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Using that title as evidence Dunbar concludes, "the later tradition that [Henryson] was a schoolmaster [in Dumfermline] is quite likely to be correct" 2. Apart from that, little is known with certainty. Chaucer's work ends with Troilus' death, but in Testament Troilus is very much alive. The action of Testament therefore occurs in the same fictional time as Chaucer's Book V between the last time Troilus sees Criseyde and his death.
Where Chaucer focuses on Troilus' end, Henryson offers closure to the character of Criseyde, whom Chaucer largely ignores after her betrayal. Testament begins as the narrator describes a cold evening "in the Middle of Lent. Finishing that, he takes down "a second book where I found the fate of Cresseid, who ended wretchedly. The text includes several staples of medieval literature: references to Fortune, the influence of the planets on human fate, and the storytelling device of the dream vision.
Jump to navigation. The Testament of Cresseid NIMEV The Testament of Cresseid , an inventively tragic completion in 79 rhyme royal stanzas with an inset complaint in seven nine-line Anelida stanzas of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde , can fairly be called Henryson's most controversial poem.
A brief review of the narrative may be helpful. In the prologue, an aging man, forced by bitter wind to abandon his place at his window where he has been bestowing delighted attention on the ascent of the planet Venus, retreats to his chamber with its warming fire and begins to read in order to pass the time on a wintry Lenten night.
First he reads the fifth book of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde ; then he takes up another little book a quair , "quire" about the fate of Cresseid, the story he proceeds to narrate. Diomeid's repudiation of Cresseid and the reader-poet's conflicted response to Cresseid's consequent degradation lead rapidly to Cresseid's withdrawal to the residence of her father Calchas, here depicted as a priest of Venus lines —05n.
In a private chapel, Cresseid rebukes her patron gods Venus and Cupid for not honoring what she considers their commitment to keep her in a perpetual springtime of desirability. On uttering these words, Cresseid falls into a trance, during which the planetary gods Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Phoebus the sun, Venus, Mercury, and Cynthia the moon, each described in memorable detail descend at Cupid's eerie bell-ringing summons.
Cupid utters his complaint about Cresseid's disloyalty, and Mercury appoints Saturn and Cynthia to determine the punishment, which is to be leprosy. Cresseid awakens and departs for a lepers' hospital in a village nearby, where she spends much of the night lamenting her changed circumstances, in a formal complaint; a "lipper lady" advises her to accept her new life.
The scene shifts out-of-doors, to the return of Troilus from battle along the road where the lepers are begging. Though neither Cresseid nor Troilus recognizes the other, Troilus, stirred by the recollection of the deeply-imprinted image of his beloved, hurls a quantity of money and jewels down upon Cresseid's "skirt" and rides on. Learning that the benefactor was Troilus, Cresseid is transfixed with pain, repeats her newfound realization of her falseness in contrast to Troilus' loyalty, composes her last testament, and dies.
The poem ends with the reader-poet pointing the moral to "worthie wemen," not to mix love with deception. Recent work on the poem has addressed some perennial topics of contention: Henryson's relation to Chaucer, the function of the narrator, the propriety of the planetary gods, and the attitude towards Cresseid. To begin with, the relation between the Testament and TC is the debatable land of Henryson scholarship.
Explicitly connecting his poem to Chaucer's, Henryson initiated what became the dominant English response to the Testament , namely as a tailpiece to TC. Its inclusion in Thynne's edition of Chaucer's works, pendant to Troilus and Criseyde and preceding the Legend of Good Women , ensured that for English readers it would remain closely associated with Chaucer during the sixteenth century and after, notably in Gascoigne's "Dan Bartholomew his second Triumphe," Turbervile's Epitaphes, Epigrams, etc.
Well-worked as the question of literary relations may be, it offers scope for development. Anna Torti notes promisingly that the complementary relation between Testament and TC , Henryson's poem standing as "a parenthesis within Chaucer's narrative," is "severed by the end of Henryson's poem. The Testament is no longer an ideal parenthesis of TC , but a variation on it — a 'continuation' which radically changes its source's narrative sequence and meaning" "From 'History' to 'Tragedy,'" pp.
Considerations are ongoing over the implications for Scottish poetry, and for Henryson's authorship in particular, of his notorious question "Quha wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew? Between Denton Fox's edition of Henryson in and the present edition, essays and studies on The Testament of Cresseid have redefined the role of the poet in the work.
The poem with its occasional "disjunctions" and "awkwardness" has been taken to project the "attitudes of sorrow, sympathy, understanding, and forgiveness" of an "imperfect, and vulnerable, author" Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy , p. Of help in reading the passages of direct discourse in the first person is the perception that the "I" assumes a choric role, "not only the tale teller, but also a witness of the action" McKenna, Henryson's Tragic Vision , p.
The Testament presents a first-person perspective at rhetorically apt junctures: the opening depiction of an old man's "retrospection on youth" shows "an 'I' that is explicitly brought into being by the act of writing" that establishes a "'comic' aspect of the poem" Riddy, "'Abject Odious,'" p.
A more austere estimate of the narrative perspective emerges in considerations of the stanzas in which the poet apostrophizes his protagonist lines 77—91 : "a Chaucerian note of febrile sympathy for Cresseid which deliberately leaves us unsure of how to judge her" befits an ongoing effort to correlate the merged vices of pride and lechery with the "abhominabill" person of Cresseid Godman, "Henryson's Masterpiece," p.
Early readers had no qualms about condemning Cresseid. Fox, ed. Likewise, the early seventeenth-century Latin translator of TC and the Testament , Sir Francis Kinaston, observed that Henryson "learnedly takes uppon him in a fine poeticall way to expres the punishment and end due to a false unconstant whore, which commonly terminates in extreme misery" qtd.
Taking Kinaston as authoritative, Susan Aronstein argues that Henryson vindicates traditional misogyny against Chaucer's many-sided, open-ended depiction of Criseyde "Cresseid Reading Cresseid," p. The continuing debate indicates that for some readers, Henryson's Cresseid has a complexity like that of Chaucer's Criseyde: for Sally Mapstone, it is possible to discuss Chaucer, Henryson, and Shakespeare and behind them all, the Roman de Troie of Benoit de Saint Maure as "a group of writers who utilize to great effect [the] contrast between what Criseyde may say and what may be said of her" "Origins," p.
For such readers, " The Testament of Cresseid is not a text which is circumscribed, closed off, or finite in its interpretive scope but rather one which constantly undermines its apparently authoritative stance" Dunnigan, "Feminizing the Text," p. No reader of the Testament can fail to be arrested by the punishment of leprosy the gods visit upon on Cresseid.
Given the medieval belief that the disease could be contracted through sexual contact Bartholomaeus VII. From this perspective, she exemplifies the bringing low of pride. However, the gods themselves are imperfect: "[t]heir procedure is in accordance with legal forms, but as is often the case too in Henryson's Moral Fables the legal process merely serves the interest of the powerful" Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance , p.
Not all readers have been impressed by the long passage in which the gods assemble in judgment over Cresseid. Seamus Heaney comments that "the roll-call of the immortals can feel a bit too operatic" Testament , p.
It would be a mistake to discount the gods: Bawcutt and Riddy cogently argue that "The large amount of space devoted to the planetary gods is far from being superfluous ornament. They have 'power of all thing generabill' line and symbolize certain natural forces or physical laws of the universe" Longer Scottish Poems , pp. Jill Mann writes attentively about "a sinister effect of claustrophobia" in the descent of the gods, whereby "the cosmos seems to be bearing down on Cresseid" "Planetary Gods," p.
The assembly of the gods articulates the extent and the limits of divine power in the poem; Cresseid is "not punished by God but only overwhelmed by the natural forces of mutability embodied in the planets" Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy , p. The machinery of power is of more than historical interest for a late medieval Christian reader: "As Chaucer does in the Knight's Tale or in Troilus and Criseyde , Henryson suggests that his pagan characters have a faith that they take seriously, in part by having them couch some of the utterances in which they refer to it in recognizably formal modes such as prayers" Boffey, "Lydgate," p.
Given this assumed parity of belief and practice between the character and the reader of Testament , it is not surprising that the poem can be read as an exemplary tale Kindrick, Rhetoric , pp. As in the Fables , the fiction enables a searching review of the ways law is practicsed in order to protect the privileges of the powerful; it is all a fiction, after all. The odd chronology, the inconsistent narrative perspectives, the incomplete characterization may indeed make it a "flawed masterpiece," as J.
Bennett called it thirty years ago; but a masterpiece it remains "Henryson's Testament ". Duffell and Dominique Billy, this line provides evidence of Henryson's awareness of the lyric caesura inversion of the second foot in French verse "From Decasyllable to Pentameter," p. Strauss, "To Speak," p. These letters are accordingly provided here in boldface.
Spearing notes that Henryson's "is apparently the first use in English of the term inventioun. Of significance is Henryson's innovation in making Calchas a priest of Venus lines —09 ; elsewhere, as in Chaucer, he serves Apollo.
Kruger Dreaming in the Middle Ages , pp. In The Palis of Honoure , Douglas parodies Henryson when a prayer to Venus for guidance results in a sudden "extasy," at the onset of which "As femynine so feblyt fell I doun" Prol. Saturn and Melancholy , p. Though the "wysdom and usage" of "elde" are not evident in Henryson's description as they are in Chaucer's CT I[A]; compare —69 , Saturn exhibits the characteristics of old age, in which "kynde hete quenchith, the vertu of governaunce and of reuleynge failith, humour is dissolved and wastid, myght and strengthe passith and faileth, fleisch and fairnes is consumpt and spendith, the skyn rivelith, the sinewis schrinken, the body bendith and croketh, fourme and schap is ilost, fairnes of the body brought to nought"; "by fablis," Saturn "is ipeyntid as an olde man.
Jupiter's conventionally attractive voice, eyes, and hair, and his predictably sumptuous clothing, all find their correlatives in Cresseid's losses, as she and her judges measure them lines —38, —23, — Undir him is conteyned werre and bataille, prisoun, and enemie, and he tokeneth wraththe and swiftnesse and woodnesse, and is reede, and untrewe, and gilefulle" Bartholomaeus VIII.
Noting the arrangement of the planetary gods in contrasting pairs of malice and benevolence, Mann resolves the apparent anomaly of the partnerless Venus, who "fits into the pattern by virtue of containing a whole set of oppositions within herself" "Planetary Gods," p. Torti observes that "In the three stanzas describing Venus we find all the reasons for the fault for which Cresseid should be condemned" "From 'History' to 'Tragedy,'" p.
A precedent for such merging occurs in John Lydgate's Troy Book , in which the tale of Cryseide's disloyalty is initiated by a portrait of "chaungable" Fortune with her "stormy face" 3. At one moment provocative, at the next envenomed, Venus encapsulates the fates of both Cresseid and Henryson's Eurydice Orpheus , lines 75—84n, , —51n. The mone in rewlinge hath most power over disposicioun of mannes body, for. The court is a "parliament": an assembly "of the higher nobility and clergy, and of townsmen," the late medieval Scottish parliament "was the highest court in the land" Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community , p.
However, Cresseid's blasphemy may be considered as apostasy or heresy, which were "more harshly dealt with": during —33, Lollards were burnt at Perth, Glasgow, and St. Andrews Walker, Legal History , pp. For readers who find themselves less comfortable with the validity of such a pattern, "From this moment on Cresseid is a speculum and an exemplum : Henryson the moralizer takes over" Torti, "From 'History' to 'Tragedy,'" p.
Kelly, however, refuses to grant the planetary gods the sort of reverence by analogy that these perspectives imply: for him, they are not so much "representatives of divinity as representatives of the natural world," they are "deificait" line , "deified in the eyes of men" Chaucerian Tragedy , p.
From this point on, increasingly emphatic references to an unnamed God begin to crop up in the poem lines , , ; Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy , p. Mann, "Planetary Gods," p. Kelly Chaucerian Tragedy , p. The Complaint has been read as an indication of Cresseid's current lack of insight into the reasons for and conditions of her present situation; her complaint has been compared to Dorigen's CT V[F]—; Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance , pp.
Boffey notes the distortion of the theme in Cresseid's complaint, which she describes as "a kind of perverted final testament" in which "she specifies some of her losses in terms that persuasively recall the items listed in many actual wills" "Lydgate," p. Tillyard's contention that the significance of the ensuing scene, culminating in the mutual "nonrecognition" of Cresseid and Troilus, depends on the reader's recollection of Criseyde's sighting of Troilus riding back from battle "Lydgate," p.
The classic commentary on the passage is Marshall Stearns' Robert Henryson , pp. The verb kendlit contrasts Troilus with the "man of age" at the outset of the poem, for whom love "kendillis nocht sa sone as in youtheid" line 30 ; thus, the flame inside Troilus epitomizes his "youthful, sexual, and male" state, realized at the moment in which "loathing of and desire for the feminine can be seen to collapse into one another" Riddy, "'Abject Odious,'" p.
Still, the problem is academic: this is what Troilus did, and this is how Cresseid understood it. Henryson has devised an instructive, emblematic situation in which motives matter less than the actual consequences. Findlay interprets Cresseid's "coming to rest in personal accountability" as exemplary "Reading and Teaching," p.
There is a sense in which her never having meant it really does not matter; and in that sense, Cresseid is comparable to the Husbandman of Henryson's Fables , caught out by the efficacy of a promise meant as little more than an expletive line n; Green, Crisis of Truth , p. Christian Sheridan makes a case for treating the testament proper as an "embedded text," analogous to the earlier Complaint lines —69 , signaled in both the Charteris and the Anderson prints with a subhead; ornamental capitals mark the beginning of the embedded text and the return to the narrative proper "Early Prints," p.
Here these capital letters are thus indicated in boldface. Henryson changes the circumstances of the ring-giving; having Troilus give Cresseid the ring as a pledge of their union, he provides a counterbalance to the "libell of repudie" that is "send" to Cresseid by Diomeid line 74n. Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy , p. Not every reader has been impressed by these lines: Bennett deprecates Henryson's "fondness for the set alliterative phrase" "Henryson's Testament ," p.
T, Ch, An: can. Can "does not have the causative sense" Br, p. T: esperous. An, Fox: esperance. Although Bawcutt and Riddy argue that "the context seems to require an opposition with wanhope " Br, p. Ch: quhik. T, An: whiche. T, Fox: or refute. Bawcutt and Riddy note that " Refute , although recorded in Scots as late as , was obsolescent and hence likely to be misread by the later printers Brp.
T: Disshevelde. Kelly notes the precision and evocativeness of Thynne's reading Chaucerian Tragedy , p. T, An, Fox: was. Despite its greater clarity of reference to the gods near whom Calchas resides, C's reading appears hypermetrical; this problem is resolved by reading honourit without treating the suffix as a distinct syllable, an option in Henryson's Scots.
Ch, T, An, Fox: gave his sentence. Kelly posits that the apparent anticipation in all the witnesses of an action Saturn will not perform for some stanzas yet compare line is a textual error; Kelly proposes presence for sentence but notes that in Scots to make appearance "is attested to signify 'Appearance in sight or view'" DOST apperance ; Kelly, Chaucerian Tragedy , p.
Ch: frosnit. T: frounsed. An: frozned. The scribal error of inverting two letters produces a new, adventitiously relevant word, "frozen" for "wrinkled. T: gate. Ch: gyis. An: guise. As Fox notes ed. Ch: gyis full. An: guise full gay. T, Fox: unricht. The variant in the Scottish printers' texts can be explained as a blandly ironic reference to the course of the chariot guided by Phaeton: upwards but not aright.
If that explanation is valid and upricht can be posited to be the earlier reading, then Thynne can be argued to have sought to clarify the implication with an explicitly pejorative adverb. T, Ch omit. T, Ch: Philologie. Ch omits. T: White. An, Fox: With. Ch, An: gyse. T: lykyng. An: listned. Liken is best explained a a rare variant of T's lyking Br, p. Ch: in. T, Fox: retorte in.
Bawcutt and Riddy acknowledge the difficulty of choosing which of the variants is superior Br, p. Ch: injurie. C uses the form of the noun more regular in English, while T and An preserve a regular Scots one. T, Fox: through. Ch, An: thow.
Rather than using the English spelling through from T, it makes sense to treat Ch's thow as a typographical error and reinsert the missing r. T, Fox: here I the. An: I do thee here. The line is metrically regular in Ch, if at cost of easy colloquial pace — but, given the formality of this proclamation, the wrench is not inappropriate.
T: menged. Ch: minglit. An: mingled. T points to the error in the insertion of an l in the reading in Ch. Ch, An: prayers. The Scottish printers have expurgated the offensively Catholic term. T: oftymes. An: he oft-times. T, An: To.