By Peter Brown
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Extra resources for A Companion to Chaucer
In the sixteenth century, Roger Ascham terms him the ‘Englishe Homer’, and Francis Beaumont asserts that Chaucer is a philosophical writer of the highest order, as Troilus shows, imitating Virgil and Homer in the ‘pith and sinewes of eloquence’ (Brewer 1978: i, 100, 138). Dryden compares Chaucer to Ovid, one the last poet of the ‘Golden Age of the Roman Tongue’, the other the beginner of English poetry. Perhaps the highest praise of Chaucer is that offered by William Godwin in his 1803 biography, that Chaucer was the father of ‘our language’, the man who restored English to the Muses: ‘No one man in the history of human intellect ever did more, than was effected by the single mind of Chaucer’ (Brewer 1978: i, 238).
The professional orders’ pressure for historical primacy, and hence their revision of history, was constant. The Friar in the Summoner’s Tale epitomizes this not just by parading his order’s ludicrous claim to antiquity, but also by concocting a professionally self-serving account of his vision when he learns the wife’s baby died: he cannot keep from revising history even on the most personal scale. 8 Ofﬁcial release from hierarchical authority existed, of course, but was of a different order from these political and social challenges, although they sometimes built on it.
A succinct and elegant overview of the history of Chaucer’s reputation. —— (1997) ‘Modernising the medieval eighteenth-century translations of Chaucer’, in The Middle Ages after the Middle Ages in the EnglishSpeaking World, ed. Marie-Françoise Alamichel and Derek Brewer (Cambridge: Brewer), 103–20. Brewer focuses on the eighteenthcentury reception of a series of translations appearing after Dryden in an age which he describes as the beginning of modern criticism and textual scholarship of Chaucer.
A Companion to Chaucer by Peter Brown