Chaucer and the Trivium:
The Mindsong of the Canterbury Tales

J. Stephen Russell

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"Russell provides a valuable synthesis of a variety of scholarly resources on the trivium, an important and often neglected topic in Chaucer studies."--Lorraine K. Stock, University of Houston

J. Stephen Russell examines the impact that Chaucer’s education had on his greatest work, the Canterbury Tales, and demonstrates that understanding the nature of education in the Middle Ages, especially linguistic education, provides important insights into Chaucer’s poem.
Specifically, he shows that the medieval trivium (a curriculum of logic, grammar, and rhetoric) conveyed attitudes about expression, communication, and personality subtly but powerfully different from modern attitudes and that a recognition of these differences completely changes the nature of poems such as the general prologue and the tales of the knight, man of law, and clerk.
Russell begins with a concise, lucid account of the medieval trivium, synthesizing a variety of sources in an engaging explanation of such potentially dry subjects as grammar and conceptual hierarchies. He then examines four parts of the Canterbury Tales, providing insight into Chaucer’s method of presenting information about the pilgrims in the "General Prologue," the role of language in the "Man of Law’s Tale," the definition of man in the "Knight’s Tale," and the Artes in the "Clerk’s Tale." Finally, he extends his discussion to the "Tale of Melibee" and the tales of the wife of Bath, franklin, and nun’s priest and suggests avenues for further research based on the trivium.
For the modern reader, this work re-creates the mental parameters of a medieval education and provides a view of Chaucer’s conception of the way the world is organized, the foundation of his intellectual and artistic development.

J. Stephen Russell is associate professor of English at Hofstra University and the author of The English Dream Vision (a Choice Outstanding Book), and the editor of Allegoresis.

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"he does not discuss how much rhetoric was incorporated into the grammar in the medieval school tradition. He incorporates little of Rita Copeland's work and otherwise refers to hardly any recent work in the history of rhetoric, though that of Marjorie Curry Woods might have been particularly helpful." - Notes and Queries
--Notes and Queries

"richly suggestive" - Speculum

"a solid and worthwhile interpretatoin of selected texts in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and a good introduction to its relevant features." - Mediaevistik

"An important addition to Chaucer studies and to medieval culture studies. . . . Russell's overall point is the way the trivial curriculum, with its almost-total focus on language and logic, would have informed the thinking models/mental habits of students of Chaucer's time, including Chaucer himself -- informed their attitudes toward language and truth and human reality; and the demonstrations and explanations he offers are clear, valid, and enlightening. This is an important book."-- Medieval Review
--Medieval Review

"A coherent, well-framed, always lively foray into medieval modes of thought and Chaucerian fiction."-- South Atlantic Review
--South Atlantic Review

"Confidently negotiates contemporary Chaucerian scholarship, solidly convincing readers that the trivium can serve as an important lens through which we can read medieval literary texts." -Rhetorica

"Both collectively and individually, Russell's analyses of the Canterbury Tales show that there is much value in his methodology." -Parergon

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