The Renaissance Chaucer (Hardcover)
Yale University Press, 9780300017687, 332pp.
Publication Date: January 1, 1975
For Elizabethans, modern English literary history began with Chaucer. Looking back, they say him as a noble primitive, a genius in spite of the barbarity of his age and language. In this book, Alice Miskimin attempts a new kind of comparative literary history, combining both historical perspective and critical close reading to reexamine “England’s Homer” in the light of the two-hundred year period of transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
A survey of the emergence of the Chaucer canon from manuscript to print shows how progressive corruption changed the texts and how the introduction of apocryphal poems into the early editions of Chaucer’s published Works affected the Renaissance image of the “Father of English Poetry.” The history of Troilus and Criseyde, in particular, from its medieval origins in Boccaccio and Chaucer to the Renaissance imitations of Henryson, Shakespeare, and Dryden, is a paradigm of literary metamorphosis. Other perspectives on the evolution of Chaucer’s poetry are found in Spenser’s deliberate reinterpretations (in The Faerie Queene and The Shepherd’s Calendar) and in the Elizabethans’ apprehension of the poet’s personae—the Canterbury pilgrim the dreamer of the vision poems, the historian of Troilus and Criseyde.
The Renaissance Chaucer is a skillful recreation of Chaucer as he appeared to Elizabethan authors. It is a provocative and a successful attempt to get beyond simple influence in literary and cultural history.