Reading Chaucer in New College, Oxford, in the 1630s: The Commendatory Verses to Francis Kynaston’s Amorum Troili et Creseidae

01 Sep 2017

The Latin translation of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde by Sir Francis Kynaston or Kinaston, published in part in 1635 as Amorum Troili et Creseidæ libri duo priores Anglico-Latini (‘The two first books of the Loves of Troilus and Criseyde, in English and Latin’), has long been acknowledged as a particularly sensitive and detailed example of the seventeenth century’s scholarly engagement with Middle English poetry. Kynaston’s work was published not in London, as we might expect, but in Oxford, by the printer to the university, John Lichfield, and the fifteen commendatory poems that appear in the volume offer a multitude of perspectives not only on Kynaston’s project, but also on Chaucer and his writings. Among the authors of these prefatory verses there is a peculiar dominance of fellows of New College, and the detailed knowledge of Chaucer’s works that they reveal gives a suggestive insight into how groups of Oxford scholars engaged with Kynaston’s activities as a translator through their own reading of Chaucer. In this article we investigate these commendatory verses, a narrow but rich seam of evidence for a variety of attitudes to Chaucer in the seventeenth century that occupy an unusual position in the history of Chaucer’s reception. Taken as a whole, we argue, the poems suggest a peculiar concentration of Chaucerian enthusiasm in New College, Oxford in the period.