Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview
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country. He has the same mental completeness and consequent versatility which distinguish the German; the same love of reality; the same clearness and cheerfulness; and, in seeming contradiction to this latter characteristic, the same preference for grief over the other passions, in his poetical delineations. In minor respects, he also resembles him; and in one, not unimportant, as marking a similarity of mental organization, that, namely, of be-taking himself at the close of a long life spent in literature and affairs, to the study of the physical sciences, as if here alone the mental craving for the positive could find satisfaction.




Lloyd (1813-93), businessman and spare-time archaeologist, classical and Shakespearian scholar, is one of the first explicitly to emphasise Chaucer’s irony. He comments in his Critical Essay on [Shakespeare’s] ‘Troilus and Cressida’, in ‘Dramatic Works of Shakespeare’, ed. S.W. Singer, 10 vols, Vol. VII, pp. 316-19 (reprinted in ‘Critical Essays’, 1875).

[Of Dares Phrygius’s ‘De Excidio Troiae’:] This, far more than Homer, was the great authority in the middle ages for the incidents of the Trojan war, and largely was it drawn upon and liberally expanded in the wild and weedy literature of the semi-barbarous centuries which we perhaps fondly flatter ourselves we have escaped from. It is very difficult to say how much of what is most at variance with Homer in this story may not have been derived from other Greek sources—so multifarious, so everchanging—besides those that we can actually trace. From Dares Phrygius descended with other streams, the Troy-boke of Lydgate and the Destruction of Troy of Caxton, both probably known to Shakespeare, and thus the general circumstances of the war as well as many of the particular are recognized as the same in the play before us. Hence came the importance assigned to the Trojan relationship of Ajax and that of Calchas, the valour of Troilus as survivor and successor


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