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Chaucer's French Tradition: Coterie Poetics in Late Medieval England

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“Chaucer’s French Tradition: Coterie Poetics in Late-Medieval England” shows the influence of literary coteries on the formation of the earliest articulations of the English literary tradition, emerging from the founding figure of Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer himself engaged in coterie practices as part of his negotiation of continental, particularly French, literary traditions, and his 15th-century successors adopt and adapt the coterie model as they construct an English literary tradition. These successors — figures like Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate, Stephen Scrope, Richard Roos, William Dunbar, and John Skelton—articulate their own places within this tradition in terms of the intimacy of their relationships to its founder; in other words, these are coterie relationships. They are also fictive; the coterie has entered the realm of the imaginary, where it can be populated by dead writers, literary patrons, and other figures. By the end of the fifteenth century, this move to the imaginary results in a shift from the intimate logic of the coterie to the more abstract idea of a tradition – what we now know as the Chaucerian tradition, which forms the foundation of the English literary tradition.

Chaucer’s coterie practices lay the groundwork for those writers who follow him. Chaucer’s relationship to the French tradition is mediated by his coterie relationship to his French contemporaries, especially Eustache Deschamps and Oton de Granson. The existence of a coterie, however, depends on making distinctions between members and non-members, which becomes clear by turning to Thomas Hoccleve’s relationship with Chaucer and Christine de Pizan. Despite having Chaucer’s model of a French and English coterie to follow Hoccleve emphasizes his relationship to Chaucer at the expense of his relationship to Christine. If Hoccleve works by exclusion, Lydgate works by inclusion. He constructs "virtual coteries," a literary trope in which a writer characterizes the production of his or her work as the combined effort of the older writers who may be its source or inspiration, the patrons or audience who have commissioned the work, and the writer himself or herself who brings all of these different strands together in order to create the final product. They are a half-step between coterie and tradition, abstracting the intimacy of coteries into a relationship that exists primarily on the page. A generation after Lydgate, beyond the close-knit networks found in virtual coteries, one arrives at the Chaucerian tradition, displayed in the work of Scrope, Roos, Dunbar, and Skelton. These writers signal their participation in that tradition by way of allusions that do not function to create a sense of intimacy with the older poet, but signal an affiliation to a whole body of material that travels under his banner, under the rubric of the Chaucerian tradition.

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This item is under embargo until October 25, 2024.