O Love, O Charite! Contraries Harmonized in Chaucer's Troilus

O Love, O Charite! Contraries Harmonized in Chaucer's Troilus

O Love, O Charite! Contraries Harmonized in Chaucer's Troilus

O Love, O Charite! Contraries Harmonized in Chaucer's Troilus

Synopsis

Amajor contribution to the scholarly dialogue on Chaucer's art, this incisive and brilliant new reading of Tro ilus as both psychological realism and moral allegory seeks to reconcile conflicting approaches to the poem. Rowe's study of form and meaning finds that the conception of the cosmic order depicted in the poem is primarily concordia discors and that Chaucer's poem is an imitation of the structure he saw in the universe, making it a harmony of contraries. Hence, Rowe argues, the poem is not simply the tragedy it purports to be but a divine comedy, an image of that love which insures that the tragedy of all that comes to be, only to pass away, is part of a larger divine comedy that returns all, in the end, to God.

Excerpt

No aspect of Troilus and Criseyde has received more critical attention than its characterization. Its chief characters have been so thoroughly examined that one hesitates to begin another inspection of them, lest the reader despair and the author unwittingly plagiarize, since life is too short and criticism too long for even the professional Chaucerian to have read all that has been said about them. Criseyde has proved especially fascinating, nearly as fascinating to the critics as to Troilus, though for different reasons. Indeed, it is the radical difference between what critics see in Criseyde and what Troilus sees that has persuaded me that the poem's characterization can benefit from further speculation. What has for the most part fascinated the critics of the poem's characters is their complex psychology and the realism with which Chaucer has portrayed them, as though in its characterization the poem were only the prototype of the psychological novel. Their representational quality, their symbolic significance, has been generally ignored, in spite of the nearly universal recognition that medieval art is symbolic art and in spite of the fact that Troilus himself sees something transcendent in Criseyde. While Troilus has no doubt been blinded by love, we have Pandarus's authority that a blind man can sometimes walk "ther as he fel that couthe loken wide." Before we can explore the contrary nature and significance of the hero and heroine and the intermediate character of Pandarus, additional general observations about the nature of Chaucer's art and its union of contraries are necessary, for to assert that Chaucer's characterization is both psychological and sacramental is to insist upon the necessity of reading Chaucer in contrary ways, as a realist and as a symbolist. This chapter seeks to demonstrate not only that the characters can be profitably studied in terms of their contrary . . .

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