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Traditions and Renewals

Traditions and Renewals: Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, & Beyond

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Traditions and Renewals
    Book Description:

    Literary critic, poet and philologist as well as medievalist, with a particular interest in the powers and effects of poetic language, Marie Borroff brings the full range of her expertise to bear on problems of central importance in the poetry of Chaucer and his nameless contemporary, the Gawain--or Pearl--poet. This collection of essays, much of it previously unpublished, represents a major contribution to the study of late Middle English literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14834-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Texts and Short Titles
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Transliteration
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Dictionaries
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xii)

    Most of the essays in this book are concerned with two late medieval poets whose works have continued to command interest and attention over a span of six centuries: Geoffrey Chaucer and the anonymous author ofSir Gawain and the Green KnightandPearl.I have inquired into the nature of the powers vested in the intelligible and audible words of these poems, as they interact with and reinforce one another in forms of smaller and greater compass. The essays reflect my training at the University of Chicago under the “Chicago critics” R. S. Crane, Norman Maclean, and Elder Olson,...

  8. Part I. Chaucer

    • 1 Dimensions of Judgment in the Canterbury Tales: Friar, Summoner, Pardoner, Wife of Bath
      (pp. 3-49)

      The ongoing project of reading Chaucer’s poems against their historical moment has given us good reasons for thinking that the poet was seriously concerned about political tyranny and ecclesiastical corruption in his day — indeed, that his opinions on these matters might well have endangered him had he expressed them directly.¹ David Wallace, for example, has shown that in presenting a “Boccaccian” version of theClerk’s Talerather than the Petrarchan version the narrator says he will relate, Chaucer is implicitly repudiating Petrarch’s affiliations with the despotic power of the Visconti in Lombardy, at a time when the “descent into tyranny”...

    • 2 Silent Retribution in Chaucer: The Merchant’s Tale, the Reeve’s Tale, and the Pardoner’s Tale
      (pp. 50-70)

      In “Apologies to Women,” her inaugural lecture as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English in the University of Cambridge, Jill Mann drew attention to an interesting discrepancy between two passages of Chaucer’sMerchant’s Tale.¹Describing what happens immediately after May climbs into the pear tree in January’s garden, the narrator addresses the “ladies” in his audience:

      Ladyes, I prey yow that ye be nat wrooth;

      I kan nat glose, I am a rude man —

      And sodeynly anon this Damyan

      Gan pullen up the smok, and in he throng. (IV [E] 2350–53)

      Which is to say—I too, for...

    • 3 “Loves Hete” in the Prioress’s Prologue and Tale
      (pp. 71-77)

      When, in book 1 ofTroilus and Criseide,Pandarus encourages the despondent Troilus to try to win Criseide’s love, he cites, as is his wont, a number of general truths. Among them is something he has heard wise men say, to the effect that

      Was nevere man or womman yet bigete

      That was unapt to suffren loves hete,

      Celestial, or elles love of kynde. (1.977–99)

      In view of Criseide’s beauty and youth, he continues, it is not appropriate that love in her case should be celestial “as yet,” even if she were inclined toward that kind of love or...

    • 4 Chaucer’s English Rhymes: The Roman, the Romaunt, and The Book of the Duchess
      (pp. 78-94)

      Rhyme—the repetition of the sounds of words at regular intervals — has been a distinctive feature of verse in English from the earliest times to the present. The displacement of alliteration, or initial rhyme, by rhyme in the more familiar sense, or end-rhyme, was part of the process whereby French literary culture came to dominate English culture after the Norman Conquest. But the total vocabulary of rhymes and the range from the most obvious to the most ingenious combinations offered by the shapes and meanings of particular words are unique to each language, and poetry in English naturally developed a...

  9. Part II. The Gawain-Poet

    • 5 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: The Passing of Judgment
      (pp. 97-113)

      It is a commonplace of the criticism ofSir Gawain and the Green Knightthat the drama acted out at the Green Chapel both ought and ought not to be read as a confessional scene. John Burrow, tracing out the analogy between what he calls the “pretend, secular confession” made by the hero and “a real, sacramental one,” finds that the mock-confession “ends, as it should,” with a mock-absolution:¹

      I halde the polysed of that plyght [Bertilak says], and pured as clene

      As thou hadez never forfeted sythen thou watz fyrst borne.

      [I hold you polished as a pearl, as...

    • 6 Pearl’s “Maynful Mone”
      (pp. 114-123)

      It is true of the memorable poetic image that many lines of meaning converge toward it, and many lines of expressive force correspondingly radiate from it. In this chapter I shall trace a number of lines or radii whose center the rising of the “maynful mone” inPearl,line 1093.

      The simile appears at the beginning of the nineteenth, or next-to-last, section of the poem. The two preceding sections have given an account of the celestial Jerusalem, as seen and described by Saint John in the Book of Revelation. Section 17 tells of the architectural plan of the city and...

    • 7 The Many and the One: Contrasts and Complementarities in the Design of Pearl
      (pp. 124-162)

      My starting point is a contrast between two aspects of sound patterning inPearlthat created difficulties for me in my attempt to replicate in modern English the phonic design, as well as the sense, of this most intricately wrought of medieval poems.¹ The first and more apparent of these difficulties is posed by the multiple rhymes the stanza form requires. In accordance with the scheme ABABABABBCBC, each of the poem’s 101 stanzas must contain four instances of the A-rhyme and six instances of the B-rhyme. In addition, the final link-word of each section of the poem must appear as...

    • 8 Systematic Sound Symbolism in the Long Alliterative Line: Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
      (pp. 163-174)

      In the second stanza ofSir Gawain and the Green Knight,a well-known allusion to narration in alliterative verse echoes in tantalizing fashion a similar passage inBeowulf.TheGawain-poet announces that he intends to recount an adventure, one of “Arthurez wonderez” (29), and that he will tell it as he himself has heard it told,

      As hit is stad and stoken

      In stori stif and stronge,

      With lei letteres loken,

      In londe so hatz ben longe.

      [As it is fashioned featly

      In tale of derring-do,

      And linked in measures meetly

      By letters tried and true.] (33–36)¹


  10. Part III. Philological

    • 9 Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Aloud
      (pp. 177-184)

      In the play of its constantly varying rhythms and repeated sounds,Sir Gawain and the Green Knightis a delight to the ear as well as to the imagination, and if we neglect this dimension of the poem in our teaching, our students’ experience will be sadly diminished. They should hear it read aloud, and they should be made to try reading passages of it themselves. Neither they nor we should refrain from reading the poem aloud for fear of mispronouncing the words or on the ground that “we cannot know for certain how the poet’s spoken English sounded.”Gawain...

    • 10 A Cipher in Hamlet
      (pp. 185-190)

      Throughout the play, Hamlet shows himself as quick and apt at speech as he is slow and inept at revenge.¹ We see him expatiating with ironic eloquence on the glory of man (2.2.286–90), declaiming from memory, in the person of Aeneas, “with good accent and good discretion” (2.2.408–25), affecting the idiom of antifeminist satire in conversation with Ophelia (3.1.137–40), discoursing to the players on elocution and gesture (3.2.1–11), making a deeply felt and high-minded declaration of devotion to his stoical friend Horatio (3.2.44–64), and, in the graveyard scene, indulging in fancifully macabre speculations on buried...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 191-254)
  12. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 255-266)
  13. Index
    (pp. 267-275)