Gabriel Stargardter

Multiple endings in ‘Troilus and Criseyde’.

•    J.S.P. Tatlock says that on first impressions the Christian conclusion to the poem is ‘sudden and arbitrary’, adding that Chaucer ‘tells the whole story in one mode and ends in another.’

•    However, certain critics, among them C.S. Lewis, argue that Chaucer’s treatment of an inherent medieval contradiction, namely, that a secretive code of courtly love exists side by side with a brand of Christian orthodoxy that seeks to defame such clandestine sexual realities, is constantly in evidence throughout the poem. Thus, the pagan Trojans and Greeks provide the perfect cover for a contemporary criticism of 14th century sexual hypocrisy.

•    Nonetheless, early on Criseyde warns Troilus of her understanding of earthly as opposed to spiritual realities: ‘trewely, for aught can I espie,/ Ther is no verray weele in this world heere.’

•    Certainly Troilus is given an insight into otherworldly pleasure through his love for Criseyde but ultimately the narrative warns against searching for spiritual fulfilment whilst still on earth. We are led to conclude that spiritual fulfilment is only possible with God in heaven: ‘O yonge fresshe folks, he or she,/ In which that love up groweth with youre age,/ Repeyreth hom fro worldly vanyte,/ And of youre herte up casteth the visage/ To thilke God that after his ymage/ Yow made and thynketh al nys but a faire,/ This world that passeth soone as floures faire.’

•    However, although the narrator calls worldly love vain, an Augustinian conclusion can also be reached in which worldly love, originating as it does from God, is complementary to the spiritual love that can be achieved in the next world alongside God.

•    Certainly, the Christian background to the poem’s composition cannot be overlooked and thus certain critics such as Alan Gaylord believe that the poem is ‘firmly rooted in [both] Christian doctrine and Boethian philosophy’, concluding that ‘the tragedy of Troilus is in an extreme form, the tragedy of every mortal sinner.’

•    As we delve deeper into the poem, we come to see that the whole poem relies on a delicate relationship between the Christian notion of ‘free will’ and the more Pagan sense of fate, Fortune, or predestination.

•    Thus, at the beginning of Book 5, Chaucer tells us ‘Destinee’ sent Criseyde to the Greek camp but it is only by her own free will and the necessity for survival that she betrays Troilus for Diomede.

•    Similarly Troilus does not lack free will but does not employ it well. He seems keen to deny it to himself, constantly overruling the possibility of eloping with Criseyde.

•    Ultimately the Christian God is viewed as a symbol of constancy in comparison with the betrayal of Criseyde whose only fate is to be used as a symbol of the inconstant female.