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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER the new magnetic field that Simpson has created. The book is hugely well informed, genuinely illuminating, full of sharp aperçus, and challenging in inspirational ways. His thesis, however, does not seem to leave any possibility for the Elizabethan reflorescence of literature to happen: his surprise at the long survival of the cycle plays, for instance, is witness to a reluctance to allow that multiformedness had not become extinct by 1547, and according to this account romance died out with Henry’s censorship of the press. That was not how Spenser and Shakespeare experienced their English literary history—though that would require another volume to explore. Helen Cooper Magdalene College, Cambridge A. C. Spearing. Textual Subjectivity: The Encoding of Subjectivity in Medieval Narratives and Lyrics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. vi, 273. $95.00. A. C. Spearing’s new book revises, develops, and collects a series of articles published from 1992 to 2001 into a general theory about who is addressing the reader(s) in medieval narrative and lyric poetry. Twentieth -century criticism, following the influential readings of Chaucer by G. L. Kittredge and E. T. Donaldson, has sought to identify and interpret a unique spoken voice in the text such as ‘‘Chaucer the Pilgrim’’ in the Canterbury Tales, a fictional persona whom the perceptive reader supposedly distinguished from ‘‘Chaucer the Poet.’’ Spearing sets out to show how, in search of supposed irony at the expense of a ‘‘fallible narrator ,’’ such readings often distort and diminish the richness and subtlety of medieval narrative. Spearing begins by defining his title, which refers not to the way ‘‘poems express or represent individual subjectivities, whether of their writers or of fictional characters, but how subjectivity is encoded in them as a textual phenomenon’’ (p. 1). The introductory chapter introduces readers unfamiliar with ‘‘the theoretical landscape’’ (presumably these include most of the subscribers to SAC). Following Derrida, Spearing challenges Saussure’s dictum that ‘‘writing is nothing but the representation of speech’’ (p. 5) and the assumption that any ‘‘narrative’’ necesPAGE 548 548 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:48 PS REVIEWS sarily presupposes a ‘‘narrator.’’ Medieval authors, he reminds us, are constantly referring to old stories told or written by storytellers in a distant and indefinite past. A chapter on ‘‘Romances’’ demonstrates convincingly that nothing in King Horn, where the storyteller’s ‘‘I’’ addresses the audience only at the beginning and end, ‘‘serves to individualize any narrating person as part of the poetic text’’ (p. 45). The more frequent interventions of the first person in Havelock reveal ‘‘less a single narrator than a series of narrating ‘I’s enacting a variety of different roles’’ (p. 52). Troilus and Criseyde, of course, has inspired a vastly larger body of criticism following E. T. Donaldson’s influential writings. With respectful attention to Donaldson’s own nuanced readings of the ‘‘narrator,’’ Spearing effectively demonstrates through close readings of the poem that ‘‘we find not a single shaping subjectivity but the traces of many different centres of consciousness’’ (p. 95). To reduce these to the fallible consciousness of a single ‘‘narrator’’ is to weaken and diminish Chaucer’s work. The Canterbury Tales is primarily represented by The Man of Law’s Tale, one that, Spearing suggests, some Chaucerians do not much care for and have sought to salvage by arguing that the tale conveys the shortcomings of its narrator. Spearing points to the textual evidence that ‘‘Chaucer had not settled on a pilgrim teller’’ for the tale, which he ultimately assigned to the Man of Law. And he demonstrates that critics spoil one of Chaucer’s better tales of ‘‘moralitee and hoolynesse’’ by forcing upon it ironies found in the Sergeant of the Law’s portrait. In an aside, Spearing mentions that ‘‘Chaucer was truly interested in the possibility of connections between stories and their tellers, and voiced narratives and unreliable narrators are the ultimate outcome of the process he set going’’ (p. 120). A reader might wish Spearing had analyzed at least one such voiced narrative, say The Miller’s Tale or The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. To what extent were these texts told in...


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