To begin his series, as Chaucer does, with Cleopatra is, first, overtly to undercut his numenous sponsors' demand for "good" women. Second, it displaces the called-for theme of love with that of politics and the social order, specifically of colonialism gone soft. Antony,
the "senatour" who is sent "For to conqueren regnes and honour / Unto ¼ Rome" (584–85), scarcely advances the Roman values of manly valor. The flaws in his character become all too obvious in Egypt, where, after adultery and bigamy, all that remains to him as a public person is his courage in battle. This will be lost with his defeat at the sea battle of Actium—the "endlessly exemplary Actium," as Michel Foucault calls it (Language, 172)—after which he commits suicide.
Of what is Actium here exemplary? Here and elsewhere in the Legends , it is the debilitating or depoliticizing effect of foreigners, Orientals, that I want to notice: their ability to distract a hero from his (in this case explicitly colonial) mission, generally through sensual and erotic pleasures. This sensuality could even corrode empires, according to Augustine, for just when "the Romans lived with greatest virtue and concord," the proconsul Manlius "introduced into Rome the luxury of Asia, more destructive than all hostile armies. It was then that iron bedsteads and expensive carpets were first used; then, too, that female singers were admitted at banquets, and other licentious abominations were introduced" (City of God 3.21). The image of an enervating, effeminizing Eastern sensuality set against a properly masculine Western energy, already ancient by the high Middle Ages, was reinforced when the Crusaders encountered Eastern habits such as frequent bathing, the wearing of perfumes and makeup by men, the heavy use of spices in cooking, and an abundance of jewelry worn by both men and women (Prawer, "Roots").
The story of Cleopatra is thus the other side of the coin to the romantic exoticism represented in the Squire's Tale . The Orient is no longer a realm of fantasy fulfilled, but one of hope and ambition undone, for the Chaucerian version is a cautionary tale if ever there was one. But what does it caution against, or for?
Different possibilities exist. Terry Jones argues, correctly, that crusade was not officially approved of in England despite the participation of English knights in exotic campaigns. The reason, he suggests, is that the major focus of English foreign policy was the war against France, and then the defense of England's Scottish border. Perhaps, then, the Knight's adventures abroad show a less than patriotic commitment. Similarly, Alison's gadding about, even
to holy places, might be suspect: need one go so far to show one's faith? It is a question the Wycliffites posed continually in their critique of pilgrimage. By this token, Antony might be considered a negative exemplum in deserting his country for sybaritic pleasures and self-serving exploits abroad. His sad story might provide a very timely and distinctively English admonition against costly military adventure abroad—adventures such as those exhorted in the name of faith by Philippe de Mézières or undertaken for profit by John of Gaunt. Even the reference in the Monk's Tale to "worthy Petro," Mézières's old patron, could be ironic, for Lusignan was "notoriously immoral," had committed "deeds of the grossest cruelty," had incurred papal and episcopal censure, and had broken feudal contract with his barons (Coopland, Songe, 64). It seems, then, that both concrete results and historical personnel left much to be desired.
On the other hand, official—that is, royal and parliamentary—approval is not the whole story. If Maurice Keen is right in asserting that the number and status of persons taking up the banner in Chaucer's day made it impossible for the crusade to look obsolete or disreputable, then the Orientalism shown in this and other legends might tend to affirm British or European aspirations abroad. Antony would still be a negative exemplum, of course, but the tactic would be to show the Eastern adversary at its most alluring and therefore most dangerous. Thus the story might encourage, not total abandonment of the crusading ideal, but rather the proper firmness abroad: a "Desert Storm" type of strategy.
Deciding between these positions is not easy. Nor does Hatton's hypothesis—that the Knight's Tale reflects Mézières's ultimately unachieved program of reconquest—necessarily imply a positive attitude toward Orientalist projects. If Chaucer thought Mézières's plans unrealistic or fanatical (as some did), then the ironic or negative reading, for which there is ample textual and historical grounding, would be appropriate. The lawman John Gower, Chaucer's good friend and fellow poet, certainly pulled no punches in allowing his characters to debate and denounce crusading. A strong anti-crusade current runs through Confessio Amantis , of which two instances will have to suffice. Book 4 addresses the vice of sloth, and Genius explicitly identifies derring-do abroad with lovers' egotisti-
cal efforts to improve their status in their ladies' eyes. This is a form of labor that Amans has not practiced—and, he says, for good reason, one of which is that
A Sarazin if I sle schal,
I sle the Soule forth withal,
And that was nevere Christes lore.
Earlier, in their discussion of war as a manifestation of Ire, Amans has explicitly posed the question:
I prei you tell me nay or yee,
To passe over the grete See
To werre and sle the Sarazin,
Is that the lawe?
Genius can only admit that gospel urges us to preach and suffer for faith, but not to kill; indeed, abandoning the word for the sword has proved an inefficacious tactic, as witness the loss of parts once Christian but now "miswent" (2513): obviously a reference to the failure of the crusading movement.
As a rule of thumb, we might say that what Gower deplores, Chaucer represents. In the present case, perhaps the Chaucerian point is that Easterners are not so very different from ourselves, because there is an "Oriental" tendency in all of us, which must be tamed if it cannot be rooted out. (Surely Augustine himself, a North African latecomer to Christianity, was a prime example of this effort.) Yet to say as much is to acknowledge a very deep-rooted Orientalism: Said's second definition. For if "European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self" (Said, Orientalism , 3), then the Oriental seducer or villain is an externalized aspect of the (European) self, and the East-West dynamic, in its literary representation, becomes a form of self-exploration in the interest of self-control. But not, after all, only self -control, for to be able to represent the unruly or the transgressive as Oriental is already to imply the desire to control the real Orient, a desire expressed not only in literary texts but, as indicated above, in social institutions.