Chaucer, Troilus, II (ll. 827-1757) Passages and Issues

Page Passage and Interpretive Issues

500-1 Antigone’s song: this has been said to answer each of C’s doubts about love, but does it answer them adequately?

502 C’s dream: again Tereus-Procne-Philomela is alluded to, and the dream content wonderfully captures the danger, pain, and promise of joy which C’s situation exposes her to. Compare this with P’s delivery of T’s letter (ll. 1154-5—why this close proximity of passages in which things are thrust into her bosom?

502-4 Pandarus’ Writing Lesson: T is a literate hero, but in need of rhetorical counseling. What does P advise, and how would you evaluate the effect of his advice upon T’s discourse? Note the close paraphrase of the structure of T’s letter. What does this tell you about his intentions. Compare this with the more loose paraphrase of C’s return letter (1219-25 and 1331-1330). There will be two more letters in this poem, and their form (and location) suggest that we should compare them with these two.

504-5 Pandarus the Postman: delivery of the letter is significant because C’s "receiving" the letter is like accepting a token of Troilus. Receiving letters can be used as evidence in treason trials as proof of loyalty to the sender. Unlike gifts, letters may be rejected unread by the recipient. How does Chaucer depict C’s reception of the letter.

506-7 C’s letter: she retreats to her closet and composes a reply which the Narrator summarizes very generally, but clearly setting forth her terms. What does she consent to and what does she prohibit? It is a crucial stage in their negotiations. When she emerges, P leads her to the window to see the staged "ride by" of Troilus, and its effects might be compared to the one Fate arranged earlier. The Narrator describes its effects and launches into a personal wish that she is firmly fixed in love, and that others might be so (1271-4). What does this do to the Narrator’s "service" for his readers? When C’s letter is delivered, T’s interpretation is recorded (1321-1337) and her "wordes under sheld" produce an increase in T’s desire for her. Why?

508-10 Planning Deiphebus’ dinner party: this is one of Chaucer’s major additions to the plot of Boccaccio’s tale (esp. from ll. 1393 on). "Deiphobos" is a character who, like Hector, comes from the original Troy story, and he has a major role in Virgil’s Aeneid VI where the hero finds him horribly disfigured in the Underworld. He had married Helen after Paris’ death, and on the night the wooden horse was brought to Troy, Helen removed his armor and opened the bedroom door to Menelaos and Ulysses, who have sought her first before the general alarm can be given the city. How does this choice affect the reader’s reception of Deiphebus behavior? Especially note his response to the appeal that he be the "frend" of Criseyde (ll. 1408-1458). In C14-15 Middle English, a "frend" at court was a political ally of superior power, and to beseech such a lord of "friendship" was to ask for political protection (D. says "I / Woll be hire champioun with spore and yerde" [1426-7]).

        Pandarus appears to be inventing the "false Poliphete" who is about to lay charges against Criseyde (1457), but note the association he makes of this man with Antenor and Eneas (esp. see gloss on p. 509—it’s one of the variant versions of the Troy story that’s directly important to the outcome of this tale). How does the threat that C will be the subject of dangerous words fit into P’s overall plan to bring her into a romantic relationship with T?

        When T is told of the plan (ll. 1491 ff.), note the language in which P praises his own plan and urges T’s confidence in it (l. 1503). What codes are colliding here? Then, when P brings T into the plan by urging him to feign illness, how does the plot match the facts? There’s a nice irony here, and also a lesson in lying. The last words P speaks to T describe the plan as a hunt in which C is the deer. Virgil also is relevant here, as well, because of his use of the hunted woman/deer to describe Dido when she learns Aeneas is about to abandon her (Book I). What kind of associations might Chaucer be making here? (There’s also a use of the "great oak felled by foresters or storm" which Virgil earlier had used to describe both a man’s will, nearly overcome, and the city’s walls falling to the flames [II: 1380-1383].)

510-13 Deiphebus’ Dinner Party: the mighty of Troy are gathered together and told T is "syke," and all have remedies they want to offer, especially "oon" who thinks "Best koud I yet ben his leche" (1582). That’s C, and what metaphor is she using? Note her further response to T’s "illness" in lines 1590-96—how does it impress her?

        When C’s problem is brought up, Eleyne first replies that "Joves lat hym nevere thryve / That doth yow harm" etc. (1606-7). When you know that she is Jove’s daughter ("Leda and the Swan" if you know your Yeats), how does this affect her utterance. Then the party roundly "disrespects" Poliphete—if there is such a man, what has P done to him and why?

        Eleyne then suggests that Hector and, oh yes, Troilus (1627) should be told of C’s peril because they are mighty men in the city and the would be quick to aid a woman in need. How do you interpret this timely suggestion? Remember who is Eleyne’s protector and source of power (Aphrodite/Venus). Then, since the chamber is small and warm, the patient should not be stressed by a crowd of visitors, and the two ladies will pay their respects one at a time. Eleyne goes first—what does she say in "pleye" (1669), and why is it absurdly comic under that circumstances? Also look at her body language ("proxemics") in ll. 1671-3. What might we suspect about what she knows?

        Then the dinner party takes up another case, a letter from Ector asking "If swych a man was worthi to ben ded" (1699).  What does it do for your perception of the stakes in courtly society when you think about deciding a capital punishment issue after dinner while a love affair goes forward in another room.  While the rest of them are chatting about this little topic, C goes to see T and stops just at the chamber door at the end of Book II. First, why does Chaucer introduce this horrible pretext (again with the puns!), and why does he break his book at just this point? Note especially his last stanza (1751-1757).

Click here for some article-length sources on Book II.