David Matthews explores how Caxton’s awareness of linguistic change informed his editing methods. Caxton’s editing of Trevisa's translation of Higden’s Polychronicon, for example, shows a distinct diachronic consciousness and a desire to forge something new out of Trevisa's ‘old’ English. This stands in contrast to his more deferential treatment of Chaucer. Matthews thus differentiates between philology as a tool for understanding another language and as an editorial practice focused on rendering texts transparent.
Andrew Lynch recuperates an overlooked aspect of Chaucerian reception in the nineteenth century: Chaucer’s Catholicism. By the nineteenth century, to be Catholic meant to be un-English, even unpatriotic. Lynch reviews the different strategies employed by literary critics to dilute the idea of Chaucer as a Catholic believer. Chaucer’s Catholicism was subjected to processes of infantilisation in order to promote his status as the father of English poetry.
Ruth Evans explores the under-recognised but striking use of rhyme-breaking in Chaucer’s poetry, present in the Canterbury Tales, the Book of the Duchess, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. Evans draws upon a recent resurgence of critical interest in the politics of form to argue that Chaucerian rhyme-breaking warrants closer attention not only for its ironic effect, but also for its potential to illuminate Chaucer’s position within the multilingual context of late-medieval England.
For 700 years, Geoffrey Chaucer has spoken to scholars and amateurs alike. How does his work speak to us in the twenty-first century? This volume provides a unique vantage point for responding to this question, furnished by the pioneering scholar of medieval literary studies, Stephanie Trigg: the symptomatic long history. While Trigg's signature methodological framework acts as a springboard for the vibrant conversation that characterises this collection, each chapter offers an inspiring extension of her scholarly insights. The varied perspectives of the outstanding contributors attest to the vibrancy and the advancement of debates in Chaucer studies: thus, formerly rigid demarcations surrounding medieval literary studies, particularly those concerned with Chaucer, yield in these essays to a fluid interplay between Chaucer within his medieval context; medievalism and ‘reception’; the rigours of scholarly research and the recognition of amateur engagement with the past; the significance of the history of emotions; and the relationship of textuality with subjectivity according to their social and ecological context. Each chapter produces a distinctive and often startling interpretation of Chaucer that broadens our understanding of the dynamic relationship between the medieval past and its ongoing re-evaluation. The inventive strategies and methodologies employed in this volume by leading thinkers in medieval literary criticism will stimulate exciting and timely insights for researchers and students of Chaucer, medievalism, medieval studies, and the history of emotions, especially those interested in the relationship between medieval literature, the intervening centuries and contemporary cultural change.
‘Snail-horn perception’ in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
Elizabeth Robertson brings together Keats’s ‘snail-horn perception’ with medieval theory of the senses, especially optics, and medieval theology, to analyse the first tenuous encounters between Troilus and Criseyde. During their sensually-charged optical exchanges, both physiological and psychological processes are at work to create great emotional force in the text and impact on the text’s readers.
William Morris’s News from Nowhere and Chaucer’s dream visions
John M. Ganim
John Ganim unpacks William Morris’s eroticised but anxious politics in News from Nowhere. Ganim highlights the significance of the emotional attachment to environment in the formulation of Morris’s utopia. He also considers the enabling influence of the medieval dream vision, especially Chaucer’s, for promoting ‘psychological experience and fantasy’. Both themes illuminate Morris’s conflicted approach to subjects that caused him discomfort due to his perverse familial situation.
Chaucer in the nineteenth-century popular consciousness
Stephen Knight offers an array of new material from nineteenth-century media (newspapers and magazines) made accessible by the digitisation of archival records. Knight showcases extraordinary examples of extra-canonical Chaucer reception that highlight the emerging literary proclivities of the reading public, and the interest of nineteenth-century editors in re-presenting Chaucer’s works to larger audiences and targeting specific groups: women, children, the well-read. These newly available sources open up avenues for further enquiry into the roots of modern medievalism.
The face is a vital site of embodied emotional display. By examining descriptions of facial pallor in a range of Chaucer’s works, Downes explores the poet’s representation of the face as an affective text, which launches an interpretative challenge to both the medieval and the modern reader of fiction, as well as deepening our understanding of cultural expressions of feeling in the pre-modern era.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen deftly pairs ‘heavy atmosphere’ – ideas about weather and mood – in Chaucer’s works, while at the same time unsettling received ideas about a unidimensional human and elemental world. In Cohen’s exploration of them, the ‘weighty’ atmosphere of the Reeve’s Tale and the fate of Arcite in the Knight’s Tale contrast sharply with Troilus’s celestial transcendence.
Some Middle English narratives juxtapose representations of hunting and histories of aristocratic loss. The Book of the Duchess and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight redirect anxieties about the contingency and precariousness of lordly advantage in a world that sometimes seems to be ruled by Fortune. Though produced in different formal traditions and different circumstances, the two poems display comparable features of a broader sense of ‘seigneurial poetics’ in late medieval texts.