- The Idea of Medieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer and Medieval Culture in Honor of Donald R. Howard ed. by James M. Dean, Christian K. Zacher (review)
- Studies in the Age of Chaucer
- The New Chaucer Society
- Volume 16, 1994
- pp. 175-178
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEWS JAMES M. DEAN and CHRISTIAN K. ZACHER, eds. The Idea ofMedieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer andMedieval Culture in Honor ofDonald R. Howard. Newark: University ofDelaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992. Pp. 354. $49.50. Nowadays festschriften tend to fall into two groups: the precisely con ceived collection which limits itself to a cohesive topic (the type increas ingly favored by publishers) and the anthology of diverse essays by diverse hands. The Howard memorial volume stands in the latter categoty, al though ther� are basic groupings ofessays: "Chaucer's Culture," "Chaucer," and "Medieval Culture and Society." Moreover, and perhaps more impor tant, the image of Don Howard offered in the editors' Introduction itself provides a valid rationale for the collection: At a moment when the critical project generally seemed to have turned pessi mistic and negative, Howard tried to highlight the interesting, curious, fascinat ing, imaginative, and human. The contributors to this volume have tried to honor him in that same spirit, for his diversity, his humanity, and his sense of style. Amen to that. Alfred David opens the proceedings with a study of the young Chaucer who wrote within the age and culture of Edward III. The House ofFame is seen as a (w)rite of passage, marking the poet's career, geographical, and literary relocations. The Knight's Tale is believed to keep its distance from a court like Edward's thereby revealing the illusions and contradictions which underlie its brilliant surface. Lee Patterson's convincing analysis of Chaucerian complaint argues that "lyric irony cannot be domesticated by narrative," for the enclosure of the plaintive voice actually releases self reflexive uncertainties into the larger structure. Then Glending Olson moves beyond the parameters of his Literature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages (1982) to apply Aristotelian notions of game (as described in the Nichomachean Ethics) to the first fragment of The Canterbury Tales; this whets the appetite for the fuller study which Olson is completing. Sherron Knopp takes her point ofdeparture from Augustine rather than Aristotle--not (deo gratias) the overworked De Doctrina Christiana, but the saint's famous description, in book 1 of the Confessions, of his erstwhile sympathetic response to Virgil's Dido as an act offornication against God. Chaucer's narrators, Knopp continues, attempt to turn poetty into philoso175 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER phy (like the exegetical interpreters ofVirgil) but succeed only in magnify ing the distance between them. There is much life in this argument; unfortunately, Knopp is obliged to confine her attention to Chaucer's nego tiation of Ovidian poetry in The Book of the Duchess, where it has insuffi cient space to grow. A different cultural model is offered by the next essay, wherein R. W. Hanning regards poets as inveterate violators ofprivacy and tellers of "the private parts"; it succeeds admirably in being fructuous, and that in little space. The second section of this festschrift, dedicated to more detailed discus sions ofChaucer's poems, begins with Paul Strohm's plausible historicizing of the Lak of Stedfastnesse. This poem has been seen as, for example, a disapproving commentary on the Merciless Parliament, a statement ofsup port for Richard's extension of the royal prerogative in 1397, and an ex pression of dismay at the disorder associated with the Peasant's Revolt. Supporting Howard's suggestion that the "prince" addressed in the poem's Envoy is King Richard, Strohm argues that Chaucer had in mind the 1388 Commons' petition on livery and maintenance, as supported by the king in a masterly presentation of himself as an exponent of public order. On this reading, Lak actually flatters Richard by offering him advice which he has proved indisputably that he does not need. For his part,John Fyler leaps the centuries to compare The House ofFame with Alexander Pope's youthful imitation, The Temple ofFame, while Flor ence Ridley surveys modem commentary on The Friar's Tale, proceeding to offer some insights ofher own (including an interesting comparison ofthat poem with The Pardoner's Tale, the latter being regarded as a more elabo rate treatment of the central concerns of the former). The text of Troilus and Criseytk is...