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Chaucer’s Narrators and the Rhetoric of Self-Representation

Michael Foster

Methods of representing individual voices were a primary concern for Geoffrey Chaucer. While many studies have focused on how he expresses the voices of his characters, especially in The Canterbury Tales, a sustained analysis of how he represents his own voice is still wanting. This book explores how Chaucer’s first-person narrators are devices of self-representation that serve to influence representations of the poet. Drawing from recent developments in narratology, the history of reading, and theories of orality, this book considers how Chaucer adapts various rhetorical strategies throughout his poetry and prose to define himself and his audience in relation to past literary traditions and contemporary culture. The result is an understanding of how Chaucer anticipates, addresses, and influences his audience’s perceptions of himself that broadens our appreciation of Chaucer as a master rhetorician.
Contents: Geoffrey Chaucer – Late fourteenth century literature – Orality as a mode of transmitting texts in Middle English literature – The narrator – Rhetorical constructions of the self – The narrator as a persona – Medieval ways of reading texts – Performance of the self – Constructing identities through texts – Identifying audiences in the Middle Ages – Identifying contemporary audiences of historical texts – Rhetorical topoi in literature – Textual transmission in the late fourteenth century – Creating identities in Middle English literature – Defining the relationship between author, narrator, and audience – The idea of the author in Middle English literature – Ricardian social history and literature – Works discussed: The Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, The Parliament of Fowls, The Pearl-Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, William Langland.