By Peter Brown
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Extra resources for A Companion to Chaucer
Brewer 1978: i, 137). Such criticism ﬂowers in the early nineteenth century in statements like this one by Byron: ‘Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible’ (Brewer 1978: i, 249). Leigh Hunt blames a change of manners for what might once have pleased the court and gentils but was, in the mid-nineteenth century, ‘sometimes not only indecorous but revolting’ (Brewer 1978: ii, 71). Matthew Arnold’s charge that Chaucer lacked ‘high seriousness’ seems an uncanny echo, after nearly ﬁve hundred years, of Chaucer’s own fears.
2987–3001) The speech claims the self-evident authority of authority, as a natural, political and philosophical necessity; but such authority emerges as unpleasant, paradoxical and increasingly strained, under pressure alike from the energies of the conﬁned elements and from the emotions and complaints of human beings, implicitly including the speaker’s. The speech’s dark features are obvious; life is ‘this wrecched world’, the only escape suicide (‘Al mowe they yet tho dayes wel abregge’). The courtly taste for Boethian philosophy, as a way of standing above the vicissitudes of courtly ‘fortune’, is here put to its toughest test.
Chaucer’s opening sequence in the General Prologue – of Knight (with son and servant), three religious ﬁgures of some power and economic substance, and then, less clearly, ﬁgures occupied in humbler modes of living (after the irascible Parson, most of the ﬁgures are explicitly beholden to some absent lord or ‘maister’), ending with sheer hypocrites and rogues – superﬁcially shows a more dutiful acceptance than Gower’s or Langland’s surveys of the customary ideal harmony of ‘those who fought, those who prayed, those who worked’.
A Companion to Chaucer by Peter Brown