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The thirteenth-century allegorical dream vision, the Roman de la Rose, transformed how medieval literary texts engaged with philosophical ideas. Written in Old French, its influence dominated French, English and Italian literature for the next two centuries, serving in particular as a model for Chaucer and Dante. Jean de Meun's section of this extensive, complex and dazzling work is notable for its sophisticated responses to a whole host of contemporary philosophical debates. This collection brings together literary scholars and historians of philosophy to produce the most thorough, interdisciplinary study to date of how the Rose uses poetry to articulate philosophical problems and positions. This wide-ranging collection demonstrates the importance of the poem for medieval intellectual history and offers new insights into the philosophical potential both of the Rose specifically and of medieval poetry as a whole.
Chaucer’s God considers how characters invoke God, both in terms of the everyday language of late medieval England and in the ways that the idea of God is reflected in Chaucer’s fiction. Conventional, non-theological utterances of the names for God by Chaucer’s characters as part of their, by turns, outwardly pious and unthinkingly impious phraseologies are discussed in the opening section, God Woot – ‘God knows’. Under the heading God Forwoot – ‘God foreknows’, some of the more challenging invocations of God are considered, such as the implications of divine foreknowledge and predestination on human free will in the Knight’s Tale, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde. The concluding section, God in a Cruel World, asks whether in the Clerk’s Tale and the Franklin’s Tale, if Chaucer allowed his tales to reflect, and characters to reflect upon, the heretical notion of a God lacking in compassion for humanity.
French – dialects, peoples and places – shaped late medieval European literary culture. We cannot with certainty ascribe any surviving French poetry to Geoffrey Chaucer, but the poet’s existing corpus demonstrates how Chaucer read, emulated and adapted French works and how Chaucer’s French also aided his approach to Latin sources. Chaucer’s contemporaries associated his poetry with the Roman de la Rose, and this essay surveys Chaucer’s engagement with French poetry produced by Eustache Deschamps, Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, Christine de Pizan, Oton de Grandson, John Gower and Guillaume de Deguileville in relation to the widely influential Rose.
Chaucer’s literary imagination is fuelled by a highly mediated and contextualised access to his classical sources, almost always supported by, filtered through, or read against the vernacular works of European contemporaries. He is a cultural synapse between Latin literature and the vernaculars of medieval Europe. Chaucer’s classical knowledge was a bricolage made up of direct knowledge of some Latin works (especially those of Ovid and Virgil); some knowledge of Latin works supported by translations or commentaries in the European vernaculars in which he was comfortable, especially French and Italian; and some knowledge of vernacular reworkings of earlier Latin materials which he was able to finesse and nuance by referring back to the Latin originals. Throughout the House of Fame, a key text for his literary self-awareness, Chaucer imaginatively explores his own understanding of, and relationship to, antecedent literature, and particularly to the literature of Latin antiquity as it had survived into his lifetime.
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.
Rather than trawl through medieval philosophical texts for references to selfhood, I analyse a story Chaucer knew well: that of Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus’s fatal encounter with his own reflection suggests a number of points: i) that self-awareness is associated with sight (the word ‘introspection’ means ‘looking within’); ii) that beauty also is associated with sight; iii) that love makes one self-aware (Narcissus understands that his love-object is himself, not that that helps him any); iv) that sight can be ironically linked to moral blindness. Chaucer explores all these points, often with reference to mirrors, and to women in love or being loved. Medieval mirrors were usually small and convex, requiring the viewer to stand close to interpret the distorted images from multiple angles that they generated. Chaucer especially represents women experiencing how it feels to ‘be me’, making of his own poetry a mirror that reflects from oblique positions.
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