|'The Testament', on Henryson's own evidence,
derives from the poet's own reading of, and his critical reaction
to, Chaucer's 'Troilus and Criseyde'.
Geoffrey Chaucer was born c.1346 and died around 1400. As a poet,
he is generally considered to be the greatest English poet of the
Middle Ages. He was recognised during his lifetime and remained influential
throughout the 15th Century. It was he who wrote 'The Canterbury
Tales' which is an unfinished collection of tales told in the
course of a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine at Canterbury.
Chaucer's poem, 'Troilus and Criseyde' was written c.1385.
The story comes from the Trojan legend and was developed in the twelfth
century by the French poet, Benoit de Sainte-Maure, whose 'Roman
de Troie' came from classical sources. Gradually, through other
writers and interpretations, the story became a medieval creation.
Set during the Trojan wars, the poem tells the story of the love of
Troilus, a noble young warrior, and Criseyde, the daughter of Calchas,
an astronomer. Troilus sees and falls in love with Criseyde and they
begin a secret affair. They live happily until Calchas and the Greeks
demand Criseyde in exchange for a prisoner of war. The lovers do not
flee, nor do they negotiate, but Criseyde goes to the Greeks and promises
to return as soon as possible. When she does not come, Troilus is
consumed with grief.
Meanwhile, Criseyde reluctantly takes the Greek Diomede as a liver.
In a dream, Troilus sees his betrayal as Diomede is wearing a brooch
that he (Troilus) had given to his lover. He goes to the Greek camp,
hears Diomede and Criseyde together. Stricken by the betrayal, he
goes into battle and dies in glory. He ascends to the seventh sphere
and looks down on earth. The poem concludes with Troilus reorganising
the vanity of worldly concerns.
What Henryson is concerned with is a highly reductive reading of
Chaucer's text. He ignores everything that has gone before in Chaucer's
text. He doesn't say anything about Diomede's wooing and Criseyde's
anguish, but 'continues' with her 'story'.
Because 'The Testament' is a lengthy text to study (there are
87 stanzas in all), it may be easier to the divide the poem into
manageable sections, each dealing with a different focus and 'natural
breaks' in the poem. Work your way through the following analysis
of the text and activities. Your answers will provide you with
a comprehensive set of notes that will enhance your classwork
with your teacher, your class discussions and finally, your understanding
of the poem.
||Lesley Porter's notes supplied by permission of Fife Council.
Study Tools Menu
Testament of Cresseid:
Robert Henryson: Biographical
Robert Henryson - Historical
Context: The State and The Church 1480s to 1700
Testament of Cresseid in Context
Testament of Cresseid in Print
Middle Scots Language
The Trojan War