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The Poet as Sunday Man: The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse

Andrew J. Finnel
The Chaucer Review
Vol. 8, No. 2 (Fall, 1973), pp. 147-158
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25093261
Page Count: 12
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The Poet as Sunday Man: The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse
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Abstract

The problem in interpreting "Purse" is the explication of the biographical elements-how "Purse" fits with what is known about Chaucer in his last year. More specifically, there is the problem of the mystifying 17th line, "Oute of this toune helpe me thurgh your myght." Following Sumner Ferris, it may be seen that the supposed October 13, 1399, award to Chaucer by Henry is actually an antedated document of mid-February, 1400, and that "Purse," written shortly before, is a serious appeal for funds. Chaucer was probably broke and may have been in debt when he addressed himself to Henry. A possible explanation of 1. 17 based on the new evidence is this: On December 24, 1399, Chaucer moved into Westminster Abbey, an area under the protection of sanctuary law. As long as Chaucer remained within the Abbey, he could not be arrested for non-payment of debts. Toune in its earlier sense is walled enclosure. Chaucer is begging Henry for a solution to his financial problems-he is saying "Helpe me out of this walled enclosure, this monastery, so I can once more walk the streets of London." L.19, "For I am shave as nye as any frere" ("I am broke"), completes the clerical image.

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