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Chaucer's presence in songes and sonettes

Holton, A. (2013) Chaucer's presence in songes and sonettes. In: Hamrick, S. (ed.) Tottel's Songes and Sonettes in Context. Material Readings in Early Modern Literature. Ashgate, Aldershot, pp. 87-110. ISBN 9781409464655

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In an elegy to Wyatt published in Tottel’s Miscellany, Surrey claims that Wyatt ‘reft Chaucer the glory of his wit’. This statement, which both lauds and resists Chaucer, is a microcosm of the way Chaucer is treated throughout the Miscellany. In examining the collection’s paradoxical attitude to Chaucer, this essay focuses particularly on the Squire’s Tale, the Franklin’s Tale, Anelida and Arcite, the Legend of Good Women, and several short lyrics. In its interest in courtly love poetry and Petrarch, the Miscellany follows a trajectory in English poetry set by Chaucer. Its courtly verse is saturated with words, phrases, and tropes from his poetry. Rhyme royal, which he introduced into English poetry, is widely used. The Canterbury Tales has been fully assimilated and can be referred to allusively with the same confidence of the audience’s knowledge as is the case when referring to classical myth; in Wyatt’s ‘Myne owne Jhon Poins’, the speaker, disclaiming deceitfulness, says that he cannot ‘say that Pan/ Passeth Appollo in musike manifold:/ Praise syr Topas for a noble tale,/ And scorne the story that the knight tolde’ (lines 48-50). However, Chaucer’s poetry is also downplayed and contested in the Miscellany. ‘Truth’, the only poem of his which appears in the volume, is disingenuously placed in the ‘Uncertain Authors’ section. In addition, some of the most important elements of his work are strongly resisted in the Miscellany, either ignored, dismissed or challenged. These elements include Chaucer’s interest in variety of voice, his sympathetic engagement with women, particularly wronged women, and his interest in female speech and particularly female complaint. The Miscellany, by contrast, is dominated by male-voiced lyrics preoccupied with the pain inflicted on the lover by a lady who is frequently unfeeling, cruel, or faithless. Chaucer’s frequent focus on the cynical seduction and betrayal of female by male is reversed in the Miscellany, and the language and metaphors he uses to express male cruelty (e.g. the word ‘newfangleness’ and images of hooks, nets and traps) are usurped to describe the lady’s cruelty to the suffering lover. On occasion, poems in the Miscellany challenge specific Chaucerian texts; ‘On His Love Named White’ throws down a gauntlet to The Book of the Duchess, while two of Surrey’s poems implicitly take issue with the female falcon’s voice in the Squire’s Tale, giving the deceitful tercelet the opportunity to shout down the falcon’s charges. The essay thus shows that in many respects Tottel’s Miscellany is only superficially Chaucerian, and that it both passively and actively takes issue with Chaucer’s work.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies (GCMS)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:30724

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