Shakespeare’s relationship to medieval literature has received comparatively little critical investigation. There have been two full-length books—Ann Thompson’s useful Shakespeare’s Chaucer (1978) and E. Talbot Donaldson’s disappointing The Swan at the Well (1985)—together with scattered essays in periodicals, but a great deal remains to be done. Now a volume of eleven essays has appeared, edited by Curtis Perry and John Watkins, which attempts to plug some of the gaps.[1] Unfortunately, the contributors tend to examine how far Shakespeare can be made to fit in with contemporary ideas about medieval writing, rather than trying to start from where he himself started—from a position unencumbered by academic labels, categories, and theories.

When, in the 1590s, Shakespeare read a book claiming to be The Works of Geoffrey...


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