Troilus is the hero, but Criseyde is the more appealing character

Topics: Medieval literature, Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde Pages: 10 (3270 words) Published: April 11, 2014

Title: “Troilus is the hero, but Criseyde is the more appealing character.”

The aim of this work is to analyze the complex and contradictory characters presented in Chaucer`s Book of Troilus and Criseyde. Therefore it is necessary to point out some crucial aspects of the poem, such as the literary genres the poem refers to and the typical roles dealing with the genre of romance, which is the main literary category the poem belongs to. Chaucer`s extraordinary ability to combine, fuse and match different literary genres makes the Book of Troilus and Criseyde one of the masterpieces of Medieval English literature. The author, once come into contact with the French and Italian literary tradition, gives birth to a poem that is “distinctively and essentially sui generis” (Brown 186). In fact It is hard to establish which genre Troilus and Criseyde belongs to, but recent critics classify the poem as a “plurality or hibridity of genres” (Brown 185). The most punctual definition comes from Barry Windeatt, who depicts the poem as a blend of “epic, romance, history, tragedy, drama, [...] and lyric” (Brown 186). Even if the poem constantly interchanges from one genre to another, it is possible to highlight a stronger inclination towards both epic (e.g. proemio, invocations to Greek deities) and romance (e.g. the theme of love affair and the leitmotiv of the courtly hero). In addition to it, Chaucer is in debt also with the fabliau genre and with the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, whose version of Troilus and Criseyde is Chaucer`s main source of inspiration. The literary genre called “fabliau” refers to French brief comic tales in verse, usually coarse and dirty. It also parodies in a very cynical way the high values and ideals of courtly love, which are considered improbable and unpractical. On one hand the energy and erotism conveyed by fabliaux, in addition to vivid dialogues, are well represented by the character of Pandarus, an innovation introduced by Boccaccio. On the other hand, the failure of the ideals of courtly love are embodied, to a certain extent, by King Priam`s son, Troilus. As regards Boccaccio, his books conveyed a strong erotic charge and a great sense of humor. This is why Chaucer –who lived and worked in a conventional aristocratic environment, which was characterized by a high level of modesty and discretion-, had to mitigate some of the erotic and ironic aspects of his version in order to make the poem more affordable and readable for English people. Moreover the English version places more emphasis on Criseyde’s untrue behavior than on Troilus` sorrows.

It is also useful to analyze in a few words the implications of the role of the hero in Chaucer`s time. Literature was undergoing a great shift, from the high and martial values of the chivalric code to the articulated sentimental values of the courtly love code. Both the chivalric and the courtly love code are mixed in Chaucer`s romance.

The chivalric code is a really vast and complex topic which cannot be fully analyzed in this essay. Briefly, knighthood was concerned with a warlike code of conduct, based on worshipe, trouthe and hardynesse. A bacheler, once become full-fledged warrior, had to serve his Lord faithfully. Chivalric poems were centered more on the battlefield and in the adventure than on emotions. Due to the shift from the chivalric to the courtly love code, the heroic figure consistently changes characterization, assuming typical highly emotional features. Concisely, the hero is a lover who shows a kind of reverence towards his lady, to whom he is totally submitted, as well as a knight to his lord. The knight is expected to serve his mistress...


Bibliography: Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde Trans. Barry Windeatt. United States: Oxford University Press Inc, .2008. Print
Chaucer, Geoffrey, Larry Dean Benson. The riverside Chaucer: Reissued with a new foreword by Christopher Cannon. Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print
Spearing, A. Colin. Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde. Great Britain: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1976. Print
Peter Brown, Ed. A companion to Chaucer. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2000. Print
Brewer, Derek. A New Introduction to Chaucer. United States of America: Addison Wesley Longman, 2004. Print
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Pearsall, Derek. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994. Print
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McAlpine, Monica. The Genre of Troilus and Criseyde. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978. Print
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