The Three Worlds of Love in Troilus and Criseyde

The Three Worlds of Love in Troilus and Criseyde

Lundberg, Patricia Lorimer

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 3 (1996)

Chaucer’ s Troilus and Criseyde has long been read as a Christian work about how to transcend earthly love to achieve eternal bliss in heaven with the Christian God, but equally important and little discussed is its portrayal of the changing nature of love as it unfolds in several different kinds of worlds. In the Troilus, Chaucer has successfully thematized the idea of transcending worldly joys and sorrows through the structural device of three worlds. The three lovers, Troilus, Criseyde, and Diomede, must travel through three very different worlds of love: the Trojan world as an ideal one of medieval courtly love, the Greek camp as a world of expedient love between the victor and the vanquished, and the eighth sphere both as an antiworld in which earthly values must be rejected and as a divine world in which celestial love of God may be achieved. The goal may well be transcendence of earthly love for heavenly bliss, but the two earthly worlds in the Troilus represent equally necessary and desirable steps in a human process that forces the characters to contextualize their moral choices in ways that deny any earthly world of moral absolutes. Looking at the Troilus’ s worlds of love as a human progression through states of love offers us insights into the poem without our having to engage in the seemingly endless critical debate over the characters’ moral worth.

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