I find it very interesting that both tales we have read this week are written by authors who worked off the tales of other authors of the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale was first written by Boccaccio, although Chaucer most likely hadn’t read that, instead he read the latin translation of Petrarch and wrote his own version in the Canterbury Tales. Henryson, too, read Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde before writing The Testament of Cresseid even states in his prologue that he read Chaucer’s story to try to sleep at night and secondly read an addition to the story that focuses on downfall of Cresseid. Henryson tells the reader that the piece is:
Maid to report the lamentatioun
And wofull end of this lustie Creisseid,
And quhat distres scho thoillit, and quhat deid.
Through this introduction, we learn that the story we are about to read is about Cresseid and her downfall. While Chaucer’s story focuses a lot on Troilus, this story will focus on Cresseid. I think that it is interesting that authors used each other’s pieces to build their own work on. It seems that Henryson wanted to express the tale of Cresseid as he imagined it, focusing on her distress in a sympathetic way. Like Chaucer did in Clerk’s Tale, where he focus is less on the allegory that Petrarch infused in his tale. Rather than speaking a religious message, Chaucer tells his audience not to tell a religious message, or to encourage women to ask like Griselda, but instead to tell everyone to be “constant in adversitee” (Chaucer 1146). Chaucer’s tale was able to bring a whole new meaning and purpose to an old story.
You make a good point here that I’ve only implicitly noted in class: these texts this week are versions of narratives originating in the Middle Ages. We could have the impression, from Sir Orfeo for instance, that Middle English texts were engaging with non-medieval narratives and adapting them to contemporary audience needs–which did happen, but the majority of medieval reworkings were of other medieval texts (e.g. the King Arthur legend, Robin Hood, etc.)