Essay about Troilus and Criseyde: A Romance of Epic Proportions

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Troilus and Criseyde: A Romance of Epic Proportions In terms of its specific genre, perhaps none of Chaucer’s works are so difficult to pin down with absolute certainty than Troilus and Criseyde. The poem documents a whimsical romance between two young lovers, a theme which contrasts spectacularly against the grim backdrop of the Trojan War. The poem seems to toe the line carefully between being a sprawling account of the Trojan War and being a fanciful tale of romantic love. One may go so far as to consider Troilus and Criseyde to be an experimental hybrid of two genres, the romance and the epic poem. Despite the debate of its epic integrity, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde can be considered an epic poem due to its numerous instances of adherence to the typical structure of the epic poem. Although Troilus and Criseyde may adhere to the typical structure of the epic poem enough for it to be considered and epic, it also strays just enough from the typical epic pattern to warrant debate amongst academics concerning its genre. For instance, one of the most glaring departures from the typical epic decorum is the characterization of the tale’s heroes. As the title implies, Troilus and Criseyde are the two main characters and heroes of Chaucer’s tale. Although they are both of high-standing birth, with Criseyde being the daughter of a soothsayer and Troilus being a soldier and the prince of Troy, neither of them are the stuff of legend or have any particularly heroic deeds to their name. Although Troilus is a soldier, this poem is set in the backdrop of the Trojan War, in a time where every man was expected to serve as a soldier. Troilus’ battle prowess seems to be as average as anyone else’s. Meanwhile Criseyde, despite being of upper-class social standing, has no heroic aptitude to speak of and has recently received some social ill-will as a result of her father betraying Troy for Greece. Both of Chaucer’s heroes are far-flung from the likes of Beowulf, the quintessential hero of the epic poem. Although the poem contains many nationalistic and militaristic elements, at the poem’s core is the romance between the two heroes. Also deviating from the typical structure of the epic, there is no plot point dealing with revenge in a militaristic sense, although there are some vengeful feelings on part of Troilus due to Criseyde’s perceived unfaithfulness, it is not revenge as usually portrayed in epic poetry. While Troilus does experience jealousy at the notion of Criseyde being wooed by another man, he does not partake in any act or revenge, even after he realizes that Criseyde has accepted Diomede as her lover over him. Another way in which Chaucer subverts the typical composition of the epic poem is there are no lists or catalogues of warriors, ships, or armies in the text of Troilus and Criseyde. This sort of list is common in the epic poem, as many involve the glorification of warfare and thus heavily employ such militaristic elements. Although Chaucer may deviate from the typical configuration of the epic poem in Troilus and Criseyde, he also successfully conforms to the typical epic poem in many instances as well. One of the most obvious ways he does this is by use of the invocation of the muse, a classic component of epic poetry. The invocation of the muse is the common practice among classical poets when the author requests divine inspiration to assist in the writing of the work. In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer sets up an invocation of the muse at the beginning of four of the five books, calling for creative inspiration from Tisiphone, Clio, Venus, and Mars. In keeping with the epic standard, Chaucer’s main characters are of reasonably high birth, a prince and the daughter of a soothsayer, respectfully. Another common fixture of the epic is the love of the home; of nationalism, patriotism, and glorification of warfare. Troilus and Criseyde is set in the backdrop of the Trojan War, and the tale is filled with characters…