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This book claims that Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales provide the best political account of Richard II's reign. It explores King Richard's personality, and from its conclusions describes his later descent into the tyrant that he became. The figurative unravelling of this hidden matter, attempts to clarify the interweaving allegorical patterns, which consolidate into an unshakeable completeness.
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"Signs and Circumstances" is a title well suited to my book. This shortening of the Pardoner’s remark describes what I have perceived to be Chaucer’s figurative practices. Firstly, in the General Prologue, he presents us with ‘signs’ or identifying pointers to the hidden identities; secondly, within the Tales, he brings into being such complementary ‘circumstances’ as will enable us to comprehend the related history.
Had I not spent many years on this project, and in so doing become convinced of its merit, I also may have closed my mind to an allegorical reading of Chaucer’s works. I probably would have rejected such an approach with the thought that, if such a dimension existed, why has its presence not previously been detected.
It was a chance find that initially led me down this particular avenue of research. I believe that such explanatory notes as comprise the vast majority found in the Riverside Edition are far removed from Chaucer’s primary meanings. As it is not aware of the underlying ‘fruit’, the present literal criticism of his work can only explain the ‘chaff’. Too much effort has been expended on a devalued subject. I read Chaucer as the much loved poet of his contemporaries: "Of eche thing keeping in substaunce / The sentence hool, withoute variance, / Voyding the chaf, smoothly for to seyn, / Elumyng the trewe piked greyn".
My growing understanding of this hidden matter has been akin to noting similarities and bringing together the individual pieces of a rather large jigsaw. Joining the first pieces took a great deal of effort, but thankfully less time was required to connect the remaining sections.
In Signs and Circumstances I have attempted to outline Chaucer’s reliance on Aristotle’s philosophy as a method of our identifying the various pilgrims, and then as a means of guiding us towards an understanding of the essential inner being of those historical persons he depicted on pilgrimage. That is, within the hypothesis of Aristotle’s cognition of the universal by induction, and by understanding the deposited ‘signs’, I have identified the Canterbury pilgrims. Taking this same foundation, and by interpreting the given ‘circumstances’, I believe to have demonstrated that the Canterbury Tales provides a closely observed record of an increasingly turbulent period of English history, from 1382 to 1399.
Six hundred years have passed since Chaucer’s death, and it is therefore long past the time of our need to put an end to such misguided comments as that the Canterbury Tales evidence no political interest in contemporary events. On the contrary, I believe that The Canterbury Tales is the best insight and condemnation we are ever likely to get of King Richard II’s reign. It is without equal in its descriptions of Richard’s personal life and the reasons behind his descent from early promise into the later tyrant.
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