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The Lovers' swoons in Troilus and Criseyde Medieval medical treatises have a good deal to say about swooning, its causes and treatment. Recommended treatments could be quite elaborate, but then as now folk with the necessary practical skills were not always on hand when their services were needed. When Troilo faints, Priam, Hector and his brothers immediately come to his aid (H Filostrato, Part IV, stanza 18 ff.). When Troilus falls into his sudden deep swoon (Troilus and Criseyde, Book III, 1086 ff.), he is restored to consciousness by the prompt application of first aid measures initiated by Pandarus and put into effect by him with the assistance of Criseyde. But in both the Italian and the English poems, there is no such help at hand for Criseyde; her recovery from her swoon owes more to her own resilience than to the treatment administered by the distraught Troilus. Chaucer's account of Criseyde's swoon (Book IV, 1150 ff.) is fairly close to Boccaccio's account of Criseida's (IV, 117-24),2 though it is expanded somewhat. The differences between the treatments of the swoon of Troilo and that of Troilus are far more significant. By changing not only the occasion of the swoon but most of the details, Chaucer develops the characterisation of the three participants, prepares the way for a contrast between this incident and Criseyde's fainting attack, and adds an element of comedy of which there is no trace in the Italian poem. He also makes fuller use of the details of treatment prescribed in the best medical texts of his time. Chaucer retains the fact that Troilus swoons in a moment of intense emotion, but the circumstances of that swoon and Chaucer's treatment of it are changed significantly. Boccaccio's Troilo faints in public, as the Trojans are discussing the Greeks' proposal that Criseida be exchanged for Antenor. D'alto dual ferito, "stricken with woe profound", he collapses as two debates are going on. Even as he listens to the argument taking place outside him, il timido donzello, "the timid youth", is tormented by the battle in his own mind between Love, which urges him to oppose the exchange of Criseida for Antenor, and Reason, which argues that to do so will bring shame to Criseida and thus arouse her anger. Priam and his sons, though terrified by this unforeseen event, hasten to comfort him. For some time, their efforts are of little avail, but suddenly Troilo gets to his feet and, feigning other business, makes his way back to his own palace, where he locks himself in his chamber and gives way to a frenzy of grief and rage. Chaucer's Troilus "wel neigh deyde" (IV, 151) with anguish and fear when he heard the proposal to exchange Criseyde for Antenor. He, too, at once begins to consider what to do, and his uncertainty is presented in the form of a debate between Love and Reason. When he hears the Trojan decision, he hurries home to give way to despair and rage in solitude, but he does not faint. Chaucer places his swoon much earlier in the story, and 94 E.M. Liggins completely changes the circumstances. Troilus faints in the privacy of Criseyde's bedchamber in Pandarus's house, in the presence only of Criseyde and Pandarus. He is revived by them and, far from leaving, remains for his first night of love with Criseyde. In both poems, the lady faints on the lovers' last night together. As soon as Troilo/Troilus arrives at her house, the two clasp one another tightly. In their anguish they cannot speak, but exchange kisses, weeping bitterly. Finally, as the crisis of their agony passes, leaving them exhausted, Criseyde makes a broken cry for help before swooning, her face upon her beloved's breast. Boccaccio's lovers, then, both swoon in response to their awareness of the coming separation: the two incidents occur in Part IV, separated by only a short space of time, and both belong to what Meech calls "the descending action". The two swoons in Chaucer's poem, however, occur in different books — Troilus's in Book III and Criseyde's in...


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pp. 93-106
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