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4 - The Knight’s Tale and the Estrangements of Form

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 August 2020

Frank Grady
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, St Louis
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Summary

Drawing on both Statius’s Thebaid and Boccaccio’s Teseida, The Knight’s Tale uncomfortably sutures the horrors of epic tragedy to the idealism of chivalric romance, inflecting both with the philosophical ambitions of Boethius’s Consolation. This chapter traces the modern engagement with the tale as a history of attempts to understand the tensions produced by its multiple sources, genres, and rhetorical registers, and explores how accounts of its form inflect and are inflected by accounts of its politics. Politics here, as in other Canterbury Tales, is as much a matter of gender and sexuality as it is of class, rule, and social order. Moreover, the problems posed by aesthetic and political form become problems of how to understand the relations among the text, its pilgrim narrator, and the author. Beginning with the high formalist moment of postwar criticism, the chapter follows the development of ideology critique and of feminist and psychoanalytic criticism, each of which remains attuned to earlier formalist questions. The Knight’s Tale that emerges from this history is a text of great aesthetic ambition, whose aims are as much reflected in its incoherences as in its formalist impulses.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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