The poem “The Legend of Lucrece” is part of an anthology written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1687. This ancient story is part of the broader work “The Legend of Good Women,” in which chaste women are represented and possibly satirized throughout. The first ten lines of this poem are important for framing the events which would lead to character Lucrece’s suicide and for including a diverse set of poetical devices. Many of these devices will be shown here. Included in lines 1680 to1693 are the use of iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets, heroic couplets, masculine rhyme, pathetic story, encomium, paradiegesis, and paralipsis. Each of these elements help to narrate a tragic tale of a woman who chose suicide after a rape by the king’s son and by Roman politics of shame in these eloquent lines.
First and foremost the iambic pentameter rhythm of an unstressed and stressed syllable weaves through each set of ten syllables. This creates for a consistent rhythm, which is emphasized by a repetitive A,A,B,B,C,C,D,D,E,E,F,F,G,G rhyme scheme. Each line, as seen above, is paired with the next. This creates for a consistent flow through the passage while reading the lines. Heroic couplets also occur in each set of paired lines. Heroic couplets are the pairing of two iambic pentameter rhythmic lines. This is a poetical device constructed by Chaucer and there are a total of five pairs of heroic couplets in these first ten lines. A masculine rhyme scheme occurs at the end of each of these early lines and this is an element which simply ends the line with a stressed syllable as in: “now mot I seyn the exilynge of kynges” (1680). These devices help form the structure of the lines, while the following elements help to develop the story of Lucrece, in an interesting way.
Chaucer uses pathetic story, encomium and paradiegesis to affect readers in these first ten lines. Pathetic story is the use of a saint-like figure in writing, who is in “distress” (Chaucer 1). A saint is often defined as a martyr, or someone who dies for a greater good or cause. Lucerce is in fact a martyr who sacrifices herself in order to remove the possibility of shaming her husband and family. This sacrifice is part of the myth that would “starf Romee” (1691), as Lucerce’s suicide would incite rebellion and the start of the Republic. Enconium is giving praise to a character as in “that for hyre [Lucrece] wifhod and hire stedefastnesse” (1687). Paradiegesis, on the other hand, is the introduction of distracting narrative, with the first four lines describing a much different story than the following six. Paralipsis is the use of a rhetorical device, or setting up a story only to later to dismiss it: “but for that cause telle I nat [not] this storye” (1685). Many of these devices are used early to draw the reader into the story, by creating an interesting narrative, but often Chaucer will introduce an idea only to dismiss it.
Chaucer uses many complex and diverse poetical devices to increase the readability of his lines and to generate a moral, tragic tale, which will connect to readers, or at least emote a strong response. A repeating rhyme scheme with heroic couplets and the inclusion of a pathetic story are some of the poem’s major elements, with the possibility of dozens more in just these first ten lines.
x / x / x / x / x /
Now mot I seyn the exilynge of kynges
x / x / x / x / x /
Of Rome, for here horrible doinges,
And of the last kyng Tarquinius,
As seyth Ovyde and Titus Lyvius.
But for the cause telle I nat this storye,
But for to preyse and drawe to memorye
The verray wif, the verray trewe Lucresse,
That for hyre wifhod and hire stedefastnesse
Nat only that these payens hire comende,
But he that cleped is in oure legende
The grete Austyn hath gret compassioun
Of this Lucresse, that starf at Rome toun;
And in what wise, I wol but shortly trete,
And of this thing I touché but the grete.
*rhyme scheme is A,A,B,B,C,C,D,D,E,E,F,F,G,G
*meter is iambic pentameter
*significant for being one of the earliest works to use rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter
*using masculine rhyme, heroic couplet (ending with a stressed syllable, lines paired)
*paralipsis: “But for that cause telle I nat this storye” (1684) -a rhetorical device where a subject is brought up, but then not fleshed out, or written about e.g. the king Tarquinius and his misdeeds are briefly mentioned in the previous four lines but not in the last six
*use of satire as the title is “The Legend of Good Women,” but the women in the stories are sometimes mocked or Chaucer’s lines contradict events. In the case of Lucrece she was raped and humiliated by the king’s son and therefore unchaste, which is in contradiction to Chaucer’s lines: “the verray wif, the verray trewe Lucresse” (1686)
*there is the use of the pathetic story, where the tale is “modeled on saints’ legends” (Northwest 1). As well, there is a “lady-in-distress” (Northwest 1) as a theme in the story, with a heroine victimized by events or characters, example of martyrdom
*instance of encomium, or praise of Lucrece with “and hire stedefastnesse” (1687)
*an instance of paradiegesis: an introductory narrative is used as a digression (Rhetoric 1)
Galloway, Andrew. “Chaucer’s Legend of Lucrece and the Critique of Ideology in
Fourteenth-Century England.” The JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press 60.4 (1993): 813-32. Print.
“The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography.” Library of NorthwestUniversity. N.p.,
n.d. Web. Oct. 2010.
The Forest of Rhetoric. Silva Rhetoricae, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2010.