Troilus and Criseyde: History and Fiction (Notes:39)

Chaucer is an historically aware person; he presents himself as a translator of past texts and traditions—since the medieval word for “translate,” translatio means a “carrying over,” of both political institutions and traditions, which when considering Chaucer’s “gist for gist” translations, hints at a complicated relationship between language and possibility—specifically, of any act of translation being an act of re-writing but one which remains attached to a specific meaning which can be told across generations, albeit in a fictional format since something is always lost in the translation process.

Chaucer’s fascination with language change and the instability of words prompts professor Lerer to suggest that Chaucer is more of a modern writer than a medieval, indeed, he could even be considered postmodern to the degree that he considers historical change not as periods of spiritual linear-time but as an acknowledgement that things have changed, things which are not necessarily connected to religious conceptions of history: as in seen in Troilus and Criseyde, he is aware that both language and custom change and since he is familiar with the Italian humanist tradition—the tradition which, to be blunt, more or less invented the idea of history as conceptualized as things changing and not as a linear path of spiritual enlightenment—it is hardly a stretch to consider Chaucer’s understanding of history as an estrangement from the past (you are no longer merely waiting for the Second Coming but now are an active participant in history). Chaucer, of course, has his characters in medieval settings (the anachronistic readings, the aristocratic impulses and so forth) but the point here is that his work is anticipating a notion of history seldom seen outside of certain circles of the intelligentsia.

When Chaucer refers to himself as having ‘made,’ or a ‘maker’ of poetry, he is specifically referring to himself not as he would refer to poets who came before him (poets as dead Latin writers) but specifically as an active—politically conscious—writer of his modernity who aspires to being a poet proper, someone who is able to combine tragedy (content) with comedy (narrative spirituality) to one day write like the Italian author Dante.