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date: 26 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

In the Prologue to the “Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale,” a loyal servant betrays his master’s closely held secrets as he engages in idle talk. Yet much more is at stake in this scene than the damage that a servant’s idle talk can do to his master; for the Canon’s Yeoman’s gossip does not simply divulge the Canon’s shortcomings, it also illuminates how gossip is fundamental to the narrative experimentation at the heart of this tale. Exploring the many different ways in which gossip functions in English culture during the late medieval period, this article reveals that idle talk acts not just as the transgressive speech of the disempowered, but, more centrally, as the discursive tool of ‘official’ culture, deployed by medieval English poets and preachers alike. It considers the consequences of gossip not only for Chaucerian poetics but also for late medieval pastoral literature, arguing that that idle talk is as central to Robert Mannyng’s exemplarity as it is to Chaucer’s narrative experimentation.

Keywords: Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, gossip, Geoffrey Chaucer, preachers, Robert Mannyng, pastoral literature, medieval period, culture

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