Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: The Idea!

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: The Idea!

Hill, John M.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 2 (1985)


To review recent scholarship on the tales of Canterbury, I found myself reading the work of many intelligent and learned colleagues. Having spent a few years on Chaucer studies myself, I already knew something about what was in print and about what Chaucerians were saying at conferences. I am happy to report that Chaucer scholars now have few settled opinions about things Chaucerian: not even his standing as an ironist of some kind is secure; and a growing number of scholars think that Chaucer here and there drops his mask, while a few still think that Chaucer never adopted a mask in the first place. So feel free to enter the fray: all is in flux. But I am unhappy to report that not even major studies of the tales have more than a passing impact on occasional reviewers and ourselves. This seems both a curious and an appalling affair. I would like to explore it as a way of suggesting the state of Canterbury Tales studies; and I would like to focus mainly on the biggest of recent works Donald Howard’s The Idea of the Canterbury Tales (although I understand that Professor Kolve has begun publishing his massive study of Chaucer and medieval pictorial art).

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