Character Construction in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

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  • Topic: Troilus and Criseyde, Medieval literature, Cressida
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  • Published : June 23, 2000
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Character Construction in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

Chaucer's epic poem, Troilus and Criseyde, is not a new tale, but one Chaucer merely expanded upon. One of these expansions that Chaucer's work has become renowned for is the improvement of the characters. Generally, Chaucer's characters have more texture, depth, humanity, and subtlety than those of the previous tales. Of the three main figures in the epic poem, Troilus, Criseyde, and Pandarus, Pandarus is the character that Chaucer took the most liberty with, creating and evolving Pandarus until he had taken on an entirely different role. However, this is not to say that Chaucer did not add his own style to Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer's continual development of the primary characters definitely lend more interest and humor to the epic poem, Troilus and Criseyde.

The most interesting character by far is Pandarus. He serves as the protagonist and go between for Troilus and Criseyde. In fact, one could argue if it were not for him, Troilus may never have attained the brief affections of his lady love, Criseyde. When Pandarus comes across an uneasy Troilus and inquires as to the cause of his trouble, his speech is very eloquent. It is this speech that gives the reader his first glimpse of how subtlety and indirectness will initially characterize Pandarus. Further along the passage, Pandarus torments Troilus into anger, causing him to reveal the source of his woe. (Chaucer 24-5). In regard to the introduction of Pandarus, Kirby concludes: "…Chaucer makes us feel that here is a witty, likable chap who does not take life too seriously and who does not hesitate to mingle friendly works with good-natured taunts." (127)

Pandarus also reveals that he is fairly well educated with his allusion to Niobe. In addition to the revelation of his education, this also reveals Pandarus' penchant for a pattern of persuasion which he employs throughout his role. "Pandarus thinks the that way to make a man do something that he does not want to do is not to tell him bluntly and baldly what course of action he should pursue, but rather, gradually to lead up to the main point, expanding on the notion in various ways and especially by quoting sufficient authority and testimony to show his plan is the correct one, in fact, the only one possible" (Kirby 133).

This demonstrates that not only does Pandarus have a classical education, but that he also maintains some grasp on the concept of psychology.
Aside from the intellectual side of Pandarus, Chaucer develops a very human aspect to this character. Chaucer purposefully places Pandarus in the role of the unrequited lover, making him seem less feeble-minded. At the same time however, Pandarus reasserts his illogical reasoning in order to convince Troilus to divulge his heart wrenching secret. Even after Troilus' curt dismissal, Pandarus continues to badger the beleaguered knight, demonstrating yet another strong personality characteristic: tenacity. This is supported by Pandarus physically shaking Troilus. "And with that word he gan hym for to shake,/And seyde, "Thef/ thow shalt hyre name telle,/But tho gan sely Troilus for to quake/As though men sholde han led hym into helle,…"(Chaucer 36).

Consequentially frightened, Troilus tells Pandarus of his love for Criseyde, Pandarus' niece and even goes so far as to agree to enlist Pandarus' help in bringing his niece's heart to the beleaguered knight.

In his dealings with his niece, issues of Pandarus' morality comes into being, especially as his roll of the go-between for Troilus and Criseyde. "The word pander, where he has bequeathed the English language, illuminates the negative connotations that are put on his actions in modern meaning" (Berkley Research 3). In regard to Pandarus' selling of Criseyde's honor, one scholar believes that his loose morals would be fitting for someone of younger years, but on an older man, it would be a serious affront to his...
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