Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Ashby Kinch

Commitee Members

James Randall, John Hunt


Chaucer, medieval music, Middle English lyrics


University of Montana


This thesis is concerned with musicality as an interpretive category in the reading of Middle English literature in both lyric and narrative texts. The anonymous musical lyrics of thirteenth century England emphasize the individual subjectivity of the speaker, a quality which is enhanced by their musical settings. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written at the end of the fourteenth century, uses music in a narrative framework to critique the operation of this subjectivity. Because the lyric poetry of the period was nearly always set to music, the status of the texts as songs has an important impact on the way in which those texts create meaning. Specifically, music deepens and expands the way in which the lyric "I" creates an anonymous subjectivity into which the hearer or, especially, the performer of the song is called to enter. This emphasis on subjectivity reflects the ideology of affective piety, which was being disseminated in England in the thirteenth century by Franciscan friars, partly through the composition of songs. The same subjectivity is present in non-religious songs of the period as well, revealing a broader ideology that placed great importance on the individual. The Canterbury Tales feature many characters—both among the pilgrims and within the tales told by those pilgrims—whose practice of music reveals important aspects of their personality. Chaucer's narrative technique offers these practices up for critique on an ethical basis. Separate chapters of this thesis are devoted to identifying the critiques of religious and amatory musical practices. In each of these chapters, musicality raises two interlocking issues: the degree to which music can evoke affective response in the hearer, and the relative values of rationality and natural wisdom.



© Copyright 2007 Michael Erik Bigley