Letters in Troilus and Criseyde
Oenone to Paris p482
• Places Pandarus in the nymph’s position of true
friendship, loyal and grounded in love
• Refutes Troilus’ point to Pandarus ‘Thow
koudest nevere in love thiselven wisse./ How devel maistow brynge me to
• Unsettling resonances of potential of pain in love
of desertion- prophetic
Troilus to Criseyde, declaring his love p503
• Importance of written words, reflects Criseyde’s
need for more than just a physical attraction, traditional courtly
lady’s position of needing to be won. No opportunity for conversation
unless she grants it- this is Troilus’ make-or-break moment.
• Troilus’ lack of experience contrasts with his
military prowess. One would assume that his ability in the latter would
be the most useful and essential to his survival in the situation of
the Trojan war; ironically it is his deficiency in the former that
causes his downfall.
• Pandarus gives him lengthy instructions on how to
write a love letter, which Troilus follows certainly to the extent that
he covers the letter with his tears- irony in Pandarus' formulaic,
cunning approach which could easily be used deceitfully to worm your
way into a lady's bed, when Troilus is actually sincere.
• Troilus’ idealisation and spiritualization of love
is evident through terms such as ‘blisse’, and in calling Criseyde ‘his
sorwes leche’ he conveniently ignores the fact that she is the cause of
his sorrow. Religion of love theme shown in the spiritualization of
love- love has become Troilus’ religion. His “salvation” depends on
• Power is given to Criseyde; Troilus is made
vulnerable, exposing his heart. Subversion of normal order.
• Capacity for falsehood seen in Troilus’ “lie” of
• The letter becomes representative of Troilus
himself. Criseyde does not want to receive it initially, and Pandarus
thrusts it down her bosom. It is the vehicle through which Troilus can
make himself physically present to her. The way Criseyde analyses the
letter word by word also reflects the way she weighs up the pros and
cons of being in a relationship with him.
Criseyde to Troilus, acknowledging his affection p506
• This is apparently her first ever letter-
highlights her naivete of courtly love. Criseyde cannot be cast simply
as an “older woman” experienced in such things even though she is a
• This being said, her reaction is the proper lady's
response- to remain at a distance but to give a slight promise of hope.
• Her heart is closed in ‘desdaynes prison’- she
preserves power by guarding her heart
• She is truthful and not excessive, and rational-
contrasts to Troilus and reflects their ends.
• Alleviates blame and makes her more likeable.
Hector to Troilus, asking about man deserving death p512
• Mainly points out how Helen and Deiphebus study it
for an hour- generally shows importance of letters as vehicles of news
and there are overtones of future love.
• Also shows how letters bring death- in this case it
is through a legal order, in Troilus’ case through callousness and
Troilus to Criseyde, after their separation, p577, 581
• Troilus has pinned his happiness on Criseyde-
unwise. He has given her too much power- she is only human with
capacity to hurt and abuse.
• Troilus is commendable for truth and honour but one
feels he should see the unworthiness of Criseyde to be recipient to
such undying affection.
• His faithfulness despite circumstances is
honourable, yet his inability to let go is tragic.
Criseyde’s letters to Troilus p579, 581
• The first is very briefly summarised, the second is
quoted in full, and this one is self-serving and evasive- does not
portray Criseyde favourably
• Both letters are full of empty promises and lies
• She seems to be following what she decided early on
in the affair- that she was going to play ‘ful sleighly’. However her
sorrow could be genuine- it is difficult to tell.
• Her tone is not as confident as her first letter-
she feels her honour in question.
• We need to interpret her letters in the light of
Troilus' dream of the boar, and from this we know she is false to him.
Letters provide a psychological insight into how the characters feel-
for Troilus they are a means of self-expression- but for Criseyde, who
says ‘Ne nevere yet ne koude I wel endite’, they are inadequate means
of communication. Her reticence reflects her anxiety of being
misinterpreted and also a disdain of putting into words the thoughts
and meditations of the heart, such a sacred and private thing.
Letters are also deceptive- it is easy to manufacture a false
sentiment, indeed Troilus’ letter expressing his love for Criseyde
could easily be read as an excessive exaggeration of a man wanting to
get into her bed (which it could be argued is what it all comes down to
anyway). But particularly with Criseyde, she fills her letters with
empty promises that she does not keep, and one questions whether she
actually intends to keep them at all.
The letters of Troilus and Criseyde provide useful points of contrast
in the text- Troilus’ letters are all blotted with tears and littered
in expressions of adoration for Criseyde and his hovering at death’s
door unless she takes pity on him, giving the story a circular feel and
echoing the narrator’s promise to tell of Troilus’ double woe.
Criseyde’s letters all contain a marked reticence and distance which
reflects firstly her dislike of writing but also her unwillingness to
reveal anything of herself- this is a quality which whilst she can be
accounted guilty for, for it ruins Troilus, is also admirable because
it is the quality that enables her to survive.
Letters are also an essential vehicle for the plot- Troilus cannot woo
Criseyde in any other personal way, and when Criseyde has left Troy
they provide Chaucer with a way to reveal to the audience what she is
thinking and how she is acting at the same time as Troilus, although we
don't seem to have emotional truth from her letters, they still provide
insight into her situation. Thus the audience’s experience mirrors that
of Troilus’ and the reader is involved in his emotional journey.