Truth, Translation, and the Troy Book Women
Comitatus Vol.32 (2001)
When one thinks of the great writers of Middle English verse, John Lydgate is not likely to come to mind. Lydgate’s vast corpus of writing has often been relegated to a somewhat embarrassing footnote in the annals of medieval literature, and it is relatively recently, in the last thirty years or so, that he has received any critical attention at all. Despite some resurgence of interest in Lydgate, he is still frequently dismissed as a deficient poet whose dullness nonetheless serves to emphasize just how exceptional other poets, particularly Chaucer, are in comparison. The casting of Lydgate as Chaucer’s eager yet ineffective disciple figures prominently in studies of Lydgate’s Troy Book, a work that provides ample opportunity for comparison with Chaucer because it includes the pseudo-classical myth of Troilus and Cressida, and because Lydgate himself repeatedly refers to and compares his work with Troilus and Criseyde. How Lydgate depicts himself vis-à-vis his “Maister Chaucer” is certainly of some interest, as Chaucer’s colossal presence in Lancastrian England was both a sheltering aegis and a daunting challenge to poets working in the English vernacular. There are problems, however, with reading Lydgate solely in Chaucer’s shadow, for when we allow the Chaucerian sections of the Troy Book to serve as a stand-in for the work as a whole, other parts of the text, those parts which do not relate so directly to a literary giant, are all but ignored.