This essay examines the trope of the "speaking face" in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer. This trope draws on the familiar idea that we can read the "text" of other people's faces, though that idea itself has a mixed and unwritten history. Chaucer is the first writer in English to make his characters speak silently through this facial discourse: his narrators and characters "read" the expression on another character's face and translate that expression into words, such as Criseyde's famous and silent rhetorical question, "What, may I nat stonden here?" Chaucer borrows this trope from the French of Guillaume de Machaut and the Italian of Giovanni Boccaccio, and develops a rhetorical repertoire through which it can indicate character and personality, express emotion, or enact interpersonal dynamics. To read the face in this way involves complex cognitive acts, which do not simply represent human interactions; they guide and direct them.


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pp. 31-56
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