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Chaucer in Context

A Golden Age of English Poetry

Edited By Gerald Morgan

The study of the work of Geoffrey Chaucer – still regarded as a literary genius more than 600 years after his death – centres on the problems of detailed readings of his poetry (including in some cases the textual authority for these readings) and the historical context that gives them meaning. In some ways, the modern understanding of the shaping historical context was undermined in the second half of the twentieth century by the dogmatism of Robertsonian Augustinianism, as a basis for the interpretation of medieval literature in general and of Chaucer’s poetry in particular, and at the same time by the reactions of determined opposition provoked by this approach. Undeniably, medieval views often fail to coincide with modern ones and they are frequently uncomfortable for modern readers. Nevertheless, Chaucer’s brilliance as an observer of the human scene coexists with and irradiates these unfamiliar medieval ideas. The essays in this volume explore in detail the historical context of Chaucer’s poetry, in which orthodox Catholic ideas rather than revolutionary Wycliffite ones occupy the central position. At the same time, they offer detailed readings of his poetry and that of his famous contemporaries in an attempt to do justice to the independent and original work of these poetic masters, writing in the great royal households of England in the period 1360-1400.


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Preface 1


Preface The past is a foreign country: they do things dif ferently there. — L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between This collection of essays aims not only to supply a context for Chaucer’s poetry on the basis of well established scholarship in this field but also to challenge assumptions that lie behind much of the continuing work on Chaucer. These relate to matters of textual authority, literary biog- raphy, poetic design, political af filiations and sympathies, and religious convictions. It may seem surprising to those familiar with the great editions of Skeat (1894), Robinson (1933 and 1957) and The Riverside Chaucer under the general editorship of Larry D. Benson (1987) that we should still be concerned with the textual authority of editions of the Canterbury Tales. But it seems clear from the work of Charles Moorman (1993) and Roy Vance Ramsey (1994 and 2010) that Skeat’s and Robinson’s texts (and hence also that of The Riverside Chaucer) have not been based on fresh collations of the copy-text, the Ellesmere MS, and that scholars have not as yet made suf ficient use of Manly-Rickert’s monumental edition of 1940 with its wealth of textual detail pointing, among other things, to the Hengwrt MS as a more authoritative basis for an edition of the Canterbury Tales. Simon Horobin (Magdalen College, Oxford) examines the work of Moorman and Ramsey in a review article. The identification of Chaucer as a Ricardian poet is justified perhaps by the f lowering of his work in the 1380s and 1390s, but...

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