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The Testament of Cresseid - Image courtesy of Abbot House
Section 1 :: Stanzas 01 - 10
Section 2 :: Stanzas 11 - 20
Section 3 :: Stanzas 21 - 38
Section 4 :: Stanzas 39 - 49
Section 5 :: Stanzas 50 - 58
Section 6 :: Stanzas 59 - 66
Section 7 :: Stanzas 66 - 76
Section 8 :: Stanzas 77 - 86
Home The Testament of Cresseid Questions Study Tools Summary Notes on Poem ToC AV Teaching Notes
Study Tools > Literary Background
by Lesley Porter
'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.

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The Testament of Cresseid - Literary Background