Wise wights in privy places: rhyme and stanza form in Spenser and Chaucer

Brown, Richard Danson (2019). Wise wights in privy places: rhyme and stanza form in Spenser and Chaucer. In: Stenner, Rachel; Badcoe, Tamsin and Griffith, Gareth eds. Rereading Chaucer and Spenser: Dan Geffrey with the New Poete. The Manchester Spenser. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 113–136.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7765/9781526136923.00012

URL: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526...


This essay explores Spenser’s technical debt to Chaucer arguing for the semantic character of Spenser’s rhyming practice, and the ways in which his choices of rhyme and stanza impinge on the broader meanings of his poems. The first section analyses Chaucer and Spenser’s use of rime riche, arguing that while the device shows the latter’s fealty to the former, it also shows the updating of Chaucerian language to the metrical norms of Early Modern English. The second section explores the question of stanzaic syntax, arguing that Spenser wanted a more restrictive mise-en-page than in the Chaucer folios; this is illustrated through a detailed reading of his continuation of ‘The Squire’s Tale’ in The Faerie Queene IV.iii which stresses the extreme repetitions across stanzas in which Spenser specialized. In this view, repetition is a device used in context to enhance readerly wonder at the extraordinary deeds narrated, while Spenserian diction works to keep Chaucerian English in the reader’s mind. The final section reopens the old question of the origins of the Spenserian stanza, repointing an old answer: the Spenserian is a deliberate development of the rhyme royal stanza as practised by Chaucer.

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