A “notable foundation of hearsay”: Creative Appropriations of Troy in Chaucer, Chapman, and Shakespeare

Sam Gilchrist Hall



An extended and precociously brilliant exercise in “parodic intertextuality,” Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (1602) mangles its two main sources, George Chapman’s translation of the Iliad and Chaucer’s courtly romance, Troilus and Criseyde (ca. 1385). The play ruthlessly debunks rose-tinted representations of the Trojan war by dramatizing it as beset by gossip, venality and hypocrisy. It not only suggests that the fall of Troy was just the first awful misfortune in the endless series of atrocities that constitute history, but it also undermines the authority of Tudor histories that commonly held Britain was founded by a Trojan, Brut. Shakespeare thereby implies that the idea of a unitary British identity stretching back to the noble days of yore – a form of primordialism that has resurfaced in recent years – is built on nothing other than a “notable foundation of hearsay.”


Troilus and Cressida, Iliad, Shakespeare, Chaucer, rumour, history




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