The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Delasanta, Rodney. "And of Great Reverence: Chaucer's Man of Law." 5 (1971): 288-310.
Chaucer creates a pattern of mistakes for the Man of Law which undermine his claim to authority. The Man of Law refers to characters mentioned in prologues to works as if they were the characters on which the work concentrated, thus suggesting that he has only read the prologues to these works, not the works themselves. Even his references to Old Testament characters reflect second-hand knowledge. In addition, Chaucer gives the Man of Law the same kind of rhetorical language he gives to characters like the Pardoner and the Merchant whom he deliberately undermines. Furthermore, in the Man of Law's Tale, Chaucer reveals the Man of Law to be a pharisee by having him paint Christians as completely good and the "enemy" as entirely evil. Chaucer thus undercuts both the Man of Law's pretended cultural refinements and his self-proclaimed righteousness.
Donner, Morton. "Derived Words in Chaucer's Language." 13 (1978): 1-15.
Chaucer uses original word derivations for a number of reasons such as rhyme, meter, parallelism, and translation. Primarily, Chaucer seeks to make his language work hard by creating or choosing exactly the right word. Chaucer also used prefixes like "un-" and suffixes like "-less" and "-ish" to create new words and sharpen his poetry. Gerunds, nouns formed from adjectives, and conversion nouns and verbs all contribute to the strength and impact of Chaucer's poetry.
Green, Richard Firth. "Troilus and the Game of Love." 13 (1979): 201-20.
In the Middle Ages only a fine line separated flirtation from seduction. The language of friendship was based on the language of love, creating ambiguous discourses. Because only the upper classes participated, such dialogue indicated the difference between social classes. The idea that a lover could die for love became part of social interraction. Like love-talk, the hyperbolic emotion accompanying love was an aristocratic phenomenon. Only personal integrity kept the ambiguities of the game in check. Writers could use the blurred distinction between friendship and amorous love to create irony as Chaucer does in Troilus and Criseyde which must be considered in this context. Pandarus demonstrates love talk when he mentions his mistress and speaks to Criseyde, but he is only playing the game as an aristocrat. Diomede makes his suit most forceful through his capacity for love talk, and it is to this ability that Criseyde capitulates. Troilus is out of place because he loves purely in a way courtly love does not comprehend, and he regards the standards of courtly love behavior as banalities. His love makes him inarticulate. In the end, Troilus laughs because he has learned that love is part of a fallen world in which he no longer participates.
Grennen, Joseph E. "Science and Sensibility in Chaucer's Clerk." 6 (1971): 81-93.
In Griselda, careful readers can find a portrait of "clerkliness," and by doing so characterize the Clerk. Chaucer makes the Clerk reveal himself in his tale by using technical diction. In the Clerk's Tale, readers also see the tension between the academic and pastoral parts of a clerk's life. The Clerk easily shifts Walter from human to principle when excusing Walter's tests of Griselda. The "tests" become an examination of "a scholastic problem of motion" (88) as demonstrated by the artificiality of the action. Walter becomes the first cause, while Griselda becomes the concept of the object receiving action.
Hermann, John P. "Dismemberment, Dissemination, Discourse: Sign and Symbol in the Shipman's Tale." 19 (1985): 302-37.
In the Shipman's Tale the monk's use of hunting language in his first conversation with the merchant's wife points to the cruelty of his position as an adulterer. This language also indicates the dismemberment of the merchant/husband as a result of his wife's adultery. When the wife swears to keep her conversation with Don John secret, she curses herself with dismemberment. The monk also stands in danger of dismemberment for his treachery to the merchant whom he claims as his kin and to God whom he has vowed to serve chastely. The adultery separates the two parts of the unified sign, and instead of reconstructing it, indulges in and privileges the "free play of signifiers" (314). The metaphor of plowing, both sexually and monetarily also figures into this play. The monk, merchant, and wife all exchange roles, vows, and money in this tale. The demands of the body in contrast to the demands of God, dominate the tale. The French setting of the tale gives rise to a number of charged, parodic references, including the association of the wife with Mary Magdalene, and references to Peter, John, St. Martin, and St. Denis. The references to animals remind readers of the animal nature of the characters in the tale.
Kahrl, Stanley J. "Chaucer's Squire's Tale and the Decline of Chivalry." 7 (1973): 194-209.
The magical elements in the Squire's Tale have no sources because the Squire wants to create an effect, not a congruous story which suggests a movement towards the exotic and disorderly in late medieval courts. The Squire chooses an unusual setting in order to surpass Arthurian romances. Like the Knight, the Squire uses occupatio, but his comes off as a proud demonstration of his rhetorical knowledge. The Franklin deliberately interrupts the Squire to save him from embarrassing himself and to avoid any futher misconstructions of eloquence and gentillesse. The Squire's inability to tell his tale and to present an accurate representation of chivalric virtues demonstrates the decline of chivalry from an ideal code of behavior to a game.
Keiser, George R. "Language and Meaning in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale." 12 (1978): 147-61.
The swearing in the Shipman's Tale points to the failure of the merchant, wife, and monk to use language precisely. Instead of accepting this life as shadowy, these characters seek to change their circumstances, but in order to do so, they often choose to use language to cloud their motives. Oaths are combined with overstatement in such a way that the oath emphasizes the meaning behind the overstatement. The merchant's friendship with the monk is superficial as the merchant's failure to recognize the monk's nature indicates. Because of the merchant's over-concern with money, the simplicity which results makes him less sympathetic. The vague language and neutral moral atmosphere are appropriate to the teller of the Man of Law's Endlink. That the Man of Law's Endlink is a suitable transition to the Shipman's Tale suggests that the two pieces ought to be read as a unit.
Khinoy, Stephan A. "Inside Chaucer's Pardoner?" 6 (1972): 255-67.
Readers may explore the Pardoner as a problem of language use and its power. By accepting Harry Bailly's proposal to tell tales as a way to pass the time while travelling, the clergy accepted a proposal which, by its nature, required them to participate in lies. Thus, when the Nun's Priest tells his tale, he requests that the pilgrims find the nut and leave the chaff as a justification for telling a tale at all. The Pardoner, however, does not fit in with the clerical tale-tellers. Instead, he presents "art for art's sake" (258). He reverses the relationship between prologue and tale in that his immoral prologue imposes on his moral sermon in order to make the pilgrims the inversion itself. The way the Pardoner tells his tale causes his audience to pay more attention to the outside (chaff) of the tale than the inside (nut). Thus, the Pardoner takes a position opposite that of Reason with regard to language. Reason asserts that divine will names things. The Pardoner suggests that names are merely human convention. Though the external appearance of the old man is uninviting, Chaucer uses him to suggest that meaning and value are not imposed, but intrinsic.
Myers, D. E. "Focus and 'Moralite' in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 7 (1973): 210-20.
Three hierarchies overlap in the Nun's Priest's Tale. These create three different versions of the tale, "the fable version, the Nun's Priest's version, and Harry Bailly's version" (211). The fable version contains two morals which focus attention only on Chanticleer, thus suggesting that they are marginal to the tale as a whole. Such narrow focus points to the second version of the tale. Rhetoric is central to the Nun's Priest's version of the tale, since it focuses attention on Chanticleer as ruler. Because Chanticleer's story is that of a secular ruler, readers recognize that the Nun's Priest has directed his tale at the Knight. Examination of all of the Canterbury Tales shows that the Host's version addresses the workings of Providence and Fortune. Thus, readers can see the workings of Fortune on each of the three estates. The Nun's Priest, however, does not understand Fortune or Providence. He blames Destiny and Pertelote equally, a logical impossibility. The Host adds another level to the tale by allegorically associating Chanticleer with the Nun's Priest. Thus, the tale becomes a comment on prelates in general and the Nun's Priest in particular. The Nun's Priest's Tale, therefore, turns on its teller.
Olsson, Kurt. "Character and Truth in The Owl and the Nightingale." 11 (1977): 351-68.
By the twelfth century birds represent both the human mind and pride. The poem follows the traditional debate form in which both speakers seek winning, not necessarily truth. Although the owl presents herself as a Christ figure, her words and behavior toward the nightingale undermine this pose. The nightingale pictures herself as the singer of salvific song, but the fact that she refuses to go into the wastelands casts doubt on her saving purpose. Though the debate between the two quickly declines into the sensual, the two birds present language with its abilities to affect people and to create hope or sorrow. The end of the poem ironically overturns the traditional model in which an unresolvable debate is concluded by an appeal to authorities. Because there are no authorities to whom the birds can turn, the debate is settled by a show of force; the small birds join the nightingale. Both birds are, however, guilty of pride in their interpretation of truth.
Scattergood, V. J. "The Originality of the Shipman's Tale." 11 (1977): 210-31.
The Shipman's Tale clarifies Chaucer's definition of a bourgeois attitude towards money. Chaucer describes the merchant's household as prosperous, but unlike the merchants in the analogues, Chaucer's merchant is unnamed. Comparison between the monk's poor professional behavior and the merchant's excellent professional behavior emphasizes the merchant's honorability. The merchant also honors the friendship between himself and Don John, though Don John rejects the merchant once he gains the merchant's wife. The merchant's open behavior regarding his debt contrasts with the wife's and Don John's secretive deals to repay what they owe. The Shipman's Tale portrays merchants in a favorable light, though the merchant in the tale may be too concerned about earthly, as opposed to heavenly, things. The merchant also speaks plainly, while the wife and Don John speak ambiguously. Both the wife and Don John extricate themselves from potentially destructive situations by pretending that the merchant also speaks ambiguously. The literal quality makes the merchant vulnerable, but it also protects him from knowledge of the adultery his wife and Don John have committed.