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This review is taken from PN Review 226, Volume 42 Number 2, November - December 2015.

Cover of A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde
Andrew Hadfield‘Hire armes smale’ LAVINIA GREENLAW, A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde (Faber) £7.99

Chaucer’s greatest poem; or, at least, the one that made his reputation as a giant of European letters, does not always inspire modern readers. The problem is its length, given the basic nature of the story (boy meets vulnerable girl who later leaves him for unsuitable bloke when circumstances become too difficult for her to resist, leading to death of heartbroken boy, and subsequent bad reputation of girl). It was once set as an A Level text which I studied at school. This abridged version, edited by the distinguished Medievalist Derek Brewer, concentrated on the development of the characters, Troilus, Criseyde, and her dodgy uncle, Pandarus, who brings them together and enjoys their union rather too much. It left out the philosophical discussion that dominates Book Four. Here, after Criseyde has been returned to the Greek camp but pledged her enduring fidelity to the Trojan warrior, Troilus wonders whether she will ever return and concludes that he is predestined to lose her and that fate has prised them apart. His argument inverts that of Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy, a dialogue written while the formerly influential counsellor was imprisoned by the Byzantine emperor, Theodoric, before he was executed for treason. The dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy centres around the issue of free will and predestination, concluding that God acts as a spectator observing life on Earth because he has granted mankind free will.

Chaucer was a keen student of Boethius – as were most people with more than a passing interest in philosophy ...

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