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The Anxiety of Auctoritas: Chaucer and The Two Noble Kinsmen


This essay reads Fletcher and Shakespeare’s final collaboration, a dramatic adaptation of The Knight’s Tale, as an anxious engagement with the Renaissance’s understanding of Chaucer as a vernacular auctor, with that word’s imbricated senses of authorship, authority, and paternity. From his earliest encomiasts to the late sixteenth century, Chaucer was figured as the father of English literature, a tradition culminating in Thomas Speght’s extravagant folio edition of the Workes (1598). Unlike other early modern dramatic adaptations of Chaucerian texts, The Two Noble Kinsmen explicitly names and praises its canonical source. However, the play’s relationship with its auctor is at once reverential and confrontational, as the text thematizes its struggle to create art from a venerable literary monument. Allegorizing the treatment of auctoritas throughout the play, Fletcher and Shakespeare find spaces for resistance to authority and imaginative invention within structures of containment at a time when dramatic writing was grappling with its own relationship to the literary.

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