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The Use Of Opposites In “Troilus And Criseyde” By Geoffrey Chaucer

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In Troilus and Criseyde, opposing ideas are often used to manipulate characters’ perception and understanding of other characters in the tale, as well as foreshadowing future events. Langland makes use of opposites to help highlight the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This essay will explore different ways in which opposites are used in the two stories.

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The narrating voice opens Book 2 by calling to the muse of history, Clio, in a poem that details the troubles he faces in telling the tale of Troilus and asks for help in order to “ryme wel this book”. Specifically, the narrator explains to his audience that the customs of love differ throughout the ages and across the lands, “For every wight which that to Rome went / Halt nat o path, or alwey o manere”. He implores that “any lovere […] that herkneth […] how Troilus cum to his lady grace” to forgive him for any “lame” words because he himself “speak(s) of love unfeelingly”, but asks the reader to empathize with Troilus and Criseyde even if they cannot identify with the protagonists’ acts of love. With this being clarified, the first-person narrator leaves much of the rest of the book to the dialogue of his characters, as if to imply that the actions of Troilus and Criseyde are not atypical and should not be questioned.

Later in the book, the narrator makes an interjection that follows this idea. He makes it known to his audience that he is aware of how quickly Criseyde has fallen in love with Troilus, stating that “som envious jangle” might scorn their “sodeyn love”. In referencing his initial statement — that “ek scarsly ben ther in this place thre / that have in love seid lik, and don, in al” — the narrator also remarks that “every thyng a gynnyng hath it nede” and emphasizes that their love is not one of suddenness. This is something of an ironic statement. In telling the reader that Criseyde has not fallen in love quickly, he is actually paradoxically drawing more attention to the suddenness of it. This suggests that even though the narrator wishes to ensure that the reader understands the customs of love in the period of Troilus and Criseyde, highlighting the fast-paced progression of Criseyde’s passions from a first-person, interjectory style when so much of the tale has been told uninterrupted merely provokes the reader’s questions regarding the reality of their love, which is clearly meant to be judged from the reader’s omnipresent position. These opposing ideas are clearly meant to engage the reader with the story and provoke questions about the state of Troilus and Criseyde’s course of action.

A similar technique is used by the narrator when Troilus passes by Criseyde’s window, whereby she catches a glimpse of him in all of his humbled warrior glory (Troilus “wex a litel reed for shame” and finds herself “wex al reed”. The narrator claims that it is a happy day for Troilus, who should consider himself fortunate to pass by Criseyde’s eye at this very moment; yet the reader knows that he is not very lucky at all, as Criseyde will eventually break his heart. In fact, when Criseyde is contemplating the affair with Troilus, she broods on the ideas that “mystrust or nice strif” in matters of love leave women “wrecched” and unable to do anything but “wepe and sitte and thinke”, and that “men ben so untrewe / That right anon as cessed is hire lest, / So cesseth love – and forth to love a newe”; yet these misgivings are in opposition to what the reader already knows will transpire. She even decides that she will become a “convert” for Troilus, though previously mentioning that she is “naught religious”. Criseyde’s own thoughts betray her, as she will betray Troilus.

On the other hand, in Piers Plowman, opposites are used to reveal the duality of good and evil in human nature. This is seen in Langland’s constant use of light and darkness. In the opening lines of Passus XVIII, Langland writes that “I weex wery of the world and wilned eft to slepe, / […] and longe tyme I slepte; / Rest me there and rutte faste til Ramis palmarum”. He contrasts religious awakening with sleep, of being enlightened and being in the dark. This theme of light and dark runs throughout the story of Piers Plowman. In lines 64-7, Langland writes “… the dead body seide; ‘Lif and Deeth in this derknesse, hir oon fordooth hir oother. / Shal no wight wite witterly who shal have the maistrie / Er Sonday aboute sonne-risyng’”. That a dead body is speaking of life and death clearly highlights Langland’s literary use of opposites and emphasises Jesus conquering Satan and death itself. Langland also makes use of a pun over the word “sonne”, paralleling the sun rising and bringing light with Jesus, the Son of God, rising from the dead. These opposites help to highlight Jesus’s goodness and emphasise his defeat of death and the darkness of hell.

In Will’s dream, Jesus is described as “Oon semblable to the Samaritan, and somdeel to Piers the Plowman”; he is empathetic, like the Samaritan, and he is riding “barefoot on an asse” showing how humble he is, like Piers – yet he is also like a “knyght”. Jesus is a non-violent figure, so contrasting qualities such as empathy and humility with those of a knight highlight the redemptive and romantic aspects of his character in Will’s vision: he is a man living a modest and humble life but whom came to save mankind from sin along the way. This allows him to be more of an appealing character to Langland’s Medieval audience, who aspired to the knightly code of conduct.

Chaucer makes use of opposites to highlight the conflicting beliefs of his characters and their internal struggles. Langland, on the other hand, uses opposing ideas to emphasize Biblical beliefs and ensure that his audience are engaged and emphasize with his Jesus figure, which helps to make Christianity more attractive to readers who may not follow a Christian lifestyle.

Disclaimer: This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers. You can order our professional work here.

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