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Extra info for A Companion to Chaucer

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Higden, a northern monk writing in Latin for a national clerical audience in the 1330s–1340s, is worth noting as opening new possibilities for a compiler to claim both national and modern authority, different from but in some ways measurable against his past auctores. ’13 If the modern compiler was more obtrusive by the fourteenth century, so were the historical agents behind his sources; this too offered Chaucer both challenges and opportunities for redefining authority, particularly his own. Auctoritas in Latin has a reverential, supra-human aura and sense: it denotes a specific text or the prestige of a writer behind the text; the power of making rules or enforcing them.

In his preface to the variorum edition of Hengwrt, Donald C. 3 While there is no doubt that certain manuscripts, Ellesmere and Hengwrt most famously, are thought to be more reliable than others, the fact remains that we do not have any holograph texts of Chaucer’s poetry. One could make the case that the state of Chaucer’s texts is analogous to the state of his reputation: both have been highly subject to interpretation. In the case of the texts, we have a series of manuscripts, each of which acts like a unique set of binoculars, adjusted to somebody else’s eyesight.

Moreover, he left the university a devout theologian . . while he so applied himself at Oxford, he also pursued his studies elsewhere, and by long devotion to learning added many things to the knowledge he had there accumulated. (Brewer 1978: i, 91) Chaucer’s reputation for learning made him an attractive figure to Reformation propagandists. For Protestants, Chaucer’s reputation for wisdom indicated that he could see beyond the prejudices of his own age to anticipate a time when England would be free of the excesses of Romish superstition.

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