Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

I’ve always considered myself a narrative girl since poetry was never an option. But, things are changing this year because thanks to my Chaucer and Caribbean Literature courses, I am beginning to enjoy poetry. To tell you the truth, I could not be happier!

Summary from Book Depository:

‘Now listen with good will, as I go straight to my subject matter, in which you may hear the double sorrows of Troilus in his love for Criseyde, and how she forsook him before she died’ Like Romeo and Juliet, or Tristan and Iseult, the names of Troilus and Criseyde will always be united: a pair of lovers whose names are inseparable from passion and tragedy. Troilus and Criseyde is Chaucer’s masterpiece and was prized for centuries as his supreme achievement. The story of how Troilus and Criseyde discover love and how she abandons him for Diomede after her departure from Troy is dramatically presented in all its comedy and tragic pathos. With its deep humanity and penetrating insight, Troilus and Criseyde is now recognized as one of the finest narrative poems in the English language. This is a new translation into contemporary English of Chaucer’s greatest single poem which can be read alongside the Middle English original, or as an accurate and readable version in its own right.

First of all I got to admit I got really scared when I realised I had to read one thousand stanzas. How could I do it? I have never enjoyed reading poetry so it just felt a real challenge… but it wasn’t. Troilus and Criseyde has become a work I would consider re-reading in my free time and that has made me love Chaucer’s works a little bit more.

The story is very interesting and it is not that different to Romeo and Juliet in that they both deal with an impossible love. In fact, I must admit I love the Chaucerian style over the Shakesperian one (but I cheated, because I read a translation to Modern English). Also, because it is a work from the Middle Ages, there are a lot of intertextuality and interior monologues.

Regarding the characters, especially Criseyde, what can I say? She is a modern woman in her own right. Abandoned by her father, she married and there is no reference to her having children. When Troilus approaches her, she has two concerns: her honor and her freedom! In their relationship, she is the strong one, always reluctant to accept Troilus too romantic discourse. Her only blind spot is her fixation on her honor. As a widow, she does not want to be seen with any man and always wears black clothes. Obviously, it is hard to understand but, at the same time, we are still very close in history to the discrimination not only of widows but also of divorced women and single mothers.

The love story is difficult to understand for a modern reader. It is based on the idea of courtly love and sometimes the characters have too much affected manners. However, it has the elements of any romantic movie we would be sold nowadays: the boy in love, the strong girl, the funny friend (No Strings Attached comes to my mind right now) and the impossibility of their love. However, some previous reading on courtly love and an open mind will work this problem out.

Would I recommend Troilus and Criseyde? Totally! However, readers should keep in mind that the interesting thing of the work is not the ending but how and why the story unfolds as it does. Also, unless you can read Middle English, I recommend to buy the Penguin Edition: the text is translated to Modern English but the stanzas and the rhyme are kept.


For those who have read the Postcolonial Series, please keep visiting this post for new aditions as my courses progress. At the moment, I plan to add, at least, one novel, a collection of poems, single poems and a play (their reviews will be post in the main page anyways) Thanks!


  • amanda

    I just added this to my TBR list the other day, so I’m glad to hear it’s so good! I don’t generally think of myself as a poetry reader, but I’ve found that I usually enjoy long-form poems such as this.

  • everybookandcranny

    My reading of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass this year has renewed my interest in poetry as well and, like you, I couldn’t be happier about it.

    I will admit to being a bit intimidated by the likes of Chaucer so I love the idea of reading a Modern English version.

    Thanks for the review!

    • Elena

      Well, I got to tell you the truth: I don’t usually like the classics in poetry! I read Whitman last year and I see his importance but it’s not my cup of tea. Chaucer is different, it is narrative poetry and I think it can be enjoyed more easily.

      However, I love postcolonial poetry.

  • Francesca

    I’m an Italian reader, and this book is part of a programm of an English Literature exam that I have difficult to pass…no Italian translations of the book exist and I’m reading The Northon Edition in medieval English with comments and crictisism, the edition is good (there’s also the Boccaccio’s Filostrato included) but very hard to study and I ‘ve found modernized versions on the Internet…..some help from English readers, howewer could be very useful to me…Icould you tell me, for example, why did Criseyde finally accept Diomede , even if she had promised to love Troilus (and to come back to Troy)….can this behaviour be considered lack of force, lack of decision, a consolation for her (after having known that she could not come back to Troy?…)

    I thank you very much for any help and suggestion!

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