Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Clerks and Courtiers: Chaucer, Late Middle English Literature and the State Formation Process

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Clerks and Courtiers: Chaucer, Late Middle English Literature and the State Formation Process

Article excerpt

Andrew James Johnston, Clerks and Courtiers: Chaucer, Late Middle English Literature and the State Formation Process (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2001). 410 pp. ISBN 3-825 3-1234-8. euro59.70.

This is one of the most solid and wide-ranging books on Chaucer to appear in the last decade. Instead of a narrative of literary history that privileges the emergence of a middle-strata culture, Andrew James Johnston suggests the state-formation process, drawn from the work of Norbert Elias, that brings together administrators with legal expertise and clerks with documentary skills in the enterprise of creating the new vernacular culture in late-medieval England. Defined as an individual professionally engaged in mental labour, the term 'intellectual' expands the traditional understanding of clericy to include a new, higher level of education for men increasingly committed to the project of national consolidation. Aristocrats became courtiers during this period, and administrative personnel principally involved in the collection and distribution of revenue money - such as Chaucer and Hoccleve - assumed a significant role in the production of court literature. Pierre Bourdieu's work distinguishes the distribution of capital between magnates (social and economic) and clergy (cultural and economic) as well as the co-operative rivalries that developed between their factions of the ruling elite.

Fractures in the social agendas between figures such as the Squire and the Franklin are bridged by common interests in the kingdom's economic gains. This dynamic is reinscribed in the Franklin's Tale only to be unbalanced by the entry of the intellectual Clerk of Orleans with access to powers so alien to chivalric culture that he can be understood only as magical. …

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