Abstract

In his term pitee, Chaucer develops in the Knight's Tale a concept that draws upon Seneca's De clementia and Statius's Thebiad. In his version, he conflates pity's role as a virtue of sovereignty (in acts of clemency and mercy in judgment) with its affective forms (compassion and sympathy). Chaucer emphasizes a vulnerability common to all, but also uses the resulting fellow-feeling to shore up patriarchal sovereign power. Principally, Chaucer produces through his concept of pitee a male fantasy of female resistance to patriarchy: rather than depicting the political collective action (and just violence) of the Amazons in Boccaccio's Teseida, the Knight's Tale limits female resistance to a non-violent desire for autonomy, a female subjectivity that men can appropriate emotionally through shared feeling, but that does not threaten patriarchy. By both engaging and shaping readers' affectivity, Chaucer obscures with seemingly universal emotions the justice of collective female resistance to masculine domination.

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