.. gentle and tender about town, illustrating the supposed ennobling qualities of loveIn a like manner, he hunts dangerous beasts, but lets the smaller one escape, thus showing his bravery and his tenderheartedness” (Berkley Research 9). Beyond these acts, Troilus demonstrates the various characteristics of the courtly love by swooning at his ladys disapproval, becoming highly agitated and distressed over his ladys absence. He is tormented by having to keep his love a secret, but is duty bound to uphold the secrecy. In effect, he is torn between his souls desire and his hearts desire. In addition to all of this, Troilus seems to be quite passive.
He follows along with the deceits of Pandarus, despite the fact it only serves to dishonor Criseyde. When Criseyde is named for the exchange, Troilus fears that any action on his part will result in the death of his lady love. Furthermore, Troilus never doubts that Criseyde will remain faithful to him. Even at the moment of realized betrayal, Troilus treats his lady with respect as he still loves her. He states “Thorugh which I se that clene out of youre mynde/Ye han me cast; and I ne kan nor may,/For al this world, withinne myn herte fynde/To unloven yow a quarter of a day!/In corsed tyme I born was, weilaway,/That yow, that doon me al this wo endure,/Yet love I best of any creature!” (Chaucer 305). By claiming this, Troilus proves he is the epitome of courtly love, by holding a love that cannot be banished by the betrayal of Criseyde, which makes it an everlasting love.
Thus the character of Troilus can be defined as ideal, virtuous, and noble in his love Criseyde, making him the soul of tenderness. However at the same time, by exemplifying the hero, Chaucer shows how ridiculous and pathetic the courtly lover is, especially at his most romantic moment. In contrast to Troilus, Criseyde plays the part of the courtly lady, but Chaucer makes her a more humanly figure. Because of her realistic qualities, Gordon argues that the real tragedy belonged to Criseyde. She states “To have developed the latent tragedy of her situation, her brightness and beauty dwindling as soon as she leaves Troy, her moment of self-realization in the presence of the crude Diomed, when she acknowledges her weakness, her feeble effort to recover as she slides backward, would have made a different poem” (157).
Gordon also claims that Criseydes treachery was a direct result of her fathers traitorous actions and her uncles dishonorable actions. When Criseyde is first introduced, she is dressed in widows garb, mourning. She has all the honorable intentions that get pushed aside with Pandarus help. However, upon her first speech with Pandarus, readers gather a rather conflicting opinions of Criseyde. Despite her explicable anger over Pandarus proposition, Criseyde fears for Troilus life, believing he will actually commit suicide over her. Her fear leads her to agree to Pandarus deceit, making readers interpret her actions as flirting.
Chaucer seems to support this by portraying Criseyde as a timid person: “Criseyde, which that wel neigh starf for feere,/So as she was the ferfulleste wight/That myghte be, and herde ek with hire ere/And saugh the sorwful ernest of the knyght,/And for the harm that myghte ek fallen moore,/She gan to rewe, and dredde hire wonder soore,” (Chaucer 63). According to Gordon, Criseydes unease over the proposition demonstrates her worldly understanding. She argues that nature of “switch love” is the central moral question of the poem, and that question that Criseyde continually deals with (Gordon 157). Furthermore, Criseyde must consider the question of honor as she is at court and gossip is a lethal weapon. Her concern here demonstrates the practical side of Criseyde.
Her rational side is shown by her consideration of Troilus suit. She weighs the facts that he is a son of a king, a great warrior, and deemed a good man by most. She neatly traps Troilus beneath her by allowing him to serve her only under one condition: he has no other sovereign except for herself. Her intelligence is only emphasized by her capitulation to Troilus. When he asks her to yield, she responds that if she had not yielded already, she would not be in the room. Furthermore, she did not appear surprised when Troilus showed up in her chambers. All these qualities represent the humanity that Chaucer has endowed Criseyde with.
Despite the realistic qualities Chaucer endows Criseyde with, he fulfills her role as the lady love. She does not question the authority of men or fate, as demonstrated by her reaction to the news of her exchange. Furthermore, she believes that she cannot be disconnected from Troilus as her love for him binds her to him for all time. She upholds the tenant of secrecy even when people assume she is crying from joy as they congratulate her on the exchange. Criseyde even goes so far as to contemplate a slow painful death by starvation in order to stay loyal to Troilus.
With her great sorrow due to her departure from Troilus, Criseyde remains blind to Diomede. Her sorrow is doubled when she fails to convince her father to return her to Troy. This is where the tragedy of Criseyde begins, according to Gordon. Criseyde tragedy is self-deception. She never realized she was capable of betrayal until she actually committed the act (Gordon 137).
It is noted that when Criseyde is listing all the reasons for her love to Troilus, she lists more of his manners than his character. Furthermore, it is noted that in the first part of the epic poem, only Criseydes looks and demeanor are commented upon, whereas in the second part of the poem, the reader gets a more concise view of Criseydes character (Gordon 137). It is not until Book V, that Chaucer refers to Criseyde as the “slydynge of corage” (272). With her acceptance of Diomede, Criseyde breaks the code of courtly love, marking her as weak and perhaps a bit of an opportunist. In fact one can argue that Criseydes choice of Diomede was one of practicality rather than of romance (Berkley Research 17). However, Chaucer defends Criseyde by claiming: “Ne me ne list this sely womman chyde/Forther than the storye wol devyse./Hire name, allas! is punysshed so wide,/That for hire gilt it oughte ynough suffise./And if I myghte excuse hire any wise,/For she so sory was for hire untroughte,/Iwis, I wolde excuse hire yet for routhe” (282).
Criseydes fall from grace is the ultimate mark of humanity that separates her from the stereotypical ideal of the courtly lady. She recognizes she has committed a wrong, even thought she believes she can never atone for it. The very fact that she does break a tenant of courtly love demonstrates Chaucers willingness to create characters that delve outside the stereotype world. It becomes obvious that Chaucer has given great thought and imagination to carefully depict his three characters to help evolve his plot and give a human interest perspective to an otherwise old story. His use of contrast is spectacularly essential.
He shows Troilus to be the very typical courtly lover. Whatever derivations Troilus develops only emphasizes his uniqueness as a figure of Chaucer. In contrast to the innocence of Troilus love, Pandarus is portrayed as old and extremely shrew. He knows how to weasel even the most treasured secrets from a body and manipulate that to further his own interests. Pandarus is arguably one of the most original and imaginative character of Chaucer.
While not as original as Pandarus, Criseyde represents the ideal courtly lady with a realistic twist. She sharply contrasts with Troilus with her rationality and even her practicality. She measures every action first, while Troilus just follows whatever way will lead him to his perceived goal. All combined, Chaucer manages to create an ideal constantly embued with originality that invokes the readers continual interest in the epic poem, Troilus and Criseyde. Bibliography Baum, Paul E. Chaucer: A Critical Appreciation.
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The Double Sorrow of Troilus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. Kirby, Thomas A. Chaucers Troilus: A Study in Courtly Love. Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1958.
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