Robert Hanning

title.none: Correale and Hamel, Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales (Robert Hanning)

identifier.other: baj9928.0211.009 02.11.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robert Hanning, Columbia University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Correale, Robert M. and Mary Hamel, eds. Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, Vol. 1. Series: Chaucer Studies. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2002. Pp. xii, 623. $85.00. ISBN: 0-85991-628-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.11.09

Correale, Robert M. and Mary Hamel, eds. Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, Vol. 1. Series: Chaucer Studies. Woodbridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2002. Pp. xii, 623. $85.00. ISBN: 0-85991-628-6.

Reviewed by:

Robert Hanning
Columbia University

There are several good reasons for welcoming the appearance of this first of two volumes that will replace the venerable Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, edited by W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster, published in 1941 as "a collaborative undertaking bu members of the Chaucer Group of the Modern Language Association of America." Although still a compilation to which any serious student of Chaucer turned frequently, the Bryan-Dempster Sources and Analogues (hereafter BDSA) had long since been in need of aggiornamento for many reasons. Intensive post-World War II research in European (and American) archives and manuscript collections has greatly expanded our awareness of the existence, redactions, and diffusion of medieval texts. One result of this expansion (indicated quantitavely in the fact that BDSA's successor requires not one but two volumes) is much new knowledge, or well-founded opinion, about the textual sources for this or that Canterbury Tale or "Prologue"; conversely, it has become possible to eliminate from consideration texts proposed as sources by contributors to BDSA (Sercambi's Novelle being the most famous instance).

In addition, scholarly editions published since 1941, separately or in series such as The Chaucer Library, have made newly (or more accurately) available antecedents to several of the Tales, e.g., the redactions of Peraldus's treatise on vices and virtues (ParsT), the source for the second half of 2NunT, or the late thirteenth-century French romance Meliacin (SqT). (It's easy to forget, until one looks closely at BDSA, how many of the editions and source studies on which its contributors based their findings date from the late nineteenth or very early twentieth centuries.)

Less obvious, perhaps, but no less important, are paradigm shifts in the study of Chaucer (and of medieval literature generally) that have modified the positivist assumptions underlying a "sources and analogues" project such as BDSA. To many literary medievalists, the search for precise "sources" and the compilation of analogues, earlier and later, from nearby or far away, seems confining as an approach to understanding the processes at work in the creation (or, as many would now say, following A. Minnis, the compilation) of a framed tale collection such as The Canterbury Tales (hereafter, CT) or (to name the new, important guest at the Canterbury feast) Boccaccio's Decameron. From the perspective of 2002, BDSA's procedures beg the question of what constitutes a "source," or narrow the concept to the point where larger cultural influences are ignored in favor of precise or approximate verbal parallels. Testifying to this last point is the presence in several of the chapters of Correale and Hamel's Sources and Analogues (hereafter CHSA) of a serious endeavor to place all or parts of a Canterbury Tale within a larger context by means of reference to social and political circumstances. For example, Amy W. Goodwin's survey of late medieval French adaptations of the Griselda story, stemmimg from two differently inflected translations of Petrarch's Latinization of Boccaccio's original Italian, sees these adaptations "forming a rich group of analogues that attests to the ability of the Griselda story to accomodate significantly different interpretations and to address social, philosophical, and religious issues...The variety among different late medieval France should inform contemporary disagreements over the meaning or significance of Chaucer's Clerk's Tale" (135-36). By comparison, the apolitical, largely non-contextualizing (and in many cases extremely terse) introductory comments to chapters of BDSA seem quite threadbare. (The fragmentary "Cook's Tale" provides something of an exception. Earl D. Lyon's assessment of it would appear to anticipate John Scattergood's more fully articulated conclusion in CHSA: "That there were strains in the social fabric of London and in the apprenticeship system in the latter part of the 14thc is well known. It looks as though Chaucer may have been intending to address some of those issues, in a tale, perhaps based on a contemporary incident, which is likely to have been comic..." [86].)

It is, of course, unfair to expect the scholars of any earlier era (many of whom, in the case of BDSA, were extraordinarily competent in their practice of medieval studies as they understood that discipline) to conform to norms articulated by subsequent generations. But the evolution of Chaucer study, and thus of the expectations of its practitioners, has made the advent of CHSA as necessary as it is desirable.

One further feature of the new collection deserves comment: its inclusion of translations of all texts not composed in English, to replace the eye-straining marginal English summaries of such texts in BDSA. This change is a reminder of expectations about educational preparation and priorities that obtained in colleges and universities, before first the GI Bill and then the post-Sputnik, civil-rights and feminist revolutions of the 60's opened the study of Chaucer to a vastly enlarged audience of students whose engagement with the text of CT was grounded more in critical analysis than in philological and linguistic skills. (Of course, the existence of the marginal summaries suggests an admission, however grudging, that not all users of BDSA were themselves multilingual.) Space does not permit an exhaustive, chapter by chapter comparison of the two collections; accordingly, the remainder of this review will offer comments on a few of the presentations in CHSA that differ most strikingly and paradigmatically from their respective predecessors.

Helen Cooper's essay on the the Frame of CT obviously meets this criterion. The equivalent chapter in BDSA by Robert Pratt and Karl Young offers two conclusions, neither of which remains credible today: that there is no governing source for the pilgrim "portraits" of the "General Prologue" -- Jill Mann's epoch-making Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire (1973) puts paid to that argument -- and that Giovanni Sercambi's Novelliero offers the most likely model, if Chaucer used one, for the overall fictive frame of CT -- a contention rendered untenable by the Novelliero's most recent editor, whose research places that text's composition after 1399. In general, Pratt and Young's implicit (and sometimes explicit) commitment to Chaucer's poetic "realism" renders their judgments suspect by today's critical standards.

By contrast, Cooper's survey of the same poetic terrain (originally published in SAC for 1997) assumes almost from the beginning that "if any one work can stake a primary claim to being Chaucer's model for the Tales, it is The Decameron" (2; hereafter Dec). (Pratt and Young dismissed any such claim, along with similar claims by Boccaccio's Filocolo and Gower's Confessio amantis.) Cooper notes closely analogous narratorial presence, which "the authors offer the same justifications for writing, the same excuses for their stories not all being moral, the same transferring of ethical responsibility to their audience or readers, and similar discussions of the relation of word to meaning" (11). To account for the fact that Dec provides analogues to, but not direct sources for, several of Chaucer's tales, Cooper embraces a "theory of memorial reconstruction: Chaucer could have read or heard Dec..., and then sought out versions of the same stories to retell when he was working on the Tales" (10). Similarly, CT's grouping of tales via connecting links -- the so-called "fragments" in which Chaucer left the unfinished text -- seem suggested by, but not borrowed directly from, the structuring of Dec's one hundred novelle into ten separate days of telling (12).

One collateral effect of accepting the premise that Dec served as a model for CT is the willingness of CHSA contributors to include relevant Boccaccian analogues in their chapters (e.g., Dec 9.6 in Peter Beidler's on RvT and Dec 10.5 in Robert Edwards's on FkT) -- an option not exercised in BDSA.

Helen Cooper might also have cited the unique competition among the Dec brigata on day ten, over whose novella illustrates the greatest act of magnanimity, as a possible inspiration for the competition suggested by Harry Bailly to shape the Canterbury pilgrims' tale-telling. Instead, she contends that "Chaucer's informing principle of structuring his story-collection by analogy with a series of dialectical debating positions derives from more general conventions of debate literature, and from the wider uses of disputation in medieval culture, in the law courts, the schools, Parliament and so on, where specific sources are beside the point" (1-2). (Cooper does adduce the medieval Dialogue of Solomon and Marcolphus as a "powerfully suggestive analogue to Chaucer's methods in the Tales," adding prudentially, "but not necessarily more than that" [17].) The chapter also includes a clear and useful taxonomical survey of how story collections are (or are not) organized by shared theme and framing fiction, a summary of observations by Chaucer's contemporaries on the storytelling proclivities of pilgrims, and a rehearsal of what is known about the London puy, a merchant society that sponsored poetry contests in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The relevance of individual elements of Cooper's discussion (and indeed her assumption that "deliberate imitation...becomes the only plausible explanation" [8] for parallels between Dec and CT) can, and doubtless will, be disputed, but this is definitely an overview for our time of the contexts into which CT's framing fiction can most profitably be placed. One omission is, I believe, to be regreted: there is no mention of Gower's estates poems (Mirour de l'Omme, Vox clamantis) as models and anti-models for the pilgrim portraits, nor of hypotheses (in Carl Lindahl's Earnest Games [1985] and, following him, David Wallace's Chaucerian Polity [1997]) that Mann's estates-satire thesis can profitably be supplemented by looking to parish gilds as potential models for the pilgrim compaignye. Two chapters equally deserving of mention for their timely reconceptualizing of the positivist model shaping BDSA are William Askins's outstanding discussion of Albertano of Brescia and his European Nachleben, in translations of his treatises such as CT's "The Tale of Melibee"; and Vincent Di Marco's placement of "The Squire's Tale" in ethnographic and intellectual contexts unconsidered in BDSA.

Di Marco assumes the "strong likelihood of Chaucer's dependence on oral reports and reminiscences of travelers and merchants," and argues that certain names in SqT suggest the poet's "knowledge of Mongol/Muslim-Orthodox Christian alliances through marriage" in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Moreover, "Chaucer not only historicizes...the exotic world beyond Christian Europe, but consistently suggests in his treatment of the marvelous and magical a new, largely 'rational' and 'scientific' spirit that has no recourse to traditional supernatural explanations (divine or demonic) and clearly seeks to inquire beyond the court entertainments of illusionists." SqT "consistently disparages an uninformed appreciation of magic relying on allusion to classical favor of a more learned audience's knowledge of how such things really work" (173-74; author's emphasis). Accordingly, Di Marco offers sources, analogues, and also illustrative material drawn from "the broadly intellectual and specifically literary traditions to which Chaucer was indebted" (169), the latter category including "material representative of the tradition of scientific speculation and experiment regarding... 'magical' phenomena," relevant since "the First Part of SqT owes much to the tradition and genre of the "Question" or "Problem" literature, including quodlibeta, that rationalize marvels and aim to explain phenomena naturally" (174-75).

In BDSA, J. Burke Severs's chapter on "The Tale of Melibee" compares Renaud de Louens's French translation/adaptation of Albertano's Liber consolationis et consilii to the Latin original and declares the French version a "briefer, more closely knit, less schematic treatise" (562). Severs insists that Chaucer used only Renaud's French, not Albertano's Latin, in his own redaction of the story of Prudence and Melibee.

Askins presents Le livre de Mellibee et Prudence in what is basically Severs's edition (with variants from more manuscripts than Severs knew), but in every other respect his chapter offers a completely new approach to his task, as one would expect from a scholar whose research and writings during the last fifteen years and more have greatly increased our understanding of Albertano of Brescia, his works, and their many translations/adaptations, including Chaucer's, into European vernaculars. Building on antecedent research, Askins demonstrates, against Severs's claim, Chaucer's knowledge and use of Albertano's Latin as well Renaud's French, and he calls into question Severs's argument that Renaud's version represents a major shortening and clarification of the Latin by noting the variety of truncations and modifications Albertano's Latin text undergoes in many of the hundreds of extant manuscripts.

But Askins also summarizes the recent scholarship (including his own) that has historicized both the work of earlier scholars and the circumstances in which Albertano and Renaud wrote. As he puts it, "I have present the text which follows [of Renaud, but with inserted "portions of the Latin text which are not represented in the French" (327)] in such a way that readers will be drawn towards the idea of interpreting it in the light of the historical forces which shaped and reshaped it as it was copied and recopied, translated and retranslated" (325).

Perhaps less innovatory in method but important for providing new sources for individual CT are the chapters on NPT, 2NunT, and ParsT. Edward Wheatley, making a useful distinction between beast fable and beast epic, adds Marie de France's Fable 60 ("Le Coq et le renard") to BDSA's list of sources for NPT and substitutes Le roman de Renart contrefait for the German Reinhart Fuchs. Sherry Reames demonstrates that the second part of 2NunT (from line 349 on) descends from an abridgment of the Latin Passio of St. Cecilia found in a Liturgy for Matins of the Saint's feast day, not from the Passio itself. And Richard Newhauser incorporates into his discussion and presentation of the sources of ParsT the important research of Siegfried Wenzel which led to the discovery of the "Quoniam" and "Primo" redactions of Peraldus's Summa de vitiis, as well as the Summa virtutum de remediis anime, all unknown to Germaine Dempster in the respective chapter of BDSA. I have noted only a few typographical errors and (presumably) one of fact: Girart d'Amiens's Meliacin, if produced "during the last two decades of the thirteenth century" (171) is most unlikely to have been dedicated to "Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II" (172, n. 7), unless the dedication was to her memory.

The editors, contributors, and publisher of Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales I have earned by their labors the gratitude of all serious students of the text, its poet, and its era.