Speculum 70 (4):822-864 (1995)

The year 1400 is one of those loudly proclaimed milestones in English literary history in which the vagaries of human life and human chronological systems appear to come together with unusual appropriateness. The year not only of a new century's beginning but of the death of the old century's most important poet, 1400 has often been taken by Middle English scholars to mark one of those crucial transitions between an age of gold and one of brass: between the Age of Chaucer and the glories of Ricardian literature, on the one hand, and that of what is persistently taken, on the other, as the dullness and all-too-proper humility of fifteenth-century writing—dedicated as so much of it seems to be to the sterile elevation and imitation of the beloved “father and master” Chaucer. So well naturalized has this model become, and so much has it consequently influenced the reading habits of Middle English scholars, that it is only now becoming possible to recognize the model as a construct inherited from the fifteenth century itself: a cultural formation, founded on half-truths, which deserves attention as an object, more than a tool, of critical analysis. Thus it has been only recently that serious reflection has begun both on the nature of the changes of which Chaucer's death has been taken as a symbol and on the ideological manipulations for which that year, as the sign of the end of an era, has been used as an only apparently natural substitute
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DOI 10.2307/2865345
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