Secular Chaucer

The third talk in the 2012-13 MARCS series will be presented by Dr. Matthew McCabe on Thursday 17th January, at 4:00 p.m. in SS 1153. Light refreshments will be served.

Dr. McCabe’s talk is entitled: ‘“For thanne his lyf is set in sikernesse”: Secular Chaucer and The Merchant’s Tale.


Recalling work on late medieval “secularity” by Alastair Minnis and others, this paper will begin by reviewing theories of the secular (Charles Taylor; José Casanova; William Connolly) and the problems that pertain to adapting them to late medieval culture. The paper will then turn to Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale as a case study in secularity and religiosity as these may be seen to interact in a pre-modern literary text. The paper will seek to identify Chaucer’s satirical target in the tale with reference to two voices of late-fourteenth-century “international lay culture”—Chaucer’s associate, John Gower; and the Crusade propagandist, Philippe de Mézières—and propose “secular Christianity” as a useful term with which to discuss several phenomena related to Chaucer and his social and literary environment.