ENGL 330 / ENGL 512: Medieval Literature
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

Chaucer's Troilus and Cressida
[page numbers in NA refer to 8th ed., 2006]

Background/Factual:

1) Know basic biography of Chaucer (as found in assigned background pages, NA 213-6 and CH 1-13), including life span (dates), social background, formal and informal education (including languages which he read and how he would have learned them), professional activity/career path, stages in literary development.

2) Read carefully the short intro to T&C at CH 345-353 and the T&C introduction on e-reserve. Know approximate date of composition for T&C; its principal classical and vernacular sources (see T&C introduction on e-reserve); its poetic form (know correct term and be able to describe form's meter and stanzaic structure, including rhyme scheme; consult e-reserve handout with opening stanzas of poem in Middle English verse and the NA appendix A30 as necessary).  What elements and characteristics identify T&C as part of a written literature rather than an oral poetic tradition? 

3) Be able to identify the following and know the relationships between them: Antenor, Calchas, Cressida, Deiphobus, Diomede, Hector, Lollius, Pandarus, Troilus.  Don't worry about other characters mentioned in passing.

4) Who is the target audience of T&C, and why was it written? Overall, what world view and values does T&C represent, and how do they differ from those of the Old English period? 
 
 

Analysis Questions: Themes and Characterization

1) HEROISM: compare the depiction of heroism in T&C and in an Old English work (e.g. Beowulf, The Dream of the Rood). What contributes to each character's "heroism?" How is the "heroism" of each different? What do these differences suggest about the works' target audiences and their respective societies' values and world view? Consider in your response the importance of Middle English values such as trouthe and gentilesse and the role of courtly love in influencing a knight's heroism.

2) WOMEN/LOVE: based on our readings to date, compare/contrast the role and importance of women and/or of love in the Old English (OE) and Middle English (ME) periods (remember: "love" is not limited to relations between the sexes). What roles are assigned to women in each period?  What might be some of the reasons for these differences? What do they suggest about the works' target audiences?  What do they tell us about the respective societies' values and world view?

3) CRESSIDA: she has come down through literary history as fickle, self-centered, scheming, weak and fearful. But it can also be argued that she made the best of her limited options in a masculine world. Can the difficulties of Cressida's situation be seen as mitigating factors in her "betrayal"? Are her feelings for Troilus sincere? Why does she get involved with him? with Diomede? And why doesn't she come back from the Greek camp? What promises does she make, to whom, and to what extent does she keep these promises? 

4) TROILUS: is he a blameless victim of fate and a woman's fickleness, or a self-centered whiner who gets what he deserves? Does he really love Cressida? What promises does he make her (explicit or implied) and to what extent does he keep these promises? In order to win Cressida, Troilus joins with Pandarus in a web of deception and manipulation. To what extent does he resemble Diomede? Although he is an influential person (a Trojan prince and a respected war hero), he is strangely passive when Cressida is traded to the Greeks.  Why doesn't he speak up in her favor?  (Are there other possible motivations than those he lists?) When first introduced, Troilus mocks lovers and the God of Love. To what extent is T&C the story of Cupid's revenge?

4) DIOMEDE: In The Allegory of Love, C. S. Lewis says, ". . . while all men, and all good women, will hate Diomede, Cressida cannot." We see Diomede from several viewpoints: through direct description by the narrator, through Cressida's reaction to him, and through Troilus's dream. Analyze Diomede's character (you need not necessarily discuss all of these viewpoints). What sort of person is he? Is he as complex a character as Cressida, Troilus and Pandarus? Do you agree that no decent person can approve of Diomede? What does the narrator think of him, and how can you tell?  What does Diomede offer Cressida that Troilus does not? Are Diomede and Cressida better matched than Troilus and Cressida were? Is she making a terrible mistake in becoming involved with him? Or is her choice defensible, and if so, on what terms?

5) PANDARUS 1: What motivates Pandarus? (What's in it for him?) Does he act out of altruism? greed? lust? (and for whom?) Does he simply enjoy manipulating people? Is he conscious of his own motivations? How important is his role in Troilus and Cressida's love affair, in their parting, in Cressida's "betrayal," and in Troilus's death? Is there any perspective from which he can appear as a tragic character, or is he simply a comic figure intended as a commentary on Troilus and Cressida's more elevated feelings?

6) PANDARUS 2: "And thrust the letter down into her bosom" (CH 410; T&C 2.1155: "And in hire bosom the lettre down he thraste"). The relationship between Pandarus and his niece is, to say the least, complex. What is going on in this scene, in the morning-after scene in Book III, and anywhere else you think their behavior is particularly suspect? Is this behavior incestuous, or just playful? Why does Pandarus stay in the room when he brings Troilus and Cressida together? Is he in love with her? with Troilus? with the idea of love? with his own power as a manipulator? with the view of himself as an instrument of the God of Love? Once you have decided, consider the implications for the development and conclusion of the story.

7) THE NARRATOR: Consider the differences between the narrator in T&C and the other poet or author-figures encountered thus far. How reliable is the narrator of T&C? To whom is he sympathetic? (To Cressida, as he claims? or does he pretend sympathy to make her appear worse?) How does he influence our opinion of her? Does the narratorial voice melt into the authorial voice, or, in the other direction, blend into Pandarus's discourse? If you decide on either of these alternatives, give some reasons why, and say what this does to our understanding of the story; if you think that the narrator is indeed a separate character, again, give reasons and your opinion of how this affects the story. Pay particular attention to places where the narrator mentions his sources.  To what extent is the story "true"?

8) TRANSLATIO: T&C is set in ancient Greece and Troy during the Trojan War, demonstrating Chaucer's ability to "translate" the literature of the "Ancients" for a "modern" audience (translatio studii--see handout). Chaucer never mentions his main source, a vernacular text, Boccacio's Il Filostrato, but he does refer to a certain "Lollius" (CH 363; T&C 1.394), an "authority" (auctor) whom Chaucer probably made up. How does Chaucer seem to have understood his literary enterprise and status as poet? In developing your response, consider the following: what you know about medieval attitudes toward literary "authority," about medieval textual practices, and about the status of the vernacular language poet. Consider both implicit evidence (e.g. what Chaucer does in his poem, what he has chosen as his subject, etc., and possibly what he does not say or do) and explicit evidence (the narrator's statements within the text concerning his sources, the events, or his characters), and whatever else seems pertinent. 

Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1999-2007

Click here for Chaucer's "Trouthe" and "Gentilesse" Study Questions

Click here for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Study Questions

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