Chaucer and Langland: The Antagonistic Tradition

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Although Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland together dominate fourteenth-century English literature, their respective masterpieces, The Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman, could not be more different. While Langland's poem was immediately popular and influential, it was Chaucer who stood at the head of a literary tradition within a generation of his death. John Bowers asks why and how Chaucer, not Langland, was granted this position. His study reveals the political, social, and religious factors that contributed to the formation of a literary canon in fourteenth-century England.

About the Author:
John M. Bowers is professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This brave and ambitious study seeks to bring together two writers who were kept apart not only by the very stark differences in their styles and the subjects they chose to write about, but by centuries of reception which tended to preserve, and even accentuate, this difference. . . . In putting so many of those hypotheses before us, and exploring them with such detail and imaginative energy, however, Bowers has certainly given all students of Chaucer and Langland a lot to think about.” —The Review of English Studies

“Bowers, a Ricardian specialist, cheerfully joins the ranks of those striving to make the ‘dull’ fifteenth century a thing of interest (if not beauty) and of (sober) joy for the ‘longe nightes blake’ (if not ‘for ever’). [Bowers’s] thesis is that Langland was better known and more influential in his day, but the Lancastrian followers of Chaucer, aided by his son Thomas, set up the latter as the canonical national poet of political and religious orthodoxy, leaving Langland to the Lollards and their sympathizers: ‘Established on the basis of manuscript transmissions and poetic imitations, a virtual antagonistic relationship merges between the two literary traditions’ . . . a lively and engaging book.” —Medium Aevum

“John Bower’s new book is destined to stir controversy and response. In an extensive and discursive argument richly supported by references to works and authors from the late fourteenth century to the mid-sixteenth century, he explores the literary and cultural dynamics that elevated Chaucer and relegated Langland in literary history… The end result is that this is a book one reads actively, fully engaged with the argument from the first page, agreeing, objecting, thinking.” — Arthuriana

“. . . A radical reorientation of how those two authors are read both with and against one another in a strikingly original (and polemical) assessment . . . This is a perfect book for graduate students (or anyone else) who want an up-to-date, one-stop resource for many of the major trends in Chaucer and Langland scholarship of the last fifty years. . . . Chaucer and Langland should provide a touchstone for critical conversation about Chaucer and Langland for years to come.” —Speculum

"John M. Bowers begins his newest book with a simple question: why has Geoffrey Chaucer, not William Langland become the poet whom many, beginning with Dryden, have dubbed "the Father of English Poetry"? . . . Bowers arranges his ambitious study as a weaving together of the two poets' lives, works, and legacies. In spite of the sheer scope of his arguments, as well as the breadth of scholarly criticism he invokes in making them, he ably integrates his study of the two poets into a sweeping narrative of tradition formation and perpetuation." —Comitatus

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780268022020
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2007
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John M. Bowers is professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the author of The Crisis of Will in “Piers Plowman” and The Politics of “Pearl”: Court Poetry in the Age of Richard II.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Abbreviations     xi
Introduction: The Antagonistic Tradition     1
Beginnings     43
Langland and 1360     43
Chaucer and 1360     49
Naming Names: "Langland" and "Chaucer"     54
Naming William Langland     56
Langland's Editorial Lives     64
Definitely Geoffrey Chaucer     80
Piers Plowman and the Impulse to Antagonism     103
John Ball, John Wyclif, and "Peres Ploughman"     103
Piers Plowman Before 1381, Piers Plowman After 1381     115
The Public Life of Piers Plowman     122
Context as Criticism     135
Langlandian Writers and Lollard Causes     144
Political Corrections: The Canterbury Tales     157
The Cook     162
The Plowman     167
Pilgrimage Narrative: Canterbury Interlude     173
The Pardoner     180
The House of Chaucer & Son: The Business of Lancastrian Canon-Formation     183
Thomas Hoccleve: The Insider Locked Out     190
John Lydgate: The Outsider Let In     202
The Monk: Prologue to the Siege of Thebes     206
Piers Plowman, Print, and Protestantism     216
Notes     229
Works Cited     331
General Index     389
Manuscripts Index     403
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