Chaucer's Pardoner in Performance

Stephen Knight


People normally refer to Chaucer as if he were a book-"I've been reading Chaucer", or "I've bought a new Chaucer". The speaker has in mind a closely printed, many-paged, very bookish book. And even when language imputes human agency to this "Chaucer", as in "Chaucer says" or "Chaucer thinks", the agent is still implicitly the author of a book to be pored over. Critics write fondly of Chaucer's irony, his ambiguities, his manipulation of sources, his taste for subtle contrasts and repetitions across many pages. The literary interpretation and evaluation of Chaucer rest in general on the assumption that he is literary, producing a book-even a novel.

That assumption is in general false, if you think of Chaucer's work as produced in its period.

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