Chaucer, Troilus, III: 1-1820

Pages or Lines Passages and Interpretive Issues

Book III

513-4 The Prohemium to Light and to Venus: this magnificent hymn argues that love is a divine light which moves all creation to order and joy, and identifies the Narrator as the "clerc" of Venus (41). This openly identifies Chaucer with Ovid (author of the Amores [love’s rules and practices] and the Remedia amoris [how to get over it]), and with Ovid’s Metamorphoses in its assertion that "in a thousand formes down [Jove] sente / For love in erthe" (20-1). Remember where the plot has come to—why is he launching this grand philosophical discourse while "Lay al this mene while Troilus" awaiting Criseyde who is just on the other side of the door (50)? Milton also thought this was a terrific piece of writing, and borrowed it for the invocation of Book III of Paradise Lost, which can be taken as a sort of "reading" of Chaucer’s Book III prohemium.  Click here to compare the two passages.

514-16 The First Conversation: This should be familiar to us from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’s third stanza group (hmmm threes again): knight awaits in bed the challenge of a woman he desires but dreads. T tries to rise (see Eleyne’s response to this) and C presses him back into bed with "bothe hire hondes soft" (72). Who knows and feels that softness, who tells us about it, and why? This is another of those subtle tricks GC is playing with his Narrator. Then C says the magic words ("of youre lordshipe eke / Continuance I wolde yow biseke" [76-7])—what are their effect upon Troilus? It’s very curious! Note that C can (as Mom used to say) "read Troilus like a book" on ll. 85-91. T calls C "swete herte" (98) and "wommanliche wif" (106), the last a term that has scholars scribbling. Then C is speechless in her turn, and P has to force her words (120-6). When T answers her request for "the fyn of his entente" (126), he offers her his service in a fashion very close to the homage ceremony recorded by Littleton. She accepts the service "in honour of trouthe and gentilesse," but reserves the "sovereignete" that he might have claimed in the relationship as a "kynges son" (163, 171, 170). Readers of "Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale," and of "Franklin’s Tale," would have ready comparisons for Chaucer’s use of a woman’s concern for sovereignty in relationships. But she welcomes T as "deere herte and al my knyght" (176). How does that statement, and her full embrace and kiss (182) reflect the homage ceremony binding lord and vassal? Then, how do you read P’s prayer, on his knees, to "Cupide" and "Venus" for the event? (ironic, comic, true?)

        Future concerns: Now that T and C have entered into a formal relationship of a romantic character, how does that affect P’s role as her uncle? Is he her protector and guide, or T’s friend and ally? Lines 442-1309 constitute yet another major addition to Filostrato, and it’s another dinner party (at P’s house). Why does GC add dinners—what does that tell you about the English notion of courtship (in both the medieval and modern sense)?

ll. 235-343 Pandarus’ "sermon" on secrecy, and the dangers of lying and boasting: P attempts to adjust Troilus’ understanding of their relationship, and of T’s relationship to Criseyde, especially with respect to uses of language. He begins with concern for what people might name what he has done, which he can’t name ("for the I am bicomen, / Bitwixen game and ernest, swich a meene / As maken wommen unto men to comen; / Al sey I nought, thow wost wel what I meene" [253-6]). How does motive affect the names given things here? Note also the emphasis on C’s "name" (267) and importance of "privete" (283).   (The link takes you to Joan Jett, singing "[I don't give a damn about my bad] Reputation."]   The concepts of "ernest," "game," and "privete" all are important keywords in Canterbury Tales, as well. Finally, P dreads T will release dangerous words: "Avauntour and a lyere, al is on" (309). In what way might boasting (vaunting) and lying be the same with respect to words and meanings. How might that relate to the issue of courtly forms of language vs. words produced by feelings?

ll. 344-420 T’s answer: this is notable for two moments of hyperbole, T’s oath that Achilles’ spear should cleave his heart if he betrays C (374-8) and his promise that P, in return for the good service he has done T, should have anything he can give P, even "my faire suster Polixene, / Cassandre, Eleyne, or any of the frape [company]" (409-10). Knowing from Aeneid Book 1 that Achilles will kill T, how do we read the first, and knowing what we know about the women named, how do we read the second?

p. 519-20 Note that T now is in "servyse" to Mars all day, and to Venus all night. How might a feudal audience have understood the strains and risks of this kind of arrangement. (N.B., Mars/Ares and Venus/Aphrodite were well-known to classical readers as having had an adulterous affair which was discovered and made public, foolishly, by V/A’s husband, Vulcan/Hephaestus.) The Narrator breaks in to describe T’s thought as "disesed" (442-8), but he also notes they kept their love secret when they communicated by letter, and C’s fear of exposure grows less disturbing. But the Narrator also draws away from their relationship and refuses to disclose all of their letters and conversations (491ff.)—who are the voyeurs or "jealous ones" now?

520-22 Pandarus’ Dinner Party: In another long passage GC adds to Boccaccio, P arranges a meeting that T knows about, but which C is ignorant of, by inviting his niece to dinner under the pretext that T is not going to be there. The Narrator alleges his "auctour" has not told him all that went on in C’s mind when P tells her this (575ff) but also says C "as his nece, obeyed as hire oughte" (581). How does this color the meeting, and how does it reflect on P’s earlier protestations of innocence and honorability? As C says, "Em [uncle], syn I moste on yow triste, / Loke al be wel" (587-8). T observes the women arriving "Throughout a litel wyndow in a stewe [tiny chamber]" (601)—how does this compare with Deiphebus’ dinner party? P, ever the good host, entertains until late, but finally C "took hire leve, and nedes wolde wende" (614). Note the stanza break and Narrator’s apostrophe to Fortune that follows.

522-34 First Night Together: Fortune, "executrice of wierdes," intervenes to send a "smoky reyn" of such force that all are terrified and stay at P’s house. Note that the Narrator says, of Fortune, that "under God ye ben oure hierdes, / Though to us bestes ben the causez wrie" (619-20). How much control do T and C and P have here? P, of course, takes advantage of this to ask C to stay "right in my litel closet yonder" (613) and she agrees after being promised security and privacy. What are these words worth?

        T, alerted to his chance, suddenly has second thoughts and remembers all the love affairs gone awry (715ff) and P mocks him for his "wrecched mouses herte" (736). How are the classics and the mundane colloquial language being pitted against each other here? Remember, we are in Troy!

        P goes to C and works through a three-stage strategy to persuade her to let T in: women deceive men when they promise love; T is nearly mad with grief; a friend has told T "How that ye sholden love oon hatte Horaste" (797). C denies knowing any "Horaste" (sound like "Poliphete"?) and bewails "O brotel wele of mannes joie unstable!" (820). How true is her claim about human joy, and if it is true, what does that say about the events we are witnessing? C offers P a "blewe ryng" as a token of her affection to take to T, but he mocks it, saying "that ryng moste han a stoon / That myghte dede men alyve maken; / And swich a ryng trowe I that ye have non" (891-3). It’s the ring motif again, but a denial that C has it—mockingly delivered. Finally, she gives in to the judgment of P, her "em," and lets T come in (939ff): this passage once again emphasizes her trust in P and T, and their "governaunce" of her (945). How might this affect our sense of C’s former and later behavior?

        T arrives, kneels at C’s bedside, and C is dumbstruck (compare Deiphebus’ party). P mocks the two, and made as if to withdraw to a corner "As for to looke upon an old romaunce" (980)—how does that position literature in the world of the tale? Then C delivers her speech intended, she thinks, to assuage T’s jealous despair. With whom does the audience most identify, T or C (or P) in terms of what we know and how we hear this speech? She also offers to undergo a probative ordeal (1046) and swears "in thought ne dede untrewe / To Troilus was nevere yet Criseyde" (1054). How does that wonderful sentence construct and limit her oath?

        T swoons when his spirit "fled was out of towne" (1091), but P seizes the moment and "he into bed hym caste" (1097). How does this weird gesture combine the honest and the artful pursuit of love? P turns down the lights to save the poor lovers’ vision, and they embrace. The Narrator describes this with extraordinary directness and not a little erotic art—the similes, though, are similar to others we’ve seen: "What myghte or may the sele larke seye, / Whan that the sperhauk hath it in his foot?" (1191-2). C, feeling herself "thus itake," begins to quake "right as an aspes leef" (1200). But in T’s moment of triumph at having "kaught" her, GC gives C the last word: "Ne hadde I er now, my swete herte deere, / Ben yolde ([yielded], ywis, I were now nought here!" (1210-11). When and where did she yield, and to what/whom?

        T’s love song, "O Love, O Charite" (also the title of an important book on the poem), once again hymns the power of "Benigne Love, thow holy bond of thynges" (1254-1274, 1261). This song contains the structural center of the poem at line 1271: "And me bistowed in so high a place." Why is this the center of the Troilus and what does it mean?

        The lovers exchange vows and exchange rings (p. 531-2), and T praises C’s eyes for their their "writing" of her meaning, though "the text ful hard is" (1357). If faces and eyes are texts to be read, who controls that writing? Note especially C’s gift of "a broche, gold and asure, / In which a ruby set was lik an herte" (1371-1). You may see that "broche" again in an unexpected place in Book V.

        Dawn Song: the Albe or alba is a classical genre in which illicit lovers lament the coming sun which disrupts their pleasure (click here for the Luminarium web page of "The Sun Rising," a parody albe where the day-star is mocked by John Donne as the "Busy old fool!"). Usually, the female sings the first lament and the male answers her—what is the order in this alba and why? (ll. 1422 ff)

        C’s oath: note that she begins referring to what they have done as "The game" (1494)—in what ways is it so?  But then she refers to that "heart writing" which has engraved T’s love into her heart (14951502) and swears she could never get it out of her thought though she died in pain.  Books shaped like hearts were not uncommon as a way for medieval lovers to articulate the inverse of this metaphor--click here for an image of such a book.  What does the heart-writing metaphor suggest about the binding power of language, the force with which words can compel emotional stability?  How might it be read ironically, especially if you consider the stability of real writing, or real emotions?  Compare this with Troilus’ earlier oath—what may she just have done?

pp. 534-7 From Love to Fortune: Having obtained their desires, the lovers now turn to the exigencies of maintaining it, and Fortune more and more frequently is on their minds. To this end, Chaucer introduces (in the "Canticus Troili" ll. 1744 ff.) Boethius in Middle English translation from the Latin. This close rendering of Book 2, Meter 8, is dedicated once again to "Love, that of erthe and se hath governaunce" (1744), and praises love for bringing a stable faith and concord to the discordant elements of the universe. However, it also remarks "And if that Love aught lete his bridel go, / Al that now loveth asondre sholde lepe, / And lost were al that Love halt now to-hepe" (1762-4). How strong are love’s bonds, and what kind of catastrophe does this passage really ponder? Chaucer’s Narrator ends Book III as he began, with a two-stanza apostrophe to Venus and the muses, thanking them for guiding him this far. What does love have to do with writing, especially with writing the Troilus?