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Troilus and Criseyde

The story of Troilus's tragic love for Cressida, drawn from Homer, is quite familiar and popular in English literature. This is also the material of Chaucer's well celebrated love-romance Troilus and Crseyde. Chaucer's immediate source is, of course, Boccaccio the Italian romance, II Filostrato. The work is placed in his Italian period, as this, along with his Knightes Tale, is deemed to have the literary inspiration from Italy. 

The theme of Troilus and Criseyde, as already indicated, is the tragic love of Troilus and Cressida, two young Trojan lovers. The background is the Homeric Trojan War and the main characters, though sketchy in Homer, are also Homeric. Troilus was a Trojan prince, whereas Cressida, the daughter of a Trojan priest, was kept in detention in the Greek camp. Boccaccio's romance turns this minor Homeric episode into an engaging tale of Troilus's passionate love for Cressida, his winning of her love, her eventual betrayal of his love for the Greek hero, Diomede, and his death.

Boccaccio's Italian romance is, however, found converted into a great English love poem by Chaucer. The poem has almost a grand epical structure, with four Books, finely connected with one another. Chaucer tells, in the verses of utmost spontaneity and sonority, the course of the tragic love of Troilus and Cressida. The beginning of Troilus's passion of love for Cressida, her initial hesitation and fear, but ultimate response and surrender to him one night, the separation of the lover, caused by the political decision to send her to the Greek camp, and his anxious waiting for her return are all presented in lively verses. The end is deeply tragic. Cressida's weakness in the Greek camp and her betrayal of Troilus's love by yielding pathetically to the passion of the Greek hero Diomede are followed by the hero's desperation, vigorous fighting and eventual killing by the great Greek hero, Achilles. The poem ends with a vision of Troilus's spirit, feeling triumphant over the shabby and frail human world.

Written probably in the middle of 1380's, Troilus and Criseyde has proved to be a major achievement in Chaucerian literature. Chaucer's complete and rate literary genius in story-telling in verse, in constructive skill, in descriptive details, in psychological introspections into human nature and in metrical technique is triumphantly demonstrated here. His pattern of versification is the rhyme royal stanza.

Boccaccio's bare romance is here elevated to a great love poem perhaps, the first great one in English by Chaucer's creative and poetical genius. His full powers are brought together here in a total harmony. Chaucer's enormous literary dimensions, that include his sense of humorous realism and his ironic perception of the way of life, too, appear almost unmatched here. Troilus and Criseyde is the full blossoming of medieval poetry and seems to be the prelude to the Renaissance.

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