Historians on Chaucer: The 'General Prologue' to the Canterbury Tales

Historians on Chaucer: The 'General Prologue' to the Canterbury Tales

Language: English

Pages: 528

ISBN: 0199689547

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


As literary scholars have long insisted, an interdisciplinary approach is vital if modern readers are to make sense of works of medieval literature. In particular, rather than reading the works of medieval authors as addressing us across the centuries about some timeless or ahistorical 'human condition', critics from a wide range of theoretical approaches have in recent years shown how the work of poets such as Chaucer constituted engagements with the power relations and social inequalities of their time. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, medieval historians have played little part in this 'historical turn' in the study of medieval literature. The aim of this volume is to allow historians who are experts in the fields of economic, social, political, religious, and intellectual history the chance to interpret one of the most famous works of Middle English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer's 'General Prologue' to the Canterbury Tales, in its contemporary context. Rather than resorting to traditional historical attempts to see Chaucer's descriptions of the Canterbury pilgrims as immediate reflections of historical reality or as portraits of real-life people whom Chaucer knew, the contributors to this volume have sought to show what interpretive frameworks were available to Chaucer in order to make sense of reality and how he adapted his literary and ideological inheritance so as to engage with the controversies and conflicts of his own day. Beginning with a survey of recent debates about the social meaning of Chaucer's work, the volume then discusses each of the Canterbury pilgrims in turn. Historians on Chaucer should be of interest to all scholars and students of medieval culture whether they are specialists in literature or history,

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went off to kill the heathen, fourteenth-century preachers such as John Bromyard and contemporary estates satires such as The Simonie actually attacked those who were reluctant to take the cross and who preferred the luxury of life at home to the hardships and dangers of crusading.11 Similarly, the hero of a romance such as Sir Isumbras could be shown as proving his virtue by fighting for a Christian king against the Saracens, killing their sultan and many other ‘hethen houndes’.12 At one time,

speech in writing’, but Mann notes that this reading is not supported by the Middle English Dictionary (Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ed. Jill Mann (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 803). 12 Helen Cooper, The Canterbury Tales (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 224. 13 See, for example, Wood, ‘The Significance of Jousting and Dancing’, pp. 116–18; Stanley J. Kahrl, ‘Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Decline of Chivalry’, ChR., 7 (1972–3), pp. 194–209; Thomas J. Hatton, ‘Thematic

he´ron). A Middle French Vowing Poem, eds John L. Grigsby and Norris J. Lacy (New York: Garland, 1992), pp. 52–3; Alfred Coville, ‘Poe`mes historiques de l’ave`nement de Philippe VI de Valois au traite´ de Calais (1328–1360)’, Histoire litte´raire de la France, 38 (1949–50), pp. 268–82. The Squire / 71 a charming courtier. The impact of such raids was truly terrible. During the 1346 Cre´cy campaign, for example, English troops ravaged in a swath up to fifteen or even twenty miles around the

pp. 27–37 provides an excellent summary. 2 Erle Birney, ‘The Squire’s Yeoman’, A Review of English Literature, n.s. 1 (1960), pp. 9–18; Conlee, ‘A Yeoman Had He’, pp. 29–30. 3 Muriel Bowden, A Commentary on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (New York: Macmillan, 1948), p. 84, Helen Cooper, The Canterbury Tales (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 37; Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Class and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

among the targets of Chaucer’s satire here was not only the lifestyle of late medieval monks but also the manner in which they justified their ‘modern’ approach to the monastic life. The 43 For these services, and the outward-looking nature of much of late medieval monasticism, see Heale, Monasticism in Late Medieval England, pp. 1–74. The Monk / 151 second half of the fourteenth century saw English monasteries come under increasing attack. This criticism came in part from friars, who called

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