Abstract: The Elizabethan poets wanted the benefits of a literary tradition, with Geoffrey Chaucer as its progenitor, but also chafed at its restrictions. They honored him as the father of English poetry, but sniped at his accomplishments, declared him over the hill, and even, at worst, derided him as vulgarian and clown. This lecture will acknowledge the full spectrum of such minimizations, but will then turn to a counter-tradition of more wholehearted acceptance, as exemplified by Robert Green’s 1592 Vision. In this seldom-noticed work, Greene stages a spirited debate between Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower about the means and proper objectives of poetry. Chaucer takes the fall and loses the debate, but receives his most whole-hearted Elizabethan reading along the way.
Bio: Most recently J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, Paul Strohm joined the Columbia faculty in fall 2003. His area of principal interest is medieval literature with a recent emphasis on transitions from 'medieval' to 'early modern.' His teaching and research have concerned the 'affiliated text,' with special attention to textuality and history and to genre and social change. Publications include: Social Chaucer (Harvard, 1989, 1994); Hochon's Arrow: The Social Imagination of Fourteenth-Century Texts (Princeton, 1992); England's Empty Throne: Usurpation and Textual Legitimation, 1399-1422 (Yale UK, 1998); Theory and the Premodern Text (Minnesota, 2000); Politique: Languages of Statecraft Between Chaucer and Shakespeare (Notre Dame, 2005). He has previously been departmental Chair and President of the Faculty Council at Indiana University, has held various national offices and posts with the AAUP (was recently appointed to a three year term on the National AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure), and in 2001-3 was Chair of the English Faculty at the University of Oxford.