Reading and Writing
The House of Fame is a book about reading, the Canterbury Tales a book about writing. Between them comes the Legend of Good Women, a work "transitional" in several ways. Its meter, the innovative heroic couplet, would become the verse form for most of the Tales. Philosophically, the poet demonstrates his ability to integrate into his material the lesson of skeptical fideism so dramatically and painfully learned in the House of Fame. The Chaucerian Narrator is now an established poet concerned, not simply with how to use authoritative traditions, but additionally with his own place within those traditions. Therefore the Legend stakes out a territory, offering the theory and practice of a specific and developed aesthetic. That theory and practice will be explored in Chapters 2, 3, and 4, while the present chapter takes up, at some length, the Legend's place in the making of a poet. The equivocal sense of this last phrase—how a poet evolves (is made), how a poet composes (makes)—captures quite accurately the double aspect of my interest here.
From Reader To Writer
In moving through Chaucer's work, we observe a development in the figure of the Narrator. The Chaucerian Narrator is always both reader and writer, yet the balance of these functions is not constant. In the earlier dream-visions, the readerly function dominates as the Narrator confronts and absorbs various discourses, texts, and experiences. In some cases a specific text is named and summarized: Ovid's Metamorphoses and Heroides, Virgil's Aeneid, and Macrobius's commentary on the Somnium Scipionis are among them. This text provokes the Narrator's dream, which, when recorded, becomes the poem at hand. The narrative stance, then, is a passive or receptive one at the start of the poet's career. Over a period of about
eighteen years, however, it shifts very perceptibly toward an active and self-conscious authorial position. The balance inclines progressively toward the writerly function, until in the Canterbury Tales we are very little aware of the Narrator as reader or scholar. Instead, we are invited to see him primarily as writer and artist, his ostensible sources no longer books but people and experience: "the book of the world," as a medieval cleric might say. In reality the Tales are of course every bit as bookish or intertextual as the earlier compositions. What I investigate here is not, however, actual literary sources, but rather the diegetic claim of the work, what the work asks us to believe about its Narrator and the processes of its own poetic production: a more speculative area of investigation than source study perhaps, but, for any writer, equally important.
It is probably well to address at the start the notion of chronology implied in these remarks. Robert O. Fayne—to whose book The Key of Remembrance every Chaucerian interested in poetics must acknowledge a debt—thought the chronology of the Chaucer canon so precarious that "it would be foolhardy and pointless ¼ to suggest any particular direction of development in [Chaucer's] poetics" (115). It is no depreclation of Payne's contribution to point out that this radical skepticism about order is exactly what his project requires, for his focus is "structural stereotypes" that cut across chronology. My hypothesis, on the other hand, while not originating in the traditional chronology, does tend to confirm it, although not rigidly (as will emerge later on). Hence the traditional chronology will be a useful, not a decisive, support for my hypothesis. There are limits to doubt, as my discussion of philosophical skepticism will note (see the second part of this chapter), and while we lack certainty about chronology, there is some probability.
In the Book of the Duchess (1368), the Narrator appears almost exclusively as reader. The setting of the dream-vision is the Narrator's chamber, where he is reading a romance in bed late at night. It is the story of Ceix and Alcyone (Halcyon) from Ovid's Metamorphoses 11, a tale whose theme of death and transfiguration anticipates the elegiac narrative to follow in the dream. After a lengthy retelling of this story, the Narrator falls asleep while reading. References by the Narrator to his authorial function are sparse and perfunctory. Lines 216–19, 226, 271, and 711 refer to the Narrator relating a story
or a dream, not writing a poem, so that it could be maintained that these places do not constitute true authorial self-reference. For actual statements of writerly function in the Narrator's voice, only two appear, and these are extremely timid, particularly in comparison with what will come in later works. There is the "I, which make this book" of line 96, and at the very end of the poem:
Thoghte I, "Thys ys so queynt a sweven
That I wol, be processe of tyme,
Fonde to put this swven in ryme
As I kan best, and that anoon."
This was my sweven; now hit ys doon.
Now there is a living poet in the Book of the Duchess, but it is not the Narrator. It is the Black Knight, whom the Narrator meets in the forest of his dream, and who is surprised in the very act of composing "a compleynte to hymselve ¼ a lay, a maner song / Withoute noote, withoute song" (464–72). This plaint is reproduced in the Chaucerian text (475–86), and the Black Knight's subsequent elaboration of his loss—his gloss upon his own poetic composition—constitutes the body of Chaucer's poem.
What kind of poet is the Black Knight? He seems to be not only an active maker but an experienced and remarkably confident one, with, apparently, the faculty of virtually total recall of all he has ever composed. He claims to have made many songs and performed them often (1155–59); he associates himself through the modestytopos with the archetypal scriptural and classical progenitors of the art, Tubal and Pythagoras (1160–70); he remembers and repeats his very first ("altherferste") youthful composition (1175–80). The Knight is equally self-conscious in other speech acts as well. He is able to recreate in detail his first confession of love to his lady (1181–1257) with all the psychological circumstances attendant upon this performance. These include his ambivalence about speaking, his worries about how to begin, and his nervousness at the possibility of a bad recital. The fear that causes him to omit part of his script ("many a word I over-skipte" ) seems less a fear of the lady herself than of performing badly: "for pure fere / lest my wordes mysset were" (1209–10). He recalls, too, indeed he quotes from memory, the begging for mercy and swearing fidelity (1221–35),
and notes his inability accurately to reproduce the lady's response except for its general tenor refusing his love (1236–44). Finally, he recounts the depression he suffered because of the lady's refusal.
The Black Knight, then, and not the Narrator, is portrayed as productive rhetor-poet in the Book of the Duchess. It is he who describes a poetic career, dwelling particularly on the launching of that career. He does so in the poem that is generally considered to have launched Chaucer's career as a courtly poet, not only because of its apparent priority in the canon, but also because of its engagement with a significant event of courtly social life, the death of John of Gaunt's Duchess Blanche. Onto the Black Knight, then, onto the fictional character, the poet has displaced active authorial function.
It is in this sense that I see the Black Knight as a kind of "alter ego" to the Narrator, rather than with respect to the issue of mourning, which has generally been the focus of criticism of the poem. Some remarks are in order here on the "alter ego" notion and on mourning. First, it seems obvious that in any literary work, every fictional character with any depth at all is to some extent a projection of its creator's inner life. In proclaiming, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi," Flaubert may have stated the principle with blunt unequivocality, but he can scarcely be considered unique in this matter in the history of Western literature. It would be ludicrous, I believe, to confine a discussion of "alter ego" to relations among characters and omit from it the author. My discussion is plainly one that in principle accepts the concept of character as at some level authorial "alter ego," although as I shall note further on, the extent of the relationship between author and narrator or author and character is neither constant nor predetermined in any Chaucerian text.
What I find odd in some recent uses of the "alter ego" notion is its application. In 1963, Bernard Huppé and D. W. Robertson, Jr., wrote of the Black Knight that he was not intended as the dream representative of John of Gaunt, but rather as a sorrowing alter ego of the speaker in the poem, like the poet himself representative of all those who have honored and loved Blanche and lost her in death (52). There is a peculiar circularity to this, which winds up negating its own initial assertion. John of Gaunt is excised; the Knight is alter ego to the Narrator, who in turn is "like" the poet, who in turn "represents" all who have lost Blanche—and would this not, after all, include her husband? In general structure this follows the pat-
tern established by Bertrand Bronson in 1952. While reminding us that John of Gaunt was out of England during most of the nine years of his marriage to Blanche, including the time of her death, Bronson Stressed the therapeutic function of the Narrator's dream. The Black Knight is the Narrator's "surrogate," his sorrow a projection or externalization of the Narrator's own "private grief" described at the beginning of the poem. A few pages later, however, the Man in Black also appears "as John of Gaunt," and the article ends with an orgiastic fusion of all personae including ourselves: "in the presence of death, Ceyx and Blanche, Gaunt and Alcyone, the Dreamer and Chaucer and his audience too, of which we now form a part, are become essentially one" (Wagenknecht, 294). A more sophisticated version of the position is offered in Judith Ferster's hermeneutically based discussion of "characters who are shadows of each other" (74), a narrator "who becomes a version of the knight" (92), and the evolution of each by his absorption of the other.
Such interpretations take a great deal for granted. In the most general, even banal, sense that we will all suffer the death of a loved one and require consolation, all the personae, including ourselves, do share something. But to focus on the issue of sorrow maintains the poem in a narrowly autobiographical mode, whether the sorrow is seen as that of John the Gaunt, the poet Chaucer, or the Chaucerian Narrator. This focus on sorrow can be called historicism, for it links the poem to a known historical event, Blanche's death in September 1368. It is a narrow historicism, though, and one that satisfies our own sentiment—indeed, our own sentimentality—by imposing on the past what we consider the "right" response to a noblewoman's death. We do this partly because we know that the real noblewoman was a "wife," and to this term there adheres a very considerable body of evaluation and response, conditioned partly by the development of family mores during the centuries after Chaucer's death. The realities of marriage and family were, however, rather different among late-medieval gentry and aristocracy, where matches often had little to do with the couple's taste, desire, or choice; where servants, tutors, and ladies- or gentlemen-in-waitmg often performed the nurturing and disciplinary functions now associated with parents; where travel abroad or among a family's domestic territories kept a noble family dispersed. Then, just as now, practice often deviated from the recommended ideal—
surely this is why the ideal had (and has) to be recommended so often; but one ought not to take one for the other. There is anecdotal evidence for less than ideal practice; one thinks, for instance, of the Pastons' occasionally harsh treatment of their daughters. As well, the "ideal" itself might be disputed or redefined from the perspective of intense religious commitment. St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Bridget of Sweden—both of them mothers of several children and well-known devotional models in Chaucer's England—pointedly renounced their family ties as hindrances to perfect spirituality.
A century or so after Chaucer, the anonymous secretary to Francesco Capello, Venetian ambassador to England, recorded the earliest extant Venetian account of the country. Besides English smugness, insularity, and superficiality, the young Italian deplored "the want of affection in the English ¼ manifested towards their children; for ¼ at the age of 7 or 9 years at the utmost, they put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the houses of other people." Although this and my other examples of contemporary family relations are (somewhat) later than Chaucer, and do not constitute a "scientific" survey, they suggest a climate of opinion and practice. Nobles and gentry did send their children out to noble homes to learn manners and a career—Chaucer was a page in the household of Lionel, duke of Clarence—while bourgeois and artisan families often sent theirs out to apprentice in a trade; generally the children did not return home after their training but went on to work and marry. The fact of intra-familial murder among French and English noblemen of the period, for dynastic reasons, also makes my point about a different conception of familial obligation. So does the not inconsiderable evidence of infanticide and abandonment, and so do the intra-familial lawsuits about money and property that went on at every level of society. All this is not to deny the existence of affectionate family ties—indeed the Paston letters are full of such affection as well as of friction and even abuse. It is
intended, however, to caution against automatic assumptions about the quality of a given marital or familial relation, and against the imposition upon medieval courtly life of the sentiments of our own domestic lives.
There is, therefore, a certain naïveté—it may alternatively be referred to as "the sincerity fallacy"—in assuming that the author of a courtly elegy is himself really in pain, or indeed that anyone is in pain, including the dead woman's husband. In the middle of the next century, the chronicler John Hardyng's dry comment on the marriage of John to Blanche of Lancaster was, "The duchy by hir had, men saied he had well sped" (330); and while Hardyng had a political-dynastic axe to grind, I doubt his estimate can have been unique. That John of Gaunt built an architectural monument for his deceased wife is no evidence to the contrary, notwithstanding that Donald Howard bids us remember, in support of his evocation of Gaunt's "towering" grief, the effigy erected on Blanche's grave. (The critic's perhaps unconscious wordplay with "towering" is very much in the Chaucerian spirit, as Chapter 3 will demonstrate). The project proves nothing about John's feelings for his wife, although it certainly tells us something about his sense of social status and public display.
It is equally gratuitous to assume that the real death was perceived by the poet as anything other than an opportunity to write. Robert Burlin mentions the "ecstatic mutuality" that is Chaucer's "finest compliment to his lost Duchess" (63). Despite the homophonic allusion to Browning (there seems to be an irresistible pull to wordplay even among scholars concerned to establish sincerity of sorrow), I am not convinced that the intensity of the poem has anything to do with Blanche. I find Earle Birney's comment a refreshing antidote:
The Duchess is not an ironical poem, yet is there any other elegy in the language with such playful passages and with such a general effect of lightheartedness? From what we know of Gaunt's character, and specifically of his readiness to remarry, it is likely of course that the husband's grief was more chivalric than intense; certainly Chaucer's lament seems delicately adapted to just such polite mourning.
I use the term "alter ego," then, in gingerly fashion, and in the context of the production of fiction rather than in that of loss and consolation. This might, I suppose, be considered equally autobiographical, although in another register than the immediately and perhaps mechanically historical. I do not claim that the Narrator "is" Chaucer. The Narrator is a fictional character among others. Onto the Narrator, and sometimes onto other characters, the poet displaces certain of his own activities, particularly the reading and writing that are my concern here. From the proportionality of this displacement, we may be able to infer something about Chaucer's sense of himself as a developing poet.
That the Black Knight should be so strongly characterized as maker, and the Narrator play so depreciated a role with respect to writing, is no mere flattery of a recently bereaved patron. Surely we may also read in this displacement of function the real poet's ambivalence or uncertainty about his own social role and his burgeoning poetic powers. For Chaucer was still between twenty-five and thirty years of age; he had recently married the royal mourner's future sister-in-law, Philippa Payne de Roet, a woman far above her husband in social rank. He was a relative newcomer to the king's service, although he had been trained for it since early adolescence. With the Book of the Duchess he was making a bid to become something more at court than a minor diplomat: both an acknowledged poet and a lucratively rewarded courtier. For the moment, however, the future was uncertain.
With the House of Fame, we enter the heart of uncertainty. This begins with the date of the poem, which has been estimated as between 1374 and 1385. It is generally agreed to be later than the Book of the Duchess and probably dates from about 1375. Although much else is at issue in the House of Fame, Chaucer has at least now incorporated the role of writer into his first-person narrative persona. The Narrator is both reader and writer from the start of the poem, but the readerly role continues to dominate and the writerly role is marked by uncertainty.
The 65-line Prologue reflects the Narrator's experience as reader. His puzzlement about conflicting theories of dream produces an agnostic stance ultimately eased by the fideistic transfer of responsibility to divine power:
For I of noon opinion
Nyl as now make mensyon,
But oonly that the holy roode
Turne us every drem to goode!
No such easy route will be available in the writerly role, where responsibility for error is untransferable (although, as the Retraction to the Canterbury Tales acknowledges, good effects may be attributed to divine influence). Self-referential comments about authorial function in the Proems and Invocations to each of the three divisions of the poem are timid, self-doubting, and modest. They reveal anxiety about accurate narration of the dream (79 and 527), about the technical ability "to endite and ryme" (520), about the difficulty of reproducing one's idea (1101–3). These are, of course, among the important questions for any artist, but they usually loom largest at a relatively early stage of a writer's career. They must be resolved before another set of important questions can be dealt with, such as the artist's social and moral responsibilities, attitudes toward love and nature, place in a tradition, and so on. The curiously vehement blessing and curse on the good and bad audience (81–108) suggest the defensive maker, unsure of his reception and despising in advance any potential malicious or philistine misinterpretation of his work.
The content of the dream-vision is highly literary and traditional: again it is a scholar's dream, this time centering on the story of Dido and Aeneas. Yet if the sources of the main story are undeniably literary—derived from those two authoritative (and conflicting) texts, Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Heroides —nonetheless the diegetic representation of this story is far from being straightforwardly literary. There is in fact a very odd mixture and confusion of media in this section of the poem; surely one of its most disorienting features. Ekphrasis, the representation of one medium in another, is an important technique in Ovid's Metamorphoses, as Eleanor Leach has shown. But it is most probably from Virgil that Chaucer borrowed it, for when Aeneas first arrives at Carthage, he sees, upon the walls of the Temple of Juno, the visual representation of his own history and the fall of Troy (Aeneid 1.453–93). Whether the medium is tapestry, painting, or relief is not specified, but the verbal represen-
tation of the visual representation is at least clear and consistent, and if supplementary explanation of a scene appears, this can be attributed to the viewer's—Aeneas's—intimate knowledge of the persons and events portrayed (e.g., the interjection about Troilus, "infelix puer atque inpar congressus Achilli": "unfortunate boy, and unequal to the meeting with Achilles" [1.475]). Nonetheless, both Virgil and Chaucer offer, in a sense, a double ekphrasis. Neither of them verbally represents a simple three-dimensional art object; rather they represent something ornately decorated that—like Achilles's shield in Iliad 18 and Keats's urn—in turn represents narrative. If ekphrasis is, to borrow Murray Krieger's phrase, language attempting to "freeze itself into a spatial form" (10), then the ekphrases discussed here re-freeze a spatial form that has already frozen into spatial form the language-exchanges and the actions it represents.
Not all classical or later ekphrasis is as clear as Virgil's. Discussing the representation of maps in painting, Svetlana Alpers notes that the only Greek word the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy (2d century C.E.) had available for referring to a maker of pictures was graphikos, a suffix denoting one who writes, draws, or records. Later,
where the word description is used by Renaissance geographers, it calls attention not to the power of words, but to the sense in which images are drawn or inscribed like something written. It calls attention, in short, not to the persuasive power of words but to a mode of pictorial representation¼ . When we look back at Ptolemy now we have to say that his term grapho was opened up to suggest both picture and writing. (Alpers, 136)
Closer to home, the medieval commentaries on classical myth often employed ekphrasis in their verbal representation of visual representation. The operative word is pingitur, from Latin pingo, to represent pictorially whether in drawing, painting, embroidery, or tapestry. Beryl Smalley notes that Fulgentius, writing in the late fifth century, occasionally uses the word; Alberic of London about 1200 uses it more often, and the fourteenth-century commentator John Ridevall "never omits it." Smalley goes on to observe that "Ridevall's 'pictures' did not lend themselves to visual representation and the results were as clumsy as might have been expected. Ridevall de-
scribed Juno as 'redolent of unguents'. The poor artist could only set an open flask beside her head" (English Friars, 112–13). What we encounter in these cases seems to be an aspect of manuscript culture and early print culture, where modes of apprehension interpenetrate. Part of this is doubtless due to the relative novelty and marginality of writing itself, an art whose boundaries had not yet become rigidly fixed.
The Chaucerian Narrator, like Aeneas, also finds a visual representation on the walls of Venus's temple; it is not only the history of Troy but of the entire Aeneid. The treatment of this motif, however, is very different from that in the classical source. To begin with, Virgil's succinct comment that the Temple of Juno is donis opulentum ("opulent with gifts" ) is amplified into an architectural nightmare. The Chaucerian Temple of Venus is an unusually bizarre and grotesque example of high Gothic architecture (121–27): it is made of glass and profusely filled with images, niches, altars, towers, statuettes, and paintings. The setting is thus as chaotic as the representation of the ancient story will shortly prove to be. About this puzzling edifice the Narrator knows only that it is the Temple of Venus, for he sees a painted portrait of Venus surrounded by her usual iconography (129–39). Next he finds a brass tablet on which is written a translation of the opening lines of the Aeneid (140–48): "And tho began the story anoon, / As I shal telle yow echon" (149–50). This transitional couplet leads us to expect a smooth passage into the rest of the story, and to expect that it will appear to the Narrator in the same medium as what he has already seen—that is, as words written on a brass tablet. Yet such is not evidently the case. At no time, for instance, does the Narrator use the word "read" as we might expect with a written account; it is always "see," more appropriate to visual than to verbal representation. On the other hand, what the Narrator "sees" includes motivation, lament, and emotion—in short, narrative with all its rhetorical features. The frequent recurrence of the phrase "sawgh I graven" and other forms of the verb "graven" only intensifies our uncertainty, for the word may mean to carve, as in statuary (a "graven image" is an idol), or it may mean to incise either words or images on metal or stone.
In line 211 appears the phrase "peynted on the wal." This seems unequivocal enough, except that the appearance of the word "peynte" a few lines later (246) to mean verbal rhetoric once again
confuses the picture. Perhaps it is well that we are forced to problematize appearance, since the question of deceptive appearance is highlighted as the core of the love story (263–92). Next, the Narrator appears to abandon the fiction of visual art in referring us to books if we want to know the details and the analogues of the love story (375–432). Then the ambiguous "sawgh I grave" formula reappears several times. Finally, the Narrator reflects on the "noblesse / Of ymages" (471–72) he has seen and his ignorance of "whoo did hem wirche" (474), reverting to the imagery of the visual arts. The episode ends with the Narrator as confused as his reader. Indeed, it is the Narrator-as-reader who is confused, with no one to advise or inform him ("rede or wisse" ) about the unfamiliar desert landscape he now confronts and is unable to interpret.
And, after all, interpretation has been the problem all along. What we find in the Dido and Aeneas story is something analogous in literature to the portrayal in painting of a written inscription. Mieczyslaw Wallis has called this, rather than ekphrasis, a "semantic enclave": part of a work of art that consists of signs of a different kind or from a different system than the signs of which the main body of the work consists. This might be, in a text, the insertion of a different language for part of the text, as in macaronic verse; or it might be the use of illustration, as in an illuminated manuscript. In a painting, the autonomous semantic enclave might be the representation within the painting of a map, a musical score, a heraldic device, or an inscription, whether free-floating or placed on an object (e.g., a book, banner, robe, etc.). Cubist, dadaist, or surrealist collage would be modern examples.
While the text at hand remains integrated in the sense that it is all in the same language, nonetheless it seems to me that the constant shifting of ground between visual and verbal registers in this portion of the House of Fame operates as an oscillation between semantic enclaves, reminding us, as it must remind the Narrator, of the proliferation of languages, texts, and meanings: the unreliability of communication generally that is the lesson to be learnt at the houses of Fame and Rumor.
For, of course, it is not only the desert landscape the Narrator-asreader is unable to gloss, but his experience in the Temple of Venus. The dual Virgilian-Ovidian tradition of the Dido and Aeneas story is quite as problematic for a reader as the multimedia representation
of it the Narrator has just given. In that sense, the Dido-Aeneas story is paradigmatic of other written traditions to be encountered by the Narrator, traditions in science, myth, and history whose internal contradiction will pose a similar problem to that of the classical love story and be resolved, as I have argued in Poetics of Skeptical Fideism, in a similar way.
The inner structure of the House of Fame thus centers on the Narrator as reader: more generally, as observer-interpreter. Its plot, however, focuses on his role as writer, and one notes that it is in this text that, for the first time, the author names his Narrator with his own—the author's—proper name: "Geffrey, thou wost ryght wel this" (729) are the words with which the kindly Eagle begins his lecture on sound. Geffrey's journey to the houses of Fame and Rumor is his reward for perseverance in poetic making. But when the great eagle, Geffrey's psychopomp, says to his passenger,
when thy labour doon al ys ¼ .
Thou goost hom to thy hous anoon,
And, also domb as any stoon,
Thou sittest at another book
Tyl fully daswed ys thy look ¼
we do not know whether it is as reader or as writer that Geffrey dazes himself in front of another book. The ambiguity encapsulates my point about the poem's dual representation of narratorial roles.
The aim of the aerial trip is to reward Geffrey as poet by providing him with "tydynges" (information) about "Loves folk" that will amuse and instruct: it will be a diversion, and the implication is that the tidings may furnish some vicarious experience of love or even material for further making, although these latter purposes are not specified. The emphasis is firmly on hearing, not on utterance. Accordingly, the Eagle's farewell benediction to Geffrey is not that he write well about his journey, but that he have the grace "Some good to lernen in this place" (1088). The true center of the poem is not yet the production of discourse but its reception.
In the Proem to book 3, the Narrator at first appears as writer, placing himself under Apollo's aegis. Nonetheless he quickly reverts to the receptive-scholarly position as he confronts, in the narrative, a central readerly problem: the unreliability of fama (fame,
reputation, tradition) and especially the coexistence of mutually contradictory versions of the same events. Given the evanescence and ambiguity of tidings, it is scarcely surprising that none can be produced as a climax to the poem despite the scene of frenetic anticipation with which it ends. Even with its intermittent glimmers of authorial self-assertion, the House of Fame remains essentially a book about reading, with writing submerged as a kind of by-product of reading.
The equilibrium of roles in the Parliament of Fowls (dated between 1374 and 1380) is fairly similar to that in the House of Fame. John Fisher has remarked that although the conventional placement of the House of Fame before the Parliament is "satisfactory, ¼ the reverse order would do just as well" (208), and so it would for my present purpose. Again the Narrator enters the poem as a reader; again the dream-vision is stimulated by his reading of a classical literary source; again he requests the ability to rhyme and "endite" (119); again the dream-journey is a reward for labor, although here it is the scholarly labor of reading Macrobius's commentary on Cicero's Somnium Scipionis (109–12) rather than of writing love songs. The purpose of this journey is not simply to acquire information but now explicitly to acquire poetic material, for the psychopomp Africanus says, "I shal the shewe mater of to write" (168). Yet this offer of poetic material is undercut by the snide comment of Africanus: "And if thow haddest connyng fort' endite ¼ " (167). So an ambivalence prevails with respect to the writerly role.
The dream-content is at first extremely static, emblematic, and mythological. It demands interpretation or at least a syntax: its self-evident metonymies (Bacchus/Ceres/Venus, Cupid/Will, Behest/ Art et al.) require to be ordered by the observer into some sort of structured, intelligible statement about love. But this scenario shortly gives way to the dynamic, colloquial, and rapid-paced birdparliament in Nature's Park, where utterance, albeit not the Narrator's utterance, is the center of interest.
As in the Book of the Duchess, the Parliament offers another poem within a poem, the concluding rondel. As in the Duchess, performance is ascribed to fictional characters (here, the birds) rather than to the Narrator. Composition is left anonymous, both for words and music: "The note, I trowe, imaked was in Fraunce, / The wordes were swiche as ye may heer fynde" (677–78). While the Duchess
ends with the promise of writing, the Parliament promises further reading and hopes for more dreams that will in turn effectuate improved experience:
I hope, ywis, to rede so som day
That I shal mete som thyng for to fare
The bet, and thus to rede I nyl nat spare.
We know that dream operates as a metaphor for composition, but composition itself is effaced in this ending.
Anelida and Arcite (of uncertain date) seems, despite its brevity and lack of poetic distinction, to suggest a more even distribution of functions than appears in the House of Fame, with the writerly coming more into prominence. (My reading thus tends to confirm that of J. Norton-Smith, who links the work with the Legend both chronologically and thematically.) To begin with, Chaucer plays fast and loose with sources. He claims to be translating an old Latin story (8–10) but no such text has been identified. He claims to follow "Stace, and after him Corynne" (21) and even if scholars were agreed on the identity of Corynne, he or she has left no literary remains. The Thebaid of Statius may have provided some details at the beginning of the poem, but not its body; and Boccaccio's Teseida, also used, is not mentioned at all. "Scholars are loath to credit anything to pure invention," observed F. N. Robinson in his introductory remarks to the poem. To credit invention here is to acknowledge an important step beyond the House of Fame, for it means we are now dealing with an author who accepts the autonomy of fiction. A more stable equilibrium of readerly and writerly functions has been achieved than in the earlier work. Thus, according to the Invocation, the Narrator-reader has found material that the Narrator-writer will now present.
Besides a source, the poet devises a purpose, indeed, a mission both patriotic and socially responsible: to translate into English an old story that age has already nearly effaced from memory:
For hit ful depe is sonken in my mynde,
With pitous hert in Englyssh to endyte
This olde storie, in Latyn which I fynde,
Of quene Anelida and fals Arcite,
That elde, which that al can frete and bite,
As hit hath freten mony a noble storie,
Hath nygh devoured out of oure memorie.
The preservation of old stories is a theme that will reappear in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. Here, the (evidently nonexistent) "nygh"-forgotten ancient material is assumed to be without complications: unambiguous and therefore writable. The skeptical abyss is temporarily healed over, disbelief is for the moment suspended. What is read can be assimilated and in turn produced.
It is with Troilus and Criseyde (1385 or after) that a decisive shift occurs in the earlier proportioning of readerly and writerly functions. The Narrator cannot be entirely divested of his readerly stance, because he is working with an older story, which he claims to have translated. This source is Boccaccio's Filostrato, but Chaucer effaces Boccaccio from his text, substituting the nonexistent "Lollius." Evidently he believed in good faith that there was a Lollius, but the substitution itself was no error: it was a conscious fiction. This takes us a step beyond "Anelida," where a real author (Statius) was used to cover invented material. Here an invented author is used to cover real material and to displace its known author. Hence the treatment of source evinces authorial initiative rather than scholarly receptivity. Why does Chaucer need Lollius at all? I think it is somewhat more complicated than the medieval "respect for authority" such as is generally said to have led Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach to invent andent books as sources for their chivalric romances. (Perhaps it was more complicated for them also.) Chaucer has not at this point arrived at a definitive author-narrator distinction; in my view, he never fully achieves this, despite valiant efforts to do so. The closest he can come at this point, I suggest, is an author-translator distinction: a more limited version of the impulse to the autonomy of fiction. To this end he requires a text to translate, an old text in an authoritative language. Boccaccio is simply too close to provide the necessary distancing. As a recent contemporary writing in the vernacular (for Filostrato in any case), Boccaccio was simply neither distant nor, therefore, different enough to justify a credible disjunction between author and translator.
Despite various references to "myn auctor" and such phrases as "I fynde ek in stories" or "as I rede," the dominant image of the Narrator in Troilus is that of writer. This image is built up in numerous ways. To begin with, there are the long, important, and poetically intense invocations to each of the five books of the poem. In these the Narrator represents himself as the transparent "instrument" (1.10) of his material and single-minded servant of the servants of love (1.15–51); as disinterested translator of his Latin source (2.12–21) and cultural relativist (2.22–42); as bard of universal principles of love (3.1–49); as sympathetic moralist (4.1–14). Beside the invocations, with their acute awareness of the production of literature, there are other lengthy reflections on changing language as a problem for the modern writer (2.22–49 and 5.1793–98). At another level, there is the evolving view of Criseyde, whom we see early on as auditor of the romance of Thebes (2.80–108), but who by the end (5.806–26) has become the iconic figure in a new romance, a new tradition that bears her name and that of Troilus. This placing or distancing can have been accomplished only through the active intervention of a new author.
Finally, and especially, there is the profoundly self-conscious coda to the poem (5.1765–1869), which pulls the text definitively into range of mature authorial concern. Here Chaucer or his Narrator (the distinction is not significant for my purpose at this point) addresses himself to narrative proportion (1765–71), audience response (1772–78), authorial motive and intent (1779–85), future authorial production (1786–88), relation to tradition (1789–92), changing language and the transcription of manuscripts (1793–96), the moral implications of his own work (1828–55), and commendation of the text to friends (1856–62).
The story itself continually emphasizes the importance of discourse, both verbal and written: not simply the reception of discourse, as in the House of Fame, but its production as a psychological and ethical phenomenon. We are required to come to terms with the
frightening power of the word as it emanates from various characters in monologue, dialogue, songs, and letters; in persuasion, promise, threat, praise, self-justification, lament, blasphemy, pun—an immense variety of speech-acts. We are required to consider the relation of discourse to external circumstance and to the utterer's will. Alfred David asserts, in another but related connection, that "in Troilus and Criseyde the narrator at last steps into the pulpit that is the poet's rightful vantage point" (27). To extend this point, I propose that in Troilus Chaucer is able for the first time definitively to appropriate to his first-person Narrator the active authorial role, grasping the nettle to achieve the mature (although not necessarily unambiguous) voice that we recognize as the voice of the Canterbury Tales.
Although the tales were composed at various times during Chaucer's career, the General Prologue was evidently done in 1387. As a group, the pilgrims are fairly active readers (or, in some cases, hearers) of assorted texts. The up-to-date Man of Law has read the poetry of Chaucer; others read Aristotle, medical texts, romances, misogynistic anecdotes, Breton lais, Petrarch and Ovid, Marie de France's fables, saints' lives and miracles of the Virgin, Roman history, the Bible, treatises of moral edification, and tragedies of the fall of great men. They are also narrators and performers, many of them quite self-conscious about the sources, style, content, and interpretation of their own and each other's recitals. But with the exception of Pardoner and Parson, they are not professional rhetors: the fiction we are asked to accept is that these ordinary folk, amateurs, speak spontaneously out of their experience and their reading.
The Narrator, too, has done his reading, as his tales show: he has read in "bourgeois romance" and in compendia of ethical advice. Nonetheless he is presented primarily as speaker, reporter, and maker. Lest in our fascination with other characters we forget his shaping role, it is emphasized often, in the Narrator's own voice, as organizational interjection (GP 35–42, 715–24), opinion (GP 183, 385, 691, Canon's Yeoman's Prologue VIII.568–73), disclaimer (GP 284,
330), and apologia (GP 725–46, Miller's Tale I.316–86). In this poem foregrounding the production of discourse, the Narrator is constantly kept before us as the primary producer, the filter through whom all the others are apprehended. What we find, then, is a reversal of the proportions I have noticed in the Book of the Duchess: not a complete or exclusive reversal, but a general shift. There the first-person Narrator functions within the fiction primarily as reader, with discursive activity displaced onto another fictional character, the Black Knight. Here the first-person Narrator functions within the fiction primarily as producer of discourse, with readerly activity displaced onto the fictional characters, the pilgrims.
This development in the assertion of authorial function might interestingly be approached from the standpoint of naming, for a parallel evolution can be traced through the poet's career. In the Book of the Duchess, the Narrator is nameless, and likewise in the Parliament, even though there exists in the latter text an interlocutor—Africanus—whose dominant role and condescending tone might have allowed him to name the Narrator. In the House of Fame, the Narrator is for the first time named—by his interlocutor, the chatty Eagle—and with the poet's real proper name (729). He also expresses a nervous concern that "no wight have my name in honde" (1877). In Troilus, the Narrator is again unnamed: there is no interlocutor who might address him, but then an occasion for naming could have been invented, or a narratorial name included with those of Gower and Strode at the end. In any case, the pronounced authorial self-consciousness in Troilus is not expressed in naming. Nor is it in the Legend —not, at least, directly. There is a fair amount of naming in the Legend: various sources and authors are named throughout, and the naming of Alceste is an important feature of the Prologue: she names herself (F 432, G 422), she is named by Cupid (F 511, G 499), and the Narrator acknowledges her by name (F 518, G 506). Moreover, though the Narrator is not named, his previous works—which also happen to be the works we recognize as Chaucer's—explicitly and profusely are both named and evaluated. What seems to happen is that personal self-referentiality is displaced onto Alceste, while the poet himself exists as maker of his works and as object of a critical discourse. Whatever his personal fate, the poet seems to realize that he will live as the author of works
that, unlike so much medieval literature before (and even after) him, will not be untitled or anonymous; in short, his name (albeit here suppressed) is going to have a function—the one, I suggest, that Michel Foucault has called an "author-function."
I do not want to claim for Chaucer the fullest sense of this Foucauldian term, for it is unlikely that any poet or belletrist can found a discursive practice that will be "embodied in technical processes, in institutions, in patterns for general behavior, in forms for transmission and diffusion, and in pedagogical forms which, at once, impose and maintain them" (Language, 200). What I do want to get at, though, is the process we know Chaucer witnessed already in his life, a process that the Prologue to the Legend fictionally represents, namely, the hardening of himself and his work into a figure, something beyond the merely personal or autobiographical. As Howard observes, "Chaucer was recognized as a major poet in his own lifetime. He was praised over and over as a 'philosophical' poet, a great rhetorician and translator; he was imitated by lesser poets like Usk and Hoccleve" (Chaucer, 524). In this light, it is legitimate to infer a developing attitude toward his own work. "The comparisons we make, the traits we extract as pertinent, the continuities we assign, or the exclusions we practise" (Foucault, Language, 127): these aspects of the author-function are surely recognizable as what Alceste and Eros do to Geffrey and his writing, and it is an experience at once exhilarating and frightening.
The effect, I believe, is that the poet is becoming aware of producing not only works but texts, a discourse in a receptive field (that is, a field of divergent receptions). It is a discourse because it is a body of work with a recognizable style and subject matter and an ideological position. It can generate both imitators and opponents—sometimes both in the same person, as in the case of Osbern Bokenham. The maker, I suggest, is concerned about the status of his discourse in much the same way that Criseyde sees herself becoming frozen into a tradition "rolled ¼ on many a tongue," hated especially by women for dishonoring them (5.1054–68). It is precisely the charge laid against the poet-Narrator of the Legend. To his readers—the two of them represented in the Legend—he protests, as it were, that it is more complicated than they think. He proceeds to show them how complicated it is by writing yet another book, this one about writing books.
It is as if that act frees the poet (relatively) from this obsessive concern with his role to produce a work that looks at the world rather than at its own feet: the Canterbury Tales. There, the bumbling, scholarly, versifying "Geffrey" no longer exists. Instead, we have "Chaucer" (Man of Law's Prologue II.47)—the formal, dignified patronymic that will survive through history and set the poet apart from any other Geoffrey. (It is not irrelevant to recall in this connection that when Mary Serjeantson edited Bokenham's legendary for EETS, she mistakenly identified "Galfryd of ynglond" as Geoffrey Chaucer rather than as Geoffroi de Vinsauf. So far from being subsumed by any other Geoffrey, Chaucer has come to subsume all the others!) In the Man of Law's recital, Chaucer's works are named and discussed, and by a far more sympathetic reader than Alceste. This naming, in context of a multi-class pilgrimage, suggests a selfconfident awareness on the real author's part that such reference would not be completely inappropriate on such an occasion: that his name might be dropped by a lawyer, and that it might be recognized by at least some of his companions.
We may like to assume that this named Chaucer is identical with the "I" who narrates the entire set of stories and who, within it, tells the tales of Melibee and Thopas. This was the scribal assumption (and it is worth remembering that all extant manuscripts of the tales postdate the poet's death). It is duplicated in incipits and explicits that make their way into editions, it is taken for granted by every scholar, and it makes for delicious ironies; but there is no actual evidence within the poetic text for such an identification. The Narrator evinces no response either to the Man of Law's praise or to the Host's denunciation of his tale that might suggest real authorial status at stake. As far as textual evidence goes, the Chauceriannairatorial "'je' est un autre" (as Rimbaud put it), and the absence of indication of originary authorial intent permits the speculation that we may see the Narrator as not-Chaucer. Strictly speaking, there is no "Chaucer the pilgrim" on the pilgrimage. Once again we have an unnamed Narrator. He is distanced, as far as present evidence lets us judge, in a number of ways from the poet designated "Chaucer," among them his (the Narrator's) apparent poetic ineptitude. If the first-person Narrators of the earliest works were nameless because a lack of poetic security prevented the maker from naming himself, the first-person Narrator of the Tales is name-
less because the maker's name is borne by someone else, someone outside the fiction who is already famous. David Lawton rightly emphasizes the rhetorical, not characterological, function of Chaucer's narrators, writing of "not one device but a scale, a register, of different ones"  . My own image for the relation of author to narrator is that of the U.S. and Canadian dollars: sometimes so close in value as to be exchangeable at par, at other times very far out of phase. It is because of this flexibility, this shifting signifier that is the narratorial persona, that virtually everyone who writes about Chaucer's narrative voice is right—at least in places.
The Two Prologues
What position does the Legend of Good Women occupy in this progression from readerly to writerly concerns? The period of composition is generally agreed to be between Troilus (to which F and G Prologues both refer) and the General Prologue to the Tales, hence about 1386. It is a book about the reception of texts and the production of texts, but the balance has definitively shifted, as we should expect from Troilus, in the direction of writing. So much is this the case that the texts whose reception is at issue are those of the Narrator himself: certainly in the Prologue, and, as I shall propose in Chapter 5, in the legends as well. The placement of the Legend in this discussion becomes somewhat more complicated than for other of Chaucer's works because of the existence of two versions of the long Prologue to the Legend, one of them a revision of the other.
One version, usually designated "G," exists in a unique copy, MS. Gg 4.27, in Cambridge University Library. The other, designated "F," exists in several manuscripts. None of the extant manuscripts is complete (although some are fuller than others) and none is earlier than about 1425. Which version precedes the other, and which is the revision, has not been proven, despite the assurance of A. S. G. Edwards and M. C. E. Shaner, in the Riverside Chaucer, that this "formerly vexed question ¼ was resolved by John Livingston
Lowes" (1178) in 1904 and 1905. About the turn of the century, G was considered the original: F. J. Furnivall thought so, as did Walter Skeat and numerous others. The consensus among modern scholars has reversed this judgment, largely, it seems, as a consequence of Lowes's arguments. But in fact an agnostic position is the only realistic one. The many and mutually cancelling historical/occasional arguments for dating that have been produced over the decades are hypothetical in the extreme, and as Robert Frank drily notes, "We know nothing about specific censorship or a royal directive or a queen's request" (27). From an editorial viewpoint, the most that can be said about G is what George Kane says: that G has no special authority but "uniquely preserves an authorial version of the Prologue copied by an immediate scribe notably subject to error" ("Text," 58). For my purpose in the present discussion about reading and writing, the question of priority is not crucial, for the versions are sufficiently similar—even given their frequent differences in wording and tone—that I might, with one or two exceptions, use either one. My procedure in this book as a whole is to use both, moving between the two versions in order to construct an inclusive picture of Chaucerian concerns. I shall generally quote from F as the fuller and (by my standards) more aesthetically interesting version, noting any significant difference from G. More important to me is the relative position of the Legend as a whole—one Prologue plus lives—within the canon, and in this I have accepted the traditional placement as noted above.
Nonetheless, since debate over the priority of F or G has raised significant but unexamined critical questions, I should like briefly to note some of the premises that have come into play. There is very little in the Chaucer canon that can be dated with any accuracy, and often the criteria for dating are peculiarly subjective or naive. Nowhere, it seems to me, has this been more blatantly so than with the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women.
For example: A detailed comparison of differences between F and
G shows G to be drier and more austere in tone than F. It strikes one as a work on the whole less subjective than F, less insistent on art in general, and more modest in its presentation of the Narrator as poet. Some instances: F has but G lacks the important and powerful passage on the daisy as the Narrator's muse, inspiration, and "erthly god" (F 84–96). F has but G lacks a mini-portrait of erotic desire (F 103–14). In F, the birds defy the fowler "and al his craft" (139), while G has no reference to craft. F has but G lacks a coy, semi-sexual invitation to construe the previous line (F 152). In F, it is the Narrator who proudly sings the beautiful balade in praise of Alceste; in G, it is Alceste's retinue of ladies who perform the song. In F, the refrain to the balade begins "My lady cometh," while in G it begins "Alceste is here," a phrase that makes the balade less public, less generally applicable, hence less susceptible to being taken out of context and used on its own as a love song. The broadly applicable "ymagynacioun" of F 355 is the narrower, moralistic "jelos ymagynyng" of G 331. F ends with reading, dream, and experience fused in the creative act:
And with that word my bokes gan I take,
And ryght thus on my Legende gan I make.
In G, the penultimate line reads, "And with that word, of slep I gan awake," omitting the books and the possessive pronoun.
What can be made of such differences? It has been maintained that the "juicier" version, F, is clearly that of a younger man, while the more modest and moralistic G displays the wisdom and elevated consciousness of the aging poet contemplating death. Thus Lowes opined in 1905 that "a revision will be apt to possess ¼ more intellectual, fewer sensuous or emotional qualities than its original"; it will show "calculation rather than abandon" (799). The aesthetic implied here would horrify or amuse many a poet. Certainly it has little in common with the principles of medieval rhetoric (one thinks especially of Geoffroi de Vinsauf's Poetria nova ), which are strongly for sensuous qualities.
From another angle, here is D. D. Griffith's motivation of his preference for G as revision: "It seems tenable that Chaucer in his maturer life became more formally religious and regarded the analogies between the service of the Roman church and the service of Cupid as blasphemous." Such a position is predicated on stereo-
types about youth and age. Moralism, modesty, and austerity are seen as by-products of aging; confidence and desire as aspects of youth. (Let us note parenthetically that we are speaking here of a poet whose approximate age in 1386 would have been forty-four, and, if the revision came ten years later, fifty-four at the time of revision. He is middle-aged in both cases, neither young nor old. We may add in this connection that the Middle English alliterative poem The Parlement of the Thre Ages, probably composed during Chaucer's lifetime, gives Youth the age of thirty, Middle Eld sixty, and Old Age a hundred: figures that are presumably to be taken as terminal for each category. It is important too not to misinterpret low life-expectancy figures to mean that no one lived long; they are statistical averages reflecting the high rate of infant and child mortality.) Stereotypes about age may well be inaccurate, for many people feel freer as they age to reject the rigid moral norms they once accepted. As for the medieval literary artist, the existence of an authorial holograph revision of the Decameron dating from the author's last years suggests that Boccaccio at least did not lose interest in his youthfully frivolous productions. I would argue as well that Chaucer always saw the religion of love as blasphemous, particularly in the Troilus . Finally, the fuller and more art-conscious version of Chaucer's Prologue may well represent the sensibility of the maturer, more buoyantly confident poet. Alfred David writes of "loss of faith in the defense of poetry" (49), but equally likely—particularly in view of the pattern of increasing writerly self-assertion traced in the previous section of this chapter—is the reverse: that in G, faith in the defense of poetry has not yet been attained.
It is true that G has three references to age that do not appear in F. They are:
"Wel wot I therby thow begynnest dote,
As olde foles whan here spiryt fayleth"
"Although thou reneyed hast my lay,
As other olde foles many a day,
Thow shalt repente it"
"Whil he was yong, he kepte youre estat"
It has often been assumed that these carry a straightforward autobiographical message: "thou" refers to the historically real Chaucer, Chaucer is now old, therefore the G text is the revision. I have already noted that Chaucer was not old either at the time of original composition or at the time of revision. Moreover, the first two passages are spoken by the God of Love, attacking the Narrator; the last by Alceste, defending him. Neither one is an entirely trustworthy reporter. The God's aim is to insult the Narrator—earlier he has called him less worthy than a worm (F 318; G 244)—so that the charge of foolish old age suits his overall invective. The God of Love would certainly be the right character to use age as an insult, since courtly love was codified as unsuitable for any but the young. In short, the God of Love's remarks do not tell us either that Chaucer is old or that the Narrator is old. Furthermore, it is important here to take account of the rhetorical status of the comments, for they are similes, telling us that the God considers the Narrator to be acting as if he were old. Alceste's remark also does not tell us that the Narrator (much less the poet) is old, only that he is no longer young, a comment quite applicable to middle age. If G came first, the age-as-insult motif could have been excised in revision as irrelevant to the newly foregrounded theme of artistic self-awareness.
From the perspective of metrics and simple poetic effectiveness, a strong argument can be made for G as original, for the meter and language of G are consistently rougher than those of F. One would scarcely expect a matter so apparently straightforward as meter to be contentious, but so it has proved in the checkered history of Legend scholarship. In 1890, John Koch took G as original, partly (although not only) on metrical grounds, for "it often enough spoils the sense and the metre entirely"; J. B. Bilderbeck agreed in 1902, also on metrical and aesthetic grounds. Ernest Amy's 1916 study—
still frequently cited as authoritative—offers an interesting example of how the metrical argument has been fudged. Amy several times characterizes G as "metrically and grammatically accurate," even while admitting that "large numbers" of its lines "are headless or somewhat rugged" and that in a twelve-line sample (G 127–38), "half ¼ are strangely imperfect in the MS" (51, 94). As if this inconsistency were not enough, Amy eventually insists that G is later despite its "metrical imperfections"—because of Lowes's study of the poem's relation to its French sources! In short, he retreats completely on the question of meter, shifting ground to sources instead (but failing to offer any assessment of Lowes's far-from-conclusive hypothesis). Later, Kemp Malone compared two parallel passages, lines 27–39, in F and G. Much of his argument is circular, depending as it does on a prior acceptance of F as original; as, for instance, his observation that three run-on lines in F (27, 32, 36) are end-stopped in G: "It would seem that Chaucer looked upon a run-on line as metrically inferior." This is a gratuitous inference, for it could more convincingly be argued that F's enjambment is a mode of variation introduced in revision. Similarly, the presence of "I" once in G 30 but thrice in corresponding F (29–31) "is to be reckoned a stylistic improvement, an avoidance of repetition"; but I think the repetition improves the text, making it more direct and intense. Assuming that F 39 is original, Malone wishes that Chaucer had let the line alone, and he acknowledges that the "changes" "take away something of the freshness and spontaneity so marked in" F: Chaucer "loses more than he gains." Chaucer's genius, he concludes, "found better focus in the heat of original composition than in the cold of critical revision." Again, therefore, the critic's conclusion is not only based on prior acceptance of a debatable order, but on a romantic ethos that privileges the fiery and spontaneous creative-imaginative moment over painstaking analytic-revisionary labor, making "original" stronger than "revision"!
Of course, the problem with a metrical approach is whether such variants are typical transcriptional (scribal) errors and anyhow too minor to be taken seriously, or whether they represent authentic readings (a quarter-century after the author's death). I suppose the question is where we draw the line. We do not think a scribe could have been responsible for inserting whole sections of verse. We do think a scribe could have regularized meter, at least sometimes:
these views are supported by Kane's conclusion. But there is a gray area between these kinds of maximal and minimal revision into which the Legend falls: not only occasional but persistent and detailed metrical regularization; not only regularization of meter but improvement of the poetry in other ways as well. Here Kane's comment leaves an opening for further speculation: "As to the smaller differences, the indication is that any which relate intelligently to the meaning or feeling of their context, or show any command of expression, or answer to the better hypotheses of revision, are not to be attributed to [the G scribe] " ("Text," 52). The case warrants a closer look.
Taking the first thirty-nine lines as a sample, I note the following: In line 4, "this" (G) is "yet" in F, which eliminates the somewhat tongue-tying alliteration of th from the preceding "natheless." The same alteration is produced by the presence in line 5 of "dwellyng" (F) rather than "that dwelleth" (G) in a line that without the alteration has no fewer than five alliterations on th. (I note that thalliterations may have posed a problem for the G scribe: G 93, for example, has four—"And that the sonne out of the south gan weste"—and this is likely to have caused the scribe to build a lisp into the following line, writing "clothed" for "closed." It is necessary to consult the facsimile published by M. B. Parkes and Richard Beagle here, for the reading does not appear in F. N. Robinson's version or the Riverside Chaucer, but is listed in Riverside under "Readings of Gg rejected by all editors" .) Moreover, the shift to present participle in F cuts off two extra syllables, thus regularizing the line. In 20–21, the shift from "Yeven" (G) to "Yeve" (F) gives a smoother meter by eliminating two adjacent unstressed syllables, while the elimination of G's "trowen" removes the redundancy produced because of "credence." In lines 24–25, the reversal of infinitive forms from G to F (make/maken, weren/were) produces a more regular meter. G 28 has three alliterations on th, a repetition of "there," and eleven syllables (or even twelve, if we sound the final -e); the corresponding F line, 28, eliminates all these minor infelicities. The phrase "feyth and ful credence" in F 31 is far more effective than "swich lust and swich credence" in G 32 in eliminating both the repetition of "swich" and the possibly ambiguous "lust," while intensifying the devotional theme also introduced in "devocioun" (F 39). The eleven-syllable G 35 is matched by the
perfectly regular F 35. G 36, "the joly tyme of May," is trite; F's "the month of May" less so.
Another argument that has been made for the priority of F is that it has, while G lacks, what is evidently a compliment to Queen Anne: "And whan this book ys maad, yive it the quene, / On my byhalf, at Eltham or at Shene" (F 496–97). Since Queen Anne died in 1394, it is assumed that the reference was removed at or soon after that time in deference to the king's grief. It is also this locus, therefore, that accounts for the supposition of an eight- or ten-year gap between original and revision. On the other hand, one might equally well hypothesize that G was composed first, about 1386, without the reference to the queen's favorite palaces, and that F, the revision, added the compliment at some time before 1394. There would be no need to remove it when she died: it could stand as a compliment to a dead noblewoman, much as the Book of the Duchess does to Blanche. A more recent "occasional explanation" of G as revision, by John Fisher, hinges on the presence of "lylye flourys" in Love's garland (G 161), which do not appear in F. This is construed as an allusion to Richard's betrothal to Isabel of France in 1396. Given the very frequent exchange of personnel with the French court, though, this could be a compliment to any French visitor after 1385, not necessarily female and not necessarily royalty. Or it could allude, as Skeat long ago suggested, to the English claim to the French crown.
Another striking difference between F and G might be taken as support for the precedence of G. It is the memorable phrase I have borrowed for the title of this book, "the naked text" (G 86), lacking in F. As I shall show in Chapter 3, the phrase was intimately linked with the Wycliffite project of Bible translation. This was always a controversial project; yet if there is a historical reason for the omission from F of this phrase, I believe it is less an ideological gesture related to Wyclif's condemnation for heresy by English clerics in 1382 (an event in any case preceding the composition of either
Prologue, and not taken very seriously by the English at that time) than a tacit and prudential acknowledgment that any association with Lollardy was impolitic in the increasingly censorious climate of the later 1380s and 1390s. For a variety of reasons, Wyclif himself fell out of court favor after 1378, but he continued to enjoy the support of John of Gaunt until his, Wyclif's, death in 1384. He never broke with the pope, withdrew from the Church, or was excommunicated; he was buried in hallowed ground. However, the Church's success against Wycliffism at Oxford, the spread of Lollardy among the working and artisan classes, and the potential danger of Wyclif's ideas on dominion to ecclesiastical and secular realms alike generated a long campaign against Lollardy. Lollards were prohibited from preaching (1387), royal commissions were appointed to confiscate Wycliffite literature and arrest its owners (1388–89), several prominent Wycliffites recanted (1390–91), and Wyclif's Trialogus was examined and condemned by the chancellor of Oxford under royal mandate (1395–96). Throughout the period there was a growing frequency of arrests, trials, seizures of material, inquiries, excommunications, and abjurations. In 1397 the prelates asked Parliament for the death penalty for heresy, and this was at last granted in the 1401 decree De haeretico comburendo. Only in 1428 were the scholar's remains exhumed and burnt, the ashes scattered and, as Kenneth McFarlane poignantly puts it, "cast into a nearby stream" (Wyclif, 106). What becomes clear from this history is the slide of Wyclif and his doctrines from court approval in the 1370s into ambiguity during the mid 1380s, and eventually into the general opprobrium of civil and ecclesiastical authority. Given this changing climate, it is far easier to imagine the ever-diplomatic Chaucer removing the distinctively Wycliffite phrase "naked text" from his G Prologue than adding it to F.
My last instance of critical illogic in relative dating of the two prologues has to do with the refrain to the balade "Hyd, Absolon, thy gilte tresses clere" (F 249–69, G 203–23). In F, Alceste's name appears nowhere in the balade, and the Narrator is blamed for having omitted it (F 537–43). Lo and behold, in G, Alceste's name appears in the refrain of the balade. QED, Chaucer the poet has followed the advice of the God of Love, and G is later. The naïveté of this is patent in the many ways in which it relies upon an autobiographical literality of the text. In fact, to omit Alceste's name as F
does is to create a more interesting poetic structure: it defers the revelation of her identity, thus creating suspense and a climax lacking in G. It also adds another fault that the God of Love can blame the Narrator for, intensifying the guilt-and-expiation theme that fictionally motivates the composition of the legends. In terms of aesthetic logic, then, it is far easier to believe that Chaucer took out Alceste's name in his revision than that he put it in. This is so despite apparent chronology, because the appearance of chronology is imposed by the scholar in accordance with a wish to prove the priority of F. There is no chronology, no compositional sequence to these fictional events, not even an implied one.
If I seem to have dwelt overlong on matters of relative dating, it is because they tell us something about critical assumptions. These are not limited to dating, of course; they recur throughout the present century as interpretations and as obstacles to interpretation. Nor are they limited to determining the priority of medieval manuscripts. The interesting history of two unique printed versions of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1604 and 1616 texts, called A and B), reversing earlier critical assumptions about priority, also opened windows onto conditions of cultural production and cultural criticism. My excursus on dating is thus a metacritical exercise, and with this in mind I should now like to return to my earlier question about the relation of reading to writing in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women.
Reading, Knowing, And Making
There is in the Legend no single named generative text, as there were in the Book of the Duchess and the Parliament of Fowls, to provoke a dream or to provide thematic material. Instead, there is tradition at large, literary tradition as a source of information, or at least of stories about all sorts of things:
Of holynesse, of regnes, of victories,
Of love, of hate, of other sondry thynges,
Of whiche I may not maken rehersynges.
The poem starts neither with tradition nor with the search for information, however, but with something more basic. Chaucer
backs up to take a long running leap at literary tradition, and so must I in approaching the question I have posed about reading and writing.
The poem opens with an epistemological inquiry: how do we know, and what are the sources of knowledge? This is a reader's problem, for it seeks out the rules governing the reception, interpretation, and evaluation of propositions:
A thousand tymes have I herd men telle
That ther ys joy in hevene and peyne in helle,
And I acorde wel that it ys so:
But, natheless, yet wot I wel also
That ther nis noon dwellyng in this contree
That eyther hath in hevene or helle ybe,
Ne may of hit noon other weyes witen
But as he hath herd seyd, or founde it writen;
For by assay ther may no man it preve.
The nature of evidence had preoccupied the medieval intelligentsia since the mid twelfth century, when Latin translations of Aristotle and of Aristotle's Arabic commentators brought to the attention of Christian Europe a worldview considerably more rationalist and materialist than that of Christianity. In the Sophist, Plato describes the conflict of idealism and materialism as a perennial gigantomachy, a battle that "rages, as it has always raged, with unabated fury" (246C). In the high and late Middle Ages, this unabated fury took the form of book-burnings, excommunications, heresy trials, and lists of books banned by the Church from university curricula. Yet these tactics were far from effective, and others were devised than open warfare. Some scholars accepted from classical and Arabic philosophy what harmonized with Christianity, rejecting the rest; others attempted to produce a synthesis by christianizing Aristotle; still others took Aristotle as he was but severed philosophy from faith. The work of Aristotle and, eventually, of those who went beyond Aristotle, flourished in the universities of France, England, Germany, and eastern Europe.
Without being a university-trained intellectual, Chaucer was nonetheless well placed to appreciate some of the important philosophical issues of his day in their empirical manifestations, particularly as these related to the nature of evidence. The problem of
faith versus experience was posed in the most immediate way by several major disasters of the period. The defeat of the Crusade movement toward the end of the previous century showed (or might be construed to show) that Christian faith does not necessarily suffice in combat against pagan hordes. Later, one did not have to be an intellectual, or even literate, to observe that the Black Plague that swept Europe in several waves beginning in 1349 made no discrimination of good or evil, just or unjust, baptized or unbaptized. And anyone might feel the deleterious impact upon faith of two (indeed, at one point, three) competing popes with their bureaucracies in Rome and Avignon after 1378. What was the moral and historical meaning of these fiascoes? Was retributive justice a valid concept? What was the value of a virtuous life, the efficacy of one's priest or of confession, the nature of evidence, demonstration, authority, or truth? These questions were not limited to clerics or professional philosophers, but were of concern to the populations of Europe, "lerned and lewed."
Chaucer would have had a more intimate appreciation of these issues than many, for during the hair-raising events that precipitated the Great Schism of 1378, he was in Italy, part of an English team negotiating with Bernabò Visconti, lord of Milan and old enemy of popes and priests. Visconti's niece Violante had married Chaucer's former patron Prince Lionel in 1368, and it is possible Chaucer attended the wedding in Milan. Visconti's militarism had made him one of the most powerful men in Italy and a threat to the Papal States. He had been excommunicated as a heretic in 1363 by Urban V, who also—in what Barbara Tuchman calls "one of the century's more futile gestures" (249)—preached a crusade against him. Visconti was a not unsuitable ally for the English, who—although loyal to the Roman pope, Urban VI, during the schism—were generally resentful of papal interference in domestic ecclesiastical affairs. The schism was exclusively a political event, with no doctrinal content whatever, and although the English were not negotiating the schism, still ecclesiastical politics must have been very much on Chaucer's mind.
Not for the first time, either, for it is likely Chaucer was acquainted with the doctrines of John Wyclif—perhaps with Wyclif himself, at least in passing. During the 1370s, Wyclif was a zealous proselytizer for subversive anti-papalist doctrines such as had pre-
viously been expounded by Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham. This was precisely what recommended him to the English ruling elite as a theoretician and propagandist of national independence from papal supremacy. Wyclif entered the royal service in the early 1370s. He was present as a spectator at the 1371 Parliament; subsequently he was the king's chaplain and a protégé of John of Gaunt's. In 1374 he was among the king's envoys in negotiations with a papal delegation in Bruges. Wyclif had followers, the socalled "Lollard Knights," among Chaucer's friends and colleagues at court, and Michael Wilks claims that Wycliffism was, during the 1370s, "a court-centered movement ¼ the expression of an officially approved reform programme, which carried the seal of royal authentification" (65–67). Moreover, Wyclif's ideas were frequently preached in London churches during the 1370s and 1380s, both by himself and by other priests, so that Chaucer would have had ample opportunity to encounter them; indeed, he would have been unable to ignore them. In short, Wyclif was genuinely part of the Chaucerian milieu for close to a decade: the decade usually considered formative for Chaucer the poet. Wyclif's ideas, far from being abstruse academic or theological theories, were in favor by reason of their applicability to the relations between Church and state. Had the ruling elite taken Wyclif's advice to its conclusions, the English Reformation might have occurred a century and a half before it did, for Wyclif supported the disendowment of Church properties—a not-unpopular idea in France at the time either. There is no hard evidence that Chaucer supported Wyclif's doctrines, even during the period of Wyclif's popularity at court, but there is every reason to believe that Wyclif and his London followers conveyed key contemporary issues of faith, experience, and tradition to Chaucer. As we shall see in Chapters 2 and 3, it is equally likely, too, that Wycliffite literary activity helped focus Chaucer's concern about matters of translation and interpretation.
Another fairly obvious channel for such issues was the "philosophical Strode" addressed, at the end of Troilus (5.1857), along
with "moral Gower" as a special patron spirit of the poem. Ralph Strode was a friend and critic of Wyclif, fellow of Merton College before 1360, and, according to Robinson, "an eminent Thomist philosopher and authority on logic" whose works are now for the most part lost, although some responses to them exist in Wyclif's work. Robinson makes a case for identifying the scholarly Ralph Strode with the lawyer Ralph Strode who lived in London and who was associated with Chaucer during the 1370s and 1380s. The dedication is, I suggest, more than a gesture of goodwill toward a learned colleague, for it is possible to see Troilus as an exploration of key philosophical problems at Oxford of the previous generation (i.e., Strode's generation): a medieval "Philosophy in the Bedroom" if you will. Troilus's agonized question "If no love is, O God, what fele I so?" (1.400) has impeccable literary roots in a sonnet of Petrarch's, but it is nonetheless, for any scholar, a serious philosophical question, raising not only the problem of universals but also those of cognition and will. Elsewhere, the characters implicitly and explicitly pose several important questions about "entente" (will, intention). Has will a cognitive function? Does will preserve its independence despite its dependence on God? Is it possible to measure the intensity of will, especially in the context of love? As Konstanty Michalski shows, these were three prime problems explored by Oxford philosophers in the second and third quarters of the century, and if Chaucer was able to shape the courtly erotic romance to accommodate them, that is further affirmation of his consummate art.
That there is joy in heaven and pain in hell is what one hears and reads but can never prove by logic or experimentation. The impossibility of verification opens the way to strict empirical skepticism, for one might wish simply to dismiss the unverifiable. This possibility the Narrator rejects with horror:
But God forbede but men shulde leve
Wel more thing then men han seen with ye!
Men shal not wenen every thing a lye
But yf himself yt seeth, or elles dooth;
For, God wot, thing is never the lasse sooth,
Thogh every wight ne may it nat ysee.
Bernard the monk ne saugh nat all, pardee!
The passage echoes John 20:29: "Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'"
But it also echoes real philosophical controversies of the period. The nature of visual perception was a major topic in European and English universities during the fourteenth century. In fact, the bold investigation of vision theory, with its skeptical and empirical tendencies (or its deviations and distortions, as the more conservative said), was distinctively and notoriously English. Richard de Bury—bibliophile, bishop of Durham, and lord chancellor of England—boasted of his countrymen's tendencies and influence when he wrote, in Philobiblon (1344), of English perspicacity ("Anglicana perspicacitas") and of the English subtleties ("Anglicanas subtilitates"), which, publicly condemned, were furtively pursued at night. A far more hostile attitude was expressed by Petrarch, who met Bury at Avignon during the years of papal residency there (1309–78, the so-called "Babylonian captivity"). Petrarch showed little of the British cleric's enthusiasm for dialectic. His attitude toward it resembled that of George Bernard Shaw toward socialism: the man who does not follow it at twenty has no heart, the man who still follows it after forty has no brain. Writing (about 1350) to Tomasso Caloiro da Messina, a friend from his student days in Bologna, Petrarch conceded that dialectic is "not a useless armor for those stepping into the thorny way of the philosophers. It rouses the intellect, marks a way of truth, teaches the deceits to be shunned. In short, if nothing else, it makes men resolute and very keen¼ . But," warns Petrarch,
a place we pass through once and enjoy is not a place where we can justifiably linger; just as indeed it is insane for a pilgrim to forget the goal of his journey because of the pleasantness of the road. And who among us is not a pilgrim? ¼ Dialectic can be part of the journey; but it is certainly not its goal¼ . If as old people we are unable to abandon the school of dialectic because we had fun with it as youngsters, we should not be ashamed by that same token either to play the
game of odds and evens or ride on a trembling reed or be rocked in the cradle of children.
Petrarch considered British dialecticians responsible for this folly, which had now infected even Sicily:
Where will we flee from the presence of these madmen if even the islands are not safe from them? Can it be that neither Scylla nor Charybdis kept the passage of this plague from Sicily? Indeed it has now become a pestilence peculiar to the islands that to the ranks of British dialecticians is now being added the swarms of new Cyclopes from Aetna.
Whether or not Petrarch knew the dialecticians' work directly, nonetheless, as a courtier at Avignon, where various doctrines were examined, tried, and condemned, he was well placed to know something about the potentially subversive inclinations of the British.
English logic, natural philosophy, and the new theology they generated constituted, in the fourteenth century, an international tradition derived largely from the immensely influential work of the English Franciscan William of Ockham. Although the label "Ockhamist" did not exist at Oxford as it did at Paris, nonetheless William Courtenay reminds us that throughout the century, "Ockham's name and ideas did remain at the forefront of philosophical and theological discussion. He was in no sense forgotten or ignored¼ . The elements [of his epistemology] that best survived ¼ continued to make Ockham controversial in the more conservative atmosphere of Oxford in the 1360's and 1370's" (107). Some of the more radical scholarly formulations of this tradition show that Chaucer was by no means operating in an intellectual void when he composed the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. Given the internationalism and ease of diffusion in this intellectual milieu, almost any text will serve to illustrate the tendencies within it. I have chosen one that is fairly close in its concerns to those of the opening lines of the Prologue. It is by Gottschalk of Pomuk, a Cistercian of the 1360s, on the impossibility of proving either the
existence of God, or the original creative act, or eternal blessedness of heaven or pain in hell. The passage is excerpted by Michalski from Gottschalk's commentary on Lombard's Sentences :
Nullus viator potest naturaliter demonstrare aliquem articulum fidei¼ . Tertio infero, quod beatitudinem nostram finalem non potest aliquis naturaliter probare ¼ , quia est mere creata et probatur est ex alio, quia si posset naturaliter probari, quod justi praemiabuntur post hanc vitam, eodem modo posset probari naturaliter, quod mali punirentur post hanc vitam. Sed hoc non, quia hoc videtur repugnare rationi naturali ¼ , quod aliquis cruciatur ardoribus in perpetuum. (247)
No one [lit.: no pilgrim] can by natural means demonstrate any article of faith¼ . Third, I infer that our final blessedness cannot be naturally proved by anyone ¼ , because man is merely a creature and it is proved on other premises, so that if it could be proved by natural means that the just are rewarded after this life, it could be shown by the same natural means that the bad are punished after this life. But this can't be done ¼ , because it seems to oppose natural reason ¼ , that anyone should be confined to flames forever.
The empirical attitude was confined neither to England nor to university-clerical intellectuals. It filtered down, partly through the example and pressure of events, as noted above, partly through the very interpenetrated relations of ecclesiastical and lay life, courtly and urban life, courtly and university life. One instance will have to suffice for many. Marie-Christine Pouchelle writes brilliantly of Philippe le Bel's surgeon Henri de Mondeville, who composed a treatise on surgery during the first quarter of the fourteenth century. Mondeville's polemical aim was to overcome the then-dominant contempt for surgery as a particularly dirty manual craft—that is, to overcome the theory-practice split in contemporary medicine that elevated physicians at the expense of surgeons, the diagnostic function over the operative. To do so, Mondeville had to rehabilitate the senses—hand and eye—as means of knowledge, and thus risk contradicting a long and authoritative medical tradition not founded in experiment or detailed observation. At one point he writes:
Ce sujet étant donc litigieux et obscur, j'ai songé à procéder d'après l'observation sensibiliter et grosso modo équoique ce ne soit pas en accord avec les auteurs et les practiciens, ni pêut-etre avec la vérité. (44)
This subject [diseases of the skin] being disputed and obscure, I decided to proceed according to observation empirically and crudely ¼ although this may not be in accord with [medical] authorities and practitioners, nor perhaps with truth.
Noteworthy in this short but poignant passage is that its author continues to reserve the word "truth" for the theoretical formulations he knows are "wrong"—that is, in conflict with his own observations. But his medical practice will be on the basis of personal observation nonetheless. It is, in its own way, the doctrine of two truths on a small, intimate, and accessible scale.
If empirical skepticism questions all but the sensible, an even more radical extension of the impulse is what one might call "idealist skepticism": to question the existence not only of the unseen but of the seen, for how can there be any certain knowledge except of one's own consciousness ("soul")? As Etienne Gilson summarizes the position:
If God can conserve in us the intuition of something that is not actually existing [e.g., in dream, hallucination, or miracle], how shall we ever be sure that what we are perceiving as real is an actually existing thing? In other words, if it is possible for God to make us perceive as real an object that does not really exist, have we any proof that this world of ours is not a vast phantasmagoria behind which there is no reality to be found? (80)
Such extremism was fashionable in Chaucer's day at Oxford, Paris, and other European universities, where some enthusiasts of the socalled "Ockham's razor" had taken a fairly sensible rationalist caveat to the point of absurdity. This was especially the case in connection with the nominalist notion of the perfect freedom of God's will; for if God has both absolute freedom and absolute power, then he can at any moment alter any physical phenomenon or moral law. Therefore it is not a necessary and self-evident assertion that fire will burn wood, that incest is bad or honesty good, that the sun will rise tomorrow, and so on. Neither causal nor predictive assertions can be accurately (i.e., certainly) made. No thing can be demonstrated to be absolutely and eternally better than any other thing. The only possible first principle is "If something exists, something exists" (Si aliquid est, aliquid est).
Similar positions were advanced in what has been called "the
most famous discussion of cognition at Paris in the 1330's," the debate by correspondence between Nicholas of Autrecourt and a respected Franciscan scholar and teacher, Bernard of Arezzo. Bernard's side of the correspondence does not survive, and all we have of it is two of the nine letters of Nicholas. From this scant evidence, scholars deduce that Nicholas defended a somewhat moderated skepticism against arguments by Bernard that he, Nicholas, believed were an inadequate defense against complete skepticism. The debate centered on vision, as was common in epistemological discussions derived from the Ockhamist tradition (cf. McGrade). Apparently Bernard had stated propositions whose logical consequence would be the denial of any certitude about anything at all. The implication of Bernard's position was, according to Nicholas, that
you must say that you are not certain of those things which are outside of you. And thus you do not know if you are in the heavens or on the earth, in fire or water; and consequently you do not know whether today's sky is the same one as yesterday's, because you do not know whether the sky exists. Just as you do not know whether the chancellor or the Pope exists, and whether, if they exist, they are different in each moment of time. Similarly, you do not know the things within you—as, whether or not you have a beard, a head, hair, and so forth. And a fortiori it follows from this that you are not certain of the things which occurred in the past—as, whether you have been reading, or seeing, or hearing. Further, your position seems to lead to the destruction of social and political affairs, because if witnesses testify of what they have seen, it does not follow, "We have seen it, therefore it happened." Again, I ask how, on this view, the Apostles were certain that Christ suffered on the cross, and that He rose from the dead, and so with all the rest.
To avert these dreadful consequences, Nicholas affirmed the cognitive and evidential validity of the five senses and of formal experiment, while limiting the kinds of inference that can be made from
such evidence. In other words, although we may be sure that the sun rose today, we predict its rising tomorrow only as a probability based on experience, but not as an absolutely certain truth.
Whether the propositions on either side were made "in earnest or in game" is hard to judge, for when summoned to Avignon to be examined for heresy, Nicholas claimed that he had engaged in disputation only to show that very startling assertions could be made without logical contradiction, and that his logical speculations were possible but not probable. In 1347 he publicly recanted his positions in a sermon in Paris and burnt his own theses and tractate. "His moderation," Hastings Rashdall writes, "was not unrewarded. In 1348—two years after his condemnation—he is Dean of Metz, and the friends who shared his errors seem for the most part to have likewise achieved satisfactory ecclesiastical careers" (5). Obviously, many who flirted with philosophical radicalism were satisfactorily reintegrated into the establishment, though its initiator and best-known spokesman, William of Ockham, died unreconciled with the Catholic Church, while some of Ockham's serious followers, like Hus, died at the hands of the Church. Still, Autrecourt's story suggests the currency and the availability of the new ideas. I do not want to make overmuch of the attractive coincidence of name, topic, and philosophical orientation, but the traditional identification of Chaucer's "Bernard the monk" ("Bernard the monk ne saugh nat all, pardee!" [F 16]) with St. Bernard of Clairvaux has always struck me as rather tenuous. This is because the saint was so much more than a monk; because the acerbic tone of the line implies a criticism; and because the philosophical content of Chaucer's passage seems to require a rather more controversial figure than an orthodox and canonized eleventh-century theologian. However, since nothing can be proved, I rest content with nominating a candidate who, even though he was a friar rather than a monk, has as good credentials as many another Bernard.
When Nicholas of Autrecourt conceded, at his examination for heresy, that his propositions were logically possible but not probable, and when he was able therefore to conclude that "we should adhere to the Law of Christ, and believe that reward and punishment take place in the way in which it is expressed in the sacred law," he availed himself of the so-called "doctrine of two truths" or "leap of faith" that enabled many medieval (and later) intellectuals
to pursue their logical investigations while maintaining their status as Christians. It is essentially the same solution that Chaucer came up with in the House of Fame : to evade evident contradiction or a difficult choice by asserting faith:
"Y wot wel y am here;
But wher in body or in gost
I not ywys; but God, thou wost!"
These lines exemplify the fideistic paradigm, and so do the first twenty-eight lines of the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. The Narrator has already rejected a thoroughgoing skepticism and asserted (10–16) that where we do not know, there we must believe. We are warned, therefore, against the inadequacy of mere personal experience, mere phenomenology, as a basis for judgment. To rely on personal experience alone is to risk vulgar empiricism and solipsism; the antidote is faith.
Let us inquire at this point what the epistemology set out in the first sixteen lines of the Prologue (both F and G versions) means for the portrayal of women that is to come. It implies, first, that in general there is more than meets the eye. I do not mean this in the narrowly cynical sense that "women are deceptive," particularly not in a text that shows quite amply the deceptiveness of men. The implication is larger: no one's personal experience of human nature can be definitive, for no one sees everything. Furthermore, conjecture about the past, its events and personalities, is an unverifiable hypothesis, "For by assay ther may no man it preve" (9). History, as Hayden White has it, is necessarily "metahistory." From these principles enunciated in the poem's opening lines, then, we might legitimately deduce a very nuanced, and possibly ironic, treatment of the individual stories to follow, a treatment making fairly free with its sources.
What can be done to supplement the inadequacy of experience just stated? The second movement of the Prologue offers what appears to be a solution. "Than mote we to bokes that we fynde," the Narrator continues,
Thurgh whiche that olde thinges ben in mynde,
And to the doctrine of these olde wyse,
Yeve credence, in every skylful wise ¼
And yf that olde bokes were aweye,
Yloren were of remembraunce the keye.
Wel ought us thanne honouren and beleve
These bokes, there we han noon other preve.
This is a key (important) passage in its proposal of a key (solution) to the skeptical puzzle. In Middle English pronunciation, the word key and the letter k were exactly homophonic; moreover, the written letter as it appears in manuscripts closely resembles a late-medieval key with its handle and teeth. For whatever reason, the passage evidently struck a chord. John Lydgate, in a couplet echoing this Chaucerian locus, wrote,
For yiff pennys & writyng were a-way,
Off remembraunce we had lost the kay.
This is the passage that commended itself also to a younger noble contemporary of Chaucer. Edward Langley, second duke of York, dedicated his Master of the Game (a translation of a French hunting manual) to King Henry IV, justifying his literary effort with these words:
And for I ne wold that his hunters ne yours that now be or shuld come here aftir weren unknowe in the profitenesse [should probably read "parfitnesse"] of this art for thi shall I leve this symple memorial ffor as Chaucer saith in this prologe of the xxv good wymmen. Be wryteng have men of ymages passed for writyng is the keye of alle good remembraunce. (Spurgeon, 1: 18)
In practical matters as well as metaphysical ones, textual authority must take over when experience falters.
In the Legend, the leap of faith is to books, secular books, and in noting this we note a subtle but significant tactical shift in the terms of discussion. The poem opened with heaven and hell—doctrinal matters to be adjudicated by Scripture and its ecclesiastically approved supplements and interpreters. Now the subject is history as it appears in secular books of various genres whether hagiography, encyclopedia, chronicle, epic, or romance—that is, books telling
"Of holynesse, of regnes, of victories, / Of love¼ ." With this maneuver Chaucer removes himself from the potentially hazardous arena of theological speculation. It is a discreet move, for medieval ecclesiastics and their allies were not always receptive to the notion of an author-narrator or author-character distinction, as the letters of Jean Gerson and Christine de Pizan would show a few years later in the "querelle de la rose." Nor is it, we might add, a distinction that the Narrator raises in his own defense against the God of Love, though something like it is broached when Alceste adduces the fact that the Narrator had only translated what others wrote, "as thogh that he ¼ had himself it wroght" (F 371–72).
The shift to history is also a move that eases us into the fiction about to begin, for it motivates the presentation of the Narrator as bookworm, much as we have seen him in the first two dreamvisions. Yet the extreme enthusiasm for written tradition evinced here might well give us pause, might well generate some suspicion, if we take seriously both the lesson of the House of Fame and the implications of the opening movement of the Legend. The relativism expressed in both places suggests that books simply cannot bear the epistemological load placed on them here. Such a conclusion is supported by the trial scene further on in the Prologue. The God of Love's angry response to Troilus and to Chaucer's translation of the Roman de la rose shows the extent to which "meaning is in the reader," as a proponent of contemporary affective stylistics might say. At the same time, Alceste's defense of the Narrator-poet challenges any easy assumptions about the motivation of critics (F 350–61) or of authors (F 362–72). Envy, stupidity, complaisance, or sheer opportunism may play a role. Alceste shows that assorted subjective and circumstantial factors may affect the production and reception of texts. Given all this, it becomes difficult to accept the Narrator's confession of "feyth and ful credence" in books as a sincere Chaucerian credo, and I shall show in the next chapters that the treatment of tradition in the legends justifies our suspicion here. It is worth noting, too, that while F remains fairly subtle, G text is quite overt in broadly hinting its subversive intention. There the Narrator claims he will translate "many a story ¼ / As autours seyn," but caps his couplet with the arch warning "leveth hem if yow leste!" (G 87–88).
The Narrator begins as reader, but his concerns soon shift to
authorial ones with the introduction of the daisy, which alone can lure him from his books. The intensity of his devotion to the flower triggers an apparent crisis of confidence: "Allas, that I ne had Englyssh, ryme or prose, / Suffisant this flour to preyse aryght!" (F 66–67). With this, the poet (whether Narrator or Chaucer is immaterial) bursts out of the naïve-scholar persona like Superman from a phone booth, for these words, although imitated in part from Boccaccio's Filostrato, inaugurate a thirty-line passage of striking self-awareness and poetic power. Doubting his ability to do poetic justice to his emotion or its object, the Narrator abases himself before the memory of his predecessors, the great love poets. (They are not named, but a list might include Ovid, Dante, Petrarch and possibly other stilnuovisti, Boccaccio, perhaps Chrétien de Troyes, Marie de France, and, among Chaucer's contemporaries at the French court, Deschamps, Froissart, and Machaut.)
But helpeth, ye that han konnyng and myght,
Ye lovers that kan make of sentement;
In this cas oghte ye be diligent
To forthren me somwhat in my labour,
Whethir ye ben with the leef or with the flour.
For wel I wot that ye han her-biforn
Of makyng ropen, and lad awey the corn,
And I come after, glenyng here and there,
And am ful glad yf I may fynde an ere
Of any goodly word that ye han left.
And thogh it happen me rehercen eft
That ye han in your fresshe songes sayd,
Forbereth me, and beth nat evele apayd,
Syn that ye see I do yt in the honour
Of love, and eke in service of the flour
Whom that I serve as I have wit or myght.
Will the Narrator-poet survive in the English tradition as an important and original author, or merely as minor and derivative? Implicit in this agony of influence is the problem of whether such vulnerability to precursors supplants or taints one's own passion. What is the relation of rhetoric and desire, books and nature, tradition and the individual talent?
Help is at hand, again, in a fideistic resolution. This allows the Narrator to transcend the dilemma of originality versus imitation by
shifting responsibility to the daisy, which, as his muse, controls the Narrator's creativity:
She is the clernesse and the verray lyght
That in this derke world me wynt and ledeth.
The hert in-with my sorwfull brest yow dredeth
And loveth so sore that ye ben verrayly
The maistresse of my wit, and nothing I.
My word, my werk ys knyt so in youre bond
That, as an harpe obeieth to the hond
And maketh it soune after his fyngerynge,
Ryght so mowe ye oute of myn herte bringe
Swich vois, ryght as yow lyst, to laughe or pleyne.
Be ye my gide and lady sovereyne!
As to myn erthly god to yow I calle,
Bothe in this werk and in my sorwes alle.
It is a perfect example of self-reflexive subversion, for while the central question in the passage concerns the poet's talent and whether or not he is a world-class maker, the intensity and virtuosity of the passage answer this question unequivocally in the affirmative, showing us what it modestly pretends to deny. It is, after all, about as genuinely modest as the ending of Troilus, where, as Talbot Donaldson commented, Chaucer manages to transmute the modesty topos "into something close to arrogance." The poet is even confident enough to rupture his own fictional illusion, for he refers to "this work" when the work has not yet been generated in the narrative.
The richness of this passage, and indeed of the entire Prologue, is such that discussion of it will appear in other connections further on. I use it here to note that the passage serves to jolt the Prologue from readerly into writerly concerns, the narrative persona from scholar to poet. That is where the balance rests throughout the Prologue, whose narrative is about the trial, defense, and expiation of a poet, a well-known and popular poet with a very considerable body of work behind him. The Narrator as poet is not only defended by Alceste, but he is sufficiently confident to defend himself (F 455–74), and with a great deal more dignity than Alceste's de-
fense allows. He concedes nothing to the God of Love but claims, contrary to the accusation, that he has in fact furthered the cause of love in both Troilus and the Roman translation. But his defense does no good, and expiation will be required. It is to write "a glorious legende / Of goode wymmen, maydenes and wyves, / That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves" (F 483–85). From this long dream of a prologue, the G text has the poet awake in the penultimate line. F has no awakening; instead its final couplet blends book and dream, tradition and subjectivity, in the act of composition:
And with that word my bokes gan I take,
And ryght thus on my Legende gan I make.
Yet both endings culminate in an assertion of authorial power. Both include a proud possessive designation of the text to follow, both include the minimal sentence "I make" as last assertion, both place the verb "make" in key position as last word in last line. What this confident author (whether Narrator or Chaucer is, again, immaterial) goes on to show us is that as reading writer, as writing reader, he has entered into the literary tradition far enough to be able now to put his mark upon it, to rework it and rewrite it to his own far-from-simple ends.
Making a Legend
It is possible to write about the Legend of Good Women as a series of negatives, absences, or denials. We might say that the Prologue is not one, because at nearly six hundred lines it is far too long for a prologue; that it is too self-sufficient—indeed, that it is a fully developed dream-vision narrative, which the legends appear to accompany almost as an afterthought or appendix; that its blatant fictionality fails to provide any of the factual, occasional, or analytical material normally expected in a prologue. We might speak of a heroine who is not one: Alceste, absent from the lives (although admittedly the text is incomplete), and in any case badly compromised, as I shall argue later, by her association with the God of Love. We might speak of a gallery without portraits, for not one of the women included in the Legend is given a physical description. We might speak of a hagiography without saints, and of good women who are far from unequivocally good. We might mention
the denial of poetic worth that is co-opted into the poem itself by its fictional critics. And finally there is the absence—not absolute, of course: perhaps "diminished presence" would be a better phrase—of the Legend itself in the received Chaucer canon, as discussed in the Prolocutory above.
I want to concentrate here on one of these negativities, which forms a juncture of reading and writing: the hagiographical matrix deprived of saints. Chaucer was not the first to compose a collection of lives or portraits of legendary or even real women. He had been preceded in this by Ovid, whose Heroides (c. 10 B.C.E.), aside from being the generic model, also provides a possible model for ironic treatment of the subject. He was preceded too by Boccaccio (De mulieribus claris, 1361), and by the authors of Nonnenbücher, collective biographies of the members of a convent, usually written by one of their number. Curiously, though, no one had compiled a collection of lives of female saints, nor would this be done until Osbern Bokenham assembled his legendary nearly a half-century after Chaucer's death. Chaucer's Legend is thus a curious sport in the evolution of the hagiographical genre. Not itself hagiography, it is nonetheless generated by hagiography and the secular gallery of women. It borrows enough from hagiography to provoke a fifteenth-century clerical reader, Bokenham, to model his own (at that point unique) all-female hagiography on the Legend, yet its courtliness recommended it to the noble and middle-class reader of the day.
That Chaucer had substantial respect for hagiography is evident from the fact that he has Alceste cite, in her list of the Narrator-poets, exculpatory achievements, a life of Saint Cecelia (the Second Nun's Tale ) and a translation of a homily, thought to be by Origen, on St. Mary Magdalene (F 426–28). There is also the child-martyr legend told by the Prioress, which has a good deal in common with hagiography, particularly with the lives of Sts. Hugh of Lincoln,
William of Norwich, and Herbert of Huntington, all of them adolescent victims, supposedly, of Jews. In the Merchant's Tale, Proserpina adduces Christian martyrs among the good women who confute traditional misogyny (IV.2283). The same tale may also contain verbal echoes of particular lives. The departure of wedding guests recalls a similar passage in some versions (although not Chaucer's) of St. Cecelia. In the unforgettable wedding night scene, the young May is "broght abedde as stille as stoon" (1818), while in the South English Legendary, St. Lucy is tied to a bed in a brothel where a thousand men rape her: "& evere heo lai as stille as stoon" (line 110). The Miller promises to "tel a legende and a lyf" (1.3141), his cynical abuse of generic terminology falsely reassuring the Host that his story will be fitting and proper. Laurel Braswell has shown that some anti-fraternal material in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale and the Summoner's Tale can be traced to Jacob da Voragine's immensely influential thirteenth-century Legenda aurea, possibly via the South English Legendary or via liturgical readings (for which both the Legenda and the Legendary were often substituted). And of course there is St. Thomas à Becket looming silently over the Canterbury Tales as éminence grise and (as an Aristotelian would say) final cause of the pilgrimage. In Troilus, when Pandarus comes to his niece with love tidings and bids her dance, she replies that she ought rather to pray in a cave and read "holy seyntes lyves" (2.117–18); and if Criseyde's hyperbole here sounds slightly sanctimonious, the irony redounds less against hagiography than against herself. In the House of Fame, the Eagle swears "by Seynte Clare" (1066), a disciple of St. Francis and founder of the Poor Clares, perhaps introduced to hint at the parody of Franciscan super-rationalist scientism that is offered in the Eagle's lecture on natural philosophy.
Noticeable in all these instances is an element of irony associated with the hagiographical reference. This is so despite, indeed alongside, the obvious devotion indicated by the Origen translation
(and, of course, by numerous places in the Canterbury Tales, most explicitly the Retraction). In fact, I would maintain about these references or allusions, as I shall argue about the Legend itself as a whole, that the hagiographical matrix frames Chaucer's ironic project, that the notion of holiness stands as foil to the events and persons he portrays. It is not disrespect for hagiography but, on the contrary, precisely respect that enables the secular poet to use the genre as a touchstone, albeit a distant and unobtrusive one.
To be able to incorporate the apparently alien hagiographical consciousness into a courtly, classicizing work, a work moreover informed by contemporary issues in skeptical philosophy, is no Chaucerian perversity but rather the product of real familiarity with hagiography. When we understand the nature of hagiography, we may come to view it as after all less alien to Chaucer than we might have thought, for there is within hagiographical tradition ample room for both conscious invention and skepticism. High-medieval hagiography was a profoundly intertextual genre, to which Oriental and Western folktale, classical myth and legend, travel and adventure story, romance, political propaganda, doctrinal instruction, history, and biography all contributed. If the broad plot outline of a given life was fixed, its treatment was not, and successive compilers, editors, translators, and redactors felt free to add their version of incident, character, dialogue, description, and local color. They often did so quite overtly, justifying their creativity and poetic license with an aesthetic firmly based in an otherworldly notion of truth. One instance of this aesthetic occurs in the Life of St. Gregory, written by a ninth-century monk at Whitby:
It should offend no one at all that the ordering of these events is irregular, for in that I am governed by the clear light of Holy Scripture¼ . And neither should anyone be offended if any of these deeds were actually done by some other of the saints, since the holy apostle, through the mystery of one body with its members the saints, by comparing it with the living body has so brought them into union that we should attribute to each member the works of the other in turn ¼ . Therein we know that all of the saints are through charity of the body of Christ, whose members are in common. Hence if any of these things which we have written were not of that man ¼ we should little doubt that they too should be in so great a man; for that holy man in his foreordained wisdom clearly teaches that with all
living things what is discovered in one should always be attributed to others. (Trans. C. W. Jones, 118)
A similar justification appears in the twelfth-century metrical Life of St. Malchus by Reginald of Canterbury, who, acknowledging discrepancies between his account and that of St. Jerome, urges the reader to believe the earlier version. Yet, he continues, since all things are common in the body of holy faith, what belongs to one belongs to all and vice versa. It would be wrong to believe the saint anything other than full of virtues, so that however much virtue we have attributed to Malchus himself, we do not deviate from truth (C. W. Jones, 214). Nor has this criterion been forgotten in our own day, for as Laurel Braswell observes, "the Bollandists still maintain after three centuries of hagiographical research and publication, [that] the ratio of saints' lives is the presentation of a sublime ideal in the sense that legend, like poetry, discloses a higher degree of truth than history itself" ("Chaucer and the Art of Hagiography," 210).
With respect to reception of the material by its transmitters, many a monastic hagiographer was willing (or his critics were) to question or dispute some of the more lush extravagancies of tradition. In the twelfth century, Guibert, abbot of Nogent, constructed a theological argument to refute the claim of the monks at St. Medard to possess the Savior's tooth (Pal. Lat. 156). Another text, Walter Daniel's life of Aelred of Rievaulx (1167) was attacked by some members of its first audience for the improbability of some of its material. That St. Margaret of Antioch was swallowed and regurgitated by a Satanic dragon, which she then killed, is challenged by Simeon Metaphrastes and by Jacob da Voragine (c. 1230-c. 1298), archbishop of Genoa, who called the episode "apocryphum et frivolum" (401). The compiler of the South English Legendary provides an apologia for his doubt about the motif:
Ac this netelle ich noght to sothe • for it nis noght to sothe iwrite
Ac wether it is soth other it nis • inot noman that wite
Ac aghen kunde it were • that the devel were to dethe ibroght
For he nemai tholie nanne deth • i nemai it leve noght
And also i neleove noght • that is mighten were so stronge
A so holy creature • inis wombe avonge
Ac to sothe it is iwrite • that in a monnes like
The devel to this maide com • and fonded hure to swike.
But I don't relate this as truth, for it isn't written (intended) as truth. Whether it is or isn't true, I know no one who knows. But it would be against nature for the devil to be killed; because he can suffer no death, I can't believe it. Also I don't believe that his powers were sufficient to swallow such a holy creature [as Margaret] into his belly. But it is written as truth that the devil shaped like a man came to this maid and tried to tempt her.
It seems, then, that Chaucer might have found the saint's legend another case in point demonstrating the inextricability of "fals and sothe compouned" (HF 2108). As text, it is as subject as any other to the vagaries of textual transmission. But "God forbede but men shulde leve / Wel more thing then men han seen with ye!" (F 10–11): the letter is not the last word, nor is literality the final meaning.
What is a "legend"? Most literally, it is that which is to be read (legenda ). This will seem pointlessly obvious—mere translation—unless we recall the context in which the material so designated was to be read. It was to be read aloud, in church, as part of liturgy during the nocturnal office in an annual mass commemorating the anniversary of a holy person's death. The "legend" was originally a tributary biography or memorandum compiled by the local archivist from community memory and testimony as to the gesta, signa et virtutes (deeds, signs, and powers of holiness) of the deceased. If the saint grew more famous, the church or abbey more prosperous, then the service might become longer and more elaborate, the "legend" more fully detailed. The word was in no way opposed to history, in no way implied fictionality. A collection of martyrs' lives would be a "passionary": a collection of non-martyrs' lives (e.g., holy hermits, church functionaries, or unusually pious women) would be a "legendary," but this distinction collapsed fairly early on.
In the early Christian era—the period of persecution (through the third century)—with the exception of the scriptural saints the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, only martyrs were venerated as saints. Nor were these martyrs officially, that is, juridically, canonized. Holiness was manifested in the martyr's perseverance, death, and miracles, which were proclaimed by the martyr's community and local church. Canonization—the word first appears early in the eleventh century—was a privilege appropriated to itself by the papacy for the first time only in the late tenth century. Subsequently, it became an important aspect of Gregorian centralization, and in the twelfth century the papal bureaucracy began to assert that its approval was a necessary precondition to public veneration. Naturally, papal control of canonization extended to the accompanying liturgy and devotion. Equally naturally, the procedure of inquiry became very lengthy, very bureaucratic, very politicized, and very costly. Although there was a tradition, especially in England, of sanctifying clerical opponents of royal power, England's candidates for sainthood never managed to succeed under Pope John XXII (1316–34). During the Great Schism, though, the rival popes were quite generous in granting favors to their allies, so that England fared much better at the hands of Rome; and, as observed earlier in this chapter, such ecclesiastical politics were the medium in which the diplomat Chaucer swam.
What all this suggests is some flexibility in the concept of sainthood as well as in the generic notion of the legend. Such flexibility may help to account for the ease with which some medieval poets appropriated the vocabulary of hagiography for their love poetry. The rhetoric of the religion of love certainly feeds into Chaucer's use of the legend; the title, after all, under which the work was evidently known and by which it is called by the Man of Law is "the Seintes Legende of Cupide" (61). The reader of Chaucer's Legend has already seen the rhetoric of the religion of love at work in Troilus. What he or she sees about it there is its inadequacy as a guide to conduct and, sub specie aeternitatis, its falsity. The Prologue to the Legend apparently sets up the work as a palinode to Troilus: according to the God of Love, as a corrective to the romance's portrayal of the faithless Criseyde. In fact, though, as I hope to show in later chapters, that apparent purpose is reversed,
so that the Legend winds up, in very winding ways to be sure, reasserting the same point about love that is proclaimed in the finale to Troilus.
The title of Chaucer's Legend, then, invites—even virtually forces—the reader to feel its daring and its dissonance. It is a parody, yet not one that depreciates the thing parodied. Rather, the thing parodied—a collection of saints' lives—is a silent presence by which the all-too-secular lives narrated in the poem may be measured.Parodia, we recall, means literally a song or reply sung to the same tune as the original, or in a similar manner, or with similar words. The terms coined by Gérard Genette in his study of transtextual relations are helpful here, specifically Genette's fourth category, hypertextuality and hypotextuality. Hypotext is anterior; hypertext, linked to it as a derivative text that is not commentary, can serve as a way of investing old forms with new meaning. Following Genette, Linda Hutcheon severs parody from comedy, ridicule, or humor. Parody, she argues, is repetition or imitation with a difference, a form of transcontextualization "characterized by ironic inversion, not always at the expense of the parodied text," "a method of inscribing continuity while permitting critical distance" (6–7, 20, 32). Such a concept of parody helps us to understand why there was a good deal of room during the high and later Middle Ages for levity apparently at the expense of ecclesiastical, liturgical, or even scriptural authority: I might cite the well-known belching-joke "cor meum eructavit," the feasts of the Ass and of the Boy Bishop, and the Middle English "Cockaygne" poem by way of illustration. These humorous phenomena are far from genuinely iconoclastic—Hutcheon comments that parody reinforces, "its transgression is always authorized" (26), and this is its central paradox. But they do indicate the sort of flexibility I have in mind.
There are, therefore, several ways in which the "legend" rubric is by no means sarcastic. One of them is that hagiography offers a
culturally normative array of exemplary women. In Chapter 2 I take up the question of why Chaucer wanted such an array. That he is asked for it by his own fictional character (the God of Love) is not, of course, an adequate answer, and I propose that his generic/formal choice relates to the moral and aesthetic purposes of the work as a whole (if we may speak of an apparently unfinished work as a "whole"). Another reason for hagiography is that it does show women suffering and dying as a consequence of love, and so does Chaucer. In basic plot, therefore, his stories do parallel those of hagiography, and open up the possibility of bringing into play different or competing concepts of love. Cupiditas and caritas are part of the Augustinian legacy that enriches the Legend of Good Women, and other aspects of that legacy will be discussed in later chapters.
There is a saint in the Legend of Good Women, but it is not a woman. It is the daisy, the modest English flower that is prayed to as "the clernesse and the verray lyght / That in this derke world me wynt and ledeth," as "maistresse," muse, "gide and lady sovereyne," and "erthly god" (F 84–94). It is the daisy whose "blisful sighte" wins all the Narrator's "reverence." It is only the daisy whose name receives the etymological treatment popularized by Voragine's Legenda aurea and duplicated by Chaucer in the Prologue to his life of Saint Cecelia: for "wel by reson men it calle may / The 'dayeseye', or elles the 'ye of day'" (F 183–84; not in G). Even without etymology, however, the daisy's name carries hagiographical weight, or at least it does so in French, because its French name, marguerite, is that of a well-known saint much venerated in England, Margaret. This equivalency was acknowledged in the "marguerite poems" of Chaucer's French contemporary and influence (for Book of the Duchess particularly), Guillaume de Machaut, and in his stanzaic "Legend of Seynt Margarete" (1430), John Lydgate calls the saint "this daysye, with leves red and white." "Marguerite" also means "pearl," and in versions of St. Margaret that etymologize her name, this is the interpretation always given, for like the pearl, Margaret was little, round, and white: little in humility, round in perfection, white in purity. Of
course, a daisy too can be described as little, round, and white, and this commonalty of qualities assists my argument. Besides his explicit etymology, Chaucer also avails himself of the traditional one, although he does so only imagistically, by giving Alceste a white crown made "of o perle fyn, oriental" (F 221).
The hagiographical treatment of the daisy is continued when the God of Love refers to the flower as "my relyke" (F 321: the image is not present in G). This is a technical term denoting a part of the saint's body, item of his or her clothing, or object touched by or associated with the saint. The relic is invested with such intense metonymic or synechdochic power that it is capable of miracles and becomes itself the object of veneration. During the high Middle Ages there was much dispute about the possession of relics. They were in demand by secular and ecclesiastical authorities alike; there was a significant international market in relics; and competition for relics led not infrequently to their theft from one establishment for pious transfer ("translation") to another. The remains of Margaret herself were believed to have been removed several times before arriving at their final resting place in Montefiascone, north of Rome. According to Osbern Bokenham, Margaret's foot was in a priory near his place of birth (he does not specify the town), while the great toe and heel to this foot were at Reading Abbey (Legendys, 135–43). Edward III was particularly devoted to relics. He was, in W. M. Ormrod's words (855), "heir to one of the largest relic collections in England," visited numerous shrines annually, and generously funded their coffers. Richard II has been described as "probably the most genuinely pious of the later medieval kings of England" (Ferris, 212). He was especially devoted to the cult of Edward the Confessor. He also strove mightily to have his great-grandfather Edward II canonized, but without success, despite the popularity of Edward's cult and shrine at Gloucester. Eros's possessive jealousy about relics thus reflects not only his tyrannical character, but also a genuine social phenomenon of religious life, one with special domestic and indeed courtly-political resonance for an English audience.
I wrote a few pages earlier that literalism is not the last word, but here I want to make it my last word. If legenda is that which is to be
read, what better title could there be, what more modestly boastful title, for a text in which the poet asserts his talent, reputation, and independence? He knows that his work has been read and discussed and will continue to be read and discussed. In appropriating this generic title, he proudly tells us so.