Does Troilus fit the medieval archetype of a hero? Which other character breaks the mold of expectations?
In the medieval time of Chaucer, the literary hero was often a knight, or someone of royal blood, who would commit to many difficult tasks in order to prove his heroic bravery and win the heart of a woman. It could be argued that Troilus does not quite fit this description. He is indeed of royal blood, and is described as a valiant warrior. Yet, with exception to the procession where Criseyde sees him, Troilus is never seen explicitly in battle. He does not complete any feats to woo Criseyde as his lover; instead, Pandarus orchestrates the affair. Therefore, unlike knights such as Gawain and Lancelot, Troilus is portrayed as somewhat pitiable. He is not the only character that doesn't follow expectations; Criseyde is also not the typical medieval damsel in need of protection. She does not welcome Troilus as her savior, but instead considers whether a lover is worth the loss of her freedom as a widow.
How is the tension between duty and desire presented? How does this differ between the sexes?
For Criseyde, it is her duty to return to her father in the Greek camp and find another suitable partner there, even though her desire is to return to Troilus. She chooses to adhere to her expected role as a woman, even though it means betraying her lover. Troilus' main duty is to fight in the Trojan army and when his relationship is going well, his desires align harmoniously with his service. When Criseyde is taken from him, Troilus' desire is to go against the decree of the kingdom and steal her, yet his sense of duty prevents him from doing this. The difference between men and women is clear in that Criseyde is expected by everyone to submit to her father's order, while Troilus is encouraged by other men, such as Pandarus, to break the law and follow his desire.
What is the role of the gods and goddesses in the lives of Chaucer's characters?
The Greek pantheon plays a vital role in the world of Troilus and Criseyde. Forces of nature, such as sunshine and lightning, or virtuous qualities, such as beauty and skill in war, are seen as gifts bestowed by the gods. The characters frequently pray to the various deities for strength or good luck, as well as curse and blame them when their fortune is reversed. They are often attributed with human-like temperaments in the way they wreak vengeance or feel jealousy. In this aspect, the narrator distinguishes the pagan gods with the Christian God, who he suggests as the true, righteous guide for human life.
How do Troilus and Criseyde follow conventions of courtship? What does this say about their relationship?
During Chaucer's era, the conventions of courtly love were prominent in many stories. Troilus and Criseyde's romance conforms to this archetype in certain ways: there is the chivalric male doting on a female, who remains aloof until she eventually submits to the love affair. There is also the illicit, hidden nature of the romance which is common to this literary genre. Yet in other ways, their courtship breaks the mold: Troilus does not complete a brave quest to win Criseyde, and they are not shy about consummating their marriage. With this departure from convention, the author suggests that the rules and rituals of courtship are merely a formality of the time period and unnecessary for true love to fully bloom.
How does the narrator view the true nature of love by the end of the story?
The centerpiece of Troilus and Criseyde is the romance of lovers, which is at times blissful, and at other times, heart-wrenching. Throughout the story, the narrator often interjects to express his delight for their affair, as well as to lament for its tragic ending. The betrayal and death which conclude the story seem to shift the narrator's sentiment, however; in the final pages he addresses the reader to say that our hearts should solely be directed towards the Supreme God as Christ. Witnessing Troilus' utter destruction, the narrator uses his downfall as a lesson in the true nature of love, which he says is completely separate from "worldly vanity" and rather found in heaven.