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Chaucer’s England

Chaucer’s England: Literature in Historical Context

Barbara A. Hanawalt editor
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Chaucer’s England
    Book Description:

    Represents the first time that disciples of history and English literature have joined forces to present new interpretations of late fourteenth-century English society. Contributors: Caroline M. Barron, Michael J. Bennett, Lawrence M. Clopper, Susan Crane, Richard Firth Green, Nicholas Orme, Nigel Saul, Paul Strohm, and David Wallace.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8412-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Barbara A. Hanawalt

    The intersection of history and literature is hardly a new endeavor for scholars of the historical and literary fields, but independent developments in both has made possible a fruitful, new interdisciplinary approach. In the past, scholars ventured into each other’s territory as primitive raiders. Langland and Chaucer experts poached from standard historical works or collections of printed documents and gleefully incorporated their trophies in biographies of Chaucer or books about Chaucer’s London. No less unprincipled were the historical savages who purported to write social history on the basis of “facts” raided from the fiction of Chaucer and Langland. I will...

  6. Part I. The Political Context

    • CHAPTER 1 The Court Of Richard II and the Promotion of Literature
      (pp. 3-20)
      Michael J. Bennett

      The circumstances of the great flowering of English verse in the late fourteenth century represent a major problem for the social and cultural historian. It is at once exhilarating and humbling to reflect on the England of Richard II, a country of only two million inhabitants, but with Chaucer, Gower, Langland, and theGawain-poet all at the height of their literary powers. Needless to say, the achievement of this remarkable generation of poets presents major problems of interpretation. It is not simply that what John Burrow has termed “Ricardian poetry” includes such varied, complex, and subtle work, though that is...

    • CHAPTER 2 Saving the Appearances: Chaucer’s Purse and the Fabrication of the Lancastrian Claim
      (pp. 21-40)
      Paul Strohm

      The particular logic and sequence of Henry of Derby’s actions upon his return to England in July 1399 remain concealed behind the discrepant and unreliable chronicle accounts through which we attempt to know them. Nevertheless a general pattern does emerge: a pattern mixed, whether through uncertainty or deviousness, but moving by its own logic ever closer to a claim on the throne. Swearing to the northern lords at Doncaster that he aimed only to secure his heritage and to put Richard “in gouernaunce,”¹ and through his emissaries to Richard at Conway that he wished only to be hereditary steward or...

    • CHAPTER 3 Chaucer and Gentility
      (pp. 41-56)
      Nigel Saul

      Chaucer is a difficult poet for the historian to interpret. He rarely lays bare his conscience in the way that, for example, his contemporary Langland does. Nor does he ever make his poetry a medium for the expression of complaint. His manner is quiet and reflective, ironic and amused. He is in a sense a poet’s poet. He is not one to don the mantle of prophet or legislator.¹

      Chaucer’s concerns, moreover, are emphatically general, not particular, in character. They embrace the whole range of human experience—the pain and the joy of love, the conflict between Acceptance and Denial,...

  7. Part II London as a Literary Setting

    • CHAPTER 4 Chaucer and the Absent City
      (pp. 59-90)
      David Wallace

      Chaucer’sCanterbury Talesdoes not begin in London: it begins south of the Thames in Southwark and moves us steadily away from the city walls. Chaucer’s solitary attempt at pure London fiction conies to an abrupt end after just fifty-eight lines: “Of this cokes tale” writes the Hengwrt scribe, “maked Chaucer na moore.”¹ The projected return journey from Canterbury is never made. In Chaucerian fiction, then, the City of London is chiefly remarkable for its absence. This essay attempts to read that absence. I begin by establishing the relationship of London to Southwark; I then consider texts from fourteenthcentury London...

    • CHAPTER 5 William Langland: A London Poet
      (pp. 91-109)
      Caroline M. Barron

      Piers Plowmanis, in many ways, a baffling and teasing poem, particularly so for the historian, who is inclined to prefer source materials to be cut and dried.Piers Plowmanexists in at least three versions, none of which can be securely dated. The author (or authors) is unknown, and although we may infer, from the internal evidence of the poem, that his name was William Langland, it has so far proved impossible to locate an appropriate man of that name in any of the surviving documentary sources for the later fourteenth century.¹ All we know of the author is...

    • CHAPTER 6 Need Men and Women Labor? Langland’s Wanderer and the Labor Ordinances
      (pp. 110-130)
      Lawrence M. Clopper

      At the beginning of Passus V of the C version ofPiers Plowman,Langland presents his Wanderer, Will, in a confrontation with two personifications, Reason and Conscience, who question him with regard to the major provisions of the Statute of Laborers. The curious element in their interrogation is that they do not charge him with a single infraction—for example, “did you take excess wages?” or “did you renege on the contract with your lord?”—instead, they query him on every article of the statute to see if he comes under it. It is as if they do not know...

  8. Part III Literature of the Countryside

    • CHAPTER 7 Medieval Hunting: Fact and Fancy
      (pp. 133-153)
      Nicholas Orme

      There is a passion for hunting something, deeply implanted in the human breast,” wrote Dickens inOliver Twist. Surely, the passion has seldom been stronger than it was in medieval England, when hunting occupied the minds and bodies of people across the whole of society.¹ Its spell extended from the king to the lowest commoner. Hunting was a royal sport, part of the training and upbringing of princes from their childhood. Henry V had a hunting treatise written for him between 1406 and 1413 while he was a young man; Henry VI hunted hares and foxes at Bury St. Edmunds...

    • CHAPTER 8 Ballads and Bandits: Fourteenth-Century Outlaws and the Robin Hood Poems
      (pp. 154-175)
      Barbara A. Hanawalt

      Robin Hood, the courteous outlaw, the rebel against authority, and the friend of the poor husbandman, was a popular subject for ballads in late medieval England and has lost little of his universal appeal today. It is safe to assume that the ballads were recited frequently in villages, towns, and castles of late medieval England, for around 1377 a passing reference to them appears inPiers Plowman,when Sloth confesses that he can recite the popular rhymes of Robin Hood but cannot recite the paternoster.¹ We can readily appreciate Robin Hood’s appeal for medieval audiences. His prowess in weaponry, courtly...

    • CHAPTER 9 John Ball’s Letters: Literary History and Historical Literature
      (pp. 176-200)
      Richard Firth Green

      Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede(c. 1394) is hardly one of the more frequently read Middle English poems, but it contains one particularly striking passage, a description of the life of a fourteenth-century plowman. This is how that description is characterized by one commentator:

      [The] lines enshrine a moment of truth caught with vivid intensity and in the cruel details—the ragged ploughman guiding his exhausted, half-starved oxen, the patient bare-foot wife marking the snow with her blood-stained footprints, the little child weeping in its “crumb-bowl” at the end of the furrow—we are spared nothing of the hopeless distress suffered...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Writing Lesson of 1381
      (pp. 201-222)
      Susan Crane

      At the beginning of his 1789 tractWhat Is the Third Estate}Emmanuel Sieyes summarizes that estate’s prerevolutionary history in two questions and responses: “What has [the third estate] been until now in the political order? Nothing. What does it seek? To become something.”¹ The conceptual space between that nothing and that desired something is the concern of this paper. One of the many fields that constitute “the third estate” as a historical category is writing. We know the rebels of England’s 1381 rising through chronicles, court records, charters, poems, and so on. Yet the rebels remain outside representation in...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 223-224)
  10. Index
    (pp. 225-240)