Chaucer's Jailer's Daughter

Snell, Megan Angela
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We know that Shakespeare read Chaucer, but we do not know exactly how he read Chaucer. Established models of source studies require solid "proof," but this paper proposes a more liquid conception of influence that permeates a work in unexpected ways. The Jailer's Daughter, the seemingly un-Chaucerian alteration to The Knight's Tale frame of the Shakespeare and Fletcher play, The Two Noble Kinsmen, acts as the case study of such permeation. Only a single line in the lengthy Knight's Tale offers a parallel figure for this character: the Knight narrates that Palamon escapes prison "By helpyng of a freend," and in the play the Jailer's Daughter frees Palamon from her father's prison. Because it does not supply dialogue, a name, or even a gender to the "freend," The Knight's Tale has long been presumed to offer Shakespeare and Fletcher little beyond this event to inspire the play's more substantive subplot. I argue that the Jailer's Daughter offers a surprising means of connection not only to The Knight's Tale, the obvious source text, but also to the other tales of the First Fragment of The Canterbury Tales, which "quite" the tale of courtly love that precedes them. In The Two Noble Kinsmen, she embodies what the Knight disallows in his narration of the tale, leaking madness and feminine desire into the play's foundation. This structure ultimately suggests how Shakespeare works characterologically, channeling the complexity of a source such as Chaucer fluidly through a unit of character.