Chaucer and Language

Chaucer and Language: Essays in Honour of Douglas Wurtele

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Chaucer and Language
    Book Description:

    Every poet arrives at some sense of how language works. Chaucer's engagement, like that of the greatest literary figures, goes beyond the brilliant, skilful use of language as a tool of expression, beyond what we usually call "talent." He brings to the creative use of signification a sophisticated philosophical questioning of the very nature of language, of how we know and how we signify. Chaucer and Language argues that Chaucer's work points to answers to these questions, emphasizing that in various ways Chaucer made language itself the subject of his writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6920-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: A Life in Progress
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Every poet engages language and in so doing brings to it some kind of theoretical sense of how language works. Chaucer’s engagement with language goes beyond the brilliant‚ skilful use of it as a tool of expression; he is unusual in making language the very subject of his work. In considering the very nature of language‚ Chaucer becomes‚ in his literary way‚ a practical philosopher of language; in the brilliant play with language and his demonstration of how signs act‚ he becomes a practical semiotician.

    Like all poets‚ Chaucer was interested in the internal relationships of words on the page‚...

  6. Chaucer and Character: The Heresies of Douglas Wurtele
    (pp. 3-10)

    Examining Douglas Wurtele’s output over the last four decades allows us not only to relate his work to the theme of this volume but also to connect his scholarly method to some of the general methodological fashions that held‚ or have held‚ sway over this period‚ as well as to make some suggestions on possible future directions for Chaucer criticism in the new century.

    Douglas Wurtele is representative of the best of twentieth-century Chaucer criticism‚ displaying a canny ability to benefit from various methodologies while avoiding their excesses. His method – a historical approach to the hermeneutic circle combined with close...

  7. “Withouten oother compaignye in youthe”: Verbal and Moral Ambiguity in the General Prologue Portrait of the Wife of Bath
    (pp. 11-32)

    Ambiguity is so common at every level of language that readers and listeners must often disambiguate what they read and hear simply in order to achieve meaning.¹ The need to disambiguate is even greater‚ of course‚ for when one is reading the work of a poet such as Geoffrey Chaucer‚ whose use of ambiguity is so witty and pervasive as to suggest that it is a conscious element of his craft. One of the best examples is the prepositional phrase “Withouten oother compaignye in youthe” (GP461)‚ in hisGeneral Prologueportrait of the Wife of Bath‚ where the two...

  8. The Wife of Bath and “Speche Daungerous”
    (pp. 33-43)

    One of Chaucer’s favourite devices for evoking character is to tell the reader how the character speaks. In theGeneral Prologuehe tells us that the Knight “nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde” and that the Prioress’s greatest oath is “but by Seinte Loy.”¹ In his portrait of the Friar Chaucer prompts our responses to a degree. The Friar’s “fair langage” is directly associated with his knowledge of “daliaunce‚” while he is said to lisp “for his wantownesse” (GP211‚ 264). Characters’ words‚ whether villainous or not‚ and how they are spoken‚ for example whether lisped or not‚ are always...

  9. The Franklin‚ Epicurus‚ and the Play of Values
    (pp. 44-60)

    As participant narrator of theGeneral Prologueto theCanterbury Tales‚ Chaucer declares‚ in performing a portrait of the Franklin: “To lyven in delit was evere his wone‚ / For he was Epicurus owene sone‚ / That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit / Was verray felicitee parfit” (GP335–8). The dramatized statement of principle shifts register here from the initial image of this beautiful man with a sanguine complexion‚ balancing characteristics of youth and age. We get what we would call his “lifestyle‚” Chaucer’s word wone carrying with it a sense of a fixed dwelling where one wones and...

  10. Mapping a History of Sexuality in Melibee
    (pp. 61-70)

    A continuing problem for medievalists attempting to queer the Middle Ages arises out of the desire expressed through such approaches to bring the pre-modern and postmodern together in unpredictable and mobilizing ways – despite our inevitable implication in the discourses of modern regimes of sexuality and power – and thus to think history differently by resisting the stultifying pressure of modern identity positions. For in choosing to write the history of heterosexuality back onto the pre-modern‚ however resistantly‚ we are always already teetering on the brink of a reductive tracing of modernity on the map of the history of sexuality. Thus a...

  11. Chaucer after the Linguistic Turn: Memory‚ History‚ and Fiction in the Link to Melibee
    (pp. 71-82)

    Plato thought that poets lie and that fiction is a falsehood to be hated by the gods and by men since it presents as true an imitation of a physical world that is itself a copy of the world of perfect forms. An updated‚ postmodern version of Plato’s complaint would have us believe that lying is not peculiar to poets. Philosophers and historians should now perhaps be banished from the ideal Republic as well‚ for it seems that they delude us when they aspire to write of the real world as though it were there‚ or about the past as...

  12. Chaucer’s Clerk‚ on the Level?
    (pp. 83-106)

    As a send-up of modes of analogy inappropriately applied in the typology of biblical exegesis‚ the Clerk’s tale is not exactly on the level. The level that it is on is the level of the level. The Clerk’s “sownynge in moral virtue” teaches an existential lesson on the various levels of our interpretive acts.

    The ideal practice of typological allegory in the four levels of biblical exegesis is summarized in the well-known couplet attributed to Nicholas of Lyra. Your own intentionality and how you should act in the existential practice of such exegesis follows on subjunctives in the second person...

  13. Confusing Signs: The Semiotic Point of View in the Clerk’s Tale
    (pp. 107-125)

    Chaucer’s semiotic sophistication makes him an unusual and important figure both in the history of literature and in the development of semiotics. In his work‚ he illustrates and exploits artfully and practically the fact that we act on and develop and change ourselves‚ others‚ and the world in general through sign relations. Elsewhere‚ I attempt to demonstrate Chaucer’s understanding and exploitation of semiotics; in particular‚ I consider theFriar’s Taleas an object lesson in three-level semantics – the fact that signs are simultaneously world-directed and mind-directed.² Here I build on this work by turning to theClerk’s Tale‚which provides...

  14. Sense‚ Reference‚ and Wisdom in the Merchant’s Tale
    (pp. 126-142)

    In his elegant and ample exposition of the controversy about realism and nominalism in Chaucer’s work‚ Robert Myles concludes very persuasively that Chaucer was by no means a nominalist‚ someone who holds that words are just arbitrary names having no real connection with reality.¹ A host of critics have assumed that the only medieval realism available maintained that the word isessentiallyrelated to the thing‚ that particular combinations of sounds are virtually echoic andnecessarilyrelated to a referent – an extreme realist view held by the eponymous character of Plato’sCratylus.² Myles points out that in the Middle Ages...

  15. “Lo how I vanysshe”: The Pardoner’s War against Signs
    (pp. 143-174)

    Few commentators have been gentle with Chaucer’sgentil Pardoner‚seeing in him the wages of sin‚ physical degeneracy‚ and moral malice in degrees measured according to the critic’s particular perspective. Typical of his own good nature‚ Douglas Wurtele may be the most charitable in mitigating Kittredge’s severe sentence¹ by suggesting that the scurrilousquaestorcould in fact have been cured of his evil and therefore saved‚ not through any power or virtue of his own‚ but through the ministerings ofChristus medicus‚whose inexhaustible mercy and forgiveness can overcome any human degradation.²

    While one would not want to be found...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 175-222)
  17. Appendix: Published Writings of Douglas Wurtele
    (pp. 223-224)
  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 225-246)
  19. Index
    (pp. 247-250)