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POEMS

09

GEOFFREY CHAUCER.

TROYLUS AND CRYSEYDE.

[that this was one of Chaucer's early poems appears to be established by several circumstances; although neither the age at which it was written, nor the place to which it should be assigned in the chronology of his works, can be determined. There is no doubt that it was antecedent to The Canterbury Tales, which, at whatever period they may have been commenced, occupied the close of Chaucer's life. It certainly preceded The Legende of Gode Women, which is represented in the Prologue as having been designed to make amends for the unfavourable picture of the frailties of the sex drawn in the character of Cryseyde. Chaucer himself seems to indicate that it was one of the earliest of his productions, by mentioning-it first in the list of those pieces which he tells us he had revoked in his 'retracciouns,' alluded to in the address to the reader at the end of The Persones Tale, vol. ii. p. 350; and Lydgate, enumerating Chaucer's works, expressly refers Troylus and Cryseyde to his youth. If the conjectures suggested by the internal evidence were of any weight against this testimony, we might be justified in assuming that the poem could hardly have been the production of a very young waiter. The tone of the lines inscribed to the ' moral Cower,' and the 'philosophical Strode,' is that of an author who had already acquired the right to pronounce judgments and confer reputations; ^and the poem itself displays a knowledge of human nature, an amount of learning, and a command of language ordinarily acquired by the slow accumulations of experience; while the closing address, in which the poet endeavours to elevate the thoughts of the reader from hurnan to divine love, js distinguished by the religious sobriefy of matured age. It may be remarked that in The Assembly of Foides, presumed to be amongst Chaucer's earlier poems, the French school is followed; and that Troylus and Cryseyde, possibly written not very long afterwards, is founded, as will be presently shown, upon an Italian original.

/The story is extremely simple. Calchas, a Trojan, and priest of Apollo, foreseeing the impending destruction of ffroy, deserts to the Greeks, leaving his only daughter, 'Cryseyde, behind. Troylus, King Priam's youngest son, sees her soon afterwards for the first time at the temple of Pallas, and conceives a violent passion for her, which he confides to her uncle, Pandarus, a young man of nearly his own. age. Pandarus undertakes to assist him in his suit, and pleads zealously with Cryseyde on his behalf, contriving "at the same time that she shall be at her window as Troylus, returning from a victory over the Greeks, is borne home in triumph by a rout of his countrymen. This spectacle touches her much more nearly than the eloquence of Pandarus, and from that hour the heart of Cryseyde is won. By the ingenious devices of Pandarus they are enabled to meet, and their happiness is at its height when, by an exchange of prisoners, Cryseyde is about to be restored to the arms of her father. The lovers are inconsolable. Several modes of avoiding their cruel fate are suggested, and rejected in turn; and at length it is arranged that Cryseyde shall proceed to the Grecian camp, pledging herself to find some means of effecting her escape, and returning to Troy within ten days. Diomede, who is appointed to escort her, imagines he has detected an attachment between her and Troylus, and, for pastime on the journey, resolves to supplant him. She scarcely listens to his civil speeches, but in acknowledgment of his courtesy gives him leave to visit her. Day after day passes over, and at last the tenth day arrives, when she is determined to keep her promise at all hazards. But on that day Diomede visits her. He makes good use of his opportunity by depreciating the Trojans and exalting the Greeks, terminating the interview with a declaration of love. She defers her flight for that day, and permits him to visit her again. The peril of the- city, and her own unprotected state, become magnified in her imagination from hour to hour; and she begins to think that it would be madness to return to Troy for the present. Chaucer, with excellent taste, draws a veil over her incontinence, and hastens to the denouement, which we now see to be inevitable. The fatal truth becomes known to Troylus by the discovery of a brooch he had given to her on a ' maner cote armure,' taken from Diomede in a skirmish; and, unable to survive her infidelity, he seeks, and finds, his death on the field of battle.

The reader will observe that the incidents of this story are few and simple; yet the poem in which they are developed is nearly as long as the JEneid. It is almost entirely composed of dialogues and descriptions intended to unfold the nature of the universal passion in all its phases, and has not unaptly been described as Ovid's Ars Amandi put into action,1 and treated with new grace, delicacy, and pathos. In Troylus is represented the beau iddal of pure and manly love. In Pandarus we have the passion despoiled of every

1 It would be easy to quote aphorisms fiom the Ars Amandi, of which every sentiment and situation described in this poem might be taken as an illustration. For instance, Cryseyde's unfaithfulness, caused by the absence of her lover, is ati illustration in action of the principle— 'Sed mora tuta brevis: lentescunt tempore curas, Vanescitque absens, et novus intrat amor.' The description of Cryseyde's haughty air is contained in the following:—

'Est et in incessu pars non temnenda decoris, Allicit ignotos ille, fugatque viros. Haec movet arte latus,. tunicisque nuentibus auras Excipit; extensos fertque superba pedes.'—iii. 298. Fandarus's warning to Cryseyde not to wait till crow's feet grow undei her eyes:—

'Et tlbi jam cani venient, formose, capilli,

Jam venient rugae, quae tibi corpus arent.'—ii. i IS

sentiment which gives it elevation and refinement: for he, too, is a lover, base, egotistical, and selfish. Cryseyde, on the other hand, personifies woman's love, not so much in its strength and courage as in its weakness and tenderness; diffident and plastic, slowly won, always requiring to be assured and sustained, and, when its first object is removed, turning by the law of its-nature to another. According to this interpretation of the passion, Cryseyde, in accepting the vows of Diomede, is made to obey, rather than sin against, the instincts of her sex. The same thought is observable in The Court of Love [which, however, is not by Chaucer; see vol. iv. p. 279]:

'There may no man,' quoth he,' the statute know,
That longe to women, high degre tie low.*

In secret wise they kepten ben ful close,
They sound echone to liberty, my frend;
Pleasaunt they be, and to their own purpose;
There wot no wight of them, but God and fiend,
Ne naught shal wite, unto the worldes ende.

******
For men shall not so nere of counsel been
With womanhede, ne knowen of her guise,
Ne what they think, ne of their wit thengine,
I me report to Salomon the wise,
And mighty Sampson, which beguiled thrice
With Dalida was; he wot that, in a throwe.
There may no man statute of women knowe.

For it, peraventure, may right so befalle

That they be bound by nature to deceive.

And spinne and wepe, and sugar strewe on galle,

The herte of man to ravish and to reive,

And whet their tongue as sharp as swerd or gleve;

It may betide this is their ordinaunce,

So must they lowly doon their observance.

That this was understood to be the tendency of the poem by Chaucer's contemporaries is shown in the fact that he wrote The Legende of Gode Women to remove the odium which

Cryseyde's declaration that no husband shall say to her check-mate.— 'Hoc decet uxores: dos est uxoria lites;

Audiat optatos semper amica sonos.'—ii. 155. It will be remembered that Ovid's Ars Amandiw&s a favourite book of Petrarch's and Boccaccio's.

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