What happens when Chaucer turns up where we don’t expect him to be? Transporting Chaucer draws on the work of the British sculptor Antony Gormley alongside more traditional literary scholarship to show that Chaucer’s play with textual history and chronological time prefigures how his poetry becomes incorporate with later (and earlier) texts. The shuttling of bodies, names, and sounds in and amongst works that Chaucer did write anticipates Chaucerian presences in later (and earlier) works that he did not. Chaucer’s characters, including ‘himself’ refuse to stay put in one place and time. This book bypasses the chronological borders of literary succession to read The Canterbury Tales and Chaucer’s Dream Vision poetry in present company with Chaucerian ‘apocrypha’, and works by Shakespeare, Davenant and Dryden. Conventional models of source and analogue study are re-energised to reveal unexpected (and sometimes unsettling) literary cohabitations and re-placements. Transporting Chaucer presents innovative readings of relationships between medieval texts and early modern drama, and between literary texts and material culture. Associations between medieval architecture, pilgrim practice, manuscript illustration, and the soundscapes of dramatic performance reposition how we read Chaucer’s oeuvre and what gets made of it. Written for scholars and students (undergraduate and graduate) who work in medieval English literary studies and early modern drama, Transporting Chaucer offers a new approach to how we encounter texts through time.
Beginning with Antony Gormley’s Transport sculpture in Canterbury cathedral, the Introduction introduces key conceptual premises of the book. It shows how Transport re-presents bodies in time in a fashion that recalls characteristics of medieval cultural practices: ecclesiastical space, written texts such as Piers Plowman, The Book of Margery Kempe, Mystery plays and devotional texts. Discussion of religious iconography between The Book of the Duchess and The Miller’s Tale shows how Chaucer’s writing occupies a distinctive place in this blurring of boundaries between historical materiality, scriptural history, and contemporary fictions. Bodily transport between Chaucer’s own works anticipates the transport that is yet to be made of them in works that he did not compose.
Chapter One explores the movement of the body of the Pardoner between Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Canterbury Interlude and the stained glass and architecture of Canterbury Cathedral. Dramatised in the spaces between the inn and the cathedral, suspended somewhere between London and Canterbury, the Pardoner is a portable pilgrim relic whose ontology is as inscrutable as his sexual anatomy. Signed with signs of Thomas Becket’s murder and his healing ampullae of blood and water, the Pardoner’s sexually illegible body conflates the desire for the revelation of hidden human anatomy with the parading of pilgrimage trophy. The Pardoner is a concealed display of an abjected Becket and a tormented Christ as he rides away from Canterbury at the rear of his pilgrim group. The play with signs and religious practice replicates how foundational church practices and beliefs move beyond strict ecclesiastical control.
Through examination of codicology and editorial procedure Chapter Two shows how The Canterbury Interlude and The Tale of Beryn (companion texts found two thirds of the way through MS Northumberland 455), upset chronological linearity and confound normative co-ordinates of time and place. The signs of personhood (especially props and names) in all these texts, and the Anglo-Norman source, Bérinus are radically unstable. In their Canterbury setting, narrated by a Merchant pilgrim, preceded by a Chaucerian Prologue, and in the midst of a codex of The Canterbury Tales, the foreign bodies of Bérinus become persons rather familiar from the works of Chaucer, especially Gioffrey and the inconsistent cameo appearances of ‘Chaucer himself’. The borders of narrative text and literary history unravel.
Chapter 3 explores how hands in the written text of The Canterbury Tales reproduce the conflicted role of hands in medieval thought. When those hands come to be illustrated, they disrupt linear literary narrative and principles of manuscript ordination. Readers who come to illustrated copies of The Canterbury Tales are brought face to face with bodies that may tell anticipated memories of textual hands they have encountered elsewhere. Their recall and their expectation replays text and image back and forth across the visual and verbal texts of the Canterbury Tales and other places besides. The temporal movement of Chaucer’s ‘own’ hands is especially complex. Through discussion of gesture, manicules, and codicology, the chapter dismantles Chaucer’s iconic left hand from its customary placement.
Chapter Four shows how Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream unfolds a wrinkle in time that discloses the memorial presence of Emily and Arcite from The Knight’s Tale and Two Noble Kinsmen. Emily and Arcite cannot be properly admitted to A Midsummer Night’s Dream because they would wreck the couplings of the play on which Theseus dynastic desires depend. But when Emily and Arcite become available to the temporal imagination of these three works, chronology and heteronormativity will not work. The Knight’s Tale, Dream and Kinsmen are intratemporal; the bodies, names and desires of their characters evade the policing of law-makers and guardians of literary history.
Chapter Five discusses the intratemporal relationship of The Knight’s Tale to Two Noble Kinsmen, Davenant’s The Rivals, Lydgate’s The Siege of Thebes, and Dryden’s Palamon and Arcite. Two Noble Kinsmen incorporates the holiday world of The Miller’s Tale back into The Knight’s where it is only imperfectly contained. Davenant can be seen to swerve in and out of Fletcher and Shakespeare and Lydgate and Chaucer to tell the story of legitimate royal succession. His choice of Lydgatean names, however, cues the memory of noble annihilation and revolution yet to come. Only by diverting the course of Theban history and the end of The Knight’s Tale can Davenant stave off complete disaster but for him and for all the other authors (even including his ‘successor’ Dryden), political and literary lineage and are no more than staged manoeuvres. Poetic and royal lines of succession lack distinction.
Sounding The House of Fame in Troilus and Cressida
Chapter Six argues that Troilus and Cressida and The House of Fame share a distinctive soundscape that collapses the distance that normative literary history would put between them. Trojan laud becomes the tittle-tattle of Southbank stews. Both works eliminate difference between voice, sound, noise, and air. In both works, the trumpet plays a key role. Resulting from its brazen lack of valves, the trumpet blows literary repute and stinky fart with insouciant caprice. The final part of the chapter considers the crucial role of silence and name in each work. The Chaucerian narrator refuses to anchor the free-floating tidings of Troy with the authority of a Proper Name. The figure of Antenor in Troilus is his opposite: a name without a voice.
The Shepheardes Calender, The House of Fame and ‘La
The Dedicatory Epistle to The Shepheardes Calendar tells us that the ‘newe
poet’ wrote with the ‘sound of ancient poets ringing in his ears’. The
Calendar’s scholarly apparatus figures Chaucer as a pastoral poetic
progenitor, aligned with Virgil. In the eclogues proper, however, precise
reference to Chaucer’s words and phrases are scarce. The most precise recall
are the lines in the February eclogue about little herdgrooms piping in
broom bushes from The House of Fame. Yet, for a reader whose ears are tuned
to Chaucerian pitch, these lines cause problems. Those little herdgrooms,
piping in their green corn, become enveloped in a musical troupe from
Chaucer’s poem that approaches cacophony; pipes become eclipsed by
unnameable noise, and the names of Tityrus and Colin Clout are comically
disfigured. Resonance (literary tinnitus) is difficult to regulate. How
far does it extend? How do you moderate its volume and tone? If those lines
on pipers and herdgrooms ringing in the new poet’s head are not taken
directly from Chaucer at all, Chaucer is read as a Chaucerian. If they are
taken from Chaucer then Spenser may have recognised Chaucer, not as an
illustrious forebear, but as a comedy sparring partner.