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Love and Death in "Troilus and Criseyde"

Author(s): Lonnie J. Durham


Source: The Chaucer Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Summer, 1968), pp. 1-11
Published by: Penn State University Press
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LOVE AND DEATH IN
TROILUS AND CRISEYDE

by Lonnie J. Durham

I
one ? a
From of view, "Troilus is what Chaucer meant it to be great
point
in of love,"1 a love that has its in
poem praise beginning

. . . the
tyme
Of Aperil, whan clothed is the mede
With newe grene, of Veer the
lusty pryme,
And swote smellen floures white and rede ....

(U55-58)2
a over of love and
beginning presided by "Venus-genetrix?goddess courtly
of all natural which had become,
Natura-creatrix?governess things" by
Chaucer's time, one But greenness and
"very firmly figure."3 growth
comprise only the first half of the cycle of love and life described in Boece:
"This atempraunce and forth alle brethith
that
norysscheth bryngeth thinges
lif in this world. . . ." The second half is more to
chilling courtly sentiment,
but nevertheless Nature's "And thilke same
completes cycle: attempraunce,

ravysschynge, hideth and bynymeth, and drenchyth undir the laste deth, alle
iborn" m.6, The are clear: that "love of
thinges (IV, 24-29). implications
is a life of and is therefore to the forces
kynde" phenomenon subject
governing life; that the love-springtime metaphor (and any system based upon
that carries within it the of winter.
metaphor) necessity facing
There is no but that Chaucer was aware of this
question fully unrelenting
check on Venus-Genetrix?Creatrix; in the Book the Duchess, for instance,
of
the memento mori is woven into the very fabric of the florid that is
tapestry
the conventional dream-vision. does the dreamer remain so
Why long
oblivious to the reasons for the of the in Because he
grief knight mourning?4
cannot conceive of winter in the of a love
"high frivolity" courtly springtime,
especially since the is couched in the idiom of the courtly
knight's mourning

1. C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, A Study in Medieval Tradition (New York,


1958), p. 197.
2. All quotations are from The Works Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson, 2nd
of Geoffrey
ed. (Boston, 1957).
3. Rosamond Tuve, "Spring in Chaucer and before Him," MLN, LII (1937), 13.
4. See John "The Pattern of Consolation in The Book
Lawlor, of the Duchess," in
Chaucer Criticism: (Vol. II) Troilus and Criseyde and the Minor Poems, ed.
Richard J. Shoeck and Jerome Taylor pp. 232-60.
(Notre Dame, 1961),
2 LOVE AND DEATH IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE

lament. The blunt statement, "She ys ded!", is necessary to break the tone
and mood of the love vision, to assert the fact of death and the
bring
of the Ceyx-Alcione story into sudden focus for the Dreamer and
significance
reader. The high artifice of the courtly love vision is an attempt to capture
the ideal en emaux, eternal if, as Charles Muscatine
love-in-springtime,
contends, Troilus represents the idealistic view of his
"courtly, experience,"5
idealism is not to be taken in its connotations, as a noble
only positive
for faith, but as well, as a narrow and view of
capacity negatively incomplete
life.

Despite the fact that Troilus and Criseyde begins with the traditional
spring expectations for the full seasonal have been
imagery, cycle already
established: "how his aventures feilen / Fro wo to wele, and after out of

joie ..." Henry Sams, in "The Dual Time-Scheme in Chaucer's


(1,3-4).
Troilus" examines the nature imagery of the poem to show that besides "the

actual, basic time-scheme of three years" there is a artistic scheme


"practical,
of one year, or the and departure of one summer."6 The of
coming sequence
seasonal is not so in the as in Professor
images quite neatly arranged poem
Sams' article, because he too considers the "Nature" he is to
mainly narrowly
examine, out of account much of the that in
leaving imagery clearly operates
the seasonal mood. But the artistic function of the annual is
establishing cycle
obvious, first as it describes the of the affair, and as the
progress secondly
character of Criseyde is identified with the of seasonal
principle change.
The narrative does indeed "whan comen was the / Of
open tyme Aperil,"
but is out of phase with the season "In widewes habit blak"
Criseyde (1,170),
the nature's full
having already experienced (unlike "pekok" Troilus) cycle.
Yet there is in her a promise that cannot be obscured, for "alle hire so
lymes
wel / Weren to wommanhod, that creature / Was nevere lasse
answerynge
in As Muscatine puts it, Criseyde "is as the
mannyssh semynge" (1,281-84).
world is and goes as the world ; if has in it the seeds of winter,
goes"7 spring
winter must as well hold the of spring, and Troilus
promise unconsciously
defines her nature in attempting to describe his own sensations. "For hete of

cold, for cold of hete, I he says at one and


dye," point (1,420); again:

But also cold in love towardes the

Thi lady is, as frost in wynter moone,


And thow fordon, as snow in fire is soone.

(1,523-25)
With the of Book II, "The weder clere"; it is "Mayes the
opening gynneth day

5. Charles Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition: A Study in Style and
Meaning (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), p. 133.
6. Shoeck and Taylor, p. 185.
7. Chaucer and the French Tradition, p. 154.
LONNIE J. DURHAM 3

and the Narrator calls upon Janus, of entree," to the


thrydde"; "god guide
Pandarus the two-faced whose one face looks
messenger (11,77)?Janus, god
back toward winter, the other forward into up," says Pandarus,
spring."Rys
"and lat us don to som observaunce" but refuses
May (11,111-12), Criseyde
to be hurried into new moods. She may be "as the world is," but her

characterization is never to suggest the animality of sheer seasonal instinct.

Even after the of Troilus "so fressh, so yong,


into so
the
sight city riding
draws from her the involuntary tribute to his attractiveness
weldy," ("Who
me her mood has not up with the calendar and
yaf drynke?"), caught spring
she must go through the temperamental storms of an earlier season:

But as when the sonne


right shyneth brighte
In March, that ofte tyme his face,
chaungeth
And that a cloude is put with wynd to flighte,
Which the sonne as for a
oversprat space,
A gan hire soule pace,
cloudy thought thorugh
That hire brighte alle,
overspradde thoughtes
So that for feere almost she gan to falle.

"For love is yet the mooste stormy lyf,


of hymself, that evere was bigonne;
Right
For evere som or nice strif
mystrust
Then is in love, som cloude is over that sonne.

And after that, hire for to clere. . . .


thought gan

(11,764-70,778-81,806)
As Sams notes, the imagery of the story converges toward that of
"gradually
the after the "March" scene, Criseyde goes down into
Immediately
setting."8
her garden for what amounts to a that the
May pageant?the symbolic signal
external and internal seasons have converged:

And other of hire wommen, a route,


gret
Hire folowede in the al abowte.
garden

This was and alle


yerd large, rayled th'aleyes,
And shadewed wel with blosmy bowes grene,
And benched newe, and sonded alle the weyes,
In which she walketh arm in arm bitwene,
Til at the laste Antigone the shene

8. Shoeck and Taylor, p. 182.


4 LOVE AND DEATH IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE

on a Troian
Gan song to singen cleere,
That it an heven was hire vois to here.

(11,818-26)
At the end of the ceremony, finds herself
impromptu Criseyde (the
action the "somwhat
psychological just slightly trailing symbolic) growing
able to converte" and dreams that of the white that
(11,903) night eagle
exchanges his heart for hers (11,925 ff).
Sanford Meech out that much of this season in the
points imagery appears
Filo strato:

Troiolo, as Pandaro confessed his soul the


reports him, vanquished by
radiance" of Amore. About to write his first letter, he
"flashing prayed
the god to make the effort "fruitful," He declared in his to Venere
song
that beneficent influence "rains" from her and that she is the
sphere
cause of the "fruit" of and, in it, blessed God for
friendships having put
in his discernment to fix on
enough "light" Criseyda.9

But in the Troilus, Chaucer eliminates five of the six instances of the
association of the hero with flowers and adds none.10 In Book I, nearly the

seasonal connected with Troilus is when he remembers,


only image according
to the Narrator, "that love to wide / Yelt bittre swete
yblowe fruyt, though
seed be sowe" Chaucer has taken here to avoid the
(384-85). clearly pains
strong of Nature and character that he has made for Criseyde.
equation
Nature is a for survival, after
essentially system through cycle cycle?and
the one that is certain to do is survive?but Books I
thing Criseyde through
and II Troilus' name is persistently linked with references to death. The first
time he sees Criseyde, "hym thoughte he felte dyen, / Right with hire look,"
(1,306-07) and from that day,

ther an houre
passed nought
That to a thousand tyme he
hymself seyde,
"Good to whom serve I and laboure,
goodly,
As I best kan, now wolde God, Criseyde,
Ye wolden on me rewe, er that I
deyde!"
(1,456-60)

and so on, with no less than fifteen references in Book I alone to the
or of his How serious are these
necessity, probability, possibility dying.
no more than is usual with the tradition. As
references??certainly courtly
Rosalind it, "Men have died from time to time and worms
Shakespeare's puts

9. Sanford B. Meech, Design in Chaucer's Troilus (Syracuse, 1959), p. 333.


10. Ibid., pp. 342-43.
LONNIE J. DURHAM 5

have eaten them, but not for love." The very real humor that most

commentators have seen in this section of the poem results from the ironic
contrast between Troilus' conviction of his imminent death and the totally
view that Pandarus takes of the whole matter. "She will never have
practical
pity
on me," says Troilus, "and since there is no cure, 'I wol
deye'." "What?"

says Pandarus, "She is a real, woman isn't she? What is it to weep


living good
and die without ever made her aware that you exist?" woman is
having Every
to love at some time in her life, he continues, either "celestial" or "of
subject
"So it is my niece, 'It sit hire to ben as celestial
kynde." Criseyde? naught
yet'," and he goes about the business of for practical results in a
arranging
that Troilus would not or could not do. or
way (In Troilus' incapacity
disinclination to act for himself at this may be seen his characteristic
point
to cherish the idea rather than the
preference fact.)
Pandarus continues the issue of "death" toward its
forcing logical
conclusion, at first by insisting upon its inevitability for both Troilus and
himself (as if Pandarus could die for love!) if Criseyde will not "han routhe."
The thrust of Pandarus' remark, "Who is in his bed so soone / Iburied
primary
thus?" is to twit Troilus about his condition, but it
(11,1310-11), "hopeless"
also establishes the grave-bed and Troilus is to be hurried toward
metaphor,
his "death" with the plan for the mock illness. At house, the
Deiphebus'
nature of this "little death" is made clear; Pandarus
perfectly dodges quickly
into the "sickroom" ahead of the others to let Troilus know that he has been
successful in there and says, "God have thi soule,
getting Criseyde ibrought
have I thi heereV The metaphor all that Donne was later to
(11,1638). implies
make of it.
The "little death" does come in Book III soon after Troilus' to his
prayer
protectress, Venus, in which the reference is to Adonis,
significant "hym
thow lovedest in the shawe / . . . that with the boor was slawe" (111,720-21).
the distress of over Pandarus' fabricated case of jealousy,
Seeing Criseyde
Troilus feels "The crampe of deth, to streyne hym by the herte" (111,1071),
and after, "down he fel al a-swowne" What
immediately sodeynly (111,1092).
is left for Pandarus but to throw the unconscious lover into bed?
Criseyde's
Thus, the sexual is enacted, made as literal as It
metaphor nearly possible.
constitutes the climax of the first of in love, a "death"
stage Troilus'journey
from which he will awake to an heaven.
earthly

Troilus, al hool of cares colde,


Gan thanken tho the blisful sevene.
goddes
Thus sondry peynes folk to hevene.
bryngen
(111,1202-04)

Thus is Troilus revived on that or we should


rainy night, perhaps say
6 LOVE AND DEATH IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE

? contexts the
"resurrected" between the parallel but diverging of Adonis
and the narrator's modulated of the incident to Christian
myth comparison
salvation.

ii

In Book III, the of nature comes to have more relevance to


complex imagery
Troilus' mood and condition than earlier, with that first night,
beginning

as aboute a tree, with a twiste,


many
and writh the swote
Bytrent wodebynde,
Gan ech of hem in armes other wynde.

(111,1230-32)

Troilus is restored to life his own time" has come:


(111,1611-13); "green

In suffisaunce, in blisse, and in


singynges,
This Troilus gan al his lif to lede.
He maketh
spendeth, jousteth, festeynges;
He ofte, and wede,
yeveth frely chaungeth
And held aboute out of drede,
hym alwey,
A world of folk, as com hym wel of kynde,
The fresshest and the beste he koude ....
fynde
(111,1716-22)

But he is never even a hedonist, the fact that reality


approximately despite
seems for the moment to have up with the dream. As T. P. Dunning
caught
comments, he is always a "sincere natural
guided by religion."

Troilus is the pagan the highest


good who?quite intelligibly?takes
view of human love, it to the divine love which binds
possible relating
the universe, his in the context of God's government
viewing experience
of the world.11

Troilus celebrates this of the world" in his song from


"government
Boethius at the end of Book III (1744-71) which echoes the proemium. The
is given as an of the and untroubled pursuit
song expression "straightforward

by Troilus of what he believes to be good."12 But it is not without its


Love causes the elements to "holden a bond
paradoxes; though perpetuely
that is necessarily manifested in in
durynge," stability change?and especially
as the
those phenomena
that Troilus cites proof of permanence?the rising of

11. "God and Man in Troilus and Criseyde," in English and Medieval Studies Presented
to J. R. R. Tolkien on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. Norman Davis
and C. L. Wrenn (London, 1962), p. 166.
12. Ibid., p. 172.
LONNIE J. DURHAM 7

sun, the moon that "hath over the and the sea, "that
lordshipe nyghtes,"
is to flowen." It is this mutability in permanence that Theseus, in the
gredy
final scene of the Knight's Tale, takes upon himself to
explain:

Wel may men knowe, but it be a fool,

That every part dirryveth from [God's] hool;


For nature hath nat taken his bigynnyng
Of no or cantel of a
partie thyng,
But of a thyng that parfit is and stable,
so til it be
Descenynge corrumpable.
And therfore, of his wise purveiaunce,
He hath so wel biset his ordinaunce,
That speces of and progressiouns
thynges
Shullen enduren by successiouns,
And nat eterne, withouten any lye.
(A 3005-15)

Troilus' time" comes to an end, of course, with the in


"green catastrophe
Book IV. Chaucer the withered flower of the Filostrato and
rejects imagery
instead the more simile of desolation from Dante's Inferno
adopts powerful

(?i,112ff.):

And as in leves ben biraft,


wynter
Ech after other, till the tree be bare,
So that ther nys but bark and braunche ilaft,
Lith Troilus, byraft of ech welfare,
Ibounden in the blake bark of care,
wood out of his wit to
Disposed breyde,
So sore hym
sat the chaungynge of Criseyde.

(IV,225-31)

But the sorrow stands in contrast to that


imagery depicting Criseyde's sharp
applied to Troilus:

Therwith the teris from hire eyen two

Down as shour in ful swithe ....


fille, Aperil
(IVJ50-51)
At this point,
Muscatine's observation that Criseyde "is as the world is and

goes as the world to take on She is the


goes"13 begins special meaning.
embodiment of earthly love and especially of the mutability inherent in that

13. Chaucer and the French Tradition, p. 154.


8 LOVE AND DEATH IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE

love. "Seen in the dominance and recession of each


dynamically, alternating
of her various as conditions evoke them, she
qualities surrounding represents

earthly instability."14
love, reduced to its biological fundamentals, is a means of survival,
Earthly
and that survival is as
dependent upon physical environment?exactly
expresses it when she learns she is to be
Criseyde uprooted:

To I sorwen
what fyn sholde lyve and thus?
How sholde a fissh withouten water dure?
What is worth, from Troilus?
Criseyde
How sholde a or creature
plaunte lyves
withouten his kynde noriture?
Lyve
For which ful ofte a here I seye,
by-word
That "rooteles moot grene soone
deye."
(IV,764-70)

As John Donne has put it,

Dull sublunary lovers love


soul is sense) cannot admit
(Whose
Absence, because it doth remove

Those things which elemented it,

and not too times her return to


surprisingly, sublunary Criseyde promised
"Lucina the sheene" The which she represents
Troy by (IV,1591). principle
must wither without its noriture," and the same token, take root
"kynde by
again wherever the environment is suitable. Troilus is "yong, fressh, strong,
and as but Diomede, too, is "as fressh as braunche in
hardy lyoun" (830),
will survive, her many to the
May" (844). Criseyde despite protestations
contrary, and her "little death" in Book IV is a winter that must inevitably,
if

to another in a new seasonal round and


slowly, give way spring, ushering

repeating the pattern of the first part of the poem. Seen in this light, the
debate over whether is due more to a certain conscious
Criseyde's betrayal
"shiftiness" hinted at in her character the or more to a
throughout poem,
sudden in her nature, seems irrelevant.15 She is merely in
change acting
accord with the she and in to a conviction
principle represents acquiescence
of the inevitability of change ("O brotel wele of mannes joie unstable!")
(111,820).
The chief similarity between Criseyde and Pandarus lies in their ability to

14. Ibid., p. 154.


15. See Arthur Mizener, "Character and Action in the Case of Criseyde," in Chaucer:
Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Edward Wagenknecht (New York, 1959), pp.
348-65.
LONNIE J. DURHAM 9

and survive amounts to a of mutability)


adjust (which practical recognition
because they are, and know are, and not committed to an
they earth-bound,
inflexible idea. As Pandarus says,

And reed that boweth down for every blast,


Ful cesse it wol
lightly, wynd, aryse;
But so an ook, whan it is cast ....
nyl nought

(11,1387-89)

Implied in Pandarus' of seasonal is a sense of the


recognition adversity
of his advice to Troilus to take another
possibility recovery?thus sweetheart,
a that is with Troilus' idealism. There is no
suggestion totally incompatible
but that Troilus means to end his life when it appears that
question seriously
is really dead. And with the removal of its object from
Criseyde Troy, his love
does not wither from lack of but burns with a new flame
"kynde noriture,"
removed from sense.

For she, that of his herte berth the


keye,
Was absent, lo, this was his fantasie,
That no sholde maken melodie.
wight

(V,460-62)

In a sense of Troilus awaits return.


special "faithfully," Criseyde's

If is best understood in terms of her or seasonal


Criseyde cyclical progression
the poem, Troilus is best understood in what be seen as an
through may
And as character is more accessible in terms
ascending spiral. Criseyde's easily
of life?because she is of a of toward
representative principle life?death,
which he moves from the tells us more about Troilus.
beginning, Criseyde's
arrival in the Greek initiates another with obvious to
camp round, parallels
the first wooing (or second, if we count the husband who
preceded Troilus).
Troilus' death at the hands of Achilles, and the
subsequent flight of his soul
into heavenly love (the
eighth sphere), parallels on a higher plane the "little
death" in Book III and his to love.
subsequent awakening earthly (Chaucer
omits a scene of the Filostrato [IV, 18-21], in which Troilus faints in the
council chamber, so that this will not be Troilus
perhaps pattern interrupted.)
idealizes of his but each
characteristically every part experience, stage elicits
from him a idealism. In the semi-comic a deal of
higher first, stage, great
courtly is but no is made Troilus to it.
yearning generated, attempt by satisfy
In the second there is a of the real and ideal for a
stage, glorious merging
moment which will as
result, Dunning puts it, in Troilus' "overloading human
10 LOVE AND DEATH IN TROILUS AND CRISEYDE

6
love with more than it can bear."1 And in the final stage, Troilus dies
again
to reawaken to a love that is as immutable as that he demanded of the world.

What is the final view? The recognition of mutability and the ability to
to it and has considerable value for survival, if
adjust (Pandarus Criseyde)
little for Yet there is no that without the practical help of
tragedy. question
Pandarus, the idealism of Troilus' initial infatuation would have wasted itself

in sterile narcissism. Without of course, Troilus would have


Criseyde,
remained of love because of her, he is of the
ignorant altogether; capable
to the of love at the end of Book III. A
hymn all-pervasive power courtly
en emaux is too brittle to stand the temperature
springtime preserved changes
of the seasons; yet too great a flexibility makes any higher kind of devotion
In we find, to use Muscatine's of
impossible. Criseyde phrase, "promise
and assurance of almost but
everything, nothing change."

Nearly the same dilemma is posed in the Knight's Tale; the blood brothers
the dissevered halves of an ideal human love. One claims in
represent Emelye
reverence, the other "law of In the with
religious through kynde." dispute
Palamon, Arcite argues,

Thou woost nat yet now

Wheither she be a womman or


goddesse!
is affeccioun of hoolynesse,
Thyn
And is love, as to a creature ....
myn

(A1156-59)

There is little to choose between them until the death of Arcite provides the
text of the lesson for Theseus, that of and progres
"speces thynges
siouns / Shullen enduren successiouns, / And nat eterne, withouten any
by

lye" (3013-15), and Palamon the idealist is given the hand of Emelye, having
been duly informed of the function of marriage?and of the relationship of
death to life.
The idealism of Troilus itself suggests Platonism; the ladder of love, which
is for him the ladder of death, reinforces that Muscatine
suggestion. implies
this when he says,

The of the does not on so fortuitous a fact as


meaning poem hinge
Troilus' his faith in the wrong woman or in a bad woman, but in
placing
the fact that he places his faith in a thing which can reflect back to him
8
the image of that faith and yet be incapable of sustaining it.

"Love of kynde" is the image of celestial love (and is to be celebrated as

16. "God and Man in Troilus and Criseyde," p. 176.


17. Chaucer and the French Tradition, p. 162.
18. Ibid., p. 164.
LONNIE J. DURHAM 11

but it is an a fact which Troilus fails to realize. His


such), imperfect image,
of Providence is on the level and
questioning always highest consistently
the "common" which is more
ignores destiny, Nature-as-destiny, nothing
than the of the creation its the "force of
orderly progression through phases,
love," that Troilus celebrates in his song at the end of Book III.
ironically,
Troilus must be said, then, to be concerned with ends to the exclusion of

means while Pandarus and, more are concerned with the


passively, Criseyde
means to the exclusion of ends. The limitation of the latter view is that it is

earth-bound, while the "white eagle," Troilus, is meant from the


unmitigably
for
flight. The reconciliation of means and ends is stated most
beginning
in with the seasonal or the means :
explicitly Boece?beginning cycle,

This atempraunce and forth alle that


norysscheth bryngeth thinges
brethith lif in this world; and thilke same
attempraunce, ravysschynge,
hideth and bynymeth, and drencheth undir the laste deth, alle thinges
iborn.

(IV, m.6, 34-9)

and so to the ends:

This is the comune love to alle and alle axen to ben


thingis, thinges
holden by the fyn of good. For elles ne myghten they nat lasten yif thei
ne comen nat eftsones love retorned, to the cause that hath
ayein, by
yeven hem beinge (that is to seyn, to God.)
(IV, m.6, 54-60)

The tragedy of Troilus and Criseyde is defined against the background of the
Divine Comedy in which Christ

that right for love


a crois, oure so?les for to
Upon beye,
First starf, and roos,

not to grace the as Adonis the blossom, but to


simply greenwood

sit in hevene above;

(V, 1841-44)
that is, to to the of nature in
give meaning unending cycle represented

Criseyde ("For God so loved the world") and to prepare a place for the
white eagle.
soaring

University of Minnesota

19. See Walter Clyde Curry, "Destiny in Troilus and Criseyde," Shoeck and Taylor,
pp. 34-70.