The Double Bind of Troilus to Tellen: The Time of the Gift in Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date

Fall 2003

Journal Title or Book Title

The Chaucer Review








In retelling the tale of Troilus's "double sorwe" - his loving and losing of Criseyde - Chaucer critically explores the conflicts that inevitably arise bwetween ideal and real romance, between the courtly love tradition and practical social survival skills. Or, to read this tragic tale of fin'amors in more modern critical terms, Troilus and Criseyde exhibits a notable tension in the conflicts between gift and not-gift economies, between ideal giving and practical commodity exchange. The rules of courtly love, ostensibly designed to ennoble the lover and enable "true" love, in practice disallow unconditional giving and reduce true love to commodity. The paradox of courtly love arises largely from the courtly lover's expectation of reciprocity, which annuls the possibility of true giving. However, by presenting the romantically naive Troilus as an ideal gift giver operaing without knowledge of his own role in the courtly love system - and therfore operating without expectations of reciprocity - Chaucer avoids this selfannuling paradox. Having created a true gift and a true gift giver, Chaucer can explore the possibility of interactions between gift and not-gift economies, between gift givers and commodity brokers. In short, Chaucer's medieval debate about the nature and value of love anticipates the current crtitical debate about the nature of the gift. Troilus and Crisyede is, then, certainly a poem devoted to the question of love. But it is, likewise, a poem devoted to "the question of the gift."

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