English Faculty Publications


Globalizing Jewish Communities: Mapping a Jewish Geography in Fragment VII of 'The Canterbury Tales'

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2008

Publication Source

Texas Studies in Literature and Language


This essay moves beyond the bounds of The Prioress’s Tale to explore alternative texts that Chaucer probably never consulted yet whose histories resonate in Chaucer’s work in Fragment VII of The Canterbury Tales. These tales of Fragment VII (specifically, The Prioress’s Tale, Sir Thopas, and the two tragedies “De Petro Rege Ispannie” and “De Rege Antiocho illustri,” from The Monk’s Tale) form what I term the Jewish history cluster.1 Reexamining the significance of Jewish presence in O/other texts than those traditionally documented as sources or analogues that “Chaucer knew” or was “acquainted with”—as W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster write—this essay reconsiders the texts that lie silently behind the Chaucerian tales.2 Tracing the Jewish presence in the history embedded within the sources cited in but not charted by Bryan and Dempster’s volume reveals that the displacement of Jewish presence haunts four tales in Fragment VII. At best, the texts I discuss can be construed as “soft analogues,” what Peter Beidler takes to indicate “a work that ... Chaucer could scarcely have known.”3

Such a pursuit introduces some complexity to source study, inviting us to reflect on what Giuseppe Mazzotta characterizes as “the free, unbiased analysis of texts, and a different understanding of what ‘influence’ is.”4

The stories this essay considers serve as silent reminders of other lingering histories of Jewish presence that exist alongside the traditional sources and analogues. Rather than limiting our discussion to an analysis of a source or an analogue in a Chaucerian tale whose relationship with a Chaucerian text is immediately apparent, I study texts that comprise the technology o+f the (in)visible. Kathleen Biddick’s work with the technology of the visible helps us here because Jews (and Jewish things) are deployed simultaneously as “displaced and dead bodies” and presently absent echoes of a painful past.5

These (in)visible texts emerge in the Jewish history cluster that surfaces in and unites all four of the tales in Fragment VII of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

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University of Texas Press





Peer Reviewed