Date and publication. First printed 1700 in Fables Ancient and Modern (see headnote to ‘Dedication and Preface to Fables’ for further details).

Source. This is the first of five poems in Fables that D. translated from Chaucer (the others being ‘The Cock and the Fox’, ‘The Flower and the Leaf ’ (no longer attributed to Chaucer by modern scholars), ‘The Wife of Bath her Tale’ and ‘The Character of a Good Parson’). In ‘Palamon and Arcite’ D. translates The Knight’s Tale, which was itself a version of Boccaccio’s Teseida. D. used The Workes of our Antient and Lerned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer edited by Thomas Speght with notes and glossary (1598), and the texts of the first four Chaucerian poems, based on this edition, were reprinted at the end of Fables, the first time that Chaucer had been printed in modern typography rather than blackletter. (This text often differs substantively from the readings of modern editions, and is frequently defective metrically.) Many of Speght’s notes were also used to suggest interpretations and turns of phrase. The Knight’s Tale had been adapted by Shakespeare and Fletcher in The Two Noble Kinsmen (printed 1634), but there is no clear evidence that D. used it. D. sometimes keeps close to Chaucer (with occasional lines retained verbatim), sometimes omits material, but more often paraphrases and expands on the original, providing a much looser rendering than he did with his classical translations. His major departures from Chaucer are signalled in the notes below, but the notation ‘D.’s addition’ only records instances where D.’s lines have no direct equivalent or substantial source in Chaucer, and should be regarded as an approximate guide. For a survey of D.’s changes see W. H. Williams, MLR ix (1914) 161-72. For D.’s critical opinion of Chaucer see ‘Preface to Fables Ancient and Modern’ (ll. 253-702, 746-73 above), and for D.’s work with Chaucer generally see T. A. Mason, ‘Dryden’s Chaucer’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Cambridge (1977) ). In ‘Palamon and Arcite’ there are numerous additions that reflect on contemporary politics, specifically the deposition of James II and accession of the usurper William III (as D. saw him). Another, more prominent, element in the poem is the care that D. takes in imagining the religious and philosophical world of his characters: he expands passages relating to the gods; adds astrological detail; accentuates Chaucer’s already considerable interest in issues of freewill, predestination, and foreknowledge (to which he returns in ‘The Cock and the Fox’) and adds many references to Fortune (for which see Paul Hammond, MLR lxxx (1985) 769-85, esp. 781-4).