This is the first critical book to study in depth the transition from the 'medieval' to the 'Renaissance' periods in English literature. What exactly, in a literary context, do those terms designate? Mr Spearing argues that, far from being fixed determinants, they demand careful critical reappraisal. He rewrites the literary history of the period from Chaucer to the early Spenser in a way that puts new emphasis on the importance of Chaucer's influence on a tradition which in many important respects began with him. Many literary and cultural qualities, normally considered 'Renaissance', can be seen to have their origins, so far as the English tradition is concerned, in Chaucer's contacts with Italian culture. This book shows how Chaucer can be regarded as a Renaissance poet whose work was medievalised by his admiring successors. Traditions other than the Chaucerian are examined in this light, and the author engages with the larger problems of literary history through the detailed analysis of specimen texts.