Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Legend of Good Women, a poem recounting the stories of women from history and myth who were martyrs to love, is written in the tradition of medieval love poetry. Unlike Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpieces, Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1382) and The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), this work only occasionally rises above the limitations imposed by the artificial conventions of the times and is, therefore, somewhat inferior to these other works. Chaucer’s greatness as a poet resulted less from his ability to perfect the current modes of writing than from his capacity to transcend them. Although his debt to contemporary thought and literary practice was considerable, his lasting position among English writers depends largely on his gift for bringing reality to a literature that was customarily unrealistic. In The Legend of Good Women, however, he constructed a framework so restrictive as to prevent his being able to infuse it with the richness and subtle shadings of human existence.
The most engaging part of the poem is the prologue, in which Chaucer expresses his elation at the arrival of spring and his delight in roaming through the meadows, listening to the small birds, and gazing at the flowers. He is especially attracted to the daisy, which he can observe for hours without becoming bored. One spring day, after a walk in the fields, he falls asleep and has a vision in which the god of love and the beautiful Alceste,...
(The entire section is 1476 words.)
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