"My suggestion is that Chaucer read Dante the way Dante read Virgil," Ronald B. Herzman has written (Acta 9 , 1), and his formulation expresses most succinctly the central argument of this book. Dante's Comedy "reads" Virgil by making him speak, not, it is true, precisely in the language and manner of the first-century B.C. poet, but in the only way a poetry, whatever its original language, can speak to us: by a sustained act of translation. Dante speaks thus in The Canterbury Tales, also "in translation," though not in a role especially created for him, as Virgil does in the Comedy, one reason being perhaps that although he died a little more than half a century earlier, his is still a palpable presence in the Europe of Chaucer's day. The ways in which Dante speaks in and through The Canterbury Tales are numerous, various, and subtle, and I have necessarily proposed and dealt with only a few that seemed important and suggestive as a means of establishing that Chaucer's poem is indeed in the line of "epic succession" to the Comedy . As my title indicates, I will argue that Chaucer takes from Dante the structural features of the allegorical quest and epic theater and in so doing creates a narrative text that in some ways foreshadows the literature written two centuries later for the Elizabethan stage.
The idea for this book came to me many years ago when I collaborated on a paperback edition of The Canterbury Tales that never materialized and left me with useless glosses on a number of the tales but also with introductory essays and notes that eventually, with painful slowness, metamorphosed into the chapters that follow.
The real push to finish the project came during a sabbatical leave in 1985–86 spent in solitude at my mother's house in the Sussex countryside. I express here my heartfelt thanks for her hospitality and the encouragement and support she has provided over the years. To my father I also owe a debt of thanks, but he has departed this little threshing floor, which, Dante says, makes us so ferocious. Instead of ferocity it taught him above all a humorous, skeptical irony, with which he would assuredly have greeted the present effort.
Without the help and encouragement of various friends and colleagues this project would never have come to completion. Among these I should mention especially Masao Miyoshi, Harry Berger, Al Shoaf, and Pete Wetherbee. In the early stages of my struggle with the manuscript I received valuable criticism and advice from Colin Hardie, Jim Hepburn, and Derek Pearsall; I am grateful to them and to the anonymous readers for the University of California Press, whose comments and suggestions gave me a much clearer idea of what I was doing and what I should be aiming for in this book. And finally, my thanks to the ones from whom I have learned the most over the years, the students in my undergraduate and graduate classes. Among these I continue to enjoy and benefit from the friendship of and conversation with Mark Sherman, now a fellow worker in the academic vineyard; Anthony Verrill, master of the computer, into whose mysteries he initiated me; Courtney Gwynn, defector to the bond market; and Stuart Blazer, poet.
My chief debt, beyond any words I might have to express it, is to two friends without whose unflagging support, advice, and criticism this book could not possibly have come into being. They are Jim Rhodes and the dedicatee.
A Note on the Texts Used
For the Italian text of the Comedy I use The Divine Comedy, trans., with a commentary, by Charles S. Singleton, 3 vols.: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, 1982). References to Singleton's commentary will be simply to the canticle, canto, and line number. For the English translation I use mostly Allen Mandelbaum's bilingual text, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: A Verse Translation, 3 vols. (New York: Bantam Books, 1982, 1984). At times, for a more literal translation, I use Singleton's and indicate this by putting an S after it. For the Italian
text of the Convivio I have relied primarily on G. Busnelli and G. Vandelli, eds., Il Convivio, 2 vols. (Florence: Felice le Monnier, 1964), and I have used the English translation by Philip H. Wicksteed, The Convivio of Dante Alighieri, Temple Classics (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1940).
For the text of Chaucer's poetry I use The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987) and refer to it as the Riverside edition. For Greek and Roman authors I use the Loeb Classical Library editions (Cam bridge: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann) throughout, unless otherwise noted. For Milton's poetry I use M. Y. Hughes, ed., Complete Poetry and Major Prose (New York: Odyssey Press, 1958).