Courtly love was an idea that was based on a love that was many times illicit and chivalrous. Geoffrey Chaucer was an expert at portraying courtly love in the Canterbury Tales and in Troilus and Criseyde. In Troilus and Criseyde it is more focused since the story revolves more around the two characters while in the Canterbury Tales there are many stories and they are about multiple topics. Like courtly love the story of Troilus and Criseyde originate in France, but Chaucer wrote his version somewhere between 1381 and 1386.
He took the liberty of changing the story some, but it is basically left intact. The story is about a Trojan prince, Troilus and the daughter of a Trojan priest, Criseyde and it takes place during the famous Trojan War. Courtly love is a romance that is forbidden in some way. Many times it is adulterous and it can be sexual, but often times it is not. Even if sex is not a part of the romance, there is an extreme amount of sexual tension between the two lovers. If the affair was not adulterous, then at least one of the lovers was attached to someone else in some way.
It could be that one were betrothed or promised by a parent to another. It could, in some cases, be considered adulterous if one of the lovers has promised their lives to a higher calling, as to the church, the military, or to service in some way to his/her country. The fact that courtly love was forbidden made the tension more intense and so was the attraction. There is something in knowing that a person cannot have another that makes it that much more excitable. Therefore the lust and longing was much greater. Troilus and Criseyde do not fit courtly love in that respect.
They are not promised to anyone else, however, because of the Trojan War, it was difficult for them to have a proper romance. Criseyde’s father does crossover to the side of the Greeks against his own country of Troy. This leaves Criseyde to be seen as someone who is not loyal to Troy. The son of King Priam, Troilus, would not be a suitable lover to one from the family of Calkas. That is the closest that the story of Troilus and Criseyde come to being a forbidden or illicit romance. Early in the story, Troilus is struck by the god of love he pines for Criseyde until he is miserable.
Courtly love often makes the two lovers despondent. While he is pining and singing of his love, Pandarus, a relative of Criseyde, begs him to divulge the name of the woman who has his heart. `Therfore, as freend fullich in me assure, And final cause of wo that ye endure; For douteth nothing, myn entencioun Nis nought to yow of reprehencioun, To speke as now, for no wight may bireve A man to love, til that him list to leve. (Chaucer, Book I lines 680-686) Troilus confides in his friend and Pandarus agrees to aide him in a plan to obtain the lady who he loves.
This is also a part of courtly love. Many times elaborate plans are conceived in order for one lover to obtain or be able to see the other lover. This has even carried into present day. Many find the planning of the romance more excitable than the romance itself. The third party who is often involved in courtly love in this case is Pandarus. He goes back to Criseyde and reveals the account of Troilus being in love with her. Now, nece myn, the kinges dere sone, The goode, wyse, worthy, fresshe, and free, Which alwey for to do wel is his wone, The noble Troilus, so loveth thee,
That, bot ye helpe, it wol his bane be. Lo, here is al, what sholde I more seye? Doth what yow list, to make him live or deye. (Chaucer Book II lines 316-322) He glamorizes so that she will be more intrigued. He also reminds her of her advance in age. He is generous of his time and devotion to the affair that will not be his own because he has been unlucky in love and truly wants to see two people have what has eluded him. The third party in courtly love does have pure intentions. Criseyde is reluctant to receive the love of Troilus until she gathers with her female friends.
She hears Antigone sing of love and then she sleeps and dreams of a white eagle with whom she exchanges hearts. When she awakes, she knows that this was a sign and that she should receive the advances of Troilus. This is the sign that is common in courtly love. Often higher powers are involved in the relationship and they do send signs to either one or both of the lovers. In the case of these lovers, it is Criseyde who has the revelation. Courtly love is often ritualistic. In the case of Troilus and Criseyde, there is very little time for rituals of the heart.
Criseyde is on the side of the enemy of Troilus and so the act of gifts, songs, and poems cannot be something that would take long in the case of these lovers. Most of the planning in the case of this romance is on the part of Pandarus instead of Troilus. Pandarus busies himself with delivering letters back and forth between the lovers. Criseyde plays her part of in courtly love in being demur. It is not that she is not interested in Troilus, but she plays hard to get in order to create the sexual tension that is needed to achieve the affect.
Not only is Troilus excited, but Pandarus is enjoying himself as well. Courtly love has to be a secret. A few are allowed to know, but only trusted friends or servants are a party to the affair. The love is supposed to be so special and intense that it would be ruined if many knew of it. This is the case with Troilus and Criseyde. Pandarus plans a meeting between the lovers at the house of Deiphebus. Troilus is to pretend to have a fever and go to bed. Criseyde, who will be a guest at the house is to be bought in to his bedchamber. They are both instructed by Pandarus to not tell anyone else.
In titering, and pursuite, and delayes, The folk devyne at wagginge of a stree; And though ye wolde han after merye dayes, But now to yow, ye lovers that ben here, Was Troilus nought in a kankedort, That lay, and mighte whispringe of hem here, And thoughte, `O lord, right now renneth my sort Fully to dye, or han anoon comfort’; And was the firste tyme he shulde hir preye Of love; O mighty God, what shal he seye? Pandarus brings Criseyde to the bedchamber of Troilus where he declares his intentions to her. By this time there is a lot of sexual tension between the two.
This will not be the when they consummate their love, but they do agree that they both want the same thing from the other. This is when many more letters are exchanged by the two. They are once again building the tension in each other. Pandarus then invites Criseyde to his home for dinner, while Troilus hides and watches the two. Criseyde stays at his home because of the weather, and it is then that he persuades her to see Troilus in the bedchamber. Tension is built again as in any good example of courtly love. Criseyde faints, and Troilus is terrified that she is dead. She is revived and they talk of their love.
It is then that they are able to consummate their love. Reson wil not that I speke of sleep, For it accordeth nought to my matere; God woot, they toke of that ful litel keep, But lest this night, that was to hem so dere, Ne sholde in veyn escape in no manere, It was biset in joye and bisinesse Of al that souneth in-to gentilnesse (Chaucer, Book III lines 1408-1414) Criseyde must then go to the Greeks and their king, Diomede. There is always something that will separate lovers in courtly love. Since Criseyde’s father, Calkas, has joined the Greeks it leaves her no choice.
Troilus relents and believes that she will remain true to him. For mannes heed imaginen ne can, Ne entendement considere, ne tonge telle The cruel peynes of this sorwful man, That passen every torment doun in helle. For whan he saugh that she ne mighte dwelle, Which that his soule out of his herte rente, Withouten more, out of the chaumbre he wente. (Chaucer Book IV lines 1695-1701) However Diomede offers her his protection and we automatically see a new romance in the making. Troilus pines the whole time that she is gone. It becomes apparent after much time has passed that she is not going to return.
Criseyde is invited to dine with Diomede and this is when he talks to her about love. She readily agrees to stay with the Greeks and become his lover. And after this the story telleth us, That she him yaf the faire baye stede, The which he ones wan of Troilus; And eek a broche (and that was litel nede) That Troilus was, she yaf this Diomede. And eek, the bet from sorwe him to releve, She made him were a pencel of hir sleve. (Chaucer, Book V Lines 1037-1043) While this is taking place, Troilus is being warned through bad dreams that all is not well for him and his relationship with Criseyde.
When the dream was interpreted for him, he refuses to accept that she is not to return and has taken a new lover. He writes her many times and her letters are cool. Once he sees Diomede wearing a piece of jewelry that he gave to Criseyde, he knows the truth and he is devastated. Troilus is killed in battle and is then taken to a level of the afterlife where he enjoys great pleasures. God woot, that it a sorwe is unto me! And dredelees, for hertes ese of yow, Right fayn wolde I amende it, wiste I how. And fro this world, almighty God I preye, Delivere hir sone; I can namore seye.
‘ Gret was the sorwe and pleynt of Troilus; But forth hir cours fortune ay gan to holde. Criseyde loveth the sone of Tydeus, And Troilus moot wepe in cares colde. Swich is this world; who so it can biholde, In ech estat is litel hertes reste; God leve us for to take it for the beste! (Chaucer, Book V lines 1739-1750) Chaucer makes the point that earthly things are not worth the pain and grief that is given to them. Courtly love is not the kind of love that will last. There is always some fateful event or circumstance that will separate the two lovers.