Medievalists have long been interested in the "abandoned woman," a figure historically used to examine the value of traditional male heroism. Moving beyond previous studies which have focused primarily on Virgil's Dido, Suzanne Hagedorn focuses on the vernacular works of Dante, Bocaccio, and Chaucer, arguing that revisiting the classical tradition of the abandoned woman enables one to reconsider ancient epics and myths from a female perspective and question assumptions about gender roles in medieval literature.
Renowned scholar of medieval literature, Lee Patterson, presents a compelling vision of the shape and direction of Geoffrey Chaucer’s entire career in Chaucer and the Subject of History.
Chaucer's interest in individuality was strikingly modern. At the same time he was profoundly aware of the pressures on individuality exerted by the past and by society—by history. This tension between the subject and history is Patterson's topic. He begins by showing how Chaucer’s understanding of history as a subject for poetry—a world to be represented and a cultural force affecting human action—began to take shape in his poems on classical themes, especially in Troilus and Criseyde. Patterson's extended analysis of this profound yet deeply conflicted exploration of the relationship between "history" and "the subject" provides the basis for understanding Chaucer's shift to his contemporary world in the Canterbury Tales. There, in the shrewdest and most wide-ranging analysis of late medieval society we possess, Chaucer investigated not just the idea of history but the historical world intimately related to his own political and literary career.
Patterson's chapters on individual tales clarify and confirm his provocative arguments. He shows, for example, how the Knight's Tale represents the contemporary crisis of governance in terms of a crisis in chivalric identity itself; how the Miller’s Tale reflects the social pressures and rhetoric of peasant movements generally and the Rising of 1381 in particular; and how the tales of the Merchant and Shipman register the paradoxical placement of a bourgeois class lacking class identity. And Patterson's brilliant readings of the Wife of Bath’s Tale—"the triumph of the subject"—and the Pardoner’s Tale —"the subject of confession"—reveal how Chaucer reworked traditional materials to accomplish stunning innovations that make visible unmistakably social meanings. Chaucer and the Subject of History is a landmark book, one that will shape the way that Chaucer is read for years to come.
In this book, Steele Nowlin examines the process of poetic invention as it is conceptualized and expressed in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343–1400) and John Gower (ca. 1330–1408). Specifically, it examines how these two poets present invention as an affective force, a process characterized by emergence and potentiality, and one that has a corollary in affect—that is, a kind of force or sensation distinct from emotion, characterized as an “intensity” that precedes what is only later cognitively understood and expressed as feeling or emotion, and that is typically described in a critical vocabulary of movement, emergence, and becoming.
Chaucer, Gower, and the Affect of Invention thus formulates a definition of affect that differs from most work in the recent “turn to affect” in medieval studies, focusing not on the representation of emotion or desire, or efforts to engage medieval alterity, but on the movement and emergence that precede emotional experience. It likewise argues for a broader understanding of invention in late medieval literature beyond analyses of rhetorical poetics and authorial politics by recuperating the dynamism and sense of potential that characterize inventional activity. Finally, its close readings of Chaucer’s and Gower’s poetry provide new insights into how these poets represent invention in order to engage the pervasive social and cultural discourses their poetry addresses.
Unlike William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and other great authors who have enjoyed continued success in Hollywood, Geoffrey Chaucer has largely been shunted to the margins of the cinematic world. Chaucer on Screen: Absence, Presence, and Adapting the Canterbury Tales, edited by Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Tison Pugh, investigates the various translations of Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales to film and television, tracing out how the legacies of the great fourteenth-century English poet have been revisited and reinterpreted through visual media. Contributors to this volume address the question of why Chaucer is so rarely adapted to the screen, and then turn to the occasional, often awkward, attempts to adapt his narratives, including such works as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s lyrical A Canterbury Tale (1944), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s still-controversial I racconti di Canterbury (1972), Bud Lee’s soft-core The Ribald Tales of Canterbury (1985), Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale (2001), and BBC television productions, among others. Chaucer on Screen aims to rethink some of the premises of adaptation studies and to erase the ideological lines between textual sources and visual reimaginings in the certainty that many pleasures, scholarly and otherwise, can found in multiple media across disparate eras.
Using queer theory to untangle all types of nonnormative sexual identities, Tison Pugh uses Chaucer’s work to expose the ongoing tension in the Middle Ages between an erotic culture that glorified love as an ennobling passion and an anti-erotic religious and philosophical tradition that denigrated love and (perhaps especially) its enactments. Chaucer’s (Anti-)Eroticisms and the Queer Middle Ages considers the many ways in which anti-eroticisms complicate the conventional image of Chaucer. With chapters addressing such topics as mutual masochism, homosocial brotherhood, necrotic erotics, queer families, and the eroticisms of Chaucer’s God, Chaucer’s (Anti-)Eroticisms will forever change the way readers see the Canterbury Tales and Chaucer’s other masterpieces.
For Chaucer, erotic pursuits establish the thrust and tenor of many of his narratives, as they also expose the frustrations inherent in pursuing desires frowned upon by the religious foundations of Western medieval culture. One cannot love freely within an ideological framework that polices sexuality and privileges the anti-erotic Christian ideals of virginity and chastity, yet loving queerly creates escapes from social structures inimical to amour and its expressions in the medieval period. Thus Chaucer is not just England’s foundational love poet, he is also England’s foundational queer poet.
Chaucer's Italian Tradition
Warren Ginsberg University of Michigan Press, 2002 Library of Congress PR1912.A3G56 2002 | Dewey Decimal 821.1
In his latest book, Warren Ginsberg explores what he calls Chaucer's "Italian tradition," a discourse that emerges by viewing the social institutions and artistic modes that shaped Chaucer's reception of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. While offering a fresh look at one of England's great literary figures, this book addresses important questions about the dynamics of cross-cultural translation and the formation of tradition.
Because divergent political, municipal, and literary histories would have made the Italian cities--Genoa, Florence, and Milan--unfamiliar to an English poet from medieval London, Ginsberg argues that we must consider what Chaucer overlooked and mistook from his Italian models alongside the material he did appropriate. To make sense of premises in texts like Dante's Comedy that were peculiarly Italian, Chaucer would look to Boccaccio as a gloss; by reading these authors in conjunction with one another, Chaucer generates an "Italian tradition" that translates into the terms of his English experience works already mediated by a prior stage of transposition.
Ginsberg explores Chaucer's relationship to Italian poets not in terms of the interaction of individual talents with accredited authorities (Chaucer and Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch, etc.). Rather, he focuses on the shifts in tension that occur when the civic engagements and disengagements of Florence's poets are brought into contact with Chaucer's growing metropolitanism and increasing reluctance to make London the locus of his poetic art.
Beyond its appeal to medievalists and those who study the Renaissance, Chaucer's Italian Tradition will be welcomed by readers interested in theoretical questions about translation and the development of tradition, including individuals who study history, literature, and the nature of the humanities.
Warren Ginsberg is Professor of English, University of Oregon.
Chaucer’s Queer Nation
Glenn Burger University of Minnesota Press, 2003 Library of Congress PR1933.S35B87 2003 | Dewey Decimal 821.1
Looks at the ways social change is expressed through debates over identities and bodies.
In bodies and selves, we can see politics, economics, and culture play out, and the tensions and crises of society made visible. The women's movement, lobbies for the elderly, pro-choice and pro-life movements, AIDS research and education, pedophilia and repressed memory, global sports spectacles, organ donor networks, campaigns for safe sex, chastity, or preventive medicine--all are aspects of the contemporary politics of bodies and identities touched on in this book. Three broad themes run through the collection: how the body is constructed in various ways for different purposes, how the electronic media and its uses shape selves and sensualities and contribute to civic discourse, and how global capitalism acts as a direct force in these processes. By taking a distinctly cross-cultural and comparative approach, this volume explores more fully than ever the political, economic, institutional, and cultural settings of corporeality, identity, and representation.
Contributors: Antonella Fabri, Eva Illouz, Philip W. Jenks, Lauren Langman, Timothy W. Luke, Timothy McGettigan, Margaret J. Tally.
Chaucer's Sexual Poetics
Carolyn Dinshaw University of Wisconsin Press, 1990 Library of Congress PR1933.S35D56 1989 | Dewey Decimal 821.1
Through an analysis of the poems Chaucers wordes Unto Adam, His Owne Scriveyn, Troilus and Criseyde, the Legend of Good Women, the Man of Law’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale and its Prologue, the Clerk’s Tale, and the Pardoner’s Tale, Carolyn Dinshaw offers a provocative argument on medieval sexual constructs and Chaucer’s role in shaping them. Operating under the assumption that people read and write certain ways based upon society’s demands, Dinshaw examines gender identity and the effects of a patriarchal society. The focal point of Dinshaw’s argument is the idea that the literary text can be seen as the female body while any literary activities upon the text are decidedly male. Through a series of six provocative essays, Dinshaw argues that Chaucer was not only aware that gender is a social construction, but that he self-consciously worked to oppose the dominance of masculinity that a patriarchal society places on texts by creating works in which gender identity and hierarchy were more fluid.
Scholars have often viewed the Hundred Years’ War (c. 1337–1453) between England and France as sharpening animosity and isolationism. Further, medievalists have often characterized translator–source relationships as adversarial. In Continental England, Elizaveta Strakhov develops a new model, reparative translation, as a corrective to both formulations. Zeroing in on formes fixes poetry—and Chaucer as a leading practitioner—she shows that translation played two essential, interrelated roles: it became a channel for rebuilding fragmented communities, and it restored unity to Francophone cultural landscapes fractured by war. Further, used in particular to express England’s aspirational relationship to Francophone culture despite the ongoing war, translation became the means by which England negotiated a new vision of itself as Continental rather than self-contained. Chaucer’s own translation work and fusion of Francophone and Italian humanist influences in his poetry rendered him a paradigmatic figure for England’s new bid for Continental relevance. Interpreting Chaucer’s posthumous canonization as a direct result of reparative translation, Strakhov shows how England’s transition from island to Continental constituent problematizes our contemporary understandings of nation-bound authors and canons.
Of all the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale, in which a young schoolboy is murdered by Jews for singing a song in praise of the Virgin Mary, poses a problem to contemporary readers because of the antisemitism of the story it tells. Both the Tale’s antisemitism and its “Chaucerianism”—its fitness or aptness as part of the Chaucerian canon—are significant topics of reflection for modern readers, who worry about the Tale’s ethical implications as well as Chaucer’s own implications. Over the past fifty years, scholars have asked: Is the antisemitism in the tale that of the Prioress? Or of Chaucer the pilgrim? Or of Chaucer the author? Or, indeed, whether one ought to discuss antisemitism in the Prioress’s Tale at all, considering the potential anachronism of expecting medieval texts to conform to contemporary ideologies.
The Critics and the Prioress responds to a critical stalemate between the demands of ethics and the entailments of methodology. The book addresses key moments in criticism of the Prioress’s Tale—particularly those that stage an encounter between historicism and ethics—in order to interrogate these critical impasses while suggesting new modes for future encounters. It is an effort to identify, engage, and reframe some significant—and perennially repeated—arguments staked out in this criticism, such as the roles of gender, aesthetics, source studies, and the appropriate relationship between ethics and historicism.
The Critics and the Prioress will be an essential resource for Chaucer scholars researching as well as teaching the Prioress’s Tale. Scholars and students of Middle English literature and medieval culture more generally will also be interested in this book’s rigorous analysis of contemporary scholarly approaches to expressions of antisemitism in Chaucer’s England.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a discourse of desire. Beyond the many pilgrims’ stories taking desire as their topic, Elizabeth Scala argues that desire operates in structurally significant ways found in the signifying chains that link the tales to each other.
Desire in the Canterbury Tales coordinates the compulsions of desire with the act of misreading to define the driving force of Chaucer’s story collection. With Chaucer’s competitive pilgrimage as an important point of departure, this study examines the collection’s manner of generating stories out of division, difference, and contestation. It argues that Chaucer’s tales are produced as misreadings and misrecognitions of each other. Looking to the main predicate of the General Prologue’s famous opening sentence (“longen”) as well as the thematic concerns of a number of tale-tellers, and working with a theoretical model that exposes language as the product of such longing, Scala posits desire as the very subject of the Canterbury Tales and misrecognition as its productive effect. In chapters focusing on both the well-discussed tales of fragment 1 and the marriage group as well as the more recalcitrant religious stories, Desire in the Canterbury Tales offers a comprehensive means of accounting for Chaucer’s poem.
Following Chaucer: Offices of the Active Life explores three representative figures—the royal woman, the poet, and the merchant—in relation to the concept of “office,” which Cicero linked to the health of the republic, but Chaucer to that of the common good. Not usually conjoined to the term “office,” these three figures, situated in the active life, were not firmly mapped onto the body politic, which was used to figure a relational and ordered social body ruled by the king, the head. These figures are points of entry into a set of questions rooted in Chaucer’s understanding of his cultural and historical past and in his keen appraisal of the social dynamics of his own time that also reverberate in the centuries after Chaucer’s death.
Following Chaucer does not trace influence but uses Chaucer’s likely reading, circumstances, and literary and social affiliations as guides to understanding his poetry, within the context of late medieval English culture and the reshaping of the concept of these particular offices that suited the needs of a future whose dynamics he anticipated. His understanding of the importance of the Ciceronian concept of office within the active life, his profound cultural awareness, and his probing of the foundations of social change provide him with a keen sense of the persistent tensions and inconsistencies that are fundamental to his poetry.
In Fragments and Assemblages, Arthur Bahr expands the ways in which we interpret medieval manuscripts, examining the formal characteristics of both physical manuscripts and literary works. Specifically, Bahr argues that manuscript compilations from fourteenth-century London reward interpretation as both assemblages and fragments: as meaningfully constructed objects whose forms and textual contents shed light on the city’s literary, social, and political cultures, but also as artifacts whose physical fragmentation invites forms of literary criticism that were unintended by their medieval makers. Such compilations are not simply repositories of data to be used for the reconstruction of the distant past; their physical forms reward literary and aesthetic analysis in their own right. The compilations analyzed reflect the full vibrancy of fourteenth-century London’s literary cultures: the multilingual codices of Edwardian civil servant Andrew Horn and Ricardian poet John Gower, the famous Auchinleck manuscript of texts in Middle English, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. By reading these compilations as both formal shapes and historical occurrences, Bahr uncovers neglected literary histories specific to the time and place of their production. The book offers a less empiricist way of interpreting the relationship between textual and physical form that will be of interest to a wide range of literary critics and manuscript scholars.
The Importance of Chaucer
John H. Fisher Southern Illinois University Press, 1992 Library of Congress PR1924.F57 1992 | Dewey Decimal 821.1
In this fresh and innovative approach, John H. Fisher eloquently explains Chaucer’s importance to Western culture.
English literature begins with Chaucer. The first writer to demonstrate that English was as effective a medium for literature as Latin or French, Chaucer introduced realism, satire, and humor into English writing. In examining Chaucer’s cultural importance, however, Fisher ventures beyond literary excellence, basing his cultural interpretation on inferences about Chaucer’s domestic life, about his possible experience in the inns of chancery and inns of court, and about the possibility that Henry V and the Lancastrian government sought deliberately to promote Chaucer’s poems as models of what could be accomplished in the vernacular.
Fisher’s willingness to boldly infer from the scant evidence available allows him to place Chaucer in the poet’s, and our, culture in a way he has not been placed before. By attributing to Chaucer innovations to which other writers have only alluded, and by reaching conclusions which others have been hesitant to approach, Fisher presents an interpretation at once controversial, engaging, and informative.
Nationalism, like medieval romance literature, recasts history as a mythologized and seamless image of reality. Living in the Future analyzes how the anachronistic nationalist fantasies in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales create a false sense of England’s historical continuity that in turn legitimized contemporary political ambitions. This book spells out the legacy of the Tales that still resonates throughout English literature, exploring the idea of England in the medieval literary imagination as well as critiquing more recent centuries’ conceptions of Chaucer’s nationalism.
Chaucer uses two extant national ideals, sovereignty and domesticity, to introduce the concept of an English nation into the contemporary popular imagination and reinvent an idealized England as a hallowed homeland. For nationalist thinkers, sovereignty governs communities with linguistic, historical, cultural, and religious affinities. Chaucerian sovereignty appears primarily in romantic and household contexts that function as microcosms of the nation, reflecting a pseudo-familial love between sovereign and subjects and relying on a sense of shared ownership and judgment. This notion also has deep affinities with popular and political theories flourishing throughout Europe. Chaucer’s internationalism, matched with his artistic use of the vernacular and skillful distortions of both time and space, frames a discrete sovereign English nation within its diverse interconnected world.
As it opens up significant new points of resonance between postcolonial theories and medieval ideas of nationhood, Living in the Future marks an important contribution to medieval literary studies. It will be essential for scholars of Middle English literature, literary history, literary political and postcolonial theory, and literary transnationalism.
Examines the political and literary uses of the Trojan legend in the medieval period.
England in the late fourteenth century witnessed a large-scale social revolt, a lingering and seemingly hopeless war with France, and fierce factional conflicts in royal politics and London civic government--struggles in which all parties sought to justify their actions by claiming historical precedent. How the Trojan legend figured in these claims--and in competing assertions of authorial legitimacy, nationhood, and rule in the later Middle Ages--is the complex nexus of history, myth, literature, and identity that Sylvia Federico explores in this ambitious book.
During the late medieval period, many European political and social groups took great pains to associate themselves with the ancient city; the claim on Troy, Federico asserts, was crucial to nationhood and was always a political act. Her book examines the poetry and prose of several late medieval authors, focusing particularly on how Chaucer's use of the Trojan legend helped to set the terms by which the Ricardian and Lancastrian periods were distinguished, and further helped to establish English literary history as a noble precedent in its own right. Federico's book affords remarkable insight into the workings of the medieval historical imagination.
Sylvia Federico has taught at Washington State University and the University of Leeds. She currently lives in Maine.
Olde Clerkis Speche affirms both the historical legitimacy and the interpretive benefits of reading Troilus and Criseyde as if the text were initially composed for Chaucers own recital before a familiar audience. Proposing a qualification rather than contradiction of the "persona" as a reading premise, Quinn revitalizes the interpretive context of Chaucers original performance milieu. The central five chapters offer a "close hearing" of the possible tonal strategies of each book of Troilus and Criseyde during actual recital. Particular attention is given to expressions now normally overlooked, phrasing that does not advance the modern readers appreciation of plot or character development or theme; such "filler" did, however, once offer Chaucer's own "reader response" (or ennaratio) during the recital event. These five chapters simultaneously evaluate the probability that Chaucer himself revised each recital installment for subsequent manuscript circulation. All together, these chapters provide a sustained case study of the interplay between the author's anticipations of recital presence and textual absence. Although this study does not pretend to detail an inaugural staging of Troilus and Criseyde , it does attend to the histrionic potential of Chaucer's own "speche/ In poetrie" (T&C V. 1854-5). The final chapter discusses how such a recital premise impacts several current controversies among Chaucerians, including the dating of Chaucer's individual acts of composition, the underlying assumptions regarding the "publication" of each text, the editorial imposition of punctuation on the manuscript record, and the poets increasing anxiety regarding his future absence from the reading event. Olde Clerkis Speche will be of interest to all readers of Chaucer as well as everyone interested in performance theory and the history of reading.
Literary scholars often avoid the category of the aesthetic in discussions of ethics, believing that purely aesthetic judgments can vitiate analyses of a literary work’s sociopolitical heft and meaning. In Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages, Eleanor Johnson reveals that aesthetics—the formal aspects of literary language that make it sense-perceptible—are indeed inextricable from ethics in the writing of medieval literature.
Johnson brings a keen formalist eye to bear on the prosimetric form: the mixing of prose with lyrical poetry. This form descends from the writings of the sixth-century Christian philosopher Boethius—specifically his famous prison text, Consolation of Philosophy—to the late medieval English tradition. Johnson argues that Boethius’s text had a broad influence not simply on the thematic and philosophical content of subsequent literary writing, but also on the specific aesthetic construction of several vernacular traditions. She demonstrates the underlying prosimetric structures in a variety of Middle English texts—including Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and portions of the Canterbury Tales, Thomas Usk’s Testament of Love, John Gower’s Confessio amantis, and Thomas Hoccleve’s autobiographical poetry—and asks how particular formal choices work, how they resonate with medieval literary-theoretical ideas, and how particular poems and prose works mediate the tricky business of modeling ethical transformation for a readership.
This collection of original essays examines how the idea of an authentic Chaucerian text was reimagined and reproduced by medieval and early modern scribes and editors to satisfy and shape the cultural expectations of their audiences. These “reproductions” of Chaucer’s works epitomize the tension between developing notions of what makes a text “authentic” and the cultural pressures that led scribes and editors to construct their own versions of Chaucer and his works.
The book begins by exploring medieval and early modern notions of origins and how they at once illuminate and problematize the recovery of Chaucerian texts. Essays in the second section examine how individual scribes and reading communities reshaped Chaucer’s texts. Finally, we see how the printing press—bringing with it a renewed concern about the idea of authenticity—led both to an increase in the number of works attributed to Chaucer and to increasing anxiety about their authenticity.
The focus on the ways in which Chaucer was rewritten in different cultural and aesthetic contexts will enable medieval and early modern critics to situate Chaucer more fully within his cultural milieu, while illuminating the ways in which his reputation as both a “laureate poet” and a “lewed compilator” affected rewritings of his works. Rewriting Chaucer, then, will appeal both to scholars interested in the critical juncture between manuscript and print culture and to those interested in how culture affects the reproduction of authoritative texts.
A long-awaited reevaluation of Chaucer through the lens of sacrifice by a major figure in medieval studies.
Historicism and its discontents have long been central to the work of Louise Fradenburg, one of the world's most original and provocative literary medievalists. Sacrifice Your Love brings this interest to bear on Chaucer's writing and his world, rethought in light of a theory of sacrifice and its part in cultural production. Fradenburg writes the "history of the signifier"--a way of reading change in the symbolic order--and its role in making sacrifice enjoyable.
Sacrifice Your Love develops the idea that sacrifice is a mode of enjoyment-that our willingness to sacrifice our desire is actually a way of pursuing it. Fradenburg considers the implications of this idea for various problems important in medieval studies today-how to understand the religiosity of cultural forms, particularly chivalry, in the later Middle Ages and how to understand the ethics of Chaucer's famously nondidactic poetry-as well as in other fields of inquiry.
A major rethinking of Chaucer, Sacrifice Your Love works in depth as well as across a broad range of topics from medievalism to psychoanalysis, advancing both the theory and practice of a new kind of historicist approach.
L. O. Aranye Fradenburg is professor of English, women's studies, and comparative literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Advice on sex and marriage in the literature of antiquity and the middle ages typically stressed the negative: from stereotypes of nagging wives and cheating husbands to nightmarish visions of women empowered through marriage. Satiric Advice on Women and Marriage brings together the leading scholars of this fascinating body of literature. Their essays examine a variety of ancient and early medieval writers' cautionary and often eccentric marital satire beginning with Plautus in the third century B.C.E. through Chaucer (the only non-Latin author studied). The volume demonstrates the continuity in the Latin tradition which taps into the fear of marriage and intimacy shared by ancient ascetics (Lucretius), satirists (Juvenal), comic novelists (Apuleius), and by subsequent Christian writers starting with Tertullian and Jerome, who freely used these ancient sources for their own purposes, including propaganda for recruiting a celibate clergy and the promotion of detachment and asceticism as Christian ideals.
Warren S. Smith is Professor of Classical Languages at the University of New Mexico.
Innovative and thorough, Signs and Symbols in Chaucer’s Poetry presents nine essays that reexamine the literary iconography of Middle English. Chaucer’s work is the most well-known, and possibly the most significant, remnant of the Middle Ages; investigations into his writing and meanings are fruitful even today. The essays collected by John P. Hermann and John J. Burke Jr. invite scholars to consider new interpretations of old symbols while acknowledging the intricacies of historical context.
Each highly distinguished scholar responds to D. W. Robertson’s seminal, if controversial, approach to Chaucer’s work. Robertson’s scholarship, which also provides the opening essay of the collection, uses a historicist approach to contextualize Chaucer’s imagery within the literary and cultural conventions of the Middle Ages. Sources for such contextualization include etymology, topology, the classics, pictorial art, the Bible, and the developing sciences of the time. Robertson, as well as his contemporary Bernard F. Huppé, provided a fascinating new direction for modern Chaucer studies that focused on daily life.
Each essay uses this approach to draw attention to various examples of Chaucer’s iconography. The texts span several of Chaucer’s works and a plethora of subjects, including music, disappointed expectations, repeated or conflicting signs, and more. This volume provides insight into Chaucer’s work as well as the Middle Ages as a whole, examining conventions and expectations of society at that time. Scholars, instructors, and lovers of Chaucer will all find value in this finely edited collection.
Paul Strohm Harvard University Press, 1989 Library of Congress PR1933.S59S77 1989 | Dewey Decimal 821.1
Each generation finds in Chaucer’s works the concerns and themes of its own era. But what of Chaucer’s contemporaries? For whom was he writing? With what expectations would his original audience have approached his works? In what terms did he and his audience understand their society, and how does his poetry embody a view of society?
These are some of the questions Paul Strohm addresses in this innovative look at the historical Chaucer. Fourteenth-century English society was, he reminds us, in a state of accelerating transition: feudalism was yielding to capitalism, and traditional ways of understanding one’s place in society were contending with new social paradigms. Those like Chaucer who lived on the fringe of gentility were particularly sensitive to these changes. Their social position opened the way to attractive possibilities, even as it exposed them to special perils.
Strohm draws on seldom-considered documents to describe Chaucer’s social circle and its experiences, and he relates this circle to implied and fictional audiences in the texts. Moving between major works like the Canterbury Tales and less frequently discussed works like Complaint of Mars, he suggests that Chaucer’s poetry not only reproduces social tensions of the time but also proposes conciliatory alternatives. His analysis yields a fuller understanding of Chaucer’s world and new insight into the social implications of literary forms and styles.
Trade and Romance
Michael Murrin University of Chicago Press, 2013 Library of Congress PN682.O75M87 2013 | Dewey Decimal 809.9332
In Trade and Romance, Michael Murrin examines the complex relations between the expansion of trade in Asia and the production of heroic romance in Europe from the second half of the thirteenth century through the late seventeenth century. He shows how these tales of romance, ostensibly meant for the aristocracy, were important to the growing mercantile class as a way to gauge their own experiences in traveling to and trading in these exotic locales. Murrin also looks at the role that growing knowledge of geography played in the writing of the creative literature of the period, tracking how accurate, or inaccurate, these writers were in depicting far-flung destinations, from Iran and the Caspian Sea all the way to the Pacific.
With reference to an impressive range of major works in several languages—including the works of Marco Polo, Geoffrey Chaucer, Matteo Maria Boiardo, Luís de Camões, Fernão Mendes Pinto, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and more—Murrin tracks numerous accounts by traders and merchants through the literature, first on the Silk Road, beginning in the mid-thirteenth century; then on the water route to India, Japan, and China via the Cape of Good Hope; and, finally, the overland route through Siberia to Beijing. All of these routes, originally used to exchange commodities, quickly became paths to knowledge as well, enabling information to pass, if sometimes vaguely and intermittently, between Europe and the Far East. These new tales of distant shores fired the imagination of Europe and made their way, with surprising accuracy, as Murrin shows, into the poetry of the period.
Francesca Abbate University of Chicago Press, 2012 Library of Congress PS3601.B357T76 2012 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
A meditation on the nature of betrayal, the constraints of identity, and the power of narrative, the lyric monologues in Troy, Unincorporated offer a retelling, or refraction, of Chaucer’s tragedy Troilus and Criseyde. The tale’s unrooted characters now find themselves adrift in the industrialized farmlands, strip malls, and half-tenanted “historic” downtowns of south-central Wisconsin, including the real, and literally unincorporated, town of Troy. Allusive and often humorous, they retain an affinity with Chaucer, especially in terms of their roles: Troilus, the good courtly lover, suffers from the weeps, or, in more modern terms, depression. Pandarus, the hard-working catalyst who brings the lovers together in Chaucer’s poem, is here a car mechanic.
Chaucer’s narrator tells a story he didn’t author, claiming no power to change the course of events, and the narrator and characters in Troy, Unincorporated struggle against a similar predicament. Aware of themselves as literary constructs, they are paradoxically driven by the desire to be autonomous creatures—tale tellers rather than tales told. Thus, though Troy, Unincorporated follows Chaucer’s plot—Criseyde falls in love with Diomedes after leaving Troy to live with her father, who has broken his hip, and Troilus dies of a drug overdose—it moves beyond Troilus’s death to posit a possible fate for Criseyde on this “litel spot of erthe.”
Joseph A. Dane examines the history of the books we now know as "Chaucer’s"—a history that includes printers and publishers, editors, antiquarians, librarians, and book collectors. The Chaucer at issue here is not a medieval poet, securely bound within his fourteenth-century context, but rather the product of the often chaotic history of the physical books that have been produced and marketed in his name.
This history involves a series of myths about Chaucer—a reformist Chaucer, a realist Chaucer, a political and critical Chaucer who seems oddly like us. It also involves more self-reflective critical myths—the conveniently coherent editorial tradition that leads progressively to modern editions of Chaucer. Dane argues that the material background of these myths remains irreducibly and often amusingly recalcitrant. The great Chaucer monuments—his editions, his book, and even his tomb—defy our efforts to stabilize them with our critical descriptions and transcriptions.
Part I concentrates on the production and reception of the Chaucerian book from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, a period dominated by the folio "Complete Works" and a period that culminates in what Chaucerians have consistently (if uncritically) defined as the worst Chaucer edition of 1721. Part II considers the increasing ambivalence of modern editors and critics in relation to the book of Chaucer, and the various attempts of modern scholars to provide alternative sources of authority.
Although authors of mystical treatises and dream visions shared a core set of assumptions about how visions are able to impart transcendent truths to their recipients, the modern divide between “religious” and “secular” has led scholars to study these genres in isolation. Willing to Know God addresses the simultaneous flowering of mystical and literary vision texts in the Middle Ages by questioning how the vision was thought to work. What preconditions must be met in these texts for the vision to transform the visionary? And when, as in poems such as Pearl, this change does not occur, what exactly has gone wrong?
Through close readings of medieval women’s visionary texts and English dream poems, Jessica Barr argues that the vision required the active as well as the passive participation of the visionary. In these texts, dreamers and visionaries must be volitionally united with the divine and employ their rational and analytic faculties in order to be transformed by the vision.
Willing to Know God proposes that the study of medieval vision texts demands a new approach that takes into account both vision literature that has been supposed to have a basis in lived experience and visions that are typically read as fictional. It argues that these two “genres” in fact complement and inform one another. Rather than discrete literary modes, they are best read as engaged in an ongoing conversation about the human mind’s ability to grasp the divine.