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451 Study Questions for Chaucer's Retraction to the Canterbury Tales

Vocabulary: palinode, retraction

Useful Middle English terms:

Lecture Questions: Chaucer's deathday is commonly listed as October 25, 1400. Why do some scholars find this date suspicious or potentially unreliable?

What is the last documentary evidence we have that Chaucer was still alive in 1400?

(From Fragment X, lines 1081 to end of text)

  • If the reader is pleased by anything he or she has read, who should that reader thank, according to Chaucer?
  • If the readers are displeased by anything they have read, who or what should they blame, according to Chaucer?
  • When Chaucer says, "For oure book seith, 'Al that is writen is writen for oure doctrine,'" what biblical book is he quoting?
  • What does Chaucer say his "entente" is in writing The Canterbury Tales?
  • What does Chaucer beseech his readers to do for him? (i.e., "Wherfore I biseke yow mekely . . ."?)
  • What does Chaucer ask forgiveness for besides "my giltes"?
  • When Chaucer revokes his earlier works as being "worldly vanitees," he lists the works he has written. Why does providing a complete list seem a bit odd if Chaucer doesn't want people to read them?
  • When Chaucer retracts The Canterbury Tales, what qualifier does he attach? (Does Chaucer retract all of them? Some of them? None of them? Which ones are those that "sownen into synne"?)
  • How is "The Book of the Leoun" different from the earlier works listed in the Retraction?
  • What works does Chaucer consider works of "moralitee and devocioun" that he has written?
  • What does Chaucer ask Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints to grant him in terms of grace? If he prays for the grace to do this, what does that suggest about his current attitude?


A. Now preye I to hem alle that herkne this litel tretis or rede, that if ther be any thing in it that liketh hem, that therof they thanken oure Lord Jesu Crist, of whom procedeth al wit and al goodnesse. And if ther be any thing that displese hem, I preye hem also that they arrette it to the defaute of myn unconnynge and nat to my wil, that wolde ful fain have seyde bettre if I hadde had conning.

B. For oure booke seith, "Al that is written is writen for oure doctrine," and that is myn intente.

C. Wherefore I biseke yow mekely, for the mercy of God, that ye preye for me that Crist have mercy on me and foryeve me my giltes; / and namely of my translacions and enditynges of wordlly vanitees, the whiche I revoke in my retracciouns: as in the book of Troilus; the book also of Fame; the book of the five and twenty. Ladies; the book of the Duchesse; the book of Seint Valentynes day of the Parlement of Briddes; the tales of Caunterbury, thilke that sownen into synne; / the book of the Leoun; and many another book, if they were in my remembrance, and many a song and many a leccherous lay, that Crist for his grete mercy foryeve me the synne.


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