Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational by David Wallace

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5 Most attempts of this kind have not been convincing. Their general effect is the mechanical subjection of Chaucer's text to a pre-fashioned theoretical gridwork, thereby squeezing the life, the spontaneous intelligence, from the poetry. The very act of constructing such a gridwork signals a basic failure to understand the nature of politics. 7 The lexicon of political thought is of fundamental importance in providing tropes, motifs, and building blocks for such interventions. 9 And this should encourage us, as literary critics, not to carry political schemata to the literary text but rather to read the text as if it were its own politics (developed through its specific envisioning of possible social relations).

This process of group formation, where the right to exist as a group is simply assumed from within rather than conferred from without, represents a singular moment of political confidence that will not be repeated on English territory. Nothing like this is conceivable on the Shakespearean stage; indeed, associational forms in Shakespeare (particularly those featuring a promiscuous mix of genders and social classes) are always subjected to pressure by an exterior, hierarchical gaze. The vertical vectors of the Clerk's Tale, however, find countless analogues in later centuries.

The opening chapter of this book establishes Chaucer within a continuous, much-traveled nexus of mercantile, military, mercenary, and artistic exchange. It follows him first to Florencewhich struggled to integrate an associative polity of quite extraordinary inclusivenessand then to Milan and Pavia, home to the despots or tyrants who imbue the name of "Lumbardye," in Chaucer, with such sinister potency. The writings and authorial legends of Boccaccio and Petrarch are considered in conjunction with other forms of cultural productionstreet poetry, poesia d'arte, manuscript illumination, deployments of public space, forms of devotionthat helped articulate the Florentine-Lombard divide in the late Trecento.

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