chapter  5
26 Pages

Redeeming Memory: Thomas Usk’s Testament of Love

In its modern form, the hypercritical tendency to elide the distinction between Usk’s life and work is typified by W.W. Skeat’s assessment of the Testament: ‘there is much about the piece that is vague, shifty, and unsatisfactory. He is too full of excuses, and too plausible; in a word, too selfish’.3 A similar fusion of literature and life is reflected in persistent attempts to position Usk as Chaucer’s unsuccessful counterpart: as Thomas Prendergast observes, critical insistence upon Usk’s aesthetic, political and personal failings facilitates the retrospective construction of Chaucer as a writer whose poetic skill is an index of his political acumen.4 For Paul Strohm, Chaucer exhibits a ‘more successful attitude toward

2 Useful detailed accounts of Usk’s life include Paul Strohm, ‘Politics and Poetics: Usk and Chaucer in the 1380s’, in Lee Patterson (ed.), Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380-1550 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 83-112; and the introduction to Shawver’s edition, 7-23.