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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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GAVIN HUGHES Fourteenth-Century Weaponry, Armour and Warfare in Chaucer and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 83


Gavin Hughes Fourteenth-Century Weaponry, Armour and Warfare in Chaucer and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight And over that an haubergeoun For percynge of his herte. — The Tale of Sir Thopas, B2 2051–2 This essay attempts to re-appraise selected passages of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from a wider military histori- cal and archaeological perspective. In particular, my aim is to discuss the military context of arms and armour in the portrait of the Knight in the General Prologue, the tournament in the Knight’s Tale and the arming scenes in The Tale of Sir Thopas and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. One of the most pressing dilemmas for any such assessment of the literary sources is the problematic, and occasionally multiple, meanings of words and nomenclature. Today, such issues have been greatly standardised, but we should remember that when Chaucer uses, for example, the term spere he is not necessarily referring to the short-shafted weapon we recognise today but, more often, to the long-shafted lance favoured by the knightly classes.1 Equally, popular misconceptions abound regarding medieval arms and armour.2 When discussing medieval military terms we are potentially faced with an alarming quagmire. While many words and phrases may still appear to make sense to a twenty-first century reader, such as ‘harness’,3 the original meaning may be contorted or changed altogether. Worse still, there is a bewildering array of archaic terms and technical designations for specific armour parts, all of which must be...

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