The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Bergan, Brooke. "Surface and Secret in the Knight's Tale." 26 (1991): 1-16.
Language constantly fluctuates between transparency and opacity, and standard forms are always shifting. The Knight's Tale can be read with greater understanding when readers recognize the "transitional moment" in which "the shock of the new makes us conscious of language as surface" (3). Comparison to Boccaccio's Book of Theseus shows Chaucer's rhetorical changes and choices. Ironic subtext lies under every intense emotional moment. The narrator maintains the suddeness that ceremony should ritualize out of existence. The Knight's fascination with order leads him to partition off sections of his tale, as he does in the three temples, the three prayers, and the three signs. The Knight is, however, intent on subverting the romance genre, so the order he creates is always undercut. The "interpenetration" of romance and epic that the Knight creates mirrors Chaucer's interpenetration of oral and written tradition in the Canterbury Tales (14).
Bowman, Mary R. "'Half as she were mad': Dorigen in the Male World of the Franklin's Tale." 27 (1993): 239-51.
As a male poet, Chaucer experiences the difficulty of presenting women's voices, as the controversy over the Wife of Bath indicates. His female heroines must use masculine discourse to express themselves. Though Dorigen seems to achieve equal mastery in marriage, the Franklin reduces her to an object at the end of his tale. The Franklin espouses gentillesse, franchise, and freedom, but he assumes that men and women have the same relation to these virtues. The response of the different male and female characters in the tale indicates that this assumption is faulty at best. The final actions of the male characters appear much different from Dorigen's point of view. Dorigen expresses her grief, but in a different manner from the men in the tale, highlighting the difficulty of women faced with male discourse.
Christianson, Paul. "Chaucer's Literacy." 11 (1976): 112-27.
As a reader himself, Chaucer requires that his readers notice the effort involved in reading and writing. References to reading in Chaucer's works demonstrate Chaucer's belief that words conceal in order to reveal. The use of occupatio reminds readers of the time they must expend in order to read or to write. Chaucer does, however, show a skeptical attitude towards the idea that language must not replicate the world, but tell the truth about it. For him, experience is not an appropriate test for language. Ultimately, Chaucer forces his reader to see the problem of thinking and knowing.
Ebin, Lois. "Chaucer, Lydgate, and the 'Myrie tale.'" 13 (1979): 316-35.
Chaucer and the Host generate different definitions of the qualities of a good tale, and their definitions differ from Lydgate's perception. The Host operates under the definition that good stories compel the audience's attention and entertain. Chaucer seems, however, to operate under a different definition, one that examines the skill of the story-teller. This concern appears most clearly in the Reeve's Tale and the Man of Law's Tale. Chaucer further develops his concern with writing by connecting rhetorical skill to the intent of the story-teller as in the Merchant's, Squire's, Franklin's, and Pardoner's Tales. The Host's response to Melibee raises the question of multiple possible meanings. The Parson's Tale suggests an additional element of a good tale--audience benefit or edification. In Siege of Thebes, Lydgate suggests that a good tale both entertains and edifies. Lydgate moves away from his sources in order to emphasize virtues that the ruling class would imitate and to propound the power of words over the power of the sword.
Fritz, Donald W. "The Prioress's Avowal of Ineptitude." 9 (1974): 166-81.
The Prioress's claim of ineptitude indicates that she discusses the topos of the inexpressible. Instead of expressing a time-bound concept, the Prioress's words express concepts of faith. For medieval Christians, God was beyond language and the completion of life. God is, therefore, inexpressible. Augustine, Dante, the Pearl-Poet, Richard Rolle, and Malory also use this topos, as do Ambrose, St. Bonaventure, and Lydgate. The difference between the Latin of the song and the vernacular of the "real" world indicates that the reality of the song differs from the reality in which the young boy lives. This contrast also highlights the difference between the eternal and temporal worlds. Structurally, the stories of Demeter and Persephone and of the "litel clergeoun" are the same.
Gallick, Susan. "Styles of Usage in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 11 (1977): 232-47.
By having animals speak in high, middle, and low styles, Chaucer displays his attitude toward the rhetorical doctrine of styles. In the Nun's Priest's Tale, Chaucer uses four types of style (intimate, conversational, didactic, and poetic) to create certain effects. By sharply defining the shifts from one style to another, Chaucer forces his audience to recognize the different styles. In addition, when Chanticleer presents his murder exemplum, his language mimics that of the Prioress, allowing Chaucer to criticize her overly artificial literary style. The fox's exemplum suggests that style and tone, not content, result in a persuasive speech. Chaucer makes fun of his own art in the Nun's Priest's poor use of style. The Nun's Priest's Tale reflects Chaucer's interest in such different facets and uses of language as didacticism and persuasion.
Harwood, Britton J. "Language and the Real: Chaucer's Manciple." 6 (1972): 268-79.
The Manciple's Tale discusses the connection between words and things, mocking those who find the false reality of language a distraction from the "real world." The Manciple demonstrates that descriptions determine attitude when Phebus substitutes his own description of the wife for the one that the crow has given. As the tale progresses, readers note that Phebus has taught the crow to speak, but that same speech betrays him when the crow, who could sing more beautifully than the nightingale, forgets song in order to inform Phebus of his wife's adultery. By his contemptuous treatment of words which become real, the Manciple anticipates Christ, the Word become flesh. [For a correction of a typographical error, see "Editor's Note," 7 (1972): 84.]
Justman, Stewart. "Literal and Symbolic in the Canterbury Tales." 14 (1980): 199-214.
Medievalists accepted analogies as reality. The Wife of Bath and characters in the Shipman's Tale twist this traditional relationship, thereby undermining traditional ways of understanding. Turning a work such as the Song of Songs that is outside of social boundaries into symbol returns it to the social order. But re-literalizing such a text threatens authority. Chaucer employs the theme of counterfeiting or literalizing symbols in the Merchant's Tale. The Miller's, Pardoner's, and Nun's Priest's Tales also work to subvert authority. The "quitings" between characters are part of a pattern of sublimation. The action between the pilgrims is both physical and symbolic, however, so it does not completely destroy social order. Puns are part of Chaucer's questioning of authority in language.
Sharon-Zisser, Shirley. "The Squire's Tale and the Limits of Non-Mimetic Fiction." 26 (1992): 377-94.
The Squire's Tale is about the tension and limits of multiple ways of reading. The tale alternates between the poles of fantastic and metafictional narrative. The opening of the tale, the magical setting, and the way in which the knight creates an interruption and so disolves "the limits by which the recipients' society (and . . . the depicted society) defines and so orders its concept of 'reality'" (379) focus attention on the fantastic. The knight's language, strange to Cambyuskan's court, emphasizes his position as other. The gifts the knight brings force readers to read metafiction. Also, the narrator uses occupatio and diminutio to shift attention to the language and manner in which the tale is told. Both the metafictional and the fantastic ways of reading use the tension between "an ideal and a subversion of norms" (386), and both insist that readers use one particular method to the exclusion of the other. The Squire, in telling his tale, smudges the boundaries between literal and imaginative language. Ultimately the Squire's Tale forces readers to admit the boundaries of fiction.