AuthorHerman, Jason M.
Committee ChairDahood, Roger
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation situates Chaucer's Retraction in the context of medieval thinking about authorial intention and the utility of literary texts. It culminates in a reading of Chaucer's Retraction that emphasizes the Retraction's rhetorical status as a request for prayer, calls into question the presence of a disavowal of Chaucer's literary works, and explores the demands the Retraction makes upon readers.Augustine provided the foundation for medieval thinking about authorial intention through the development of an interpretive system in which readers have the responsibility of seeking in scripture meanings that will build them up toward love for God and their neighbor. Although the first step of interpretation is to seek out the author's intention, God can be trusted to have foreseen all possible meanings useful to the reader, even those not intended by the historical author. Medieval commentators similarly emphasized spiritual utility, as evidenced by the tradition of accessus, or academic prologues, which show interest in the historical author's intentions yet situate discussion of authorial intention in a larger rhetorical context, including consideration of the text's utility. Vernacular authors such as Chaucer and Boccaccio appropriate these interpretive practices in apologies that imply a limited role for authorial intention and leave the task of determining the moral significance of the text to readers.Modern readers have tended to make sense of Chaucer's Retraction by appealing to the intentions and historical circumstances of its author or by describing the Retraction's place within the aesthetic or doctrinal structure of the Canterbury Tales. Yet these approaches do not sufficiently account for the rhetorical context of the Retraction. Chaucer explains and defends his intention for the Parson's Tale not to fix interpretation but to influence the reader's moral evaluation of its author. He lists his religious and secular works not to retract or disavow the latter, but to enlist the reader's help in praying for his sins and in giving thanks for his good works. Ultimately Chaucer's Retraction offers readers an opportunity to reflect on their own readings of the Canterbury Tales, to pray for the author's salvation, and to benefit from his example of self-examination.