Chaucer criticism has always grappled with the question of intentionality. While early critics saw no trouble in identifying the voices in Chaucer's texts with the author's intention, authorial intention—not to be confused with autobiographical readings—became the elephant in the room from the early twentieth century onward. This article reviews the various approaches critics have put forward within Chaucer studies to avoid ascribing intention to Chaucer the poet. Starting with the concept of the narrator (a twentieth-century invention), three different approaches to the Canterbury Tales and their narrative situations are discussed, in which authorial intention looms large: the “dramatic,” the “detached,” and the “animated.” Then a case is made for the unavoidability of intentionalist readings by drawing on cognitive literary theories, in particular the intentional stance. When engaging with Chaucer, critics need to embrace intention as a key generator in the meaning-making activity of interpretation.
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Research Article| September 01 2023
Who Has Intention? Chaucer Studies and the Search for Meaning
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (2023) 53 (3): 597–622.
Eva von Contzen; Who Has Intention? Chaucer Studies and the Search for Meaning. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2023; 53 (3): 597–622. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-10689687
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