28 October 2013

Pandarus and Troilus and feelings (oh my!)

I have been having no end of difficulties with the latter half of Troilus and Criseyde. Is it just me, or are these people more insufferable than the cast of Seinfeld? Between that, the massive amount of reading of these last three books, and my attempts to reorganize my thoughts about the dream visions as I amass sources for my paper, this post is going to be woefully short.

That being said, I found something of interest about halfway through book three. After much of book three the poem thus far has been focused on Troilus and how bad he feels about everything (to quote Megg, "HE IS SO UPSET"), Criseyde is bedridden and Troilus is preparing to visit her,

"But Pandarus, that so wel koude feele
In every thyng, to pleye anon bigan,
And syde, "Nece, se how this lord kan knele!
Nor for youre trouthe, se this gentil man!"
And with that word he for a quysshen ran,
And seyde, "Kneleth now, while that yow leste;
There God youre hertes brynge soone at reste!" (III.960–66)

Barney glosses "that so wel koude feele" as "who had such good sense." However, given the feelings which have been at issue throughout so much of this poem, it certainly shouldn't be considered an accident that Chaucer used this particular term. According to the Middle English dictionary, the verb "felen" has primary meaning much like those in Modern English, including a tactile, physical "feeling" and an emotional sense of the word; it is not until later definitions that we see senses of investigating or understanding.

Polysemousness in Chaucer's lines certainly is nothing new, and both meanings allow for a line dripping with irony. Whether we consider Pandarus to be described as having good sense (clearly he doesn't) or having much in the way of feelings (sensitive he is not), Chaucer is clearly having a go at him. By using this sort of language to describe Pandarus, however, he also draws attention to many of the faults and foibles of the eponymous characters of the poem, as well.

22 October 2013

Translation, metaphor, and CYA in Chaucer's Prologue(s)

Owt of thise blake wawes for to saylle,
O wynd, o wynd, the weder gynneth clere;
For in this see the boot hath swych travaylle,
Of my connyng, that unneth I it steere.
This see clepe I the tempestous matere
Of disespeir that Troilus was inne;
But now of hope the kalendes bygynne.

O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
To ryme wel this book til I have do;
Me nedeth here noon other art to use.
Forwhi to every lovere I me excuse,
That of no sentement I this endite,
But out of Latyn in my tonge it write.

Wherfore I nyl have neither thank ne blame
Of al this werk, but prey yow mekely,
Disblameth me if any word be lame,
For as myn auctour seyde, so sey I.
Ek though I speeke of love unfelyngly,
No wondre is, for it nothyng of newe is.
A blynd man kan nat juggen wel in hewis. (II.1–21)

The prologue of the second book of Troilus and Criseyde seems, to me, to serve a dual purpose (well, two main purposes, anyway, plus any number of others). First, much like the narrator's introduction of dream sequences in the dream visions, the prologue serves as a medium between author and story, drawing us out of the narrative in order to discuss the work (and Chaucer's own handling of it, "For as myn auctour seyde, so sey I"), and also drawing us back in (by discussing aspects of the tale which may seen particularly foreign to his readers). In addition, though, this prologue allows Chaucer to defend himself against critics, interact with a variety of sources, and ruminate about issues of historicity and translation.

To begin with, the first stanza of the prologue offers a fascinating metaphor of writing and thinking as sea travel. As an Anglo-Saxonist, this immediately draws my mind to Antonina Harbus's "The Maritime Imagination and the Paradoxical Mind in Old English Poetry," but this metaphor further connects the author/narrator to the eponymous characters of the text as they part ways. As he explains in lines 5–7, this "see" represents Troilus's dispair, but it also seems to represent the writing process, as he simultaneously alludes to Dante's Purgatorio and hints at the following discussion of sources and translation.

In the second and third stanzas, Chaucer further develops his allusions to other sources and earlier traditions. He simultaneously calls forth a Muse to help him write (implying some sort of artistry in this text—and this act is in itself a reference to the Thebaid), and also disclaims any fault for any material which is incorrect or distasteful to the reader, because, of course, he is simply translating it "out of Latyn." These stanzas draw further attention to the somewhat confusing disconnect between the role of artist and translator: on one hand, Chaucer is clearly an artist (and as anyone who knew his source material could tell, he is doing much more than simply translating a source into English); on the other, he clearly feels a need to validate his own writing through the sources he is purportedly using.

Finally, these same stanzas end with the claim of ignorance of the ways of love that are seen in the Dream Visions—Chaucer himself must be simply translating someone else's work, because he couldn't possibly be composing a text about love himself. Chaucer's use of irony and metaphor, and his overblown claims of his own lack of knowledge and his supposedly fierce devotion to his sources, all combine to make the prologue read largely as a disclaimer for any reader who didn't know his sources, and an amusement for those who did.

08 October 2013


More later, but I'm fascinated by the shifting focus of blame from Medea (in the Heroides) to Jasoun (in the Legend). Chaucer mentions blame of Medea twice, very briefly: when he directly refers to Hypsipyle's letter, he mentions that Medea "had his herte y-raft hir fro," and almost curses him to his later fate of Medea (unmentioned in Medea's own legend), praying that Medea "Moste finden him to hir untrewe also, And that she moste bothe hir children spille" (1572; 1573–4). In fact, the earlier portion of Hypsipyle's legend is focused on Jason's own blame in his seduction and betrayal of her, saying that "Betwixe him Jasoun and this Ercules. / Of these two here was mad a shrewed les / To come to hous upon an innocent. / For to bedote this quene was hir assent" (1543–1547).

In contrast, the Heroides focuses much more heavily on Medea's blame, for stealing Jason's heart away when he left; Hypsipyle's sense in the letter appears to assume Jason's general honorability, but he was in turn a victim of Medea. Chaucer seems inclined to move away from this representation, perhaps because of the proximity of Hypsipyle's and Medea's legend (in the Heroides, they are chapters VI and XII, whereas in Chaucer's poem Medea's follows immediately).