Categories: English Literature

Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 61, fol. 1v
Language: English (Southeast Midland)
Manuscript date: ca. 1420

Chaucer wrote his “book of Troilus” about 1381–6; it survives in 16 manuscripts and the same number of fragments; Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 61 is one of the earliest manuscripts. Only two others and an early Caxton print of the poem have illuminations, but the Corpus Christi College manuscript’s full-page illumination is much more ambitious (see also the images of the Canterbury Tales manuscripts, above). The intense blues, pinks, reds, oranges, and greens, and the stippled gold make for a vibrant prefatory page. The border, figures, and setting suggest French and Italian influences on what was perhaps more than one English illuminator. The manuscript’s decoration is otherwise incomplete, approximately ninety spaces existing for other images, several of which would also have been full page. Interpretations of the content of the two scenes (divided by rocks) are as specific as stating that the foreground shows Chaucer reciting the poem to an audience of identifiable nobles and the background as a particular scene in Troilus and Criseyde. However, other explications point to the generic and non-specific aspects of the oral performance in the foreground and probably a fifteenth-century interpretation of the poem in the background.


Primary documents and further reading

McGregor, J. H. (1977) “The Iconography of Chaucer in Hoccleve’s De Regimine Principum and in the Troilus Frontispiece.” Chaucer Review 11: 338–50. Parkes, M. B. and E. Salter (Intro.) (1978) Troilus and Criseyde: A Facsimile of Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 61. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. Pearsall, D. (1977) “The Troilus Frontispiece and Chaucer’s Audience.” Yearbook of English Studies 7: 68–74. Salter, E. and D. Pearsall (1980) “Pictorial Illustration of Late Medieval Poetic Texts: The Role of the Frontispiece or Prefatory Picture.” In F. G. Andersen et al. (eds.) Medieval Iconography and Narrative: A Symposium. Odense: Odense University Press, 100–23. Scott, K. L. (2000) “Limner-Power: A Book Artist in England, c. 1420.” In F. Riddy (ed.) Prestige, Authority, and Power in Late Medieval Manuscripts and Texts. Woodbridge, Suffolk: York Medieval Press, 55–75. Windeatt, B. A. (ed.) (1984) Troilus and Criseyde: A New Edition of “The Book of Troilus.” New York: Longman.


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