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THE KNIGHT)S TALE AND THE TESEIDA AGAIN H. s. WILSON T HE KNIGHT_,S TALE is a masterpiece, and one of the surest evidences of its greatness lies in the fact that it has prompted study and criticism from a great many different points of view.1 If a work of literature is ·truly great, it can receive no definitive critical treatment. It will prove perennially fascinating to successive generations of readers and out of its abundant riches will stimulate redoubled labours among scholars to elucidate the conditions of its genesis and fresh interpretative insights suited to the taste and understanding of its critics. Scholars may try to adjust the reading of the work to what they ·can agree upon as the conditions ·of the milieu that brought it forth and what they thus infer to be the intention of the author, historically determined. But for those who delight in literature, there will remain a certain "liberty of interpreting,"2 unconfined by the fiats of the ·learned, that is of the essence of the literary experience. . This may serve as apology and caveat for the present essay, which follows the often-travelled road of comparison between The Knight's Tale and its principal source, the T eseida of Boccaccio; in the attempt to describe the effect that Chaucer's poem has produced upon one reader. If the writer does not altogether heed the counsel of the poet Callimachus, "Not to travel along roads crowded with chariots nor to follow the tracks of others, but rather· to penetrate paths hitherto untrodden, to discover fresh and pure sources and to. pluck new flowers,"3 he may still hope to struggle through the press of larger vehicles in his path with a few unfaded blooms gathered from the inexhauscible sources of two great artists. I Boccaccio's T eseida is a long poem in ottava rima designed to follow the pattern of classical epic; it runs to twelve books and more than 9,000 lines of leisurely narrative. As might be supposed in such a pioneer attempt to domesticate the form of classical epic in the Italian vernacular,4 the T eseida .bears_ only superficial resemblances to Boccaccio's models, the l.The reader·may find the bibliographical and critical matter relating to the poem most conveniently reviewed by Robert A. Pratt in Sources and Analogues of Chaucers Canterbury Tales, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (Chicago, 1941), 82-105; and in the same author's supplementary study, "Chaucer's Use of the Teseida" (Publications ·of the Modern Language Association, LXII; 1947, 598-621). 2 See Lascelles Abercrombie's address, "A Plea for the ·Liberty of Interpreting'' (Pt·oceedings of the British Academy~ XVI, 1930, 137Ml64). asee J. W. H. Atkins, Literary Criticism in Antiquity (Cambridge, 1934). I, 179, who gives the translation. 4The.poem is generally assigned to 1339-40, the period when Boccaccio was studying the Thebaid of Statius; see Henri Hauvette, Boccace (Paris, 1914}, 90. This· was some ten years before Boccaccio's first recorded meeting with Petrarch and · before Boccaccio came appreciably under Petrarch's influence. For Boccaccio's claim to have introduced the classical epic in the Italian vernacular, see Teseida, XII, 84-5. 131 132 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Aeneid and the T hebaid-in the elaborate mythological setting, the epic battles, and such set pieces as the funeral games at the tomb of Arcita in Book XI. The poem derives likewise from the Roman de Thebes. But essen~ tially it is the story of Boccaccio's love for the lady whom he called Fiam~ metta, a story which he repeated in divers forms and from divers points of view in. all his earlier works, from the Filocolo to t~e Fiammetta, between March 30, 1336 (the memorable date, as he records it, on which he fell in love with Fianunetta.) and the time, seven or eight years later, when he finally abandoned the hope of being reconciled to his faithless love. During this period, Boccaccio wrote the succession of romances in which the theme of his love for Fiammetta, his betrayal, and his continuing hope of being restored to her favour provides a...


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