Essay on Chaucer and Shakespeare

Essay on Chaucer and Shakespeare

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Two of the greatest masters of British literature, Shakespeare and Chaucer, tended to look to the classics when searching for inspiration. A lesser-known example of this lies in an ancient tale from Greece about two star-crossed lovers. There are many variations on the names of these lovers, but for the purpose of solidarity, they shall henceforth be referred to as “Troilus and Criseyde” for Chaucer and “Troilus and Cressida” for Shakespeare. Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde” offers up a classic tale of love that is doomed, whereas Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” is not only tragic but also biting in its judgment and representation of characters. This difference may be due to the differences in time periods for the two authors, or their own personal dispositions, but there can be no denying the many deviations from Chaucer’s work that Shakespeare employs. Shakespeare’s work, by making the characters and situations more relatable, builds upon Chaucer’s original work, rather than improving it or shattering it.
In Chaucer’s tale, Cressida is in Troy with her father, a Trojan soothsayer who switched sides when he had a vision of Troy losing. Troilus is a Trojan prince who doesn’t believe in love until he happens upon Criseyde and – surprise, surprise – falls in love. Pandarus helps the two together, only to have Cressida’s father set up an exchange with the Greeks wherein Criseyde is traded for a Trojan prisoner. Criseyde then chooses another lover, Diomedes, after she realizes how hopeless the situation is. Troilus later dies in battle, but he is happy as he ascends to the “eighth circle,” some sort of allusion to Heaven, supposedly.
Shakespeare’s version has Pandarus and Troilus acting skeevier and Cressida acting sluttier, at ...


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...speare Did to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde." Shakespeare Quarterly 9.3 (1958): 311-319. Web. 12 November 2013.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Project Gutenberg EBook of Troilus and Criseyde." 12 July 2008. Project Gutenberg. Web. 27 November 2013.
Davis-Brown, Kris. "Shakespeare's Use of Chaucer in "Troilus and Cressida": "That the Will Is Infinite, and the Execution Confined"." South Central Review 5.2 (1988): 15-34. Web. 12 November 2013.
Morgan, Gerald. "The Ending of "Troilus and Criseyde"." Modern Language Review 77 (1982): 257-271. Web. 12 November 2013.
Rollins, Hyder E. "The Troilus-Cressida Story from Chaucer to Shakespeare." Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA) 32.3 (1917): 383-429. Web. 12 November 2013.
Shakespeare, William. The History of Troilus and Cressida. Ed. Jonathan Crewe. 4. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000. Print. November 2013.

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