Fortune and the Troilus and Cressida Story; A Study of the Representations and Functions of Fortune in Boccaccio's Filostrato, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida
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This thesis examines the representations of Fortune in Boccaccio's Filostrato, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. Both in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, Fortune was intrinsically connected to Troy's fall. This study argues that Fortune is also central to these three versions of the story of Troilus. The representation of Fortune in Boccaccio's Filostrato has been considered as inconsistent and superficial. This thesis questions this view and argues that the multifaceted portrayal provided in the poem is intentional. What we read on the page is mediated through the characters' viewpoints. In compliance with Medieval Christian doctrine, there is no such thing as Fortune for Boccaccio. The characters' contradictory remarks on the subject have the function of showing their theological confusion. Similarly, in the Troilus the characters' references to Fortune reveal more about their beliefs than about Fortune itself. However, each character has a personally consistent (although erroneous in Boethian terms) understanding of Fortune. Troilus's passivity, Pandarus's endless will to act and plot, and Criseyde's need for a protector can be better appreciated considering their views of Fortune. By examining Chaucer's emphasis on the connection between Troilus's and Troy's predicaments, it will become clear that both are subject to Fortune because of unwise human choices. Thus, Chaucer transcends the determinism latent in the story he inherited. In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, the Boethian context appropriate to Boccaccio's and Chaucer's poems gives way to a different conception of Fortune. A careful analysis reveals that Shakespeare consistently uses the image of the Renaissance Occasion to deal with agency. Opportunism and brute force are essential to seize Occasion by the forelock, which is the only way to succeed in the world of the play, where valour, honour and chivalry have become obsolete vestiges of a lost mythical past.
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