Troilus and Criseyde: The Hidden Influence of Chaucer’s Reading
Medieval English Studies, vol. 10 (2002) No. 2
When Chaucer is viewed in a wider literary context, it is often in terms of the literary works which he is known to have read, translated and adapted. Failing direct adaptation, analogues to Chaucer’s tales are cited. Thus everyone knows that Troilus and Criseyde is an adaptation of a poem by Boccaccio, likewise the Knight’s Tale, and that the Clerk’s Tale is adapted from a prose tale by Petrarch (itself adapted from a story in Boccaccio’s Decameron), or that the Wife of Bath’s Prologue quotes from a variety of texts including St. Jerome and the Roman de la Rose, while her Tale is analogous to a story found in Gower and elsewhere. Students learn from their teachers and textbooks that Chaucer translated Boethius’s Consolatio Philosophiae, and paraphrased passages from it as he explored its themes in a number of his works, including especially Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight’s Tale.
While such explicit narrative sources are familiar, indirect and hidden influences are less easily recognized amd less often explored. This is particularly true of Chaucer’s echoes of Dante, that are particularly evident at certain points in his rewriting of Boccaccio’s Filostrato as Troilus and Criseyde. Major recent studies of Chaucer’s debt to Dante are those by J. A. W. Bennett, “Chaucer, Dante and Boccaccio” and Piero Boitani, “What Dante meant to Chaucer” in Boitani’s 1983 collection of studies on Chaucer and the Italian Trecento, and pages 125 – 137 of Barry Windeatt’s 1992 Troilus and Criseyde in the Oxford Guides to Chaucer. In 1998, Winthrop Wetherbee’s essay “Dante and the Poetics of Troilus and Crisede” was included in Critical Essays on Geoffrey Chaucer edited by Thomas C. Stillinger. Windeatt (1992 126‐7) provides a list of over 30 points in Troilus and Criseyde where Chaucer is directly translating from Dante’s Commedia. All the critics agree that Chaucer owes Dante much more than those details.