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IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 212: Heretical Cultures in England, II: Chaucer and Intellectual Culture

Monday 13 July 2009, 14.15-15.45

Moderator/Chair:Chance Woods, Department of English, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee
Paper 212-aWalter as God and Chaucer as Heretic?: The Problems of Exegetical Allusion in Chaucer's The Clerk's Tale
(Language: English)
Karen Ward, University of Waterloo, Ontario
Index terms: Biblical Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Religious Life, Rhetoric
Paper 212-b'An heresye ageyns my lawe': Love and Literary Politics in the Writings of 15th-Century Chaucerians
(Language: English)
Elizabeth Catherine Evershed, Department of English Studies, Durham University
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Rhetoric
Paper 212-cVision and Certitude in the Age of Chaucer
(Language: English)
Charles Archer, University of York
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Science
Paper 212-dChaucer's Obscenities
(Language: English)
William Watts, Department of English, Butler University, Indiana
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Literacy and Orality

This session deals with the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle as a focus for speculations and innovations in various fields.

Paper -a:
Chaucer's The Clerk's Tale is a religiously problematic text since in the complex biblical allusion set up within the tale, it places man in the position of God. Chaucer the narrator often shirks responsibility for his tales, telling the reader that he is simply a scribe writing the tales down throughout the pilgrimage. Accusations of heresy were serious and very undesirable in this era, and could even result in execution. This is perhaps one of the reasons that Chaucer, as an author, would not wish to accept responsibility for his somewhat heretical writings. Although the tale appears to function in an exegetical way, attempting to demonstrate the patience expected of humanity by God, the extremity of Griselde's forbearance is on the level of absurdity and operates more of a parody of the Christian virtue of patience as opposed to a moral exemplum. I wish to explore Griselde's patience as an example of parody, and Chaucer's writing as an act of heresy during this time.

Paper -b:
Chaucer answers the accusation that he has been a heretic against Love's law in The Legend of Good Women; his disciple, Thomas Hoccleve, fears he, too, will be subjected to disapproval for his Letter of Cupid; and yet another, John Lydgate, is summoned to account for his writings against women in an anonymous poetic 'reproof'. Why are Chaucer and his followers drawn to explore possible identities as 'heretical' writers? Should such episodes be read as veiling fears about religious heresy or reception anxieties or creating vehicles for games of courtly, sexual, and literary politics on the part of their readers?

Paper -c:
During the Middle Ages, the study of visual perception entailed analysis and certification of vision and knowledge derived from vision. Medieval perspectivists asked, how can we say for sure that we experience vision with accuracy? How do we know for certain that the knowledge we obtain from visual experience is in fact the truth? This presentation investigates Chaucer's House of Fame, Boece, and Troilus and Criseyde in light of contemporary optical studies. It examines themes of vision impairment, optical illusions, and faulty memory and considers possible reference sources, including Bartholomaeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum, for Chaucer's knowledge of optics.

Paper -d:
The fact of Chaucer's use of obscenities, such as 'queynte', 'swyven', and 'priken' is well known, and the literal meanings of these words are well established in footnotes and glossaries. How shocking these words would have been for Chaucer's audience is less clear. In this paper, I consider Chaucer's use of obscenities in relation to his contemporaries and literary forebears, and I also consider the euphemisms available to him, and the instances where he avoids obscenities. In this way, I attempt to establish valences for Chaucer's dirty words, as well as an understanding of when and why he uses them.