Ambiguity and Understanding of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde Essays

Ambiguity and Understanding of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde Essays

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Ambiguity and Understanding of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

      One of the aspects of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde that seemed most confusing at first was the apparent ambiguity or complete lack of motivation that the author provides for the main characters. Chaucer provides little explanation for why his major characters act the way that they do; when he does, his explanations are often ambiguous or contradictory. Pandarus is an excellent example of a character whose motives are ambiguous. The only motives clearly attributable to him based on the poem's text seem to be the friendship and affection he and Troilus have for each other, which is supported by the narrator's claim that "Pandarus ... [was] desirous to serve his fulle frend." (Chaucer 1.1058-9); a voyeuristic instinct (which could be supported by pointing out that Pandarus seems to arrange opportunities for Troilus and Criseyde to tryst, as much as possible, in his presence -- for instance, his presence for an unspecified length of time during the night Troilus and Criseyde spend in his guest room); and a wish to vicariously fulfill, through his friend Troilus, those romantic desires which have been thwarted throughout life. This last (and perhaps most supportable) explanation is suggested by the constant identifications that Pandarus makes with Troilus, by saying "myn avys anoon may helpen us" and in asking Troilus if "Fortune oure joie wold han overthrowe," and by his explanation that "I ... nevere felte in my servyse / A frendly cheere or lokyng of an eye." (1.620, 4.385, 4.397-8) All of these motives for Chaucer's Pandarus could be supported, but none seems clearly to be more plausible than any of the others. However, for these vaguely defined motives,...

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...uld be portrayed as less happy: he has lost Criseyde, has been denied revenge against her new lover, and is dead. It is hard to imagine a more forceful combination of facts with writing to make a point. As if to drive it home, Chaucer's narrator then refers to "Jove, Apollo, ... Mars" as "swich rascaille," or rabble.


Subtleties of middle English can be confusing for a new reader and first, and "entente" is a word with subtle variations in meaning and a variety of connotations. Properly understood, though, it adds a great deal to an understanding of Chaucer's Troilus.



Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde in The Riverside Chaucer. General Ed. Benson, Larry D. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Tatlock, John S.P., and Arthur G. Kennedy. A Concordance to the Complete Work of Geoffrey Chaucer. Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1963.


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