Author: Jamie K. Taylor
Source: PMLA, Volume 135, Number 2, March 2020, pp. 254–271 (18)
Publication type: Article
Abstract: This essay reads Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale—a retelling of the popular Constance exemplum—as a case study for thinking about a global Middle Ages. The tale’s globalism emerges most pointedly in its depiction of the ocean and, more surprisingly, in Constance’s pale face during her trial for a murder she did not commit. By reading these unlikely images together, this essay argues that both operate as oceanic sites of exemplary justice and that the Man of Law frames the Constance story as a call for global justice outside the reach of territorial law. Chaucer imagines a legality that works like exemplarity, conceptualizing witness testimony in particular as a fluid narrative form that can accommodate the needs and expectations of various audiences, cultures, and temporalities.