Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book of the Duchess

Medieval romance often deals with idealized courtly love, but one passage from Chaucer's Book of the Duchess struck me as surprisingly down-to-earth. In these lines, a lover tells of how he had just confessed his feelings to his beloved and asked for her heart:

"And whan I had my tale ydoo, ...
Trewly hire answere hyt was this
(I kan not now wel counterfete
Hyr wordys, but this was the grete
Of hir answere): she sayde 'Nay'"

That is,

And when I had told my tale,
Truly her answer it was this
(I cannot well recreate
Her words, but this was the gist
Of her answer): she said "No"

To have flowery speeches lead up to such a blunt answer seems to be a good example of Chaucer's subtle treatment of formulaic subject matter. The Book of the Duchess was one of Chaucer's earliest works, but it carries the seeds of the fascinating style he uses in The Canterbury Tales.

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