Troilus and Criseyde
Troilus and Cressida: Parsing Truth in Divisive, Misogynic Spirit
Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is set against Homer’s Iliad, an epic singing of the pride-induced “wrath of Achilles” in all its ugly consequences which stem from the idea of personal worth and value. This Iliad depicts honor, glory, love, and loyalty, which Shakespeare examines more critically by questioning the nature of value and worth though a romance between two originally minor characters, Troilus, and Cressida, in relation to the environment around them, and comes to conclude that these intangible perceptions do not truly exist except within oneself. This notion is derived from Nowottny’s criticism that a “bi-fold authority” of factual reason and “poetic ‘reason’” reigns over the human soul (Nowottny 292). In attempting to validate imagination with experience, Troilus’ world of glorious virtue is shattered. Shakespeare accentuates these classical virtues through the richest setting of antiquity to make their destruction all the more impactful, and, as soon as he demonstrates their degradation, ends the play. So does the final scene bruise the reader with its abruptness as does the disintegrated world bruise Troilus with its hypocritical standards.
At Hector’s death, the political stalemate of the Trojan War, which having reflected the tension between Nowottny’s two authorities, begins to give way to Greek victory — the victory of merry sensation achieved through not its own merit but through the frailty of its antithesis, spiritual reason; the Trojans. The constant presence of misogyny within this drama, whether by Shakespeare as conscious device or unconscious product of Elizabethan society, begs us to realize the paradox between idealistic truth of the spirit, and truth as empirical knowledge. Worth is determined by the experience and observations of others, yet their assignment of worth onto another subject is indicative of their own poetic values, which, then again, must be influenced by larger society. Troilus is the main defender of Helen’s value, which he says is defined only by the deaths of thousands, yet he is also the character who most desperately seeks to fulfill his own romanticized values and who becomes overwhelmed with anger that his demeanor overall transforms by the end.
5.2 is the central scene in which we see this transformation develop. “India”, “pearl”, “merchant”, “sailing”, and “convoy” give a sense of trade and transaction. The pearl’s value comes from its rarity, and it is rare because it is difficult to find under vast oceans, introducing the importance of discovery and pursuit. Troilus woos himself by wooing Cressida because loving her provides Troilus opportunity to discover and measure his achievements — his own virtuous character — against others. He is on business to acquire treasure, treasured because it gives access to other valuable things. Hence, the pearl is tied to a greater, shifting market. Cressida’s fluctuating worth suggests she is a manifestation of the values Troilus creates for himself. She does not possess any apparent worth of her own. When his great impression of love and fidelity is disproven, Cressida becomes the scapegoat for the faults of Troilus’ own opinions, shaped through his impermanent, material environment. As Kermode suggests, value depends on opinion that itself depends on the appearance of the object. He says values like honor, fame, glory, arise from mass comprehension of earthly actions. They are inherently public opinions, conceived by an entire group, which the individual cannot conjure or achieve by his own persons.
Nevertheless, the inherent principle of value is contested given Troilus’s assertive speech in 5.2. After witnessing Cressida dedicate herself to Diomedes, Troilus says: He deems the truth, the physical action witnessed, a lie because he cannot believe his eyes. His personal conviction is so strong that reality is questioned. Reality and truth to him might then be a body of thought and spirit, untouchable by sight and sound. Troilus may still uphold righteous virtues, his own truths, even if their corporeality — Cressida — is lost.
Later in the play, we see that he does not. He curses the deceptive dynamic between men and women, and accepts rage, bloodlust, and revenge as appropriate reactions to his disillusionment of moral goodness, disfiguring his young, naive character. And thus, the truths that could have still remained true after Cressida’s infidelity, fall apart. Nowottny says “The Cressida betraying him before his eyes is Cressida, but is not the Value he had taken her to embody” (291). This idea is made possible by misogyny for if men did not place their own values onto women, then Cressida in her own right, as a single being — not two — does not betray Troilus at all. Rather, Troilus is betrayed by his own lapse of judgement when he realises there is more to Cressida than just the qualities he supposed about her. In typical misogynistic fashion, men blame women for their own shortcomings. His manipulation of her image is made clear in the following interaction with Ulysses:
Troilus. Was Cressid here?
Ulysses. I cannot conjure, Trojan.
Troilus. She was not, sure.
Ulysses. Most sure she was. (5.2.131-4)
Evidently, the values he believes her to have is not there; she has been unfaithful. Ulysses, on the side of empirical knowledge and reason (Nowottny 286), tries to convinces him that Cressida is in fact there, and that value depends on factors outside of the individual mind. Yet, Troilus still attempts to hold to his intrinsically created worth by postulating: Diomedes’ Cressida is one who “to her own worth…shall be prized” (4.4.132). To Diomed, Cressida is valued by her physically apparent traits and will be treated by opinion. Diomed does not project himself onto her.
The use of anaphora — each word building on top the last — from moving beauty to profound spirituality to the entire order of both heavenly and earthly existence, brings Troilus’ dilemma to climax. He now becomes aware of his problem (“madness of discourse”), which is also the problem of the entire play itself; that truth lies between knowledge and ignorance (Plato as cited by Kermode), between action and thought, and how difficult it is to navigate towards that truth when the vulgar reality in which all men must live jarringly injures the soul. Reason renders itself unreasonable without being unreasonable. Irrationality appears rational without straying from its own irrational logic. All this, he unfairly invests into Cressida with his repetition of “This is not she”.
He continues, The incalculable truth is clearly expressed when described as more divided than the sky and earth. Troilus directly draws truth to Cressida’s body as both are supposedly indivisible. The diction of, “spacious”, “breadth” and “division” evokes a greatly palpable energy to lay matters out. Perhaps truth is then the physical chasm between sky and earth itself, the irresolute space between divinity and body. And that the sky must be borne by Atlas so that it’s crushing weight doesn’t kill us all perhaps suggests the two entities must stay apart, because when they do embrace, as illustrated by Troilus’ encounter and reaction, we are left with a bitter, grim and stinging aftermath that is never mollified by Shakespeare — never mollified because it is not a tragedy by fate but a problem society has brought about itself.
Troilus’ mention of “Ariachne’s broken woof” is interesting. Does he refer to Ariadne’s string or Arachne’s web? The division of truth is so vast that it materializes into geographical space, yet is still so densely and confusingly made that not even a string can guide him in true direction, or perhaps that threads cannot even be woven through, in that he cannot assemble anything of sense. The connotation of string, anyhow, is continued: Evidently, the “instance” or proof of Cressida’s treachery is so torturous and concrete to Troilus that he compares it to dying and death, the ultimate irreversible notion. Upon witnessing the desolation of his oaths and honors, he will never retain them again. First by allowing Troy to trade Cressida away without protest, and then by readily accepting the depravity and disgrace of such consequences, Troilus is a participating member of his hypocritical society. It seems he values exalted beliefs, like the integrity of war politics, more than he does Cressida herself. Perhaps then he did not truly love her, but rather, romanced her. The implication of “instance” as a swift and temporal moment underscores this. In the next stanza, however, he juxtaposes “Pluto’s gates” with “strong as heaven itself”. Heaven and hell, holding equally substantial yet contrasting positions, echo again his divided mind. The real Cressida is most definitely false in virtue, and the false Cressida — the one of his poetry, being “tied by the bonds of heaven” to his disposition — is most definitely true as part of an identity he defines himself with. Mann uses the economics of demand and supply to interpret value (wherein price is determined by consumer demand) and suggests that Value is “whatever men deem necessary for their existence.” (Mann 31) Hence, a woman’s identity revolves around that of a man’s.
Shakespeare asks, “[I]s not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?’ (1.2.244-6) These things, the strings of poetic guidance and reason, untie their bonds to Troilus as he declares them “slipp’d, dissolved, and loosed”. Then, by the “five-finger-tied” knot, love-token glove, Cressida’s love and faith mutate into “fragments, scraps” and “bits and greasy relics” that are “o’er-eaten” and are “bound to Diomed” — an obviously misogynic concept that takes away women’s’ inherent worth as people equal to men. The language of appetite suggests their values are formed by simple, unfair and fickle instinct. Women are foods to nourish the consumer’s own sense of self.
Cressida’s interaction with Diomed in 5.2 recalls a similar encounter with Troilus in 3.2. At the Greek camp, she flirts with Diomed, first holding off yet never allowing him to leave, but eventually gives in to sleep with him. She continuously changes her mind, as seen through the giving and taking back of the sleeve, but we don’t know if this behavior is genuine contention or only a performance of resistance in order to validate her apparent worth, a performance she is highly aware of, as depicted by her words in 3.2.
Cressida realises that being easily won by Troilus tarnishes her image of chastity and innocence, that by pursuing him, her value decreases. She berates herself for accidentally revealing her desire and seeks to leave the situation in order to preserve her image because image is the only authority she and other women possess. She must adhere to the features of her objectification if she wishes to be in demand of, needed, valued — to thereupon provide men essential manifestations of identity so that she might by some chance have any semblance of a person. Her “kind of self” longs to surrender to a man for comfort and protection among a misogynic society, while her “unkind of self” agonizes at giving up her own (decidedly limited) autonomy to become even more reliant on men. Yet again she is spilt into two, and with both Troilus and Diomed, she “tarries”, unable to deduce a solution. That this tactful delaying and banter repeats itself makes us wonder whether Cressida authentically loved Troilus — whether her affection was voluntary or an excellently compelled reaction to her position in Troy. The tone of her confessional speech, however, leads us to believe she truly is at odds with herself. She admonishes her disloyalty by interjecting her own thought —”O false wench!” — and she acknowledges a cruel fact that she is now among men who, unlike Troilus, judge by action and opinion, by telling Diomed that Troilus “‘Twas [one] that loved me better than you will.” She knows her valued has considerably lessened when she is apart from Troilus, and regrettably works to re-establish it for a place in society.
The consciousness Cressida exhibits in both scenes points to an independent integrity, unrightfully oppressed. Indeed, she has agency as woman, but nearly all her freedoms are limited by the male gaze, forcing her to play a game of social grace that is fundamentally constructed to her disadvantage. She knows the game well and plays it well because she tells Troilus not to think she shows “more craft than love” yet still attempts to gauge her own worth by stating it impossible to be both wise and in love at once for even gods cannot achieve it, defending herself and challenging him. Her speech inspires Troilus to swear his oaths and bind them together, safely cementing her value. This technique fails to capture Diomed in the same way because, as said previously, Cressida is not a reflection of his own regarded virtue. The Greek know her only by the beauty they see and lust they feel, not by any wisdom derived from the divine spirit.
Troilus’ attitude towards Cressida is also his attitude towards Helen in 2.2, as it is for all womanhood in his saying, “Think, we had mothers” (5.2.136) upon Cressida’s deceit. He declares, he explicitly states that Helen has no merit equal to that of their soldiers and that it is terrible to waste “a drop of Trojan blood” for her individual cause. Cressida, like Helen and all other women, is valuable as a “theme of honour and renown”, inspiration for men to build greatness of off. Again, she is a medium through which Troilus attempts to establish his masculinity that is the “spice and salt that season[s] a man” (1.2.246). In this way, Cressida indeed holds much value within a problematic framework. Troilus the misogynist is consequently responsible for the attribution of to-be-falsified values onto Cressida, leading him and us readers to question what truth is.
Nowottny writes that action will always deform the concepts it seeks to embody, and that society built on those concepts collapses when attempting to uphold them. In similar vein, the protagonists clinging to societal values destroy themselves in their endeavor to preserve the very thing they then lose. For example, Achilles refuses to fight because his pride and honor has been insulted. He supposes that abstaining from battle will force the Greeks to understand his worth; however, by doing so, his friend and lover — the single source of his humanity — is killed. Achilles is driven to vengeance in a lowly, deplorable, and underhanded manner. He embodies the reverse of what eternal, glorious reputation he desperately sought. Desperation seems also paramount to Cressida’s example, in which she becomes the epitome of falsehood by pledging her loyalty so strongly, and by striving to appeal society as the ideal woman. Virtue to Achilles is an opinion-based virtue that can be perpetually injured, lost and regained. It appears to Troilus as something that cannot be salvaged once ruined and as something capable of changing reality itself. Either way, there is certain destructive nature in dedicating oneself to constructed value, whether that originates from organized society or individual mandate.
Interestingly, the play illustrates a decidedly un-organized society. There is turmoil and distraction, and things, matters, states, fall apart. Events inconsistently succeed agency. Nothing is resolved, and Shakespeare’s concern over what value and truth are and how to live amongst conflicting truths isn’t really answered. The “‘unbodied figure of the thought’, whatever it may be, can never be realized in action.” (Nowottny 291) Nowottny moreover says this notion is the starting point of a question the play seeks to answer, that is, “What way of life will stand against the unsatisfactoriness of fact, as compared with hope, of action as compared with the ideal it was meant to embody”? And he says Shakespeare answers it with ” ‘The way of life that stands, is the way of Troilus’…his refusal even in the face of the mis-shapen fact of [Cressida’s] treachery to deny the reality of the values by which he has lived.”
I do not think the speech or actions of Troilus agree with Nowottny’s conclusion that Troilus’ refuses to deny his reality. It is more so that by denying it, he takes on another that is similarly hyper-represented. Troilus becomes intensely distraught and also unforgivingly vicious. His manner is infused with figurative language, such as the biting of his sword or the catastrophe of his swing, which, arguably, elevates his terrible values instead of his goodly ones. Still, he lives unreasonably, as if there is meaningful melodrama in violence, as if there is some monumental quality about inspired wrath and jealousy. He revels in his passionately engendered, miserable anger with the same hyperbolic language that he uses to describe his old loving emotions, pre-5.2. Instead of amorous Pluto, he now references beastly Vulcan. He still composes poetic reason, though now in opposition to those typically valued. Troilus’ character at last inverts itself like everyone else. He tells Hector that “[Hector] ha[s] a vice of mercy in [him]”, which is “[f]ool’s play,” and that “venom’d vengeance” (5.3.47) should “[s]pur them to ruthful work, rein them from ruth.” (5.3.48) He no longer regards Troy’s greatest hero as a chivalrous knight, but as a timid fool. Good is now pathetic, and ugly is respected.
There are still exacerbated values and drama involved. But this is drama only for us, the audience who can see the gestalt of the play. We can recall all relevant plots and characters and smaller problems into a certain artistic mass; however, for Troilus, the drama is absolutely real and relevant. It would be unfair to say he purposefully adopts a poetic sense of vengeance and degradation of the soul simply for the sake of drama. A certain meta-theatre with Thersites watching Ulysses watching Troilus watching Cressida comes to mind, made ridiculous to some degree. The satirical meta esteems the play’s subtle absurdity, and in re-seeing the confounding sequence of Troilus and Cressida, we begin to feel its actualization of our paradoxical existence. The play ends as Troilus’ original truths end, leaving us alone to reflect on how we would fair in our own lives, now made aware of its plagued nature.
These Strange Greeks Or the Essence of the Troilus and Criseyde
The proverb that I decided to go with is one that goes along the lines of, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. To begin, the first step is to understand what exactly this proverb means, or is referring to. Basically, this phrase is saying, you shouldn’t be so quick to criticize others on a certain trait or behavior when you exhibit the same or similar characteristics. This proverb can be interpreted by people in a few different ways, depending on the individual, but this definition seems to be the most common and understood. The proverb is also quite similar in meaning to other popular phrases such as, “pot calling the kettle black”, or “you can dish it but can’t take it”. The overall meanings are quite similar. However, that particular saying about glass houses can be traced all the way back to a book, written in the year 1385, called “Troilus and Criseyde”. It was again made popular much later on by George Herbert, who in 1651 wrote something similar. The proverb was first cited in the United States by an author in 1710. In my own readings and research, I’ve come to believe that the theory behind the saying is quite true and effective. To test my proverb, because it’s more about thinking, feeling, and saying, I decided to use myself in the method of testing it. I will admit that because of the different interpret meanings this proverb can have, it could be portrayed in different ways with probable different results, but this is what I decided to do.
The method was simple, something that I am sensitive to criticism or remarks about are the few scars that I have from a medical procedure. I’ve always been quite self-conscious about them and because they are a flaw and I know how I would feel if someone made remarks about them, I thought it would be a good example. So, I got together with a friend of mine one day who also has some scarring from a similar experience and after she agreed to take part in my experiment, we began. My role was to “cast the stones”, or in other words, comment and criticize her scars. This all of course we talked about before-hand, we knew this wasn’t personal and it was for the sake of testing my hypothesis. She was to respond naturally, how she would if I was a stranger saying this for real. And basically, her response was to throw my own scars back at me, pointing out that I’m not perfect either, that I don’t like being called out for the same thing, thus, proving what I assumed all along. Which was that the point of this proverb is basically saying those that are sensitive to an issue or criticism shouldn’t point out or ridicule others for the same, or else it’s going to come right back at you and reflect on you. Similar to how a person in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones because sooner or later that glass is going to break and come shattering right back at you. The experiment was simple and easy to do, a mere exchange of words, but it proves my thoughts to be true, and the proverb to be as well.
An Image of Lady Fortune in Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer
Lady Fortune: Friend or Foe? The face of Fortune in Chaucers Troilus and Criseyde
Lady Fortune and her wheel are two of the most enduring symbols in mankinds history. Witness the popular game show, Wheel of Fortune. While it may seem silly, it proves that something of this concept has stayed with in our psyche, even today. The question of fortune is paramount is Chaucers Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer gives the reader characters with completely conflicting ideas of Lady Fortune and her affect on their lives. By examining Boethiuss Consolation of Philosophy, the reader can hope to find an answer for these differing views on fortune. Firstly, Boethiuss influence on Chaucer and the persona of Fortune that he presents must be examined. Once this is established as a benchmark, the reader can fully understand the misconceptions Troilus has regarding fortune. Troilus clings, as Boethius does in his Consolation of Philosophy, to the memory of his faithful service to Fortune. Finally, the character of Pandarus must be addressed. He, of all Chaucers chara!
cters, has a firm grip on the reality of the Lady Fortune and her ever-changing nature. In fact, a close examination of the text of Troilus and Criseyde will show that Chaucer gives Pandarus a very similar role to that of Lady Philosophy in The Consolation of Philosophy.
Boethiuss Consolation of Philosophy
Boethiuss work deals with the universal experience of suffering. He finds himself imprisoned and under threat of execution. As Boethius begins to expound his sorrows and blame fickle Fortune (p. 35), he finds himself comforted by none other than Lady Philosophy. Their discussion is presented at length for the reader to pass judgment on. The section particularly confronting Boethiuss misconceptions of Fortune and is of interest to this argument is found mainly in Book II. Lady Philosophy points out to Boethius exactly what the root of his problem is at the beginning of this section. You are wasting away in pining and longing for your former good fortune, she tells him (p.54). This is because he has forgotten the true nature of Fortune. Once he comes to an understanding of Fortune and how she works as an instrument of God, he will be healed of his sickness of depression.
Boethius then moves the conversation to a face to face discussion with Fortune. B.L. Jefferson, in his book Chaucer and the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius, claims that Boethius was the first to visualize Fortune in this most personal way (p. 49). Boethiuss discussion about fortune makes three different points. Firstly, that change is the very nature of Fortune. This mutability is pointed out by Lady Philosophy, Change is her normal behavior, her true natureYou have discovered the changing faces of the random goddess, she tells Boethius (Consolation, p. 55). No man can stop her wheel from turning; it goes against Fortunes very nature to do so. She can turn her face away from a man as quickly as she turns it to him. Jefferson characterizes the argument in this way, Absolutely without sympathy, [Fortune] cares no more for one man than another (50).
Next comes the defense of Fortune by herself. Her argument is simple: I have only taken back what was mine in the first place. Inconstancy is my very essence, she says, it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing circle, filled with joy as I bring the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. Yes, rise up on my wheel if you like, but dont count it an injury when by the same token you begin to fall, as the rules of the game will require (Consolation, p. 57). Boethius has no grounds for his complaints because everything he has ever had was given to him by Fortune. If she decides to take it back, it is her prerogative. This should not send him to the pits of despair. Indeed, my very mutability gives you just cause to hope for better things, Fortune tells Boethius (58). Just as the wheel has borne him down, so can it bear him back up to better things.
Lastly, Lady Philosophy instructs Boethius in Fortunes deeper significance, as a servant of God. Jefferson again, Of a connection with Providence, Fortune herself does not seem to be aware, for she works blindly and wantonly. But behind her and governing her, is the all-wise Providence. Through the adversities of Fortune, Providence creates in men what we now call character. In Fortune [Boethius] saw the instrument of God (50). This made what Boethius was doing a very serious matter. It was all very nice to talk about the whims of fortune, but to tie it logically and directly to the providence of God was a completely different matter.
Boethiuss Influence on Chaucer
It is from these points of argument with Fortune that we can see how Boethius influenced Chaucer, especially in Troilus and Criseyde. Most of the literature on Troilus seems to support this claim as well. The Boethian theme of Fortune dominates Troilus and Criseyde, and Chaucer even incorporates direct borrowings from the Consolation of Philosophy, says Martin Camargo (214). Jefferson says that the Consolation had more influence on Troilus than on any other long poem of Chaucers (120). It seems, however, that Chaucer did not just use Boethius randomly in this text. He very carefully dealt with the same fundamental issues of Fortune and Gods providence that Boethius did in his Consolation.
That is why Pandarus sounds just like Lady Philosophy when he speaks to Troilus in Book 1
Than blaestow Fortune
For thow art wroth; ye now at erst I see.
Woost thow nat wel that Fortune is comune
To everi manere wight in som degree?
And yet thow hast this comfort, lo, parde,
That, as hire joies moten overgon,
So mote hir sorwes passen everecho.
For if hire whiel stynte any thyng to torne,
Than cessed she Fortune anon to be.
Now, sith hire whiel by no may sojourne,
What woostow if hire mutabilite
Right as thyselven list wol don by the,
Or that she be naught fer fro thyn helpynge?
Paraunter thow hast cause for to synge (I.841-54).
The same points of argument are reiterated here in Chaucers own words. Pandarus is saying the exact same things as Lady Philosophys argument. Fortune is the same to every man. The joys she brings may pass away, but so will the sorrows. Her wheel cannot stop. She would cease to be fortune. The reader can see the direct correlation between Boethiuss work and Pandaruss words.
Fortune in Troilus and Criseyde
Chaucer gives Pandarus a clear understanding of Lady Fortune. It is his character who leads Troilus and instructs him, as Lady Fortune did Boethius. Camargo insists that it was important for Chaucer that his readers see the correlation between the opening of the Consolation and the opening of Troilus and Criseyde. Because it was important to Chaucer that his readers recognize the analogies between Troilus and Boethius and Pandarus and Philosophy from the outset, he took special pains in Book I to recall the Consolations vivid opening scene (Camargo, p. 215). Just as Lady Philosophy found Boethius under the sway of the muses, so Chaucer begins this scene with Troilus singing alone in his room. He also comes to him and upbraids him for his confusion about Fortune as noted in the passage from Book I cited above. However, Pandarus is truly an opportunist when it comes to Fortune. He tells Troilus and Criseyde to take the opportunity presented to them by this love. By!
turning Lady Philosophys lesson into a veiled carpe diem, Pandarus demonstrates his enthusiastic acceptance of the transitory gifts of Fortune, Joseph Salemi writes. Pandarus encourages Troilus by saying that Fortune must be smiling on him, and tells Criseyde that this is an good aventure (II.288).
In Book IV, Pandarus again counsels Troilus on Fortune. However, now Fortune has turned her face away from Troilus. He says:
Who woulde have wende that in so litel a throwe
Fortune oure joie wold han overthrowe?
For in this world ther is no creature,
As to my dom, that ever saugh ruyne
Straunger than this, thorough cas or aventure.
But who may al eschue, or al devyne?
Swich is this world! Forthi I thus diffyne:
Ne trust no wight to fynden in Fortune
Ay propertee; hire yiftes ben comune (IV.384-92).
He grasps that the very nature of Fortune is to take what she has given. No one can understand her fickle nature, except to know that she changes. Pandarus goes on to tell Troilus that he should seek a new love. Surely Fortune will smile on him in the form of a new ladylove! This is truly a Boethian philosophy. As Fortune spins her wheel, eventually the wheel will bring prosperity again (Consolation, II. Pr 1).
Troilus has a completely different view regarding Fortune. He is much more like Boethius. He [Troilus] and Pandarus represent two equally distorted views of Fortune: that of the opportunist and the fatalist, says Joseph Salemi (219). Jefferson also agrees that Troilus is the kind of fatalist that Boethius was in the Consolationin the role which he assumes for himself in contrast to his consoler, Dame Philosophy, the man who cries out against Fortune, who cannot reconcile to his misfortunes (123). So Chaucer has cast his Troilus in the role of Boethius. Troiluss question at the beginning of his song in Book I does indeed echo that of Boethius:
If no love is, O good, what fele I so?
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo?
If it be wikke, a wonder thynketh me,
When every torment and adversite
That cometh of hym may to me savory thinke,
For ay thurst I, the more that ich it drink (I, 400-06).
He is questioning the very nature of Fortune and the events surrounding him. Boethius, while recounting his downfall to Lady Philosophy, asks her where evil comes from if there is a god, and where good comes from if there isnt (Consolation, I, Pr. 4).
The problem is that just as Boethius is wrong regarding Fortune, so is Troilus. Take Troiluss lament in Book IV as a clear example of this misconception regarding Fortune and as a prime example of his fatalism:
Fortune, allas the while!
What have I don? What have I thus agylt?
How myghtestow for routh me bygile?
Is ther no grace, and shal I thus be spilt?
Shal thus Criseyde awy, for that thow wilt?
Allas, how maistow in thyn herte fynde
To ben to me thus cruwel and unkynde? (IV, 260-266).
When he continues, the true nature of his distress is revealed. Have I the nought honoured al my lyve,/As thow wel woost, above the goddes alle? (267-68). Troilus has devoted himself to the service of Fortune, but like Boethius, can not yet grasp her true nature. Chaucer uses this misconception to make even clearer that the true nature of Fortune is constant change. Troiluss fatalism and misinterpretation of the favors of Fortune show up in sharp contrast to the opportunism and understanding of Pandarus.
Troilus reacts with even greater fervor in Book IV when he thinks Criseyde has died. O cruel Jove and thow, Fortune adverse, he cries (IV, 1192). Salemi says that Troiluss frantic despair is a text book example, according to Boethian principles, of how not to react to adverse Fortune (218). Troilus has just told the reader he had served Fortune all his life. How can he ask Fortune to be something she is not? By calling her adverse Troilus clearly shows once again his misunderstanding. Fortune is neither adverse or good. She merely spins her wheel. As Pandarus points out, joy will surely come again if you just wait for her wheel to turn again.
Where does Criseyde fall in all of this? Is she representative of Fortune in Chaucers work? Salemi seems to think there are grounds for such an association, although he admits it would be difficult to maintain. He says that Pandaruss role as an advisor who tells Troilus about how to deal with a certain woman reinforces the suggested affinity of Criseyde with Fortune (214). The narrator also makes the association of Criseyde with Fortune in the Prologue to Book IV. The narrator tells the reader that Fortune From Troilus she gan hire brighte faceAnd on hire whiel she sette up Diomede (IV, 8, 10). What Fortune has done is exactly what Criseyde will do. While this is a plausible argument on the surface, Criseyde does not seem so much to serve as Fortune but to understand her better than most. She has a firm grasp on the inconstancy of Fortune. Indeed, when Chaucer introduces her, the reader is struck by the fact that she does not blame Fortune for her sorrows. She!
is widowed, abandoned by her father and has had to throw herself at the feet of another in order to save herself. Even in the end, she merely bewails the bitterness of worldly joys (Jefferson, 126). She knows they can not bring happiness. And what is billed as her faithlessness to Troilus in Book V merely shows the acceptance of the hand she has been dealt by Fortune. The narrator says in Book V,
Retornying in hire soule ay up and down
The wordes of this sodeyn Diomede,
His grete estat, and perel of the town,
And that she was allone and hadde nede
Of frendes help; and thus bygan to brede
The cause whi, the sothe for to tell,
That she took fully purpos for to dwelle (V, 1023-29)
While it may have been Fortunes doing that Criseyde is apart from Troilus, she understands at once the gravity of the situation she is in and takes steps to rectify it. This shows that she understand that the world is inconstant.
The theme of Fortune in Troilus and Criseyde springs right from the pages of Boethiuss Consolation of Philosophy. This text obviously influenced Chaucer greatly. He drew from it frequently, almost casting his characters in Troilus and Criseyde into the roles in the Consolation of Philosophy. The result is powerful and moving for the reader. Chaucers audience could work through the same issues presented in the Consolation and see how the are dealt with in a classic story. And even today, modern readers can draw the same conclusions from this timeless tale of love and fortune.
Images of Lovers in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
One of the most striking elements of Troilus and Criseyde is the difference in Chaucer’s presentation of the two lovers. Whereas Troilus is certainly the better person of the two, I intend to show that the reader ultimately finds it easier to identify with and believe in the character of Criseyde, since she is by far the more credibly human in her actions and thoughts.
One of the most essential factors in how the reader views the two characters is due to the narrator himself – from the first scene, the reader feels as though they know Troilus and the way in which he thinks. This is not difficult, since Troilus is, as soon as he sees Criseyde during Palladion’s festival, almost unable to think straight with love. The reader feels sympathy for his situation – consumed by a love so intense he can do nothing but lie in his bedchamber. However, the reader also feels a certain annoyance at Troilus’ inability to act on his feelings, as well as at his self-absorption. It is not until the final act – when Troilus begins to take some responsibility for his own actions – that he truly fills his citation as the play’s ‘hero,’ and in his realisation is reconciled with the reader.
What exactly do we mean by ‘hero?’ The word has two connotations in this instance. The first is that laid out in Aristotle’s definition of classical tragedy, on which Troilus and Criseyde relies. Troilus is a tragic hero in every sense since he possesses all the relevant traits. These are, “having a high social position, not being overly good or bad, being persistent in their actions, arousing pity in the audience, a revelatory manifestation, and having a single flaw that brings about their own demise and the demise of others around them.” Troilus possesses all of the above attributes. His ‘tragic flaw’ is his inability to see past his love for Criseyde. However, it may be argued that this is not valid as a flaw, as his all-encompassing love is meted out by the god of love, rather than being a result of any fault of Troilus’.
It is also an aspect of the tragic hero to become reconciled with one’s flaw in the dying moments of the tragedy. Troilus is no exception; as he dies and makes his ascent to heaven, he laughs at his tragedy, and the folly of human obsession with earthly passions. Indeed, Chaucer closes the poem with a discourse on turning to God:
“O yonge, fresshe folks, he or she,
[…] of youre herte up casteth the visage […] to thilke God”
Troilus learns, albeit after his death, that the agonising of humans is insignificant in comparison with the love of God.
Troilus is certainly less appealing to the reader than is Criseyde, though this is not the case throughout the poem. As the poem opens, Troilus is ‘hitte atte full’ by love’s arrow, and becomes a nervous wreck; unable to speak of or act on his love for Criseyde. The reader feels sympathy for his plight – Troilus is, to a certain extent, a victim of fate. However, we also feel somewhat exasperated by Troilus; unlike his friend Pandarus, Troilus finds himself completely incapacitated by the effect that his love for Criseyde is having on him. It is fair to say that without Pandarus’ influence, Troilus would have simply pined away without confessing his love.
Pandarus acts as the mediator or ‘middleman’ between the lovers; another classical Aristotelian device. However, as the story progresses, Pandarus finds himself less and less involved in the exchanges between his best friend and his niece. Towards the end of Book IV, as Criseyde is to be exchanged for Antenor, Troilus gains the ability to control his actions. It is a refreshing change to read that, instead of simply lamenting his bad fortune, Troilus seeks to resolve matters himself. He rides out to see the exchange take place, and gives his love a brooch, which she later gives to Diomed. Troilus is undoubtedly still very much in love with Criseyde, but he appears to have learnt to put his emotions aside and think rationally. It is at this point that the reader begins to genuinely feel for Troilus; now a far more valiant and appealing character than the one who fainted when in Criseyde’s presence. In the opening verses of Book V, the reader learns that Troilus ‘…gan his wo ful manly for to hide,’ a stark contrast to his earlier conduct.
If the reader gains esteem for Troilus as the poem progresses, then the opposite may be said to be true of Criseyde. We are introduced to Criseyde at the same time as we are Troilus – at Palladion’s feast. However, we are only told of her beauty and her widowhood. It is only when Pandarus visits her early in Book II that we learn anything of her true character. As Pandarus explains Troilus’ affections, and attempts to woo her in his stead, the reader’s impression is of a thoughtful and sensible woman. Whereas the narrator demonstrates Troilus’ thought processes in his actions, we are given two entirely views of Criseyde. We see her through her actions – always carefully planned out and fitting for a woman of her social standing and position. The narrator also furnishes the reader with a view of Criseyde’s thoughts, such as in the aforementioned expository scene:
“And if this man here sle himself – allas! –
In my presence, it wol be no solace.
What men wolde of hit deme I kan nat seye;
It nedeth me ful sleighly for to pleie.”
It should be noted when citing this extract that the word ‘sleighly’ is not the direct antecedent to the modern word ‘slyly,’ but is closer to ‘shrewdly’ or ‘adroitly’ . Nevertheless, this is an excellent example of the manner in which Criseyde always has one eye on how events will reflect on herself. This device of contrasting Criseyde’s actions with her thoughts, which are often more rational and occasionally self-serving, lends her character an extra facet, and adds to her credibility.
Criseyde is certainly the most convincingly human character in the poem. She is far from perfect, and could certainly be construed as selfish, despite the narrator’s perpetual efforts to present her in a more charitable light than the accounts of ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ that Chaucer used as his references; particularly Giovanni Bocaccio’s ‘Il Filostrato,’ in which ‘Criseida’ is a far more vindictive and selfish type than Chaucer’s character. Chaucer’s reader of is led to the belief that Criseyde truly loved Troilus.
The narrator’s approach to presenting Criseyde in a generous light is not entirely convincing. Whilst a great show is made of her love for Troilus and her bewailing of the romance’s end, the narrator chooses to play down her betrayal of Troilus, telling the reader that ‘Swich is this world.’ In the opening to Book IV, Chaucer tells us that;
“Allas, that [writen folk] sholde evere cause fynde
To speke hire harm! And if they on her lye,
Iwis, hemself sholde han the vilanye.”
The verb ‘lye’ can, in this case, be equated with the modern ‘slander.’ Why should the narrator seem so keen to give a more generous account of Criseyde? Perhaps Chaucer is seeking to make the romance more tragic by lending more credibilty to the passion between the two lovers.
The narrator’s regular self-deprecation serves to make the reader feel more omniscient in the story, and the generous presentation of Criseyde has the same effect: the reader finds he is able to recognise the narrator’s patent efforts to give a kinder impression of Criseyde. Once these are recognised, they are called into question. This ingenious contrivance allows Chaucer to give the reader distinct impressions of his characters whilst apparently holding them from his narrator.
We have established, then, that Criseyde is not a perfect character, but to what extent can and does the reader admire her? Certainly her composure is commendable – Pandarus’ speeches place her in numerous potentially compromising situations, all of which Criseyde manages to evade. She appears to have a capability for finding working compromises, whilst always ensuring that nothing occurs without her express consent. At first glance, it may appear that in the bedroom scene of Book III, Criseyde is coerced by Pandarus into sleeping with Troilus. Indeed, Pandarus’ scheme is typically intricate, but the narrator again takes pains to demonstrate Criseyde’s integrity. As Pandarus leaves the two in bed together, Troilus tells Criseyde to ‘yelde yow, for other bote is non,’ to which she replies:
“Ne hadde I er now, my swete herte deere,
Ben yolde, ywis, I were now nought heere!”
Criseyde is, evidently, the mistress of her own destiny, and is the most ‘in control’ of the three main protagonists, despite the fact that Pandarus engineers most of the lovers’ meetings. Though she cannot control Pandarus’ schemes, she is always able to dictate matters when the two meet. The reader’s impression is that nothing transpires against Criseyde’s will.
This does not remain the case; whereas the only protagonists in the first three books are Troilus, Pandarus and Criseyde, the fourth and fifth books see the advent and effect of outside influences. The siege of Troy acts as ‘fate’ in the tragedy, and intercedes in the romance. Criseyde’s loss of control over events can be equated with Chaucer’s loss of the ability to direct the narrative in any way other than its inescapable conclusion. The sense of the inevitable pervades the whole poem, but is felt the most strongly when the exchange of Criseyde for Antenor is announced. Chaucer even cites this inability to control events – both for his own position, and for the hopelessness of his characters’ plights. Chaucer bemoans the predestined nature of the rest of his story in the opening of Book IV:
“And now my penne, allas, with which I write,
Quaketh for drede of that I moste endite.”
The reader’s sympathy for Criseyde increases as her situation becomes more helpless – particularly since it is clear that she genuinely loves Troilus, and is grief-stricken upon having to leave him. However, Criseyde does not appear in a good light at the end of the story – she has betrayed her lover, and has incurred the hate of her uncle. It is inescapable that, in spite of all the narrator’s efforts, Criseyde’s very role in the poem means that she cannot be ultimately an admirable character: again, the theme of inevitability is illustrated. However, the reader may still find her to be the more appealing, since her humanity makes it easier to sympathise with her position.
In conclusion, it is clear that the reader’s impression of the two lovers is by no means constant. Whilst Troilus begins the poem with a number of exasperating characteristics, we see Criseyde as an astute and sensible woman. At the poem’s close, however, Troilus appears to have gained some perspective on life as it relates to his passion, whereas Criseyde has fallen from grace in our eyes. The reader is doubly sympathetic towards Troilus, since even in the face of Criseyde’s blatant infidelity, he not only still loves her, but always has her wellbeing foremost in his mind. When debating to himself during the exchange of Criseyde whether he should fight Diomed, his first thoughts are for her safety:
“He hadde in herte always a manere drede
Lest that Criseyde, in rumour of this fare,
Sholde han ben slayn; […]”
Troilus’ love and how he deals with his passionate feelings are his defining features in the poem. Criseyde’s love never feels fully convincing; the impression is that her love is something she has decided on and learnt to accept, as opposed to than the thunderbolt with which the god of love strikes Troilus.
The reader certainly finds that Criseyde is more credible a character than Troilus. She is far more grounded and human than Troilus, who always seems too romantic and idealistic to be plausible. Criseyde is pragmatic and self-regarding, but is far more appealing to the reader than Troilus, who is valiant and true, but does not wash as a believable character. Perhaps in this respect the pairing could never have lasted; “Criseyde is a person and will not, cannot, be Troilus’s ideal. ” – It is significant that at the end of the book Criseyde is still alive in the world of the practical, whereas Troilus’ classically romantic spirit has ascended to paradise.
Theme of Tragic Love in Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Criseyde and the Great Gatsby
To what extent, in Troilus and Criseyde, Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby, is love shown as a ‘futile pursuit doomed only to cause suffering’
The nature of the love depicted in Troilus and Criseyde, Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby is key when considering whether it is indeed futile and doomed only to cause suffering, or whether the feelings of love make the consequences of it worth the endeavor. Whether the love is reciprocated and the degree to which the love itself was unobtainable, or forbidden is also significant: arguably, arduous circumstances willingly undertaken are rather indicative of the strength of love than of the futile nature of it.
In Troilus and Criseyde, Troilus offers himself up as a Petrarchan lover, using ‘recurrent superlatives, absolute commitments, and extended monologues’ ; these are traits which characterize medieval love poems, such as Petrarch’s Il Canzoniere and Guillaume de Lorris’ Roman de la Rose, indicate a strength of love willing to endure suffering. Indeed, Taylor argues that ‘Chaucer reworks Boccaccio’s poem to emphasize these traits’, making Troilus more committed than the lover in Il Filostrato Chaucer’s source- Boccaccio’s Troiolo; Troilus uses twenty nine statements of commitment, compared to Troiolo’s seven and he expresses his love in absolute terms: ‘That yow, that doon me al this wo endure, / Yet love I best of any creature’. Given the woe that Troilus admits to enduring, he is in line with the conventional way for a lover to respond in the medieval period in which suffering was central to the concept of courtly love: he cannot eat, he cannot sleep and ‘doun upon his beddes feet hym sette/ And first he gan to sike, and eft to grone’. Moreover, that Chaucer has Troilus constantly refer to being ‘cured’, suggests that he sees love as a form of illness, but his certainness that he ‘wol deye’ is indicative of the strength of his feelings. Given that he fulfills the role of the lover as set out by French fourteenth century love poets – who focused on the ‘pathetic tone of the poems’ we might conclude that his love for Criseyde was truly worth suffering for and not futile after all.
In Romeo and Juliet, initially Romeo, like Troilus, ‘appears as a Petrarchan lover’ , with his monologues and absolute commitments. In the beginning we see Romeo suffer, unlike Troilus who begins by mocking lovers, as even initially when he is in love with Rosaline he ‘locks fair daylight out,/ And makes himself an artificial night’ just as Troilus does in relation to Criseyde. Perhaps he suffers because his love is not reciprocated, which is a deliberate juxtaposition of his relationship with Juliet; as the Friar notes, his love for Rosaline ‘did read by rote and could not spell’. Indeed, ‘the stylized expressions and attitudes of the Petrarchan tradition were… frequently under attack in the Renaissance’ ; we see this when Juliet rejects Romeo’s Petrarchan performance of ‘swearing by the moon’. Unlike in the medieval period, Petrarch has become a symbol of ‘feigned passion’ , which Mercutio so rightly mocks, when he ‘particularizes the characteristics of the conventional lover…as patterned artifice’ . Therefore the significance of the change in Romeo’s language is crucial, as it shows maturity and acceptance of the true meaning of love; Romeo no longer speaks in metaphors and conceits when he talks of his love for Juliet: ‘She whom I love now/ Doth grace for grace and love for love allow;/The other did not so’. Here Romeo also acknowledges the need for reciprocated love; indeed Juliet offers Romeo a love that to some extent is more real. Where Romeo wishes to swear ‘by yonder blessed moon’, Juliet prefers to express her love plainly: ‘I gave thee (my faithful vow) before thou didst request it./ And yet I would it were to give again’. In the Renaissance, ‘ideas about romantic love were exclusively associated with women’ . Also, unlike Romeo there is no evidence to suggest that she had ever been in love, whereas she is Romeo’s second, albeit true, love. The true nature of their love highlights a love that is worth suffering for and is therefore not futile.
Though Gatsby is unlike Troilus and Romeo, as he doesn’t use Petrarchan conceits, he still manages to express his love for Daisy. The reoccurring image of ‘the green light’… ‘minute and far away’, used over ten times and in the instance when Nick first sees Gatsby, is symbolic of the unobtainable, yet ever hopeful, nature of Gatsby’s love for Daisy – a married woman who lives across town. To Gatsby, Daisy becomes an idol and his image of her grows so fondly in his mind, that the Daisy of reality then falls short of his expectations: ‘there must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams’. Daisy is no longer just Gatsby’s ideal love, but she has in some ways become another object which he must attain to feel fulfilled. Gatsby’s need to buy a big house and host elaborate parties highlights the materialistic nature of his love for Daisy. This suggests that his love is not entirely true and is therefore not worth any suffering, hence it is a futile pursuit.
However, in comparison to the men in Troilus and Criseyde and The Great Gatsby, Criseyde and Daisy do not seem to reciprocate the same level of love as their respective partners – a distinction set up by Chaucer and Fitzgerald to call into question the futility of their love. Jay stands ‘every evening’, reaching out, but his love is never returned – ‘Gatsby has attained the momentary attention of his lost love…But he also did not have it’ . Even after all the visits to Gatsby’s mansion and the elaborate parties, Daisy is still unable to reciprocate Gatsby’s love, and even if she does it is never to the extent to which Gatsby had dreamed of or hoped for. This lack of reciprocation indicates the futile nature of Gatsby’s pursuit. One may argue that to some extent this lack of reciprocation is as a result of her already being married to Tom Buchanan; she is unable to respond to his advances because she already belongs to someone else. This is similar to the way in which Criseyde belongs to her father; indeed she is, as Frandenberg notes ‘powerless to affect her reputation’ . Criseyde doesn’t reciprocate this same level of love for Troilus as Chaucer says that ‘she so lightly loved Troilus’, with emphasis being on the word ‘lightly’. As Gravdal remarks, ‘this society gives every sign that it values female life less than male’ . However, in spite of this convention, in their first meeting Criseyde takes matters into her own hands as she ‘gan hym kisse’, showing her confidence and perhaps her willingness to show interest in Troilus. There is also a small chance that Daisy does want to be with Gatsby, as when she is drunk she indirectly rejects her marriage to Tom: ‘Take ’em down-stairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ’em all Daisy’s change’ her mind’. However, there is a sense of ambiguity in the statement, which is compounded by her lack of sobriety. The inability for the women to fully reciprocate the love which they receive highlights that the love is indeed a futile pursuit.
The problems that provide an obstacle for the lovers shows that they are willing to undertake arduous circumstances for one another which in fact proves that their love isn’t entirely futile. Booker notes that the fact that Gatsby’s love for Daisy is doomed is, in part, inevitable as it is used to indicate the fictionality of the American myth of ‘upward mobility’ – Gatsby, despite his wealth and like many of his contemporaries, failed to bridge the class-based gap. Gatsby spends his entire life trying to impress Daisy with his wealth, he even bought his house ‘so that Daisy would be just across the bay’. In chasing the material, it is as if Gatsby forgets to chase the sentimental, so much so that he almost rises above Daisy and can no longer easily communicate with her: ‘He had been full of the idea so long… now, in the reaction, he was running down like an over-wound clock’. Daisy only realizes that everything he has done, is because of her when he shows her the silk shirts, when she cries ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such- such beautiful shirts before’; there is a great sense that she is talking about the amount of love she has been shown. Whereas the love that Romeo and Juliet have for each other is not so much a class-based gap as it is a civic crisis: ‘my only love sprung from my only hate’. Hence, Romeo and Juliet’s love is controlled by a concatenation of circumstances outside of their own control: ‘my name, dear saint, is hateful to myself/ Because it is an enemy to thee’. This is also similar to the situation in Troilus and Criseyde whereby Criseyde is the daughter of a man who has betrayed Troy: ‘Calkas traitour fled and allied/ With them of Grece, and casten to be wroken’. Romeo and Juliet’s warring families act as an obstacle for their love to flourish, but this similar situation seems to have little or no effect on Troilus and Criseyde’s love, until the end. The fact that their love is forbidden shows that their love is strong, as they have to oppose that which is naturally required of them.
Perhaps the commitment inherent in marriage indicates a strength of love which forgoes the feeling that making a sacrifice for the person you love is ever futile. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, for instance, it is true that they fall in love at first sight and that this may be considered “superficial” and therefore not worth the final sacrifice however their marriage, in comparison to the other texts, is arguably symbolic of a deeper, more meaningful love than that which is found in The Great Gatsby and Troilus and Criseyde. Romeo and Juliet’s ability to love and wed in spite of their societal circumstances proves that their love is not futile. The inclusion of the Friar in all things important and for all forms of advice makes their secret marriage more founded. Of course, in the Great Gatsby written 400 years later, the importance of marriage is downplayed. There were things that were of more importance such as wealth and status, this was all part of a grand scheme to keep growing and becoming more successful, with equal opportunities for everyone: the ‘American Dream’. The marriages, which do exist in The Great Gatsby, can be said to be faulty and failing- with Tom cheating on Daisy with a married woman- and perhaps this shows just how insignificant and insecure nuptials were. ‘In a society in transition… Gatsby feels ‘married’ to Daisy but he tries to break up Tom’s marriage’ . This is another one of Gatsby’s dreams, or is perhaps his ultimate dream. The nature of Gatsby’s feelings on marriage is linked to the transitional time period and ‘the shifting definitions of masculinity and femininity’ . So although it is true that Gatsby and Daisy never get married, it is not necessarily indicative of their lack of love for each other or Gatsby’s ability to commit nor does it prove that their love is a futile pursuit.
Troilus and Criseyde, written nearly 600 years prior to The Great Gatsby, with chivalric love and the Laws of Capellanus in place, love was to be taken seriously. However, our eponymous hero at first did not seem to understand love’s true importance, until he was forcefully struck with love by Venus- as punishment for making fun of it: ‘The God of Love gan loken rowe/ Right for despit, and shop for to ben wroken’. His love for Criseyde perhaps was not strong enough for a normal marriage to come of it. However in the 12th Century there was such a thing as a clandestine marriage, so although they may not have been married according to modern conventions, they were considered to be married during medieval times. Maguire describes the nature of medieval ‘clandestine’ marriage as ‘valid and fairly common in Chaucer’s day’ , although not performed in church and claims that the relationship between Troilus and Criseyde is such a marriage. The suggestions of clandestine marriage in Troilus and Criseyde include Chaucer’s focus on marital ‘trouthe’ and the attitude and words of Pandarus. So, Troilus and Criseyde’s commitment in ‘marriage’ suggests that their love was not entirely futile.
The recurring theme of death in all three texts suggests that their love, albeit short, was not entirely futile though it does convey a sense of suffering. Yet this is really dependent on whether we consider their love to be of a ‘true’ nature – we might conclude that their death shows the great sacrifice that they have made for their love or, if their love was not genuine, that their death was futile. Either way it is perhaps not the ‘love’ itself which is doomed only to cause suffering but in fact false love. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, death is offered as an escape from reality but then inadvertently becomes their reality; by agreeing to feign death in order to avoid marriage to Paris, Juliet catalyzes the tragedy set up for her in the beginning. ‘The prologue to Romeo and Juliet firmly subordinates the idea of doomed love to civic crisis from the beginning’ , in the prologue we are warned of Romeo and Juliet’s fate as we are told by the chorus, ‘a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life’. It is true that although their love is not destined to last, this is not as a result of their love being doomed but rather that the civic crisis stands in the way of their love flourishing, a problem which they try, but fail to overcome. Once the lovers discover that they are from rivaled families they immediately realize that their love is condemned, this framing is continued throughout the body of the play, Shakespeare has Juliet utter, before she is married, the almost prophetic: “my grave is like to be my wedding bed” and later, post-consummation, she also foresees Romeo’s death when she describes him “as one dead in the bottom of a tomb”. The use of dramatic irony here hints at how Juliet has unknowingly ‘married’ death- she has agreed to a contract that leads to her demise. Yet, in spite of their love ending in such a sudden and tragic death, the long-term rivalry between their families is at once settled and their love serves as a symbol to remind their families that love can overcome all obstacles. Thus, in Romeo and Juliet, though their love ends in death, it leads to a greater good rather than only causing suffering and therefore also shows that it is far from futile. In spite of their deaths, Romeo and Juliet’s were not doomed because of their love, but rather because of their familial crisis.
For Troilus and Criseyde, there seemed to not have been as many obstacles as Romeo and Juliet had to face, yet, in a similar way to Romeo and Juliet, the opening to Troilus and Criseyde immediately warns us of ‘the double sorwe of Troilus’. In this love story, Fortune plays a big part in the affair; when Troilus cries, ‘For wel fynde I that Fortune is my fo’, he hints at the unfortunate ending of a love that is yet to begin. Through the rest of the poem, he cries out ‘cruel fortune’ over three times showing that ‘Troilus… is far more insistent about his unique and special fate… than most lovers’ . Troilus’ death is shown as being a result of him loving Criseyde: ‘Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for love’. ‘Troilus wishes to indicate that he is not responsible for the present disaster, but he wishes to do so piously’ . Unlike Romeo and Juliet, this death is not sacrificial, but is rather as a result of his ‘sufferynge’ from the loss of his love. Thus showing that Troilus’ love was doomed only to cause suffering.
The Great Gatsby offers an alternative view of love- with Gatsby’s pursuit of a married woman- hence we are not surprised that Gatsby’s love comes to nothing; with divorce not being an option, because Tom had lied that he was ‘a devout catholic’, one could say that Gatsby and Daisy’s love was doomed from the start just like the aforementioned couples’. Even when they first reunite, Nick opens the door to a Gatsby that is ‘pale as death’ – it is ironic that when Gatsby should be the happiest, because he is finally meeting Daisy, all the life is drained from him. Unlike Romeo and Troilus, Gatsby isn’t a Petrarchan lover so he doesn’t ‘moan’ and ‘groan’ as Troilus did. However, there is a sense that he still suffers because of his love because he cannot help but link his true love to an unreachable ‘green light’; despite the ‘green’ suggesting hope, there is also a sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment; the light is close, yet far away and Gatsby cannot overcome this distance similar to the way in which he cannot overcome the distance between Daisy and him. His death comes as a surprise, but we can see that Gatsby takes the blame for something that he did not do in order to protect Daisy. Like Romeo, he dies for his lover though for different reasons and thus shows that his pursuit of love wasn’t entirely futile.
In conclusion, the reciprocation of love in all three texts has been mainly central in the consideration of whether the love is indeed a futile pursuit. So, as hitherto discussed, Troilus and Criseyde present love as a futile pursuit as Troilus’ love was not completely reciprocated, similarly in The Great Gatsby, Daisy does not reciprocate Gatsby’s love. However, Romeo and Juliet seem to be the only ones whose love is mutual and is therefore not futile. Furthermore, with regard to whether the love is doomed only to cause suffering, it is clear that Chaucer’s Troilus was doomed to suffer as he sought only to fulfill conventions. Whereas, Gatsby’s death shows a willingness to sacrifice for one’s love. On the other hand, Romeo and Juliet’s death do not indicate suffering but rather act as a symbol of hope and restoration.
Allusions in Chauser’s and Langland’s Books
Both Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde and William Langland in The Vision of Piers Plowman make frequent allusions to other texts in their works. Troilus and Criseyde uses mythological figures and tales to foreshadow events and highlight characters’ flaws in Chaucer’s own story, whilst Langland adeptly uses the Bible to drive the tale of Piers Plowman and ensures to romanticise central characters to make them more appealing to his audience. This essay will explore the ways in which both authors allude to secondary texts and the role that each of the discussed allusions plays in their texts.
Pandarus plans to head to his niece Criseyde’s house to tell her about Troilus, a great warrior who has fallen in love with her. Pandarus intends to set the two up. Initially, the reader is told that it is “May, that moder is of monthes glade” (50) and a month that is generally associated with love and new beginnings. However, Pandarus is reminded of his past, in which he had “a teene / In love” (61-2) and tossed and turned in his bed all night. This already highlights the negative impact love has on the characters’ lives. Furthermore, Pandarus is awoken by “the swalowe Proigne, with a sorowful lay.” This is in reference to the Greek myth of Procne, who was married to King Tereus. Her sister, Philomela, came to visit the couple but was raped by Tereus, who ripped out her tongue. In revenge, Procne killed her son and cooked him as a meal to her husband, who only found out what had happened after he had finished his meal. Tereus chased after the sisters in a fit of rage, so Procne and Philomela prayed to the gods to be turned into birds in order to escape Tereus’s wrath. Procne was turned into a swallow and Philomela, a nightingale. Chaucer’s brief allusion to this myth is debated, although it seems that the swallow Proigne sings to Pandarus to warn him. As Elaine Tuttle Hansen points out in Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender, modern readers are quick to believe that Criseyde is a victim of the men in her life, including her uncle and her lover; I would argue that she is, in fact, independent of these men and in no way victimises herself, as it would be so easy for her to do—instead, she declares “I am myn owene woman, wel at ese” (750). In the end, it is Criseyde who takes advantage of these men, betraying them for her own desires. Proigne singing to Pandarus is a warning of the wrath of women: Troilus—and Pandarus, for that matter—will be his own hamartia, whilst Criseyde flitters away in pursuit of her own fate.
William Langland alludes to the story of the Crucifixion in Piers Plowman. In Passus XVIII, Will has a dream-vision in which he sees Jesus riding “barefoot on an asse” (11). By comparing Jesus to Piers Plowman and the Samaritan, Langland suggests that Christ manifests Piers’s humility (riding on a mule) and the Samaritan’s empathy and generosity. The Biblical reference continues in the passus, when Jesus is “nailed […] with thre nailes naked upon the roode” (51). Will continues on to explain that everyone present at Jesus’s crucifixion “were unhardy […] / To touchen hym or to tasten hym or taken hym down of roode” (83-4) except for a “blynde bacheler” (85), Longeus, who is spoken about in the gospel of John. Langland refers to the only gospel in the Bible in which Jesus is pierced after he has been crucified—John. The lance links to Jesus because the poem reveals that he has come to “juste in Jerusalem […] / And fecche that the fend claymeth.” (19-20) Of course, Jesus, as he appears in the Bible, is a non-violent figure; the Jesus of Wills’ dream-vision becomes a knightlike figure, embodying something of a redemptive character. The concept of Jesus as a knightly character is also echoed in the line of Longeus, “this blynde bacheler, that baar hym thorugh the herte.” (85) By consciously referring to the only gospel that mentions Jesus being pierced, Langland ensures that his Jesus becomes a romantic, tragic figure, one that has died of a broken heart.
Another mythological figure Chaucer alludes to is Helen of Troy, who is used as a symbol to amplify Criseyde’s female sexuality and the hold she has over Troilus. Helen, who is actually featured in Chaucer’s tale, is a woman renowned for her beauty—so renowned, in fact, that there was a competition amongst her suitors for her hand in marriage. King Menelaus of Sparta eventually emerges victorious and they marry; however, after a period of time, she leaves Menelaus for Paris of Troy. Accounts differ over whether she eloped or was abducted. Interestingly, Ovid associates the killing of Procne’s son with the manic Bacchanals. Virgil, in Aenid, also relates some of Helen’s actions with that of the Bacchanals. Bacchus is the god of religious ecstasy and ritual madness, and is thought to originate in Thrace, whose king was Procne’s husband. These symbolic women are both linked to Criseyde, and it could be said that the carnage the Thracian women celebrate in is something Criseyde is affiliated with. Valerie Ross contends that Chaucer is deliberately “anti-misogynist” and that his “reconstruction […] of Criseyde […] radically departs from his source-texts” and whilst it is true that Chaucer’s Criseyde differs from Boccaccio’s Criseida in Il Filostrato, the inspiration for Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer is not constructing strong female characters who are seen in a positive feminine manner. In fact, Criseyde, whilst strong, MONOLOGUE ABOUT MEN is certainly not the heroine of the story. THE NIGHTINGALE COMFORTS HER I would argue that she is portrayed as something of a femme fatale; she does not approve of domineering men and uses them herself to her own end. By alluding to her own Bacchic tendencies with the association of both Procne and Helen, Chaucer subtly portrays her as manic; and by setting her against Helen of Troy and the story of Philomela, her feminine sexuality is seen as a weapon. It can be argued that these attributes are that of a strong female character who does not need the men in her life to dictate her autonomy; however, it can equally be argued that being written as a manic, confused succubus is not an accurate representation of the work of an “anti-misogynist” author.
Further into Will’s dream-vision, he descends into Hell with Jesus, where he is met by “a wench” by the name of Mercy and her sister, Truth. Mercy explains that “man shal man save thorugh a maydenes helpe” (139), referring to Jesus coming to rescue the “patriarkes and prophetes” (138) that had preached about him. Truth rejects Mercy’s explanation, crying that it is “but a tale of waltrot” (142) and insists that Hell is a permanent place, referring to the book of Job 7:9 in the Bible: “For that is ones in helle, out cometh it nevere.” (148) Whereas Truth turns to the Old Testament to back up her argument, Mercy relies on an old Latin hymn to explain to Truth that Jesus has come to defeat Satan: he will “bigile the gilour,” (161) and will overcome death. Mercy using a hymn suggests that she already knows the significance of the crucifixion of Christ and understands that he has come as a redemptive figure to save the patriarchs and prophets from Hell. This links to the idea of Jesus being a knightly character, and something of a romantic symbol. Christians believe that Jesus is the way to save one’s soul and enter heaven, so by romanticising him in Piers Plowman, Chaucer almost inadvertently makes Christianity an attractive and appealing way of life as his audience comes to see Jesus as a heroic and loving symbol of the religion.
The Use of Opposites in “Troilus and Criseyde” by Geoffrey Chaucer
In Troilus and Criseyde, opposing ideas are often used to manipulate characters’ perception and understanding of other characters in the tale, as well as foreshadowing future events. Langland makes use of opposites to help highlight the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This essay will explore different ways in which opposites are used in the two stories.
The narrating voice opens Book 2 by calling to the muse of history, Clio, in a poem that details the troubles he faces in telling the tale of Troilus and asks for help in order to “ryme wel this book”. Specifically, the narrator explains to his audience that the customs of love differ throughout the ages and across the lands, “For every wight which that to Rome went / Halt nat o path, or alwey o manere”. He implores that “any lovere […] that herkneth […] how Troilus cum to his lady grace” to forgive him for any “lame” words because he himself “speak(s) of love unfeelingly”, but asks the reader to empathize with Troilus and Criseyde even if they cannot identify with the protagonists’ acts of love. With this being clarified, the first-person narrator leaves much of the rest of the book to the dialogue of his characters, as if to imply that the actions of Troilus and Criseyde are not atypical and should not be questioned.
Later in the book, the narrator makes an interjection that follows this idea. He makes it known to his audience that he is aware of how quickly Criseyde has fallen in love with Troilus, stating that “som envious jangle” might scorn their “sodeyn love”. In referencing his initial statement — that “ek scarsly ben ther in this place thre / that have in love seid lik, and don, in al” — the narrator also remarks that “every thyng a gynnyng hath it nede” and emphasizes that their love is not one of suddenness. This is something of an ironic statement. In telling the reader that Criseyde has not fallen in love quickly, he is actually paradoxically drawing more attention to the suddenness of it. This suggests that even though the narrator wishes to ensure that the reader understands the customs of love in the period of Troilus and Criseyde, highlighting the fast-paced progression of Criseyde’s passions from a first-person, interjectory style when so much of the tale has been told uninterrupted merely provokes the reader’s questions regarding the reality of their love, which is clearly meant to be judged from the reader’s omnipresent position. These opposing ideas are clearly meant to engage the reader with the story and provoke questions about the state of Troilus and Criseyde’s course of action.
A similar technique is used by the narrator when Troilus passes by Criseyde’s window, whereby she catches a glimpse of him in all of his humbled warrior glory (Troilus “wex a litel reed for shame” and finds herself “wex al reed”. The narrator claims that it is a happy day for Troilus, who should consider himself fortunate to pass by Criseyde’s eye at this very moment; yet the reader knows that he is not very lucky at all, as Criseyde will eventually break his heart. In fact, when Criseyde is contemplating the affair with Troilus, she broods on the ideas that “mystrust or nice strif” in matters of love leave women “wrecched” and unable to do anything but “wepe and sitte and thinke”, and that “men ben so untrewe / That right anon as cessed is hire lest, / So cesseth love – and forth to love a newe”; yet these misgivings are in opposition to what the reader already knows will transpire. She even decides that she will become a “convert” for Troilus, though previously mentioning that she is “naught religious”. Criseyde’s own thoughts betray her, as she will betray Troilus.
On the other hand, in Piers Plowman, opposites are used to reveal the duality of good and evil in human nature. This is seen in Langland’s constant use of light and darkness. In the opening lines of Passus XVIII, Langland writes that “I weex wery of the world and wilned eft to slepe, / […] and longe tyme I slepte; / Rest me there and rutte faste til Ramis palmarum”. He contrasts religious awakening with sleep, of being enlightened and being in the dark. This theme of light and dark runs throughout the story of Piers Plowman. In lines 64-7, Langland writes “… the dead body seide; ‘Lif and Deeth in this derknesse, hir oon fordooth hir oother. / Shal no wight wite witterly who shal have the maistrie / Er Sonday aboute sonne-risyng’”. That a dead body is speaking of life and death clearly highlights Langland’s literary use of opposites and emphasises Jesus conquering Satan and death itself. Langland also makes use of a pun over the word “sonne”, paralleling the sun rising and bringing light with Jesus, the Son of God, rising from the dead. These opposites help to highlight Jesus’s goodness and emphasise his defeat of death and the darkness of hell.
In Will’s dream, Jesus is described as “Oon semblable to the Samaritan, and somdeel to Piers the Plowman”; he is empathetic, like the Samaritan, and he is riding “barefoot on an asse” showing how humble he is, like Piers – yet he is also like a “knyght”. Jesus is a non-violent figure, so contrasting qualities such as empathy and humility with those of a knight highlight the redemptive and romantic aspects of his character in Will’s vision: he is a man living a modest and humble life but whom came to save mankind from sin along the way. This allows him to be more of an appealing character to Langland’s Medieval audience, who aspired to the knightly code of conduct.
Chaucer makes use of opposites to highlight the conflicting beliefs of his characters and their internal struggles. Langland, on the other hand, uses opposing ideas to emphasize Biblical beliefs and ensure that his audience are engaged and emphasize with his Jesus figure, which helps to make Christianity more attractive to readers who may not follow a Christian lifestyle.
Chaucer’s Troilus & Criseyde: The Frivolity of Femininity
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 breed
The reason why…she made it her intention to remain
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.
Inevitability of Criseyde’s Choice
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.
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., www.jstor.org/stable/457671.
Fortune in Troilus and Criseyde
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”. 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” 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 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)