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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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BRENDAN O’CONNELLThe Poetics of Fraud: Jean de Meun, Dante and Chaucer 261

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Brendan O’Connell The Poetics of Fraud: Jean de Meun, Dante and Chaucer In a memorable formulation Helen Cooper has argued that the House of Fame ‘is powered by two massively strong responses to Dante on Chaucer’s part: first, that he was awesomely, mind-blowingly great as a poet; and second, that he was wrong’.1 The strength of her analysis lies in the extent to which it situates the dif ferences between the poetic projects of Dante and Chaucer within a primarily ethical framework. In highlighting Chaucer’s reluctance to pass of f his own opinions as eternal divine judgment Cooper addresses a fundamental point: Chaucer’s sense of what it means to be a Christian poet dif fers profoundly from Dante’s. In this essay I shall argue that a number of the dif ferences between Dante and Chaucer can be traced to their very dif ferent responses to the vision of poetic representation and authority found in Le Roman de la rose. In particular both poets recognise and respond to Jean de Meun’s exploitation of the discourse and vocabulary of fraud and falsification in his consideration of the problems of represen- tation and poetic authority. While Dante’s indebtedness to Le Roman de la rose remains a controversial matter, his account of the falsifiers in the Inferno strongly suggests direct inf luence and establishes (as I shall call it) a ‘poetics of fraud’ enabling him to distinguish legitimate modes of rep- resentation from illegitimate. In the House of Fame Chaucer exploits the language of...

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