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Статья опубликована в рамках: Научного журнала «Студенческий» № 7(177)

Рубрика журнала: Филология

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Библиографическое описание:
Lyashko K. THE IMAGE OF A WOMAN IN MEDIEVAL SOCIETY: A MISERABLE VICTIM OR A SKILLED MANIPULATOR. CRITICAL STUDY OF GEOFFREY CHAUCER TROILUS AND CRISEYDE // Студенческий: электрон. научн. журн. 2022. № 7(177). URL: https://sibac.info/journal/student/177/242011 (дата обращения: 20.08.2022).


Lyashko Ksenia

student, Department of Foreign Language Education, Moscow Pedagogical State University,

Moscow, Russia

Lipchanskaya Irina

научный руководитель,

scientific supervisor, PhD, Department of Foreign Language Education, Moscow Pedagogical State University,

Moscow, Russia



Ляшко Ксения Владиславовна

студент, кафедра иноязычного образования, Московский педагогический государственный университет,

РФ, г. Москва

Липчанская Ирина Владимировна

научный руководитель, канд. фил. наук, Московский педагогический государственный университет,

РФ, г. Москва



The medieval perception of reality had a significant number of prejudices against the female figure and her relationship with the opposite sex. From a modern point of view, it can be noted that the attitude towards the ladies had a clear misogynistic tendency. Therefore, it is extremely interesting to observe the atypical behaviour of women who indulge in infidelity in Chaucer's works. He presents unique characters for whom it is not so easy to tell who they are and why they behave in a certain way. One of the representatives of the dual image is Criseyde. The presented essay will analyze in detail Criseyde's identity and how it affects the position of the characters in the work. The essay claims that the main character appears to the reader as an active and multifaceted character. Treason becomes a weapon in the hands of a skilled manipulator who is ultimately able to change the course of history. However, it is impossible to deny that it is still a weak link in the solid patriarchal realities.


Средневековое восприятие реальности имело значительное количество предубеждений против женской фигуры и ее отношений с противоположным полом. С современной точки зрения можно отметить, что отношение к дамам имело явную женоненавистническую тенденцию. Поэтому крайне интересно наблюдать за нетипичным поведением женщин, которые предаются неверности в произведениях Чосера. Он представляет уникальных персонажей, по которым не так-то просто сказать, кто они такие и почему ведут себя определенным образом. Одним из представителей двойственного образа является Крессида. В представленном эссе будет подробно проанализирована личность героини и то, как это оказывает влияние на произведение. В эссе утверждается, что главная героиня предстает перед читателем как активный и многогранный персонаж. Измена становится оружием в ее руках, которое в конечном счете способно изменить ход истории. Однако невозможно отрицать, что девушка все еще является слабым звеном в прочных патриархальных реалиях.


Keywords: Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, woman, victim.

Ключевые слова: Джеффри Чосер, Тройлус и Крессида, женщина, жертва.


The medieval perception of reality had a significant number of prejudices against the female figure and her relationship with the opposite sex. From a modern point of view, it can be noted that the attitude towards the ladies had a clear misogynistic tendency. It is widely known that the restriction of freedoms was spread, which led to the practice of total legal disenfranchisement and the reduction of the social space open to women, limiting their existence to caring for her family and chores: "a woman's place is family and marriage" [6, p.270]. A typical woman of the Middle Ages at that time had no influence and participation in the cultural process, and for the male part of society, her role was limited to a sexual object.

Chaucer's women are full of variety. Each image is moderately similar to the classical understanding of a woman, but at the same time has unique features. On the one hand, one can admire the audacity and superiority of the wife of Bath, if you look from another angle, you can find the unfortunate Constance. However, Geoffrey Chaucer also presents unique characters, for which it is not so easy to say who they are and why they behave in a certain way. One of the representatives of the dual image is Criseyde. Ross argues that such instability in the image of the persona is not a flaw, but only the opposite: “Thus the notorious ‘ambiguity’ for which Criseyde has so often been criticized becomes instead a sign of Chaucer's larger project of resistance against the edifice of auctoritas, creating a literary space in which no positions are fixed, and no origins are stable” [9, p. 342].

The image of Criseyde in our perception changes as we read the work. Due to such a detailed study, its similarity with the truth of female versatility is great, Charles Muscatine even called her “one of the most “natural” figures in Medieval literature” [8, p.164]. Getting acquainted with the heroine at the very beginning of the work, she is no longer devoted to one image. Being the daughter of the traitor Calchas, it would be logical to immediately perceive her as someone mean and unfaithful. However, her appearance and aura are portrayed by Chaucer as something divine:

“His doughter, which that was in gret penaunce,

For of hir lyf she was ful sore in drede,

As she that niste what was best to rede;

For bothe a widowe was she, and allone

Of any freend to whom she dorste hir mone.

Criseyde was this lady name a-right;

As to my dome, in al Troyes citee

Nas noon so fair, for passing every wight

So aungellyk was hir natyf beautee,

That lyk a thing immortal semed she,

As doth an hevenish parfit creature,

That doun were sent in scorning of nature.” [2, p. 3]

Although looking pathetic, the girl can be considered cunning. Criseyde is aware that being the traitor’s daughter puts her into a quite vulnerable position and seeks protection from Hector, a hero who is known throughout Troy. Thus, the classical canon shines through. Readers see the woman, who simultaneously escapes from the negative reputation of one man under the patronage of another representative of the stronger sex.

The problem of women's perception only from the side of the sexual object existed in ancient times. Having no autonomy or control over their bodies, men's sexual desire was the only reason for sexual intercourse, often even incest. Thus, it can be seen how the main character of the work is sexually and physically abused by her uncle. Pandarus looks at his niece “in a bysi wyse” [2, p. 36]. Criseyde is embarrassed and wonders if her behaviour is inappropriate. According to the reaction, it can be stated that such an expressive look is uncomfortable for the lady. Moreover, the sexual subtext is noticeable when Pandarus arrives to deliver Troilus' letter to Criseyde. The girl refuses to read the letter intended for her and the reaction to this becomes violence: “And in hire bosom the lettre down he thraste” [p. 58]. Since there were no rational reasons for such an attitude, there is clearly a third-party subtext “a symbolic sexual aggression—if not a sexual violation” [4, p. 164]. Throughout most of the story, Criseyde is perceived by the reader as a victim who can be attacked at any moment by a man who, by all social and physical standards, occupies a superior position. In the Middle Ages, such behaviour was not unusual, since a woman is the property of a man.

Although women were deprived of power in the Middle Ages, their main strength remained their sexuality and desirability, which helped them manipulate men. United by following the Chivalry code, men did not dare to touch a woman without her desire, as it went against the behaviour of the true knight. In Troilus And Criseyde, Chaucer puts history in the context of the Middle Ages, where heroes were equated with knights. Therefore, it is worth emphasizing that courtly love was a classic variation of the manifestation of feelings for a woman in an extremely noble way. The manifested love has only a spiritual shell and exists in an idealized version. “Love itself is a humbling and refining passion” [8, p.13]. Since the proper behaviour prescribed in the code was respectful, it practically excluded the possibility of abuse or harassment. Troilus could not resist her sexuality and wanted to take her in every possible sense. Although it may seem violent, such a development of events for the girl was only to her advantage. The proximity of Troilus to Hector gave her peace of mind and guaranteed protection, and for the daughter of a traitor, these points were necessary. Even after she has become an object of exchange, the heroine tries to find benefits. On the side of the Greeks, she continues to use her sexuality to gain the loyalty of men. In order to preserve at least a ghostly illusion of freedom and feel protected, she has “to include a new aristocratic lover, Diomed” [1, p.194]. It can be stated that her divine appearance and the fact that almost every hero saw her as a sexual object, gave her the right to manipulate in order to find peace.

It is also worth noting that even in her subconscious, the lady does not consider herself strong enough and independent. Deep in her mind, her feelings about her position in their love relationship with Troilus are not so unambiguous. In Book II, readers encounter Criseyde's dream. It is widely known that dreams can tell a lot about a person about his fears and experiences. They (dreams) are “a glance behind the curtain of the conscious mind” [10, p.2017]. From one point of view, it is believed that this dream only emphasizes the love between the Troilus and his beloved [11, p.56]. However, taking a closer look at this passage, we can hypothesize that in Criseyde's dream, an eagle is not just an ordinary bird, but a male dominant image. This can be understood by the use of masculine pronouns. Presumably, it “could be read as a dramatic conquest, or even that she feels forced into an unwanted courtship, or rape” [5, p. 3]. Thus, considering this dream as a symbolic representation of inner experiences, it can be assumed that in it a woman only passively accepts the fate of being dominant in love.

Even though the male figures in the work of Troilus And Criseyde predominate and vividly suppress the main character, she still manages to apply her feminine energy and become the arbiter of fate. The fact of Troilus' death is an extremely ambiguous event in the work. At first glance, this act can be called a classic of courtly love. Mandel describes how Chaucer makes Troilus be “surprised by love, engulfed by love, suffering in love…” [7, p.279]. It is impossible to deny that the death of a hero on the battlefield, fighting to save his beloved, is extremely dramatic and perfectly corresponds to the canon. Nevertheless, “it is that Troilus, though he may express his lovesickness in conventional terms, is not just any conventional courtly lover.” [3, p.88]. Thus, the image of the altar depicted by the author can be considered as a manifestation of weakness of the spirit, absorbed by jealousy. After learning about the betrayal of his beloved, Troilus could not bear the torment and life became not nice to him. Being captivated by the charms and unearthly beauty of Criseyde, he finds death in battle and their story ends there:

“Swich fyn° hath lo this Troilus for love;

Swich fyn hath al his gretë worthynesse;”[2, p.211]

Hence, the lady struck him down and subdued his feelings. Not wanting to share his beloved with anyone and not suffering pain, Troilus actually kills himself, and Criseyde, though unintentionally, turns out to possess a huge force capable of taking a man's life.

Summing up, it can be argued that Geoffrey Chaucer stunningly drew the main female character in the work Troilus And Criseyde. The girl appears to the reader bright and multifaceted. She is full of life hopes and experiences. On the one hand, she is strong spiritually. She faithfully uses her beauty and the power of love, surrounding herself with men who can give her protection. Like a brilliant player, she switches from white to black, constantly beating male opponents. However, it is impossible to deny that it is still a weak link in the solid patriarchal realities. Her honour and dignity are constantly in danger, Criseyde lives in fear and constantly runs or hides from someone, closing herself inside herself and her fears. Secretly wanting to feel like a skilled manipulator, standing on the same pedestal with male heroes, she remains a millstone in the hands of aggressive males.



  1. Aers, David. The Chaucer Review, Winter, 1979, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1979. — P. 195.
  2. Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus & Criseyde. Djvu Editions E-Books, 2001, PP. 3, 36, 58, 211, http://triggs.djvu.org/djvu-editions.com/CHAUCER/TROILUS/Download.pdf, (Accessed 10 Feb 2022.)
  3. Edmondson, George Thomas. Troilus And Criseyde Between Two Deaths. Proquest, 2003, — P. 88.
  4.  John V. Fleming, Classical Imitation and Interpretation in Chaucer’s Troilus, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. — P. 163.
  5. Karydes, Madeleine. "In Sondry Forms": Dreams And Truth In Chaucer's Troilus And Criseyde. Escholarship, University Of California, 2017— P. 3.
  6.  Klapesh-Zuber, Christian. The History Of Women In The West Vol. 2. "Silence Of The Middle Ages". 2009. — P. 270.
  7. Mandel, Jerome. “Courtly Love in the Canterbury ‘Tales.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 19, no. 4, Penn State University Press, 1985. — P. 279.
  8. Muscatine, Charles. Chaucer And The French Tradition. Univ. Of California Press, 1957. — PP.13, 164.
  9. Ross, Valerie A. “Believing Cassandra: Intertextual Politics and the Interpretation of Dreams in ‘Troilus and Criseyde.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 31, no. 4, Penn State University Press, 1997. — PP. 342.
  10. Sage, John. A Critical Literature Review Of Dream Interpretation And Dream Work. 2017. — P. 1.
  11. Storm Corsa, Helen. Dreams In "Troilus And Criseyde". Proquest, 1970. — P. 56.

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