Troilus and Criseyde Background

Troilus and Criseyde Background

Troilus and Criseyde is a medieval romance, split in to five books, and written by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1382-6. The plot of Troilus and Criseyde centres around two characters, eponymous to the title, and their love affair. During the Trojan War, Criseyde is abandoned by her Father in Troy. She is initially coerced in to a love affair with a Trojan Prince, Troilus, whom she then grows to love. Her Father organises for her transfer to the Greeks, camped outside Troy, in exchange for the Trojan maiden Antenor. Criseyde must leave Troy. Instead of returning to Troilus, as she promises, Criseyde takes the Greek warrior Diomedes as her new lover. Troilus ends his life bitterly and is killed by the Greek warrior, Achilles. He ascends to the eighth sphere and laughs down at the sufferings of the mortal world.

Chaucer’s text is categorised as a medieval romance due its five-book structure, the topic of love, and also the sense of tragedy present in the genre. It is worth noting that Chaucer’s romance differs from the traditional romance genre, which demonstrates a happy ending. Instead, Chaucer presents an alternative ending, where only Criseyde has the possibility of happiness. Troilus and Criseyde also draws on terms of chivalric honor, although less so than other legends involving Arthur and the round table. It is only suggested, not demonstrated in Chaucer’s text that Troilus and Diomedes are chivalric warriors, as the story remains separate from the battlefield.

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 honourably in battle. However, Chaucer’s main source appears to be Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, with many similarities between the two. Yet, Chaucer did not only translate the text to English, he added his own sections. Chaucer’s version contains longer verses dedicated to emotion and deliberation (such as Criseyde considering if she actually wants to take Troilus as a lover or not), 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 original, the text 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. The text is now considered a prime example of medieval romance, and studied widely.

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