Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The 'Decameron' and the 'Canterbury Tales': New Essays on an Old Question

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The 'Decameron' and the 'Canterbury Tales': New Essays on an Old Question

Article excerpt

Leonard Michael Koff and Brenda Deen Schildgen, The 'Decameron' and the `Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question (Madison, Wis.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2ooo). 352 PP. ISBN 0-83 86-3800-7. 42.50.

Chaucer's debt to Filostrato and the Teseida has long been generally acknowledged; this collection of essays addresses once again the more controversial question of his indebtedness to the Decameron. Koff's introduction suggests that the source of resistance to the idea that Chaucer was influenced by the Decameron lies in `the varying degrees of distress some Chaucerians feel in connecting the moral uncertainty, not merely the "immorality" (though perhaps that, too) of the work ... with a Chaucer who has, or should have, values and whose Canterbury Tales, though unfinished, seems to be reaching, despite its range and contradictions, for comprehensiveness, a stability of vision'. The opening essay by Peter G. Beidler ( Just say yes, Chaucer knew the Decameron: or, bringing the Shipman's Tale out of limbos makes the case that its title implies, summarizing and assessing earlier scholarly discussions of the question, especially the 1977 article by Donald McGrady (Chaucer Review, 12: 1-26), which argued that Chaucer owned a copy of Boccaccio's work and used it constantly while writing the Canterbury Tales. In Beidler's view, McGrady weakens the case by overstating it; whether Chaucer owned the Decameron or remembered having read it in Italy is less important than the strong probability that he knew it in some form or other. The Shipman's Tale offers powerful evidence for this supposition, since there is no other credible source for the tale, and Decameron, viii, i, offers what Beidler calls a `hard analogue' (a work that was available to Chaucer and that bears striking resemblances to his work). In the following essay (`Chaucer's uncommon voice: some contexts for influence'), Karla Taylor discusses the social contexts out of which Chaucer and Boccaccio wrote and which they also wrote about (courtly or mercantile, pastoral or urban), and the consequent differences in the ethos of their works, especially evident in a comparison of Decameron, v, 9 and x, 5 with the Franklin's Tale. …

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