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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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CAROLINE E. JONESA Lesson in Patience 63

Extract

Caroline E. Jones A Lesson in Patience This essay will assess the importance of the Matthean Beatitudes in Patience, British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x, Art.3, and will demonstrate how thor- oughly this beatitudinal inf luence governs the didacticism of the poem. It is widely accepted that this poem by the Gawain-poet,1 along with Cleanness,2 uses the Beatitudes to convey meaning. However, a more detailed study of this imperative aspect will unveil an altogether more comprehensive dependence upon the set of blessings and the theology that surrounds them than has hitherto been noticed. I propose that the Old Testament story of Jonah and the layering of moral instruction underpinning it were carefully chosen and reworked by the Gawain-poet to promulgate aspects of the Beatitudes as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew, 5.3–10). His handling of the blessings also reveals his awareness of the thousand years of commentary that had surrounded the subtleties of their meaning by the fourteenth century. And by using the exemplum of Jonah and the Beatitudes in this way the poet has been able to demonstrate unequivocally what Christian patience actually entails. As the Beatitudes and the Gawain-poet’s rendition of them in Patience will be the subject of close scrutiny here I reproduce for convenience below the extended version of the Matthean Beatitudes, both the Vulgate Latin and the Douay Rheims translation, as well as the poet’s interpretation of them as they appear in Patience (9–28): 3. Beati pauperes spiritu: quoniam ipsorum est regnum...

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