Reading about Lancelot in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
Brother Anthony of Taizé
Papers from the Fu Jen Fourth Annual Medieval Conference: Chivalry and Knighthood in Middle Ages (2003)
Just what Chaucer was expecting readers to understand when he penned those lines is only one of the many unanswerable questions that arise while reading his works. Commentators often seem to suggest that the point being made is that women are foolish, undiscerning readers, mistaking mere romances for significant literature and giving reverence where none is due. But just how dangerous is it to hold the book of Lancelot ‘in reverence’, we might wonder? And why?
The topic of this paper, however, is not The Nun’s Priest’s Tale but Troilus and Criseyde and the obvious question is how one can “read about Lancelot” in a text that not only never mentions his name, but describes events supposed to be happening many centuries before he would have lived.Yet I shall argue that Book 3 of Troilus and Criseyde contains significant covert references to the act of reading (and indeed of writing) about Lancelot. That is only possible, though, if it is agreed that, after Boccaccio, the most important literary influence on Troilus and Criseyde is that of Dante, despite the way many commentators prefer to stress the role of Boethius. A number of recent studies, particularly those by Karla Taylor and Winthrop Weatherbee, have drawn attention to the particular significance and complexity of what Chaucer seems to be doing in his literary dialogue with Dante in Troilus and Criseyde, especially in Book 3.