Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales: A Short Introduction by John C. Hirsh

By John C. Hirsh

This concise and vigorous survey introduces scholars without past wisdom to Chaucer, and especially to the 'Canterbury Tales'. Written in an invitingly inclusive but intellectually refined kind, it presents crucial proof concerning the poet, together with a biography and caricature of his significant works, in addition to supplying a framework for considering creatively approximately his writing. Chapters concentration upon and advertise an engaged studying of the 'Canterbury Tales', introducing prior scholarly opinion as precious. John Hirsh encourages the scholar to learn the paintings much less when it comes to literary realism, with a spotlight upon person pilgrims and how they react to one another, than as a socially built creation during which the individuals and the needs of the pilgrims are discovered through a sequence of thought of buildings which point out either authorial that means and cultural context. Readers additionally achieve a feeling of Chaucer's different works, for instance why his translation of Boethius used to be very important, and what the historical past was once to works resembling 'Troilus and Criseyde', the 'Book of the Duchess', and the 'Parliament of Fowls'. attention of issues comparable to gender crosses over a number of chapters. The booklet presents the fitting relief to realizing and appreciating Geoffrey Chaucer and his works.

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219) ticularly in an author like Chaucer where such concerns are privileged. The issues which engage us now are indeed different than those of an earlier century – the twentieth no less than the fourteenth – but it is we who must address them. In Chaucer’s own day, and for some time thereafter, his defense of women, indeed his championing of them, was never in doubt. The traditional image of the poet as “Venus’ own clerk” was reinforced by the testimony of those who shortly followed him, like the fifteenth-century Scottish translator of Virgil, Gavin Douglas, who recorded in the Prologue to that work that Chaucer “was ever, God knows, all women’s friend,” though in the same breath he objected to Chaucer’s unsympathetic representation of Aeneas as a false and deceitful lover in the Legend of Good Women.

Even when dealing with commanding women, like St. Cecilia, a Roman noble in the Second Nun’s Tale, Chaucer insists that her authority, bonded to her gender as it is, finally resides in her faith rather than in her class, and that it is that which animates her. In an example which avoids any suggestion of Christian religiousness, Chaucer describes a woman of particular power and energy in the person of Zenobia, the historical third-century queen of Palmyra who, after holding much of the Eastern Empire in the name of Rome after her husband’s suspicious death, rebelled and tried to establish her own throne, but was finally defeated by the Roman Emperor Aurelian in AD 272, who returned her to Rome in chains, there to appear in his triumph.

But the tale is also a type, one named by Helen Cooper in The Structure of the Canterbury Tales5 36 Gender and Religion, Race and Class “the girl with two lovers” (227), and as such has affinities to the tales told by the Miller, the Merchant, and the Knight. The affinities are not only in the narrative structure Cooper described, the girl with two lovers, they are also in the pattern of images which run throughout, and which here as elsewhere in Chaucer qualify, describe further, or sometimes undermine that narrative structure.

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