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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER PAUL BEEKMAN TAYLOR. Chaucer's Chain ofLove. Madison and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. Pp. 215. $35.00. Taylor begins his thorough study by discussing the background of Theseus's famous First Mover speech as Chaucer's "encyclopedic refer­ ence book for his poetic enterprise" (p. 19). In that speech, as in its background, the European intellectual tradition of the catena aurea from Homer through Dante (admirably surveyed on astonishingly few pages), the cosmos and its triune structure are seen as held in place by the chain of love, the central binding principle in Chaucer's medieval world as well as the central dramatic principle in his textual universe. After this introductory chapter, the critic's perspective zooms in on the horizontal chain of love, the earthly, linear temporality (connected to God's eternity) of human life described by Theseus as "progressiouns" and "successiouns." In this part, which represents the second substan­ tial treatment of literary and extraliterary time in Chaucer's poetry since Paul Strohm's splendid chapter 5 in his Social Chaucer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), Taylor (who is unaware of Strohm's study) intends to demonstrate how the storytelling (i.e., art­ making) pilgrims, who kill and transcend time on the way to Canterbury, emulate God's own timelessness in that their stories are in time but do not move with it: "Retelling story, like the hag's riddling choice, retrieves the past, so that pilgrimage recollected is grace re­ trieved, sin and time redeemed" (p. 55). He also makes some sugges­ tive observations about female protagonists' conceptual and male pro­ tagonists' perceptual dealings with time, but overlooks how many of the supposedly female perceptions are framed by the male narrator's wishful gaze. Taylor then investigates The Legend of Good Women as a text that ex­ poses the women's (and perhaps the poet's?) vain attempt to link the sight and linguistic signs of love with an insight into and true expres­ sion of its deeper form, and reads Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight's Tale-two plots that repeat the threefold process of amatory possession (visual, verbal, physical) typical of the stories in LGW-as texts that re­ veal how man's ratio and words may either direct affections toward un­ worthy or worthwhile objects, "but do best when they hold him to those activities proper to time and place in his life" (p. 75). Next, the Clerk's Grisilde, unlike the Franklin's impatient Dorigen, is held to exemplify how the womb of a woman mediates God's providence by serving both the measurable process of natural time and the progress of redemptive 334 REVIEWS time. She is the vehicle through which "an idle life sets itself on a track toward a future good higher on the chain of love" (p. 106). Taylor sim­ ilarly shows the extension and varying levels of love's chain by pitching the knight's serious concern for the glory days of secure monarchical order against the uproarious fourteenth-century disarray in the re­ sponses of the Miller, Reeve, andCook. Several other tales (e.g., WET, PardT) also undergo Taylor's allego­ rizing readings as more or less successful quests for physical or spiritual love, a universalizing strategy that sometimes brings the critic danger­ ously close to forcing his theoretical choice too schematically onto the literary texts and which reminds readers of Robertsonian techniques or other trends that would favor a moral andChristianChaucer. Thus, the incomplete Tale ofSir Thopas is supposed to figure the incompleteness of the pilgrimage and its binding book while the completeness of the Tale of Melibee becomes an "emblem of the completeness of God's design which one is liable to read as confusion" (p. 132). The specter of nominalism, which might well have served as a philosophical corre­ spondence to explain what Taylor terms open-endedness or indetermi­ nacy,1 is invoked several times (pp. 57, 89, 143, 156) only to disappear into oblivion. However, this is scarcely surprising with a critic who is convinced that the late medieval writer "prefers the Boethian model to various opposing Scholastic and Nominalist speculations" and was...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 334-336
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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