Chaucerian Theatricality

Chaucerian Theatricality

John M. Ganim
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 174
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  • Book Info
    Chaucerian Theatricality
    Book Description:

    Whereas modern criticism has emphasized the unity and sense of permanence in The Canterbury Tales, John Ganim alerts us to a dialectically opposing dimension that Chaucer's poetics shares with the popular culture of the late Middle Ages: his celebration of the ephemeral and his sense of performance. Ganim uses the concept of theatricality to illuminate Chaucer's manipulations of the forms of popular culture and high literary discourse. He calls upon recent work in semiotics and social history to question Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of the "carnivalesque" and the "dialogic," at the same time suggesting Bakhtin's usefulness in understanding Chaucer.

    This book includes chapters on how Chaucer adopts the voice of such popular literary forms as chronicles and pious collections, on his equivalence between his own image making and dramatic performance, and on Chaucer's and Boccaccio's handling of the related issues of popular understanding and the creation of illusions. The book concludes by describing how Chaucer conflates "noise" and popular expression, simultaneously appropriating and distancing himself from his richest cultural context.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6136-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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

    This book is an essay on some related problems both of Chaucer criticism and of Chaucerian poetics. The terms defining twentieth-century Chaucer criticism could not have been set forth more clearly than in Kittredge: “Structurally regarded, theCanterbury Talesis a kind of Human Comedy. From this point of view, the Pilgrims are thedramatis personae,and their stories are only speeches that are somewhat longer than common” (1911—12, 435). Kittredge was writing in the decades following the innovations of Ibsen’s drama and James’s novels. To claim psychologically subde characterization and thematic unity based on social questions was, for...

    (pp. 17-30)

    The Purpose of this chapter is to trace some of the ways in which Chaucer imitates the naivete associated with popular literary forms, particularly collections of various sorts, and in so doing places them at the service of a sophisticated literary enterprise—the self-presentation of theCanterbury Tales.That naivete is, however, only assumed or imputed: in fact, it frequently disguises literary strategies that are as self-conscious as the elaborations of courtly literary forms. Chaucer’s borrowing, then, alternately depends on the power of popular discourse and distances him from it.

    I begin with a passage chosen at random. Sometime in...

    (pp. 31-55)

    In Chapter 1, I suggest that the style of Chaucer’s early poems owes something to the pervasive theatricality of the late medieval court, that, indeed, it was part of that theatricality. I want to suggest here how theCanterbury Talesalso includes versions of theatricality dependent on urban and popular and folk culture.¹ Again, part of my point is to suggest that we replace the notion of the “dramatic” in Chaucer with the more pervasive notion of the “theatrical.” The result may dissolve the thorny problems of character and realism and dramatic unity that bedevil the discussion of “drama” in...

    (pp. 56-78)

    Sacchetti, writing towards the end of the fourteenth century, recalls the story of a driver reciting Dante to his mule:

    As Dante went out for a walk one day.. . wearing armor on the neck and arms in the fashion of the time, he came across an ass driver who had some loads of garbage in front of him, and this driver walked behind his ass singing from the work of Dante. And when he had sung a bit he hit the ass and cried out, “Arri.” Dante went up to him and with his arm-covering beat him about the...

    (pp. 79-91)

    If the Most apparently festive or innocent of Chaucer’s tales address serious poetic problems, if not in the most serious way, some of his most “official” tales are undercut, or at least rendered problematic, by the theatrical or festive gestures on which their tellers feel compelled to call. Whatever purpose one wishes to ascribe to the unofficial impulses in any late medieval writings (revolt, satire, subversion, refreshment), Chaucer’s comic tales at least initially fit the categories of festive literature. If these categories have any value other than comic relief, however, their relation to the tales of “sentence” needs to be...

    (pp. 92-107)

    I have Argued that the apparently unconscious jocularity at the end of theClerk’s Taledisguises what is in fact a considerable problem of poetics for Chaucer. It reveals some of the difficulties in negotiating the distance between popular discourse and high literary purpose. This chapter investigates a similar dilemma in some of Chaucer’s most apparendy admirable characters, not only the Clerk, but also the Franklin and the Squire. Uncontrollable and recalcitrant forms, the fabulous and the folkloric escape these narrators’ attempts to deduce, and sometimes invent, a stable set of literary and social values. This conflict between the anarchically...

  10. Chapter Seven THE NOISE OF THE PEOPLE
    (pp. 108-120)

    This chapter seeks to contribute to an ongoing revision in our understanding of what may be called Chaucer’s politics. In place of a detached, perhaps self-protective, skeptical, moderate, and reasonable Chaucer, current studies, some conservative and some methodologically radical in their approach, have given us a Chaucer much more deeply implicated in fourteenth-century controversy, particularly the crises of schism, rebellion, and authority that plagued England then.¹ Chaucer studies had avoided this position for a long time, partly because of the assumption of a certain Chaucer behind the text, partly because of a critical enterprise concerned with making a case for...

  11. Chapter Eight FORMS OF TALK
    (pp. 121-136)

    From Vaucluse, Petrarch writes to complain of the vogue of poetry writing among the inhabitants of Avignon and its surroundings. He complains that he can barely leave his home:

    Carpenters, cloth fullers, farmers have deserted their plows and their other tools to talk about the Muses and about Apollo; I am not able to tell you how far this plague has spread, which a short time ago affected few men. . . . I seethe in my home and hardly dare to go out in public; indeed frenetic men run to me from all directions, arguing, asking questions, grabbing. ....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 137-148)
    (pp. 149-158)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 159-163)