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451 Study Questions for Excerpts from
Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde through line 434
epic, invocation of the muse, historical romance, persona,
Stephen Barney's Introduction (from
The Riverside Chaucer)
- According to the Introduction, Chaucer
changes from a French influence to the influence of what
- 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
- According to Stephen Barney, how does
Chaucer present himself as a narrator in this tale? (i.e.,
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
(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
- 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
- How many years do the Greeks assault
- 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
- What do the Trojans say that they ought
to do to Calkas and "al
hys kyn at-ones" after the news of his treachery
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- Who does Troilus pray to or address
in an apostrophe after he finishes his song?
- To whom does Troilus resign his "estat
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
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.
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