Essays on Chaucerian Irony

Essays on Chaucerian Irony

EARLE BIRNEY
EDITED, WITH AN ESSAY ON IRONY, BY BERYL ROWLAND
Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 162
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt15jjfn2
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  • Book Info
    Essays on Chaucerian Irony
    Book Description:

    These essays have remained classics of their kind. They include important discussions on irony-its native traditions and its occurrence in early English literature, an account of critics' appreciation of Chaucerian irony prior to this century, and a detailed examination of four of the Canterbury Tales.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-3200-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
    BR
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Seven Kinds of Irony
    (pp. xv-2)
    BERYL ROWLAND

    Anyone who tries to define irony is asking for trouble. The subject of many excellent books and articles,¹ irony has been so variously and profusely analysed that some critics are now reluctant to consider it at all, preferring to regard it rather as a temporary literary obsession or as a modern concept almost totally irrelevant to medieval poetry. As for diehard ironymongers, they are becoming too canny to define their terms: they either force readers to sort out for themselves the various modes of irony or imply that only one type of irony existed in medieval times.² Yet if we...

  7. The Two Worlds of Geoffrey Chaucer
    (pp. 3-19)

    I have always admired that anonymous freshman who wrote, in the heat of an examination, that Chaucer ‘stood with one foot in the Middle Ages and with the other saluted the rising dawn of the Renaissance,’ I think that, beneath the almost Shakespearian abandon of that imagery, there is an honest attempt to characterize Chaucer. I am not sure that the freshman knew what is meant by the Middle Ages and by the Renaissance, and I am not sure that I know, or that anyone knows. Yet the more we study Chaucer’s poems, the more we realize that he lived...

  8. English Irony before Chaucer
    (pp. 20-35)

    One feels the need to apologize for being concerned with irony at all, and more especially with irony so far away and long ago. But while Ottawa remains unbombed, we continue to read English literature, or literature about English literature. The excuse for the present essay lies in the fact that if we confine our studies to the second category, as too many wise men continue to do for the centuries on the far side of 1400, we shall have no knowledge whatever of a long tradition of English irony worthy of notice in itself, and doubly interesting because it...

  9. Is Chaucer’s Irony a Modern Discovery?
    (pp. 36-53)

    ‘The gay, incomparably felicitous irony of Chaucer is as precious to us today as any other mark of his genius, yet between his generation and our own it lay unregarded, a quality which there were few to know, and very few to love,’¹ This recent picturing of Chaucer's irony as a violet only now uncovered from the moss of the centuries deserves to be scrutinized, if only in fairness to our ancestors, and all the more as it seems to represent an opinion widely held. In one of the latest monographs on Chaucer, Professor Patch writes: ‘In the long history...

  10. The Beginnings of Chaucer’s Irony
    (pp. 54-76)

    Chaucer’s poetry is generally felt to be distinguished by ‘an irony so quiet, so delicate, that many readers never notice it is there at all or mistake it for naivete,’¹ Granting, of course, the danger that ‘naivete’ may in turn be mistaken for irony, we may still suspect, with G. K. Chesterton, that Chaucer ‘made a good many more jokes than his critics have ever seen,’² hatever disputes continue about certain passages, no one is likely to deny today that thePrologue to the Canterbury Talesis rich in subtle and satiric ambiguities. A more debatable and more neglected question,...

  11. The Inhibited and the Uninhibited: Ironic Structure in the Miller’s Tale
    (pp. 77-84)

    A pattern of structural irony in theMiller’s Talewhich seems not to have been noted is nevertheless one which the poet himself evidently kept very much in mind. The plot which Chaucer is presumed to have inherited involved two suitors of a young wife; one succeeded, but at the cost of being ‘scalded in the towte’; the other succeeds only in kissing his lady’s ‘nether ye.’¹ What Chaucer adds, essentially, to this “kiss-and-burn motif’² is an intricate craftsmanship designed to make the differing fates of the rivals proceed inevitably from their contrasting characters as lovers.³ In the process he...

  12. ‘After his Ymage’: The Central Ironies of the Friar’s Tale
    (pp. 85-108)

    So unappreciated is theFriar’s Talethat popular works on Chaucer still dismiss it, along with its companionSummoner’s Tale,as a ‘particularly coarse’ affair,¹ or ‘tedious as those horse-play medieval stories usually are.’² Even critics who have actually considered the work, and know that there is not a bawdy line in it, have been weak witnesses to the fact that there is not a tedious line either. Interpretation has dwelt too largely on the undoubtedly fascinating relations of the tale to the Canterbury framework and to the warfare of the summoners and friars, to the neglect of the story...

  13. Structural Irony within the Summoner’s Tale
    (pp. 109-124)

    Though there has been a great deal of admiring commentary on the craftsmanship with which Chaucer fitted theSummoner’s Taleinto the Canterbury framework — suiting tale to teller, and the teller’s friar to the friar of theGeneral Prologue— there continues to be a tendency to regard the tale itself as a somewhat negligible example of Chaucer’s narrative art. Adverse remarks range from criticism of its form (‘rather disorganized,’¹ lacks solidity ... does not add up to much ... remains an extended anecdote’³) to general disapproval of the story (‘highly unsavory’ and not calling for ‘further comment,’³ ‘the humour of...

  14. Chaucer’s ‘Gentil’ Manciple and his ‘Gentil’ Tale
    (pp. 125-134)

    To what extent, if at all, Chaucer kept the character of the Manciple in hisGeneral Prologuein mind when he wrote theManciple’s Talecontinues to be an unsettled question. Lawrence, Malone, and others think there is no special appropriateness of tale to teller, and Hulbert, while granting some general suitability of theme, feels that ‘the Greek setting, the rather learned rhetorical development, and the moral disquisition are completely incongruous with the dishonest Manciple.’¹ No evidence has been advanced, however, to suggest that Chaucer had any other character in mind when he wrote it, and there is no doubt...

  15. BIBLIOGRAPHIES
    (pp. 135-154)
  16. Index
    (pp. 155-162)