Epic characteristics in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde



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For the past several decades, the generic classification of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde has been argued by many critics, who have presented evidence in support of their contentions that the poem possesses important characteristics of the novel, the romance, tragedy, or drama. Possible similarities between Troilus and Criseyde and the epic genre, however, have received comparatively little attention. The historical method is one way to determine the presence of epic characteristics in Troilus and Criseyde. Therefore, it is profitable to study the poem in terms of ancient and medieval critical writings which were known in the middle ages. Some of these major critical writings contain remarks about Homeric, Virgilian, and "high" poetry which may be considered relevant to epic criticism. These remarks, for the most part, touch upon only superficial elements in epic and indicate that the classical epic tradition had declined by Chaucer's time. Therefore, only limited critical information about the characteristics of epic poetry was available to Chaucer. A study of Troilus and Criseyde shows that it possesses most of the characteristics of Homeric, Virgilian, and "high" poetry which were mentioned in the critical writings. It is apparent, therefore, that Chaucer elevated his treatment of the story that he borrowed from Boccaccio to the level of the highest poetry known to his age. In so doing, he made Troilus and Criseyde similar to medieval interpretations of epic poetry. [...]