The Medieval Borderline Identities: The Guildsmen in History and in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
Keywords:The Canterbury Tales, the Guildsmen, Homi K. Bhabha, borderline identities, medieval middlegrouping, otherness
This study reads the guildsmen of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) as the members of medieval borderline community, or Others, generated by social mobility which induced the emergence of a “middle-grouping” having new identities out of the accredited individualities of the traditional three estates. The medieval society is notorious for its hierarchical structure owing to feudalism and severe estate divisions; that is, the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. The medieval people, led by faith, assumed that this division in society was directed by the Creator for the prosperity of the community. However, the drastic financial, societal and governmental fluctuations of the late fourteenth century, to be exact, the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, devastated this unbending structure of the feudal realm. Those changes brought about the waning of feudalism and a wide ranging social mobility which gradually formed a “middle-grouping”, made up of mainly the social climbers of common origin. The medieval people of the “middle-grouping” could not possess a recognisable ground for themselves in the medieval structure; hence, tried to find an acceptable identity on the borders of those three estates. Furthermore, the social climbers of the “middle-grouping” aped the lifestyle of the nobility, especially their attire, to be accepted into their sphere, which was impossible in the medieval context. In other words, the medieval people of the “middle-grouping” grew into Others together with the assortment of the traits of the commoners and the nobility, yet recognised by none of them. Notable members of the “middle-grouping” were the guildsmen of the time who are presented by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales only in eighteen lines and simply treated as pretentious upstarts by scholars, ignoring their identity crisis. Accordingly, my aim, drawing on their historical counterparts and Homi K. Bhabha’s concepts of borderline community and mimicry, is to depict the guildsmen of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as the medieval people of borderline identities, or Others, stemming from the middle-grouping, who establish their marginal selfhoods on the confines of the approved identities of the three medieval estates.
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