Vanity Fea

Geoffrey Chaucer

martes, 24 de septiembre de 2013

chaucer ellesmereGeoffrey Chaucer

From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble.

Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1343-1400), the son of John Chaucer (c.1312-68), a London vintner. The date of his birth has been much argued, all views now placing it between 1339 and 1346. In 1357 he served with Lionel, afterwards duke of Clarence. In 1359 he was in France with Edward III's invading army, was taken prisoner, and ransomed. He married, perhaps in 1366, Philippa, the daughter of Sir Paon Roet of Hainault and the sister of John of Gaunt's third wife Katherine Swynford. Philippa died in 1387 and Chaucer enjoyed Gaunt's patronage throughout his life. He held a number of positions at court and in the king's service, and he travelled abroad on numerous occasions on diplomatic missions; as well as missions to France, he made a journey to Genoa and Florence in 1372-3 in the course of which he could theoretically have met Boccaccio and (slightly more plausibly) Petrarch. He was sent on to France and Lombardy in 1378. In 1374 he was appointed controller of customs in the port of London and leased his house over Aldgate. He  was knight of the shire for Kent in 1386 and probably lived in Kent for most of the rest of his life. His last official position was deputy forester of the King's Forest at Petyherton in Somerset (1391-8 at least) and it is possible that he lived there for some time. He was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey where a monument was erected to him in 1555. The known facts of his life are well summarized in The Riverside Chaucer (ed. L. D. Benson et al., 1988), pp. xi-xxii. His writings develop through his career from a period of French influence in the late 1460s (of which the culmination was The Book of the Duchess in about 1370), through his middle period of both French and Italian influences (including The House of Fame in the 1370s and the mature Italian-influenced works of which the most important is Troilus and Criseyde, c. 1485), to the last period of most of the Canterbury Tales and his short lyrics, but this chronology is not very enlightening. His prose works include a translation of Boethius (Boece) and the challenging A Treatise on the Astrolabe, written to 'little Lewis', probably the poet's son. Portraits of Chaucer occur in three places: in the Ellesmere MSS (now in the Huntington Library and the basis of most modern editions); in the manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; and in Hoccleve's The Regement of Princes, beside lines 4.995-6 (in several manuscripts: the best is the one dating from Hoccleve's time, British Library Harley 4866, edited by Furnivall for EETS ES 72).

See D. A. Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography (1992), P. Boitani and J. Mann (eds.), The Cambridge Chaucer Companion (1986); J. D. North, Chaucer's Universe (1988); J. A. Burrow (ed.), Geoffey Chaucer.

The Book of the Duchess, a dream-poem in 1,334 lines by Chaucer, probably written in 1369, in octosyllabic couplets. It is believed, in accordance with a long-standing tradition (which was questioned in the 1950s), to be an allegorical lament on the death of Blanche of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt, who died in Sept. 1369.

The love-lorn poet falls asleep reading the story of Ceix (Seys) and Alcyone and follows a hunting party. He meets a knight in black who laments the loss of his lady. The knight tells of her virtue and beauty and of their courtship, and in answer to the dreamer's question declares her dead. The hunting party reappears and a bell strikes twelve, awakening the poet, who finds his book still in his hand. The poem is one of Chaucer's earliest works, but it has great charm and accomplishment. It is founded on the French tradition of the dream as a vehicle for love poetry. 'A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe' by Lydgate is based on it. For an account of the poem, see A. C. Spearing, Medieval Dream-Poetry (1976), 49-73, and B. A. Windeatt, Chaucer's Dream-Poetry: Sources and Analogues (1982).

The House of Fame, an unfinished dream poem by Chaucer, composed at some time between 1374 and 1385. There are three books, in 2,158 lines of octosyllabics; it is believed to be Chaucer's last poem in that French form. The poem remains cryptic, and it is uncertain what its purpose or extent would have been (though the poem says that the third book will, in fact, be the final one).

After the prologue on dreams and the invocation to the god of sleep, Bk 1 says the poet fell asleep and dreamt that he was in a Temple of Glass where he saw depicted Aeneas and Dido (based on Aeneid, 4); the dream moves on to deal more briefly with other parts of the Aeneid. At the end of Bk 1 the poet sees an eagle who alights by him and is his guide through the House of Fame in Bk II (initially suggested, perhaps, by Fama, Rumour, in Aeneid, 4, 173 ff.). The eagle explains, philosophically and at length, how Fame works in its arbitrary ways and the book ends with a vision of the word (thought by some to be amongst Chaucer's most inspired writing: 896-1045). The eagle departs and at the beginning of Bk III Chaucer enters the Palace of Fame (Rumour) where he sees the famous of both classical and biblical lore. Eolus blows a trumpet to summon up the various celebrities who introduce themselves in categories reminiscent of the souls in Dante's Divina commedia. Towards the end of the poem comes a vision of bearers of false tidings: shipmen, pilgrims, pardoners, and messengers, whose confusion seems to be about to be resolved by the appearance of 'A man of gret auctorite . . .'; but there the poem ends. The identity of this figure has been much discussed; Boethius seems the most plausible suggestion. Versions of the poem were made by Lydgate (in The Temple of Glas), Douglas, and Skelton.

See J. A. W. Bennett, Chaucer's Book of Fame (1968); S. Delaney, Chaucer's House of Fame (1972); P. Boitani, Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame (1984); also The Riverside Chaucer, ed. L. D. Benson et al. (1988).

Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer's longest complete poem, in 8,239 lines of rhyme-royal [ababbcc] probably written in the second half of the 1380s (J. D. North, RES, 1969, has shown that the events of the poem take place in calendar circumstances corresponding on astrological evidence to dates between 1385 and 1388). Chaucer takes his story from Boccaccio's Il filostrato, adapting its eight books to five and changing the characters of Criseyde and Pandarus. In Boccaccio Troilo falls in love with Criseida whose cousin, Troilo's friend Pandaro, persuades her, not unwillingly, to become Troilo's lover. In the end Criseida has to leave the Trojan camp to join her father who had defected to the Greeks; in the Greek camp she betrays Troilo by falling in love with Diomede. While following the same narrative pattern, Chaucer deepens the sense of seriousness in the story by making Pandaro Criseida's uncle and guardian, by showing her deliberating at more length (this series of exchanges between uncle and niece in Book II is one of the most admired and anthologized parts of the poem), and by introducing deliberative material, principally from Boethius, calling into question the lovers' freedom of action. The poem ends with an adjuration to the young to repair home from worldly vanity and to place their trust, not in an unstable fortune as Troilus did, but in God. Discussion of the poem has centred largely on the appropriateness of the epilogue to the preceding action, on the attitudes to love (courtly love in particular) in the poem, and on the personality of the narrator and his effect on the narrative. The love story has no basis in classical antiquity but is the invention of Benoit de Sainte-Maure in his Roman de Troie, which was based on the pretended histories of Troy by Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis. Boccaccio's intermediate source was Guido delle Colonne (see TROPHEE).  After Chaucer, the story was treated by Henryson in The Testament of Cresseid and by Shakespeare in Troilus and Cressida.

Ed. B. A. Windeatt (1984). N. R. Havely, Chaucer's Boccaccio (1980); J. D. North, Chaucer's Universe (1988); B. A. Windeatt, Troilus and Criseyde (1992); S. A. Barney (ed.), Critical Essays on Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and His Major Early Poems (1991).


From The Short Oxford History of English Literature, by Andrew Sanders. 

Despite the manifest political and social disruptions of his age, Geoffrey Chaucer's poetry both expresses and embodies a firm sense of order. This is true as much of his twin masterpieces, Troilus and Criseyde (probably written in the mid-1380s) and The Canterbury Tales (planned c.1387), as of his more modestly conceived 'minor' poems and surviving prose works. This sense of order is evident not simply in his reflections on the nature and workings of the cosmos (such as his prose treatise on the use of the astrolabe, written to instruct his little son Lewis) and in his frequent allusions to Boetius's highly esteemed disquisition De consolatione philosophiae (which Chaucer himself translated into English prose in c.1380) but also in his steady affirmations of an orthodox Christian belief in divine involvement in human affairs. In Troilus and Criseyde, at the end of his evocation of incidents supposed to have taken place at the time of the Trojan War, Chaucer turns from his account of 'payens corsed olde rytes' ('the accursed old rites of the pagans') to a vision of Troilus translated from this world to the next and able to laugh serenely at the woe of those who mourn his death. If tragedy is here transformed into a divine comedy, so the 'olde rytes' are effectively blotted out in the pious concluding address to the Holy Trinity. This exultant prayer, in part derived from Dante, sees the Triune God as reigning eternally over all things and setting his mystical seal on human aspiration.

Chaucer (c.1343-1400), in common with most of his European contemporaries, also recognized that the natural and the human worlds could be seen as interrelated in the divine scheme of things, and, like the kingdom of heaven, ordered in hierarchies. In the witty, elegantly formed The Parlement of Foulys, written, it has been argued, to compliment the marriage of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1382, he presents a vision of birds assembled on St Valentine's Day in order to choose their proper mates. The birds have gathered before the goddess of Nature, and, in accordance with 'natural' law, they pay court, dipute, and pair off in a strictly stratified way. The royal eagles, seated in the highest places, take precedence, followed in descending order by other birds of prey until we reach the humblest and smallest seed-eaters. The debate in this avian parliament about how properly to secure a mate may remain unresolved, but it is clear that the nobler the bird the more formal are the rituals of courtship accorded to it. Ducks may prove pragmatic when snubbed by particular drakes ('"Ye queck [quack]!" yit seyde the doke, ful well and feyre, / "There been no sterres [stars], God wot, than a payre!"') but eagles seek for higher things in defining and exploring love and look down on such churlish common sense ('"Thy kynde is of so low a wrechednesse / That what love is, thow canst nat seen ne gesse"').
chaucer canterbury tales
The question of degree, and of the social perceptions conditioned by rank, also determines the human world that Chaucer variously delineates in The Canterbury Tales. The General Prologue, which sets out the circumstances which bring the pilgrims together at the Tabard Inn before they set off for Canterbury to pray at the tomb of the martyred St Thomas Becket, also presents them to us, as far as it is feasible, according to their estate ('Me thynketh it accordaunt to resoun / To telle yow al the condicioun / Of ech of hem, so as it semed me, / And whiche they weren, and of what degree'). The Knight is naturally placed first, followed by his son the Squire, and by his attendant Yeoman. The Knight is duly succeeded by representatives of the Church: the fastidious Prioress with an accompanying Nun, personal chaplain, and three other priests; the Monk who holds the office of outrider in his monastery (and who therefore appears to enjoy extra-mural luxuries more than the disciplined life of his order); and the equally worldly and mercenary Friar. The third estate is represented by a greater variety of figures, rich, middling, and poor, beginning with a shomewhat shifty Merchant, a bookish Oxford Clerk, a Sergeant of the Law, and a Franklin. We move downwards socially to the urban guildsmen (Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, and Tapicer), to the skilled tradesmen (Cook, Shipman, Doctor of Physic), and to a well-off widow with a trade of her own (the Wife of Bath). Chaucer relegates his Parson, his Ploughman, his Manciple, and his reprobates (the Reeve, the Miller, the Summoner, and the Pardoner) to the end of his troupe (though he also modestly includes himself, a hig-ranking royal official, at the end of the list). It is with this last group that he seems to want to surprise his readers by contrasting paragons of virtue with those whose very calling prompts periodic falls from grace (the Reeve strikes fear into his master's tenants while feathering his own nest; the Miller steals corn and overcharges his clients; the lecherous Summoner makes a parade of his limited learning; and the Pardoner trades profitably in patently false relics). Where the Manciple's native wit and acquired administrative skills see to render him worthy of better things, Chaucer's stress on the due humility of the Parson and the Ploughman proclaims their exemplary fitness for their modest but essential social role. If the Knight at the top of the social scale had seemed 'a worthy man', loyal to his knightly vows and embodying the spirit of chivalry, so, in their respective callings, the Parson stands for the true mission of the Church to the poor, and the Ploughman for the blessedness of holy poverty. When Chaucer describes the two as brothers, it is likely that he sees their fraternity as rooted in Christian meekness and closeness to God. Both, in the manner of Langland's Piers, act out the gospel: the Parson by offering a 'noble ensample to his sheep' and the Ploughman by 'lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee'.

Although it has been suggested that the Knight's professional career has been marked by a series of military disasters and that both his portrait and his tale can be read ironically, it would seem likely that the overall scheme of The Canterbury Tales, had it ever been completed, would have served to enhance his dignity rather than to undermine it. The Host of the Tabard proposes that each of the pilgrims should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the return journey. Even in the fragmentary and unfinished form in which the poem has come down to us (only twenty-four tales are told), it is clear that the Knight's taking precedence as the first story-teller is not merely a matter of chance. The narrator comments that although he cannot tell whether it was a matter of 'aventure, or sort, or cas [chance]¡ that the luck of the draw fell to such a natural leader, the fact that it did so both pleases the other pilgrims and satisfies the demands of social decorum. The Knight's Tale, an abbreviated version of Boccaccio's Teseida, is an appropriately high-minded history of the rivalry of two noble cousins for the love of a princess, a history elegantly complemented by accounts of supernatural intervention in human affairs and equally elegant and decisive human ceremonial. If the Ploughman is not allotted a tale, the Parson's with which The Canterbury Tales concludes, is a long prose treatise on the seven deadly sins, less a tale than a careful sermon expressive of devout gravitas and earnest learning. Sandwiched between these two tales Chaucer arranges stories loosely fitted to their tellers' tastes and professions and tailored to fit into the overarching narrative shape by prologues, interjections, or disputes between characters. The Parson's singularly worthy discourse is complemented by that of the otherwise shadowy Nun's Priest who offers a lively story of a wily cock caught by a fox, a story which he rounds off with the clerical insistence that listeners grasp 'the moralite'. The Pardoner too tells a tidy moral tale, though its carefully shaped warning of the mortal dangers of covetousness can be seen reflecting back on the personal avarice to which its teller spiritedly and frankly confesses in his prologue: 'I preche of no thyng but for coveityse / . . . Thus kan I preche agayn that same vice / Which that I use, and that is avarice. / But though myself be gilty in that synne, / Yet kan I maken oother folk to twynne [turn] / From avarice, and soore to repente." The Prioress also tells a short, devotional tale of a pious Christian child whose throat is cut by Jews but who miraculously manages to continue singing a Marian hymn after his death. Its pathos, if not to the taste of more morally squeamish ages, is evidently well received by the devout fourteenth-century hearers.

Elsewhere in The Canterbury Tales tellers seem to have far less inclination to wear their hearts and consciences on their sleeves. The Merchant, prompted by the Clerk's adaptation of Boccaccio's story of the trials of patient Griselda, offers the salutary tale of an old husband (January) and his 'fresshe' young bride (May), an impatiently frisky wife who, exploiting her husband's sudden blindness, is seduced in a pear tree by her lover. When January's sight is mischievously restored by the god Pluto, Proserpine equally mischievously inspires May to claim that she was acting in her husband's best interests: 'Up peril of my soule, I shal not lyen, / As me was taught, to heele with youre eyes, / Was no thyng bet, to make yow see, / Than strugle with a man upon a tree / God woot, I dide it in ful good entente.' At the lower end of the social, and perhaps moral, scale Chaucer allots still earthier stories to the Miller, the Reeve, the Friar, and the Summoner. When the Host proposes that the Knight's 'noble storie' should be succeeded by something equally decorous from the Monk, the Miller drunkenly intrudes himself and, somewhat improbably, tells the beautifully plotted tale of a dull-witted carpenter, his tricksy wife, and her two suitors. The Miller's Tale presents a diametrically opposed view of courtship to that offered by the Knight. It also serves to provoke the Reeve (who is a carpenter by profession) into recounting an anecdote about a cuckolded miller. In like manner, the Friar tells a story about an extortionate summoner who is carried off to hell by the Devil, and the enraged Summoner ('lyk an aspen leef he quoke for ire') responds with the history of an ingenious friar obliged to share out the unexpected legacy of 'the rumblynge of a fart' amongst his brethren.

The Chaucer who so modestly place himself last in the list of the pilgrims also casts himself in the role of an incompetent story-teller. His irony is nowhere more pointed than in this cleverly extended and self-deprecatory ruse which opens with a direct challenge to his assumed shyness from the Host. 'What man artow [art thou]?', 'Chaucer' is asked, 'Thou lookest as thou woldest find an hare, / For evere on the ground I see thee stare'. The response is the tale of Sir Thopas, a parody of contemporary romance told in awkward, singsong, six-line stanzas. The parody may always have served to amuse sophisticated readers, but the Host, who rudely interrupts its progress, claims that its teller's evident ineptness is boring the company. The pilgrim 'Chaucer' is therefore obliged to begin another tale, this time a long and weighty prose homily which retells the story of imprudent Melibeus and his wife, the aptly named Prudence. At its conclusion the Host somewhat over-politely compensates for his earlier rudeness by unenthusiastically confessing that he would have liked his own wife to have heard the tale ('for she nys no thyng of swich pacience'). Despite such soothing politeness, Chaucer's pretence of incompetence in the company of such accomplished story-tellers as his fellow-pilgrims is a highly effective device. He had indirectly prepared for this device by insisting on the virtues of 'truthful' narrative representation at the end of the General Prologue. He had also attempted to justify his realism by citing the highest authorities:
chaucer knightstale

Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large,
Or ellis he moot telle his tae untrewe,
Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, althogh he were his brother;
He moot as wel seye o [one] word as another.
Crist spak hymself ful brode plainly in hooly writ,
And wel ye woot no vileynye is it,
Eek Plato seith, whoso that kan hym rede,
The wordes moote be cosyn [akin] to the dede.
Also I prey yow to foryeve [forgive] it me.
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde.
My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.

Here is the pretence of modesty and incompetence, but here too is the insistence on frankness and proper representation, albeit justified with reference to Christ and to Plato (beyond whose authority few medieval readers would feel the need to refer), Chaucer neutralizes and diminishes himself as a narrator in order that his narrative representation of others' words and narratives might shine with a greater 'truth' to God's nature. In a way that his theologically minded contemporaries might readily understand, he is posing as the servant of the servants of Christ, having become, like St Paul before him, 'all things to all men' ('omnibus factus sum omnia'). The Christian poet of The Canterbury Tales, one variously influenced by both Boccaccio and Dante, endeavours to show us a broad spectrum of sinful humanity on an earthly journey, a journey which original readers would readily have recognized as a prevision of, and a preparation for, a heavenly one.

Despite his intellectual delight in the concept of cosmic, natural, and human order, Chaucer the poet and the truth-teller of necessity subverts certain received ideas of degree. Most crucially, he effectively undermines the commonly held medieval idea of the natural inferiority of women to men by representing articulate and intelligent women at the centre of human affairs rather than on the periphery. If the well-born ladies of antiquity are allowed to become norms against which human behaviour can be measured in The Legend of Good Women (c.1372-86), Troilus and Criseyde, and certain of The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath asserts a distinctly ungenteel opposition to anti-feminist stereotypes. Although some readers may have interpreted the Wife's 856-line prologue as evidence of a woman protesting too much (and therefore confirming, or at the very least endorsing, many of the male prejudices against which she loudly complains), Chaucer's adoption of a strident woman's voice ought also to be seen as opening up an alternative polemic. Her very stridency, we also realize, is a direct consequence of over-rigid patriarchal ways of thinking and acting. The Wife of Bath is certainly no model of meekness, patience, and chastity. She opens her discourse with the word 'experience', and from that experience of living with five husbands (three of them good men, she observes, because they were 'riche, and olde') she builds up a spirited case against conventional, theoretical, clerically inspired anti-feminism. Celibacy and virginity are all very well, she insists, but Christ's stricter demands were addressed 'to hem that wolde lyve parfitly', and, as she adds for the benefit of her male listeners, 'lordynges, by youre leve, that am nat I'. Moreover, if God gave her her sexuality, she has been determined to enjoy it, albeit within the bounds of marriage ('In wyfhod I wol use myn instrument / As frely as my Makere hath it sent'). Having learned by experience and native with how to manage her first partners ('Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree, / By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thyng, / As by continueel mumur or grucchyng') she seems to have met her match in the clerk Jankyn, her junior by twenty years. Jankyn had the particularly irritating habit of reading learned tracts against women in her presence, quoting choice items aloud in order to demonstrate the superiority of his own sex. Provoked into decisive action, she ripped three pages out of the book and dealt Jankyn a blow with her fist, only to be floored herself by a retaliatory blow. Nevertheless, her consequent unconsciousness (perhaps feigned) has worked its proper effect: the shocked Jankyn is brought to sudden repentance and thereafter she has ruled the domestic roost ('He yaf [gave] me al the bridel in my hond, / To han the governance of hous and lond, / And of his tonge, and of his hond also; / And made hym brenne [burn] his book anon right tho').

The Wife of Bath achieves mastery in what can be seen as an essentially bourgeois domestic comedy, albeit one informed with partially disgraced academic theories about women's limited marital and social roles. Elsewhere in his work, Chaucer stresses a distinctive self-assurance and dignity in women of the ancient and modern ruling classes, qualities which are more vital than the special honour accorded to the sex by the male-defined code of chivalry. In the early dream-poem, The Book of the Duchess (probably written c.1369 as an allegorical lament on the death of Blanche of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt), the narrator encounters a desolate knight, clad in black. The knight is mourning the death of a wife not, as in so much contemporary love-poetry, the absence, the fickleness, or the coldness of a mistress. Theirs has been more than a courtly liaison and more than the amorous vassalage of him to her. Mutual respect has made for a marriage of minds, and as far as was possible, a partnership in love. She was, the knight confesses, 'that swete wif / My suffisaunce, my lust, my lyf, / Myn hap, myn hele, and al my blesse'. The knight's therapeutic account of his long courtship, happy marriage, and unhappy bereavement is prefaced by a retelling of Ovid's story of the widowed Queen Alcyone, who, faithful to the memory of the dead King Ceys, is granted a vision of him. The pattern, re-exploring classical instances and Ovidian exempla is repeated on far grander scale in the unfinished The Legend of Good Women. Here ancient history is ransacked for appropriate subjects because, Chaucer's narrator insists, it had traditionally provided his predecessors with 'approved' stories 'of holynesse, of regnes, of victoryies, / of love, of hate'. It is on women's holiness and steadfastness in love that the narrator dwells, he having been rebuked in a dream by the god of Love for the former 'heresies' of speaking ill of women in The Romaunt of the Rose and Troilus and Criseyde. The nine legends he retells as a penance speak of heroines who suffered, and sometimes died, as a consequence of their devout love for faithless men. Instances of male violence and treachery are monotonously heaped one on another as Antony abandons Cleopatra, Aeneas Dido, Tarquin Lucrece, and Theseus Ariadne. By frequently appealing to sources, to named authors, and to what was commonly ackknowledged to be the authority of 'olde bokes', Chaucer attempts to turn an equally derivative clerical tradition of unrelenting misogyny on its head. He also shapes the legends to emphasize what he sees as the feminine virtue of 'pitee'. It is pity which renders women susceptible to male deceit, but it is also seen as an aspet of the highly eseemed human quality of generosity of spirit. As the legends demonstrate, this same aspect of generosity, to which men seem to be impervious, allows women to respond so fully to love, to grow in love and, through tragedy, to find the emotional strength which enables them to explore the depths of suffering.

In the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women the dapper god of Love seems to disparage Chaucer's most carefully wrought and self-consciously achieved single poem by referring to it simply as the story of 'how that Crisseyde Troylus forsok'. The god appears to have been persuaded that Troilus and Criseyde had taken up the traditional misogynist theme that throughout history 'wemen han dun mis' in their dealings with men. The god may not have been alone in his prejudiced reading of the sotry, but to many latter-day readers it seems to be a narrow and ungenerous one. The poem is less the story of a man betrayed by a woman than the account of how a woman, having been pressured into responding to a man's over enthusiastic love for her, is driven from one relationship to another. Instead of being portrayed as contrasted representatives of faith and betrayal, both Troilus and Criseyde are observed as victims of circumstances, at once humanly and divinely contrived, and beyond their direct control. Although Chaucer drew heavily on Boethius for his consolatory explorations of the ideas of free will, predestination, mutability, and fortune throughout Troilus and Criseyde, his immediate and principal source for the poem was contemporary. In no sense, however, was Chaucer merely translating Boccaccio's familiar and admired Trojan story, Il Filostrato, into English. His distinctive shifts in emphasis, narrative shape, and characterization clearly indicate that this is more a deliberate reinterpretation than a translation. Boccaccio's Criseida is, for example, willingly persuaded by her cousin Pandaro into accepting Troilo as a lover. In Chaucer's version the characters of Criseyde and Pandarus possess both a new dramatic energy and a new blood-relationship. Pandarus is transformed into Criseyde's sensible, sentimental, but none the less manipulative uncle, one who acts as her guardian and counsellor in the absence of her father. His task of persuading his niece to look favourably on Troilus's love is rendered one of subtle negotiation, mediation, suggestion, and emotional conditioning. She, rather than being fickle by nature, is seen as tender, sensitive, ingenuous, and open to change. Chaucer's narrative carefully balances the length of the process by whicvh she is persuaded to accept Troilus against the time she takes over agonizing about abandoning him. When the lovers are forced apart by her removal to join her father in the Greek camp outside Troy, Criseyde's grief is intense. Her avowals are as extravagant as they are agonized:
Rota fortunae

'And Troilus, my clothes everychon
Shul blake ben in tokenyng, herte swete,
That I am as out of this world agon,
That wont was yow to setten in quiete;
And of myn ordre, ay til deth me mete,
The observance evere, in youre absence,
Shal sorwe ben, compleynt and abstinence.

'Myn herte and ek the woful goost therinne
Byquethe I, with youre spirit to compleyne
Eternaly, for they shal nevere twynne.
For though in erthe ytwynned be we tweyne,
Yet in the feld of pite, out of peyne,
That highte Elisos [Elysium], shal we ben yfeere [together],
As Orpheus with Euridice, his fere [companion, wife].

Her ambiguously optimistic interpretation of the Orpheus/Eurydice story may well lead us to perceive how uneasily tragic are the undertones of her avowal. For Criseyde, lovers  symbolically pass through Hades to reach Elysium, or, in medieval Christian terms, they suffer penitentially in Purgatory as a preparation for Paradise. Criseyde's descent to Hades/Purgatory, a place where the only certainty is uncertainty, will be metaphoric. Separated from Troilus, a new element of ambiguity enters the narrative. The narrator himself purports to consult his source to find an exaggeratedly clear statement of her treachery. Criseyde, however, is painfully conscious that hers is indeed a world-without-end decision, one which will render her infamous in subsequent human annals:

But trewely, the storie telleth us,
Ther made nevere woman moore wo
Than she, whan that she falsed Troilus.
She seyde, 'Allas! for now is clene ago [gone]
My name of trouthe in love, for everemo!
For I have falsed oon the gentileste
That evere was, and oon the worthieste!
'Alas! of me, unto the worldes ende,
Shal neyther ben ywriten nor ysonge
No good word, for thise bokes wol me shende [reproach].
O, rolled shal I ben on many a tonge!
Thorughout the worrld my belle shal be ronge!
And wommen moost wol haten me of alle.
Allas, that swich a cas me sholde falle!'

Faced with such agonized self-awareness, the narrator retreats into pity, reluctant to blame her more than his historic predecessors have done but willingly to concede that her penitence impresses him ('For she so sory was for hire untrouthe, / Iwis, I wolde excuse hire yet for routhe [pity]').

If the narrator of Troilus and Criseyde is neither the gentle incompent 'Chaucer' of The Canterbury Tales nor the incomprehending innocent of the dream-poems, he nevertheless shares something of their generous susceptibility. Like them, he suggests a tense, shifting relationship between the poet and his persona, and consequently between the poet and his poem. He moves around his characters, allowing them to express their respective points of view, at times ruminating on the iron laws of fate and divinely imposed predestination, at others both suggesting and withdrawing from judgement. He allows the story a certain autonomy while varying his commentary by deferring both to his sources and to his audience. In Troilus and Criseyde at least, he seems to insist that history is steady and needs to be retold, while allowing that his story is reshaped in the very act of retelling it. Essentially, he remains ambivalent, or, perhaps, given his evident sympathy with women and his admiration for what he seems to have identified as feminine generosity of spirit, he assumes a deliberate androgyny. He is certainly the least egocentric of poets. Although Chaucer is in every sense a writer of his time, he was also the first poet in English both to display and to make a particular narrative issue of the quality which John Keats later so memorably defined as 'negative capability'.


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