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date: 07 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Michel Foucault declared that authors became subject to punishment and discourse became transgressive. In the late fourteenth century, both “discourse” and the very act of writing itself were perceived as transgressive, a notion that resulted in a new kind of authorial self-representation in England. By the late fourteenth century, writing had assumed an ambiguous role: while it was the means by which social norms regarding labor were communicated and enforced, it could also be the object of such enforcement. This article explores how late medieval literature came to have authors by looking at literary production in the context of contemporary discourses about daily work. It considers how post-plague labor laws forced authors to situate their work not just between the venerable poles of imitatio and inventio but also between the social polarities of idleness and industry, and how post-plague writers meditated on the value of literary work in the marketplace of work more generally. Using Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales as a lens, it discusses the strategies employed by late medieval writers in positioning their work in a literary landscape characterized by explicit understandings of the material value of labor.

Keywords: authors, England, labor, medieval literature, work, labor laws, idleness, industry, Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

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