Narrative, Authority and Power

The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition

Narrative, Authority and Power

Little attention has been paid to the political and ideological significance of the exemplum, a brief narrative form used to illustrate a moral. Through a study of four major works in the Chaucerian tradition (The Canterbury Tales, John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Thomas Hoccleve's Regement of Princes, and Lydgate's Fall of Princes), Scanlon redefines the exemplum as a 'narrative enactment of cultural authority'. He traces its development through the two strands of the medieval Latin tradition which the Chaucerians appropriate: the sermon exemplum, and the public exemplum of the Mirrors of Princes. In so doing, he reveals how Chaucer and his successors used these two forms of exemplum to explore the differences between clerical authority and lay power, and to establish the moral and cultural authority of their emergent vernacular tradition.

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