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Extra resources for A Companion to Chaucer
1598 sett downe by Francis Thynne, ed. G. H. Kingsley, Early English Text Society, original series 9 (1865), 36. 3 The Canterbury Tales: A Facsimile and Transcription of the Hengwrt Manuscript with Variants from the Ellesmere Manuscript, ed. Paul G. : University of Oklahoma Press, 1979), pp. xvii– xviii. References and Further Reading Brewer, Derek S. (1966) ‘Images of Chaucer 1386–1900’, in Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Literature, ed. Derek S. : University of Alabama Press; London: Nelson), 240–70.
Surveys of estates types in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Latin and French poetry already show progressive proliferation of the initial three estates, and Chaucer’s contemporaries John Gower and William Langland show much greater ﬂexibility still (Mann 1973). Chaucer’s opening sequence in the General Prologue – of Knight (with son and servant), three religious ﬁgures of some power and economic substance, and then, less clearly, ﬁgures occupied in humbler modes of living (after the irascible Parson, most of the ﬁgures are explicitly beholden to some absent lord or ‘maister’), ending with sheer hypocrites and rogues – superﬁcially shows a more dutiful acceptance than Gower’s or Langland’s surveys of the customary ideal harmony of ‘those who fought, those who prayed, those who worked’.
The speech’s dark features are obvious; life is ‘this wrecched world’, the only escape suicide (‘Al mowe they yet tho dayes wel abregge’). The courtly taste for Boethian philosophy, as a way of standing above the vicissitudes of courtly ‘fortune’, is here put to its toughest test. For if Boethius in his paean to God, ‘O qui perpetua’ (Consolation III, metrum 9), a celebratory lyric recast by so many of the Latin authors Chaucer read, uses occasional metaphors of ‘binding’ to describe the order imposed by the ‘creator of heaven and earth’, Theseus presents such binding as an iron grip imposing a quasi-political autocracy on all creation, from the chained elements to the impulses of human beings to bewail death and loss, as his conclusion to his argument shows: ‘And whoso gruccheth ought, he dooth folye, / And rebel is to hym that al may gye’ (3045–6).