Rival Wisdoms:  Reading Proverbs in the <i>Canterbury Tales</i>

Rival Wisdoms: Reading Proverbs in the Canterbury Tales



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The Pennsylvania State University Press


University Park, Pennsylvania

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In this elegantly written study, Nancy Mason Bradbury situates Chaucer’s last and most ambitious work in the context of a zeal for proverbs that was still rising in his day. Rival Wisdoms demonstrates that for Chaucer’s contemporaries, these tiny embedded microgenres could be potent, disruptive, and sometimes even incendiary.

In order to understand Chaucer’s use of proverbs and their reception by premodern readers, we must set aside post-Romantic prejudices against such sayings as prosaic and unoriginal. The premodern focus on proverbs conditioned the literary culture that produced the Canterbury Tales and helped shape its audience’s reading practices. Aided by Thomas Speght’s notations in his 1602 edition, Bradbury shows that Chaucer acknowledges the power of the proverb, reflecting on its capacity for harm as well as for good and on its potential to expand and deepen—but also to regulate and constrict—the meanings of stories. Far from banishing proverbs as incompatible with the highest reaches of poetry, Chaucer places them at the center of the liberating interpretive possibilities the Canterbury Tales extends to its readers.

Revelatory and persuasive, this book will appeal to scholars and students of medieval and early modern English literature as well as those interested in proverbs and the Canterbury Tales.

Rival Wisdoms:  Reading Proverbs in the <i>Canterbury Tales</i>

Five College Library Catalog