A Companion to Chaucer by Peter Brown

By Peter Brown

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We have seen his majestic countenance, full of brooding light; his long life and ceaseless energy. His influence for centuries was unbounded, and probably wider than even that of Shakespeare. He created a language and a method of versification, which was followed by the poets both of England and Scotland. We have seen how exhaustless was his genius; how just his love and fixed his faith in human nature; how firm and true, and fearless his dealing with all things. We have seen how much of this was owing to the age which nurtured and understood the poet.

The fishbowl of Richard’s autocratic Authority 31 court, and the sea-washed strands of the entrepôt London, together offered extraordinary opportunities for those pursuing these goals. The Knight’s Tale, 2987–3074 Theseus’ speech on the ‘Firste Moevere’ at the end of the Knight’s Tale is Chaucer’s fullest presentation of authority as a comprehensive principle. But it has always generated a variety of interpretative complaints and debates. It opens with a vast perspective, funnelling down to the reasons for quietly accepting Arcite’s death and Palamon’s and Emelye’s marriage: ‘The Firste Moevere of the cause above, Whan he first made the faire cheyne of love, Greet was th’effect, and heigh was his entente.

It sought to set wages at pre-plague levels and required that all workers and artisans take an oath before king’s justices to obey the new (or ‘old’) wage and price rules (Musson and Ormrod 1999: 95–6). To impose central wage control and intervene in the traditional relationship between local landlords and their workers were stunning innovations, even on the grounds of recovering ‘traditional order’, making every labourer in effect a state-regulated worker. The required oath deserves contemplation too.

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