A veteran reformer of higher education, an unparalleled Chaucer scholar and an early advocate of the 1960s free speech movement, Charles Muscatine has passed away at the age of 89 in Oakland, Calif. —JCL
The New York Times:
Charles Muscatine, a scholar who transformed Chaucer studies by turning attention to the French models for Chaucer’s poetry, and who pursued a side career as an educational reformer after becoming embroiled in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, died on March 12 in Oakland, Calif. He was 89 and lived in Berkeley.
The cause was a lung infection, his daughter, Lissa, said.
Mr. Muscatine’s “Chaucer and the French Tradition: A Study in Style and Meaning,” published by the University of California Press in 1957, remains an essential work for understanding one of England’s greatest poets. Expanding his inquiries beyond the traditional source studies, Mr. Muscatine rejected the widely held view of Chaucer as a poet who had progressed from stilted conventionalism to a robust, purely English realism. Rather, Mr. Muscatine described an artist who had shaped to his own uses the themes and devices he found in the courtly and bourgeois poetry that developed in France in the 12th and 13th centuries.
“It remains astonishingly undated,” said David Lawton, the executive director of the New Chaucer Society. “The sheer quality of Muscatine’s reading continues to set an almost impossibly high standard, and virtually single-handedly he opened up Chaucer studies to France and Chaucer’s secular, French heritage. There has been a huge growth in this field, most of it following along the routes he made.”
Student unrest at UC Berkeley in the 1960s thrust Charles Muscatine into a new role.