Chaucer's prioress from the Ellesmere Manuscript

Historians on Chaucer

The aim of this volume is to introduce historians to the literary qualities and characteristics of one of the most famous works of Middle English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue’ to the Canterbury Tales.

Historians on Chaucer: The ‘General Prologue’ to the Canterbury Tales
By Stephen Rigby and Alastair Minnis (Eds)
Oxford University Press 2014
ISBN-10: 0199689547
ISBN-13: 978-0199689545


Historians on Chaucer 2014  CoverAs literary scholars have long insisted, an interdisciplinary approach is vital if modern readers are to make sense of works of medieval literature. In particular, rather than reading the works of medieval authors as addressing us across the centuries about some timeless or ahistorical ‘human condition’, critics from a wide range of theoretical approaches have in recent years shown how the work of poets such as Chaucer constituted engagements with the power relations and social inequalities of their time. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, medieval historians have played little part in this ‘historical turn’ in the study of medieval literature. The aim of this volume is to allow historians who are experts in the fields of economic, social, political, religious, and intellectual history the chance to interpret one of the most famous works of Middle English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue’ to the Canterbury Tales, in its contemporary context.

Rather than resorting to traditional historical attempts to see Chaucer’s descriptions of the Canterbury pilgrims as immediate reflections of historical reality or as portraits of real-life people whom Chaucer knew, the contributors to this volume have sought to show what interpretive frameworks were available to Chaucer in order to make sense of reality and how he adapted his literary and ideological inheritance so as to engage with the controversies and conflicts of his own day. Beginning with a survey of recent debates about the social meaning of Chaucer’s work, the volume then discusses each of the Canterbury pilgrims in turn. Historians on Chaucer should be of interest to all scholars and students of medieval culture whether they are specialists in literature or history.


Stephen Rigby and Alastair Minnis: Preface
Stephen H. Rigby: Reading Chaucer: Literature, History and Ideology
Caroline M. Barron: Chaucer the Poet, Chaucer the Pilgrim
Stephen H. Rigby: The Knight
Craig Taylor: The Squire
Anthony J. Pollard: The Yeoman
Katherine J. Lewis: The Prioress and the Second Nun
Marilyn Oliva: The Nun’s Priest
Martin Heale: The Monk
G. Geltner: The Friar
Richard Goddard: The Merchant
Charles F. Briggs: The Clerk
Anthony Musson: The Sergeant of Law
Peter Coss: The Franklin
Gervase Rosser: The Five Guildsmen
Christopher M. Woolgar: The Cook
Wendy R. Childs: The Shipman
Carole Rawcliffe: The Doctor of Physic
Ruth Mazo Karras: The Wife of Bath
David Lepine: The Parson
Mark Bailey: The Ploughman
Paul Freedman: The Miller
Nigel Ramsay: The Manciple
David Stone: The Reeve
Ian Forrest: The Summoner
Rosemary Horrox: The Pardoner
Martha Carlin: The Host
Stephen Rigby: Conclusion: Historicism and its Limits


Edited by Stephen Rigby, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Social and Economic History, University of Manchester

With the assistance of Alastair Minnis, Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English, Yale University
Stephen Rigby was educated at Sheffield and London universities. He has published widely on social theory, medieval English social and economic history, Middle English literature, and medieval political theory.

Alastair Minnis is currently the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English at Yale University. Formerly he taught at the Queen’s University of Belfast, Bristol University, and the University of York. His research methodology brings together reading strategies from literary criticism and the history of ideas, and an interest in medieval philosophy and theology has informed much of his work. He is a Fellow of the English Association and of the Medieval Academy of America.

Mark Bailey
Caroline M. Barron
Charles F. Briggs
Martha Carlin
Wendy R. Childs
Ian Forrest
G. Geltner
Peter Coss
Richard Goddard
Martin Heale
Rosemary Horrox
Ruth Mazo Karras
David Lepine
Katherine J. Lewis
Alastair Minnis
Anthony Musson
Paul Freedman
Marilyn Oliva
Anthony J. Pollard
Nigel Ramsay
Carole Rawcliffe
Stephen Rigby
Gervase Rosser
David Stone
Craig Taylor
Christopher M. Woolgar



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