Commentary on an Unacknowledged Text: Chaucer’s Debt to Langland’ ,
This essay examines the structural and rhetorical imprint of L’s poetic project in the Canterbury Tales, especially as these are dramatized in the many and self-conscious anomalies of the Pardoner’s person and performance. By depicting in the bodily and spiritual ambiguities of the Pardoner the subjective dangers of penitential discourse, and the temptations that attend the preacher’s rhetorical craft, Chaucer presents a searching appreciation of the character of L’s poetics. In the Pardoner’s pride in his own rhetorical virtuosity, and in his embodiment of the violated proprieties of gender, age, and social vocation, Chaucer re-embodies in a disturbingly willful new speaker the hazards that attend the earlier poet’s reformative rhetoric, and repeatedly misdirects his persona’s pursuit of spiritual rectification into renewed displays of ‘clergial’ mastery. For Chaucer this spectacle of a major poetic talent expending itself in repeated articulations of a complex fiction whose theme is ‘alwey oon’ was not only imposing but cautionary: L’s project presented the alarming prospect of an intricately structured yet unfinished and unfinishable work, and of the represented poetic self of its maker as vocationally anomalous and unsanctioned, forever in process of spiritual (re)formation and rectification yet grown old and exhausted in (merely) worldly ‘making’. (AM)
YLS, 24 (2010), 113-37.