In the introduction of The Testement of Cresseid, the longstanding question was posed of whether the author believe that Cresseid’s fate is well deserved or is he sympathetic to her plight. In my interpretation of the text, Henryson is sympathetic to Cresseid’s plight. The poem seems to be written for the purpose of giving Cresseid the opportunity to redeem herself, and one must have pity to give such a chance. It is argued that The Testament was written as a warning to the medieval audience of how quickly fate can change, but Cressied is still doomed in a sense to live a lowly life, as a beggar. The only good that comes from this speculated ending is Cresseid’s redemption and her final encounter with Troilus. This ultimately gives medieval readers, who were familiar with Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, a peace of mind from knowing Cresseid’s fate. By keeping the odds against Cresseid, the poem is more easily accepted as a final fate rather than offering a happy ending that is too far removed from the orignal text. Though the poem relays an important message, it is my belief that the text ultimately gives Cresseid a chance at redeption spanning from the author’s own sympathy of her.
You point to an important factor in analyzing how we’re encouraged to respond, by Henryson: he didn’t *have* to write about Cresseid at all. What’s his purpose in doing so (beyond engaging with his beloved predecessor Chaucer)? Chaucer himself addresses Criseyde’s reputation, in his earlier poem, which indicates that at least within literary treatments she’d accrued a position as Betrayer. Given that, Henryson certainly at the very least is requiring a re-evaluation. And that pathetic ending of hers hardly seems to be presented so we’ll celebrate it, feeling she deserves it.