“…All medieval art, including Chaucer’s tends to be seen as one aimed at transforming the multifarious forms of existence into a set of abstractions, at constructing a world of unequivocal signs and ideas where individuals have been eliminated”, according to Critical Essays on Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde” and his Major Early Poems by medievalist David Aers(Aers, 128). Troilus and Criseyde’s “tense, manipulative and socially inescapable love- games play out” by Pandarus are what compromise Criseyde’s individuality and also causes the couple to culminate in “one of the most powerful celebrations of fulfilled human love” (Aers, 137).
In the onset of Book 3, Pandarus, “thorugh myn engyn Hadde in my nece yput this fantastie” establishes for Criseyde Troilus as the man of her desires(Chaucer, 122, 274- 280). In being persuaded by her uncle to embark in a love affair with the brother of better- known, better- liked Hector, Criseyde’s instruction is dictated not by her own needs, but by those of the men around her. These men, Pandarus and Troilus specifically, claim they have not other choice but to die lest she be “forlost” due to her own poor judgment on love(Chaucer, 122, 280). In being convinced by her guardian, Criseyde’s autonomy is relinquished and “we immediately see the heavenly woman desperately on her knees in a totally subordinate role before the all- powerful male” on two counts(Aers, 132). The first count is submissiveness under the gaze of her influential uncle, the second being her complacency in surrendering herself and her independent widowed social status to Troilus. In agreeing to courtship with Troilus vis-à-vis “the werste treachery” of Pandarus, she participates in the love game has he invented(Aers, 137). Wording such as “werste treachery”, “engyn”, and the sense of being “mought ywonne” illustrate how manipulative and destructive creation of love can truly be(Chaucer, 122, 274- 280).
Although Troilus and Criseyde become Pandarus’s pawns in the deadly game of love, once the pander has successfully set his pieces in play, the reader encounters the serenity of love found in surrendering oneself to its affects. Chaucer places “the whole matrix of courtly forms of sexual relations and language in a setting which stresses “aungelik” female’s totally subordinate position and her urgent need for protection in order to [182} survive” in the later half of Book Three of Troilus and Criseyde(Aers, 132). Criseyde, now face to face with her lover tells him:
“Beth glad, forthy, and lyve in sikernesse!
Thus seyde I nevere er this; ne shol to mo;
And if to yow it ere a gret gladnesse
To tore ayeyn soone fater that ye go,
As fayn wolde I as ye that it were so,
As wisly God myn herte brynge at reste!”
And hym in armes tok, and oft keste” (Chaucer, 168, 1513- 1519).
Total subordination found within serene love comes in contrast to the devious, threating language of setting up the stage for love that Pandarus uses. Instead of denying the idea of love, Criseyde embraces it submissively and allows it to her “herte brynge at reste”(Chaucer, 168, 1519). She vows to Troilus the love she professes she has never professed to another, “ne shol to mo”, as their reunion brings her great gladness as well as peace(Chaucer, 168, 1513- 1519). Although to some it may be saddening that Criseyde decides to be persuaded by the wants of men, beauty lies within the sacrifice of seeing one’s lover as a “gret gladnesse” to “oft kesse”(Chaucer, 168, 1513- 1519). This terminology expresses the fulfillment, mutuality, and pleasure Criseyde experiences in her newfound submissiveness. Chaucer’s “unequivocal signs” of “fulfilled human love” is Criseyde’s willingness to give of herself fully and exclusively, although initially against her will, to the whims of men. In this way, both the games of love and mutuality of love are at play within Book 3.
Aers, David, and C. David Benson. Critical Essays on Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde”
and His Major Early Poems. Toronto: Toronto UP, 1991. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Criseyde. Ed. R.A. Shoaf. East Lancing: Michigan State
UP, 2000. Print.