Courtly love was a medieval European literary conception of love that emphasized nobility and chivalry. Medieval literature is filled with examples of knights setting out on adventures and performing various deeds or services for ladies because of their “courtly love”. Troilus and Criseyde is a luminous example of Courtly love by the father of English poetry Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400). Before focusing on Troilus and Criseyde’s Courtly love, we will focus on the origination and rules of Courtly love. It will help us to find out the courtly love in Troilus and Criseyde and will provide us it’s the whole conception.
The proper definition of Courtly love
Courtly love is a tradition represented in Western European literature between the 12th and the 14th centuries, idealizing love between a knight and a revered, usually married lady. The 12th to the 14th century prescribed the rules of conduct between lovers, advocating idealized but illicit love, and fostered extensive medieval literature based on this tradition.
Origination of Courtly love
Courtly love is the theme of comprehensive literature that originated in the late 11th century. Andreas Capellanus is the inventor of Courtly love. Later on, the Troubadour poets in France started writing poems applying this theme of Courtly love in their poetry. Soon this theme of poetry becomes much more popular. So it spreads through the whole of Europe.
Rules of Courtly love
- Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
- who is not jealous cannot love.
- one can be bound by a double love.
- love may increase or decrease.
- Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity.
Troilus and Criseyde as a poem of Courtly love
The poem ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ deals with the theme of Courtly love. But it has the tendency of the earlier French poetry of Boccaccio. Troilus and Criseyde is written in the 14th century. Chaucer writes the poem with certain modifications. He never strictly followed the rules of 11th-century Courtly love. He modified the poem towards sensibility.
Troilus is an unmarried young Trojan prince. On the other hand, Criseyde is a young widow. Troilus is struck with the arrow of Cupid. So he becomes weak in Criseyde. Here the first rules of Courtly love are properly fulfilled by Chaucer. The marriage of Criseyde did not hinder their love affair as she was a widow with unthinkable beauty.
The second rule and conditions of Courtly are not properly fulfilled by Chaucer. It’s true that Troilus could not think anything without Criseyde. He could not bear anybody besides Criseyde. When he gets the brooch that he had given to Criseyde as a token of his love in Diomede’s coat, his heart is broken. After that, he becomes jealous of Diomedes. But he never hates Criseyde as a Loyal lover.
The third condition is shown by Chaucer of Courtly love in Troilus and Criseyde. Here Criseyde leaves Troy and goes to the Greek camp. There she falls in love with Diomedes. Though she started to him for her personal security she betrayed Troilus for that. So the tragedy of Troilus leads him towards undesirable sufferings. Criseyde is told that Troilus love her more than his life but she can’t put trust in it. So, Chaucer says,
For love is yet the moste stormy lyf,
Right of himself that ever was bigonne.
The fourth condition of Courtly love is revealed through the character of Criseyde by Chaucer. She loved Troilus so much from the core of her heart while remaining in Troy. But when she goes to the Greek camp the situation becomes totally changed. She accepts their love offering of Diomedes. Though she replied to the letter of Troilus with extreme passion, with the passage of time everything has changed.
The final condition and rules of Courtly love are exposed through the character of Troilus. Troilus mocks the lovers. But when he started to love Criseyde, he becomes a serious lover. He becomes more graceful,
So goodly was and got him so in grace
That ech him lovede that loked on his face
He reaches the mature level of mind. In the end, Troilus embraces suffering without complaining, it is regarded as the deed of a fool, not a hero.
Though all the conditions of Courtly love are not followed by Chaucer in his poem ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ but these variations accomplished the poem more attractive and meaningful. To Chaucer, the lovers have genuine feelings for each other but cannot remain true to their oaths of love because of their circumstances.
More Notes: Troilus and Criseyde