The Word of Apollo: Prophecy and Vatic Poetry in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida


Rachel Stenner


This article examines the role of Apollo in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Both works invoke Apollo as the god of prophecy and poetry, but simultaneously problematize these associations by alluding to Apollo’s mythographical and intertextual history, which is inseparable from two forms of sexual violence. The god himself has a predatory sexual reputation, most significantly for his attempted rape of Daphne. In addition, in the classical tradition from Virgil onwards, vatic inspiration is figured as forceful sexual penetration. Chaucer’s poem and Shakespeare’s play are texts that allow the threat of rape to condition their atmosphere. Their engagement with the troubled status of prophecy and poetry, figured alongside Apolline sexual violence, enables these poets to interrogate the role of the vates, or divinely inspired poet. This article first establishes the significance of Apollo, and the vates, for medieval and early modern writers. It then demonstrates the troubled position of Apollo in Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s texts. The article’s central claim is that through the dominant figure of Apollo, and his association with the sexual violence that is endemic to the Troy tradition, both texts interrogate vatic poetics, yet nonetheless find them generative.

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