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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Part II - Books, Discourse and Traditions

  • Edited by Ian Johnson, University of St Andrews, Scotland
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • pp 25-154


Thomas Hoccleve referred to Chaucer as the ‘firste fyndere of our faire langage’. The word fyndere is carefully chosen, as a modified translation of the first ‘canon’ of classical and medieval rhetoric, the ancestor of present-day English invention. Any assessment of Chaucer’s ‘poetic art’ requires us not just to identify the linguistic choices available to him, it also requires us to ask how those choices relate to his broader poetics. Chaucer’s use of ‘pronouns of power’, for example, do not only characterise particular choices from the linguistic resources of London Middle English, they are also a matter of style, a notion for which classical and medieval literary theoreticians had their own terminology, distinguishing high, middle and low styles, widely recognised as having distinct functions relating to social status and roles. It is conceivably as a metrist, however, that Chaucer’s skill as a ‘finder’ is perhaps most subtly demonstrated, as examples from his works show.