Chaucer's Thread Of Suggestiveness: An Analysis Of A Theme Of Incest In Troilus & Criseyde

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Mills, Annette
Ron Stottlemyer
Valerie Gager
John Downs
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Chaucer's Thread Of Suggestiveness: An Analysis Of A Theme Of Incest In Troilus & Criseyde
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Chaucer's masterpiece, Troilus and Criseyde, materializes before the reader like an intricate medieval tapestry. A mindful artesian, Chaucer weaves together a copious variety of psychological details to produce the story of a hero's double sorrows, his search for happiness with the help of a friend/mentor, his courtly love affair with a beautiful heroine, her ultimate lack of faithfulness, and the hero's death. With these threads of detail, Chaucer creates a rich complexity of character and plot which underlies the basic story of Troilus and Criseyde. Moreover, it is a completed work, unlike Cantebury Tales, a fully articulated narrative. John H. Fisher, editor of The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer, sets the tone for modern studies of the poem by describing Troilus and Criseyde as a sophisticated work of art: The elegance of its design, the refinement of its sentiments, and the polish of its rhyme royal stanzas indicate that Chaucer intended it as a major accomplishment (400). To create his major accomplishment, Chaucer deliberately had to chose each descriptive thread to develop fully the story and its major characters, Troilus, Criseyde, and Pandarus. In fact, many contemporary scholars attest to the complexity of Chaucer's tapestry-like design of Troilus and Criseyde. One of these contemporary scholars, Jane Chance, examines the role of the poem's rich tapestry of myth in her book, The Mythographic Chaucer. Likewise, Donald R. Howard comments on the poem's woven artifices in his biography, Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World. Other modern critics and scholars look beyond the poem's aesthetic dimensions to uncover its social intertextuality. Allen J. Frantzen, for example, explores Troilus and Criseyde as social document in the historical context of late fourteenth-century England in Troilus and Criseyde: The Poem and the Frame. Even more recently, Richard W. Fehrenbacher analyzes the gender roles of Criseyde and Pandarus in "'Al that which chargeth nought to seye': The Theme of Incest in Troilus and Criseyde." Although Fehrenbacher discusses a theme of incest in Troilus and Criseyde, he does not actually trace the thread of suggestiveness woven throughout the poem's text. A more detailed analysis of Chaucer's narrative suggestiveness reveals that there does indeed exist a subtle thread of incest weaving an ulterior relationship between Criseyde and her uncle, Pandarus. In fact, Chaucer's often ambiguous choice of words and meanings suggest incestuous behaviors between Criseyde and Pandarus in three key scenes. A detailed analysis of the suggestiveness found in these three scenes provides the reader a deeper understanding of W Criseyde and Pandarus. Consequently, this understanding of characters and motivation not only alters how the reader perceives the relationship between Criseyde and her uncle, but it also creates other psychological dynamics to examine among all three main characters of Troilus and Criseyde. This suggestive portion of the tapestry, moreover, communicates how imbalances of power between and within genders can lead to incest. It may also reveal Chaucer's intent to forewarn readers of England's downfall as well as to disclose an incestuous secret of his own.
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Languages & Literature