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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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GERALD MORGANChaucer’s Knight’s Tale: The Book of the Duke 153

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Gerald Morgan Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale: The Book of the Duke ‘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.91–3; 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, 22–8 Introduction The textual dif ficulties 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 or under- estimate the degree to which Chaucer has brought towards completion his 154 Gerald Morgan comic masterpiece. Indeed it is evident from a recent essay by Robert Meyer- Lee that scholars have created fragments where no fragmentation is to be found in the original text.1 Thus the General...

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