Gower Bibliography

The Reputation of Criseyde 1155-1500

Mieszkowski, Gretchen. "The Reputation of Criseyde 1155-1500." Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences Transactions 43 (1971), pp. 71-153.


Mieszkowski surveys allusions to Criseyde in Latin, French, Italian, and English literature from Benoit to Henryson in order to demonstrate that long before Shakespeare, indeed from her very first appearance in medieval literature, Criseyde was used as an example of fickleness and inconstancy. Shakespeare's portrayal, therefore, can be traced to Criseyde's traditional representation, and is not due merely to a 16th-century misreading of Henryson as several influential scholars have proposed. Such a view of Criseyde, moreover, was already well known to Chaucer's audience, Mieszkowski claims, and would have helped shape their reaction to Chaucer's T&C. Gower provides important evidence for her thesis. His reference to Troilus and Criseyde in MO 5253-55, which makes no comment on either character, demonstrates that the story was already well-known before the appearance of Chaucer's poem. (His allusion to a "geste" suggests that there was a contemporary song about the characters, which Boccaccio also refers to in the Decameron.) The reference in VC 6.1325-28, also antedating Chaucer, demonstrates Criseyde's reputation was already fixed. There is no perceptible difference in Gower's view of Criseyde in the five references in CA, which postdates T&C. That in 5.7597-7602 is preceded by a reference to Achilles' love for Polixena, which is also described by both Benoit and Guido, and thus "illustrates how automatically Chaucer's contemporaries associated his version with the traditional Criseyde stories" (p. 101). The allusion to Troilus and Diomedes in CB 20.19-24 is also linked to earlier Troy material. In content it is consistent with all of Gower's other references, and is not datable on the basis of this allusion simply because Gower's view of Criseyde was evidently not altered by his reading of Chaucer's poem. The scope of her argument does not allow Mieszkowski to consider more of the implications of her conclusions with reference to Gower. It is a pleasure, for instance, to discover that Gower's references to Troilus and Criseyde in CA are something other than merely trivializations or misreadings of T&C, as has often been claimed. On the other hand, she does not address some of the problems that MO and VC have posed for others. Gower's spelling of Criseyde's name with a "C" rather than a "B" (as it appears in both Benoit and Guido) has suggested to some that the references in MO and VC are also based on Chaucer (but cf. Fisher, 1964:234), raising serious problems in the chronology of these works. Mieszkowski has no comment on the controversy or on how Gower might have gotten the spelling. Her evidence for the dating of MO (from Kittredge, 1909) is also a bit out of date. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 8.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis
Cinkante Balades
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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