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451 Study Questions for Excerpts from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde through line 434

Vocabulary: epic, invocation of the muse, historical romance, persona, onomastic

Stephen Barney's Introduction (from The Riverside Chaucer)

  • According to the Introduction, Chaucer changes from a French influence to the influence of what European language?
  • What text by Boccaccio is the primary source of Troilus and Criseyde?
  • What semi-mythical war was a favorite setting for many medieval writers?
  • List any one change a later medieval writer (like Benoit, Guido delle Colonne, or Boccaccio) made to the story of the Trojan war in his revision.
  • The story of the Trojan war so popular in medieval Britain that in the 1380s there was talk of renaming the city of London. What did people want to rename London?
  • According to Stephen Barney, how does Chaucer present himself as a narrator in this tale? (i.e., what persona does he don?)

Useful Middle English terms: endite (teach), unseely (unhappy, unblessed, unfortunate), ek (also), hem (them), unwist (unknowing), wede (clothes), pris

Identify the following characters, objects, and places:

Troy, Priam; Troilus; the Muse Thesiphone (Tisiphone); the narrative voice; Eleyne (Helen of Troy); Paris; Calkas; Criseyde; Ector (Hector); the palladium, Cupid

Reading Questions:

(From Book I excerpts, lines 1-434):

  • What is the purpose of the first stanza in Book I in terms of classical liteature?
  • What does the narrator say he is doing as he writes "thise woful vers"?
  • What is unusual about the "Muse" Chaucer picks as his inspiration? (Consult an online guide to mythology if you do not recognize her name.)
  • According to the speaker's description of himself in the first twenty lines, who does he serve? (Hint: It's not the god of Love herself!) What's the narrator's job?
  • The speaker's title in line 15 is an echo of the Pope's official title, servus servorum Dei ("servant of the servants of God"). Is this meant to be humble? Arrogant? Ironic?
  • Who is the narrator's audience, according to line 22? What are they supposed to think about as they read Troilus and Criseyde?
  • What should the audience pray for concerning Troilus? What should the audience pray for concerning those that "ben despeired / in love" or "falsly ben apeired"? What should the audience pray for concerning "hem that ben at ese"?
  • Why do those who "ben at ese" need extra myght or strength?
  • How many ships do the Greeks take to attack Troy?
  • How many years do the Greeks assault the city?
  • Why are the Greeks attacking Troy?
  • What is Calkas' job or special skill as a "devyne"?
  • What god does Calkas worship?
  • What does Calkas's name mean as an onomastic pun? (Hint: Think of those little handheld devices you might use in a mathematics class to catch the cognate with his name.)
  • When Calkas figures out through astrological calculation that the city of Troy will fall, what does he do?
  • What do the Trojans say that they ought to do to Calkas and "al hys kyn at-ones" after the news of his treachery becomes clear?
  • Who or what does Calkas abandon in the city of Troy when he turns traitor and joins the Greeks?
  • Why does Criseyde fear for her life? What is her marital status?
  • When the narrator describes Criseyde, to what supernatural being does he compare her?
  • What is Criseyde wearing when she falls down on her knees before Hector? Why do you suppose she dons this clothing in particular?
  • What is Hector's reaction to the crowd's desire to burn Criseyde?
  • What does the narrator state about Criseyde's children? How does this statement characterize the narrator as a "historian"?
  • According to the narrator's discussion of the military matters in lines 134 et passim, what are the battles like? Who's winning?
  • To whom does the narrator refer the reader if they want to know more about who dies in various battles?
  • What is the holiest relic in Troy?
  • What is the religious custom in April? What do women wear and where do they and young knights travel?
  • What is unusual about Criseyde's wardrobe at this festival that makes her stand out from the rest of the crowd? [You Romanticists and 19th century fans might compare this to Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty"]
  • In lines 183-89, we read of Troilus and his gang, and how they entertain themselves at these events. What is the primary attraction for them? What do they "preise" or "lakken" as it pleases them?
  • What does Troilus do (or how does Troilus react) if he spots any member of his posse making googly eyes at a particular girl and taking this leisure activity seriously?
  • In disgust, Troilus vows "pardieux" (from medieval French, par dieu, "by God"). How might this be an anachronistic phrase in several senses?
  • How does Cupid react when he sees Troilus's disgust?
  • The speaker compares Troilus in an epic simile to "Bayard" (a common medieval name for a horse, much like "Spot" or "Fido" is a common modern name for a dog.) Explain this comparison.
  • According to the narrator, what should "wise, proude, and worthi folkes alle" learn by Troilus's example?
  • What is the "lawe of kynde" in line 238? (Hint: kynde doesn't mean the same thing as its modern adjectival equivalent "kind" does.)
  • Why doesn't it matter to the "law of kynde" how wise or strong an individual is? Why are especially virtuous people especially prone to fall prey to this law? (I.e., what effect does being in love have on especially virtuous people in chivalric romance?)
  • After Cupid shoots Troilus, what is the first thing he sets his eyes upon?
  • When the narrator describes Criseyde's physical appearance in lines 281-287, is she tall or short? What is the one quality that distinguishes Criseyde early in the stanza? What three qualities might men "guesse" or sense in her? Which of these traits are concrete and which of these are abstract?
  • In lines 304-05, where does Love make its dwelling? How is this stanza a parody of a Christian conversion narrative?
  • In lines 288-91, we hear Criseyde is "somdel deignous." What does this mean?
  • What is shrinking around Troilus in lines 300-01 as he stares? How does this connect with the narrator's earlier discussion of Bayard the horse?
  • How is the narrator's discussion of Troilus's condition in lines 302-08 a parody of a Christian "conversion" narrative?
  • What does Troilus "repent" after leaving the temple?
  • Why does Troilus want to hide his affections? What is he afraid other people will do?
  • Explain the reference to feathers being limed in line 353.
  • When Troilus goes home and collapses on his bed, what does he do "withouten lette"?
  • In line 394, the narrator says that he is following the lead of an ancient author named "Lollius." No such author exists. What are two ways of explaining this odd reference according to scholars?
  • The narrator makes some big claims for his translation of Troilus's song, claiming that "save oure tonges difference," he will write it "pleinly" and provide "every word right thus." What language would the song be "historically" written in? What language would "Lollius" be speaking? (Hint--what ancient country has masculine names that end in -ius?) Accordingly, how many translations would the song have to go through to be rendered into Middle English?
  • Do you think that Chaucer is serioius about the narrator's claims when he discusses his translation of Troilus's song? Why or why not?
  • Describe the tone and quality of Troilus's song.
  • Who does Troilus pray to or address in an apostrophe after he finishes his song?
  • To whom does Troilus resign his "estat roial"?


A. "The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,
That was the kyng Priamus sone of Troye,
In lovynge, how his aventures fellen
Fro wo to wele, and after out of joie,
My purpose is, er that I paarte fro ye
Thesiphone, thow help me for t'endite
This woful vers, that wepen as I write.

"To the clepe I, thow goddesse of torment,
Thow cruwel Furie, sorwynge evere in pefyne,
Help me, that am the sorwful instrument,
That helpeth loveres, as I kan, to pleyne."

B. Now was this Ector pitous of nature,
And saugh that she was sorwfully bigon,
And that she was so fair a creature;
Of his goodnesse he gladede hire anon,
And seyde, "Lat youre fadres treson gon
Forth with meschaunce, and ye youreself in joie,
Dwelleth with us, whil yow good list, in Troie."

C. "I have herd told, pardieux, of youre lyvynge,
Ye loveres, and youre lewed observaunces,
And which a labour folk han in wynnynge
Of love, and in the kepyng which doutaunces:
And whan youre prey is lost, woo and penaunces.
O veray fooles, nyce and blynde be ye!
Ther nys nat oon kan war by other be."

D. And of his song naught only the sentence
As writ myn auctour called Lollius,
But pleinly, save oure tonges difference,
I dar wel seyn, in al, that Troilus
Seyde in his song, loo, every word right thus
As I shal seyn; and whoso list it here,
Loo, next this vers he may it fynden here.

Concluding Questions:

The opening lines speak of "the double sorwe of Troilus." Why is his sorrow double? When we have finished all five books, revisit this question.

Why is Chaucer going to so much trouble to have his narrator "footnote" his text with references to historians like Dares--including madeup ones like Lollius? Might this connect to the characterization of the narrator? Might it connect to medieval attitudes toward auctoritas?



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