Troilus and Criseyde


These Strange Greeks Or the Essence of the Troilus and Criseyde

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

Read more


Images of Lovers in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

Read more


Allusions in Chauser’s and Langland’s Books

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

Read more


Fortune in Troilus and Criseyde

June 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more


Why Don’t We Like Troilus?

March 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

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

Read more