Monday, January 3, 2011

Optional Work: Troilus and Criseyde

This is it – possibly the last work I will ever have to read by Chaucer (or choose to read for that matter). Granted, I could have chosen any of the other optional works besides Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde in section A, but I decided to go ahead and go with an author whose language I hade already become accustomed to through The Canterbury Tales. Once again, I have chosen to go with a Modern English translation. In fact, the version pictured was so simple and easy to understand that I hardly realized that I was reading one long poem. I’m not saying that I enjoyed it that much, but the translation helped me get through it.


What is most apparent is that Troilus and Criseyde is a long poem. While The Canterbury Tales is more widely known, this is thought to be Chaucer’s best work as it is more self-contained and it was actually finished. It was composed using rime royale (a-b-a-b-b-c-c), a form that was introduced into English poetry by Chaucer.

Troilus and Criseyde is often considered a courtly romance (or chivalric romance), although this classification is often seen as being to general for Chaucer’s work. Also, this label was mostly used for stories that involved a knight going on a quest (the kind of story Miguel de Cervantes satirized in Don Quixote). When they were popular, courtly romances also often reworked fairy tales and legends to suite tastes. This actually is not that different from what Chaucer has done, as the story of Troilus and Criseyde had already been told. Chaucer’s version mad Criseyde more sincere instead of fickle, and he used humor along with sorrow.


Troilus and Criseyde is part the Matter of Rome: the literary cycle made up of Greek and Roman mythology that often focused on military heroes such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Because of this, it includes mentions of the Roman gods, as well as Fate. Also, there is a Trojan War going on in the background, so there some mention of that too. Troilus (along with his brother, Hector) is a fierce warrior and known for his abilities in battle. In the end (spoiler alert!) they are both eventually taken down by the mighty Achilles.

However, in the forefront of the novel is the romance between Troilus and Criseyde. There are lots of annoyingly long speeches; lots of lamenting; Criseyde’s uncle, Pandarus, does a lot of fancy footwork in order to get these two crazy kids together…basically it becomes very easy to forget that there is a war going on and that Troilus is one of the best fighters. For someone who is so accustomed to hardcore battle, he does a lot of groaning and wishing he were dead over the love of a woman. Think Romeo and Juliet, but a lot longer. Annoying right?


The character of Troilus is actually from Ancient Greek literature, but the story of him as a lover is of medieval origin. The first known version of the story is from a poem called Roman de Troie, but Chaucer seems to have used Boccaccio’s version as his main source, although the world he created for Troilus and Criseyde was much less misogynistic and more sympathetic toward Criseyde. Later writers would continue to tackle the story, some giving Criseyde a more tragic fate, while Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is much darker in tone.

This is all I can currently pull from Chaucer’s story of young love gone wrong. I was forced to pick one optional work from section A, and I did so. I am sure there is much more that can be found in the way of themes, so it is incredibly possible that I will be posting on this book again. Next week I hope to have finished To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Slowly but surely, I will conquer this list.

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