|TITLE:||Usurping "Chaucers dreame": Book of the Duchess and the Apocryphal Isle of Ladies|
|SOURCE:||Studies in Philology 105 no2 207-25 Spr 2008|
IN his 1598 edition of Chaucer's works, Thomas Speght added another dream vision, now known as the spurious Isle of Ladies, but then titled, "Chaucers dreame, neuer before this time published in print. That which heretofore hath gone vnder the name of his dreame, is the Book of the Duchesse: or the death of Blanch Duchesse of Lancaster."(FN1) Isle steadfastly remained in the canon until the late nineteenth century and has since posed two kinds of questions for modern critics. On the one hand, those who study Isle alone concern themselves primarily with issues of dating and authorship and with saving this "flimsy airy fantasy"(FN2) from the neglect it has earned since being expelled from the Chaucer canon. On the other hand, those who work on the Book of the Duchess and attempt to trace the appearance of the text in print editions are "haunted by a doppelgänger of the poem, in title though not in text."(FN3) These two poems, typically dealt with separately by modern critics, are undeniably linked by the realities of printing and reception.
Pursuing this link further, that is, actually reading the Isle of Ladies in connection with Chaucer, allows us to see the poem in a new light, at once historical and interpretive. For fifteenth-century poets who were writing in the shadow of Chaucer, a reading of their texts with an eye to the Canterbury poet can reveal what may not have been seen when these poems were considered on their own. Alice Miskimin long ago called for "a return to the texts of the folios themselves, so long despised and ignored, for the wealth of their evidence of 'error' Elizabethans took for truth."(FN4) These "erroneous" interpretations, instead of being tossed aside as soon as we discover the "correct" reading of the text, can be used to reassess and rediscover the work. From such a study we find that there is a reason why Isle and the Book of the Duchess were so easily linked: the Isle-poet consciously imitated Chaucer, using the rhetorical technique of invention to create his own elaborate story indebted to the Book of the Duchess. To begin this revaluation of the Isle of Ladies, I will first focus on the context connecting Isle and Book of the Duchess as they originally appeared together in Speght's editions and then on nineteenth-century and modern conceptions of Chaucer and Isle as compared to sixteenth-century conceptions of the same. These issues of context and reception will function as a preface to my discussion of the Isle of Ladies itself as a Chaucerian imitation.
Any reading of the Isle of Ladies and the Book of the Duchess together must begin with Speght's "arguments" to both poems, which provide an authoritative interpretation for the reader before he even begins the poems. The allegorical description of Isle that Speght gives can be found in both of his editions, unchanged except for punctuation:
This dream deuised by Chaucer, seemeth to be a couert report of the mariage of Iohn of Gaunt the kings sonne with Blanch the daughter of Henry Duke of Lancaster, who after long loue, during the time whereof the Poet faineth them to be dead, were in the end by consent of friends happily married; figured by a bird bringing in her bill an hearbe, which restored them to life againe. Here also is shewed Chaucers match with a certaine Gentlewoman, who although shee was a stranger,(FN5) was notwithstanding so well liked and loued of the Lady Blanch, and her Lord, as Chaucer himselfe also was, that gladly they concluded a marriage betweene them.
Strengthening the link implied in the title that Speght gave to the poem, "Chaucers dreame," Speght's introduction argues that the Isle of Ladies functions as the story of the marriage of John and Blanche, forcing the unquestioning reader to read this poem as a companion piece to the Book of the Duchess. While Speght's description of Isle remains constant, the presentation of the Book of the Duchess does undergo a noticeable change between Speght's 1598 edition and his 1602 revision. The title and argument in 1598 read:
The booke of the Duchesse, or the death of Blanch, mistermed heretofore, Chaucers Dreame.
By the person of a mourning knight sitting under an Oke, is ment Iohn of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, greatly lamenting the death of Blaunch the Duchesse, who was his first wife.
In his 1602 edition, Speght prefaces his argument to the Book of the Duchess with the title, "The book commonly entitled, Chaucers Dreme," and the last part of the argument reads: "greatly lamenting the death of one whom hee entirely loued, supposed to bee Blanch the Duchesse" (1602; image 253). Revision in the 1602 edition thus affected the genuine poem and not the imitation. While the argument for the Isle held its ground, the Book of the Duchess, reclaiming its title, was rendered more vague and only hesitantly associated with real events: the assertion that the lady is Blanch is replaced by the interpretive phrase "supposed to bee." These changes were likely to have been influenced by Francis Thynne, who proposes, in his Animaduersions on Speght's 1598 edition, that the Book of the Duchess could not have been written for the death of Blanche, because the poem was written before Blanche died, and Chaucer "colde not lamente her deathe before she was deade."(FN8) Thynne also argues that the Isle should be called the "'Temple of Glasse,' as I haue seene the title therof noted."(FN9) He is presumably referring to Long-leat 256, one of the two extant manuscripts containing Isle, which appears here under the title: "The Temple of glasse / Compiled by geof-fray / Chaucer."(FN10) Derek Pearsall posits: "It is conceivable that Francis wrote this in himself, to provide good manuscript authority for his opinion."(FN11) Speght did not take Thynne's advice on the title of Isle but did edit his argument for the Book of the Duchess.
Isle, also holding onto the title "Chaucers Dreame," remained in the canon until the late nineteenth century, surviving the paring down of the canon by Thomas Tyrwhitt just a century before, who "unluckily opined that it might be genuine" (this is probably because Tyrwhitt had a predilection for dream visions, so most of those poems remained).(FN12) The authenticity of the poem was first called into question by means of rhyme tests that were developed by Walter W. Skeat (with the assistance of Henry Bradshaw, the Cambridge University librarian)(FN13) and eventually summarized in connection with Isle by Charles Flint McClumpha in 1889.(FN14) The primary test, as outlined by McClumpha, is based on the discovery that Chaucer never rhymes the French-ie/-ye with-y, as many of the apocryphal poems do, including Isle. The other tests also concern rhymes: the use of assonant rhymes, the rhyming of "here" with "there," and the use of other "strange rimes." Dialect and vocabulary form the final part of these tests, which Skeat used to declare that Isle was written after Chaucer, and in the North Midlands. Since Skeat, modern scholars are still holding to the classification of this poem as being written after Chaucer and in the North Midland dialect. The title given to the work also remains -- it was Bradshaw who titled the work Isle of Ladies, based on his own analysis of Longleat 256.(FN15)
The rhyme tests were developed not from Chaucer's entire "genuine" canon but from the Canterbury Tales specifically, which gradually became the focal point of Chaucer scholarship, beginning with John Dryden's comments about Chaucer in the preface to his Fables in 1700 and reaching an apex with the Chaucerians of the late nineteenth century.(FN16) The Canterbury Tales, in a sense, formed a base text from which scholars could make all other assumptions about Chaucer's work. Skeat outlines how the Canterbury Tales function in this way:
The mere fact that Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales enables us at once to clear out of the way two of the notions that have, at various times, been put forward by way of argument. The first of these is that Chaucer was not very particular as to his grammar or his rimes in his earlier years, but afterwards became more accurate.... The second is, that Chaucer employed provincialisms in his earlier days which he afterwards lost.... However, we know that The Canterbury Tales consist of a collection of things new and old.... Yet all the Tales agree as to grammatical usage, dialect, and peculiarities of rime, and we need not make any allowances on the score of chronology.(FN17)
Using the Canterbury Tales as the epitome of genuine Chaucerian works, Skeat and his contemporaries developed the rhyme tests as one method to determine the authenticity of all other poems associated with Chaucer's name.(FN18) The Canterbury Tales also represented the pinnacle of the "Geoffrey Chaucer" that late nineteenth-century scholars came to admire. Unlike the editors and antiquarians of the sixteenth century, who read Chaucer as a courtly poet removed from their own time (as I will discuss later), nineteenth-century readers of Chaucer, for the most part, felt themselves to be closer to understanding his language than the sixteenth-century editors did, and valued him for "the illustration of the manners and customs of our ancestors"(FN19) -- they read him for realism, not fantasy. Asserting that through his philological studies he had grasped the nuances of Chaucerian Middle English, Skeat said he felt as comfortable in Chaucer's language as in his own, as amusingly observed by David O. Matthews: "So Skeat -- last surviving native speaker of Chaucer's language -- is able to make editorial decisions as if he simply knows what Chaucer wanted."(FN20) Skeat was commissioned to edit the Clarendon Chaucer by Frederick James Furnivall, founder of the Early English Text Society and the Chaucer Society. This edition of Chaucer's works, published in 1894, "brought Chaucer, always the modern poet, to modern scholarship,"(FN21) and remained influential through the twentieth century.
After Skeat's separation of the Isle of Ladies from the Chaucer canon, the poem was largely ignored. Recently, brief discussions of Isle have surfaced in studies of the Chaucer apocrypha and tradition; the longer treatments of the poem are in the four modern editions of the text. The resurgence of the work on the Isle in twentieth-century critical discourse could be said to have begun with the appearance of two American editions of the poem in the 1980s.(FN22) Anthony Jenkins, in his 1980 edition, publishes the first extensive discussion of Isle since Skeat and McClumpha's observations. Looking at the poem primarily removed from its textual history, Jenkins reads in the poem a tension between what the poet wishes to write and what he is able to write due to convention, which suggests that he is "unable to distance himself from the dreamer or from the problems that beset him."(FN23) Elaborating further on this authorial insufficiency, Jenkins writes,
Unsophistication is the keynote of the poet's narrative voice. His is not the tricky naivete of the Chaucerian narrator, whose seeming innocence cloaks a knowledgeable smile but whose true nature continually eludes the reader's grasp. Instead, his constant effort to explain himself creates an impression of complete openness, and the fact that his words often get in his way only adds to our sense of the poet's urgent commitment to his theme.(FN24)
From this analysis, one gets the image of the frustrated artist struggling against the conventionality of the poetic form. The author, working in Chaucer's shadow, is using the only medium available to him, and he cannot control it. Jenkins exploits the language of mental instability when he concludes, "Emotionally, then, The Isle of Ladies illustrates a breakdown in medieval allegory."(FN25) Aside from this analysis, Jenkins adds two significant contributions to the further study of this poem. He reprints the poem as found in the Longleat manuscript, which also serves as the base text for subsequent editions, and further complicates the dilemma of the title of the poem, suggesting from internal evidence that the poem should be titled, "Ile of Pleasuance" (this title is not used again).(FN26) Vincent Daly, in the 1987 publication of his 1977 dissertation, reads the poem as much more of a success.(FN27) The narrative tension described by Jenkins is not present in Daly's critique, as he discusses the Isle-poet's use of Chaucer's meter: "We never get the impression, too often given by some of his contemporaries, that he is attempting to write beyond his abilities, or imitating Chaucer for the sake of imitating Chaucer, and not for the good of his poem."(FN28) Daly's project in his edition is clearly to aid in the rescue of fifteenth-century English literature from neglect, and thus he reads the poem as succeeding despite the difficulties posed by trying to imitate Chaucer's metrics. The Isle-poet succeeds because he is better than his contemporaries and because he is using Chaucer's style for "the good of his poem" and not simply to be imitative.
Pearsall reads the poem simultaneously as both a failure and a success.(FN29) He insists that the poem's deficiencies reside in "vapid" syntax and attributes any confusion in the poem to the shortcomings of the poet himself rather than to the scribe.(FN30) In discussing the poet's anonymity, he claims that the question of authorship is essentially pointless to pursue, "since the poem is perfectly transparent as an allegory of sexual repression and fulfillment. It is a dream of male desire."(FN31) This male desire functions to sever this poem from the other two Chaucerian apocrypha included in Pearsall's edition, the Floure and the Leafe and the Assembly of Ladies, both of which appear to have female narrators. The theme of repression might seem to echo Jenkins's narrative tension, but Pearsall implies that the desire is fulfilled. In addition, he poses the opposite viewpoint concerning the narrator's simplicity, noting that "there is also a carelessly sophisticated mock-naivete about the dreamer which makes us wonder, as we wonder with Chaucer, whether we have been taken in."(FN32)
Since Pearsall's publication of Isle, there have been studies of the poem not connected to the efforts of producing an edition. Manfred Markus, in his article on Isle as satire, reads the poem ironically.(FN33) He argues that the poet's inadequacies are intentional and not simply because he is a lesser poet or because he lived in the infelicitous period of the fifteenth century. Why else would this poem be so badly written? In a statement reminiscent of the criticism on courtly love literature, Markus argues, "Since the dreamer is making a fool of himself, the concept of love he propagates is also ridiculed, or at least presented as a game not to be taken too seriously."(FN34) His sudden conclusion is that the poet, jaded on account of these games, is yearning for an "existential" love, which, for Markus, is represented in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and the love poetry of Shakespeare and John Donne. Markus's Isle-poet, implicitly born too early, is expressing his dissatisfaction with medieval love poetry through satire. Markus does not explain why, if the poet wished for the love represented in Troilus, he wrote a poem indebted to Chaucer's dream visions, when Troilus might have been just as available to satiate his need for what Markus implies is a superior form of love.
Recently, the Isle of Ladies has appeared in Kathleen Forni's studies on Chaucerian apocrypha and textual history. Her article concerning the bibliographic history of Isle is the first to concern itself solely with the issue of Isle's textual background and its relationship to the Chaucerian canon.(FN35) In her article, Forni highlights the possible connections to the Book of the Duchess and to Lydgate's Temple of Glass implied in the history of the poem's title. Her book on the apocrypha, published the same year, offers an analysis of Isle that rightly contains elements of previous interpretations of the poem, from Speght's to Markus's:
Although Speght's biographical reading of the allegory is fictitious, the Isle of Ladies does describe two successful courtships.... [it] combines a confusing array of motifs and conventions drawn from the dream vision, romance, Breton lai, and courts of love.... The Isle of Ladies may represent the end of the courtly allegorical tradition, but it seems more nostalgic rather than parodic.(FN36)
The constant in these modern readings of Isle is a sense of uneasiness about interpreting the text and a tendency to admit that one is essentially baffled by it, particularly because it resides in that nebulous time period between manuscript and print culture, between medieval and Renaissance literature. What Forni is essentially the first to introduce, and what I wish to take up, are the connotations and significance of Speght's reading of the poem as a biographical comment on Chaucer and the importance of this connection for an interpretation of the poem as imitation. Speght and the Isle-poet share an idea of Chaucer that is evident in both of their creations.
In contrast to the "modern" view of Chaucer -- characterized by a paring down of the canon, by a focus on the Canterbury Tales and Chaucer's use of realism and humor, and, with Skeat at least, by an interest in the similarities between our language and his -- the sixteenth-century readers and editors of Chaucer were absorbed by the image of Chaucer the court poet, whose language was increasingly distant from their own and who, until Speght's study, was believed to have had an indeterminate canon of works.(FN37) This "courtly" Chaucer is a posthumous construction of Chaucer the author that was dependant on connections to the aristocracy and on his writing of "courtly" works: dream visions, complaints, and love poems. The reverence the early editors had for Chaucer was partially fed by what they believed to be his aristocratic status (a status that they essentially created for him with their editions), while later editors and critics focused more on equalizing their connections to Chaucer, a focus that enabled them to continue their thorough engagement with his works. The "courtly" Chaucer was present in the fifteenth-century manuscripts and in the early-and mid-sixteenth-century editions of William Thynne and John Stow, but it was Speght's 1598 edition that first included a biography of Chaucer that stressed his nobility. With his edition, Speght cultivated the image of Chaucer as both noble and learned. He added a biography and heraldry that connected Chaucer to John of Gaunt, as well as two new dream visions -- all of which furthered the image of Chaucer as a courtly poet. The actual details of Chaucer's life were less important, since the editors were involved in the careful process of mythmaking. For example, Pearsall, writing on Speght, aptly notes, "[l]ess to his taste was the evidence, presumably turned up by Stow, that Chaucer was a vintner's son."(FN38)
Speght and his contemporaries also envisioned Chaucer as increasingly distant. Speght added, in addition to the biography and new poems, the epithet, "antient and learned," a glossary, and explanatory notes, all of which presented Chaucer as an auctor, a long-dead author worthy of study. In Speght's edition, Chaucer was both connected to contemporary English aristocracy and part of its ancient learned history. This was dramatically represented in a dialogue between the "Reader" and "Chaucer" included among the front matter in both of Speght's editions, in which we find that Chaucer has apparently been hiding out, waiting to be rescued by Speght. Most intriguing is the couplet to be spoken by the Reader: "But who is he that hath thy books repar'd / And added moe, whereby thou art more graced" to which Chaucer reportedly replies: "The selfe same man who hath no labor spar'd / To helpe what time and writers had defaced: / And made old words, which were unknown of many, / So plaine, that now they may be known of any" (image 6). Speght, having effectively translated Chaucer the auctor into an Elizabethan, saw himself as saving the poet from obscurity and making his language accessible. The addition of more works, rather than being seen, as it is now, as a contamination of the canon, was considered a blessing to Chaucer.
Forni reminds us that our preoccupation with authenticity is not universal and suggests that these early printed editions may have functioned as miscellanies, similar to medieval manuscripts, in which poems were added to fill the book and make it more saleable.(FN39) These poems may have been included for purely commercial reasons, in line with the "reprint-with-augmentation" method mentioned by Pearsall.(FN40) Any analysis of the intentions of these editors then is subject to such economic and ideological questions. Forni writes,
Most of the spurious poems included in the folio editions are remnants of the manuscript canon; that is, most of these poems did circulate with Chaucer's genuine works. But whether Thynne, Stow, and Speght believed these works to be Chaucer's, or wished to preserve the conceptual milieu -- privileged, courtly, urbane -- in which Chaucer's poems circulated in the fifteenth century, or simply considered these pieces attractive specimens from Chaucer's age, cannot be determined on the basis of the material evidence.(FN41)
The sixteenth-century editors were concerned with a collection of texts they believed to be the pinnacle of early literature in their language, and they attributed this entire body of work to Chaucer, which could have been, as Seth Lerer observes, simply because he "was one of the few named authors in the vernacular."(FN42)
Moreover, it could be said that the Book of the Duchess left itself open for interpretation and imitation. We might wonder if the Isle-poet was as frustrated with the abrupt ending as Furnivall, who, as Matthews recounts, said that Chaucer "ought to have been caned" for the "lame and impotent" conclusion to the Book of the Duchess.(FN43) We might also question whether or not Chaucer left this text unfinished, as he did with the Canterbury Tales, or if he deliberately wrote an "open" text. Rosemarie P. McGerr explores the phenomenon in relation to other authors when she writes, "if many medieval texts were considered in need of completion by later writers or scribes, then some medieval writers seem not to have provided their texts with strong closure, perhaps deliberately."(FN44) The return to the frame story at the end of the Book of the Duchess provides fairly solid evidence for the poem's completeness, but the fact that this ending still proves unsatisfactory to critics leads one to wonder how conclusive it would have appeared to Chaucer's near contemporaries.
What is equally significant for reading the poetry of Chaucer's successors is Chaucer's own highly developed skill in adapting the work of earlier writers. Because of this, Chaucer himself was an ideal model for later poets who wished to create their own poetry by drawing on familiar material. The Chaucerian poem in question, the Book of the Duchess, borrows heavily from classical and French sources. Thus the Isle of Ladies relies on Chaucer as Chaucer relies on these predecessors, using invention to create a new poem that is simultaneously indebted to and distanced from its source material.
It will be useful here to pause for a moment and discuss invention itself. Originally one of the five categories, or "canons," of classical oratory, invention was adapted by medieval rhetoricians and incorporated into poetic theory. Douglas Kelly defines medieval invention as "the technique of identifying 'places' or topoi in a given matiere [subject matter], and amplifying them in a manner consonant with authorial conception of the work."(FN45) This type of invention, also identified as amplification or topical invention, is outlined in Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Documentum de modo et arte dictandi et versificandi (Instruction in the Method and Art of Speaking and Versifying), where he simply calls it a technique for dealing with subject matter that is common (communem) or familiar. The first and most important rule in Geoffrey's description of invention is "for us not to linger where others create delay; but, where they create delay, we pass over, where they pass over, we create delay."(FN46) Essentially, a writer who wished to write a new poem on a familiar story must fill in the gaps that other authors passed over and pass over the parts on which they elaborated. The writer is also cautioned not to follow the wording of the original but to look at the text as a whole and find his own way into the material.
In a manner consonant with that outlined by Geoffrey of Vinsauf, the Isle-poet, writing in Chaucer's octosyllabics, chooses to amplify the story of John and Blanche in the Book of the Duchess, effectively placing himself within Chaucer's dream. He begins by occupying the narrative position of the Man in Black, as he tells us directly, "In May I lay upon a night/ Alone, and on my lady thought" (fol. 356; cf., F, line 8). The use of May is by no means uncommon -- Chaucer himself borrowed it from the Roman de la Rose -- but there are further indications that the Isle-poet found this motif in Chaucer. The dream in Isle begins when the narrator falls asleep due to exhaustion from hunting. There is no literal hunting in the Roman de la Rose, the most obvious and available source for the May motif. Likewise, the hunting in Jean Froissart's Le Paradis d'Amours (The Paradise of Love), another main source for Chaucer, is also not strictly literal. Froissart's hunters are the hunters of the God of Love, and there is no indication that the Isle-poet is following that tradition here. Rather, the Isle-poet is drawing on the hunting motif present in the Book of the Duchess. Although the Man in Black is separate from the hunting party in the Book of the Duchess, it is the hunting that provides the opportunity for the narrator to find the knight in the first place. In both texts, hunting brings the narrator closer to the main action of the story. In the Isle of Ladies, though, hunting causes the narrator to fall asleep. Instead of reading the story of Ceyx and Alcyone, this narrator has essentially tired himself out by reliving Chaucer's aristocratic dream vision.
Despite the fact that he says he fell asleep, the narrator in the Isle insists that his dream is not a dream but a real experience and describes this experience in terms of opposite emotions: "whole the paine, and the pleasaunce / Which was to me axes and hele" (fol. 356; cf., F, line 34). This kind of oxymoron, not uncommon in medieval poetry, is used prominently by the Man in Black in the Book of the Duchess: "My good is harme, and euermo / In wrath is tourned my playing" (fol. 241; cf., R, lines 604-5).(FN47) After asserting that this is not a dream at all, the Isle-poet tells us that whether it is a dream or not, it will be scrutinized. He remarks, "Iwis this may no dreame kene / But signe, or signifiaunce / Of hasty thing souning pleasaunce" (fol. 356, cf., F, line 48). Here the poet absorbs the lesson of Chaucer's narrator, who insists on the cryptic nature of his dream, "Me met so inly such a sweuen / So wonderfull, that neuer yet / I trowe no man had the wit / To con well my sweuen rede" (fol. 241; cf., R, line 276). Echoing these sentiments, the narrator in Isle then claims that even classical and biblical authorities on dreams would not be able to interpret this dream. The textual tradition and confusion concerning both poems, in a sense, prove both narrators correct.
When the Isle-poet leaves his own frame narrative for the dream itself, he begins to fill in the gaps in Chaucer's Man in Black's story. The Man in Black only briefly describes the day he met Blanche:
It happed that I came on a day
Into a place, there that I say
Trewly the fairest companie
Of ladies, that euer man with eie
Had sene togithers in o place
Shal I clepe it happe, either grace
That brought me there, not but fortune
That is to lien ful comune,
The false traiteresse perverse.
(fol. 242; cf., R, line 805)
The Isle-poet, picking up on this, describes coming to an island made of glass (echoing the room with windows of glass that Chaucer's narrator enters at the beginning of his dream), and then adds,
But man on Hue, could I none sie
Ne creature saue ladies play
Which were such of their array
That as me thought of goodlihead
They passeden all, and womanhead
For to behold them daunce and sing
It seemed like none earthly thing
Such was their uncouth countinaunce
In euery play of right usaunce.
(fol. 356; cf., F, line 86)
Neither speaker in the above passages knows what brought him to this place. The Man in Black attributes it to fortune, and the narrator in the Isle of Ladies claims it is just a realistic dream, calling it "like none earthy thing." Having arrived at this wondrous place, both speakers encounter a hyperbolically beautiful group of women, and both voyeuristically watch these women and assess their virtues. The narrator in the Isle of Ladies finds the lady he will love among this company of women, as does the Man in Black. Yet while this section in the Book of the Duchess only takes up a small part of Chaucer's poem, in the Isle of Ladies it becomes the entire narrative, as both poet and narrator get caught up in the activity on the island. Since Chaucer himself borrowed these verses from two poems by Machaut, Le Jugement dou Roy de Behainge (The Judgment of the King of Bohemia) and Le Dit Dou Vergier (The Story of the Orchard), one might reasonably argue that the Isle-poet could have learned the convention from them. But Chaucer is known to be the most successful adapter of Guillaume de Machaut. Moreover, manuscript evidence suggests that the love visions of Machaut generally fell out of popularity after his death, if they were even known in England to many besides Chaucer in the first place.(FN48)
As the poem continues, the one love match splits into two. The narrator of the Isle of Ladies, who has previously been narrating from the point of view of Chaucer's Man in Black, does find the woman he will marry on this island. But the exact details of the Man in Black's relationship to his lady are transferred to another couple: the queen of the island and her knight. In the Book of the Duchess, the Man in Black tells the narrator how he finally got the nerve to approach his lady and sing her a song, and how he subsequently botched his performance. He is rejected, and he nearly dies of melancholy. The first interchanges between the knight and the queen in the Isle of Ladies follow the same pattern, albeit with much embellishment. As in the Book of the Duchess, the narrator is not directly involved but is witnessing these events. The Man in Black's botched wooing becomes, for the Isle-poet, a failed abduction. The first meeting of the queen and the knight is parallel to that of the Man in Black and his lady, in the startling confession of love to a woman who has never seen her admirer, in the lover's promises to serve, and in the amorous song that follows.
Like the Man in Black's lady, the queen in the Isle of Ladies pities the knight. When he swoons (a motif that the Isle-poet may have found in Troilus and Criseyde), presumably because he realized that she does not love him, she tends to him. As with the concern displayed by the Man in Black's lady, this is affection born of benevolence and nobility, not of love. And just like the Man in Black, this knight almost dies from his lovesickness. It is interesting to note, moreover, that Chaucer's Man in Black never explains exactly how his lady's pity turned into a love that fed a happy marriage. Presumably noticing this gap in the text, the Isle-poet inserts the appearance of the God of Love (reminiscent of the Legend of Good Women) to explain the lady's change of heart.
Both couples are united, and the dreamer wakes up. He has successfully narrated the Man in Black's story. Yet the poem is not over. He still has to describe the death of the Man in Black's lady and then the final consolation. The Isle-poet writes about how he struggles to get back to the dream. To help him fall asleep again, he thinks about "a chamber paint / Ful of stories old and divers / More then I can now rehearse" (fol. 362; cf., F, line 1324). This, in effect, situates him back in Chaucer's dream, recalling the point where Chaucer's narrator finds himself in a chamber painted with the Troy story and the entirety of the Roman de la Rose. Contemplating this part of Chaucer's dream, the narrator in Isle successfully falls back asleep and is able to continue his own dream, at the moment when the entire island is preparing for the wedding of the queen and the knight. But the knight, having left to visit his own country, returns later than he promised he would, echoing the story of Phyllis and Demophoun, mentioned by Chaucer's narrator in the Book of the Duchess, where Demophoun had "broke his terme day / To come to her" (fol. 242; cf., R, line 730), and the queen and most of the ladies have died due to grief. The remaining ladies, dressed in black, greet the knight upon his late return, and he kills himself over what he has done. At this point in the story, the Isle-poet has, in effect, narrated the entirety of the Man in Black's relationship, from first meeting to his lady's death. The death of the knight and the queen, in Isle, are far from literal, though, as both are shortly healed by a magic seed and reunited. Speght is picking up on this when he notes that the knight and queen are married "after a long loue whereof the Poet feineth them to be dead." It is proven, just as in the Book of the Duchess, that love still persists despite death and therefore that death is not as great a loss as the Man in Black believes it is.
The poem ends when, awakened from the noise of the wedding, the dreamer returns to the end of the frame story. The noise is reminiscent of the ending of the Book of the Duchess, when the dreamer is aroused by the bell in the castle clock, as well as by the ending of the Parliament of Fowls, where the dreamer is startled out of his dream by the shouting of the birds. Yet while the dreamer in the Book of the Duchess turns to writing and the dreamer in the Parliament of Fowls turns to reading in the hopes that he might someday dream again, the dreamer in the Isle of Ladies only wishes to go back to the dream. He wishes to "dure a thousand yeare and ten / In her good wil, Amen, Amen." (fol. 366). Because the modern editions, following Longleat, print the last line as "In His good grace. Amen. Amen" (F, line 2208), it is unclear whether the religious message is to be foregrounded ("In His good grace") or just added at the end in the form of the "Amen." In Speght's edition ("In her good wil"), the reading is clearly secular, in that the dreamer wishes simply to remain in the dream with his lady. This desire to remain in the dream is a desire to remain with Chaucer. The Isle-poet, consciously inhabiting Chaucer's poetics, has no wish to end this dream and write his own poem, as Chaucer's dreamer does. To write without being inside Chaucer's dream visions would mean to write without Chaucer.
What distances the Isle-poet from later writers in the Chaucerian tradition is the way in which he alludes directly to the poem's content and not to the renowned poet himself. The latter type of allusion shows up most prominently in Spenser, who in book four of the Faerie Queene praises Chaucer by name and insists that Chaucer inhabits him "through infusion sweete / Of thine owne spirit, which doth in me surviue, /I follow here the footing of thy feete."(FN49) The Isle-poet, in contrast, uses Chaucerian imagery but does not include an explicit tribute to Chaucer. He does not need to call upon Chaucer's name, because after all, he is trying to inhabit Chaucer, not the other way around.
Many of the elements with which the Isle-poet fashions his story are already present in the Book of the Duchess, and to this extent, the poem functions as a pre-story. Imitating the same courtly Chaucer that Speght and his contemporaries revered, the Isle-poet makes use of Chaucer's techniques to create his own Chaucerian dream vision. As Seth Lerer remarks, "Chaucer creates the fictional persona of the subjugated reader/imitator and, in turn, the processes by which the fifteenth century propagates a literature based on versions of that persona."(FN50) Yet instead of working within this poetic style because it is the only one available to him, as Lerer maintains in the same chapter, the Isle-poet is clearly using the text while adding his own poetic voice and motifs. By consciously choosing to inhabit Chaucer's poem and then to elaborate on Chaucer's events, the Isle-poet shows himself to be a conscious imitator rather than a blind follower.
This reading of the Isle of Ladies as imitation calls into question modern assumptions about the poets in the Chaucerian tradition. Pearsall remarks,
It could be said that the history of the Chaucerian tradition continues for as long as poets work within the conventions of Chaucer and Lydgate as a matter of course; for as long as poets take for granted that this, and this alone, is the manner of poetry. When poets begin to imitate Chaucer consciously, as Spenser does, because they think him a great poet and worthy of imitation, the Chaucerian tradition, properly so called, has ended, and the history of Chaucer criticism begins.(FN51)
If one is to draw the line between unconscious and conscious imitation, the Isle-poet would appear to fall on the side of the conscious. The result of this imitation is a poem just as baffling and enigmatic as any of Chaucer's own works -- a poem that was convincing enough to be included by Speght, whether he actually believed it to be Chaucer or simply made the decision that it belonged with Chaucer. There is a middle ground between taking Chaucer's style for granted and Spenser's commendatory insistence that Chaucer's spirit survives in Spenser's own artistry. The Isle-poet represents this middle stage in the Chaucerian tradition. And with his own drive to remain in Chaucer's poetry, he succeeded in inhabiting the Chaucer canon for over two hundred years.
Pennsylvania State University
1 The workes of our antient and learned poet, Geffrey Chaucer, newly printed, ed. Speght (n.p., 1598), Early English Books Online, STC 5077, fol. 356; all passages from the Book of the Duchess and the Isle of Ladies are cited directly from Speght's 1598 edition, the 1602 edition (STC 5080) is specifically noted; both editions are housed in the Huntington Library. For this article, I have consulted the Huntington editions and followed Speght's spelling, punctuation, and line readings. The passages from Chaucer's works and from Isle will be cited parenthetically with folio numbers from Speght as well as line numbers from the modern editions for reference (with the abbreviations R for The Riverside Chaucer [3rd ed., gen. ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987)]; and F for Derek Pearsall's edition of Isle [The Floure and the Leafe, The Assembly of Ladies, The Isle of Ladies (Kalamazoo: TEAMS, 1990)]). For the front matter, which is in Speght but not in any modern edition, I will provide the image number from Early English Books Online.
2 Pearsall, "The English Chaucerians," in Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Literature, ed. D. S. Brewer (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1966), 229.
3 Anne Rosemarie Conroy, ed., "The Isle of Ladies: A Fifteenth-Century English Chaucerian Poem" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1976), 4.
4 Miskimin, The Renaissance Chaucer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975), 251.
5 The term "stranger"/"straunger," s.v. "stranger," in the Middle English Dictionary (MED) is defined as "(a) Foreign, alien; (b) estranged, remote, kept at a distance." The use of this term could imply the foreignness and otherworldliness of the woman as well as her status as mere fantasy (since she remains in the dream vision). It could also be a reference to Chaucer's French wife Philippa.
6 The only significant difference between the presentation of the Isle of Ladies in Speght's 1602 edition as compared to his 1598 edition is in the title given to the poem in the table of contents, where it is changed from Chaucers dreame (in 1598) to The Duchesse (in 1602). However, The Duchesse is not used as a title for the Isle of Ladies anywhere else in this edition. Instead, the title that is given both in the argument to the poem and on the pages where the poem appears is Chaucers dreame. The Book of the Duchess also lays claim to the title Chaucers dreame in the 1602 edition, but only once (in the argument to the poem). It is more often referred to as The dreame of Chaucer.
7 This connection between the Book of the Duchess and the historical Blanche was previously made by John Lydgate (ca. 1438). In his Fall of Princes, he listed Chaucer's writings, including: "The pitous story | of Ceix and Alcyone, / And the Deth of blaunche | the Duchesse" (qtd. in Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion, 1357-1900, vol.1 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925], 38). This has also been taken as evidence that the tale of Ceyx and Alcyone was written separately, but for the purposes of this paper I am focusing on the whole poem and its proposed historical connections. Speght was the first editor to make this biographical connection in an edition, presumably because he had to find a new title for the poem once he found another poem with a claim to the title "Chaucer's Dreme." See also Will Roger Knedlik, "Chaucer's Book of the Duchess: A Bibliographical Compendium of the First 600 Years" (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1978).
8 Thynne, Animaduersions vppon the Annotations and Corrections of some imperfections of impressiones of Chaucers workes (sett downe before tyme, and nowe) reprinted in the yere of oure lorde 1598, ed. G. H. Kingsley, rev. F. J. Furnivall (1875; reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 29.
9 Thynne, Animaduersions, 30.
10 Both manuscripts are discussed in Kathleen Forni's The Chaucerian Apocrypha: A Counterfeit Canon (Florida: University Press of Florida, 2001), and her "'Chaucer's Dreame': A Bibliographer's Nightmare" (Huntington Library Quarterly 64 : 139-50). The second manuscript is Additional 10303. Forni comments on the title in this manuscript: "in Additional 10303, Isle of Ladies is titled: 'The deathe of Blaunch, the Dutchesse of Lancaster fyrst wief of Jo: of Gaunt iiiith sonne of Edwarde the thyrde, written by that honorable Englysshe Poet Geoffery Chaucer.' Here, the Additional scribe appears to have confused Isle of Ladies with the Book of the Duchess. For clarity, another hand has added 'no doubt mysse Intituled for this should be Chaucers dreme & his dreame the death of the dutchesse.' This secondary information was clearly derived from Speght's 1598 edition" (The Chaucerian Apocrypha, 39).
11 Pearsall, "Thomas Speght," in Editing Chaucer: The Great Tradition, ed. Paul G. Ruggiers (Norman, OK: Pilgrim, 1984), 80. See also the other chapters in this invaluable book, in particular that of A. S. G. Edwards on Walter Skeat, 171-89.
12 Walter W. Skeat, The Chaucer Canon, with a discussion of the works associated with the name Geoffrey Chaucer (New York: Haskell, 1965), 137. For selected studies of the canon, see E. P. Hammond, Chaucer, A Bibliographical Manual (New York: Macmillan, 1908); and Aage Brusendorff, The Chaucer Tradition (1925; reprint, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967). For Tyrwhitt's list of "genuine" Chaucer (the Canterbury Tales aside), see Barry A. Windeatt, "Thomas Tyrwhitt," in Editing Chaucer, 117-43. Forni makes the observation that the apocryphal works that Tyrwhitt chose to accept are all dream visions and, therefore, that he was operating under a certain vision of Chaucer (the same vision that the sixteenth-century editors held -- that of the courtly Chaucer) that obscured his critical viewpoint (Chaucerian Apocrypha, 148).
13 Skeat, in a letter to Bradshaw, wrote, "it is the merest truth that it is, practically, to you that 1 owe all my best ideas" (qtd. in Roy Stokes, Henry Bradshaw, 1831-1886 [Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1984], 17). Bradshaw is often credited for assisting in much of the work by Skeat and others, but the extent to which he did assist and what was involved in that assistance is difficult to discern.
14 Charles Flint McClumpha, "Chaucer's Dream," Modern Language Notes 4 (1889): 65-67.
15 Anthony Jenkins, ed., The Isle of Ladies or the lle of Pleasaunce (New York: Garland Publishers, 1980), 4.
16 For the text of Dryden's preface, see Spurgeon, Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism, 172-84.
17 Skeat, The Chaucer Canon, 3.
18 Other methods included internal evidence (Chaucer's lists of his own works in places such as the Retraction, the Legend of Good Women, and the introduction to the Man of Law's Tale) and scribal attribution.
19 David O. Matthews, "Speaking to Chaucer: The Poet and the Nineteenth-Century Academy," Studies in Medievalism 9 (1997): 13.
20 Ibid., 19.
21 Ibid., 15. For a biography of Skeat that discusses the beginnings of his involvement with Chaucer, see Jo McMurtry, "Walter William Skeat (1835-1912), Cambridge, and English Philology," in her English Language, English Literature: The Creation of an Academic Discipline (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1985), 136-66.
22 Prior to these editions, Jane B. Sherzer edited the poem in her dissertation, (Ph.D. diss., The Ile of Ladies [Berlin, 1903]), as did Conroy (see note 3). The poem is also mentioned in Francis W. Bonner's "The Genesis of the Chaucer Apocrypha" (Studies in Philology 48 : 461-81). Ethel Seaton famously attributes the Isle (and numerous other Middle English poems) to Sir Richard Roos, based on anagrams that name members of his social circle, in Sir Richard Roos: Lancastrian Poet (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1961), 142 (no one has since supported this opinion). Pearsall calls the poem a "vivacious fantasy," in Old English and Middle English Poetry (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), 219.
23 Jenkins, ed., The Isle of Ladies or the Ile of Pleasaunce, 1.
24 Ibid., 52.
25 Ibid., 65.
26 sibid., 5.
27 Vincent Daly, A Critical Edition of the "Isle of Ladies" (New York: Garland Publishers, 1987).
28 Daly, Critical Edition, 123. The use of the term "imitating" here is interesting, given the topic of this paper; however, Daly is only discussing style. Forni is the first to suggest that, in content, Isle does somewhat mirror the plot of the Book of the Duchess.
29 Pearsall, ed., The Flome and the Leafe, 63-67.
30 Ibid., 67. 31 Ibid., 65. 32 Ibid., 66.
33 Manfred Markus, "The Isle of Ladies (1475) as Satire," Studies in Philology 95 (1998): 221-36.
34 Markus, "The Isle of Ladies (1475)," 234.
35 Forni, "'Chaucer's Dreame,'" 139-50.
36 Forni, Chaucerian Apocrypha, 77. Emphasis mine.
37 On the sixteenth-century reception of Chaucer's language, see also D. S. Brewer, "Images of Chaucer 1386-1900," Chaucer and Chaucerians, 240-270.
38 Pearsall, "Thomas Speght," 77.
39 The best evidence for the notion that these editors did not actually believe these apocryphal poems were genuine can be found in Stow's 1561 edition, where he reprints The Craft of Lovers, which he found in MS Trinity R.3.19. In the last stanza of this poem, the narrator writes that the dialogue that he reproduces here was overheard by him in May 1448. Next to this stanza, Stow has written, "Chaucer died 1400," and in his edition, he changed the date to 1348. Stow's earlier date is entertaining, since for him to actually believe it, he would have had to think that The Craft of Lovers was a production of Chaucer's childhood. And so we are forced to conclude that Stow knew that he was assigning poems to Chaucer that were not genuine (Erik Kooper, "Slack Water Poetry: An Edition of the Craft of Lovers," English Studies 68 : 488; Bradford York Fletcher, "An Edition of MS R.3.19 in Trinity College, Cambridge: A Poetical Miscellany of c. 1480," 2 vols. [Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1973], 338; and A. K. Moore, "Some Implications of the Middle English Craft of Lovers," Neophilologus 35 : 231).
40 Pearsall, "Thomas Speght," 71.
41 Forni, Chaucerian Apocrypha, 41; for a discussion of authorship and pre-and early-print culture, see H. S. Bennet, "The Author and His Public in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," Essays and Studies 23 (1938): 7-24. For a thorough and fascinating account of sixteenth-and eighteenth-century Chaucer editions, see Joseph A. Dane, Who is Buried in Chaucer's Tomb?: Studies in the Reception of Chaucer's Book (Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1998).
42 Lerer, Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late Medieval England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 119. See also Forni, Chaucerian Apocrypha, 19.
43 Matthews, "Speaking to Chaucer," 18; Furnivall is not the only reader to express confusion over the open nature of the Book of the Duchess. For other selected treatments of this issue, see James I. Wimsatt, "The Book of the Duchess: Secular Elegy or Religious Vision?" in Signs and Symbols in Chaucer's Poetry, ed. John P. Hermann and John J. Burke Jr. (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1981), 113-29; and Colleen Donnelly, "Challenging the Conventions of Dream Vision in The Book of the Duchess," Philological Quarterly 66 (1987): 421-35.
44 McGerr, Chaucer's Open Books: Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse (Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1998), 14.
45 Kelly, "Obscurity and Memory: Sources for Invention in Medieval French Literature," in Vernacular Poetics in the Middle Ages, ed. Lois Ebin (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1984), 37. See also Robert R. Edwards, Ratio and Invention: A Study of Medieval Lyric and Narrative (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1989), 82.
46 "Primus modus est ne moremur ubi moram faciunt alii; sed, ubi moram faciunt, transeamus, ubi transeunt, moram faciamus" (Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Latin text is printed in Edmond Faral, Les Arts Poétiques du Xlle et du Xllle Siècle: Recherches et Documents sur la Technique Littéraire du Moyen Âge [Paris: Librarie Ancienrte Honoré Champion, 1924], 263-320), §133; my translation.
47 Note the spelling in Speght's edition as compared to the Riverside edition: "In wrathe ys turned my pleynge." It was variants such as these that accounted for much misunderstanding of the craft of Chaucer's verse. If we were to assume, then, that the Isle-poet had an unclear conception of Chaucer's metrics, then his sometimes awkward rhyme scheme would not be a fault but rather a following of what he understood from Chaucer.
48 A summary of the relevant manuscript information on Machaut follows (culled from Lawrence Earp, Guillaume de Machaut: A Guide to Research [New York: Garland Publishers, 1995]/73-128): There are seven extant manuscripts that contain the complete works of Machaut, all fourteenth century, only one of which might have been in England in the fifteenth century. There are two extant manuscripts that are complete except for the music, both late fourteenth to early fifteenth century, neither of which were in England. There are four extant partially complete manuscripts, two of which could be early fifteenth century, none of which were in England. Finally, of the manuscripts that only contain one poem or a fragment of a poem, there are seven that contain one of the poems Chaucer used, all late fourteenth to early fifteenth century, only one of which could have been in England (possibly known to Charles D'Orleans). What this evidence shows us is merely that we do not have sufficient support to prove Machaut's popularity in fifteenth-century England. Of the critics who have written on Machaut, none broach the subject of his influence in England after Chaucer. Earp gives evidence for his notoriety in fifteenth-century France, but for England, he only mentions the "inconclusive links between Machaut and Charles D'Orleans" (61). Earp later adds (again, in reference to France), "By the sixteenth century, Machaut's name was all but forgotten" (62). Machaut could have been known to fifteenth-century England, but if any of his manuscripts were actually in England, we still can't be sure that our anonymous author would have had access to them. We are forced, then, to continue to argue from internal evidence to prove that our author was more concerned with Chaucer than with his French predecessors.
49 Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton et al. (New York: Longman, 2001), 2.34.
50 Lerer, Chaucer and his Readers, 5. On Chaucerian imitation, see also Barry A. Windeatt, "Chaucer Traditions," in Chaucer Traditions: Studies in Honor of Derek Breiver, ed. Ruth Morse and Barry A. Windeatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 7.
51 Pearsall, "English Chaucerians," 239.