Some Close-Reading Tips for the Troilus

     Because Chaucer's art extends so deeply into what New Critics cherished as "style" (vs. Malory's art, which has more to do with selection and arrangement of materials) you can profitably investigate Chaucer's careful word choice for thematic patterns of repetition and variation.  For just one of many instances, near the end of Book I, and in Books II and III, the words "nece" (ModE "niece") and "em" (ModE "uncle") appear more frequently than elsewhere in the poem, but in strikingly different patterns.  We also see, within 154 lines of each other, two unique Chaucerian usages of the legal term "borogh" (guardian, bondsman or guarantor).  These kinds of patterns are not accidental.  He is "thematizing" terms in ways that New Critics and Reader-Response critics can make use of.  The gender issues in the "nece"/"em" dyad also yield Feminist and Cultural Criticism results.  You can investigate these patterns most easily by using your own reading of the RC text aided by Gerard neCastro's Concordance to the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (University of Maine, Machias).

     Literary allusion, the text's pointing from itself to another literary work, also plays an important part in Chaucer's sense of himself as an artist.  His own version of the Trojan War follows in the footsteps of Boccaccio, Virgil, and Homer, and he is not shy about making creative use of the comparison.  When his text alludes to other literary works, it takes on the thematic "colors" of the alluded-to works.  See, for instance, Book II's scene in Criseyde's "parlour" where one of her ladies reads to the others from the "siege of Thebes," known to medieval readers from the Latin Thebiad of the Roman poet, Statius, and the French Roman de Thebes, which summarized and medievalised the story of how the curse of Oedipus was passed on to his two sons, Etiocles and Polynices, who go to war with each other over who shall rule Thebes.  The fratricidal combat is recorded in Greek tragedy by Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, and by Euripides' Antigone.  A "Theban" theme runs from this point in Book II (including the name of the woman who sings to Criseyde at II.827) to the interpretation of Troilus' dream by his sister, Cassandra in Book V (ll. 1457-1519).  It's Oedipus territory, fate triumphant, human plans and wisdom in doubt, even heroism perhaps futile before the implacable unfolding of historical inevitability, and the pattern begins in a book dedicated to Cleo, muse of history, in a setting that seems totally under Criseyde's control.  This guy is GOOD.