Craft and Anti-Craft in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Author: Fields, Peter
The main focus of this study is Chaucer’s use of the word craft, which in The Canterbury Tales expands beyond mere technical prowess and becomes emblematic of the human predicament, signaling a disjunction between the individual and the world he or she struggles to control through personal expertise and learned tradition. It examines the metaphysics of Chaucer’s epistemology and rhetoric.


“. . . holds much more in store for the reader than its title can possibly indicate. It is, for example, the place to go for those who wish to understand how King Alfred’s prose writings, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, and Augustine’s City of God illuminate Chaucer’s Tale of Melibeus. It is likewise the place to visit for a careful tracing of the literary development that the Germanic wise-woman figure, as both prophet and catalyst of cultural transformation, has undergone. Indeed, this book is worth its weight in gold for a richness of vision that gathers into one picture the Old English wise-women, Juliana and Elene, and their Chaucerian heirs, Cecilia and Dame Prudence. . . . Fields’s singular achievement rests in his examination of prose and poetry that spans the course of the Old and Middle English periods and reflects human beings in the process of growing aware of their personal power to change the circumstances in which they live. . . . In truth, there are few scholars who have been willing and able to rise to the challenge of examining thematic continuities in both Old and Middle English writings. Because of the diligence and knowledge that Fields has brought to his project, he has succeeded in presenting an eminently readable book that is food for thought for anyone who seeks a glimpse of life in medieval England. . . . the scope of comparison often includes lands and ages beyond the boundaries of the English medieval period as Fields supplies generous footnotes filled with insight that never bores or carries the taint of pedanticism. . . . Fields presents a panoramic view of the texts that precede and parallel Chaucer’s endeavors, texts that, above all, serve as a critical standard of comparison by which the skill of Chaucer’s own ‘crafting’ of the Canterbury Tales can be more systematically studied and better appreciated.” – Donna Schlosser

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. Seriousness in the Game of Language
2. Serious Humor and Menippean Satire
3. The Problem of Applying Bakhtin to Chaucer
4. The Deceptive Nature of Craft as a Way of Life
5. The Serious Nature of the Wife’s “Praktike”
6. Craft and the “Most-High” Speaker
7. Complex Craft and Freedom of Movement
8. Craft, Disdain, and Risk-Taking Vulnerability
9. The Seriousness of the Strange Knight’s Craft
10. Complex Craft, Mystification, and Multiple Identity
11. The Canon’s Yeoman and Possible Humility
12. Privy Knowledge and the Privileges of the Gods
13. Cecilia as Christian-Humanist Disputer of the Sacred
14. The Prioress’s Complex Craft of Privee Status
15. Medieval Croeft and Magical-Privy Craft Prior to Chaucer
16. Geoffrey of Vinsauf’s Poetria Nova and Chaucer’s Rhetorical Craft
17. The Anti-Craft of Dame Prudence in Tale of Melibee
Conclusion: The Rise and Fall of Craft
Bibliography; Index