Chaucer

Based on the evidence this section of the reading supplies, to what extent should Chaucer’s authorship be questioned?

The illustrators of many Canterbury Tales manuscripts seemed eager to perpetuate the appearance or notion of a single author, given Chaucer’s figure in their historiated initials. What reason might they have for maintaining the idea of a single author?

A Strange Hand

In the third section of chapter 1 (of the OUMEM) “Gawain and the Medieval Reader: The Importance of Manuscript Ordinatio in a Poem We Think We know,” the authors begin with a discussion about the anachronistic use of Gothic textualis rotuna media┬áin Cotton Nero. That is, a style characteristic of the 13th century present, here, in a manuscript that dates to the second half of the 14th century. Scholars refer to this as a “strange hand.” They conjecture that this anachronism is due to the scribe’s, supervisor’s, or patron’s feeling “that this was the kind of script appropriate to English verse.”

This idea is one of many that I’ve come across that brings the scribes and audiences of these medieval times to the present and humanizes them. They exhibit cultural tendencies and develop habits the same way we do. It is a misleading result of our orientation to history that we wouldn’t expect, say, a scribe from one century to become preoccupied with a convention from a prior century. It is this misconception that persons from one historical period wouldn’t be conscious of a prior one–that we, in the present, are the grand observers of all these compartmentalized historical periods that weren’t, themselves, curious or aware of their own history, which came before (redundancy?).

This phenomenon is analogous to our own aesthetic preferences and usages of past styles (music, fashion, literature, film, etc.) We even have medieval and gothic and just about an period’s style fonts available on word processing applications, to make a more direct analogy. Its natural that there would be manuscripts with a “strange hand.”