male death.  Gower, however, has Domilde burned at the stake—a punishment often reserved for women guilty of sorcery or plotting against a lord.

There are other minor differences in Gower’s version of the story of Constance that I have chosen not to discuss at length here.  In Trevet, for example, there was a clerk who consented to Domild’s opening of the letters and counterfeiting them.  The presence of the clerk may further explain the religious implications of the letter in Trevet as compared with the purely mythical elements of Gower’s “fairy.”  Domild’s letter in Trevet also specified the ignorance of the messenger to the reality behind ... in order to cover all questions of the messenger’s very different perspective of the situation should he orally relay any messages to the king.  Gower does not include this information about the messenger.  Instead, Gower’s Domilde ends the letter by having Elda and Lucien ask the king what they should do about the monster child. 

 Trevet’s Domild seemed to exist only to highlight ... by juxtaposing ... with Domild’s evil and almost mannish actions.  

act iii. the second forgery

In response to the letters he believes came from his steadholder, Trevet’s King Allan sends the messenger back with instructions to keep his queen safe until his return.  The letters are intercepted, and counterfeited, ...

Domild, realizing that the messenger carries orders from her son, gets the messenger intoxicated (as before), opens the letters, rewrites her own set of orders in the name of the king, and places the king’s seal on it for authenticity.  The messenger delivers the forged letters. 


In Gower’s version of the scene, although the storyline remains practically the same, there are important alterations and additions.  Consequently, Gower’s scene runs much longer to some 540 words:
The messenger tells the queen of the king’s reaction.  She gets the messenger intoxicated in order to gain access to the letters.  She has the letters opened and has a new letter written.  

act iv. the husband's revenge


When King Allan wins his battle with the Scottish Picts in Trevet’s version of the story of Constance, he returns to England full of sorrow over the banishment of his wife, Constance.  The people yell insults at him as he passes until he finally reaches his castle.  The scene runs some 520 words, which I provide in summary:
King Allan returns from Scotland, victorious over the Picts, yet is saddened by the banishment of Constance. 
He returns to his castle under cover of night.  When he arrives, he greets Olda and Lucius and demands to know where his wife and child are, both of whom he calls evil spirits and monsters.  The two men, perplexed, say they do not know why Allan is calling his own by such horrid names; that both Constance and Maurice are excellent people.  Allan questions them regarding their letters, and both men attest that there has been treason, for they neither wrote nor authorized such letters to be sent to Allan.  They call in the messenger who carried the letters, and he swears that he is guilty of no treason, but points the blame at Allan’s mother, Domild.  Allan finds his mother and wields his sword over her.  Knowing that she will be killed, Domild confesses her crime, but Allan will grant no pity.  He decapitates her and proceeds to cut her body into pieces.  The scene concludes with Allan vowing never to marry again until he is sent word of Constance.


Gower renders the scene differently in some 425 words:
Allee returns home after the battle and asks his chamberlain and the bishop for the truth about his wife and child.  He explains that he received a letter saying that his child was a boar and that his wife was a fairy, but both men reply that his wife and his child are absolutely fair.  The men exchange their letters and discover the treason: the letters are false.  The messenger who delivered them is sent for, and he attests that he never tampered with them, but confesses that the king’s mother made him drunk.  When Allee hears these words from the messenger, he feels in his heart that his own mother committed the treason.  He takes his horse and leaves the castle, intent upon finding his mother, and a group of men go with him.  He finds her and, in a rage, yells at her, calling her a backbiting beast of hell.  He demands to know what happened to his wife and son, under penalty of treason.  Allee proclaims vengeance and orders his men to make a fire and burn his mother in it.  Before she is thrown into the flames, she is made to confess her sins, and then burned to death.  The company of men that is with Allee hears her confess and witnesses her punishment, and all agree that her punishment is fitting for her crime.  The scene ends with Allee saying that he will never be happy again and will never wed until he learns how Constance has fared traveling on the sea.
While the incidents in the two versions of the tale of Constance are similar, Gower makes important changes from his source in Trevet. He removes the public scorn of Allee's return following battles in Scotland, makes Allee discover or divine the identity of the treacherous person behind Constance’s disappearance, and makes the punishment Domilde receives more public and, given the circumstances, less grotesque.  I believe that all of the changes Gower makes in this section of his tale are done to make the figure of Allee more compassionate and more human, and to establish a sense of community through more unanimous opinions and judgments on punishment for transgressions.


The next three changes that Gower makes I will examine together, as they are all related and they all are important aspects of the humanization of Allee and the establishment of community in Gower’s tale.  First, in Trevet’s tale, Allan learned of the treason his mother committed only through the mouth of his page, who served as messenger for the exchanged letters.  By having the servant announce or accuse the guilty party, Trevet made the crime and its resolution more internal, more of a private transgression.  In Gower, on the other hand, Allee questions the servant.  Only after he is questioned does Allee know that his mother is the one who has committed treason against his family.  Gower writes, “And whan the king it herde telle, / Withinne his herte he wiste als faste / The treson which his Moder caste” (CA, II, 1266-68).  Allee seems to know by divination or instinct that his mother is the one who wrote the false letters and is responsible for casting away Constance and Moris. 
Second, the vengeance Allan enacted in Trevet was excruciatingly brutal and grotesque.  He was so enraged that he grabbed his sword and held it over Domild, who was naked in bed, demanding that she confess.  After she did, he proceeded to decapitate and then dismember her, thus destroying the female body in a way that revealed his masculine authority and sheer power, while rendering the errant maternal figure not only powerless but also disembodied.  In Gower, the shift in the punishment of Domilde is remarkable: she is not disfigured, but rather she is burned, making Domilde’s death far less brutal than Domild’s.  Importantly, Gower keeps part of Trevet’s tale that is essential to the punishment of Domild: Gower, too, has Domilde speak her crimes in a form of confession prior to her execution.  Similarly, Gower does not allow Allee to grant mercy to his mother: she does, after all, die.  Yet, an important change is that Gower does not make Allee the one to kill Domilde.  Allee merely orders a fire to be built and his mother thrown in, but members of a gathered crowd put her in the fire. 

Third, the reaction to the death of Domilde in Gower is also a shift from the Trevet.  In Trevet’s tale, there was no reaction for the death of Domild—she was merely killed and then the plot of the story progressed.  Her death was significant only as an act of vengeance.  In Gower, however, there is a voiced reaction.  The crowd that gathers and helps in executing Domilde is the same crowd that reacts to her death.  It shares the sentiment that Domilde’s death is necessary because she is truly wicked.  The crowd serves as a jury, passing on the belief to the reader or listener of Gower’s tale that Domilde’s punishment fits her crime.

Each of these issues—the messenger, the vengeance, and the reaction to the death of Domilde—serves essential narrative roles to humanize Allee and establish community in Gower’s story.  Allee is made more agreeable through the choices and decisions he makes.  When his messenger first tells him he is not the cause of deception in the letters, Allee immediately—and as mentioned above, almost divinely—feels that treason rests with his own mother.  Unlike the rage Alla felt in Trevet, Allee’s approach to Domilde in Gower seems a much more realistic scenario.  While he does use strong language to voice his displeasure with his mother, he does not find her naked in bed.  The corresponding scene in Trevet was disturbing not only because of the manner in which Domild was killed, but also for the circumstances surrounding her eventual capture.  The imagery contained in the section from Trevet—Alla’s naked sword hovering over Domild on the bed—was deliberately phallic, suggesting some level of sexual incest between mother and son.  The fact that Alla not only decapitated but also dismembered his mother made the act of killing her completely grotesque.  Gower’s shift, however, makes the idea of vengeance more communal.  While Gower’s Allee orders the death of Domilde, it is actually other men who physically take her to her death by placing her in the fire.  The acts of condemning someone to death and actually putting her to death become two separate occurrences.  By making the actions of accusation, confession, and death public, Gower opens the text up to a notion of community.  No longer are these important matters handled in private.  This shift is important given the figure of Constance within the community.  We see several times throughout Gower’s tale how much the people love Constance and how bereaved they are when she is sent away.  The death of Domilde is not just a way for Allee to get his vengeance, but also a way for the entire community to seek redress for a wrong done to it. 
The main changes that I have noted above show that Gower’s version of the tale of Constance serves two very important purposes: it makes the figure of Allee more compassionate while simultaneously creating a place in the story for the community.  No longer, as in Trevet, do we have a system of justice that is closed and brutish.  Crimes against someone who is a beloved member of the community are punished by the community, and, most importantly, the community declares that the punishment of death for Domilde is appropriate for her actions against Constance.  Gower’s Allee becomes, then, a sympathetic ruler, with a community of subjects who are supportive of his decisions and of his ruling style and authority.

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