Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer and the Politics of Discourse

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer and the Politics of Discourse

Article excerpt

Michaela Paasche Grudin, Chaucer and the Politics of Discourse (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1996). ix + 200 pp. ISBN 157003-102-9. $29.95.

In taking as her topic the speech of Chaucer's characters, including that of his narrators, Michaela Paasche Grudin sets out to explore a vast and surprisingly undermapped domain. Her task becomes all the more daunting because her approach provides little focus. Her first chapter, `Speech and the commonwealth', links Chaucer's practice of 'reading' character in terms of speech to a fourteenth-century Italian concern with eloquence in public life, its extraordinary power and diversity but also its deceptive uses. She constructs this `humanist tradition' in part through an oversimplified contrast with `the Christian tradition' of verbal restraint, although a glance at Carla Casagrande's and Silvana Vecchio's Ipeccati della lingua (1987) would have shown that these same concerns also animate thirteenth- and fourteenth-century pastoral discourse on the Sins of the Tongue. In Grudin's Bakhtinian optic, Chaucer realizes these humanist concerns by presenting speech in a 'dialogic' manner, building conflicts in the `nature and aims of discourse' (p. 19) within nondeterminative frames. Interestingly, she speculates that Chaucer used this dialogic method to sponsor free speech (her terms) at a time when it was threatened by severe restrictions and punishments in both the court and the city. She documents this threat with a few passages from chronicles and from the Memorials of London. I would like to have seen more research of this kind. Grudin's method is to consider examples of these humanist concerns from the range of Chaucer's writing: the three dream-visions (in one chapter), the Troilus, and much of The Canterbury Tales- nine slim chapters. …

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