chapter  1
Chaucer’s Death: Two Stories, Three Mourners
Pages 24

Yet if Shirley’s recovery of the Chaucerian text bespeaks a certain satisfaction with the ability to recover Chaucer-one which occludes death-those poets who cast themselves as literary descendents of Chaucer, such as John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve, seem to feel the need to reach back and recover the moment of death itself. Lydgate seems to be in perpetual mourning for the “master,” as he constantly brings the dead body of Chaucer before his audience. Indeed, what Freud would call a melancholic attachment to Chaucer might be seen as pathological here, for Lydgate probably had no personal attachment to Chaucer while he was alive. Lydgate’s obsession with Chaucer’s body, I argue, is symptomatic of a kind of proleptic guilt, as he does away with Chaucer in order to render him symbolic of that which Lydgate wishes to be. Hoccleve, on the other hand, seems to carry out the mourning process successfully-with a more localized mourning poem, The Regement of Princes. One reason for this more successful navigation of the mourning process, I argue, has to do with the displacement of Hoccleve’s desire with something that Chaucer himself had desired-money. Hoccleve’s obsession with coin offers the earliest example of the material commensurability of Chaucer and thus sets a material value on him. At the same time, this focus on money hides a desire for a thing (currency), which, no matter how it physically looks, always has a symbolical incorruptible body. This body, in turn, is backed by the king whose image is imprinted upon it. Instead of revealing a cathexis to the small body of faithful auditors who might comprise the audience of the poem, Hoccleve performatively transfers his attachment to the locus of the regal listener, the body of the coin.