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Responding to the lively resurgence of literary formalism, this volume delivers a timely and fresh exploration of the wo

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Chaucer and the Subversion of Form
 1107192846, 9781107192843

Table of contents :
Cover
Half-title
Series information
Title page
Copyright information
Table of contents
List of contributors
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Formalism and Medieval Literature
New Formalisms in Medieval Literary Studies
The Subversions of Form
Notes
Part I The Failures of Form
Chapter 1 “many a lay and many a thing”: Chaucer’s Technical Terms
Notes
Chapter 2 Chaucer’s Aesthetic Resources: Nature, Longing, and Economies of Form
Roundness: Boethian Sense-Perception and the Apprehension of Form
Purposiveness: Kant, Free Natural Beauty, and the Formal Object
Insufficiencies: “The Former Age” and “Fortune” in Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.3.21
Conclusion
Notes
Chapter 3 Against Order: Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary Critiques of Causality
The House of Fame
To the Lighthouse
My Life
Notes
Part II The Corporeality of Form
Chapter 4 Diverging Forms: Disability and the Monk’s Tales
Renouncing Form
Form and Genre of “Tragedie”
Asserting Norms
Breaking Form
Formal Prosthesis
Disability Futures
Notes
Chapter 5 Figures for “Gretter Knowing”: Forms in the Treatise on the Astrolabe
“Ful notable fourme”: Textual, Mechanical, and Cosmological Wholes
“In manere of a nett”: The Cosmic Network
“Ones for evere” and “Evermo”: Reliable Knowledge, Eternal Rhythms
“All the world”: Nonhierarchical Binaries, or The Equinox Effect
Notes
Chapter 6 The Heaviness of Prosopopoeial Form in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess
Notes
Part III The Forms of Reception
Chapter 7 Reading Badly: What the Physician’s Tale Isn’t Telling Us
Notes
Chapter 8 Birdsong, Love, and the House of Lancaster Gower Reforms Chaucer: Gower Reforms Chaucer
Notes
Chapter 9 Opening The Canterbury Tales: Form and Formalism in the General Prologue
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

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C H AU C E R A N D T H E S U BV E R S I O N OF FORM

Responding to the lively resurgence of literary formalism, this volume delivers a timely and fresh exploration of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Advancing “new formalist” approaches, medieval scholars have begun to ask what happens when structure fails to yield meaning, probing the very limits of poetic organization. While Chaucer is acknowledged as a master of form, his work also foregrounds troubling questions about formal agency: the disparate forces of narrative and poetic practice, readerly reception, intertextuality, genre, scribal attention, patronage, and historical change. This definitive collection offers diverse perspectives on Chaucer and a varied analysis of these problems, asking what happens when form is resisted by author or reader, when it fails by accident or by design, and how it can be misleading, errant, or even dangerous. Thomas A. Prendergast is Professor of English at the College of Wooster, Ohio. He is the author of Chaucer’s Dead Body: From Corpse to Corpus (2004) and Poetical Dust: Poets’ Corner and the Making of Britain (2015) and coeditor of Rewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400–​1602 (1999). Jessica Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of English at Washington University, St. Louis. She is the author of Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle (Cambridge, 2011).

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CAMBRIDGE STUDIES IN MEDIEVAL LITERATURE General Editor Alastair Minnis, Yale University Editorial Board Zygmunt G. Baránski, University of Cambridge Christopher C. Baswell, Barnard College and Columbia University Mary Carruthers, New York University Rita Copeland, University of Pennsylvania Roberta Frank, Yale University Jocelyn Wogan-​Browne, Fordham University

This series of critical books seeks to cover the whole area of literature written in the major medieval languages –​the main European vernaculars, and medieval Latin and Greek –​during the period c.1100–​ 1500. Its chief aim is to publish and stimulate fresh scholarship and criticism on medieval literature, special emphasis being placed on understanding major works of poetry, prose, and drama in relation to the contemporary culture and learning which fostered them. Recent Titles in the Series Lee Manion Narrating the Crusades: Loss and Recovery in Medieval and Early Modern English Literature Daniel Wakelin Scribal Correction and Literary Craft: English Manuscripts 1375–​1510 Jon Whitman (ed.) Romance and History: Imagining Time from the Medieval to the Early Modern Period Virginie Greene Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy Michael Johnston and Michael Van Dussen (eds.) The Medieval Manuscript Book: Cultural Approaches Tim William Machan (ed.) Imagining Medieval English: Language Structures and Theories, 500–​1500 Eric Weiskott English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History Sarah Elliott Novacich Shaping the Archive in Late Medieval England: History, Poetry, and Performance Geoffrey Russom The Evolution of Verse Structure in Old and Middle English Poetry: From the Earliest Alliterative Poems to Iambic Pentameter Ian Cornelius Reconstructing Alliterative Verse: The Pursuit of a Medieval Meter Sara Harris The Linguistic Past in Twelfth-​Century Britain Erik Kwakkel and Rodney Thomson (eds.) The European Book in the Twelfth Century Irina Dumitrescu The Experience of Education in Anglo-​Saxon Literature Jonas Wellendorf Gods and Humans in Medieval Scandinavia: Retying the Bonds Thomas A. Prendergast and Jessica Rosenfeld (eds.) Chaucer and the Subversion of Form A complete list of titles in the series can be found at the end of the volume.

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C H AU C E R A N D T H E S U BV E R S I O N O F   F O R M Edi ted by T H O M A S A .  P R E N D E RG A S T College of Wooster

and J E S S I C A RO S E N F E L D Washington University in St. Louis

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University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, ny 10006, usa 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia 314–​321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi –​110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06-​04/​06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781107192843 DOI: 10.1017/9781108147682 © Thomas A. Prendergast and Jessica Rosenfeld 2018 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2018 Printed in the United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc  A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data Names: Prendergast, Thomas A. (Thomas Augustine), editor. | Rosenfeld, Jessica, 1976– editor. Title: Chaucer and the subversion of form / edited by Thomas A. Prendergast, Jessica Rosenfeld. Description: Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2018. | Series: Cambridge studies in medieval literature; 104 | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017060370 | ISBN 9781107192843 (hardback) Subjects: LCSH: Chaucer, Geoffrey, –1400 – Criticism and interpretation. | Chaucer, Geoffrey, –1400 – Criticism, Textual. | Chaucer, Geoffrey, –1400 – Technique. Classification: LCC PR1924.C428 2018 | DDC 821/.1–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017060370 ISBN 978-​1-​107-​19284-​3 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-​party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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Contents

List of Contributors Acknowledgments

page vii ix

Introduction: Failure, Figure, Reception Thomas A. Prendergast and Jessica Rosenfeld

1

P art I  T h e Fai lures of F orm 1

“many a lay and many a thing”: Chaucer’s Technical Terms

21

2

Chaucer’s Aesthetic Resources: Nature, Longing, and Economies of Form

38

Against Order: Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary Critiques of Causality

61

Jenni Nuttall

Jennifer Jahner

3

Eleanor Johnson

P art II  T h e Corporeali t y of F orm 4

Diverging Forms: Disability and the Monk’s Tales

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5

Figures for “Gretter Knowing”: Forms in the Treatise on the Astrolabe

99

The Heaviness of Prosopopoeial Form in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess

125

Jonathan Hsy

Lisa H. Cooper

6

Julie Orlemanski

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Contents

Part III  T he F orms of Recepti on 7

Reading Badly: What the Physician’s Tale Isn’t Telling Us

149

8

Birdsong, Love, and the House of Lancaster: Gower Reforms Chaucer

165

Opening The Canterbury Tales: Form and Formalism in the General Prologue

182

Thomas A. Prendergast

Arthur Bahr

9

Stephanie Trigg

Bibliography Index

201 217

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Contributors

Arthur Bahr is Associate Professor of Literature at MIT and the author of Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations of Medieval London (Chicago, 2013). His essays have appeared in ELH, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, The Chaucer Review, and a range of edited collections. Recently he has been writing about the Pearl manuscript, while also pursuing a project about medieval manuscripts and figure skating –​shape-​making on sheets of parchment and ice. Lisa H.  Cooper is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-​Madison. She is the author of Artisans and Narrative Craft in Late Medieval England (Cambridge, 2011)  and coeditor of Lydgate Matters: Poetry and Material Culture in the Fifteenth Century (New York, 2008)  and The Arma Christi in Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture (Farnham, 2014). She is writing a book on the poetics of medieval practicality. Jonathan Hsy is Associate Professor of English at George Washington University. He is the author of Trading Tongues:  Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature (Columbus, OH, 2013)  and his publications on disability and medieval culture have appeared in Accessus, postmedieval, The Cambridge Companion to the Body in Literature (Cambridge, 2015), and Routledge Companion to John Gower (2017). He co-​directs (with Candace Barrington) the Global Chaucers project, and he is coediting (with Tory V. Pearman and Joshua R. Eyler) the medieval volume of Bloomsbury’s cross-​historical Cultural History of Disability. His current individual book project examines the artistic craft of medieval authors who identify as blind or deaf. Jennifer Jahner is Assistant Professor of English at California Institute of Technology. She is coeditor of Medieval and Early Modern Devotional Objects in Global Perspective (New  York, 2010)  and Historical Writing vii

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List of Contributors

in Britain and Ireland, 500–​1550 (Cambridge, forthcoming). She is currently finishing a book on poetics and law in high medieval England. Eleanor Johnson is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is the author of Practicing Literary Theory in the Late Middle Ages (Chicago, 2013)  and Staging Contemplation (Chicago, 2018). Her current research asks how poetry does the work of ecological philosophy in the Middle Ages. Jenni Nuttall is Fellow and Lecturer in Old and Middle English at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford. She is writing a book about poetic terminology, experiment, and innovation in Middle English and Middle Scots poetry. Julie Orlemanski is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is completing a monograph entitled “Symptomatic Subjects:  Bodies, Signs, and Narratives in Late Medieval England,” and her new project concerns medieval fictionality and prosopopoeia. Her work has appeared in Exemplaria, postmedieval, JMEMS, Textual Practice, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, and numerous edited collections. Thomas A. Prendergast is Professor of English at the College of Wooster. He is the author of Poetical Dust: Poets’ Corner and the Making of Britain (Philadelphia, 2015)  and Chaucer’s Dead Body:  From Corpse to Corpus (New York, 2004). He is currently working on a book entitled Affective Medievalism with Stephanie Trigg. Jessica Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle (Cambridge, 2011). Her essays have appeared in New Medieval Literatures, Exemplaria, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and various edited collections. She is currently writing a book on the history of envy and its relationship to rationality, justice, gender, and taxonomies of emotion. Stephanie Trigg is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Melbourne. She is author of Congenial Souls:  Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern (Minneapolis, 2002) and Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter (Philadelphia, 2012). She is currently Chief Investigator with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

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Acknowledgments

The progress of this volume has been incredibly smooth due to the ministrations of Linda Bree and Emily Hockley. Thanks also to Alastair Minnis and the anonymous readers for Cambridge University Press. Special thanks to the members of the Midwest Middle English Reading Group who gave us terrific feedback on the introduction: Alexis Becker, Ian Cornelius, Matthew Giancarlo, Justin Hastings, Michael Johnston, Sarah Noonan, Rosemary O’Neill, Julie Orlemanski, Arthur Russell, and Elizaveta Strakhov. Finally, we are grateful for the hawk-​eyed Thomas Sawyer, who put the manuscript in order for final submission to the press.

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Introduction

Failure, Figure, Reception Thomas A. Prendergast and Jessica Rosenfeld

At the end of his great romance Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer famously gives voice to anxiety about the various deformations that might await his poem. Casting his work as diminutive and vulnerable –​“litel bok” –​ the narrator (who at this moment seems to emerge most clearly as the poet himself ) prays that no scribe “miswrite” it in a different dialect, nor “mysmetre” it, as such a dialect might wrench its rhythms (v.1795, 1796, 1798).1 Readers, too, are sources of concern, as they might fail to understand the book. In the face of such threats, an author can simply hope and pray, and call upon his friends –​here “moral Gower” and “philosophical Strode” –​to take the book under their correction (v.1856, 7). Earlier on, at the start of Book ii, similar worries about communication across time are voiced, for “in forme of speche is chaunge” (ii.22), and the ancient love story related here may produce resistance and wonder instead of comprehension or compassion. In fact, it’s not even clear that the author is secure in his knowledge that he has produced a work worth preserving. He claims to be desperately challenged by his attempts to navigate his tempestuous subject matter, Troilus’ despair. He calls upon a muse to aid his art of rhyme, for such is his sole contribution to the narrative, the rest supposedly supplied by his fictive Latin source –​“as myn auctor seyde, so sey I” (ii.18). To make matters worse, our narrator apparently knows nothing about love, and so will inevitably speak “unfelyngly” (ii.19). However, the assured poet is never far from the scene, despite the classic Chaucerian “if I  konne” (ii.49) that concludes the proem to Book ii. Indeed, it is the very identifiability of that “if I konne” with the humble “Chaucerian narrator” found across Chaucer’s writings that allows us to see the confident author at work. Readers may wonder at the doings of Troilus, Pandarus, and Criseyde, but the poet assures his audience that he does not wonder, for he knows that each has his or her predilections when it comes to love, and, in addition, “som men grave in tree, some in ston wal” (ii.47). The parallelism of love practices and carving invites a 1

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reflection on Chaucer’s own practice of carving out his poem; perhaps his choices, his language, and “doings” are beyond question, subject only to the laws he abides by and his various desires. All is as it happens, contingent, and, in the end, irreproachable. Thus whether we find a scarcely concealed poet-​as-​auctor or a bumbling, unfeeling, rhymer, it seems we encounter a Chaucer fully in control of his formal enterprise. Faulty diction, meter, or sense is ascribed to historical change, lack of scribal acumen, or readerly resistance and incomprehension. The chapters in this volume are unquestioningly interested in these sources of form’s mutation. But they are also interested in the way that Chaucer’s declaration that “in forme of speche is chaunge” signals an acknowledgment that form itself is constituted by change, and that he is not only offering up polished poetic gems to the ravages of time and unreceptive audiences, but also creating works that expose the incompleteness and self-​contradictory nature of form. One need not look far, in Chaucer’s oeuvre, for formal contradiction, confusion, or excess. In Troilus and Criseyde itself we have Book v oddly lacking a full proem, and with a palinode that has produced no wholly satisfying reading. In The Canterbury Tales we have a work replete with evidence of both authorial and scribal reworking and reordering, and inconsistencies that may or may not have been intentional. Why does the Man of Law claim to speak in prose, but tell a tale in rhyme-royal stanzas? What should we make of the “Envoy de Chaucer” at the end of the “Clerk’s Tale” –​a double ballade introduced dramatically as the Clerk’s song, but marked in manuscripts as the author’s voice? The song itself does not give easy clues to the nature of its voice, which in any case tonally and thematically contradicts the tale itself; the narrative then resumes without any reference to the Envoy. And then there is, of course, the question of the completion or incompletion of The Canterbury Tales as a whole. These and various other “cruxes” can be –​and often have been –​recuperated as contributing to the themes of Chaucer’s works. Our collection suggests that it can also be productive to keep faith with formal difficulty, to allow that form can break down, turn against itself, or turn to new ends. Our introduction and the chapters that follow reveal the ways that form often contains the ingredients for its own subversion, exploring how Chaucer grapples with his mastery of and subjection to form, and how subsequent readers of Chaucer form and re-​form his writings. Our collection is oriented around the idea that formalist approaches are not confined to, or solely defined by, a commitment to the idea that “form produces meaning.”2 We are interested in the ways that form can occlude meaning, how Chaucer

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sometimes embraces and sometimes resists formal knowledge, and how a work’s form can be structured by a variety of agents. Form restrains and frees, preserves a work through time and creates loss, provides pleasure, dissonance, understanding, and ethical danger. The authors collected here treat form in a wide variety of its instantiations:  genre, meter, beauty, bodies, spatial and temporal scale, linearity, personification, voice, manuscript collation, print mise-​en-​page, and more. In each case, however, form is a site of challenge, never a vehicle of uncomplicated translation from structure to content, or text to context.3 While we would not claim that previous or “traditional” formalist readings posit a “simple” translation mechanism, we are making a positive claim that literary form qua form may be found to reside in those sites of conflict  –​where the texture of a literary work appears excessive, disruptive, resistant, or unfinished. The chapters in our collection each approach the question of formal contradiction and change from a different perspective, and below we sketch a brief history of formalist approaches to medieval literature –​both to show what is new in our volume and to show that it emerges out of a developing medievalist “new formalism” that is both avowedly historicist and committed to rethinking the relationship between form and history.

Formalism and Medieval Literature One can hardly think about the study of English literature in the post-​ war period without thinking about names like Cleanth Brooks, William Empson, and I. A. Richards. Yet the study of Middle English literature was never dominated by “practical criticism” in the way that other fields were. Chaucer himself figures unevenly in the influential works of formalism or “New Criticism,” meriting only a second-​order mention in Brooks’ The Well-​Wrought Urn, for example.4 It is true that Empson presents an extended discussion of Troilus and Criseyde in Seven Types of Ambiguity. Yet even with Empson one sees a defensiveness about applying techniques of close reading to a Middle English poet.5 Empson wards off suggestions that he is attributing modern (or early modern) complexity to instances of medieval simplicity, though he wryly admits that “it would have been fun to maintain that Shakespeare learnt his style from a misunderstanding of Chaucer.”6 Instead he argues that the ambiguity in Chaucer’s poetry is evidence of an intrinsic feature of English literature, manifest in some of its earliest incarnations.7 When formalist treatments of Chaucer do emerge, it’s in a halting fashion. D. Vance Smith has outlined the resistance to formal criticism in

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medieval literary study, acknowledging that it “got off to a bad start” with John Speirs’ Chaucer the Maker (1951).8 Thirteen years later A. C. Spearing’s Criticism and Medieval Poetry still had to make the argument for the applicability of the new technique of “close reading” to medieval poetry. Spearing must clear ground, explaining that “the modern critic of medieval literature has other choices open to him than either to pretend that it is of the same kind as the work of Shakespeare, Keats, or Hopkins, or to dismiss it entirely as lying beyond his powers.”9 While acknowledging that medieval poetry presents particular problems for the modern close-​reader (the distance of Middle English, complicated textual histories and possibilities for misreading, the specificity of oral performance culture, etc.), Spearing makes the case for formal analysis that is anything but removed from the context of medieval culture. Spearing’s work was not only enormously more successful than Speirs’, but its approach was received more generously, reviewed with great care (if in places quite critically) in the pages of Speculum. The reviewer, Richard Hamilton Green, observed in conclusion that “[i]‌n his close scrutiny of the uses of language and sound in mediaeval English poetry Mr. Spearing reminds us of important matters which have not received the attention they deserve.”10 New Critical method truly arrived in Middle English studies with the essays of E. Talbot Donaldson, who gave us “Chaucer the Pilgrim,” the avatar of the “fallible first person singular” that made New Critical irony available to the Chaucerian critic.11 Donaldson argued against any notion of Chaucer’s rustic, primitive simplicity, insisting instead on the sophistication of Chaucerian style –​a style that is indeed simple and comprehensible, and yet in that guise offers an ability to describe things simultaneously from several distinct points of view while seeming to see them from only one point of view, and thus to show in all honesty the complexity of things while preserving the appearance of that stylistic simplicity which we feel to be so honest and trustworthy.12

Yet far from enforcing a facile distinction between the reading of formal and historical properties, Donaldson’s “New Critical” approach was deeply implicated “in the multiplicity of historical contexts that might be brought to bear on the word, the phrase, the work.”13 As Lee Patterson observed, New Criticism “sought less to extract the poem from its historical context than to find strategies by which to reaffirm the humanist values that had motivated the historicist recovery in the first place.”14 Another distinct strand of medieval literary scholarship concerned with form grew out of the study of medieval literary theory, uncovered

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in commentaries on scripture, authoritative religious writings, and classical texts. Alastair Minnis outlined “a major change of attitude to the concept of form” in the thirteenth century; newly influential Aristotelian theories of causality shifted emphasis from divine principles of order to the form generated by a human auctor.15 Commentators spoke of two kinds of form, literary style (forma tractandi) and structure (forma tractatus), by which the intentio auctoris was made legible. Minnis explains that the forma tractatus in particular was applied to the project of understanding the intention of the author across his entire works. A proper divisio textus was understood to be necessary for clarifying an author’s ideas, and clear ordinatio essential to distinguishing the statements of the auctor from the compiled opinions of other commentators.16 Such attention to human-​authored form established “a common ground on which sacred poetry and profane poetry could meet” and created a robust if contested terrain of literary theory that extended its influence to vernacular poetry.17 These modes of understanding the shape of a text are not at all disconnected from contemporary modes of reading. Smith calls the forma tractandi an “elementary practical criticism” and suggests that medieval links between the forma tractatus and forma tractandi are akin to connections between historicism and formalism.18 Medieval literary theory was attuned to style, structure, and authorial agency, as well as affective and moral purpose.

New Formalisms in Medieval Literary Studies Medievalist formalisms were thus never (or rarely) ahistorical. And even as new formalism (broadly considered) often positioned itself against New Historicist denunciations of form, it was careful to assert its own compatibility with historical approaches.19 It is a signal of the shape of the field that one of the special journal issues that announced the formalist renaissance appeared in Modern Language Quarterly, a venue that hews closely to the demands of its subtitle, “A Journal of Literary History.”20 The commitment to historicism has been particularly visible in the works of medievalist literary criticism that overtly announce their emphases on the study of form. In her introduction to the coedited volume Form and Reform: Reading across the Fifteenth Century, Kathleen Tonry observes that “form matters now” in medieval literary studies, and also that a methodological “formalism” has been replaced by “an attention to form.”21 Such attention, she suggests, is more amenable to a criticism that seeks to find the dynamic interplay between form and

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history. Eleanor Johnson explains that her book Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages “addresses the aesthetic effects that particular formal choices have, on both small and large scales, and then moves to theorize how and why they matter in their particular historical contexts.”22 One finds such formulations of the mutual influence of form and history across recent medieval literary criticism, as in Bruce Holsinger’s claim that “prosody, meter, and genre are just as historically determined and just as historically determining as events taking place in the wider cultural sphere.”23 The large-​scale project “Poetic Knowledge in Late Medieval France” produced a range of publications, including the collection Poetry, Knowledge, and Community in Late Medieval France and Adrian Armstrong and Sarah Kay’s Knowing Poetry: Verse in Medieval France from the Rose to the Rhétoriqueurs –​all on the topic of poetic form as vehicle and object of historical, institutional, communal, and individual knowledge.24 Outside medieval studies, in one of the more recent (and already influential) works of new formalism, Caroline Levine’s Forms:  Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network posits a shared social space of jostling forms, where literature and politics share formal features and the line between text and context largely dissolves.25 Medievalist literary critics are in wide agreement that attention to form can give us access to history, that form can be a powerful historical actor, and that no formal reading is possible without historical context. Such agreement, however, does not confer a univocity on precisely how we should attend to form, or what form means. On the one hand, Christopher Cannon warns us that the practice of formalism is not merely the “sprinkling round” of observations about meter, versification, or genre, but rather a commitment to the idea that “all accounts of meaning were accounts of form.”26 And yet again we have Holsinger’s strong argument that “meter matters.”27 Cannon’s and Holsinger’s methodologies are not opposed, but there does appear to be a discernible difference between the medievalist criticism that “attends” to form in varied ways, with a number of different historical and theoretical concerns, and the more theoretically inflected criticism that insists on a necessary, encompassing relationship among form, history, and interpretation. Medievalists who theorize form emphasize how formal ambitiousness and inchoateness situate the work in its specific cultural context and yet allow it to reach beyond. It is perhaps in this commitment to the literary as a distinct kind of expression that medievalist theoretical formalism most clearly marks both its difference and continuity with New Historicism –​these critics resist any flattening of literary texts into historical “discourse,” insisting upon the particularity of

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literary form, and yet maintain New Historicism’s political commitments, emphasizing the centrality of form in materialist critique.28 Theorists of medieval literary form arrive at the specificity of literary form via their emphasis on the shared argument in Hegelian and Marxist philosophy that artistic form functions to register historical experience. Cannon asks us to understand historical context as the wide range of influences and agents that produce a particular literary work and are materially instantiated in that work; he suggests that we [s]‌uppose Hegel was right and spirit was a phenomenon, thought an informing principle, and thinking an instrument for shaping the things of the world. Suppose, too, that Marx was Hegel’s most ardent disciple in this matter, and . . . what he took from Hegel was a belief in the determinate presence of thought in the form of every made thing.29

In a similar spirit, Maura Nolan points us to Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory for its positing of artistic form as the material form of history. It is attention to form that can draw out the “true social content” of an artwork.30 Indeed, Adorno defines form as “the social nexus of everything particular.”31 How then can such a capacious definition of form –​indeed an apparent collapse between form and the sociohistorical –​provide a map for literary criticism? Cannon offers a Chaucerian image of dialectical world making that shows how we might begin to approach form from such a perspective. He highlights a moment from Troilus and Criseyde in which the narrator likens Pandarus’ project of catching Criseyde for Troilus to the building of a house. Such a builder does not “the werk for to bygynne /​With rakel hond, but he wol bide a stounde, /​And sende his hertes line out fro withinne /​Aldirfirst his purpos for to wynne” (i.1066–​1069).32 As Cannon explains, this image of “formation” is both Platonic –​form as thought –​ and Aristotelian –​form as specific material object –​and it is the “slipperiness” of the medieval concept of form that makes it so useful, allowing for “a bridge between the immaterial and the material.”33 Cannon notes that Chaucer borrows from Geoffrey of Vinsauf ’s Poetria Nova here, marking an ironic affinity between academic poetic theory and pandering, if not Chaucer’s own poetry. A broad formal method would take Chaucer’s (and Geoffrey’s) image to heart, anatomizing formal features such as meter and metaphor and looking also to “the integration of all those levels, along with any other aspect of a particular text which may be seen to structure it.”34 That “any other aspect” includes the unconscious absorption of a whole host of cultural influences –​intellectual, religious, social, and institutional.

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Attending to form in this way necessitates knowledge of a complex and variegated historical context, and yet some scholars would suggest that –​at its limits –​a formalist historicism will lead us necessarily beyond a text’s historical moment. Maura Nolan thus endorses a formal analysis that proceeds by Adorno’s aesthetic theory; such a method, she argues, would not only attend to the relationship between form and history, but can do justice to ways that medieval literary texts exceed any given historical explanation. Adorno critiques the blindness of simplistic or purely empirical historicism –​such historicism is “blind to the possibility that art may exist within multiple temporalities at once, blind to the antagonisms which structure the artwork and the potential for freedom that constitutes its truth content, blind to the need for aesthetic judgment.”35 Nolan observes that “Chaucer, to take the obvious example, will always be more than a court poet, his work always more than Ricardian; where that surplus is to be found is necessarily in the multiplicitous temporalities sedimented in the texts.”36 To “make the aesthetic turn,” as she enjoins us, would be to attend to the historical situatedness of the medieval work of art, yet in that attention always to remain sensitive to the “modernity of the medieval, the medievalism of the modern.”37 Andrew Cole argues that dialectics helps us to see the way that authors can engage in “world making” in so richly detailed a fashion that new conceptual futures are brought into being. In turn, dialectics also makes visible the relationships between artistic forms and cultural “concepts,” such that we can see medieval and modern “parallels of articulation” between the two.38 When we see these parallels, from this perspective, we see history itself in the making.

The Subversions of Form The chapters collected in this volume, therefore, by no means celebrate unobstructed access to a historical moment of creation via formal analysis, for –​as the scholars discussed above and others variously emphasize –​ material form is not a direct reflection of the form of human thought. And this is not simply an observation about limitations on the human ability to realize forms that they can imagine. Sometimes the form of the created thing actually exceeds the form of human thought. This is, we argue, something that was understood when the medievals thought about texts, for while they referred to the intentio auctoris, it was not what we think of when we refer to the intention that lies behind the work. As Mary Carruthers points out, “ ‘intention’ is conceived to be within the work itself –​the artifact considered as an agent, motivator, and guide through

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those stylistic and formal means that, because they draw on conventions and shared traditions, have considerable agency separate from the human, historical author.”39 What we have, then, is a recognition that human intention, or the originating form of the work, is not “transparently transferred into the artifact.”40 Even if they have not invoked the medieval idea of intentio auctoris, medieval scholars have understood for quite some time that texts may embody thoughts that we do not recognize as emanating from the human author. Paul Strohm gestures toward this state of affairs when he asks the question, “what can we know about Chaucer that he didn’t know about himself?”41 He answers this question by talking almost exclusively about how Chaucer’s texts themselves seem to have agency  –​claiming, for instance, that the text itself possesses an unconscious and that it has the ability to resist our attempts to uncover what it is repressing. “A text’s form may alibi for its thought,” he says, making the case for reading against the “formal demands” of a literary work.42 This idea might find expression in Cannon’s more general meditation on how, because the making of “made things . . . can absorb cultural knowledge even their maker does not know, it is appropriate to refer to the form of the object, not simply as thought, but as thinking.”43 These descriptions of form as working against intention by no means evacuate form of significance. As D. Vance Smith writes, “the places where form fails to complete its immanent mission, the points at which preliminary work does not quite come together, are not just the symptoms of form, but are the visible evidence, indeed the very target, of the thought that animates literature.”44 In a similar vein, Tom Eyers proposes that “[l]‌iterature stages better than most phenomena the manner in which, far from shutting down the possibility of meaning, the impossibility of any final, formal integration of a structure and its component parts is the very condition of possibility of that structure.”45 Those moments when form seems to defy the originating idea behind the text, work against the discovery of the text’s secrets, or even work against the formal demands of the very story it tells can be just as productive when we do not seek to recuperate them as consonant with a unified notion of authorial intention or even thematic coherence. Our contributors share an emphasis on the failures of form: the resistance to poetic terminology, to formal consolation, to formal interpretation, beauty, and even to literariness itself. Caroline Levine critiques scholars for spending too much time attending to “formless or antiformal experiences” –​“fissures and interstices, vagueness and indeterminacy, boundary-​crossing and dissolution.”46 Yet the chapters

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in this volume do not fall into a binary of treating form or antiform, or describing the successful deployment of form versus its sabotage; the “subversion” that our title references is an operation that happens within form itself, an inherent tendency to go astray even as it organizes a text in essential ways. Eyers nicely encapsulates the “shared incompletion” that structures both literary and political forms; he explains, “the resonance of world and word is to be found in the non-​mimetic, non-​correlational but nonetheless shared moments of incompletion that define text and materiality, literature and history.”47 We can access these moments, Eyers argues, when we recognize literary form “as possessing its own speculative capacity to partially bend and refigure its various determinants.”48 Or, as Cole puts it, artistic figuration comes to the rescue when concepts fail  –​“figures get concepts unstuck.”49 Literature, via figuration, can express what might otherwise be inexpressible in a given cultural context –​not because of censorship or ignorance, but because art creates access to the unarticulated aspects of culture, and can also create new, as yet unthought articulations. Artistic creation has the capacity to enter the dialectic just at the moment of conceptual failure, offering a simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic vision of the relationship between literature and history. Literature is closely bound up with failure and error, but also has the potential to move beyond that failure.50 The art work does not simply offer a material, particular instance of a universal idea or concept, but exposes the difficult relationship between the two.51 An emphasis on the failures or contradictions intrinsic to form has been strikingly articulated by scholars working at the intersection between new formalism and medieval manuscript studies. In the introduction to Arthur Bahr and Alexandra Gillespie’s special issue of The Chaucer Review on form and manuscripts, they explain that, in books, form does more than “effect meaning,” as D. F. McKenzie’s influential formulation has it.52 For Bahr and Gillespie, the forms of medieval books always “suggest, illuminate, defy, resist, augment, make, and unmake meaning as well.”53 In the issue itself, Jessica Brantley notes that both New Criticism and textual materialism have taught us that form shapes meaning, and yet she is most interested to search out where forms fail to effect this shaping.54 She explores the range of possible meanings for the use of tail rhyme as a form, concluding that “the horizon of expectations established by this form is so broad and varied that it almost ceases to exist.”55 Sometimes attention to form can frustrate rather than enable the revelation of meaning –​and the frustration itself may be revelatory. In the same volume, D. Vance Smith asks if the privileging of

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the conditions of production that has structured scholarship in book history has perhaps occluded certain features of books. “What happens,” he asks, “when a literary work, or a work of art, is subordinated to the shape of the book, and how might a book resist or sublate its own conditions of production: how might it be less or more than the compilation of its social relations?”56 It is these kinds of questions that the Chaucer Review volume editors gesture toward when they caution against positivism in manuscript studies, the danger of gleaning certainties from “the book in your hand” while discounting “the book in your head.”57 Our collection addresses both books  –​in hand and in head  –​and proceeds under three rubrics: “The Failures of Form,” “The Corporeality of Form,” and “The Forms of Reception.” The first three chapters address most directly the resistance to form at the heart of Chaucer’s poetry. Chaucer builds his poetics via a questioning of poetic knowledge qua knowledge and a resistance to engaging with poetic structures as a means toward authorial mastery or even readerly consolation. The next three chapters address the body as both central figure and limit case for Chaucerian formal understanding. The final three chapters turn to acts of reading, perception, and reception as moments of formal construal and inevitable misconstrual. Jenni Nuttall’s “ ‘many a lay and many a thing,’ ” sets Chaucer’s attitude toward poetic craft against a background of a continental and English penchant for overt engagement with the technical language of poetry. Poets produced arts of poetry, though not apparently in Middle English, and also referred to precise metrical and verse forms in the midst of their own versifying. These references, in Chaucer and in the works of other poets, raise questions about the expectations generated by certain forms, and the knowledge contained in poetic form itself. As Nuttall writes, technical terms served as a “locus for literary self-​theorization” in the fourteenth century. In Chaucer, she finds a performed resistance to poetic terminology, referring to his own poetry with vague vocabulary –​“bookys, songes, dytees,” and even “things” –​when more precise words might do; she also finds resistance to verse form itself, loosening, hybridizing, and otherwise adapting continental forms. And yet the foregrounding of form ensures that these slippery categories remain in his audience’s mind, raising questions about authenticity, innovation, and the understanding of poetry as techne. Jennifer Jahner explores the way that form has always served as a conceptual tool for exploring the limits of human knowledge as it faces unimaginable temporal and spatial scales. Form, at its core, is compensatory for

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contemplative failure. In “Chaucer’s Aesthetic Resources” she examines literary form as defined by a “failure of imagination” –​the failure of the human mind to grasp natural history or divine perspective. Reading Chaucer against and with Boethius, Kant, and Adorno, Jahner finds an author who deploys poetry against itself, utilizing “tactical failure” in order to refuse poetic consolation. In some of his most supposedly “Boethian” works, the lyrics “The Former Age” and “Fortune,” Chaucer highlights the incompatibility of aesthetic experience with a stance of Boethian “sufficiency.” In this masterful subversion of consolation, however, Chaucer shows the radical limits of human abstraction and mastery. Eleanor Johnson also addresses Chaucer’s critique of consolation in her chapter “Against Order,” placing the House of Fame at the beginning of a long tradition of such critique. For Johnson, the dream vision is a particularly apt genre for rethinking the very idea of order that underlies not only Boethian consolation, but any vision of the universe in which human understanding gains purchase by rendering events linear and causal, hence predictable, manageable, and even providential. Johnson’s chapter finds critiques of such causality taking place at the level of narrative, descriptive mode (ekphrasis), grammar, and more. She strikingly extends her reading of Chaucer’s brief against order to Virginia Woolf ’s novel To the Lighthouse and Lyn Hejinian’s experimental autobiography My Life. Reading these works together constructs a transhistorical archive of literature invested in “association, juxtaposition, and consequity, rather than causality, necessity, or narrative unfolding.” This investment is ethical as much as it is aesthetic, in that a commitment to casting off the obscuring veil of causality makes it possible to be “astonished” by life, by poetry, and also to imagine that the world as it is (or seems) is not inevitable, and might be made otherwise. We begin our turn to “The Corporeality of Form” with a consideration of disabled bodies. In “Diverging Forms” Jonathan Hsy approaches the Monk’s culturally and geographically varied performance as a collection of narratives propelled by bodily impairment. He argues that the aesthetic features of the Monk’s verse narratives work against the stated moral imperatives of the fictive narrator, and the formal features of the verse actively disrupt broad cultural impulses to script disability as a divine punishment for sin or a problem awaiting cure. Ultimately, Chaucer not only presents a diverse range of disability narratives through the Monk’s performance, but also fashions what we might call a crip aesthetic (a dispersed effect achieved via meter, diction, syntax, rhyme, and enjambment). Advancing formative work on disability as narrative prosthesis and disability as crafty rhetoric, a crip formalist reading of the Monk’s performance reveals how language

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can veer (err, verge, resist, deviate) from the received structures of thought and constraints that the art of poetry demands. One might not expect that Chaucer’s least obviously literary work, the Treatise on the Astrolabe, would yield a meditation on literary form. Yet in “Figures for ‘Gretter Knowing,’ ” Lisa Cooper shows us that the Treatise is, above all, an education in form –​the form of the human body in its fixed particularity and in relation to larger earthly and cosmic networks. Cooper uses Caroline Levine’s formal categories –​whole, rhythm, hierarchy, network  –​to demonstrate the determining and overlapping structures of the Treatise. She also significantly shows the extent to which Chaucer acknowledges that the possible conclusions reached by the astrolabe “ben unknowe parfitly” to any mortal man. As instrument oriented toward total or universal knowledge, the astrolabe is bound to fail. The human body is singular in its location and perspective, organized by familial and political pressures, limited in its knowledge. And yet Cooper also finds moments in which the Treatise reaches beyond these limits via an acknowledgment of this very contingent situatedness –​a move that seems to have been troubling for later scribes. Julie Orlemanski’s “The Heaviness of Prosopopoeial Form” also treats the volatility and waywardness of form. For Orlemanski, poetry’s essence is not exhausted by form, and Chaucer is fascinated by the way a work of literature exceeds both its references and its reception. The Book of the Duchess is read here as an experiment in poetic sufficiency –​exposing its foundations, its physicality, its impossibility. The poem’s infamous image of the animated, speaking corpse of King Ceyx becomes both an emblem for the formal qualities of all linguistic utterances, and a (heavy) figure for the particular constraints and problems of elegy  –​the heaviness of prosopopoeial form figuring forth the dependence of literary form on contingent and embodied processes of reading. Orlemanski reads Chaucer’s only elegy as a meditation on what happens when the formal qualities of language run up against the embodied realities of language’s spoken and scripted forms. The section of the volume on “The Forms of Reception” opens with Thomas Prendergast’s chapter on the Physician’s Tale. In “Reading Badly,” Prendergast illuminates not only the relationship between form and perception, but Chaucer’s preoccupation with the dangers of aesthetic capture. The chapter explores the way that the “reading” of Virginia by various characters becomes a figure for reading the tale itself, and more broadly for aesthetic reception and the reception of beauty. The Physician’s Tale is a tale with neither a formal nor a hermeneutic telos, and such an absence of telos

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opens up an almost infinite variety of misreadings. The tale suggests, then, not only that a text may be misread, but that some texts are destined to be misread, often with violent, mortal consequences –​a danger that the tale’s author belatedly attempted to disown. Arthur Bahr takes on Gower’s reception of Chaucer in “Birdsong, Love, and the House of Lancaster.” He argues that the Trentham manuscript is the complicated locus of acts of reception as Gower creates a web of allusions to Chaucer’s most Lancastrian poetry within a manuscript fulsomely dedicated to Henry IV. In recovering Gower’s reception of Chaucer, Bahr offers an understanding of how Chaucer’s texts generate further texts in ways not purely imitative or idolizing (as has generally been argued) but also potentially competitive or agonistic. Gower responds to and may even be seen to “reform” Chaucer along the vectors of not only language (French versus English) and genre (formes fixes versus others), but time and memory, suggesting that historicist readings of manuscripts can occlude the literary qualities of those manuscripts when, in fact, text and manuscript context can exceed their historical moments. The volume concludes with Stephanie Trigg’s “Opening The Canterbury Tales.” In this chapter she begins by noting the special place that the General Prologue has had in Chaucer studies. With its springtime setting, its collection of characters, and its pilgrimage frame, it has come to serve not only as a narrative portal to The Canterbury Tales, but also as an introduction to all of Chaucer’s works and even the medieval world itself. She traces the history of the phrase “General Prologue” and its implications for our understanding of the formal role of this introduction to the story collection, and considers the relation between the textual “form” of this prologue and its representation (ordinatio) in the transition from manuscript to print in the early editions. Trigg’s chapter reveals that the conflicting historicist, formalist, and popularizing/​aestheticizing impulses that have governed our encounters with Chaucer in print are inseparable from our understanding of his works. What these chapters suggest, then, is that texts might seem to have ends toward which they ought to tend (what Peter Brooks has called “proper ends”), but these ends may not always be realized in the forms that texts take.58 It’s also possible that texts themselves maintain an agency that frustrates the formal ends that authors design for them, or that the form of a text actually works against its own ends. “Context” is necessary for the legibility of a text’s form, and form may be a “royal road” to context, but form is also excessive of and at odds with context, in sometimes

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unrecuperable ways. In “returning” to form as medievalists, it will not always be possible to build a more formally attuned historicist perspective, or to be simply additive in our list of formal features (performance, manuscript, voice) or formal agents (scribes, readers), without recognizing that these attunements and additions can reveal that –​as Chaucer has it –​“forme . . . is chaunge.” As the work of one of Chaucer’s favorite poets, Ovid, might suggest, form begins with divine creation out of chaos, but form never loses its habit of changing into new bodies, never quite leaves chaos behind.59

Notes 1 All quotations from Chaucer are cited parenthetically from The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). 2 A mantra associated with bibliography, and D. F. MacKenzie in particular (“forms effect meaning”), but also considered basic to classroom instruction in literature. See Andrew Benjamin Bricker, “Form and Content,” in The Pocket Instructor: Literature: 101 Exercises for the College Classroom, ed. Diana Fuss and William A. Gleason (Princeton University Press, 2016), 107. D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge University Press, 1999; orig. pub. by the British Library, 1986), 13. 3 As will become clear below, our articulation of form as incomplete and conflicting, nonmimetic and yet referential, owes some of its formulation to Tom Eyers’ Speculative Formalism: Literature, Theory, and the Critical Present (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017), a book we were delighted to discover as we were revising our Introduction. His remarks on formal failure and success seem particularly useful as a guide: “Skepticism must emerge at those points in the analysis of a text’s formal structure that apparently only announce its unqualified success, its mimetic contact with the world. But one should be equally wary of any unqualified celebration of the interior disintegration of a text, its apparently irrevocable solipsisms” (14). 4 Cleanth Brooks, The Well-​Wrought Urn:  Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt, 1956; 1st edn 1947), 64. 5 “It is a little unfair, perhaps, to use Chaucer for my purposes . . . I admit that it is much easier to muddle one’s readers when using the unfamiliar stresses of fourteenth-​century speech and dealing with unfamiliar uses of words” (William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity [New York: New Directions, 1966], 68). 6 Ibid., 59. 7 See ibid., 65, 86. 8 See D. Vance Smith, “Medieval Forma: The Logic of the Work,” in Reading for Form, ed. Susan J.  Wolfson and Marshall Brown (Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 2006), 66; Smith quotes the review of Speirs’ book in Speculum: “another study of Chaucer that one wishes were kept from the general reader, to whom it is addressed.” Eleanor Johnson notes the late-​coming of medieval literary criticism to new formalism in Practicing Literary Theory

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in the Middle Ages: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve (University of Chicago Press, 2013), 13. 9 A. C.  Spearing, Criticism and Medieval Poetry (London:  Edward Arnold, 1964), 25. 10 Richard Hamilton Green, Review of Criticism and Medieval Poetry by A. C. Spearing, Speculum 40, no. 3 (1965): 549–​553. 11 E. Talbot Donaldson, Speaking of Chaucer (New  York:  Norton, 1970), 8. Patterson marks Donaldson’s edition and commentary Chaucer’s Poetry: An Anthology for the Modern Reader (1958) as the “full arrival of the New Critical Chaucer” in Negotiating the Past:  the Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 20. 12 Donaldson, Speaking, 47. 13 Ralph Hanna, “Donaldson and Robertson: An Obligatory Conjunction,” The Chaucer Review 41, no. 3 (2007): 248. 14 Patterson, Negotiating the Past, 22. 15 Alastair Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages, 2nd edn (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 118. See also Kellie Robertson, Nature Speaks: Medieval Literature and Aristotelian Philosophy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), particularly the Introduction and ­chapter 5. 16 Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, 153–​154, 157. 17 Ibid., 138–​139; see also c­hapter  5, “Literary Theory and Literary Practice,” 160–​210. 18 Smith, “Medieval Forma,” 71. 19 Indeed, it was often argued that New Historicism was at least partially a formalist enterprise. See Marjorie Levinson, “What is New Formalism?,” PMLA 122, no. 2 (March 2007): 558–​569. 20 Modern Language Quarterly 61, no. 1 (March 2000) was later revised, expanded, and reissued as Reading for Form (see note 8 above). 21 Shannon Gayk and Kathleen Tonry, eds., Form and Reform:  Reading across the Fifteenth Century (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011). Tonry’s introduction provides a useful survey of medieval scholarship that attends to form and history together, though one naturally focused on fifteenth-​century literary history. 22 Johnson, Practicing Literary Theory, 11. Johnson cites fellow travelers: Maura Nolan, John Lydgate and the Making of Public Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2005); Renée R.  Trilling, The Aesthetics of Nostalgia (University of Toronto Press, 2009); Seeta Chaganti, The Medieval Poetics of the Reliquary (New  York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Jessica Brantley, Reading in the Wilderness (University of Chicago Press, 2007). 23 Bruce Holsinger, “The Parable of Caedmon’s ‘Hymn’:  Liturgical Invention and Literary Tradition,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 106, no. 2 (April 2007): 174, italics original. 24 Rebecca Dixon and Finn E. Sinclair, eds., Poetry, Knowledge, and Community in Late Medieval France (Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2008); Adrian Armstrong

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and Sarah Kay, eds., with the participation of Rebecca Dixon, Miranda Griffin, Sylvia Huot, Francesca Nicholson, and Finn Sinclair, Knowing Poetry: Verse in Medieval France from the Rose to the Rhétoriqueurs (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011). 25 She writes, “Literary form does not operate outside of the social but works among many organizing principles” (Forms:  Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network [Princeton University Press, 2015], 7). 26 Cannon, The Grounds of English Literature (Oxford University Press, 2004), 1. Jonathan Kramnick and Anahid Nersessian arrive at a similar argument –​ that accounts of form are explanations  –​from a different, interdisciplinary perspective. They argue that form is “inquiry relative” and that contradictory accounts of form are not only to be expected, but a necessary part of the vibrancy of humanistic study; see “Form and Explanation,” Critical Inquiry 43, no. 3 (Spring 2017): 650–​669. 27 Holsinger, “The Parable of Caedmon’s ‘Hymn,’ ” 174. 28 This orientation would place medieval theoretical formalism in the “activist” camp described by Marjorie Levinson (“What is New Formalism?” 559) though she suggests that an emphasis on the “literary” belongs more properly to the “normative” camp. 29 Cannon, The Grounds of English Literature, 1. 30 Maura Nolan, “Making the Aesthetic Turn: Adorno, the Medieval, and the Future of the Past,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 568. 31 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, quoted in Nolan, “Aesthetic Turn,” 568. 32 Cannon, “Form,” in Middle English, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford University Press, 2007), 177. 33 Ibid., 178. 34 Ibid., 178. 35 Nolan, “Aesthetic Turn,” 567. 36 Ibid., 570. 37 Ibid., 571. 38 Andrew Cole, The Birth of Theory (University of Chicago Press, 2014), 165. See also Carolyn Lesjak, “Reading Dialectically,” Criticism, 55, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 233–​277. 39 Mary Carruthers, The Experience of Beauty in the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press, 2013), 53. 40 Ibid. 41 This is the title of c­ hapter 11 of Theory and the Premodern Text (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). 42 Ibid., 175. 43 Cannon, Grounds, 10. 44 D. Vance Smith, “Destroyer of Forms: Chaucer’s Philomela,” in Readings in Medieval Textuality:  Essays in Honour of A.  C. Spearing, ed. Cristina Maria Cervone and D. Vance Smith (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2016), 137. 45 Eyers, Speculative Formalism, 8.

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46 Levine, Forms, 9. 47 Eyers, Speculative Formalism, 14. 48 Ibid., 199. 49 Cole, Birth of Theory, 160. 50 Thus, for the Hegel-​influenced Maurice Blanchot, “[o]‌nly if it is torn unity, always in struggle, never pacified, is the work a work” and “art originally represents the scandalous intimation of absolute error” (Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982], 229, 243). 51 As Fredric Jameson explains, the harmony between universal and particular is not only normative in “all the bad senses” (moral and aesthetic, one presumes), but is “historically unrealizable in a situation (for which we have been using the word nominalism) in which precisely the most authentic works reveal the incommensurability between the particular and the universal, and are therefore all, in the traditional normative sense, determinate ‘failures’ ” (Jameson, Late Marxism: Adorno, or, the Persistence of the Dialectic [New York: Verso, 1990], 164). 52 McKenzie, Sociology of Texts, 13. Discussed in Bahr and Gillespie, “Medieval English Manuscripts: Form, Aesthetics, and the Literary Text,” The Chaucer Review 47, no. 4 (2013): 354. 53 Bahr and Gillespie, “Medieval English Manuscripts,” 354. 54 Jessica Brantley, “Reading the Forms of ‘Sir Thopas,’ ”The Chaucer Review 47, no. 4 (2013): 416. 55 Ibid., 431. 56 Smith, “The Inhumane Wonder of the Book,” The Chaucer Review 47, no. 4 (2013): 362. 57 Bahr and Gillespie, “Medieval English Manuscripts,” 351. 58 Peter Brooks, “Freud’s Masterplot,” Yale French Studies 55–​56 (1977): 280–​300. 59 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984):  “In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora” (My mind is bent to tell you of forms changed into new bodies), Book 1, l. 1, translation amended. On the importance of a literal understanding of Ovid’s line, see Gregory Heyworth, Desiring Bodies: Ovidian Romance and the Cult of Form (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009).

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Ch apter 1

“many a lay and many a thing” Chaucer’s Technical Terms Jenni Nuttall

For Sarah Kay and Adrian Armstrong, late medieval French poetry not only provides a means of transferring knowledge from author to reader but is also “an object of knowledge in ways more specific to itself.”1 Knowing about poetry (whether in French or in English) occurs as both theory and practice, as articulated principles or as embodiment in form. One can know about poetry’s capacity for eloquence, its aesthetic effects and affective power. One can also know about poetry’s licenses to defy conventional expectations of thought and language.2 Figures of thought permit poetry to present untruths or impossibilities (whether they be metaphor or mythology), whilst figures of speech license verse to distort word-​forms or invert typical syntax for the sake of meter and rhyme. Knowing about poetry can also encompass information that is more technical in nature, for example the mechanics of meter or patterns and types of rhyme and alliteration, or the ability to recognize different types of lyric or stanza form. Knowledge such as this can be understood via practice and craft, without the need for specialized terminology or a separate register of language. Little technical terminology describing Middle English alliterative poetry has survived, yet this corpus has some of the most sophisticated and rule-​governed verse (for example, the thirteen-​line virtuosity of The Awntyrs off Arthur or The Three Dead Kings, or the inventive combining of traditions in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight).3 Poets did not have to name their form in order for their readers or hearers to appreciate it: form is discoverable and perceptible via verbal and visual patterning. Furthermore, as Nicolette Zeeman has argued, Middle English authors expressed much of their literary self-​theorization in “figured and even metaphorical form.”4 Praxis and figuration notwithstanding, some medieval poets were drawn toward the theorization or codification of their art and the specialized technical nomenclature thus required. Several of Chaucer’s continental antecedents attempted arts of poetry, following in the footsteps of classical 21

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models (most notably Horace’s Ars poetica) and the early thirteenth-​century scholastic treatises on Latin verse (e.g. Geoffrey of Vinsauf ’s Poetria nova or John of Garland’s Parisiana poetria). Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia and Eustache Deschamps’ L’art de dictier provide examples of the theorization of the art of vernacular poetry.5 There was no art of poetry codifying any of the varieties of Middle English verse, but nonetheless poets commented on their chosen form in prologues or at points where they switched form mid-​ work (for example, in the Cursor Mundi where the author notes the switch from couplets to septenary long lines: “Es resun þat wee vr rime rume, /​ And set fra nu langer bastune”).6 These comments are often potentially disingenuous as Joyce Coleman has demonstrated in the case of Robert Mannyng’s Chronicle of England.7 Mannyng names the more elaborate forms in which he will supposedly not compose (not “in ryme couwee, /​or in strangere or enterlace . . . in couwee or in baston”), partly because a non-​ professional reciter will not be able to manage them and partly because his patrons do not care for them.8 As Coleman shows, Mannyng nonetheless embarks upon a bold stylistic experiment in the Chronicle, writing in those very forms that in his prologue he claims to avoid.9 Chaucer was by no means the first English poet to find complex uses for technical terminology in his poetry. Just as Robert Mannyng named types of verse that attracted him whilst claiming not to use such forms, Chaucer used technical terms not just to name his own techniques or the techniques of others but to pose questions to himself and to his readers.10 Often Chaucerian formal self-​reference appears as purposeful muddling or inconclusive duplication of technical terms (by using two or more terms instead of one, by using technical terms idiosyncratically, or by creating dissonance between a poem’s form and the label applied to it). It is also part of a game of knowledge and expectation between Chaucer and his audience. Such self-​reference exposes some of Chaucer’s own attitude to poetic form, to technical virtuosity, and to the capacity of English to imitate or surpass the forms of its classical and continental predecessors and rivals. Whilst Chaucer is usually and rightly considered an innovator, someone who brought new forms into English, these points of negotiation nonetheless allow us to see some of the self-​imposed limitation which coexists with his innovation. Technical terms and knowledge (whether lexical or embodied in verse form itself ) were thus a locus for literary self-​ theorization, an exploration of Chaucer’s place in relation to his classical and continental predecessors and also in respect of other traditions and technes within Middle English verse.11

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Chaucer’s formal innovations are indisputable (most obviously his extension of the verse line from eight syllables to ten and his use of seven-​ and eight-​line stanzas for narrative verse, as well as his use of French lyric forms), but, despite his clear intention to write in English on the model of Italian and French predecessors, he did not always imitate the forms of his continental sources in straightforward fashion. As is well known, Chaucer tried his hand at producing English versions of one of the French fixed forms, the ballade. Chaucer’s ballades (“To Rosemounde,” “Truth,” “Gentilesse,” “Lak of Stedfastnesse,” and the “Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse”) conform to and are recognizable by the ballade’s key characteristics (a repeated refrain as the concluding line of each stanza and the use of the same rhymes in the same pattern in each stanza). “Fortune” is a triple ballade, as is the Complaint of Venus, where three ballades are followed by a single envoy. Yet Chaucer also loosened the form of the ballade in ways that distance his lyrics from the classic fixed form.12 He used its seven-​ and eight-​line stanzas as a narrative form, without refrain and without through-​rhyming (i.e. what we now recognize as rhyme royal and Monk’s Tale stanzas), and used the same stanzas for longer-​length lyrics (namely “The Complaint unto Pity,” “The Former Age,” “Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan,” and the “Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton”), which likewise lack refrain or through-​rhyming. Beyond the ballade, one could argue that Chaucer’s engagement with recognizable form has been overstated by his editors. The Riverside editors, wishing to print and preserve minor works associated with Chaucer, present a number of short lyrics often cited as evidence of Chaucer’s experiments with recognizable forms. The triple roundel “Merciles Beaute” is (as the Riverside itself acknowledges) not attributed to Chaucer in its sole manuscript, so it cannot offer undisputed proof that he attempted that form. Chaucer’s supposed interest in imitating Dante’s terza rima in one of his lyrics (if this is indeed one of his works) is in reality more a creation of editors. In editorial notes carried over from Skeat to Robinson and into the Riverside, two sections (ii and iii) of the “Complaint to his Lady” are said to be in terza rima.13 The varying rhyme schemes in different sections of the “Complaint” indicate that this is an experimental work-​in-​progress, whether by Chaucer or another poet. The sections in question are one eight-​line stanza rhyming abacacdc and one rhyming ababcb cdcded efef. The resemblance to terza rima occurs only accidentally in passing, and Section iii could equally be interpreted as being a partially completed experiment in six-​line stanzas, of the sort used in the envoy to the Clerk’s

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Tale with additional rhyme-​linking between stanzas. To claim this as a Chaucerian experiment in a known form is to over-​read the evidence. In assessing Chaucer’s response to continental fixed-​form lyric, two instances stand out, namely the roundel sung by the birds at the end of the Parliament of Fowls (PF  ) and the ballade inset into the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (LGW). Both seem straightforward instances of an inset lyric in a recognizable form, a form so named in the surrounding narrative. Yet even these two instances are not without peculiarity. Ralph Hanna has demonstrated that the roundel presented in The Riverside Chaucer is a scribal and editorial reconstruction made to supply something which was clearly missing.14 Scribes (and later editors) recreated what is demanded by the narrator’s assertion that the birds always sang “a roundel” (PF, 675) as they departed, the lyrics “as ye may heer fynde /​The next vers” (PF, 678–​679).15 We cannot know exactly what circumstances created such problems for the scribes, but Hanna’s analysis shows convincingly that the roundel which the Riverside prints is not what Chaucer originally wrote and perhaps that he never wrote anything at all. Less problematic, at least in its first version, is the ballade inset into the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women which the narrator sings in praise of Alceste, putting this lady’s loveliness before that of all other figures of legendary beauty. The God of Love recognizes that the song made by the narrator is “in balade” (LGW, f539). Chaucer’s depiction of Alceste is a graceful compliment to Richard II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia (to whom Cupid tells the narrator to present the finished Legend at Woodstock). Anne’s grandfather, King John of Bohemia, had been one of Machaut’s patrons, so this fixed-​form ballade, which draws on three French ballades by Thomas Paien, Machaut, and Jean Froissart, provides a very appropriate gesture within the fictive frame of the Legend. With the Legend perhaps intended for Anne and other noble women readers, Chaucer uses a courtly lyric form with all its recognizable literary associations of prestige and tradition.16 He may also have wished to join what Elizabeth Eva Leach calls the “homosocial poetic competition” undertaken in turn by Paien, Machaut, and Froissart in this fixed form.17 Yet Chaucer’s revisions in the G Prologue, made following Anne’s death, transform the ballade into a less easily recognizable form. Changing the circumstances of the ballade’s production, Chaucer has the virtuous ladies who accompany Cupid and Alceste sing the ballade in honor of the daisy: “they wenten in compas, /​Daunsynge aboute this flour an esy pas, /​And songen, as it were in carole-​wyse, /​This balade” (LGW, g199–​201). This scene, modeled on the carole danced in the Roman de la Rose and the

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virelai danced in Machaut’s Remède de Fortune, creates an oddly hybrid form, a ballade sung as if it were a carol, with repeated verse and chorus.18 Elizabeth Eva Leach suggests to me that this may mean that everyone dancing joined in singing the refrain as they danced and/​or that they sang the refrain at the start of the ballade as well as at the end.19 Such adaptability in performance indicates that Chaucer and his contemporaries knew form to be a flexible rather than absolute notion, especially in relation to forms which could be danced or sung. Nonetheless, it demonstrates Chaucer’s tolerance for momentarily hybrid forms and a move, in the Legend’s revisions, away from fixed-​form competition toward a more fluid and adaptable creation. It is thus a tricky business to balance Chaucer’s innovation against his self-​imposed limitation, neither overstating nor understating his interest in technical experiment and his willingness to write in recognizable forms. Chaucer’s experiments with inset lyrics and mixed-​form narratives bring novelty into English verse but we can also observe a resistance to recognizable form concurrent with such experimental impulses. On the one hand, Ardis Butterfield has demonstrated that fifteenth-​ century scribes recognized in their layout and rubrication of Troilus and Criseyde manuscripts the influence of French compilations of lyrics and French verse which combined narrative with inset lyrics.20 Chaucer, inspired by such mixed-​form manuscripts, may have envisaged Troilus as a “self-​consciously authorial compilation of distinct modes of writing.”21 Anelida and Arcite (if this is a single poem by Chaucer)22 and the Complaint of Mars likewise combine rhyme-​ royal narration with nine-​ line stanza complaints, indicating that Chaucer did try out mixed-​form writing in some circumstances. The Canterbury Tales is his most obvious experiment in combining different forms (verse and prose, couplets and stanzaic verse, the parodic tail rhyme with extraneous bob combination of Thopas), as well as different genres and different narrators. On the other hand, Julia Boffey has highlighted Chaucer’s reluctance to vary form in the majority of his inset lyrics.23 Chaucer did create lyrics which can be isolated from their surroundings as speech or apostrophe  –​by designation as song or letter, or by their status as a proem or envoy –​but did not choose to change his verse form in these inset lyrics (as might be the case in his French sources). Even in his deployment of a Petrarch sonnet as the first Canticus Troili, Chaucer expands the fourteen lines of the sonnet into not two but three rhyme-​royal stanzas. Bruce Holsinger argues from this example and others that Chaucer’s response to lyric modes is often “constrained, even impoverished.”24 In the case of the Canticus Troili, Chaucer prefers “stretchy

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literalism over a graceful adherence to form,” producing a “strangely anxious and somewhat incompetent translation.”25 Chaucer thus imitated some aspects of the form of his French and Italian sources, but felt free to reject some of their features or to combine material in unexpected ways. This eclecticism and interbreeding often creates what are in effect nameless things within Chaucer’s oeuvre. Anelida and Arcite draws its Theban subject matter from Boccaccio’s Teseida, telling the story in rhyme royal, this stanzaic form loosely corresponding to the ottava rima of its source. Yet Anelida’s Complaint, the text of the letter that Anelida sends to Arcite lamenting her sorrow, is a partial imitation of a French lai lyrique.26 It does not have the full variation of different stanza forms for each of the central ten stanzas we see in Machaut’s lays, but instead has a symmetrical arrangement of two groups of five nine-​line stanzas, a sixteen-​line stanza, and a stanza of vers coupé, very short rhyming lines which produce the effect of internal rhyme when laid out as decasyllabic lines. The scribe John Shirley describes Anelida’s Complaint as having “þe moost vnkouþe metre coloures and Rymes þat euer was sayde tofore þis day.”27 This is certainly true: from what survives it seems that no one else attempted a lai lyrique in English. Anelida’s Complaint was a form unrecognizable from an English perspective, admiringly labeled by Shirley as alien, unprecedented, and unfamiliar. Yet paradoxically its form (notwithstanding the difference in language) would have seemed only partly competent and compliant to anyone who understood the form of Machaut’s lays. In Anelida’s Complaint, something partly unrecognizable both from the French and English perspectives is created. Other of Chaucer’s experimental forms likewise avoid full identification in some way. The nine-​ line stanza forms used for the bulk of Anelida’s Complaint and for the Complaint of Mars are employed in French verse for fixed-​form ballades. Chaucer, however, did not use preexisting French nine-​line rhyme schemes for these two complaints, but rather found his own rhyme schemes for the nine-​line stanza.28 This combination of recognizable stanza form with unfamiliar rhyme pattern produced formal complexity, as expected in a complainte, but in a version which did not exactly reproduce a particular model. Seemingly in contrast to this impulse to avoid recognition, Chaucer follows exactly the rhyme scheme of his source for the Complaint of Venus, a sequence of five ballades by Oton de Granson. Yet it may have been the novelty of the rhyme scheme of his source that encouraged Chaucer’s close imitation: Granson’s editors note that the five poems all “use a stanza form that Granson employs nowhere else.”29 Likewise, the song which ends the Clerk’s Tale is composed in a stanza form (ababcb), highlighted by the use

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of the same rhymes in each of the six stanzas, which is not paralleled in French poetry.30 Thus far this chapter has discussed Chaucer’s ambivalent attitude to form as embodied in the rhyme schemes and other patterns he chose for his verse. We find similar equivocation in Chaucer’s works in the other type of poetic knowledge, knowledge which is encoded in technical terms. The Hengwrt and Ellesmere scribe labels the Clerk’s song “Lenvoy de Chaucer.” Whether this label is scribal or represents Chaucer’s own rubrication, it is an instance of a French technical term used unconventionally. L’envoy typically labels the final stanza of a ballade, so it is not immediately clear how this explains the form of the Clerk’s song, though it is the final element of his tale.31 Chaucer (whether in the persona of the Clerk or in propria persona) speaks directly to his audience, just as many envoys address a prince or princes directly. Scribes may have thought that the virtuosic rhyme scheme implied that the speaker of the song was more Chaucer than the Clerk. Whatever the causation here, Chaucer’s atypical forms, fully identifiable within neither English nor French parameters, prompt equally unconventional labels. Technical terms of poetry, such as lenvoy for the ending of the Clerk’s Tale (CT), are used by Chaucer in passages of formal self-​reference, often mockingly, parodically, or self-​deprecatingly. Chaucer sometimes reverses the conventional humility topos, finding proxy means to gesture at his poetic incapacity. Rather than Chaucer apologizing for his own verse, fictional speakers decry his technical skill, but in doing so they call attention both to what his readers would know or intuit about his poetry and to the potentially anomalous status of his verse. The Man of Law acknowledges the great number of narratives that Chaucer has already “seyd . . . in swich Englissh as he kan” (CT, ii.49), but notes that “he kan but lewedly /​ On metres and on rymyng craftily” (CT, ii.47–​48). Alceste, defending Chaucer against accusations of heresy, likewise reminds the God of Love that Chaucer has “furthred wel youre lawe in his makynge. /​Al be hit that he kan nat wel endite, /​Yet hath he maked lewed folk delyte /​To serve yow, in preysinge of your name” (LGW, f413–​416). The uneducated may be delighted by these makings, to the extent that they serve Love more enthusiastically, but the implication is that courtly sophisticates would be less than impressed with Chaucer’s technical expertise. The designations lewed and lewedly here, though partly feigning that Chaucer’s verse is uncourtly, unsophisticated, and indecorous, also recognize that he writes in the mother tongue. Such lewed composition cannot therefore ever precisely imitate French versification (even if at the same time Chaucer and

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Gower introduce into English the unprecedented constraint and technique found in the French tradition) and so the result is always suspect to some commentators. Narrative personae who correspond more directly with Chaucer’s own extratextual identity also acknowledge the innovative nature of his verse. In the Invocation to Apollo that prefaces Book iii of the House of Fame (HF), the narrator Geffrey avows that he has no intention of demonstrating “art poetical” (HF, 1095)  in what follows. He asks Apollo for assistance in improving and making “agreable” the couplets which are “lyght and lewed” (i.e. simple to create and relatively unsophisticated, as well as being in the mother tongue) (HF, 1096–​1097). In pointing out the potential flaws in his versification (“Though som vers fayle in a sillable,” HF, 1098), Chaucer nevertheless signals the sophistication of what he is attempting (i.e. syllable-​counted verse modeled on French octosyllabics, which had not often been imitated in English before Gower and Chaucer).32 While the narrator might claim in the Invocation that he busies himself to demonstrate not “craft, but o [only] sentence” (HF, 1100), these lines nonetheless emphasize the particular poetic constraint Chaucer imposes upon himself. Through all of these gestures at his own technical (in)abilities and choices, Chaucer invites his audience to consider whether this poetics is crafty or unlearned, skilful or incompetent. Paradoxically it is both: incompetent or anomalous when viewed from the perspective of those expert in Latin, French, or Italian poetry, even lagging far behind the technical constraints of Middle English alliterative and tail-​rhyme verse, and yet more strictly constrained in its syllable count than workaday four-​stress couplet narratives in English. Not content with simply accepting or acknowledging the unusual techniques of his own verse, Chaucer seems to have reveled in failing to articulate their nameless, unrecognizable forms. In the House of Fame Jupiter sends the Eagle because the narrator Geffrey has very attentively served Venus and Cupid. Despite Geffrey’s lack of reward (which would presumably be success in love) as yet, the Eagle reminds him that he has nonetheless devotedly composed “bookys, songes, dytees, /​In ryme or elles in cadence” (HF, 622–​623) in praise of the God of Love and his servants. The Eagle is not quite sure what to call these compositions and so picks a mixed bag of terms, a collection that indicates the difficulty one might have in finding the right nomenclature for Chaucer’s works. The first is of course accurate (Chaucer refers to “the book that hight the Hous of Fame” (LGW, f417) in the Prologue of the Legend of Good Women and names several works as books in his Retraction), an assertion of the basic form

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of Chaucer’s works, the English equivalent of livre and liber. The second is likewise correct but not particularly precise: “songes” may well refer to fixed-​form lyrics (which could be set to music) or could much more loosely mean “a poem or narrative.”33 Dytees, rhyming somewhat suspiciously with “lyte is” (HF, 621)  in the previous line, is, significantly, not a term that Chaucer uses elsewhere to refer to his own compositions. The only other attestations in Chaucer’s work are in the Boece, where it translates carmen, as it often does in Middle English. Dytee’s meaning can similarly be very general (i.e. “a thing said or told,” “a story,” “a poem or song”), though it can also be used to refer to the text of a song as opposed to its music.34 The Eagle’s second observation is that Chaucer writes these texts either in ryme (meaning loosely “in verse” and perhaps more specifically in couplets) or in cadence, a term borrowed from the ars dictaminis tradition. Cadencia refers to the patterns of long and short syllables which were used to emphasize clause endings as part of ornamented Latin prose writing.35 The Eagle may be half-​right:  Chaucer may well have written (or have intended to write, depending on the respective dating of the two works) a book somewhat in cadence, as Eleanor Johnson has shown, using cursus patterns in his Boece, and later in parts of the Tale of Melibee.36 In the awkwardness of his terms, the Eagle may anticipate precisely Chaucer’s innovative (and hence perhaps unnameable) use of rhyme royal in Troilus and Criseyde to emphasize syntax and meaning in a manner analogous to prose cadencing, as Johnson’s study illustrates.37 Yet if we try to take these terms literally and conventionally (which we may not be meant to do here given the parodic tendencies of the House of Fame as a whole), we arrive in somewhat of a muddle. How could one write a song in cadence?38 This jumble may characterize the Eagle’s technical uncertainty, or at least signal his much greater familiarity with other sorts of discourse. The Eagle’s alternatives of verse or cadenced prose, and his tautologous generalizing that Chaucer writes books, songs and dytees, underscores the lack of suitable names and labels for Chaucer’s sui generis combinations of continental and classical forms and models. The Eagle’s account of Chaucer’s poetics brings into being nameless works, things that only uneasily fit within recognizable categories. Such nameless, hybrid, or anomalous things are also created when works or speakers putatively identify their own formal categories and allegiances. The speaker of the Complaint of Venus (CV), for example, signals that she will “ende this compleynt or this lay” (CV, 71), deictically labeling her words as an instance of poetic mode and poetic form, offering not one term but two. No doubt the addition of “lay” is driven by the need to find a rhyme, but the effect of this formal imperative leads Chaucer to offer

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alternatives rather than a conclusive term. Despite the speaker’s equivocation, the form of the Complaint of Venus is unmistakable (if the reader has sufficient expertise to recognize or construe it), especially by the time a reader reaches this point in the penultimate line of the final stanza before the envoy. It is a triple ballade, three three-​stanza ballades followed by a ten-​ line envoy. The poem’s form is more recognizably particular than the labels given to it by its own speaker, labels differentiating its subject matter and mode (complaint) from a loose designation of form (lay). Lay itself can be both a specific (as in either a Breton lay or a fixed-​form lai lyrique, though neither is relevant here) and a generic term meaning a song or lyric.39 The poet’s expertise, embodied in the identifiable rhyme scheme of the poem, does not neatly correspond with the persona’s inconclusive designation of her utterance’s form. Chaucer’s triple designation (complaint, lay, and, via its form, ballade) centers attention on the question that Lee Patterson identifies as key to the complaint genre, namely whether poetry is a spontaneous expression of feeling or whether it is an art, a techne.40 Complaint’s paradoxical answer is that it can simultaneously offer profound emotion and ostentatious artistry. Here we see that the speaker cannot name the thing that the poet creates, dramatizing the tension between the technique of the poet and the emotion of the persona. The potential incompatibility between technical virtuosity and the authentic expression of emotion also influences Chaucer’s handling of the narrator’s description of the Man in Black’s overheard song in The Book of the Duchess (BD). The narrator overhears him say “a lay, a maner song, /​ Withoute noote, withoute song” (BD, 471–​472). Where one term might do, we are given a term and three qualifications. It is a poem, a kind of song not accompanied by music, and a poem spoken rather than sung. The narrator has already told us that the Man in Black has uttered this lyric “of rym ten vers or twelve /​Of a compleynte” (BD, 463–​464). This seems like uncertainty, but in fact calls attention to the fact that the song has eleven lines in an irregular and unfamiliar rhyme scheme. Phillipa Hardman points out the comedy here: “Chaucer is having a little gentle fun at the expense of his rule-​bound dreamer/​persona.”41 She sees the dreamer as an “inept literary figure” (51) who cannot fit this lyric into either of the regular categories he knows, so offers both.42 But from the point of view of the author’s creation rather than the narrator’s reception, Chaucer creates a lyric that avoids recognizable form and defies any attempt to name it. There is ineptitude on both sides, unlike the similar scene in Machaut’s Fonteinne amoreuse, in which the overheard complaint spoken by the lover (a version of Machaut’s patron, John, duke of Berry) and copied down by

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the narrator is remarkable for its poetic skill.43 This complainte is written in sixteen-​ line stanzas rhyming aaabaaabbbbabbba. Its eight hundred lines feature one hundred different rhyme sounds without repetition, a fact which both the speaker and the narrator point out (see ll. 1021–​1022, 1049–​1052). In contrast, Chaucer’s purposeful ineptitude here conveys the authenticity and inexpressibility of Black’s grief and conveys his narrator’s incompetence. It is also a decision on Chaucer’s part to avoid any of the fixed forms or to imitate one of the forms used by Machaut or Froissart within longer narrative dits for a complainte or a conforte. Whilst Machaut uses this moment to celebrate the poetic skill of poet and patron, Chaucer does not attempt to fabricate a joint enterprise of virtuosity, indicating that here emotion is incompatible with poetic techne. We might suspect from all this that Chaucer’s attitude to form is often conflicted: he is always alert to form’s possibilities but always mistrustful of expertise and nomenclature, suspicious of fixed forms whose identity and lineage were recognizable, and wary of ostentatious displays of technical skill. He perhaps particularly associated technical terms and experiments with stereotypical love poetry and immature or clichéd expression. The labels song and ditee, as used by the House of Fame’s Eagle in his attempt to name Chaucer’s nameless things, may also trivialize these unnamed works as juvenilia or the clichéd and conventional production of a young love poet. This is not to say that Chaucer’s early works are trivial or uninterestingly generic, but that they might be caricatured as such from a more mature perspective. Chaucer’s friend John Gower describes in similar terms those early works which he has given up in favor of the moral seriousness of the Mirour de l’Omme: “Jadis trestout m’abandonie /​Au foldelit et veine joye, . . . Et les fols ditz d’amours fesoie, /​Dont en chantant je carolloie” (“In olden days I gave myself freely to wantonness and vain joy, . . . and composed foolish love ditties, which I danced about singing”).44 He also reiterates a similar caricature of Chaucer’s juvenilia in the original version of the Confessio. Gower has Venus send greetings to Chaucer, her “owne clerk” (CA, viii.*2954), and in doing so she remembers how Chaucer in youth made “as he wel couthe, /​Of Ditees and of songes glade, /​The whiche he for mi sake made” (CA, viii.*2494–​2496).45 Venus’ phrasing repeats the Eagle’s particular terms, songs and ditees, made to celebrate love. Gower here joins in Chaucer’s game of having an authority figure dismiss with faint praise Chaucer’s love poetry in the most generic terms. Even when such authority figures seem to specify poetic achievement in particular forms, their lists of forms may nonetheless intimate that such poetic technique is generic or inauthentic in some way. Alceste, as

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part-​defense of Chaucer’s literary career, lists the lyric forms (“balades, roundels, virelayes,” LGW, f423) in which Chaucer wrote hymns for the God of Love’s holy days. One might take this list at face value as evidence of Chaucer’s juvenilia, yet it is worth remembering that such forms are entirely stereotypical of the eager young lover and are often presented as fairly pointless activities, the self-​regarding and self-​absorbed actions of a lover who can do nothing more productive than show off his technical expertise. In Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Genius the Confessor personifies the vice of Vainglory as a fashionable neophyte who composes “caroles . . . /​ Rondeal, balade and virelai” (CA, i.2708–​2709). Amans then correspondingly confesses that he has attempted to devise exactly those forms, “Rondeal, balade and virelai,” as well as “Caroles” in order to woo his lady, singing them in hall and in chamber (CA, i.2726–​2735). Gower’s mechanical repetition of terms makes his point: these forms are exactly those which all lovers are drawn to in their vainglorious desire to show off their skills. A similar list is the source of wry humor in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. Aurelius can only express his love for Dorigen in generic fashion (“as in a general compleynyng,” CT, v.945) because she is a married woman whose identity must not be revealed. From this anonymized subject matter, Aurelius makes “manye layes, /​Songes, compleintes, roundels, virelayes” (CT, v.947–​948). These lists of different forms signify not technical precision but the generic, stereotypical activities of a lover who is caught like a fly in amber in the clichés and conventions of secret love. Such English listings of poetic forms are highly likely to be generic rather than meaningfully specific because such lists are repetitions in translation of similar lists of lyric forms in French texts. The narrator of Machaut’s Remède de Fortune, describing his initial period of unrequited love for his lady, passes the time by teaching himself to compose “chanson et lays, /​Baladez, rondeaus, virelays, /​Et chans” (“chansons and lais, ballades, rondeaux, virelais, and songs”).46 There are similar catalogues in the prologue of Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, in which Geoffroy lists the compositions which he made for his late wife, and in Jean Froissart’s Le Joli Buisson de Jonece.47 The presence of technical nomenclature transliterated into English does not guarantee that Gower or Chaucer wrote in all of these forms or knew their precise construction. Because Chaucer did write ballades and roundels, Alceste’s remark that Chaucer wrote virelais sent many scholars on a wild goose chase in search of the form in English, but there is no reliable evidence that the form was ever used in Middle English.48 Technical terms, while they look very specific, can thus stand for clichéd or generic form,

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or for vainglorious pride in one’s own technical achievements, especially those of the unrequited lover or the poet who writes about love. Chaucer may have found something inauthentic (both in terms of their emotion and their artistry) about forms which could be recognized and admired for technical achievement. Something of Chaucer’s peculiar attitude to recognizable form, half-​ attracted and half-​repelled, can be discerned in what we might call a curtailed inset lyric. In the Knight’s Tale, playing the part of the typical squire in love, Arcite sings three lines of a song celebrating the arrival of the month of May: “May, with alle thy floures and thy grene, /​Welcome be thou, faire, fresshe May, /​In hope that I  som grene gete may” (CT, i.1510–​1512). Retrospectively we are told that these are the first three lines of a roundel (the term used by Hoccleve and Chaucer to refer to a rondeau tercet):  “Whan that Arcite hadde romed al his fille, /​And songen al the roundel lustily” (CT, i.1528–​1529). Chaucer might have here inset an entire fixed-​form lyric, but he chose not to. He gives as much of the fixed-​form rhyme scheme of the rondeau as can be given without breaking out of his couplet form (abb, i.e. the opening three lines which form the repeating section). This three-​line opening might strike some as parodically overwritten, though these lines may also be the very definition of fine courtly versifying.49 They are crowded with alliteration, apostrophe, repetition (grene, M/​may), and rime riche (May~may). Chaucer is attracted to form to a certain degree, naming Arcite’s song as a roundel and giving, in these three lines, many of the recognizable features of courtly versifying. But he also resists form, cutting the rondeau short and having these lines so overwritten so as to be potentially parodic. Arcite’s song, stranded between rondeau and couplets, caught between what is appealing about technical expertise in poetry and suspicion about that same recognizable skill, is symptomatic of many of Chaucer’s feelings about form. Alceste, concluding her list of Chaucer’s works as she defends him against the God of Love’s accusation of heresy, says that Chaucer has made “many a lay and many a thing” (LGW, f430). The second term (likely present due to the demands of rhyme) fits with the trajectory of Alceste’s list and with Chaucer’s formal impulses. Her catalogue of Chaucer’s works proceeds from titles to stories, from fixed-​form lyrics (whether this is a generic list or a precise catalogue of Chaucer’s lyric output) to translations, until it arrives at both quantity and uncertainty. Alceste concludes that Chaucer made a great many poems, the forms of which are unspecifiable, mere things which cannot be given any technical designation. Her assessment is correct: Chaucer shows himself

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wary of recognizable form and keen to create unrecognizable things. Several factors might explain this skeptical attitude. Chaucer’s combination of court and coterie readerships may have produced verse which was neither fish nor fowl, poetry which gestured at elite fashions but was not too concerned with their details and which may also have been more inclined to parody or satire than to faithful reproduction of form. Likewise his position as a mediator between continental and English verse may have produced hybrid forms, forms which were not clearly identifiable as one thing or another. Recognizable form may have been associated with juvenilia, with inauthenticity, with anxieties about technique for technique’s sake, though he was indisputably also engaged in transforming the technical constraints of non-​alliterative English versification. Perhaps his intended readers were not very interested in recognizable form. The God of Love does not care in which form Chaucer writes the individual legends (“Make the metres of hem as the lest,” LGW, f562). This off-​hand remark may be a joke about philistine patrons, but it may also capture something of Chaucer’s own curious attitude to form. Form needed to be just right, just as he preferred, but it could rarely be specified, recognized, or straightforwardly named.

Notes 1 Adrian Armstrong and Sarah Kay, eds., with the participation of Rebecca Dixon, Miranda Griffin, Sylvia Huot, Francesca Nicholson, and Finn Sinclair, Knowing Poetry:  Verse in Medieval France from the Rose to the Rhétoriqueurs (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 135. 2 On poetry’s licenses, see Nicolette Zeeman, “The Schools Give a License to Poets,” in Criticism and Dissent in the Middle Ages, ed. Rita Copeland (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 151–​180. 3 Ralph Hanna outlines the complexity of the Awntyrs stanza in his edition of the text:  The Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyn:  An Edition Based on Bodleian Library MS Douce 324 (Manchester University Press, 1974), 11–​24. Ad Putter describes the technical complexity of the Three Dead Kings stanza, featuring alliteration, end rhyme, concatenation, and consonance: “The Language and Metre of Pater Noster and Three Dead Kings,” Review of English Studies 55, no. 221 (September  2004):  498–​526. Kristin Lynn Cole briefly sets out the Gawain poet’s formal syntheses, Gawain combining alliterative long lines and dolnik/​mixed meter bob-​and-​wheels, in “Chaucer’s Metrical Landscape,” in Chaucer’s Poetry: Words, Authority and Ethics, ed. Clíodhna Carney and Frances McCormack (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013), 92–​106. 4 Nicolette Zeeman, “Imaginative Theory,” in Middle English, ed. Paul Strohm, Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature (Oxford University Press, 2007), 222.

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5 Dante, De vulgari eloquentia, ed. and trans. Steven Botterill, Cambridge Medieval Classics 5 (Cambridge University Press, 1996); Eustache Deschamps, L’art de dictier, ed. and trans. Deborah M. Sinnreich-​Levi (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1994). 6 Quoted in John J. Thompson, The Cursor Mundi: Poem, Texts and Contexts (Oxford:  The Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, 1998), 67. 7 Joyce Coleman, “Strange Rhyme:  Prosody and Nationhood in Robert Mannyng’s Story of England,” Speculum 78, no. 4 (October 2003): 1214–​1238. 8 Robert Mannyng, Robert Mannyng of Brunne, The Chronicle, ed. Idelle Sullens (Binghamton University, 1996), 92–​94 (ll. 85–​86, 89). 9 Coleman, “Strange Rhyme,” 1234–​1236. 10 See David Burnley, “Chaucer’s Literary Terms,” Anglia 114, no. 2 (1996): 202–​ 203. Burnley surveys Chaucer’s literary terminology, offering an Appendix (232–​235) of “words with apparently literary associations” (211). Burnley briefly considers Chaucer’s usage of “the technical terms of literature” derived from Latin and French and notes in passing that they “sometimes show peculiarities of occurrence” (229). My aim in this chapter is to tease out such peculiarities. 11 Chaucer’s parody of tail rhyme in Sir Thopas has recently been explored by Rhiannon Purdie, “The Implications of Manuscript Layout in Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Thopas,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 41, no. 3 (July 2005): 263–​ 274; Jessica Brantley, “Reading the Forms of Sir Thopas,” The Chaucer Review 47, no. 4 (2013): 416–​438; Aditi Nafde, “Laughter Lines: Reading the Layouts of the Tale of Sir Thopas,” Pecia 16 (2013):  143–​152; Ad Putter, “Adventures in the  Bob-​and-​Wheel Tradition:  Narratives and Manuscripts,” in Medieval Romance and Material Culture, ed. Nicholas Perkins (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2015), 147–​164. 12 John Burrow discusses how Chaucer, and following him Hoccleve, used French stanza forms in ways which would have surprised French readers in his “Hoccleve and the Middle French Poets,” in The Long Fifteenth Century: Essays for Douglas Gray, ed. Helen Cooper and Sally Mapstone (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 35–​49. 13 Donald H. Reiman, ed., Shelley and his Circle, 1773–​1822, vol. vii (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 153: “Chaucer’s terza rima is at least in part Skeat’s own invention.” 14 See Ralph Hanna, Pursuing History: Middle English Manuscripts and their Texts (Stanford University Press, 1996), 185–​190. Hanna hints that Chaucer perhaps never made good his promise to supply the text of the roundel: “If he [Chaucer] wrote anything (and in the state of the evidence, that is not certain), it has not been transmitted to us” (189). 15 The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 23. Unless otherwise noted, references to The Canterbury Tales are cited parenthetically from this edition. 16 On the female readership of the Legends, see Joyce Coleman, “The Flower, the Leaf, and Philippa of Lancaster,” in The Legend of Good Women: Context and

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Reception, ed. Carolyn P. Collette (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2006), 33–​58. David Wallace notes the Prologue’s “intimate imagining of relations between an eloquent queen and a productive poet” (Chaucerian Polity:  Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy [Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997], 365). 17 Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Machaut’s Peer, Thomas Paien,” Plainsong and Medieval Music 18, no. 2 (October 2009): 104. Leach gives the text of all three ballades and discusses the context in which this competition may have taken place. 18 Roman de la Rose, ll. 745–​1276; Remède de Fortune, ll. 3349–​3507. The lack of evidence for the ballade as a suitable song for dancing is noted by Robert Mullally, The Carole: A Study of a Medieval Dance (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011), 76–​77. 19 Private communication by email, July 2016. 20 Ardis Butterfield, “Mise-​en-​page in the Troilus Manuscripts:  Chaucer and French Manuscript Culture,” Huntington Library Quarterly 58, no. 1 (1995): 49–​80. 21 Ibid., 80. 22 The coherence of Anelida and Arcite and its attribution to Chaucer have been seriously questioned by A.  S.  G. Edwards, “The Unity and Authenticity of Anelida and Arcite: The Evidence of the Manuscripts,” Studies in Bibliography 41 (1988): 177–​188. Edwards shows that what we call Anelida and Arcite may in fact represent two poems which have been grafted together, with only the second Complaint part being possibly (but not certainly) attributed to Chaucer. 23 Julia Boffey, “The Lyrics in Chaucer’s Longer Poems,” Poetica: An International Journal of Linguistic-Literary Studies 37 (1993): 15–​37. 24 Bruce Holsinger, “Lyrics and Short Poems,” in The Yale Companion to Chaucer, ed. Seth Lerer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 180. 25 Ibid., 185, 188. 26 On the form of the lai lyrique, see Barbara K.  Altmann, “Guillaume de Machaut’s Lyric Poetry,” in A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Deborah McGrady and Jennifer Bain (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 311–​331. 27 Cambridge, Trinity College MS r.3.20 (600), 106. 28 See the table of nine-​line stanza forms in Daniel Poirion, Le poète et le prince:  L’évolution du lyrisme courtois de Guillaume de Machaut à Charles d’Orléans (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1965), 386. 29 Oton de Granson:  Poems, ed. and trans. Peter Nicholson and Joan Grenier-​ Winther (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2015), 338. 30 James I. Wimsatt notes the Lenvoy’s French influences but also concedes the differences between its stanza form and French antecedents in Chaucer and his French Contemporaries: Natural Music in the Fourteenth Century (University of Toronto Press, 1991), esp. 30, 169, 285–​286. 31 Howell Chickering explores the complexities and uncertainties of meaning of the Clerk’s Tale Lenvoy alongside its formal virtuosity, calling it “a passage of great originality” (“Form and Interpretation in the Envoy to the Clerk’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review 29, no. 4 [1995]: 358).

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32 Cole, “Chaucer’s Metrical Landscape,” 97: “Until Gower and Chaucer, most Middle English poets did not try to write perfectly-​syllabic verse in English.” 33 See Middle English Dictionary (MED) “song” (n.), 1 (a) and (e). 34 See MED “dit” (n.) and “dite” (n.). 35 Ian Cornelius, “The Rhetoric of Advancement:  Ars dictaminis, Cursus, and Clerical Careerism in Late Medieval England,” New Medieval Literatures 12 (2010): 289–​330. 36 Eleanor Johnson, Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve (University of Chicago Press, 2013), 65–​78. 37 Ibid., 79–​91. 38 On cadence as a term in medieval music referring to harmonic progression (a meaning which seems too specialized to be relevant here), see David Maw, “Redemption and Retrospection in Jacques de Liège’s Concept of Cadentia,” Early Music History 29 (2010): 79–​118. 39 See MED lai (n.(2)). 40 Lee Patterson, “Writing Amorous Wrongs:  Chaucer and the Order of Complaint,” in Acts of Recognition: Essays on Medieval Culture (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 181–​197. 41 Phillipa Hardman, “Ars Celare Artem: Interpreting the Black Knight’s ‘Lay’ in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess,” Poetica: An International Journal of LinguisticLiterary Studies 37 (1993): 51. 42 Ibid. 43 Guillaume de Machaut, The Fountain of Love (La Fonteinne Amoureuse) and Two Other Love Vision Poems, ed. and trans. R. Barton Palmer (New York: Garland, 1993), 102–​145. 44 The Complete Works of John Gower, vol. i, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899–​1902), 303 (ll. 27, 337–​341). Translation from John Gower, Mirour de l’Omme (The Mirror of Mankind), trans. William Burton Wilson (East Lansing, MI:  Colleagues Press, 1992), 358. I  am grateful to Clare Fletcher of Trinity College, Dublin, for alerting me to Gower’s use of the term in the Mirour. 45 John Gower, Confessio Amantis, vol. i, ed. Russell A. Peck with Latin translations by Andrew Galloway (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004), 349. 46 Guillaume de Machaut, “Le Jugement du roy de Behaigne” and “Remede de Fortune,” ed. James I. Wimsatt and William W. Kibler (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), 188–​189 (ll. 403–​405). 47 Le livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, ed. Anatole de Montaiglon (Paris: de Montaiglon, 1854), 2; Jean Froissart, An Anthology of Narrative and Lyric Poetry, ed. and trans. Kristen M. Figg with R. Barton Palmer (New York: Routledge, 2001), 284–​285 (ll. 451–​452). 48 On those Middle English lyrics which have been mislabeled as virelais, see Jenni Nuttall, “The Vanishing English Virelai: French Complainte in English in the Fifteenth Century,” Medium Ævum 85, no. 1 (June 2016): 59–​76. 49 Thanks must go to Matthew Harrison of West Texas A&M University for making me think twice about these lines and how one might define “bad poetry.”

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Chaucer’s Aesthetic Resources

Nature, Longing, and Economies of Form Jennifer Jahner

Yit nas the ground nat wounded with the plough, But corn up-​sprong, unsowe of mannes hond, The which they gnodded and eete nat half ynough. Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Former Age” 1

The concept of natural beauty rubs on a wound, and little is needed to prompt one to associate this wound with the violence that the artwork –​a pure artifact –​inflicts on nature. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory2

Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Former Age” captures the melancholy of fourteenth-​century modernity. Long ago, the poem tells us, people lived on that which nature provided: they ate apples and acorns and rubbed corn “up-​sprong” for meal.3 They knew neither mill, nor plough, nor mortar, nor coin until men first dug up “metal lurkinge in derknesse” and mined gems from the rivers (ll. 29–​30). From the plundering of the earth sprang covetousness, trade, tyranny, treason, and murder  –​and on this pessimistic note the poem abruptly ends. As its critics regularly note, “The Former Age” couches its description of preindustrial life almost exclusively in negative terms: constructions of ne, no, nis, and nat, as well as coinages prefixed with un-​ (unsowe, unforged), occur in just under half of its sixty-​three lines, a total of fifty-​two occurrences in all.4 To exist in a world free of labor is to exist in a world free of poetry, too, and “The Former Age” can only imagine such a world by means of rhetorical subtraction. In response to a very different modernity, Theodor Adorno also contemplated nature by subtraction –​in this case, the exemption of natural beauty from categories of human conceptual mastery. The concept of “natural beauty” plays a robust role in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, where he posits it as nothing less than the fundamental aporia in Kantian and Hegelian aesthetics. Nature is not, as Kant would have it, a goad to moral 38

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judgment, nor, as Hegel asserts, an inferior beauty subsumed by the higher, more spiritual work of human artistry.5 Rather, for Adorno, natural beauty is the “silence” of which art is always echo and afterimage:  it “remains as dispersed and uncertain as what it promises, that which surpasses all human immanence.”6 The most aesthetically successful works in Adorno’s view are those that best approximate the negativity of natural beauty and, in doing so, refuse the dominion of productive use. In our own moment of precarious modernity, literary criticism has turned with renewed energy to questions of nature and beauty. Ecological criticism has directed our attention away from the sovereign category of the human while formalist criticism has directed it toward the particularities of the literary object. We might consider both of these movements as consolatory in the way that Boethius understands consolation in The Consolation of Philosophy: not in terms of the desired conclusion, an end to suffering, but in terms of an optimal process, the work of reorientation and rescaling that alters our relationship to our work and the surrounding environment.7 This chapter thinks about the ways that literary forms adjust temporal scale to explore questions of loss. For both Chaucer and Adorno, the juncture of the atemporal and the finite –​what Chaucer calls the “former age” and Adorno “suspended history” –​becomes the starting point for thinking about the work of poetry within unfolding human time.8 For both as well, “nature” broadly construed becomes the site at which human agency negotiates its relationship to what is prior and given in the world. These kinds of incommensurable scales, Mark McGurl has argued, provide literature its particular flexibility to imagine what lies beyond direct apprehension, whether in the “deep time” of the geological past or in the plenitude of the present moment.9 His concept of the “posthuman comedy” encompasses literary forms in which “the spatiotemporal vastness and numerousness of the nonhuman world becomes visible as a formal, representational, and finally existential problem.”10 As literary works attempt to “scale up” to the size of the cosmos or the created world, that is, they inevitably “fail to transcend their historical and medial conditions of possibility.” But those limits, McGurl suggests, are also “what allow us to know and feel our presence in the world as something in particular.”11 Though McGurl uses nineteenth-​and twentieth-​century genre fiction as his starting point for this “modern” problem of scale, the question of how one gives shape to embodied knowledge at the far limits of that knowledge is an ancient one, and the language of form has always served to accommodate it. In classical Latin, the single term forma translated two different

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Greek words meaning shape or figure:  eidos, often translated as “idea,” which Plato used to designate a form which presents itself as the common stamp across multiple examples, and morphe, a term Aristotle preferred when he wanted to denote the intrinsic structure and capacities that determine the features of a given object.12 The recovery of the Aristotelian corpus alongside its Arabic commentary tradition in the thirteenth century meant that Chaucer’s understanding of the natural world bore an unmistakably Aristotelian cast, in which knowledge was understood to rest not upon the essence of a thing but upon the universal concepts that sense perception abstracts from that thing.13 This increased emphasis on the senses as mechanisms of cognition shaped Chaucer’s distinctively “particularized” poetics, Maura Nolan has argued, as it did the contemporary French poets he read and emulated.14 As Sarah Kay summarizes, “The poets of [the long fourteenth century] seek less to raise their sights to disembodied metaphysical essences (Ideas), of which particular creatures are mere shadows, than to reflect on the reality of embodied individuals, on the possibility of a reality vested in common nature, or on the conceptual, internal, mental reality of concepts.”15 In this chapter, I examine literary form as a productive “failure of imagination,” to borrow McGurl’s phrase, in which language seeks to accommodate the radical disjuncture between objective reality and embodied knowledge of the world. In the examples I discuss, forms fail to “scale up” to the absolutes of divine eternity and pristine nature, but in that failure make visible the ethical demands of living in community with others, in which nature serves as “resource” to human intellectual and material demands. Boethius and Chaucer, Eleanor Johnson has shown, understood the ethical work of literary form in sensate terms, as remedy to the gaze that is perpetually turning (to use Chaucer’s word) “meward.”16 In this chapter, I consider what happens when that gaze travels outward to compass a natural world that dwarfs human understanding even as it supplies the resources that drive human progress and domination. This tension between what is knowable and productive of human power relations and what is unknowable but essential to reality rests at the heart of theories of form since Plato. For the purposes of this chapter, I  focus on three examples:  Boethius, as he is poised to abandon political sorrow for the consolations of philosophy; Chaucer, as he experiments with the tenor of Boethian mourning to explore the limitations of philosophical transcendence; and, mediating between them, Kant, whose meditations on the shape of a leaf and the shapelessness of the ocean undergird our working epistemologies of literary form.

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Roundness: Boethian Sense-​Perception and the Apprehension of Form Among its many lessons, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy instructs its audience on how to convert political loss into formal contemplation. When Lady Philosophy first visits her bereaved pupil, he has lost his reputation, goods, friends, home, and freedom  –​not through vice but rather through virtuous allegiance to Philosophy’s own lessons. He accuses her of misleading him in the fourth prosa of Book i: she herself had praised Plato’s dictum that commonwealths ought to be ruled by philosophers or those who study philosophy. But in venturing into the political sphere, seeking the good and defending the Senate, Boethius found only betrayal and false accusation. What he learned in following Philosophy’s path seems simply to be this: “that the world does not judge actions on their merit, but on their chance results, and they consider that only those things which are blessed with a happy outcome have been undertaken with sound advice.”17 Over the course of the five books of the Consolation, Philosophy guides the pupil toward a renewed faith in a rational purpose to the universe, originating in God. The erstwhile prisoner of Fortune, now student of Philosophy, finds his new patria in “the library of the mind,” his thoughts elevated toward God’s unity rather than the world’s mutability.18 The Consolation rewards formalist reading. For Elaine Scarry, the form and purpose of the work mirror each other in circular fashion: “Philosophy originally consoles Boethius (book 1) so that he will be receptive to philosophy, by means of which he may eventually attain philosophy and so be consoled (book 5).”19 Seth Lerer likewise emphasizes the work’s circular structure, seeing, in the prisoner’s silence at the end of Book v, a completion of a course of study that began in sorrow and ends in readerly contemplation.20 More recently, Eleanor Johnson has examined the alternation of verse and prose in the Consolation as a kind of integrated formal therapy, as Philosophy modulates her patient’s emotions through verse so as better to inform his reason through prose.21 In his recent study of Boethius’ meters, Stephen Blackwood in turn emphasizes the complex repetition of metrical and verbal patterns as evidence of a “theological praxis” within the work, as poetic technique subtly guides the prisoner toward recollection of himself and the basic goodness of God.22 The Consolation actively invites such close and sympathetic formal study, as its theology and literary technique are meant to work in concert.

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Philosophy’s prosimetrical “medicine” echoes the harmony of a Platonic cosmos, drawing the lamenting prisoner away from the inward-​looking grief expressed in the opening elegiacs (i.m1), so that he might come to imitate the upturned gaze of the final meter (v.m4), which apprehends both the diverse natural world and the higher governing order that contains it.23 Boethius’ verbal mastery makes this effect possible:  interspersed with philosophical dialogue and lecture, the Consolation boasts eighteen different meters across thirty-​nine poems, with key meters repeating across each side of the work’s centerpiece verse, “O qui perpetua” (iii. m9).24 As its critics have demonstrated, the Consolation strives for a coherent, holistic alignment of aesthetics, theology, and ethical effect. In this way, it constitutes a paradigmatically formal text, in which our own unfolding insights mirror those of the prisoner’s, albeit from a distanced perspective: the prisoner undergoes the immersive therapy in Philosophy’s presence, while we witness the effects of this therapy as they manifest in the shape of the treatise. The form of the work  –​which embodies Philosophy’s work upon the prisoner –​transforms intellectual activity into the consummate refuge, one that anchors both the prisoner’s perspective and our own. But if the formal structure of the Consolation encourages us to read for circularity and closure –​a movement from accidence and complexity toward purpose and unity –​the discussion of forma itself in the Consolation stresses the gap that divides embodied perception and divine unity.25 The most extensive treatment of the concept in the Consolation comes in Book v, as the dialogue arrives at its culminating difficulty, which concerns the place of individual will within the providential schema Philosophy has set forth. Boethius gives over the whole of the third prosa to the prisoner’s concerns on this topic. Why should one pray, he asks, if God has already determined the outcome? How can we hope to find consolation in a divine plan if God’s knowledge remains radically separate from human knowledge? The anxious back-​and-​forth of the prisoner’s questions leads to a rare poem sung in his voice (v.m3), itself comprising a series of questions. The prisoner worries that this discordant problem loosens the “bonds of things” [foedera rerum] (l. 1). If the blinded, earth-​bound mind cannot discern the world’s “slender connections” [tenues nexus] (l. 10), how does one seek knowledge? Writing in an anapestic dimeter that echoes this divide between divine and human perspectives, Boethius plays on the verbal proximity of noscere, to learn or gather knowledge, and nescire, to

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be ignorant.26 The prisoner’s concluding judgment, that we exist in a state somewhere between knowledge and ignorance, draws these two verbs into parallel alignment: Igitur quisquis uera requirit, neutro est habitu. Nam neque nouit nec penitus tamen omnia nescit; sed quam retinens meminit summam consulit alte uisa retractans, ut seruatis queat oblitas addere partes. (ll. 25–​31) [Therefore who seeks the truth /​In neither state will be: he does not know, /​ And yet he is not wholly ignorant. /​So he reflects upon the sum retained /​ And kept in mind, and thinks of what on high /​He saw, that he may add the parts forgot /​To that which he retains.] (p. 123)

The heavy alliteration of these lines concatenates the nescire/​noscere interplay throughout the poem, which is dense with cognates of the two verbs (scire, nescit, nescius, nescita, nouit). The prisoner’s conclusion, introduced by the logical igitur, suggests that his uncertainty has not cast him into the despair that characterized the early books; rather, he understands that his own internal resource, memory, retains some fragmented portion of divine truth –​the “added parts” of the final compact line.27 But the more profound question of how to reconcile divine necessity and human contingency remains. Lady Philosophy attributes the prisoner’s concern on this count to an epistemological error. The prisoner assumes that what he can know about the world abides in the nature of the objects he perceives, but here he is mistaken: “Everything that is known,” Lady Philosophy explains, “is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing” (126).28 Our subjective faculties, in other words, determine the scope of our understanding. Lady Philosophy illustrates this point with the example of a round shape. We can apprehend this roundness in its totality through sight and in parts through touch. So, too, is the human form apprehended in multiple ways:  sense-​perception (sensus) perceives the material body [figuram in subiecta materia]; imaginatio comprehends the figure without the matter; and reason surpasses both and “with a universal consideration reflects upon the species inherent in the individual instances” (126).29 Finally, higher still, abides the “eye of intelligence” that can perceive the “simple form” of man as it exists in divine eternity.30 Superior forms of knowledge subsume within them the lower, and humanity  –​as the

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sole example of the “rational animal” –​occupies the unique position of apprehending the world with sense-​perception and reason together. In a measured glyconic meter, Lady Philosophy devotes the work’s final meter (v.m4) to explaining the cognitive process by which sensory perceptions imprint themselves in the intellect, inciting the “active mind” to mingle these received “images” with the “hidden forms within.”31 Boethius reserves figura and imago to refer to appearances that objects take in the world, which our senses perceive and our imaginations render cognizable. Forma, on the other hand, encompasses those internally situated concepts that allow us to move from the particular to the universal and from the sensible to the immaterial.32 Forma thus expresses the capacity for human understanding as well as its limits. Because our reason depends upon sensory perception, we see the world as temporally linear and contingent; we thus remain fundamentally incapable of apprehending the eternal present that God inhabits as pure form. Because we participate rationally in that divine form, however, we possess the conceptual resources to “lift our heads” above the diversity of natural life and look to God, as the final meter of the Consolation assures us. The ability to abstract from the particular to the universal, to think “formally,” thus defines the rational animal and legitimates its place in God’s hierarchy. Chaucer memorably dramatizes the political possibilities of this model in the figure of Theseus, whose “First Moevere” speech at the conclusion of The Knight’s Tale (ll. 2986–​3089) presents a digest of the key insights of the Consolation. Adding Boethian force to the proverb, Theseus advises Palamon to “maken vertu of necessitee” (l. 3042) and submit to God’s wise providence, which –​conveniently for the purposes of narrative closure –​ entails submitting to Theseus’ governance, too. As it surveys natural diversity from the fixed point of sovereign wisdom, the “First Moevere” speech illustrates how Platonist formalism can augment the authoritarian leanings that David Wallace has found in this tale.33 Formal stasis looms as an aesthetically neat but politically troubling “solution” to the contingency that governs history and human desire. More often in his poetry, though, Chaucer adopts the perspective of the not-​yet-​consoled prisoner  –​the subject who hovers uncertainly between the exile’s foreshortened perspective and the philosopher’s formal understanding. This play on perspective, on the scales at which one examines subjective and collective “failures of imagination,” constitutes a crucial element of Chaucer’s formal experimentation, especially in his Boethian short poems. Further on, I return to two examples, “The Former Age” and “Fortune,” to consider how Chaucer complicates the prospects of formal closure and political consolation.

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Before doing so, however, I want to trace out some of the steps that take us from Philosophy’s metaphysical forma to Chaucer’s (and our own) literary formal practices. This path takes us first through Kant to consider how his theory of natural beauty reframes the literary object according to a different aesthetic economy.

Purposiveness: Kant, Free Natural Beauty, and the Formal Object Centuries after Philosophy comforted Boethius’ prisoner with the reassurance that “mighty Nature holds the reins of things” (p. 50),34 Kant posited that we need not comprehend Nature’s reins to find natural objects beautiful. To the contrary, nature excites our aesthetic judgment because its forms present themselves to us “freely,” with no a priori conceptual demand as to what a flower, tree, or fish ought to resemble. Kant juxtaposes this “free” beauty with “adherent” beauty, the former embodying “self-​subsistence” and the latter dependent on satisfying a particular preconditioned purpose. Kant provides the example of a flower: Flowers are free natural beauties. Hardly any one but a botanist knows what sort of thing a flower ought to be; and even he, though recognising in the flower the reproductive organ of the plant, pays no regard to this natural purpose if he is passing judgement on the flower by Taste. There is then at the basis of this judgement no perfection of any kind, no internal purposiveness, to which the collection of the manifold is referred.35

Kant goes on to list other examples of freely beautiful organisms and objects  –​parrots, hummingbirds, certain seashells, foliage in borders or wallpapers, and “all music without words.” Examples of adherent beauty include human beauty, horses, and buildings. These categories belong together because they carry with them a concept of their own purpose, or perfection, and hence make a pure judgment of taste impossible. Natural beauty stands at the foundation of Kant’s famous maxim about the aesthetic, that it presents “purposiveness without purpose.”36 The spontaneity of nature’s forms, the beauty of its designs, seem “entirely designed for external inspection,” Kant writes, and one could hardly be blamed for positing an internal purpose driving this complexity.37 Rather than intentional design, however, Kant presumes nature to take its shape by means of mechanistic formation, a “shooting together” of fluids into solid states, which contingently produces the objects that we in turn see as beautiful. Nature does not produce its forms for us; otherwise, it would also determine our judgments. The beauty we find in nature instead arises from the fact that it seems purposive, despite the freedom and contingency that

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undergird its structures. In this way, “Nature is beautiful because it looks like art,” Kant argues, “and art can only be called beautiful if we are conscious of it as art while yet it looks like nature.”38 In Jonathan Loesberg’s assessment, Kant’s aesthetics replaces the “intentional design” model of eighteenth-​century natural theology with a new model of design, “neither intended nor immanent but theoretically constructed.” According to Kant’s model, “The aesthetic judgment . . . does not attend to objects but to a form it attributes to those objects.”39 Boethian formalism and Kantian formalism stand on either side of this question of purposiveness. For Boethius, forma embodies the intrinsic fittingness and immanent design of a world made by God. For Kant, form embodies the means by which our subjective judgment apprehends the world as though it had a design intended for our instruction and delight. For all their differences, these concepts of form share a certain basic negativity. In neither case can human reason encompass the fundamental causes of the natural world, but this lack of full comprehension paradoxically becomes the basis for human hierarchical relations. For Boethius, human apperception, confronted with the boundlessness of divine eternity, ideally recognizes its share in God’s rationality and humbly assumes its position atop the natural hierarchy. For Kant, the analytic of the sublime provides an analogous movement. Unlike the beautiful, which bears a form that provokes pleasure and contemplation in the observer, the sublime, as present in the “formless object” of great magnitude, provokes fear and awe. The more fearful the prospect, however, the more secure the intellect that contemplates it. As we observers gain “courage to measure ourselves against the apparent almightiness of nature,” we in turn realize that our faculty of judgment accords us superiority over nature.40 At the meeting point of the boundless sublime and the bounded particulars of nature, human beings fashion their judgments about the purpose and order of the world, an order that, in the case of Boethius and Kant, accords privilege to the power of rational thought. Form encapsulates this power to make meaning from uncertainty and discern commonality across individual things. For Boethius, forms resided within and beyond the self as iterations of an ungraspable divine totality; for Kant, they emerged at the limits of epistemological certainty to compensate for what we cannot fully know. In both cases, form emerges against a backdrop of natural sufficiency: nature’s law binds the shape of things, whether or not we discern the connections. The ability to discern form, therefore, empowers the perceiver within her historical particularity, allowing nature’s visible affinities to give meaning to discrete

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acts of philosophical contemplation. In the second half of this chapter, I discuss how Chaucer subverts the sense of intellectual empowerment promised by formal contemplation through a poetic habitation of the Consolation itself. I  focus on two of Chaucer’s Boethian short poems, “The Former Age” and “Fortune.” These poems are not often discussed as a pair, but they in fact share a deep investment in questions of natural and aesthetic regulation: both take their starting point from Book ii of the Consolation and survive together in a manuscript of the Boece, intercalated within Philosophy’s most trenchant critique of aesthetic pleasure. As we will see, Chaucer’s poetic response adopts Philosophy’s lessons, only to undermine their effectiveness.

Insufficiencies: “The Former Age” and “Fortune” in Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.3.21 A brief overview of Book ii of the Consolation will prove helpful as we turn to Chaucer. The overriding concern in this section of the Boece is the problem of possessive desire. The prisoner laments that Fortune has turned against him, robbing him of family, reputation, and goods. But such grief misconstrues Fortune’s nature, since, according to Philosophy, Fortune’s fixity resides “in the chaungynge of hirself ” (ii.p1, ll. 54–​55). To illustrate her point, Philosophy adopts the voice of Fortune for the second prosa and metrum of the book, demanding that the prisoner tell her what wrong she has committed against him. He may complain about her to any judge, Fortune contends, “and yif thou maist schewen me that ever any mortel man hath resceyved ony of tho thynges to ben hise in propre, thanne wil I graunte freely that thilke thynges weren thyne whiche that thow axest” (ii.p2, ll. 7–​14). In point of fact, nothing belongs by right to the prisoner:  from birth, Fortune fostered and “envyrounde the with al the habundaunce and schynynge of alle goodes that ben in my ryght” (ll. 21–​23). The prisoner enjoyed these “foreynge goodes” (l. 25) by grace of Fortune, so when the sovereign withdraws her grace he can hardly claim injury on technical grounds. Fortune summarizes her case in the second metrum. In the Latin, Fortune’s uneven favor finds expression in an alternation of long and short lines and the deferral of the subject –​humankind –​until line seven.41 Chaucer’s prose rendering, following his French source, regularizes the syntax but retains the unbalanced, anticipatory tenor of the Latin.42 Though Plenty pours forth countless riches, still humanity complains of deprivation. Its voracious desire for honors and gold leave it perpetually unsatisfied.

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Adopting her own persona again, Philosophy proceeds to instruct her pupil in some basic political economy. Money and gold, she reminds him, do not take their value from their own natures but from scarcity and demand. The liberal distribution of money fosters reputation and honor for the giver, but also creates a social inequity that money can never assuage (ii.p5, ll. 10–​39). The example of gems, a value-​laden natural resource, allows Philosophy to pivot from monetary exchange to natural beauty.43 Shiny, ornamental objects attract the eye, but they owe the quality of their light to their own natures, which “drawen to hemself a litel of the laste beaute of the world thurw the entente of hir creatour and thurw the distinccioun of hemself ” (ii.p5, ll. 48–​51). Their beauty has nothing to do with us, and thus does not warrant our glorification. Nor in fact do any of nature’s objects: not the moon, stars, sun, sea, or flowers. Philosophy’s point seems severe –​the prisoner objects that surely one could admire the sea on a clear day –​but it remains consistent with her argument that all changeable things fall within Fortune’s jurisdiction. Nature’s beauty remains subsistent unto itself, and we covet it only as the “straunge goodes” (l. 70) that belong to another. Philosophy recommends that we emulate nature’s parsimony rather than admire her seeming excesses: “For [with] fewe thynges and with ful litel thynges nature halt hir apayed; and yif thow wolt achoken the fulfillynge of nature with superfluytees, certes thilke thynges that thow wolt thresten or powren into nature schulle ben unjoyeful to the, or elles anoyous” (ll. 78–​84). If humankind held itself to the measure of nature, it could resume its position atop the hierarchy of creation, rather than remaining in thrall to “the loweste thynges” (l. 136), which capture its eye. Using verse to reiterate and extend her point, Philosophy sings for the prisoner the fifth metrum, “Blisful was the firste age of men,” or “Felix nimium prior aetas,” praising the salubrious moderation of the Golden Age and tracing its corruption to “he that first dalf up the gobbettes or the weyghtes of gold covered undir erthe” (ii.m5, 33–​37). In Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.3.21, Chaucer’s prose rendering of the fifth metrum is followed by “The Former Age” and “Fortune.” This manuscript uniquely includes the Boece within a Latin copy of the Consolation, glossed with excerpts from Nicholas Trevet’s commentary on the text.44 Produced in the early fifteenth century, MS Ii.3.21 (hereafter Ii) is a composite manuscript that joins the Latin glossed Consolation and Boece with a separate volume containing a fifteenth-​century copy of William of Aragon’s commentary on the Consolation.45 Produced not long after his death, it embeds Chaucer within the Latin materials that, together

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with Jean de Meun’s Li Livres de Confort de Philosophie, constituted key sources for his translation. The incursion of Middle English poetry into the second book disrupts the otherwise orderly hierarchy of the manuscript: throughout, the Latin source text dominates the page in a spacious textura hand, with marginal and interlinear glossing in a supporting role; the Middle English text follows the Latin in a less formal anglicana formata, receiving fewer but occasional glosses in Latin.46 This pattern alternates across the whole of the Consolation. The transition to copying Middle English poetry, however, clearly presented the scribe with some difficulties, since the two poems, which share the same ballad royal verse structure (ababbcbc), appear across ff. 52r–​54r as a single text.47 Neither of these poems translates Boethius directly, and the scribe’s description of “The Former Age” as written “upon” ii.m5 comes perhaps closest to capturing their relationship to the foregoing text:  they bear the marks of an exercise in adaption, taking an element of a source text and altering or expanding its dramatic situation. In the case of “The Former Age,” Philosophy’s praise of the prior aetas provides Chaucer the occasion to expand the Boethian material to include a more pessimistic Ovidian ending, allowing a sharper critique of his own moment.48 In the second poem, Chaucer takes the complaint of Fortune in the second prosa as the setting for a legal dispute between a “pleintif,” humankind, and the defendant, Fortune, in which she reprises the argument that her “governaunce” exempts her from the plaintiff’s cause. In neither case does the second book of the Consolation circumscribe the contents of these works, which incorporate a variety of French and Latin sources, including other parts of the Consolation. But as a scribe clearly recognized, they do offer a kind of poetic commentary on the preceding arguments. “The Former Age” and “Fortune” also share a tactical sense of failure. Embedded at this early stage in the prisoner’s education, they dramatize a perspective that remains inextricably mired in history’s “mutability,” lamenting a world already past, in the case of the “The Former Age,” and desiring a future yet to be determined, in the case of “Fortune.” Though no evidence indicates that Chaucer intended them to be copied together in the Boece, their shared debt to Book ii suggests a deliberate interplay that at least one copyist (if not the scribe of Ii) recognized and arranged.49 What the poems highlight, to occasionally humorous effect, is the impossibility of the project of the Consolation as a whole. Chaucer, ever the ironist, subverts the form of the Consolation by using its own best tool against it: poetry.

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“The Former Age” begins as a loose paraphrase of “Felix nimium prior aetas.” The “blisful” people of the former age exemplify Philosophy’s ideal economy, taking no excessive delight in nature’s bounty: A blisful lyf, a paisible and a swete, Ledden the peples in the former age. They helde hem payed of the fruites that they ete, Which that the feldes yave hem by usage; They ne were nat forpampred with outrage. Unknowen was the quern and ek the melle; [handmill, mill] They eten mast, hawes, and swich pounage, [nuts, hawthorn berries, pig fodder] And dronken water of the colde welle. (ll. 1–​8)

The description of this preindustrial economy continues in the second stanza: the plow has not yet “wounded” the ground (l. 9), fire has not yet sprung from flint, the vine has not yet found cultivation, and spices and sauces remain undiscovered. Primitive simplicity provides the backdrop against which fourteenth-​century innovations and depredations emerge, a long and technical list that culminates in the third stanza, which begins each line with an anaphoric “No” or “Ne.” Absent trade, agriculture, or artisanship, humanity has no reason to construct towers or walls, or to wage war for land or goods. At its precise midpoint, the poem reprises Boethius’ concluding question of the fifth metrum –​who was it who first dug up gems and gold and brought about our misery? –​before it turns more directly to Ovidian source material in its second half. After eight stanzas, it concludes abruptly and pessimistically in the age of Jupiter, Nimrod, and present-​day tyrants: Allas, allas, now may men wepe and crye! For in oure dayes nis but covetyse, Doublenesse, and tresoun, and envye, Poyson, manslawhtre, and mordre in sondry wyse. (ll. 60–​63)

As Andrew Galloway, Nicola Masciandaro, and Karl Steel all note, the repeated “not yet” of “The Former Age” plays to double effect, ostensibly idealizing a time before war and strife even as it reveals that time to be a projection of the narrator’s own longing, buttressed on all sides by a vocabulary that belongs squarely to his own moment.50 Moreover, as Masciandaro notes, Chaucer appears skeptical that the scarcity of the former age actually constitutes a “blissful life.” The voice of the poem, he argues, “seems to speak out of  . . . a condition of alienation,” at once nostalgic for the

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impossible world it conjures and unsettled by the harshness of its utopian conditions.51 We can trace some of this ambivalence, I believe, to the fifth prosa of Book ii, which Chaucer echoes in the third line of the poem. Just as nature “halt hir apayed” with the barest minimum, so the people of the first age “held hem payed of the fruites that they ete,” provided from the fields by “usage.” Here, humanity subsists so “naturally” that it fails to distinguish itself from nature at all, its “skars and thinne” (l. 36) nourishment an extension of nature’s own self-​contained regulation. We might in this way consider “The Former Age” a speculative attempt to follow through on the implications of Philosophy’s policy of strict sufficiency. This wholly domestic economy admits no foreign incursion, but neither does it admit aesthetic appreciation of creation. Philosophy, we recall, classifies money, honor, and property as “foreign” to the human subject, but also nature’s beauty. She exempts even the fleeting pleasures of summer from humanity’s proper ambit: “Why darstow glorifye the in the shynynge of any swiche thynges? Artow distyngwed and embelysed by the spryngyge floures of the first somer sesoun, or swelleth thi plente in fruites of somer? Whi artow ravyssched with idel joies? Why enbracest thow straunge goodes as they weren thyne?” (ii.p5, 64–​71)

Chaucer translates Philosophy in an alliterative poetic register –​“spryngynge floures,” “somer sesoun,” “swelleth thi plente” –​that seems to take subtle aim at the pleasures of poetry itself. As Chaucer’s own prose “swells” with the embellishments of metaphor and alliteration, it reveals a central crux of Philosophy’s teaching: through the beauty of her own meters, Philosophy advocates the virtues of aesthetic austerity, in which the world exists for use but not appetitive pleasure. For an author whose poetry so consistently positions natural beauty as a primary object of longing  –​indeed, as the force that “priketh” The Canterbury Tales into motion  –​the prospect of abandoning possessive delight in the created world entails abandoning poetry, too.52 This problem of a “lapsed” poetics, goaded by beauty and violence alike, subtends the “The Former Age.” In it, Chaucer first imagines a world in which humanity holds no longing for the “straunge goodes” of nature, then juxtaposes it with its opposite –​a world in which nature serves only as a resource for exploitation and domination. The “bleakness” that readers have ascribed to this poem derives from its commitment to depicting a version of human history devoid of “embelysed” interest in nature and hence devoid of pleasure altogether.53 Neither side of this philosophical bind, in which nature’s resources enable either perfect sufficiency or ceaseless exploitation, admits space for aesthetic contemplation. That task instead falls to the fallen perspective of the poet,

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as he traces the arc of history from its beginning to its looming catastrophic end. In its own elaborated, paratactic form, “The Former Age” experiments with a set of simultaneous possibilities, praising the austerity that it also critiques while aestheticizing the violence that it also laments.54 “Fortune” also represents a poetic thought experiment. In this case, Chaucer adapts the genre of the begging poem to a juridical framework in order to test Fortune’s paradoxical claim that she speaks truthfully when she asserts her inconstancy. A triple ballad, the poem devotes its first three stanzas to the voice of the “pleintif,” who laments the “wrecched worldes transmutacioun” under Fortune’s changeable governance.55 He shows himself in these opening stanzas an eager but inattentive pupil of Philosophy, proclaiming that “My suffisaunce shal be my socour,” only to assert a line later, “For fynally Fortune, I thee defye” (ll. 15–​16).56 Such defiance could not be further in spirit from Philosophy’s teaching in the Consolation. Taken together, these lines thus present a contradiction apparent to the reader but not, it seems, to the speaker: as any close student of the Consolation will attest, defying Fortune does not bring about sufficiency or succor. To the contrary, as Philosophy informs the prisoner in the first prosa of Book ii, “it byhoveth the to suffren wyth evene wil in pacience al that is doon inwith the floor of Fortune” (ii.p1, l.  92). The ironic distance Chaucer establishes between the reader and the plaintiff subtly undermines the aphoristic language of sufficiency itself: even if the speaker knows Fortune to be “a fals dissimulour” (“Fortune,” l.  23), that knowledge gains him no power in a political realm where he still seeks to control outcomes. The very genre of the begging poem defies Philosophy’s wisdom. The second three stanzas, spoken by Fortune as her respounse, compound these ironies. In an echo of ii.p2, Fortune defends herself by pointing out the speaker’s unwitting contradiction:  “And he that hath himself hath suffisaunce. /​Why seystow thanne I am to thee so kene, /​That hast thyself out of my governaunce?” (ll. 26–​28). The speaker has little reason to complain, she continues, since his “beste frend” still lives, and she has taught him to see “cleer” the difference between true friends and false (ll. 32–​37). Born to her “regne of variaunce,” he would do better learning from her “lore” than persisting in his “grevaunce” (ll. 45–​47). The final ballad alternates between the two speakers, who share the refrain:  “In general, this reule may nat fayle” (l. 72). The plaintiff continues his defiance for one stanza, damning Fortune’s teaching. Fortune returns with the next two stanzas and the poem’s envoy, reprising her arguments from the Consolation. She has lent the plaintiff a “drope of my richesse” (l. 58), but now that she “lyketh to withdrawe” (l. 59) he can no more defy her mutability than he could the ebbing of the sea. The rule that does not fail, Fortune tells us, is

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change itself, and, whether he admits it or not, change is precisely what the speaker seeks in his self-​conscious display of defiance. The envoy, present in its complete form only in Ii, reinforces this point as its parting irony.57 Having assured the speaker that he can never leave her “reule,” Fortune calls the plaintiff’s bluff. This is a begging poem, after all, so ignoring his vows of independence, she advocates on his behalf to the princes “three of you or tweyne,” who might help his friend attain “som beter estat” (l. 79). Within the highly regular structure of the triple ballad –​three groups of three through-​rhymed stanzas, plus the envoy  –​Chaucer embeds an essential imbalance. What begins as an evenly matched dialogue quickly skews in favor of Fortune, who speaks for six of the ten stanzas. In the plaintiff’s silence, Chaucer again makes a subtle nod to the Consolation, in which Philosophy resumes her own voice in the third prosa by assuring the prisoner that “yif that Fortune spake with the for hirself in this manere, forsothe thow ne haddest noght what thou myghtest answere” (ii.p3, ll. 1–​3). This formal imbalance, perhaps a deliberate echo of Fortune’s uneven second metrum, posed difficulties for early copyists of “Fortune.” In every one of the ten manuscripts and three printed editions of the poem, an erroneous rubric ascribes the ninth stanza to the plaintiff, thus balancing their interchange, despite strong internal evidence of Fortune’s continued voice.58 The form of the poem thus dramatizes the speaker’s false assumption that he can engage in an evenly matched debate with his opponent. In point of fact, his own emotional intensity already betrays his continued dependence on her favor. Like “The Former Age,” “Fortune” uses poetic technique to think critically about its source text, allowing the reader a dual perspective that resides both within the frame of the poem, lamenting the world’s mutability, and outside it, recognizing not simply the limitations of the speaker but the broader impossibility of historical transcendence. In this way, both poems realize the insight of Book v, that humanity can only make the best of its brokered space between ignorance and knowledge, leaving Philosophy the last word.

Conclusion For both Boethius and Kant, aesthetic judgment presumed hierarchical observation of the natural world. In the final meter of the Consolation, Philosophy accords humanity alone the simultaneous power to look down on the material world and up toward divinity. Kant likewise posited the sublime as an experience of awe that gives way to satisfaction. For Chaucer, by contrast, natural beauty drew one toward history and the “embelysed” language of longing and uncertainty it produced. In “The Former Age”

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and “Fortune,” we can see how the structured conventions of lyric poetry offered a means of testing this more abundant aesthetic against the ascetic ideal of sufficiency embodied in Philosophy. The result is a set of poems that allow themselves to be read in both directions: as conventional praise of moderation and as a subtle critique of the same. I have argued over the course of this chapter that formal thought seeks to posit relationships between perceptions and causes, particularities and commonalities, as they emerge at the gap between embodied experience and the totality of the created world. As literary critics, we, too, replicate in various ways this same problem of incommensurability, albeit at one level of remove. What becomes essential but unknowable to our scholarly perception is the infinitude of historical and authorial information for which the formal literary artifact serves as example, index, and product. In related ways, then, form becomes the site in which we, too, negotiate the ethics of our work, as we create from a mass of literary particularities a shared community of knowledge. As Boethius and Chaucer both testify, the consolations of philosophy have their roots in political loss, and arguably formalism does, too, as it seeks to make space for contemplation amidst arguments for institutional austerity and instrumentalism. Formalism, in this way, does not so much escape history as shift our perspective on it, concentrating our attention on the local, the partial, and the experiential. In this way, we return to the writers with which I began this chapter. For Chaucer as well as for Adorno, natural beauty remains inextricably bound up with the histories of domination that produce art and hence form. “Without historical remembrance there would be no beauty,” Adorno argued in Aesthetic Theory, as he introduced to Kantian aesthetics a version of nature that retained its power to critique, not merely reinforce, human dominion.59 As Adorno also insistently cautioned, however, the consolations of form can serve to remedy personal sorrows, but rarely do they rectify collective ones. For Adorno, art embeds “a dialectic of nature and its domination,” and it demands in turn a formalism that does not retreat from the violence of history.60

Notes 1 The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 650, ll. 9–​11. Subsequent citations from Chaucer will be cited parenthetically. 2 Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-​Kentor (London and New York: Continuum Books, 2001), 61–62.

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3 On Chaucerian “modernity,” see Lee Patterson, “Perpetual Motion: Alchemy and the Technology of the Self,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 15 (1993): 25–​ 57, and, with reference to “The Former Age,” Andrew Galloway, “Chaucer’s ‘Former Age’ and the Fourteenth-​Century Anthropology of Craft: The Social Logic of a Premodernist Lyric,” ELH 63, no. 3 (Fall 1996): 535–​553. 4 See John Norton-​Smith, “Chaucer’s Etas Prima,” Medium Aevum 32, no. 1 (1963): 117–​124; A. V. C. Schmidt, “Chaucer and the Golden Age,” Essays in Criticism 26, no. 2  (April, 1976): 99–​115; V. J. Scattergood, “The Short Poems,” in Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems, ed. A. J. Minnis, V. J. Scattergood, and J.  J. Smith (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1995), 489; Bruce Holsinger, “Lyrics and Short Poems,” in The Yale Companion to Chaucer, ed. Seth Lerer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 200–​201; Karl Steel, “Fourteenth-​ Century Ecology: ‘The Former Age’ with Dindimus,” in Rethinking Chaucerian Beasts, ed. Carolynn van Dyke (New  York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 185–​199; Leigh Harrison, “Black Gold: The Former and Future Age,” in Dark Chaucer: An Assortment, ed. Myra Seaman, Eileen Joy, and Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn: Punctum Books, 2012), 59–​69. Masciandaro provides an overview of the tradition in The Voice of the Hammer: The Meaning of Work in Middle English Literature (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 97. 5 On Adorno’s theory of natural beauty in relation to Kant and Hegel, see Donald A.  Burke, “Adorno’s Aesthetic Rationality:  On the Dialectic of Natural and Artistic Beauty,” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises, ed. Stephen Biro (University of Toronto Press, 2011), 165–​ 186; Rodolphe Gasché, “The Theory of Natural Beauty and its Evil Star: Kant, Hegel, Adorno,” Research in Phenomenology 32, no. 1 (2002): 103–​122. For discussion of how Adorno’s aesthetic theory makes use of the medieval past, see Maura Nolan, “Making the Aesthetic Turn:  Adorno, the Medieval, and the Future of the Past,” Journal of  Medieval  and Early Modern Studies 34, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 549–​575. 6 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 73. 7 Susan Crane addresses such questions of Chaucerian “scale” in   “‘The lytel erthe that here is’: Environmental Thought in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 39 (2017): 1–30. 8 “Natural beauty is suspended history, a moment of becoming at a standstill. Artworks that resonate with this moment of suspension are those that are justly said to have a feeling for nature” (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 71). 9 See Mark McGurl,” The Posthuman Comedy,” Critical Inquiry 38, no. 3 (Spring 2012): 533–​553. McGurl takes Wai-​Chi Dimock’s argument for a literary criticism oriented toward “deep time” as an invitation to analyze the conceptual capacities of genre fiction, in particular science fiction and horror, as they seek to represent impossible scales of time and space. For McGurl, the “modal specificity” (541) of genre allows it to conceptualize scale without in turn flattening history into an “aestheticized time” that “acquit[s]‌culture of its complicity in historical violence” (533–​534, emphasis original). The question of how to practice a formalism attentive to historical violence subtends the present chapter as well. 10 Ibid., 537.

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11 Ibid., 541–​542. 12 For discussion, see Gyula Klima, “Natures: The Problem of Universals,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, ed. A. S. McGrade (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 196–​207. Interest in Aristotelian notions of form has been especially prominent in recent formalist criticism that incorporates a materialist perspective. For discussion pertaining to Middle English literature, see Christopher Cannon, The Grounds of English Literature (Oxford University Press, 2004), 5–​10; Cannon, “Form,” in Middle English, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford University Press, 2007), 177–​190; Arthur Bahr and Alexandra Gillespie, “Medieval English Manuscripts: Form, Aesthetics, and the Literary Text,” The Chaucer Review 47, no. 4 (2013):  346–​360. For an overview of new formalist materialism generally, see Marjorie Levinson, “What is New Formalism?” PMLA 122, no. 2 (March 2007): 558–​569. 13 On the recovery of the Aristotelian commentary tradition and its influence on fourteenth-​century poetics, see Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Seeing through the Veil:  Optical Theory and Medieval Allegory (University of Toronto Press, 2004); Sarah Kay, The Place of Thought: The Complexity of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Maura Nolan, “Medieval Sensation and Modern Aesthetics: Aquinas, Adorno, Chaucer,” The Minnesota Review 80 (2013): 145–​158; Kellie Robertson, “Medieval Materialism: A Manifesto,” Exemplaria 22, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 99–​118, and Nature Speaks: Medieval Literature and Aristotelian Philosophy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). 14 See Nolan, “Medieval Sensation and Modern Aesthetics.” 15 Kay, Place of Thought, 12. 16 Eleanor Johnson, Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Age: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve (University of Chicago Press, 2013). 17 Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Victor Watts (New York: Penguin Books, rev. ed.,  1999), 14. The Latin citation reads:  “quod existimatio plurimorum non rerum merita sed fortunae spectat euentum, eaque tantum iudicat esse prouisa quae felicitas commendauerit.” Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, ed. G. S. Smith (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1925), Book i, prose 4, ll. 146–155. All subsequent references to Boethius follow these two texts, with the translation cited by page number and the Latin cited parenthetically by book, meter or prose, and line number. 18 The phrase is from Seth Lerer, Boethius and Dialogue: Literary Method in The Consolation of Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1985), 216. 19 Elaine Scarry, “The Well-​Rounded Sphere: The Metaphysical Structure of The Consolation of Philosophy,” in Essays in the Numerical Criticism of Medieval Literature, ed. Caroline D.  Eckhardt (Lewisburg, PA:  Bucknell University Press, 1980), 93 (emphasis original). 20 As Lerer writes, “The Consolation’s conclusion returns the reader to its beginning in the texts and contexts out of which it is built” (Boethius and Dialogue, 236). 21 Johnson, Practicing, pp. 19–​37. 22 Stephen Blackwood, The Consolation of Boethius as Poetic Liturgy (Oxford University Press, 2015), 20.

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23 See Blackwood, Poetic Liturgy, 219–​226; Johnson, Practicing, 25–​37. 24 For discussion of the meters of the Consolation, see Joachim Gruber, Kommentar zu Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, 2nd edn (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006), and for detailed analysis, Blackwood, Poetic Liturgy. For discussion of “O qui perpetua” as the centerpiece verse, binding together the two halves of the book with a vision of cosmological “enchainment,” see Lerer, Boethius and Dialogue, 138–​145; and Blackwood, Poetic Liturgy, 212–​216. 25 On the widening of that gap within an Aristotelian framework, see Kay, Place of Thought, 13. 26 John Magee notes that Boethius uses anapestic dimeter here and in the previous verse sung by the prisoner, i.m3:  “Each shows Boethius perplexed by the thought that what ought to be one is somehow divided against itself ” (John Magee, “Boethius’ Anapestic Dimeters (Acatalectic), with Regard to the Structure and Argument of the Consolatio,” in Boèce ou la chaîne des savoirs. Actes du colloque international de la Fondation Singer-​Polignac, ed. A. Galonnier [Louvain and Paris: Éditions Peeters, 2003], 150); and for further discussion, Blackwood, Poetic Liturgy, 119–​122. Lerer makes a related point about the play between cognoscere and agnoscere, understanding and verbal assent, in Book iii (Boethius and Dialogue, 137). 27 On the Consolation as a pedagogy of recollection, see Blackwood, Poetic Liturgy, 219–​222; and on the recasting of that memorial process in Froissart, see Kay, Place of Thought, 123–​149. On the theme of blindness in the Consolation, see Scarry, “Well-​Rounded Sphere,” 116–​117. 28 “Omne enim quod cognoscitur non secundum sui uim sed secundum cognoscentium potius comprehenditur facultatem” (v.pr4, ll. 71–73). 29 “Ratio uero hanc quoque transcendit, speciemque ipsam quae singularibus inest uniuersali consideratione perpendit” (v.pr4, ll. 81–​83). 30 On sense-​ perception and cognition in the Consolation, see Gerard J.  P. O’Daly, “Sense-​ Perception and Imagination in Boethius, Philosophiae Consolatio 5 m.  4,” in Philanthropia kai Eusebeia:  Festschrift für Albrecht Dihle zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. G. W. Most, H. Petersmann, and A. M. Ritter (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1993), 327–​340. This passage is also discussed by Akbari, Seeing through the Veil, 28–29. 31 Tum mentis uigor excitus quas intus species tenet ad motus similes uocans notis applicat exteris, introrsumque reconditis formis miscet imagines.

[The active power of mind then roused /​Calls for the species from within /​To motions of a similar kind; /​And fitting them to marks impressed /​From outside, mingles images /​ Received with forms it hides within.] (p. 129)

Blackwood discusses this poem as the culminating example of a series of glyconic meters appearing in i.m6, ii.m8, iii.m12, and v.m5 (Poetic Liturgy, 124–​138). O’Daly also analyzes the poem in detail in “Sense-​Perception.” 32 See O’Daly, “Sense-​ Perception.” Maura Nolan offers a related discussion concerning Aquinas’ Aristotelian understanding of the relationship between

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sensation and cognition. “Sensation,” she argues, “is not only the medium for human experience; it is also the medium through which human beings know God and know the world” (Nolan, “Medieval Sensation and Modern Aesthetics,” 148). 33 On the monologism of this speech, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Palo Alto:  Stanford University Press, 1997), 118. On formalism and the prospect of political quietism, see Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton University Press, 2015), 18–​19; and, for a discussion of forms of closure within social bodies, see ibid., 39–​46. 34 “Quantas rerum flectat habenas /​Natura potens” (iii.m2, ll. 1–​2). 35 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. J. H. Bernard (New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1951), Section 16, 65–​66. 36 See Jonathan Loesberg, A Return to Aesthetics:  Autonomy, Indifference, and Postmodernism (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005), 14–​73. 37 Kant, Critique of Judgment, Section 58, 193. 38 Ibid., § 45, 149; cited also in Loesberg, A Return to Aesthetics, 68. 39 Loesberg, A Return to Aesthetics, 68. 40 Kant, Critique of Judgment, Section 29, 100–​101. For discussion, see Burke, “Adorno’s Aesthetic Rationality,” 168–​169. 41 Si quantas rapidis flatibus incitus pontus uersat harenas, aut quot stelliferis edita noctibus caelo sidera fulgent, tantas fundat opes, nec retrahat manum pleno copia cornu, humanum miseras haud ideo genus cesset flere querelas. (ii.m2, ll. 1–​8)

[If Plenty from her well-​stocked horn /​With generous hand should distribute /​As many gifts as grains of sand /​The sea churns up when strong winds blow, /​Or stars that shine on starlit nights, /​The human race would still repeat /​Its querulous complaints.] (p. 26)

42 “Though Plente that is goddesse of rychesses hielde adoun with ful horn, and withdraweth nat hir hand, as many richesses as the see torneth upward sandes whan it is moeved with ravysshynge blastes, or elles as manye richesses as ther schynen bryghte sterres in hevene on the sterry nyghtes; yit, for al that, mankende nolde nat cese to wepe wrecchide pleyntes” (ii.m2, ll. 1–​9). For the French, see Sources of the Boece, ed. Tim William Machan and Alastair J. Minnis (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005), 59. 43 On the valuation of gemstones and questions of literary form in Pearl, see Arthur Bahr, “The Manifold Singularity of Pearl,” ELH 82, no. 3 (Fall 2015): 731–​732. 44 Edmund T.  Silk demonstrated Chaucer’s reliance on Trevet’s commentary alongside Jean de Meun’s French translation in an unpublished dissertation, “Cambridge MS. Ii.3.21 and the Relation of Chaucer’s Boethius to Trivet and Jean de Meung” (Yale University Dissertation, 1930), which also provided a diplomatic transcription of ff. 9r–​180v of the manuscript, containing the Consolation,

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the Middle English translation, and the glossing apparatus. Minnis has affirmed Chaucer’s reliance on Trevet, alongside Jean de Meun’s French translation and a vulgate copy of the Consolation with interlinear glosses from a commentary by Remigius of Auxerre (“ ‘Glosying is a glorious thyng’:  Chaucer at Work on the Boece,” in The Medieval Boethius: Studies in the Vernacular Translations of De Consolatione Philosophiae, ed. A.  J. Minnis [Cambridge:  Boydell and Brewer, 1987], 106–​124). For more recent discussion, see Tim William Machan, Chaucer’s Boece: A Critical Edition Based on Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.3.21, ff. 9r–​180v (Heidelberg:  Universität-sverlag, 2008), xvi–​xviii. On the glossing apparatus in Ii and its effect on Chaucer’s understanding of Philosophy’s “nourishment,” see Melinda E. Nielsen, “Translating Lady Philosophy: Chaucer and the Boethian Corpus of Cambridge University Library MS Ii.3.21,” The Chaucer Review 51, no. 2 (2016): 209–​226. 45 Machan provides a description of the manuscript in Chaucer’s Boece, xxi. See also C. Hardwick et al., eds., A Catalogue of the Manuscripts Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge, 6 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1858), iii.424–​425. 46 The same hand copied both the Latin and Middle English. It shows orthographical features of the East Midlands and the south, with “a smattering of northern and sometimes simply quirky forms” (Machan, Chaucer’s Boece, xxxix). 47 The scribal title provided to “The Former Age,” “Chawcer vp on this fyfte metur of the second book,” appears above the poem, enclosed in red. A red initial begins the poem, but no break separates it from the second poem, the title of which, “Chauser /​Balades de visage [copied as ‘vilage’] sanz peinture,” is squeezed into the margin as a rubric. “The visual effect,” Alfred David notes, “suggests that the scribe did not see, or did not see until too late, that he was dealing with two poems” (vol. v:  The Minor Poems, The Variorum Editions of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. George B.  Pace and Alfred David [Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982]). For edited editions of the two poems and discussion of their copying in Ii, see Minor Poems, 91–​119, with description of the copying error on f. 52r at 108. On this verse form, also used by Chaucer in The Monk’s Tale and “An ABC,” see Holsinger, “Lyrics and Short Poems,” 201–​202, and Masciandaro, Voice of the Hammer, 104–​107. 48 Chaucer draws on Metamorphoses i.89–​150, as does Boethius, though Chaucer dedicates more of his poem to describing the “iron age” of trade, plunder, and violent exploitation. For a discussion of Chaucer’s sources, see Norton-​Smith, “Etas Prima,” and Schmidt, “Chaucer and the Golden Age.” 49 The versions of “The Former Age” and “Fortune” appearing in Ii both contain “superior unique readings” that distinguish them from other copies, leading Pace and David to speculate, following Brusendorff, that they represent “draft” versions of the two poems (Minor Poems, 95–​96, 106–​108). For discussion, see also Aage Brusendorff, The Chaucer Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967 rpt), 198–​201, 293–​294.

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50 See Galloway, “Anthropology of Craft”; Masciandaro, Voice of the Hammer; Steel, “Fourteenth-​Century Ecology.” As Masciandaro notes, “by suggesting the scarcity of food in primitive times and describing it as pig fodder, the Former Age echoes the antiprimitivist tradition of portraying atechnic society as impoverished and beastlike” (112). 51 Masciandaro, Voice of the Hammer, 116. 52 Cf. General Prologue, l. 11. On Chaucer’s use of natural beauty as a goad to artistic craft, see Maura Nolan, “Beauty,” in Strohm, Middle English, 207–​ 221; and on his “aesthetics of the particular,” Nolan, “Medieval Sensation,” 148–​154. 53 See, for instance, Scattergood, “The Short Poems”: “Chaucer sets out no positive moral position, but is negative, depressed, and pessimistic. This is the bleakest poem he ever wrote” (489). 54 On the “rhetorical complexity” and “aureate diction” of “The Former Age,” see Galloway, “Anthropology of Craft,” 539. 55 On Chaucer’s use of the triple ballad form in “Fortune,” see Holsinger, “Lyrics and Short Poems,” 203–​204. 56 Scattergood also notes the disjuncture in his discussion of the poem in “The Short Poems,” 504–​506. On the possible political contexts of the poem, see Scattergood and John Burrow, “Chaucer as Petitioner:  Three Poems,” The Chaucer Review 45, no. 3 (2011): 349–​356. 57 Only Ii preserves line 76, “at my requeste as thre of yow or tweyne,” an address to noble intercessors which also has provided critics the best evidence of a possible underlying occasion. As Scattergood describes, “a Privy Council ordinance of 8 March 1390 . . . in order to curb Richard II’s extravagances, said that the king should not make gifts or grants without the consent of the dukes of Lancaster, Gloucester, and York (the king’s uncles) and the chancellor, or any two of them. Fortune, therefore, appears to be asking on behalf of Chaucer, that ‘the princes’ on the Privy Council should either look after him themselves (‘releve him of his peyne’) or ask Richard II, his ‘beste frend’, to put him in some better position” (“The Short Poems,” 506). 58 See Pace and David, Minor Poems, 60. 59 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 65. 60 Ibid., 5.

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Ch apter 3

Against Order

Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary Critiques of Causality Eleanor Johnson The reality and reliability of linear causality are so comfortably installed in Western ideology as to seem beyond question. For millennia, philosophers, theologians, and literary makers have sought to understand and ultimately reaffirm the supervening truth and stability of causality. Scientific inquiry is thoroughly predicated on linear causality, as is philosophical inquiry, going back at least to Aristotle. But linear causality’s long-​standing presence as a theme in philosophical, scientific, and literary discourse does not mean it is always handled with reverence or even acceptance. As Kellie Robertson has shown in her study of medieval Aristotelianism, medieval literary writers, scientists, philosophers, and thinkers were all keen to work through the logic of “inclination,” or how things tend along certain paths toward their conclusions or fulfillments.1 They often do so with an eye toward problematizing, rather than clarifying, how inclination works to determine human life. This chapter will focus on how causality is staged, questioned, defamiliarized, and debunked in three radically different poetic works, and across three radically disparate historical periods. Specifically, the poetic works I  will examine  –​Geoffrey Chaucer’s The House of Fame, Virginia Woolf ’s To the Lighthouse, and Lyn Hejinian’s My Life –​will each challenge the idea that linear causality is a stable hermeneutic and therefore epistemological structure, showing how linear causality is, instead, a construct with potentially pernicious or at least deceptive consequences. Part of the perniciousness and deceptiveness lies in how causality can become  –​or seem to be  –​a source of existential comfort for readers. Finding causal relations among events provides a kind of balm for the psyche, a way to make meaning in a world otherwise constituted by chaos. Although these poems register that even the literary staging of linear causality in narrative can have consoling and comforting effects for a reader, they resist the impulse to construct and reify an experience of linear causality through narrative. Thereby, they resist the impulse to create consolation 61

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and comfort for a reader. Indeed, the drive to mine consolation by excavating phantasmatic causalities from a string of events is something these poems are designed formally to stage and dismantle. Instead of advocating for linear causality as a structure of meaning-​making  –​in which events become predictable and, hence, interpretively manageable for agents in the world, as well as for readers; instead of reifying linear causality as a necessary and, on some level, providential force in individual and social experience; instead of insisting that causality is real, ineluctable, and universal, these poetic works will, each in its own way, show how the fetishization of causality obfuscates the complex relationships among people and events. They will show how the overinvestment in causality and its notionally comforting predictability can in fact blind people to moral inertia, depravity, and the terrifyingly random nature of life, human psychology, and human social relations. They will show how a hermeneutic of linear causality is far from positive and universal, but is instead a structure of power that must be resisted if transformation – ​of both literary history and social history –​is to be possible. All of these poems will show the chinks in causality’s armor not by direct discursive reasoning, but instead by embodying an associative, anticausal stance in their poetic forms and styles. That is, they mount their critique of causality formally rather than argumentatively. Each of the poems I examine in this chapter is thus an engine of literary theory and social philosophy in and of itself. As we will see, these poems use poetic form and structure precisely to imagine resistance to the overweening authority and coercive power of causality in determining the shape and scope of what qualifies as history. An individual human being’s participation in history, for these poetic works, must be reconceived not as an emergent property of an inescapable, supervening, all-​encompassing causal chain, but instead as a series of shimmering events whose connection to what preceded or will succeed them is both indeterminate and irrelevant to the nature of experience. Literary form, in fact, works to represent human participation in history and in political life not as a cog in the machine of causality, but instead as a kind of roving particle, shuttling from one experience to the next with the randomness of quantum mechanics. One of the primary and orienting forms that these poems will engage, as a basis for their superadded formal interrogations of the hermeneutic of causality, is the genre of the dream vision. As will become clear, dream vision narration offers a springboard for Chaucer’s, Woolf ’s, and Hejinian’s debunkings of the idea that linear causality is the only or even the optimal way of adducing relationality among people and events, or making usable

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or ethical sense of the world. Dream vision, in their works, becomes a narrative mode in which emplotment, linearity, and even story itself are always already traducible and violable –​the narrative instead being governed by the nonlinear antilogic of randomness and association. This staging and vindication of association and anticausality becomes, for all three authors, the basis for a readerly politics of resistance –​in which readers dispense with the need for comforting, orienting causality and instead embrace the antiauthoritarian associativeness of ruptures and interruptions as normative and constituent experiences of life.

The House of Fame The broadest consensus about The House of Fame is that it is designed to think through literary authority and tradition, and how they influence poetic making for Chaucer. Famously, Chaucer’s diegetic avatar, Geffrey, initially dreams his way into a temple on which is painted the full story of the Aeneid. Geffrey’s dream, then, takes him to a paradigmatic text of Western European literary history, notionally as a point of departure for his own poetic making. As many scholarly arguments have suggested, this opening gambit makes Geffrey’s poem seem profoundly indebted to literary history,2 even makes Geffrey seem, initially, rather hemmed in and circumscribed by the literary events that precede him. But, particularly in the past several decades, many scholars have suggested that Chaucer’s ongoing engagement with literary tradition and literary authority throughout The House of Fame is anything but obeisant, instead constituting something of a literary satire, a comedic and freeing registering of his own ability to inject himself into literary history without piously following previous authorities.3 Speaking of Chaucer’s debt not to Virgil, but to Dante, Deanne Williams notes that Chaucer picks up plot structures and metapoetic investments from Dante as explorations of the nature of literary influence that ultimately assert Chaucer’s own independence.4 Frank Grady suggests that The House of Fame is programmatically designed to dismantle authoritative texts from the literary and philosophical tradition.5 Katherine Terrell has argued that Chaucer’s extended wrangle with literary authority ends up asserting the hermeneutic freedom of the reader over the pressure of literary tradition, by dispersing literary authority rather than collecting it.6 In a related argument, Lara Ruffolo has suggested that Chaucer’s heavy reliance on lists as a governing form in the poem reveals his investment in portraying “a burgeoning multiplicity of literary authority, a veritable verbal hydra,” rather than a single, unitary, or authoritarian literary tradition.7

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I wholeheartedly agree with this claim that Chaucer destabilizes a straightforward relation of literary precedent to his own poetic making, but I  want to emphasize that it is not just with authority or tradition, per se, that Chaucer has a quarrel, but instead with how we experience causality and linearity as constraints on experience more broadly. It is not just literary or even philosophical history that he wants to destabilize, but the epistemological confidence we derive from a reliance on causality as a mainstay of interpretation itself. Put otherwise, Chaucer’s destabilization of literary authorship and tradition is prefatory to his larger destabilization of the utility of causality itself as a real or useful hermeneutic for navigating the social world. Kellie Robertson suggests that House of Fame (HF) delights in “interrupting or suspending the usual teleologies.”8 For her, this disruption has primarily to do with determinism and fate; Chaucer is interested in exploring how things can turn out differently than we might have expected. My own readings will focus not so much on how things could turn out differently, but instead on how the whole idea of things-​ turning-​out –​events following logically upon other causal events –​might be half-​baked. Chaucer achieves this destabilization of causality through a large-​scale formal strategy of composition, beginning with an inkhorn debunking of dreams as coherent structures of linear meaning-​making. Chaucer’s dream vision begins in a manner globally and explicitly critical of dream visions as a means of attaining stable, linear knowledge. The poem, indeed, begins with a massive interrogation of the etiology of dreams, musing on whether we can truly know the origin or end of dreaming, and whether it is possible to ascribe any stable meaning to lessons learned in dream-​time. For hyt is wonder, be the roode To my wyt what causeth swevenes Eyther on morwes, or on evenes, And why th’effect folweth of somme, And of somme hit shal never come . . . (HF, ll. 2–​6)9

What obsesses the narrator is the lack of clarity as to a dream’s causation and effect. He is troubled by how unclear it is how dreams fit into any hermeneutics based on linear causality. They seem, to him, only arbitrarily pinned to the world  –​arising indifferently in mornings and evenings, with no clear motivation in the past and no clear predictive value for what might come in the future. He goes on to say that “who​so of these miracles /​The causes knoweth bet than I /​Devyne he, for I certeinly /​

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Ne kan hem noght” (ll. 12–​15), thus demonstrating not only his lack of understanding as to dreams’ causes and effects, but also a certain degree of exasperation with the very impulse to discern those causes and effects. He repeats the word “cause” four times more in the next twenty-​five lines, pointing out that a huge variety of human behaviors and conditions have been asserted as the cause of dreams, ranging from mental feebleness to excessive “contemplacion” (l. 34), from excessive hope to excessive dread (l. 38), ultimately reaffirming his own noncomprehension of their causality –​“But why the cause is, noght wot I” (l. 52). In this extended meditation on dreams’ causes and on the pointlessness of seeking those causes, the narrator suggests that dreams are, in fact, best understood as events unhooked from the daily chain of cause and effect by which most people live their lives. As Chaucer conveys through the barnyard proxies of Pertelote and Chaunticleer in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, dreams do not obey normal rules of interpretation; they are, instead, strange ruptures into lived experience, with no clear or direct relation to what has come before them, or to what follows. And yet, of course, the narrator decides to tell his dream anyway, and even prays for guidance in telling it accurately. Thus, by the time Geffrey’s actual dream experience begins, his readers have already learned to be deeply suspicious of what and how they might gain any new knowledge or insight from his dreaming, while also being imprinted with a sense that something about the experience of the dream is important and valuable enough to want to record rightly. We see this denial of causal linearity’s utility as an interpretive structure emerge yet more strongly in Chaucer’s setting out of the Aeneid in the first major movement of his poem. In my view, there are two crucial poetic choices Chaucer makes in this scene to destabilize any notion that the Aeneid –​historical juggernaut of literary writing though it is –​has a clear, stable, unitary, or causal impact on Geffrey’s own poetry. First, the Aeneid that Geffrey encounters is depicted all around him, pictorially; he does not read the story of Aeneas, he stands in the middle of it. From Geffrey’s standpoint, then, the chronology of his experiencing this particular rendition of the Aeneid differs from how one would normally experience it as a text. Textual reading is a linear experience, one in which the events on page one precipitate and cause, in most cases, the events on page two. Reading a work of visual art is not linear. There is no clear or obvious place to begin, no clear or obvious trajectory for the eye to follow. Geffrey’s staged relationship with the Aeneid, in which he is placed inside a three-​ dimensional space that shows the whole story traced out as though it were indeed a work of visual art, is thus one in which normal assumptions about

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narrative causality are not in play. The narrative order that the narrating Geffrey brings to bear on the temple when he describes it for his readers is, then, Geffrey’s alone; it is something he brings into the temple of the Aeneid exogenously. Because of his ekphrastic imagining of the Aeneid, Geffrey, as a participant in his own dream, experiences the Aeneid all at once, rather than as a series of causally linked narrative events. The next form that Chaucer uses to destabilize a clear sense that his own poetry is in any direct way serially caused by literary historical precedents is a symbolically loaded scene change: the landscape he finds himself in when he exits the temple of the Aeneid undermines the notion of causal continuity as well. Geffrey walks out into a “feld,” or wide open space, which he soon realizes is actually a desert. As a blank, undifferentiated landscape, devoid of trees, people, or landmarks, this desert symbolically suggests that, even if one starts with the Aeneid, it is infinitely unclear where one ought to go next. Other than, of course, into the uncharted wilderness and solitude of the desert. Through this symbolic change of scenery, Chaucer the poet rather loudly announces that he will not or perhaps cannot be too readily guided by the Aeneid, or by any other historical precedent. Instead, he will walk out into the terrifying blankness of his own experience. The world of The House of Fame is one that tempts a reader to expect some kind of retrievable, orderly narrative causality, but complicates that expectation at every turn. As we will see, that complication of the expectation of clear linear order is not simply about Chaucer’s own relation to literary precedent, but also about how people in general try to make sense of the natural and social worlds in which they live. Once Geffrey meets his main philosophical interlocutor, who is an Eagle, things become yet more complicated. Amidst this desert, Geffrey finds his eagle eager to give him “comforte” (l. 572) through his words, and to awaken him from the stunned stupor in which Geffrey finds himself (ll. 556, 560). The Eagle even assures Geffrey that “this caas, that betyd the is /​Is for thy lore and for thy prow” (ll. 578–​579); the journey on which Geffrey finds himself is designed to bring him knowledge, and understanding. But, damningly for Chaucer’s importation of any kind of stable knowledge into his poem, the trajectory of the lessons that the Eagle teaches is far from clear:  instead of guiding Geffrey slowly up a staircase of knowledge toward the understanding of God or Truth, the Eagle promises Geffrey that all things in the world  –​natural objects, events, human interactions, even the sound of the human voice  –​have real, concrete, and recoverable causes that “enclyne” them to certain specific and predictable ends (ll. 749, 825, 828). Sounds and words propagate

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by a chain of causality, just as waves propagate in water if you throw in a stone (ll. 791–​806):  “every cercle causeth other” (l. 815).10 Seemingly, some kind of linear way forward is offered; causality is reaffirmed. But when Geffrey is given the opportunity to gain more knowledge about this orderly, linear universe and soar yet farther into the heavens, seeing the names and relations among the stars, he turns it down, asserting that he is perfectly happy with the knowledge of the stars that he can gain indirectly from books (ll. 1011–​1014). The chain of universal causality that the Eagle is trying to show Geffrey is, thus, aborted. Geffrey does not attain to the highest demonstrations of the Eagle’s central claims about the recuperable and meaningful orderliness of the universe any more than he took shaping inspiration from his architectural immersion in the Aeneid. The House of Fame is a poem that shies away from causal epistemology, just as it shies away from tidy literary histories. This narrated disruption of linear learning is reinforced in the episodic nature of The House of Fame overall. The Eagle episode comes to a screeching halt near the gate of Fame’s House, at which point a new narrative begins, in which Geffrey slinks around, attempting to glean information about the nature of Fame. When he first sees her, Geffrey signals an explicit moment of textual affinity with Boethius’ Consolation: in the Consolation, Boethius depicts Philosophy’s magisterial physical appearance, stating that she seemed verily to reach into the stars and heavens with her head; in The House of Fame, we encounter an analogous description. Fame is A femynyne creature That never formed by Nature Nas such another thing y​seye. For alther-first, soth for to seye, Me thoughte that she was so lyte That the lengthe of a cubite Was lengere than she semed be. But thus sone in a whyle she Hir tho so wonderliche streighte That with her fet she erthe reighte. And with hir hed she touched hevene, Ther as shynen sterres sevene. (ll. 1365–​1376)

Fame has been descriptively lined up with Philosophy, however, only to highlight the massive philosophical rifts between them. What Geffrey learns, famously, from Fame is that fame is entirely arbitrary, resulting

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from neither the merit nor malice of the person to whom fame and renown might come. And somme of hem she graunted sone, And somme she werned wel and faire, And somme she graunted the contraire Of hir axyng outterly. But thus I seye yow, trewely, What her cause was, y nyste. (ll. 1538–​1543)

Fame is like Boethius’ initial understanding of Fortune, then: indifferent to moral logic, indifferent to causality. But, whereas Boethius ultimately learns that Fortune is not real, but a phantasmatic backformation of the imperfect human perception of causality itself, Geffrey is urged to conclude not only that Fame is real and, indeed, arbitrary, but also that there is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to shape or influence their own reputation. People come to see her, begging for recognition for their good deeds, but she says they will “gete of me good fame non” (l. 1560). They respond, understandably, by demanding that she tell them, “what may [her] cause be” (l. 1563), to which she responds simply, “For me lyst hyt noght” (l. 1564). Rather than being “caused” by logic, reason, or any other linear process of causality, Fame’s decisions originate solely in her capricious desires and pleasures. Thus, through the poem’s critique of Boethius’ optimistic urging that one can simply learn to debunk and disregard Fortune, Geffrey learns that, rather than having autonomy or even agency over how we are written into society and history, we are all instead held at the mercy of capricious Fame, for neither rhyme nor reason, resulting from our own merits in no clear or consistent way. There is no causal logic, that is, to Fame, and therefore no causal logic to how we will appear or be remembered as participants in a social world. From Fame’s house of random caprice, poor Geffrey escapes, only to find his Eagle again, who takes him to the equally random spinning wicker house, from which all uttered reports emerge and to which all return. This wicker house of tidings figures architecturally what the poem has been suggesting narratively all along: there is no one single, natural, necessary, or inevitable path for knowledge to travel down; instead, a plethora of apertures, none with logical or causal relation to another, form conduits for the pushiest or most urgent bits of tidings to escape from and return to. The very grammar of this passage reinforces its lack of logical causality and necessity:

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And over alle the houses angles Ys ful of rounynges and of jangles Of werres, of pes, of mariages, Of reste, of labour, of viages, Of abood, of deeth, of lyf, Of love, of hate, acord, of stryf, Of loos, of lore, and of wynnynges, Of hele, of seknesse, of bildynges, Of faire wyndes, and of tempestes, Of qwalm of folk, and eke of bestes; Of dyvers transmutacions Of estats, and eke of regions; Of trust, of drede, of jelousye, Of wit, of wynnynge, of folye; Of plente, and of gret famyne, Of chepe, of derthe, and of ruyne; Of good or mys governement, Of fyr, and of dyvers accident. (ll. 1959–​1976)

Rather than offering any kind of logically progressing narrative, Geffrey presents a concatenation of genitives, a jumbled list that emphasizes its own arbitrariness by ending with “dyvers accident.” The words and rumors that populate the social world, then, are no more logically necessary than are Fame’s ultimate judgments about people; quite the contrary, the words that populate the social world are determined by an ever-​shifting game of shoving and grasping and by the available portals through the wicker structure that happen to be accessible at any time. The fact that this jumbled list of types of “jangles” is, itself, composed of genitives ironically accentuates the arbitrariness of its contents. Genitives are a nominal case that signals type, kind, and derivation –​in effect, a causal relation between the noun to which the genitive refers and the genitive itself. But the superabundance of the genitive list overwhelms and undercuts any notion that there might be a natural, necessary kind of causality linking the “jangles” together with their specific subtopics. The genitive listing makes the epistemological relationship among the listed items associative, rather than clearly hierarchized. Geffrey and his readers are left, once again, in a kind of epistemic desert. Seeming to offer some kind of break from his poem’s spectacularly associative structure, Geffrey’s dream ends with the promise that he will meet, at last, a “man of gret auctoritee.” This particular designation invites Geffrey and his readers to expect someone who will know something concrete and derivable from prior truths –​a man who will have amassed cumulative and

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actionable knowledge that confers authority upon him. We expect a man of systematic learning, a man perhaps like Boethius, or like Virgil.11 But no such man ever materializes; instead, the poem breaks off, without disclosing either the identity of the authoritative man or any parcel of knowledge he might have imparted to Geffrey. Although it is reasonable to assume the poem is unfinished because of this abrupt end, I  am inclined to think that the abruptness of the ending is in perfect harmony with the poem’s overall philosophy of literary making and of participation in history more broadly. On a metapoetic level, Chaucer drives home the idea that dream vision poetry often hints at more than it can deliver, in terms of extractable, didactic content. On a hermeneutic level, we realize that readers may come to the genre of the dream vision expecting clear, progressive, linear teaching, but ultimately they will be frustrated in that expectation, because dream vision poems are as fractured, inconsistent, arbitrary, and irrecoverable in the lessons they purport to teach as they are in their etiologies. In The House of Fame, part of the point is to experience not the satisfying and salvific comforts of an organized and causal providential universe, but instead the traumas, dislocations, and unpredictabilities of a universe not governed by causality in any useful or stable way. The idea that knowing where we or our dreams come from might lead us more ably and comfortably to where we are going and the idea that understanding either etiology or teleology should in any way anchor our experience of reality are shown to be spurious and nonactionable. If we want to participate in the human social world of rumor, fame, literature, and history, we do better to embrace the ruptures and discontinuities than we do to seek out continuities and causations where there may, in fact, be none stable enough truly to rely on. The absence or excision of the man of great authority is not an apoplectic failure to come to a conclusion, but instead a registering that a lack of Virgilian or Boethian guidance more accurately reflects the experience of literary making or making sense of reality. Chaucer’s poem is not, in the end, purely skeptical about its relation to literary precedent, or even about causality writ large as a hermeneutic structure in human life. Instead, the poem is ecstatic about the possibility of jettisoning a reliance on strict causality, ecstatic about the possibilities that are opened up when the true disorder and non-​linearity of literary making and human life are embraced.

To the Lighthouse Telegraphing forward half a millennium, we find a similar worrying about the value of causality in interpreting the events in human life or

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participating in social and literary history in Virginia Woolf ’s To the Lighthouse –​though Woolf makes the contemporary political resonances of her worrying somewhat more focused than does Chaucer. Her novel, as scholars have pointed out, contains a highly poetic dream vision passage at its center.12 The passage is the second movement of the novel, the “Time Passes” section, in which the Ramsay home lies dormant during the time of the First World War. In this passage, vacuity reigns supreme: “nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness” that swallowed up the house, so that “nothing stirred” (125–​ 126).13 The evacuation of light from the house puts the house into a trance-​ like dream state, in which only the tiny particles of dust and air continue to move around. These semi-​somnolent bits of air are not directly moved by a clear motive or causation, but instead “some random light directing them with its pale footfall upon stair and mat . . . the little airs mounted the staircase and nosed round bedroom doors” (126). The image of these tiny breaths moving toward bedrooms suggests indeed that the house is asleep, just barely breathing. But the sleeping house seems to have strange dreams: punctuating the drowsily lyrical description of the house and its breathing, scenes from the lives of its former inhabitants arise, folded into brackets.14 Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer. [Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.] (128)

The narrative’s envisioning of a “sleeper” who both seeks answers to questions of causality  –​why and wherefore a thing happened  –​and seems to register the futility of such questions becomes the foil against which the death of Mrs. Ramsay is revealed. This narrative structure is associative or juxtapositional, rather than causal or linear, and it typifies Woolf ’s style in “Time Passes.” Things in this dreaming house do not seem to happen for a reason; instead, they simply occur, as discrete events that resonate somehow with other events. The airs moving around the house echo Mr. Ramsay’s pathetic groping for meaning and order, but they are not caused by him, nor is their story logically continuous with his. This stymying of order and causality, this insistence instead upon association and fragmentation of experience across time, quickly becomes a

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core formal drive in the work. Indeed, it is explicitly articulated as a sign of God’s rejection of man: But alas, divine goodness, twitching the cord, draws the curtain; it does not please him; he covers his treasures in a drench of hail, and so breaks them, so confuses them that it seems impossible that their calm should ever return or that we should ever compose from their fragments a perfect whole or read in the littered pieces the clear words of truth. (127–​128)

“Divine goodness,” the same Ur-​Principle that animates Boethius’ work as a guarantor of the meaning and order of the universe, is here depicted as fed up, twitchily sowing confusion among his creation rather than providential order. This “divine goodness” undoes his works, so that no “perfect whole” could ever again be assembled from the disordered fragments. Ours, the text reveals, is a fragmentary world, one in which the entire truth and meaning of things is occluded and broken. The vision of the dreaming house, in juxtaposition with the increasingly fractured and fragmented lives of the Ramsays themselves, becomes a stage on which to perceive this hopeless fragmentation, this refusal of order and wholeness. Woolf recognizes that the refusal of the world to congeal into ordered, causal predictability, echoed by the juxtapositional logic of the text itself, is something the human mind struggles against imaginatively. As summer neared, as the evenings lengthened, there came to the wakeful, the hopeful, walking the beach, stirring the pool, imaginations of the strangest kind –​of flesh turned to atoms which drove before the wind, of stars flashing in their hearts, of cliff, sea, cloud, and sky brought purposely together to assemble outwardly the scattered parts of the vision within. (131–​132)

Imaginations seek purposiveness; they seek design; they seek the assemblage of scattered parts. The human mind, when awake and full of hope, struggles against the true disorder of existence; it cannot tolerate the dispersal of meaningful causality into mere chaos. The “minds of men” are full instead of “dreams” that make men feel that “good triumphs, happiness prevails, order rules” (131); they seek ever to know “some absolute good . . . single, hard, bright, like a diamond in the sand, which would render the possessor secure” (132). There is security in order, security in finding causal design, security in purposiveness. These things are consolations for the mind adrift in an often inscrutable and punishing reality. Reminding the readers that that drive to find meaning and order is, indeed, a drive of the mind, and not a referent of anything like objective reality, just after the image of the “secure” possessor of the ordered

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diamond, the text reveals that “[Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth, which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said, had promised so well]” (132). “People” had made prognostications about Prue’s life and future, prognostications based on what they assumed would naturally follow from an auspicious start to Prue’s married life. Those prognostications, those hopes for positive outcomes that would correlate meaningfully and predictably with positive beginnings, are not borne out by reality. Instead, “some,” implicitly random, childbirth illness cuts Prue down. Similarly, when we learn of the death of Andrew Ramsay, we read, “[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous]” (133). The use of passive voice in the second sentence removes any sense of a decidable agent doing the killing; instead, Andrew’s death becomes an agentless event, prompted by the exploding shell, but the shell’s explosion is attributed neither to the enemy nor to the British army. It is presented in such a way as to maintain the possibility that it was wholly accidental. Moreover, that Andrew’s death is clumped in with “twenty or thirty” other young men  –​the number not known, but instead dispersed into the cloud of nonspecific violence –​ indicates yet further the depersonalization of his death, and the way in which randomness, not order, purpose, or meaning, governs human life and death. The dreaming house becomes the location and occasion of a vast meditation on the disorder of existence, a meditation that operates by appositive logic, rather than any kind of causal order in the narrative. The dreaming house suggests, appositively and in brackets, that the traumas of war, death, and loss can be better grasped as isolates, ruptures, and events that pierce into the dream vision, rather than as designed, emplotted, logical structures. Experiential existence is better rendered in accidents, ruptures, and discontinuities than in causalities.15 It is better understood as broken air, as Geffrey’s Eagle puts it, than as stories with coherent beginnings, middles, and ends. This commitment to a resistant politics of accident and rupture not only suffuses this central dream of the book, but also animates To the Lighthouse’s final and most acutely metapoetic scene. In this scene, Lily Briscoe is putting the finishing touches to her painting, having been told multiple times in the narrative, by her human interlocutors and their internalized voices in her own mind, that “women can’t write, women can’t paint.” In order to finish her painting, Lily draws a line down the center of her canvass; she creates a rupture, a seam in the “blurred” painting and its “attempt at something.” It is this addition of a single, rupturing

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line that constitutes the painting’s completeness. It is this one moment that constitutes Lily’s having “had her vision.” Like Geffrey, Lily will participate in the history of artistic creation not obeisantly, not to fetishize ideas of literary influence or inheritance, but with an eye toward disruption, toward gaps.16 Like Geffrey’s, Lily’s relation to literary precedent is not one of apprenticeship so much as interruption. In this momentary painting of the line, Lily resists the overbearing and patriarchal mode of history that Mr. Ramsay represents with his enormous and encyclopedic writings that proceed, crucially, alphabetically. From A to B, B to C, and so on down to Q, Mr. Ramsay manifests his belief in the nature of the production of human knowledge as something profoundly linear, causal, ordered, and motivated by necessity. But the fact that his linear and emplotted knowledge gets stalled before R  –​the first letter of his own last name17 –​gestures toward a fundamental problem with this kind of linear thinking. Namely, it is almost always geared toward some kind of attempt to learn where one came from oneself, to shed light on one’s own particular circumstances in such a way as to find comforting predictability or at least acquiescent necessity. His self-​oriented alphabetical organizational system is the absolute nemesis of Lily’s painterly strategy, in which lines exist, but not linearity and order as overarching principles of construction. For Woolf, as for Chaucer, the fundamental nature of participation in social life and literary history is one of disruption, dislocation, discontinuity, and randomness; it is the office of the poet or artist not to bow down to a pressure to aestheticize and ratify a fantasy of linear order, but instead to make perceptible to readers and viewers how truly chaotic and associative it all is. Chaucer’s description of voice as “air ybroken” resonates powerfully with Woolf ’s image of the Ramsay household, full of scattered particles of air and the rupturing brackets that break into that air to stage the individual traumas of the house’s former inhabitants. Breaking, rupture, and interruption are the only way to speak, the only way to represent the experience of living in history, or in literature.

My Life Several generations later, Lyn Hejinian’s My Life chimes in to think through how a citizen-​dreamer who is also a citizen-​poet can participate in history  –​both political and literary  –​while registering the artificiality of causality as an underpinning scheme for either. Like The House of Fame and To the Lighthouse, My Life –​usually read as an experimental

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autobiography18  –​casts itself as a dream vision narrative, in a series of passing comments Hejinian makes about dreaming: “Where I woke and was awake,” Hejinian says, thus retroactively casting the previous episodes of her poem as dreamscape (48).19 Later, she says, “Last night, in my dreams” (56), signaling again an overflow from the realm of the oneiric into the realm of the poem. Later still, she notes that she “dreamed of a person blowing ice” (90). The dreams or presence of dreams that Hejinian relates are not linked; they do not create causal continuity with the surrounding sentences. Instead, they are interruptive and discontinuous, reminders of the fundamental discontinuity of lived experience more broadly.20 Dreams also, as in the “blowing ice” example, are understood to be chaotic in their meaning-​making, to be nondidactic, and entirely nonlogical: why would, after all, a person blow ice? If that means to blow on ice, then the blower fails to register that the ice is already cool; if it means, instead, to blow ice out of one’s mouth, the blower is possessed of some kind of supernatural freezing powers. In either case, the brief snippet of dream that Hejinian recounts is remarkable more for its oddness and nonlogicality than for any concrete hermeneutic continuity it contributes to what lies around it.21 The poem’s insistence that its readers tolerate a lack of hermeneutic continuity, and, indeed, that they tolerate a lack of continuity of almost any type, is registered in the poem’s praising of “fragments” as somehow truer than longer or more notionally complete bits of language or thought:  “Only fragments are accurate” (44); we should not, therefore, seek structures like stories, but instead structures like scraps, as the archives of understanding.22 But later, Hejinian modifies this privileging of fragments, saying, “Not fragments, but metonymy. Duration. Language makes tracks” (49). This turn from fragments to “metonymy” is central to the poem’s staging of kinds of relationality between events and episodes that are true, valid, or useful. Relationality based on contiguity –​metonymic relationality –​is real. It is contiguity, what Hejinian elsewhere calls “consequity,” that makes for minable experience and knowability, not causality (33).23 Consequity and metonymy bespeak adjacency and association, but not necessarily causality. As the poem goes on to assert, “An extremely pleasant and often comic satisfaction comes from conjunction” (73). Conjunction, additiveness, metonymy, adjacency, consequity: these are the building blocks of duration –​duration being what My Life holds up as the essence of experience, rather than causality. The reason for this valorizing of duration is that it produces pleasure, and fullness: “Pure duration, a compound plenum in which nothing is repeated” (12). Plena,

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or fullnesses, of time, are what the poem drives toward:  “Uneven, and internal, asymmetrical but additive time” (15) is the counterbalance to the inevitable and somewhat desperate fact that “Life is hopelessly frayed. All loose ends” (9). The fraying is hopeless, the poem suggests, but not necessarily destructive because language can create continuity and duration: “A paragraph is a time and place, not a syntactic unit” (83). Writing creates, that is, event. It creates moments, durations, plena, from which experience can be derived without needing the presence of causality or logic. Going back to Chaucer’s fragmented House of Fame, we might think of the three main movements of the poem not as episodes –​implying the presence of some supervening story –​but instead as plena unto themselves, operating on a logic of association, juxtaposition, and consequity, rather than causality, necessity, or narrative unfolding. For Hejinian, as for Chaucer and Woolf, logic can be pernicious in its lack of relationship with feelings, knowledge, or experience: “The things I was saying followed logically the things that I had said before, yet they bore no relation to what I was thinking and feeling” (28). There is, in the universe of Hejinian’s poem, a fundamental and insurmountable disconnection between causality and experience –​just as there was in Chaucer’s poem and Woolf ’s poetic prose. The mournfulness that emerges from time to time in Hejinian’s poem is connected to people’s drive to find linear order and causal logic when, first, none may be present and, second, whatever is present does violence and distortion to the feelable, thinkable, experiential plena and durations of existence.24 “Such is the rhythm of cognition, a maudlin source of anxiety. We are ruled by the fantastic laws of clinging” (95). Rather than clinging to elements in a sequence in such a way as anxiously to enforce causal relations among them, we should just let them be contiguous, additive, associative, and loose.25 We should, recurring to Chaucer’s metaphorics, let the wicker house spin, rather than trying to slow it down, or to see exactly how the phantasmatic tidings move in and out of it. Or, recurring to Woolf, we should proceed by painting lines and by paying attention to the gaps and ruptures in air and light. Hejinian’s refusal to reinforce the idea of narrative or experiential order or causality takes on its most concrete formulation when My Life muses, “I do not suppose I really am a consolation –​very complete, when each link is directly abob” (97). There are links, but they all float separately, underpinned by some structure that is not causal, but is instead a flow, an oceanic movement of possible waves. By imagining life as a series of links all “abob,” My Life devises a way of experiencing life that is not

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deterministic, not governed by rationality per se, but is instead shaped by events, isolated experiences that must be taken in their plenitude, rather than in their contingency, their logical dependence on other experiences or events. These events are not meant to be consoling; My Life is not “a consolation.” Instead, the events are simply meant to capture something “complete” and full. Hejinian’s dream vision shows us an experiential domain that is neither linear nor logical, but is nevertheless verisimilar, bearing a real relation to what is thought and felt.26 When Hejinian turns to theorize the role of causality in literary making in particular, she stages that theorization in a system of seemingly citational refrains that stud her work at odd intervals, each echoing with those around it in a manner that produces more of an in-​dwelling in the plenum of a particular refrain than any kind of real forward motion. One instance is the phrase, “We who ‘love to be astonished,’ ” which leads a reader to believe that “love to be astonished” is a direct citation of some other perhaps literary work. But it is not; it is simply a refrain that Hejinian tips into her narrative repeatedly, creating, in effect, her own poem as a source for itself, and destabilizing any notion of derivation from an outside source. The other is the opening epigrammatic line in the book, which occurs thereafter numerous times:  “A pause, a rose, something on paper.” Aurally, this line is equally available as “a pause arose, something on paper.” This second meaning –​the invocation of a rising pause –​suggests that a rupture in the continuity of something (perhaps time, perhaps history, perhaps literary history) is correlated with the production of writing. I say correlated because the poem carefully avoids stipulating a causal relation between this rising pause and the something that emerges on paper. Instead, the suggestion is simply that when there is some kind of break, some kind of pause, there is also an opportunity or an urge for literary making. The rising pause, I would argue, is functionally analogous to Chaucer’s Libyan desert in The House of Fame or to his refusal to supply us with the authoritative man, as well as to Woolf ’s representation of Lily Briscoe’s artwork and to Woolf ’s use of brackets in “Time Passes”: Chaucer’s desert is a pause in the visual record of literary history; the absent authoritative man is a pause in the belief that we need authority to make sense of life and literary history; Lily’s painting enacts a pause of a visual kind in a patriarchal artistic history; Woolf ’s brackets enact an orthographic pause in the relation of individual life to geopolitical life; Hejinian’s rising pause is a sonic reminder of the constructedness of any and all narrative. These three texts register rupture, discontinuity, and the stymying of causality

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as the sine qua non of poetic making, poetic representation, and literary innovation. All of these poetic works are works of literary philosophy, understanding the literary work itself as an engine of different kinds of thought experiments with the nature of narrative, order, time, causality, and, therefore, also participation in the social world. All of them understand a reliance on the putative comforts and consolations of causality as something limiting, distorting, and ultimately unattainable. All reject a positivist philosophical stance based on the idea of logic, order, and causal sequence in favor of a sort of ecstatic philosophy, based on the idea that actual, lived experience must always necessarily stand somewhat outside any recuperable causal or linear order. So, what is to be gained, hermeneutically or ethically, by this enacted disavowal of the necessity or even utility of linear causality in human life? For Chaucer, the dreamily rendered antiplot becomes a formal tool for meditating on the unknowables and inscrutables of life: how does one person attain fame in the public eye, the other infamy? As we follow Chaucer’s Eagle from episode to episode in The House of Fame, we are also asked to consider the far simpler question of how we get from one place to another, when what we experience in life is what Anne Carson calls the “stops,” or Wordsworth calls the “spots of time,” however discontinuous they may be with each other. The propagation of “tidings,” a word that, of course, contains the idea of time and timeliness within it etymologically as well as the idea of storytelling, in House of Fame is not linear, not causal, not logical, but is instead a process of things whirling about in a wicker house until they are suddenly spun back out, likely in a new direction from their direction of entry. Time and the telling of tales are not orderly, but disorderly and random. Any wish to participate in taletelling, then, must be tempered by the awareness that chaos plays a greater role in what is carried forward in literary history than anything else. The effort to reconstruct linear order, linear causality, and, thence, pure and satisfactory logic from a quest for truth is not only doomed to failure, but is also beside the point: truth is found in evanescent snatches of insight –​Hejinian’s plena –​rendered in poetic discontinuities, rather than in clean narrative emplotment. In Woolf ’s case, “Time Passes” is designed to show how the effort to make causal continuities diminishes the raw, irruptive astonishment and, oftentimes, violence of the actual experience of events. To put Prue Ramsay’s untimely death into a larger, more fully fledged narrative would be, on some level, to diminish its impact by making a reader think, “yes, I saw that coming,” or “oh, that’s how that happened, of course.” Leaving Prue’s,

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Mrs. Ramsay’s, and Andrew’s deaths bracketed from causal connection, on the other hand, highlights them in their particularity, in their purest experiential form, as what they are:  traumas. “Time Passes” is built to override the dimming, shuttering effect of causality, so as to accentuate events in and unto themselves. This, for Woolf, is an overriding that has obvious political consequences. If we can well and truly feel the deaths of the various Ramsays –​particularly Andrew’s –​as shocks, ruptures, breaks, explosions, we can begin to understand that violence is not natural, not obvious, not necessary. Woolf ’s arrangement of “Time Passes” as a series of haloes of time ends up performing an aria on how we justify war to ourselves –​by thinking it was inevitable –​and instead imagining an orientation toward the world in which actual discrete events are the drivers of political action and social empathy. In My Life, the emphasis on plena as the fundamental currency of experience takes on an even more overtly political valence:  “aesthetic discoveries are different from scientific discoveries, and this difference is political” (44). Scientific discoveries are discoveries made by the scientific method, which relies on clear and recuperable chains of causality. Aesthetic discoveries, by contrast, are made through luminous encounters with art, beauty, and sensation; they do not submit to reason or logic, but instead to feeling. “Reason,” Hejinian intones, “looks for two, then arranges it from there” (81), and is thus a coercive and meaning-​making hermeneutic operation. But “we” participants in her poem are those who “love to be astonished,” which is to say that we love surprise, we thrive on discontinuities. And for Hejinian, that ability to access meaning by a process of astonishment, to access meaning by plena rather than causality, is politically powerful, even liberatory. It is an opportunity to surge up: Last night, in my dreams, I swam to the bottom of a lake, pushed off in the mud, and rising rapidly to the surface shot eight or ten feet out of the water into the air. I couldn’t join the demonstration because I was pregnant, and so I had revolutionary experience without taking revolutionary action. History hugs the world. The Muses are little female fellows. To some extent, each sentence has to be the whole story. (93)

As Hejinian, in dream-​time, shoots out of the water high into the air, she registers that history, with its fantasy reconstruction of clear, clean, crisp causality, “hugs” or consoles and comforts the world. But, for Hejinian, the sentence –​the smallest version of story, the story that has not yet been made to dovetail with the sentences before and after it –​is whole, sufficient. And of course, this is the formal premise of her entire book, so that her

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book becomes the “aesthetic discovery” of the extraneity of causality itself to our experience of political life. We do not need a history of forcibly yoked together sentences to make meaning; we, too, by embracing immediate experience, here embodied metaphorically as the fullness of pregnancy and syntactically as the fullness of a single sentence, can surge into the air. Thus, in these works, linear causality has become a distortionary hermeneutic that must be overthrown if the true experience of things –​ whether those things comprise a quest for good fame, human vulnerability, or political resistance –​is to be conveyed. All of these works are written for “we who ‘love to be astonished,’ ” because all three works trade upon the generative possibilities of surprise, shock, disorientation, and discontinuity, both in literary history and in the social world more broadly.

Notes 1 Kellie Robertson, Nature Speaks: Medieval Literature and Aristotelian Philosophy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 9–​10. 2 Christopher Baswell’s treatment of Chaucer’s rendering of the Aeneid remains the most thorough and useful setting out of how Chaucer engaged with classical precedents. See Christopher Baswell, Virgil in Medieval England: Figuring the Aeneid from the Twelfth Century to Chaucer (Cambridge University Press, 1995), 223–​248. 3 The earliest version of this argument came in 1960, with Alfred David’s claim that the poem should be understood as a comedic literary satire in “Literary Satire in The House of Fame,” PMLA 75, no. 4 (September 1960): 333–​339. For David, comic disillusionment is at the core of the poem (336). Robert Meyer-​ Lee elegantly sums up the critical tradition of suggesting that Chaucer manifests not obeisance but skepticism about literary tradition and authority as follows: “On the one hand, so these accounts go, this contact [with Dante] enlarged Chaucer’s perception of the value and ambition of vernacular literature; but, on the other hand, it caused him to be skeptical of just this perception –​a philosophically and theologically serious skepticism, however humorously expressed, directed more generally toward the entire literary tradition as Chaucer knew it, as well as toward the linguistic medium upon which that tradition depends” (Robert Meyer-​Lee, “Literary Value and the Customs House: The Axiological Logic of The House of Fame,” The Chaucer Review 48, no. 4  [2014]: 376). 4 Deanne Williams, “The Dream Visions,” in The Yale Companion to Chaucer, ed. Seth Lerer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 155–​157. 5 Frank Grady, “Chaucer Reading Langland: The House of Fame,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 18 (1996): 3–​23. 6 Katherine H.  Terrell, “Reallocation of Hermeneutic Authority in Chaucer’s House of Fame,” The Chaucer Review 31, no. 3 (1997): 279–​290. She writes, “in

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the House of Fame . . . Chaucer progressively dissolves the apparently immutable authority of received texts, and instead invests the reader with a significant measure of hermeneutic authority over literary truth” (279). 7 Lara Ruffolo, “Literary Authority and the Lists of Chaucer’s House of Fame: Destruction and Definition through Proliferation,” The Chaucer Review 27, no. 4 (1993): 338. 8 Robertson, Nature Speaks, 28. 9 All quotations from Chaucer are cited parenthetically from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, gen. ed., 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). 10 Martin Irvine has argued that Chaucer’s Eagle draws heavily on grammatical arts and theories of the Middle Ages for his arguments. See Irvine, “Medieval Grammatical Theory and Chaucer’s House of Fame,” Speculum 60, no. 4 (October 1985): 850–​876. 11 Paul Ruggiers suggested that this authoritative man would, indeed, have been Boethius, had Chaucer finished his poem, in “The Unity of Chaucer’s House of Fame,” Studies in Philology 50, no. 1 (January 1953): 28. 12 As Anne Carson puts it, To the Lighthouse is “a novel that falls asleep for twenty-​five pages in the middle” (Decreation [New York: Vintage, 2006], 22). 13 All in-​ line citations are from Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989). 14 For a brilliant reading of the brackets as a crystallization of Woolf ’s awareness of human mortality and vulnerability in the face of political and historical violence, see Sarah Cole, At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2012), 243–​245. 15 Literary experience, too, is rendered this way in the book, in that the narrative ruptures disturb a reader’s sense that she knew where the story was going. See Sally Minogue, “Was it a Vision? Structuring Emptiness in To the Lighthouse,” Journal of Modern Literature 21, no. 2 (Winter 1997–​1998): 286, 290–​291. 16 Lily’s line has been read as a realization of the lighthouse itself, since Woolf claimed the lighthouse was the “central line” running through her novel. See Henry Harrington, “The Central Line Down the Middle of To the Lighthouse,” Contemporary Literature 21, no. 3 (Summer 1980): 363–​382, at 363. This may be so, but, since Woolf herself also claimed that the lighthouse meant “nothing,” it nevertheless seems reasonable to assert an absence of concrete referential meaning in Lily’s line. 17 A number of studies have drawn attention to the R of Ramsay’s name and the fact that he is stuck before it. See for instance Elizabeth Abel, Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (University of Chicago Press, 1989), 57. 18 Craig Douglas Dworkin, “Penelope Reworking the Twill: Patchwork, Writing, and Lyn Hejinian’s My Life,” Contemporary Literature 36, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 58. 19 All citations are from Lyn Hejinian, My Life and My Life in the Nineties (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Press, 2013). 20 Dworkin says of Hejinian’s poem broadly that it is designed to be “disorienting” (“Penelope Reworking the Twill,” 58).

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21 Dworkin sees the poem’s “radical parataxis” and insistence on fragmentation as a justification for reading the poem as a textual quilt  –​designed to be encountered not in a linear fashion, but instead as an assemblage of parts (ibid., 60–​70). 22 Dworkin calls this the “fractured and fractal nature” of the poem (ibid., 59). 23 Srikanth Reddy notes this drive in Hejinian’s works generally, pointing to her skepticism about the idea that a sequence of events has its own laws or logics, and to her tendency to violate “abecedary” style linear order (“Changing the ‘Sjuzet’: Lyn Hejinian’s Digressive Narratologies,” Contemporary Literature 50, no. 1 [Spring 2009]: 68). For Reddy, this violation of order is an artifact of Hejinian’s exposure to Shklovskian formalist narratology. 24 Dworkin, too, focuses on the “alinear” quality of the poem, and, in particular, on the alinear quality of the syntactic arrangements of the sentences in the poem (“Penelope Reworking the Twill,” 59). 25 Dworkin says that the poem’s fragmentation urges readers to resist being taken over by the “rage to know” (ibid., 78). 26 Juliana Spahr has argued about Hejinian’s avant-​garde and experimental mode of doing autobiography that she recognizes the necessity of alternatives to realism and confessionalism precisely in order to capture and render some tincture of “real” lived experience in “Resignifying Autobiography:  Lyn Hejinian’s My Life,” American Literature 68, no. 1 (March 1996): 139–​159.

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The Corporeality of Form

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Ch apter 4

Diverging Forms

Disability and the Monk’s Tales Jonathan Hsy

Renouncing Form The rhetorical performances by narrators throughout the Canterbury pilgrimage are highly diverse, and  –​curiously enough  –​some of the strongest aesthetic judgments regarding the formal aspects of storytelling are asserted when pilgrims are deliberately renouncing norms established by rhetorical traditions or formal structures. The Host, for instance, halts the Chaucer-​pilgrim’s Tale of Sir Thopas and uses scatological sensory metaphors to express how physically painful and unpleasing he finds the versification: “Myne eres aken of thy drasty speche . . . Thy drasty rymyng is nat worth a toord!” (vii.923, 930).1 The Man of Law claims he’ll “speke in prose,” but he then delivers his prologue and tale in rhyme-royal stanzas (ii.96). The Host asks the Clerk to avoid a “[h]‌eigh style” of performance, but he then ignores the request by using rhyme-royal anyway (iv.18). The Parson explicitly disclaims alliterative verse –​“I kan not geeste ‘rum, ram, ruf,’ by lettre” (x.43) –​in order to justify his own use of edifying prose. One of the most robust discussions of form by a pilgrim-​narrator –​with an overt acknowledgment of formal diversity across storytelling media  –​ comes just before the Monk’s performance. “Tragedie,” as he defines it, is “a certeyn storie  . . .  Of hym that stood in greet prosperitee, /​And is yfallen out of heigh degree”; such narratives “ben versified comunely, /​Of six feet, which men clepen exametron,” with many alternatively “endited . . . [i]n prose . . . /​And eek in meetre in many a sondry wyse” (vii.1973–​1982). Although the Monk opens his performance with the observation that “tragedie” may assume many styles of prose and a multiplicity of verse forms, he too rejects one possible literary form (i.e. prose) in favor of a specific verse structure for his “stories” (an octave, or eight-​line stanza, in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme ababbcbc). This particular stanzaic form is used nowhere else in The Canterbury Tales (and nowhere else in Chaucer’s oeuvre for narrative purposes), and the Monk’s commitment to 85

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this distinctive form is all the more noteworthy given the disparate range of narratives he relates. His “stories” or “tragedies” share one verse form –​even if they draw from a remarkably capacious range of sources: biblical, classical, and contemporary medieval episodes. Generations of editors and scholars have grappled with many imperfections of the Monk’s metadiscourse on form (“exametron” refers to lines of Latin hexameter but perhaps some other “metre” such as elegiac hexameter-​pentameter couplets could be implied),2 and metaphors of deformity –​from “garbled” oaths to “mangled” manuscript sequences –​ characterize how The Monk’s Tale and its disorderly manuscript witnesses are discussed in textual scholarship.3 Appropriately enough, the Monk’s “stories” themselves overtly thematize many forms of disorderly conditions:  Sampson is blinded; Nebuchadnezzar experiences a mental breakdown; Antiochus acquires an incurable chronic disease and, among other things, becomes paralyzed. By opening the performance with an overt discussion of formal diversity, the Monk prepares the audience to contemplate the connections between literary form and narrative content. In their influential approach to representations of disability throughout Western literary history, David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder note that “[t]‌he disabled body occupies a crossroads in the age-​old literary debate about the relationship of form and content,” and if “form leads to content or ‘embodies’ meaning, then disability [disrupts] acculturated body norms.”4 Insofar as literary narrative is concerned, Mitchell and Snyder astutely observe that “[d]isability lends a distinctive idiosyncracy to any character that differentiates the character from the anonymous background of the ‘norm.’ ”5 Moreover, a “body [characterized] as deviant from shared norms of bodily appearance and ability” in a literary narrative often serves only to be rehabilitated, fixed, cured, or offered as an exemplum to assert a concluding moral lesson or social message.6 How, then, does the Monk’s exceptional insistence on one stanzaic form shape the cultural meanings of his unruly anthology of disability tales? This chapter argues that the Monk’s announced commitment to an imperfect, tenuous verse structure prepares readers to attend very carefully to the symbiotic relationship between literary form and social attitudes toward human variance. Not only do the Monk’s disparate stories present a range of lessons that one could draw from “tragic” tales of disability (in its various manifestations such as blindness, paraplegia, madness, or chronic conditions)  –​but these stanzas also perpetually reconfigure the relationship between narrative conventions of a linear plot and the rhetorical demands of a literary form. In the sections that follow, I offer a series

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of close readings of discrete episodes from the Monk’s poetic anthology. Drawing on formalist literary criticism as well as contemporary disability theory, I trace how the Monk’s tales (plural) use the constraints of a poetic form to test the perceived limits of human shape and potential. This chapter, in other words, examines how the Monk’s performance tests the limits and capacities of literary form; it also exposes the perceived limits that the Monk ascribes to any given body and the life-​path it can assume. How is human embodiment expressed through literary form, and how are conspicuously deviant bodies constrained by social conventions? If (as we shall see throughout this chapter) elite masculinity forms the cultural baseline for the Monk’s notions of agency and power, what space can be found across these tales for other forms of embodiment?

Form and Genre of “Tragedie” Before launching an analysis of the Monk’s “stories,” it is useful to establish some historical context for the formal and narrative conventions of “tragedie” and determine the perceived purpose the genre actually serves for Chaucer’s fictional narrator. In his magisterial work on tragedy from classical antiquity through the Chaucerian oeuvre, Henry Ansgar Kelly documents a “wide variety of meanings” associated with the term “tragedie” in late medieval England and demonstrates its tenuous capacity to denote any particular narrative genre, literary form, or textual medium.7 In its Middle English reflex and its cognates in Latin and French, the term “tragedie” could denote any kind of disaster or disastrous story from the recent or distant past, the physical form of a book or booklet, or more generally the sense of a tumultuous or anxious condition of life.8 Although latemedieval “tragedie” in England most often entails a flexible and contingent alignment of form (whatever the medium) and narrative genre, Chaucer’s Monk expressly associates “tragedie” with a particular classical verse form (hexameter) and a distinctive stanzaic form in Middle English. The Monk –​ diverging from the norms of late medieval English discourse –​foregrounds the idea of an intimate connection of literary form with narrative content. The Monk’s impetus to closely associate the  form and content of his own “tragedies” frames his seemingly narrow conception of “tragedie” as a narrative genre. Kelly locates Chaucer’s “source for his understanding of tragedy” in Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, maintaining that “for Chaucer, as for Boethius, the primary lesson [of tragedies] is the randomness of misfortune.”9 Such a Boethian context for “tragedie” would suggest the sheer arbitrariness of (mis)fortune is the pervasive theme of the Monk’s

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performance and not any pattern of downfall due to a protagonist’s sin or moral failing. Nonetheless, an implicit alignment of downfall and transgression of social norms does emerge as a recurring plot point throughout the Monk’s stanzas. As we shall see, the formal features of the Monk’s verse disrupt broader cultural impulses to script disability as a divine punishment for sin or a problem awaiting cure. On a broader level, the “dysfunctional” Middle English stanzaic form that the Monk employs in his “tragedies” enacts a dynamic play between the very concepts of formal unity and narrative divergence.10 Each of the Monk’s “stories” takes shape through a consistent octave structure, yet the narratives themselves vary erratically and unpredictably in terms of their length. The first two tales (Lucifer and Adam), for instance, are just one stanza each –​while the longest “stories” (Zenobia and Nero) are sixteen and eleven stanzas in length respectively. Moreover, the “stories” oscillate unpredictably in tone and moral perspective –​each offering its own idiosyncratic (and often unexpected) lesson through the downfall of a strong and powerful protagonist. For the Monk, it is the narrative end, that is the outcome of the plot, that is key to defining what constitutes a “tragedie.” Each tale is an account of a high status figure brought down to misery –​regardless of whether such a tale is transmitted through verse or prose (vii.1973–​1982). The Monk’s announced investment in narrative paradoxically disassociates form and content (acknowledges that “tragedies” could be related via verse or prose), yet the Monk himself imposes one fixed poetic form upon his widely dispersed narrative material. The narrator’s opening excursus on form showcases his sustained efforts to impose order upon a disorderly narrative enterprise.

Asserting Norms One the strongest symptoms of the Monk’s poetics enacting a sustained play between unity and disarray is his use of enjambment. As literary critics have noted, this distinctive eight-​line stanza often exploits a syntactical link to carry the reader across the fourth and fifth lines in order to prevent a seeming rupture in the verse form (i.e. strategic use of enjambment prevents the perception that the stanza is breaking into two separate stanzas). A  perfect example of such unifying enjambment occurs in the opening narrative stanza of The Monk’s Tale, which sets the norms for the stanzas to follow. In the “storie” of Lucifer, there’s a clear moral lesson: those who sin (rebel) against God will necessarily be brought down. As the Monk relates this “tragedie,” he uses syntax to carry the reader across a line break (end rhyme) at the precise moment when the protagonist falls down:

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Lucifer At Lucifer, though he an angel were And nat a man, at hym wol I bigynne. For though Fortune may noon angel dere, From heigh degree yet fel he for his synne Doun into helle, where he yet is inne. O Lucifer, brightest of angels alle, Now artow Sathanas, that mayst nat twynne Out of miserie, in which that thou art falle.

(vii.1999–​2006, italics added)

Through the strategic use of enjambment across the middle two lines of this stanza, the poet unites the two conceptual halves of this “storie” –​and a beautiful symmetry emerges in the conceptual shift from brightness (and loftiness) to darkness (and fallenness). It is after the two middle lines that a “turn” occurs in the rhyme pattern, with alle/​twynne/​ falle forming a tercet to parallel were/​bigynne/​dere. In one sense, the use of enjambment across this stanza’s middle lines signals a compulsory adherence to a normative form. In another sense, the use of enjambment effaces the structural rigidity that end rhyme asserts. The grammatical content of these two lines forces the reader to overrun the line break, gently obscuring this rhyme (synne/​inne) as the structuring principle for the entire stanza. In addition to an unevenness that becomes apparent through subtle modifications in rhyme patterns, a tension between unity and disarray also manifests through the Monk’s syntax. In the Hercules stanzas, for instance, the twelve labors of the demigod are listed across two opening stanzas. These stanzas use markers of elite masculinity, power, and physical capacity to designate the protagonist’s “heigh” stature and prepare the audience for his inevitable fall. In the General Prologue, the Monk’s own “heigh” status is expressed as “maistrie” over animals, masculine physical power, and social potential:  he is “[a]‌manly man, to been an abbot able” (i.165, 167). It is in this context that the Hercules story uses masculine vigor and mastery over animals to assert a normativity that can later be disrupted. The “heigh renoun” of Hercules is similarly expressed through a catalogue of his famous labors: Of Hercules, the sovereyn conquerour, Syngen his werkes laude and heigh renoun . . . He of Centauros leyde the boost adoun; He Arpies slow, the crueel bryddes felle; He golden apples rafte of the dragoun . . . (vii.2095–​2096, 2099–​2101)

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The syntax in this list of Herculean labors is curiously disjointed. Violating the subject-​verb-​object structure most common in idiomatic vernacular English, each verb appears in the middle of a line with the masculine pronoun first followed directly by the (grammatical) direct object:  “He of Centauros leyde . . . He Arpies slow . . . He golden apples rafte.” Contrast this disjointed grammar with the aggressively normative syntax in the following stanza; in the later stanza, anaphora suggests the gravitational pull of the masculine pronoun asserting control over syntax: He slow the crueel tyrant Busirus . . . He slow the firy serpent venymus . . . He slow the geant Antheus the stronge; He slow the grisly boor, and that anon . . .

(vii.2103, 2105, 2108–​2109)

It is this strong emphasis on masculine force and agency in this stanza that sets the stage for Hercules’ downfall. The high-​status man –​an embodiment of vigor and virtus –​is unexpectedly brought down by a deceitful “Dianira, fressh as May” who is nearly conflated with (a female personification of ) Fortune:  “Beth war, for whan that Fortune  list  . . . Thanne wayteth she her man to overthrowe /​By swich a wey as he wolde leest suppose” (vii.2120, 2140–​2142). The Monk’s syntax initially asserts the power of the masculine protagonist –​only to prepare the audience for the downfall he will quickly suffer.11 The poetic effects of syntax in these Hercules stanzas gain fuller context when compared with Chaucer’s own catalogue of the labors of Hercules in his earlier translation of Boece. In his prose transformation of Boethian verse, Chaucer had structured each sentence (grammatical utterance) by the use of the masculine pronoun followed by a transitive verb: “He dawntide . . . he byrafte . . . he smot . . . he ravysschide . . . he drowh . . .” (Boece, iv.m7, ll. 29–​36). The poetic catalogue of labors initially recounted in the Monk’s versified performance is, by contrast, disordered –​and for the most part the Monk compresses each labor into just a single line of verse.12 A seeming desire to reinstate a preordained normative form characterizes the Monk’s poetic catalogue of Herculean labors (with each labor in one line of verse with a preference for “He slow” as the initial clause), but the second stanza of labors belies how flexible the internal syntax can be in poetic verse (both within and across individual lines). The Monk’s insistence on formal regularity in his opening tales, broadly speaking, does much more than establish the norm for the tales to follow; these initial “stories” prime the audience for subsequent narratives where formal disruptions emerge more openly.

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Breaking Form In the Monk’s tale of Hercules, random Fortune causes the demigod’s downfall (vii.2135–​2142). A severe transformation in his physical body transpires after he has the misfortune of wearing the poisoned shirt that burns his skin (“his flessh . . . blaked”), and a discourse of fallenness is ascribed to his own flesh: “It made his flessh al from his bones falle” (vii.2131, 2126). Hercules ensures his own end by leaping into hot coals, and the tale’s end appropriately coincides with his body’s disintegration (vii.2133). While this narrative does not clearly blame Hercules for his own downfall and bodily disintegration, the tale of Antiochus (one of the longer “stories” told by the Monk) overtly exploits bodily brokenness as a moral exemplum. In this tale (in accordance with its scriptural source, the second book of Maccabees), the narrator relates how God punishes the king for his pride. In the pivotal Antiochus stanza (corresponding closely to 2 Maccabees 9:4–​8), the king’s fall is literally a fall. After acquiring an incurable, internal condition (an initial punishment for his spoken threats), Antiochus arrogantly refuses to give up his pride. He drives his chariot so fast that he falls and is completely paralyzed: God for his manace hym so soore smoot With invisible wounde, ay incurable, That in his guttes carf it so and boot That his peynes weren importable. And certeinly the wreche was resonable, For many a mannes guttes dide he peyne. But from his purpos cursed and dampnable, For al his smert, he wolde hym nat restreyne, But bad anon apparaillen his hoost; And sodeynly, er he was of it war, God daunted al his pride and al his boost. For he so soore fil out of his char That it his limes and his skyn totar, So that he neyther myghte go ne ryde, But in a chayer men aboute hym bar, Al forbrused, bothe bak and syde.

(vii.2599–​2614, italics added)

This narrative deploys disability to mark divine punishment –​and the verse form further emphasizes this point. In the first stanza, the Monk notes that Antiochus despite his condition will “nat restreyne” himself and he commands his host to proceed; this very sentence then overruns a stanza break –​and thus also conjoins two disparate end rhymes –​across

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ll. 2606 and 2607 (italicized above). At the midpoint of the ensuing stanza, Antiochus falls out of his chariot and his body is mangled:  “For he so soore fil out of his char /​That it his limes and skyn totar” (vii.2610–​2611). The formal integrity of the stanza –​the enjambment across ll. 2610 and 2611 –​is asserted at the exact moment the king’s body is broken. Chaucer’s intricate play with enjambment across line breaks and across stanza breaks does not merely call attention to a pivotal disabling moment in this story; such rhetorical moves test the ability of poetic form to lend unity to the narrative itself. Most intriguingly, the formulation “totar” (meaning “utterly torn apart”) introduces into this stanza a rhetorical device known as prosthesis:  an extension of a word by a sound or syllable (“to-​”) in order to ease the pronunciation.13 In disability theory, “prosthesis” has a complex range of meanings even beyond its rhetorical functions; this term, in medical or technological contexts, denotes the material extension of a body through artificial means. In addition, the rhyme word paired with “totar” here is “char” (referring to the chariot, carriage, or wheeled vehicle of Antiochus). Whether Chaucer was aware of the dual medical and rhetorical valence of prosthesis, his use of this particular rhetorical device nicely thematizes how disability is accommodated in this narrative. Antiochus is no longer transported by a glorious “char” (chariot) but carried about in a humble “chayer” (a litter or raised seat). This “chayer” –​a verbal extension of the previous word “char” by the insertion of an extra syllable  –​now denotes a new material object:  a prosthetic device that serves as a physical extension of the disabled body. Form and content are once again enmeshed to assert how external markers of disability signal divine punishment. The rhyme of “char” and “totar” marks a sonic link across the stanza’s tenuous pivot point, and the rhetorical device of prosthesis (the syllabic extension of the word “totar”) coincides with the emergence of a new prosthetic technology (the “chayer”) that transports the disabled king.

Formal Prosthesis I conclude this formal analysis of the Monk’s performance with his longest tale: the life and downfall of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. This tale continues motifs that interweave throughout the other tales (high origins, a spectacular downfall, and humiliation marked by diminished capacity), but this tale diverges from the norms of the Monk’s definition of “tragedie” in one major respect: it relates the tale of a high-​status woman rather than a

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man. This being said, Zenobia is initially presented to the audience as if she is an honorary man: she openly rejects gendered social norms (“From her childhede . . . she fledde /​Office of wommen,” vii.2255–​2256); she behaves as if male from a young age, preferring the stereotypically masculine activities of hunting and killing (vii.2256–​2262); and she only engages in heterosexual intercourse to the minimal extent possible in order to produce two male heirs (vii.2279–​2295). The central paradox underlying the Zenobia tale is a double standard of gender norms that emerges throughout the plot. Self-​regulation, physical strength, and military conquest are all to be praised in high-​status men (indeed, the other tales examined earlier in this discussion openly laud such attributes), yet Zenobia’s own decision to shun the “office of wommen” violates a perceived alignment of her biological sex and expected gender roles. The text does not explicitly state its didactic lesson, but the plot as plot seems to imply that actions that would otherwise be praised in a man become simply untenable if performed by a woman –​ and ultimately she is punished, or falls, for violating unmarked gender expectations. The tides explicitly turn against the mighty Zenobia when the Roman Aurelian suddenly appears and “made hire flee, and atte laste hire hente, /​ And fettred hire” (vii.2356–​2357). The woman who “fledde” the “office of wommen” at an early age is now literally made to “flee,” and the same woman who had once subdued wild animals is seized and “fettred” as if a beast. In a vivid scene of humiliation, Aurelian acquires her “chaar” (chariot), a high-​status object “with gold wroght and perree,” and one stanza invites the reader to dwell on the symbolic and physical relationship between a living body and its material extensions (vii.2360): Amonges othere thynges that he wan, Hir chaar, that was with gold wroght and perree, This grete Romayn, this Aurelian, Hath with hym lad, for that men sholde it see. Biforen his triumphe walketh shee, With gilte cheynes on hire nekke hangynge. Coroned was she, as after hir degree, And ful of perree charged hire clothynge. (vii.2359–​2366, italics added)

In this episode, Zenobia’s spectacle of bodily humiliation depends upon the conspicuous use of physical objects. We have seen in the Hercules stanzas that syntax and gender are strongly aligned in the Monk’s performance, and in this moment in the Zenobia story grammatical syntax reveals

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just how objectified the once-​mighty queen has become. The discourse first introduces the “chaar” (gilded object) followed by the figure of the human (Zenobia) in chains, and the syntax of the phrases “walketh shee” and “coroned was she” place the grammatical subject (Zenobia herself ) last in each phrase. Through the syntax of these lines (further emphasized by the rhyme words “see” and “shee” in ll. 4 and 5), the vibrant image of an ornate, moving chariot precedes that of the clothed, objectified woman. The bejeweled ornamentation of both queen and chariot is functionally equivalent (“with gold wroght and perree . . . Coroned was she . . . And ful of perree”), and the chariot could in this context be seen as a prosthetic extension of Zenobia herself. The Roman conqueror Aurelian exploits the assemblage of Zenobia and her “chaar” as a physical manifestation of his power; the objectified human and the mobile object complete one another (and even now, the chariot is still identified as “[h]‌ir chaar,” not his). As Richard H. Godden has argued in a disability-​oriented reading of medieval romance: “The objects and technologies that complete the body are prosthetics, real and virtual devices that fit onto one’s person, yet the hinge or seam is often on display.”14 The “hinge or seam” –​the syntactical and metrical break at line four of this stanza –​discursively separates the nonhuman object (“it” or the “chaar”) from its human agent and owner (“shee”). The formal integrity of the entire image presented through this stanza –​and the layout of stanzaic verse in surviving Chaucer manuscripts as well as modern printed editions –​requires the reader to read across a tenuous verbal rupture. We find in the Monk’s rendition of Zenobia’s fall a rhetorical recoding of elite masculinity as a transhistorical or crosscultural norm. This queen’s divergent body (i.e. her biological gender) creates a misalignment of her physical body and what’s perceived as possible for this body within the cultural value system. One could say that what is most disabling for Zenobia is not just the adverse material conditions or burdensome symbolic objects that mark her post-​conquered humiliation, but rather her gender itself. To be born female is to be rendered socially disadvantaged and constrained in one’s potential life-​path (at least according to the Monk’s masculinist cognitive schema). The degree of social anxiety that the Monk expresses regarding Zenobia’s extraordinary body lends new context to the opening of the Monk’s performance as well as its (indeterminate) conclusion. In the Prologue to The Monk’s Tale, the Host jokes about the virility of religious men, observing that the masculine Monk (“thou  . . . myghty man”) “woldest han been a tredefowel aright” if he had chosen a secular (noncelibate) life path

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(vii.1951, 1945). The Monk’s sequence of “tragedies” only terminates upon the Knight’s abrupt interruption, and one assumes the Monk’s stories could have otherwise continued to reach a total of “an hundred” or even more (vii.1972). This perpetual rehearsal of “stories,” much like Fortune’s wheel, seems to cycle endlessly without offering any substantial meaning. The conclusion’s inability to render any coherent lesson from these disparate tales suggests an ideological if not rhetorical dysfunction in the genre of “tragedie” as the Monk defines it. These “tragedies” not only fail to bewail the fall of men exclusively, but they also expose divergent possibilities and life-​paths among varied forms of embodiment. Even if the narrative progression (linear plot) of the Zenobia tale seeks to “set things right” by placing her in her proper place (political subjugation and feminine attire), the tale nonetheless explores how a woman threatens to disrupt and exceed the very structures of the literary genre and narrow set of social norms that would limit her potential. The recycling of key motifs throughout The Monk’s Tale might suggest that new meanings are possible as key ideas or objects shift contexts. By attending to the recurring rhetorical and visual motif of the “chaar” in the tales of Zenobia and Antiochus, I  have sought to integrate a disability-​ oriented approach to cultural critique with a careful formalist analysis of Chaucerian poetry. Perceived gendered norms lend divergent meanings to the “chaar” motif across these two tales of mighty figures brought down by misfortune, and the specific meanings associated with this prosthetic technology can only be fully discerned in relation to the human body with which it interacts. Chaucer’s fine-​tuned rhetorical experiments within the formal constraints of the Monk’s eight-​line stanzas show a remarkable flexibility in enjambment and syntax that perpetually reworks the perceived norms and limits of living bodies. If the Monk had an opportunity to tell a full one hundred tales, then what other forms of embodiment might emerge (however unwittingly) in the process?15

Disability Futures Through the Monk’s “stories,” we witness how Chaucer offers a diverse range of narratives that suggest the thickness of potential meanings associated with disability, prosthetics, and the technologies of the human body. Through syntax, rhyme, enjambment, and the rhetorical device of prosthesis (as well as a pervasive symbolic deployment of prosthetic objects on the level of narrative), the Monk’s performance asks readers to contemplate the relationship between artistic form and the perceived norms

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of embodied capacity. Moreover, conspicuous disordering of idiomatic English syntax fittingly accompanies the disruption of bodily and gendered norms that these diverse protagonists enact. Collectively, the Monk’s tales illustrate how language itself can veer –​err, verge, resist, or deviate –​ from the formal structures that poetic composition demands. While the full scope of contemporary critical theory is beyond the reach of this particular chapter, I  conclude by suggesting how modern critical paradigms for understanding disability could contribute to future approaches to formalist analysis of medieval literature. As Edward Wheatley has argued in a foundational work on blindness in medieval culture, “the term cripple, shorted to crip,” has been powerfully reclaimed by disabled people as well as cultural critics and disability scholars “to represent the inversion of earlier disempowerment as they engage in both political and scholarly activism.”16 Wheatley’s call to “crip” the Middle Ages –​that is, to think critically about how disability subverts perceived norms –​could well be extended beyond medieval narrative per se to very profound questions of literary form and its effects on the audience. In a study (published in the same year as Wheatley’s) theorizing the representation of disability in modern art, Tobin Siebers argues that “disability as a critical framework  . . . questions the presuppositions underlying definitions of aesthetic production and appreciation,” and disability can emerge as “an aesthetic value in itself worthy of future development.”17 If, as Eleanor Johnson has astutely observed in a slightly different context, Chaucer uses rhetorical phenomena such as rhyme and syntax to perpetually stage the “problem of rendering meaning sense-​perceptible,” then disability itself is part of this future development.18 That is, attending to the complexity of literary form goes hand-​in-​hand with an ongoing appreciation for the range of human variance across time. Whether formalist approaches to disability in medieval literature set out to “crip” the past, to make the case for the aesthetic value of disability, or to expose “disability myths” that frame our perceptions of rhetorical embodiment from classical antiquity to the present (as Jay T.  Dolmage has recently demonstrated), disability provides a productive entry point for reassessing not only the social norms of a distant past but also future forms of art and aesthetics.19 A longue durée understanding of disability still has much to gain from medieval texts, and a “newe world” of literary interpretation can indeed open up when we seriously engage with historically distant cultural productions and social frameworks that are alien, “awkward,” or contingently parallel to our own.20 A careful attentiveness to literary form that is

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mindful of social constructions of the body demonstrates the nuances of medieval understandings of disability and human variety. When taken as a whole  –​or even when disaggregated into component parts  –​the Monk’s tales offer a multifaceted venue to explore how the cultural signs of disability are negotiated, deployed, and interrogated through artistic form.

Notes 1 All Chaucer citations follow The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). 2 Jill Mann, ed., Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (New York: Penguin, 2005), 1016, ll. 1978–1981n. 3 On “garbled oaths,” see Mann, 981,  note on ll. 1892, 1906, 1111; on the “garbled . . . misplacement” of The Monk’s Tale (among others) in Chaucer manuscripts, see Jerome H. Mandel, Geoffrey Chaucer:  Building the Fragments of   the Canterbury Tales (Rutherford:  Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992), 13; on the “mangled” disarray of The Canterbury Tales in BL MS Harley 7333, see Daniel Wakelin, Scribal Correction and Literary Craft: English Manuscripts 1375–​1510 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), 270n72; and on “mangled lines” from The Monk’s Tale in early printed Lydgate and emotional “disese” in response to the Monk’s de casibus tradition, see Alexandra Gillespie, Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate, and their Books 1473–​1557 (Oxford University Press, 2006), 206–​207. 4 David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2000), 57. 5 Ibid., 47. 6 Ibid., 54. 7 Henry Ansgar Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy (Cambridge, UK:  D. S.  Brewer, 1997), 1. 8 Ibid., 41–​45. 9 Ibid., 50, 52. 10 For an excellent analysis of the “dysfunctional” unnamed Monk’s Tale stanza, see Jenni Nuttall, “Two, Four, Six, Eight:  A Stanza to Appreciate,” Stylisticienne: her newe poetrye (blog), December 29, 2015. http://​stylisticienne. com/​two-​four-​six-​eight-​a-​stanza-​to-​appreciate. 11 For a different perspective on grammar and masculinity in the Monk’s performance, see Kurt Olsson, “Grammar, Manhood, and Tears: The Curiosity of Chaucer’s Monk.” Modern Philology 76.1 (1978): 1–​17. 12 See also Walter W.  Skeat, ed., The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894), note to l. 3285, 5:  231–​232. 13 Walter W.  Skeat identifies the “to-​” as an intensifying prefix; see note to l. 3205, 229.

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14 Richard H.  Godden, “Prosthetic Ecologies:  Vulnerable Bodies and the Dismodern Subject in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Textual Practice 30, no. 7 (December 2016): 1275. 15 In her reinvention of The Canterbury Tales narrated by fictive voices in modern multiethnic London, Patience Agbabi’s poem 100 chars (her adaptation of The Monk’s Tale) is attributed to a fictional author monkey@puzzle and renders each Chaucerian “stanza” as a tweet-​like missive of fewer than a hundred characters each; this new formal constraint forces each utterance to fall within the character limits imposed by the online social media platform Twitter and Short Message Service (SMS) texting conventions; see Patience Agbabi, Telling Tales (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2014), 88–90. 16 Edward Wheatley, Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Medieval Constructions of a Disability (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), 4. 17 Tobin Siebers, Disability Aesthetics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), 3. 18 Eleanor Johnson, Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve (University of Chicago Press, 2013), 49. 19 Jay T. Dolmage, Disability Rhetoric (Syracuse University Press, 2014). For alternative disability-​oriented readings of The Monk’s Tale, see Jonathan Hsy, “Disability,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Body in Literature, ed. David Hillman and Ulrike Maude (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 24–​40; Jonathan Hsy, “The Monk’s Tale: Disability/Ability,” in Candace Barrington et al., eds., Open Access Companion to The Canterbury Tales (published online September 2017 and available at https://opencanterburytales.dsl.lsu.edu/mkt1/). 20 The phrase “newe world” refers to the portrait of the Monk in the General Prologue: “This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace, /​And heeld after the newe world the space” (i.175–​176). On the notion of disability as “historicist prosthesis” and the complexity of the medieval exemplum genre as an “awkward object for medieval scholarship,” see Julie Orlemanski, “Literary Genre, Medieval Studies, and the Prosthesis of Disability,” Textual Practice 30, no. 7  (December 2016): 1253–​1272.

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Ch apter 5

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Forms in the Treatise on the Astrolabe Lisa H. Cooper

Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe (c. 1391) has long been either celebrated or condemned (when it has been discussed at all) for its perceived contrast with the rest of the poet’s work, which is to say as his one excursion into the domain of strictly practical, exclusively factual, and, it is often said or implied, decidedly nonliterary writing.1 This is not especially surprising. The Treatise is, after all, a technical manual in prose, designed to instruct its reader in the use of that (usually) brass instrument with which proficient users, turning its carefully calibrated pointers upon an etched plate, could map the stars so as to calculate, among other things, the time of day or the date.2 Chaucer himself emphasizes the book’s didactic goals and utilitarian scope (it is, in fact, the only Chaucerian work in which the word “utilite” appears [2.26.24]), announcing in its Prologue that his aim is to provide his young son, “[l]‌yte Lowys,” with a set of “trewe conclusions touching this mater” of the astrolabe (Pro. 51–​52).3 Those “true conclusions” (by which Chaucer means the exercises of the book’s second part, following an initial section that describes the astrolabe’s components) will, he promises, in turn enable Lowys’ “verrey practik” (Pro. 70) –​the actual, and also the true, practice of astrolabic calculation.4 Until quite recently, scholarship on the Treatise has followed Chaucer’s lead, viewing it principally through its claims to utility and truth. Whether read as an early example of scientific writing in English or as a key for decoding celestial references in Chaucer’s poetry, rarely, as Erin Labbie observes, has the work been approached as “a text worthy of critical reading in its own literariness.”5 This paradigm, however, has slowly begun to shift: a small number of studies have explored the Treatise in light of the politics of Middle English translation, postcolonial discourse, genealogies both literary and familial, human and posthuman identity, and (in the work of Labbie herself ) psychoanalytic theories of desire.6 Most recently, Christopher Cannon identifies it as a prime example of “grammar-​ school style,” whereby the instructional techniques of the late medieval 99

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schoolroom come to serve –​indeed, frequently inspire –​the making of Middle English poetry.7 While no one would accuse the Treatise itself of being a poem, it does contain a few poetic moments. Perhaps the work’s best-​known images are Chaucer’s unoriginal but evocative description of the rete (the carved, rotating plate consisting of star-​pointers and the ecliptic, the sun’s annual path through the sky) as “shapen in manere of a nett or of a web of a loppe [spider]” (1.3.4–​5; also 1.21.2), and his comparison of azimuth arcs (lines depicting angles of stars from the meridian line) to both “the clawes of a loppe,” and (more uniquely), “the werk of a wommans calle [hairnet]” (1.19.2–​4).8 Cannon is correct when he observes that these images are in large measure “unrepresentative of Chaucer’s general practice in the Treatise as a whole.”9 But what I suggest in what follows is that his attention to how parts of the astrolabe are “shapen” is not unrepresentative of the work and its intended purpose at all. For to use an astrolabe, as also to read or write a treatise about one, is inevitably to think about shape, which is also to say about form: form that is not just textual but also material and embodied, form that is not just mathematically abstract but also physically and geographically specific, form that demands of its reader a great number of imaginative acts in order to be comprehensible, let alone useful. Chaucer’s Treatise, I argue, is above all an education in and a drama of multiple, overlapping, and sometimes colliding forms, especially those singled out by Caroline Levine as “particularly common, pervasive –​and also significant” in human experience: wholes, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks.10 These forms in turn structure the four main parts of this chapter, which looks first at the Treatise’s confrontation of intersecting wholes in its Prologue, then at the rest of the work’s attention to networks and rhythms both verbal and celestial, and finally at its representation of the hierarchies of heaven and several of its fleeting, but fascinating, glances toward some idea of equivalence on earth. I should from the outset acknowledge that it is not surprising to find wholes, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks as forms at play in a work pertaining to medieval cosmology, that branch of science which held them to be the basic structures of the universe.11 Throughout the Middle Ages, the cosmos was understood to be a whole made up of a hierarchy of nested spheres, inside of which the densely linked network of celestial bodies moved together in patterns that produced the rhythms (also known as the music) of the heavens.12 But if this admittedly simplified description suggests that Levine’s insights regarding the fundamental nature of

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these four forms would have been unsurprising to medieval students of astral science, so in turn do her ideas about the ways that forms in general intersect, interact, and interfere with one another provide an opportunity to revisit the ways they operate in the many medieval texts that sought to describe the heavens at work. Chaucer’s manual is in this regard but one convenient site from which to observe the most common forms of medieval celestial thought, for what I uncover in what follows is to be found in most if not all other cosmographies of the period (including, as we will see, some of the sources upon which the Treatise depends). As Chaucer tells Lowys, attending to the astrolabe’s “figures and . . .  membres” will give him some “gretter knowing” of it (Pro. 66–​68); much the same, I suggest, is true of his text, to whose formal investments little attention has been paid. But attention to the multiple forms limned in and by the Treatise may offer us something more besides a refreshed look at the poet’s participation in a long tradition of medieval cosmography, and that is by helping us resituate it in its very Chaucerian-​ness. As I will discuss further just below, most astrolabes were configured for particular latitudes, such that the celestial information they reveal is of most use in the (assumed) fixed locations of their user. But as the manual makes clear, the stars themselves never stand still, such that ultimately it is only ever that same fixedness of which a user can be truly certain; as Cannon puts it, an astrolabe “tells whoever is using it about him or herself and, in particular, just where and when he or she actually is.”13 And yet, as we will see, the Treatise accompanying Lowys’ device also encourages him to look beyond, from the here and now to the there and then –​to other places, other times –​and so recognize his participation in a larger network of both cosmic and earthly circumstance. In this oscillation between and occasional overlap of micro-​and macrocosm, taking place as much on the level of form as of content, the Treatise is not, as some have seen it, an “outlier” in the Chaucerian corpus, but rather of a piece with it  –​reminiscent, say, of the General Prologue’s sweeping attentions from the sun in Aries to the pilgrims crossing the landscape below, or of Troilus and Criseyde’s movements between the lovers’ sharply delineated emotional experiences and their preternatural awareness of their place in a longer historical and literary trajectory.14 Another way to say this is that Chaucer’s interest in form’s capacity to investigate and represent human subjectivity and its discontents, an interest so evident in virtually all his other writing, is also the sine qua non of the Treatise on the Astrolabe.15

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“Ful notable fourme”: Textual, Mechanical, and Cosmological Wholes John Lydgate, Chaucer’s self-​ appointed poetic successor, was perhaps the first to intuit that form lies at the heart of the Treatise’s concerns. In the Prologue to his Fall of Princes (c. 1431–​1438), Lydgate records that his “maistir Chaucer” . . . made a tretis, full noble & off gret pris, Vpon theastlabre in ful notable fourme, Sette hem in ordre with ther dyuysiouns, Mennys wittis tapplien and confourme, To vndirstonde be ful expert resouns Be domefieng off sundry mansiouns, The roote out-​souht at the ascendent, Toforn or he gaff any iugement.16

While Lydgate names several of Chaucer’s chosen literary forms, such as the “prose . . . Tale off Melibe” and the “Compleyntis, baladis, roundelis, virelaies /​Ful delectable to heryn and to see” (346, 353–​354), he singles out only the Treatise in the terms of form itself, remarking both on its status of “tretis” and on its “ful notable fourme” (apparently in praise of the manual’s organization –​one way, though perhaps not the only, of reading the references to “ordre” and “dyuysiouns”).17 Lydgate further suggests that the form of the work has its own shaping power, an ability to “confourme” men’s “wittis” to the finding of “ascendents” (the degrees of rising signs on the ecliptic, the sun’s annual path, as they cross the horizon) so that they may make proper “iugement[s]‌.” These words reveal that Lydgate reads the manual as a work of judicial astrology, the art of predicting human action based on star positions, despite the fact that in one passage of the same work Chaucer rejects such predictions as “rytes of payens, in whiche my spirit hath no feith” (2.4.58–​59).18 Be that as it may –​and given that Chaucer planned for the fifth part of the Treatise to provide the “generall rewles of theorik in astrologie,” including the “equaciouns of houses” (astrologically significant divisions of the celestial sphere) and “tables of dignitees of planetes” (advantageous planetary locations) (Pro. 103–​106), it is hard to take his disavowal at face value19 –​the Prologue to the Treatise certainly bears out Lydgate’s sense that “fourme” is central to the work’s poetics. Form is the Prologue’s explicit subject, if in this instance we understand “form” to refer to both the Treatise’s projected shape and the effects Chaucer expects it to have

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on its readers. The manual, Chaucer explains, is “divided in 5 parties,” and written in “naked wordes in Englissh”; its “endityng” is “rude,” and it contains a “superfluite of wordes” (Pro. 25–​27, 43–​44).20 These problems of oversimplicity and verbiage he excuses as accommodations to Lowys’ youth (Pro. 44–​49), but, and as has often been observed, apparently most in need of excuse is the writing of a work of scientific prose in Middle English in the first place. And as Andrew Cole has shown, Chaucer works that need to his advantage. By adopting the pose of an anxious translator defending the use of his native tongue, with phrases (like “naked wordes”) that he may have encountered in Wycliffite writings, he highlights the “adopting [of ] a form by which he could rank himself among a group of innovators in English.”21 Cole’s point is one we might underscore by noting that including a fully descriptive prologue in a technical work was itself something of an innovation in the late fourteenth century.22 But Chaucer’s defense of “myn Englissh” (Pro. 63) as a fitting vehicle for the Treatise is actually neither the only nor the first formal consideration in the Prologue. If the astrolabe is already a complex form in its translation of the vast though ultimately bounded space of the three-​dimensional universe into a portable, two-​ dimensional object,23 the attempt to translate that device into narrative form produces yet further complexity. Chaucer’s work, the instrument it describes, and the medieval cosmos are each what Levine would call a bounded whole, single units whose defined edges also function as containers for other forms. The Treatise as initially planned was to consist of five parts, the celestial sphere itself encompasses both heavenly and earthly bodies, and the astrolabe, with the help of a central pin, “streynith . . . to-​hepe” [holds together] its multiple parts (1.14.6). When Chaucer attempts his own yoking of cosmos and astrolabe “to-​hepe” in the text of the Treatise –​ when he tries, that is, to cram two rather disparate wholes into yet another –​the conjunction not only highlights those forms’ affordances, but also their limits.24 For despite his subsequent meditation on the transparency of translation, in which he declares that Middle English is just one of many of the “righte way[s]‌to Rome” (Pro. 40), what Chaucer first teaches Lowys in the Prologue is that his astrolabe, and therefore the Treatise, is from the outset circumscribed by geography. Like their Greek and Islamic predecessors, some Western European astrolabes were universal –​usable anywhere.25 But Lowys’ astrolabe, “[c]ompowned after the latitude of Oxenforde” (Pro. 9–10), though it could technically be used anywhere along that latitude,

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is clearly meant principally for use in that city. Oxford, itself another bounded whole (especially in the Middle Ages, when it would have been enclosed by walls), thus imposes a functional limit that informs –​ materially determines –​the astrolabe’s design. And that design, in turn, of necessity constrains to some extent what Lowys can learn when he uses it (not in terms of the workings of the cosmos in general, but rather when it comes to ascertaining a particular time or star position). To these material limitations Chaucer adds a pedagogical one when he proposes to instruct Lowys in only “a certein nombre of conclusions” (Pro. 12–​13).26 This restriction is not only because some propositions will simply be “to harde to [the boy’s] tendir age,” but also because (Chaucer claims) propositions he has seen elsewhere do not “in alle thinges parformen her bihestes” (Pro. 20–​24): that is (and pace Hayden White), the contents of similar works do not live up to the promise of their instructional forms.27 And finally (though this is actually the first limitation Chaucer acknowledges), “alle the conclusions that han be founde, or ellys possibly might be founde in so noble an instrument as is an Astrelabie ben unknowe parfitly to eny mortal man in this regioun” (Pro. 15–​19). While the calculations made possible by an astrolabe are so potentially numerous as to seem infinite, any one person’s mastery of them is necessarily circumscribed by the limits of human knowledge, itself constrained both by place (“this regioun”) and by time, which is to say by the very condition of being a “mortal man.”28 So does Chaucer, intentionally or no, set up the conditions under which later readers might forgive his work’s own failure fully to perform its own “bihestes.” For despite Lydgate’s later praise for the Treatise’s “notable fourme,” there is no escaping the fact that Chaucer never completed it; in fact, it breaks off mid-​sentence in the most authoritative manuscripts (2.40.82). The inescapably imperfect knowledge to which the Prologue refers is rather nicely thematized by the phrase with which the scribes of four manuscripts attempted to complete the last instruction: “thou shalt do wel ynow” (2.40.82–​83).29 But this was far from the only scribal alteration made to the Treatise, which, judging by its survival in whole or part in thirty-​four manuscripts, was in the century or so after Chaucer’s death the most popular of his works after The Canterbury Tales.30 Seeking to align it with their various understandings of an astrolabe’s purpose, fifteenth-​ century scribes subjected the manual to what Edgar Laird calls “every sort of textual manipulation” in their search for “a product that from one point of view or another [would] seem more satisfactory.”31 But in point of fact astrolabic calculations are themselves determined from “one point of view or another” –​that is, and as mentioned above, from the vantage-​point of

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a user who stands in a particular place (like Oxford), taking what Labbie calls a “perspectival approach to knowledge” in order to “participate in a singular way within a broader and universal play in the cosmos.”32 In the terms of form that I am adumbrating here, another way to understand the relationship of astral practitioner to book, instrument, and heavens is to see that while the Prologue defines singularity (one person, one astrolabe, one place) as a formal problem, in the manual proper it turns out to be precisely the singularity of the human body that at least partially resolves the clash of bounded wholes with which the Treatise’s opening acknowledges it must contend.

“In manere of a nett”: The Cosmic Network The complex conjunction of book, cosmos, and astrolabe perhaps cannot help but founder somewhat against the ambitious attempt to cram the workings of the heavens into one textual package; in the end, as a few scribes seem to have realized, perhaps all anyone can do is “wel ynow.” And yet, after the Prologue’s opening insistence on boundaries and boundedness, the Treatise largely leaves limitation behind in favor of uncovering the many things that can be achieved with the reader’s “suffisant Astrolabie,” whose potential Chaucer aims to unlock for Lowys “by mediacioun of this litel tretys” (Pro. 8–​9, 11). But even as the manual mediates both between Chaucer and Lowys, and between Lowys and his instrument, it is Lowys who mediates between his astrolabe and the Treatise as he learns the “verrey practik” they teach (Pro. 70). For any successful performance of the “trewe conclusions touching this mater . . . of the Astrelabie” (Pro. 51–​55) is, literally, a matter of touch. To put this in terms of Levine’s categories, in the Treatise proper the wholes of the Prologue encounter another kind of whole: the human body.33 In that encounter, it is not all these wholes’ limitations, but rather their roles as nodes of a much larger network that come into view, with the body at the center –​Lowys’ body –​serving as its hub.34 While the corresponding section of Chaucer’s main source for the Treatise, the De compositione et operacione astrolabii [On the making and operation of an astrolabe]  –​a work that the Middle Ages (incorrectly) attributed to the late eighth-​century Jewish astronomer Māshā‘ Allah (henceforth Messahalla)35  –​only lists the parts of the device,36 Part  1 of the Treatise opens with an image of the astrolabe about to be taken up by its user. “Thyn Astrolabie hath a ring to putten on the thombe of thi right hond in taking the height of thinges” (1.1.1–​3), Chaucer declares, before continuing

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his description of what Jenna Mead has called the astrolabe’s “metaphorized body,” what with its base plate known as the “moder” (Messahalla’s mater), and the space within its rim for the other parts that Chaucer, like other writers on the astrolabe (though not Messahalla), calls the instrument’s “wombe” (1.3.3).37 Contrary to what we might expect, and despite his five further references to the “wombe” in the Treatise (1.6.8, 1.14.4, 1.15.1, 1.16.1, 2.29.16), Chaucer does not further extend this metaphor of technological maternity. Instead, he emphasizes a more mutually constitutive interface of user and device, explaining that accurate celestial information is found only when the two wholes of person and astrolabe are oriented such that they not only join together (the instrument functioning as a brass prosthesis that, like all astronomical devices, extends the body’s “ordinary perceptual abilities”),38 but also become mirror images of one another: “Put the ryng of thyn Astrolabie upon the thombe of thi right hond, and than wol his right side be toward thi lift side, and his left side wol be toward thy right side,” reads the “rewle generall” for positioning self and instrument (1.6.3–​7). Using an astrolabe requires thinking about if not actively engaging almost every part of the upper body, from, as we have just seen, the sides that orient the device and the hands that hold it and turn its parts, to the “crowne of [the user’s] heved [head],” directly above which the “verrey point” known as the “cenyth” [zenith] is “ymagined,” even as it is also actually marked on the instrument’s surface (1.18.15–​17). The eye, part of what we might think of as a corporeal network interfacing with the astrolabe’s own literally networked (i.e. engraved) surface, is as fundamental as the hand. Chaucer specifically mentions the organ of sight only once in Part 1, indicating that “by mediacioun of thin eye” one may “knowe the altitude of sterres by night” (1.13.5–​6), and only once in Part  2, in reference to hanging a plummet from a line perpendicular to “thin eye” (2.23.42). But allusions to sight permeate the Treatise, as for example in the nine separate commands in Part 2 to “loke” at the astrolabe, at the heavens, or at a separate calendar,39 and in the direction to “aspye diligently” a star’s altitude as it crosses the meridian line (2.17.7). The importance of the legs and feet in addition to the hands is also implied in the very existence of “so small an instrument portatif aboute” (Pro. 72–​73), not to mention in view of the fact that one must generally stand when using it, preferably after having walked to an open space with a clear view of the skies. Human bipedalism is also allusively present in the degrees of arc carved on the back of the astrolabe’s outer rim:  the space between the longer markings “contenith a myle wey” (1.7.9–​10), or twenty minutes, to this day the conventional measure for the time it takes to walk a mile.

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The Treatise’s explicit references to the human body are admittedly not many. They occur primarily in Part 1 (I have quoted virtually all of them above), and much less frequently in Part 2, where we find a direction to “[t]‌ake . . . thin Astrelabie with bothe hondes” (2.29.16–​17), a command to which I  will return at this chapter’s end, and, in the Supplementary Propositions  –​which may not be by Chaucer  –​directions on “adding of thyn owne persone to thyn eye,” including “thyn owne heyghte,” and “set[ting] at thy foot a prikke [mark]” while computing a tower’s height (2.41.14–​15, and  ​20, 2.43.5). Embodied engagement is, however, implicit in the work’s every instruction, because an astrolabe simply cannot be used without some manipulation, often in tandem with other physical movement. Lowys’ body, in other words, is the active and activating center to which stars, book, and device all refer and upon which their deciphering and use depend. Nowhere in the Treatise is this clearer than in the last section of Part 1 (1.21), which briefly explains the zodiac, the twelve star constellations lying along the path of the sun that gave the signs their names and that, along with the planets, were believed to influence human affairs.40 One of the longest parts of the entire Treatise outside the Prologue itself, this section is as remarkable for its attention to what we might call the celestial imaginary as it is for its entanglement of astrolabic, astral, and anthropic form. “[S]hapen as a compas,” Chaucer writes (and we might note the extent to which all of Part  1 is essentially a study in the astrolabe’s material form), the zodiac of an astrolabe is figured by the symbols or written names for the signs, along with lines of degree, that are marked upon the circle of metal that forms part of the rete. This circle, the Treatise explains, corresponds to another one, the actual “zodiak in hevene.” But unlike “alle the remenaunt of cercles in the hevene,” which “ben ymagyned verrey lynes withoute eny latitude” –​that is, lines with no width to speak of –​the celestial zodiac is a measurable band, “ymagyned to ben a superfice contenyng a latitude of 12 degrees” and upon which, in turn, “is ymagined . . . the ecliptik lyne, under which lyne is evermo the wey of the sonne” (1.21.32–​42). Couched as it is in the terms of imagination, which in the Middle Ages referred “primarily to the faculty of forming an image,”41 perhaps it is not surprising that the passage turns next to providing a verbal version of one of the most visually striking astrological images from the Middle Ages, the figure known as Zodiac Man, whose every body part is bedecked in or else connected in some way to the zodiacal sign said to govern it.42 First, and largely translating from the thirteenth-​century astronomy treatise De sphaera [On the Sphere] of Johannes Sacrobosco,

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a standard university textbook and his second most important source for the Treatise after Messahalla, Chaucer delineates possible reasons for the use of the word zodiac (from Greek zōidiakòs, “little animals”) for this celestial band: because, he writes, the sun and the planets as they pass through each sign take on the character of the animal for which the sign is named, influencing humans in turn, or because the stars of each constellation outline an animal shape (1.21.49–​62).43 Then, he continues, no longer following Sacrobosco, but adhering to standard astrological theory: “everich of these 12 signes hath respect to a certeyn parcel of the body of a man, and hath it in governaunce; as Aries hath thin heved, and Taurus thy nekke and thy throte, Gemini thin armholes and thin armes, and so furth” –​material to which he promises to return in the fifth, never-​completed section of the work (1.21.70–​77). Even while recognizing its symbolic import, George Ovitt has criticized this passage as “digressive matter.”44 But the brief appearance of Zodiac Man actually functions quite well as a conceptual hinge between the two parts of the manual as it has come down to us. Part  1, as we have seen, opens by parsing the relation of the astrolabe’s parts to one another and to Lowys’ body. It ends by underscoring the fact that the signs on the astrolabe’s rete are intimately connected to him even before he picks it up, since every part of his body is already linked to its celestial counterpart as if with an invisible thread. Some medieval Zodiac Men render those connections visible by way of lines that run from the star-​struck body to the signs that encircle it; in such representations, the belief that the human being sits at the center of the celestial network is made exceptionally clear.45 According to the philosopher of mind Jason Stanley, such intimacy is both a condition for and the result of acquiring any practical skill or ability. “Knowing how to do something,” he writes, “is first-​person knowledge. It is knowledge about oneself, or knowledge de se.”46 Without here debating the implications of Stanley’s larger, controversial argument  –​ namely, that all practical knowledge (knowing how) is the result of and so subordinate to some preceding factual (theoretical, or propositional) knowledge (knowing that)47 –​we can still see that one of Chaucer’s principal pedagogical methods in the Treatise is precisely that of the teacher working to inculcate exactly the kind of “first-​person knowledge” to which Stanley refers. We see this at work in the passage quoted just above (“thin heved . . . thy nekke and thy throte . . . thin armholes”), in which Lowys’ body becomes not only a reflection of, but also practically a mnemonic for, the constellations, and vice versa. And we see it above all in the stress Chaucer places throughout the work on Lowys’ ownership, physical as well

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as intellectual, of the device he consistently calls “thin [or thyn] Astrolabie” or “thin [or thyn] instrument” –​a full thirty-​nine times across the Treatise, divided almost equally between Part 1 (twenty times) and Part 2 (nineteen times) (Pro. 67 and passim).48 Finally, as Cannon observes, it is not only the device itself that Lowys owns, but also “the information the astrolabe disposes (‘thin houres equales’) and his location in time (‘thy month,’ ii.5) and space (‘thy sonne’ [sun], ii.5).”49 The words thi, thy, thin, and thyn appear a remarkable 225 times in the Treatise, as if Chaucer meant to leave Lowys in no doubt regarding his role as the center of the signifying network of device, cosmos, and book. But just as importantly, and as if in some compensation for the fact that in 1.21 he will learn that the signs also possess him (holding, as they do, his body “in governaunce” [1.21.72–​73]), Lowys is from the beginning of this last section of Part 1 informed that he can manipulate their representations by turning the astrolabe’s rete “up and doun as thiself liketh” (1.21.4). This is perhaps the most explicit statement in the work regarding the desire satisfied in –​and, I think it is fair to say, also produced by –​the Treatise, which Labbie notes is nothing less than “the desire to control” the universe.50 Lowys’ implied desire for cosmic control and the satisfaction of what Chaucer calls his “besy praier” for knowledge (Pro. 4) receive material expression in the circular movement of the rete under his hand. Thus, where Cannon has written perceptively about a more metaphorical rotation through subject positions that he finds to be one hallmark of the Treatise’s pedagogical style,51 here we see Lowys imagined as physically mimicking the rotation, the “up and doun” –​or what, to return now to her list of signal forms, Levine would call the rhythm –​of the heavens. As he turns the “net” of the stars on the front of his device, Lowys’ body takes part in the multiple celestial rhythms that Part 2 of the Treatise teaches him to track.

“Ones for evere” and “Evermo”: Reliable Knowledge, Eternal Rhythms As the Treatise makes clear, an astrolabe can be used to perform many different kinds of celestial computation. But whether one is attempting to “take a just ascendent” to determine a horoscope or trying to “set justly a clokke” (the only two uses Chaucer explicitly mentions [2.3.65–​66]), what one is principally trying to do with an astrolabe is locate heavenly bodies in relation to oneself or others at unique moments in time, somewhere within the temporal rhythm of “day by day” as traveled by the

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“sonne . . . after his cours aboute” (2.1). Chaucer gives us some idea of the challenge of this task when the very same section that suggests how Lowys might use his device also warns him to “make . . . nevere [so] bold” as to imagine that his calculations are correct when the celestial body he chooses as a reference point is “nigh the south lyne” (2.3.64–​68). Two of the same formal limitations already referred to in the Prologue come into play again here as Chaucer explains this problem in terms of his own “experience” of it: “I wot wel that in oure orisounte . . . in taking of a just ascendent in a portatif Astrelabie it is hard to knowe” (2.3.75–​78). Here geography (“oure orisounte”) and the smallness of the instrument (“portatif Astrelabie”) together create a difficulty that lasts “from xi of the clokke before the houre of noon til oon of the clokke next folewyng” (2.3.79–​81). Furthermore, despite the general reliability of cosmic rhythms, the heavens cannot be depended upon always to move in the exact same way. After all, “the sonne ariseth not alwey verrey est, but somtyme by northe the est and somtyme by south the est” (2.31.1–​3), the phenomenon of “houres inequales” (seasonal, planetary, or unequal hours) means that “som tyme ben thei lenger by day than by night, and som tyme the contrarie” (2.10.1–​5), and last but not least, the planets are known to behave erratically, sometimes moving backwards in “retrograd” (2.4.50–51, 2.35).52 To put this another way: there are many times when it is hard to tell time. But, pace Chaucer, “somtyme” is actually all time, since, as Carolyn Dinshaw observes, channeling Augustine’s reflection that the present “flies so quickly from future into past that it is a moment with no duration” [raptim a futuro in praeteritum transuolat, ut nulla morula extendatur], “[t]‌he problem with ‘now’ is that it’s  . . . now. Or it’s now. Or it’s right now. The denoted moment shifts, it slips, it is deferred, potentially infinitely, along an endless timeline of moments . . . [a]s soon as you fix on it, it’s gone,” so that “the now is never purely there at all.”53 This problem of now, which is a rhetorical as well ontological one  –​“how can you talk about its being, how can it be said to exist at all?”54 –​is the challenge that on some level any astrolabe, and certainly Part 2 of the Treatise, attempts to meet as it describes moments in time in terms of the astral positions that accompany them. But even more so than the astrolabe, whose circular shape and rotating parts operate in imitation of the ever-​moving heavens, Chaucer’s text is able to find some solution to the problem of now by emphasizing not only the precise mapping of any given moment, but also its place within a succession of other moments that together make up the continual rhythms of the cosmos. Even as the individual propositions of Part 2 instruct the user in pinning down single instances in time, as a

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group the exercises reveal just how fleeting those instances are, each new proposition a tacit acknowledgment that the heavens move perpetually. And yet, as I now want to show, both the results and the techniques of astrolabic manipulation and computation are consistently represented in the Treatise not as knowledge only of or for the now, but “for evere” (2.3.8). The insistent reissuing of this eternal warranty on knowledge, a kind of bulwark against the manifold uncertainties of both present and future, is a very significant aspect of the Treatise’s verbal rhythms.55 In 1.17, the first section to discuss the motion of the heavens in any detail, Chaucer turns again to Sacrobosco, greatly expanding upon Messahalla’s few lines on the subject in order to explain the tropics of Cancer, Capricorn, and the celestial equator, or equinoctial (all engraved on the astrolabe’s surface).56 It is worth quoting at length: The plate under the riet is discrived with 3 cercles, of whiche the leest is clepid the cercle of Cancre by cause that the heved of Cancre turnith evermo consentrik upon the same cercle . . . This signe of Cancer is clepid the tropik of somer, of tropos, that is seien “ageynward.” For than beginnith the sonne to passen from us-​ward. The myddel cercle . . . is clepid the cercle equinoxiall, upon which turnith evermo the hevedes of Aries and Libra. And understond wel that evermo thys cercle equinoxiall turnith justly from verrey est to verrey west . . . By this cercle equinoxiall ben considred the 24 houres of the clokke; for evermo the arisyng of 15 degrees of the equnioxiall makith an houre equal of the clokke . . . And note that the firste moevyng is clepid moevyng of the firste moevable of the 8 speer, which moeving is from est to west, and eft ageyn into est . . . The widest of these 3 principale cercles is clepid the cercle of Capricorne, by cause that the heved of Capricorne turneth evermo consentrik upon the same cercle . . . This signe . . . is also clepid the tropic of wynter, for than begynneth the sonne to come ageyn to us-​ward. (1.17.1–​5, 10–​19, 32–​40, 45–​48, 52–​54)

Repetition, Chaucer writes in the Prologue, is an unavoidable evil in a work for a child; the resulting “superfluite” of words, discussed briefly above, is, he claims, the result of the fact that it is “better to writen unto a child twyes a god sentence, than he forgete it onys” (Pro. 43–​44, 48–​49). But repetition in this context is not only a pedagogical choice, but also a celestial reality, one that Chaucer emphasizes in a way Sacrobosco does not by merging two distinct sections of De sphaera (that on the tropics and that on the equinoctial) into one. Moreover, the form the Treatise’s instruction takes here –​of repetition not just “twyes” but in triplicate –​conforms both to Lowys’ putative needs and to astronomical fact, which is also to say to

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celestial form, as the passage’s repetitive phrasing matches the repetitive movement of the circles that turn “evermo” and “ageyn” with the seasons. This passage from 1.17 works by explaining the name for one set of forms (the “cercle[s]‌” of Cancer, Capricorn, and equinoctial) in terms of other forms –​the celestial signs from which they take their names, their circular rotation, the seasonal changes that result. But it also introduces to the manual the idea of “evermo” in two senses, the perpetual and the eternal. These two versions of “forever” return in force in Part 2. In the rubric for  2.3, Chaucer uses the idea of perpetual repetition three times in a row to emphasize the reliability of a method for telling “every tyme” of day and night by the sun and the stars, as well as for ascertaining the “ascendent, or ellis horoscopum.” Such claims to consistency are implied if not explicit in most written instructions, but it is worth noting how Chaucer goes beyond Messahalla’s “de aliis fac omnibus sicut dictum est in superioribus” [for all other (operations) do as instructed above], which concludes the parallel chapter of the Latin work.57 “Tak this manere of settyng for a general rule [for finding the sun’s altitude], ones for evere,” Chaucer declares, before providing (as Messahalla does not) a specific example, a personal anecdote of his own calculations dated to March 12, 1391, that concludes: “And in this wise had I the experience for evermo in which manere I shulde knowe the tyde of the day and eke myn ascendent” (2.3.7–​8, 35–​38). A second personal narrative, this time about finding the altitude of the star Alhabor, follows, ending in similar fashion: “And thus lerned I to knowe onys for ever in which manere I shuld come to the houre of the nyght, and to myn ascendent, as verrely as may be taken by so smal an instrument” (2.3.58–​62).58 Once, but also forever: as this otherwise seemingly throwaway phrase makes clear, what is at stake here is both the unique moment in which experiential learning occurs and the iterability of the lesson. The computation, once learned, becomes a kind of stable container –​an enclosing frame, or form –​within and through which to engage in all future operations of a similar kind. But in another good example of formal collision in this text, the literally limited surface area of “so small an instrument” may well undermine the calculation’s reliability. It is no accident that Chaucer’s caveat here about the astrolabe’s size precedes the one I have already discussed above, his warning that telling time or taking an ascendent in Oxford between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. is an uncertain undertaking (another “rule in generall” to which he alerts Lowys “for evere” [2.3.63–​64]). The remaining references to “forever” in the Treatise tend to emphasize the regularity of astrolabic form, heavenly motion, or both. For example,

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as if to provide reassurance in the face of the variability of the seasonal hours, the manual indicates that despite the difference in length between day and night at every time of year except the equinoxes, “evermo generaly the houre inequal of the day with the houre inequal of the night contenen 30 degrees of the bordure, which bordure is evermo answeryng to the degrees of the equinoxial” (2.10.5–​9). So too are the equal hours (“houres of the clokke”) easily found, since they “ben departid by 15 degrees alredy in the bordure of thin Astrelaby, as wel by night as by day, generaly for evere” (2.11.1–​5). And just as the material shape of time –​the degrees of an hour, marked upon the astrolabe’s border –​can be relied upon (“What nedith more declaracioun?” Chaucer asks rhetorically [2.11.5]), so too can one count upon the motion of the sun that determines that shape, as well as the order of the planets said to dominate each hour, as the next section of the manual (not in Messahalla), explains: evermo, fro the arisyng of the sonne til it go to reste, the nadir of the sonne [the point directly opposite the sun’s degree on the ecliptic] shal shewe the houre of the planete . . . And evere as the sonne clymbith upper and upper, so goth his nadir downer and downer, teching by suche strikes the houres of planetes by ordir as they sitten in the hevene . . . and so furth by ordir, planete after planete in houre after houre, all the nyght longe til the sonne arise . . . And in this manere succedith planete under planete fro Saturne unto the mone, and fro the mone up ageyn to Saturne, houre after houre generaly. And thus knowe I this conclusyon. (2.12.1–​3, 18–​22, 33–​36, 39–​43)59

Once again, Chaucer’s use of repetition here is as much a function of astronomical form as of pedagogical technique. Rhythm, as Levine writes, “is . . . a category that always already refuses the distinction between aesthetic form and other forms of lived experience,”60 and here we see Chaucer’s language blurring that distinction in the way his repetitive language strives not simply to instruct but also to match the regular patterns of heaven: the motion of the sun as it moves “upper and upper,” the “downer and downer” trajectory of its nadir, and the orderly turn of “planete after planete in houre after houre.”

“All the world”: Nonhierarchical Binaries, or The Equinox Effect Circularity, regularity, repetition, rhythm:  these intrinsic aspects of the medieval cosmos do not change the fact that the Middle Ages understood the heavens as nothing if not a hierarchy. Indeed, hierarchy  –​the only one of Levine’s forms I  have not yet discussed  –​was an inviolable first

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principle of medieval celestial science. It was central to astronomy, especially in terms of its careful ordering of the spheres; it was even more so to astrology, what with its language of ascendancy, dignity, exaltation, and rule. Paradoxically, the constant rotation of the heavens as revealed by their corresponding parts on the astrolabe only makes that hierarchy more evident. To borrow Chaucer’s own terms from the passage just quoted above, that which is “upper” is only so because something else is “downer”; a star can only wax powerful over human affairs because another’s influence has waned. And yet, as I  want to suggest in this final section, the Treatise is perhaps at its most imaginative, and about human affairs in particular, at precisely those moments when Chaucer describes hierarchy’s opposite: equivalence, or what we could think of as the “equinox effect,” given the way the passages in question refer to that particular form of celestial balance. Outlining the changes in medieval theories of balance over the century preceding Chaucer’s own, Joel Kaye notes a fundamental shift whereby “relational thinking replaces hierarchical thinking,” a shift that appears to have left its mark on the Treatise as well.61 We have already seen how in the Prologue Chaucer declares the functional equivalence of Middle English to other languages in which astrolabic knowledge has been conveyed, “right as diverse pathes leden diverse folk the righte way to Rome” (Pro. 39–​40). “[S]‌uffise to the these trewe conclusions in Englissh,” he assures Lowys, “as wel as sufficith to these noble clerkes Grekes these same conclusions in Grek; and to Arabiens in Arabik, and to Jewes in Ebrew, and to Latyn folk in Latyn” (Pro. 28–​33). This is a striking example of what Gila Aloni and Shirley Sharon-​Zisser call “horizontal multilingualism,” and Jenna Mead is likewise right to note the way the passage seems to “argue for a notion of cultural value . . . that is neither confined to nor contained by a hierarchical notion of language.”62 This does not mean, however, that Chaucer is not highly aware that the social and political hierarchies of his time and place are intimately tied to questions of language. After all, it is only just shortly after this celebration of linguistic equivalence that he pointedly celebrates “the king, that is lord of this langage [Middle English], and alle that him feith berith and obeieth, everich in his degre, the more and the lasse,” and represents himself as a potentially suspect “usurpe[r],” presumably (or so he implies) for daring to overturn Latin’s status as the language of scientific discourse in favor of “myn Englissh” (Pro. 56–59, 63). Human hierarchies, in other words –​including not only Chaucer’s subject position before the king, but also his paternal pose toward Lowys –​ exert their pressures on the shape of the Treatise every bit as much as do

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celestial ones. But despite the containing pressures of political and familial structures, as well as the geographical and linguistic constraints of “oure orizonte” and “myn Englissh” (Pro. 9, 63),  there are nevertheless a few places in the Treatise where those limits lift, and the twin concepts of “more and . . . lasse” briefly disappear (Pro. 58–59). The first of these is in Part 1, in the middle of the discussion of the tropics and the equinoctial, some of which I elided in my quotation of it above in order to discuss it more fully here. Between the explanations of the two tropics, Chaucer, again translating directly from Sacrobosco, describes the way the equinoctial divides the celestial sphere “in two like partyes evene distantz fro the poles of this world” (1.17.43–​44). As the sun travels the ecliptic and intersects with this circle, also known as the “girdel [belt, Sacrobosco’s cingulus] of the firste moeving [Primum Mobile]” (1.17.41), the equinoctial operates as the “weyer [scale, Sacrobosco’s equator] of the day” (1.17.21). “[F]‌or,” Chaucer explains, “whan the sonne is in the hevedes [first degree] of Aries and Libra, than ben the dayes and the nights ylike of lengthe in all the world” (1.17.21–​24), or as Sacrobosco puts it, “est equinoctium in universa terra” [there is equinox the world over].63 Dolores Frese finds this image of “cosmic textual equilibrium” central to the poetics of The Canterbury Tales, given the appearance of Aries (“the Ram”) in the General Prologue and that of Libra at the outset of the Parson’s Prologue (i.8, x.11).64 But for my purposes here, just as or even more interesting are the phrase’s last three words, in Latin and English alike. The De sphaera’s subject (the whole earthly sphere) makes it seem only natural that an explanation of the balanced form (i.e. equal duration) of day and night at the equinox would lead to some contemplation of the situation “in universa terra.” In the context of the Treatise, however, it is as if the medieval Latin source, with its focus on what Levine, relying herself in part on astronomical theory, would call the “nonhierarchical binaries” of day and night,65 has operated like a key unlocking the door of “oure orizonte,” widening the Middle English work’s originally narrower purview so as now to include “all the world.” It is to this wider gaze that Chaucer returns in Part 2 at that section’s own midpoint, in a proposition that turns from cosmography to geography. In 2.21, following Messahalla, Chaucer explains how to read the face of an astrolabe in order to know where on the earth it was made to be used (by counting the almucantars –​arcs measuring altitude above the horizon –​marked on the plate between the equinoctial line and the zenith). What in Messahalla appears as “Si uis scire ad quam latitudinem facta sit tabula almucantheralis” [If you want to know the latitude for which an almucantheral tablet (i.e., plate) has been constructed],66 becomes, in the

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Treatise, a direction for how to “knowe for what latitude in eny regioun the almykenteras of eny table ben compowned” (2.21). Chaucer’s additions of “eny regioun” and “eny table” into his translation are small ones, probably meant to render Messahalla even more explicit as to how an astrolabe’s form reveals where it will best function. That Chaucer, however, immediately follows this conclusion with another, not in Messahalla, in which he instructs Lowys how to “knowe in speciall the latitude of oure countre, I mene after the latitude of Oxenford” (2.22), suggests his awareness of the leap the previous exercise takes toward universality, beyond the bounds of particular place and instrument on which the Prologue so firmly insists. But for all his renewed emphasis here on “oure orisonte” (2.22.2–​3) –​indeed, the possessive “oure” appears eleven times in this proposition, more than in any other part of the work –​by the end of the exercise Chaucer turns again from geographic specificity to universality, acknowledging that “this shorte rule is soth, that the latitude of eny place in a regioun is the distaunce fro the cenyth [of the astrolabe] unto the equinoxiall” (2.22.18–​20). Any place, not just this one; a region, not just ours; in this way, this passage marks a subtle shift in the Treatise’s attentions and thus also, we might say, in its formal commitments to bounded wholes and hierarchies –​especially the solipsistic hierarchy vis-​à-​vis the rest of the world implied in the direction “us-​ward,” the striking term with which, in the passage about the tropics, Chaucer translates Sacrobosco’s “a nobis” and “ad nobis” to describe the revolution of the sun (1.17.13, 1.17.54).67 For though it does not quite take what Thomas Nagel has called the wholly objective “view from nowhere,”68 here the Treatise does turn its attention elsewhere, or, better, them-​ward. “[T]‌he latitude of eny place in a regioun is verrely the space bytwixe the cenyth of hem that dwellen there and the equinoxiall cercle north or south,” Chaucer explains in a subsequent exercise (2.25.1–​4), drawing upon a passage from Messahalla that makes a much more elliptical reference to human inhabitants when it advises that “altitudo regionis sit latitudo cenith capitum ab equinoctiali circulo uersus septentrionalem vel meridiem” [the latitude of a region is the altitude of the zenith of the heads from the equinoctial circle towards the north or south].69 While Chaucer here again elaborates on Messahalla by providing a personal example in reference to “the latitude of Oxenford” and “[m]y sonne [sun]” (2.25.26–​27, 39), the effect now is less that of egocentric retreat than an invitation for Lowys to turn an objective eye upon Oxford as an example of “eny place,” and upon himself as one of the many “that dwellen there.” To take this perspective, however, as the very next proposition makes clear, also depends upon exchanging one material form for another. It requires putting aside the flat plane of the astrolabe in favor of the

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three-​dimensional “spere solide”  (2.26.1), an instrument Chaucer also refers to in the section on the tropics (1.17.19–​20) –​unsurprisingly, since both propositions have Sacrobosco’s De sphaera as their source. The turn from Messahalla to Sacrobosco again produces a shift away from Oxford to “diverse places” (2.26.3) –​all the way, in fact, to the equator: Ferther-​over, they seyn that in thilke cuntrey where as the senith of hem that dwellen there is in the equinoxial lyne, and her orisonte passyng by the two poles of this world, thilke folk han this right cercle and the right orisonte; and evermore the arch of the day and the arch of the night is there ilike longe; and the sonne twies every yer passing thorugh the cenith of hir heed, and two someres and two wynters in a yer han these forseide peple. (2.26.11–​21)

While this is little more than a direct translation of Sacrobosco, who attends thoroughly in almost identical terms to “illis quorum zenith est in equinoctiali” [those whose zenith is in the equinoctial],70 its inclusion in the Treatise places Chaucer squarely in the long tradition of those interested in what Alfred Hiatt calls the “blank spaces of the earth” and the people who might reside there.71 And just as 2.26 asks Lowys to think beyond his own horizon to “thilke cuntrey” at the equator and its inhabitants, so somewhat analogously is it one of the rare places in the work outside the Prologue in which Chaucer acknowledges other writers and their books; while not referring explicitly to Sacrobosco, he attributes the information he presents here to “[t]‌hese auctours” and the things that “they seyn” (2.26.5, 11). Despite Chaucer’s apparent interest in this material, most scribes of the Treatise seem to have felt that the passage he produced in response did not quite fit the form or the function of the work as they understood it. For while it appears in what is considered one of the manual’s best exemplars, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 619, as well as another derived from it, British Library Additional MS 29250, and while “the connection of sense requires it,” as John Reidy observes in his notes for The Riverside Chaucer, the other twenty-​three manuscripts that contain 2.26 omit the entire first clause as quoted above, everything from “Ferther-​over” through “right orisonte.”72 Eric Hayot argues that “form . . . determines the horizon of a work’s world-​ imagination,” providing the edges of its diegetic space.73 But the horizon of a work also determines its form, and in this case we could say that in its fullest version, the “world-​imagination” of the Treatise, in striving for what Anna Henchman calls the impossible task of “reach[ing] around the astronomical horizon of the earth,”74 seems to have violated the formal sensibilities of many of Chaucer’s earliest readers, leading them to produce what looks very much like a willed erasure of “her,” their, “orisonte”(2.26.14), awkward though the subsequent reference to “these forseide peple” then becomes (2.26.20–​21).

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But even Chaucer himself –​if we ascribe the entirety of 2.26 to his original intentions –​does not tarry long in contemplation of the nonhierarchical binaries to which he was apparently led by De sphaera. “[H]‌ierarchies,” Levine writes, “often go awry or are rerouted, and they can activate surprising and sometimes even progressive effects.”75 I have suggested as much here by exploring the way that the Treatise’s attention to the hierarchies of the cosmos led Chaucer away from the astrolabe to the sphere, from the flat to the round, from the closed to the open, and, or so I have implied, to the socio-​culturally progressive outlook that such shifts in his formal attention might suggest. But such a reading can only go so far. Just a few propositions later, and once more following Messahalla,76 Chaucer explains how to turn the astrolabe into a compass in order to “knowe justly the 4 quarters of the world” (2.29). This global imaginary, however, is worlds away from the unhierarchical passages about the equinox and the meridian that rely on Sacrobosco. Rather than expanding the user’s worldview, this exercise instead uses the astrolabe very much to center him, materially as well as figuratively, back at home: Take than thin Astrelabie with bothe hondes sadly [firmly] and slighly [carefully], and let the sonne shyne thorugh bothe holes of thy rule, and slighly in thilke shynyng lat thin Astrelabie kouche adoun evene upon a smothe ground, and than wol the verrey lyne meridional of thin Astrelabie lye evene south, and the est lyne wol lye est, and the west lyne west, and the north lyne north, so that thou worke softly [gently] and avysely [carefully] in the kouching. And thus hast thou the 4 quarters of the firmament. (2.29.16–​27)

This activity is all about the making of formal equivalence:  the user must position the astrolabe so that two of the lines inscribed upon it, the intersecting meridian and east-​west line, overlap exactly the imaginary lines of cardinal direction stretching across the “smothe ground” from directly underneath it, an early version of what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have called the “striation” or “gridding” of “smooth space” in the cartographic age.77 The sets of matching lines re-​ground Lowys’ celestial desires, extending them across the earth into an imagined possession (“hast thou”) bounded only by the “4 quarters of the firmament,” which is also to say not bounded at all. Yet in its repeated advice to work “sadly and slighly,” “slighly,” and “softly and avysely,” a somewhat anxious tripling of Messahalla’s single “caute” [carefully], the exercise creates an image less of someone searching for dominion than clinging to his astrolabe for dear life just before he sets it down so that it may once again act as a weighty brass anchor, tethering him to his place in the cosmos.

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It is somewhat tempting to read this literally grounded moment as the obverse of Troilus’ final release into the eighth sphere from the “litel spot of erthe that with the se /​Embraced is,” a relatively unbounded position from which he can look down upon the “erratik sterres” (the wandering planets) and hear their resounding “hevenyssh melodie” (V.1815–​16, 1812–​13)  –​as close, it seems, as a pagan soul can get to the perfectly “[u]ncircumscript” but “al . . . circumscriv[ing]” form of Christian divinity, one undreamed of in “payens corsed olde rites” and “the forme of olde clerkis speche /​In poetrie” (V.1865, 1849, 1854–​55). But in the larger context that is the “forme” of Chaucer’s own speech in the (prose) Treatise on the Astrolabe –​a form dependent, as much if not more so than the Troilus, on other “olde clerkis” –​ we should I think see this moment for what it really is: just a brief stop on the way back to the heavens, part of that continual, oscillating movement between spaces, places, and times that “the sterres in [Lowys’] Astrelabie” (2.34.12–​13) and the forms of the Treatise both promise and demand.

Notes This chapter is dedicated to the memory of Claire Sponsler, who so kindly encouraged its beginning. I  warmly thank Christopher Cannon, Seb Falk, Caroline Levine, Jamie Taylor, and Elly Truitt for their generous reading and advice. For support of my research I  thank the University of Wisconsin-​ Madison’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 1 Space prevents discussion of the possible meanings of literary, but it is generally true that the Treatise has not been suggested as a good example of any of them. Celebratory approaches to the work’s didacticism include Thomas J.  Jambeck and Karen K. Jambeck, “Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe: A Handbook for the Medieval Child,” Children’s Literature 3 (1974): 117–​122; Sigmund Eisner, “Chaucer as a Technical Writer,” The Chaucer Review 19.3 (1985): 179–​201; Sigmund Eisner and Marijane Osborn, “Chaucer as Teacher: Chaucer’s A Treatise on the Astrolabe,” in Medieval Literature for Children, ed. Daniel T. Kline (New York: Routledge, 2003), 155–​187; Peter J. Hager and Ronald J. Nelson, “Chaucer’s A Treatise on the Astrolabe: A 600-​year-​old Model for Humanizing Technical Documents,” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 36.2 (1993): 87. 2 For an overview of an astrolabe’s parts and operation keyed to the Treatise see J. D. North, Chaucer’s Universe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 38–​86; and the copious notes in Sigmund Eisner, ed., A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. vi: The Prose Treatises, Part i: A Treatise on the Astrolabe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002).

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3 All citations of Chaucer’s work are to The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). As Chaucer’s authorship of 2.41–​46 of the Treatise (the so-​called “Supplementary Propositions”) is uncertain, I have largely refrained from taking them into consideration here. Lowys’ identity has generated much debate; for an overview see Eisner, Variorum, 12–​15; and for Lowys’ thematic significance, see Seth Lerer, “Chaucer’s Sons,” University of Toronto Quarterly 73 (2004): 906–​915. Throughout this chapter I use “Lowys” as a figure for the Treatise’s generally implied reader. 4 MED, s.v. verrei (adj.). 5 Erin Felicia Labbie, Lacan’s Medievalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 169. For readings of The Canterbury Tales in light of astrolabic science in general and the Treatise in particular, see Dolores Warwick Frese, An Ars Legendi for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: Re-​Constructive Reading (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1991), 141–​193; Marijane Osborn, Time and the Astrolabe in The Canterbury Tales (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002); North, Chaucer’s Universe; Chauncy Wood, Chaucer and the Country of the Stars: Poetic Uses of Astrological Imagery (Princeton University Press, 1970). 6 Andrew Cole, “Chaucer’s English Lesson,” Speculum 77, no. 4  (October 2002):  1128–​ 1167; Jenna Mead, “Reading by Said’s Lantern:  Orientalism and Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe,” Medieval Encounters 5, no. 3 (November  1999):  350–​ 357; Lerer, “Chaucer’s Sons”; J.  Allan Mitchell, Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 55–​ 57; Labbie, Lacan’s Medievalism, 146–​189, esp.  164–​ 176. See also Jenna Mead, “Geoffrey Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe,” Literature Compass 3, no. 5 (September 1, 2006): 973–​991. 7 Christopher Cannon, From Literacy to Literature: England, 1300–​1400 (Oxford University Press, 2016), 85–​124, esp. 100–​111. 8 The use of the term “spider” for the rete is as old as the astrolabe itself; see Paul Kunitzsch, “Observations on the Arabic Reception of the Astrolabe,” in The Arabs and the Stars: Texts and Traditions on the Fixed Stars, and their Influence in Northern Europe (Northampton, MA: Variorum Reprints, 1989), item vii, 248. On the typical use of aranea (spider web) for the rete in Latin texts, see Eisner, Variorum, 116n99. 9 Cannon, From Literacy to Literature, 105. 10 Caroline Levine, Forms:  Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton University Press, 2015), 21. 11 North, Chaucer’s Universe, 8, insists that the technical Treatise belongs more to the mathematical discipline of astronomy than the natural philosophy of cosmology, two separate if at times overlapping fields of inquiry in the Middle Ages; here and throughout, however, I take the view that Chaucer’s manual has a cosmological as well as astronomical purpose. 12 Bruce S.  Eastwood, “Early-​ Medieval Cosmology, Astronomy, and Mathematics,” in The Cambridge History of Science, ed. David C.  Lindberg and Michael H. Shank, vol. 2, Medieval Science (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 302–​309. On the music of the spheres, see for example Chaucer’s own reference in the Parliament of Fowls, ll. 59–​63.

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13 Cannon, From Literacy to Literature, 103. 14 The term “outlier” as a description of the Treatise was used by J. Allan Mitchell in his scintillating plenary lecture for the 2015 London Biennial Chaucer Conference (“Chaucer’s Translation Machine, or Astrolabes and Augmented Bodies of Science” [English Institute, London, July 10, 2015]). Though I disagree with Mitchell on this point, in fact our arguments about the Treatise are complementary, and I thank him for sharing the text of his paper with me. 15 On the interrelation of Chaucerian form and subjectivity, see among many Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 137–​155; Rosemarie P.  McGerr, Chaucer’s Open Books:  Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse (Gainesville:  University Press of Florida, 1998), esp. 154–​157; A. C. Spearing, Textual Subjectivity: The Encoding of Subjectivity in Medieval Narratives and Lyrics (Oxford University Press, 2005), 83–​87. 16 John Lydgate, Fall of Princes, ed. Henry Bergen, 4  vols., EETS e.s. 121–​124 (London: Oxford University Press, 1924–​1927; rpt. 1967), vol. i, Prologue, l. 9 and ll. 294–​301. 17 On the possibility that the terms instead refer to cosmic elements, see Edgar Laird, “Geoffrey Chaucer and Other Contributors to the Treatise on the Astrolabe,” in Rewriting Chaucer:  Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400–​1602, ed. Thomas A.  Prendergast and Barbara Kline (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999), 154. 18 On ascendents, see North, Chaucer’s Universe, 64–​65. Chaucer’s apparent skepticism about astrology does not keep him from providing instruction in calculations probably meant for predictive use; see 2.19, 2.28, 2.36–​37, and North, Chaucer’s Universe, 83–​85. For a brief introduction to judicial astrology, see Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power:  Astrology in Early Modern England (Princeton University Press, 1989), 8–​15. 19 Laird, “Contributors,” 152, 155. On houses and dignities, see North, Chaucer’s Universe, 195–​198, J. C. Eade, The Forgotten Sky: A Guide to Astrology in English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 41–​51, 59–​88. 20 On the Wycliffite linguistic politics of these terms in the 1380s and 1390s, see Cole, “Chaucer’s English Lesson,” 1141–​1153. On the ordinatio of Chaucer’s treatise, see Laird, “Contributors,” 148. 21 Cole, “Chaucer’s English Lesson,” 1141; on “naked words,” see 1141–​1148. Seb Falk, “Improving Instruments: Equatoria, Astrolabes, and the Practices of Monastic Astronomy in Late Medieval England” (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge  University, 2016), questions Cole’s argument for the direct influence of the Wycliffite General Prologue of 1395–​1397 upon the almost certainly earlier Treatise, but acknowledges that “the exegetical turns of phrase [the manual] incorporates were already in the air by the early 1390s” (82–​83, quotation at 83). 22 Carol S. Lipson, “Descriptions and Instructions in Medieval Times: Lessons to Be Learnt from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Scientific Instruction Manual,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 12 (1982): 248–249. 23 Mitchell, Becoming Human, 56. 24 On affordances, see Levine, Forms, 6–​11.

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25 John North, “Astronomy and Astrology,” in Medieval Science, ed. Lindberg and Shank, 464–466. 26 J. A.  W. Bennett, Chaucer at Oxford and at  Cambridge (Oxford University Press, 1974), 33, notes that an almost identical phrase is used to describe the scholar Nicholas’ astrological competency (or his limitations thereof ) in the Miller’s Tale; Nicholas, we are told, “koude a certeyn of conclusiouns” (i.3193). 27 My reference is to Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); White argues that the form of any narrative is itself a kind of content (xi). 28 My discussion here complements that of Labbie, Lacan’s Medievalism, 167–​168. 29 Eisner, Variorum, 310n1308. 30 On the manuscripts and their relation, see Catherine Eagleton and Matthew Spencer, “Copying and Conflation in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe:  A Stemmatic Analysis Using Phylogenetic Software,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 37 (2006): 237–​268; they add two manuscripts to the descriptive list in Eisner, Variorum, 48–​81. 31 Laird, “Contributors,” 153; see also Eagleton and Spencer, “Copying and Conflation,” 259–​261. 32 Labbie, Lacan’s Medievalism, 172; see also Mitchell, Becoming Human, 56. On astronomical observation and literary point of view in a later era, see Anna Henchman, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature (Oxford University Press, 2014). 33 On the cosmos as itself a body, see Michael Camille, “The Image and the Self: Unwriting Late Medieval Bodies,” in Framing Medieval Bodies, ed. Sarah Kay and Miri Rubin (Manchester University Press, 1994), 64. 34 On networks, see Levine, Forms, 112–​131. 35 The only edition of this work remains R. T. Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla on the Astrolabe (Oxford University Press, 1929): see 195–​231 (Latin) and 137–​ 192 (English). On the misattribution, see Paul Kunitzsch, “On the Authenticity of the Treatise on the Composition and Use of the Astrolabe Ascribed to Messahalla,” in Arabs and the Stars, item X. On Chaucer’s transformation of Messahalla, see Carol Lipson, “ ‘I n’am But a Lewd Compilator’:  Chaucer’s ‘Treatise on the Astrolabe’ as Translation,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 84 (1983): 192–​200. 36 Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 168–​169, 217–​218. 37 Mead, “Reading,” 357; for mater, see Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 217. The mid-​twelfth-​century treatise of Rudolf of Bruges explains that the mater is so called “eo quod infra limbum eius cetere tabule uti filii in utero matris contineantur” [because under its rim the other plates are contained like children in the mother’s womb]; Richard Lorch, “The Treatise on the Astrolabe by Rudolf of Bruges,” in Between Demonstration and Imagination: Essays in the History of Science and Philosophy Presented to John D. North, ed. Lodi Nauta and Arjo Vanderjagt (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 60 (Latin) and 80 (English). 38 Henchman, Starry Sky, 28. 39 The user is told to “loke” at the astrolabe in 2.2.5, 2.15.1, 2.18.3, 2.19.2, 2.30.1, 2.32.11, at the sky in 2.15.2 and 2.40.77, and at a calendar in 2.32.2.

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40 Edward Grant, “Medieval and Renaissance Scholastic Conceptions of the Influence of the Celestial Region on the Terrestrial,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 17, no. 1 (January 1987): 1–​23; also North, Chaucer’s Universe, 192–​234. On the distinction between the constellations and the signs of the zodiac (the latter marked on the astrolabe), see North, Chaucer’s Universe, 25–​26. 41 North, Chaucer’s Universe, 14. For a fuller discussion of the faculty, see Michelle Karnes, Imagination, Meditation, and Cognition in the Middle Ages (University of Chicago Press, 2011), 23–​62. 42 The concept, known as melothesia, is an ancient one, stretching back to at least the Hellenistic era. See Harry Bober, “The Zodiacal Miniature of the Très Riches Heures of the Duke de Berry: Its Sources and Meaning,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 11 (1948): 2. Another useful overview is Charles Clark, “The Zodiac Man in Medieval Medical Astrology,” Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association 3 (1982): 13–​38. For examples, see Anniina Jokinen, “Zodiac Man:  Man as Microcosm,” Luminarium, last modified April 13, 2012, www.luminarium.org/​encyclopedia/​zodiacman.htm. 43 Lynn Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its Commentators (University of Chicago Press, 1949), 87 (Latin), 125 (English). On Chaucer’s use of Sacrobosco here and elsewhere, see S. W. Harvey, “Chaucer’s Debt to Sacrobosco,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 34 (1935):  34–​38; also North, Chaucer’s Universe, 7–​8, 83n37; Eisner, Variorum, 20–​21. 44 George Ovitt, Jr., “History, Technical Style, and Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe,” in Creativity and the Imagination: Case Studies from the Classical Age to the Twentieth Century, Studies in Science and Culture 3, ed. Mark Amsler (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 48 and 50. 45 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS lat. 11229, fol. 45r; see Camille, “The Image,” 67–​68. 46 Jason Stanley, Know How (Oxford University Press, 2011), 97. 47 On the debate, see Jeremy Fantl, “Knowing-​ How and Knowing-​ That,” Philosophy Compass 3, no. 3 (May 1, 2008): 451–​470. 48 For all word counts in Chaucer’s corpus I am indebted to Gerard NeCastro’s eChaucer “Chaucer Concordance,” formerly available at https://​machias.edu/​ faculty/​necastro/​chaucer/​concordance/​. 49 Cannon, From Literacy to Literature, 108. 50 Labbie, Lacan’s Medievalism, 171. 51 Cannon, From Literacy to Literature, 99, 110. 52 On equal and unequal hours and the (optical, not actual) phenomenon of retrogradation, see North, Chaucer’s Universe, 76–​79, 138; Eade, Forgotten Sky, 95, 31–​32. 53 Augustine, Sancti Augustini Confessionum libri XIII, ed. L.  Verheijen OSA, Corpus Christianorum series Latina 27 (Turnhout:  Brepols, 1981), xi.15.20, with translation from Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford University Press, 1991), 232; Carolyn Dinshaw, How Soon is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 2012), 2.

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54 Dinshaw, How Soon is Now?, 2. 55 Margaret Schlauch reads the Treatise as the least rhythmic of Chaucer’s prose works; see her “Chaucer’s Prose Rhythms,” PMLA 65, no. 4 (June 1950): 584 and 589. 56 For the passage in Messahalla, see Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 217 (Latin), 168 (English); on the use of De sphaera here, see Harvey, “Chaucer’s Debt,” 36; and for the relevant passages, see Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco, 92  (Latin), 127  (English) (the tropics) and 86  (Latin), 123 (English) (the equinoctial). 57 Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 219 (Latin) and 171 (English). 58 On Chaucer’s narrativizing of personal experience in 2.3 and elsewhere, see Cannon, From Literacy to Literature, 108–​109. 59 On the planetary hours, see North, Chaucer’s Universe, 78–​79. 60 Levine, Forms, 53. 61 Joel Kaye, A History of Balance, 1250–​1375: The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and its Impact on Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014), 7. 62 Gila Aloni and Shirley Sharon-​Zisser, “Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Lyne Oriental’: Mediterranean and Oriental Languages in the Treatise on the Astrolabe,” Mediterranean Historical Review 16 (2001): 74; Mead, “Reading,” 355. 63 The corresponding passage in De sphaera is Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco, 86 (Latin), 123 (English); see also 102 (Latin), 133 (English). 64 Frese, Ars Legendi, 182; see also Osborn, Time and the Astrolabe, 62–​63. On the imprecision of Chaucer’s astrological references at these points, see Riverside Chaucer, 799nn7–​8, 955nn10–​11. 65 Levine, Forms, 84. 66 Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 223–​224 (Latin) and 179 (English). 67 Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco, 92 (Latin), 127 (English). 68 Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 1986); discussed in Henchman, Starry Sky, 10 and 39–​47. 69 Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 223 (Latin) and 178–​179 (English). 70 Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco, 104 (Latin), 134 (English). 71 Alfred Hiatt, “Blank Spaces on the Earth,” The Yale Journal of Criticism 15, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 223–​250; on the place of Sacrobosco’s De sphaera in the tradition see 233, and on the medieval tendency to consider unknown lands in terms of equivalence, see 248. Mitchell’s “Chaucer’s Translation Machine” keynote also touched on Chaucer’s “hypothetical projections of a virtual self through foreign lands.” 72 Riverside Chaucer, 1100 and 1196; Eisner, Variorum, 253n935–​39; see also North, Chaucer’s Universe, 83n37. 73 Eric Hayot, On Literary Worlds (Oxford University Press, 2012), 180. 74 Henchman, Starry Sky, 37. 75 Levine, Forms, 85. 76 Gunther, Chaucer and Messahalla, 222 (Latin) and 177 (English). 77 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus:  Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Masumi (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 478–​480.

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Ch apter 6

The Heaviness of Prosopopoeial Form in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess Julie Orlemanski

Can form be heavy? As the hylomorphic counterpart to matter, form tends to mean shape or pattern. It is the interrelation of substantial components, distinct from the components themselves. Although form never appears alone and unmaterialized, reference to something’s form posits that form’s distinguishability from the substance it shapes. And this positing, in turn, accomplishes a great deal, making abstraction and repetition possible. The medium of writing, for instance, works by an implicit claim to form. Alphabetic script renders messages iterable across various material instantiations:  it is communication’s formalization that loosens it from any particular speaking body, or autograph rendering, and allows a text to circulate. Formalization enables a single word, like “now,” to refer to any number of points in time and “I” to attach to each and every speaker. Given form’s mobile replicability, its agile proliferation, “heavy” form sounds like an impossibility. Yet it is just this impossibility that Geoffrey Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess explores, in its inset narrative of Ceyx and Alcione. There the poet-​figure Morpheus is compelled to bind language’s quicksilver forms to sodden flesh. In this chapter I explore why Chaucer altered his sources to insist on the imagery of heaviness, descent, and dead weight, and why, by the time Ceyx declares, “ ‘For certes, swete, I am but ded,’ ” the deictic forms of linguistic personhood have been made to assume extraordinary bodily heft.1 My claim is that the poem’s idiosyncratic rendering of the Ovidian story acts to constrain language’s power to raise the dead, that is, its capacity for prosopopoeia, bestowing voice and embodiment to what lacks it, rhetorically inventing a mask or face.2 The Book of the Duchess abandons the formalist virtuosity attributed to Morpheus in Chaucer’s sources, by Ovid and Guillaume de Machaut, where the god readily assumes anyone’s shape. The Morpheus that Chaucer inherited was a personification of form’s unrestricted freedom, according to which, whether Ceyx was alive or drowned, it was just as easy for a dream to conjure him or for the medium of writing 125

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to set forth his words. Chaucer’s poem, in contrast to his sources and to the models of elegiac poetry immediately available to him, emphasizes the mismatch between language’s formal power and mortality’s intractable losses. When Ceyx speaks from the far side of the grave in The Book of the Duchess, his “I” is disrupted and rendered strange by the fleshly weight it is made to assume, a weight that is part of Chaucer’s experimentation with what a death-​bound poetics might be. While my argument in this chapter focuses on The Book of the Duchess, I want at the outset to suggest a broader context for prosopopoeial heaviness in the Chaucerian corpus, which resonates with the themes of this volume as a whole  –​namely, Chaucer’s career-​long interest in literary ontology, or the modes of being proper to literary entities. His poetry gestures again and again to literary ontologies that lie beyond formalization, modes of literary being that can be organized under the rubrics of reception and reference. Here, briefly, is what those terms encompass. To regard a text in terms of reception means treating it as an interface, charged with the contingency of use. Poems happen, and this happening takes place when formal linguistic and literary attributes –​the forms of letters and words, meters and tropes –​are encountered and interpreted by audiences, who are themselves embodied and situated. Regarded this way, verses are props for specific acts of thinking; they operate probabilistically, seeking to steer the production of meaning but incapable of generating it mechanically.3 Chaucer’s writings often remark reception’s irreducibility to any received text, for instance by staging characters’ idiosyncratic or divergent interpretive responses. In one of Chaucer’s many portrayals of “bad reading,” the narrator of The Book of the Duchess gives a comically tendentious construal of Ceyx and Alcione, adopting it as a how-​to manual for curing insomnia. The passage juxtaposes a literary work and the work’s wayward uptake, foregrounding the unpredictable play between a text and the meaning it assumes. Since a text cannot capture its own reception (which necessarily lies outside the elements on the page), Chaucer’s metapoetic episodes –​from the Parliament of Fowls’ oneiric Scipio to the Canterbury pilgrims’ contentious quyting –​stage the ontological distinction between text and reception, so as to exemplify how much can change when literary form becomes meaningful for someone. A second delimiting of literary form looks at texts in terms of reference, with a focus on the entities, situations, and worlds to which literature refers. Reference, or designation, is how language traffics with things outside it, and to take literary reference seriously is to entertain the ontological claims even of fictional referents.4 As the promiscuous circulation

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of literary personages like King Arthur, Reynard the Fox, Piers Plowman, Criseyde, and Dido suggests, the existence of fictional referents is irreducible to any formalizable text.5 They have a liveliness within tradition and individual imagination that goes beyond their textual determination. Cognitively, to begin to picture someone –​to join a name to sensory qualities and recognitive durability –​is already to charge this someone with counterfactual potential, to make her imaginable otherwise. Chaucer’s poetry emphasizes such ontological potency, as when in the House of Fame Dido steps forth from the tablets of brass, to offer testimony at odds with the inscribed Virgilian epic. This epic prompts Dido’s appearance but fails to exhaust her existence. The Chaucerian topos of pity for literary figures also emphasizes the vigor of these figures’ referential claims –​and readerly affect might be understood as the place where reception and referentiality cross, in literature’s most volatile surplus to form. In The Book of the Duchess, it is the “sorwe” of Alcione –​a character of “romance” (48) and “fables” (52) –​that shapes the narrator’s waking life “al the morwe,” since “trewly I, that made this book, /​Had such pitee and such rowthe /​To rede hir sorwe” (96–​99). These lines track a causal chain from the inner recesses of fiction –​from a “romance” queen in a mythic “tale” –​all the way to the present reality of the reader, who holds “this book,” ostensibly “made” by the author-​narrator. Literature does not exist only as transmissible forms but passes beyond them, into those entities to which language refers and the variable meanings and affects they inspire. Chaucer’s interest in the limits of literary form offers matter for reflection to self-​described formalist scholarship today. After all, in contemporary literary studies what is at stake in calling oneself a formalist is not whether or not one analyzes language closely: New Criticism’s enduring legacy to the discipline is that attentiveness to the structure and patterning of literary artifacts is now a constitutive expectation in the field.6 It rather seems that present claims to formalism use “form” to organize and name the discipline’s proper object of study, with the form in question belonging to the literary artifact:  the form of a lyric, the structure of a narrative, the disposition of elements on a manuscript page.7 What is striking about Chaucer’s metapoetic vignettes is their insistence that poetry’s modes of being are not exhausted by form, and that reception and reference constitutively and unpredictably exceed the formalized text. An ontologically mixed and contested zone opens up between writing’s signifiers and the signification that they actually assume. Of course Chaucer’s self-​reflexive vignettes are only interpretable because they have been formalized in language and introjected into the poetry that survives for us to read. In this

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way, they rely on form even as they subvert its totalizing aspirations and its semblance of autonomy, which are given emblematic expression in the famous formalist lines, “A poem should not mean /​But be.”8 Chaucer, by contrast, acknowledges that literary being also inheres in meaning and in referents that subsist in partial independence from poetry’s replicable components. The Book of the Duchess is a work particularly concerned with how literary form relates itself to death, the departed, and the mourning their loss incites. Long accepted as Chaucer’s first major narrative poem, it tells the story of a sleepless narrator who one night reads a tale, falls asleep, and dreams. The tale concerns a faithful queen, Alcione, and how she learns of the death of her husband, Ceyx. After reading the Ovidian story, the narrator falls asleep, book in hand, and wakes into a dream-​world where he comes upon a despondent knight, who mourns the death of his beloved, White. The poem allusively identifies this knight as John of Gaunt, one of the most powerful noblemen in England, and the knight’s lady as John’s deceased wife, Blanche of Lancaster, who died of plague in 1368.9 When the Black Knight finally announces White’s death with great literalness –​“ ‘She ys ded!’ ” (1309)  –​the dream-​vision dissolves, and the narrator awakes. Precisely what The Book of the Duchess means has exercised readers for many years, but it is safe to say that it cultivates its implications through a crisscrossing pattern of comparison among its various couples: Ceyx and Alcione, the Black Knight and White, the Black Knight and the narrator, John of Gaunt and Blanche. Similarly, it makes a series of speculative connections across its several layers of reality: the fictional world of pagan literature, the dreamscape of the narrator’s slumber, the narrator’s waking reality where he ostensibly writes the poem at hand, the extra-​textual relations of Geoffrey Chaucer, John of Gaunt, and Blanche, and, finally, the reader’s own experience of the text. It is a poem concerned with ontological nesting and with the lines of effectivity that cross from one mode of being to another. And this makes it an ideal laboratory in which to pursue questions concerning the fractured ontologies of literature. The generic conventions of The Book of the Duchess are many, but the poem draws most directly on the French dits amoureux, the first-​person, highly reflexive narrative poems of love by writers like Guillaume de Machaut and Jean Froissart. Yet its central project is elegiac, addressing a specific person’s death and the mourning this death entails –​a topic that has no precedent in the dits. In an important article, Ardis Butterfield contrasts The Book of the Duchess to a set of elegiac poems that are likely to have been known by Chaucer, all with direct connections to the families of

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Blanche and John of Gaunt. As she notes, these other elegies are overtly public, commenting on patronal support and sharing a “direct, even crudely explicit, social function.”10 By contrast, Chaucer’s poem avoids obvious occasionality and responds to Blanche’s demise with indirection, in terms of private grief. It fosters a hushed obscurity around death, an attitude with no precedent in Chaucer’s French sources.11 In a work that addresses the transience of earthly things, it is even more remarkable that Chaucer eschews elements of Boethian and Christian consolation. The poem never contrasts mortal life with a scene of a greater stability: unlike Pearl, for instance, there is no heavenly Jerusalem, nor as in Troilus is there a classicized afterlife among the heavenly spheres. There is no purgatory, nor any Boethian approach to providence. It is striking that amidst the poem’s proliferating and enmeshed realms of being there is no locale for the dead to endure. My sense is that the rigor with which The Book of the Duchess excludes the afterlife is a sign of what Chaucer is up to in his eccentric reinvention of elegy and dit. Ceyx is no more, and White is no more –​except as corpse and memory. This creates the conditions for a thought experiment about what it is like really, absolutely to lose the dead. And here my argument for prosopopoeial heaviness returns. To “really lose” the dead within the poetics of elegy means giving up the sufficiency of poetry’s formalist solutions to absence –​most vividly, its ability to summon the departed, to make the absent present to the scene of discourse. This is a power exercised in Chaucer’s sources for Ceyx and Alcione, where the poet-​figure Morpheus perfectly assumes the form of the drowned king. By contrast, in Chaucer’s idiosyncratic rendering of the story, death is made a problem for representation. The incommensurability between the trope of prosopopoeia and the fact of death finds monstrous expression in the body from which Morpheus addresses Alcione. The “I” in which Morpheus speaks is at odds with the corpse it has called up around it –​and two incommensurate realities, that of discourse and of death, interfere with one another across the speech act. In concluding, I will suggest that the narrator’s own dream vision in the latter part of the poem can be understood as a chastened response to the ghastly and paradoxical speech of the earlier, inset tale. It may seem odd to focus so intensely on an episode that makes up just a fraction of The Book of the Duchess, but there is warrant for treating the inset tale as origin and comparanda for the whole. The poem’s final lines explicitly recall the Ovidian text that has given rise to the narrator’s dream:  “the book that I  hadde red, /​Of Alcione and Seys the kyng, /​ And of the goddes of slepyng, /​I  fond hyt in myn hond ful even”

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(1326–​1329). Later documents also indicate the inset story’s importance. The introduction to the Man of Law’s Tale, when recounting Chaucer’s authorial accomplishments, mentions what “In youthe he made of Ceys and Alcione” (II.57).12 In John Lydgate’s enumeration of Chaucer’s works he cites “The pitous story of Ceix and Alcione /​And the deth eek of Blaunche the Duchess,” as though the two topics were equally relevant.13 Recent scholars have also argued for the centrality of the episode. Building upon James Wimsatt’s foundational work, Deanne Williams and Elizaveta Strakhov (among others) have shown the episode’s salience to Chaucer’s complex negotiation of French predecessors and contemporaries.14 John Fyler and Jessica Rosenfeld have explored the prominence of the story in fourteenth-​century poetry,15 where it was a touchstone for exploring the mutuality of love and where Morpheus had the reputation of “an agent of metamorphosis and a figure for the poet.”16 My sense of the episode’s significance is perhaps closest to Robert W. Hanning, who sees the inset story as the “nexus” and “catalyst” for the “two largest subjects” of The Book of the Duchess, “the nature of poetry and problem of grief.”17 As these scholars have recognized, the distinctiveness of Chaucer’s rendition emerges only by comparison with his sources. All medieval versions of the story descend from Ovid’s account in Book xi of the Metamorphoses, but it is not certain that Chaucer worked from the Ovidian text directly. As James Wimsatt and Alastair Minnis point out, he may have encountered the story through the Ovide moralisé.18 Although there are important differences between the French Ovide and the Metamorphoses, the passages that Chaucer relied upon resemble each other closely, and I accordingly quote only from Ovid’s Latin, while providing references to parallel passages in the Ovide moralisé. The most direct source for Chaucer’s treatment is Guillaume de Machaut’s Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse, a highly reflexive love poem featuring an abbreviated version of Ceyx and Alcione in its frame narrative –​a placement repeated by Chaucer. What Ovid and Machaut offered Chaucer in their versions of Sleep and Morpheus was a poetic provocation. In both source texts, the gods of sleep are portrayed as masters of form, and it is Morpheus’ plasticity that allows him to take on the shape of the dead as easily as any other. In these earlier poems Morpheus’ act of prosopopoeia is ultimately successful:  it communicates the news of Ceyx’s death and leads on toward the lovers’ happy reunion when they are transformed into seabirds. Against these authoritative realizations of Morpheus’ formalist power, Chaucer fashions a paradoxical heaviness that weighs down whatever words attempt to speak for the dead.

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To explore this heaviness in The Book of the Duchess, I  first outline the very different portrayals of Morpheus in Ovid and Machaut. In the Metamorphoses, the formalist ingenuity of Sleep and Morpheus is relished in images that play on longstanding classical associations between dreams and literary fictions. When Iris, a messenger from Juno, approaches Ovid’s god of sleep, he lies slumbering, entirely encircled by “empty dreams miming many forms [varias imitantia formas somnia vana]” –​“as many as a harvest’s ears of wheat, as many as the leaves upon the trees, or as the grains of sand cast on the beach.”19 These are Sleep’s children, of whom Morpheus is one. The metapoetic analogy is clear: just as the god is surrounded by the imitative dream-​forms he fathers, so the poet is attended by the incipient and protean fictions he invents. These dream-​forms are depicted as both fecundly numerous, like ripe grain, and also vana, empty or false, a quality captured in the progression of the similes from wheat to barren sand. The poetic and oneiric economies here portrayed are essentially unlimited: unlike the faithful mortal love of Alcione, which insists on the unique value of her beloved, there are no self-​consistent individuals in Sleep’s brood, just ceaseless faculties of change. Morpheus, one of these thousand sons of Sleep, is charged with the vocation of anthropomorphism in particular. He has skill in miming any human form at will. No other Dream can match his artistry in counterfeiting men: their voice, their gait, their face –​their moods; and, too, he imitates their dress precisely and the words they use most frequently. But he mimes only men, for it’s another Dream who can become a quadruped, a bird, a long snake.20

Prosopopoeia is here explicitly thematized: the counterfeiting of people, of their speech and comportment, is this god’s special technique. The rhetorical analogue is again clear, namely, the author’s technical ability to imitate someone’s style. “Miming any human form” is broken down into a number of components  –​voice, gait, face, mood, attire, and diction  –​ which together compose an individual’s distinctive formal repertoire. Poetry, like Morpheus, can ingeniously imitate a rhetorical style, which is analyzable into technical components but produces a total and singular effect. Morpheus commands these abstractable and repeatable patterns, these forms, of persons. Juno instructs Iris that Sleep should “send Alcione a dream (somnia), an image (imagine) that appears in Ceyx’s shape and shows him dead and tells him of his true fate.”21 When Ovid’s Morpheus appears to Alcione, he delivers a speech that, by means of dramatic irony, emphasizes its untruth:  “ ‘It’s I  myself, the one who was shipwrecked, who tell you

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here  –​directly  –​of my death (ipse ego fata tibi praesens mea naufragus edo).”22 Ipse ego: Morpheus flagrantly assumes both bodily form and linguistic persona, and the fact that he is not Ceyx, not actually the one shipwrecked, has no evident effect on his mimesis of the drowned king. With urbane wit, Ovid allows the vain figurations of Morpheus to persuade the faithful lover, opening a pathetic disjunction between Alcione’s perceptions and the reader’s. It also draws a winking contrast between the unfettered economy of poetic making and the narrow straits of erotic fidelity, with its imperative (here, futile) to distinguish the beloved absolutely from all others. Yet Ovid does allow the dream to operate as the first in a series of increasingly authentic reunions between husband and wife: the appearance of Morpheus sub imagine regis is followed the next morning by Alcione’s finding Ceyx’s actual body washed up on the shore, and after this, Ceyx is reanimated when both are transformed into kingfishers in flight. Thus, Ovid has it both ways. He initially emphasizes Morpheus’ formal ingenuity, as an imitator of personal styles, and dramatizes the inauthenticity and irony of the ensuing apparition. Yet Ovid allows this ventriloquism to contribute to a true consolation and ultimate erasure of death, affirming Iris’ claim that by imitation dreams may match and equal true forms (veras aequent imitamine formas).23 In the more condensed version of the story in Machaut’s Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse, Morpheus is likewise portrayed as a virtuoso of forms. He is again described as one of Sleep’s many dream children, who “changed shape as they wished (transmuoient a leur voloir), for they took the forms of people so that, in sleep, through dreams, they appeared in different guises.”24 As in Ovid, emphasis falls on the dreams’ plasticity and the unchecked diversity of their appearance: “Some are hurtful, some difficult; one clear, others obscure; they can speak the language and talk of every land; of water, of fire, of every accident, of iron, of wood they take the form. No other duty is theirs, no other care. They go everywhere.”25 All words and all forms are accessible to these protean fabulators, and death poses no particular problem. In Machaut’s rendering, Juno orders that Sleep “show (moustre) Ceyx the king and the manner of his death” to Alcione, and Sleep then tells Morpheus, “ ‘Go show her in such a way that she sees how Ceyx and his ships were destroyed.’ ”26 Accordingly, Morpheus “assumed the form (prist la forme) of a naked Ceyx, and he was very soaked and drenched; his hair more twisted and plaited than a rope.”27 He goes to Alcione’s bed chamber to address her in the persona of her husband:  “ ‘Dear companion, see here Ceyx,’ ” Morpheus says in the king’s likeness, “‘See how I have no color, no joy, no spirit to accompany me.

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Look at me and remember me.’”28 Machaut is not interested in the sharp irony of Ovid’s portrayal, and instead his emphasis falls on the felicity and power of Morpheus’ imitation. In line with this, Machaut preserves the miraculous transformation of the lovers at the end. As R. Barton Palmer observes, the “metamorphosis is the objective correlative of love’s triumph over fortune,” which Palmer argues is the theme of Machaut’s poem as a whole.29 Once Machaut’s love-​lorn nobleman has concluded his recitation of the Ceyx narrative, he imagines that Morpheus will assume his own shape, in a prosopopoeial plea to his lady: “If Morpheus would go to her five times or six, and firmly exhort her in my shape, one half dead,” then, he predicts, she might yield.30 The idea here, again, is the efficacy of the prosopopoeial imitation, and the “half-​dead” narrator and the drowned Ceyx are equally susceptible to formal reproduction. This endorsement of prosopopoeia assumes even greater weight on account of the Morpheus-​like role of the narrator, who is transcribing (that is, perfectly mimicking the forms of ) the nobleman’s speech. As Laurence de Looze observes, “the Narrator-​as-​ Morpheus figure is not only the transmitter of narrative within the poem, but also the one who transmits the poem and the story of the poem’s genesis to the reader.”31 It is perhaps for this reason –​because “Machaut saw the Morpheus role as embracing the whole of the poem” –​that Machaut’s “other title, perhaps even his preferred one, for the Fonteinne amoureuse was Morpheus.”32 Looking to the end of the Fonteinne, when the noble lover gives thanks to Morpheus, Jessica Rosenfeld notes that “Any happiness here achieved is attributed to the capacity of Morpheus/​the poet to inhabit another’s subjectivity and shape.”33 In both Ovid and Machaut, then, the formal mimicry of dreams is depicted through the lexicon of ingenious reproduction and unlimited proliferation. The dream is a felicitous step in the transcendence of death. It is difficult to conceive of a phantasmal economy more different from the one that Chaucer portrays in his rewriting of Ceyx and Alcione. In The Book of the Duchess, the dream-​work depends on the morbid, conservative resuscitation of perished flesh, rather than Morpheus’ formal powers. The first instance of Chaucer’s transformation of the story comes in the set of instructions for Morpheus that Juno delivers to her messenger: “Sey thus on my half: that he Go faste into the Grete Se, And byd hym that, on alle thyng, He take up Seys body the kyng, That lyeth ful pale and nothyng rody.

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Julie Orlemanski Bid hym crepe into the body And doo hit goon to Alcione The quene, ther she lyeth allone, And shewe hir shortly, hit ys no nay, How hit was dreynt thys other day; And do the body speke ryght soo, Ryght as hyt was woned to doo The whiles that hit was alyve. Goo now faste, and hye the blyve!”

(139–​152)

As in earlier versions of the story, Morpheus is responsible for the confabulation of Alcione’s nighttime visitation, in which he will assume the persona of Ceyx. But in Chaucer’s rendition the means of carrying out this act of prosopopoeia are unprecedentedly materialist, requiring the scarce and singular matter of the dead. These poetics of prosopopoeial heaviness are intricately realized in the diction of Juno’s instructions. Juno orders that Morpheus above all things (“on alle thyng”) be concerned to “take up” the king’s body. The first, apparent meaning of the verb is that of descending to the sea floor and bearing the body back to the surface. This is an image of poetic catabasis, evocative of the well-​known tableau of Orpheus descending “to the houses of helle” where (as Chaucer’s Boece recounts) he seeks to find Eurydice and lead her back up.34 That the return of the beloved dead requires an act of descent has already been suggested by the messenger’s journey to the Cave of Sleep, the “derke valeye,” where “welles /​Came rennynge fro the clyves adoun” –​“And ronnen doun ryght by a cave /​That was under a rokke ygrave /​Amydde the valey, wonder depe” (155, 160–​161, 163–​165). Chaucer’s long description sketches a landscape defined by depth and damp, over-​covering and downward-​streaming. Completely absent are the “countless miming forms” of Ovid and Machaut. Instead, Chaucer introduces another source, Statius’ Thebaid, to strengthen the gravitational pull of this setting, “derk /​ As helle-​pit overal” (170–​171). In a fitting complement to the messenger’s descent, Morpheus’ act of prosopopoeia will require him to descend to the sea floor to “take up” the body he finds there. Of course, the ascent is where Orpheus (Morpheus’ near-​namesake) faltered and failed. In another way, Morpheus will also fail to achieve Ceyx’s ascent. Chaucer crucially changes the ending of the tale as it appears in Ovid and Machaut, eliminating the lovers’ metamorphosis and flight away from death. Instead, in The Book of the Duchess, Alcione dies abruptly and the tale jolts to a close. As with Eurydice, there is here no escape from mortality’s downward pull.35

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The verb “take up” (“ ‘And byd hym that . . . he take up Seys body the kyng’ ”), in addition to its sense of “bearing to the surface,” has another resonance. When Juno commands that Morpheus “crepe into the body,” it is clear that “tak[ing] up” also means assuming or donning the body, putting it on. A metapoetic image of creeping thus emerges alongside the classical motif of catabasis. Crepen is a notable verb, decidedly Germanic and removed from the French and Latin lexicons in which the story of Ceyx and Alcione circulated to Chaucer. Its primary sense is to crawl like a snake or worm, close to the ground.36 It is gestural and corporeal; it implies a body doing the crawling, in this case crawling into another body. With the Anglo-​Saxon verb, Chaucer recasts Ovid’s airy shape-​shifter as a lowly, physicalized thing. By inhuman locomotion, Morpheus should work his way into Ceyx’s flesh. The very strangeness of the image renders its connotations unclear. Does it evoke the maggots generated spontaneously in dead flesh? Or perhaps the vermis cerebellum, the “worm of the brain,” crawling between two cranial chambers? Does it echo medieval depictions of demons wriggling into idols, so that the dumb objects could be made animate? The “interiority” that will be expressed in the corpse’s emotional address to Alcione is shown here to be merely a physical void, a cavity into which the maker of poetic fictions slinks. This is the monstrous opposite of the facile play of forms embodied in Ovid’s Morpheus. Here the poet, prowling the uninhabitable bottom of the sea, finds transformation only by creeping inside the heavy facticity of death. The grammar of Juno’s speech is also densely responsive to the metafictional alienation that crepen helps to figure. The goddess never slips into referring to the king with the masculine third-​person pronoun one would expect. Instead she refers to him as “it,” even as she recalls his erstwhile vivacity. Juno says that Morpheus should “doo it goo,” show “How hit was dreynt,” and make the body speak “Ryght as hyt was woned to doo /​The whiles that hit was alyve” (emphasis added). Her grammar alienates both agency and speech from the flesh that once performed it, and its effect is to stress the unnaturalness of the prosopopoeia that she demands. Considered metapoetically, Juno is offering a syntax that exposes the mechanics of poetic personae. Her grammar scatters agency, disaggregating the illusion that an individual’s voice may pronounce autonomously within the fabric of a dream or poem. It is instead the poet that peers out of the corpse’s face, speaking through it like a mask, as though literalizing the etymology sometimes ascribed to persona –​ per-​ sona, a sounding through.37

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In the lead up to Ceyx’s address to Alcione, Chaucer is concerned to keep these strange mechanics of prosopopoeia visible. Once the messenger has delivered Juno’s orders, then Morpheus Took up the dreynte body sone And bar hyt forth to Alcione, Hys wif the quene, ther as she lay Ryght even a quarter before day, And stood ryght at hyr beddes fet . . .

(195–​199)

Ceyx’s body here maintains its decidedly material weight: the lines repeat the verbal phrase “take up” from Juno’s instructions and join it to the phrase “bear forth,” in both cases with the corpse as direct object. Dead flesh requires lugging. The Book of the Duchess leaves out the pathetic details of Morpheus’ appearance, which are recounted in Ovid and Machaut, instead merely indexing in its verbs the bodily mass transported to Alcione’s room. This weight, I am arguing, is a metaphor for what Chaucer wants to treat as the intractability of someone’s death, a loss which has its reality outside poetry’s iterable forms and which encumbers the elegiac poet’s formal power. Prosopopoeial heaviness seeks to force this vivifying trope  –​of giving presence to the absent, animation to the inanimate, and voice to the silent –​under death’s yoke. But the sentence quoted above also tracks the disappearance of Ceyx’s body as a separate object: Morpheus bears it forth, but then, intransitively, he stands (rather than standing it) at the foot of Alcione’s bed. Moreover, Morpheus bears it forth to his wife –​and the referent of both it and his are Ceyx. The impersonal pronoun rubs uneasily against the personal one, anticipating the dissonance of his, or its, impending speech to Alcione. The instability of pronouns as well as the subsumption of the corpse into the grammatical subject-​position of Morpheus register the slow-​motion achievement of prosopopoeia, which before our eyes shifts from laborious poetic technique to achieved poetic effect. The speech delivered by this hybrid creature is the climax of the inset tale. The immediacy and vividness of the scene are emphasized with a series of intensifiers:  it is “Ryght even a quarter before day” when this animated body “stood right at hyr beddes fet, /​And called hir right as she het” (198–​200, emphasis added). Yet even as readers’ attention is directed to the charged tableau, its ontological status swims out of focus. The setting remains the space and time of the shared phenomenal world –​a bed chamber, three hours before dawn. This differs from the narrator’s own subsequent dream, when suddenly “hyt was May” (291),

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and his bedroom is replaced by a dazzlingly illustrated interior, where his dreaming ego moves freely. By contrast, Alcione lies inert. In Ovid’s version, she stirs and cries as Morpheus speaks, reminding the reader of her psychological faculties, which are not entirely separable from what sleep delivers. But in The Book of the Duchess, her stillness and the poem’s insistence on the literal fact of the corpse minimize Alcione’s psychological agency. Readers are left to witness a bizarre situation in which Ceyx and Alcione are both corporeally present but cognitively absent from their reunion. This amalgam of Morpheus and Ceyx then calls Alcione by name, and the poem gives way to quoting its uncanny voice directly:         “My swete wyf, Awake! Let be your sorwful lyf, For in your sorwe there lyth no red; For, certes, swete, I am but ded. Ye shul me never on lyve yse. But, goode swete herte, that ye Bury my body, for such a tyde Ye mowe hyt fynde the see besyde; And farewel, swete, my worldes blysse! I praye God youre sorwe lysse. To lytel while oure blysse lasteth!”

(201–​211)

These verses simultaneously deliver the voice of the dead and withhold it. Ceyx’s voice is withheld insofar as the poem has shown the speaking subject to be an elaborate artifice, a mechanical assemblage of god and corpse, of dream and what is other than dream (flesh), of poetry and what is other than poetry (death). The words’ pathos heightens the sense of tonal unease. The repetition of the endearment “swete” four times insists on an intimacy that is dissonant with the hybrid thing that speaks it. Presumably, the blandishment is an erstwhile habit of Ceyx, reproduced according to Juno’s instructions to make the body speak “Ryght as hyt was woned [accustomed] to doo /​The whiles that hit was alyve.” “Swete,” then, poses precisely the problem of elegiac prosopopoeia. Who speaks? Whose words are these? Do the long-​practiced and long-​familiar phrases of the departed, when spoken anew, really console from beyond the grave? The Fonteinne amoureuse would answer yes: the efficacy of poetic mimesis is confirmed when, at the poem’s end, the lover thanks Morpheus for truly conveying his sentiments to his lady. Ovid would shrug that the best of fabulators can conceal any difference between poet and perished. But Chaucer maintains the ponderous, dripping body as the voice’s disruptive adjunct. “My swete wyf ” and

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“goode swete herte” incite both sorrow and queasiness, as the endearments refuse to proceed from a single origin point, either from Ceyx’s lifeless body or from the clever god or from Alcione’s remembered past. Perhaps they are best understood to emerge from whatever fissure of space remains between the animating poet and the flesh into which he has crept. In a departure from his sources, Chaucer makes the first word of Morpheus-​ Ceyx’s speech the personal pronoun my, a decision that reinforces the importance of the first person and its deictic entailments. Deictics are terms that refer to a present scene of utterance, instead of any fixed object or concept; here, there, now, then, mine, and yours all allude to the act of enunciation currently underway. Several scholars have explored the role of first-​person deixis in The Book of the Duchess, and Peter Travis remarks that the “Book of the Duchess is in many ways a linguistic, literary, and psychological interrogation of the status, being, and meaning of the pronoun ‘I.’ ”38 Most of these investigations, however, have taken as their ultimate quarry the narratorial persona, whose enunciation coincides with the very substance of the poem. My inquiry is more restricted, focusing on a particular question of elegiac poetics:  what is at stake in giving an “I,” a speaking presence, to the dead? This question reaches its peak of urgency with Ceyx-​Morpheus’ declaration that “I am but ded.” In this paradigmatically paradoxical speech-​act, the predicate of deadness seems to undercut the possibility that the “I,” the subject of the utterance, speaks, or even is. “I am but ded” says, in effect, both I am and I am not. Of course, in most medieval depictions of the speaking dead, the paradox is resolved by an undergirding metaphysics in which souls persist after death –​ but The Book of the Duchess refuses this explanation, rigorously eschewing (as I noted above) any reference to the afterlife. Here Ceyx is a mass sunk to the sea floor, and the “I” that reanimates him cannot come ontologically to rest. Deictics should be understood as ground-​zero for language’s formalist powers. Both twentieth-​century and medieval grammatical theory argue for the purely formal nature of deictics. Émile Benveniste influentially writes that “each I . . . corresponds each time to a unique being who is set up as such. What then is the reality to which I or you refers? It is solely a ‘reality of discourse.’ ”39 Following Benveniste, Giorgio Agamben posits that the “pure shifter ‘I’  . . . is absolutely without any substantiality and content other than its mere reference to the event of discourse . . . The subject of enunciation is composed of discourse and exists in discourse alone.”40 Daniel Heller-​Roazen, in his brilliant account of the narratorial “I” in the Roman de la Rose, shows that for medieval authorities like Priscian,

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Donatus, and Abelard, pronouns “articulate not distinct subjectivities presupposed by language but, rather, purely discursive functions.”41 These claims all highlight language’s formal autonomy and, more specifically, its power to constitute its own reality by means of its most formulaic terms. This power would seem to be on display in the first words of The Book of the Duchess: “I have gret wonder, be this lyght, /​How that I lyve . . .” (1–​2). An “I” speaks itself wonderingly into existence, marveling at its own vivification, even while, as Peter Travis has shown, it tarries obsessively with the “nothyng” it is only barely not.42 And yet. A formalist account of this initial “I” is not quite satisfying. Even these unspecifying opening lines have a metonymic contagion about them, conjoining the I’s enunciatory being to “this lyght,” in a proximal claritas that floods outward to establish space, a luminous surround for the speaking subject. The “reality of discourse” slips, however minimally, toward a diegetic world, to whose existence the words appear subordinate. Likewise, the “I” of Morpheus-​Ceyx manifests not only the reality of its discourse, the dream, but also the reality of the death to which it refers. When Quintilian remarks of prosopopoeia that “we cannot imagine speech except as the speech of a person,” he suggests that the bare forms of linguistic personhood tend toward their imaginative substantialization, with grammatical subject sliding toward embodied subject.43 Chaucer, I  think, is interested in this momentum from form to substance, especially in the death-​charged framework of elegy. The point is not that grammatical theory is wrong about language’s formalist powers, its capacity to regard “each I” as a “unique being who is set up as such” each time. But poetry plays between this formal freedom and the contrary capacities of language to subordinate itself to realms it does not control, referential and interpreting worlds. Prosopopoeial heaviness is a figure for the constraint of form by elegy, at least as elegy is reimagined in The Book of the Duchess –​ as a literary modality that registers the unyieldingness of death. At the conjunction of text, memory, fantasy, rhetoric, and the inertia of the corpse, the poem experiments with how the heavy, perished “I” might speak. In addition to the complexities already mentioned, there also persists a basic semantic ambiguity in the phrase “I am but ded.” I have translated it to mean, “I am nothing but –​I am entirely –​dead.”44 Yet editions of the poem by Skeat, Koch, and Robinson all emend the line according to the idiom “I nam but ded,” which means “I am as good as dead,” or, in effect, “I am alive, though under the threat of death.” Benson declines to make the change in the Riverside edition, instead preserving the reading that appears in all three manuscripts and in Thynne’s printing –​“I am but ded.”

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Benson’s textual note implies that he makes this decision because Ceyx is not, after all, “as good as dead” but is dead.45 However, the ambiguity is not eliminated by declining to make the emendation. As the usages listed in the MED 2d(a) make clear, “but ded” on its own could mean nearly dead, or about to die. The fact that “I am but ded” signifies both “I am entirely dead” and “I am nearly dead” –​that the same first-​person phrase pertains to both extinct and living –​exemplifies the paradoxes of the enunciation undertaken. Making the dead speak erodes the difference between living and deceased that elegy is meant to explore. This point is amplified by lines later in the poem, when the Black Knight recalls his torment when he faced the dilemma of whether to tell White of his love: “ ‘Allas,’ thoghte I, ‘y kan no red; /​And but I telle hir, I am but ded ’” (1187–​1188, emphasis added). While I quote the unemended line as it appears in all four base texts, Benson here does make the alteration, to read “I nam but ded” (1188). The emendation loses something insofar as it dispenses with the exact repetition, a repetition that shows how fungible death in discourse can be, slipping as it does toward metaphor.46 The Black Knight’s rhetorical, self-​dramatizing, and conditional iteration of “I am but ded” is identical in its forms to the present-​tense, indicative, and starkly paradoxical words of Morpheus-​Ceyx. The Black Knight’s repetition of Ceyx’s already abyssal self-​predication stresses Chaucer’s sense of the elegiac challenge, or the difficulties that the bare fact of death poses to poetry.47 It remains unclear whether Alcione’s prayer to learn whether Ceyx “be quyk or ded” is ever answered. Does the Morpheus-​Ceyx assemblage announce the king’s perishing, or do the conditions of its speaking disrupt any accurate knowledge of what state the “I” is in, nearly dead or absolutely so? Does Alcione even hear the words? The message is delivered over her prone and sleeping body, and as the last word is spoken her eyes fly open, but she sees “noght” (313). The dream is a communication from the far side of the grave that constantly slips the grasp of comprehension, even as it stands forth in exaggerated materiality and apparent literalness –​“I am but ded.” Alcione dies in sorrow, and the story runs aground. My final claim, and one that must remain more suggestion than argument, is that the narrator’s ensuing dream is a fiction chastened by the gruesome paradoxes of Ceyx’s visitation.48 On this reading, the fact that White does not ever appear within the narrator’s dream is a plot point electric with its own contingency, with the alternative possibility that she too could have broken into the discursive and diegetic “now” of interlocution. After all, it is the invocation of the deictic “now” that precipitates the Black Knight’s final, unequivocal announcement of her death:  “ ‘Sir,’ quod I, ‘where is she now?’ /​‘Now?’ quod he, and stynte anoon. /​Therwith he wax as ded as stoon . . .” (1298–​1300). A few lines later the knight delivers

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a revelation parallel to that of Ceyx-​Morpheus but now translated into the third person: “ ‘She ys ded!’ ” (1309). The statement evidently wraps up the work of the dream and leads to the narrator’s waking. “She ys ded!” is abruptly literal, perhaps even bathetically so, but it is neither paradoxical nor ambiguous. This is in part because, as Benveniste remarks, “ ‘Person’ belongs only to I/​you and is lacking in he”; the third person is a “non-​ person.”49 Benveniste’s claim is that language, as a medium, is agnostic about referential truth except in the case of deictics, which partake of the reality of discourse itself. Keeping White in the position of the “non-​person” avoids the prosopopoeial monstrosity of Ceyx-​ Morpheus, when poet and corpse co-​constitute the “I.” White, unlike Ceyx, is personated only through the Black Knight’s descriptions of her, in a filigree of conventional courtly topoi and memories. At one point, the poem narrowly and nervously dodges the possibility that White might speak, if only by way of quotation. The Black Knight is recollecting how he finally confessed his love to White, and   “Trewly hir answere hyt was this –​ I kan not now wel counterfete Hir wordes, but this was the grete Of hir answere: she sayde nay Al outerly.” (1240–​1244)

The emphatic “this” of “hir answere” points the reader over the line-​break to the pronoun “I,” which seems as though it will belong to White. Yet the “I” remains the Black Knight’s own, as he takes charge of merely summarizing the gist of her response. I have removed the quotation marks that appear around “nay” in The Riverside Chaucer because the word is emphatically not White’s direct speech. Even in the framework of memory, the deceased is here held outside linguistic personhood, and the poem retreats from “hir wordes” to their “grete.” The story of Ceyx and Alcione and the prosopopoeial heaviness of the speaking dead help to illuminate what is at stake in this abstention. The Book of the Duchess, it could be said, experiments with two contrary models of elegiac prosopopoeia. One, like the oneric models of Ovid and Machaut before it, dares to speak as the dead, and the second speaks merely about them. The contrast is crystalized in the phrases “I am but ded” and “She ys ded!” In Chaucer’s instantiation of the second model, the dialogue between the Black Knight and the dreamer-​narrator becomes a kind of negative image of Morpheus’ fabulation, by scrupulously avoiding White’s reanimation in the “reality of discourse.” She remains a memory, described at length only in the third person. In Chaucer’s idiosyncratic realization of

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the first elegiac model, the statement “I am but ded” is allowed to occur only under the paradoxical  conditions of prosopopoeial heaviness, with the deictic terms yoked to Ceyx’s corpse. Ceyx’s sodden weight figures what lies outside elegiac form, a remainder allegorized into dead flesh and the indecorum of its intimate speech. Chaucer thus succeeds in constructing a speaker, the Ceyx-​ Morpheus “I,” whose bizarre and riven presence both cancels the speech of the dead and allows it to enter the body of the poem. As Chaucer’s only elegy, The Book of the Duchess is an idiosyncratic experiment with how language might attest to death and to the fissured ontologies of poetry, of which form is only one dimension.

Notes 1 The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry Benson, 3rd edn (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), l. 204. Hereafter, quotations from the poem are cited in text by line number. 2 I use “prosopopoeia” for overlapping tropes of anthropomorphism practiced and theorized during the Middle Ages, including conformatio, sermocinatio, ethopoeia, effictio, personarum ficta inductio, and allegorical personification. Both prosopon and persona originally meant an actor’s mask. My working definition of the term is based on the account of conformatio in the Rhetorica ad Herennium: “that by which an absent person is represented as though present, or a mute or formless thing is rendered articulate, attributed a definite form and language in conformity with its character.” Translation from the Latin my own, from [Cicero], Ad C. Herennium de ratione dicendi (Rhetorica ad Herennium), trans. Harry Caplan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954), 398. 3 A point made by Johanna Drucker in her suggestive essay “Humanities Approaches to Interface Theory,” Culture Machine 12 (2011): 1–​20. 4 “And while in dealing with scientific concepts one may feel justified in eliminating nonexistent entities, the poetics of fiction needs a technique for introducing such entities. The purpose of the poetics of fiction cannot consist of the purification of language and ontology: on the contrary, poetics must account for unregimented linguistic practices and construct appropriate descriptive models to help us understand what happens when we use fictional statements” (Thomas Pavel, Fictional Worlds [Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1986], 16). 5 I use “fiction” and “fictional” in what might be called a weak sense, for entities (a) that do not exert a strong claim to verifiable existence and (b) whose partly discursive constitution is recognizable to those who invoke them. This usage is broadly consonant with norms of medieval discourse, where a stark opposition between fact and fiction was not pervasive, and with literature in general, for which it matters relatively little whether someone named Dido or Hamlet really lived. My usage departs from that of analytic philosophy, however, concerned as it is to distinguish sharply between true and false statements.

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6 Jane Gallop, for instance, calls close reading “the very thing that made us a discipline” (“Close Reading in 2009,” ADE Bulletin 149 [2010]: 15); and Jonathan Culler quips, “Close reading, like motherhood and apple pie, is something we are all in favor of . . .” (“The Closeness of Close Reading.” ADE Bulletin 149 [2010]: 20). 7 For influential examples, see Susan Wolfson, “Reading for Form,” Modern Language Quarterly 61 (2000): 1–​16; Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton University Press, 2015). 8 Archibald Macleish, “Ars Poetica,” quoted by Cleanth Brooks in The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1947), 151. 9 As Jamie C. Fumo observes, the poem makes evident the correspondence between White and Blanche, and between Gaunt and the Black Knight, through “riddling, but not really obscure, allusions,” and “there is no real doubt” that the poem memorializes Blanche’s death. Making Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess: Textuality and Reception (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2015), 19, 18. 10 Ardis Butterfield, “Lyric and Elegy in The Book of the Duchess,” Medium Aevum 60 (1990): 39 and passim. 11 Ibid., 37: “for none of these French poets is the fact of death something to be concealed or veiled or handled indirectly.” 12 Whether this alludes to the Book of the Duchess as it now stands or to a lost composition, it suggests the importance that Chaucer placed on his early rendering of the Ovidian story. 13 Fumo, Making Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, 189, note 91. The relevant lines in Lydgate’s Fall of Princes are 1.304–​305. 14 James Wimsatt, “The Sources of Chaucer’s ‘Seys and Alcyone,’ ” Medium Aevum 36 (1967): 238–​240 and Chaucer and the French Love Poets: The Literary Background of The Book of the Duchess (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1968); Deanne Williams, The French Fetish from Chaucer to Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 22–​31; Elizaveta Strakhov, “‘Counterfeit’ Imitatio: Understanding the Poet-Patron Relationship in Guillaume de Machaut’s Fonteinne amoureuse and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess,” in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess: New Interpretations, ed. Jamie C. Fumo (Cambridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, forthcoming). 15 Jessica Rosenfeld, Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry:  Love after Aristotle (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 84–​106; John Fyler, Chaucer and Ovid (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 68–​95. 16 Rosenfeld, Ethics and Enjoyment, 88. 17 Robert W. Hanning, “Chaucer’s First Ovid: Metamorphosis and Poetic Tradition in The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame,” in Chaucer and the Craft of Fiction, ed. Leigh A. Arrathoon (Rochester, MI: Solaris Press, 1986), 133, 134. 18 See Wimsatt, “ ‘Seys and Alcyone’ ”; A. J. Minnis, “A Note on Chaucer and the Ovide Moralisé,” Medium Aevum 48 (1979):  254–​257; A.  J. Minnis with V. J. Scattergood and J. J. Smith, The Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems (Oxford University Press, 1995), 94–​96. Wimsatt also demonstrates that Chaucer drew on Statius’ Thebaid for details of the Cave of Sleep, but because

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Statius’ description appears in an entirely different narrative context, and does not revolve around any prosopopoeia of the dead, the Thebaid does not concern my arguments. 19 Allen Mandelbaum, trans., The Metamorphoses of Ovid (New York: Harcourt, 1993), 385 (line numbers not provided); translation altered. For Latin, see. Ovid, Metamorphoses, ed. R. J. Tarrant, Oxford Classical Texts (Oxford University Press, 2004), xi.613–​615. For the parallel passage in the Ovide moralisé, see C. de Boer, ed., Ovide moralisé; poème du commencement du quatorzième siècle, vol. IV (Amsterdam:  De N.  V. Noord-​Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1936), xi.3472–​ 3476. For the parallel passage in the Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse, see Guillaume de Machaut, The Fountain of Love (La fonteinne amoureuse) and Two Other Love Vision Poems, ed. and trans. R. Barton Palmer (New York: Garland, 1993), 626–​629. 20 Mandelbaum, trans., Metamorphoses, 386; Metamorphoses, ed. Tarrant, xi.634–​ 639; Boer, Ovide moralisé, xi.3523–​3534. 21 Mandelbaum, trans., Metamorphoses, 384; Metamorphoses, ed. Tarrant, xi.586–​ 588; Ovide moralisé, xi.3427–​3430. 22 Mandelbaum, trans., Metamorphoses, 387; Metamorphoses, ed. Tarrant, xi.668; Ovide moralisé, xi.3593–​3597. 23 Metamorphoses, ed. Tarrant, xi.626. No parallel in the Ovide moralisé. 24 Machaut, Fountain of Love, 636–​640. 25 Ibid., 643–​650. 26 Ibid., 581–​582, 656–​657. 27 Ibid., 659. 28 Ibid., 670–​671, 675. 29 R. Barton Palmer, “The Book of the Duchess and Fonteinne amoureuse: Chaucer and Machaut Reconsidered,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 7, no. 4 (1980): 383. 30 Machaut, Fountain of Love, 715–​717. 31 Laurence de Looze, “Guillaume de Machaut and the Writerly Process,” French Forum 9 (1984): 156. 32 Ibid. 33 Rosenfeld, Ethics and Enjoyment, 89. 34 Boece, Book iii, Metrum 12, 19. 35 My reading thus agrees with Hanning, who contends that “ ‘Seys and Alcyone’ offers a powerful negative contrast to the positive exemplary use of the same story in [La fonteinne amoureuse], as well as a negative transformation of the Ovidian tale, with its clarifying, immortalizing final metamorphosis.” See “Chaucer’s First Ovid,” 136. 36 MED “crepen (1).” 37 See Mary Hatch Marshall, “Boethius’ Definition of Persona and Medieval Understanding of the Roman Theatre,” Speculum 25, no. 4 (October 1950): 471–​482. 38 Peter W. Travis, “White,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 22 (2000): 36. 39 Émile Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, trans. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1971), 218.

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40 Cited from John Frow, Character and Person (Oxford University Press, 2014), 163. The reference is to Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-​Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 116, emphasis original. 41 Daniel Heller-​Roazen, Fortune’s Faces: The Roman de la Rose and the Poetics of Contingency (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 33. 42 Travis, “White,” 36–​37. 43 “. . . nam certe sermo fingi non potest ut non personae sermo fingatur” (xi.2.32). Quintilian, The Orator’s Education, Books 9–​ 10, trans. Donald A. Russell (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 50–​51. 44 Following the sense of “but” captured in MED 2a. 45 Benson, Riverside Chaucer, 1137. 46 In a related discussion, Butterfield states that “the two separate contexts for the ‘I nam but ded’ show up the gap between a figure of death and the plain fact of death” (“Lyric and Elegy,” 52). 47 Butterfield suggests the poem as a whole “rescue[s]‌” the figure of death “from the generality and banality of its use as a metaphor for extreme suffering” (“Lyric and Elegy,” 50). 48 My account agrees with that of Lisa J.  Kiser, who writes, “The difference between the ways in which Morpheus and Chaucer ‘raise the dead’ constitutes the single most important reason for Chaucer’s choice of this story (and not any other) for his poem” (“Sleep, Dreams and Poetry in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess,” Papers on Language and Literature 19 [1983]: 5). 49 Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, 217, 221.

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The Forms of Reception

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Ch apter 7

Reading Badly

What the Physician’s Tale Isn’t Telling Us Thomas A. Prendergast

Most critics (with the notable exception of Frederick Tupper) have seen the Physician’s Tale as, at the very best, “Chaucer working rather routinely.”1 And it does seem that if one attempts to read the tale (in which a Roman father manages to protect his daughter from rape by cutting off her head) as a compelling and well-​wrought narrative, a complex psychological drama, or even a kind of quasi-​hagiography one will be disappointed. Chaucer so compresses his already compressed source (Le Roman de la Rose, ll. 5589–​ 5658) that narrative inconsistencies result, such as references to characters who no longer play a role in the narrative.2 The characters who remain in the narrative are so flat that critics have often read the work as allegory rather than a narrative that contains motivated, self-​aware actors.3 The failings of the tale are so widely accepted that they have become the basis for the tale’s recuperation. The tale is “bad,” for instance, because it is supposed to reveal the failings of the teller of the tale, or because it is supposed to bring the reader to a realization of the tale’s moral complexity.4 Lee Patterson, in fact, claimed that the tale is a “counterfeit” hagiography that ultimately draws attention to its “verbal fraudulence.”5 Recent work on this “hagioclasm” (as it has been characterized) has focused on the martyrological aspects of Virginia –​attempting to uncover to what extent, if any, she has agency over her own sacrifice and what the implications are for our reading of the tale.6 All of these approaches ask essentially the same question: what kind of story is the Physician’s Tale? Whether hagiography, allegory, or moral tale, the meaning of the story derives from the tale’s ability, inability (or unwillingness, if we can give agency to a text) to fit into a particular paradigm. The Physician himself insists on the generic constraints of his tale, claiming, “this is no fable, /​But knowen for historial thyng notable,” presumably differentiating between a conventional notion of narratio rei gestae (a narration of deeds accomplished) and fables  –​”things that have not 149

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happened and cannot happen because they are contrary to nature” (vi.156–​ 157).7 It has, in fact, been suggested that Chaucer was unable to escape the fact that his tale was a “historial thing” –​that he was only able to “change Livy enough to give Virginia space to try, and to fail, to save herself from her own story.”8 Yet even here it remains unclear that the Physician has any real sense of the genre of his tale. As was argued long ago, it’s clear that the Physician “through an audacious use of fictional devices” actually transforms his “historial thing” into a fabula.9 What the tale-​teller tells us about the kind of tale he tells is, at the very least, unhelpful because the tale lays claim to so many different genres at once. The multitude of different genres to which the tale seemingly belongs suggests, as Anne Middleton has argued, that the sheer generic variety might very well be the point of the tale. She asserts that the effect of this “generic conflict” is to move the attention of the reader from “the object to the selecting eye, from exemplary fact to the act of judgment.”10 The question for the reader thus moves from “what kind of tale is this?” to “how does the reader establish what kind of tale this is?” The meaning of the tale derives not from a stable form, but from the perception of multiple forms. Yet it’s not clear that Chaucer draws such a clear line between form and its perception, and in this he touches on larger questions about the efficacy of aesthetic form. Form, in the Middle Ages, was not only a property that texts possessed, it also referred to the originating or shaping idea that led to the creation of the text. This understanding of form and textuality arose from analogy with the theological doctrine that God was the author of creation, and that it was God’s originating idea that gave form to the natural world.11 Men and women perceived and took delight in natural forms, yet the pleasure taken in these forms was justified only because it could lead them back to the divine. As John Scotus Eriugena put it, these “visible forms are not produced and shown to us for their own sake, but are notions of invisible beauty, by means of which Divine Providence recalls human minds into the pure and invisible beauty of truth itself.”12 The operative word here is beauty. It is the aesthetic experience of natural forms that can lead to an understanding of truth (which is probably why the analogy between God’s creation and artistic creation seemed so appropriate). Yet if beauty inheres in the form, is our perception of it determined by the form’s objective properties? John Duns Scotus thought that determination of the beautiful was the product of a freely choosing will, while Thomas Aquinas believed that “the objective properties of a beautiful thing . . . determine the aesthetic experience of it.”13 Chaucer enters the scholastic debate by creating an aesthetical object whose formal characteristics are undone by the reception of his own “beautiful form” (Virginia).

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Chaucer’s sources tend not to focus on the reception of Virginia. The Roman de la Rose only uses her as a bit of a plot device, simply saying that the girl didn’t care for Apius or his lechery. The real focus of the story in the French work is the judicial corruption of Apius and others of his ilk. Similarly, Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, the ultimate source of the story of Virginia, doesn’t really focus on Virginia either. There the desire for Virginia is more a sign of the corruption of the decemviri (the ten-​man magistracy that governed early Rome) of whom Appius was a member. Livy simply reports that “the desire to inflict stuprum (disgrace or rape) on the plebian virgin seized Appius Claudius.”14 His interest in Virginia is in linking the attempted violation of the female body with the violation of the larger body politic of Rome.15 The political angle is more or less abandoned by Chaucer, who has his tale-​teller focus on how Virginia was “read” by those around her.16 The Physician tropes her as a moral text. “For in hir lyvyng maydens myghten rede, /​As in a book, every good word or dede /​That longeth to a mayden vertuous” (vi.107–​110).17 The action of the tale is set in motion, of course, not when a “living maiden” attempts to read her in order to find within her an exemplum of virtue, but when Apius, no maiden virtuous but a man, looks upon her and Anon his herte chaunged and his mood, So he was caught with beautee of this mayde, And to hymself ful pryvely he sayde, “This mayde shal be myn, for any man!” (vi.126–​129)

The text tells us that it is the “beautee” of Virginia, which might or might not include the notion of her maidenhood, that leads Apius to wish to make the “mayde” his. I  would suggest that the emphasis here (absent from any of Chaucer’s possible sources) is on how Apius is a bad reader –​ deriving vice from the virtuous maiden who has been troped as at once a text and a vision of aesthetic beauty. In contrasting Apius’ reading with the “maydens’ ” reading, Chaucer muddles the patristic commonplace that, as Rita Copeland puts it, “good reading is reading like a man.”18 Here it is the “maydens” who read spiritually and Apius who indulges in carnal reading. Yet this is not simply a case of a man reading like a woman (or women reading like men). Right reading of the feminine text (as Jerome tells us) is reading allegorically rather than literally, but in embodying allegory in Virginia, Chaucer, as we will see, disables such simple binaries and instead suggests that the root of misreading lies in the convergence between Virginia as image and Virginia as text.19

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Apius’ misreading of Virginia has a cascade effect on other readers in the tale, most notably on Virginia herself, who, once she is misread, seems to read her situation badly –​almost as if she misunderstands the story she is in. When her father explains to her that because of Apius’ machinations, she must suffer “deeth or shame” and then says that the actual choice is between dying by “swerd or with a knyf,” she asks, as we might expect, “Is ther no grace, is ther no remedye?” (vi.235) When told no, she claims, strangely, that she is a version of Jephthah’s daughter from Judges 11.37–​38, saying that Jephthah “yaf his doghter grace /​For to compleyne, er he hir slow, allas! /​ And, God it woot, no thyng was hir trespas, /​But for she ran hir fader first to see, /​To welcome hym with greet solempnitee” (vi.240–​244). Virginia understands part of what the Old Testament book conveys  –​Jephthah’s daughter was an innocent whose only “trespass” was to run out to greet her father who, unbeknownst to her, had vowed to God that he would sacrifice the first thing he saw as a repayment for victory. But the analogy is wildly out of place (as any number of critics have pointed out) as Jephthah’s daughter bewails her death because she will be unable to procreate, while Virginia must give up her life in order to maintain her virginity.20 The analogy, as jarring and incidental as it seems to be, has led to a good deal of critical speculation, much of it, predictably, exegetical.21 Virginius, for instance, figures forth humanity. Virginia represents the flesh and her sacrifice is the penance for sin.22 Or, as Jephthah’s daughter is often represented as an example of the foolish virgin (which Virginia is most assuredly not), the invocation increases the pathos of Virginia’s death.23 These interpretations and others depend on the idea that Chaucer means for this reference to signal a moral or ethical answer to the question, why Jephthah’s daughter? But this approach elides the more pressing question having to do with Virginia herself. Her behavior after making the analogy (she asks for time, immediately swoons, recovers, and then asks for her death), and her reasons for the request for more time, code her as being unlike Jephthah’s daughter. Thus the suggestion that she is an exemplum, that her sacrifice has some kind of moral force, is misplaced. She certainly is misreading her situation, but it’s also true that this misreading springs from the teller of the tale who himself gets it wrong because (as Chaucer tells us in the General Prologue) his “studie was but litel on the Bible” (I. 438).24 His own misreading, or more accurately lack of reading, leads his character to make a bad analogy at the moment when she finally might gain agency and develop into a sophisticated subject rather than a flat if misleading allegory for virginity. So too when Apius orders that Virginius be hanged for beheading his daughter, “a thousand peple in thraste, /​To save the knyght, for routhe

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and for pitee, /​For knowen was the false iniquitee” (vi.260–​262). Chaucer alters his source here slightly by suggesting that the people did not stop the action when it was known, but because it was known to be “false iniquitee.” How did the crowd find out? The text initially suggests that the people acted on a suspicion rather than any hard evidence: “The peple anon had suspect in this thyng, /​By manere of the cherles chalangyng, /​That it was by the assent of Apius” (vi.263–​265). The text hints that there was something in Claudius’ “chalangyng” or claiming of Virginia that gave away the fact that Apius was behind the legal maneuver. What it was in the “manere” of the claim remains unclear, though it’s possible that the mere fact that a “cherl” would prepare a “bille” to be “rad” in court might have been seen as peculiar and even dangerous (this particular detail is not in the Roman either).25 The suspicion, as Linda Lomperis has suggested, would seem to be produced by the stark difference in class, especially as the “cherl” questions the knight’s claims of aristocratic lineage.26 Hence, we might see the tale as, at least in part, a meditation on aristocratic anxieties about lineage in which the people’s reading of Apius was justified. Yet even if this is what one might call a “good reading,” the following line abruptly tells us, “They wisten wel that he was lecherus,” which seems at odds with the earlier assertion in the tale that it was Virginia’s beauty which converted him to lechery. In terms of Livy’s version of the story, of course, this makes perfect sense. Appius is publicly accused of using his lust to attempt “governance of [Roman] children and wives.”27 The people in Chaucer’s tale do the right thing, but it is based on a reading of Apius that is fundamentally wrong or at least based on information from a story that the people don’t inhabit. Like Virginia, the people misunderstand the story that they are in –​reading the character of Apius as if he were the Appius Claudius from Livy rather than Chaucer’s Apius. All of these misreadings, perhaps unsurprisingly, lead the Physician to render a faulty moral interpretation of his own tale –​“Forsaketh synne, er synne yow forsake” (roughly, “leave behind sin before you no longer have a chance to leave behind sin”) (vi.286). On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this moral. In fact we get a version of it in the Parson’s Tale where, in the context of the penitential work, it’s perfectly appropriate: “And therefore repentant folk, that stynte for to synne, and forlete synne er that synne forlete hem, hooly chirche holdeth hem siker of hire savacioun” (x.93). But while the Physician’s Tale might involve sin, it isn’t about early or belated penitence. Critics have read the line as an example of “the nightmare of contradictions” that make up the tale, or even as “grotesque.”28 In retelling the tale of Virginia, it’s clear that the Physician’s

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own reading of his source has been faulty. It’s as though he doesn’t really understand the use of biblical exempla or even the tale he’s told and, casting about for meaning, rehearses a moral which –​even if completely conventional – seems a non sequitur or, at the very least, the misplaced conclusion of another bad reader. The whole tale, then, might be a meditation on bad reading –​the remedy of which is to expose how bad reading can lead to bad consequences. Indeed, in what might be described as the first inscribed reading of the tale, Harry Bailey dismisses the Physician’s strained moral, instead focusing on the affective tragedy of the tale and giving his own succinct, if seemingly vacuous, reading of Virginia: “hire beautee was hire deth, I dar wel sayn. /​ Allas, so pitously as she was slain” (vi.297–​298).29 This seems like just the kind of superficial reading that Chaucer means to critique. Yet, unexpectedly, by suggesting that Virginia’s beauty necessarily led to her death, Harry raises the specter of the long-​running scholastic dispute about the inability of the will to resist beauty.30 The secret anxiety at the heart of the tale is that Apius’ bad reading of Virginia was irresistible because beauty formally inhered in the text known as Virginia. This is signaled early in the text when the creator of Virginia, Nature, contrasts her art with merely human artists like Apelles, Zeuxis, and Pygmalion. For Nature hath with sovereyn diligence Yformed hire in so greet excellence, As though she wolde seyn, “Lo! I, Nature, Thus kan I forme and peynte a creature Whan that me list; who kan me countrefete? Pigmalion noght, though he ay forge and bete, Or grave, or peynte; for I dar wel seyn Apelles, Zanzis, sholde werche in veyn Outher to grave, or peynte, or forge, or bete, If they presumed me to countrefete.”

(vi.9–​18)

In Chaucer’s source for the passage (Roman de la Rose, ll. 16177 ff.) it is Nature herself rather than Nature’s creation that is deemed to be irrepresentable by the great artists Pygmalion, Apelles, and Zeuxis. Indeed, the entire passage in the Roman de la Rose is governed by a topos of indescribability as the narrator uses the exempla of the three artists to suggest why he himself cannot describe Nature’s beauty. In adapting his source, Chaucer not only abandons the topos of indescribability, but has the Physician base his speech on Virginia’s beauty as a product of the creation

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of Nature rather than on the beauty of Nature herself. In addition, the entire speech is based on what the Physician thinks Nature might say (“as though she wolde seyn”). Hence his claim that artists cannot counterfeit Nature’s work draws attention to the Physician’s own counterfeiting of Nature and her work.31 This extended ventriloquism of Nature extends to the purpose of the creation of Virginia. The tale-​teller has Nature say, “I made hire to the worshipe of my lord; /​So do I alle myne othere creatures, /​What colour that they han or what figures” (vi.26–​28). Whether we interpret this as “that Virginia was made so that she could worship God, or that the act of making her was itself an act in praise of God,” the sentiment is completely conventional.32 Yet as P. M. Kean has pointed out, even if it is conventional, given what happens to Virginia in the tale, we would have to say that Nature’s purpose is not at all fulfilled.33 And the halting line that immediately follows this section, “Thus semeth me that Nature wolde seye,” highlights the extent to which the counterfeited purpose of Nature is at odds with what actually happens in the tale. Virginia is a book of virtues. And she should have fulfilled her purpose, but the very beauty that Virginia embodies works against this purpose because it leads to misprision. We get a clue about the origin of this misreading in the Physician’s invocation of Pygmalion. In the Rose, it simply seems that Pygmalion is one among many great artists who were unable to match Nature. But Pygmalion was, of course, different from Apelles and Zeuxis in that his creation actually came to life. And because of this the Pygmalion story carried an additional meaning in the Middle Ages. The Roman’s extended story of Pygmalion (ll. 20817–​21227) makes this clear when it suggests the statue, the “dead” image created by the artist, should be compared to the image that the lover creates of the beloved within himself. Jean de Meun and any number of commentators read Pygmalion’s creation of the statue and its transformation into a living woman as an example of the moral dangers that beauty offered.34 Pierre Bersuire goes so far as to claim that even the most moral put themselves in danger when they engage in this image making. He allegorizes the Pygmalion story by reading the artist as a preacher who sculpt(s) the soul  . . . and adorn(s) it with corrections and virtues  . . . but often . . . some good Pygmalion . . . devotes himself to making ivory images (imagines eburneas), that is, to teaching holy women . . . and . . . molding them in spiritual practice. But certainly it happens that Venus the goddess of lechery, that is the lust of the flesh, intrudes and converts the dead image (imaginem mortuam) into life.35

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In the Physician’s Tale, the trouble begins when Apius sees Virginia. The Physician not only tells us that Apius casts his eye “upon this mayde,” but follows this with an observation, “avysynge hym ful faste.” The reflexive suggests that there was something more to the judge’s looking than a mere glance. He was literally “making” an observation.36 Internally he creates a “dead” image of the girl, but once caught by her beauty, the image created by Apius becomes enlivened and has little to do with the virtuous qualities appropriate to a girl named “Virginia.”37 The suggestion would seem to be that Harry Bailey was half right: her beauty led to her death, but only after it had enlivened the dead image within Apius. It’s possible, of course, that Apius’ misinterpretation of Virginia is not a misreading at all but an indulgent participation in false image making. As a book Virginia could (and would) be read properly, but to render Virginia into an image is to counterfeit her and thus transform her into something that she is not. This was not just a problem with beautiful images. It was widely understood that the larger problem with images was that people frequently mistook the image for the thing itself. This category error is most apparent in Lollard critiques of religious images. An early fifteenth-​ century manuscript that contained works critical of the Church laid out the problem in particularly stark terms: 3it þe puple is foul disceyved by veyn trist in þes ymagis. For summe lewid folc wene þat þe ymagis doun verreyly þe myraclis of hemsilf, and þat þis ymage of þe crucifix be Crist hymsilf, or þe seynt þat þe ymage is þere sette for lickenesse. And þerfore þei seyn “þe swete rode of Bromholme,” “þe swete rode of Grace,” “þe swete rode at þe norpe dore,” “oure dere Lauedy of Walsyngham.” But nou3t “oure Lavedy of heuene” ny “oure lord Iesu Crist of heuene,” but cleuen sadly strokande and kyssand þese olde stones and stokkis laying doun hore grete offryngis, and maken avowis ri3t þere to þes dede ymagis to come þe nexst 3eer agayn, as 3if þei weren Crist and oure Lauedy and Ion Baptist and Thomas of Caunterbury and siche oþer.38

The crucial terms here involve not a wholesale condemnation of images but the mistake that “lewid folc” make in believing that the power lies in the image itself instead of originating from the real thing. The critique of pilgrimage that is implicit here is also not wholesale (though it certainly lays the groundwork for it) –​the problem comes when these “folc” make promises “to þes ded ymagis . . . as 3if þei weren” the things themselves. This focus on the “deadness” of images (parallel to the focus on the deadness of sanctified bodies) is, in Lollard critiques of the image-​filled religious milieu, almost obsessive. But as Sarah Stanbury has suggested, “if Lollards insist that images are dead, it may be because of th[eir] uncanny habit of coming to life.”39

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Chaucer’s tale, of course, involves something quite different, not a religious image of Mary, but a living girl. And the problem is not that devotion is misdirected, but that the embodiment of virtue is rendered falsely. Yet the essential problem seems the same. Apius creates a counterfeit Virginia within himself and “to hymself ful pryvely he sayde /​‘This mayde shal be myn for any man’” (vi.128–​129), not distinguishing between the virtuous Virginia and the cupidinous image within. So perhaps the answer is that Apius needs not to imagine her as a man would, but to “read” Virginia like those “lyvyng maydens” who understand her as a book of virtues. But this book/​image binary doesn’t quite hold up. Even if Virginia is even more virtuous than she is beautiful (“And if that excellent was hire beautee, /​A thousand foold moore vertuous was she,” [vi.39–​40]), the tale is clear that she is both book and image, a connection that would have been readily understood by anyone with even a passing knowledge of the debate over images. As a number of different texts on both sides of the issue suggest, “ymagis ben bokis of lewid men.”40 And these libri laicorum offered a great advantage, for they offered a “reading” to those who cannot read; as the early fifteenth-​century Dives and Pauper puts it, þey been ordeyned to steryn mannys affeccioun and his herte to deuocioun, for often man is more steryd be syghte þan be heryng or redyngge. Also þey been ordeyned to been a tokene and a book to þe lewyd peple, þat þey moun redyn in ymagerye and peynture þat clerkys redyn in boke.41

Yet this advantage is also the great disadvantage of images, for “lewid men” often misread images. These misreadings, in turn, lead to misunderstandings that can be morally perilous. A comic instance of this can be found in the so-​called Prologue to the Tale of Beryn. Confected in the early fifteenth century and appearing in an eccentric manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, it purports to narrate the adventures of Chaucer’s pilgrims when they arrive at Canterbury. Upon entering the cathedral, The Pardoner and the Miller and other lewde sotes Sought hemselffe in the chirch, right as lewd gotes Pyred fast and poured highe oppon the glase. Counterfeting gentilmen, the armes for to blase, Diskyveryng fast the peyntour, and the story mourned and ared also –​right as rammes horned!42

The author’s treatment of the twisted interpretations of the images by the Miller and the Pardoner focuses especially on the  inability of the  “lewd sotes” to advance even the most basic identification of the images they view as they argue over whether one figure (probably Adam) is holding

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a rake or a spear. The author is clearly taking artistic license here, but the scene wouldn’t be comical unless such misinterpretations were proverbial. Apius should, of course, know better. He is no “lewid man” but a presumably literate judge who should be able to read like a “mayde,” not a “lewid man.” But I  think this is the point. It is not just ignorance that makes images so dangerous, but the ability of the image to seduce. The reading of the beautiful image by a “literate man” becomes equally fraught because the issue is not intellect or learning, but the ability of the will to resist seduction. If we return, for a moment, to the example of Pygmalion, the problem even with beautiful, chaste images is that while they are initially quiescent, they are almost inevitably enlivened by lust. Pierre Bersuire’s commentary on the Pygmalion story suggests as much by claiming that “an earthly beauty defined in terms of the kind of beauty Pygmalion made is, when fully understood, the kind to which Apius’ lust is appropriate.”43 The rather pessimistic implication remains that aesthetic pleasure derived from the beautiful is not only potentially erring and thus deadly, but irresistible. The deadly enlivening of Virginia takes place, of course, only in Apius, yet Virginia’s father reacts as if something fundamental has changed within his daughter. His action, the beheading of his daughter, is motivated by an attempt to return her to the status of a dead image. He is, in other words, physically altering the text of his daughter because Apius has misread her. Howard Bloch has argued that this demonstrates the extent to which the masculine gaze itself is deflowering, and, as we might expect, there were misogynistic commentators who held this view –​going so far as to suggest that once the image of the adulterous woman was created within, the virtuous woman without would change to become that image.44 But I don’t believe that Chaucer is making that case here. Instead, he means for us to see Virginius’ action as another misreading of Virginia. Virginia’s father makes the same mistake as made by those who treat images as if they are the thing itself. In other words, he does not treat Apius’ view of his daughter as a representation that the judge makes to himself, but as a reading that necessarily changes the nature of the virtuous text of Virginia into something less than virtuous. Virginius’ belief would be then not simply that the beautiful, however chastely constructed, is necessarily dangerously seductive. It is also that the responsibility for this seductiveness lies with the human author of the image/​text. In this line of thinking, if the image/​text proves dangerously beautiful then it is incumbent on the author to render the text safe by “deadening” it. The remedy for bad reading is to understand the idea of living and dead images not symbolically but literally. It is to sacrifice the

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text (however virtuous) because it has been misread. Of course, in the tale, this understanding not only leads to a particularly unpleasant outcome but itself participates in a misreading or idolization of the image of Virginia. This radical understanding of bad reading suggests that the formal quality of beauty will not lead the reader to what we might call beautiful understanding. In fact, beauty in this work leads to a cascade of bad readings that results in wildly differing ideas about what kind of text Virginia is and, by extension, makes it difficult for the reader to understand what kind of text the tale is. The only way to generate meaning from the text seems to be to participate in an economy of misreading and ultimately rewrite the text. Thus it may be that the answer to Virginia’s pathetic question, “is ther no remedye?” really is no. Yet, there is intriguing evidence that Chaucer had second thoughts about the inevitability of what might be considered bad reading. Harry Bailey’s final line linking beauty and death (“hire beautee was hire deth”) appears in what’s generally taken as the most reliable edition of The Canterbury Tales, The Riverside Chaucer. But the line does not appear in either the Hengwrt or Ellesmere manuscripts (perhaps the most definitive versions of the text and the ones most relied upon by the Riverside editors). It does, however, appear in the important manuscripts Corpus Christi College 198 and British Library Harley 7334 (which is undoubtedly why it made into The Riverside). In addition, Ellesmere and Hengwrt lack the condemnation of Apius found in Harley 7334 and Corpus Christi 198 that runs as follows This was a cursed þef a fals Iustice As schendful deþ as herte can deuise So falle vpon his body and his boones The deuel I bykenne him al at oones.45

Both Hengwrt and Ellesmere eliminate the reference to the thief as well as Harry’s determined damnation of Apius. In its place, Harry condemns both Claudius and Apius, “This was a fals cherl and fals justice. /​As shameful deeth as herte may devyse /​Come to thise juges and hire advocatz!” (vi.289–​291). Hengwrt and Ellesmere thus follow the more class-​based denunciation of Claudius that has been uncovered by Linda Lomperis.46 So, too, the link portrays Harry as one who is less concerned with the fate of Apius than with more sweeping condemnations of the entire legal profession that might be seen as more in line with what Chaucer’s immediate source, Le Roman de la Rose, wants us to take away from the story of Virginia.

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But a number of manuscripts (including Corpus and Harley) describe Claudius not as a “cherl” but as a “clerk” in multiple places.47 And thus the hatching of the “conspiracie” to possess Virginia reads This juge unto this clerk his tale hath told In seecre wise and made hym to ensure He sholde telle it to no creature. And if he dide, he sholde lese his heed.

(vi.142–​146)

This variation is small but consistent, and it “rewrites” the concerns of the tale in rather dramatic fashion. The focus in Corpus, Harley, and thirty-​ two other manuscripts is on a clerkish attempt to rewrite a “virginal” book rather than a churlish attempt to possess Virginia. Generally, the Corpus and Harley manuscripts are understood to be later than Ellesmere and Hengwrt and thus, being more distant from Chaucer, often reflect scribal attempts to deal with the author’s fragmented text. But John M. Manly and Edith Rickert argued that the link between the Physician’s Tale and the Pardoner’s Tale in Corpus 198 and Harley 7334 was actually an earlier authorial iteration that came down to the compilers of the two manuscripts. And more recently, based on codicological evidence, Estelle Stubbs has made a similar claim.48 Thus the Hengwrt/​Ellesmere version might be seen to evacuate Harry’s specific commentary on beauty and death, eliminate the more metatextual responses of the host, and change the focus of the tale from churlish possession to clerkly rewriting. It may be then that Chaucer had second thoughts about dramatizing necessary connections between beautiful forms and bad reading. Unlike Corpus and Harley, the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts contain the kind of story that Chaucer was interested in at this time, “where it is men who betray the formal perfection of things” –​where the onus for bad reading is placed completely on the reader.49 Chaucer’s desire to retreat from, or at least soften, his notion that bad reading is inevitable is understandable. If any reading, in this tale of misreading, seems to run the risk of being untrustworthy, then we’re left with the suspicion that we will never be able to recuperate meaning without feeling that we are implicated in the very misreading(s) that the tale apparently condemns. Yet, even this condemnation could be a misreading and any conclusion that we draw about “bad reading” devolves into an infinite regression. Faced with a text that seemingly has no telos, Chaucer attempted to counteract the ouroboran nature of his text –​driven not by his fear that readers would misread the text, but by his anxiety that readers would understand all too well what the Physician’s Tale wasn’t telling us.

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Notes 1 See E. Talbot Donaldson, ed., Chaucer’s Poetry: An Anthology for the Modern Reader, 2nd edn (New  York:  Ronald Press, 1975), 927. The explanatory notes in Larry D. Benson, gen ed. The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987) give a much more complete bibliography of those who condemn the poem (p. 902). For Frederick Tupper’s dissent, see “Chaucer’s Sinners and Sins,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 15 (1916): 56–​106, esp. 61–​62. 2 Helen Cooper, The Canterbury Tales (Oxford University Press, 1989), 250. 3 Brian Lee, “The Position and Purpose of ‘The Physician’s Tale,’ ” The Chaucer Review 22 (1987): 143. 4 Trevor Whittock, A Reading of  The Canterbury Tales (Cambridge University Press, 1968), 179–​183; John C.  Gardner, The  Poetry of Chaucer (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977), 293–​298. Anne Middleton initially characterizes the Physician’s offering as a “dull little moral tale,” but uses the criticism as a springboard for her discussion of the ludic qualities of the Canterbury narratives including the Physician’s Tale (“The Physician’s Tale and Love’s Martyrs:  ‘Ensamples Mo Than Ten’ as a Method in The Canterbury Tales,” The Chaucer Review 8 [1973]: 9–​32). 5 Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 370. 6 Elaine Treharne characterizes the tale as a breaking of the “saintly paradigm” (“The Physician’s Tale as Hagioclasm,” in Dark Chaucer:  An Assortment, ed. Myra Seaman, Eileen Joy, and Nicola Masciandro [Brooklyn:  Punctum Books,  2012], 171). See also  Lianna Farber, “Creation of Consent in the Physician’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review 39 (2004):  151–​164; Daniel T.  Kline, “Jephthah’s Daughter and Chaucer’s Virginia: The Critique of Sacrifice in the Physician’s Tale,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 107 (2008): 77–​103. 7 All quotations of The Canterbury Tales are from Benson, The Riverside Chaucer unless otherwise noted. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof, trans., The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 67. 8 Karl Steel, “Kill Me, Save Me, Let Me Go: Custance, Virginia, Emelye,” in Seaman et al., Dark Chaucer, 156. 9 Beryl Rowland, “The Physician’s ‘Historial Thyng Notable’ and the Man of Law,” ELH 40 (1973): 166. 10 Middleton, “Love’s Martyrs,” 25. 11 See Christopher Cannon’s lucid treatment of how this concept was adapted by Chaucer and others to refer to writing in “Form,” in Middle English, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford University Press, 2007), 180–​182. 12 “Visibiles formas  . . . nec propter seipsas appetendas seu nobis promulgatas, sed invisibilis pulchritudinis imaginationes esse, per quas divina providentia in ipsam puram et invisibilem pulchritudinem ipsius veritatis  . . . humanos animos revocat.” Quoted in Tatarkiewicz, Wladyslaw. History of Aesthetics, vol. ii, ed. J. Harrell, C. Barrett, and D. Petsch (New York: Continuum, 1974), 104.

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13 Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, trans. Hugh Bredin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 72. 14 “Ap. Claudiam virginis plebeiae stuprandae libido cepit.” Quoted in Rebecca Langlands, Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 97. 15 Stuprum is a word that also figures prominently in Livy’s story of the rape of Lucretia; in linking the two tales, Livy begins, “another evil deed born from lust followed in the city, with a no less dreadful outcome than that which had driven out the Tarquins from the city and their rule through the stuprum and violent death of Lucretia. Not only did the decemviri come to the same end as the kings, but there was the very same reason for their loss of power.” (“Sequitur aliud in urbe nefas ab libidine ortum, haud minus foedo eventu quam quod per stuprum caedemque Lucretiae urbe regnoque Tarquinios expulerat, ut non finis solum idem decemviris qui regibus sed causa etiam eadem imperii amittendi esset.”) Livy, History of Rome:  Books iii–​iv, ed. and trans. B.  O. Foster (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1922), iii: xliv, 142. The Tarquins violated the chastity of married women, and the decemviri threatened the virginal Roman body. 16 Though see Holly Crocker’s response to Sheila Delaney’s assertion that “Chaucer’s domestication of the tale’s sources diminishes its artistic and political impact” (Chaucer’s Visions of Manhood [New  York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2007], 178n). 17 The clerical engendering of books was something of a commonplace in the Middle Ages, but the books which were engendered were often spoken of as sons not daughters. In the middle of the fourteenth century, for instance, Richard de Bury, bishop of Durham writes in his Philobiblon, “thus the transcription of ancient books is as it were the begetting of fresh sons, on whom the office of the father may devolve, lest the commonwealth of books suffer detriment” (Richard de Bury, Philobiblon, ed. and trans. E. C. Thomas [Oxford:  Blackwell,  1960], 147). Michael Camille argues convincingly that though the natural progression of a series of tropes which link sex and writing (plough, pen, penis) would have made “the author’s inscription, his word, his seed planted on the female flesh of the parchment,” de Bury suppresses the feminine aspect of the trope in order to assert “textual immortality without the necessity for maternal materiality” (Michael Camille, “The Book as Flesh and Fetish in Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon,” in The Book and the Body, ed. Dolores Warwick Frese and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe [University of Notre Dame Press, 1996], 53–​54). Yet as much as de Bury attempts to trope books as male, he himself cannot help but talk about them in feminine terms (ibid., 47–​48). Indeed books were thought of as feminine objects of desire as the host of puns and jokes about the “two-​leaved books” in the period testify to (Gordon Williams, A Dictionary of Sexual Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature [London: Athlone Press, 1994], 131). It is precisely this kind of beautiful, feminine alluring book that Chaucer creates in Virginia. 18 Rita Copeland, “Why Women Can’t Read: Medieval Hermeneutics, Statutory Law, and the Lollard Heresy Trials,” in Representing Women: Law, Literature,

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and Feminism, ed. Susan Sage Heinzelman and Zipporah Batshaw Wiseman (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 256. 19 Copeland treats Jerome’s gendering and reception of pagan texts and the tradition that followed. See ibid., 257–​258. 20 See, for instance, Emerson Brown, Jr., “What is Chaucer Doing with the Physician and his Tale?”, Philological Quarterly 60.2 (1981): 136. 21 For a brief bibliography, see Paul Ruggiers, gen. ed., A Variorum Edition of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. ii part  17, The Physician’s Tale, ed. Helen Storm Corsa (Norman:  University of Oklahoma, 1983), 136n; Benson, Riverside Chaucer, 903n. 22 Judson Boyce Allen and Theresa Anne Moritz, A Distinction of Stories (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1981), 162. 23 John Michael Crafton, “‘The Physician’s Tale’ and Jephthah’s Daughter,” ANQ 20 (2007): 8–​13. 24 The Physician’s lack of biblical knowledge and its relation to Virginia’s biblical reference was pointed out long ago by Richard L. Hoffman, “Jephthah’s Daughter and Chaucer’s Virginia,” The Chaucer Review 2 (1967): 20–​31. 25 Paul Strohm suggests that “Appius [sic] is actually an agent of social dislocation, setting a ‘cherl’ against a worthy knight” (Social Chaucer [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989], 159. 26 Linda Lomperis, “Unruly Bodies and Ruling Practices: Chaucer’s Physician’s Tale as Socially Symbolic Act,” in Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, ed. Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 21–​37. 27 Langlands, Sexual Morality, 100. 28 Lee C. Ramsay, “The Sentence of it Sooth Is: Chaucer’s Physician’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review 6 (1972): 194; Corsa, The Physician’s Tale, 136n. 29 Though these lines only appear in five manuscripts, they have been printed by all modern editors since Caxton. There is, however, some concern about their genuineness. See below. 30 I focus on the scholastic dispute here, but it is worth remembering that in Livy’s version, Verginius’ daughter’s beauty is lamented as well. When her corpse is shown to the people, they lament three things: the crime of Appius, the necessity that drove Verginius to kill his own daughter, and “the girl’s unhappy beauty” (puellae infelicem formam). Langlands reads this as “the people lament[ing] the beauty that was her downfall” (Sexual Morality, 98). 31 Lomperis observes as much, but puts this in the context of the Physician’s ineffectual attempt to wield narrative power (“Unruly Bodies,” 23–​24). 32 Jerome Mandel, “Governance in the Physician’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review 10 (1976): 324n27. 33 P. M. Kean, Chaucer and the Making of English Poetry (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), 2:181. 34 See, for instance, note 43 below. 35 Quoted in Allen and Moritz, A Distinction of Stories, 173n44. 36 Middle English Dictionary, s.v. avīsen.

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37 The extended description of Virginia, the discussion of counterfeiting, and the recurrent stress on the word “peynte” (the tale insistently codes the creation of Virginia as “painting”) all suggest that even the initial appearance of Virginia is nothing more than a representation. Caroline Collette stresses the importance of imagistic representation in “ ‘Peyntyng with Greet Cost’ ”: Virginia as Image in the Physician’s Tale,” Chaucer Yearbook 2 (1985): 49–​62. 38 From British Library Additional MS 24. Anne Hudson, ed., Selections from English Wycliffite Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1978), 87. 39 Sarah Stanbury, The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 116. 40 Hudson, Selections, 83. Here (BL Additional 24202) it is used to critique not the idea of the image as book but the manner in which the image is presented. She notes that the phrase appears in the moderate Lanterne of Light, the more orthodox Dives and Pauper, and at least three other manuscripts (181). 41 Priscilla Heath Barnum, ed. Dives and Pauper (Oxford University Press, 1976–2004), 1: 82. The formulation is entirely conventional, stretching back to Gregory the Great. 42 John M. Bowers, ed., The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-​Century Continuations and Additions (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992), 64. 43 Allen and Moritz, A Distinction of Stories, 162. 44 Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (University of Chicago Press, 1991), 111. The Commentary on Les Échecs Amoureux, for instance, claims: And thus one can suitably enough say that a man finds a mute image in which he cannot find any pleasure or comfort, any more than if she were of ivory or some other insensate matter. Finally, it can well happen by the cunning of the lover and his fine words, by his loyalty and perseverance continued secretly and wisely, and because the goddess Venus shows her mastery and strength there, that he will find his beloved compliant, familiar, and all ready to do his will (Joan Morton Jones, “ ‘The Chess Of Love’ [Old French Text With Translation and Commentary],” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nebraska, 1968), 662–663.

45 Corsa quotes the Harley/​Corpus version (The Physician’s Tale, 46–​47). 46 See note 26. 47 “Clerk” appears in at least eight lines in thirty-​ four manuscripts. Two manuscripts (Harley 7335 and Trinity College r.3.3) write clerk but correct to “cherl” in l. 153. For further details, see Corsa, The Physician’s Tale, 117n. 48 John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, eds., The Text of  The Canterbury Tales, Studied on the Basis of All Known Manuscripts, 8 vols. (University of Chicago Press, 1940), ii: 325; Estelle Stubbs, “ ‘Here’s One I Prepared Earlier’: The Work of Scribe D on Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 198,” Review of English Studies 58 (2007): 147. 49 D. Vance Smith, “Destroyer of Forms:  Chaucer’s Philomela,” Readings in Medieval Textuality, ed. Cristina Maria Cervone and D.  Vance Smith (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2016), 154. There is scholarly consensus that the Physician’s Tale was written either during or shortly after the composition of the Legend of Good Women. See Corsa, The Physicians Tale, 11.

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Ch apter 8

Birdsong, Love, and the House of Lancaster Gower Reforms Chaucer Arthur Bahr

When the mysteries of a medieval manuscript have been solved, what remains of its magic? Less gauzily put: does knowledge of a manuscript’s patron or circumstances of production, for example, close off and thus subvert its potentialities as an aesthetic form? This chapter will approach these questions by means of John Gower’s Trentham manuscript, which rewrites and recontextualizes not just his own earlier works, as has long been recognized, but also Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls and Book of the Duchess, both of which are alluded to in Gower’s Cinkante Balades, a poetic sequence that survives only in Trentham. The sophistication with which Gower manipulates his Chaucerian intertexts further militates against the reductive and value-​laden terms in which the two men’s literary relationship was once understood, and is worth appreciating on this basis alone. Trentham is also a powerful lens for considering the questions with which I began, however, because we know so much about it and many of the poems that it contains or alludes to. The Book of the Duchess appears to have been written in the late 1360s to console a grieving John of Gaunt on the death of his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, during an outbreak of the Black Plague. The Parliament of Fowls is less obviously referential, but scholarship on the poem has been greatly influenced by Larry D. Benson’s persuasive argument that its three falcons represent the suitors of Anne of Bohemia –​one of these the ultimately successful Richard II.1 The Cinkante Balades, meanwhile, are prefaced by dedicatory material that fulsomely praises a newly crowned Henry IV, as several of Trentham’s other texts do as well, especially in the first half of the manuscript.2 These addresses raise the stakes of any links that Trentham or its poems can be shown to have to The Book of the Duchess and Parliament of Fowls, since these centrally concern Henry’s parents and his deposed predecessor (and cousin), respectively. Despite its repeated praise of the new monarch and the high quality of its main scribe, Trentham is a good bit smaller and plainer than we might expect of a presentation copy, and references to Henry grow more 165

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infrequent and perfunctory in its later texts. Why exactly it was produced, and for whom, has therefore been a bit of a puzzle. Sebastian Sobecki has recently added immeasurably to our understanding of the book, however, by demonstrating not just that Gower was intimately involved in its construction, as others have concluded, but also that one of its hands is Gower’s own.3 He further suggests that, read in the context of Anglo-​ French relations in the first months of Henry IV’s reign, the manuscript’s gradually decreasing references to the new king can be explained in terms of those months’ rapidly shifting political climate: Gower began compiling Trentham with the aim of persuading Henry to extend his predecessor’s longstanding truce with France, and when he unexpectedly did so before the manuscript could be completed, it evolved into a more personal object less explicitly concerned with the king.4 Sobecki’s argument is exemplary, not just for the ingeniousness of its historical reconstruction but also for the tension that it foregrounds between the “synchronic historical angle” used to analyze In Praise of Peace, Trentham’s first major text, and its appreciation for how a manuscript’s purpose and audience may change over time.5 This tension between the synchronic and the diachronic becomes even sharper when we consider the allusive intertextuality of many of Trentham’s texts, for intertextuality is inherently temporal: earlier texts inform later ones, and may gain new resonance in light of them. Whatever his conscious intentions when he began compiling Trentham –​and I find Sobecki’s reconstruction of them entirely plausible –​Gower’s decision to set loose a wide range of literary sources, genres, and languages across the manuscript means that the full nature of its effects, and thus its power as an aesthetic object, was always bound to exceed those intentions. This core insight of reception studies should inform our interpretations of books, not just texts, which means that solving the puzzle of a manuscript’s purposiveness does not necessarily diminish the force of literary readings uninformed by or even in tension with that purpose. This is an important reminder for manuscript studies as a discipline, which has tended to prize historically discrete and verifiable data points as interpretive devices. Valuable and often generative as such data are, they should not be allowed to seem to solve and thus metaphorically “close the book” on manuscripts whose vitality depends upon continued reading and creative reinterpretation. Analysis of bird imagery and Chaucerian allusions in Trentham will demonstrate that the manuscript itself invites such rereading, thereby becoming a literary object whose still-​evolving meaning exceeds the historical circumstances from which it emerged.

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The thirty-​fourth of Gower’s Cinkante Balades is the first of two consecutive poems that open with a reference to Valentine’s Day as the annual mating-​day of all birdkind: Saint Valentin l’amour et la nature De toutz oiseals ad en governement; Dont chascun d’eaux semblable a sa mesure Une compaigne honeste a son talent Eslist tout d’un accord et d’un assent: Pour celle soule laist a covenir Toutes les autres, car nature aprent, U li coers est, le corps falt obeir.

Saint Valentine governs the love And nature of all birds, each of whom (In accordance with what is proper) Chooses an honest companion Of one accord and with one assent: For her alone he agrees to leave All others, for nature teaches that Where the heart is, the body must obey.

Ma doulce dame, ensi jeo vous assure Qe jeo vous ai eslieu semblablement; Sur toutes autres estes a dessure De mon amour si tresentierement, Qe riens y falt par quoi joiousement De coer et corps jeo vous voldrai servir: Car de reson c’est une experiment, U li coers est, le corps falt obeir.

My sweet lady, I assure you That I have chosen you similarly; You are far above all others In my love, entirely, such that Nothing is lacking, and joyously, With heart and body I wish to serve you: Since it is made clear by reason that Where the heart is, the body must obey.

Pour remembrer jadis celle aventure De Alceone et Ceix ensement, Com dieus muoit en oisel lour figure, Ma volenté serroit tout tielement, Qe sanz envie et danger de la gent Nous porroions ensemble par loisir Voler tout francs en nostre esbatement: U li coers est, le corps falt obeir.

Remember that comparable adventure, Long ago, of Alcyone and Ceix, How God changed their shapes into birds; My desire would be wholly the same, That without the envy or gossip of others, We could fly together, with pleasure, Both free and noble in our delight: Where the heart is, the body must obey.

Ma belle oisel, vers qui mon pensement S’en vole ades sanz null contretenir, Pren cest escript, car jeo sai voirement U li coers est, le corps falt obeir.

My lovely bird, toward whom my thought Always flies without any constraint, Take this writing, for I know clearly that Where the heart is, the body must obey.6

At least in England and possibly in Europe as well, Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls is the earliest known association of Valentine’s Day with either love or birds,7 so the opening of this poem should make us especially attentive to another Chaucerian allusion: the third stanza’s reference to the myth of Ceyx and Alcione, which plays a crucial role in Chaucer’s first long poem, The Book of the Duchess. There the hapless and insomniac Chaucerian narrator picks up Ovid’s story of the doomed couple: Ceyx drowned at sea and Alcione pining away for her lost love until Juno commands Morpheus, the god of sleep, to assume Ceyx’s form and describe his sorry fate. The narrator cuts short their final conversation, however, in order to emphasize

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what he takes to be the real point of the story:  that it inspired him to bribe Morpheus with a host of expensive pillows and coverlets so as to finally get some shut-​eye. The careening shifts in tone over these lines, from the plain-​spoken pathos of Ceyx’s farewell and stylized, abbreviated response by his wife, to the subsequent, comically amplified list of bedroom goodies, help establish the narrative persona that will persist in various forms throughout Chaucer’s career: bookish and credulous, literal-​ minded and unlucky in love. The tendency to comic misinterpretation that is also key to this persona –​ here, fixating on a peripheral detail at the expense of the larger story’s emotional stakes –​leads Chaucer to omit key elements of the myth, including the couple’s eventual transformation into birds. Gower’s evocation of the story in the Cinkante Balades can thus be read as a graceful nod to Henry’s parents:  giving their mythological analogues a long-​deferred, recuperative metamorphosis, using figures that once recorded bereavement and death to intimate an eternity of amatory delight. More broadly, Gower’s allusion to The Book of the Duchess breathes new life into a literary tradition –​the love-​ poetry of figures like Machaut and Froissart, from which the earlier poem liberally borrows –​that Chaucer used to memorialize something treasured but irrevocably lost. Far from indulging in backward-​looking literary nostalgia, Gower gives these motifs new force by reforging them as forme-​fixe lyric rather than dream-​vision narrative, thus joining what Ardis Butterfield calls “a growing trend in compiling self-​authored lyric sequences that  . . . became the cross-​channel poetic activity du jour.”8 His revivification of these figures within a text and manuscript both dedicated to Henry, meanwhile, implies an unbroken line of succession from Gaunt to Henry, thus subtly evoking the right of descent that was a key defense of the Lancastrian accession. The Balades’ use of another bird image reinforces this element of Henry’s claim. The sequence’s metadialogue between courtly lover and lady concludes with her joyously comparing his love to the eagle, whose soaring flight surpasses that of all other birds (46.1–​5). This eagle recalls Gower’s brief Latin poem “H. aquile pullus,” which appears as a self-​standing poem in other manuscripts but in Trentham is embedded within the dedicatory material immediately preceding the Cinkante Balades proper: H. aquile pullus, quo nunquam gracior ullus, Hostes confregit, que tirannica colla subegit. H. aquile cepit oleum, quo regna recepit; Sic veteri iuncta stipiti nova stirps redit uncta.

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H[enry] son of the eagle, than whom no one is ever more graceful, Has broken his enemies, and subjugated tyrannical necks. H. the eagle has captured the oil, by which he has received the rule of the realm; Thus the new stock returns, anointed and joined to the old stem.9

R.  F. Yeager associates this imagery with “a thirteenth-​ century offshoot of the Merlin prophecies . . . which among Lancastrian supporters associated Henry IV with an eaglet (pullus aquilae) who comes from across the sea to depose a white king (rex albus  –​i.e. Richard, whose badge was a white hart). Henry was supposed the eagle because the symbol of John the Evangelist, namesake of his father, John of Gaunt, was an eagle, and because the badge of Edward III, his grandfather, was an eagle also . . .”10 The image of the eagle thus links the explicitly political content of “H.  aquile pullus” and the rest of the dedicatory material to the courtly love discourse of the Cinkante Balades proper. More pointedly, it connects the sacred anointing oil to the rejoining of new to old stock:  from John of Gaunt to his son Henry, with the intervening Richard rhetorically cut out. As in the poems that precede and surround this dedicatory material, the pair of re-​verbs in ll. 3 and 4 subtly imply that, far from usurping the throne, Henry has simply restored what ought always to have been.11 Yet neither Balade 46’s ecstatic reference to the eagle nor its range of Lancastrian allusions flows seamlessly out of Balade 34’s initiation of bird metaphors. Balade 35 recasts the previous poem’s avian parliament in considerably darker terms: Saint Valentin plus qe null Emperour Ad parlement et convocacion Des toutz oiseals, qui vienont a son jour, U la compaigne prent son compaignon En droit amour; mais par comparison D’ascune part ne puiss avoir la moie: Qui soul remaint ne poet avoir grant joie.

Saint Valentine, greater than any emperor, Holds a parliament and assembly Of all birds, who come on his day, Where the female takes her companion In true love; but I, by contrast, Am unable to have my own part of this: He who remains alone cannot have   great joy.

Com la fenix souleine est au sojour En Arabie celle regioun, Ensi ma dame en droit de son amour Souleine maint, ou si jeo vuill ou noun, N’ad cure de ma supplicacion, Sique d’amour ne sai troever la voie: Qui soul remaint ne poet avoir grant joie.

Like the solitary phoenix in her dwelling Within the region of Arabia, So too my lady with respect to her love Remains solitary, whether I wish it or no, And takes no notice of my appeal, And so I cannot find the path of love: He who remains alone cannot have   great joy.

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O com nature est pleine de favour A ceos oiseals q’ont lour eleccion! O si jeo fuisse en droit de mon atour En ceo soul cas de lour condicioun! Plus poet nature qe ne poet resoun, En mon estat tresbien le sente et voie: Qui soul remaint ne poet avoir grant joie. Chascun Tarcel gentil ad sa falcoun, Mais j’ai faili de ceo q’avoir voldroie: Ma dame, c’est le fin de mon chançoun, Qui soul remaint ne poet avoir grant joie.

Oh how completely Nature favors Those birds who make their choice! Oh if only I could be, as regards my  situation, In precisely their own condition! Nature is more powerful than reason, In my state it is readily felt and seen: He who remains alone cannot have   great joy. Each noble tercel has his falcon, But I have failed to gain what I wish to  have: My lady, this is the end of my song: He who remains alone cannot have   great joy. (CB, Balade 35)

This poem evokes the Parliament of Fowls much more pointedly than its predecessor, using the word “parlement” itself, which Balade 34 did not, and describing its proceedings in far greater detail. Like Chaucer’s poem, it depicts a lady who stands apart from the love-​pairings taking place around her and a narrator who is also excluded from the game of love (though the narrative persona here is, admittedly, quite different). Its envoy also mentions tercels, the birds vying for the formel’s hand at the end of the Parliament. That episode has most often been read as a political allegory of marriage negotiations between the young Richard II and Anne of Bohemia around 1380, designed (like all royal marriages) to ensure a smooth line of succession. These allusions to Chaucer’s poem thus draw our attention to the Ricardian past that Trentham elsewhere seems interested in suppressing. Indeed, they may even remind us of how unlikely the Lancastrian accession would have been had either of Richard’s marriages produced an heir. Within the Cinkante Balades’ metanarrative, Balade 35 undoes much of the celebratory tone of the previous poem by suggesting that the poet-​narrator’s expressions of love there did not help his cause. It thus anticipates the strange dissonance of Balades 40–​43, in which the lover (40) and lady (41–​43) exchange increasingly bitter charges of inconstancy  –​only for these accusations to melt away in the  rapturous celebration of Balade 46, considered above. The abrupt shifts in tone and content across Balades 39–​46 –​comparable to what we have seen in the two Parliament of Birds lyrics, earlier –​make it difficult to feel that the Cinkante Balades as a whole, much less the manuscript of which they are

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just one text among many, can be reduced to a single recoverable purpose, as Sobecki suggests.12 I  would argue instead that the manuscript’s intertexuality generally, and the particular Chaucerian texts to which it alludes, invites readers to lean into the difficulty of finding in literary objects stable perspectives on pressing social or political problems. Put another way: Sobecki may be right to contend that “the main objectives of the manuscript are  . . . love, nations, treaties, peace,” but I  think he underestimates the destabilizing force that the first of those implies. After all, courtly-​love discourse is infamously slippery; so too is Chaucer, and Gower has chosen to infuse Trentham with both. Gower’s allusions to the Parliament of Fowls are key here, for Chaucer’s poem opens with a memorable characterization of Love’s vast and inscrutable powers, which reduce the narrator to dumbstruck incomprehension: The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, Th’assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge, The dredful joye alwey that slit so yerne: Al this mene I by Love, that my felynge Astonyeth with his wonderful werkynge So sore, iwis, that whan I on hym thynke, Nat wot I wel wher that I flete or synke. For al be that I knowe nat Love in dede, Ne wot how that he quiteth folk here hyre, Yit happeth me ful ofte in bokes reede Of his myrakles and his crewel yre. There rede I wel he wol be lord and syre; I dar nat seyn, his strokes been so sore, But “God save swich a lord!” –​I can na moore.13

(PF, ll. 1–​14)

As in The Book of the Duchess, repeated reading here yields not understanding but rather the assertions of incapacity that close each stanza: “nat wot I wel” and “I can na moore.” Subsequent vignettes of reading in the poem end similarly. After taking up and summarizing Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis, the narrator retires to bed, “fulfyld of thought and busy hevynesse; /​For bothe I hadde thyng which that I nolde, /​And ek I ne hadde that thyng that I wolde” (PF, ll. 89–​91). Later, in the dream-​vision proper, reading the contrasting descriptions of Love’s joys and pains affixed to the gates of the earthly paradise literally stuns the narrator; like a piece of iron held in suspension between two perfectly calibrated magnetic poles (PF, ll. 148–​151), he is attracted and repelled in equal measure, unable to move at all until his guide Scipio indecorously shoves him inside.

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Each of these moments subtly engages the reader’s interpretive faculties. The syntax of the poem’s first two stanzas is quite complex, for example: the Riverside editors note that, depending on how ll. 13–​14 are punctuated, they could mean either “I dare not say Love’s inflictions (in my case) have been grievous; all I can do is give him royal honors,” or “Since he is apt to give severe treatment to those who oppose him, I am too frightened to do anything but propitiate him by expressing my homage and good wishes. And that is all I  know about the matter.”14 The verbosity of those paraphrases highlights these lines’ brilliant synthesis of semantic ambiguity with verbal pleonasm, and the result is a pleasurably difficult reading experience that puts us in sympathy with the narrator’s own befuddlement. Similarly, the riddling nature of the narrator’s comments about the Somnium Scipionis –​what thing did he have that he didn’t want, and what did he want instead? –​encourages active reading yet leaves us comparably unfulfilled. And the thrice-​repeated “thorgh me men gon” formulation that he reads at ll. 127–​140 clearly recalls Dante’s words above the gate to Hell (Inferno, 3.1–​3), but whereas each “per me si va” phrase in Inferno is broadly congruent in content, Chaucer has Love proclaim itself both an eternal springtime garden and a gnarled forest of thwarted desire: in Dante’s terms, at once the earthly paradise at the end of Purgatorio and Inferno’s wood of the suicides. The threat of narrative stasis produced by these contradictions then receives yet another metaphor of writing: as the narrator stands dumbstruck, Scipio tells him that his confusion “stondeth writen in thy face” (PF, l. 155). Such moments press Chaucer’s audience to be better readers than his own narrative persona is, even as the interpretive challenges that his texts pose warn against smugness or complacency. Gower’s allusions to Chaucer’s dream-​visions thus recall the interpretive challenges thematized by those poems, while their intertextual play creates still more such challenges for Trentham’s reader. This is especially true of the three texts that follow the Cinkante Balades, which open out in so many different directions, and are so much longer than any other text in the manuscript, that by the time we reach “Ecce patet tensus,” the Traitié pour Essampler les Amantz Marietz, and “Henrici quarti primus,” it is much harder to feel confident of how any given reader might interpret them, either individually or as part of a broader textual constellation. I therefore offer the following readings not as secure, settled interpretations, but rather as examples of the kind of literary game that Trentham encourages its readers to play. As such, they illustrate my broader argument that the manuscript itself becomes a text whose allusive complexities, internal and external, work against any single reading of its audience, purpose, or effects.

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The blind Cupid described in “Ecce patet tensus” is a crowned king (l. 13) who conquers everything (l. 3), refusing ever to make peace (l. 20).15 By emphasizing the capricious, destructive, and absolute nature of Cupid’s rule, this poem recasts the amatory subject matter of the Cinkante Balades in more negative and explicitly political terms. The Parliament of Fowls is less overtly moralizing, but it too begins by describing Love’s “sharp  . . . conquerynge” and “crewel yre” (ll. 2, 11). Like the Cinkante Balades–​“Ecce patet tensus” juxtaposition, the Parliament moves across love and politics, for the narrator concludes his initial meditation on love by deciding to read, not the Romance of the Rose or a Machaut poem, as the first two stanzas might suggest, but rather a moralizing work of political philosophy, the Somnium Scipionis. The Boethian harmony of the spheres to which that text alludes is later recast as the joyous singing of the assembled love-​ struck birds, and of course that they have a “parliament” at all is inherently if nonspecifically political. Balade 25 even appears to translate one of the riddling lines from the Parliament discussed earlier: Chaucer’s “And ek I ne hadde that thyng that I wolde” (l. 91) becomes Gower’s “Mais j’ai faili de ceo q’avoir voldroie” (25.23). The impossibility of knowing whether this echo is intentional is an important point to which I will return, but more significant to Trentham than any particular reference is the Parliament’s broader suggestion that the private world of romantic love and the public world of civil society are inextricably linked, for this is precisely the argument that Trentham makes by means of its careful arrangement of political and courtly-​love poetry. In addition to its links to the preceding Cinkante Balades, for example, “Ecce patet tensus” describes Cupid in terms that echo those applied to Henry IV in “In Praise of Peace.”16 My point is not that Gower is indebted to the Parliament of Fowls for the idea of blending political and erotic discourse, since plenty of other texts do that, or even that “Ecce patet tensus” necessarily alludes to Chaucerian poems at all (though we might recall that the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women also features a fierce and peremptory Cupid, albeit to comic effect) –​only that we are likelier to hear these echoes because of the considerably stronger Chaucerian allusions in the preceding Cinkante Balades. Trentham’s range of intertextual echoes thus risks compromising, or at least complicating, what might have seemed initially like a fairly straightforward program of political praise. Both these echoes and their cautionary potential become even clearer in the Traitié, which follows “Ecce patet tensus.” As a series of French balades, it is already formally linked to the Cinkante Balades, but unlike the earlier, longer sequence, it is explicitly moralizing, praising faithful

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marriage by excoriating lust and adultery. Like the Ceyx-​and-​Alcione story of Balade 34 and The Book of the Duchess, its twelfth balade presents the Ovidian transformation of royal figures into birds, but here it is the horrifying tale of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela:  married to Procne, Tereus rapes her sister Philomela, then cuts out her tongue so she cannot expose his guilt; out of pity, revulsion, or both, the gods transform them into the hoopoe, swallow, and nightingale. At this point we may feel Gower’s intertextual game start spinning out of control. Clearly the Traitié’s Tereus-​hoopoe is both like and unlike the Ceyx-​bird, the lover-​ eagle of the Cinkante Balades, and the Henry-​eagle of the dedicatory material; but how do we navigate the nearness of these dissimilarities, or determine the extent to which they are meaningful at all? The Traitié does not give us a clear answer, and a later bird-​reference in Balade 15 complicates the matter still further: Comunes sont la cronique et l’istoire De Lancelot et Tristans ensement; Enqore maint lour sotie en memoire, Pour essampler les autres du present: Cil q’est guarni et nulle garde prent, Droitz est qu’il porte mesmes sa folie; Car beal oisel par autre se chastie. Tout temps del an om truist d’amour la foire, U que les coers Cupide done et vent: Deux tonealx ad, dont il les gentz fait boire, L’un est assetz plus douls qe n’est pyment, L’autre est amier plus que null arrement: Parentre deux falt q’om se modefie, Car beal oisel par autre se chastie. As uns est blanches, as uns fortune est noire; Amour se torne trop diversement, Ore est en joie, ore est en purgatoire, Sanz point, sanz reule et sanz governement: Mais sur toutz autres il fait sagement, Q’en fol amour ne se delite mie; Car beal oisel par autre se chastie.

Many a chronicle and history records The stories of Lancelot and Tristan; Their foolishness is still remembered So as to provide instruction for others  today: He who is warned but takes no care –​ It is right that he bear his folly himself; For one beautiful bird is corrected   [or “punished”] by another. The fair of love is open all year round, Where Cupid gives and sells hearts: He has two barrels that he makes folks   drink from: One is just as sweet as any wine, The other bitterer than any ink. He who controls himself must stay   between them, For one beautiful bird is corrected   by another. Fortune is white to some and black to  others; Love turns round about so capriciously That one is now in joy, now in purgatory, Without any limit, rule, or governing: But he is wise above all others Who takes no pleasure in foolish love; For one beautiful bird is corrected   by another.

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The first striking thing about this lyric is how odd its refrain seems, since although birds have figured throughout Trentham, this particular poem mentions none. It is also unusual in taking up the more-​or-​less contemporary figures of Lancelot and Tristan instead of the classical or biblical ones that have dominated the sequence thus far, and further in emphasizing the written transmission, via “la chronique et l’istoire,” of their antiexemplarity. This suggestion –​that reading about Lancelot will cause folks wisely to avoid romantic entanglements –​flies in the face of one of the most famous vignettes of all medieval literature:  the story of Paolo and Francesca, doomed to whirl about eternally in Dante’s circle of the lustful. Francesca sets the scene as follows: “Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse; soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto. Per più fiate li occhi ci sospinse quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso; ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse. Quando leggemmo il disiato riso esser basciato da cotanto amante, questi, che mai da me non fia diviso, la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante. Galeotto fu ‘l libro e chi lo scrisse: quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.” Mentre che l’uno spirto questo disse, l’atro piangëa; sì che di pietade io venni men così com’ io morisse. E caddi come corpo morto cade.

“One day, to pass the time away, we read of Lancelot –​how love had overcome him. We were alone, and we suspected nothing. And time and time again that reading led our eyes to meet, and made our faces pale, and yet one point alone defeated us. When we had read how the desired smile was kissed by one who was so true a lover, this one, who never shall be parted from me, while all his body trembled, kissed   my mouth. A Gallehault indeed, that book and he who wrote it, too; that day we read   no more.” And while one spirit said these words   to me, the other wept, so that –​because of pity –​ I fainted, as if I had met my death. And then I fell as a dead body falls.17

The otherwise odd-​ seeming “beal oisel” refrain to Gower’s balade strengthens the echo of Dante’s text, for this Canto of Inferno is replete with bird images: the souls’ punishment is to be forever buffeted by harsh winds, like starlings struggling in vain against the icy blasts of winter (5.40), and they are later likened to cranes (5.46) and doves (5.82). This allusion subtly reminds us that reading can be dangerous: the book and its author join Paolo in seducing Francesca, and her narration in turn seduces the pilgrim-​Dante, who at this early stage of his journey is more inclined to pity than to condemn the damned souls he encounters. Pietade and its variants recur throughout the Canto, the last two lines of which make clear

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that such forms of misreading  –​interpreting Francesca’s thrice-​repeated amor (5.100–​108) as caritas rather than cupiditas  –​can lead to spiritual death. We thus return, in a considerably darker register, to the challenges of (mis)reading that dominate the Chaucerian dream-​visions from which Gower draws, and to Trentham’s exploration of the destabilizing, multifaceted nature of love itself. All of this bird-​and-​love imagery reminds us that intertextual echoes and allusions tend to spread like wildfire. Like fire, they can be beautiful and illuminating but are inherently difficult to control: any two readers may hear different elements of Trentham’s Chaucerian allusions, or construe them differently, while a third may hear none at all. Textual reformulations are thus subject to forces outside the author’s control, which may not align with his or her own wishes. I hear a version of this recognition in the envoy to the Traitié’s final balade: Al université de tout le monde Johan Gower ceste Balade envoie; Et si jeo n’ai de François la faconde, Pardonetz moi qe jeo de ceo forsvoie: Jeo sui Englois, si quier par tiele voie Estre excusé; mais quoique nulls en die, L’amour parfit en dieu se justifie.

To the whole, entire world John Gower sends this balade; And if I do not have eloquence in French, Pardon me for going astray: I am English, and beg on account of that To be excused; but whatever anyone says, True love is vouchsafed by God.

This linguistic version of the modesty topos would make more sense if, as in other manuscripts, the Traitié followed the English Confessio Amantis. Here it seems out of place, however, since far more of Trentham is in French than in English, and the French of Gower’s balades, in particular, was much more continental than that of other Anglo-​French writers and thus theoretically less in need of excuses.18 Of course, modesty topoi need not be sincere, as Chaucer frequently demonstrates, but in this particular manuscript, the image of swerving from the path (forsvoier in l. 4, which offers perhaps yet another evocation of Dante, in this case the diritta via that becomes smaritta in the very first tercet of Inferno?) invites a less literal reading: Gower’s recognition that authorial desire and textual meaning will inevitably diverge. This is true to a degree of all texts, of course, but Trentham is especially slippery because of its intertextuality and capacious range of languages and genres. Ardis Butterfield, for example, has shown that the discourse of the Cinkante Balades belongs to an “international language of love” that extended well beyond stock words and images, as courtly poets evoked, translated, and even cited or addressed contemporaries and predecessors on both sides of the Channel. She then uses the much-​quoted refrain

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of one of Gower’s Cinkante Balades to show “how illimitable the textual search for connection becomes. Its prolific history of citation represents the ever-​expanding network of textual traces that rush outwards from any text like stars in the expanding universe” –​shades of the wildfire-​like spread of allusion that I described earlier.19 The Cinkante Balades may constitute an extreme example of this phenomenon, but they usefully remind us that even for texts such as In Praise of Peace, which seem to emerge out of a specific moment of crisis, that “synchronic historical angle”20 can tell only part of its story because texts are inherently diachronic: informed, by virtue of their form and images, genre and language, by a host of previous texts that make available other, potentially competing associations. Its status as a multi-​text manuscript book means that Trentham contains a range of such competing associations within it. Furthermore, by making the Cinkante Balades central to Trentham, as well as its longest text, Gower ensured that the kind of open-​endedness integral to the courtly-​love lyric would define the volume. It may be difficult or impossible to feel confident of “the degree of purposive control implied” by a given textual allusion, as Butterfield puts it, and yet “[t]‌he very breadth of reference contained in ‘Qui bien aime’ [the refrain she discusses, to Balade 25] suggests that it was precisely that openness which attracted Gower rather than a desire to close it down ethically.”21 Indeed, she notes that this refrain appears in place of the concluding roundel in several manuscripts of the Parliament of Fowls, adding yet another layer of complexity to the relations between these texts, and to the whole intertextual game played across the Cinakante Balades and Trentham as a whole.22 This connection might further incline us, for example, to read as intentional the apparent translation of Parliament’s l. 91 within Balade 25, mentioned above. Either way, it seems quite right to conclude, with Butterfield, that “uncertainty has many useful consequences” for literary study. For her, these include “a less linear, chronological approach” to source study in favor of one that recognizes the “cooperatively generated” nature of many themes and motifs.23 It also means that the two texts unique to Trentham pull in opposite directions: In Praise of Peace may propose a single perspective on a question of vital but fleeting historical relevance, whereas the Cinkante Balades, with its complex allusive range and open-​ended textual affiliations, invites multiple perspectives and informed rereading. This tension between key components of a single manuscript reminds us that even if such objects can be shown to have sprung from a single guiding intelligence –​and I believe Sobecki has conclusively established that Trentham did  –​its originating intentions are unlikely to account fully for its literary effects.

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The excitement of recovering those intentions by delving into an object’s past should therefore not distract us from the fact that texts and books may also look forward, to the vitality offered by new readings and communities of readers. This is precisely what Chaucer and Gower do at the end of the Parliament of Fowls and the Trentham manuscript, respectively. Here is how Chaucer’s poem concludes: And with the shoutyng, whan the song was do That foules maden at here flyght awey, I wok, and othere bokes tok me to, To reede upon, and yit I rede alwey. I hope, ywis, to rede so som day That I shal mete som thyng for to fare The bet, and thus to rede I nyl nat spare.

(PF, ll. 693–​699)

There is something endearing about the breathlessly earnest nature of the narrator’s promise to keep reading –​four uses of the word rede in the last four lines –​and it is hard not to feel that Chaucer’s narrative persona and his own person intersect here, since he was indeed a voracious and eclectic reader throughout his career. The potential that Gower was thinking of the Parliament of Fowls, with its eager anticipation of future reading, makes the final text of the Trentham manuscript especially poignant: Henrici quarti primus regni fuit annus   Quo michi defecit visus ad acta mea. Omnia tempus habent; finem natura ministrat,   Quem virtute sua frangere nemo potest. Ultra posse nichil, quamvis michi velle remansit;   Amplius ut scribam non michi posse manet. Dum potui scripsi, set nunc quia curua senectus   Turbavit sensus, scripta relinquo scolis. Scribat qui veniet post me discrecior alter,   Ammodo namque manus et mea penna silent. Hoc tamen, in fine verborum queso meorum,   Prospera quod statuat regna futura Deus. Amen. It was in the first year of the reign of King Henry IV   When my sight failed for my deeds. All things have their time; nature applies a limit,   Which no man can break by his own power. I can do nothing beyond what is possible, though my will has remained;   My ability to write more has not stayed.

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While I was able I wrote, but now because stooped old age   Has troubled my senses, I leave writing to the schools. Let someone else more discreet who comes after me write,   For from this time forth my hand and pen will be silent. Nevertheless I ask this one final thing, the last of my words:   That God make our kingdoms prosperous in the future. Amen.24

In contrast with the youthful enthusiasm of Chaucer’s Parliament, Gower here acknowledges “stooped old age” (l. 7) and, still more painfully for a professional reader and writer, the onset of the blindness that he would identify more explicitly in later versions of the same poem.25 The poem is far from defeatist, however, for even as he recognizes that his “ability to write more has not stayed,” he insists that his “will has remained” (ll. 5–​6), and he rhetorically convenes a community of the present (“in schools,” l. 8) and the future (“let someone else . . . who comes after me write,” l. 9) to take up the calling that he here reluctantly consigns to his past. This is one of Trentham’s most compelling reformulations of Chaucer, for it makes communal an imperative to activities –​reading and writing –​ that Chaucer generally depicts as solitary. The final stanza of the Parliament, for example, uses even more first-​person singular pronouns (five) than it does instances of the word rede, and although he was clearly socially active and adroit (“social Chaucer,” as Paul Strohm so memorably described him), he often depicts himself as alone: reading by himself late at night in the dream-​visions and keeping mostly to himself even on the bustling pilgrimage of his magnum opus. He seems to have kept his own counsel, too, navigating the treacherous shoals of late fourteenth-​century English politics well enough to stay safe (unlike his friend Thomas Usk), and never publicly committing himself so wholly to a cause or person that he could be tarred with language like “Lancastrian apologist,” “propagandist,” or even “hack” –​terms that for so long unjustly diminished Gower’s scholarly reputation.26 Gower is having the last laugh, though. The immense vitality of Gower studies in recent years demonstrates the power of his invitations to reading, writing, and reformulation  –​made explicit in Trentham’s final text and implicit, as I have argued, in the manuscript’s choice and arrangement of texts. This vitality means that we should, perhaps, treat what was almost certainly his last book a bit less elegiacally than it has been recently.27 Aspects of Gower’s tone in “Henrici quarti primus” make this attitude to the manuscript understandable, but the poet’s final reformulations of Chaucer and his own poetic career are ultimately dynamic and forward-​ looking. Solving the mysteries of the past therefore need not –​and perhaps

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should not –​be an end in itself. Trentham reminds us that we honor the subversive forms that reading, writing, and thinking can take when we look beyond the singular, historically discrete goals they may once have had: out of the past, and into the future.

Notes 1 Larry D. Benson, “The Occasion of the Parliament of Fowls,” in The Wisdom of Poetry: Essays in Early English Literature in Honor of Morton W. Bloomfield, ed. Larry D.  Benson and Siegfried Wenzel (Kalamazoo:  Medieval Institute Publications, 1982), 123–​144. 2 Sebastian Sobecki, “Ecce patet tensus:  The Trentham Manuscript, In Praise of Peace, and John Gower’s Autograph Hand,” Speculum 90, no. 4 (October 2015): 925–​959. His footnotes provide a comprehensive bibliography of the considerable scholarly work that Trentham has attracted. See especially 932–​934 for a helpful précis of scholarly debates about what the manuscript’s codicological features suggest about its audience and occasion. 3 Ibid., 951–​959. 4 Ibid., 933–​934. 5 Ibid., 937. Sobecki neatly summarizes this shift near the end of his essay: “the Trentham manuscript, then, was begun to encourage Henry to confirm the truce with France but was completed as an early draft of Gower’s very own ars moriendi, perfected in his trilingual funereal monument in St. Mary Overeys, now a part of Southwark Cathedral” (958). 6 All citations of Gower’s Cinkante Balades (CB) and Traitié are from John Gower: The French Balades, ed. and trans. R. F. Yeager (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2011) and hereafter will be made parenthetically. I am indebted to Yeager’s translations, although I have freely adapted them here. 7 Jack B. Oruch argues for Chaucer’s priority in “St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February,” Speculum 56, no. 3 (July  1981):  534–​565. See also H.  A. Kelly, Chaucer and the Cult of St. Valentine (Leiden:  Brill, 1986). Ardis Butterfield is skeptical that historical precedence can be clearly established, and notes that the Savoyard poet Oton de Graunson wrote more about Valentine’s Day than either Chaucer or Gower (The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language, and Nation in the Hundred Years War [Oxford University Press,  2009], 251). Even if Chaucer is indebted to Graunson in the Parliament of Fowls (PF), however, it seems clear to me that Gower is thinking substantially if not solely of Chaucer in these poems. 8 Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 245. See also R.  F. Yeager, “John Gower’s Audience,” The Chaucer Review 40, no. 1 (2005): 83–​87. 9 Ed. and trans. R. F. Yeager, John Gower: The Minor Latin Works (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005), 46–​47. 10 Ibid., 78. 11 On the profusion of re-​verbs in the first half of the Trentham manuscript, see Arthur Bahr, Fragments and Assemblages:  Forming Compilations of Medieval London (University of Chicago Press, 2013), 226–​230.

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12 One section of his essay is entitled “The Purpose of the Trentham Manuscript” (“Ecce patet tensus,” 946), and he subsequently proposes “read[ing] the entire manuscript as an attempt to balance not only English and French, but also England and France” (947). 13 All citations of Chaucer are drawn from The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). 14 Ibid., 995. 15 “Ecce patet tensus” is included in Yeager, John Gower:  The Minor Latin Works, 40–​41. 16 Bahr, Fragments and Assemblages, 245–​248. 17 Dante Alighieri, Inferno 5.127–​42, trans. Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Bantam Books, 1982). 18 See Sobecki, “Ecce patet tensus,” 946; Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 241–​ 244. Butterfield cites an unpublished argument by Brian Merrilees that the Cinkante Balades demonstrate familiarity with “the newest trends in continental French” (244). 19 Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 247. 20 Sobecki, “Ecce patet tensus,” 937. 21 Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy, 248–​250. 22 Ibid., 248. 23 Ibid., 251. 24 “Henrici quarti primus,” along with two apparently later versions of the poem preserved in other manuscripts, is included in Yeager, John Gower: The Minor Latin Works, 46–​49. 25 Gower’s blindness has attracted some fine critical analyses, especially as it relates to Trentham:  Candace Barrington, “The Trentham Manuscript as Broken Prosthesis,” Accessus 1, no. 1 (2013):  article 4 (http://​scholarworks. wmich.edu/​accessus/​vol1/​iss1/​4); Jonathan Hsy, “Blind Advocacy:  Blind Readers, Disability Theory, and Accessing John Gower,” Accessus 1, no. 1 (2013):  article 2 (http://​scholarworks.wmich.edu/​accessus/​vol1/​iss1/​2); R.  F .Yeager, “Gower in Winter: Last Poems,” in The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones, ed. R. F.  Yeager and Toshiyuki Takamiya (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 87–​103; Sobecki, “Ecce patet tensus,” 951–​959, which argues that one of the hands in Trentham, which displays quirks associated with failing eyesight, is Gower’s own. 26 For an incisive repudiation of such language, see Sobecki, “Ecce patet tensus,” 943–​946. 27 E.g. Barrington’s “The Trentham Manuscript as Broken Prosthesis” and Yeager’s “Gower in Winter: Last Poems.”

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Ch apter 9

Opening The Canterbury Tales

Form and Formalism in the General Prologue Stephanie Trigg

The opening lines of The Canterbury Tales famously dramatize a moment of beginning that has also become a return: all that moist, bright greenness calling us back in to the world of medieval springtime; the golden sun perpetually passing across the blue sky and the stars of the Ram like an animated illumination from a Book of Hours; and the little birds staying awake all night forever so we don’t have to.1 The cyclic temporality of beginning takes two forms: the joyous invocation of spring and seasonal adventure; and from the longer perspective of Chaucer studies, a return to a world that has become both beloved and familiar. In many literary histories, indeed, this Prologue is celebrated as the beginning of a new poetic tradition in English literature. It is often a student’s first introduction to medieval literature. With such a weight of expectation, how do we frame our students’ first encounter with The Canterbury Tales? How can we capture the sheer newness of this opening? By way of a thought experiment, let us set aside the many possible scenarios in which such an encounter may take place, and try to imagine the thoughts that may be provoked by opening up the first page of the Tales in the “standard” edition, The Riverside Chaucer.2 The first page of the text is dauntingly framed (see Figure 1). What does this mean? The work seems to have two different titles, differently spelled; and there is a confusing naming and numbering of fragments and groups. All the signs of beginning and opening are here (Number I! Letter A! A Prologue! Something that begynneth!) but the effect of all these signs of opening is almost to overshadow the first lines (those famous subordinate and temporal clauses) of the poem itself. This first page declares there is a further technical aspect to this poem:  scholarship you cannot immediately comprehend. The disjunction between the natural world of the poem and the technicalities of the text could not be greater. And while these introductory lines seem like a beginning, what is it the beginning of? Is a group a part of a fragment? Or are these two names for the same 182

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Figure 1  The Riverside Chaucer.

section? And what is the title of this poem? Is this The Canterbury Tales or The Book of the Tales of Caunterbury? The experience of beginning to read can never be as pristine as the naming of April as the beginning of spring, is what this edition forbiddingly warns students. With all these different signs of beginning, it is almost as if the poem has already started without you. The proliferation of typefaces, font sizes, roman and arabic numbers, horizontal lines, and the centered square dot on this opening page compounds the difficulties, though these technical features are offset to a degree by the charming open-​mouthed beast with the forked tail marching along between serrated lines at the top of the page. And perhaps there is something reassuring, after all, about that very medieval sentence: “Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury.” Its odd spelling and grammatical form are reassuringly easy to read: perhaps you will be able to understand Chaucer’s language without too much difficulty. It is also possible that this unwieldy handful of titles, numbers, and letters is quite appealing to students who are drawn to the world of scholarship it invokes.

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Between the first column of text and the glosses, our glimpse of this world opens up much further. “This text was revised by RALPH HANNA III and LARRY D.  BENSON, with materials provided by ROBERT A. PRATT.” Revised from what? What could these “materials” possibly be? Turning back to the full title page, we read that The Riverside Chaucer also has a General Editor, Larry D. Benson, and that the book is based on The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer edited by F. N. Robinson. The act of beginning to read the General Prologue in this book, then, is a very complex one, mediated by the material form and the mise-​en-​page of this “standard” edition; to say nothing of the Preface, Introductory Note, thirty-​three pages of Introduction, and eighteen pages of notes on the Tales that trail the collective wisdom of generations and centuries of readers: all the things you will need on your journey to Canterbury. This opening is an ideal site for thinking about the relationship between form and content; between the literary form of the Prologue and its appearance here in print; and between different kinds of formalism, old and new, as reading practices. This chapter will barely move beyond this first page  –​it won’t be offering a new reading, as such, of the General Prologue –​but will use it to think about some of the key moments in the history of staging readers’ first encounters with the opening lines of this celebrated poem. In The Book of the Incipit, D.  Vance Smith shows how complex such openings are:  “Beginnings are two different things  –​or rather we think of them in two different ways:  as the capacity to start something new, to make, to develop initiatives of our own, and as the events that determine us, that allow us to make sense of the way we got here –​as origins.”3 Chaucer’s Prologue certainly works in this way. Like all prologues, it leads us in, opening the book and the world of the work that follows. The spring setting, the cheerful affinity between animal and spiritual urges, the desire to set out on a journey, the ambitious community-​building narrative project:  all these features celebrate the acts of beginning and the possibilities of starting, making, and developing “initiatives” of our own, even if those initiatives are as modest as a new reading of the poem, a new pedagogical practice, or simply an “introduction” to students who might be encountering the poem for the first time. As I  have suggested, however, such encounters are heavily mediated, in both the critical tradition and the material and editorial practices that produce the text for us. Reading the Prologue involves confronting “the events that determine us,” our “origins,” in Smith’s terms. These origins are legible in the material form in which we read the text, including

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the millions of micro-​decisions made by scribes, printers, editors, and publishers over the past six hundred years; as well as the more restricted but no less important choices that teachers of Chaucer have already made about which edition to use, on the basis of price, availability, and their expectations about their students’ capacity for independent learning. Students may be reading Chaucer for the first time, but they have already been “read” by their institution and their instructor. Similarly, the Prologue has come to stand as the introduction not only to Chaucer’s oeuvre, but to a whole tradition of literature, if not English literature itself. The manifold signs of this importance range from the customary position of The Canterbury Tales as the opening text in most collections of Chaucer’s works, after which the other poems follow in chronological order, to the very familiarity of its opening eighteen lines, and their frequent recall in subsequent centuries of English poetry. The fact that these lines celebrate the opening of the new year in the spring season is not incidental: the Prologue is celebrated as the virtual spring of poetry in English, with all the ideological and historical implications of “renewal” and “rebirth” that this implies. It is even possible that Chaucer’s Prologue and its deep cultural influence are an influential model for Smith’s later remarks about beginnings: “Forms of beginning are really meditations on temporality, meditations that are also rooted in time, in the pressing circumstances of times that make such meditations and their formal images necessary.”4 For medieval scholars, even those who are focusing on Piers Plowman, as Smith does, it is difficult to think about vernacular prologues without Chaucer’s example coming to the foreground. At the very least, the General Prologue certainly thematizes Smith’s emphasis on beginning as temporality; it is easily read as such a meditation on cyclic, natural, and spiritual time.5 Chaucer’s Prologue abounds, then, in the formal qualities of “prologueness,” but –​and this is one of the main points I wish to make in this ­chapter –​it is now impossible to separate a formal reading of the General Prologue as an introduction to the Tales from a historical reading of its conceptual importance, both through its reception and from its long material history in manuscript and print. That is, the General Prologue may “open” The Canterbury Tales, but it has not always done so in the same way. In thinking about the “form” of Chaucer’s Prologue across time and across the page of its many material and textual manifestations, I  take some guidance from Caroline Levine’s understanding of forms as “everywhere structuring and patterning experience,” and her twinned understanding that “this carries serious implications for understanding

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political communities.” That is, while forms certainly organize works of art, they do not do so in isolation from other structures that similarly shape our social and political lives and communities. Levine outlines one of her main goals as showing that “aesthetic and political forms may be nested inside one another, and that each is capable of disturbing the other’s organizing power.”6 In the case of the General Prologue, we can detect such a disturbance in the modern acknowledgment that despite the apparent inclusivity of the company of pilgrims and early praise of Chaucer’s representation of “God’s plenty” by writers such as Blake and Dryden, not all classes, genders, and character types are represented equally here. The Prologue’s form as a beginning  –​and its cultural and canonical status  –​is closely affiliated to the idea of social representation and inclusivity, an idea as general as the universal and natural desire for spiritual regeneration is made to appear in the opening eighteen lines. Yet it is an important aspect of the Prologue that it disrupts its own form, since the pilgrims are described in different degrees, and different kinds of detail. Some are named, and some are not. Some, like the guildsmen, are clustered in a group of five; others, like the guildsmen’s wives, are more like ghostly presences: not counted in the company of “nyne and twenty” but rendered in almost as much social detail as their husbands. This variation, and the very imperfection of the Canterbury pilgrimage (unfinished, interrupted tales; the arrival of the Canon and his Yeoman; the guildsmen who tell no tales; the absence of a return journey), are implicitly seen as part of Chaucer’s greatness, in comparison with the mathematical resolution and emphatic structural closure of Boccaccio’s Decameron. The idea of “beginning,” then, is always already mixed, in Smith’s terms. In this chapter I would like to set this more complex sense of the Prologue’s form in relation to some aspects of its longer history in manuscript and print, and its reputation as “great” poetry. But I do so by thinking about the other sense of “formalist” criticism that helps shape this volume. One of the hallmarks of mid-​twentieth-​century Anglo-​American formalist criticism was the ideal of a pristine encounter with “the words on the page” (a phrase associated with I. A. Richards,7 and also the work of W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley in the USA and F. R. Leavis in the UK). Such textual encounters require little historical context, biographical information, or any statement about authorial intent: they rely on techniques of “close reading” and attentiveness to formal, verbal, and semantic associations and effects, with an emphasis on the emotional response of the reader. These reading strategies are strongly linked to the ideological values

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apparent in canonical literature: that it should be always at hand; never needing any specialist knowledge, yet always present as an intellectual and aesthetic resource for generations of readers; and always standing ready to be compared and contrasted with other examples of literature from other historical periods. In the case of the General Prologue, the best example of this method appears in John Speirs’ Chaucer the Maker, published in 1951. Speirs was a student of Leavis at Cambridge, and his book on Chaucer was published just three years after Leavis’ influential study, The Great Tradition.8 Speirs is almost dismissive of the work of editors and social historians who “may” tell us things about Chaucer’s text and historical context: these things are mere “rudiments and externals.”9 Speirs’ discussion of the Prologue draws comparisons with Pound, Yeats, Lawrence, and Austen. This is one of the clearest markers of formalist method, wherein the truest comparators of “greatness” are other “great” writers, not the contemporaries of the poet in question. Speirs uses the word “great” four times on the first page of his chapter on the Tales and writes repeatedly of “the great Prologue.”10 His main point of comparison, though, is T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. In contrast to modern reception studies that might shape historical or cultural arguments around Eliot’s revisionary reading of Chaucer as a form of medievalist reception, Speirs’ comparison sidesteps any form of historicism in favor of a value judgment that is based on ethics and aesthetics, one that assumes Chaucer’s “joyous starting-​point” and “vital springing rhythm” are best apprehended by contrast with the aimlessness expressed by the modern poet.11 Accordingly Speirs opens his discussion of the Prologue with a discussion of The Wasteland and its opening eleven lines, “April is the cruellest month . . .”: The modern poem involves a consciousness of disharmony between man and nature, a disorganization and dislocation of life. Something has gone wrong with the natural relationship between man and nature which is Chaucer’s joyous starting-​point. And drank coffee, and talked for an hour. Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. The line in the modern poem conveys the aimlessness of rootless lives which no longer appear to themselves to have a social or other function. Not that there is any inertness in the rhythm of the modern passage as a whole; on the contrary, it expresses, in its strong positive rhythm, a positive dissatisfaction with the negative spiritual condition which it consciously realises.12

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Chaucer and Eliot here are equals:  “A comparison ought to begin from an acknowledgement that both openings are authentic poetry.”13 It is only “authentic poetry” that can bear comparison with itself, and Speirs shows precisely how that can be done, by putting selected lines from Eliot and Chaucer together “on the page.” There is something appealing about the immediacy of Speirs’ Chaucer, but as decades of work on the materiality of the Chaucerian text, and the contradictory witnesses of its manuscripts and early printed texts have shown, there is no simple, uncontested text of The Canterbury Tales. As David Wallace acknowledges, “The Well Wrought Urn of Cleanth Brooks (1947, 1968) famously envisioned the literary text as a self-​sufficient artefact miraculously riding the currents of history to wash up at our feet. But medieval compositions, we have noted, do not maintain urn-​like integrity in entering the ocean of textual transmission.”14 Despite the apparent and immediate appeal of “the words on the page” as the place where we encounter the “real” Chaucer, modern textual scholarship has convincingly exposed this as an idealist fiction, as the proliferation of rival “fragments” and “groups” of the Tales attests. Chaucer’s words are always contingent and mediated by many other hands; and the flow of textual variants can be stemmed only temporarily in any given edition. Old-​style formalism offers a poor fit with our modern sense of medieval textuality, though the critical and aesthetic ideology of its reading practices has been remarkably persistent. Indeed, we should acknowledge the importance of formalism’s insistence that Chaucer’s works should be both legible and “relevant” to modern and nonspecialist audiences. Without such insistence, Chaucer and medieval literature would occupy a very different place in the cultural and pedagogical imagination. So, is there any way to honor the idea of a formalist legibility of Chaucer without indulging in an idealist fantasy of textual integrity? In the second part of this chapter, I turn to the question of the material “form” in which we customarily read the opening words on the first page of The Canterbury Tales. At the same time I also interrogate the idea of the literary “form” of the General Prologue. How can we make best sense of this beginning, and the historical and critical frames through which we read such a deeply canonical text, so embedded in history; surviving in so many manuscript and print variants; but still so laden with the expectation to mean something fresh to every reader? Returning to the first page of the Tales in the Riverside edition, then, although “Whan that Aprill” resounds through literary history as the first line of The Canterbury Tales, as an opening of the text we name

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the “General Prologue” it is framed in a rather equivocal way. The text of the Riverside Canterbury Tales (1987), like the two editions of F. N. Robinson (1933, 1957) on which it is modeled, is based on the Ellesmere manuscript (Huntington Library MS el 26 c 9), but the incipit that appears in all three modern editions  –​“Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury”  –​is taken from the Hengwrt manuscript (National Library of Wales Peniarth MS 392d). This incipit appears above the illuminated frame that encloses the text, and is centered across the page. By contrast, the Ellesmere manuscript, for all its famous bookishness, its elaborate ordinatio, and its firmly voiced explicit –​ Heere is ended the book of the tales of Caunterbury, compiled by Geffrey Chaucer, of whos soule Jhesu Crist have mercy. Amen  –​has no incipit. Curiously, neither Robinson nor Ralph Hanna, who wrote the Textual Notes in the Riverside edition, mentions the fact that the incipit has been added from Hengwrt, though other details –​such as the variant manuscripts that include an additional final –​e in Aprill  –​are mentioned in the Notes. So from the very beginning of this title page, we have two early and important manuscripts in dramatic tension with one another. The Ellesmere manuscript opens its Prologue without any extratextual fanfare, but this does not seem an adequate beginning for Robinson, or Benson and many other editors, who frame Chaucer’s opening with this formal additional line. Many other manuscripts don’t include any incipit; and of course many others are missing their first page.15 Latin forms are sometimes used (for example, British Library MS Lansdowne 851:  Incipit prologus fabularum Cantuariensium); while later manuscripts tend to have longer texts in English, such as British Library MS Harley 1758 (dated to the second or third quarter of the fifteenth century):  [H]‌ere begynneth the book of the tales of Caunterburye compiled by Geffraie Chaucers of Brytayne chef poet Prologus libri.16 The Lansdowne 851 manuscript uses the Latin Prologus as a running title for the Prologue; Petworth House MS 7 manuscript uses “The Prologe” as a running title from fol. 9r. Ellesmere and Hengwrt both use the names of the pilgrims as running titles on recto and verso sides of the tales themselves. Many of these rubrics and the running titles were added later, as N. F. Blake reminds us.17 Blake also suggests that if any traces of these headings were found in Chaucer’s surviving manuscripts, they would likely have been in Latin.18 The fullest form of any incipit is found in Bodleian MS Arch. Selden b 14, which opens “Here bigynneth the prolog of this book the which is namede the talis of Caunturbury in the whiche prolog thautour openly

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declarith the names of alle the pilgremes there condiciouns & there array” (fol. 4r). Unlike some incipits, explicits, and titles that appear to be added at a later date, this is fully integrated into the page’s design. It is written in four lines of red ink, in a different hand to that of the text that follows, but like that text, enclosed within the elegantly illuminated double frame of the page: one line of gold and another of alternating red and blue ink branching off at intervals into the leaves of the decorated border. The incipit begins with a small capital H in blue ink, surrounded with its own red design. This capital H does not extend below the line, in contrast with the large illuminated W for Whan that . . ., a W that extends down for five lines of the text. The Selden incipit does important formal work by categorizing the work as a “book” and giving it a full title. Without naming him, it also gives Chaucer the full complement of medieval auctoritas as “thautour.” This incipit is styled very selfconsciously, laden up with grammatical formality (“this book the which is namede”; “in the whiche prolog”), and seems to appeal to aspects of the Aristotelian academic prologue in its detailed summary of the Prologue’s subject matter and authorial intention.19 This incipit is emphatic in its use of the word “prolog,” though it is worth remembering that within the text of the work Chaucer uses that word himself only once, at the end of the Summoner’s prologue:  “My prologe wol I ende in this manere” (ii.1708). Chaucer uses the collective “tales” to refer to the work as a whole, both in the Retractions when he appears to single out different groups of stories, and in the prologue to The Miller’s Tale, when he invites us to turn over a leaf if we are offended by a particular tale (“I moot reherce Hir tales alle”; i.3173–​3174). In the General Prologue, Chaucer conjures the fiction of having “tyme and space” enough to pause what he describes as his singular “tale” (“Er that I ferther in this tale pace”; i.36) to describe the “condicoun,” “degree,” and “array” of the company; and again toward the end of the Prologue he apologizes if he has not ordered people correctly “heere in this tale” (i.745). The use of the word “prologue,” then, is an editorial and scribal convention to name this first part of the poem, whereas in fact Chaucer uses the collective “tale” as often as the plural “tales” to describe the whole work. The Selden incipit is not only much longer and more informative than Hengwrt’s, as a form of beginning, it names the genre of the Prologue and the work to which it is a prologue, as well as rehearsing some of Chaucer’s own language (“condicioun” and “array”). But this incipit is also telling us something we already know. It makes no sense to mention

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“alle the pilgremes” unless the idea of The Canterbury Tales and its fictional pilgrimage is already familiar. This phrase captures the temporal paradox of beginnings and introductions to which Smith alludes; it is almost impossible to locate the true first point at which a text –​especially a text that is shaped by the readers’ experience of its reputation –​actually begins. Selden is a later, inferior manuscript, readings of which are rarely invoked. Indeed, it has some notoriety as the “disordered copy”20 whose unusual tale order suggested the “Bradshaw shift” and similar proposals to move Fragments vi or vii closer to the beginning of the poem, so that the sequence of place names mentioned in the Tales would make better geographical and temporal sense. These possibilities sit behind the rival naming and numbering of fragments that offer such a confusing array on the opening page. In its ordering of tales, and in the length of its Prologue, the Selden manuscript broaches the decorum of the “standard” or “best” Chaucer manuscripts. The Riverside edition is already a hybrid text, incorporating a “substantial” number of additional readings from Hengwrt, so if an incipit is to be added, the choice of the Hengwrt text seemed the more obvious or natural choice.21 It is also austere and concise, fitting neatly across one line. We must suspect the Riverside editors are following Skeat (in his influential edition of 1895) and Robinson, because the text would now seem naked without this attractive and concise incipit. But the effect is to create an encounter with the poem through a beginning that is decidedly composite. So familiar is this incipit, so established is its place before the opening line of the poem, that it seems almost churlish to point out that its effect here is more affective, even sentimental, than utilitarian. In a manuscript, incipits play an important role in the ordinatio, marking divisions between texts. In a printed edition like The Riverside Chaucer, where the text is thoroughly framed for us by a contents page, running titles, and all the apparatus of a modern critical edition, we hardly “need” this incipit from another manuscript to tell us the text starts here. The inclusion of the incipit makes an implicit claim about the edition’s capacity to capture the experience of starting to read the poem in manuscript. But we are actually reading across two manuscripts, while the editors also invite us to carry that experience simultaneously with the recognition of rival traditions (the mention of fragments and groups) in modern textual scholarship. There is a third non-​Chaucerian component to this modern opening of the poem, and that is the title of “General Prologue.” This phrase also has a history that affects our reading of the way the poem opens.

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After Caxton’s first edition of 1478, which commences simply with the first line of the poem, all printed editions insert some kind of formal title for the opening section of the Tales. Because these editions so often use each other as a model, the history of titles used for this section is relatively straightforward. Caxton’s second edition (1483) and Pynson’s first (1492) both use simply the word “Prologue,” but in 1498 Wynkyn de Worde offers the Latin Prologus (which he also uses as a running title throughout this first part of the poem). This shift to the Latin form may indicate a desire for greater cultural authority in the relatively new medium of print, especially when used for this vernacular and predominantly secular text, but if so, the anxiety was short-​lived, as this is the only edition to use this Latin form. In 1526 Pynson shifted register in his second edition and used a more elaborate title which recalls the detail of the Selden incipit: “The prologue of the author in whiche he maketh mencyon howe and where this company met and of their condycions and array and what they be: As ye shall se herafter.”22 The addition of that phrase “howe and where this company met” works to make further distance between his edition and the pilgrimage, now set more securely in the past. He also marks the formal transition from prologue to tales: “Thus endeth the prologe and here after foloweth the tales.”23 One of the most dramatic formatting changes occurs in 1532 when William Thynne used a plural title “The Prologues” to name the descriptions of the pilgrims. This is used as a running title (each pilgrim has in addition a subtitle before their description) and in the explicit: “Thus endeth the prologues of the Caunterbury tales and here foloweth the knyghtes tale.”24 Thynne also lists “the prologs” in his table of contents. Thynne’s plural suggests that the link between each description and the tale told by that pilgrim is stronger than the narrator’s collective act of assembling his company. The tales are more important than the speakers. This same pattern is used in Thynne’s subsequent editions in 1542 and 1545, and it is followed by John Stow in 1561, Thomas Speght in 1598, 1602 (and the 1687 reprint), and by John Urry in 1721. Thus for more than two hundred years there was no single Prologue, let alone a General Prologue, to The Canterbury Tales. This offers a very different sense of this first part of the text: as a much more fragmented and recursive series of beginnings, as a series of descriptions, or possibly as a series of speaking voices. It is only Thomas Morell in 1737 who returns to the singular title, “The Prolog,” with a new incipit: “Here begynneth the Prolog of this Boke, the which is named The Talis of Canterbury.”25 This singular form is then used

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by Thomas Tyrwhitt (1775–​1778) and many other editors to follow: John Bell (1782), Thomas Wright (1847–​1851), Morris and Skeat (1879), and Skeat (1894). William Morris breaks the pattern in his Kelmscott edition of 1896, with the more elaborately archaic formulation, “HERE BEGINNETH THE TALES OF CANTERBURY AND FIRST THE PROLOGUE THEREOF.”26 Against this history, the appearance of F.  N. Robinson’s edition, in 1933, is quite startling. The first page of the Tales features the title “The Canterbury Tales” but another line appears below, in only slightly smaller block capitals, “Fragment I (Group A). General Prologue.” This is followed by the Ellesmere incipit and then the text in the two columns that are still used in the second and third editions. This is the first reference to fragments and groups, and the first use of the phrase “The General Prologue” as an editorial heading.27 Robinson does not discuss his use of this term, though he has used it for the first time as a title on p. xxv where he offers a chronology of Chaucerian composition: “1387–​92: The General Prologue and the earlier Canterbury Tales.” In his discussion of the work, Robinson alternates between “the Prologue” and “The General Prologue.” Prior to his use of the phrase as a formal title, it had a certain currency in criticism from at least the early nineteenth century. The earliest use listed in the two volumes of D. S. Brewer’s Critical Heritage is an anonymous comment from 1823: “Chaucer, in his general prologue, has thought fit to claim the full benefit of this dramatic privilege”; and it was also used by John Hippisley in 1837, “in the general prologue we find an accurate and varied portraiture of all the stations of middle life in the poet’s day.”28 The phrase is also used by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas and Frederick J. Furnivall in 1845 and 1873 respectively to name this part of the poem.29 We may speculate that Robinson describes the Prologue as “general” for several reasons: it provides a firm starting-​point and ground for the inconsistent and incomplete sequences of prologue-​tale-​prologue-​tale that will follow; and constitutes a foundation for the potentially confusing dual naming and line-​numbering system that appears in print for the first time here. It may also subliminally suggest the genius of Chaucer as a student of humankind “in general.” In any case, the phrase’s incorporation into the ordinatio of the first page of Robinson’s edition is silent and unremarked. It has received very little attention in the critical traditions of Chaucer scholarship.30 Robinson’s edition first appeared in The Cambridge Poets Student’s Edition published by the Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston and

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five other US cities, and also by Oxford University Press in London by Humphrey Milford. The series was pitched to a general and popular audience as well as a scholarly one.31 Robinson’s Preface explains how the edition is directed equally to “the student of Chaucer’s poetic vocabulary or of his methods in revision.”32 His texts of Chaucer’s Tales are based on the eight manuscripts that have been printed by the Chaucer Society, along with Thynne’s edition of 1532. The imminent publication of the Manly–​Rickert Chicago texts discouraged Robinson from publishing “a very full apparatus criticus”; and the book is directed both to “the reader who is unfamiliar with Chaucer and his period” as well as “the seasoned Chaucerian and the expert in other fields of literature.”33 This implied reader might be seen as a “general reader” to whom the Prologue’s new name might be specially appealing: the reader who can read the text without specialist knowledge; or someone studying the text in departments of English at a time when practical “formalist” criticism was the dominant mode. Although many reviewers expressed discontent with Robinson’s eclectic editorial principles and the brevity of his Textual Notes, there was general approval of his Explanatory Notes and the overall framing of his edition, so much so that in 1984, George F. Reinecke could remark, “To say anything against the notes would be to come out against God, home, and mother. Ever since 1933 an enthusiasm like the reviewers’ has remained in the mouths of most Chaucer scholars and teachers.”34 I quote Reinecke’s remarks to underline the status of Robinson’s edition as the “standard” text with a powerful influence on the dominant way we read Chaucer and the Tales. Chaucer studies is still reluctant to abandon the interplay between “fragments” and “groups” or the dual line numbering for all of Group b2 (The Shipman’s Tale, The Prioress’s Tale, The Tale of Sir Thopas, The Tale of Melibee, The Monk’s Tale, and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale). Robinson does not adopt the Bradshaw shift that would align place references more closely to the likely schedule of a pilgrimage to Canterbury. He preserves the order of the tales as they appear in the Ellesmere manuscript, while in theory allowing us to read them differently according to the alternate line numbering. Robinson’s edition inaugurates the hybridity that characterizes modern Chaucer scholarship. His sequence of titles on the opening page remained unchanged in the second edition of 1957, and the third Riverside edition of 1987. The phrase “General Prologue” also passed into regular use, though Manly–​Rickert in 1940 uses just “Prologue.” The “General Prologue” has been “general” in the editorial tradition for only just over eighty years. Through Robinson’s silent innovation and

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page design, it has become the conventional name for this most famous opening to Chaucer’s work. There have been some exceptions, however. When N. F. Blake edited The Canterbury Tales on the basis of Hengwrt alone, he used the Hengwrt incipit, as we would expect, but he also used the title “Prologue,” which does not appear in the manuscript.35 Clearly, the editorial and critical tradition needs to name this opening portion of the text as something: a beginning cannot simply begin. Most editions of Chaucer repress the history of both the name of this beginning, and of the scrap of medieval text that tells us when the beginning begins. Despite the appeal of the pristine moment of beginning to read The Canterbury Tales, there is no pure formalist encounter here with the words on any medieval page: it is rather a snapshot of a hybrid moment in a long editorial history whose traditions we evidently find very hard to resist. My final example suggests how this dialectic between formalist and historicist impulses is evident in even the decorative detail that adorns our text. Returning to the first page of the Tales in the Riverside edition (Figure 1), there is a small design element that is new in this book: the little square image of the forked-​tail lion that appears above the title. Each of Chaucer’s works in Riverside is similarly adorned, with a different image. Sometimes they are thematically appropriate:  a hart in foliage for The Book of the Duchess; two birds above a fleur-​de-​lys for The Parlement of Foules; a knight on horseback for Troilus and Criseyde. Other designs are more abstract or general: three rabbits chasing each other for The Short Poems; or various heraldic or formal patterns. The Riverside imprint page tells us these are “Authentic tile motifs from the eleventh through the fourteenth century,” and that they are taken from Old English Tile Designs, edited by Carol Belanger Grafton.36 This is a collection of black and white designs copied from a fuller study made by Loyd Haberly of floor tiles in buildings around Oxford from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. Haberly made drawings which were reproduced in Mediaeval English Pavingtiles: Illustrated by the Author with Many Examples, a luxurious book which was printed on heavy cream paper in a limited edition of 425 in 1937.37 Medieval tiles before about 1350 were made by stamping designs cut from wooden blocks:38 the terracotta-​colored recesses were then filled with a clay of contrasting lighter color before they were fired, though sometimes they are “counterchanged with red designs on white-​inlaid grounds.”39

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After 1350, the printing of designs on to tiles was more common.40 Haberly searched churches within a fifteen-​mile radius of Oxford, identifying repeated patterns, reconstituting whole tile designs (typically, 5  inches square) from the “slurred, worn and broken” fragments and sequences of tiles, and identifying the locations of specific designs.41 His drawings are crisp and clear: the faded and cracked brown and glazed tiles have been abstracted into sharp and bright designs, printed in scarlet ink on thick, creamy paper. Haberly’s is a detailed historical and scholarly study, offering a history of tile-​making and a detailed account (learned from his own practical experiments) of that craft. Grafton’s Dover edition is published in a series of popular books for artists:  flower and plant designs of different kinds for artists and embroiderers. Another in the series is called Peasant Designs for Artists and Craftsmen. The full title of Grafton’s book is Old English Tile Designs for Artists and Craftspeople. It reproduces 150 of Haberly’s design engravings in large black and white format, easy to trace and copy, but with no reference to the churches or colleges where they were found. When the Riverside book designer (not named in the volume) included the handsome lion at the top of the page pictured in Figure  1, he or she reversed the image as it appears in Grafton, so that the lion appears printed in black on the white page. By contrast, twenty pages earlier, at the beginning of the editor’s introduction to The Canterbury Tales, the tile appears as it does in Grafton’s collection, with the lion white on a square black background, with an additional black line at top and bottom to mark these two sides of the square. Its design as a square tile is much more apparent than it is at the top of the poem itself, and it is almost four times as big, set across the top of the two columns of the introduction, extending down for eight lines of text. The appearance of this lion in the Riverside edition speaks to the complexities of both book design and the blurring of historicist and formalist method. Like the scribes, editors, and printers of medieval manuscripts and early printers, modern designers and editors draw inspiration and tradition from a range of sources. On the first page of the text, the lion appears abstracted from its original form as a tile, and comes with very little information about its original context. Apart from its medieval imagery, it floats free from historical context, though there is more information available. Haberly finds two examples of this design, in Oxford Cathedral and All Souls’ College. But he also finds a similar lion on tiles in the Ewelme parish church, where Thomas Chaucer, the poet’s son, is buried. Thomas married Maude Burghersh, and members of her father’s family used this two-​tailed lion on their coats of arms. There are also examples of the Roet

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wheel (for Thomas’ mother’s family) on tiles at Ewelme. These decorative floortiles speak silently of family allegiances; and the Riverside lion unwittingly evokes a Chaucerian genealogy.42 Like the other designs in the book, it offers a pleasing “touch” of the medieval, like the animals, flowers, and birds that often appear in medieval manuscripts –​but is unconcerned about the specific context of that original design. This is the abstraction of old school formalism: aesthetics trump historical context. The attractive “medieval” qualities of this lion passant queue-​fourché ease our imaginative pathway into the world of the Tales, just as surely as the technical details of “Fragment I” and “Group A” set barriers in our way. Similarly, the image can be made white on black, or black on white (as Haberly shows us, this is indeed a medieval technique) to suit the formalist imperatives of the book designer. Chaucer editors may labor over the correct representation of authorial and scribal intent, but a decorative image can be silently inverted/​reversed to suit the design styles of the two different pages. In the most telling detail of all, this translation of an abstracted design into a different context is disguised in the book. The Riverside imprint page omits the second half of Grafton’s book title, for Artists and Craftspeople. While the first half of the title (Old English Tile Designs) suggests a world of historical medieval scholarship –​the designs that appear on medieval tiles –​the second half suggests a world of medievalist and popular appropriation of medieval images for a range of unscholarly modern designs. It evokes the possibility of lifting these designs out of their historical context into the unstable world of medievalist enthusiasm that many medieval scholars have carefully guarded themselves against through much of the twentieth century. It seems a bridge too far for the Riverside edition to evoke this more popular context and use of the medieval. From the history of this decorative lion to the long and complex history of the appearance of Chaucer’s text in manuscript, early and contemporary printed editions, a series of micro-​decisions have constantly negotiated between formalist and historical textual impulses. Both impulses are grounded in different ideas about the presentation of Chaucer’s work: formalists want to present us with Chaucer’s work in a way that makes it instantly accessible and attractive; textual critics and editors want to signal the fragmentary and fractured history of the text. Chaucer’s “words on the page” have a long and mixed history that carries changing ideas of what a “prologue” or a “general prologue” might look like, as well as the kinds of interpretive work such a “form” might perform and generate.

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Notes 1 My thanks to Helen Hickey and Anne McKendry for their assistance with this chapter. Research was supported by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (project number ce110001011). I  had the great pleasure of presenting an earlier version of this chapter to the Columbia University Medieval Guild and the Yale Medieval Colloquium in 2016. Warm thanks to the graduate students at both universities for welcoming me into their communities, and special thanks to Justin Park for his incisive formal response to the paper at Yale. 2 The Riverside Chaucer (now The Wadsworth Chaucer), gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 23. Unless otherwise noted, references to The Canterbury Tales are cited parenthetically from this edition. 3 D. Vance Smith, The Book of the Incipit: Beginnings in the Fourteenth Century (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), x. 4 Ibid., 16. 5 See, for example, Barbara Nolan, “ ‘A Poet Ther Was’: Chaucer’s Voices in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales,” PMLA 101, no. 2 (March 1986): 159. 6 Caroline Levine, Forms:  Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton University Press, 2015), 16–​17. 7 See I.  A. Richards, Practical Criticism:  A Study of Literary Judgment (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1929). 8 John Speirs, Chaucer the Maker (London: Faber and Faber, 1951); F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad (London: Chatto and Windus, 1948). Vance Smith also discusses Speirs in the context of formalism in “Medieval Forma: The Logic of the Work,” in Reading for Form, ed. Susan J. Wolfson and Marshall Brown (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), 66–​79. 9 Speirs, Chaucer the Maker, 15. 10 Ibid., 97. 11 Ibid., 101. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 David Wallace, ed., The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1999), xx–​xxi. 15 See Helen Cooper, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Oxford University Press, 1989), 27. 16 M. C. Seymour, A Catalogue of Chaucer Manuscripts, Volume ii The Canterbury Tales (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1997), 131, 117. 17 N. F. Blake, The Textual Tradition of  The Canterbury Tales (London: Edward Arnold, 1985), 90. 18 Ibid., 91. 19 See A. J. Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages (London: Scolar Press, 1984), 9ff.

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20 Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, 1121. 21 Ibid., 1120. 22 Richard Pynson, The Boke of Canterbury Tales (London, 1526; STC: 5086), a2r. 23 Ibid., a3v. 24 William Thynne, ed., The Workes of Geffray Chaucer (London, 1532), b6v. 25 Thomas Morell, The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, in the Original, From the Most Authentic Manuscripts (London: 1737). 26 William Morris, ed., The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Imprinted (Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896). 27 F. N. Robinson, ed., The Complete Works of Geffrey Chaucer (Oxford University Press, 1933). 28 Derek Brewer, ed., Chaucer: The Critical Heritage, 2 vols. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), i: 302, 326. 29 Ibid., 2: 68, 174. 30 Helen Cooper acknowledges that the title “General Prologue” is a modern one (The Canterbury Tales, 27). 31 See Richard Utz, “The Colony Writes Back: F. N. Robinson’s Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Translatio of Chaucer Studies to the United States,” Studies in Medievalism 19 (2010): 160–​203. 32 Robinson, The Complete Works, ix. 33 Ibid., x. 34 George F. Reinecke, “F. N. Robinson (1872–​1967),” in Editing Chaucer: The Great Tradition, ed. Paul G. Ruggiers (Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1984), 248. 35 The Canterbury Tales, ed. N. F. Blake (London: Edward Arnold, 1980). 36 Carol Belanger Grafton, Old English Tile Designs for Artists and Craftspeople (New York: Dover Publications, 1985). 37 Loyd Haberly, Mediaeval English Pavingtiles:  Illustrated by the Author with Many Examples (Oxford:  Basil Blackwell, 1937). 38 Ibid., 70. 39 Ibid., 7. 40 Ibid., 70. 41 Ibid., 3. 42 It seems unlikely that the Riverside designer would consult Haberly’s book but then give Grafton as the source text. There is no evidence that the choice of the Burghersh lion to inaugurate The Canterbury Tales is more than a happy accident.

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Speirs, John. Chaucer the Maker. London: Faber and Faber, 1951. Stanbury, Sarah. The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Stanley, Jason. Know How. Oxford University Press, 2011. Steel, Karl. “A Fourteenth-​Century Ecology: ‘The Former Age’ with Dindimus.” In Rethinking Chaucerian Beasts, ed. Carolynn Van Dyke, 185–​ 199. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.   “Kill Me, Save Me, Let Me Go:  Custance, Virginia, Emelye.” In Dark Chaucer: An Assortment, ed. Myra Seaman, Eileen Joy, and Nicola Masciandro. Brooklyn: Punctum Books, 2012. Strakhov, Elizaveta. “‘Counterfeit’ Imitatio: Understanding the Poet-Patron Relationship in Guillaume de Machaut’s Fonteinne amoureuse and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess.” In Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess: New Interpretations, ed. Jamie C. Fumo. Cambridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, forthcoming. Strohm, Paul. Social Chaucer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.   Theory and the Premodern Text. Medieval Cultures 26. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Stubbs, Estelle. “ ‘Here’s One I  Prepared Earlier’:  The Work of Scribe D on Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 198.” Review of English Studies 58, no. 234 (April 2007): 133–​153. Stylisticienne: her newe poetrye. http://​stylisticienne.com. Tatarkiewicz, Wladyslaw. History of Aesthetics, vol. ii, ed. J. Harrell, C. Barrett, and D. Petsch. New York: Continuum, 1974. Terrell, Katherine H. “Reallocation of Hermeneutic Authority in Chaucer’s House of Fame.” The Chaucer Review 31, no. 3 (1997): 279. Thompson, John J. The Cursor Mundi:  Poem, Texts and Contexts. Oxford:  The Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, 1998. Thorndike, Lynn. The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its Commentators. University of Chicago Press, 1949. Thynne, William, ed. The Workes of Geffray Chaucer. London, 1532. Travis, Peter W. “White.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 22 (2000): 1–​66. Treharne, Elaine. “The Physician’s Tale as Hagioclasm.” In Dark Chaucer:  An Assortment, ed. Myra Seaman, Eileen Joy, and Nicola Masciandro. Brooklyn: Punctum Books, 2012. Trilling, Renée R. The Aesthetics of Nostalgia:  Historical Representation in Old English Verse. University of Toronto Press, 2009. Tupper, Frederick. “Chaucer’s Sinners and Sins.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 15, no. 1 (1916): 56–​106. Utz, Richard. “The Colony Writes Back:  F. N.  Robinson’s Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Translatio of Chaucer Studies to the United States.” Studies in Medievalism 19 (2010): 160–​203. Wakelin, Daniel. Scribal Correction and Literary Craft: English Manuscripts, 1375–​ 1510. Cambridge University Press, 2014. Wallace, David, ed. The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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217

Index

Ab Urbe Condita (Livy), 151, 153 Abel, Elizabeth, 81n. 17 Abelard, Peter, 139 Adorno, Theodor, 7, 38, 54 Aeneid (Virgil), 65 aesthetics, 38–​54, 187, 197 Agamben, Giorgio, 138, 145n. 40 Agbabi, Patience, 98n. 15 Akbari, Suzanne Conklin, 56n. 13, 57n. 30 Alcione, 127, 133, 141, 167 All Souls’ College, 196 almucantars, 115 Aloni, Gila, 114 Altmann, Barbara K., 36n. 26 Anelida and Arcite, 25, 26, 36n. 22 Anelida’s Complaint, 26 Anne of Bohemia, 24, 165 anthropomorphism, 142n. 2 Appius, 151 Aquinas, Thomas, 57n. 32, 150 arabic numbers, 183 Aristotle, 40 Armstrong, Adrian, 6, 21 Ars poetica (Horace), 22 art de dictier, L’ (Deschamps), 22 astrolabes, 100, 103, 106, 109 Treatise on the Astrolabe, 99–​119 astrology, 102, 121n. 18 astronomy, 120n. 11 Awntyrs off Arthur, The, 21

adherent, 45 natural, 39, 45–​47, 51, 53, 55n. 8, 60n. 52 Bell, John, 193 Bennett, J.A.W., 122n. 26 Benson, Larry D., 139, 165, 184 Benveniste, Émile, 138 Bersuire, Pierre, 155, 158 Bible, 152 binaries, nonhierarchical, 113–​19 birdsong, 165–​80 Blackwood, Stephen, 41 Blake, N. F., 186, 189, 195 Blanche of Lancaster, 128, 165 Blanchot, Maurice, 18n. 50 blindness, 57n. 27, 96, 181n. 25, see also disability Bloch, Howard, 158 Bober, Harry, 123n. 42 Boccaccio, 26, 186 Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden b 14, 189–​91 Bodleian Library MS Bodley 619, 117 Boece, 29, 47 Boethian sense-​perception, 40–​45 Boethius, 40, 46, 53 Consolation of Philosophy, The, 40–​45, 67, 87 Boffey, Julia, 25 Book of the Duchess, The, 13, 30, 125–​42, 165, 167, 171, 195 books clerical engendering of, 162n. 17 “virginal”, 160 Bower, John, 60n. 56 Bradshaw shift, 191 Brantley, Jessica, 10 Brewer, D. S., 193 British Library, 159 British Library MS Additional 24, 164n. 38 British Library MS Additional 29250, 117 British Library MS Harley 1758, 189

bad poetry, 37n. 49 bad reading, 149–​60 Bahr, Arthur, 10, 14, 56n. 12, 58n. 43, 180n. 11 Bailey, Harry, 154, 159 ballads, 23 triple ballad form, 53, 60n. 55 Baswell, Christopher, 80n. 2 Beardsley, Monroe, 186 beauty, 150

217

218

218

Index

British Library MS Harley 7334, 159, 160 British Library MS Harley 7335, 164n. 47 British Library MS Lansdowne 851, 189 Brooks, Cleanth, 3 Brooks, Peter, 14 Brown, Emerson, 163n. 20 Brusendorff, Aage, 59n. 49 Burghersh, Maude, 196 Burke, Donald A., 55n. 5 Burnley, David, 35n. 10 Burrow, John, 35n. 12 Butterfield, Ardis, 25, 128, 168, 176, 180n. 7 cadence, 29, 37n. 38 Cambridge University Library MS Ii.3.21, 47 “Former Age, The”, 47–​53 “Fortune”, 47–​53 Camille, Michael, 122n. 33, 162n. 17 Cannon, Christopher, 6, 56n. 12, 99, 161n. 11 Canterbury Tales, The, see also specific tales Cambridge Poets Student’s Edition, The, 193 Caxton’s first edition (1478), 191–​95 Caxton’s second edition (1483), 192 completeness or incompleteness of, 2 decorative details, 195–​97 explicit, 192 form variations in, 25 Fragment VI, 191 Fragment VII, 191 General Prologue, 14, 98n. 20, 115, 152, 182–​97 Group b2, 194 incipit, 183, 188–​91, 192 Introduction, 184 Introductory Note, 184 Kelmscott edition (1896), 193 metapoetic episodes, 126 opening page, 183, 194 poetics, 115 Preface, 184 Pynson’s first edition (1492), 192 Pynson's second edition (1526), 192 Retraction, 28, 189–​91 running titles, 189, 192 Textual Notes, 184, 189 title, 183 Canterbury Interlude, 157 Canticus Troili, 25 Carruthers, Mary, 8 Carson, Anne, 78, 81n. 12 causality, 61–​80 Ceyx and Alcione, 133, 141, 167 Chaucer Society, 194 Chaucer, Geoffrey, see also specific works aesthetic resources, 38–​54 ballades, 23

chosen literary forms, 102 fixed-​form lyrics, 24 juvenilia, 32 literary terms, 35n. 10 metapoetic episodes, 126, 127 technical terms, 21–​34 Chaucer, Thomas, 196 Chaucerian style, 4 Chaucer Review, The, 10, 11 Chickering, Howell, 36n. 31 Chronicle of England (Mannyng), 22 Cinkante Balades (Gower), 165, 177, 181n. 18 Balade 25, 173, 177 Balade 34, 166, 169 Balade 35, 169–​71 Balade 39–​46, 170 Balade 40–​43, 170 Balade 46, 169 Clark, Charles, 123n. 42 Claudius, 160 Clerk’s Tale, 2, 24, 26, 27 close reading, 4, 143n. 6, 186 Cole, Andrew, 8, 10, 103 Cole, Kristin Lynn, 34n. 3 Cole, Sarah, 81n. 14 Coleman, Joyce, 22, 35n. 16 Collette, Caroline, 164n. 37 comedy, posthuman, 39 “Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse”, 23 Complaint of Mars, 25, 26 Complaint of Venus, 23, 26, 29 “Complaint to his Lady”, 23 “Complaint unto Pity, The”, 23 Confessio Amantis (Gower), 31 consequity, 75 The Consolation of Philosophy (Boethius), 40–​45, 67, 87 Book II, 47–​53 contemporary literature, 61–​80 Cooper, Helen, 198n. 15, 199n. 29 Cooper, Lisa, 13 Copeland, Rita, 151 Corpus Christi College 198, 159, 160 cosmography, 101 cosmology, 100, 103, 120n. 11 Crane, Susan, 55n. 7 creeping (verb), 135 cripple, crip (term), 96 Crocker, Holly, 162n. 16 Cursor Mundi, 22 curtailed inset lyrics, 33 dance, 36n. 18 Dante Alighieri, 63–​70 De vulgari eloquentia, 22

219

Index Inferno, 175, 176 terza rima, 23 David, Alfred, 59n. 47, 80n. 3 de Boer, C., 144n. 19 de Bury, Richard, 162n. 17 De compositione et operacione astrolabii [On the making and operation of an astrolabe], 105 de Looze, Laurence, 133 de Meun, Jean, 49, 59n. 44 De sphaera [On the Sphere] (Sacrobosco), 107, 111, 115, 117 De vulgari eloquentia (Dante), 22 Decameron (Boccaccio), 186 decemviri, 151, 162n. 15 decorative details, 195–​97 deictics, 138 Delaney, Sheila, 162n. 16 Deleuze, Gilles, 118 Deschamps, Eustache, 22 design elements, 195–​97 designation, 126 didacticism, 119n. 1 Dimock, Wai Chee, 55n. 9 Dinshaw, Carolyn, 110 disability, 85–​97, see also blindness Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse (Machaut), 30, 130, 132–​33, 136 dits amoureux, 128 Dives and Pauper, 157, 164n. 40 divine goodness, 72 Dolmage, Jay T., 96 Donaldson, E. Talbot, 4, 161n. 1 Donatus, 139 dream visions, 62 Book of the Duchess, The, 128, 129, 133 Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse (Machaut), 133 Gower’s allusions to, 172 Metamorphoses (Ovid), 131, 133 My Life (Hejnian), 79 To the Lighthouse (Woolf ), 71, 74 Drucker, Johanna, 142n. 3 Dworkin, Craig Douglas, 81n. 20, 82n. 21, 82n. 22, 82n. 24, 82n. 25 ditee (label), 31 eagle imagery, 169 Eagleton, Catherine, 122n. 30 “Ecce patet tensus”, 172–​73 Edward III, 169 Edwards, A. S. G., 36n. 22 Eisner, Sigmund, 119n. 1, 119n. 2 elegy, 129, 142 Eliot, T. S., 187–​88 Ellesmere manuscript (Huntington Library MS el 26 c 9), 159, 160, 189, 194

Empson, William, 3 enjambment, 88, 95 equinox effect, 113–​19 Eriugena, John Scotus, 150 ethics, 187 Ewelme, England, 196 Eyers, Tom, 9, 10, 15n. 3 Falk, Seb, 121n. 21 Fantl, Jeremy, 123n. 47 fictional referents, 127 first-​person deixis, 132–​33 Fletcher, Clare, 37n. 44 floor tiles, 195, 197 font size, 183 form apprehension of, 40–​45 breaking, 91–​92 Chaucer’s chosen literary forms, 102 definition of, 7 diverging forms, 85–​97 dream-​forms, 131 economies of, 38–​54 fixed-​form lyrics, 24 “ful notable fourme”, 101–​05 heaviness of, 125–​42 masters of, 130 prosopoeial, 125–​42 renouncing, 85–​87 subversions of, 1–​3, 8–​15, 180 forma tractandi (literary style), 4–​5 forma tractatus (structure), 4–​5 formal constraints, 98n. 15 formal objects, 45–​47 formal prosthesis, 92–​95 formalism, 3–​5, 41, 58n. 33, 186, 197 markers of, 187 new, 3 Platonist, 44 present claims, 127 traditional, 3 forme-​fixe lyrics, 168 “Former Age, The”, 12, 23, 38, 39, 47–​53 “Fortune”, 12, 23, 47–​53 fourteenth-​century poetry, 130 Francesca, 175 Franklin’s Tale, 32 free natural beauty, 45–​47 French, 181n. 18 French stanza forms, 35n. 12 Frese, Dolores, 115, 120n. 5 Froissart, Jean, 24, 32, 128, 168 Fumo, Jamie, 143n. 9 Furnivall, Frederick J., 193 Fyler, John, 130

219

220

220

Index

Gallop, Jane, 143n. 6 Galloway, Andrew, 50, 55n. 3 Gasché, Rodolphe, 55n. 5 Gayk, Shannon, 164n. 41 gemstones, 58n. 43 gender, book, 162n. 17 gender norms, 93 “General Prologue” (title), 191–​95 genitives, 69 “Gentilesse”, 23 Geoffrey of Vinsauf, 22 geography, 115 Gillespie, Alexandra, 10, 56n. 12, 97n. 3 Godden, Richard H., 94 good reading, 151 Gower, John, 14, 31, 181n. 25 Cinkante Balades, 165 Confessio Amantis, 31 “Ecce patet tensus”, 172–​73 “H. aquile pullus”, 168 “Henrici quarti primus”, 172, 178–​80 In Praise of Peace, 166, 177 Mirour de L’omme (The Mirror of Mankind), 31 Traitié pour Essampler les Amantz Marietz, 172, 173–​78 Trentham manuscript, 165–​80 Grady, Frank, 63 Grafton, Carol Belanger, 195, 196 grammar, 68, 135 grammar-​school style, 99 Granson, Oton de, 26, 180n. 7 Green, Richard Hamilton, 4 Gregory the Great, 164n. 41 Gruber, Joachim, 57n. 24 Guattari, Félix, 118 Gunther, R.T., 122n. 35 “H. aquile pullus” (Gower), 168 Haberly, Loyd, 195, 196, 197 Hager, Peter J., 119n. 1 hagioclasms, 149 hagiography, 149 Hanna, Ralph, 24, 34n. 3, 35n. 14, 184, 189 Hanning, Robert W., 130 Hardman, Phillipa, 30 Harrington, Henry, 81n. 16 Harrison, Leigh, 55n. 4 Harrison, Matthew, 37n. 49 Harvey, S.W., 123n. 43 Hayot, Eric, 117 heaviness, 125–​42 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 7, 39 Hejnian, Lyn, 12, 61, 74–​78, 79 Heller-​Roazen, Daniel, 138

Henchman, Anna, 117, 122n. 32 Hengwrt manuscript (National Library of Wales Peniarth MS 392d), 159, 160, 189 “Henrici quarti primus”, 172, 178–​80 Henry IV, 166, 169 hexameter, 86 Heyworth, Gregory, 18n. 59 Hiatt, Alfred, 117 Hickey, Helen, 198n. 1 hierarchies, 114 Hippisley, John, 193 historicism, 5 Hoccleve, 33, 35n. 12 Hoffman, Richard L., 163n. 24 Holsinger, Bruce, 6, 25, 55n. 4 Horace, 22 horizontal multilingualism, 114 Houghton Mifflin Company, 193 House of Fame, The, 28, 29, 31, 61, 63–​70, 78 Book iii, 28 referents, 127 Hsy, Jonathan, 12, 98n. 19, 181n. 25 Huntington Library MS el 26 c 9 (Ellesmere manuscript), 159, 160, 189, 194 In Praise of Peace, 166, 177 incipits, 191 inclination, 61 Inferno (Dante), 175, 176 irony, 4 Irvine, Martin, 81n. 10 Jahner, Jennifer, 11 Jambeck, Karen K., 119n. 1 Jambeck, Thomas J., 119n. 1 Jameson, Fredric, 18n. 51 Jephthah, 152 John of Bohemia, 24 John of Garland, 22 John of Gaunt, 128, 165, 169 John the Evangelist, 169 John, duke of Berry, 30 Johnson, Eleanor, 6, 12, 15n. 8, 29, 40, 41, 96 Jokinen, Anniina, 123n. 42 Joli Buisson de Jonece, Le (Froissart), 32 Judges, 152 judicial astrology, 102, 121n. 18 Kant, Immanuel, 38, 40, 45–​47, 53 Karnes, Michelle, 123n. 41 Kay, Sarah, 6, 21–​34, 40, 56n. 13 Kaye, Joel, 114 Kean, P. M., 155 Kelly, Henry Ansgar, 87, 180n. 7

221

Index Kiser, Lisa J., 145n. 48 Klima, Gyula, 56n. 12 “Knight’s Tale, The”, 33, 44 Kramnick, Jonathan, 17n. 26 Kunitzsch, Paul, 120n. 8, 122n. 35 Labbie, Erin, 99–​119 Laird, Edgar, 104, 121n. 17 “Lak of Stedfastnesse”, 23 Lancaster, House of, 165–​80 Lancelot, 175 Lansdowne 85, 189 Lanterne of Light, 164n. 40 Leach, Elizabeth Eva, 24, 25, 36n. 17 Leavis, F. R., 186 Legend of Good Women, 164n. 49 Prologue, 24, 28, 172–​73 lenvoy (term), 27 “Lenvoy de Chaucer”, 27 “Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton”, 23 “Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan”, 23 Lerer, Seth, 41, 56n. 20, 120n. 3 Lesjak, Carolyn, 17n. 38 Levine, Caroline, 6, 9, 58n. 33, 100, 143n. 7, 185 Levinson, Marjorie, 16n. 19, 17n. 28, 56n. 12 lewed composition, 27 lion, Riverside, 196–​97 Lipson, Carol, 122n. 35 lists, 63 literary style (forma tractandi), 4–​5 literary terms, 35n. 10 livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry, Le, 32 Livres de Confort de Philosophie, Li (de Meun), 49 Livy, 151, 153, 162n. 15 Loesberg, Jonathan, 58n. 36 Lomperis, Linda, 153 longing, 38–​54 love, 165–​80 Lucretia, 162n. 15 Lydgate, John, 102, 130 lyric forms, 24, 32, 168 McGurl, Mark, 39 Machan, Tim William, 58n. 42, 59n. 44, 59n. 45 Machaut, Guillaume de, 24, 125–​42, 168 Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse, 30, 130, 132–​33, 136 Remède de Fortune, 25, 32 McKendry, Anne, 198n. 1 McKenzie, D.F., 10 Magee, John, 57n. 26 Man of Law’s Tale, 130 Mandel, Jerome, 97n. 3

221

Manly-​Rickert, 194 Mann, Jill, 97n. 3 Mannyng, Robert, 22 Marxism, 7 Masciandaro, Nicola, 50 Māshā‘ Allah, 105 materialism, 56n. 12 Maw, David, 37n. 38 Mead, Jenna, 114, 120n. 6 medieval cosmography, 101 medieval cosmology, 100, 103 Medieval Literary Studies, 5–​8 medieval literature, 3–​5, 61–​80 medieval tiles, 195, 197 melothesia, 123n. 42 “Merciles Beaute”, 23 Merrilees, Brian, 181n. 18 Messahalla, see Māshā‘ Allah Metamorphoses (Ovid), 15, 59n. 48, 130–​32, 133, 136, 137 metapoetic episodes, 126, 127 meter, 6 metonymy, 74–​78 Meyer-​Lee, Robert, 80n. 3 Middleton, Anne, 150, 161n. 4 Milford, Humphrey, 194 Miller’s Tale, The, 122n. 26, 190 Minnis, Alastair J., 5, 58n. 42, 130, 198n. 19 Minogue, Sally, 81n. 15 Mirour de l’omme (The Mirror of Mankind) (Gower), 31 misreading, 149–​60 Mitchell, David T., 86 Mitchell, J. Allan, 121n. 14 Modern Language Quarterly, 5 modern literature, 61–​80 modernity, 55n. 3 Monk’s Tale, 12, 23, 85–​97, 194 Prologue, 94 Morell, Thomas, 192 Morris, William, 193 Mullally, Robert, 36n. 18 multilingualism, 114 My Life (Hejinian), 12, 61, 74–​78, 79 Nagel, Thomas, 116 National Library of Wales Peniarth MS 392d (Hengwrt manuscript), 159, 160, 189 natural beauty, 39, 51, 53, 55n. 8 free, 45–​47 as goad to artistic craft, 60n. 52 nature, 38–​54 NeCastro, Gerard, 123n. 48 Nelson, Ronald J., 119n. 1

222

222

Index

Nersessian, Anahid, 17n. 26 New Criticism, 3, 4, 10, 127 New Formalism, 3, 5–​8 New Historicism, 5, 6, 16n. 19 Nicolas, Nicholas Harris, 193 Nielsen, Melinda E., 59n. 44 Nolan, Barbara, 198n. 5 Nolan, Maura, 7, 8, 40, 55n. 5, 56n. 13, 57n. 32, 60n. 52 norms asserting, 88–​90 gender, 93 North, J.D., 119n. 2 Norton-​Smith, John, 55n. 4 numbers, 183 Nun’s Priest’s Tale, 194 Nuttall, Jenni, 11, 37n. 48, 97n. 10 O’Daly, Gerard J. P., 57n. 30, 57n. 32 objects, formal, 45–​47 Old English Tile Designs for Artists and Craftspeople (Grafton), 195, 196 Old Testament, 152 Olsson, Kurt, 97n. 11 100 Chars (Agabi), 98n. 15 Orlemanski, Julie, 13, 98n. 20 Oruch, Jack B., 180n. 7 Osborn, Marijane, 119n. 1, 120n. 5 Ovid, 15, 59n. 48, 125, 130–​32, 133, 136, 137, 167 Ovide moralisé, 130 Ovitt, George, 108 Oxford, England, 104 Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 198, 159 Oxford Cathedral, 196 Oxford University Press, 194 Paien, Thomas, 24 Paolo and Francesca, 175 Pardoner’s Tale, 160 Parisiana poetria (John of Garland), 22 Park, Justin, 198n. 1 Parliament of Fowls, 126, 165, 167, 173 design elements, 195 final stanza, 24, 178, 179 Gower’s allusions to, 165, 171–​72, 177 Parson’s Prologue, 115 Parson’s Tale, 153 passive voice, 73 Patterson, Lee, 4, 16n. 11, 30, 55n. 3, 121n. 15, 149 Pearl, 58n. 43, 129 Petworth House MS 7, 189 Philomela, 174 Physicians Tale, 13, 149–​60, 164n. 49 pietade, 175

Plato, 40 Platonist formalism, 44 plena, 76, 78, 79 “Poetic Knowledge in Late Medieval France” project, 6 Poetria nova (Geoffrey of Vinsauf ), 22 Poirion, Daniel, 36n. 28 political quietism, 58n. 33 positivism, 11 posthuman comedy, 39 Pratt, Robert A., 184 praxis, theological, 41 Prendergast, Thomas, 13 Prioress’s Tale, 194 Priscian, 138 Procne, 174 “Prologue” (title), 195 prosopopoeial form, 125–​42 prosopopoeia, 131, 139, 142n. 2 prosthetic devices, 181n. 25 prosthetic objects, 92, 95 prosthesis, formal, 92–​95 Purdie, Rhiannon, 35n. 11 purposiveness, 45–​47 Putter, Ad, 34n. 3 Pygmalion, 155, 158 quietism, political, 58n. 33 Quintilian, 139 reading bad, 149–​60 close, 4, 143n. 6, 186 good, 151 right, 151 Reading for Form, 16n. 20 reception regarding texts in terms of, 126 Reddy, Srikanth, 82n. 23 reference, 126 Reidy, John, 117 Reinecke, George F., 194 Remède de Fortune (Machaut), 25, 32 Remigius of Auxerre, 59n. 44 repetition, 111, 113 Retraction, 28, 189–​91 rhyme, 29, 95 rhyme royal, 23, 29 rhyme ​schemes, 26, 27 rhythm, 109–​13 Richard II, 60n. 57, 165, 169 Richards, I. A., 3, 186 Rickert, Edith, 160 Rickert, John M. Manly, 160 right reading, 151

223

Index Riverside Chaucer, The (now The Wadsworth Chaucer), 23, 159, 191, 198n. 2 Canterbury Tales, 193–​95 design elements, 195, 196–​97 Explanatory Notes, 194 first page, 182–​97 Preface, 194 Robertson, Kellie, 56n. 13, 61, 64 Robinson, F.N., 139, 184, 189, 193–​95 Roet wheel, 197 Roman de la Rose, Le, 24, 138, 149, 151, 153, 154, 155, 159 roman numbers, 183 rondeau tercet, 33 Rosenfeld, Jessica, 130, 133 roundels, 33 roundness, 40–​45 Rudolf of Bruges, 122n. 37 Ruffolo, Lara, 63 Ruggiers, Paul, 81n. 11 Sacrobosco, Johannes, 107, 111, 115, 117 Scarry, Elaine, 41 Scattergood, John, 60n. 53 Scattergood, V. J., 55n. 4 Schlauch, Margaret, 124n. 55 Scotus, John Duns, 150 sense-​perception, Boethian, 40–​45 Shakespeare, William, 3 Sharon-​Zisser, Shirley, 114 Shipman’s Tale, 194 Shirley, John, 26 Short Poems. The 195 Short Message Service texting conventions, see (SMS) Siebers, Tobin, 96 Silk, Edmund T., 58n. 44 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 21 Skeat, Walter W., 97n. 12, 97n. 13, 139, 193 Smith, D. Vance, 3, 9, 10, 15n. 8, 184, 198n. 8 SMS (Short Message Service) texting conventions, 98n. 15 Snyder, Sharon L., 86 Sobecki, Sebastian, 180n. 2 Somnium Scipionis, 173 song (label), 31 Southwark Cathedral, 180n. 5 Spahr, Juliana, 82n. 26 Spearing, A.C., 4, 121n. 15 Speculum, 4 Speght, Thomas, 192 Speirs, John, 4, 187 Spencer, Matthew, 122n. 30 St. Mary Overeys, 180n. 5 Stanley, Jason, 108

stanza forms, 26, 35n. 12, 85 Statius, 134, 143n. 18 Steel, Karl, 50, 55n. 4 Stow, John, 192 Strakhov, Elizaveta, 130 Strohm, Paul, 9 structure (forma tractatus), 4–​5 Stubbs, Estelle, 160 stuprum (word), 162n. 15 Summoner’s Prologue, 190 suspended history, 39 syntax, 90, 95–​97 Tale of Beryn, 157 Tale of Melibee, 29, 194 Tale of Sir Thopas, 25, 35n. 11, 85–​97, 194 Tarquins, 162n. 15 technical terms, 21–​34 Tereus, 174 Terrell, Katherine, 63, 80n. 6 terza rima, 23 Teseida (Boccaccio), 26 texting conventions, 98n. 15 textual materialism, 10 Thebaid (Statius), 134, 143n. 18 theological praxis, 41 Three Dead Kings, 21 Thynne, William, 192, 194 tile motifs, 195 “To Rosemounde”, 23 To the Lighthouse (Woolf ), 12, 61, 70–​74, 78 Tonry, Kathleen, 5, 16n. 21 “tragedie”, 85, 87–​88 Traitié pour Essampler les Amantz Marietz (Gower), 172, 173–​78 Travis, Peter, 132–​33 Treatise on the Astrolabe, 13, 99–​119 Part 1, 106, 107, 108, 109, 115 Part 2, 106, 107, 109, 110, 115 Prologue, 102, 111, 114 Supplementary Propositions, 107, 120n. 3 Treharne, Elaine, 161n. 6 Trentham manuscript (Gower), 165–​80 Trevet, Nicholas, 48 Trigg, Stephanie, 14 Trinity College r.3.3, 164n. 47 triple ballad form, 53, 60n. 55 Tristan, 175 Troilus and Criseyde, 1, 7, 25, 129 Book v, 2 design elements, 195 rhyme royal, 29 “Truth”, 23 Tupper, Frederick, 149 Twitter, 98n. 15

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224

224 typeface, 183 Tyrwhitt, Thomas, 193 Urry, John, 192 Usk, Thomas, 179 Utz, Richard, 199n. 30 Valentine’s Day, 167 virelais, 37n. 48 Virgil, 65 “virginal” books, 160 Virginia, 151 Wakelin, Daniel, 97n. 3 Wallace, David, 36n. 16, 44, 58n. 33, 188 Wasteland, The (Eliot), 187–​88 Wheatley, Edward, 95–​97

Index White, Hayden, 122n. 27 William of Aragon, 48 Williams, Deanne, 63, 130 Wimsatt, James, 36n. 30, 130 Wimsatt, W. K., 186 Wolfson, Susan, 143n. 7 Woolf, Virginia, 12, 61, 70–​74, 78, 81n. 16 Worde, Wynkyn de, 192 Wordsworth, William, 78 Wright, Thomas, 193 Wycliffite writing, 103 Yeager, R. F., 169, 180n. 6, 180n. 8, 181n. 25 Zeeman, Nicolette, 21, 34n. 2 Zodiac Man, 107

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CAMBRIDGE STUDIES IN MEDIEVAL LITERATURE General Editor alastair minnis, Yale University 1. Dante’s Inferno: Difficulty and Dead Poetry robin kirkpatrick 2. Dante and Difference: Writing in the “Commedia” Jeremy Tambling 3. Troubadours and Irony Simon Gaunt 4. “Piers Plowman” and the New Anticlericalism Wendy Scase 5. The “Cantar de mio Cid”: Poetic Creation in its Economic and Social Contexts Joseph J. Duggan 6. The Medieval Greek Romance Roderick Beaton 7. Reformist Apocalypticism and “Piers Plowman” Kathryn Kerby-​Fulton 8. Dante and the Medieval Other World Alison Morgan 9. The Theatre of Medieval Europe: New Research in Early Drama Eckehard Simon (ed.) 10. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture Mary Carruthers 11. Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts Rita Copeland 12. The Arthurian Romances of Chrétien de Troyes: Once and Future Fictions Donald Maddox 13. Richard Rolle and the Invention of Authority Nicholas Watson 14. Dreaming in the Middle Ages Steven F. Kruger 15. Chaucer and the Tradition of the “Roman Antique” Barbara Nolan 16. The “Romance of the Rose” and its Medieval Readers: Interpretation, Reception, Manuscript Transmission Sylvia Huot

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17. Women and Literature in Britain, 1150–​1500 Carol M. Meale (ed.) 18. Ideas and Forms of Tragedy from Aristotle to the Middle Ages Henry Ansgar Kelly 19. The Making of Textual Culture: ‘Grammatica’ and Literary Theory, 350–​1100 Martin Irvine 20. Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition Larry Scanlon 21. Medieval Dutch Literature in its European Context Erik Kooper (ed.) 22. Dante and the Mystical Tradition: Bernard of Clairvaux in the “Commedia” Steven Botterill 23. Heresy and Literacy, 1000–​1530 Peter Biller and Anne Hudson (eds) 24. Virgil in Medieval England: Figuring the “Aeneid” from the Twelfth Century to Chaucer Christopher Baswell 25. Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry: Alan of Lille’s ‘Anticlaudianus’ and John Gower’s ‘Confessio Amantis’ James Simpson 26. Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France Joyce Coleman 27. Medieval Reading: Grammar, Rhetoric and the Classical Text Suzanne Reynolds 28. Editing ‘Piers Plowman’: The Evolution of the Text Charlotte Brewer 29. Vernacular Literary Theory in the Middle Ages: The German Tradition, 800–​ 1300, in its European Context Walter Haug 30. Texts and the Self in the Twelfth Century Sarah Spence 31. Lies, Slander and Obscenity in Medieval English Literature: Pastoral Rhetoric and the Deviant Speaker Edwin D. Craun 32. “Floire and Blancheflor” and the European Romance Patricia E. Grieve 33. Literacy in Medieval Celtic Societies Huw Pryce (ed.) 34. The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–​1200 Mary Carruthers

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35. The Evolution of Arthurian Romance: The Verse Tradition from Chrétien to Froissart Beate Schmolke-​Hasselmann 36. Arthurian Narrative in the Latin Tradition Siân Echard 37. Clerical Discourse and Lay Audience in Late Medieval England Fiona Somerset 38. Chaucer’s Legendary Good Women Florence Percival 39. The Making of Chaucer’s English: A Study of Words Christopher Cannon 40. Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defence of Women: Reading Beyond Gender Rosalind Brown-​Grant 41. The Early History of Greed: The Sin of Avarice in Early Medieval Thought and Literature Richard Newhauser 42. Old Icelandic Literature and Society Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 43. Fictions of Identity in Medieval France Donald Maddox 44. Pedagogy, Intellectuals, and Dissent in the Later Middle Ages: Lollardy and Ideas of Learning Rita Copeland 45. The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts Kantik Ghosh 46. Women, Reading, and Piety in Late Medieval England Mary C. Erler 47. The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150–​1220 D. H. Green 48. Gestures and Looks in Medieval Narrative J. A. Burrow 49. Poetry and Music in Medieval France: From Jean Renart to Guillaume de Machaut Ardis Butterfield 50. Documentary Culture and the Making of Medieval English Literature Emily Steiner 51. Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050–​1230 William E. Burgwinkle 52. Dante and the Franciscans: Poverty and the Papacy in the “Commedia” Nick Havely

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53. Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif Siegfried Wenzel 54. Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages: Translating Cultures Ananya Jahanara Kabir and Deanne Williams (eds.) 55. Philosophical Chaucer: Love, Sex, and Agency in the “Canterbury Tales” Mark Miller 56. Dante and Renaissance Florence Simon A. Gilson 57. London Literature, 1300–​1380 Ralph Hanna 58. John Lydgate and the Making of Public Culture Maura Nolan 59. ‘Piers Plowman’ and the Medieval Discourse of Desire Nicolette Zeeman 60. The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms, 1350–​1500 Anthony Bale 61. Poets and Power from Chaucer to Wyatt Robert J. Meyer-​Lee 62. Writing Masculinity in the Later Middle Ages Isabel Davis 63. Language and the Declining World in Chaucer, Dante, and Jean de Meun John M. Fyler 64. Parliament and Literature in Late Medieval England Matthew Giancarlo 65. Women Readers in the Middle Ages D. H. Green 66. The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions Mary Dove 67. The Creation of Lancastrian Kingship: Literature, Language and Politics in Late Medieval England Jenni Nuttall 68. Fiction and History in England, 1066–​1200 Laura Ashe 69. The Poetry of Praise J. A. Burrow 70. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Second Edition) Mary Carruthers 71. Literature and Heresy in the Age of Chaucer Andrew Cole 72. Jerusalem in Medieval Narrative Suzanne M. Yeager

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73. Lay Piety and Religious Discipline in Middle English Literature Nicole R. Rice 74. Women and Marriage in German Medieval Romance D. H. Green 75. Paradoxes of Conscience in the High Middle Ages: Abelard, Heloise, and the Archpoet Peter Godman 76. Ethics and Power in Medieval English Reformist Writing Edwin D. Craun 77. Writing to the King: Nation, Kingship, and Literature in England, 1250–​1350 David Matthews 78. Rhetoric Beyond Words: Delight and Persuasion in the Arts of the Middle Ages Mary Carruthers (ed.) 79. Imagining an English Reading Public, 1150–​1400 Katharine Breen 80. Court Poetry in Late Medieval England and Scotland: Allegories of Authority Antony J. Hasler 81. Image, Text, and Religious Reform in Fifteenth-​Century England Shannon Gayk 82. Artisans and Narrative Craft in Late Medieval England Lisa H. Cooper 83. Vernacular Translation in Dante’s Italy: Illiterate Literature Alison Cornish 84. Living Death in Medieval French and English Literature Jane Gilbert 85. Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle Jessica Rosenfeld 86. From England to Bohemia: Heresy and Communication in the Later Middle Ages Michael Van Dussen 87. Boccaccio and the Invention of Italian Literature: Dante, Petrarch, Cavalcanti, and the Authority of the Vernacular Martin Eisner 88. Becoming a Poet in Anglo-​Saxon England Emily V. Thornbury 89. The Myth of “Piers Plowman”: Constructing a Medieval Literary Archive Lawrence Warner 90. Narrating the Crusades: Loss and Recovery in Medieval and Early Modern English Literature Lee Manion 91. Scribal Correction and Literary Craft: English Manuscripts 1375–​1510 Daniel Wakelin

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92. Romance and History: Imagining Time from the Medieval to the Early Modern Period Jon Whitman (ed.) 93. Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy Virginie Greene 94. The Medieval Manuscript Book: Cultural Approaches Michael Johnston and Michael Van Dussen (eds.) 95. Imagining Medieval English: Language Structures and Theories, 500–​1500 Tim William Machan (ed.) 96. English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History Eric Weiskott 97. Shaping the Archive in Late Medieval England: History, Poetry, and Performance Sarah Elliott Novacich 98. The Evolution of Verse Structure in Old and Middle English Poetry: From the Earliest Alliterative Poems to Iambic Pentameter Geoffrey Russom 99. Reconstructing Alliterative Verse: The Pursuit of a Medieval Meter Ian Cornelius 100. The Linguistic Past in Twelfth-​Century Britain Sara Harris 101. The European Book in the Twelfth Century Eric Kwakkel and Rodney Thomson (eds.) 102. The Experience of Education in Anglo-​Saxon Literature Irina Dumitrescu 103. Gods and Humans in Medieval Scandinavia: Retying the Bonds Jonas Wellendorf 104. Chaucer and the Subversion of Form Thomas A. Prendergast and Jessica Rosenfeld (eds.)