The workes of Our Ancient and learned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer

Chrzanowski 1602cJohn Stow’s first published work was his edition of Chaucer in 1561. Nearly forty years later he would become involved in the publication of a new edition. The editor, Thomas Speght was assisted by Stow, Francis Thynne (son of William Thynne, the earlier Chaucer editor), Francis Beaumont (father of the playwright of the same name), and Robert Glover. Speght published his edition in 1598 and another, improved version in 1602. A surge in interest in Chaucer occurred at this time; Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida was among the newly staged dramas. The present copy is the 1602 printing.

As Speght writes in his dedication to Robert Cecil, Principal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth, in the 1602 edition, “at the last Impression [1598] of this worke….I presented your Highness certaine collections and observations upon Chaucer: as namely, his Life, Picture, and Pedigree: the Arguments of every Booke and Tale: [And] the Explanation of old words….But as these things then through want of time were not fully perfected, so were there some other things omitted, at the next Impression to be performed.” In addition to the biography, portrait of Chaucer, and glossary that were new in the 1598 edition, the 1602 printing included considerable revisions, improvements to the glossary, modernized punctuation throughout, and two previously unpublished works, one of which is apocryphal.

Geoffrey Chaucer—author, poet, philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier, and diplomat—was born of good parentage and led a successful public life. Although there are gaps in biographical knowledge, such as in the late stages of his life after the fall of his patron, King Richard II, there is much information available. Speght’s biographical sketch, however, contains a lot of fiction. He was misled by the mistaken inclusion of several works in the Chaucer canon and motivated to reinforce the arguments in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments that Chaucer had strong Lollard (Protestant) tendencies. The main culprit was Testament of Love, which mentions a failed plot on the part of the author, his imprisonment, and what can be interpreted as a renouncement of heresy. The Lollard tendencies in the “Ploughman’s Tale” provided further evidence. “The Ploughman’s Tale” is now considered to be non-Chaucerian, and Testament of Love is the work of Thomas Usk, who was found guilty of heresy and executed.

Chrzanowski 1602c *

STC 5080

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675