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The diversity of love : multiple voicing in the narrator of Troilus and Crisey De Okun, Maureen Jeannette


In Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, love is not a simple matter. Critics have long noted the apparent disparity between the poem's larger focus on the worldly love of the main characters and the sudden call for a love of God in the poem's closing stanzas, but even the secular love of Troilus and Criseyde exists in several forms that are often incompatible with each other. Presented alongside the divine Christian love are a courtly love inspired by the pagan Cupid, a simple lust of the flesh, a human love that nevertheless participates in the binding love of creation, and a transitory love that is a gift of changeable Fortune. While many critics argue that God's love is the dominant form against which all others must be measured, this thesis puts forth the alternative that no one kind of love in the poem has precedence; it is on the plurality of attitudes towards love that the poem focuses. The much-discussed narrator of Troilus and Criseyde facilitates this view of the poem. While we might expect this storyteller's extensive commentary on the theme of love to lead us to an understanding of love's role in the poem, the narrator's discussion is itself ambiguous; he holds all the perspectives on love that his story contains and does not consistently privilege one above another. His own disjunctive attitudes encourage us to see him not as a well-rounded character but as a collection of fragmented viewpoints, each with its own voice and each a reflection of the attitudes within the story itself. Although together these voices have the apparent authority of their role as storyteller, as a whole, the narrator repeatedly points to his inability to shoulder the responsibility for meaning that his role calls for. By providing misleading allusions to previous "auctores," he also confounds any attempt to search for authority in sources outside the text. We are made aware that clues to love's meaning in the poem cannot be found in the conventional places; we must ourselves decide which of the many views of love holds precedence. The narrator's plurality of voices is thus the key to the nature of love in Troilus and Criseyde; his many attitudes reflect the richly various possibilities open to us in the non-fictional world.

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