By Thomas A. Prendergast
First released in 2004. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.
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Extra resources for Chaucer's Dead Body
As Lerer points out, the time for talking about Chaucer as dead is gone, for it is no news in the 1470s. So why spend so much time composing, commissioning, or even transcribing a new epigraph? ”73 “Distance” here is equated with the perpetuation of immortality, and on some level I think that this reflects Caxton’s own belief. But this “distance” also occasioned an anxiety about whether what was being immortalized was actually Chaucer. The return to Chaucer’s grave, then, seems an attempt to link printing with what was known to be the authentic remains—a Caxtonian return to the body, as it were.
70 The magic of representation is to bring what seems to be life to the dead. To what extent that representation becomes at once problematized and enabled by the actual presence of the corpse becomes apparent when the new technology of representation (the press) begins to disseminate multiple copies of the text. The Body of the Poet Up until the end of the fifteenth century Chaucer’s body remains, then, an abstraction—recoverable in mind or as an imagined commodity rather than a physical presence.
79 These claims about the primacy of the “old verses” will become especially important later, when the dispute about the location of Chaucer’s grave actually begins; for now it is enough to claim that the verses, far from distancing the poet from his later audience, make him strangely present because they are in the first person present. They conjure Chaucer from the grave to speak with authority on his own resting place. Chaucer is, then, neither like those ancient dead authorities (Ovid, Virgil, Homer) whose existence as source legitimated the recovery of their texts, nor the poet whose followers (Hoccleve, Lydgate) could actually remember and attempt to recapture a time when he was still alive.