New Midrashic Reading of Geoffrey Chaucer. His Life and Works

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Chaucer has been noted as “the new man”, without connections to the Church or the feudal monarchy. Normative literary history sees him acting as a confidant, special agent, and master of ceremonies for those in power, all qualities which could mark him, however, as a court Jew. Even in his writing, characteristics that seem anomalous—familiarity with many languages, ability to slide from tradition to tradition, witty scepticism and self-deprecating comedy, and insider/outsider perspectives—also point away from the standard assumptions of a normal fourteenth-century Christian in England. By a series of recontextualizations and other forms of rabbinic-style interrogations of the text of the man and his poetry, this book points to a new way of reading Chaucer as a kind of “Fuzzy Jew” even more than as a Marrano or Crypto-Jew, whether he was actually one or not. Focusing mostly on The Wyf of Bath’s Tale, The Prioress’s Tale and The Book of the Duchess, this midrashic reading explores the way Chaucer constructs a performative self that once conceals and reveals itself as other, takes head-on the problem of anti-Jewishness as a mental as well as moral or spiritual disease, and looks at the strategies of the schlemiel persona in classical, medieval and rabbinic contexts. There are new insights into how to apply the techniques of “midrashing” to secular texts and persons, embedding the strategies into a historical examination of the kabbalah that was created in Spain and France just prior to Chaucer’s life and its integration surreptitiously into European literature.


“[This work] is a groundbreaking work in the field of English Literature as well as Jewish and Marrano studies, where the arduous and painstaking heuristic methods and processes meet the interpretative field of hermeneutics. Needless to say, Dr. Simms embarks on a difficult yet rewarding journey, that of unraveling, disclosing, and eventually commenting on the historic continuum between covert and overt forms of Judaism and Crypto-Judaism/ Marranism in 14th-century England as they are expressed in the poetic voice(s) of Geoffrey Chaucer.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Joseph Abraham Levi, Rhode Island College

Table of Contents

Preface by Joseph Abraham Levi
1. Ars Longa, Vita Breva: A First Look at the Poet’s Work and the Biography
2. Three Kinds of Midrashic Deafness and Silence in The Canterbury Tales
3. Embodiments, Dismemberments and Wobbly Genres: The Defective Text and the Wyf of Bath
4. Confronting Anti-Semitism: The Prioress and her Prologue and Tale
5. Misrepresentations and Miseries of the Jews
6. Contractions, Fissuring and Repairs: Chaucer’s Many Dream Worlds
7. Cosmic Myths and Rituals of Folly
8. The Book of the Duchess or Sepher he-Chesed
9. Some Final Words and Questions

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