“Straunge” Letters and Strange Loops in Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B.24

  • Martha Dana Rust
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Given Sir Thomas Frowyk’s upper-middle-class rank in society, the placement of his mark in the first half of the “ABC of Aristotle”—in the space between H and J—was an apt mediation of his “character.” In contrast, the heroine of this chapter, Chaucer’s Criseyde, is a queen in the area of good looks, at least according to the narrator of Troilus and Criseyde, who figures her beauty at the beginning of the alphabet. Describing Criseyde’s appearance as she stands among the crowd at the temple in Troy in the poem’s opening scene, he remarks,

Among thise othere folk was Criseyda,

In widewes habit blak; but natheles,

Right as oure firste lettre is now an A

In beaute first so stood she, makeles. (I.169–172)2

While the narrator distinguishes Criseyde’s first appearance in his narrative by way of an alphabetical simile, the scribes of five manuscript witnesses to Troilus and Criseyde mark her last reported act in the poem with an alphabetical character, for they have provided her final letter to Troilus with a signature, “La vostre C.” (following V.1631).3


Material Textuality Symbolic Relation Fictional World Final Letter Imaginary World 
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  1. 1.
    Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 1979. Twentieth-anniversary edn. (New York: Basic Books, 1999), p. 10.Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 9.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria Nova, in Les arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècle, ed. Edmond Faral (Paris: Honore Champion, 1958), ll. 754–55; trans. Margaret F. Nims, Poetria Nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1967).Google Scholar
  4. 55.
    Jennifer Summit, Lost Property: The Woman Writer and English Literary History, 1380–1589 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 56.Google Scholar
  5. 62.
    Alain Renoir, “Thebes, Troy, Criseyde, and Pandarus: An Instance of Chaucerian Irony,” Studia Neophilologica 32 (1960): 15–16 [14–17].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 70.
    E. Talbot Donaldson, Speaking of Chaucer (London: Athlone, 1970), p. 82.Google Scholar

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© Martha Dana Rust 2007

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  • Martha Dana Rust

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