Chaucer and the Universe of Learning

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Overview

The order of the fragments making up the Canterbury Tales and the structure of that collection have long been questioned. Ann W. Astell proposes that Chaucer intended the order that is preserved in what is known as the Ellesmere manuscript. In supporting her claim, Astell reveals a wealth of insights into the world of medieval learning, Chaucer's expected audience, and the meaning of the Canterbury Tales. Astell examines the conventions of medieval learning familiar to Chaucer and discovers in two related topical outlines, those of the seven planets and of the divisions of philosophy, an important key. Assimilated to each other in a kind of transparent overlay, these two outlines, which were frequently joined in the literature with which Chaucer was familiar, accommodate the actual structural divisions of the Tales (in the order in which they appear in the Ellesmere manuscript), define the story blocks as topical units, and show the pilgrims' progress from London to Canterbury to be simultaneously a planetary pilgrimage and a philosophical journey of the soul. The two patterns, Astell maintains, locate Chaucer's work in relation to that of both Gower and Dante, philosophical poets who shared Chaucer's relatively novel status as lay clerk, and who were, like him, members of the educated, secular bourgeoisie. The whole of the Canterbury Tales is thus revealed to be in dialogue with Gower's Confessio and Dante's Paradiso. Indeed, it represents an elaborately detailed response to the images used, and the stories related, in Dante's successive heavens.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Astell's well-named Chaucer and the Universe of Learning places Chaucer in a more systematically learned context than most recent historical studies. . . . She conveys, in straightforwardly lucid prose, a wealth of fascinating information about the intellectual concerns and debates of fourteenth-century clerkly culture, as well as useful summaries of its historical background."—Karla Taylor, Modern Philology

"Medievalists will welcome Chaucer and the Universe of Learning for its masterful analysis of the structure of the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and for its thorough examination of the conventions of medieval learning. . . . This meticulously researched book offers a wealth of scholarship through Astell's brilliant analysis. . . . It is, in my estimation, a valuable tool for medieval scholars."—Louise W. Watkins, Carmina Philosophiae

"I found the book everywhere informative and provocative. . . . There is much of profit and pleasure to be found in this learned and ingeniuos book."—John B. Friedman, Journal of English and Germanic Philology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801432699
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 9/19/1996
  • Pages: 272

Table of Contents

Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 Chaucer and the Division of Clerks 32
2 The Divisions of Knowledge 61
3 From Saturn to the Sun: Planetary Pilgrimage in Fragments I and IX 92
4 Solar Alchemy in Fragments II and VIII 119
5 Mercurial Marriage in Fragments III-IV-V: Philosophic Misogamy and the Trivium of Woman's Knowledge 145
6 Chaucer's Mercurial Muse: Fragment VII and the Causes of Books 179
7 Lunar "Practique": Law, Medicine, and Theology in Fragments VI and X 200
Conclusion 221
Bibliography 231
Index 249
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