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Trade and Romance$

Michael Murrin

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226071572

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226071602.001.0001

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(p.285) Appendix 1: The Devaluation of the Squire and his Tale

(p.285) Appendix 1: The Devaluation of the Squire and his Tale

Trade and Romance
University of Chicago Press

The devaluation of The Squire’s Tale began shortly after World War II but really became intense and won general support only in the 1960s.1 It involved many critics, most of whom, however, developed variations on two seminal essays, one by Derek Pearsall, “The Squire as Story-Teller” (1964), and another by Robert Haller, “Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Uses of Rhetoric” (1965). The high period for the devaluation lasted roughly a decade (1964–73), followed by a pause and then the refutation by Bloomfield and Goodman (1979–85). Pearsall signaled its end, as he had its beginning, by his partial retraction in his critical study, The Canterbury Tales (1985).

Pearsall in his article of 1964 set the categories for the devaluation, which concerned the style of the tale and the plot. The argument on style had the longest life. Pearsall pointed especially to the frequent use of occupatio in part 1, and Haller in “Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Uses of Rhetoric” (1965) extended the attack to part 2, stressing the passage on digestion at its beginning, and the rhyme, which he thought violated decorum. Jennifer Goodman, in her article “Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Rise of Chivalry” (1983), here provided an answer, showing that Chaucer liked such puns or rime riche (132–33) and cited many examples. One could add that humor, including puns, has marked many romances, as far back as those of Chrétien de Troyes, who says at the beginning of the Yvain: “a cele feste qui tant coste, / qu’an doit clamer la Pantecoste” (5–6). The remarks on digestion similarly fit into a pattern, like the discourses of the loquacious eagle in The House of Fame.

(p.286) Pearsall’s other attack concerned the plot of The Squire’s Tale, which he considered prolix. Bloomfield and especially Goodman defended it. In “Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Renaissance” (1981), Bloomfield warned critics that romance had much more variety than they assumed and suggested a Renaissance context. Then two years later Goodman showed in detail that The Squire’s Tale fit the composite romance, which flourished in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and observed: “The composite romances are marked by precisely those elements that have annoyed the modern reader in The Squire’s Tale: meticulous attention to the niceties of courtly life joined with an inexhaustible appetite for marvels” (“Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Rise of Chivalry,” 129). She too looked to the Renaissance, using for theoretical purposes Battista Giraldi Cinzio’s Dei romanzi. Pearsall in his partial retraction accepted Goodman’s analysis (Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales, 140 n. 21), and those who continued the old war in the later 1980s and 1990s now mostly concentrated on style, tacitly allowing Goodman’s point.

One question remained, whether The Squire’s Tale was a deliberate fragment or not, but Manly and Rickert had already indicated that the scribes assumed the tale was either unfinished or the rest was lost,2 and their analysis applies as well to the early printed editions. Spenser opted for the first alternative, and Milton for the second.

The probable dating and state of the tale support this conclusion.3 Carleton Brown long ago showed that the Squire was a late addition to Chaucer’s cast of characters,4 and in 1892 Lounsbury pointed to passages in part 2 that are awkward or ungrammatical (365–66, 376–77, 455, 495–96, 667–69). Skeat agreed, saying that the part 2 was hastily composed, left unfinished, and never revised.5 Scholars who have recently studied the astronomy in The Squire’s Tale concur on a late date. J. D. North pointed to March 15, 1390, and Marijane Osborn likewise considered a date in the early 1390s appropriate.6 Chaucer was presumably still working on the tale when he died and had not corrected the draft for part 2.


(1) . With Neville Coghill, The Poet Chaucer, 123; and Gardner Stillwell, “Chaucer in Tartary,” 177–88.

(2) . Introduction to the Variorum SqT, 30, 76.

(3) . Majority opinion dates it late. See the Variorum SqT, Intro., 25.

(4) . Carleton Brown, “The Squire and the Number of the Canterbury Pilgrims,” 216–22.

(5) . Variorum notes to SqT, 376–77. Pearsall similarly noted broken syntax in the Squire’s address to the Host but explained it psychologically (“The Squire as Story-Teller,” 83).

(6) . J. D. North, “Kalenderes Enlumyned Ben They, Part II,” 260–62; Marijane Osborn, “The Squire’s ‘Steed of Brass’ as Astrolabe,” 122.