White Words, False World: Chaucer's Pandarus and the Antifraternal Tradition in 'Troilus,' Books I-III

By Havely, N. R. | Medium Aevum, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview

White Words, False World: Chaucer's Pandarus and the Antifraternal Tradition in 'Troilus,' Books I-III


Havely, N. R., Medium Aevum


Pandarus' speech and actions as a servant of the God of Love's servants have already been subjected to some inquisition. D. W. Robertson, Jr, for instance, noted some features of his vocabulary and role as |priest' and |confessor', and more recently Siegfried Wenzel, in his discussion of |Chaucer and the language of contemporary preaching', and J. D. Burnley, in his account of |Chaucer's termes', have given some close attention to religious language and its implications for Pandarus' attitudes and activities.(1) Such scrutiny of this particular strand in the lexis of Troilus tends to support Windeatt's general argument about the contemporary |distinctiveness' of the poem's style and diction.(2)

Within this area of the poem's lexis there may indeed he some quite specific contemporary influences at play - and this is where the friars come in. A considerable amount of work on the antifraternal tradition in Chaucer's time has appeared during the last decade,(3) and there are, I think, grounds for using this context (with its stereotypes and vocabulary) as a way of reading Pandarus' role in relation to Troilus and, particularly, Criseyde. I am, of course, aware of the danger of exaggerating the importance of antifraternalism in fourteenth-century writing and of seeing the figure of the friar |in every bussh or under every tree'. But there is equally, I think, a danger in treating the language of antifraternalism as a self-contained discourse and thus failing to recognize the ways in which it penetrates other discourses of the period.

Pandarus' very first speech in the poem departs significantly from that of his counterpart in Il Filostrato, and it does so by drawing upon the vocabulary of religious experience and behaviour:

O mercy', God! What unhap may this meene?

Han now thus soone Grekes maad yow leene?

Or hastow som remors of conscience,

And art now falle in som devocioun,

And wailest for thi synne and thin offence,

And hast for ferde caught attricioun? (I.552-7)

The words Pandarus uses ironically here - mercy, remors, conscience, devocioun, synne, offence, attricioun - contribute significantly to what Burnley calls the |stream of religious allusion' which has originated near the beginning of the poem with the narrator's assumption of the role of priest or pope of love.(4) Pandarus' role as |priest of love' resembles that of the narrator to a certain degree. Like the narrator, for instance, he switches easily into the mode of preaching, and in both cases the deployment of exempla (|ensaumples') is explicitly brought to our attention. Yet, unlike the narrator, Pandarus in his first scene goes on to play the part of confessor as well. Several of the terms I have noted in his first speech - notably remors of conscience and attricioun are specifically associated with the penitential process. And - in connection with the |distinctiveness' of Chaucer's lexis in Troilus - it is worth noting that both the OED and the MED cite this passage as the earliest evidence for the use of these terms (remors of conscience and attricioun) in English.(5)

Pandarus' role as confessor develops more amply, both in tactics and vocabulary, through the second half of Book 1. He begins by encouraging Troilus to make a full disclosure of his inner state and to |hide' nothing (1.595).(6) He summons his patient to |awake' from his lethargy (1.729-30), urges him away from |despair' (1.779, 813) and towards belief in |bote' (1.763, 782, 832) and |grace' (1.781, 907, 933, 980, 1005) - and he is represented on several occasions as Troilus' spiritual physician (1.857, 1087-91). And, having stirred up the penitent's remorse about his treatment of the God of Love's servants (1.908-31), Pandarus leads him into the breast-beating act of repentance which, as Windeatt points out, is specifically associated with the Confiteor in the Mass:(7)

Now bet thi brest, and sey to God of Love,

|Thy grace, lord, for now I me repente,

If I mysspak, for now myself I love.

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White Words, False World: Chaucer's Pandarus and the Antifraternal Tradition in 'Troilus,' Books I-III
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