Troilus and Criseyde

Troilus and Criseyde Study Guide

Troilus and Criseyde is a romance story set in Ancient Greece and written by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1382-1386. It is broken up into 5 books which chart the rise and fall of the characters' love affair. Troilus and Criseyde begins during the Trojan War. The Trojan maiden Criseyde has been abandoned by her father, Calchas, who committed treachery and has went to live with the Greeks. Troilus, a Trojan soldier and prince, falls madly in love with Criseyde. He enlists the help of his friend and Criseyde's uncle Pandarus, who orchestrates their union. Criseyde, at first ambivalent, grows to love Troilus back. Yet tragedy strikes when Calchas demands Criseyde return to him and leave behind Troy. Although Criseyde vows her fidelity to Troilus, it soon becomes apparent after her departure that she has betrayed him, and Troilus is devastated. As a love story turned sour, the reader is invited to question the true nature of love and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters.

The story of Troilus and Criseyde is not original to Chaucer. It is translated, and added to from various different sources. Early references include Homer’s Illiad, where Troilus is mentioned briefly but only as a soldier that dies honorably in battle. However, Chaucer’s main source appears to be Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, with many similarities between the two. Chaucer not only translated Boccaccio's text to English, but also added his own sections. Chaucer’s version contains longer verses dedicated to emotion and deliberation and a more merciful approach to Criseyde’s betrayal. Most importantly, Chaucer follows the romance from the very beginning, rather than focusing on only the consummation of their love, as Boccaccio does.

Whilst not completely original, the book was extremely popular in medieval England. This was because it was the first English translation of the text, which was otherwise written in French or Latin. Therefore it became accessible to an entirely new audience. Troilus and Criseyde is now considered a prime example of medieval romance, and studied widely.