Troilus and Criseyde

Troilus and Criseyde Summary and Analysis of Book 5


The day comes when Criseyde must go to the Greek side and she feels incredibly sad. Troilus also feels much anxiety and sorrow, yet tries to hide it. He again considers stealing Criseyde, but only doesn’t do so because he fears there could be a violent backlash that puts his love in danger. Criseyde is taken to the Greeks by the Greek soldier Diomede, who questions why she is so upset and immediately starts offering himself as a lover, to which Criseyde responds civilly but sparsely. They arrive at her father’s house. Calchas is delighted to see his daughter while Criseyde remains quiet and withdrawn.

Back in Troy, Troilus goes to his palace and vents his sorrows, cursing many of the gods. He can only think of his lady and when she will return to him. When he sleeps, he has nightmares of being alone forever or caught by his enemies. When Pandarus comes to see him the next day, Troilus tells him he can’t take the sorrow any longer and speaks about dying. Pandarus exasperatedly tells Troilus that this is madness and that others before him have suffered from heartbreak without taking their own life. Pandarus asks Troilus to spend time with him and get his mind off his own misery.

Troilus and Pandarus go to visit King Sarpedon, who feeds and entertains them magnificently. Troilus, in his sorrow, can’t appreciate it. The next day the friends go around the city, visiting places that remind Troilus of Criseyde, including her palace. This evokes more sadness in him, inspiring him to beg Cupid for mercy and to send him Criseyde soon. Over the next few days, Troilus barely hangs onto life. He composes a song about his feelings and speaks each night to the moon.

Meanwhile, Crirseyde is also pining for her love and becoming despondent as she realizes her father won’t let her return to Troy for any reason. She is worried Troilus will think she has betrayed him. Every day she weeps. She considers running away but two months go by and she still can’t bring herself to do it. Diomede continues to woo Criseyde, even though he can sense she has a man in Troy. One day he visits her and they have a long conversation, during which Diomede encourages her not to pine over her lover in Troy, telling her that Troy and all of its people will be destroyed anyway. Diomede speaks lengthily of his virtues and asks Criseyde to consider him as her partner.

Criseyde tells Diomede that although she respects his nobility, her heart totally belongs to a “lord” in Troy. Yet she doesn’t completely reject Diomede either, and even lies, saying that Troilus is dead. That night, she ponders over Diomede’s offer and decides to stay on the Greek side. The next morning Diomede comes to her again and she warms up to him, giving him the brooch that belonged to Troilus. Despite her choice to be with Diomede, her betrayal of Troilus bothers her greatly. The narrator tells us he will not reproach Criseyde too much because her name has already been ruined by her actions.

Troilus continues to wait for Criseyde and shows up at the border on the tenth day, when she promised to return. When she doesn’t show up, Troilus keeps justifying it, imagining that maybe he misunderstood which day she meant. Yet as many days go by, he starts to realize she isn’t coming and his heart is completely shattered. He sees death as the only option. His sorrow is so extreme, the people around him start to wonder what is wrong. One night he dreams of Criseyde embracing a boar with large tusks. From this dream, he concludes that his lady has betrayed him.

He shares his dream with Pandarus, who again tells him that dreams can have more than one interpretation and to not jump to conclusions. He suggests that Troilus write a letter to her. Troilus agrees and writes to Criseyde, describing his suffering and asking her when she will return to Troy. Criseyde receives the letter and writes back, promising vaguely to return and swearing that she loves him. Her delaying causes Troilus to take to bed and become very sickly. He goes to his sister Cassandra and asks for her interpretation of his dream about the boar. Cassandra, referencing many myths and histories, concludes that the boar represents Diomede. This enrages Troilus, who calls his sister a “sorceress.”

Troy is being lost day by day to the Greek army, underscored especially when Hector dies in battle. Troilus continues to try and make sense of Criseyde’s absence and writes her many letters. Crisedye writes back to him out of pity, where she explains how distressing Troilus’ suffering is to her and even suggests that Troilus has been unfaithful to her. She says it is still too difficult for her to flee and that he should consider her a friend. After reading this letter, Troilus slowly comes to his senses and realizes that Criseyde is not as truthful as he had wanted to believe. This is confirmed when he sees Diomede’s tunic displayed in Troy (as a sign of victory), which is adorned with the brooch he gave Criseyde.

Troilus, shocked, goes to Pandarus and informs him of Criseyde’s infidelity. Troilus proclaims that he hates Criseyde and that he did not deserve this betrayal. Pandarus is very sad to hear the news and embarrassed by the actions of his niece. The wrath of Troilus leads to thousands of Greek deaths, and Troilus even spars with Diomede several times, but doesn’t kill him. Troilus is eventually slain in battle and his soul ascends to the eighth sphere of the heavens, from where he can see the stars and planets and look down upon earth, feeling it is a wretched place. From heaven, he laughs at those mourning for him and condemns the blind pursuit of earthly pleasure. The narrator concludes this book by encouraging the reader to leave behind “worldly vanity” and learn to love not the pagan gods but the one true God who is Christ.


In the final book of Troilus and Criseyde, the love story takes a tragic turn of events. Unlike many other works of romance literature, there is no happy ending and securing of a permanent union between lovers. Rather, the main theme of this section is betrayal, with Criseyde going against her vows to Troilus and taking up Diomede as her new partner on the Greek side. With this dramatic plot twist, many issues of morality and virtue are put into question. Chaucer leaves much room for the reader to ponder the real intentions and feelings of the characters and come to their own conclusions about whether or not their integrity has been maintained.

For instance, Criseyde, through her letters, insists that she truly desires to come back to Troy and reunite with Troilus, but feels it is much too difficult under the watchful eye of her father. This begs the question of whether Criseyde is being totally honest. If she truly loves Troilus as passionately as he loves her, could she not make the effort to flee the Greek side, even if it puts her reputation at stake? On the other hand, as a woman in ancient Greece, she puts her own life at risk by disobeying her father and the commands of the nobility. It is evident that Criseyde genuinely feels remorse and shame by breaking her promise and being unfaithful to Troilus, and in many ways the reader may able to sympathize with her situation and the difficult choice she is forced to make.

Here we again note the obvious difference between the love of Troilus and Criseyde, which in some ways has been evident from the start of their romance, when Troilus single-mindedly pursued Criseyde to the point of obsession. In Book 5, we see how Troilus views Criseyde as his one and only love and would rather die than lose her. Criseyde, on the other hand, has affectionate feelings towards Troilus, but ultimately cares more about her own safety and comfort. She chooses to be with Diomede not necessarily because she falls madly in love with him, but because she is allured by the security of having a male companion to protect and serve her in foreign territory. For her, this protection is very much worth the betrayal of her former lover. To Troilus, this infidelity is unimaginable.

The narrator’s voice is very prominent in this book, revealing to us the outcome of the story in the first few pages and commenting on the actions of his characters with much humor and passion. For example, when Diomede tries to woo Criseyde, the narrator interjects and cuts the dialogue short, telling us that Diomede talks too much and that his words are not worth transcribing. Later, when we learn of Criseyde’s betrayal, the narrator encourages us to not become too angry with her, explaining that she has already met the wrath of many others for her decision. In this way, the narrator serves to present a full perspective of the events, from both characters’ points of view, thus allowing the reader to develop their own interpretation of what transpires.

Yet one thing is clear: Troilus is the one who suffers the most and throughout this book we see him falling apart and questioning his own capacity to continue living. His whole world is turned upside down as he realizes that the love which he believed to be most pure and true was actually one-sided. This revelation makes him doubt the worth of worldly life altogether. With nothing left to live for, he exerts himself in war and eventually dies in the battlefield. After his death, he rises above to heaven and watches earth below, where he comes to a spiritual recognition that eluded him during his lifetime. He feels embraced by the love of God, who Chaucer equates with Jesus Christ, and understands that any other type of love is fleeting and illusory.

This ultimate conclusion of the story may seem somewhat morbid, but in another way is merely reflective of Chaucer’s own religious faith. The tragic ending is not a disavowal of love itself but an attempt by the author to demonstrate love in its highest sense, a spiritual love that is everlasting and not subject to the selfish whims of mortal humans. In the last scene, the narrator also contrasts the Christian God with the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses, concluding that only a singular, supreme form of God can alleviate suffering and lead to truth. Though Troilus has had to endure much sorrow and death to come to his epiphany, we see his departure into the “eighth sphere” as finally bringing him a sense of peace that he never knew while so desperately pursuing Criseyde.