Narrative Frames and Interpretive Models in Troilus and Criseyde
Interpretive certainty is purposely elusive in Geoffrey Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde". Meaning within the text is convoluted and continually renegotiated. Any attempt to design a singular coherent stable source of meaning is problematic at best. Throughout the work, narrative frames are broken and reordered and the validity of any fixed interpretive model is challenged. Virtually every broad thematic discussion developed is potentially qualified or compromised by the presence of a key figure, the narrator of the poem. As an ever-present observer, the narrator is both author and audience to a sequence of events he essentially helps to create. He is manipulative but not omniscient; he is conscious of the fact that his power to shape the text is significant but fundamentally limited. Through the narrator's appeals directly to the reader, the audience is encouraged to share in the responsibility of creating and interpreting the tale. Rather than prejudice or promote a particular ideological vantage point, perhaps Chaucer creates the narrative space and freedom for such an interpretive dialogue in order to explore but not to espouse or impose specific moral, ethical, and philosophical notions. Plurality is valued above unquestioned certainty. Though this assertion may seem to ignore the overt Christian conclusion to the poem, I would submit that Chaucer has provided the reader with powerful interpretive models (through the actions and thoughts of the narrator) which enable the reader to qualify or at least reconsider even the most compelling and absolute Christian doctrine.
The narrator begins by stating both his purpose and his problem directly to the reader: "the double sorwe of Troilus to tellen" (I,1). It is clear that he is either incapable or unwilling to assume to a traditional passive, almost transparent, narrative role. The personality of the narrator is foregrounded and exists as a character engaged in an open dialogue with the reader. The narrator is thoroughly unreliable in his ability to serve as the sole source of information and insight, a figure possessing absolute control of the text. The authority of the narrator is paradoxically undermined and underscored by admission of his own inadequacies in shaping the text.
Whether from mythological beings, ancient writers, a fictitious mentor, or the actual reader of the poem, the narrator claims to need support from outside sources in order to effectively tell the tale. The narrator portrays himself alternately as reluctant, ignorant, or simply incapable of fulfilling his duties. He invokes the powers of the Furies, Cleo, Venus, and the Fates at the beginning of each book to inspire and enhance his narrative skills. The invocations not only serve as symbolic bridges to the actions that follow in each book, but also allow the possibility of distance to develop...