English, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 1993


Comparative Literature 45:1 (Winter 1993), pp. 68-71


Published by Duke University Press on behalf of University of Oregon.


Paul Strohm's Social Chaucer argues that late fourteenth-century England knew two social paradigms, the "hierarchy of high medieval tradition" and a society "horizontally arranged, commercial, secular and based in finite time." Chaucer in the main expressed the latter paradigm. In support of these ideas, Strohm presents the notions that the sacred feudal homage relation was, in Chaucer's time, rapidly being replaced by relationships of contract; that new, less rigid social descriptions going beyond the three-estate one had appeared; and that Chaucer's audience comprised members of the king's affinity who more or less belonged to the new group--"gentle civil servants and litterateurs"--an audience that, moving from the Book of the Duchess to the Canterbury Tales and late minor poems, is increasingly made up of equals and near equals.