Chaucer, Troilus, Book V

Pages Passages and Interpretive Issues

560-1 No Prohemium: the Parcas (Fates) are invoked in the first stanza, and the three years Troilus ("sone of Ecuba the queene") had loved Criseyde are named, but we already have arrived at the day of the exchange of Crisdeyde for Antenor. The chronological slippage we noted from III to IV has accellerated, and "Ful redy was at prime Diomede / Criseyde unto the Grekis oost to lede" (15-16). Diomede arrives without introduction and eager to do that which the lovers have spent a book trying to forestall. Troilus tortures himself with rhetorical questions (erotema), asking why he doesn't rescue C--compare this hesitation with Lancelot and Guenivere in Malory's last section. Note the source of T's hesitation (ll. 52-4). Is he a better or worse chivalric hero than TM's Lancelot?

561-3 Exchanging Criseyde / Diomede's Advice: Note the anaphoric "And..." constructions which appear in ll. 78-84, and especially what they lead up to. What is the Narrator's strategy re: the reader? Notice also how Diomede "reads" Troilus' behavior and his symbolic gesture in leading C's horse away by the bridel. This is a victor's gesture; again compare TM in the early warfare scenes in which knights bring horses to their friends in battle.

        Diomede, like Pandarus, thinks to himself about strategy before he speaks (ll. 94-105). How would you compare them, and what does this suggest about C's plan to deceive Calchas? D's speech is loosely paraphrased and then directly quoted--compare its elements with T's attempts to persuade C and evaluate their effect. How does he "speed" (succeed) in love (Cf. Book II, l. 26)? Then compare Criseyde's response, which is summarized very briefly in two stanzas. What is she trying to do, and what is the Narrator trying to do in describing it? Notice the return of the "And..." anaphora (ll. 185-8). Then, Calchas embraces her and the Narrator describes C as "muwet, milde, and mansuete" (194). These are the perfect attributes of a well-mannered C14 young woman. What's wrong?

563-6 "To Troie . . . Troilus": Anaphora becomes an overwhelmingly common trope in T's lament and the Narrator's description of his grief (ll. 217-260). What is the effect of this repetition of initial words on the content of the text? How might it relate to T's psychological state?

        Pandarus comes to T (yet again) and tries to comfort him. What strategies does he use, and what does he specifically advise T to do? (N.B. esp. P on dreams, ll. 358-385, in response to T's brief stanza of prognostication, ll. 316-2.)

566-7 Sarpedon's Houseparty: Medieval readers apparently would see this lord's week-long entertainment as typical "largesse" from one of his lineage--compare it with Bertilak's in SGGK? T isn't having a good time, but P fears their leaving "thus sodeynly" (492) would offend. Note the use of formal leave-taking (479)--what major event in the poem does this roughly parallel, though in changed circumstances? This entertainment lasts until "wikes ende" (i.e. day 7 out of 10) and T sings, anticipating C's return: how does Pandarus respond (505-8)? Do you read this as a more worldly wise, or a more corrupt view of the world? What are the dangers of interpreting events as T does vs. as P does?

567-9 We might title this section, "Troilus and NOT-Crisdeyde": T tours the town to see the absences left behind when C is gone. What is Chaucer doing to us when we accompany T to the following places?: C's palace (ll. 528-53, esp. l. 549); "that temple [wherein], with hire eyen cleere, / Me kaughte first my righte lady dere" (566-7); various places where he saw her laugh, or say or sing things (which we have not yet heard!) (567-74); the house where "My lady first me took unto hire grace" (581). T even exclaims "Men myght a book make of it, lik a storie" (585). Why? Then he goes to the gate from which he can see the path C took out of the city--what does he (NOT) see there, how does the poetry represent his mental condition, and how does his mental condition appear to be reflecting his judgment (remembering your Boethius from Book IV)?  If you enjoy writing psychoanalytic interpretations of literature, you might ponder the famous Freud/Lacan definition of "desire" as "that which one lacks," and to put it in historical context, reread the passage in Hoby's translation of Castiglioni's Il Cortigenio in which Pietro Bembo describes the danger which besets the lover who fails to pass beyond attachment to the physical Beloved in order to ascend the "ladder of love."

        T falls into song, an apostrophe to C ("Canticus Troili"; ll. 638-44) which is not found in Bocaccio and has no known source. Where have we seen these metaphors before, however? His song is followed by remarks upon the "horned" moon, a waning moon whose "horns" might be read comically if this weren't tragic--"For whan thyne hornes newe gynnen sprynge, / Than shal she come that may my blisse brynge" (ll. 657-8). How would Pandarus have responded? Then, during the day, he stands on the walls and observes the Greek camp, saying "Lo, yonder is myn owene lady free" (669 ff.). How accurate is his observation, and how might that compare with Book IV's anti-Boethian conclusions.

569-70 Criseyde’s Side: The stanza boundary between ll. 686 and 687 crosses the noman’s land between Troy and the Greek camp—note especially how the Narrator establishes her position, "With wommen fewe, among the Grekis stronge" (688). C reveals her father’s resistance to her plans, and considers her few options to save the promise she made T. What does she fear should she try to escape by night? Then she turns her eyes to the city, where we know T is standing on the walls looking toward her. Compare their thoughts, imaginations, and words. As they remain similar, though apart, what does this tell you? As they diverge, due to knowledge one cannot share with the other, they will begin to change. What is the first major difference you can detect?

        At ll. 748-9, Chaucer coins a word, "future," the first time it’s used in English (see n. p. 1052. Why does he feel the need to invent this new term, and what does its presence here indicate about C’s understanding of her thoughts? Compare T on Boethian ideas in Book IV. Then, C allows herself an important shift of strategy when she claims "for al swich variaunce [of others’ opinion of her actions] / Felicite clepe I my suffissaunce" (763). Cf. III.1309 and IV.1640. But she follows that with the claim (to herself!) "For which, withouten any wordes mo, / To Troie I wole, as for conclusioun" (764-5). Note this enjambs the previous stanza, and note the Narrator interrupts to contradict her: "er fuly monthes two, / She was ful fer fro that entencioun!" (766-7). Troilus and Troy will "knotteles thorughout hire herte slide" (769). What function do knots in strings play in Anglo-American folk saying? How might the image work physically, considering that tied string was "medieval Velcro®" used to hold parcels, clothing, books, and even ships together?

570-3 Diomede Makes His Move: Note that D’s internal speech, though described as "arguynge" (772), always moves purposefully toward his goals, never thwarting itself with contrary doubts, concerns, or wondering. Compare his wry observation, "For he that naught n’asaieth naught n’acheveth" (784) with Pandarus talking to Troilus in Book I.809.

        The Narrator pauses at just this moment to provide three portraits: Diomede, Criseyde, and Troilus (799-840). See the Riverside Explanatory Note (1052) for background on the tradition of such verbal portraits in love poems, as well as in Chaucer's primary sources.  Can you explain why GC wants us to halt at precisely this point in the narrative and have in our minds one stanza on Diomede, three stanzas on Criseyde, and two stanzas on Troilus?  Note, especially, that the Narrator says of C that "Lo, trewely, [previous "auctors"] writen that hir seyn / Paradis stood formed in hire yen" (876-7)—compare with IV.864. Also, famously, the Narrator piles on the positive adjectives in ll. 820-826 but ends with the curious slippage from C’s "pite" (824) to her being "Tendre-herted, slydynge of corage" (825). Then he stumbles out of the portrait saying "But trewely, I kan nat telle hire age" (826). What kind of little drama is GC creating for his Narrator’s persona? C.S. Lewis takes the comment about C’s "slydynge" courage to be her "tragic flaw" but it’s also related to the sliding string of Troilus and Troy (769).  For a comparison of the Narrator's rhetorical effect in portrait of Criseyde (one of three, I: 99-105; I: 169-77; and the V: 806 ff.), see E. T. Donaldson, "The Masculine Narrator and Four Women of Style," (56-7) and "Criseyde and Her Narrator," (76-77), in Speaking of Chaucer (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1970).

        Diomede strikes on the tenth day—we have no way of knowing why this coincidence would take place (that I know of, anyway), but it creates a memorable dramatic clash. D asks why Calchas has not yet wed her to a Greek, and C’s answer is ambiguous, and hidden from us by the Narrator (864-868)—why? Then D lays out his arguments for C’s accepting a lover (871-924). Note his suspicion of her father’s "ambages-- / That is to seyn, with double wordes slye, / Swiche as men clepen a word with two visages" (897-99). How does D view language and identity? Who else uses language like that?

        Once D has made his appeal that C should love him, note the use of anaphora to describe his gestures (895-31). What kind of effect does this produce? Try reading this one out loud. He also announces his lineage, linking himself to Tideus, who died at the Siege of Thebes—what is Chaucer doing by bringing this into the narrative again? Then, he performs an amazing rhetorical feat, becoming persuaded for his audience: "But herte myn, syn that I am youre man" (939). What is C’s response? Note especially her use of the subjunctive in ll. 1000-10001 and the triple negative in ll. 1003-5. What is she trying to do here?

        Finally, D takes her glove (1013)—what courtly convention does this subtly violate, and note also that GC has delayed it from the place it occupied in Benoit’s version (see n. 1053) where D receives the glove on the first ride. Note also that it doesn’t happen in Boccaccio. Why does GC insert this detail here?

573-4 Criseyde Folds: C undergoes a mental review of D’s qualities (1023-29) which strongly resembles previous events—how and why? The Narrator’s first admission that she has begun to shift to D from T occurs in l. 1036—why does the Narrator put it that way? Then, the Narrator recounts two gifts: D gives C a "faire baye stede" which once was won by D in battle with Troilus, and C gives D "a broche—and that was little nede-- / that Troilus was" (1040-1), as well as a "pencel" or pennant made of her embroidered gown’s sleeve. Then, the Narrator says "I fynde ek in stories elleswhere" (1044) evidence of C’s emotional attachment to D, ending famously, "Men seyn—I not—that she yaf hym hire herte" (1050). How might one square this assertion with the later comments that "she falsed Troilus" (1053) and the numerous other references to C’s betrayal of T? When ending his acknowledgment of C’s betrayal, the Narrator says that he still would excuse her if he could "for routhe" (1099). What choices does this leave the reader?

574-7 Troilus’ Bad News: T and P go to the gate on the tenth day in something of a flashback (since the Narrator takes us up to two months into the future in 573-4), and T watches hopefully for C’s figure on the road. To what is GC referring when he has T cry: "Have here my trouthe, I se hire! Yond she is! / Heve up thyn eyen, man! Masitow nat se?" (1158-9)? When P answers "nys but a fare-carte," his sarcasm may be intense since Troilus' expectations have made him blind enough to mistake a horse and cart for a walking woman.  How do T and P differ in their interpretation of C’s failure to arrive on the tenth day?

        T’s jealous madness (1213) leads him to dream that he sees a boar embracing C, and he takes his dream to P, lamenting in anaphorae which lead him to ask "Who shal now trowe on any othes mo? [ . . . ] But who may bet bigile, yf hym lyste, / Than he on whom men weneth best to triste?" (1263, 1266-7). This sets up a very serious paradox with the "Palinode" which concludes this book (Cf. ll. 1842-48). But also it poses a very serious problem for an reader who trusts anyone at all. What is the relationship between deception and trust here, and what does this mean for a medieval reader? P mocks dreams as unreliable evidence of C’s fidelity, but recommends writing her a letter. How does this fit into the poem’s overall use of texts, i.e., written sources, to establish truth?

577-80 Troilus’ Letter and C’s First Answer vs. Criseyde’s Last Letter and a Dream Interpreted: In a major addition to Boccaccio’s plot, T’s letter is recorded in its entirety in a manner that medieval readers would have associated with Ovid’s Heroides, a series of letters sent by betrayed women of classical mythology to the heroes who had betrayed or were about to betray them. How does this pair of letters develop Ovid’s dramatic strategy? What can we learn about both characters by this epistolary evidence which is different from what we might learn from the Narrator’s summary or interpretation of it? Then, C’s first reply is summarized briefly by the Narrator—note the idiomatic expression addressing T directly, "But Troilus, thow maist now, est or west, / Pipe in an ivy lef, if that the lest!" (1432-3). Who does the Narrator sound like in that moment? What is happening to him?

        T finally takes his dream to Troy’s most famous sooth-sayer, Cassandra. Note how long Cassandra drags out the revelation that the boar is the family badge of Tideus’ son (1457-1519)? Compare that with the last thing she tells him and consider the poem’s potential for turning into satire and/or comedy at this point (also compare the Narrator’s previous comment and P’s point of view).

580-4 Troilus’ Worst/Best News: Fortune is invoked as the war turns against Troy with Hector’s death at the hands of Achilles (1541-1561), a deed which has extremely important consequences for Troilus (see Book II.156-7 and 644). How does this place in perspective the love-story we’ve been following?

        C’s last letter, finally, the Narrator delivers intact. What kinds of strategies does C use to prevent the need to tell T directly that she has taken another lover and will never return? Especially consider ll. 1611 ff. for a familiar strategy. Her final stanza also is particularly poignant, given her protest of inadequacy as a letter writer. How does T read this letter? Compare it with his response to the first one with its meaning "under sheld."

        Following close on the letter, Deiphebe captures Diomede’s armor and while parading it through Troy reveals the "broch" to T. Compare his role in this event with Deiphebe's previous function in the plot. Is there a pattern here? Note also this broach was given by T to C on the day she left Troy, and she received it with a pledge of faith. Why only now does T know "His lady nas no lenger on to triste" (1666)? T asks "Who shal now trowe on any othes mo?" (1681), a difficult question for a culture which has no audio or videotape to record pledges, and which is constructed by such pledges from top to bottom. He also asks whether there wasn’t some other broach with which to "feffe" her new love—note the gloss and look up "enfeoff" if it’s not familiar.

        P receives the evidence of his niece’s betrayal of T with uncharacteristic serious emotion: "I hate, ywis, Cryseyde; / And, God wot, I wol hate hire evermore!" (1732-3). Is this justifiable, and what difficulties does it pose for the reader?

        T, like a good epic hero (cf. Byrtnoth’s retainers in Battle of Maldon), goes to seek his death in hopes of taking Diomede with him. Fortune won’t allow it, and the Narrator breaks off to address his audience in a series of efforts to adjust their interpretation of these events. He wishes he had time to write more of T’s worthy deeds (but you can read them in Dares Phyrgensius), and hopes that women won’t hold it against him for revealing C as "untrewe" (1774) because he has stories of other, faithful women (see Legend of Good Women, pp. 587-630, apparently unfinished). He even warns his readers to look out for "false folk, " and tells them "Beth war of men, and herkneth what I seye!" (1785). Philosophers know this as a form of "the liar’s paradox" (All Cretans are liars—I know, because a Cretan told me so.). What is the Narrator up to? The answer is the palinode.

584-5 The Palinode: Few Middle English poems conclude with such a stately, complex, and wrenching attempt to struggle with the matter of the poem itself and its relation to its audience. It begins its distancing from the narration with "Go, litel bok, go, litel myn tragedye" (1786) and sends the Troilus to worship Virgil, Ovid, Homer, Lucan and Statius, the biggest Latin and Greek writers known to Chaucer, placing its claim at the highest levels of the canon of world literature. It worries (Cf. Book II’s prohemium) about the changes he already hears in English which may make the book misunderstood. Then it turns, suddenly, and kills Troilus—"Despitously hym slough the fierse Achille" (1806). Compare Virgil's treatment of it in the Aeneid Book I, in a masterful collage of scenes Aeneas sees painted on the walls of the temple of Juno in Carthage.  What is the aesthetic effect of Chaucer's choice not to dramatically represent the action, but rather to reduce it to a bare summary?  For further comparison with Virgil's "backstory" of the fall of Troy, in which he describes the fates of Deiphobos, Helen, and Hector, click here.

        From such a sudden end, T’s spirit gets a last scene in which its flight to the "eighthe spere" of the universe is interrupted by a brief glance downward to "This litel spot of erth that with the se / Embraced is" (1815-6).  This is a huge "translation" of not only the language but the poem and character to which they happen in Boccaccio's Il Teseide (a romance/epic of Theseus).  There, the young knight, Arcite, tragically is killed by accident in his moment of triumph, but when Chaucer borrows the source for his "Knight's Tale," he does not give his Arcite the soul flight.  Instead, he gives it to his Troilus, whereas Boccaccio's Troilio gets no similar vision.  Regarding what he sees, consult your geography or your poetry and ask yourself whether Troy is surrounded by the sea. What place known to Chaucer and his audience is surrounded by the sea?  Looking down, he sees the contrast between his life’s strife and "the pleyn felicite / That is in hevene above" (1818-9), laughs at the Trojans who were mourning his death, and damns "al oure werk that foloweth so / The blynde lust, the which that may nat laste" (1823-4). How does this affect our response to the poem we have just read?  (If you are interested in ways Shakespeare may have borrowed vision as well as language from Chaucer, check out Richard II, [Act II.1.40-68] for John of Gaunt's speech praising England before he laments the state into which the nation has fallen under Richard's kingship.  Both Chaucer and Shakespeare are "seeing England" as a sovereign nation-state, generations before the kingdom's "royal subjects" had begun to see their nation that way.)

        Then anaphora returns in the "Swich fyn" (such reward) stanza wherein Chaucer lists the qualities that T brought to the love as if they were futile. Then he addresses his audience, "O yonge, fresshe folkes, he or she" and advises them to turn to heavenly love (1835-48) because God "nyl falsen no wight, dar I seye, / That wol his herte al holly on hym leye" (1845-6). Why is this a dangerous requirement? When urging readers to reject "feynede loves," how would the poem reconcile this advice with Book I, ll. 204-59, 908-924, the prohemium of Book III, and III.1254-74? It’s not impossible, just much more difficult than it would have been without Chaucer’s deliberate additions to the poem.

        Then Chaucer turns to anaphora again to reject ("Lo here") all the pagan religion and worldliness he has been describing, and directly addresses colleagues he calls "moral Gower" and "philosophical Strode," asking them to correct his work were need be. Why might he call upon a moral poet (cf. the structure of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis for a good example) or a man interested in philosophy for correction of such a book? What puzzles might it hold for them?

        The Palinode's use of formal parallelism, especially the rhetorical trope of anaphora, extends the poem's scope of reference backward into the pagan classics, outward from the scene of literary creation to the courtly culture in which the poem is performed, and inward, to the relation between the readers' souls and loves, and perhaps their gods.  Visual analogues of anaphora can be found in many famous medieval artifacts, perhaps none more striking than the entrance of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and in the Rose Window adorning the eastern wall of that cathedral.  Click on those hyperlinks and think about the meditative stasis that might be produced by an informed meditation on those patterns of repetition with difference and relationship by orientation.  If the Palinode might be considered a kind of "focal point" though which the whole of the poem is reviewed, what images does it invite us to call to mind and how does it reorganize them synchronically in tension with our diachronic experience of having read the poem?  What does it do to your heart and to your mind?

        The final prayer to the Trinity asks specifically for protection from "visible and invisible" foes. Why does GC need to worry about both, and what might be some examples of the latter in this poem? Consider the dangers of sight (including "in-," "hind-" and "fore-").