Introduction: Popular Audiences, America, and Chaucer

  • Candace Barrington
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Through the end of the twentieth century, most reception studies of Chaucer focused on his learned readers—academics and literati who approached Middle English verse armed with a distinctive set of reading practices and an ease with antique languages. In frequently bypassing popularizations of Chaucer, these studies created the impression that mainstream audiences “virtually ignored” Chaucer and his works.1 However, the publication of Steve Ellis’ Chaucer at Large: The Poet in the Modern Imagination during Chaucer’s sexcentenary in 2000 opened “Chaucer’s various manifestations in modern culture outside the academic area” to our attention, encouraging scholars to examine Chaucer’s function in the popular marketplace.2 My study accepts Ellis’ challenge and continues his groundbreaking work with five chapters focusing on Chaucer’s appearances in American popular culture over the past two hundred years. By setting aside the preconceptions about reception studies that have so far excluded serious study of the intersections between the “father of English letters” and American popular culture, this study considers what these intersections tell us about Chaucer’s verse and American culture.3 These popular productions, which I call American Chaucers, may provide nonacademic audiences with considerable misinformation about Chaucer, his verse, medieval mores, and fourteenth-century England; simultaneously, these popular productions demonstrate how Chaucer’s difficult alterity and canonical cachet combine to create a chameleon text suitable for adaptation to various American concerns and values.


Literary History Library Catalogue Popular Production English Poetry American Audience 
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© Candace Barrington 2007

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  • Candace Barrington

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