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Chaucer Troilus frontispiece

Chaucer reciting Troylus and Criseyde, early 15th century manuscript. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Troilus and Criseyde is a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer which re-tells in Middle English the tragic story of the lovers Troilus and Criseyde set against a backdrop of war in the Siege of Troy. It was composed using rime royale and probably completed during the mid 1380's. Many Chaucer scholars regard it as the poet's finest work. As a finished long poem it is certainly more self-contained than the better known but ultimately uncompleted Canterbury Tales.

ContextEdit

Although Troilus is a character from Ancient Greek literature, the expanded story of him as a lover was of Medieval origin. The first known version is from Benoît de Sainte-Maure's poem Roman de Troie, but Chaucer's principal source appears to have been Boccaccio who re-wrote the tale in his Il Filostrato. Chaucer's version can be said to reflect a less cynical and less misogynistic world-view than Boccaccio's, casting Criseyde as fearful and sincere rather than simply fickle and having been led astray by the eloquent and perfidious Pandarus. It also inflects the sorrow of the story with humour.

The poem had an important legacy for later writers. Robert Henryson's Scots poem The Testament of Cresseid imagined a tragic fate for Cressida not given by Chaucer. In historical editions of the English Troilus and Criseyde, Henryson's distinct and separate work was sometimes included without accreditation as an "epilogue" to Chaucer's tale. Other texts, for example John Metham's Amoryus and Cleopes (c. 1449), adapt language and authorship strategies from the famous predecessor poem.[1] Shakespeare's verse drama Troilus and Cressida, although much blacker in tone, was also based in part on the material.

Troilus and Criseyde is usually considered to be a courtly romance, although the generic classification is an area of significant debate in most Middle English literature. It is part of the cycle of the Matter of Rome, a fact which is emphasized by Chaucer.[2]

CharactersEdit

  • Achilles, warrior who kills Troilus and Hector in battle
  • Antenor, a soldier held captive by the Greeks, led to the fall of Troy, traded for Criseyde's safety
  • Calchas, a Trojan prophet who joins the Greeks
  • Criseyde, Calchas' daughter
  • Helen, wife to Menelaus, lover of Paris
  • Pandarus, Criseyde's uncle
  • Priam, King of Troy
  • Priam's children Cassandra (a prophetess), Hector, Troilus, Paris, Deiphobus

SynopsisEdit

Criseyde, the daughter of the seer Calchas, lives alone in Troy after her father abandons the Trojans to help the Greeks. Eventually she catches the eye of Troilus, a man who had previously scoffed at love, and becomes the object of his overwhelming desire. With the help of Criseyde’s uncle Pandarus he wins her love but soon loses it when the Greeks and the Trojans conduct an exchange of prisoners. Calchas, who knows of Troy’s imminent destruction, persuades the Greeks to exchange Antenor for his daughter and thus saves her from the doomed city. Criseyde promises Troilus that she’ll return to him after ten days but once she’s back in the care of her father she realizes the impossibility of her promise. Resigned to her fate, Criseyde yields to the flirtations of Diomedes, and her love for Troilus fades. When Deiphobus wins the armor of Diomedes, Troilus discovers a brooch he gave Criseyde upon her departure pinned to it. Heartbroken, he tries to find Diomedes and take his revenge during battle but after slaying many is in his turn killed by Achilles. As his spirit goes to heaven he reflects on the absurdity of all life itself.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • The relationship between Chaucer's Troilus and his source material is discussed extensively by C. S. Lewis in The Allegory of Love.
  • Boitani, Piero and Jill Mann. The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Brown, Peter, ed. A Companion to Chaucer. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
  • Dinshaw, Carolyn. Chaucer's Sexual Poetics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
  • Fradenburg, L. O. Aranye. Sacrifice Your Love: Psychoanalysis, Historicism, Chaucer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
  • Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
  • Lombardi, Chiara. Troilo e Criseida nella letteratura occidentale. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2005.
  • Mann, Jill. Feminizing Chaucer. 2nd ed. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2002.
  • McAlpine, Monica. The Genre of Troilus and Criseyde. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.
  • Patterson, Lee. Chaucer and the Subject of History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
  • Robinson, Ian. Chaucer and the English Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.
  • Robinson, Ian. Chaucer's Prosody: A Study of the Middle English Verse Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971.
  • Strohm, Paul. Social Chaucer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.
  • Wallace, David. Chaucerian polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.

NotesEdit

  1. Richard Utz, "Writing Alternative Worlds: Rituals of Authorship and Authority in Late Medieval Theological and Literary Discourse." In: Creations: Medieval Rituals, the Arts, and the Concept of Creation. Ed. Sven Rune Havsteen, Nils Holger Petersen, Heinrich W. Schwab, and Eyolf Østrem. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. 121-38.
  2. C. S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, pp. 30-1,Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.

External linksEdit

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