The Shaping of English Poetry – Volume IV

Essays on 'The Battle of Maldon', Chrétien de Troyes, Dante, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and Chaucer

by Gerald Morgan (Author)
Monographs XXXII, 320 Pages


This fourth volume of essays under the title The Shaping of English Poetry consolidates the work of the previous three volumes on the great subjects of English literature in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The Norman Conquest of England built upon the rich foundation of Anglo-Saxon England but did not destroy it; thus the present volume begins with the commemoration of English heroism in The Battle of Maldon. In the late twelfth century we encounter in Chrétien de Troyes's seminal romance Le Chevalier de la Charrete a new kind of hero in Lancelot, abject and obedient before his mistress, although Chrétien himself is not an uncritical admirer of the sanctity of adulterous love. Hence the importance of Dante's exposition of love in Purgatorio, XVIII, which forms a background to the essays here on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Parliament of Fowls. The volume concludes with essays on Chaucer's Knight's, Monk's and Nun's Priest's Tales, which form part of a long-term project to interpret the Canterbury Tales as a unified whole and not merely a series of fragments awaiting revision on Chaucer's death.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • I. Chaucer’s Works
  • II. Sources and Works of Reference
  • III. Journals and Series
  • Preface
  • 1 The Battle of Maldon: The Commemoration of an Heroic Sacrifice
  • Notes
  • 2 The Conflict of Love and Chivalry in Le Chevalier de la Charrete
  • Notes
  • 3 The Movement of Love in the Interior Senses and in the Intellect: An Explanation of Purgatorio, XVIII.22–24
  • Notes
  • 4 The Goodness of Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Notes
  • 5 Nature and the Bird-Debate in the Parliament of Fowls
  • The Realm of Nature
  • The Great Chain of Being
  • The Classification of Birds
  • The Human Being as Microcosm
  • Choice and Freedom
  • The Spokesmen and Spokeswomen
  • The Verdict
  • A Problematic Conclusion
  • Notes
  • 6 Chaucer’s Tellers and Tales and the Design of the Canterbury Tales
  • Notes
  • 7 The Campaigns of Chaucer’s Knight
  • A Crusading Knight
  • The Knight’s Campaigns
  • Spain and the Western Mediterranean
  • Egypt, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Prussia, Lithuania and the Eastern Baltic
  • The Crusade in the Fourteenth Century
  • The High Order of Knighthood
  • Notes
  • 8 Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale: The Book of the Duke
  • Introduction
  • The Tyrant Creon and the Just and Merciful Theseus
  • Kings, Queens, Princes and Dukes
  • Duke Theseus
  • Worthy Knights
  • The Two Royal Prisoners
  • Equality of Arcite and Palamon
  • Theseus as Conqueror
  • Notes
  • 9 The Grand Design of the Monk’s Tale
  • The Host and the Monk
  • The Monk’s Response
  • Sequence of Tales and their Sources
  • The Argument of the Individual Tales
  • Notes
  • 10 The Function of Rhetoric in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale
  • Notes
  • Index

| vii →


Anyone writing a book on medieval literature (quite apart from the Monk’s Tale) will be obliged at some point to address the question of fortune and the philosophical issues related to it of justice and injustice. As I now write the acknowledgments to this fourth volume of The Shaping of English Poetry I can hardly deny that to a great extent I have been the beneficiary of the blessings of good fortune.

First and foremost I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr Margret Fine-Davis, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology in Trinity College Dublin. Had she not so generously offered me a home for myself, my books and computer when I had to leave my rooms in New Square at the end of 2012, I doubt whether I could even have contemplated a fourth volume, let alone bring it to completion. At the same time I have been greatly encouraged, as have many others, by the support and learning of Dr Sarah Alyn Stacey, Director of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Trinity College, founded by her in 1999. She has kept me in touch with the work of the next generation of Medieval and Renaissance scholars.

In the preparation of this book for publication (as for all three earlier volumes in 2010 and 2013) I have been secure in the knowledge of the expertise and efficiency of Peter Lang as publishers, especially as represented in Ireland by Christabel Scaife. For the present volume I am indebted in particular to Jasmin Allousch. For the fourth time in this series Andrea Greengrass has been responsible for the Index. I have commented more than once before on the sustained excellence of her work and consultation of the Index to the present volume will surely supply proof of that.

As the wheel of fortune has continued to turn I have found myself working on Volume IV in recent winters not in the cold and rain of Dublin but on the sun-drenched shores of Tenerife. Here again I have been the recipient of good fortune. Much of the work in Tenerife has been done on the computers of Torviscas Travel where Jose and Luis have been unfailingly kind and courteous (as they are to all those who avail of their services). ← vii | viii → I have done much of the work of correction on the terraces of Sunset Harbour and Torviscas Playa where the sight of the Atlantic Ocean has been a calming and soothing presence.

The Preface to the present volume was written during a series of breakfasts at Casa Tres in Sunset Bay. It was as if I were in an Ireland of continuous sunshine. Those who know at first hand of Irish (combined with Yorkshire and Kentish) hospitality will know how lucky I have been. I express here my heartfelt thanks to Mags (Co. Kildare), Maura (Rathfarnham), Anjie (a Yorkshire lass) and Lynn (a Londoner now in Kent).

Above all this book is the product of over forty years during which I taught Old English (Literature and Philology), Middle English and Spenser in the Department and School of English in Trinity College Dublin (1968–2012). Since 2012 I have held a series of unofficial tutorials on Chaucer in the Berkeley/Clyde Court Hotel (now sadly demolished) and Ballsbridge Hotel on the old site of Trinity’s Botanic Gardens with Mrs Margaret Connolly, a mature student in the Department of Medieval and Renaissance English in Trinity whom I taught in 1987–1991. Her continuing love of Chaucer has sustained and inspired my own love of Chaucer in recent years and I dedicate this book to her in grateful memory of all my students.

Dublin, 12 May 2017

| ix →


I. Chaucer’s Works

Anel. Anelida and Arcite
BD The Book of the Duchess
CkT The Cook’s Tale
ClT The Clerk’s Tale
CT The Canterbury Tales
FranT The Franklin’s Tale
GP General Prologue
HF The House of Fame
KnT The Knight’s Tale
LGW The Legend of Good Women
MancT The Manciple’s Tale
MerT The Merchant’s Tale
MilT The Miller’s Tale
MkT The Monk’s Tale
MLT The Man of Law’s Tale
NPT The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
PardT The Pardoner’s Tale
ParsT The Parson’s Tale
PF The Parliament of Fowls
Retr. Retraction
Romaunt The Romaunt of the Rose
RvT The Reeve’s Tale
SNT The Second Nun’s Tale
SumT The Summoner’s Tale
TC Troilus and Criseyde
Thop The Tale of Sir Thopas
WBProl The Wife of Bath’s Prologue ← ix | x →

I refer to the fragments of The Canterbury Tales as I, II, III, etc. and to individual tales as, for example, the Knight’s Tale, that is, following the order of the Ellesmere MS and rejecting the Bradshaw Shift, but assuming that there are in reality only eight and not ten fragments. I thus abandon my own long-established practice (A, B, C, etc. for the fragments combined with the italicisation of individual tales) as followed in the previous three volumes on the persuasive advice of my old friend Mr Nicolas Jacobs, Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and in the process emphasise the unity of The Canterbury Tales itself as a finished work.

II. Sources and Works of Reference


XXXII, 320
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (July)
The commemoration of an heroic sacrifice in 'The Battle of Maldon' the conflict of love and chivalry in Le Chevalier de la Charrete an explanation of Purgatorio, XVIII.22-24 the goodness of Sir Gawain in 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' Nature and the bird-debate in 'The Parliament of Fowls' the campaigns of Chaucer's Knight rhetoric in the Nun's Priest's Tale the grand design of the Monk's Tale
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XXXII, 320 pp.

Biographical notes

Gerald Morgan (Author)

Gerald Morgan was a Meyricke Exhibitioner at Jesus College, Oxford, and holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford. He was formerly a Senior Lecturer and Fellow in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin and is now Research Director of the Chaucer in Context Research Group of the Trinity Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. His publications include Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Idea of Righteousness (1991), The Tragic Argument of Troilus and Criseyde (2005), The Shaping of English Poetry: Essays on «Sir Gawain and the Green Knight», Langland, Chaucer and Spenser (Peter Lang, 2010), The Shaping of English Poetry, Volume II: Essays on «Sir Gawain and the Green Knight», Langland and Chaucer (Peter Lang, 2013), The Shaping of English Poetry, Volume III: Essays on «Beowulf», Dante, «Sir Gawain and the Green Knight», Langland, Chaucer and Spenser (Peter Lang, 2013) and the edited volume Chaucer in Context: A Golden Age of English Poetry (Peter Lang, 2012).


Title: The Shaping of English Poetry – Volume IV