Soper at Oure Aller Cost: The Politics of Food Supply in The Canterbury Tales
The reward for the best storyteller among the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a meal: ‘soper at oure aller cost’ (I, 799). This narrative detail gives tangible form to the traditional association between literary creation and arable farming. Chaucer’s diverse pilgrims and the tales they tell are woven together by the language, tropes, and contemporary concerns relating to anxieties about production, supply, distribution, purity and quality of food. Focusing on the figure of the Plowman, the apocryphal ‘Plowman’s Tale’, and the ‘Reeve’s Tale’, and reading them in the context of sociopolitical and religious dissent (the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt and Lollardy respectively), this essay traces the ways in which the Canterbury Tales engages with the politics and poetics of food supply in the final decades of the fourteenth century.