Chaucerian Works in the English Renaissance: Editions and Imitations
Chaucerian Works in the English Renaissance: Editions and ImitationsSean Gordon Lewis, Ph.D.Director: Michael Mack, Ph.D.Chaucerian Works in the English Renaissance: Editions and Imitations articulates the connection between editorial presentation and authorial imitation in order to solve a very specific problem: why were the comedic aspects of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer--aspects that appear to be central to his poetic sensibilities--so often ignored by Renaissance poets who drew on Chaucerian materials? While shifts in language, religion, politics, and poetic sensibilities help account for a predilection for prizing Chaucerian works of sentence (moral gravity), it does not adequately explain why a poet like Edmund Spenser--one of the age's most unabashedly Chaucerian poets--would imitate comedic, works of solaas (literary pleasure) in a completely sententious manner. This dissertation combines bibliographic approaches with formal analysis of literary history, leading to a fuller understanding of the "uncomedying" of Chaucer by Renaissance editors and poets. This dissertation examines the rhetorical and aesthetic effects of editions of the works of Chaucer published between 1477 and 1602 (Caxton through Speght) as a means of understanding patterns of Chaucerian imitation by poets of the period. Although the most obvious shift in textual presentation is the change from printing single works to printing "Complete Works" beginning with the 1532 Thynne, I argue that choices made by the printing-house (in terms of layout, font, and, most specifically, editorial directions) had a gradual, cumulative effect of highlighting Chaucerian sentence at the expense of solaas. The ways in which Chaucerian texts were presented to be read throughout the Renaissance determined, to a great degree, how these texts were imitated. The evidence of this cumulative effect on poetic reception is seen in a thorough examination of the early editions of the poetry of John Skelton and Edmund Spenser, revealing that not only did the editorial rhetoric of Chaucerian editions in the English Renaissance mold the ways in which poets responded to Chaucer, but that in the case of Edmund Spenser, Spenser's poetic imitations of Chaucer led to major shifts in editorial presentation of Chaucer's works in the beginning of the seventeenth century.
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