the English Tradition
second edition
Ian Robinson

Of the first edition The Use of English said, “For undergraduate study the book is clearly indispensable.” Chaucer and the English Tradition is not a useful provider of “background” information but a provocation to thought. For thirty years it has been a companion to students and general readers in their own exploration of the English poetry of the fourteenth century. This second edition, completely rewritten, includes much new work and aims more directly at inviting the common reader to join in thinking about some great poetry. This is done by some lively challenges to received opinion. The book includes discussions of all Chaucer's more important works, as well as of Piers Plowman, Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and it ends with a chapter that tries to justify the title by showing how Chaucer belongs to us.

pp. xviii + 238, demy 8v0, hard covers
978 0 907839 84 2  £18.00


Acknowledgements page vii
Note on Texts viii
Preface to the Second Edition
and How to Read Chaucer ix

1 Chaucer the Belated Poet
i Where to Start?—Confusion and The Book of the Duchess 1
ii Chaucer Lost in The House of Fame 7
iii The Real Start with The Parlement of Fowles 17

2 Chaucer's Pure Poetry
i The Secrets, or, Fabliaux vs Fyn Amour 33
ii Woman 54
Canon's Yeoman and Pardoner 69
The Nun's Priest's Tale and The Rape of the Lock 75
iii Chaucer on Marriage: The Franklin's Tale 81

3 Chaucer the Poet of Religion 95
The Prioress's Tale 98
The Man of Law's Tale 104
The Clerk's Tale 107

4 Chaucer the Poet of Tragedy
i Vaulting Ambition: Troilus and Criseyde 125
ii The Knight's Tale 132
iii Chaucer the Lyric Poet 149

5 The Great Alternative: Piers Plowman 153

6 Northumbria 183
i Pearl: Poetry and Suffering 188
ii Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
as Comedy of Manners 201

7 Chaucer the Father 227


We regret that the recordings listed below are currently unavailable.
Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible if not sooner.

Reading The Merchant’s Tale aloud

The recording of The Merchant’s Tale below is meant to give a working idea of what I understand by Chaucer’s rhythms. The vowel-sounds are semi-modernised. It is not a professional performance and is unedited, retaining some extraneous noises, some second thoughts and a few mistakes. The shorter file of the opening of the tale gives a reading more in accordance with editorial instructions. It too is not perfect but will give a reasonable idea of what the editors demand. You are, of course, invited to compare the two and decide which is closer to Chaucer’s poetry. I enjoyed making these recordings and I hope a few people may enjoy listening to them.

            I. R. October 2004

1) To listen to the recording on-line, click on the links immediately below.

Extract: medieval vowels   
Merchant’s Tale 1    Merchant’s Tale 2    Merchant’s Tale 3    Merchant’s Tale 4

2) Although the downloadable files below are compressed you do not need WinZip or any other compression program to play them. To download and play a file takes four steps. Click on

     1. a link to the right: Extract: medieval vowels    Merchant 1    Merchant 2    Merchant 3    Merchant 4      2. “save to disk” (specify the folder you want the file saved in)
     3. “unzip” (specify the folder you want the file unzipped to)
     4. the now decompressed file icon and name.

The extract illustrating the vowels is .75mb, the other files vary between about 2.5mb and 3.25mb.
If you don't have broadband, they will take a while to download. If you have any difficulty, email us at

Although freely downloadable, these readings are still under copyright.
copyright © 2004 The Brynmill Press Ltd

the author
Ian Robinson was a pupil of F. R. Leavis in the great days of Downing College, and lectured for many years at the former University College of Swansea. He was founder-editor of The Human World and The Gadfly and in 1970 co-founder with David Sims of The Brynmill Press Ltd. In 2000 he launched the Edgeways Books series.

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