Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Any review of medieval culture and literature in the British eighteenth century requires some consideration for the modernizations of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Effectively a collaboration that spanned the entire century, this project began with Dryden and Pope and continued in earnest with lesser-known poets like George Ogle and William Lipscomb. The resulting modernization of every Chaucerian tale between 1700 and 1795 revisits medieval themes, but it also displays contemporary anxieties through presentations of language, content, style, and rhetorical intent that are sometimes vastly different from Chaucer’s originals.
The modernization project is worthy of study, in particular because it reflects, across several generations of poets, the religious and political landscape of the late-Stuart and Georgian dynasties. Thus, through the completion of the modernized text, the text of Great Britain as it moved throughout the 1700s is also illuminated. The resulting eighteenth-century Chaucer looks with keen attention at the ideological conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism, especially within the context of events like the Glorious Revolution, the Hanoverian succession, the Jacobite uprisings, and the threat of war with Continental powers across the Channel.
In the process of rewriting the Tales, the modernizers unwittingly accomplished something else, of no less importance. Through their own close reading of the medieval, they articulated attitudes and interpretations that contribute to the modernization project in their own time but also anticipate modern accepted scholarship by several centuries.
At a minimum, any gathering awareness of the eighteenth-century Chaucer sheds more light on Britain’s defiant steps toward patriotic Anglican rule at the start of the 1800s. While this better understanding can help unravel Britain’s historical sense of its “dark” Catholic past, it can also help show the development of other literary genres, like the Gothic novel, with more clarity.
Larson, Eric Duane, "Telling New Tales: Modernizations of Chaucer in the Eighteenth Century" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 1474.