chapter
Introduction
Pages 15

This project began with a question that I was never able to answer. While searching through Caroline Spurgeon’s Chaucer Criticism and Allusion for early modern references to Chaucer’s Complaint to His Purse, I noticed that, at least three times between 1566 and 1577, debtors were ordered to tender money “at the tombe of Jeffrey Chawcer.”2 Intrigued by the apparent connection of cash with corpse I wondered if anyone had ever asked why the tomb of the Father of English Poetry was a legal place of repayment. And indeed, I discovered that Joseph Haselwood had asked precisely this question over a hundred and fifty years ago.3 Haselwood had admitted that he had not looked very hard for an answer, so I thought that a bit of work would unearth, if not the rationale for the connection between money and burial place, then an acknowledgement of the practice that might explain why Chaucer’s tomb was linked with fiscal obligation. Above all I hoped that a bit of research might turn up historical connections between the location of the body of the poet and the transcendent body of money, connections which would advance some interesting theoretical paradigms about corporeal death, poetic life, and exchange value. In other words (to invert Paul Strohm’s argument about counterfeiting), I thought that “the ineffable aura of the deceased” might have been seen to legitimate, vitalize, or sacralize the locus at which an exchange of hitherto “dead metal” was carried out.4 What I found was suggestive, but puzzling. Chaucer’s body had been translated to the purbeck altar tomb (where he apparently still resides) some ten years before the payments began, so the location of Chaucer should have been of some significance at around the time that the payments were made. Yet, if anything, there seemed to be a conscious ignorance of, or even resistance to, the idea of the translation of the body in many sixteenth-century sources. In fact, the first time the word “translation” is actually used to describe the removal of the body to the new tomb is in 1600, when William Camden says that Nicholas

Brigham translated the bones (ossa transtulit) of Geoffrey Chaucer to the new tomb.5