Date of Completion
Chaucer, Italian, Poetics, Intertextuality, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio
C. David Benson
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
Re-telling Old Stories situates Chaucer within a classical and Italian tradition of intertextuality. By looking beyond Chaucer’s immediate textual models to how his authors are themselves using and translating literary works, I demonstrate that much of what we have attributed to Chaucer’s desire to appear erudite—particularly his frequent occlusion of his vernacular model, Boccaccio—instead shows him manipulating strategies of authorial engagement deriving from antiquity. Crucially, these strategies are not anxious responses to poetic influence, motivated by fear of similarity or, worse, inferiority, as Harold Bloom might argue. Rather, they indicate Chaucer’s playful engagement with his precursors on their own terms, and in the anticipation of similar treatment at the hands of later poets.
Focusing on three of the Canterbury Tales, the Knight’s Tale, the Clerk’s Tale, and the Monk’s Tale, I demonstrate that Chaucer models his treatment of his authors on their own strategies of intertextual play. My chapter on the Knight’s Tale locates Chaucer’s erasure of Boccaccio within an extensive tradition of poets who all occlude their literary models. My chapter on the Clerk’s Tale also places Chaucer’s work within a larger, literary tradition. In this case, I show that Chaucer reiterates a strategy of subversive translation that he learns from Petrarch’s Latin redaction of Decameron X.10, the Insignis obedientia et fides uxoria. Finally, my chapter on the Monk’s Tale excavates a tradition of triumphal poetry from antiquity to the Middle Ages, a tradition that includes Chaucer’s source for the work, the De casibus itself. On one level, then, my dissertation uncovers networks of intertextual commentary that have heretofore remained unrecognized. But on a larger, theoretical level, what my dissertation offers is the notion that authors echo one another in ways that are not always evident, and that in fact remain hidden unless we look beyond a work’s immediate sources to the traditions informing it. What we find in doing so is that intertextual engagement goes beyond mere imitation, and can include the erasure and manipulation of previous works. Nevertheless, even when it takes these forms, intertextual engagement can be used to create authorial genealogies, canonicity, even fame itself.
Schwebel, Leah A., "Re-Telling Old Stories: Chaucer’s Italian Poetics of Intertextual Commentary" (2014). Doctoral Dissertations. 406.
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