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Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising

Poetry and the Problem of the Populace After 1381

By Lynn Arner

Publication Year: 2013

Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising examines the spread of Greco-Roman and European literature into English during late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century, a time when literacy was burgeoning among men and women from the non-ruling classes. The dissemination of cultural authority inherent in this process offered the radically democratizing potential for accessing, interpreting, and deploying learned texts. Focusing primarily on an overlooked sector of Chaucer’s and Gower’s early readership, namely, the upper strata of non-ruling urban classes, Lynn Arner argues that Chaucer’s and Gower’s writings, in addition to being key conduits of literary riches into English, engaged in elaborate processes of constructing cultural expertise. These writings helped to define gradations of cultural authority, determining who could contribute to the production of legitimate knowledge and granting certain socioeconomic groups political leverage in the wake of the English Rising of 1381. Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising shows how English poetry became a powerful participant in processes of social control.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-16

The spring and summer of 1381 witnessed the most geographically widespread series of rebellions, featuring the largest number of insurgents, in medieval English history. In the immediate aftermath, John Gower composed book 1 of the Vox Clamantis, describing the event in vitriolic terms and portraying rebels...

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Chapter 1: Chaucer’s and Gower’s Early Readership Expanded

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pp. 17-45

John Sharnebrok, a chandler and citizen of London, owned ‘‘Clensyngsyne,’’ valued at 8d. in 1376. Nearly two decades later, Gilbert Prynce, a London painter, left a missal to the church of St. Giles without Cripplegate, London. John Clifford, a mason and citizen of Southwark, willed one book to his parish church in Southwark in 1411 and two books to a convent of Franciscan...

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Chapter 2: Against the Greyness of the Multitude: Poetry, Prestige, and the Confessio Amantis

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pp. 46-72

In the wake of the Black Death, workers in England consumed. Wage increases in the ensuing several decades provided better food, clothing, and housing for many laborers, peasants, and artisans. With new consumer goods available, including a wider range of fashionable garments and various manufactured products, consumption habits by subordinate classes frequently mimicked those of the...

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Chapter 3: Time After Time: Historiography and Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

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pp. 73-104

In the Prologue to the Confessio Amantis, the narrator recounts Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from the Book of Daniel. As Nebuchadnezzar slept, he dreamed of a wondrous image formed in the shape of a man. The head and neck were forged of fine gold; the breast, shoulders, and arms were carved of silver; the stomach and thighs were molded of brass; the legs were made of iron; and the feet were composed...

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Chapter 4: In Defense of Cupid: Poetics, Gender, and the Legend of Good Women

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pp. 105-129

Cupid has been dubbed ‘‘one of Chaucer’s most comically obtuse exegetes.’’1 However, I propose that we listen attentively to Cupid in the Legend of Good Women, and at the risk of appearing obtuse, I insist that we take his understanding of literature seriously. In the Prologue to the...

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Chapter 5: Chaucer on the Effects of Poetry

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pp. 130-152

The jarring assertion that Tereus’s ‘‘foule storye’’ makes the narrator’s eyes ‘‘wexe foule and sore’’ raises the conundrum of how one determines what can legitimately be deemed textual influence. In foregrounding this dilemma, the narrator’s claim gestures dramatically toward the problem of how to assess the specific effects of a text, a problem involving a complicated...

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pp. 153-162

The poetry of Chaucer and Gower defined what the new English literature would become. In many ways their respective writings promoted similar understandings of the emergent literature and of the nature of its participation in the field of cultural production, while in other ways their texts diverged...


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pp. 163-176


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pp. 177-190


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pp. 191-198

Back Cover

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pp. 210-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780271061016
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271058931
Print-ISBN-10: 0271058935

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 864855505
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chaucer, Gower, and the Vernacular Rising

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English poetry -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism
  • Literature and society -- England -- History -- To 1500.
  • Gower, John, 1325?-1408. Confessio amantis.
  • Gower, John, -- 1325?-1408 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey, d. 1400. Legend of good women.
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey, -- -1400 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Social classes -- England -- History -- To 1500.
  • England -- Social conditions -- 1066-1485.
  • Literacy -- England -- History -- To 1500.
  • Tyler's Insurrection, 1381.
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