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451 Study Questions for
Chaucer's Retraction to the Canterbury Tales
Useful Middle English terms:
Chaucer's deathday is commonly listed as October 25, 1400.
Why do some scholars find this date suspicious or potentially
What is the last documentary evidence
we have that Chaucer was still alive in 1400?
(From Fragment X, lines 1081 to end of
- If the reader is pleased by anything
he or she has read, who should that reader thank, according
- If the readers are displeased by anything
they have read, who or what should they blame, according
- 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
- 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
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
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.