Chaucer's Divided "I": Narrative Voice and Performance Dynamics in Late Fourteenth-Century English Literature
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Throughout the twentieth century, various Chaucer scholars have worked to achieve the now-consensus opinion that Chaucer wrote his works expecting them to be both listened to within a group setting and read privately in an individual setting. These scholars have either assumed or expressly stated that the experience of listening to and reading Chaucer’s works would have been the same. This dissertation argues otherwise. I show that in the late fourteenth century, English vernacular was only starting to be understood as a written language, and this peculiar circumstance created tensions between both listening and reading modes of reception. Such tensions carried subtle yet divergent implications for how an English literary work ought to be culturally received. It also impacted how a work might be considered in relation to its author, whose physical presence was increasingly not guaranteed as manuscript copying continued to expand. I further argue that Chaucer, in order to negotiate between the contrary implications underlying both modes of reception, experimented with his construction of narrative voice in different ways at different stages of his literary career. His works, as they progress, reflect an increasing awareness of the fragility of the author’s implied voice and the dangers of misprision in a listening reception.
This work, insofar as it focuses on Chaucer’s narrators, offers new insights into recent critical discussions on whether or not it is appropriate to read them as distinctly different personae, and if so, where the reader should distinguish between Chaucer’s words and those of his “narrator.” Additionally, by demonstrating the tensions and uncertainties residing within the English tongue during Chaucer’s time, this research suggests that vernacular authors were more likely to treat public reading as a concern to be addressed as opposed to a negligible supplementary practice. Such a suggestion offers new ways of interpreting the writing of other authors in the same period, many of whom were beset with the same dilemma.
McDuffie, Isaac, "Chaucer's Divided "I": Narrative Voice and Performance Dynamics in Late Fourteenth-Century English Literature" (2017). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 4182.
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