Echoes of Boethius and Dante in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Volume 12 No. 2 (December 2004)
When Chaucer’s work is viewed in a wider literary context, it is most often first explored in terms of the works he is known to have read, his direct ‘sources,’ the works which he translated or adapted. Now Chaucer does not inform his audience that Troilus and Criseyde (henceforth referred to as Troilus) is an adaptation of a lengthy narrative poem by Boccaccio, Il Filostrato, or that the Knight’s Tale is a radically shortened version of parts of Boccaccio’s Teseida; whereas the narrator of the Clerk’s Tale informs the pilgrims at the start that his tale is adapted from a Latin prose tale by Petrarch (we do not know if Chaucer realized that Petrarch was adapting the final story in Boccaccio’s Decameron). As far as Troilus is concerned, although scholars have long known of and discussed its origin in Boccaccio’s text, it was only in 1984 that Barry Windeatt made available an edition in which Chaucer’s text was placed face-to-face with Boccaccio’s so that readers could easily compare the two narratives in detail.
At its most primitive, the source-centered approach does little more than establish a list of points in which any particular ‘source’ is followed or not by the Chaucerian version. However, an awareness of the changes an author has made to what was found in a direct source is obviously an essential tool in establishing the specific identity of a literary work which is based on a previous model. Windeatt was the first to make a really detailed study of the characteristic features of Chaucer’s reworking of Boccaccio, establishing clearly that he was following a very different set of literary and philosophical questions. The main points of relationship are concisely enumerated by him in his 1992 volume devoted to Troilus and Criseyde in the Oxford Guides, pages 50-72.