Parody in Chaucer‘s “The Tale of Sir Thopas”


  • Tessa Cernik


Parody is a problem: even contemporaries sometimes miss the fact that something is parodic – witness the articles in the Onion that are taken seriously. How, then, can someone at any historical distance hope to distinguish parody from perfectly serious works? Would we know, for example, that “The Tale of Sir Thopas” is a parody, if it were not enclosed in the framework of The Canterbury Tales – or would we think it was just a terrible, hack-job of a romance? In this essay, Tessa Cernik tackles this problem head on. How do we distinguish “Sir Thopas” from other presumably serious romances such as Guy of Warwick or Bevis of Hampton, which use many of the same conventions, tropes, and patterns? Conversely, what parodic elements might there be in those “serious” romances, which heretofore scholars have taken straightforwardly? Cernik‘s astute analysis is relevant not just to medievalists, but to all literary scholars who face not only the problems of genre classification, but also the wanton abuse of the tools of classification by contemporary writers who refuse to be serious.

Dr. Kathy Cawsey