Troilus and Criseyde
The function of authority in Chaucer’s “Troilus and Cresseid” and Henryson’s “Testament for Cresseid” College
‘Qhua wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew?/Nor I wait nocht gif this narratioun/Be authoreist’.
In his Testament for Cresseid, inspired by Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Henryson’s narrator presents an almost immediate challenge to the truth of his literary predecessor, consequently plunging the authority of his own narrative into doubt and humbling himself before his readers. This display of the narrator humbling himself is present elsewhere, in both Troilus and Testament ,with the plain citing of literary sources; ‘worthie Chauceir’, in Henryson’s work and ‘myn auctor Lollius’ (amongst others) in Chaucer’s. Aside from giving us a fair licence to conflate the authors with the narrators, (as the narrators refer to works both authors had read) presenting the sources from which their work has derived seems to detract from their own authority and originality. However, what may seem humbling in fact has ulterior literary functions. Nicholas Watson argues, for instance, that Western literature has a tradition of ‘homage and displacement’, meaning Chaucer and Henryson acknowledge their sources in order to make literary space (and thus authority) for their own work, covering themselves with the artifice of ‘homage’....
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