I wonder whether things haven't shifted to the other end of the spectrum, though? I feel like I've been brought up on the Python/Pasolini version of the Middle Ages, with Chaucer standing more or less as a by-word for 'earthy' humour. These were the expectations I brought to Chaucer when I first studied him, but reading The Merchant's Tale was a revelation: there was the freewheeling bawdiness alright ('This Damyan gan pullen up the smok, and in he throng...ye, algate in it went!'), but alongside it were passages of great lyrical beauty, and as I mentioned before a more complex and subtle use of irony than I had (or have) ever encountered in any other work of art. Only focusing on the 'idealised' level of medieval art is dangerous, of course, but so is the other extreme, which can be sentimental and patronising.
Well, that's the problem with trying to force a pendulum to swing back, is that when you succeed you wind up with essentially the same problem. I suspect the situation was different in the early 70s, though.
Now that I'm trying to make my way as a researcher, it seems that almost everybody in academia buys into a picture of the Middle Ages that sees these past authors as celebrating sensuality and critiquing religion (as is so often the case in atheistic discourse, there's an awful tendency to conflate 'religion' as such with 'the clergy'; I say this as an atheist myself, but I'd have thought any good Christian ought to have a pretty low opinion of organised religion and its representatives. Jesus certainly did). It's as if we can't stay interested in medieval artists unless we make them look like us. I don't have a problem with someone manipulating Chaucer's text in line with their own ideologies, if they're open and honest about what they're doing; the danger comes when they present their interpretation as objective, as an 'accurate' representation of what the text is really saying, while simply ignoring those passages that don't fit the secular/liberal/atheist/sensual model they're working with. I hasten to add that I'm in sympathy with that model, just not with the practice of dealing with something alien and troubling by pretending that it's familiar and safe. Such a practice displays a depressing lack of intellectual curiosity, and (without getting too hysterical about it) is morally problematic as well.
Well, I think the distinction between 'religion' and 'the Church' is harder to make in a society with a totally monolithic religion, though the Lollards obviously managed to do so anyway. There's a lot of discussion as to whether Chaucer fits amongst their ranks, but it seems silly to assume he was anything but a Christian- for all the fun he makes of individual members of the Church, his devotion to religion (and habit of weaving religious themes and metaphors in amongst his work) seem fairly clear.
The tricky thing, of course, is that everyone had to appear
to be religious at time, lest they be, you know, burnt at the stake- Chaucer's England was undergoing a major inquisition brought about by the question of Lollardy and its rejection of transubstatantion doctrine (or more cyncially, its disinterest in the utter materialism of the Church as it then existed) and as I recall, both Henrys IV and V allowed the Church unprecedented political power in exchange for its continued support of their iffy-at-best claim to legitimacy. Which means that anything but a total apparent devotion would be physically dangerous as hell.