Take it as a tale: Reading the “Plowman’s Tale” As If It Were
This essay explores the prologue to the ‘Plowman’s Tale,’ an apocryphal inclusion to Chaucer’s canon that participated in the construction of an expansive, productive, Chaucerian persona characteristic of early print editions of Chaucer’s works. Starting in the eighteenth century, editors of Chaucer began the process of removing what they considered to be the spurious and apocryphal excesses of their predecessors’ editions. This culling of the canon was often guided by a subjective standard of Chaucerian decorousness, one that explicitly rejected the longstanding perception of Chaucer as a fiery, proto-Protestant critic of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. A result of this change in perception was a severing of the ties between Chaucer and the PPl tradition. This essay seeks to reconnect Chaucer to this tradition, both by resituating his works into the context of his sixteenth-century editors, the ones largely responsible for laying the foundation of his literary legacy, and by reading this apocryphal ‘Plowman’s Tale’ as if it really were an authentic part of the Canterbury Tales.
The Chaucer Review, 49:1 (2014), 77-101.