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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

Gerald Morgan

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.

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8 Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale: The Book of the Duke

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Or ti conforta; ch’ei convene ch’i’ solva il mio dovere anzi ch’i’ mova: giustizia vuole e pietà mi ritene’. ‘Now take comfort, for I must fulfil my duty before I go; justice requires it and compassion bids me stay.’ — dante, Purgatorio, X.91–93; Sinclair, II.135 To be called a knyght is fair, for men shul knele to hym; To be called a kyng is fairer, for he may knyghtes make; Ac to be conquerour called, þat comeþ of special grace, And of hardynesse of herte and of hendenesse. — langland, Piers Plowman, B XIX.28–31 When Theseus with werres longe and grete The aspre folk of Cithe had overcome, With laurer corouned, in his char gold-bete, Hom to his contre-houses is he come, For which the peple, blisful al and somme, So cryëden that to the sterres hit wente, And him to honouren dide al her entente. — chaucer, Anelida and Arcite, 22–28 Introduction I. The textual difficulties of the Canterbury Tales (if not on the scale of Piers Plowman) and more particularly the problems in determining the relation of the various fragments to one another may lead us to overlook 196 Gerald Morgan or underestimate the degree to which Chaucer has brought towards com- pletion his comic masterpiece. Indeed it is evident from a recent essay by Robert Meyer-Lee that scholars have created fragments where no frag- mentation is to be found in the original text.1 Thus the General Prologue presents the pilgrim narrators within a regular and indeed...

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