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Chaucer's Queer Poetics

Chaucer's Queer Poetics: Rereading the Dream Trio

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 460
  • Book Info
    Chaucer's Queer Poetics
    Book Description:

    Geoffrey Chaucer was arguably fourteenth-century England's greatest poet. In the nineteenth century, readers of Chaucer's early dream poems - theBook of the Duchess, House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowles- began to detect a tripartite model of his artistic development from a French to an Italian, and finally to an English phase. They fleshed out this model with the liberation narrative, the inspiring story of how Chaucer escaped the emasculating French house of bondage to become the generative father of English poetry. Although this division has now largely been dismissed, both the tripartite model and the accompanying liberation narrative persist in Chaucer criticism.

    InChaucer's Queer Poetics, Susan Schibanoff interrogates why the tripartite model remains so tenacious even when literary history does not support it. Revealing deeply rooted Francophobic, homophobic, and nationalistic biases, Schibanoff examines the development paradigm and demonstrates that 'liberated Chaucer' depends on antiquated readings of key source texts for the dream trilogy. This study challenges the long held view the Chaucer fled the prison of effete French court verse to become the 'natural' English father poet and charts a new model of Chaucerian poetic development that discovers the emergence of a queer aesthetic in his work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7291-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: ‘There is nothing French about Chaucer’
    (pp. 3-24)

    When James Lorimer remarked in 1849 that there was ‘nothing French about Chaucer’ (97), he meant it as a compliment, and first and foremost this book examines why it was one of the most positive things you could say in the Victorian era about Geoffrey Chaucer. Lorimer’s praise resonates with the evolving notion that Chaucer’s art progressed through three sequential periods or phases, French, Italian, and English. To say that there was nothing French about Chaucer was to say that he had advanced from being a courtly poet to being a thoroughly English writer. It also said much more. As...

  5. PART 1

    • 1 Anti-Courtly Polemic in the Chaucer Escape Narrative and the Queer Decoy
      (pp. 27-64)

      George Kittredge’s characterization of theBook of the Duchessas one of the ‘pretty visions’ (Chaucer54) that Chaucer wrote while under the thumb of his French masters has not gone uncontested, yet the premises of this traditional view remain embedded in subsequent readings of the poem. These premises also form part of the larger anti-courtly polemic that drives the Chaucer escape narrative. Before I reread the Book of the Duchess in chapter 2, I explore here anti-courtliness in two views of the poem from the later twentieth century, Ian Robinson’s in Chaucer and theEnglish Tradition(1972) and Lee...

    • 2 Courtliness and Heterosexual Poetics in the Book of the Duchess
      (pp. 65-98)

      Chaucer scholars generally accept the fact that the death of John of Gaunt’s first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, on 12 September 1368 occasioned theBook of the Duchess. Even if there is no corroborative evidence for the note, apparently written by John Stowe, in the Fairfax manuscript that Gaunt requested Chaucer to write a poem commemorating Blanche, Chaucer himself referred to the poem as ‘the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse’ in the prologue to hisLegend of Good Women(418) and as ‘the book of the Duchesse’ in the retraction (1086) to theCanterbury Tales(Minnis, Scattergood, and Smith 80;...

  6. PART 2

    • 3 What Dante Meant to Chaucer: The Hermaphrodite Poetics of the Divine Comedy
      (pp. 101-151)

      InChaucer’s Italian Tradition, Warren Ginsberg remarks that almost every recent reader ‘who asks, with Piero Boitani, what Dante meant to Chaucer, answers by saying, in effect, “just about everything”’(29).¹ Even if the protean Dante Alighieri has proved notoriously difficult to assimilate to Chaucer, in the escape narrative Dante functions as the supreme author of heaven and hell, lover of Beatrice, the master poet who freed Chaucer from his French prison. The project of this chapter is a rereading of the traditional Dante of Chaucer studies in the light of the new Dante who has emerged in Italian studies. I...

    • 4 The House of Fame: Geffrey as Ganymede
      (pp. 152-196)

      The central point of contact between the Dante whose hermaphrodite poetics theorized the noble mother tongue in theComedyand the narrator of theHouse of Fameoccurs in the episode at the opening of Book 2 of Chaucer’s poem in which the eagle bears the narrator aloft. After a nod to Dante, Chaucer’s narrator imagines himself Ganymede during the flight scene. I shall argue in this chapter that when Geffrey thinks himself Ganymede in the eagle’s grasp, he contextualizes his pragmatic vernacular project in Book 1 of theHouse of Famewithin Dante’s theoretical poetic concerns in theComedy....

  7. PART 3

    • 5 Disorderly Nature: Aristotle, Alan of Lille, and Jean de Meun
      (pp. 199-257)

      The concept of the natural plays a central but largely silent role throughout theHouse of Fame. It is the unexamined norm that troubles Geffrey in the desert and flight scenes, and it underlies the eagle’s poetics of sound. Traditional functions of Nature are mapped onto Fame when she names tidings and decrees their lifespans, even though the aesthetic of both Fame and Rumor deviates from natural poetics, just as Chaucer’s poem disrupts traditional literary authority. In theParliament of Fowls, the final poem of the dream trilogy, however, nature emerges as a fully personified figure that presides over the...

    • 6 ‘imaked ... in Fraunce’: Nature’s Queer Poetics in the Parliament of Fowls
      (pp. 258-304)

      It is a commonplace of Chaucer criticism to find a harbinger of the major work of Chaucer’s so-called English period, the Canterbury Tales, not only in the milling crowd of gossips in Rumor’s wicker domicile at the end of the House of Fame, but more immediately in the raucous bird debate that Nature supervises in the final poem of the dream trio, the Parliament of Fowls.1 The Nature evoked in this convention of the Chaucer tradition is a narrow figure, not the expansively unruly Nature of Alan of Lille and Jean de Meun that I explored in chapter 5. Indeed,...

  8. Au revoir: Queer Poetics and Chaucer’s Englishness
    (pp. 305-308)

    I have argued in this book that various constructions and biases of the nineteenth century (and earlier) coincided to produce the model by which, largely without acknowledgment, we continue to read Chaucer in the twenty-first century. Nationalism, imperialism, sexism, heterosexism, Whig ideas of history mapped onto the artist’s development, Burckhardt’s concept of the Italian Renaissance as grounded in freedom, and related notions came together to give us the Chaucer who escaped the French courtly prison to become the father poet of theCanterburyTales. The proof of my claim must rest in what I have already said in the preceding...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 309-324)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 325-350)
  11. Index
    (pp. 351-365)