The Genre of Troilus and
Troilus contains the features
of many different genres. In this sense it can be seen as an epic
because it attempts to include everything. The text can also be
seen to ‘transcend’ genre. By using motifs from every genre it
becomes difficult to pigeon-hole the text and therefore attempts to
reject a readers expectations of what the story might entail.
Chaucer makes it clear that the story will contain sorrow from the
outset ‘The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen’ (bk 1.1) but the use of
different genres allows for some ambiguities and deviates from our
expectations. Barry Windeatt argued in the Cambridge Companion that:
‘the absorption, combination, quotation, and transcendence of genres is
a distinctive part of the
nature and meaning of Troilus and Criseyde’
(pg 138, emphasis mine)
Here are some examples of each genre within the text:
➢ At the start of book 3 Chaucer evokes Calliope- the
muse of epic poetry
‘Caliope, thi vois be now present,’ iii.45
➢ The background of the story is reminiscent of the
epic as it deals with Homeric material - the fall of Troy.
However, the subject itself is not epic as it deals with a private and
intimate affair, which is more suitable as romance.
➢ A romance is typically about the deeds of noble men
and has a more concentrated scope than an epic. Troilus fulfils
this criteria as the protagonist is an honourable man, being the
brother of Hector and just as worthy as him in battle and in moral
thought—‘The same pris of Troilus I seye’ (ii.182)
➢ The text covers the intense and transfiguring
nature of love—‘Blissed be love, that kan thus flok converte’ (i.308)
and because this is Troilus’ first experience of love, the story can be
seen as the young man’s adventure into the unknown or his quest for
requited love. The setting is also exotically distant.
➢ However, some conventions of the romance are not
found in Troilus. For instance the hero is repeatedly referred to
as second to his brother Hector, and he does not benefit from a happy
ending (in terms of love).
➢ Metrical form = rime royal. This form had
narrative associations that reminds the reader of contemporary popular
➢ There are many requirements for a tragedy. In
a Shakespearean sense the story must contain a tragic flaw, a motif
includes rising and falling and the genre is customarily defined by its
ending. A few stanzas into book 1 and we are already being told
of the sorrow and misery to follow. At the start of book 4 the
reader is presented with fortune’s wheel along with a prediction that
he will fall from it (4.1-6). Unlike characters in Shakespearean
tragedies, Troilus and Criseyde have no definite ‘tragic flaws’.
It is the action that makes the text a tragedy. Troilus seems to be a tragedy of
➢ Boethius defined tragedy in his Consolation of Philosophy as:
o ‘What other thyng bywaylen the cryinges of
tragedyes but oonly the dedes of fortune; that with uniwar strook
overturneth the realms of greet nobleye’ (2.pr ii. 67-70)
➢ HOWEVER due to the hero’s ascent into heaven at the
end of the text, the losses he suffered do not seem tragic because he
is happy. Furthermore, in comparison to heaven nothing else
matters. As John Steadman argues (Disembodied Laughter), it is hard
to plot a rise and fall in terms of gaining and losing goods that are
transitory and worthless.
➢ Another type of medieval tragedy is the de casibus tragedy. This type
of tragedy takes no account of Aristotle but only depends on having a
great man fall from prosperity. Troilus
may not adhere to this as the hero does not fall from wealth or does
not lose his status. He dies a warrior. But in fact de casibus can be understood
less literally: Troilus falls from the heights of his happiness in Book
OTHER GENRES WITHIN TROILUS
➢ Chaucer makes it clear that he is discussing
historical events. He refers to historical and epic writers such
as ‘Omer, Dares, Dite’ (i.146) to enforce this. He also uses
pagan beliefs to place the story in history ‘Lo here of Payens olde
➢ Structure- five books similar to the five acts of
dramatic texts. The form matches the medieval understanding of
➢ The text contains lots of dialogue
➢ Ballades e.g. dawn songs iii.1422-42 and 1450-70.
➢ Lyric written in same metrical form as the rest of
the poem- Rime Royal
➢ Pandarus draws on elements of plotting and
characterisation that resembles Fabliau- go between practises
deceptions to accomplish the meeting and union of lovers.
➢ The coming and going through secret doors.
For example when Pandarus arranges for Troilus to secretly enter
Criseyde’s chamber to consummate their love.
➢ Allegorical potential comes from the Roman de la Rose and the Consolation of Philosophy and
knowledge at the time the book was written in. The fall of Troy
was seen as a warning against the example of Paris who chose his lust
for Helen over an active or contemplative life. Or the story of
the Trojan war was been related to the type of body that gives in to
lechery - Entering of the Trojan horse.
Through the use of these genres, Troilus
and Criseyde presents us with many types of experience.
It involves everything in the same way that love does. Though
Chaucer labels his poem ‘litel myn tragedye’ (5.1786), because this
label occurs so late in the poem it is asking us to question this form
rather than simply accept it. The declaration makes the reader
question why he calls his text a tragedy—his hero has just ascended
somewhere. Chaucer asks us to consider the definition of Tragedy
in light of the story we have just been told. The story does not
follow the usual conventions of tragedy, it is not the rise and fall of
a prince that captures the reader, it is the rise and fall of something
that can affect anyone: love.