Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

David Lawton


Thomas Hoccleve, the early fifteenth-century London poet who first promoted the notion that Chaucer was the father of English literature, demonstrates an acute awareness that readers would change the form of his own texts over time. Although many scholars consider Hoccleve's style to be derivative of his English predecessors, I argue that his awareness of readers contributed to an innovative style that casts writing and reading as mutually dependent acts of performance. Thus, in depictions of manuscript production and circulation processes, Hoccleve treats his audiences as his creative collaborators. The rich surviving manuscript history for Hoccleve reveals how his texts reflect and incorporate the experiences of readers. Additionally, owing to the fact that Hoccleve's manuscript record includes three autograph manuscripts of his verse, I argue that Hoccleve himself must be counted among his own readers. In this dissertation, I first explore the relationships between autograph and scribal manuscripts of his texts, and between the content and form of his poems in variant scribal manuscripts. I then discuss how readers and copiers interacted with his poems' visual layouts, and how this impacted future reading performances of his texts. Finally, I examine the relationship between Hoccleve's explicit criticism of readers of his poem, the Letter of Cupid, and his own rereading of the poem in one of his autograph manuscripts. From these investigations, I propose that the poetics of reading in Hoccleve's works represent his response to cultural concerns with the instabilities of literary authority in the late Middle Ages. Hoccleve's effort to involve readers both literally and figuratively in the construction of his texts, and his recentering of literary authority in his audiences, are his major contributions to English literature in the fifteenth century.


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