Chaucer, Troilus (1382-5?): Sources, Approaches, Macrostructure

The Text: a five-"book" (c. ModE chapter) narrative poem composed of 8,239 lines in 1,177 seven-line, rhyme-royal stanzas rhyming ababbcc.


Boccaccio, Filostrato, 1338: the basic plot and characters, in 9 sections of 5,704 lines in 713 8-line stanzas rhyming abababcc.  Creseide, a nubile young widow, eagerly follows cousin Pandaro's advice and accepts the attentions of young Troilio, son of king Priam.  For one salient difference in characterization, when Chaucer's Pandarus persuades Criseyde to listen to his plea on Troilus' behalf, Pandarus plays the "carpe diem" card (II.393-406)--in stanzas 70-71 of Boccaccio, Crisiede does it to herself after asking "Perchè esser non deggio innamorata?" ("Why should I not be in love?").  Everywhere you will find similar differences in Chaucer's handling of crucial character and plot details, and his narrator is strikingly different from B's.

Benoit de Sainte-Maure, Roman de Troie (c.1150-60): Trojan background including the cause of the war in Helen’s abduction and its aftermath in Troy’s destruction (c. 30,316 lines of rhymed couplets).  Benoit's adaptation of "Dares Phrygius" and "Dictys Cretensis," the pseudonymous Latin summaries of Homer, transforms the Bronze Age warriors and women into medieval knights and ladies.  If you know the Iliad, try to imagine Achilles becoming love-sick over Priam's daughter, or Hector charging Achilles on horseback with a lance. 

Additional borrowings from canzoni of Petrarch, Dante’s Divina comedia and Convivio, Gruido della Colomnis' 1287 prose Latin redaction of Benoit (Historia destructionis Troiae), Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, etc.

Overall Structure:

I. dedicated to Thesiphone, a Fury (lovers’ pain): 1092 lines / 156 stanzas

II. dedicated. to Cleo, muse of history (changing language & custom): 1757 ll. / 251 st.

III. dedicated. Venus & Caliope, muse of epic (light & love): 1820 ll. / 260 st.

IV. dedicated. Erinyes (Furies) (betrayal): 1701 ll. / 243 st.

V. dedicated. Parcas (Fates) (destiny and justice): 1869 ll. / 267 st.

Major expansions of Boccaccio:

1) Pandarus’ role throughout, especially the humor.

2) Deiphebus’ dinner (II)

3) Pandarus’ dinner (III)

4) Criseyde’s self-consciousness regarding the possibility of betrayal (end of II)

5) Pandarus’ meeting with Criseyde to tell her of Troilus’ love (II)

Major early interpretations:

W. P. Ker, Troilus as a precursor to the modern psychological novel with extensive character development and little didacticism

C. S. Lewis: Troilus as a tragedy in five acts/books wherein each major character has a classical hamartia (excess or tragic flaw): Criseyde is "slydynge of courage" and "the ferefullest wyght that myght be"; Troilus is a youth ignorant of the adult world’s treachery and an older woman’s experience; Pandarus is an Iago-type unmotivated villain or a Vice figure (cf. Medieval moralities).

D. W. Robertson, Jr.: Troilus is a didactic tale about the dangers of courtly love: Troilus is a type of "Adam," fatally afflicted by lust; Criseyde is an "Eve" type who lures Troilus from his duty; Pandarus is a tempter to evil and minister of Satan.

Some Pandarus interpretations: he’s an example of the ideal friend (cf. Cicero, De amicitia); he’s an example of the ideal courtier (cf. Castiglioni); he’s an artist who looks at life as his creation (esp. Morton Bloomfield and E. T. Donaldson); he’s an evil advisor and "priest of Satan" (D. W. Robertson, Jr.).