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The heroine of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde has been of considerable interest to medieval feminist scholars as a woman who is depicted as both virtuous and an adulteress. Yet critical discussions do not often view Criseyde’s virtue in light of her role as daughter. This article explores that role, focusing on how her father Calkas is described by the characters as having authority over his daughter’s body in the marriage market. This will later enable them to use him as an excuse for Criseyde’s failure to return to Troy and thus preserve her status as virtuous. However, the characters may be exaggerating his power, and Criseyde is actually acting autonomously in both her avoidance of marriage and her betrayal of Troilus. I argue that, in light of medieval ideas about marriage, we can consider how Calkas’s representation as controlling his daughter’s virtue reveals the complex interactions between societal expectations for medieval women and their own desires. My conclusion is that feminine virtue might not always already be a failure if it is dependent on a man, but, rather, that the appearance of such dependency was a way in which a medieval woman like Criseyde could navigate the world on her own terms while keeping her reputation intact.
Thank you to Steven Kruger, the attendees at the New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress, the members of the Medieval Studies Certificate Program at the CUNY Graduate Center, and the anonymous reviewers for all your thoughtful feedback.
Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Calkas, family, marriage
Alberghini, Jennifer "Calkas’s Daughter: Paternal Authority and Feminine Virtue in Troilus and Criseyde." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 57, No. 2 (2022) : 7-34.