Date of Award

5-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Laura Howes

Committee Members

Mary Dzon, Mary Papke, Jay Rubenstein

Abstract

In Chaucer scholarship, theological analyses and gendered analyses have remained largely separate. Theological analyses tend to focus on the importance of a Boethian transcendence of the mortal realm in Chaucer’s works, while gendered analyses tend to focus on women’s material and social conditions. In this dissertation, however, I examine how Chaucer’s theological interests fundamentally inform his social projects, particularly his depiction of women in society. Methodologically, I contextually analyze medieval debates on free will while drawing on semantics and sociological theory to offer a hermeneutic for examining Chaucer’s theological, philosophical, and gender projects not as mutually exclusive but mutually essential. Many medieval theologians believed that humans felt a natural inclination towards God as the summum bonum, or highest good, but actively followed this inclination through free choice. Several of Chaucer’s works, however, question what happens if hyper-masculine social ideologies usurp the role of the summum bonum, subjecting individuals to systemic social determinism. In addition, Chaucer’s works often explore how antifeminist social circumscription can negatively affect the common good.

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