Troilus and Criseyde

Inevitability of Criseyde’s Choice

August 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Troilus and Criseyde, a Trojan prince, Troilus falls in love with Criseyde who is a beautiful widow. Pandarus who is Troilus’ friend and Criseyde’s uncle, helps Troilus by making Criseyde fall in love with him by fair means or foul. Troilus and Criseyde’s relationship seems a success until Criseyde’s father who defected to Greece proposed an exchange between Criseyde and a Trojan soldier. Criseyde sorrowfully goes to the Greek camp, promising Troilus that she would come back in 10 days but she falls in love with Diomede, one of the Greek soldiers. Criseyde has been blamed for betraying Troilus’ love by countless critics. However, Criseyde’s case can be compared to a woman who is introduced to a man by a matchmaker, marries the man and finds out that the information her matchmaker gave to her was false. Would she have to be condemned if she leaves him? Criseyde is not to be blamed because she did not have the right grounds to make an honorable choice: she was falsely manipulated by her uncle, Troilus was too indecisive to protect her, and Diomede approached her with ill intention. Criseyde’s uncle, as her matchmaker, deceitfully coerced her to love Troilus.

Pandarus knew a type of man Criseyde would fall for and tricked her into believing that Troilus was that man. When Pandarus went to her house for the sake of Troilus and saw that she was reading the Siege of Thebes from Statius’ classical epic, Thebaid (2.12), he found out that Criseyde likes violent and passionate battle story. Pandarus keeps emphasizing Troilus as a stout and bold warrior. Pandarus intentionally told her about Troilus as a warrior that overlaps with the story she was reading. “Now here, now there, he hunted them so fast, /there was but Greeks blood” (2.29) However, in reality, Troilus was not a brave manly warrior. When he fell lovesick for Criseyde in the beginning, he closed himself in his room, refusing to sleep or to eat (2.70). From Book 2 stanza 52 to 78, he lamented over his sorrow and did not take any action at all, until Pandarus came to him. When Criseyde was trying to prove to Troilus that his suspicion of her unfaithfulness was wrong and wept, Troilus fainted (3.156). Also, when the Trojan Parlement made a decree that Criseyde should be exchanged with Antenor, he again went to his room alone and deplored his love’s fate (3.32-49) and he sat “Just like a lifeless image, pale and wane” (3.34). Pandarus was presenting a “Troilus” that Criseyde would fall in love, not an actual Troilus. Moreover, Pandarus lied to Criseyde that Troilus heard from his friend that she was in love with Horaste (3.114). All these indicate that Pandarus’ manipulation of Troilus’ character, even resorting to lies, clouded Criseyde’s judgment.

Troilus was slothful. He was slow in making decisions at critical moments. When the Trojan Parlement had a conference about the exchange of Criseyde for Antenor, Troilus was at the conference but did not speak up, unlike his brother Hector (4.22-26). All he did was to close himself in his room and lament. Pandarus, after hearing about the decree, came to him. Troilus said to Pandarus, “let me so weep and wail till I die” (4.57). Pandarus tried to bring Troilus out of his lethargic despair and suggests him this and encourages him not to drag on his action: It is no shame to you, nor a vice, to take her who you love most. Perhaps she might think you were too nice to let her go thus to the Greek host. Think also, Fortune, as you know’st, helps hardy men in their enterprise, and scorns wretches for their cowardice. (4.86) Pandarus offers complete devotion to help Troilus, even surrendering the fate of himself and his kin. However, Troilus does not even mention Pandarus’ plan when he talks with Criseyde about this and does not fully use the help Pandarus offered. This inability of Troilus left Criseyde to choose to go to the Greek camp.

Diomede had lustful purposes for Criseyde from their first encounter. He had an insidious intent to seduce her. From the moment he saw Criseyde, he was talking to himself, “All my labour shall not be idle, /if I may I’ll somewhat to her say” (5.14). Diomede so skillfully spoke to Criseyde that there was “turning over her soul up and down/ the words of this forceful Diomede” (5.147). Diomede was smart enough to approach her slowly yet effectively. Moreover, he lies to her, falsely confessing that: This I have never said before to woman born: for as I wish that God would glad me so, I never loved a woman here before as a paramour, nor never shall more (5.23) In fact, he was a married man, who left his wife at home (Graydon 152). This smart man’s well-planned seduction made Criseyde all the more vulnerable to make an honorable decision because she was “defenseless, among lawless men, with no protection but her outcast father” (Graydon 153).

Some may argue that even though it is understandable that Criseyde deserted Troilus, she should have notified Troilus of it, when she was replying to Troilus’ letters. It might seem to the critics that she was trying to retain the love of Troilus while loving Diomede. However, according the Defense of Criseyde by Joseph S. Graydon, Criseyde knew that Troilus already condemned her as unfaithful in his own heart and Troilus published to Cassandra their secret love and that he spied upon her (Graydon 172). Knowing all these, she was careful in writing her reply. Yet, she drew a distinct line to their relationship by writing, “For truly, while my life may endure, / as a friend, of me you may be sure” (5.232). This proves that Criseyde was giving enough hints to Troilus about the end of their relationship. Moreover, she has no reason to hold Troilus’ love. By the time she was writing the letter back to Troilus, she knew that she would not return to Troy and that her honor is already fallen in Troy. Since she knew she would stay in Greece, she did not have to make Troilus hang on her.

Inevitably, Criseyde left Troilus, which dubbed her as a betrayer. However, her choices were shaped by her uncle’s manipulation, her good intended lover’s indecisiveness, and Diomede’s ill intentions. It is true that she deserted Troilus. However, for centuries, Criseyde has been criticized more than she deserved and was degraded almost to a whore. To remove the false stigma that was laid on her, the inevitability of her situation must be reconsidered.

Works Cited

Chaucer. Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Trans. A.S. Kline. New York: Poetry in Translation. 2001. Web.

Graydon, Joseph S. “Defense of Criseyde.” PMLA, vol. 44, no. 1, 1929, pp. 141–177.,

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Fortune in Troilus and Criseyde

June 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

As a poem that presents tragedy within love as inevitable, in Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer also explores the forces that control this downfall: Fortune, the planets and free will. These can be separated in to two categories, those that exist in the human world, and those that are of a higher power. However, Boethius’ ‘Consolation of Philosophy’- a key text in Chaucer’s process of writing- states that “the free exercise of the human will is part of destiny”[1]. This definition renders the distinction between free will and fortune as inaccurate if human will is seen as part of a greater scheme. This is portrayed through Chaucer’s work in that human intervention in the form of Pandarus occurs and still Troilus is thrown from the wheel. Therefore, Troilus and Criseyde explores not only the effects of tragedy in love but the cause of both the fortune and misfortune that is bestowed upon the characters.

Within the poem, Fortune is viewed as the traditional symbol of a wheel. Whilst the associations with Fortune are good, Chaucer specifies that “cessed she Fortune anon to be”[1] if she were unable to set another on the wheel in her favour. This suggests that in order for the idea of Fortune to exist in Troilus and Criseyde, it must be a force with the ability to induce pain as well as pleasure. This is evident from Book I, which provides a suggestion of inevitable failure in love in the verses to come: “how his aventures fellen/ From wo to wele, and after out of joie” (Chaucer, Book 1: l.6-7). Structurally, the sentence echoes the overall structure of the five books; the ‘happiness’ of good fortune characterises approximately the first three books, whilst the last two are encompassed by the ‘wo’ of bad fortune. This translates to a wheel in that Troilus is put in good favour for almost the same amount of time he is in bad favour, presenting the idea of an equilibrium. In order for there to remain a balance in not only Troilus’s fortunes but the rest of the human world, the good must be offset with the bad and vice versa. It also suggests a self-fashioning in Chaucer’s writing, suggesting a further theme that Fortune is not so arbitrary through displaying it as symmetrical. However, the focus cannot be on the two experiences as separate entities but coming together “out of joie”; love is the unifying factor, suggesting that you cannot love someone without also feeling pain. This encompasses also the medieval idea of courtly romance in that during a courtship, there is an intense feeling of love sickness. Yet the repetition of differing forms of ‘wo’ presents the idea not only of a love sickness, but a mourning of a loss of love, thus echoing the symbolic death and ‘twynnyng’(Chaucer, Book IV, l.1302) of lovers in Book IV. Additionally, it can also be seen not only how Fortune must exist as a wheel but also that the control of the wheel lies above the earthly sphere. This suggests an undeniable element of tragedy within the romance in that whether Fortune is an arbitrary force or not, Troilus and Criseyde are unable to control where they are placed on the wheel. Furthermore, whilst Fortune is portrayed as a wheel that humans have no control over, Chaucer does suggest at a certain amount of control within the human sphere in the way that each individual responds to what they are given. Whilst Troilus mourns Criseyde until his death, she tries to make the best out of a bad situation. Therefore, Chaucer sees Fortune as not a way of bringing good luck, but as a balance; in order for good to occur in the world, there must be a balancing of evil.

Once Chaucer establishes Fortune as a force that is out of human control, there continues to be an exploration of whether it is tailored to each individual or whether it is a force common to all. This also explores whether Fortune is a completely arbitrary force or if the fortune it bestows is in direct correlation to the actions of the individuals. And when a wight is from hire whiel ythrowe, Than laugheth she, and maketh hym the mowe.” (Chaucer, Book IV, l.6-7) From the beginning of Book IV, Fortune is portrayed as a force that individually targets Troilus as opposed to being random. This is emphasised through the patriarchal use of language- ‘hym’- that suggests that Fortune is not only tailored to individuals, but Troilus alone. Yet the tragedy does not occur to Troilus alone; a romance typically denotes man and woman. Criseyde is omitted from not only this sentence, but from almost this entire process of grief. This malicious behaviour is emphasised by her action of laughing, suggesting that as a wider force Fortune cares little for the consequences of the events she causes in only one person’s life. Additionally, the grimace she induces provides one of the many mirroring acts within Troilus and Criseyde. Similarly to how Troilus experiences pain through love sickness throughout Book II, he now experiences pain through the loss of this love. Yet, the treatment of Fortune here is dualistic in that it appears as an arbitrary force also. Despite previous references to Troilus as an individual, the impersonal phrase ‘a wight’ presents this statement as a wider comment as to the fortune of all men. Furthermore, the phrase ‘and when’ suggests that being thrown from the ‘whiel’ is simply inevitable; if there were a chance that man could exist with only good fortune, Chaucer could have simply used ‘if’. The use of pronouns in this Book is especially important as Fortune is personified as ‘her’, suggesting that human intent imbues every actions she takes. Mann[1] suggests that in capitalising Fortune to the goddess Fortuna, human beings can deceive themselves in to thinking the force as independent from themselves. This is supported by the traditional image of Fortuna as blindfolded, suggesting that even she is controlled by chance when she bestows the good or bad. This proceeds to the conclusion that perhaps the nature of Fortune has not changed over the course of the three books; it remains about perspective. At the beginning of Book IV, Troilus remains in the grips of grief and therefore sees Fortune as not an arbitrary force but one specific to pushing him to tragedy. To view it from Diomedes perspective, his fortunes at this point turn for the better. Additionally, from Criseyde’s perspective, tragedy has occurred yet she understands that through lack of choice she must find another lover for protection. Thus, Chaucer’s treatment of Fortune, whilst fixed, does change through perspective of the character and does not occur ‘without a reason’. Therefore, it can be argued that whether Fortune predestines one’s futures or if it occurs by chance, it remains not about controlling the fates but the human reaction to what it given out to each of us.

Whilst Fortune plays an important part in the romance of Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer also acknowledges Fortune as only one of the non-human entities that control human lives. The planets such as Venus and Mars feature as having a certain influence when in the right alignment; their influence depends on what each planets represent and how this corresponds to the occurrences on Earth. Through tracing the influence of Venus throughout the books, we can see where the planets also have an influence. A crucial section within Book II displays how Fortune and Venus work in unison: “And also blisful Venus, wel arrayed […] To helpe sely Troilus of his woo” (Chaucer, Book II, l. 673-683) Through positioning the influence of Venus within the initial courtship of Criseyde and Troilus, it suggests that the planet of love aided them in coming together. This is emphasised through the use of ‘also’, suggesting that Fortune alone may not be sufficient in encouraging the love affair. Yet it is also implied that Venus works separately from Fortune through the description of Troilus ‘of his woo’, insinuating that he is destined for tragedy through being at the mercy of fortune alone. Even with this implication, the planets are still seen as a secondary influence to Fortune. To support this, the Ptolemaic structure of spheres must be referred to as it presents planetary alignment as a higher power than Fortune. Through Fortune controlling earthly events, it remains at an almost human level whilst Venus remains in a sphere of light above earth. This suggests Venus remains as perfect and incorruptible, whereas Fortune presides in an area where it can be corrupted. It can also be seen as a higher power in that Venus remains unchanged in its support of love whereas Fortune is changeable through the symbol of the wheel. This constancy can be seen in the alignment of the planets being apparent in the romance between Diomede and Criseyde: “brighte Venus folwede and ay taught/ The wey.” (Chaucer, Book V, l.1016) The phrase ‘folwede’ suggests that whenever the planets are in alignment, they influence human action. Through encouraging love for Diomede also, it suggests that planetary alignment is not as specific as Fortune is portrayed to be towards Troilus; it remains a force higher than this in influencing whoever is in the right situation. Therefore, Chaucer treats Fortune as only one of higher powers that influence human situation. Yet, Fortune is seen as more prominent in that it deals directly with human affairs, instead of being a secondary aid as Venus is seen as throughout Book II especially.

Fortune is not only used in the aspects of love, but must be viewed as a wider force capable of penetrating all areas of life. Whilst Chaucer primarily uses Fortune within romance, he also uses wider events such as the Trojan siege to suggest its influences in other matters. Through the siege in the background, it also connects this idea of Fortune as a wider force yet also influencing individual fates. Through his name alone, Troilus is inextricably linked to the fate of Troy, alluding to the Troilus as a symbol of premature death. Also, through using the inevitable downfall of Troy, it suggests how Fortune is an arbitrary force that can control the lives of many. Troilus therefore becomes a symbol of the fate of Troy, linking the fates of all men and his fate within his romance with Criseyde. Therefore, Fortune is treated both as a wider force and one individual to certain men; it is only through the genre of romance and the intimate focus on Troilus that we see it predominantly as a force specific to certain people.

Bibliography Boethius, ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ in The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer, ed. by Jill Mann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Chaucer, G. Troilus and Criseyde, ed. by Barry Windeatt (London: Penguin Books, 2003)

Mann, J. ‘Chance and Destiny in Troilus and Criseyde and the Knight’s Tale’ in The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer, ed. by Jill Mann (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003)

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Chaucer’s Use of “Tender” in Troilus and Criseyde

May 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

Chaucer is known for his talent at pushing his readers to step outside their preconceived notions regarding genre, characters, and themes. In addition to this, Chaucer uses words with double meanings to create ambiguity and depth throughout his works. Troilus and Criseyde is no different in this respect. Throughout Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer uses the word “tendre” several times, using its various meanings to make the reader question the intentions of the characters. According to the Middle English Dictionary, the adjective form of “tendre” has seven different meanings in medieval texts. Chaucer employs all but two of those meanings in Troilus and Criseyde. The meanings that Chaucer employs are as follows: “Immature, young; unsophisticated, innocent, naïve; also unblemished, spotless”; “Physically sensitive, esp. to pain; susceptible to injury, vulnerable;…easily injured, fragile”; “Of a plant, part of a plant: fresh, new-grown; not hardy, delicate”; “Physically weak; debilitated, enfeebled, morally week, unable to resist temptation; also impressionable”; “Sorrowful, heartfelt; piteous, painful, touching; (b) easily moved; of the heart: compassionate, sympathetic” (207-209). Chaucer uses the adjective form of “tendre” five times in Troilus and Criseyde, and employs its various meanings throughout the text. Pandarus is the first to use the word in Book II: his stream of thought during a discussion with Criseyde includes the word. He thinks, “If I my tale endite/Aught harde, or make a proces any whyle,/ She shal no savour have therin but lite,/ And trowe I wolde hire in my wil bigyle;/For tender wittes wenen al be wyle/ Theras thei kan nought pleynly understonde; Forthi hire wit to serven wol I fonde” (267-273). Here, it seems that Chaucer wants the reader to see the word “tendre” as meaning “naïve,” since Pandarus’s quote seems to indicate that she is too simple-minded to understand some things. However, this quote is one instance in the text where Chaucer relies on the multiple meanings of the word to create depth. It is important to remember that tender can also mean “impressionable,” as seen in the fourth definition (above). Because it is Pandarus, who continually pressures Criseyde into action towards Troilus, who uses the word, it seems likely that Chaucer intends the term to be taken both ways. Additional ambiguity surrounding this particular use of the word is that “tender” in the sense of “naivete” also indicates youth and innocence (as seen in the first definition listed above). Chaucer wants the reader to consider Criseyde in relation to both of these terms. She is a widow, but is she is also young. She is the woman who cheats on Troilus and breaks his heart, but she is also innocent. Chaucer uses an ambiguous term to make the reader examine Criseyde’s character more closely. Pandarus also uses the word in Book III, during a discussion with Criseyde. Criseyde wants him to give Troilus a ring on her behalf, to which Pandarus replies, “This [man] is so gentil and so tendre of herte/ That with his doeth he wol his sorwes wreke” (904-905). The reader can interpret this word according to both the second and fifth meanings listed above. Describing Troilus as tenderhearted suggests that he is “vulnerable,” “sorrowful,” or “painful” (207-209). However, because it is Pandarus (who also pressures Troilus into action throughout the text) who speaks the phrase, Chaucer intends the reader to see the double meaning of the word and think of Troilus as impressionable, as well. The next two uses of the word “tender” are fairly straightforward, and do not rely on multiple meanings. Criseyde uses the term when she cries to herself upon realizing that she will be exchanged for Antenor. She asks, “How shal youre tendre herte this sustene?” (795). Here, the word is interpreted as meaning “vulnerable.” The fourth use of the word occurs in the opening of Book V: the narrator uses it in relation to a plant, saying, “and Zepherus as ofte/ Ibrought ayeyn the tendre leves grene” (10-11). The fifth and final use of the word occurs in Book V, during the narrator’s description of Crisyede: “Tendre-hearted, slydynge of corage;/ But trewely, I kan nat telle hire age” (825-826). Here, Chaucer again plays off the various meanings of “tendre,” using it to signify both naïvete and compassion. However, because he follows the phrase with a reference to her age, he wants the reader to note that the term can also indicate youth. Chaucer uses the multiple meanings of the word “tendre” throughout Troilus and Criseyde to add depth to the characters. Though sometimes he intends the word to be interpreted in a straightforward fashion, in at least three instances he urges the reader to take into account the varying meanings of the word. The medieval definitions of the terms as “naïve,” “young,” “sensitive,” “fresh in relation to plants,” and “sorrowful” offer insight into Chaucer’s style and intentions.

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Chaucer’s Troilus & Criseyde: The Frivolity of Femininity

April 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

To be female is to be frivolous and inconstant. This is the position that Geoffrey Chaucer takes in his love poem, “Troilus and Criseyde”. The lovely Criseyde, with whom Troilus falls madly in love, is the epitome of frivolity and inconstancy, in her actions as well as her thoughts. Criseyde’s own uncle, in reference to the wavering woman’s heart, says that “keeping is as hard as winning [it]” (book3.verse234). Chaucer also uses symbolism: the moon parallels Criseyde’s actions; it is ever-changing, like a woman’s prerogative. Chaucer also reflects on the role of Fortune, who, having a feminine character, is constantly subject to whimsy and change. Chaucer’s negative view of the female gender can clearly be seen throughout this tale. Criseyde is the most significant example of Chaucer’s perspective, and by far the most straightforward. She promises Troilus with many heartfelt words that she will forever be true to him, swearing to God that she will never stray: “For I am yours, by God and this true oath” (3.216). She makes these vows with honesty in her heart: “All she said was said with good intent, / …she spoke just what she meant” (4.203). While this may appear to prove that she does not deceive her love when she leaves him for Diomede, in truth, it only shows how fickle and frivolous a woman can be. When Criseyde chooses to leave her “love”, Troilus, it is for very shallow reasons. She does not leave Troilus because she loves another: the sayings of this sudden Diomede,his high position and the sinking town…[which] thus began to breedthe reason why…she made it her intention to remain(5.147) Criseyde chooses not to return to her beloved, as she promised time and again that she would. Criseyde is portrayed as quite petty; she leaves Troilus based on extremely superficial motives. To make matters worse, rather than immediately feeling sorrow towards Troilus or remorse for what she has done to him, she laments what her actions will mean for her own well-being. She thinks to herself that “no good of me, to the world’s end, / will ever now be written, said, or sung / …alas that I should suffer such a fall” (5.152). Chaucer rips away any pity that one might feel towards Criseyde by emphasizing her vanity and her inconstancy. She causes Troilus, a character that Chaucer has given readers no reason to dislike, such pain that he is “defeated and so woebegone” (5.175). Troilus is faithful to his promise of love until his death, while Criseyde’s feelings change dramatically.Chaucer uses moon imagery to foreshadow the fact that Criseyde’s heart will indeed change. The moon is frequently found in Chaucer’s poem, and most often in a context that parallels Criseyde’s decision. He uses phrases such as “change of the moon” (3.79), and “bent was the moon” (3.90) to weave in the idea that the moon is in a constant state of flux. He connects it to Criseyde’s actions in order to show that she is also in constant transformation. Troilus “…every night rose up to see the moon/to say ‘Yet moon, the night your horns renew/I shall be happy – if all the world is true'” (5.93). He watches the moon to keep track of when Criseyde might return to him, but as the moon changes, so does his sweetheart’s mind. Chaucer hints at this when he writes, “in heaven still the stars were to be seen, / although the moon was paling, quickly too” (5.40). This symbolizes the fact that while Criseyde still loves Troilus, her love will soon fade, and then disappear entirely. The moon, linked to femininity through its association with Criseyde, is constant changeing. Another significant female character in the poem is “Fortune, to whom belongs the permutation / of things under the moon” (5.221). Fortune, a female, is portrayed as quite fickle and mean-spirited. Her negative qualities far more obvious than Criseyde’s; Chaucer refers to her as “Fortune the Inconstant” (4.241) and rarely shows her being kind. The fact that she is feminine only adds to the negative light shed on women in this poem. Like Criseyde, she changes her mind, “for she began to turn her shining face / away from Troilus, took of him no heed, / and cast him clean out of his lady’s grace, / and on her wheel she set up Diomede” (4.2). She is both cruel and frivolous, wont to toy with the hearts of men for her enjoyment. Chaucer believes that “Fortune had planned to dupe them, for her laughter” (5.162). Not only is Fortune cruel, but she is cruel with a wicked degree of constancy, even though her very nature suggests a tendency towards continuous change: “For if her wheel should ever cease to turn/Fortune would then no longer Fortune be” (1.122). With such negativity infused into both of the major female characters, it is clear that Chaucer has a remarkably negative opinion of women.The events that made Chaucer despise women and believe them to be so fickle and inconstant are impossible to know. Chaucer’s beliefs are, however, repeatedly expressed throughout the poem in statements both brazen and subtle. The negative portrayal of women persists to the very end, when Troilus dies and Criseyde is left alive with her new lover. The story is touching enough to bring one to tears; one can relate to Troilus and his lost love. Chaucer writes, in conclusion, that one should “give your love to [God]… / Since He is best to love… / What need is there in a feigning love to seek” (5.264)? Because of the frivolity and inconstancy that Chaucer associates with femininity, he advises men to avoid love altogether.

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Why Don’t We Like Troilus?

March 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

Chaucer’s ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ opens to the ringing tones of Troilus’s ‘double sorwe’. From the first lines it is ascertained that he is the main character of the poem, no matter how attractive Pandarus and Criseyde appear. Troilus’ heartbreak, explained in 8,000 glorious lines, is the subject of some contention amongst the poem’s various audiences. Criseyde’s guilt, and so Troilus’ worth, has been extrapolated by the likes of Robert Henryson, who described Criseyde’s horrible punishment and eventual death. Here Criseyde becomes the villain of the piece, and Troilus is exonerated. But what of his ramrodding her into confessions of love? Perhaps Chaucer intended him to be no more than a tragic dreamer who had no right to expect from Criseyde the same devotion that he gave. At the end of the poem Troilus is left, feeling rather foolish, mocking and alone, but this is also part of how we seem him. At whom is he laughing? The question of how much an audience ‘likes’ Troilus is as important as that of how Chaucer intended him to be understood. Using Benson as the key text, this issue of our appreciation of Troilus will be the main focus of this essay.Perhaps it is most rewarding to look at Troilus with respect to others’ responses to him as a character. The first charge to be levelled at Troilus, here by the narrator, is that of his blind pride. He is, in his heart, a ‘proude knyght’. He is brother to the famous Hector, prince of the city, and a man for whom love holds no attraction. Initially, he appears haughty, but proud not of his wealth or his birth, his good looks or his strength, but instead of what he conceives as his ability to withstand temptation. Troilus is a man who leads his colleagues in ‘girl-watching’:This Troilus, as he was wont to gideHis yonge kyghtes, lad hem yp and downIn thilke large temple on every side,Byholding ay the ladies of the town. (Book I, 1 83-86)His enjoyment is, as Chauncey Wood suggests, ‘not solely in the aesthetic evaluation of the ladies themselves’ , but more in his resistance to their charms and in the ‘discomfiture of those in his retinue who cannot admire dispassionately, but who become emotionally entangled’. Proleptically as a blind fool himself, he denounces them and adds to it his own endorsement:He gan caste up the browe, Ascances, ‘Loo! Is this naught wisely spoken?His irritating confidence make him a hard hero to love. We can cross-reference this confidence in personal infallibility with what Chaucer has already propounded, for example through what the Parson tells us in the Canterbury Tales:Goodes of grace been power to suffre spiritual travaille … Withstondynge oftemptacioun …Of which forseyde goodes, certes it is a ful greet folye a man to priden hym inany of hem alle.’ (l 455)The parson exposes this phenomenon of self-love as well known to a medieval audience. This pride in one’s own virtues was a common distaste. It is Troilus’ ‘greet folye’ to be such a tempting target for the humbling darts of Cupid, and his suitability as a target is insisted on in this early section of the poem. He is compared to a proud peacock, his pride is said to be caught by the God of Love, he is called a proud knight, the effects of ‘surquidrie and foul presumpcioun,’ (I, 213) are highlighted. Troilus is set for a fall. Most interesting is the immediate analogy with Bayard, who ‘moot endure … horses lawe’ despite his proud prancing. Patricia Kean has interpreted this as a simple link between the horse obeying his law and Troilus obeying also the ‘lawe of kynde’ (I, 238). Thus , she continues, the laws governing Troilus’ character, given to him by (his own) Nature, lead to an inevitability in the development of the story. However, she continues to argue that love ennobles Troilus, which seems at odds with this comparison to a common stable horse. More, it seems, that instead of being ennobled, Troilus is ‘subgit’ to love as Bayard is subject to the Traces and the whip. Bayard is traditionally the name for a blind horse, and the suggestion of the noble prince as a fat, blind horse, does not seem to suggest his elevation by love. Other critics have pointed out that the horse has sometimes been seen as a metaphor for carnal appetite, and this seems to have only complicated this particular debate. It seems Troilus is cursed with love, awakening his sleeping appetites. He is forced, in the end, to be simply a man and to conform to the laws of man and nature. It is important though to notice how Chaucer emphasizes the element of pride in the comparison. Set in the time about which Homer wrote, perhaps proud Troilus too ought to have an honorific epithet.Most distasteful to a modern audience, perhaps, is our understanding that Troilus’s pride is based on a false preconception: he believes he is immune to temptation because he has never faced it. This can been seen when he declares:’I have herd told, pardieux, or youre lyvynge,Ye lovers, and your lewed obervaunces’ (I, 197)Troilus can sneer at lovers because he has ‘heard tell’ of them. He has never been in love, and doesn’t understand what it entails, and we can see this right from the very beginning of the tale. Here Chaucer sets him up for his descent into idolatry. He also hides his love initially, where he ‘softe sighed, lest men myghte hym here.’ This could be due to his total shock and sudden undermining of the foundations of his pride and sense of self worth. However, it seems deceitful and adds to our impression of him, initially at least, as an un-admirable character.Some critics have leaped to Troilus’ defence saying that he is merely an exemplar of courtly love – but how far is this true and vindicable? C. S. Lewis defined the conundrum of courtly love as ‘Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love.’ Compare this to Troilus’ initial reflections on his new awakened love:And to the God of Love thus seyde he …Yo thanke I, lorde that han me brought to this.But wheither goddesse or woman, iwis,She be, I not, which that ye do me serve;But as hire man I wol ay luve and sterve. (I, 422, 424-7)Here Troilus shows his obedience to his lady. It has been argued that the idea of courtly love originated in the court of the Countess Marie of Champagne, who was amused by the idea of a world ruled by women where, as Benson says ‘all the handsome young men faithfully served their ladies for the sake of love, rather than their loutish feudal lords for the sake of plunder.’ His humility is now to Cupid, having realised the folly of his pride. But does this make him more loveable?As the poem progresses Troilus is mostly accused of being melodramatic, for example:Yet Troilus for al this no word seyde,But longe he laye style as he ded were;After this with sikunge he abreyde… that in feereWas Pandarus, lest that in frenesieHe shoulde falle, or elles soone die. (I, 722-5, 727-8)Here the language Chaucer uses does seem very emotive, perhaps overly so. Compared to the assured refinement of, for example, Sir Gawain, Troilus seems ill-equipped to cope with the pangs of love. His lack of experience shows in this response to the pressures of unrequited idolatry – he seems to be incapacitated, as is physically evident in his stillness and, more, in the way he takes no action until goaded by Pandarus. Troilus is a curiously passive lover. It is debateable whether he is to be praised for his restraint, or condemned for indecisiveness. He seems weak, however, in that it requires all of Pandarus’ skill even to convince him to, for example, ride past Criseyde’s house. His immediate response to trouble is to go to his room and cry, as when he discovers the news that Criseyde has been traded:To bedde he goeth, and walwith ther and torneth in furie’ (V, 211)This makes him less appealing. However, surely he works in the same way as Othello, who is equally incapable of coping with his Jealousy, or Macbeth who trips over his own ambition? The intensity of the scene is a tool used to show Troilus’ workings and his destroyed naivete. His inactivity is symptomatic of the horror of the moment. Also to exonerate him from undue dramatics, the narrator backs him up by initially explaining the horror of his situation:Forthi ful ofte, his hote fir to cesse,To sen hire goodly looke he gan to presse;For therby to ben esed wel he wende,And ay the ner he was, the more he brende. (I, 445-8)Here we see the narrator explaining the burnings of Troilus’ desire so that we are not tempted to condemn his whining. Troilus is a soul in genuine torment and his endurance is thus an admirable trait. One of the places where a reader is moved most is when Troilus stands on the walls of Troy, waiting all day, hoping to see his love riding towards him. Even though he seems a little foolish in his hopes, an audience can still sympathise with the plight of waiting in hope, of stretching out his hope even unto the closing of the gates of the city, and then the crushing sadness of his rejection. For a while his hope even re-lights anew each morning until he accepts his loss. This Troilus is the evocative hero, hurt and undeserving. It has been argued that the character expects too much of Criseyde to hope for her to fight her way out of the Greek camp and ride across no-man’s land alone and vulnerable to come and visit him for a day. At times in the poem Troilus seems to force himself on Criseyde, paradoxically even whilst vowing to be obedient to her. He threatens her with his own death if she does not show him some sign of affection, and she consents in accord with her own desires. Troilus is a character of war: in the same world of Achilles and Hector there are enemies and foes; he sets about his entrapment of his lady with aggressive self-sacrifice, almost as though she were the city to be conquered. And yet this is a result of Pandarus’ goading; perhaps it is true to say that Pandarus nudges Troilus into reacting in the only way he knows how; as though it were a military problem. His initial inactivity is symptomatic of his inability to deal with the problem as one of naked love.The narrator is important to this poem. As G.T. Shepherd suggests, the narrator is the only fully-developed character in the poem – he is … the only figure who reacts and changes with the sequence of events narrated’. He also goes on to comment interestingly that the narrator is ‘both inside and outside the story’. It is true that the narrator speaks of himself when introducing the story, as well as acting the parts of characters later in the story. He is not always impartial. In the case of Troilus, it is important that the narrator emphasises this ‘lawe of kynde’, as though to highlight that the events are outside of Troilus’ control. But the counterweight to this is the invisible third person exclaiming ‘O blinde world, O blynde entencioun’. The narrator is as duped as Troilus. Shepherd suggests that to an ‘inflammatory’ medieval audience the narrator must ‘maintain throughout something of that initial naivete lest he be help responsible for the calamity.’ Troilus, then, rises and falls on the strength of his own character and is not manipulated by the fallible narrating figure.Troilus does not seem to have the same sense of fun that Criseyde and Pandarus have, and takes himself more seriously than they seem to do. Criseyde returns from her bedroom (where she has been reading Troilus’ initial love letter) to sneak up behind Pandarus, pull his hood, and exclaim ‘Ye were caught er that ye wiste’. As Alfred David says, ‘even such a light moment reveals her essential nature … she regards life as a most enjoyable game.’ This is a somewhat stark contrast to the ‘proude knyghte’ who takes himself so seriously that when he believes Criseyde dead he pulls out his sword and prepares to kill himself. Not all courtly lovers were so dedicated: much later by Shakespeare’s time he slyly remarked ‘Men have died from time to time and the worms have eaten them, but not for love. ‘ Bearing this in mind, Troilus has become more a source of gentle mockery as the centuries have passed and the ideals been lost.The final stanzas of the poem show a curious ‘disembodied laughter’. Alfred David comments that ‘a poem in which the tragic hero’s ghost is permitted to laugh at the mourners of his death … expresses a qualified view of the tragic experience’ and suggests that ‘Troilus’ celestial laughter is also at the expense of the reader’s tragic sensibility.’ More specifically Chaucer ends:And in himself he lough right at the woOf hem that wepten for his deth so faste, And dampened al oure werk that foloweth soThe blynde lust, the which may nat laste.This suggests a bitter mockery on the part of Troilus, rather than a cheerful laughter. Chaucer suggests that he mocks not only those that mourn for him, but all those that are in the thrall of ‘blynde lust.’ Whether this is because he in retrospect believes his love was no more than lust, or that Criseyde’s was, is uncertain. Here he would mock himself and his old foolish heart. Instead perhaps he mocks them because he is certain of the purity of his love and its futile outcome. It is even possible that he finds the antics of the living amusing – whatever the truth, Chaucer’s strange ending to the poem is thought-provoking at the very least and leaves us uncertain of Troilus’ standing. The fact that he goes to the ‘eighth sphere’ and not Tartarus, the Elysian Fields, Heaven, or even Hell is telling. Troilus is not a simple black and white character.Also interesting in this poem is the unusual ‘double sorwe’ structure, rather than just being the tale of Troilus’ fall from grace. Troilus begins on what he believes to be an emotional peak. From here he falls in love and sinks into the depths of unrequited love. Next he gain his love and reaches a new and greater highpoint, and then with news of the swap for Diomedes sinks again to the floor. Only when he dies is he perhaps raised up again, as with his laughter Chaucer attempts to have both a tragedy and a happy ending. This makes a ‘W’ shape. If we compare this to a graph of conventional morality, Troilus starts at the bottom with his pride and lack of self-knowledge. He is raised up by his falling in love to a level of understanding, and yet stoops to sex which is, if not technically adultery, then at least out of wedlock and morally extremely questionable. From here he loses his love and perhaps is raised a little higher as he stops committing this sin and his eyes are more open from the self-deceit he has been practising when he realises Criseyde has left him. At the end he sits in the ‘eighth sphere’ where he was taken by Mercury and laughs at those he has left behind. This would seem to form a very rough ‘M’ shape to complement the graph of his feelings. Troilus is the driving force in the poem and as Malone said ‘movement of the poem conforms throughout to the feelings of its hero’ . Here Troilus seems to ricochet between euphoria and despair, making him a hard character to follow. His emotions are also so extreme that they can be hard to empathies with.Troilus is not a character who immediately yields to interpretation. He is an exponent of courtesy and courtly love, and yet one who seems almost to force Criseyde into her response to him. He cries alone in his room and can take no action without being pushed into it, and yet is a fierce and noble warrior, second only to Hector himself. Criseyde’s unfaithfulness drives him to his death but he does not find peace; instead his mocking laugh echoes throughout the poem. His pride and arrogance are major flaws, and yet he pays for them. He is naive and foolish, and yet none can claim that he doesn’t get his comeuppance, even harder perhaps than he deserved. We are not encouraged to like him, and yet we must find sympathy for one so unhappy. He finds it nearly impossible to cope with the trials of love, and is finally rejected. Perhaps we appreciate him best when we see, just as all Chaucer’s characters, that he is human after all.

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The function of authority in Chaucer’s “Troilus and Cresseid” and Henryson’s “Testament for Cresseid”

January 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

‘Qhua wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew?/Nor I wait nocht gif this narratioun/Be authoreist’.

In his Testament for Cresseid, inspired by Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Henryson’s narrator presents an almost immediate challenge to the truth of his literary predecessor, consequently plunging the authority of his own narrative into doubt and humbling himself before his readers. This display of the narrator humbling himself is present elsewhere, in both Troilus and Testament ,with the plain citing of literary sources; ‘worthie Chauceir’,[58] in Henryson’s work and ‘myn auctor Lollius’[394] (amongst others) in Chaucer’s. Aside from giving us a fair licence to conflate the authors with the narrators, (as the narrators refer to works both authors had read) presenting the sources from which their work has derived seems to detract from their own authority and originality. However, what may seem humbling in fact has ulterior literary functions. Nicholas Watson argues, for instance, that Western literature has a tradition of ‘homage and displacement’, meaning Chaucer and Henryson acknowledge their sources in order to make literary space (and thus authority) for their own work, covering themselves with the artifice of ‘homage’. While this is true, I would take Watson’s argument further to suggest that both writers additionally cement the truth and authority of their narratives in the repeated suggestion that the tragic events in their narratives are in the hands of either fate or the gods themselves, and thus located outside of the narrator’s control. Instead the narrators act deictically, guiding the readers through the action and intensifying the tragic elements of each respective poem by lamenting at things out of his control. Under the blanket of being ‘humble’, both authors thus establish their work as authoritative and true by the ‘homage and displacement’ of their literary predecessors and the infallibility of gods and predetermined events from outside the narrator’s realm.

One interesting feature of Chaucer’s poem is the narrator’s language of obligation; an insistence that he must convey his narrative no matter how painful or trying it may be. Such language is present to an extent in Henryson’s narrative too, (though he briefly attempts to separate himself from the narrator with ‘sum poeit’ [66]) and serves to hyperbolize both the importance and urgency of their work. For example, Henryson’s narrator describes the telling of the story as being ‘Maid to report the lamentation’, [67] ‘Maid’ being particularly forceful language as well as a word suggestive of a higher authority in control doing the forcing. This suggestion can similarly be seen in Chaucer’s poem where the narrator describes himself as ‘the sorwful instrument/That helpeth loueres’.[10] Again, ‘instrument’ is unavoidably suggestive of someone above the narrator ‘playing’ him, painting him as a transmitter or mediator. What is interesting about this mediating effect is also the pretense it creates of neutrality in the narrator from the outset. Henryson’s use of ‘report’ in particular insinuates lack of bias, whilst Chaucer repeatedly refers to his attempts at being faithful to his sources: ‘as myn auctour seyde, so sey I’,[18] with even the syntax of ‘I’ following on from ‘auctour’ again creating the impression that Chaucer is merely a kind of scribe. Creating this impression of neutral obligation, I would argue, works by making the readers believe that the narrators are doing them a service, and have endeavoured to make sure everything they write is true. Acting as mediators of their narratives, the narrators are thus protected from criticism, ‘Disblameth me if any word be lame’,[17, Troilus] whilst simultaneously lending importance to their work.

Control of narrative is something made very clear and tangible in both Troilus and Testament, with both authors painting those of higher authority (namely fate or the gods) as the dictators of the most important or tragic events in their narratives, whilst the narrators act deictically, guiding the readers through the action. Chaucer’s narrator, for instance, asks in the opening lines of the poem: ‘Thesiphone, thow help me for tendite’,[6] whilst Henryson describes how ‘Saturne’ ‘tuik on hand’ [309] Cresseid’s punishment’, ‘hand’ depicting physically Saturne’s control over Cresseid’s fate. In places, both Henryson and Chaucer’s narrators speak in the present tense whilst depicting the fate of their characters as having already been decided in the past. Chaucer’s narrator states, ‘on hire whiel she sette vp Diomede;/ffor which right now myn herte gynneth blede’,[13-14] whilst Henryson’s narrator similarly begs to Saturne: ‘Withdraw thy sentence and be gracious’,[327] where ‘gynneth blede’ and ‘withdraw’ locate the narrators in the present. By creating a clash of this kind between the present narrator and events that have already supposedly happened or been decided, Chaucer and Henryson locate their narratives outside of their own work, presenting them as established stories. This also places the men on a level with their readers, all being at the mercy of fate and the gods like Troilus and Cresseid. By pretending to surrender narrative control, both narrators react to the tragedy as it happens and heighten the emotional impact of the most important moments in both poems. In a similar way to Henryson’s questioning of narrative truth and authority, this ‘surrendering’ appears to be a performance of the narrators humbling themselves before more important forces or figures, and though this is true, the emotional reactions of the narrators against the pre-established events in both poems also serves to affirm their unequivocal truth.

As Marilyn Corrie points out in her essay on ‘fate, destiny, and fortune’, ‘the idea that what happens to people, and what people do, are determined by forces external to themselves was current in the Middle ages[.]’ As previously discussed then, fate and pagan gods in both Troilus and Testament lend an ultimate authority to both poems. However, as features, they also ensure that any ill tidings or punishments that befall Troilus or Cresseid cannot, to any serious degree, be contended with as unjust by the readers, something more visible in Henryson’s work which imagines a punishment for Cresseid’s infidelity that Chaucer did not. Derek Pearsall suggests of the gods in Testament that they ‘operate in a manner brutally similar to what goes under the name of divine justice’, a comment which encapsulates Henryson’s treatment of Cresseid; his punishment of her is brutal, but the god, rather than himself are painted of the instigators of it. As a result, the readers can only see what befalls her as just and deserved, thus heightening Henryson’s moral didacticism at the close of his poem, ‘Ming not your lufe with fals deceptioun’,[613] as Cresseid is shown to be an unmistakable example of ‘deceptioun’ and falsity.

Fate and the gods are not the only figures that Henryson and Chaucer exploit as means for narrative authority; both also use their respective literary sources to do the same. Once again, under the guise of being humble, Chaucer credits ‘Lollius’,[1.394] ‘Omer’,[1.146] and ‘Dares’,[1.146] as the authorities over his work, whilst Henryson states ‘Chauceir’[58] is the origin of his work. However, what is interesting about both writer’s deployment of sources is, as Thomas C Stillinger points out: ‘when the shape of the story makes it seem digressive to narrate […] [various events] at length, he [Chaucer] tells his reader where that material may be found[.]’ And indeed, Chaucer avoids launching into lengthy descriptions of how Troy fell: ‘Ne falleth naught to purpos me to telle;/ffor it were here a long digression/ffro my matere and 3ow long to dwelle.’[1.142-144] Here, ‘long digression’ and ‘3ow long’ suggest a narrative urgency, and contain a subtle, yet visible, suggestion that Chaucer’s narrative is more important than those of ‘Omer’ or ‘Dares’, which ‘digressed’ and strayed away from what was important. Whilst Chaucer suggests this in a fairly indirect way, Henryson makes space for himself much more clearly. In a similar manner, Henryson states on Troilus: ‘Of his distress me neidis not reheirs,/For worthie Cahuceir, in the samin buik,/In guidelie termis and in joly veirs,/Compylit he his cairis’,[57-60] using comparatively positive language like ‘joly veirs’ and ‘guidlie termis’ in reference to his source. However, Henryson’s sweeping aside of Chaucer is made clear by the line that follows this ‘homage’, which we will return to: ‘Quha wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew.’[64] In this line, any previous praise of Chaucer is diminished, and by deploying a rhetorical question, Henryson sows doubt about Chaucer’s literary authority without making any direct statement. By proposing the possibility that Chaucer’s work was untrue, he creates his own space to write in, as does Chaucer with his own sources, insinuating that their work will be better than what has come before.

Neither Chaucer nor Henryson claim outright that their work is the most authoritative, true or valid, but when examined, it becomes clear that both poets manipulate their narrator, sources, and language in order to claim authority under the guise of being humble servants to their readers. It is the narrators in particular who allow the authors inside the narrative of the poem to persistently guide their readers and gain their trust, rendering the poems leak-proof to contentions as to whether they are ‘trew’ or ‘authoreist’.

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