Fourteen essays by a preeminent scholar of Chaucerian and medieval literature
Medieval Literature, Style, and Culture brings together in one volume fourteen essays by the noted medievalist Charles Muscatine, author of Chaucer and the French Tradition and The Old French Fabliaux. In this collection Muscatine focuses on style, meaning, and culture in Chaucer, his English contemporaries, and French fabliaux and romance.
The book begins with a key essay entitled "The Canterbury Tales: Style of the Man and Style of the Work" in which Muscatine defines one of the earliest and most persistent themes of his criticism-the nexus between style and meaning. In this essay Muscatine attempts to distinguish between the style most naturally congenial to Chaucer and the style that Chaucer the artist used to support the meaning of his best-known work.
The three following essays concentrate on the politics of Chaucer criticism. They include a dissident piece on the modern reception of Chaucer's religion. The next essay, "Locus of Action in Medieval Narrative," expands the notion of literary style to include spatial form and then applies this idea to the meaning of Piers Plowman.
Muscatine's classic work, Poetry and Crisis in the Age of Chaucer, four essays originally presented at the University of Notre Dame as the Wards-Phillips Lectures in English language and literature, turns to the second major theme of his criticism: literary style as evidence for cultural history. These essays show how the very different styles of the Pearl poet, Langland, and Chaucer demonstrate "three kinds of relatedness between poetic art and a culture in crisis."
Several pieces that follow discuss the Old French fabliaux. In "The Fabliaux, Courtly Culture, and the (Re)Invention of Vulgarity," he argues that medieval French culture had long taken unembarrassed pleasure in matters that the advent of courtliness was making newly obscene.
The collection concludes with implicit tributes to two master scholars: an essay on C. S. Lewis's study of medieval allegory and a review article on Erich Auerbach's Mimesis.
Charles Muscatine is a professor of English, emeritus, at the University of California at Berkeley, where he taught for forty-three years. Widely known in the United States and abroad for his studies of Chaucer and of medieval French literature, Muscatine is a past president of the New Chaucer Society. He is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.