Literature and Theatre

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Worthy friends

Speght’s Chaucer and Speght’s Spenser

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Elisabeth Chaghafi

Thomas Speght was the first Chaucer editor to present readers with a ‘medieval’ Chaucer firmly situated in the past. By providing a substantial apparatus of supplementary materials aiming to facilitate access to Chaucer’s works, Speght was implicitly highlighting Chaucer’s datedness. At the same time, Speght also used his ‘additions’ to present Chaucer as a true English classic and national poet still worthy of being read, and to insist that Chaucer’s works continued to be relevant to his sixteenth-century readers. This chapter traces the evolution of the front and back matter of Speght’s editions (of 1598 and 1602) and analyses how they serve Speght’s double agenda to present Chaucer as a poet both ancient and ‘modern’. In particular, it examines how Speght pursued his double strategy by stressing links between Chaucer and Edmund Spenser and by fashioning a ‘friendship’ between the two major English poets of the past and present.

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Wise wights in privy places

Rhyme and stanza form in Spenser and Chaucer

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Richard Danson Brown

This chapter explores Spenser’s technical debt to Chaucer arguing for the semantic character of Spenser’s rhyming practice, and the ways in which his choices of rhyme and stanza impinge on the broader meanings of his poems. The first section analyses Chaucer and Spenser’s use of rime riche, arguing that while the device shows the latter’s fealty to the former, it also shows the updating of Chaucerian language to the metrical norms of early modern English. The second section explores the question of stanzaic syntax, arguing that Spenser wanted a more restrictive mise-en-page than in the Chaucer folios; this is illustrated through a detailed reading of his continuation of the Squire’s Tale in The Faerie Queene IV.iii which stresses the extreme repetitions across stanzas in which Spenser specialised. In this view, repetition is a device used in context to enhance readerly wonder at the extraordinary deeds narrated, while Spenserian diction works to keep Chaucerian English in the reader’s mind. The final section reopens the old question of the origins of the Spenserian stanza, repointing an old answer: the Spenserian is a deliberate development of the rhyme royal stanza as practised by Chaucer.

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The source of poetry

Pernaso, Paradise and Spenser’s Chaucerian craft

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Claire Eager

The June eclogue of The Shepheardes Calender is famous for its homage to Chaucer, marking Spenser’s thinking about his project of making poetry in relation to an English literary past. This chapter explores the insights ‘June’ offers into the role Chaucer played in Spenser’s poetic ambitions by examining the spatialised poetics of ‘June’ alongside Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. Both poems stipulate a similar setting for the main character’s predicament: a locus amoenus described in terms of Paradise. In each case a despairing emotional state prevents the character from experiencing the joys of the paradisal space; each poem links this situation to a spatialised account of poetic making that locates literary failure, inspiration and achievement within its imagined geography. The chapter investigates resonances between the two poems (and A Theatre for Worldlings) and their implications for Spenser’s Chaucerian poetics. Staging a character’s isolation from the ultimately pleasant place serves to highlight problems associated with poetic inheritance and ambition and to frame the solutions both poems contemplate – including access to the Muses’ Parnassus and the fountain of Helicon. For Spenser, importing classical and Christian images of paradise into the landscape of English poetry seems to require a series of moves amounting to colonisation.

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Romancing Geoffrey

Chaucer and romance in the manuscript tradition

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Gareth Griffith

This chapter examines the ways in which the transmission of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially in manuscripts, reshaped the relationship between ‘Chaucer’ and ‘romance’, paving the way for Spenser’s own particular mode of romance in The Faerie Queene. Particular attention is given to the inclusion of The Tale of Gamelyn and The Tale of Beryn in early manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, giving them ‘Chaucerian’ status, and to the manuscript context of genuinely Chaucerian works when excerpted and placed alongside non-Chaucerian texts, in so-called ‘miscellany’ manuscripts.

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Rereading Chaucer and Spenser

Dan Geffrey with the New Poete

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Edited by: Rachel Stenner, Tamsin Badcoe and Gareth Griffith

This is a much-needed volume that brings together established and early career scholars to provide new critical approaches to the relationship between Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser. By reading one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages alongside one of the greatest poets of the English Renaissance, this collection poses questions about poetic authority, influence and the nature of intertextual relations in a more wide-ranging manner than ever before. With its dual focus on authors from periods often conceived as radically separate, the collection also responds to current interests in periodisation. This approach will engage academics, researchers and students of medieval and early modern culture.

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Propagating authority

Poetic tradition in The Parliament of Fowls and the Mutabilitie Cantos

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Craig Berry

Spenser ends his career with the Mutabilitie Cantos, where in refusing to describe the clothing of Dame Nature, he refers us to Alan of Lille via Chaucer, who invokes Alan’s authority for the same purpose in The Parlement of Foules. Spenser’s representation of poetic tradition shares with Chaucer’s dream vision an interest in rhetorically linking the earth-bound poet with a community of readers who also write, a community depicted as both historically bound and transcendent. Spenser’s platonic representation of Chaucer as an individual precursor who is also a transparent vessel of divine inspiration locates the poet within the mythos of Mutabilitie subsumed by Nature: ever-changing and yet still the same, eternally linked in poetic tradition even as Mutabilitie threatens the temporal artefacts of poetic production and the poet himself. Like Spenser’s deferral to a remote authority through an intermediary, Chaucer’s chain of dreamers and books in the Parlement figures the poet’s reaching for a durable source of literary connection, and for both poets, the glimmer of tradition gives the poet a sense of crossing the boundaries of his own mortality while maintaining ties to the sublunary activity of writing poems.

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‘New matter framed upon the old’

Chaucer, Spenser and Luke Shepherd’s ‘New Poet’

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Harriet Archer

This chapter contends that Spenser’s play on the tension between old and new in his Shepherdes Calender (1579), and its construction of Geoffrey Chaucer as both a canonical forefather and a byword for subversion, may be productively set in dialogue with the rudderless ‘new poet’ sent up by the gospeller Luke Shepherd’s satire Philogamus (1548). What did it mean for Spenser to be introduced as a ‘new poet’ in the late sixteenth century? How did current conceptions of literary change and continuity shape the significance of the epithet for Spenser’s first readers, and what particular discourses did its deployment activate? By considering the broad range of novelty’s contemporary connotations, the chapter suggests how the Tudor reinterpretation of Chaucer’s legacy informs further facets of Spenser’s engagement with the idea of newness, beyond the dynamic of literary influence and innovation. Religious reforms had invested ‘novelty’ with confessional significance, while new poetry represented a challenge to textual authorities from established religious doctrines to the nascent vernacular canon to historical truth. This chapter shows Spenser navigating this contested landscape in a guise redolent of Shepherd’s literary fool, to effect the instigation of a complex, layered authorial identity.

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‘Litle herd gromes piping in the wind’

The Shepheardes Calender, The House of Fame and ‘La Compleynt’

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Helen Barr

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.

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Rachel Stenner, Tamsin Badcoe and Gareth Griffith

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Diverse pageants

Normative arrays of sexuality

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Helen Cooper

Spenser’s choice of Chaucer as his master was a matter less of anxiety of influence than of deliberate and self-promoting emulation. Both his debts and his creative encounters are apparent especially in his responses to Chaucer’s exploration of different kinds of love and sexuality, from the cosmic to the lustful, signalled most evidently in Britomart’s quotation from the Franklin’s Tale. Spenser further extends such an exploration to the allegorical relationships between his figures for virtue and vice.