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Situational Poetics in Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid By Nickolas A. Ha ...

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Situational Poetics in Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid

Introduction

Transcultural Intertextuality and the “Vther Quair”

In an act ripe with significance for the literary history of the British Isles, Robert Henryson’s narrator, having read the conclusion of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, takes down from the shelf the notorious “vther quair” (62) and recounts what he claims he found there.1 The choice of the words “fand” and “inuentioun” to characterize the shocking contents of this other book—“In quhilk I fand the fatall destenie / of fair Cresseid” (62–63)—conflates the trope of the found manuscript with the rhetorical category of inventio, or the discovery of arguments.2 Henryson’s usage dovetails the Latin etymology (in + venire, meaning “to come upon, to find something that already exists”) with a concurrent semantic change in the direction of the modern sense of a fiction or falsehood.3 Chaucer’s Troilus and House of Fame posed the conflict of authorities as an integral facet of an indecisive, open style, but Henryson was the first to apply such skepticism to Chaucer’s own authority, asking in an even more notorious phrase “gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew” (64).