UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde : a dramatic interpretation of the "double truth" theory Parkinson, Francis Cuthbert


The contention of the thesis is that Chaucer's approach to the story of Troilus and Criseyde was determined by a wish to examine pragmatically the essential value of courtly love as a way of life and that he used the Troilus as a poetic vehicle for this examination. Furthermore it is maintained that his view of courtly love would be conditioned by the current philosophical theory of the "double truth"—that a thing may be true according to reason but false according to religion. The code of courtly love had been condemned by the Church as being opposed to Christian morality, but extolled by many writers, especially Andreas Capellanus, as being not only in harmony with natural morality but even the summum bonum of life. In Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer is speculating on the validity of the latter position, which constituted a commonly recognized example of one aspect of a double truth. If this hypothesis can be substantiated it is reasonable to hope that it may shed light on the major critical problems of the Troilus, specifically the relevancy of Troilus's speech on free will, the apparent inconsistency in Criseyde's actions and the artistic value of the epilogue. To establish the hypothesis the thesis presents evidence of the prevalence of the Averroistic system of thought from which sprang the theory of the two truths and of Chaucer's undoubted awareness of this philosophical position. Textual evidence is then introduced to show that Chaucer intended to deal specifically with courtly love as a rational and complete way of life and examine its consequences in the dramatic unfolding of the story. He developed courtly love into a way of life by making it a quasi-religion. From this arises the relevancy of Troilus's speech on free will: it is a commentary on the determinism implicit in this religion. The major characters in the poem are then considered. Taken together the dramatic roles of the male protagonists are seen to exemplify a comprehensive, tri-partite view of courtly love—idealistic, sensual and light-hearted—none of which proves eventually productive of lasting happiness. Criseyde’s character, flawed by her fear of scandal, is a crux in the tragedy. Her insistence that the courtly commandment of secrecy be kept is responsible for the lovers' separation. Hence the demands of the code of love are responsible for the tragedy, and Criseyde's betrayal is consistent with the timidity of character she continually displays. Finally the epilogue is seen as a summary of the findings of Chaucer's philosophical experiment in fiction. Troilus's final enlightenment expresses the conclusion of the author: that courtly love is a false happiness not only on religious grounds but also on rational and pragmatic ones. The theory of double truth has thus been dramatically shown to be inapplicable to the defense of courtly love as a way of life.

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