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The “Silly” Pacifism of Geoffrey Chaucer and Terry Jones

  • William A. Quinn
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

As a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Terry Jones was, is, and shall ever seem brilliantly silly. As a medievalist, however, Jones has taken Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English comedy, most seriously. In Chaucer’s Knight,1 first published only seven years after Richard M. Nixon declared “peace with honor” in Vietnam, Jones challenged a longstanding critical consensus that Chaucer intended his portrayal of a worthy, perfect, and gentle Knight in the “General Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales (CT I, 43–78)2 to be taken sincerely. Instead, Jones argued that the historical details of Chaucer’s description (rather than its doting adjectives) represent the career of a brutal mercenary. Many Chaucerians did not immediately welcome Terry’s revisionist reading. So, with typical (and very Chaucer-like) self-effacement, he conceded in the introduction to his study’s second edition that, “We may not know for certain what Chaucer thought about war or crusading.”3 In light of subsequent scholarly developments, there seems little reason for him to have been so conciliatory.

Keywords

British Broadcasting Corporation Canterbury Tale Negative Declaration Preemptive Strike Irish Republican Army 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Terry Jones, Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary, rev. ed. (London: Methuen, 1994 [1st Ed., 1980]).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., gen. ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).Google Scholar
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    The comic excess of “Sir Thopas” was evidently not evident to all postmedieval readers. See Joseph A. Dane, “Genre and Authority: The Eighteenth-Century Creation of Chaucerian Burlesque,” Huntington Library Quarterly 48 (1985): 345–62Google Scholar
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  30. 35.
    Joanne A. Charbonneau, “Sir Thopas” in Sources and Analogues of The Canterbury Tales, Vol. II, ed, Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005), 649–50 [649-714].Google Scholar
  31. 36.
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  32. 37.
    The military future of the Squire promises to be even worse than the Knight’s past because the insouciant son has already participated in a “chyvachie” within Christendom “In hope to stonden in his lady grace” (CT I, 85–88).Google Scholar
  33. 39.
    See Derek Brewer, “The Arming of the Warrior in European Literature and in Chaucer” in Edward Vasta and Zacharias P. Thundy, ed., Chaucerian Problems and Perspectives: Essays Presented to Paul E. Beichner, C. S. C. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 221–43Google Scholar
  34. T. L. Burton, “Chaucer’s ‘Tale of Sir Thopas,’” Expiicator 40 (1982): 4Google Scholar
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  36. 40.
    See Lee Patterson, ‘“What Man Artow?’ Authorial Self-Definition in ‘The Tale of Sir Thopas” and “The Tale of Melibee,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 11 (1989): 117–75Google Scholar
  37. and Ruth Waterhouse, “’sweete Wordes’ of Nonsense: The Deconstruction of the Moral ‘Melibee,”’ Chaucer Review 23 (1989): 53–63.Google Scholar
  38. 41.
    V. J. Scattergood, “Chaucer and the French War:’ sir Thopas’ and ‘Melibee,’” in Glyn S. Burgess et al., ed., Court and Poet (Liverpool: Cairns, 1981), 287–96.Google Scholar
  39. 43.
    Dana M. Symons compares and contrasts the “Miller’s Tale” and “Sir Thopas” in “Comic Pleasures: Chaucer and Popular Romance,” in Medieval English Comedy, ed. Sandra M. Hordis and Paul Hardwick (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), 83–109.Google Scholar
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    Christopher E. Crane,“Superior Incongruity: Derisive and Sympathetic Comedy in Middle English Drama and Homiletic Exempla” in Medieval English Comedy, ed. Hordis and Hardwick, [31]-60 at 68.Google Scholar
  41. 49.
    Jones, Chaucer’s Knight, 223. See too Jones’s “The Monk’s Tale” for a Colloquium in Studies in the Age of Chaucer 22 (2000): 387–97.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© R. F. Yeager and Toshiyuki Takamiya 2012

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  • William A. Quinn

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