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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.