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Medieval Satire

Laura Kendrick


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405119559.2007.00007.x


Extract

The two greatest late-medieval English writers, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Lang-land, were both superb satirists, even though the tone and technique of their satires could hardly be more different. Neither of these men wrote an entire work that we might call a satire, largely because satire was not a genre for them, but a mode of writing. The satire in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales occurs mainly in the “General Prologue” as well as in certain tales, such as the Summoner's and Friar's, and in Langland's Piers Plowman the satire occurs mainly in the prologue and the first five sections featuring the personified Meed (Lady Lucre) and her prospective marriage to Falsehood. The most famous passage of satire against preaching friars in the Middle Ages surges up unexpectedly in Jean de Meun's section of the Roman de la rose ( Romance of the Rose ) in the self-revealing monologue of False Seeming (Faux Semblant) or hypocrisy personified ( Lecoy 1966 : 83–114). In short, most medieval satire is episodic and appears within works such as romances, fables, sermons, visions, songs, or other medieval genres. Even works that are almost exclusively devoted to satire go under other generic labels, such as the fourteenth-century French “romance,” the Roman de Fauvel , an allegorical narrative by Gervais du Bus about how the different ranks of society curry the horse Fauvel, that is, curry favor ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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