There is a famous quote that says, ”the only difference between a tragedy and a comedy is the ending”. This means that if a story ends with a marriage, celebration, or another happy finale, makes it a comedy or a romance. If, however, the ending is sad or tragic in some way, the remainder of the work becomes tragic simply knowing that it ends in heartbreak. The poem ‘Troilus and Criseyde‘ by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) sets up a love story between Troilus, a Trojan Knight, and Criseyde, a Trojan refugee. The ending of the poem is so heartbreaking that it is declared not as a poem but as tragedy in verse.
Troilus and Criseyde as a lover’s tragedy
Chaucer’s medieval resignation of Troilus and Criseyde can be seen as a romantic tragedy because the story chronicles the fateful and ultimately tragic relationship between the two lovers. At the very out, Troilus was not interested in love, sex, and woman. But in an ironic twist, Troilus, a young Trojan warrior, denounces love, yet after the God of Love Cupid shoots him, he falls in love with Criseyde, a beautiful Greek widow.
Troilus realizes that he can’t live without Criseyde. She started to love her more than his life and country. He can do anything to get her at any cost. He says,
O mercy God’ thought he were hast thou woned’
That art so fair and goodly to devyse?
Pandarus realizes his feelings of love for Criseyde. So, he decided to help Troilus in this case. Again and again, he tries to impress Criseyde to feel his passionate love for Troilus for her. And finally, he attains ultimate success.
During the war, the two, Troilus and Criseyde become infatuated with one another, and as they grow closer. They started to express their love for one another. Troilus started to feel that he is in heaven in a manly world. He doesn’t need anybody or anything except Criseyde. His life becomes full of joy and pathos.
But it is said that everything is a matter of change. they get separated, with Criseyde being returned to the Greek camp in exchange for a prisoner. She promises to deceive her father and escape, returning to Troilus in ten days. She will miss him so much. She also loves Troilus more than her life.
But after going to the Greek camp, Criseyde begins to realize this is not possible for her to go back to Troilus. Rather in the Greek camp, she needs the security of her life. Diomedes is the only person who can ensure the proper security of Criseyde’s life. So, Criseyde gradually started to abate the response to Troilus’s letter. Diomedes also likes her very much for her exceptional physical application. Thus, the two lovers are separated forever.
One day Diomedes proposed Criseyde. And she accepts his proposal not thinking about Troilus. Here the betrayal attitude of Criseyde is exposed by Chaucer,
From Troilus she gan her brighte face
Away to wrythe and took of him noon heede
But cast him clean out of his lady grace
And on her wheel she set up Diomede;
When one day Troilus gets the brooch that he had given as a token of his love to Criseyde, he realized that she would not return to him. So, Troilus becomes so upset. His life becomes full of suffering. Troilus accepts these unbearable sufferings of his life without ignoring them. Finally, he is killed in the battle. This is a very tragic ending, as the lovers are never reunited, and Troilus dies a death made more tragic by the fact that his love has left him.
More Notes: Troilus and Criseyde
Based purely on its plot, Chaucer’s version appears as tragic. However, the story’s tragic nature is taken from the medieval idea of fortune. It proved to be the pre-destined event. Troilus was forced to learn a difficult lesson that he had no control over Criseyde’s untimely betrayal. His fate in a sense was already determined. And while he died tragically, he was able to reflect upon the futility of love and war after death.