This article offers a new interpretation of the Prioress's Prologue by examining previously unrecognized source material from Dante and the liturgy. The Prioress's opening prayer has often been read as an expression of her own personal faith, which is typically seen as infantile and anti-intellectual. Proposing that the prologue can and should be detached from this narrative voice and read against its sources, this article shows that it engages in sophisticated thinking about both the potential and the limitations of language as a medium of prayer and praise. Chaucer combines the linguistic self-consciousness he found in Dante's Paradiso 33 with a striking confidence, grounded in the model of the liturgy, in the capacity of human language to articulate transcendent truth. Once distanced from debates about the Prioress herself, the prologue can therefore shed new light on Chaucer's critical engagement with language.

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