The deeply woven narrative textures inherent in Chaucer’s corpus afford us with useful exemplars for exploring the wide-ranging interpretive possibilities of reader-response theory, especially in terms of its potential for revealing the narratological elements that impinge upon the transactions that take place between writers and readers. In the Prologue to the Clerk’s Tale, the Host, Harry Bailly, encourages the Clerk to recite his tale for the pilgrims’ storytelling contest — not a tale that will ‘make us nat to slepe,’ but a tale of ‘som murie thyng of aventures’ with ‘youre termes, youre colours, and youre figures’ (14-16). In the tale that follows, the Clerk imbues his story with a variety of narratological figures and patterns, thus forging what John M. Ganim aptly describes as a ‘discourse marked by its grotesque, highly personalized, exuberant, and often satirical qualities’ (113). Chaucer’s fictionalized Clerk accomplishes such a discursive end by his careful appropriation of the rhetorical tropes that shape his narrative. A trained rhetorician and Oxford scholar, Chaucer’s Clerk would surely be cognizant of the fictive value of tropological patterns and narrative designs, and moreover, as Ganim notes, the Clerk ‘embodies one of the characteristic intellectual vices — the impulse to impose abstract order on experience’ (121). The Clerk’s authorial maneuvers in the tale indeed reveal such an ordered and intentional narrative structure, and a closer narratological reading of his tale divulges the manner in which these tropes operate together to produce the calculated and tightly woven poetic discourse that defines the Clerk’s Tale for centuries of readers.
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- ‘Telle us som myrie tale, by youre fey!’: Exploring the Reading Transaction and Narrative Structure in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde
Todd F. Davis
- Macmillan Education UK
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