Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Chaucer and Religion

Chaucer and Religion

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 236
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Chaucer and Religion
    Book Description:

    How do critics, religious scholars and historians in the early twenty-first century view Chaucer's relationship to religion? And how can he be taught and studied in an increasingly secular and multi-cultural environment? The essays here, on (the Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, lyrics and dream poems, aim to provide an orientation on the study of the the religions, the religious traditions and the religious controversies of his era - and to offer new perspectives upon them. Using a variety of theoretical, critical and historical approaches, they deal with topics that include Chaucer in relation to lollardy, devotion to the saint and the Virgin Mary, Judaism and Islam, and the Bible; attitudes towards sex, marriage and love; ethics, both Christian and secular; ideas on death and the Judgement; Chaucer's handling of religious genres such as hagiography and miracles, as well as other literary traditions - romance, ballade, dream poetry, fablliaux and the middle ages' classical inheritance - which pose challenges to religious world views. These are complemented by discussion of a range of issues related to teaching Chaucer in Britain and America today, drawn from practical experience. Contributors: Anthony Bale, Alcuin Blamires, Laurel Broughton, Helen Cooper, Graham D. Caie, Roger Dalrymple, Dee Dyas, D. Thomas Hanks Jr., Stephen Knight, Carl Phelpstead, Helen Phillips, David Raybin, Sherry Reames, Jill Rudd.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-886-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. General Editors’ Foreword
    (pp. vii-vii)

    This series addresses the challenge that the study of literature, history and material culture of the past often poses for modern researchers, students and teachers, because the religious assumptions of previous centuries are remote from the worldviews of contemporary people. The volumes in the series aim to provide research, discussion and critical perspectives on the role of religion and the historical interrelationships of religion, society and culture, each focusing on a particular period or topic. They are designed primarily for those in university research, teaching and study, but their subjects and approaches are also likely to be of interest to...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
    Helen Phillips
  5. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Writing about Chaucer and religion is a very different matter from writing about, for instance, T. S. Eliot and religion. For Eliot, Christianity, in the form of high Anglicanism, was an option that he embraced as a living faith, and that increasingly shaped and coloured his poetry. His task, in an unashamedly materialist and increasingly agnostic or atheist world, was to find a poetic language that would convey the thoughts and feelings that informed that faith even to those who did not share it: to make space for religion in a world that saw no need for it. For Chaucer,...


    • 1 Love, Marriage, Sex, Gender
      (pp. 3-23)

      There are moments when Chaucer’s writings can sound peculiarly modern. One such moment comes when a knight’s extravagantly lyrical description of a woman he has loved provokes a sceptical reaction from the narrator of theBook of the Duchess. The narrator observes that he can well believe that the woman seemed the very loveliest to behold, to anyone who looked at herwith the knight’s eyes(‘Whoso had loked hir with your eyen’,BD1051). That detachment and relativism in thinking about personal attraction has a twenty-first-century flavour.

      On the other hand, there is much in Chaucer that will seem...

    • 2 Chaucer and the Bible
      (pp. 24-34)

      Today most people think they have a reasonably good idea of what is being referred to by ‘the Bible’ and, especially if practising Jews or Christians, they will have some knowledge of its contents. The Bible is generally described as containing the canonical books of Judaism and Christianity. There are, however, distinct differences in the definition of the canon and hence today there are different versions of the Bible in the various denominations and faiths, such as the Jewish Tanakh, the King James Bible, the New English Bible, the New Revised Standard Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, the Living Bible, etc....

    • 3 Chaucer and Lollardy
      (pp. 35-40)

      The extent, nature and significance of Chaucer’s connection to the Lollard movement have long been the subject of speculation and debate. Even before John Foxe, in his sixteenth-centuryActes and Monumentes, referred to Chaucer as ‘a right Wicklevian, or else there was never any’,¹ Chaucer was already seen as providing a record of the dissenting voices of late-fourteenthcentury England. In fact, in 1464 a copy of theCanterbury Talesbelonging to one John Baron of Amersham was produced as evidence for the prosecution in a case of heresy.² Although, as Derek Pearsall asserts, the legend of the Protestant Chaucer faded...

    • 4 ‘Toward the fen’: Church and Churl in Chaucer’s Fabliaux
      (pp. 41-51)

      The ironic dynamic of Chaucer’s fabliaux is usually taken as anti-romance. The Miller is held to ‘quite’ theKnight’s Tale(I 3127) by parodying his noble love-conflict, with a shared line to pin the joke (2779 and 3204), then the Reeve reverses the reversal on behalf of his trade; anti-romance can also be heard in the parodic voices and behaviour of Damian in theMerchant’s Taleand Chauntecleer in theNun’s Priest’s Tale. Yet the French fabliaux realized not ironic romance but louche battles between clerics and churls, and there is an insistent religious referentiality in the Oxbridge diptych, as...

    • 5 ‘A maner Latyn corrupt’: Chaucer and the Absent Religions
      (pp. 52-64)

      This essay examines two egregious moments in theCanterbury Talesat which Christian identity comes under scrutiny and attack from non-Christians: firstly, in the Jewish–Christian encounter of thePrioress’s Tale, and secondly in the triptych of faith communities, of Christian Rome, Saracen Syria and pagan Northumbria, envisaged in theMan of Law’s Tale. My title, referring to ‘absent religion’, does not simply suggest that Jews, Muslims and pagans were absent from Chaucer’s London.¹ Rather, ‘absent religion’ refers to the practice of non-Christian religion as represented in these stories, as ciphers of Christianity, within Chaucerian poetics, the larger project of...

    • 6 The Matter of Chaucer: Chaucer and the Boundaries of Romance
      (pp. 65-80)

      Jean Bodel in the late twelfth century divided romances into three groups, reflecting their subject matters: the matter of France (concerned with Charlemagne and other French Christian leaders fighting Islam), the matter of Rome (classical subjects), and the matter of Britain (subjects related to the world of Arthur).¹ But romance is a varied genre and other discernable types include romances that celebrate particular dynasties, likeGuy of Warwick; romances with oriental settings; and romances centred on conflicting love and loyalty, like the Lancelot or Tristan stories. Recurrent plot patterns include calumniated wives, abandoned noble babies, dispossessed heirs, Muslim maidens who...

    • 7 Mary, Sanctity and Prayers to Saints: Chaucer and Late-Medieval Piety
      (pp. 81-96)

      Reminders of the cult of saints were omnipresent in Chaucer’s society.¹ Saints’ days far outnumbered other kinds of holidays, and churches celebrated the major ones with processions to an altar with the saint’s image or relics, special hymns in the saint’s honour and readings about the saint’s life. These occasions were so embedded in the culture that both ecclesiastical and secular documents habitually dated events in terms of the nearest saint’s day instead of giving the month and numerical day. Carved and painted images of the saints were everywhere, too – present not only in churches and private homes but even...

    • 8 ‘Th’ende is every tales strengthe’: Contextualizing Chaucerian Perspectives on Death and Judgement
      (pp. 97-110)

      In theKnight’s Tale Egeus’reflections on the inevitability of death culminate in an image with particular resonance for the Canterbury pilgrims listening to the Knight:

      ‘Right as ther dyed nevere man,’ quod he,

      ‘That he ne lyvede in erthe in some degree,

      Right so ther lyvede never man,’ he seyde,

      ‘In al this world, that som tyme he ne deyde.

      This world nis but a thurghfare ful of wo,

      And we ben pilgryms, passynge to and fro.’

      In the late Middle Ages experience continually brought the truth that Egeus enunciates to mind, but since the end of the Second...

    • 9 Chaucer and the Saints: Miracles and Voices of Faith
      (pp. 111-131)

      In Chaucer’s England saints gave their names to churches and monasteries, to towns and villages. Their shrines and relics affirmed their continuing presences. Their names pepper theGeneral Prologueand the tales. Chaucer tells a saint’s legend in theSecond Nun’s Tale, a miracle of the Virgin in thePrioress’s Tale, and creates a hybrid of the two genres in theMan of Law’s Tale. Within the narrative structure of the saint’s legend, Chaucer gives voices to those often unheard: women and children. Cecilia, the little clergeon and Custance use their voices at crucial moments in their tales to instigate...

    • 10 Chaucer and the Communities of Pilgrimage
      (pp. 132-142)
      DEE DYAS

      The mention of community in the context of pilgrimage probably conjures up for students of medieval literature the kind of company which Chaucer depicts assembling at the Tabard inn one spring evening or the parties of travellers described by Felix Fabri¹ or Margery Kempe:² groups, assembled by prior arrangement or happenstance, brought together by the common purpose of seeking of a shrine and the benefits which such a journey were considered to bring. Chaucer’s ‘compaignye’ of ‘sondry folk’, fallen into ‘felaweship’ provides a very useful narrative frame; it must also have often been a reality, as pilgrims from differing social...

    • 11 Classicizing Christianity in Chaucer’s Dream Poems: The Book of the Duchess, Book of Fame and Parliament of Fowls
      (pp. 143-155)

      To ask whether Chaucer’s dream visions operate within a consciously and hortatively Christian context has rarely been seen as a credible procedure. Though Robertson and Huppé¹ offered an energetic exegesis of theBook of the Duchessand theParliament of Fowlsand Koonce² applied the Princeton approach tothe Book of Fame,³ the domain of the poems has generally been seen as insistently secular. The earliest of the poems, so far always agreed to be theBook of the Duchess, initiates such a position with some determination, startlingly excluding any thoughts of afterlife for the dead duchess and finding immortality...

    • 12 Morality in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s lyrics and the Legend of Good Women
      (pp. 156-172)

      The variety of Chaucer’s writings and the multiple ideologies current in latemedieval England – Christian, chivalric, patriarchal, Senecan, Boethian and others – make for a diverse presentation of virtue; that is one of his great strengths.Melibee, and, more briefly, theBook of the DuchessandFortunecontain moral debate; other texts, particularlyTroilus and Criseyde, theKnight’s Tale, theParliament of Fowlsand theLegend of Good Women, include passages of moral counsel – answers – but with only partial or guarded articulation of what moral questions they raise. Yet everywhere Chaucer’s writing in complex and implicit ways incites its readers to moral...


    • 13 ‘To demen by interrogaciouns’: Accessing the Christian Context of the Canterbury Tales with Enquiry-Based Learning
      (pp. 175-182)

      There would appear to be a need for fresh pedagogic initiatives to assist students in accessing Christian context while continuing to enjoy freedom of interpretation and individual response. Can ecclesiastical and sacramental dimensions only be restored to Chaucer’s work by the delivery of extensive didactic inputs in traditional lecture form? If so, at what point should these be delivered? To present extensive context to studentsin advanceof their reading the primary texts risks compounding a sense of the alterity of medieval literature and supplies a further barrier to immediate engagement with Chaucer (alongside the linguistic challenges of reading Middle...

    • 14 ‘Gladly wolde [they] lerne [?]’: US Students and the Chaucer Class
      (pp. 183-188)

      All teachers of Chaucer, surely in the United Kingdom as in the United States, know the delights of teachingThe Canterbury Tales. The delights may begin the moment students chuckle at the bawdy pun in the doubly directed ‘So priketh’ line in the first lines of theGeneral Prologue

      And smale fowles /maken melodye

      That slepen al the nyght /with open ye

      So priketh hem nature /in hir corages

      Thanne longen folk /to goon on pilgrimages¹

      Those delights may continue up to the intriguing ambiguity of theRetraction’s‘I revoke in my retracciouns . . . the tales of the...

    • 15 Teaching Teachers: Chaucer, Ethics and Romance
      (pp. 189-195)

      For twenty years, I have been directing a small annual conference for school teachers.¹ Each year in October, forty to eighty teachers from across my state of Illinois spend a day talking about a canonical book. Some of the teachers arrive the night before for an evening lecture, film, gallery show, or concert related to the world of Chaucer, Dickinson, Dante, Austen, or whoever our chosen author may be. In the morning we listen to a guest speaker discuss the author or book and then divide up into small groups for workshop sessions in which we discuss the topic from...

    • 16 Reflections on Teaching Chaucer and Religion: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale
      (pp. 196-208)

      Any Discussion of teaching is necessarily closely related to the constraints and freedoms offered by the system and community in which one teaches, so it is probably useful to begin this reflection on teaching with a brief description of my current position. I do not wish to suggest that my position is in any way unusual, quite the opposite; I offer what follows in the belief that many will see much they recognize here and in the hope that some may find it useful.¹ My university, the University of Liverpool, is a large civic university in the northwest of England....

  10. Index
    (pp. 209-216)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)