The Chaucer Review 38.3 (2004) 246-254
John Lydgate gives no direct evidence of having known or known of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales until about 1421-22, when Lydgate wrote the prologue to his Siege of Thebes. In casting his narration as an additional new tale—or recasting it, if, as has been suggested, the prologue was written after the narration proper was finished—Lydgate coins the phrase "Canterbury talys" (18), metri causa perhaps, the only earlier reference being Chaucer's own slightly differing "the tales of Caunterbury," in the prose Retractions (1086). Lydgate here makes particular reference to the tales of "the Cook þe millere and the Reve" (28), "the pardowner, beerdlees al his Chyn" (33), and "the frere" (35). He alludes indefinitely to the variety of other tale-tellings:
Some of desport some of moralité,
Some of knyghthode loue and gentillesse,
And some also of parfit holynesse,
And some also in soth of Ribaudye.
And he makes detailed reuse of various particulars from the General Prologue, especially the immediately exigent rules of the storytelling contest and the part in it of the Host (whom Lydgate does not call by the personal name Chaucer assigned him only the once, in the Cook's Tale headlink [1.4358]). In the body of the narrative later, Lydgate also refers twice by name to "the knyghtys tale" (4524 and 4531).
In his later Fall of Princes (ca. 1431-38), Lydgate manifests a still more thorough knowledge of the Chaucer canon. Lydgate gives an extensive enumeration of writings that Chaucer finished and would appear to have put into circulation during his lifetime: "Troilus & Cresseide" (1.287); "an hool translacioun" "Off Boeces book, The Consolacioun" (1.291-92); "a tretis . . . Vpon thastlabre" "to his sone, that callid was Lowis" (1.293-95); "the deth eek of Blaunche the Duchesse" (1.305); the English verse translation of "the Romaunce off the Rose" (1.308); "Off Foulis also he wrot the Parlement" (1.311); the complaint "Off Anneleyda and of fals Arcite" (1.320); and "the broche" of "Thebes" (1.322-23); not to mention the numerous "souereyn balladys of Chauceer" (9.3405),
ful many a fressh dite,
Compleyntis, baladis, roundelis, virelaies
Ful delectable to heryn and to see.
In addition, Lydgate here also manifests some knowledge of other Chaucerian writings that, like the Canterbury Tales, may have remained unfinished at the time of Chaucer's death. The picture is clouded by Chaucer's own witness, on which Lydgate may have been drawing. Lydgate mentions Chaucer's "Origen vpon the Maudeleyne" (1.318), for example, and "off the Leoun a book" (1.319) in adjacent lines, both of which Chaucer mentions himself, in the Legend of Good Women prologue (F 428 = G 418) and in the Retractions (1087), respectively, though they are not otherwise known. Lydgate may also make mention of Chaucer's House of Fame here—if this is the reference of his phrase "Dante in Inglissh" (1.303) —and he supplies a good deal of detailed information about the Legend of Good Women, both of these being, to judge from the received texts, evidently imperfect, though Chaucer himself would nevertheless appear to have regarded them both as complete and published (in some sense), inasmuch as he lists each of them twice as parts of his own literary corpus. Lydgate's remarks about the Chaucerian Legend of Good Women are detailed. He repeats twice that they number nineteen (1.332 and 1.1801), though Chaucer himself may have counted twenty-five (Retr 1086: "the book of the XXV. Ladies"); and Lydgate makes apology for the fact that, though he was stipulating nineteen legends, Chaucer had not been able to fill the number up:
But for his labour and his bisynesse
Was inportable his wittis to encoumbre,
In al this world to fynde so gret a noumbre.
Lydgate makes particular reference to the legends of Philomela (1.1793-99), Lucrece (2.974-80), and Cleopatra (6.3620-26). Finally, using the Canterbury Tales title here again (1.337), Lydgate repeats his own earlier remark about the variety of the tale-tellings:
Summe off knyhthod, summe...