Chaucer, Troilus, IV

Pages, Passages and Interpretive Issues

538 Prohemium: to the "Herynes" [Erynies/Furies], "Megera, Alete [Allecto], and ek Thesiphone," and to Mars (22, 24, 25), the Narrator prays for the power to write the fourth book’s tale of T’s loss of life and love. If Book III was the book of Venus, now Mars is the astrological sign that will govern fates. Fortune also is invoked as if she were a fickle lover who turns her face from T and toward Diomede (1-11). Why might the Narrator set up Fortune as the treacherous lady here? When he does this, he notes his pen "allas, with which I write, / Quaketh for drede of that I moste endite" (13-14)—as if lamenting the pen and writing, itself, as well as the trepidation that afflicts his writing instrument. Where might we see evidence of a Narrator’s pen "shaking" for dread in some figurative sense?

        Note, too, that the prohemium of Book IV begins with a "But al to litel" which makes sense only if read continuously with the last two lines of Book III, "And Troilus in lust and in quiete / Is with Criseyde, his owen herte swete" (1819-20). In effect, this is an "enjambed book," as if Book III had slipped into Book IV before it was aware of where it was headed.

538-41 The Greek Camp and Calchas: yes, Calchas—remember him? Compare this with the early stages of Book I and you’ll see we’re almost restarting the poem. We finally go out of the city (in paraphrase) and observe Hector leading Trojans in battle, and the sad loss of captives to the Greeks. Compare this with the "Canticus Troili" of Book III—where is the love that holds this world together (hint: why are the Greeks on the beach?). What is love?

        The capture of Antenor and other Trojans gives Calchas the chance to ask the Greeks for the boon of the daughter he had abandoned to help them in exchange for one of the Trojan prisoners—how do you read his speech to the Greeks when he laments "O sterne, O cruel fader that I was! / How myghte I have in that so hard an herte? (94-5)? Is he to be taken seriously, given what he has done? Calling himself "this olde caytif" (104), he says Greeks will take the town soon anyway, so they’ll have their prisoners back (dead) because the gods, themselves, hate the town (111-126). How does that information (which the informed reader knows to be true!) re-frame Books I-III, and how does it affect your sense of what Criseyde is going to be asked to do? Note, especially, Calchas’ mastery of the physical appearance of sorry "cheer" (127-30)—where have we seen this before and what is Calchas’ relation to the source of those tears (II: 64)? How would you say Chaucer is setting up Criseyde’s relations to male authority?

        The news which reaches T makes him dissemble his grief (compare Book I) and leads him to consider his options, the first of many such strategic introspections—mark and compare them if you want to track his mind’s motions (155-75). You’ll see personified "Love" and "Reason" debating with him as they will debate with Astrophil two centuries later. What is the result of debating with Reason or listening to Love?

        The "noyse" of the people (never a term used admiringly in Chaucer, or in Malory) contends with the words of Hector, and the outcome could be compared with the PoF for a medieval view of popular wisdom and democracy in action. Note the Narrator’s insistence upon reminding us about Antenor’s future theft of the Palladium and its role in the fall of Troy (see IV.202-6 n. on p. 1045). The reference to Juvenal translates the second, third and fourth lines of his tenth satire. How does the Narrator use it to construct our interpretation of the "parlement"’s judgment? Also, how does this scene relate to Hector’s confident promises made to Criseyde in Book I? Take note, especially, of H’s reasoning, ll. 178 and 182—how do you read him as a character?

541-6 Troilus and Pandarus Redux: the parallels of this scene with Book I are obvious—remember Fortune’s wheel and circular structure. The departure of the wordless T from the assembly is accompanied by a short evocation of his desolation in the metaphor of winter which also can be found in Shakespeare’s sonnet 156 (ll. 25-31), and which makes an interesting use of "the chaungynge of Criseyde" in the sense of "exchanging" (231). What GC nudging us toward?

          T’s transformation to a "ded ymage" (235) is accompanied by a complaint to Fortune which asks why a goddess T has "honoured al my lyve" should betray him. Is this ironic or pathetic or both? Comparisons with the Man in Black could be made here, as well. Then he shifts his complaint to the lord of Love and anticipates ending "as Edippe, in derknesse / [His] sorwful lif" (300-1)—could there be a blindness motif in this poem, especially self-blinding? Then he shifts his apostrophic lament to his soul ("were goost"), his "woful eyen two," Criseyde, lovers, and Calchas in parallel stanzas, each of which starts with the same structural formula. How does this compare, artistically or logically, with his lament in Book I?

        Pandarus overhears the grief (as he has overheard their love) but this time needs no guessing game to decode the signs. How does P’s discussion of Fortune differ from T’s lament to the goddess (382-92)?

        Since this book is heavily influenced by Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, its structural parallels to the Latin text (translated by Chaucer, pp. 395-469) are worth considering. The man lost in grief and lamenting fortune’s power is visited by an advisor who consoles, but the advisor is radically different in the Troilus. Is there any way of explaining P as a stand-in for Lady Philosophy? Perhaps Sir Rhetoric? Lord Sophistry? The Duke of Comedy?

        P offers a complexly structured rationale for why T should not grieve: he’s had it good so far; there are plenty of ladies in Troy; variety is good; new love drives out the old; and labors, loves, or woes will always drive away the memory of old ones. Where have we heard this type of reasoning before in Chaucer and what might one do with the English poet’s response to the "Remedia amoris"? Note especially, though, why P spoke those words (428 ff.).

        T responds with the outburst, "So hold thi pees; thow sleest me with thi speche!" (455)—where does a Robertsonian (Patristic, Christian allegory) reading take that line? Then he makes a series of rather deft analytical jabs at his comforter, noting for instance that P can’t reason his own way out of grief for the beloved, and says "O, where hastow ben bid so lone in muwe / That kanst so wel and formely agruwe?" (496-7). Could this detestation of formal argument be related to the poem’s opposition between clever courtly language and passionate silence or tangled verbiage?

        P challenges T’s manhood (529-30) with the injunction "Go ravysshe here! [. . . ] / Artow in Troie, and hast non hardyment / To take a womman which that loveth the / And wolde hireselven ben of thyn assent?" (530, 533-5). Read this practically, and then re-read it in light of T’s reminder that "this town hath al this were / For ravysshyng of wommen" (547-8). Is T reasoning well for this situation? T’s second reason is that he’s loyal to Priam, his father, who has authorized the exchange. Finally, he dreads that it would "be disclaundre to hire name" (564). Which of these appeals is the most important in terms of what you know about the poem? Compare these with C’s objections below.

        T, "with desir and reson twight" (572), turns to lament Fortune and P answers him "Devyne nat in resoun ay so depe / Ne preciously, but help thiself anon" (589-90). Who is wiser here, T or P? Follow P’s answer to T’s previous charges and keep comparing the teacher’s instruction of his pupil. Is this deception, temptation, or "trouthe"? Especially see ll. 615-23. Also note, throughout this debate, the repetition of "ravysshe hire"—in what ways can one be ravished? Has it happened already in this poem?

547-8 Criseyde’s Side: Fame (allegorized from Aeneid) bears the news to C, and she is silenced "for fere" (672), but the Narrator tells us in a stanza that echoes her Book III promise that she had set her heart on Troilus so firmly that the world could not budge it. Keep this in mind. Is the Narrator right? How would the Narrator know?

        Then the women of the town come to complete the disaster their men have begun in the "parlement," assuming she would be happy to see Dad but she’s sad because she’ll miss them. How does this situation reflect C’s position in Book II at Deiphebus’ party?

        In privacy, C enters formal grief, tearing her hair and face, and lamenting her loss of T. She promises to enter "myn ordre" of grief, a nunnery of sorrow in which all wear black, and exclaims "Thus, herte myn, for Antenor, alas, / I soone shal be chaunged" (792-3)—how might a careful reader interpret the ironic potential of this with the knowledge that she eventually will betray T? Also note the intense irony of Antenor, the traitor-to-be, serving as the means by which C is "chaunged."

        Note that these two pages allow the Narrator to represent C largely alone, in soliloquy, to establish some grounds for judging her true feelings and thoughts in later moments. This is more of Chaucer’s adaptation of Boccaccio to his own ends.

548-50 Pandarus to Criseyde: P’s arrival gives C a friend to whom she can direct her lament, and it gives us another interpreter of her behavior and condition. He finds "hire face, lik of Paradys the ymage, / Was al ychaunged in anther kynde" (864-5). Again, how would a Robertsonian read this, and how does it relate to possible Christian analogues of this narrative?

        Giving her news of T’s impending visit, P distracts C from her own grief and redirects her toward easing T’s pain. This furthers the poem’s motif of the circulation of pain (and of love) among the lovers. Most surprising, for some readers, is P’s attempt to establish C as an equal partner in the planning, a role she will improve until she leads their plan "how distourbe youre goynge, / Or come ayeyn son afterye be went" (934-5). P tells her "Women ben wise in short avysement" (936)—what kind of praise is this?

550-2 Troilus on Fate and Free Will: the first major borrowing from Boethius (B.5, pr. 2.43) has T laying out the fundamental paradox of divine foresight. If "som men seyn / . . . that fre choi is yeven us everychon" (970-1), what happens to the freedom of those choices "if God seth al biforn-- / Ne God may nat deceyved ben" (974-5)? T knows [heavy irony here]: "For al that comth, comth by necessitee: / Thus to ben lorn, it is my destinee" (958-9). T follows this logic around the bend when he begins "To enqueren which thyng cause of which thyng be: / As wheither that the prescience of God is / The certeyn cause of the necessite / Of thynges that to comen be, parde, / Or if necesite of thyn comynge / Be cause certeyn of the purveyinge" (1009-1015). That is, do things have to happen because God foresees them, or does the necessity of their coming cause God to foresee them? (Cf. Boece, p. 460, ll. 73-83.) Then, he slips into tautology when he says, of a man sitting in a chair:

"That he mot sitten by necesite;

And thus necessite in eyther is.

For in hym nede of sittynge is, ywys,

And in the, nede of soth; and thus forsothe,

There mot necessite ben in yow bothe." (1032-36; compare Boece p. 459)

        This maddening monologue finally leads T to assume what he has been wanting all along, the power to foresee the future with certainty:

"…ryght as whan I wot ther is a thyng,

Iwys, that thyng moot nedfuly be so;

Ek ryght so, whan I woot a thyng comyng,

So mot it come; and thus the bifallyng

Of thynges that ben wist bifore the tyde,

They mowe nat ben eschued on no syde." (1073-8, my emphasis; compare Boece, p. 462 l. 86-p. 463 87-94 and Lady Philosophy’s important instruction, p. 363, ll. 137-41—things known depend upon the "strengthe and . . . nature" of the knower, and feeble mortal wits cannot see or understand as God can.)

        There is, in theology, an entity whose perceptions of things coming is infallible, but that entity is not named Troilus. Note also that this ties into Calchas’ calculations, too.

552-the end: Criseyde and Troilus Plan Strategy: the lovers meet, but C’s grief makes her swoon (her spirit leaves her body) and T must address her (compare T later, in Book V, and the reverse of what happens in III on p. 528). T gets an immediate test of his Boethian foresight because "she lay as for ded" (1156). Readers of Ovid (Met.) and Shakespeare (MSND) know what happens next. T’s judgment is summarized in ll. 1177-83. Then he prepares himself to act resolutely—how ironic is this? The multiple apostrophes of ll. 1205-11 end in a prayer to the "departed" beloved which effectively deifies her. How does Chaucer’s audience’ read this? Especially note l. 1212!

        C, recovering her senses, interprets the catastrophe which they almost brought upon themselves and starts to take charge in a series of dramatically assertive passages (1255-1266, 1275-80, 1296-1302, 1316-1323). What has happened to her character and what is happening to T’s? Her reasoning for her "inevitable" return is laid out: she has kin in Troy; Calchas worries only about her welfare; peace may come; she never could live in an armed camp; Calchas can be persuaded by greed for his possessions abandoned in Troy; and, finally, C can talk her father into it. Especially note ll. 1394-1407. Her enthusiasm leads her to create an unusual word, "amphibologies," or words at home in both land and water, ambiguities, for the language of the gods. Do we see any "amphibologies" in the Troilus?

        T’s reception of C’s plan could be usefully compared with his reading of her first letter (1422-28), and it is preceded by the Narrator’s aside to the audience interpreting C’s intentions in a curiously ineffective way. He concludes, "[She] spak right as she mente" and "was in purpos evere to be trewe: / Thus writen they that of hire werkes knewe" (1418, 1420-1). Note the opposition in Christian doctrine between works and faith, and the difference between having a "purpos" to be "trewe" and being "trewe." T’s doubts surface in ll. 1436-1525, when he addresses her plan’s key component, her ability to control Calchas with words: "He shal som Grek so preyse and wel alose / That ravysshen he shal yow with his speche, / Or do yow don byforce as he shal teche; / And Troilus, of whom ye nyl han routhe, / Shal causeles so sterven in his trouthe!" (1473-77). Note the rhyme words, and the use of the thematized "ravysshe" as a thing that can be done with words or with force. What is the force of words?

        T proposes elopement (1503-5) to find a separate peace, far from Greeks and Trojans. But C rejects this for fear of his ill fame as one who abandoned Troy (remember how this poem started?) and the terrible blow this would be to T’s father, Priam. Then she makes an oath to seal their plan, swearing by "Cinthia the sheene," known to secular Mod.E. speakers as the moon (1608). What’s wrong with swearing constancy and "trouthe" by the moon? She repeats the claim that T is "Myn owne hertes sothfast suffisaunce" (1640, cf. III: 1309) and then reminds T why she loves him (1667-1687), in effect telling him that he would not be that man if he were to flee Troy’s fate. How do we become what we are, and how do some decisions remake our identities? How do we become "mathematicians" and "carpenters’ wives" (Dylan "Tangled Up in Blue")? How do we become college professors and software marketing directors? How can we become any of those things without choices which abandon old loyalties, old friends, old worlds of life?

        The book closes as T leaves C, knowing she is set on going to the Greeks, "which that his soule out of his herte rente" (1700). How does the poem make use of metaphors like this, in both their colloquial, "dead," sense, and in their real and vital sense?