Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature Geoffrey Chaucer

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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century



Christian Cotroneo

Woodcut from title-page of Chaucer's Troilus and Cressida. London: printed by Richard Pynson, 1526.

Pandarus, the Broker

        Looking at the role of Pandarus in Troilus and Criseyde is essential to understanding the intricate framework of the poem. He embodies the sense of opportunism, scheming and manipulation that undermines the poem's legitimacy as a tale of courtly love. It is critical, however, not to isolate Pandarus. His character is dependent upon both Troilus and Criseyde. In fact, all three major characters share an interdependency that makes it impossible to focus upon one element without examining its relationship with another. This framework of interrelationships provides the fabric from which Pandarus is able to operate. Restricting the focus to Pandarus and his relationship with Troilus and Criseyde, one would hardly have a love story in the classical sense, but a tale of opportunism. Vaulting ambition, as seen in Pandarus, leaves feeling and family loyalty by the wayside, yet it is ultimately not a punishable offense. Troilus and Criseyde is concerned with Fortune and how it is utilized. Where Troilus fumbles, Pandarus latches resolutely onto his opportunity.

        Pandarus is, above all, an unscrupulous opportunist. He is quickly able to determine the cause of Troilus' discontent in the first book and professes his willingness to offer Troilus his own sister, if need be. It would seem that Troilus' blindness, as caused by love, has made an opening for Pandarus. He shrewdly establishes himself as Troilus' guide to gratification. Compounding his lack of scruples, Pandarus demonstrates an aptitude for scheming. His methods involve wholesale lies to royal figures such as Helen, Deiphebus and his own niece. In addition to the two major plots developed by Pandarus to get the couple alone, his relationship with Criseyde is a sustained artifice. Troilus is systematically misrepresented. Does he really seek only the friendship of Criseyde? The reader knows better. Interestingly, so does Criseyde. Her rapport with Pandarus is mutually beneficial. The veneer is essential to protect the lady's honour and dignity. As such, she is counting on Pandarus' fabrications.

        It is obvious that Troilus is smitten with Criseyde's appearance. Love has entered his heart by way of his eye. Criseyde is a strictly physical creature in the lovestruck eye of Troilus. The go-between, Pandarus, is in charge of facilitating his Prince's desire. To do so, he is well qualified. The reconciliation of the physical and private world of Troilus' fantasy to the public world of Trojan society requires an abundance of lies. Pandarus must erect the necessary artifice from beneath which he may satisfy his master's private desires. It is noeworthy that Troilus and Criseyde only meet in small, enclosed places. In the Trojan palace is seen the festivity of royal society, but beneath the palace is a small dark room wherein two lovers are carefully concealed. At Pandarus' home a similar situation arises. Criseyde is lured to Troilus under the auspices of a family dinner. Troilus is hidden away as part of Pandarus' hidden agenda. An agent of appearances, he is instrumental in confining the affairs to the dark bowels of society.

        What Troilus visualizes, Pandarus is able to procure. This narrow,but determined relationship has an uncle prostituting his niece, willfully lying to her and ultimately wishing that she was never born. Criseyde's relationship with Pandarus is one of pure artifice. The agent has chosen his side. Allied to Troilus, he decides in favour of ambition, opportunism, and politics, while rejecting family loyalty, his duty as protector and even his responsibility as a Trojan citizen. Indeed, if Pandarus did not so generously assist Troilus' slide into the tunnel of love, this young and valiant Prince may have been able to see the greater picture. His subjects and family are on the cusp of eradication at the hands of Greek soldiers. What is Pandarus doing, but abetting his master's desertion from duty?

        Pandarus, paving his way with lies, is essentially serving only himself. It is clear that he is unable to partake in affairs of the heart, but gains a somewhat vicarious pleasure from orchestrating the love matches of others. This reflects his own taste for safety, as he allows others to be imperiled by love, but it also reveals the essentially hollow nature of Pandarus. He is an incomplete, incapable man, who may live only through the lives of others. Like Polonius later in Shakespeare's Hamlet, his words are golden, abstract constructions, yet ultimately without substance. Shiny baubles, they serve only to maintain appearances. Even his tears seem premeditated, when he begs Criseyde to end Troilus' suffering. Pandarus' thespian nature is required. He is a pipeline that allows incongruously inappropriate private matters to flow beneath the surface of society, as it is housed within the character of an unassuming, mild, and selfless man. All of which is an illusion.

        If Pandarus has removed the poem from the realm of courtly love, he has brought it to a different sphere. Although he has chosen to side with Troilus against his own niece, he does not share his master's fate. He remains, in fact, unaffected. After damning Criseyde for her mutability, he recommends that Troilus simply find a replacement. His casual tones are contrasted sharply with Troilus' profound wretchedness. Why should Pandarus share this despair? He is only doing his job. He caters. As an agent, Pandarus has the business-like attitude of indifference. His social acumen, his derivative pleasure from the lovers' meetings, and his prevaricating skills have allowed him to prevail. Does Chaucer wish to present a moral here? Is Pandarus the new prototype for literary heroes? Is he at least a realistic antihero? There is a diverging rationale from the simple standards of good and evil presiding over the characters of this poem. Of course, Pandarus possesses the clear qualities of a villain, but at the same time, he gets by. What damned Troilus is his blindness. Pandarus is functionally fluid, able to move between private and public spheres effortlessly. Most essentially, Pandarus has found his occasion and gripped it tightly. Troilus, wan and weakened, has bottled himself exclusively in the private domain. When his lady, acting as the sun, eclipses him, Troilus is left in absolute darkness. Even when he does wade into the battlefield, does the young Prince find his lost priorities? Evidently not. Troilus pulls his private world into public circumstance. His actions are ugly because they are obvious, without the benefit of their confining pipeline. He wages not war, but a personal crusade. Selfishly, Troilus seeks only death in battle. It is only after Achilles obliges him that his clarity of vision is regained.

        It is important in examining Pandarus' role that we do not lose sight of the characters' mutual needs. Troilus needs Pandarus, but Pandarus too is in need of not only the Prince's royal favour, but the voyeuristic pleasure of the lovers' trysts. Criseyde, as well, needs her uncle. Only Pandarus' talent for keeping up appearances can save her honour from Troilus debauched intentions. Both lovers depend upon Pandarus as a pipeline for facilitating their physical demands. The pipeline then, is dependent upon its content, as Pandarus' function is validated by his usage.

        Approaching this poem from the Pandarus context is not only valid, but compelling. Once we recognize the interdependence of the three main characters, Pandarus gains dramatic importance. This "love story" is, in fact, a threesome. The nature of the middleman moves the theme from the caprices of love to the importance of seizing the day. The opportunistic mole, that remarkable parasite, Pandarus is able to ride Fortune, while his master flounders beneath the Wheel. While it is vital that Pandarus is not neglected in any serious study of the poem, it is equally critical that his ascendancy does not come at the expense of the other major characters. The most fascinating quality of Troilus and Criseyde is that each character may be carefully culled for a theme. Looking at Criseyde alone will give us a distinctly different understanding of the poem, as will an exclusive reading of Troilus. By intertwining and weaving their concerns into a self-feeding threesome, Chaucer has created a sense of thematic complexity. From various angles, the poem assumes different forms. Each character is a contortion of distinct importance, and Pandarus the broker is equally deserving of critical attention. Like his function to Troilus, Pandarus may be the reader's guide to examining just what Pandarus is brokering.

©1997 Christian Cotroneo. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Luminarium Through Express Written Permission of the Author.

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This page was created by Anniina Jokinen on December 9, 1997. Last updated September 5, 2009.


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