chapter  5
Redeeming Memory: Thomas Usk’s Testament of Love
Pages 26

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.