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(Some) Sources of the General Prologue. Books or real life? Chaucer’s pilgrims seem so realistic when we compare the General Prologue to just about every.

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Presentation on theme: "(Some) Sources of the General Prologue. Books or real life? Chaucer’s pilgrims seem so realistic when we compare the General Prologue to just about every."— Presentation transcript:

1 (Some) Sources of the General Prologue

2 Books or real life? Chaucer’s pilgrims seem so realistic when we compare the General Prologue to just about every other Middle English text of any genre that early scholars believed he had based the characters on historical people that he knew personally and tried to discover through archival research the identities of these models for the General Prologue. The scholar most associated with this approach was George Lyman Kittredge ( )

3 Books or real life? This “historical model” approach was soon abandoned by scholars, however, for two very good reasons: 1. the absence of clear textual proof linking the pilgrims to real people; 2. the realization, through years of study and scholarship, of the full range of Chaucer’s literary contexts: the texts and authors he borrowed from and by whom he was influenced.

4 General Prologue For the portraits of the Squire, the Prioress, and the Wife of Bath, Chaucer borrowed from: Roman de la rose Lines written by Guillaume de Lorris in 1230 Courtly love allegory: Lover pursues Lady (Rose) and meets host of allegorical figures along the way. Lines written by Jean de Meun in 1275 Extends allegory; debate about whether Jean endorses or undermines the secular, courtly value system of Guillaume.

5 General Prologue For the portraits of the Monk and the Sergeant of Law (esp. the types of misconduct he indicates): John Gower’s Mirour de l’omme, religious treatise written in French, and Vox Clamantis, a estates satire written in Latin. (ca. 1380s)

6 General Prologue For the “scientific” content (e.g., the Wife’s gap-toothed smile, the Miller’s red hair and wart, the Reeve’s cholera, the Summoner’s leprosy-like ailment, and the Pardoner’s stringy hair, glaring eyes, and high-pitched voice): John Trevisa, On the Properties of Things (ME trans. of De proprietatibus rerum [1240]) (late 14 th century) Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum naturae and Speculum doctrinale (ca. 1225) Ideas of Aristotle and Galen disseminated widely through anonymous written texts and popular lore.

7 On corrupt friars: William of St. Amour, On the Dangers of the End Times, ca Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh (Ireland): various writings, ca Popular sermons Anonymous Lollard writings Langland’s Piers Plowman (1380s) Gower’s Mirour de l’omme and Vox Clamantis

8 Techniques of realism in the GP: Picks and chooses details from sources but doesn’t attempt to present material in a comprehensive or methodical way. Combines various details from different sources in an apparently random way (a dash of physiogonomy, a sprinkle of anti-fraternal satire, etc.) Free indirect style: creates psychological realism because the the pilgrims seem actively to try to present themselves in a flattering light; when they/Geffrey do reveal unflattering details, they seem to do so inadvertently.

9 Techniques of irony in the GP: Characters that are both types (flat representatives of a class or category) AND self-conscious and multi- dimensional Each of the pilgrims embodies a stereotype to some degree: the chivalrous knight; the lovelorn squire; the hunting monk; the corrupt and greedy friar; the greedy physician; the luxury-loving franklin; the honest plowman, etc. But each of the pilgrims also has a personality that cannot be reduced to their type: we are given details about how they feel or what they know that suggests a degree of self- consciousness not possible in a mere personification.

10 Techniques of Irony “the omission of the victim” (Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire ): Geffrey notes the professional abuses of pilgrims such as the Shipman, Physician, Manciple, and Reeve with a carefree attitude about the “real” consequences of their dishonesty. A.k.a., a pervasive withholding of moral judgment. Discrepancy between professional ethics, which prize technical skills and the ability to ‘get ahead’, and true ethics, or adherence to transcendent moral principles. Geffrey always praises the pilgrims for excelling in the field of professional ethics when this standard conflicts with the standard of true ethics.

11 The World of the GP A world where job = identity, so that skills and techniques = morality A world of competition, or every man and woman for him or herself. A world of moral relativity. A world where economic and material interests trump every other value; according to the Wife of Bath in her prologue, “al is for to selle.”


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