Poets and the Poetics of Sin
The works of WL and Chaucer show the dominance of hamartiological and eschatological modes of thought in fourteenth-century literature. Though the topic of sin is largely absent from his early work, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales identifies covetousness and lechery as especially damaging; by contrast, PPl A was professedly moral, with its first main movement organized around the capital sin of covetousness, and the second movement driven by a sermon toward repentance. In PPl estates satire is pervasive rather than structurally dominant, whereas many of the Canterbury pilgrims suggest in their particularizations of estates-satire figures that Chaucer used the system as a criterion of selection. Literary extensions of the “poetics of sin” are seen in both poets in their choice of mankind as the proper study of literary art, in their sensitivity to the appropriate language register of an immediate context (rather than a prescription of high, middle, and low styles), and in the grotesque portrait.
The Morton W. Bloomfield Lectures on Medieval English Literature 1. Cambridge, MA: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1989.