Troilus And Criseyde By Chaucer

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Chaucers epic poem, Troilus and Criseyde, is not a new tale, but one Chaucer

merely expanded upon. One of these expansions that Chaucers work has become

renowned for is the improvement of the characters. Generally, Chaucers

characters have more texture, depth, humanity, and subtlety than those of the

previous tales. Of the three main figures in the epic poem, Troilus, Criseyde,

and Pandarus, Pandarus is the character that Chaucer took the most liberty with,

creating and evolving Pandarus until he had taken on an entirely different role.

However, this is not to say that Chaucer did not add his own style to Troilus

and Criseyde. Chaucers continual development of the primary characters

definitely lend more interest and humor to the epic poem, Troilus and Criseyde.

The most interesting character by far is Pandarus. He serves as the protagonist

and go between for Troilus and Criseyde. In fact, one could argue if it were not

for him, Troilus may never have attained the brief affections of his lady love,

Criseyde. When Pandarus comes across an uneasy Troilus and inquires as to the

cause of his trouble, his speech is very eloquent. It is this speech that gives

the reader his first glimpse of how subtlety and indirectness will initially

characterize Pandarus. Further along the passage, Pandarus torments Troilus into

anger, causing him to reveal the source of his woe. (Chaucer 24-5). In regard to

the introduction of Pandarus, Kirby concludes: “Chaucer makes us feel

that here is a witty, likable chap who does not take life too seriously and who

does not hesitate to mingle friendly works with good-natured taunts.” (127)

Pandarus also reveals that he is fairly well educated with his allusion to Niobe.

In addition to the revelation of his education, this also reveals Pandarus

penchant for a pattern of persuasion which he employs throughout his role.

“Pandarus thinks the that way to make a man do something that he does not

want to do is not to tell him bluntly and baldly what course of action he should

pursue, but rather, gradually to lead up to the main point, expanding on the

notion in various ways and especially by quoting sufficient authority and

testimony to show his plan is the correct one, in fact, the only one

possible” (Kirby 133). This demonstrates that not only does Pandarus have a

classical education, but that he also maintains some grasp on the concept of

psychology. Aside from the intellectual side of Pandarus, Chaucer develops a

very human aspect to this character. Chaucer purposefully places Pandarus in the

role of the unrequited lover, making him seem less feeble-minded. At the same

time however, Pandarus reasserts his illogical reasoning in order to convince

Troilus to divulge his heart wrenching secret. Even after Troilus curt

dismissal, Pandarus continues to badger the beleaguered knight, demonstrating

yet another strong personality characteristic: tenacity. This is supported by

Pandarus physically shaking Troilus. “And with that word he gan hym for to

shake,/And seyde, “Thef/ thow shalt hyre name telle,/But tho gan sely

Troilus for to quake/As though men sholde han led hym into helle,”(Chaucer

36). Consequentially frightened, Troilus tells Pandarus of his love for

Criseyde, Pandarus niece and even goes so far as to agree to enlist

Pandarus help in bringing his nieces heart to the beleaguered knight. In

his dealings with his niece, issues of Pandarus morality comes into being,

especially as his roll of the go-between for Troilus and Criseyde. “The

word pander, where he has bequeathed the English language, illuminates the

negative connotations that are put on his actions in modern meaning”

(Berkley Research 3). In regard to Pandarus selling of Criseydes honor,

one scholar believes that his loose morals would be fitting for someone of

younger years, but on an older man, it would be a serious affront to his

morality (Rosetti 177). A slightly more favorable view holds that as Pandarus is

beholden to aide a friend, Chaucer uses the characters charm to influence

readers to view the act as less of crime. Finally, one can take the opinion that

Pandarus actions coincide perfectly with the ideas of Courtly love and

therefore are less odious (Kirby 181). However grim these opinions maybe,

Chaucer, and as a result, Pandarus, takes the bull by the figurative horns and

addresses the issue. Criseyde questions Pandarus after his declaration of

Troilus love by saying: “Alas, for wo! Why nere I deed?/For of the

world the feyth is al agoon./Allas! what sholden straunge to me doon,/When he,

that for my beste frend I wende,/Ret me to love, and sholde it me defende?”

(Chaucer 61). Pandarus presents his position on the basis that he is aiding a

friend. But with Troilus, Pandarus argues the exact opposite. He claims he is

suffering from pangs of guilt. He states that he has behaved like a pimp through

true friendship and Troilus exonerates him (Chaucer 125-6). “Thus it seems

that Pandarus moral conflict is found not only among scholars, but in the

characters themselves. Both Criseyde and Pandarus realize that he is not

fulfilling his duty as an older relative” and that by pleading the case for

Troilus, Pandarus is dishonoring Criseyde (Berkeley Research 5). After coaxing

Criseyde to pass the night at his house and after hiding Troilus in a cramped

closet, Pandarus actions reveal his true busy-body qualities. He is always

present during the conversations of the lover and often stays past the time to

leave by unobtrusively claiming to read books. It would appear that his

curiosity goes beyond his desire to aide, marking him as a voyarist. However,

after the momentous night when Criseyde takes Troilus to be her lover,

Pandarus role diminished until the time of Criseydes betrayal is made

known. In his indecision over what to do during the awkward revelation of

Criseydes betrayal, Kirby argues that “This powerful scene, depicting

the great comic figure at a moment of high tragedy, showing his complete

helplessness, his utter inability to do anything further to help his friend and

yet, with it all, his great generousity and mercy, Is the last in which Pandarus

appears” (Kirby 176). This depicts the final development of the character

Pandarus. He has come full circle from the amicable, helpful friend, to the

original pimp, to the very soul of generosity. It is in the complexity of his

character for fully demonstrating true human beings rather than the age-old

stereotypes that the true genius of Chaucer is fully realized. Unlike the

imaginative character of Pandarus, Troilus follows fairly closely with the

previous sources. He is the epitome of the courtly lover. Paul Baum states that

“Troilus has but one religion, that of Love. He is neither pagan nor

Christian, but always a devout follower of amour courtois, an embodiment of the

best elements of the code. He has not thought, commits no act, which is not in

perfect harmony with the tenets of his religion” (152). The tenets of

courtly love are outlined by C. S. Lewis. They hold that the lover will always

choose to serve the lady he loves, requesting that he would be the only one she

allow to serve her. Secondly, he must be faithful to his lady and vice versa

once the lady of his heart accepts the lovestruck knight. Furthermore, the

knight will continually worship the lady and accomplish whatever tasks he deems

will make himself worthy of her. Lastly, and most importantly, courtly love

involves the utmost secrecy. The love shared must be kept secret less the

ladys honor (who the knight has sworn to uphold and dutybound to protect)

becomes blemished. As seen throughout the entire epic poem, Troilus duly

qualifies every last tenet of courtly love. We see him smirk at those in love

before he is struck by Cupids arrow. At the very sight of Criseyde, Chaucer

writes “And of hire look in hem ther gan to quken/So gret desir and such

affeccioun,/That in his hertes botme gan to stiken/Of hir his fixe and depe

impressioun” (14). After Troilus has been struck by Cupids arrow,

“he continues to mock all lovers in order to maintain secrecy about his

love (Berkley Research 8). Finally upon revealing his secret to Pandarus,

Troilus dedicates himself to serve Criseyde and the god of love. “And to

the God of Love thus seyde he/With pitous vois, “O lord, now youres be./Yow

thanke I, lord, that han me brought to this./But whether goodesse or womman,

iwis,/She be, I not, which that ye do me serve;/But as hire man I wol ay lyve

and sterve” (Chaucer 19). He proves himself worthy of his ladys love by

accomplishing great deeds in the battle against the Greeks. “At the same

time, Troilus is very gentle and tender about town, illustrating the supposed

ennobling qualities of loveIn a like manner, he hunts dangerous beasts,

but lets the smaller one escape, thus showing his bravery and his

tenderheartedness” (Berkley Research 9). Beyond these acts, Troilus

demonstrates the various characteristics of the courtly love by swooning at his

ladys disapproval, becoming highly agitated and distressed over his ladys

absence. He is tormented by having to keep his love a secret, but is duty bound

to uphold the secrecy. In effect, he is torn between his souls desire and his

hearts desire. In addition to all of this, Troilus seems to be quite passive.

He follows along with the deceits of Pandarus, despite the fact it only serves

to dishonor Criseyde. When Criseyde is named for the exchange, Troilus fears

that any action on his part will result in the death of his lady love.

Furthermore, Troilus never doubts that Criseyde will remain faithful to him.

Even at the moment of realized betrayal, Troilus treats his lady with respect as

he still loves her. He states “Thorugh which I se that clene out of youre

mynde/Ye han me cast; and I ne kan nor may,/For al this world, withinne myn

herte fynde/To unloven yow a quarter of a day!/In corsed tyme I born was,

weilaway,/That yow, that doon me al this wo endure,/Yet love I best of any

creature!” (Chaucer 305). By claiming this, Troilus proves he is the

epitome of courtly love, by holding a love that cannot be banished by the

betrayal of Criseyde, which makes it an everlasting love. Thus the character of

Troilus can be defined as ideal, virtuous, and noble in his love Criseyde,

making him the soul of tenderness. However at the same time, by exemplifying the

hero, Chaucer shows how ridiculous and pathetic the courtly lover is, especially

at his most romantic moment. In contrast to Troilus, Criseyde plays the part of

the courtly lady, but Chaucer makes her a more humanly figure. Because of her

realistic qualities, Gordon argues that the real tragedy belonged to Criseyde.

She states “To have developed the latent tragedy of her situation, her

brightness and beauty dwindling as soon as she leaves Troy, her moment of

self-realization in the presence of the crude Diomed, when she acknowledges her

weakness, her feeble effort to recover as she slides backward, would have made a

different poem” (157). Gordon also claims that Criseydes treachery

was a direct result of her fathers traitorous actions and her uncles

dishonorable actions. When Criseyde is first introduced, she is dressed in

widows garb, mourning. She has all the honorable intentions that get pushed

aside with Pandarus help. However, upon her first speech with Pandarus,

readers gather a rather conflicting opinions of Criseyde. Despite her explicable

anger over Pandarus proposition, Criseyde fears for Troilus life,

believing he will actually commit suicide over her. Her fear leads her to agree

to Pandarus deceit, making readers interpret her actions as flirting. Chaucer

seems to support this by portraying Criseyde as a timid person: “Criseyde,

which that wel neigh starf for feere,/So as she was the ferfulleste wight/That

myghte be, and herde ek with hire ere/And saugh the sorwful ernest of the knyght,/And

for the harm that myghte ek fallen moore,/She gan to rewe, and dredde hire

wonder soore,” (Chaucer 63). According to Gordon, Criseydes unease over

the proposition demonstrates her worldly understanding. She argues that nature

of “switch love” is the central moral question of the poem, and that

question that Criseyde continually deals with (Gordon 157). Furthermore,

Criseyde must consider the question of honor as she is at court and gossip is a

lethal weapon. Her concern here demonstrates the practical side of Criseyde. Her

rational side is shown by her consideration of Troilus suit. She weighs the

facts that he is a son of a king, a great warrior, and deemed a good man by

most. She neatly traps Troilus beneath her by allowing him to serve her only

under one condition: he has no other sovereign except for herself. Her

intelligence is only emphasized by her capitulation to Troilus. When he asks her

to yield, she responds that if she had not yielded already, she would not be in

the room. Furthermore, she did not appear surprised when Troilus showed up in

her chambers. All these qualities represent the humanity that Chaucer has

endowed Criseyde with. Despite the realistic qualities Chaucer endows Criseyde

with, he fulfills her role as the lady love. She does not question the authority

of men or fate, as demonstrated by her reaction to the news of her exchange.

Furthermore, she believes that she cannot be disconnected from Troilus as her

love for him binds her to him for all time. She upholds the tenant of secrecy

even when people assume she is crying from joy as they congratulate her on the

exchange. Criseyde even goes so far as to contemplate a slow painful death by

starvation in order to stay loyal to Troilus. With her great sorrow due to her

departure from Troilus, Criseyde remains blind to Diomede. Her sorrow is doubled

when she fails to convince her father to return her to Troy. This is where the

tragedy of Criseyde begins, according to Gordon. Criseyde tragedy is

self-deception. She never realized she was capable of betrayal until she

actually committed the act (Gordon 137). It is noted that when Criseyde is

listing all the reasons for her love to Troilus, she lists more of his manners

than his character. Furthermore, it is noted that in the first part of the epic

poem, only Criseydes looks and demeanor are commented upon, whereas in the

second part of the poem, the reader gets a more concise view of Criseydes

character (Gordon 137). It is not until Book V, that Chaucer refers to Criseyde

as the “slydynge of corage” (272). With her acceptance of Diomede,

Criseyde breaks the code of courtly love, marking her as weak and perhaps a bit

of an opportunist. In fact one can argue that Criseydes choice of Diomede was

one of practicality rather than of romance (Berkley Research 17). However,

Chaucer defends Criseyde by claiming: “Ne me ne list this sely womman chyde/Forther

than the storye wol devyse./Hire name, allas! is punysshed so wide,/That for

hire gilt it oughte ynough suffise./And if I myghte excuse hire any wise,/For

she so sory was for hire untroughte,/Iwis, I wolde excuse hire yet for routhe”

(282). Criseydes fall from grace is the ultimate mark of humanity that

separates her from the stereotypical ideal of the courtly lady. She recognizes

she has committed a wrong, even thought she believes she can never atone for it.

The very fact that she does break a tenant of courtly love demonstrates

Chaucers willingness to create characters that delve outside the stereotype

world. It becomes obvious that Chaucer has given great thought and imagination

to carefully depict his three characters to help evolve his plot and give a

human interest perspective to an otherwise old story. His use of contrast is

spectacularly essential. He shows Troilus to be the very typical courtly lover.

Whatever derivations Troilus develops only emphasizes his uniqueness as a figure

of Chaucer. In contrast to the innocence of Troilus love, Pandarus is

portrayed as old and extremely shrew. He knows how to weasel even the most

treasured secrets from a body and manipulate that to further his own interests.

Pandarus is arguably one of the most original and imaginative character of

Chaucer. While not as original as Pandarus, Criseyde represents the ideal

courtly lady with a realistic twist. She sharply contrasts with Troilus with her

rationality and even her practicality. She measures every action first, while

Troilus just follows whatever way will lead him to his perceived goal. All

combined, Chaucer manages to create an ideal constantly embued with originality

that invokes the readers continual interest in the epic poem, Troilus and



Baum, Paul E. Chaucer: A Critical Appreciation. Durham, North Carolina: Duke

University Press, 1958. Berkeley Research. The Development of Character in

Troilus and Criseyde. Proprietary document. San Francisco, California: Berkeley

Research, 1997. Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Edited by R. A. Shoaf.

East Lansing, Michigan: Colleagues Press, 1989. Gordon, Ida. The Double Sorrow

of Troilus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. Kirby, Thomas A. Chaucers

Troilus: A Study in Courtly Love. Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1958.

Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936.

Rosetti, W. M. Chaucers Troylus and Cryseyde Compared with Boccaccios

Filostrato. London: Oxford University Press, 1875.

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