Originally published in 1990. This study is of one of the world’s great narrative poems and one of the few long poems in English about physical love. Although this work is often overshadowed by the Canterbury Tales, the author argues that it has its own profound multiplicity. Its mixture of genres, styles, characters and other competing elements creates a powerful literary experience for each reader. This book explores the diversity and contradictions produced by the poem without attempting to resolve them. It is accessible to those reading the poem for the first time, but equally stimulating to those who know it well, stressing the importance of the role of individual readers in response to the openness of the poem.
Although previous criticism tends to emphasize one or two aspects while ignoring others, Benson argues all critical readings are of interest because they make one aware of the poem’s many contrasting layers and possibilities. Beginning with the principal source, Boccaccio’s Filostrato, the work examines the many different elements added to this source; which contains internal tensions and thus develops Boccaccio’s story in a variety of often contradictory directions. The author considers Chaucer’s treatment of setting, characterization, love, fortune and religion, showing how these affect the character of the poem and make it simultaneously more chivalric and comic, more Christian and more pagan.