Troilus and Criseyde

Troilus and Criseyde Summary and Analysis of Book 3


Book 3 opens with a proem praising Venus, the goddess of love. The proem speaks of how Jove, the god of the sky, has been influenced by Venus to be loving towards humans. The narrator asks Venus to help him express some of the joy and feeling she stimulates in him. We then are brought back to the scene of Troilus in his sickbed, right before he is to meet with Criseyde. He is praying to God and preparing what he will say to her. When Pandarus and Criseyde enter the room, Troilus becomes frozen with nervousness and can only ask for mercy, gush about his feelings towards her, and ask to serve her. Pandarus prods his niece to take pity on his anguish.

Criseyde finally agrees to allow Troilus to serve her and begs him to stop lamenting. She also warns him that just because he is the king’s son does not mean she will tolerate wrong behavior. She then embraces Troilus and kisses him. Pandarus falls onto his knees with happiness, praising Venus and Cupid. Criseyde leaves and Pandarus and Troilus are able to talk. Pandarus tells him soberly how his workings have made it so Troilus will be successful in his romance. He stresses that he has done none of this for personal gain but solely to alleviate Troilus’ distress. Pandarus warns Troilus to never let onto his role in arranging the affair and that he must treat Criseyde with respect, as he does not want to ever become the betrayer of his niece. Lastly, he swears by God that he will set it up so that Troilus will be satisfied.

Troilus is delighted to hear his friend’s promise. He gives his thanks to Pandarus and acknowledges how deeply he owes him, vowing to be his slave “forever more.” He also strongly states that he does not see Pandarus’ assistance as “pimping” but as a noble act of friendship. They both go to bed. In the following days, Troilus serves as a warrior by day and at night thinks about how he can best serve Criseyde. He occasionally gets to speak to her directly, as well. Criseyde becomes enamored with how well Troilus understands her and employs his words. Pandarus continues to serve an an intermediary.

One morning Pandarus goes to Criseyde to invite her to his house for supper one evening. This is part of a plot he has devised with Troilus. When she asks him if Troilus will be there, he says he will not be. She agrees and later shows up at Pandarus’ house with many other people, including her niece Antigone. Troilus watches the supper through a window from a little closet. Just as Criseyde is about to leave for the night, the gods’ will is carried out and it starts to rain heavily. Criseyde decides to spend the night at Pandarus’ house.

During the night, Pandarus wakes up his niece and tells her that she is being deceiving by calling Troilus her “dear one” without following through in their relationship. He tells her that Troilus has come into the house to escape the rains, and he is in misery because he has been told that Criseyde loves someone called Orestes. Criseyde denies this and delivers a monologue in which she decries worldly happiness, concluding that there is no true joy in the world. She is upset that Troilus has become so distrusting of her. Pandarus presses her to clear up the matter with Troilus immediately, or else put his life at risk. She agrees.

Troilus comes in suddenly and kneels before Criseyde. She feels as Troilus’ “true lady” and speaks to Troilus of his goodness, vowing that she will always be true to him. She questions why he has been overcome with jealousy. She laments the fact that jealousy is often equated with love, which is an illusion. She finishes her speech by weeping, and Troilus momentarily panics at her emotions and falls into bed in weakness. Criseyde has to kiss him and assure him that she is not angry. She tries to reason with Troilus and tells him not to be so dramatic. They agree, with the urging of Pandarus, to put the conflict behind them.

The lovers then spend a blissful and romantic night together, not sleeping at all and instead intimately talking and touching. They both feel incredibly elated and exchange rings to symbolize their vows to each other. As the sun starts to rise, they feel frustration, as they now must part ways for the moment. The narrator also declares his delight that Troilus and Criseyde have finally united. As they leave each other, Criseyde reminds Troilus not to fall into delusions of jealousy again. Troilus retires to his palace, feeling the pain of separation. Criseyde does the same. Pandarus visits her later and she jokes with him how he has orchestrated the whole love affair.

Pandarus goes to visit Troilus, who thanks and blesses him profusely. Pandarus responds by warning him of possible misfortune if he becomes too rash. Troilus assures his friend that his behavior will be faultless and that his heart is pure. He then talks on and on about his night with Criseyde. Pandarus leaves and later the lovers reunite for the night. At this meeting, they are free of their previous sorrows and fears. They are so full of happiness, the narrator states it is impossible to describe with words. As day comes, they again curse the light for cutting their time short. They continue in this way during the many nights that follow.

The book ends with Troilus’ song, which is an ode to Love. He praises Love as the source of all harmony and natural order. He wishes that all cold hearts can encounter love’s blessings. Troilus continues on in his soldier duties as the fiercest warrior, who inspires fear in his enemies. He also begins to shun vices like pride and envy. We are told that this increase of virtue comes from his newfound love.


The third book of Troilus and Criseyde marks the peak moment in the narrative, where the lovers are finally able to blissfully unite. This was no easy occurrence, taking much planning and plotting from the loyal Pandarus to finally bring the two together and convince Criseyde to take a chance on Troilus. She only has to open her heart slightly—as seen when she agrees to let Troilus serve her—to be completely swept up with all-encompassing love. Again we see how Chaucer views love as not just attraction between two mates, but as a transpersonal force that throws people off their feet like the current of a river.

Yet, utterly enthralled by his emotions, Troilus still worries that the relationship isn’t moving quickly enough, and thus employs Pandarus to once again create a scheme whereby he can draw Criseyde closer to him and share a more intimate type of union. For this plot, Pandarus tells his niece that Troilus is crushed and believes she is involved with another man. Though this lie ultimately succeeds in bringing Troilus and Criseyde together for the night, it also creates a conflict. Criseyde is maddened that such a rumor of infidelity could be circulated, and delivers an entire monologue about the destructiveness of jealousy.

This speech underscores some very important themes in the story, making us question the true nature of love. Criseyde argues that constant jealousy—which she describes as a “wicked viper”—is a sign of an impure heart and a love that is perhaps not completely genuine. Worldly love, according to her, will always make one insecure about one's beloved, whereas more spiritual love is free of all lower emotions and vices. Her words challenge the ubiquitous idea that romance must be wrought with continual pain and betrayal. We can also infer here that the passion with which Criseyde speaks also comes from her own anger at being seen as disloyal.

Their relationship momentarily seems like it will fall apart, as Criseyde voices her anger and Troilus in response breaks down in sorrow. With the help of Pandarus, however, they are convinced to leave the altercation behind and start anew. From there, the couple spends their first night together, the joy of which is described in several passages, where Chaucer employs much metaphorical and poetic language to emphasize the sheer ecstasy of their love. We are told that it is this painful situation beforehand that makes their happiness all the more sweet. These dramatic ups and downs are a consistent part of the story; as the characters enlarge their capacity to feel love, they also become more and more sensitive to all sorts of emotional triggers.

We may notice how the passion of the protagonists is reflected in the style of the prose. Chaucer tends to write in long and verbose sentences, with several clauses connected by commas or semicolons. The length of these sentences becomes even more extreme in the most exhilarating moments of the lovers’ story, such as when Troilus must part from his lady and obsessively thinks about her, going over every detail of their date. This stylistic choice conveys both the excitement and the nervousness of the lovers and demonstrates a sort of madness they have developed as a result of their burning desire.

Amidst their fiery love, Pandarus stands as the voice of reason and cautiousness, reminding Troilus to take the relationship slowly and not become irrational in his behavior. Pandarus says this not only because he wants to protect his dear niece, but also because he understands how unrestrained passion can oftentimes be catastrophic if not periodically reigned in. In this way, Chaucer subtly foreshadows a twist of fate that is to come in the following pages.