Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising

Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising: Poetry and the Problem of the Populace After 1381

LYNN ARNER
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt32b9s0
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    Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising
    Book Description:

    Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising examines the transmission of Greco-Roman and European literature into English during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, while literacy was burgeoning among men and women from the nonruling classes. This dissemination offered a radically democratizing potential for accessing, interpreting, and deploying learned texts. Focusing primarily on an overlooked sector of Chaucer’s and Gower’s early readership, namely, the upper strata of nonruling urban classes, Lynn Arner argues that Chaucer’s and Gower’s writings engaged in elaborate processes of constructing cultural expertise. These writings helped define gradations of cultural authority, determining who could contribute to the production of legitimate knowledge and granting certain socioeconomic groups political leverage in the wake of the English Rising of 1381. Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising simultaneously examines Chaucer’s and Gower’s negotiations—often articulated at the site of gender—over poetics and over the roles that vernacular poetry should play in the late medieval English social formation. This study investigates how Chaucer’s and Gower’s texts positioned poetry to become a powerful participant in processes of social control.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-06206-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    The spring and summer of 1381 witnessed the most geographically widespread series of rebellions, featuring the largest number of insurgents, in medieval English history. In the immediate aftermath, John Gower composed book 1 of the Vox Clamantis, describing the event in vitriolic terms and portraying rebels as beasts ontologically incapable of intelligible speech. Preaching to the demographics who overwhelmingly opposed the English Rising of 1381 , the Vox staged a dramatic refusal to engage with subordinate classes, as the poem’s educational prerequisites attest.¹ Around 1386 Gower began the Confessio Amantis,² in which the memory of the rising persists,³ although the...

  5. 1 CHAUCER’S AND GOWER’S EARLY READERSHIP EXPANDED
    (pp. 17-45)

    John Sharnebrok, a chandler and citizen of London, owned “Clensyngsyne,” valued at 8d. in 1376. Nearly two decades later, Gilbert Prynce, a London painter, left a missal to the church of St. Giles without Cripplegate, London. John Clifford, a mason and citizen of Southwark, willed one book to his parish church in Southwark in 1411 and two books to a convent of Franciscan nuns. Upon his death in 1443 , a York glover named John Newton bequeathed two books, one of which seems to have been Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon. Richard Person, an armorer of London, willed his grandchild a Psalter...

  6. 2 AGAINST THE GREYNESS OF THE MULTITUDE: POETRY, PRESTIGE, AND THE CONFESSIO AMANTIS
    (pp. 46-72)

    In the wake of the Black Death, workers in England consumed. Wage increases in the ensuing several decades provided better food, clothing, and housing for many laborers, peasants, and artisans. With new consumer goods available, including a wider range of fashionable garments and various manufactured products, consumption habits by subordinate classes frequently mimicked those of the elite.¹ Because manuscripts were not insulated from the prestige attached to consumer goods in late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century England, some of the laity perceived manuscripts as objects that conferred cultural cachet. In his study on manuscript producers and owners in fifteenth-century Yorkshire, J....

  7. 3 TIME AFTER TIME: HISTORIOGRAPHY AND NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S DREAM
    (pp. 73-104)

    In the Prologue to the Confessio Amantis, the narrator recounts Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from the Book of Daniel. As Nebuchadnezzar slept, he dreamed of a wondrous image formed in the shape of a man. The head and neck were forged of fine gold; the breast, shoulders, and arms were carved of silver; the stomach and thighs were molded of brass; the legs were made of iron; and the feet were composed of an unstable mixture of iron and clay. Without warning, a boulder rolled down a nearby hill and landed on the statue’s feet, causing the entire body to crumble (Prol.595...

  8. 4 IN DEFENSE OF CUPID: POETICS, GENDER, AND THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN
    (pp. 105-129)

    Cupid has been dubbed “one of Chaucer’s most comically obtuse exegetes.”¹ However, I propose that we listen attentively to Cupid in the Legend of Good Women, and at the risk of appearing obtuse, I insist that we take his understanding of literature seriously. In the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, Cupid complains that the gender politics of Chaucer’s poetry are problematic, that Chaucer’s poetry shapes men’s perceptions of women, and that men treat women worse as a result. In essence, Cupid argues that cultural artifacts help shape readers’ consciousness and lives. Cupid’s complaint should not seem too inane...

  9. 5 CHAUCER ON THE EFFECTS OF POETRY
    (pp. 130-152)

    In the Legend of Good Women, the narrator begins the Legend of Philomela with an outrageous claim:

    And, as to me, so grisely was his [Tereus’s] dede

    That, whan that I his foule storye rede,

    Myne eyen wexe foule and sore also.

    Yit last the venym of so longe ago,

    That it enfecteth hym that wol beholde

    The storye of Tereus, of which I tolde.

    (2238–43)

    The jarring assertion that Tereus’s “foule storye” makes the narrator’s eyes “wexe foule and sore” raises the conundrum of how one determines what can legitimately be deemed textual influence. In foregrounding this dilemma,...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 153-162)

    The poetry of Chaucer and Gower defined what the new English literature would become. In many ways their respective writings promoted similar understandings of the emergent literature and of the nature of its participation in the field of cultural production, while in other ways their texts diverged greatly regarding possibilities for this nascent cultural praxis. Both the Confessio and the Legend forward poetry as a means of categorizing and controlling readers and nonreaders alike. The Confessio offers a full-blown articulation of conversance with the Greco-Roman literary tradition as an indicator of intellectual, moral, and spiritual superiority over the populace. In...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 163-176)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 177-190)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 191-198)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)