Because I was reading Middle English for the first time the footnotes and glossary were often essential--like when a buxom wife means she is obedient, or where there is a gold ring in a sow's groin you need to know it really means the ring in in her snout.
There were other times, however, when the footnote was no help at all--perhaps even a hindrance to understanding. But someone a long time ago had determined the meaning of a line. That someone knew a lot about Chaucer. The meaning that had come down to us had authority. How could we doubt what was said?
That's where I was--wondering how I could doubt an age-old authority--when I came upon a treasure of a book: The Art of Literary Research by Richard D. Altick. Such fascinating reading about perpetuated misprints, anachronistic "evidence," or "facts" presented exactly the opposite from what was true. Altick refers to:
. . . an assumption of critics or literary historians which has gone unchallenged so long that it now seems as impregnable as an old-fashioned Gospel truth . . .
After reading that, I felt justified in questioning authorities of 100 and more years ago. Actually, I felt encouraged to do so. An easily understood place to begin is in The Tale of Sir Thopas, a story told by Chaucer himself in his pilgrim guise. In today's English the line we'll question says our hero was weary "from galloping (or spurring his horse) over the tender grass." But Chaucer says he was weary from "prikyng on the softe gras." Somehow I get a different picture from the original prikyng on soft grass!