Chaucer’s Body: The Anxiety Of Circulation In The “Canterbury Tales”

Chaucer’s Body: The Anxiety Of Circulation In The “Canterbury Tales”R. Allen Shoaf

University Press of Florida, 2001
ISBN: 0813024234

Chaucer’s Body follows the fortunes of individual bodies in the Canterbury Tales to their surprising, often shocking, involvements in both the humor and the horror of being human. Neither wholly carnal nor wholly spiritual, bodies in Chaucer’s poem emerge as sites of resistance to economic, political, social, and sexual forces.

R. Allen Shoaf, one of America’s foremost medievalists, focuses on the imagery of circulation in the Canterbury Tales, a ubiquitous trope that he cites as an index to Chaucer’s sense of what it means to live in a mortal body. In particular, Shoaf argues, imagery of disease and contamination, as well as of intercourse, social and sexual alike, insists that the body’s vulnerability is a necessary complement to its creativity. With a remarkably rich interplay between his main text and the notes, Shoaf examines not only what happens to physiological entities in the Tales as they circulate in nature and society but also how and why it happens.

In lively and sometimes personal prose, Shoaf also offers new insights into Chaucer’s language – especially his skill in the rhetoric of metonymy – that affirm the poet’s status as one of the greatest English poets. When Chaucer’s language transcends the limits of what currently are assumed to be its historical constraints, Shoaf writes, we find a poet who is as playfully serious with words as Shakespeare. This culmination of thirty years of reading, teaching, and writing about Chaucer will find an interested audience among all medievalists.

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