Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Sources of Chaucer's Poetics

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Sources of Chaucer's Poetics

Article excerpt

Amanda Holton, The Sources of Chaucer's Poetics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). x + 168 pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-6394-2. £50.00.

Amanda Holton examines those Chaucerian texts 'with sustained narrative sources' which could have yielded the entire 'target-story' (p. 5). This methodology allows her to compare and contrast source-text and target-text in detail even though, unsurprisingly, it radically limits the Chaucerian texts upon which she can draw. Holton's study is contained to a handful of tales from The Legend of Good Women, the Knight's Tale, the Manciple's Tale, and a few tragedies from the unrepresentative Monk's Tale. The dream poems are excluded, as are some fabliaux. Some texts are eliminated on the grounds of being too close to the source-text while others, such as the Franklin's Tale, do not receive treatment due to a dispute about source. Although Holton sees her effort as providing a template of Chaucer's practice and his relationships to his sources, a less ambitious tide may have been warranted.

Holton explores four aspects of poetics: narrative, speech, rhetorical device, and figurative language. More choices had to be made, so that in the chapter on figurative language, for instance, treatment is limited to metaphor and simile. Holton sees poetics in scientific terms: 'It seeks objective description that is empirically verifiable and independent of the historical and psychological contingencies of interpretive reading' (p. 4). In pursuit of this dubious grail the author occasionally offers rather britde explanations for her choices and the kind of poetics to which she would introduce the reader (e.g. p. 117 n. 1).

Nonetheless, within the limits of the project Holton provides a helpful service. Not only does she remind us of those Chaucerian poems which can be sourced in one text, she also provides evidence that Chaucer aligns himself with Boccaccio in preferring chronologically arranged narrative and long, epic speeches, that he reduces the number of inessential events and roles for minor characters compared to his various sources, that he follows Ovid in achieving a pathetic tone through rhetorical figures expressing emotion, and that he distances himself from Virgilian practices, though he takes from the ancient Roman poet the stylistic device of pronominatio, or the periphrastic naming of places and people. …

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