As modern readers, we are ‘colored’ by a preference of ‘new’ over ‘old’ in our own period, particularly with regard to material progress and the way it takes precedence over tradition. Chaucer’s characters lament newfanglednesse, in the Canterbury Tales, yet a handful of them also disregard olde bookes and auctors. As 21st century readers accustomed to continually embracing ‘the new’ as preferable to ‘the old’, we can read the Canterbury Tales as a work which problematizes the way in which we disregard older traditions, but simultaneously discourages a myopic rejection of that which is ‘new’.
The proposed paper will focus on Bokenham’s adaptation of motifs and themes from Chaucer’s Prologue to The Legend of Good Women in his Life of St. Margaret. Sheila Delany has already pointed to clear parallels between the openings of Bokenham’s and Chaucer’s collections, since both ‘open with a marguerite as the object of the Narrator’s devotion’ (Delany 1998, 39). In this paper, I will suggest that Bokenham’s substitution of the Machauvian marguerite-daisy with the marguerite-pearl-of-great-price typifies his reaction to his predecessor and poetical father, Chaucer. Bokenham’s Life of St. Margaret addresses a series of issues which are of central importance in Chaucer’s Prologue – namely literary authority, patronage and the relationship between the classical past and the Christian present. However, Bokenham betrays a certain Bloomian ‘anxiety of influence’ in distinguishing himself from his poetical forefather on each of these points, carefully differentiating between his own hagiographical authorship and Chaucer’s more secular classicism.
The backlash against the label ‘Scottish Chaucerians’ has obscured the engagement of some 15th-century Scottish poetry with other English authors, most notably Lydgate, the Monk of Bury. The first half of this paper shows that Lydgate’s ironic narrative frames (especially his Troy Book, Thebes and Isope) discourage the moralisation and Christianisation of classical, pagan texts. The second half of the paper explores the great extent to which this moral scepticism and pessimism permeates the poetry of Henryson and Dunbar. These authors are reliant on Lydgate to distinguish themselves from Chaucer. Scottish Lydgateanism reveals the germ of an Anglo-Scottish cultural union long before any formal political union.