Framing the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer and the Medieval Frame Narrative Tradition

Framing the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer and the Medieval Frame Narrative Tradition

Framing the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer and the Medieval Frame Narrative Tradition

Framing the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer and the Medieval Frame Narrative Tradition

Synopsis

A clear emphasis on the literary antecedents of the Canterbury Tales differentiates this book from most criticism of Chaucer's work. Gittes finds a blending of two frame narrative traditions in the Canterbury Tales, one originating in India and the Near East, and the other in ancient Greece. She illustrates this dual tradition through comparison of Chaucer's work with selected Eastern and Western frame narratives from pre-Chaucerian and Chaucerian times. Covering material written in eight different languages, this book attempts to resolve some of the critical issues raised by scholars about the Canterbury Tales, including the organizing principle behind the Tales, their open-endedness, and the nature of Chaucer's ambiguity.

Excerpt

This study differs from most criticism of the Canterbury Tales in its sharp emphasis on the literary antecedents of Chaucer's work. I find in the Canterbury Tales a blending of two different literary traditions, Eastern and Western. One tradition originates in India and the Near East, the other in ancient Greece. Understanding the ways in which these two traditions merge in the Canterbury Tales can clarify the aesthetic principles that underlie Chaucer's frame narrative and thus help resolve some important and persistent critical problems.

Much scholarly energy has been spent on examining the Canterbury Tales as part of a Western narrative tradition. Such scholarship discusses the Canterbury Tales as a drama, or looks for recurring themes and motifs throughout the tales, or arranges the tales in thematic groups, or in pairs, or finds symmetries and harmonious balances. But impressive as they are, these scholarly theories never fully explain some prominent features of the Canterbury Tales, notably its open-endedness and its occasional randomness and arbitrary order. An explanation for the presence of these features is much needed, for the form of the Canterbury Tales is an important part of the meaning of the work, as we shall see.

Chaucer's readers always find his book aesthetically pleasing, yet find it hard to define Chaucer's aesthetic principles. This difficulty may stem from a predisposition among critics of English . . .

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