Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Images of Kingship in Chaucer and His Ricardian Contemporaries

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Images of Kingship in Chaucer and His Ricardian Contemporaries

Article excerpt

Samantha J. Rayner, Images of Kingship in Chaucer and his Ricardian Contemporaries (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008). ix + 177 pp. ISBN 978-1-84384-174-6. £45.00/$90.00.

Samantha J. Rayner's monograph explores ideas of kingship in the work of Chaucer, Gower, Langland, and the Gawain-poet: the four poets dubbed 'Ricardian' by John Burrow on account of certain values and narrative characteristics he thought they shared, and whom Rayner views as similarly united on the subject of kingship. The images she examines are really restricted to those of kingly governance; Rayner is not interested in the trappings and pageantry of monarchy, but in the ethical principles influencing a king's rule of himself and his people. Gower's poetry is given the most selective coverage of the four, which may seem a counterintuitive strategy as, as Rayner points out, 'the most heavily explored theme in all three [of Gower's major] poems is wise rule' (p. 5). The other Ricardian poets rarely engage with the theme of kingship explicitly, so her method in their respective chapters relies more on finding out directions through indirections - for example, by noting the tactical absence of such commentary or extrapolating perspectives on secular kingship from parallels between other ruling agencies in the poems who might be viewed as comparable to kings. She does not discuss the praxis of kingship in the reign of Richard II other than to point to the failures of Richard as an earthly king as the main reason for what she sees as a 'turning away from the monarch and [a] restating [of] the importance of individual' (p. 161) in the work of her four poets. The study concludes that, in their own way, they all responded to the instability of the times by transferring images of good governance from the person of a king and projecting them upwards towards God (in whom the attributes of a good ruler are ultimately realized) or outwards towards the individual citizen who is seen as subject to the same demands of self-rule in his or her personal and civic life as kings should be. …

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