Thursday, June 27, 2013

Item: Geoffrey and Cecilia

Circumstantial evidence concerning Chaucer and Cecilia, his accuser, appears to add up to his guilt and her benefiting from a substantial monetary settlement. We'll never have conclusive evidence so I, for one, go along with the guilt/settlement scenario.
     Then there is the matter of Chaucer addressing "little Lewis, my son." The boy is ten years old, ten years after the raptus case. Lewis could be Chaucer's son by Cecilia. And, recall that in fourteenth-century thinking, if pregnancy results from coitus, cooperation is assumed. So, if Cecilia finds herself pregnant, wouldn't she examine her participation? Wouldn't she conclude that she must have been willing to some degree?
     What I'm getting at is that a relationship between Cecilia and Chaucer could have existed. Because Chaucer's wife's pension ceased after June 1387, her death is assumed. That's four years before Lewis' tenth birthday. Circumstances make a Geoffrey/Cecilia relationship possible.
     A firm connection clearly exists between Chaucer and the name "Cecilia." One of the pilgrim stories--The Second Nun's Tale--recounts the life of St. Cecilia. Chaucer scholar, George Cowling, long ago, proposed that the "Life of St. Cecile" was meant to honor Cecilia Chaumpaigne. It may be more than honoring her; she may have required it from the poet. She may have wanted the assault upon her admitted, and Chaucer's repentance acknowledged. (Her patron, St. Cecilia, brought many men to conversion.) I believe Chaucer covertly confirms such requirements!
     This blog aims to question long-held assumptions. We'll look at Chaucer's words as if he really meant what others have taken to be errors.
     Speculation says that the Cecilia piece had been written for another occasion and the poet simply included it in the Tales. If he did so without adapting the original presentation, that explains a lot. For example, why the usual formula that introduces other tales is not used; why the narrator surprisingly addresses "you who read what I write"; why the speaker refers to being "an unworthy son of Eve"; and why the sinful "contagion of my body with earthly lust and false affection"--rather than spoken by a narrating nun--now becomes appropriate.
     There is no invitation from the Host, followed by a story and a conclusion linked to the next tale. Nevertheless, Cecilia's story was meant to be there, because the very next tale begins, "When the life of St. Cecilia was ended, Ere we'd ridden five miles . . ."
     The Second Nun's Tale begins with an exhortation against idleness, the devil's trap. A prayer to the Virgin, for her assistance, follows. Then the translation of the story of St. Cecilia, as found in The Golden Legend (a collection of saint's lives), begins.
     Though it's easy to overlook, Chaucer attaches an extra stanza to conclude the translated introduction. Why the added lines that only reiterate Cecilia's virtues? The answer is what makes research so exciting. The last line masks a hidden meaning! That Middle English line reads:
     Now have I yow declared what she highte.
"Highte" contains two different messages. The line can be read, "I have declared to you what she was named." That's just more repetition.
     But Chaucer uses an alternate definition of "highte" elsewhere to say "command." Here his added words announce, "I have declared to you what she commanded."  The preliminaries to the tale declare, I am the sinful one; she is persevering in good works. Thus, he has fulfilled her demand.
      Without doubt, Chaucer has immortalized  Cecilia. Her name will be remembered as long as the Canterbury Tales circulate.