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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: April 2017

‘Ye know eek that in forme of speche is change’: Chaucer, Henryson, and the Welsh Troelus a Chresyd

Summary

The quotation used as the title of this essay, taken from the prologue to Book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde (completed by early 1387 at the latest), indicates that Chaucer was very aware that language, and its cultural capital, was subject to change over time. This essay examines the cultural appropriation and adaptation of Chaucer's version of Troilus and Criseyde's doomed romance in an anonymous, late sixteenth-century, Welsh-language play, Troelus a Chresyd.

The Welsh play is a synthesis of Books 1–4 of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and the conclusion of The Testament of Cresseid by Scottish poet Robert Henryson (c. 1475). Troelus a Chresyd is an act of translatio, not only from page to stage but also from English into Welsh, the ‘Matter of Troy’ being employed to engage with matters of early modern Wales. Structured in five ‘books’, the action of the play moves as follows:

Book 1: Calchas decides to leave Troy; Priam calls a council to decide whether or not to return Helen; an explanation is given of who Chresyd is before she is called to be judged by Priam as a traitor's daughter (a trial that is not in Chaucer's poem); Hector defends Chresyd; and at this point in the play Troelus falls in love. What follows is a translation of Chaucer's Canticus Troili, further lamentation from Troelus in his love-sick state, and Pandarus’ relief that it is his niece, Chresyd, who is the object of Troelus’ devotion.

Book 2 : Missing its first two lines, Book 2 commences with a translation of the proem of Chaucer's Book 2, Pandarus’ visit to Chresyd's house to persuade her of Troelus’ love and worthiness (a very close translation from Chaucer), closing with Chresyd's concern that she ‘does not know what to believe in this false world’ Ni wyddis i bwy koelir | yn y byd anghowir (stanza 78). The remainder of Book 2 has been left blank.

Book 3 : Again, a section is missing that may well have contained a translation of the prologue of Chaucer's Book 3. Chresyd visits Troelus at Pandarus’ house, and the Chorus narrates their love scene that takes place ‘offstage’ (unlike in Chaucer). The lovers speak an aubade (as in Chaucer's poem), Pandarus advises Troilus to take care to maintain his happiness, and the book concludes with Troilus’ paean to love.