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Menippean satire in Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde Volk, Richard


There is little consensus as how to read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Critics such as C.S. Lewis, D.W. Robertson, and Elizabeth Salter, for example, have come to very different conclusions regarding the Troilus’s emphasis on love. Such irreconcilable views open the text to a reconsideration. I reexamine love and its binary, war, in the Troilus through the lens of Menippean satire to offer a more inclusive reading of the text while admitting its exclusive tendencies. Here menippea attempts to ameliorate previous readings and to shed light on the degree of play that Chaucer employs in interpreting earlier narratives of Troilus and Criseyde through innovation and contemporizing the text. The paper begins with a conspectus on Menippean satire and the Troilus. I draw from critics of menippea such as Bakhtin, Northrop Frye, Erik and Marshall McLuhan, and Anne Payne to lay the groundwork of menippea as applied to the Troilus. I invoke the McLuhans’ work on the tetrad to understand better how Menippean satire is a literary tool to provoke the role and limits of the reader. Concerning war, this essay explores how the matter of Troy was employed in the 14th century to show how the text speaks to events of the day, and how the character Troilus represents not only a knight of courtly love, but a mercenary initially bereft of gentilesse. Concerning love, this thesis explores the limits of love in the text by juxtaposing Andreas Capellanus’s Rules of Courtly Love to illustrate how Troilus and Criseyde’s love transgresses the literary conceit of courtly love to point to the greater phenomenon of fin’ amors. This paper contends that of all the ways to consider Chaucer’s Troilus, the most apt and productive is a Menippean satirical reading.

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