The Pandering of Pandarus
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, one character receives more of the spotlight than any of the other characters combined. Pandarus (the very etymology of the word “pander”) becomes the star of what should be a love story about Troilus and Criseyde. Instead, Chaucer spends the poem developing Pandarus’ character. He does so to create the greatest villain of his time. This conclusion can be reached by examining Chaucer’s source for this work: Giovanni Boccaccio and his Il Filostrato. Boccaccio’s Pandaro has only half the lines of Chaucer’s Pandarus and can be viewed as compassionate and kind. Chaucer’s Pandarus, on the other hand, should be viewed only as despicable in character.
Though Geoffrey Chaucer’s second-longest work, Troilus and Criseyde, is nominally about two lovers, a seemingly minor character, Pandarus, receives more of the spotlight than any other individual. Chaucer adds hundreds of lines to his source, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, throughout Books I through IV. In fact, Chaucer more than doubles Pandarus’ lines to a total count of just over 1,800 (Modarellia 404). These lines develop Pandarus’ character and give readers a better understanding of what kind of man he is – talkative, meddling, conniving and possibly even appalling. Pandarus, Criseyde’s lovesick uncle, works “busily” as a matchmaker throughout the poem. However, his love procurement relies heavily on coercion. Pandarus bullies Troilus, betrays Criseyde’s love, and constantly weaves elaborate lies. Chaucer constructs an entirely different character from his source, Boccaccio, and by closely examining Pandarus, readers can see that Chaucer has in fact created a villain who manufactures a love story predicated largely on deception.
Critics have long disagreed on what kind of man Pandarus really is with opinions ranging from one extreme to the other. Michael Modarelli, author of “Pandarus’s ‘Grete Emprise’: Narration and Subjectivity in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde,” explains that Pandarus has been touted by critics as both faithful and diabolical: “a natural ‘fixer’, a character that likes to keep busy and acts in the best interest of the lovers” or “an elusive and slippery figure that represents an incestual uncle, or one part in a sinister sexual triad involving the lovers” (403). With Pandarus falling on both extremes of the moral compass, readers must consider all possible motives – from compassion to self-indulgence – before coming to a conclusion.
Chaucer expands Pandarus at the expense of Troilus, who is by far the more talkative in the Filostrato (Fyler 115). John M. Fyler, author of “The Fabrications of Pandarus,” writes that this “signals a shift in emphasis” to Pandarus, making him the star of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (115). Despite his dominate presence in the poem, he is to a certain extent shrouded in mystery. When readers first meet Pandarus, Chaucer provides no physical or mental background of his character. As Modarelli concludes, “we have only certain, unhelpful textual facts with which we can link Pandarus … he wears a dark hood, he is well acquainted with the king (so he must be some kind of noble, or cleric, perhaps), and he remains somewhat close to Criseyde” (409). This forces readers to determine Pandarus’ motive with no background information from Chaucer. Boccaccio, on the other hand, introduces his Pandaro as “a Trojan youth of noble lineage and of great spirit” (Boccaccio I.1) Chaucer purposely leaves out this information, which gives Pandarus’ actions more authority in the minds of readers. In this way, readers form a more negative opinion of Pandarus based on his backhanded and falsified dealings.
When Pandarus first comes across Troilus and sees his apparent grief, he exudes compassion. Before Criseyde’s identity is revealed, it seems Pandarus’ only driving factor is concern for his friend. He urges Troilus to reveal his love in order that he may relieve his pain:
I wol parten with the al thi peyne,
If it be so I do the no comfort,
As it is frendes right, soth for to seyne,
To entre parten wo as glad desport. (Chaucer I.589-92)
It seems he is the epitome of what a friend should be – anxious, sympathetic and willing to help in any way possible. However, all these instances in which compassion appears to be the more powerful motive can also be viewed as an attempt to receive personal recognition and praise from Troilus. This motive of compassion is further undermined by his ability to switch between what appears to be sympathy in one moment to the ability to construct lies in the next:
He can comically lament, with apparent sincerity, the hectic schedule
of his activity: “O verray god, so have I ronne! / Lo, nece myn, se ya
nat how I swete?” (2.1464-650); but he can also, within a hundred lines,
so advice Troilus on how to feign illness: “For hym men demen hoot
that men seen swete” (1533). (Qtd. in Fyler 116)
Furthermore, when compassion does not have any immediate effect on Troilus, Pandarus easily switches to a more aggressive attack, leaving sympathy behind.
Pandarus calls on all his “knowledge” to get Troilus to listen, using proverbs and stories of past lovers to prove he is well versed in the subject. Numerous times, Pandarus uses phrases such as “the wyse demeth” (Chaucer I.644), “the wise seith” (Chaucer I.695), and “men seyn” (Chaucer I.708) to show that it is not only he who holds these ideas. However, Pandarus’ examples are not always appropriate, such as the use of Oenone’s letter, as she was abandoned by her lover Paris. Along with malapropisms such as “[to] pieces do me drawe and sithe hange,” Pandarus’ attempt to sound educated falls short (Chaucer I.833).Boccaccio’s Pandaro does not rely on this “knowledge,” instead employing empathy alone. At one point, Pandaro assures Troilo that there will be no judgment if he reveals his love: “tell me who may be the cause of this grievous and hard life, and do not ever fear my reproof for loving” (Boccaccio II.12). In a huge deviation from his source, Chaucer adds 27 additional stanzas to Pandarus’ speech, which portrays him as a much more aggressive “friend.” Yet, after Pandarus abandons this approach and simply levels with Troilus by saying “what womman koude loven swich a wrecche” (Chaucer I.798), Troilus finally listens and reveals his love.
This initial interaction between Pandarus and Troilus differs greatly from the Filostrato. According to Gretchen Mieszkowski, author of “Choreographing Lust and Love: Chaucer’s Pandarus,” Boccaccio’s “Pandaro sympathizes with Troilo’s feelings and acknowledges their importance” (146). In contrast, Chaucer’s Pandarus seems more cruel than Boccaccio’s Pandaro, who manages to stay honest yet still aggressive enough to create a relationship between Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer makes this clear distinction early on as a way to give Pandarus’ actions the spotlight. By doing so, the story becomes about how Pandarus’ creates a love story between Troilus and Criseyde through manipulation rather than an account of true love won and lost. In turn, Chaucer satirizes the tradition of courtly love by showing the ridiculous lengths Pandarus goes to in order to force Troilus and Criseyde together.
Pandarus has a number of motives spurring him on. One such motive Pandarus reveals in his own speech is fame. When Troilus first speaks Criseyde’s name, Pandarus is ecstatic: “And so we may ben gladed all thre” (Chaucer I.994). This line, which is nonexistent in the Filostrato, reveals that Pandarus feels he may gain something from this affair. He himself sheds some light on what this might be when he says, “Men shal rejoissen of a great empryse” (Chaucer II.1391). Though Troilus and Criseyde’s relationship is to remain a secret, Pandarus appears to harbor a desire to receive recognition and praise for his efforts in bringing the lovers together. This motive is absent from the Filostrato. Boccaccio’s Pandaro, rather than dwelling on how others would view him for his role, instead assures Criseyde that “[Troilo] on his part, nor I, will ever tell it” (Boccaccio II.141). Chaucer’s Pandarus, however, occasionally doubts his own worth, taking time to reflect on how dangerously close he is tobecoming a pimp: “‘That is to seye, for the am I bicomen, / Bitwixen game and ernest, swich a meene / as maken women unto men to comen’” (Chaucer III.253-55). Yet this does not stop him, and he continues to lead the lovers to their destruction.
Pandarus also seems to display a homoerotic desire for Troilus. When Pandarus first bullies Troilus to reveal his secret woe, Pandarus himself says he understands how he feels as he too is in love. However, “he refuses to divulge the identity of his beloved” (Pugh, “Silence” 21), leaving the door open to the possibility that this secret love is Troilus himself. As Tison Pugh, author of “Silence and Sexual Ambiguity in Troilus and Criseyde” writes, Pandarus’ silences also point to the possibility of a homoerotic desire. One of these instances of muteness comes when Troilus offers to repay Pandarus with one of his sisters: “Tel me which thow wilt of everychone, / Tohan for thyn, and lat me thanne alone” (Chaucer III.412-13), to which Pandarus says not a word. These instances of silence offer “the reader a void which can be filled only by her/himself” and, especially in terms of Pandarus, “silence is just as important as speech to the formation of reader interpretation” (Pugh, “Silence” 22). Just as Pandarus’ silences open up the door to a homoerotic interpretation of the text, so do his actions.
Readers see how Pandarus delights in Troilus’ company when he climbs into bed with him to celebrate their success after the Deiphebus trick: “And on a paillet al that glade nyght / By Troilus he lay, with mery chere” (Chaucer III.229-30). This desire is also suggested when it is left open to interpretation on whether or not Pandarus even left the room as Troilus and Criseyde consummate their love (Chaucer III.1188-90), and again when Pandarus steals a kiss from Criseyde the morning after the lovers consummate their affair: “With that his arm al sodenly he thriste / Under hire nekke, and at the laste hire kyste” (Chaucer III.1574-75). All these instances of potential erotic desire are not found in the Filostrato. Though Chaucer does not give any decisive proof on whether Pandarus harbors homosexual tendencies in relation to Troilus or not, he does give just enough clues to suggest it is a possibility. Whether for fame, materialistic gain, sympathy or love, it seems clear that no matter what the motive really is, Pandarus is well aware of his potential profit.
Though his treatment of Troilus can easily be viewed as despicable on its own, it’s Pandarus’ treatment of Criseyde that truly reveals his loathsome character. When readers first meet Criseyde, they learn that her father, Calkas, abandoned her when he defected to the side of the Greeks (Chaucer I.71-98). Because of this, Criseyde, “For bothe a widewe was she alone / Of any frend to whom she dorste hir mone” (Chaucer I.97-99). This portrayal differs largely from Boccaccio. As Neil Cartlidge, author of “Criseyde’s Absent Friends,” writes, “Whereas both writers describe how Calchas left his widowed daughter in the lurch … and both emphasize that she was entirely innocent of any involvement in his treachery … it is only Chaucer who then chooses to focus on Criseyde’s friendlessness” (228). In this way, Chaucer portrays the vulnerability and isolation of Criseyde who considers her uncle Pandarus to be her “beste frend” (Chaucer II.412). Kate Bauer, author of “Criseyde’s Routhe,” also explores the differences between the two writers’ leading woman. She concludes that Chaucer furnished Criseyde with a “delicate sensibility,” and need for protection, which Pandarus, as her uncle, should provide (4). Instead, Pandarus takes advantage of her devotion to control her actions and get his way.
This manipulation can be seen through the many questionable tactics Pandarus employs when first speaking to his niece about Troilus. While Boccaccio’s Pandaro reveals Troilus’ love in just ten stanzas, Chaucer’s Pandarus takes another nine during which he uses switches between hyperbole, lies and even threats (Bauer 4-6). As Joan G. Haahr, author of “Criseyde’s Inner Debate: The Dialectic of Enamorment in the Filostrato and the Troilus,”writes, this exchange differs from the Filostrato in that the “discourse has overtones of coercion mostly absent from Boccaccio” (261).In fact, Boccaccio’s Pandarus is much more straightforward: “Pandaro never conceals the love affair he wants Criseida to enter into with Troilo … he does not lie to her or trick her or lay plots to entrap her” (Mieszkowski 151). Though he does badger Criseyde into accepting Troilo, Pandaro is devoid of the deception Chaucer bestows on his Pandarus. This more threatening depiction of Pandarus in Chaucer’s work may point to an equally sinister motive.
Pandarus himself sets the stage of Troilus’ exploitson the battlefield by testifying that he was a first-hand witness: “Now here, now there, he hunted hem so faste, / Thernas but Grekes blood – and Troilus” (Chaucer II.197-98). He also describes a scene in which he came upon Troilus as he was gripped by the agonies of love in a garden,a scene readers know to be false (Chaucer I.506-53). This extensive exposition Pandarus employs is absent from the Filostrato. Chaucer adds an additional 40 stanzas to their exchange, mostly consisting of Pandarus’ speeches. At one point, Pandarus describes Troilus as the “frendlieste” (Chaucer II.204) and “of gret estat that evere [he] saugh” (I.205). Yet, as brother to Ector, Pandarus cannot be of the highest estate. Rather than this over exaggeration, Boccaccio’s Pandaro instead describes Troilo as “noble of soul and of speech, very virtuous, and desirous of honor, in natural judgment wiser than any other man” (Boccaccio II.42). This is not good enough for Chaucer’s Pandarus, however, and his tactics are just another clue Chaucer provides to show readers how despicable his character is.
When these lies and hyperboles do not pique Criseyde’s interest, Pandarus backs off and takes a different route, telling her he has great news. As she gets more and more anxious, she begs him to tell her to “lat [her] nat in this feere dwelle” (Chaucer II.314). Her first thought is that the Trojan War is finally over, but Pandarus’ revelation starts a different, internal war for Criseyde. The news of Troilus’ love terrifies and repels her. She exclaims, “‘Allas, or wo! Why nere I deed? / For of this world the feyth is al agoon” (Chaucer II.409-10). It breaks her heart that her beloved uncle, “he that for [her] beste frend [she] wende / Ret [her] to love, and sholde it [her] defende” (Chaucer II.412-13). Yet Pandarus takes no heed of her laments, instead threatening to kill himself if she does not accept Troilus’ love (Chaucer II.439-41), another tactic absent from the Filostrato. After reflecting that “of harmes two, the lesse is for to chese” (Chaucer II.470), she accepts with one request – that her honor stay intact (Chaucer II.472-73). However, as readers soon see, Pandarus cannot even keep this promise to her.
The most appalling crimes Pandarus commits against Criseyde come during two instances in which he lures his unsuspecting niece to meetings with Troilus. Pandarus first plays on Criseyde’s insecurity by appealing to Deiphebus for help, explaining that “some men wolden don oppressioun, / And wrongfully han [Criseyde’s] possessioun” (Chaucer II.1418-19). During this dinner, Pandarus places Troilusin a bedroom under the pretense of a physical ailment. When it is time to bring Criseyde in to see Troilus, Pandarus must “ledde hire by the lappe” (Chaucer III.59). Chaucer creates this first plot with no help from his source, the Filostrato. Chaucer adds this scheme to give readers more insight into his own Pandarus, as it “shows his gusto in arranging things, and creator’s joy in the complications of his stratagem” (Fyler 119). Yet is also shows Pandarus’ willingness to do whatever it takes, no matter how unkind his actions are. Pugh writes that “this moment of joy is predicated upon Pandarus’s sometimes cruel strategies. Although his tactics are typically harmless, he is unabashedly cruel to Criseyde when he lies to her about Poliphete’s lawsuit” (“Christian Revelation” 386). However, as Pandarus’ real aim is consummation, his work is still incomplete.
Pandarus’ second opportunity to get the two lovers alone is even more of a betrayal to Criseyde. First, it is in her uncle’s own home, and more importantly, it takes away the one thing she asked Pandarus not to touch – her honor. Pandarus lures Criseyde to his home with the promise that it is just a simple dinner between uncle and niece. When she asks if Troiluswill be there, “He swor hire nay, for he was out of towne” (Chaucer III.570). In reality, Troilus stands ready in a closet, waiting to get his moment alone with Criseyde (Chaucer III.600-01). Using the storm raging outside as an excuse to keep Criseyde overnight, Pandarus hastens her to bed, making sure to keep her separate from staff. In contrast, Boccaccio’s Criseida is the one who forms the plan to meet with Troilo: “In the meantime the opportunity desired by the two lovers came, and so Criseida has Pandaro called to her and explained everything to him” (Boccaccio III.21). However, Chaucer strips Criseyde of the ability to make her own decisions, instead giving Pandarus control of the action. This gives Chaucer the opportunity to form Pandarus into the true scoundrel he is meant to be.
Pandarus lies again when he sneaks into Criseyde’s room to give her urgent news: Troilus has just arrived and is in great distress (Chaucer III.756). Pandarus invents another man, Horaste, who is supposedly in love with Criseyde, which Pandarus says has driven Troilus mad with jealousy. As he previously did for Criseyde, Pandarus now “brought [Troilus] in by the lappe” (Chaucer III.741), which shows how he is the puppet master and Troilus and Criseyde are simply following his carefully written script. In the Filostarto, Boccaccio’s Pandaro is not present in this scene. Rather, Criseida and Troilo meet consensually and alone (Boccaccio III.28-52). As Pugh writes in “Christian Revelation and the Cruel Game of Courtly Love in Troilus and Criseyde,” “Pandarus sees love as a game like any other … the stakes are trivial, and if one game ends, another may quickly begin” (383-84). All Pandarus’ hard work pays off when the two finally become lovers in a new sense of the word. However, it is does not last, and in these final moments, his true character is revealed.
Even after Criseyde has been traded for the Greeks, Pandarus tries to keep his game going by continuing his work with Troilus. Pandarus attempts to keep Troilus’ mind off his sorrow through cheerful distraction. The master-meddler drags a depressed Troilus to stay with Sarpedon where they can “pleye … in som lusty route” (Chaucer V.402). Pandarus seems to know more than he lets on, however, and begins preparing Troilus for a life without Criseyde. Pandarus tells Troilus that “[for] also seur as day comth after nyght, / The newe love, labour, or oother wo … Don olde affeciones alle over-go” (Chaucer IV.421-22, 424). Troilus does not listen, and after the ten days pass, Pandarus suggests Troilus write to Criseyde while holding out hope, even though he previously reflected that she will probably never return: “fare wel al the snow of ferne yere” (Chaucer V.1176). When it is finally clear to both that she is not coming back, Pandarus is, for the first time ever, speechless: “He nough a word ayeyn to hym answered” (Chaucer V.1725). In a scene Chaucer does not include in his own story, Boccaccio’s Troilo attempts to end his life, but is stopped by Pandaro who “in the end … removed the blade from [Troilo’s] hand and made him against his will sit weeping with him” (Boccaccio VII.36). Chaucer may have omitted this scene as it truly shows that Boccaccio’s Pandaro is compassionate, a trait Chaucer’s Pandarus is devoid of.
Unknowingly taking the advice Pandarus previously offered Troilus, Criseyde takes on a new lover in Diomede. Even though this is exactly what Pandarus recommended Troilus do (maybe even hoping he himself could be that new lover), the pandering uncle now turns on his niece. Pandarus goes so far as to even wish for her death: “‘And fro this world, almyghty God I preye / Delivere hire soon! I kan namore seye’” (Chaucer V.1742-43). While Boccaccio’s Pandaro does wish punishment on his niece (BoccaccioVIII.24), he never wishes for her death. Even though Chaucer’s Pandarus previously reflected on the possibility that he was a traitor to Criseyde: “‘May thynken that she is my nece deere, / And I hire em, and traitour ek yfeere” (Chaucer III.272-73), he now pins all the blame on her. Yet, Pandarus worked alone in creating the affair; without his involvement, it is likely Criseyde would never have noticed Troilus and his love, and the end would not be as tragic (Modarelli 407). Pandarus has only himself to blame.
By the end of Troilus and Criseyde, Troilus is dead, Criseyde is gone forever, and Pandarus is left to wade through the aftermath. At the end of Book V, Pandarus is oddly absent, and, in a reversal, Boccaccio’s last section contains more on Pandarus than Chaucer’s. Now that there’s nothing left to be gained, he vanishes from view. This also signals to readers that Chaucer feels Pandarus has fully served his purpose, and his absence is more powerful than his presence. As Jamie C. Fumo, author of “Hating Criseyde: Last Words on a Heroine from Chaucer to Henryson,” writes, “Pandarus’s and Troilus’s last words on Criseyde prompt the fracturing of the lyric subject: they never speak to each other (or anyone in the poem) again, and there is no common ground remaining on which they could meet” (34). This disappearing act seems to overwhelmingly expose Pandarus for the fiend he has been all along.
Still many critics feel that Pandarus’ motive can never be conclusively determined, and some, like Modarelli, believe this is intentional. Modarelli writes that Chaucer creates a personality in Pandarus “whose psychological character remains purposely elusive, thus opening the text for more individual reading and inviting interpretation from various cultural milieus” (404). However if readers closely examine his actions, Pandarus can be shown to display greed more than generosity. From beginning to end, Chaucer expands on Boccaccio’s Pandaro to create a completely different character in his Pandarus. Not only does he switch the focus from Troilus to Pandarus by expanding his line count, he also gives Pandarus traits that are not in the Filostrato. These traits are largely negative and include deception and manipulation.
If readers take into account all these variations from the Filostrato, they will clearly find that Chaucer has a very specific end in mind. Chaucer seems almost to be bored by Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato and the traditional portrayal of courtly love shared by Troilus and Criseyde. To create a story that interests him, Chaucer twists Boccaccio’s version into a completely different tale in which Pandarus is the star. Chaucer’s version disregards Troilus and Criseyde by satirizing their love at the hands of Pandarus. Chaucer clearly delights in his star character as shown by the lengths he goes to expand him. When readers examine all the hints Chaucer does give rather than dwell on the information he leaves out, they can clearly deduce that his aim was to create the greatest, albeit the most ambiguous, villain of his time.
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