Retraction as redemption : penance and progression in Chaucer's retractionary form
LaRiviere, Katie Jo.
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At least four of Chaucer's pivotal texts, "Boece", "Troilus and Criseyde", and the "Legend of Good Women", but especially the "Canterbury Tales", illustrate Chaucer's navigation of, primarily, a universal-individual tension, among the various problems facing the Church in England in the late 14th Century. I contend that Chaucer's final resolution of this tension centers on the Church's sacrament of reconciliation as he considers themes of discernment and penance through the "Nun's Priest's Tale" and the "Parson's Tale." My reading and analysis of parts of these four seminal texts, particularly the retractions contained therein, contribute to the notion of a Church run in a simultaneously successful and unsuccessful systematized nature through the crisis of the late 14th century. I view Chaucer's retractions as a method of expression of his awareness and judgment of the Church-in-crisis, even as he maintains his orthodoxy. It is my intention, in this thesis, to elucidate Chaucer's negotiation of the universal-individual tension through analysis of the aforementioned texts, to highlight the dynamism and progression of his work, and to demonstrate an understanding of Chaucer's ultimate comment upon this tension as witnessed in his "Retraction." It is my final argument of this thesis that through a progressive study of retraction as a "form" in Chaucer's work, that form becomes, for Chaucer, a sacramental penance. Rather than a mere recantation or redaction of prior work, or a conventional revision of reader-construction, Chaucer demonstrates the form of retraction itself as a penitential rite, and as such, retraction becomes a satisfying approach, at least for Chaucer, to resolving the universal-individual tension.