Ambiguity And Understanding Of Chaucer's Troilus And Criseyde

1767 words - 7 pages

Ambiguity and Understanding of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

      One of the aspects of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde that seemed most confusing at first was the apparent ambiguity or complete lack of motivation that the author provides for the main characters. Chaucer provides little explanation for why his major characters act the way that they do; when he does, his explanations are often ambiguous or contradictory. Pandarus is an excellent example of a character whose motives are ambiguous. The only motives clearly attributable to him based on the poem's text seem to be the friendship and affection he and Troilus have for each other, which is supported by the narrator's claim that "Pandarus ... [was] desirous to serve his fulle frend." (Chaucer 1.1058-9); a voyeuristic instinct (which could be supported by pointing out that Pandarus seems to arrange opportunities for Troilus and Criseyde to tryst, as much as possible, in his presence -- for instance, his presence for an unspecified length of time during the night Troilus and Criseyde spend in his guest room); and a wish to vicariously fulfill, through his friend Troilus, those romantic desires which have been thwarted throughout life. This last (and perhaps most supportable) explanation is suggested by the constant identifications that Pandarus makes with Troilus, by saying "myn avys anoon may helpen us" and in asking Troilus if "Fortune oure joie wold han overthrowe," and by his explanation that "I ... nevere felte in my servyse / A frendly cheere or lokyng of an eye." (1.620, 4.385, 4.397-8) All of these motives for Chaucer's Pandarus could be supported, but none seems clearly to be more plausible than any of the others. However, for these vaguely defined motives, Pandarus is ready (and even eager) to mislead or even lie to his niece, who is not only a relative but also someone who trusts him (at least in certain areas of her life) enough to ask him for advice on the management of her social standing and position. (2.219)


In part, this confusion is also due to the fact that the narrator who supplies information to the reader is himself a character, a fictional historian-poet who quotes other fictional sources, such as "myn auctor called Lollius." (1.394) Although it may not be immediately obvious that Chaucer's narrator is not identical with Chaucer himself, it seems to be apparent from Chaucer's portrayal of the narrator in the story. For instance, the narrator claims he will translate "naught only in the sentence ... but pleinly, save oure tonges difference ... in al, that Troilus / Seyde in his song." (1.393-397) Of course, an exact, word-for-word report translated into another language is no longer an exact, word-for-word report, a logical fact of which Chaucer was doubtless aware, even if his fictional narrator was not. The fact that the narrator is merely another character is problematic because the narrator and he information he provides are not completely...

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