Modern Language Quarterly, March 1992 v53 n1 p23(18)
Abstract: John Lydgate and Robert Henryson continued the work of Chaucer by penning their versions of 'Troilus and Criseyde' in different forms. While Lydgate created a scholarly work that explored the historical context of the heroes' actions while Henryson created an original poetical piece. Lydgate created an analytical, academic and critical piece while Henryson used his imagination to create a poem that further developed Criseyde such that readers often mistook his ending as Chaucer's.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1992 Duke University Press
Although Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde is cited and used by many English writers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the two major reworkings of the love story before Shakespeare are by John Lydgate in his Troy Book (1412-20) and by Robert Henryson in his late fifteenth-century Testament of Cresseid.(1) Lydgate and Henryson are perhaps the most prominent representatives of the English and Scottish Chaucerian traditions, and their two Trojan works had great influence. Lydgate's massive Troy Book, commissioned by Henry V when still Prince of Wales, became the standard history of the Trojan War in English (as its patron hoped it would) and is one of the sources for Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. It survives in more manuscripts than does Chaucer's Troilus. Henryson's short poem had an even more eventful career. First produced in relative obscurity (no early manuscripts survive or separate prints before 1593), Thynne included it following Troilus in his 1532 edition of Chaucer's works (apparently as an afterthought). As a result, it was widely accepted as the genuine conclusion to Chaucer's poem into the eighteenth century. Henryson's tabloid-like revelations about Cresseid's private life (that after being rejected by Diomede she became a prostitute and finally died of leprosy) were the most memorable incidents of the story for many later readers. Until the time of Shakespeare and well beyond, reference to Chaucer's love story almost always includes, and is often dominated by, Henryson's account of Cresseid's end.
Although it is fashionable today to assume a writer's deep Oedipal anxiety as he tries to match a great predecessor (and there is evidence of such feelings toward Chaucer by other writers of the period), neither Lydgate or Henryson seems especially intimidated by Troilus and Criseyde. Instead, both appear invigorated by the challenge of adding to Chaucer's achievement and produce some of their finest work, though the results are very different. Put most crudely, Henryson is a great poet and Lydgate is not; the former creates a small tragic masterpiece, the latter a pseudohistory of interminable length.(2) It tells us much about the literary judgment of each that Lydgate's response to Chaucer's eight-thousand-line Trojan poem was a work almost four times as long (over thirty thousand lines), whereas Henryson had the shrewd tact to respond with just over six hundred lines. In light of these numbers, the difference between Lydgate and Henryson has often been thought as one of quantity versus quality. Although there is some truth in this judgment, it is finally too simple and obscures the separate motives and accomplishments of each.
Lydgate approached Chaucer's story of Troilus and Criseyde as a scholarly commentator ready to annotate, reinforce, and provide his readers with the historical context to Chaucer's work; Henryson's response is to exploit in his own original way Chaucer's innovative literary devices, including the characterization of Criseyde. It is as if each were attempting to rectify a different absence in Troilus. For Lydgate, it is Chaucer's announcement early in the poem that his subject is not the war or destruction of the city and that anyone who wants to know about
the Troian gestes, as they felle,
In Omer, or in Dares, or in Dite,
Whoso that kan may rede as they write.
Homer is just a name in the Middle Ages, but Lydgate had read Dares and Dictys in the authoritative redaction of Guido delle Colonne and is prepared to recount all to his audience. The Chaucerian absence that Henryson wants to fill is the narrator's admission that he does not know what Criseyde felt in her heart toward Diomede and the refusal of Troilus to tell the end of her story: "Men seyn - I not - that she yaf hym hire herte" (5.1050). Criseyde's heart, mind, and soul (and what happened to her among the Greeks) are the subject of the Testament.
Lydgate's Troy Book is a careful, if expanded, translation of Guido delle Colonne's late thirteenth-century Historia destructionis Troiae. Although the learned Historia is actually a sober Latin adaptation of Benoit de Sainte-Maure's inventive French romance, Le Roman de Troie (ca. 1180), it was widely accepted in the late Middle Ages as the true history of the Trojan War based on the supposed eyewitness journals of Dares on the Trojan side and Dictys on the Greek.(4) Benoit, followed by Guido, transforms the sparse accounts of Dares and Dictys into an epic narrative that opens with Jason;s pursuit of the Golden Fleece and ends only with the return of the Greeks after the final destruction of Priam's city. Like Benoit, who invented the episode, Guido includes the story of Troilus and Briseida (as Criseyde is there called). Recounted in several separate episodes that tell us almost nothing about the beginning and growth of Troilus's love affair, Guido's narrative begins with Briseida's departure from Troy to the Greek camp at the request of her traitor father Calchas. Both lovers lament their separation, but once among the Greeks Briseida immediately wins and soon accepts the affections of Diomedes (allowing Guido to moralize on the frailty of women), while Troilus is left to revenge himself with limited success against his rival on the battlefield until he himself is killed in ambush by Achilles.
Lydgate clearly accepted the authority of the Historia, regarding it, as Walter Schirmer has noted, as a "historical work containing all the moral and political lessons which history was expected to teach."(5) Lydgate changes nothing essential in Guido's factual matter, though everything is developed at greater length. The story of the separated lovers is especially enlarged because of Lydgate's knowledge of Troilus and Criseyde, which he praises extravagantly. Indeed it may well have been the impact of Chaucer's poem that inspired Lydgate and the future Henry V (who himself owned a copy of it) to have the full story of Troy told in English. To many modern readers, Lydgate's tributes to Chaucer are irritating at best because the monk of Bury seems to have captured nothing of the psychological depth, imaginative empathy, tragic intensity, or literary power of his model. Derek Pearsall has compared part of the initial description of Criseyde in the Troy Book (2.4736-62) with Chaucer's portrait of her near the end of his poem (5.806-26). Although Lydgate borrows heavily from his predecessor (who in this passage is uncharacteristically formal and distant), much is lost: "Gone are the distinctive tone of voice, the pure felicity of diction, the asides, the sweet smoothness of line flowing into line; in their place the generalized epithet, the conventional image, the loose syntax, the lame metre, the patches of decoration, the pretentious abstraction."(6) The reader may all too easily agree with Lydgate himself a few lines earlier when, in a formula often used by Chaucer, he says that to try to imitate his master's description of Criseyde is "hi3e foly" (2.4682).
The harsh assessment that Lydgate has so often received from later readers is in a sense unfair because it comes from judging him as a poet. Lydgate has his virtues, but exceptional skill at poetry is not one of them. In a recent article, Pearsall usefully sees Lydgate as a mediator rather than a creator: "What Lydgate did was to absorb Chaucer to the official taste of the fifteenth century, by praising and imitating him in ways that were acceptable to that taste."(7) It might be even more appropriate for us to think of Lydgate not so much as a poet but as a critic. He often recognizes what Chaucer has done, even if he cannot do it himself. He would have been the appropriate first holder of a chair in Chaucer studies (his interest in Chaucer is surely more academic than Boccaccio's was in Dante). To be quite frank, Lydgate is one of us. Instead of kissing the steps trod by Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan, and Statius, he is more easily imagined in conversation with the president of the Modern Language Association. Whenever we are tempted to condescend to Lydgate, we should stop and consider whether any of us could equal even his modest poetic attainments should the Modem Language Quarterly, for instance, like the fifteenth century, demand that our response to Chaucer be written in verse. No doubt some of our number could equal him in prolixity.
Lydgate's praise of Chaucer during his description of Criseyde and later when he comes to tell of the lovers' parting (3.4237-63) shows that he recognized his predecessor's greatness. It will be the argument of the rest of this section that Lydgate understood much, though certainly not all, of what Chaucer had accomplished in Troilus and Criseyde, even if he was incapable of equaling it in his own verse. In a brilliant essay that still remains influential today, C. S. Lewis (one modern critic who could write good Middle English poetry) identified four elements in Troilus that Chaucer had added to his immediate source, Boccaccio's Il Filostrato: history, rhetoric, doctrine, and courtly love.(8) Except for the problematic issue of courtly love, most Chaucerians today would agree that these elements are indeed important in Chaucer's version of the story. That they also mark Lydgate's treatment of the love story indicates that he was a better reader of Troilus than has sometimes been recognized.
Lewis first demonstrates that Chaucer "approached his work as an |historical' poet contributing to the story of Troy." He expected his audience to be interested not only in "the personal drama between his little group of characters' but also in 'that whole world of story which makes this drama's context" (p. 10). Chaucer indeed adds material from the medieval history of Troy to Boccaccio's poem, as I have discussed elsewhere, but Lydgate takes this process much further.(9) The Troy Book puts the love story of Troilus and Criseyde back into the context of the history from which Boccaccio had freed it. In contrast to Chaucer's use of Troy as background, Lydgate retells Guido delle Colonne's entire Historia destructionis Troiae. Responding to and going beyond the historical element in Troilus, Lydgate provides readers of Chaucer's poem with the full Trojan context, much as certain university teachers spend weeks on the General Prologue and on an exhaustive exposition of fourteenth-century English life as a prelude to reading the Canterbury Tales.
Lydgate's commitment to the historical truth of Troy, as he understood it, is fundamental. Unlike Chaucer, he does not feel free to omit or completely invent episodes, though he does expand and interpret.(10) For all his praise of Chaucer's style, it is Guido's order of presentation of the love story that Lydgate chooses to follow (Torti, p. 182). Like Guido, he first describes Troilus and Criseyde separately and only mentions the affair as the lovers are about to part (3.4077ff.). He does supplement the Historia with a brief (for him) digression on how the relationship began, taken from the first three books of Chaucer's Troilus, with most of the attention on how Troilus was smitten at his first sight of Criseyde (3.4201-23). By identifying the digression as Chaucerian, Lydgate seems to deny any responsibility for its historical truth. Just as Chaucer had urged those who wanted to learn more about the Trojan War to read Dares and Dictys, Lydgate, the more historical poet, urges those who want to learn more about the love story to turn to Chaucer: "pe hoole story Chaucer kan 3ow telle / 3if that 3e liste - no man bet alyue" (3.4234-35). Lydgate's commitment to Guido's history, for all his praise of Chaucer's love story, can also be seen in his characterization. Lydgate does use Chaucer's name for Guido's Briseida, but the name Pandarus appears in the narrative, as it does in the Historia, as that of a king who came to fight on the Trojan side (2.7626). The role of Pandarus in the love affair is mentioned only in passing during the summary of Troilus (3.4216). Similarly, Lydgate's Diomede is a noble fighter and sincere lover of Criseyde (see, for example, 3.4820ff.), as he is in Guido, rather than Chaucer's smooth seducer. Chaucer may be "historical," but Lydgate is much truer to the medieval history of Troy.
Lewis also shows that Chaucer "approached his work as a pupil of the rhetoricians" who "found his original too short and proceeded in many places to |amplify' it" (p. 11). No reader of the Troy Book will need to be told that Lydgate responded to and amplified the rhetoric of Chaucer's Troilus. Pearsall notes that throughout his career Lydgate "uses academic rhetoric to fortify and improve upon successive Chaucerian models" ("Chaucer and Lydgate," p. 52), even though the improvement may be only in his own eyes. In two passages during his retelling of the story of Troilus and Criseyde that specifically praise Chaucer (2.4694-4719; 3.4237-63), it is not the older poet's humor, colloquialism, learning, or irony that Lydgate celebrates (as we might), but rather his "gold dewe-dropis of rhetorik so fyne, / Oure rude langage only tenlwmyne" (2.4699-4700). Lydgate recognizes that Chaucer's command of rhetoric had finally made English a serious literary language, and he develops this idea in a second tribute that compares his predecessor to Petrarch (3.4351), whom Chaucer's own Clerk in the Canterbury Tales had cited as "the lauriate poete" whose "rethorike sweete / Enlumyned al Ytaille of poetrie" (4.31-33):
For he owre englishe gilte with his sawes,
Rude and boistous firste be olde dawes,
pat was ful fer from al perfeccioun,
And but of litel reputacioun,
Til pat he cam, &, poru3 his poetrie,
Gan oure tonge firste to magnifie,
And adourne it with his elloquence
To whom honour, laude, & reuerence,
poru3-oute pis londe 3oue be & songe,
So pat pe laurer of oure englishe tonge
Be to hym 3oue for his excellence.
Far from being intimidated by Chaucer, Lydgate seems grateful that the older poet had made English literature, including the Troy Book, possible. In imitating and inflating Chaucer's rhetoric, Lydgate was responding to only one part of the achievement of Troilus, and his practice does not begin to equal his model, but the result is instructive, as the work of a modern critic who analyzes only one aspect of Chaucer is instructive.
The third element identified by Lewis in Troilus that was not in Boccaccio's Filostrato results from the fact that "Chaucer approached his work as a poet of doctryne and sentence." Lewis quotes Hoccleve's praise of Chaucer for this quality and warns us not to be astonished "that the fifteenth century should imitate those elements of Chaucer's genius which it enjoyed instead of those which we enjoy" (p. 12). As an example of doctryne and sentence in Troilus, Lewis mentions Chaucer's long Boethian addition on free will and Fortune in book 4, a theme that appears throughout the poem.(11) Anna Torti has noted the prominent role of Fortune in the Troy Book (p. 181), and indeed Lydgate prefaces his first and longest discussion of the affair (when the lovers part) with a lament against Fortune and her changeable wheel that reminds us specifically of the opening of book 4 of Troilus.
Allas! Fortune, gery and vnstable,
And redy ay for to be chaungable;
Whan folk most triste in hi stormy face,
Liche her desire be fully to embrace:
Panne is Pi Ioye aweye to turne & wrype,
Vp-on wrechis pi power for to kipe - Record
Record on Troylus, pat fro Pi whele so lowe
By fals envie pou hast ouer-prowe,
Out of he Ioye which hat he was Inne,
From his lady to make him for to twynne
Whan he best wende for to haue be surid.
Lydgate is a poet of doctryne and sentence in a more limited way than Chaucer. The older poet adds to his poem a range of philosophical and religious issues not found in Boccaccio without providing clear answers, whereas Lydgate, as tends to be true with critics even in our postmodern age, is anxious to draw moral or political meaning from the story and to explain why things happen as they do. For example, Lydgate must find a reason for the death of Hector, the event that seals Troy's destruction. Without changing Guido's facts, he interprets Hector's actions just before his death as covetousness and thus by the crudest application of the notion of a "tragic flaw" is able to identify the cause that lay behind this crucial event: Hector's moral error exposed him to death (Benson, History of Troy, pp. 124-29). Writing about a similar analysis of another incident in the Troy Book, Pearsall notes that "such moralising is often highly inappropriate, indeed . . . totally destructive of any values for which the story itself might stand" (John Lydgate, p. 131). In retelling the love story of Troilus and Criseyde, Lydgate must explain the betrayal of Criseyde, to which I shall turn in discussing the fourth element that Lewis found added to Troilus.
In the last and longest section of his essay, Lewis says that "Chaucer approached his work as the poet of courtly love" (p. 14). Courtly love has become a problematic term for contemporary readers of Chaucer, and, whatever one's definition, few would find it much in evidence in the Troy Book. Nevertheless, Lydgate does respond to an undoubted courtly element in Troilus: the ennobling of Troilus and Criseyde. The purest hero in the Troy Book is not Hector, who brings on his own death, but Troilus, whose 'epic status' is noted by Torti (p. 174). Troilus's prowess in battle is stressed when he is first mentioned in the Troy Book, and, bringing a phrase forward from Guido in all seriousness that Chaucer uses somewhat mockingly, Lydgate calls him "Hector Pe secounde" (2.288). When next mentioned, Troilus is described as "3ong, fresche, and lusty, & coraious also" (2.2995). The first two adjectives especially, so reminiscent of Chaucer's idealistic and innocent hero, are used formulaically for Troilus throughout the Troy Book (e.g., 2.4865, 8629; 3.173-74, 2387; 4.1638). Lydgate's formal portrait of Troilus, much expanded from the Historia, stresses his accomplishments as a warrior (the deeds that Chaucer mentions but never develops are fully recounted in the Troy Book); and whereas Guido notes merely that Troilus was popular with women because of his reserve, Lydgate adds lines that remind us of Chaucer's steadfast Troilus, who could not stop loving Criseyde for a quarter of a day: "per-to in loue as trewe as any stele, / Secre and wys"; and "He was alwey feithful, iust, & stable, / Perseueraunt, and of wil inmvtable / Vp-on what ping he onys set his herte" (2.4874-75, 4879-81). The death of Lydgate's perfect knight results from no fault of his own, but from the false treachery of Achilles, whose wickedness is much developed from Guido (e.g., 4.2668ff., 2768ff.), and the woe thereby occasioned is the subject of a long, learned, and original lament by Lydgate (4.3004-70) - the kind Chaucer makes fun of at the end of the Nun's Priest's Tale.
If Troilus is truly ennobled in the Troy Book, Criseyde only seems to be. The antifeminist lesson that Lydgate draws from Criseyde's betrayal, though clear enough in the end, is complicated by his use of a prominent narrative voice, reminiscent of that in Chaucer's Troilus, which appears to offer sympathy to the heroine. After telling us that the lovers must part and praising Chaucer, Lydgate's narrator notes that his source blamed Troilus for loving Criseyde and then reports at length all the terrible things that Guido had to say about women: they are like serpents, they are never satisfied with one man, they continually sell themselves, they change like the moon, and so on (3.4264-4342). The English narrator is careful throughout the dia-tribe to note that these are Guido's opinions ("as seith Guydo"), and at the conclusion he insists, "pus techep Guydo, God wot, & not I!" (3.4343). The narrator pretends to be indignant with Guido ("ful euel mote he priue!" [3.4355) and affirms "by pe rode" that he himself believes that for every bad woman there are a hundred good ones, citing various holy women (3.4361-97). He returns to Guido's complaint that women are naturally double and uses this as a final defense: if nature made them this way, how can they be responsible: "For 3if wommen be double naturelly, / Why shulde men leyn on hem pe blame?" (3.4408-9). A similar argument is repeated at the end of the entire passage (3.4441-45).
As Gretchen Mieszkowski has fully explained, the joke here is not only that Lydgate's final "defense" - that women are false by nature - is really the deepest insult but also that Guido's reported attacks against women, which the narrator pretends to disdain, are greatly expanded in the Troy Book, even by Lydgate's standards.(12) Although there is some genuine literary play here, A C. Spearing is justified in finding Lydgate's irony "a coarse-grained misreading of Chaucer's tone."(13) In contrast to Chaucer's genuine sympathy for Criseyde, Lydgate's is merely superficial; as Pearsall notes, "He reabsorbs Criseyde into the conventional stereotypes of medieval anti-feminism" ("Chaucer and Lydgate," p. 48). Yet Lydgate has not misunderstood Chaucer completely. He has clearly reproduced the separation in Troilus between the poet's own views and those of his narrative voice, an aspect of Chaucer's achievement recognized only fairly recently by modern critics (Mieszkowski, p. 126). Lydgate also deserves credit for seeing the humor in the account of the affair in Troilus, perhaps Chaucer's most striking contribution to the love story, even if his attempt to equal his predecessor hops far behind. Like much academic humor, Lydgate's comedy is forced and its effectiveness diluted by repetition - he uses the same kind of mock defense for other women in the Troy Book (Mieszkowski, pp. 123-24; Pearsall, John Lydgate, pp. 134-36).
When Criseyde finally betrays Troilus, Lydgate's pretended sympathy is more subtle and more nasty, reminiscent of the narrator's attitude toward May in the Merchant's Tale. Criseyde is said to visit Diomede "of verray womanhede" (4.2132) and sit on his bed "benigne (4.2139). When she gives him "Hooly hir herte" (4.2147), the narrator replaces Guido's brief direct attack on women with a long passage that marvels at "what pite is in wommanhede, / What mercy eke & benygne routhe - / pat newly can al her olde trouthe" (4.2148-50). Humor has been left far behind, and two extraordinary images follow (4.2154-59): women change more easily than money in Lombard Street, and "So pat pe wynde be redy and pe tyde, / Passage is ay, who-so list to passe!" (Would it be too much to claim that Lydgate is thinking of the stilnovo images of sailing that run through Troilus?) He concludes with these malicious lines:
For leuere she had chaunge & variaunce
Were founde in hir panne lak of pite,
As sittyng is to femynyte,
Of nature nat to be vengable,
For feith nor ope, but raper mercyable
Of mannys lyf stondyng in distresse.
Criseyde is never mentioned again in the Troy Book. She has been taken back into the inexhaustible well of medieval antifeminism. Lydgate understands much of what Chaucer had done in Troilus, but not the remarkable sympathy for his fallen heroine.
What happened to Criseyde in the Greek camp after Diomede is told by Robert Henryson in his Testament of Cresseid Henryson may be a more intelligent reader of Chaucer's Troilus than Lydgate, but of more significance is his different approach.(14) In contrast to Lydgate's academic treatment of Troilus, Henryson responds as a poet. By that I mean that he does not attempt to contextualize, expand, or explain elements and techniques in Chaucer's poem, but instead these elements inspire him to produce something original. Rather than retell the love story so that it becomes more conventional, Henryson produces a new narrative that is fully worthy of its source.
The ultimate tribute to Henryson's success is that the Testament was for so long regarded as Chaucer's own despite clear signals to the contrary in the poem. At the beginning of the Testament, the narrator says that he was reading a book "Writtin be worthie Chaucer glorious / Of fair Cresseid and worthie Troylus" (11. 41-42).(15) He then claims to have taken up "ane vther quair" that told of "the fatall destenie / Of fair Creisseid [sic], that endit wretchitlie" (11. 61-63), and he makes a remarkable statement about the two texts:
Quha wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew?
Nor I wait nocht gif this narratioun
Be authoreist, or fen3eit of the new
Be sum poeit, throw his inuentioun.
Many critics, noting the audacious questioning of Chaucer's reliability, have detected the beginnings of a new conception of literature here that heralds the Renaissance, one based on the poet's own invention rather than the repetition of approved sources. The contrast with the Troy Book is stark: Lydgate goes back behind Chaucer to the authoritative history of Guide delle Colonne; Henryson goes forward to tell an original story about the most vulnerable character.
Some of the ways that Henryson's response to Troilus and Criseyde differ from Lydgate's can be seen if we consider again the four elements that Lewis identified as distinguishing Chaucer's version of the love story: history, rhetoric, doctrine, and courtly love. Perhaps the clearest difference between the Troy Book and the Testament is that whereas Lydgate tells the history of the Trojan War from its earliest causes to the Greek returns, Henryson's poem, like Chaucer's, keeps the war in the background. And yet, as Lewis and others since him have noted, even if Chaucer's use of Trojan history is selective, it carries much more meaning than in his immediate Boccaccian source. Chaucer does not recount the whole history of Troy, but he does evoke that history at significant moments. The love of Troilus and Criseyde develops in the shadow of the Greek siege, and the end of the affair presages the destruction of the city. The war is mentioned much less frequently in the Testament than in Troilus, but, as I have argued elsewhere, Troilus's noble generosity near the end of the poem toward the begging lepers (including the unrecognized Criseyde) seems undercut by our knowledge that the secular aristocratic values he represents (reminiscent of Hector's ineffectual chivalry toward Criseyde in book 4 of Troilus) will soon be overwhelmed by the utter ruin of Troy.(16) Henryson's use of the Trojan historical context in the Testament is purely suggestive and nothing like the full record provided by Lydgate.
Henryson's use of the events of the "history" of Troilus itself is equally selective and inventive. For example, Tillyard long ago argued that the nonrecognition of the lovers just discussed (their first and last encounter in the Testament) depends on our recollection of the crucial moment in book 2 of Chaucer's poem when Criseyde sees Troilus ride under her window as he returns from battle.(17) Although J. A. W. Bennett strongly denied the resemblance between these two scenes, unconvincingly in my opinion, he himself went on to argue for other Chaucerian echoes, and Douglas Gray, among others, has suggested further similarities between the two works.(18) The difficulty we have in being sure about whether a particular incident in the Testament is truly based on something in Troilus is itself revealing. Lydgate, being careful not to compromise the truth of Guido's history, regularly signals and annotates his borrowings from Chaucer, such as his account of how Troilus first saw Criseyde (3.4201-13). Henryson is less explicit, and his transformations of what are likely to be Chaucerian hints make the extent of his obligations harder to assess. The word parliament suggests what I mean. Chaucer employs this familiar English political term nine times to describe the Trojan council that decides to send Criseyde over to the Greeks (4.143, 211, 217, 218, 344, 377, 559, 664, 1297). Lydgate, apparently showing his awareness of Chaucer's practice, uses the term throughout the Troy Book for similar councils, including the one that decides Criseyde's fate (3.3747). Henryson uses the term only once, and then not for a political gathering but for the assembly of gods that meets to punish Cresseid with leprosy (1. 266). Although the parallel is not as direct as in the Troy Book, Henryson's use of Chaucer's term is much more suggestive: it asks us to compare and contrast the two different parliaments, one human and the other cosmic, that bring such misery to Cresseid.
Henryson is not as committed to the historical record as Lydgate, and, like Chaucer, he is willing to change Guido's authoritative facts for his own purposes. Unlike Diomede in the Troy Book, who is the sincere lover of the Historia, Henryson's Diomeid is Chaucer's practiced seducer: "Quhen Diomeid had all his apetyte, / And mair, fulfillit of this fair ladie, / Vpon ane vther he set his haill delyte" (11. 71-73). Calchas in the Testament is different from the seer in both Guido and Chaucer; not only is he a noticeably sweeter and more concerned parent (if no more effective), but he is made a priest of Venus instead of Apollo.(19) What Henryson has done, I believe, is to combine Calchas with the third major character in Troilus who has no function at this point in the story: Pandarus. Chaucer's Pandarus is a priest of Venus, in practice and deed even if not formally ordained. Moreover, Henryson's Calchas shares his love of proverbs, however inappropriate; when Cresseid reports her rejection from Diomeid, he replies, "Perauenture all cummis for the best" (1. 104). Calchas's ignorance about what has happened and will happen to his daughter (and his inability to do anything about it) seems to suggest Henryson's view of the futility of those in Troilus like Calchas and Pandarus who believe that they can know and control the future.
Although Lydgate lavishly praises his master's rhetoric (the second element that Lewis found added to Troilus), it is Henryson who is able to imitate Chaucer's command of a range of appropriate styles. In contrast to the relentless rhetorical expansion of the Troy Book, one of Henryson's most impressive accomplishments in the Testament, as A. C. Spearing has so well demonstrated, is a conciseness that "depends upon precision and completeness; it compresses much explicit meaning into as few words as possible."(20) This, of course, is the antithesis of Lydgate's sometimes empty embellishments in the Troy Book. But Henryson's conciseness does not mean that he entirely avoids the rhetorical dignity that Lydgate correctly saw as one of Chaucer's genuine contributions to English verse. The most obvious example of stylistic display in the Testament is the great set piece of Cresseid's vision, which occupies fully one-third of this short poem, in which the pagan gods/planets descend to debate and judge the woman's supposed blasphemy (11. 141-343). The detailed portraits of these benevolent and malevolent forces are as learned as they are elaborate.(21) Henryson's mastery of appropriate styles is also seen in the complaint of Cresseid (11. 407-69), written in an unusual stanza form apparently invented by Chaucer in "Anelida and Arcite," whose rhetorical elaborateness may, as Lee Patterson has suggested, lead us "to see it as a performance."(22) There does seem a deliberate contrast here to the starkness of her subsequent acceptance of responsibility (1. 574) and final testament (11. 577-91). Henryson is a rhetorical poet, but, like Chaucer, he plays more than one note.
Perhaps nowhere is Henryson's similarity to Chaucer and difference from Lydgate clearer than in the third element Lewis found added to Troilus: doctryne and sentence. Although a judgmental tone has been detected by some in the Testament (sometimes identified as a kind of premature Presbyterianism; see, e.g., Sklute), the moral seriousness of Henryson's poem, whatever we take to be its final views, has little in common with the conventional lessons presented in the Troy Book. Lydgate's major characters are often thoroughly noble (Troilus) or wicked (Achilles, Criseyde); any apparent complexity is relatively superficial, as we have seen: the narrator pretends to defend Criseyde, who is indefensible, or a hero like Hector falls by committing a moral fault. No reader is left in much doubt about the message that Lydgate has to teach. In contrast, Henryson, like Chaucer, draws no clear moral from the story of Troilus and Criseyde. Some have seen the poem as bitterly critical of Cresseid (this is the way it seems to have been read by most in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance),(23) but many modern interpreters have noted the number of open questions in the poem, including the role of the gods, the justice of Cresseid's guilt and punishment, and the extent of her moral growth before her death.
The curtness of the ending of the Testament, which is concise even by Henryson's usual standard, dramatizes the difficulty that Henryson's various voices have as they try to make sense of Cresseid's experiences. Troilus, who is largely ignorant of the punishment his beloved has suffered and her response to it, has little to say - and most of that is about his own feelings: "I can no moir; / Scho was vntrew and wo is me thairfoir" (11. 601-2). The tomb he has constructed is even more reticent: it notifies "fair ladyis" that Cresseid, once the flower of women, "Vnder this stane, lait lipper, lyis deid" (1. 609). The concluding voice of the narrator, who is not at all personalized as at the beginning of the poem, offers the most banal of morals ("Ming not 3our lufe with fals deceptioun") before lapsing into silence: "Sen scho is deid I speik of hir no moir" (11. 613-16). Douglas Gray begins his discussion of the Testament by noting that it "has provoked an amazing variety of interpretations" (p. 162), and Malcolm Pittock has recently declared, with some exaggeration, that the poem "is unique among British medieval texts in the diametrically opposed interpretations it has occasioned."(24) Although the meaning of the Testament has occupied modern critics more than any other single topic, just as the lessons of the Troy story are a major concern of that critic-manque Lydgate, Henryson seems less interested in delivering a didactic message than in involving his readers in a series of complex moral issues. As he announces in the first stanza, the Testament is a "tragedy," which is what Chaucer finally calls Troilus. Genuine tragedy, in contrast to the sententious history of Lydgate, offers no lessons except the untrustworthiness of the world and the foolishness of regarding anyone as happy (or damned) before death.
The fourth and most questionable element that Lewis found added to Chaucer's Troilus is courtly love. Even more so than in the Troy Book, the attractiveness of the romantic love between Troilus and Criseyde is reduced to ashes in the Testament. Whether we find Troilus's chivalry at the end of the poem noble or deluded, his great love affair now exists only as a distant memory ("Sa deip imprentit in the fantasy / That it deludis the wittis outwardly" [11. 508-9]) prompted by the sight of a pitiful leper met begging on the road. Though neither lover recognizes the other, that leper is, of course, Cresseid, whose physical beauty is turned before our eyes into terrible ugliness (11. 337-50) - the epithet "fair" used so often to describe her becomes increasingly ironic. Nothing good is said about courtly love in the Testament, whose perspective is established early by the old narrator whose devotion to Venus is supported by a warm fire and the hint of aphrodisiacs (11. 22-35). But if the Testament is no celebration of courtly love, as Lewis believed Troilus and Criseyde to be, Henryson learned much else from Chaucer as he transformed his Trojan love story.
We have already seen Henryson's re-creation of Calchas, who evokes both Chaucer's seer and, even more interestingly, the absent Pandarus. The old narrator just mentioned has often been seen as influenced by Chaucer's complex narrative voice in Troilus, though his fascination with the young lovers may remind us of Pandarus or even the nasty narrator of the Merchant's Tale. The Testament is a masterly reworking not only of Troilus but of other Chaucerian poems as well. The bitter Spring at the beginning of the Testament seems to play with the opening of the Canterbury Tales (and other poetic springs): the Canterbury "shouris soote" (1.1) are replaced by Scottish "Schouris of haill" (1. 6). Spearing has convincingly compared Cresseid's complaint to Dorigen's in the Franklin's Tale (Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 184-85). If such moments are debts that Henryson owes to Chaucer, they are hard for modern critics to calculate, because instead of Lydgate's faithful treatment of Guido and Chaucer, they are the inspirations that one great poet finds in another. For instance, Henryson seems to have responded to Chaucer's careful attention to physical space, not found in Boccaccio's poem: examples include Troilus's room, Criseyde's garden and chamber, and the small private bedroom in which the love is consummated and which is successively enclosed by a larger room, Pandarus's house, the city, and the besieging Greek army. Henryson not only creates similarly enclosed spaces (the narrator's oratory and the secret oratory within Calchas's house in which Cresseid meets her doom from the gods) but also contrasts these with the open road on which Troilus and Cresseid meet for the last time.
Undoubtedly the most powerful example of the way that Henryson both acknowledges and renews Chaucer is the character of Cresseid herself. Especially at the beginning of the Testament she retains many of the qualities of her model, such as a dependence on male help, a fear of public exposure, and self-regard. But as she approaches her pitiful end, Henryson's Cresseid not only transcends Lydgate's antifeminist cliche but also becomes in some ways more interesting and certainly braver than Chaucer's heroine. Troilus makes us wonder what Criseyde really thinks and feels by constantly preventing access to her innermost self: we never know when or even if she ever fully loves Troilus, for example, and must be content with her ambiguous public statements.(25) Henryson does explore Cresseid's heart and soul; we know everything she thinks and feels. In a reversal of Chaucer's practice, it is Cresseid's private experience we know, whereas Troilus remains a more distant public figure. Henryson's Cresseid has a more detailed moral life than Chaucer's. Spearing correctly notes that the Testament, as an intelligent reading of Troilus, is "a deeply compassionate poem" (Medieval to Renaissance, p. 179), but Henryson goes beyond compassion to respect; he shows his heroine moving from self-pity to responsibility: "Nane but my self as now I will accuse" (1. 574). Cresseid descends from Criseyde, but the Scottish heroine achieves a literary and moral life distinctly her own. Both Lydgate and Henryson followed Chaucer's Troilus and, in their different ways, understood his accomplishment. We should honor Lydgate for his critical acumen (and consider him the patron saint of academic Chaucerians), but Henryson is more than a Chaucerian; he is the English writer's true poetic successor.
(1) For some of these other English responses to Chaucer's story, see Hyder E. Rollins, "The Troilus-Cressida Story from Chaucer to Shakespeare," PMLA, 32 (1917): 383-429, and my essay "True Troilus and False Cresseid: The Descent from Tragedy," in The European Tragedy of Troilus, ed. Piero Boitani (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), pp. 153-70. (2) My debt to Anna Torti's authoritative article "From |History' to |Tragedy": The Story of Troilus and Criseyde in Lydgate's Troy Book and Henryson's Testament of Cresseid," in Boitani, pp. 171-97, will be obvious. I am also grateful to Nicholas Watson for allowing me to read an advance copy of his stimulating essay on the same subject delivered as a talk at the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, in 1992 and soon to appear in the Elizabeth Kennedy festschrift. (3) All quotations from Chaucer are taken from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson et al., 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). (4) For Guido and his English translators see my History of Troy in Middle English Literature (Cambridge: Brewer, 1980). (5) John Lydgate, trans. Ann E. Keep (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), p. 44. (6) John Lydgate (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1970), pp. 55-58. All quotations from Lydgate's Troy Book, cited by book and line number, are from the edition of Henry Bergen, EETS, ES, 97, 103, 106, 126 (London, 1906-20). (7) "Chaucer and Lydgate," in Chaucer Traditions: Studies in Honour of Derek Brewer, ed. Ruth Morse and Barry Windeatt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 39. (8) "What Chaucer Really Did to Il Filostrato," Essays and Studies, 17 (1932): 56-75; quoted from its reprinting in Critical Essays on Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde" and His Major Early Poems, ed. C. David Benson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 8-31. (9) See chapter 4, "Troy," in my Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde" (London: Unwin, 1990). (10) When Lydgate announces that he is tempted to omit the description of Criseyde because Chaucer has done it better, he concludes that he cannot because if he did he would "pe troupe leue / Of Troye boke" and omit matter presented "As Guydo dop in ordre ceryously," thus committing an offense "poru3e necligence or presumpcioun" (2.4687-92). (11) See chapter 7, "Fortune," of my Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde." (12) "The Reputation of Criseyde: 1155-1500," Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 43 (1971): 117-22. (13) Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 181. (14) For two discussions of Henryson as a reader of Chaucer, see Denton Fox's introduction to his Testament of Cresseid (London: Nelson, 1968), pp. 21-24, and Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 165-69. (15) All quotations from the Testament are from The Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. Denton Fox (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981). (16) "Troilus and Cresseid in Henryson's Testament," Chaucer Review, 13 (1979): 263-71, reprinted in History of Troy, pp. 143-50. My argument has been challenged by Spearing: "Troilus's moral status is never questioned or even discussed in the Testament" (Medieval to Renaissance, p. 351 n. 34). I would agree that Henryson makes no explicit criticism, but knowledge from the history of Troy that Troilus's extinction is almost as imminent as Criseyde's might make readers wonder if he is as prepared as she is for death. If my argument has validity, Henryson's evocation of the Trojan context is Chaucerian in its subtlety and in the demands it makes on the reader; it is completely different from Lydgate's historical literalness. (17) Poetry and Its Background (London: Chatto and Windus, 1955), p. 9. (18) Bennett, "Henryson's Testament. A Flawed Masterpiece," Scottish Literary Journal, 1 (1974): esp. 5, 11; Gray, Robert Henryson (Leiden: Brill, 1979), esp. pp. 169, 172-73, 179. (19) C. W. Jentoft notes that "Henryson's portrayal of Calchas is the only real change he makes in his characters"; he also argues that Calchas is a substitute for Pandarus, but for different reasons than I suggest. "Henryson as Authentic |Chaucerian': Narrator, Character, and Courtly Love in The Testament of Cresseid," Studies in Scottish Literature, 10 (1972-73): 97-98. For Henryson's Calchas, see also Larry M. Sklute, "Phoebus Descending: Rhetorical and Moral Vision in Henryson's Testament of Cresseid," ELH, 44 (1977): 190-92. (20) "Conciseness and The Testament of Cresseid," in Criticism and Medieval Poetry, 2nd ed. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1972), p. 161. (21) Henryson's formal descriptions of the gods suggest, if they do not directly imitate, Chaucer's descriptions of Mars, Venus, and Diana in the Knight's Tale, representatives of a pantheon equally indifferent to human suffering. See Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance, pp. 173ff. (22) "Christian and Pagan in The Testament of Cresseid," Philological Quarterly, 52 (1973): 706. (23) For another early Scottish poem that is sympathetic to Criseyde, see the discussion of William Fowler's "The Laste Epistle of Creseyd to Troyalus" in my "True Troilus and False Cresseid," pp. 169-70. (24) "The Complexity of Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid," Essays in Criticism, 40 (1990): 198. (25) See the discussion of Criseyde in my Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde," esp. pp. 103-12, 133-41.