Chaucer’s ‘The Man of Law’s Tale’ is mostly about Custance’s wanderings to Rome’s far east, then to the far west, then back again. The narrator’s Ptolemaic universe was thought to have a still centre, but neither this specific tale nor the Tales as a whole seems reducible to a single interpretive order. Too many thematic and tonal threads pull in too many directions, as if this tale’s cosmos presumes some medieval anticipation of the current, highly speculative ‘String Theory’ which admits the possibility of a multiverse in which numerous concurrent realities (of reader-responses) can coexist. The question remains whether so many divergent interpretive threads can be spliced together into one ‘Theory of Everything’.
William A. Quinn is Distinguished Professor of English and former Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Arkansas.