Copyright 2013 by Paula S. Jordan
A brief addendum to last week’s post:
I said much earlier in this series that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were a source of story ideas for Shakespeare and Chaucer.
The most likely answer, I have learned, is “no” (for Shakespeare) and “possibly” (for Chaucer.) I base that “possibly” on the discussion of St. Brendan’s voyage and similarities to it in two of Chaucer’s female characters, and the “no” on the following conversation.
In the course of my research on the Chronicles, Google led me to a blog called “Distractions from the Present,” by the Red Witch, and a post entitled “The Anglo Saxon Reeve and Chaucer’s Pilgrim.” I asked her about Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Chronicles, and received the following reply.
I don’t think the Chronicles were a source of inspiration for Shakespeare or Chaucer. Chaucer used Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose and Boccaccio’s Decameron as his main sources of inspiration and Shakespeare used Hollinshed’s history as well as Ovid and Michel de Montaigne as inspiration.
I doubt the Chronicles were read much in the 14th century and even less in the 16th. French displaced so much of the Old English words, and spelling being not standardized, things were spelled in the local dialect. Few people could read the texts although they were dutifully copied by the monasteries. If you look at the Pearl or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was written around the same time as the Canterbury Tales, you will see that they look almost like completely different languages.
Very interesting insights on several levels, and I am grateful to the Red Witch for them.
I did do a bit of research on the Hollinshed work. Its language and its publication in 1577 (when Shakespeare was in his teens) do make it the much likelier source. And it is true that the extensive lists of known and surmised sources for Hollinshed do not include the Chronicles. Still, I cannot in my heart of hearts believe that absolutely none of those many sources harked back to knowledge originally recorded in the older work.
So while my intellectual head agrees with the good witch, my romantic heart tells me there must be some place for the Chronicles in the literary heritage of the Bard.
I did not think of the Hollinshed when planning this Quest. Next trip (dreaming here!) I will most definitely try to see it.