Geoffrey Chaucer's The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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The Art of Impersonation: A General
Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

H. Marshall Leicester, Jr.

Nec illud minus attendendum esse arbitror, utrum ... magis secundum aliorum opinionem quam secundum propriam dixerint sententiam, sicut in plerisque Ecclesiastes dissonas diversorum inducit sententias, imo ut tumultuator interpretatur, beato in quarto dialogorum attestante Gregorio.

(In my judgment it is no less necessary to decide whether sayings found [in the sacred writings and the Fathers] are quotations from the opinions of others rather than the writers' own authoritative pronouncements. On many topics the author of Ecclesiastes brings in so many conflicting proverbs that we have to take him as impersonating the tumult of the mob, as Gregory points out in his fourth Dialogue.)

Peter Abelard

In his much praised book The Idea of the Canterbury Tales, Donald R. Howard has isolated a perennial strand in the Chaucer criticism of the last thirty years or more—isolated it, defined it clearly, and given it a name. Discussing the Knight's Tale, he remarks:

Chaucer . . . introduced a jocular and exaggerated element that seems to call the Knight's convictions into question. For example, while the two heroes are fighting he says "in this wise I let hem fighting dwelle" and turns his attention to Theseus:

The destinee, ministre general,
That executeth in the world over all

____________________
From PMLA 95, no. 2 ( March 1980). © 1980 by the Modern Language Association of America.

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