Chaucerian Dream Visions and Complaints: Introduction

CHAUCERIAN DREAM VISIONS AND COMPLAINTS, INTRODUCTION: FOOTNOTES



1 La Belle Dame sans Mercy was the first to be excluded. Eleanor Prescott Hammond observes in Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual that Thomas Tyrwhitt rejected it for his 1775-78 edition of The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer (p. 432), and that it was left out of John Leland's list of Chaucer's works (p. 65), which appeared in his Life of Chaucer in Commentarii de scriptoribus Britannicis, published in 1709, though it must have been written much earlier since Leland died in 1552 (pp. 1, 7). Hammond reprints Leland's Life of Chaucer (pp. 1-7) and includes a table (pp. 61-62) comparing the lists of Thynne (1542), Leland (1557-59), and John Bale (1548). The other two poems once attributed to Chaucer remained in the Chaucer canon until Walter W. Skeat's edition of Chaucerian and Other Pieces in the late nineteenth century (Forni, p. 150), though Hammond notes that it was actually Henry Brad-shaw who first rejected A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe from the canon and who "seems to have been the first to doubt [the] genuineness" of The Boke of Cupide (pp. 414, 421). According to Hammond, Bradshaw's "Skeleton of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales" (1867) was published posthumously as part of his Collected Papers in 1889 (p. 166). Hammond gives the full list of works Bradshaw rejected (p. 67). Although a number of spurious works were attributed to Chaucer in both manuscripts and early printed editions, A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe is the only poem in this volume to have a manuscript attribution to Chaucer (in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24; see the facsimile volume, intro. Julia Boffey and A. S. G. Edwards, 1997, p. 1 and fol. 129v).

2 See, for example, Stephanie Trigg, Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002). Trigg discusses Chaucer's reception by writers, editors, and critics beginning in the late Middle Ages and looks at how readers' desires to identify with Chaucer or symbolically to join "a company of Chaucerians" (p. xxi) operate in their responses to Chaucer. See also Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance, ed. Theresa M. Krier (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), a collection of essays that examines the reception of Chaucer's works from the early sixteenth to the early seventeenth centuries; and Kathleen Forni, who discusses canon-formation, arguing "the definition of 'Chaucerian' was and is made within a foundation of assumptions that are historically produced" (p. 164).

3 See, for example, Boffey's comments that "[a]ttempts to spot echoes of Chaucer's lyrics in the poems of his successors are fraught with complications"; this is not only because presumed resonances with Chaucer "may depend rather upon a common source" but also because lingering doubts about the authorship of the lyrics mean that a supposed allusion "may be no more than a second-hand echo of Chaucer if the assumed model was itself in fact the work of a disciple" (1993, p. 24).

4 It would be more accurate to describe it as a dream-like state, since he tells us, "I fel in such a slombre and a swowe - / Not al on slepe, ne fully wakyng" (lines 87-88), but the swoon was not an uncommon variant of the dream state, as James Wimsatt's discussion of the various models that surface in the French dream visions shows (see pp. 125-26).

5 Although La Belle Dame sans Mercy is a translation of Alain Chartier's French poem, Richard Roos added his own narrative frame that shows the influence of earlier English poetry by drawing in some ways on Chaucer's Legend of Good Women. The translation also to some extent echoes English poetry in word choice, imagery, and phraseology. I therefore consider Roos' translation as part of a native English tradition, which long included translation as one of its staple forms of poetic production.

6 Another possible influence is the earlier French chanson d'aventure and its English successors. Helen Estabrook Sandison describes the chanson dramatique variety of the French chanson d'aventure as one where "the poet's rôle has not been so far extended that it is essential; it is that of silent witness, casual questioner, or officious counsellor, but never that of chief actor" (p. 10). The narrator of the English chanson d'aventure "observes the tradition of secrecy even when the adventure he is to relate lays no such necessity upon him" (p. 29). But, although the English poems, like the French, were usually set in a pleasant springtime landscape (pp. 26-27), Sandison explains that "the English poets do not dwell, as one might expect, on the freshness and beauty of reviving Nature" (p. 27), and prefer the "wylde wode" to its more gentle "shaded border" (p. 33). Moreover, in the English poems, the narrator frequently fails to maintain his status as watcher, being instead "quick to abandon the pretense that he himself watches or overhears the little drama which he presents; he easily forgets that he has claimed as his own the soliloquy which he quotes, and has even pointed out the definite day, hour, and place of its utterance. As a rule he refrains from mentioning himself and his hiding place or from recording his departure" (pp. 41-42).

7 The notion of these narrators as engaged in a voyeuristic activity owes much to A. C. Spearing's The Medieval Poet as Voyeur, which discusses the phenomenon of looking/watching in English poetry in depth.

8 Palmer, p. xxiv.

9 See, for example, John W. Conlee's general introduction to Middle English Debate Poetry, p. xiv-xv.

10 Palmer, p. xxxii.

11 Palmer, p. xxix.

12 Palmer, p. xxxi.

13 Palmer, pp. xxv-xxvi.

14 Palmer, p. xxxii.

15 Wimsatt argues that "[d]espite the common assumption of critics, dream poems did not constitute a separate category of love narratives," claiming that a number of French dits amoureux "do not have a dream frame comparable to that of the Roman de la Rose" (p. 125). But Spearing, while acknowledging that "it is unlikely . . . to be possible to establish the dream-poem as a completely 'distinct literary kind,'" notes that "authors of medieval dream-poems themselves seem to have been conscious of writing within a distinct literary tradition of dreams and visions" (1976, p. 3).

16 Lee Patterson argues that Chaucer participates in a movement begun in fourteenth-century French poetry to place complaints "within a narrative context" as a way of "seeking to contain the regressive irony implicit within lyricism" (1992b, p. 66). The fifteenth-century practice of embedding complaints in a context normally associated with dream visions, however, might be seen more as a modification of the dream vision form than a particular desire to give the complaint a context.

17 See The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), p. 15

18 Spearing (1993), p. 219.

19 Spearing (1993), p. 220.

20 Spearing (1993), p. 1.

21 Compare J. Stephen Russell's remark that "[t]he most compelling reason for the dramatic disap-pearance of the dream vision was not political or philosophical or psychological: it was a literary reason. Put simply, the Renaissance rediscovered lyricism, the immediate depiction of powerful emotions in verse, a discovery which made the fragile, complex, allusive structure of the old dreams useless" (pp. 201-02). Russell does not see poems like Lydgate's Complaynte as part of a transitional moment between medieval love visions and early modern lyrics, but rather as examples of poems that are "arguably inspired by a dream vision but only in the most superficial ways" (p. 199).

22 Wimsatt shows that The Book of the Duchess borrows "the pattern of complaint and consolation" from Machaut, who uses it in both Remede de Fortune (where the first-person narrator is the lover who complains and receives consolation) and Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse (p. 115).

23 Spearing (1993), p. 1.

24 See Warren Ginsberg's edition of the poem.

25 Patterson points out that the complaint form "not only presupposes the perpetual intransigence of the lady - were she to respond to the lover's request she would not be worthy of it - but is invalidated by its very articulation: the more eloquent the lover, the less truthful his plea" ("Writing," p. 56).

26 See Russell A. Peck, Chaucer's Romaunt of the Rose and Boece, Treatise on the Astrolabe, Equatorie of the Planetis, Lost Works, and Chaucerian Apocrypha: An Annotated Bibliography, 1900-1985 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), pp. 245 ff.; see especially pp. 309-12, and 327-37 for scholarship on the apocryphal poems included in this volume.

27 Pearsall (1970), p. 85. Similarly, Spearing presents Lydgate's poem as one that borrows - images, conventions, settings - principally from Chaucer's work (this includes Chaucer's translation of The Romaunt of the Rose); see Spearing (1993), pp. 222-28.

28 Pearsall (1970), p. 84.

29 Pearsall (1970), p. 85.

30 Lewis, p. 246.

31 See Skeat's introductory remarks to his edition of the poem (1897), pp. lii and liii.

32 See the Introduction to La Belle Dame sans Mercy in this volume.

33 McColly, p. 248. McColly compares The Book of the Duchess, Book 1 of Troilus and Criseyde, the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, and The Parliament of Fowls.

34 Chamberlain, p. 59.

35 Norton-Smith and Pravda, p. 9.

36 Spearing (1985), p. 61.

37 See the introduction to Nation, Court and Culture, p. 9.

38 Cooney, p. 9.

39 Cooney, p. 9. Compare H. S. Bennett's remarks in Chaucer and the Fifteenth Century: "The death of Chaucer in 1400 deprived England at a blow of her one outstanding author. His successors are to be found in a host of imitators" (p. 96). Though Bennett admits that "[t]he fifteenth century is by no means as barren of poetry as it used to be fashionable for critics to believe," he maintains that "the glory had departed, and the story of fifteenth-century poetry in England is largely the story of 'the shade of that which once was great', though momentary flashes reveal the fires underneath" (p. 96).

40 Cooney, p. 10.

41 This is by no means a new observation. Pearsall, for example, notes that "it is all Chaucer's fault" in accounting for the stark differences between the medieval and modern reception of Lydgate's work (1990, p. 39).

42 See the detailed discussions of manuscript contexts in the introductions to the individual poems. Prominent among such collections are the manuscripts Hammond identified as the "Oxford group," which included, among others, three closely related manuscripts, Fairfax 16, Tanner 346, and Bodley 638, all fifteenth-century collections housed in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (1908, p. 339; Hammond describes the manuscripts and their relationship to one another on pp. 333-39). Other important antho-logies include Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6, an amateur production spanning the period between the mid-fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (see the facsimile of The Findern Manuscript, intro. Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen, pp. viii-xii) and a Scottish anthology, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24, produced in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century (see the facsimile volume, intro. Boffey and Edwards, 1997, pp. 3-4).

43 Yeager, pp. 162-63.

44 Yeager, p. 163.

45 Boffey (1996), pp. 44-45, and 45n38. Boffey and Edwards (1998) also discuss Chaucer in the context of proverbial materials, pp. 212-13.

46 Boffey and Thompson, p. 280.

47 Edwards points out that this manuscript's "tendency to adjust and expand the Chaucerian canon" separates it "from the earlier Chaucerian compilations with their more conservative disposition to under-ascribe works to Chaucer" (1996, p. 59).

48 For a discussion of Shirley's anthologies, see Boffey and Edwards, who point out that only certain of Shirley's attributions have been accepted, while others have been summarily rejected (1998, p. 203).

49 See Hammond (1908), especially pp. 51-69, for a discussion of the various stages of the canon. Rossell Hope Robbins gives a list of the apocryphal works (1973, pp. 1061-62). See also F. W. Bonner, "The Genesis of the Chaucer Apocrypha," Studies in Philology 48 (1951), 461-81; Paul G. Ruggiers, ed., Editing Chaucer: The Great Tradition (Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1984); Boffey and Edwards (1998); and Forni.

50 These early editors were perhaps motivated by the desire to sell more books by making rival editions seem either less than complete or lacking in authority, but their interest in such a project was doubtless also due to the burgeoning antiquarian interests of the sixteenth century. Robert Costomiris sees Thynne's 1532 edition developing in a climate of "considerable antiquarian interest" (see "The Influence of Printed Editions and Manuscripts on the Canon of William Thynne's Canterbury Tales," in Rewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400-1602, ed. Thomas A. Prendergast and Barbara Kline [Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999], pp. 237-57, at p. 239).

51 Compare the Renaissance "Sons of Ben." (See the Introduction to The Boke of Cupide, p. 21n13.)

52 Seth Lerer's book, Chaucer and His Readers, takes up this issue in depth.

53 For example, Pearsall notes that "[t]he history of English poetry, and of much Scottish poetry too, in the fifteenth century is as much the record of Lydgate's influence as of Chaucer's" (1970, p. 1).

54 Boffey (2001), pp. 114-15.

55 John Norton-Smith puts the date at c. 1450 in his introduction to the facsimile volume (1979, p. vii); Edwards dates it in the 1440s (1996, p. 56); Boffey in the late 1430s or 1440s (1994, p. 114); Robbins gives it a date range of 1425-50 (see the MS listings for La Belle Dame sans Mercy, 1973, p. 1301).

56 Boffey (1994), p. 115.

57 Boffey (1994), p. 115.

58 Boffey (1994), p. 121. Boffey sketches a pattern of textual movement between England and France that suggests one reason for these texts' engagement with both French and English models; see especially pp. 116-18.

59 Boffey (1994), p. 121.

60 Previously catalogued as MS A.5.2.

61 For Findern, see the introduction to the facsimile volume of The Findern Manuscript, Beadle and Owen, pp. vii-viii and xi; for Thornton, see the introduction to the facsimile volume of The Thornton Manuscript, by D. S. Brewer and A. E. B. Owen, p. vii. Robert Thornton, who produced Lincoln Cathedral MS 91, also wrote out London, British Library Additional MS 31042 (Brewer and Owen, p. vii). From a prominent Yorkshire family, Thornton appears to have assembled these two books for his personal use (Brewer and Owen, pp. viii-ix). See also Boffey and Thompson, pp. 298-300.

62 Beadle and Owen, pp. xi-xii and xiv. Robbins (1954) points to "professional hands" having copied many of the known works (pp. 629-30), concluding that "[t]he MS. thus suggests two sets of writers, local women amateurs and professional scribes" who were itinerant (p. 630); Sarah McNamer also sees this as the work of a mixture of "professional and amateur scribes" (p. 281).

63 Robbins (1954), p. 611.

64 Robbins (1954), pp. 611 and 612.

65 Beadle and Owen, p. xii.

66 McNamer argues that these Findern lyrics are not only written by women, but are also examples of poems that have "'missed the meaning' of the courtly tradition by taking its playful terms and using them in the service of sincere self-expression," adding that they should be considered "earnest and personal expressions" that "reveal a . . . sense of emotional depth, of real feeling" that resonates with "recognized documents of sincere female expression - the letters of the Paston, Stonor, and Cely women" (p. 289). In so doing, McNamer implies that women's poetic expression limits itself to the arena of private, personal experience and refuses or misunderstands the "touches of irony and levity of tone" (p. 288) associated with literary courtly games. One argument against this is the compilation of the Findern Manuscript itself, whose lyrics would have had a public circulation, however limited, amongst the milieu in which it was produced. Elizabeth Hanson-Smith also argues that a number of the poems may have been written by women (see "A Woman's View of Courtly Love: The Findern Anthology Cambridge University Library MS. Ff.1.6," Journal of Women's Studies in Literature 1 [1979], 179-94).

 
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Chaucerian Dream Visions and Complaints: Introduction

With the exception of the Scottish Quare of Jelusy, the poems in this volume were all attributed to Chaucer by early compilers or editors of his work in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and were not removed from the Chaucer canon until the late eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, when they became identified simply as Chaucerian.1 Yet despite the use of "Chaucerian" in the title, this volume seeks to reassess the appropriateness of examining late-medieval poetry mainly in terms of its debt to Chaucer. Chaucer's works were certainly influential in the period when these poems were likely written (the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries), but it is important to consider the history and consequences of using the term "Chaucerian" as a major scheme of categorization. Comparisons of Chaucer to other medieval poets who use, continue, or respond to his works have typically ended by emphasizing the superior value of Chaucer's poetry, yet this is problematic from several perspectives. Focusing on resemblances to Chaucer often demotes works to the status of imitation and directs attention away from invention, variation, or other aspects of late-medieval generic and formal developments. Furthermore, the traits of late-medieval poetry that have caused it to be perceived as second-rate next to Chaucer might be better understood as the consequence of particular poetic concerns and interests. The Chaucer canon has not been stable historically and various tensions have been active in the establishment of the category "Chaucerian."2 Even were the canon completely stable, it is not always possible to distinguish between genuine references to Chaucer and other types of influences.3 Ultimately, the practice of using "Chaucerian" as the predominant method of categorization obscures other qualities of the poems that may have appealed to medieval audiences. It is therefore important to consider carefully the implications of our continued practice of anthologizing poetry not by Chaucer under the rubric "Chaucerian."

The focus here on dream vision and complaint means that most of the resemblances between Chaucer's works and the poems in this volume center on Chaucer's courtly love poetry: Troilus and Criseyde, The Legend of Good Women, The Parliament of Fowls, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Complaint of Mars and other lyrics, and the translation of The Romaunt of the Rose, portions of which are thought to be Chaucer's. Echoes of The Canterbury Tales are restricted mainly to The Knight's Tale. Although The Boke of Cupide is the only poem here that might be considered a dream vision in the sense that the narrator reports the story of what happened when he was dreaming,4 the other three poems, A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe, The Quare of Jelusy, and La Belle Dame sans Mercy, all rely heavily on dream vision conventions to frame a complaint or debate. But the fifteenth-century English love visions presented here differ from their fourteenth-century models in the use of the ideal landscape setting (the locus amoenus of dream visions) in a context that contains a complaint or conversation overheard from a hidden vantage point instead of witnessed through a dream.5 These poems draw on both The Romance of the Rose and Chaucerian dream visions, but probably also took inspiration from the fourteenth-century French dits amoureux tradition, which in some cases shows a similar use of the dream vision setting.6 This suggests that fifteenth-century English poets were combining both French and English models of various genres to create their own version of a vernacular poetic that included a more prominent use of dream vision conventions in non-dream contexts than seen in earlier English poetry.

The action of these dreamless but voyeuristic7 poems is for the most part predictable. The poem usually begins with a narrator who, after complaining for a few stanzas about his own troubles, stumbles upon a lone figure grieving or a couple engaged in private conversation and conceals himself in order to hear the complaint or debate that follows. The narrator, who never steps outside his role as passive listener, then explains how he recorded what was said and wraps up the story with his own conclusion, generally in the form of an envoy to lovers and/or his own beloved. There are a number of partial models in fourteenth-century English poetry for framing a complaint similarly. Chaucer's Complaint of Mars, for example, sets up its complaint with a brief proem in which a bird explains that he will sing "the compleynt . . . / That woful Mars made atte departyng / From fresshe Venus in a morwenynge" (lines 24-26) in honor of Valentine's Day. The bird then tells the story of Mars and Venus, which incorporates Mars' complaint, after which the poem ends. Another prototype is John Gower's Confessio Amantis, where it is not completely clear that the narrator is dreaming, although he falls into a sort of swoon near the beginning and again near the end. There are also complaint models in the fourteenth-century French poetry that was itself influenced by The Romance of the Rose, such as Guillaume de Machaut's Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse, in which the sleepy narrator becomes a kind of auditeur, imagining a scene he does not actually see, when he hears a complaint through the bedroom window and spends the night writing it down. In the morning the narrator finds the speaker, a great lord suffering from love sickness, who asks the narrator to write a complaint recording his sorrow. After the narrator explains how he came to do this already, the poem ends with the two falling asleep and sharing a comforting dream.

The debate version of this dreamless structure has a close model in Machaut's Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne (Judgment of the King of Bohemia), which features a narrator who walks out into the woods on a spring morning and, seeing a lady and knight approach, hides himself in order to listen to their ensuing debate about love. In his introduction to Machaut's poem, R. Barton Palmer points out that, instead of "falling asleep and providing the arena for psychological allegory, the narrator becomes a witness to a drama that unfolds nearby."8 Although there were pre-Romance of the Rose debates in Latin that included an eyewitness narrator,9 the poems in this volume must be considered in a post-Romance of the Rose context. Palmer sees Machaut's Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne as a "modification of love-vision narrative" that "affected later writers," rather than as a poem influenced in significant ways by earlier debate models.10 Palmer points out that Machaut's borrowings from The Romance of the Rose in the beginning of the poem create "the expectation that a dream vision will follow," an expectation that is then defeated when Machaut turns instead to "a genre, the love debate, which was subsumed within (and superseded by) the Romance of the Rose."11 He goes on to point out that the poems in the love debate genre that preceded The Romance of the Rose "never achieved the same popularity and belonged largely to a much earlier age"; consequently, "these works are much less important for an understanding of the meaning of Machaut's poem."12 The implication here is that for fourteenth- and fifteenth-century poetry, the love debate is a genre seen largely through the lens of The Romance of the Rose. The framed complaints and debates in this volume must also be examined in this context, as well as against the ground of the fourteenth-century poetry, both English and French, that im-mediately preceded them.

One crucial difference between Machaut's dreamless poem and those in this volume is the fact that in Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne the narrator is ultimately discovered by the lady's dog, after which he acts to help reconcile the knight and lady, whose debate has come to an impasse, by leading them to the king of Bohemia for a resolution of their disagreement. Palmer describes the shifting role of Machaut's narrator, who begins as "the subject of the narrative," then becomes "the guarantor of its authenticity," and finally ends up as "its prime mover."13 A second difference is that, while it appears that the setting for Machaut's poem is the generalized locus amoenus of dream visions, "the apparent universality of the orchard where the debate begins proves illusory," for "we learn that the drama is unfolding near Durbuy Castle" one of the king's residences.14 Thus, despite a number of correspondences, precursors such as the Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne do not completely account for the form of the dreamless dream poems here, where the narrator never does more than watch and comment on the action that takes place in his idealized setting, suggesting that this is an innovation of writers who at once followed the lead of Chaucer and other fourteenth-century poets and revitalized these earlier treatments of generic conventions to suit their own interests.15 As courtly "conventions" shift from rhetorical formulae to social gatherings, a literate society unfolds that enjoys listening to itself in sophisticated play, now made possible by their ownership of traditions of their own.

The redeployment of the conventions of dream vision, complaint, and debate suggests a self-conscious interest in formal experimentation that enthusiastically anticipates the multiplication of poetic forms that follow in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.16 Kathryn L. Lynch sees the dream vision in particular as a subgenre that for later poets "would embody the authority and conservatism for which [they] yearned as much as they did for change."17 The competing desires for convention and innovation suggest that later poets' reception of the genre would be inclined both to conservatism and transformation. Thus, as A. C. Spearing observes, in A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe "Lydgate's awareness of the dream-poem as model may be indicated by his playful reversal of its framework: instead of beginning with sleep and ending with waking, the Complaynte begins with Lydgate waking and ends with him going to sleep."18 Here, Lydgate's use of conventions normally associated with dream visions in a way that preserves the protocols even as it seems deliberately to subvert them signals the tension in the poem between traditional and transformative treatments of the genre. But this inversion of the dream vision does more than simply play with generic expectations; Spearing points to very real changes in the effects of such poetry when the dream context is missing. In the case of Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, one of the chief models for Complaynte, the use of the dream enables "the face-to-face encounter" between the narrator and the grieving knight, in effect "creat[ing] an imaginative space in which they can converse on relatively equal terms, as perhaps they could not properly have been represented as doing in waking life" due to their differing social stations.19 In Lydgate's poem, there can be no tête-à-tête between the two because these differences in rank are no longer mediated by the context of a dream. Unlike Machaut's poems, no other context is provided for such an encounter. On the other hand, there is much delight to be had in spying, as this "new" genre encourages the thrills of voyeurism without the added responsibility for the "reconciliatory" role of Machaut's narrator in Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne.

But when the face-to-face experience presented in The Book of the Duchess is no longer offered, as in the anonymous Quare of Jelusy, Richard Roos' translation of La Belle Dame sans Mercy, and Lydgate's Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe, the narrator is not simply reduced to the figure of eavesdropper or spy. In Spearing's reading, the narrator's spying on lovers in such poems functions as "the means by which private experience is brought into the public sphere," with the audience placed in the vicarious position of onlooker to the onlooker.20 The interest in making private love public perhaps looks towards later preoccupations with private feeling that become prominent in Elizabethan lyrics.21 The lyric voice attempts to tell of intensely personal passions. But in these medieval narratives passions become dislocated, as the narrator's voice at once acts to authenticate the narrative of complaint or debate at the same time as it inevitably mediates the experiences reported. Ultimately, the narrator, unable to talk about his own concerns, appropriates another's voice and story and in some cases uses it as a way to gain ground with his own beloved. Thus, one effect of placing dream vision conventions in the context of a complaint or debate without the mediation of a dream is to suggest the revelation of a real private experience while, at the same time, the distance provided by the dream is to some extent maintained. The shift in the use of these conventions helps the reader to look both ways: voyeuristically at another's situation and internally at her/his own heart, just as the narrator does at the same time as he enjoys the illusion of a shared (thus reified) experience - "me and my testament."

Another, perhaps more important, outcome of this appropriation of dream vision conventions is a reconfiguration of the connections between guide, narrator, dreamer, and reader. The dream vision proper frequently features a guide of some type who comes to take the narrator/dreamer through the landscape of the dream and explain or comment on what the dreamer sees. This counselor can be a character separated from the action entirely, as, for example, in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls, or one more closely connected, as in Pearl, where the guide is the subject of the poem, Pearl, the narrator's dead daughter. In Pearl, the narrator learns to deal with his grief at the loss of the Pearl-maiden through the conversation he has with her. In Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, this pattern is inverted, for the narrator/dreamer himself functions as comforter to the knight he encounters, asking the knight a series of questions that invite him to tell his tale, thereby overcoming his grief.22 When the complaint is no longer framed in a dream, the narrator then becomes the reader's guide in the land of the poem. Spearing suggests something like this when he argues that "as readers or listeners to such narratives, we too can be made to feel that we are secret observers."23 But it seems that in becoming the reader's window into these secret observations, the dreamless poem shifts the reader's relationship to the functions of dreamer, guide, and narrator. The reader in this new arrangement comes to occupy the position once held by the dreamer, while the narrator becomes the reader's guide in the probing of personal consciousness.

This positioning would seem to give the narrator some authority over the meaning of the tale he tells, but in fact, as becomes clear in the poems here, it acts instead to undermine the authority of the narrative. Not only is the action no longer interpreted by a dream guide but it is also presented by a narrator who continually emphasizes his own incompetence as a poet and his status as merely a scribe or "skryvener" (CLL, line 194), who records but does not interfere or interpret. But the narrator's implicit claim that he therefore communicates the accurate, unmediated story does not hold true. The lack of a dream frame exposes the formal workings of the poem, for the narrator's separation from the action reveals the subjectivity inevitable with any kind of written mediation, and his self-deprecation emphasizes the possibility that such intervention amusingly distorts the events and/or voices the poem supposedly "trans-cribes." These poems thus achieve a kind of self-conscious separation between narrator and poet by presenting a narrator who is not dreaming but still does not form part of the main action. He is an outsider even as he insists on being in the know.

This emphasis on the trickiness of mediation raises the perennial anxiety of medieval English poetry about the status of literary language. Concern over the duplicity of language is in fact quite common. For example, in the debate poem Wynnere and Wastoure, the narrator begins by expressing concerns about the way in which speech enables people to deceive one another, because "nowe alle es witt and wyles that we with delyn, / Wyse wordes and slee, and icheon wryeth othere" ("now all is cleverness and cunning that we deal with, / Wise words and sly [i.e., deceptive language], and one hides the next [or, obscures another intention]," lines 5-6).24 The narrator compares this unfavorably to an older, idyllic time when language was trans-parent, linking this with the characteristic idiom of romances, which he perceives as straight-forward (lines 20 ff.). The nostalgic reference to the language of romances, often formulaic and repetitive, is in contrast to more elite literary forms, marked by ambiguity and difficulty of interpretation. This implies that for the narrator of Wynnere and Wastoure language in this idyllic romance-time is direct and artless, hiding nothing. But the very formulaic nature of romance language calls attention to the fact that it cannot truly be transparent, since the formulae themselves, instead of having inherent meanings, reproduce conventional inter-pretations and effects that arise out of the habitual use of them in characteristic contexts. The notion that language can transfer meaning directly from narrator to reader is likewise rejected by the poems in this volume, which seek to raise questions about the effectiveness of representing private emotion in a poetic form.25

These changes in the dream vision raise important issues for late-medieval English audiences but go unremarked by critics perhaps because of the dominance of the Chaucerian model, in terms of both the relation of these later poems to the works of Chaucer and the importance of the Chaucerian aesthetic. Whether trying to ascertain the authorship of a work or the influences that informed it, establishing a link to Chaucer was a common preoccupation of much of the early scholarship on the apocryphal poems.26 In Derek Pearsall's view, for example, Lydgate's poem is "a mosaic of Chaucerian themes and phrases," with passages that consist of "a tissue of borrowings,"27 and "it is rarely necessary to go beyond Chaucer for Lydgate's specific borrowings" from French or classical models.28 The fact that Complaynte "remained popular until its expulsion from the [Chaucer] canon in the nineteenth [century], after being acclaimed as one of the best of Chaucer's shorter poems" illustrates the power of Chaucer's name.29 La Belle Dame sans Mercy has suffered similarly in the critical gaze of more recent readers, in contrast to its popularity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when it was still thought to be Chaucer's work. C. S. Lewis, for example, viewed the poem as "an essentially second-rate theme redeemed by sheer good writing,"30 while Walter W. Skeat dismissed it as "somewhat dull, owing to its needless prolixity."31 No new editions of Roos' version of the poem have come out since the three late-nineteenth-century ones (two by Frederick J. Furnivall and one by Skeat), nor has the English translation received much scholarly attention, illustrating the persistence of these assessments.32

Similarly, critics have both condemned and redeemed The Boke of Cupide through its relation to Chaucer. For example, employing a statistical comparison of various stylistic components of The Boke of Cupide with five of Chaucer's poems, William McColly suggests that the former "should be judged as nothing more than a primitive imitation" of Chaucer.33 David Chamberlain's article "Clanvowe's Cuckoo," on the other hand, seeks to reinstate the poem as subtle and witty, rife with "literary jokes involving Chaucer."34 J. Norton-Smith and I. Pravda, the most recent editors of The Quare of Jelusy, similarly assess that poem as a "Scottish imitation of Chaucerian and Lydgatian poetic form and ethical concerns composed just prior to the later, more accomplished, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century literary development beyond the Tweed which has come to be called 'Chaucerian.'"35 The implication here seems to be that the later poets are "more accomplished" because they are more "Chaucerian." Because the poem is arguably more Lydgatian than Chaucerian, the insult is to both The Quare of Jelusy and Lydgate's place in literary history, suggesting that he is of negligible importance (and therefore so are his "imitators"), even though it is well known that many Scots poets, instead of focusing solely on Chaucer, saw Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate as the triumvirate of "models to whom later poets declare their allegiance."36 In all these instances, the poem's relationship to Chaucer becomes the measure of its success, but the fact that early readers see Chaucer as one among a group of English writers they emulated suggests the need to reevaluate our own assessments of Chaucer's value or importance. Thus, while the critical reputation of all these poems has often relied on their proximity, real or imagined, to Chaucer, it would be more accurate to see Chaucer as a literary presence - part of the playground - than as a source, and this is a playground in which fifteenth-century literature enjoyed sophisticated plaisance.

What makes the appeal of these poems to their earliest readers so unintelligible is that the bias towards Chaucer has frequently led critics to dismiss fifteenth-century poetry out of hand. Such a judgment operates on the basis of an a priori assumption that no matter how carefully Chaucerian works follow Chaucer, they never do what he did quite so well and are inevitably found lacking. In fact, according to Helen Cooney, poetry of this period has attracted more "sustained and emphatic distaste" than that of any other due to its perceived lack of originality and its supposed delight in form and ornamentation over intellectual engagement.37 Instead of looking at fifteenth-century writers for what they had to offer their audiences, many critics were content to tell the story of late-medieval poetry as one of decline into "a literary wilder-ness."38 Cooney shows how Johan Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages and C. S. Lewis' English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama presented fifteenth-century poetry in ways that caused it to be "either ignored or reviled"39 until the mid-1980s, when several revisionist projects "opened the way to new critical appreciations" of fifteenth-century literary efforts.40

Arguably, it is the very proximity of these texts to Chaucer that has resulted in their being persistently valued against what might be called a "Chaucerian aesthetic." But the pleasures of Chaucer's texts are no more universal or self-evident than those of, say, Lydgate. Rather, the appeal of a given text arises from the development of a specific set of expectations about what constitutes literary art. In the case of Chaucer, these expectations satisfy an acquired taste that cannot be applied indiscriminately to all Middle English poetry without having the rest of it suffer by comparison.41 We probably cannot get away from our admiration of Chaucer, given how well he fits our own literary taste. We can, however, be more conscious of how this preference for his work colors our perceptions of and expectations about other medieval English writing. Through the examination of manuscript contexts and the practices of early printers and editors, it may be possible to discern something of the pleasures early audiences experienced in these poems.

As the contents of the manuscripts in which the poems in this volume appear indicate, many of the compilers of manuscript anthologies from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries enjoyed Chaucer primarily as a courtly love poet, with his dream visions, The Legend of Good Women, and shorter poems among the most popular selections.42 This preference was sustained in the early sixteenth century by William Thynne, who was the first to print The Legend of Good Women and Chaucer's translation of The Romaunt of the Rose.43 According to R. F. Yeager, "Thynne's Chaucer . . . is a love poet, not a moralist."44 On the other hand, at least one manuscript, London, British Library MS Cotton Vitellius E. xi, did appear to present Chaucer "as a relentlessly if succinctly moralizing figure, cited as a fount of proverbial wisdom rather than as the source of eloquence, the more familiar portrayal," a representation that "is reflected elsewhere in the attribution to Chaucer of proverbs and sententiae of different sorts."45 These representations of Chaucer, and others that operated alongside them, suggest that in each case the selection of texts and the attribution of them to Chaucer reflected contemporary tastes, concerns, and interests. A closer look at manuscript anthologies and early printed editions thus helps illustrate the preferences of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century readers.

The high value of Chaucerian as a category begins to develop early, as evident from the way in which more and more works were included under the rubric "Chaucer" beginning even in the early to mid-fifteenth century, when the poetry of Clanvowe and Hoccleve, and later Lydgate, became part of the Chaucerian scheme. This points to the importance of Chaucerian poems, such as those in this volume, both in helping to promote and sustain interest in Chaucer and in forming this Chaucerian aesthetic. As Julia Boffey and John J. Thompson point out, "[a] growing taste for such anthologies made itself felt in the second half of the fifteenth century," and "[t]he nucleus of such manuscripts was generally formed by an assortment of Chaucer's minor poems, around which were fitted attempts to re-distil the influential 'aureat licour' - Lydgate's Complaint of the Black Knight, Clanvowe's Cuckoo and Nightingale, Hoccleve's Letter of Cupid."46 But the view that the grouping of a selection of Chaucer's works with similar poems in manuscript anthologies necessarily stemmed from a desire for larger collections of Chaucer's works (as opposed to simply Chaucerian ones) does not accurately reflect the influences at work behind the compilation of all such late-medieval codices. Neither were such addenda simply an aspect of marketing; this type of collection reflects first of all the audience's desires for lively vernacular literature, one of the pleasures offered by collections of Chaucerian verse.

The development of a market for Chaucer's poetry in particular may have had its inception in late-medieval anthologies such as Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24, which attributes a number of spurious poems to Chaucer,47 or in some measure through John Shirley's collections,48 but the interest early editors had in producing a complete body of Chaucer's Works extended this practice over time in a way that seems to have influenced later perceptions of Chaucer's importance.49 Here it is critical to recognize a distinction between Chaucer and Chaucerian. Because Thynne and his successors did not include works of a similar flavor without claiming Chaucer's authorship, as in some of the earlier manuscript anthologies, such a distinction was elided: all "Chaucerian" works became Chaucer's. The implications of this practice of identifying Chaucer as the author of every work in an anthology are twofold: first, that whatever has value is included as Chaucer's work, and second, that everything that is not by Chaucer in turn loses its value.50

An equally misleading side-effect of the long habit of viewing Chaucer as the only measure of Chaucerian is the tendency to discuss all late-medieval poets as if they were (or, if not, should have been) predominantly interested in producing imitations of Chaucer. Seeing allusions to Chaucer as a tired recycling of lines, or as mere borrowings, derivative and unoriginal, does not acknowledge the contributions of the "sons of Chaucer"51 - writers like Clanvowe and Lydgate - to a vernacular English poetic tradition.52 It does not, in fact, properly acknowledge Chaucer's own contribution as a poet alongside other poets, who inspired but also took inspiration, whose name identifies a variety of different types of creative output, an output that is not homogeneous or static but that involves, rather, a dynamic use of language and constantly shifting literary currents. Even those writers like Clanvowe, who were working deliberately and self-consciously with the models Chaucer provided, were engaging in a sophisticated literary game as a full participant with Chaucer, who may have set the tone and defined much of the territory, but who is not therefore the limit and definition of all originality.

In fact, the interplay between Chaucer's works and those of his "followers" is nuanced and complicated. "Chaucerian" poets looked not only to other English writers for inspiration53 but also to the French writers whose work influenced Chaucer. Boffey points out that while many late-medieval English dits amoureux allude to Chaucer's dream poetry, Chaucer was not the sole influence, for "a range of French analogues, both venerable and right up-to-date, lie behind the later English poems."54 Although in using French models, Clanvowe, Lydgate, Roos, and other "Chaucerian" poets were arguably following Chaucer's lead, this form of imitation in turn makes it difficult to disentangle specific echoes of Chaucer from other resonances - either those of his French influences or of an intervening English model in the form of an earlier "Chaucerian" poet. Nevertheless, Chaucer's importance has influenced critics to view all Chaucerian resonances as having their source in Chaucer without seriously examining other possibilities. This does not mean that Chaucer's impact should not be identified or even valued; it does, however, mean that inclusion in or exclusion from the category "Chaucer" should not be the primary basis for evaluating a Chaucerian work.

These Chaucerian poets formed a crucial part of the development of English vernacular traditions not only in their following of Chaucer but also in their own innovations. They, like Chaucer, looked to both continental and domestic models for inspiration. Other models of writing clearly influenced even those poets, such as Lydgate, who have a reputation in the later nineteenth century for turning out uninspired imitations of Chaucer. In truth, the quality of verse in such instances is less a matter of skill than it is of literary taste. We are the "primitives," inasmuch as, locked into formulae of the New Criticism, we appreciate so little of what constituted literary value in the fifteenth century, when the very foundations of English literary traditions were being excavated. A well-produced, relatively early collection, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Fairfax 16,55 which includes versions of three of the four poems presented here, is a case in point. This mid-fifteenth-century collection exemplifies superbly how these influences operated in the late-medieval period. Looking at this collection, Boffey sees both those assembling the manuscript and the authors of the included works as consciously engaged in a process "of textual dialogue in which certain themes are debated and certain forms subjected to experimentation in ways which move easily in and out of a whole range of French and English models."56 In such a case, regarding the selection of works in these anthologies as predominantly influenced by Chaucer erases both French and non-Chaucerian English models from consideration. It further skews any understanding of the nature of these collections - or their desirability - as repositories of English writing reflecting an active literary marketplace that valued Chaucer's productions alongside others now no longer perceived as representative of English poetry.

Although Fairfax 16 is among the earliest of these anthologies,57 this is not an isolated instance; Boffey observes that a number of collections followed similar patterns of compilation, "accumulating material around Chaucer's dream poems" in ways that indicate the compilers' familiarity "with a range of both French and English texts," as well as their "lively awareness of current subjects of literary debate."58 By assembling related works and "invit[ing] readers outside the primary audiences to enter into and perhaps extend the debates which were presumably of moment at first only for limited coteries," Boffey argues, manuscript anthologies highlighted both "the discussions conducted within the texts" and "the patterns of provocation and response played out between them."59 This more inclusive account of literary practice allows for a dialectical model of interaction between French and English literary traditions in the composition and compilation of late-medieval English courtly love poetry and paints a picture of a sophisticated culture of literary play made possible by a rich tradition of poetic enterprise arising from vigorous vernacular traditions on both sides of the Channel.

As some of these manuscript anthologies indicate, the literary culture to whom the courtly poetry in this volume appealed was not solely London-based, but might be understood as "courtly" in the sense of falling under the sponsorship of "gentle houses" rather than that of the royal household itself. Evidence for such a domestication of literature comes in part from the "private" compilation of anthologies such as the Findern manuscript (Cambridge Univer-sity Library MS Ff.1.6), and the Thornton manuscript (Lincoln Cathedral MS 91),60 both of which were produced provincially and unprofessionally.61 The Findern manuscript in particular represents a collaborative effort on an unusual scale, containing entries by at least thirty different hands, and lacks the usual signs of professional production, indicating that this is likely the work of amateur scribes, perhaps members of the Findern family itself and their close associates.62 A large portion of the manuscript contains very commonly copied works by Chaucer, Lydgate, Gower, and Hoccleve, along with pieces that were frequently associated with the works of these authors, such as A Boke of Cupide and La Belle Dame sans Mercy.63 Rossell Hope Robbins calls Findern "a polite anthology," noting that it contains works that "are illustrative of what people concerned with the reading of English poetry thought valuable for preservation."64 But, as some have pointed out, intermingled with the prominent and frequently copied courtly poetry that makes up the bulk of the manuscript are a number of shorter pieces, mostly lyrics and carols, that appear here in unique copies, suggesting that perhaps "some of these represented original contributions by the compilers,"65 a view that is taken up at length by Sarah McNamer, who makes a case for considering fifteen of the lyrics as original works, specifically written by women.66 If at least some of these short poems may indeed be considered new pieces, we can see the operations of composition and copying in close proximity to one another, a pattern that illustrates the ways in which new voices might enter the old debates or invent new ones in a provincial setting, where London-based, royal courtly life must have seemed distant and immaterial.

That this volume itself participates in a pattern of "anthologizing" love complaints, debates, and visions with a Chaucerian flavor is no accident, following as it does on a long tradition of such groupings. On the other hand, such a collection that excludes Chaucer's work from its canon, if not from its title, can serve to highlight similarities between these Chaucerian poems that acknowledge and then go beyond their usual common denominator, Chaucer, perhaps stirring those of us who use this small collection to new dialogues, debates, and conversations of our own with and about these poems.


Editorial practices

Each of these editions offers a reading text based on a single manuscript copy, with emendations undertaken when needed for sense (where possible on the basis of readings from other manuscripts). In cases where several good copies in closely related manuscripts have survived, I have selected the earliest text from this group. These editions follow the standard editorial practices of the Middle English Texts Series; thus, modern capitalization, word formation, and punctuation practices are observed, and I silently expand manuscript abbre-viations, regularize u/v and j/i spellings, and modernize the alphabet (this includes representing y as g in words where modern English has g, such as gaf for yaf or agen for ayen). Final -e that receives full syllabic value is accented (e.g., charité), and differentiation between the as the second person pronoun and the as the definite article is made by spelling the first thee and the second the. In addition to these alterations, initial ff- is transcribed as F in cases where it represents a capital letter, and off is reduced to of in cases where it means "of" in order to avoid confusion with "off." I have glossed the texts according to the difficulty of language and syntax. These marginal glosses are not intended as definitive interpretations, but rather as an aid to the reader in making sense of language that is difficult or unfamiliar. Since these are primarily student editions, I have not included a complete collation of all manuscripts. Variants for each poem are recorded in textual notes only in cases of emendation or significant textual variation; minor differences (e.g., in spelling or word division) are not noted.


Commonly Used Abbreviations
Anel.
BC
BD
BDSM
CA
CLL
CT
Gen. deo.
Gest Hyst.
HF
Hyg. Fab.
IMEV
LGW
MED
Metam.
OED
PF
QJ
Romaunt
RR
TC
Trevisa
Vat. Myth.
Anelida and Arcite
The Boke of Cupide, God of Love
The Book of the Duchess
La Belle Dame sans Mercy
Confessio Amantis (Gower)
A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe
The Canterbury Tales
Genealogie deorum gentilium libri (Boccaccio)
The "Gest Hystoriale" of the Destruction of Troy
The House of Fame
Hygini Fabulae (Hyginus)
Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins)
The Legend of Good Women
Middle English Dictionary
Metamorphoses (Ovid)
Oxford English Dictionary
The Parliament of Fowls
The Quare of Jelusy
The Romaunt of the Rose
The Romance of the Rose (Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun)
Troilus and Criseyde
On the Properties of Things (translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus De proprietatibus rerum)
Vatican Mythographers (ed. Kulcsár)

Go To The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, Introduction
Go To The Boke of Cupide, God of Love