"Schildgen reads the Canterbury Tales as a work of complex speculation about identity, values, and social arrangements. Her book focuses on the margins where these concerns emerge with special clarity and urgency--in the tales conspicuously located outside a Christianized Western Europe."--Robert R. Edwards, Pennsylvania State University
Brenda Deen Schildgen takes a new path in Chaucer studies by examining the Canterbury Tales set outside a Christian-dominated world--tales that pit Christian teleological ethics and history against the imagined beliefs and practices of Moslems, Jews, pagans, and Chaucer's contemporaries, the Tartars.
Schildgen contends that these tales--for example, the Knight's, Squire's, and Wife of Bath's--deliberate on the grand rifts between the Christian or pagan past and Chaucer's present and between other cultural worlds and the Latin Christian world. They offer philosophical views about what constitutes "wisdom" and "lawe" while exploring alternative moral attitudes to the Christian mainstream of Chaucer's time. She argues that their presence in the Canterbury Tales testifies to Chaucer's literary secularism and reveals his expansive narrative interest in the intellectual and cultural worlds outside Christianity.
Making impressive use of medieval intellectual history, Schildgen shows that Chaucer framed his tales with the diverse philosophies, religions, and ethics that coexisted with Christian ideology in the late Middle Ages, a framework that emerges as political and not metaphysical, putting these beliefs deliberatively in the context of literary discourse, where their validity can be accepted or dismissed and, most important, debated.
Brenda Deen Schildgen teaches comparative literature, medieval studies, and English at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of several books, including Power and Prejudice: The Reception of the Gospel of Mark , which won a Choice Award for most outstanding academic book in 1999, and is the coeditor of The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales .