Surprising readings of Chaucer and a fresh estimate of his contribution to early humanism
Michaela Paasche Grudin believes that for Chaucer speech is the heart of culture and that his major work comprises a copious and subtle analysis of the spoken word. By paying close attention to this underlying view of discourse and to Chaucer's fascination with communication as a reciprocal process between speaker and listener, Grudin provides unexpected readings of Chaucer's poetry. These diverge radically from conventional "dramatic" interpretations and from "exegetical" readings that see Chaucer in sympathy with the orthodox Christian fear of and contempt for the work of the tongue.
In readings of the Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde, and many of the Canterbury Tales, Grudin explores Chaucer's questioning of whether the social order can survive the discord of human voices. She offers new insights into such topics as discursive situations and the frame narrative; misinterpretation and the role of the listener; and the poetics of guile and the place of the poet's own discourse.
Grudin also freshly locates Chaucer's view of discourse in the tradition of early humanism. She finds that, like Petrarch and Boccaccio, Chaucer considers speech of paramount importance in civic life, but that he goes far beyond them in his persistent scrutiny of the personal and political transactions in which discourse defines culture. Grudin shows that in a society where free speech was severely threatened, Chaucer found a way to sponsor it through dialogue, an instrument that is potentially subversive of all absolute authority.
Michaela Paasche Grudin teaches at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Her articles on Chaucer have appeared in Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Chaucer Review, and PMLA.