Troilus and Criseyde

Troilus and Criseyde Summary and Analysis of Book 2


Book 2 begins with a “proem,” or preface where the narrator asks the reader to not get hung up on the language and attitudes of the characters in the story, as they are reflective of that time period. The story of the second book starts in May. We meet Pandarus, who has recently experienced his own bad luck in love, on his way to the palace of Criseyde. There he informs Criseyde about Hector and Troilus and their success in battle. He praises Troilus’ virtues, and keeps telling Criseyde that she is very lucky, but he will not reveal why, annoying Criseyde.

Finally Pandarus tells his niece about Troilus’ love for her. He begs her to consider him and be more friendly towards him, not worrying what other people might think. Criseyde ponders this and asks what she should do; Pandarus replies that she should try to love Troilus and be grateful that he loves her. Pandarus’ words cause Criseyde to burst out crying and admit how unhappy she is. Pandarus becomes more and more angry, insisting that if she doesn’t give Troilus a chance, she will be responsible for both his and Troilus’ deaths. Criseyde finally agrees to fulfill Pandarus’ request to treat Troilus kindly. Pandarus relays a speech Troilus made to Love, where he apologizes to God for his rebellious thoughts and admits his despair at being “wounded” by the gaze of Criseyde.

Pandarus leaves and Criseyde reflects on what he has told her, finding it curious that Troilus could love her so intensely while she remains ambivalent. She concludes that there is nothing dangerous in the situation, however. Then, suddenly, she hears commotion outside. It is Troilus and his army coming down the street after a battle with the Greeks. Troilus appears like the god Mars and Criseyde feels a stirring in her heart observing him. The narrator assures us that such love at first sight is, in fact, possible.

The narrator reveals Criseyde’s conflicting considerations about Troilus. She realizes it is good if she can be on good terms with him, as he is the son of the King and she doesn’t want him to hold a grudge over her. She also acknowledges that he has many good qualities. She is somewhat astonished to have his life now completely in her power. Suddenly, her considerations are interrupted by a “thought like a cloud” which makes her feel fearful. This thought is that she should perhaps surrender to the love of Troilus. This is in spite of the fact that she feels that every woman in love becomes miserable and she worries how people will gossip about her.

Criseyde goes to the garden with her nieces, Flexippe, There, and Antigone. Antigone sings a song to praise Love and declares that those who slander love know nothing about it. Criseyde is moved by the song. She goes to bed that night thinking of love. She dreams of a white eagle tearing out her heart and putting in her his own heart, which she doesn’t experience as painful or frightening. The narrator shifts back to Troilus, who is visited by Pandarus. Pandarus tells him of his conversation with Criseyde. Troilus is elated and thanks Venus that Criseyde is giving him a chance. Pandarus encourages Troilus to write Criseyde a letter, to which he agrees. He sits down to compose the letter, pouring out his heart and sealing it with his tears.

The next day, Pandarus delivers the letter to Criseyde. At first, she is annoyed at the gesture and doesn’t want to read the letter, feeling she is being positioned to take pity on Troilus. Before having dinner with her uncle, however, she reads the letter privately in her room. She is impressed by it. At dinner, Pandarus demands to know what she thinks of it and asks her to write Troilus back, to which she halfheartedly agrees. In her letter, she thanks Troilus but informs him that she can’t make any false promises of uniting. She says that she is happy to serve as a more sisterly figure to him.

When Criseyde hands her letter to Pandarus, they see Troilus walking down the street, who meekly waves at them. Criseyde is overcome by attraction to his demeanor and dress. Pandarus uses this moment to further try to convince her to give Troilus a chance. He goes to deliver the letter to Troilus, who reads it excitedly and feels hope from Criseyde’s words, despite her guarded style of writing. From this moment, Troilus’ desire for Criseyde burns even stronger. Pandarus, trying to help, goes to Troilus’ brother Deiphebus. He asks Deiphebus to talk with Criseyde and convince him of Troilus’ worthiness. He agrees and invites Criseyde to dinner.

Pandarus then goes to Troilus and tells him to go to Deiphebus’ house the night before Criseyde comes and fake an illness so that Criseyde will take pity on him when she arrives. The plan works out, with Criseyde and her sisters arriving at Deiphebus’ palace to the news that Troilus is sick and in bed. The other guests begin to lament his illness and praise him. Pandarus encourages Deiphebus and Helen to start also praising Criseyde and decrying her enemy, Poliphetes. Criseyde is convinced to go and visit Troilus in bed, under the guise that he could be sympathetic to her conflict with Poliphetes. The second book ends before we are shown the conversation between Troilus and Criseyde.


The second book of Troilus and Criseyde brings us deeper into the developing relationship between the title characters. For much of this chapter, we see each one occupy a quite different space. For Troilus, the degree of his infatuation brings him agony to the point of physical illness. Criseyde, on the other hand, remains hesitant about the potential of a relationship with Troilus, not wrecked by his sort of passion. This ambivalence is also reflected in her letter, where she suggests that she can act as a sister to Troilus rather than a lover. As a result, Pandarus has to jump through hoops and orchestrate a complex setup just to get Criseyde in the same room with Troilus finally.

At the same time, the astute reader will notice that there are deeper feelings brewing in Criseyde. On her conscious level, she seems intent on denying the reality of such a connection. Yet Chaucer hints in several ways that her heart is slowly opening to Troilus. It is there in the way she dreams of the pure white eagle ripping open her heart and in her curiosity after hearing her sister Antigone’s devotional song to Love. There is also the moment when Criseyde and her uncle see Troilus walking on the street and Criseyde is very drawn to Troilus’ appearance, almost as if forgetting what she has just written in her letter to him.

In this book, we also see Pandarus emerge as a heroic friend and mentor to Troilus. In many ways, Pandarus goes out of his way and puts all of his effort and passion into assisting Troilus in uniting with Criseyde. From this, the reader can conclude that this is no ordinary friendship but a strong bond where Pandarus is willing to sacrifice himself—even his good standing with his niece—in order to lift up his friend. Larger than this, however, we see in Pandarus’ actions a dedication to the force of Love itself. He realizes, even before Criseyde does, that there is a true potential for romance between the two, and in doing everything he can for their union, he feels himself to be serving the God of Love to whom Chaucer so often alludes.

The pantheon of gods is a strong presence throughout these pages. Consistent references to Roman gods such as Neptune, Venus, and Minerva serve as an important means for characterization. For instance, Troilus is compared to Mars in order to illustrate his warlike swagger in the eyes of Criseyde. At another moment, Criseyde begs of Pallas, a virgin goddess, to look after her in her bewilderment. For characters living in this historical period, the gods are not merely ideal deities occupying the heavens but wholly present in the workings of daily life, consistently evoked for strength, protection, and inspiration. Thus, familiarizing oneself with the qualities of the gods may be useful in understanding the full meaning of these quips.

Geoffrey Chaucer makes use of an array of literary techniques to enhance the drama of the story. For one, he ends the second book on a suspenseful moment, just as Criseyde is about to encounter Troilus for the first time. This choice serves to keep the reader entranced in their budding relationship, wondering how their meeting might play out. Chaucer also continues to employ frequent metaphorical and symbolic statements, as mentioned in the previous section analysis. In this book we also see him using personification of natural elements—the Sun, animals, and plants—in order to make the characters’ world come alive and show us that all living beings are somehow invested in the love of Troilus.