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Chaucer's Troilus And Criseyde: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Background
  • 0:55 Poem Summary
  • 4:27 Analysis & Major Themes
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Diedra Taylor

Diedra has taught college English and worked as a university writing center consultant. She has a master's degree in English.

This lesson covers the main plot and important themes of Geoffrey Chaucer's ''Troilus and Criseyde'', including the components of Greek tragedy and the personification of the belief in Destiny, Fortune, and Love.

Background

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone you felt was the one for you? Or maybe, Cupid has not yet ensnared you like Troilus, at the beginning of this poem? Ah, love--it is a story that has inspired countless dramas, books, movies and poems, including the one described in this lesson.

Set in the city of Troy during the Trojan War, Troilus and Criseyde tells the story of two lovers whose relationship is at the whims of Destiny and Fortune. It is written using rhyme royal stanzas with a rhyme scheme ABABBCC. The poem was composed in the mid 1380's by Geoffrey Chaucer, who also wrote the well-known book, The Canterbury Tales.

The poem was originally written in Middle English, an earlier evolution of the English language that does not much resemble Modern English. No, Shakespeare (who later wrote a play covering these two lovers) did not write in Middle English; his poetry is actually in Early Modern English!

Poem Summary

Calchas, a Trojan prophet, foresees Troy's doom. Keeping his knowledge a secret, he deserts Troy and joins the Greeks, leaving his daughter Criseyde behind to bear the brunt of his betrayal. Later, Troilus sees Criseyde for the first time at Athena's temple. Troilus admits that he likes a pretty face as much as the next guy but finds the idea of love silly. This angers Cupid, and Troilus becomes the god's next target. Cupid lets his arrow fly, and it hits its mark; Troilus becomes infatuated with Criseyde. Over the next few weeks, Criseyde's uncle, Pandarus, offers to put his matchmaking skills to the test to set Troilus up with Criseyde.

Pandarus visits his niece, Criseyde, and tells her that Troilus loves her. He plays the sympathy card, telling Criseyde that Troilus is sick with misery over her. Criseyde, feeling sorry for Troilus, reluctantly agrees to date him. Pandarus leaves to tell Troilus the good news and helps him write a letter to Criseyde, which starts a lengthy exchange of letters between the couple. However, Pandarus doesn't stop there. He asks Troilus's brother to host a dinner party with the ultimate goal of giving Criseyde and Troilus time alone. He has Troilus lie in bed and pretend to be ill, and he brings Criseyde to see Troilus.

Troilus declares his feelings for Criseyde, who says little during their first meeting. Pandarus constructs a plan to bring Criseyde and Troilus together again. He deviously plans the dinner on the night a huge storm is expected. Torrential rain makes it too dangerous for Criseyde to leave, so Pandarus convinces Criseyde to stay at his house and offers her a private room. He surprises her by brining Troilus into the room through a trap door and asking Criseyde to confirm her affection for her overtly emotional lover. Criseyde reassures Troilus of her love, but Troilus is so overcome by the situation that he faints across the bed. Pandarus loses no time in pushing Criseyde into bed with Troilus. After Troilus wakes, Pandarus leaves, and the lovers spend the night in a romantic bliss. At dawn, they reluctantly part. The next day, Pandarus issues a warning to Troilus about Fortune and her highs and lows.

In the Greek camp just outside of Troy, Calchas, probably feeling guilty about abandoning his daughter, arranges for Criseyde to be exchanged for a prisoner of war named Antenor. When Troilus learns of this, he laments Fortune's cruelty. Pandarus suggests that Troilus and Criseyde elope, but Troilus won't hear of it. Desperate to cheer Troilus up, Pandarus visits Criseyde and asks her to appease Troilus because he is distressed about their future. Criseyde agrees, and Pandarus sends Troilus to her. After much discussion, Troilus offers to elope with her. Criseyde declines, saying she'll trick her father and return to Troy in ten days.

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