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Troilus and Criseyde

First five stanzas of the preface to Book I, lines 1–35, Troilus and Criseyde

Leaf from a disbound manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Scotland, copied after 1488

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS Arch Selden B24, fol 1r

This leaf containing the opening stanzas of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde is from a manuscript of English and Scottish verse. In addition to other works by Chaucer, it includes the unique manuscript of The kingis quair (The king’s book), composed by King James I of Scotland.

The historiated initial shown here depicts Troilus, in blue, and Criseyde, dressed ‘in widewes habit blak’, as well as Cupid casting his arrow. The moment foreshadows the ultimate tragedy their love brings.

Suffering was a major component of the poetics of courtly love espoused by Chaucer. In the Persian tradition, there was a comparable understanding of the painful process of earthly love as part of the purifying quest towards divinity.