Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jesse Gellrich


The Counsel Group: Rhetorical and Political Contexts of Court Counsel in The Canterbury Tales argues that counsel-taking is one of the most important themes in Chaucer's masterwork. Court counsel--which includes giving the ruler or lord political advice, making laws and treaties, and passing judicial sentence--was a major form of medieval discourse that recurs throughout Ricardian poetry. Indeed, the modern principle of consultative government has its roots in the medieval discourse of counsel and consent. As a diplomat in the service of Richard II, member of parliament, and acquaintance of several leading members of the king's council, Chaucer was well positioned to appreciate the political importance of court counsel. As a poet and translator, he was trained to evaluate the deep rhetorical structure of political speech. Richard II was deposed in 1399, and one of the main charges made against him in the articles of his deposition was that he refused to take the counsel of his subjects. However, the conciliar crisis that led to his deposition was complex and turned on the political factionalism between the royal and baronial parties. Both groups fought for control of the king's standing council and parliament, which held the keys to political power. The counsel group explores the rhetorical understructure of this struggle by thematizing the historical problems that corrupted counsel at the Ricardian court. The Melibee explores the problem of the ruler's youth, the Man of Law's Tale that of treason, and the Clerk's Tale that of tyranny. The counsel group also presents Chaucer's ideal counsellor-king, the Athenian ruler Theseus, in the Knight's Tale, and satirizes court counsel in the subversive Merchant's Tale. The factionalist nature of counsel-taking in the Tales is related to the popular Chaucerian issues of gender and class. Chaucer uses marriage as a metaphor for the conciliar relationship between a ruler and his people. Moreover, the Merchant's Tale extends the issue of political advice from an aristocratic court setting to the bourgeois court of a merchant-knight.