Volume 40, 2019
Sarah B. Rude
Eye Beams and Boethian Sufficiency in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
This essay explores the relationship between vision, reason, and tragedy in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and Boece, his translation of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. In Boece, Chaucer defines the sense of sight as an important first step toward gaining knowledge and differentiating earthly, temporal pleasures from true, eternal goods. Following an examination of how vision and reason appear in Boece, this essay shows how Chaucer dramatizes these principles in Troilus and Criseyde, focusing especially on the lines of sight between Troilus and Criseyde as they experience “love at first sight” and develop an earthly, romantic relationship. Criseyde in particular reasons her way through falling in love, and her progress through the mental faculties of sense, imagination, reason, and intellect closely parallels these faculties as they appear in Boece. At the climax of the narrative, when Troilus and Criseyde consummate their love, Criseyde demonstrates faulty reasoning in labeling Troilus her suffisaunce, the term that Chaucer uses repeatedly in Boece to indicate a good that is true and eternal. With Troilus and Criseyde’s errant application of vision and reason, it comes as no surprise that their love is doomed to fail and that their narrative is doomed to be a tragedy.