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In Troilus and Criseyde, a Trojan prince, Troilus falls in love with Criseyde who is a beautiful widow. Pandarus who is Troilus’ friend and Criseyde’s uncle, helps Troilus by making Criseyde fall in love with him by fair means or foul. Troilus and Criseyde’s relationship seems a success until Criseyde’s father who defected to Greece proposed an exchange between Criseyde and a Trojan soldier. Criseyde sorrowfully goes to the Greek camp, promising Troilus that she would come back in 10 days but she falls in love with Diomede, one of the Greek soldiers. Criseyde has been blamed for betraying Troilus’ love by countless critics. However, Criseyde’s case can be compared to a woman who is introduced to a man by a matchmaker, marries the man and finds out that the information her matchmaker gave to her was false. Would she have to be condemned if she leaves him? Criseyde is not to be blamed because she did not have the right grounds to make an honorable choice: she was falsely manipulated by her uncle, Troilus was too indecisive to protect her, and Diomede approached her with ill intention. Criseyde’s uncle, as her matchmaker, deceitfully coerced her to love Troilus.
Pandarus knew a type of man Criseyde would fall for and tricked her into believing that Troilus was that man. When Pandarus went to her house for the sake of Troilus and saw that she was reading the Siege of Thebes from Statius’ classical epic, Thebaid (2.12), he found out that Criseyde likes violent and passionate battle story. Pandarus keeps emphasizing Troilus as a stout and bold warrior. Pandarus intentionally told her about Troilus as a warrior that overlaps with the story she was reading. “Now here, now there, he hunted them so fast, /there was but Greeks blood” (2.29) However, in reality, Troilus was not a brave manly warrior. When he fell lovesick for Criseyde in the beginning, he closed himself in his room, refusing to sleep or to eat (2.70). From Book 2 stanza 52 to 78, he lamented over his sorrow and did not take any action at all, until Pandarus came to him. When Criseyde was trying to prove to Troilus that his suspicion of her unfaithfulness was wrong and wept, Troilus fainted (3.156). Also, when the Trojan Parlement made a decree that Criseyde should be exchanged with Antenor, he again went to his room alone and deplored his love’s fate (3.32-49) and he sat “Just like a lifeless image, pale and wane” (3.34). Pandarus was presenting a “Troilus” that Criseyde would fall in love, not an actual Troilus. Moreover, Pandarus lied to Criseyde that Troilus heard from his friend that she was in love with Horaste (3.114). All these indicate that Pandarus’ manipulation of Troilus’ character, even resorting to lies, clouded Criseyde’s judgment.
Troilus was slothful. He was slow in making decisions at critical moments. When the Trojan Parlement had a conference about the exchange of Criseyde for Antenor, Troilus was at the conference but did not speak up, unlike his brother Hector (4.22-26). All he did was to close himself in his room and lament. Pandarus, after hearing about the decree, came to him. Troilus said to Pandarus, “let me so weep and wail till I die” (4.57). Pandarus tried to bring Troilus out of his lethargic despair and suggests him this and encourages him not to drag on his action: It is no shame to you, nor a vice, to take her who you love most. Perhaps she might think you were too nice to let her go thus to the Greek host. Think also, Fortune, as you know’st, helps hardy men in their enterprise, and scorns wretches for their cowardice. (4.86) Pandarus offers complete devotion to help Troilus, even surrendering the fate of himself and his kin. However, Troilus does not even mention Pandarus’ plan when he talks with Criseyde about this and does not fully use the help Pandarus offered. This inability of Troilus left Criseyde to choose to go to the Greek camp.
Diomede had lustful purposes for Criseyde from their first encounter. He had an insidious intent to seduce her. From the moment he saw Criseyde, he was talking to himself, “All my labour shall not be idle, /if I may I’ll somewhat to her say” (5.14). Diomede so skillfully spoke to Criseyde that there was “turning over her soul up and down/ the words of this forceful Diomede” (5.147). Diomede was smart enough to approach her slowly yet effectively. Moreover, he lies to her, falsely confessing that: This I have never said before to woman born: for as I wish that God would glad me so, I never loved a woman here before as a paramour, nor never shall more (5.23) In fact, he was a married man, who left his wife at home (Graydon 152). This smart man’s well-planned seduction made Criseyde all the more vulnerable to make an honorable decision because she was “defenseless, among lawless men, with no protection but her outcast father” (Graydon 153).
Some may argue that even though it is understandable that Criseyde deserted Troilus, she should have notified Troilus of it, when she was replying to Troilus’ letters. It might seem to the critics that she was trying to retain the love of Troilus while loving Diomede. However, according the Defense of Criseyde by Joseph S. Graydon, Criseyde knew that Troilus already condemned her as unfaithful in his own heart and Troilus published to Cassandra their secret love and that he spied upon her (Graydon 172). Knowing all these, she was careful in writing her reply. Yet, she drew a distinct line to their relationship by writing, “For truly, while my life may endure, / as a friend, of me you may be sure” (5.232). This proves that Criseyde was giving enough hints to Troilus about the end of their relationship. Moreover, she has no reason to hold Troilus’ love. By the time she was writing the letter back to Troilus, she knew that she would not return to Troy and that her honor is already fallen in Troy. Since she knew she would stay in Greece, she did not have to make Troilus hang on her.
Inevitably, Criseyde left Troilus, which dubbed her as a betrayer. However, her choices were shaped by her uncle’s manipulation, her good intended lover’s indecisiveness, and Diomede’s ill intentions. It is true that she deserted Troilus. However, for centuries, Criseyde has been criticized more than she deserved and was degraded almost to a whore. To remove the false stigma that was laid on her, the inevitability of her situation must be reconsidered.
Chaucer. Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Trans. A.S. Kline. New York: Poetry in Translation. 2001. Web.
Graydon, Joseph S. “Defense of Criseyde.” PMLA, vol. 44, no. 1, 1929, pp. 141–177., www.jstor.org/stable/457671.
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