front cover of Bad Chaucer
Bad Chaucer
The Great Poet’s Greatest Mistakes in the Canterbury Tales
Tison Pugh
University of Michigan Press, 2024
Acclaimed for centuries as the “Father of English Literature,” Geoffrey Chaucer enjoys widespread and effusive praise for his classic Canterbury Tales—and rightfully so. Still, even the greatest of authors cannot claim perfection, and so Bad Chaucer: The Great Poet’s Greatest Mistakes in the Canterbury Tales analyzes his various missteps, missed opportunities, and other blunders in this peerless masterpiece. From a vexing catalog of trees in the Knight’s Tale to the flirtations with blasphemy in the Parson’s Tale, this volume progresses through the Canterbury Tales story by story, tale by tale, pondering the most egregious failing of each in turn. Viewed collectively, Chaucer’s troubles stem from clashing genres that disrupt interpretive clarity, themeless themes that undermine any message a tale might convey, mischaracterized characters who act without clear motivation, purposeful and otherwise pleasureful badness that show Chaucer’s appreciation for the humor of bad literature, and outmoded perspectives that threaten to alienate modern readers. Badness is not always to be lamented but often celebrated, even cherished, for badness infuses artistic creations with the vitality that springs from varied responses, spirited engagements, and the inherent volatility of enjoying literature. On the whole, Bad Chaucer: The Great Poet’s Greatest Mistakes in the Canterbury Tales swerves literary criticism in a new direction by examining the provocative question, for too long overlooked, of what this great author got wrong. 

front cover of Chaucer on Screen
Chaucer on Screen
Absence, Presence, and Adapting the Canterbury Tales
Kathleen C Kelly and Tison Pugh
The Ohio State University Press, 2016
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.

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Desire in the Canterbury Tales
Elizabeth Scala
The Ohio State University Press, 2015
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.

front cover of Fragments and Assemblages
Fragments and Assemblages
Forming Compilations of Medieval London
Arthur Bahr
University of Chicago Press, 2013
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.

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Living in the Future
Sovereignty and Internationalism in the Canterbury Tales
Susan Nakley
University of Michigan Press, 2017
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.

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