Chapter 9

The Narrator

ONLY GRADUALLY do we register that the Narrator is as much a character in the poem as is Troilus, Criseyde, or Pandarus, and this because, at least in part, only gradually does he become conscious of his role and responsibility as translator of the Book of Lollius. He begins the poem claiming that he is "the sorwful instrument, / That helpeth loveres, as I kan, to pleyne" (1.10-11). Not until well into the third book, however, does he recognize the threat of narcissism in his instrumentality so as to confess that he might have "any word in eched" (3.1329). And only by the end of the poem does he realize that he, the fourteenth-century translator, must make the best of it he can and without the production of "irreferent" signs. By then he, much like Dante, has become a redeemed Narcissus. He turns (converts), and urges others to turn, to God--who made man "after his ymage" (5.1839)--because "he nyl falsen no wight" (5.1845). With this emphasis on "ymage" and "falsen" the poem resumes and completes the structure of coinage and narcissism imagery; and Chaucer has mapped his theory of mediation in the conversion of the Narrator from un-self conscious "instrument" to master poser of the many versions of the truth.

In the beginning the Narrator is secure in a chrysalis of various formulas: the formula for tragedy--"Fro wo to wele, and after out of joie" (line 4); the formula for decorum--"For wel sit it, the sothe for to seyne, / A woful wight to han a drery feere, / And to a sorwful tale, a sory chere" (1.12-14); a formula for "clerkly" subservience-- "I, that God of Loves servantz serve" (1.15); a formula for erotic bliss--"ye loveres, that bathen in gladnesse" (1.22); the formula for losengiers--"for hem that falsly ben apeired / Thorugh wikked tonges" (1.38-39).1Moreover, from this formulaic security the Narrator presumes to chastise and even to sermonize to Troilus and other such "foles" (1.211-17):
{123/124}

O blynde world, O blynde entencioun!
How often falleth al the effect contraire
Of surquidrie and foul presumpcioun;
For kaught is proud, and kaught is debonaire.
This Troilus is clomben on the staire,
And litel weneth that he moot descenden;
But alday faileth thing that fooles wenden.
The Narrator might do well to heed his own homily. There is something of a presumption of "omniscience" in remarks like these and others which he makes in Book 1 (lines 253-59, for example; Rowe 1976:159). Add to this presumption and its formulaic security his self-quarantine from "the fyr of love--the wherfro God me blesse" (1.436), and the Narrator does seem some one too concerned with security and with avoiding eros--someone, that is, potentially vulnerable. And when he is eventually wounded, it is in fact by a Love which he could not have imagined from the severely limited and hence spurious security of his initial formulas.

The Narrator's already shaky defenses have begun to crumble by the Proem to Book 2. Here he visibly differs from the Narrator in Book 1. The crux of the difference is Pandarus: by the Proem to Book 2 the Narrator has had ample opportunity, not just as a reader but as a translator, to observe Pandarus's authority, as he exercises it on Troilus, and thus equal opportunity to measure the difference between Troilus's love and idealism, on the one hand (however tainted with narcissism), and Pandarus's cynicism and smug wisdom, on the other (1.1030-40 especially). The Narrator has begun to fear that he might become a Pandarus and a pandar of words who imposes his meaning upon his matter with little or no respect for its original composition. How can he tell a tale already told without treating it the way Pandarus treats Troilus and Criseyde?

The measure of the Narrator's fear in the Proem to Book 2 is his self-consciousness of his retreat into the pose of translator. He is now searching for security--no longer secure (2.8-21; emphasis added):

O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
Thow be my speed from this forth, and my Muse,
To ryme wel
this book til I have do;
Me nedeth here noon other art to use.

Forwhi to every lovere I me excuse,
That of no sentement I this endite,
But out of Latyn in my tonge it write.
{124/125}

Wherfore I nyl have neither thank ne blame
Of al this werk, but prey yow mekely,
Disblameth me, if any word be lame,
For as myn auctour seyde, so sey I,
Ek though I speeke of love unfelyngly,
No wondre is, for it nothyng of newe is;
A blynd man kan nat juggen wel in hewis.
Self-evidently, the Narrator protests too much. "Me nedeth here noon other art to use" suggests definite awareness of other art, while the disavowal of "sentement" intimates at least enough "sentement" to deplore its alleged absence (as much could also be argued of his claim that he speaks of love "unfelyngly"). The Narrator, having observed how Pandarus imposes his auctoritas upon Troilus-- how he adds to the latter's amorous predisposition the metaphoricity of fin'amors --has begun to fear that he might impose his auctoritas upon his matter, perhaps in the form of "other art" or through the absence of "sentement." Hence the insistence on the pose of translator. If he is "only" a translator, then (he can reason) he need not and will not add anything to the original. If his version is rigorously faithful to the original, then he is completely in the clear. Note, in this regard, the emphasis "to ryme wel": "ryme" is the most mechanical, least ideological or "sentimental" feature of the poet's craft, even more so if the poet is only a translator. Mere "ryming" can hardly be guilty of adding to or imposing upon the original. And the Narrator is eager to be an innocent instrument--merely a historian (i.e., servant of Cleo)--at most only "sorwful" (line 10), for that, after all, is only decorum. And yet he is aware already that he cannot be innocent (2.22-37):
Ye knowe ek that in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yet thei spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
Ek for to wynnen love in sondry ages,
In sondry londes, sondry ben usages.

And forthi if it happe in any wyse,
That here be any lovere in this place
That herkneth, as the storie wol devise,
How Troilus com to his lady grace,
And thenketh, "so nold I nat love purchace,"
Or wondreth on his speche or his doynge,
I noot; but it is me no wonderynge.
{125/126}
For every wight which that to Rome went
Halt nat o path, or alwey o manere.
To measure the change in the Narrator which these extraordinary qualifications and hesitations register, the stanzas must be compared with his introduction of Troilus's first lyric in 1.393-98 (emphasis added):
And of his song naught only the sentence,--
As writ myn auctour called Lollius,
But pleinly, save oure tonges difference,
I dar wel seyn, in al that Troilus
Seyde in his song, loo! every word right thus
As I shal seyn.
The vexed issue of Lollius to one side, these lines are remarkable for the display of confidence the Narrator indulges in them. Here "oure tonges difference" is a mere trifle, mentioned only to be summarily ignored, so that the Narrator can fairly exult in the transparency of his translation--"loo! every word right thus . . . pleinly." Both tone and diction suggest a complete lack of anxiety about the practice and the results of translation; the Narrator is an "innocent instrument."

How different matters are in the Proem to Book 2. Here the Narrator can not ignore time, "a thousand yeer," nor can he be innocent of it. The "prys" of words changes and so also the "forme of speche." Consequently, if he translates with absolute fidelity, the Narrator will be translating words whose value or "prys" is, at least in part, lost; and thus time itself will impose on his story. By the very act of translating, the Narrator, however faithful-- indeed, because faithful--names and marks the story as old and thus adds strangeness to it: his presence is the story's absence. And inevitably, because of the strangeness, someone, perhaps many, will remark, "`so nold I nat love purchace'": he or they would not pay such a "prys" for love--he or they would not "purchace" love with such old, strange words. Here emerges the importance of the economic terms "prys" and "purchace." Economics is preeminently the sphere of relativity (as in measurement), of subjectivity, and of the will in its private desires.2Hence, used of language and love and the language of love, such terms insist on the residue of arbitrariness and subjectivity-- affectio and complacibilitas--in both language and love. The "prys" of words changes because the market for them, namely, the human construction of meaning, changes.3The "prys" of a word may come to seem no value at all, only "nyce" and "straunge." Moreover, people "purchace" love because love is exchange, and in love the will is always giving up one thing for another; love is structurally a transaction in which people purchase according to affectio and {126/127} complacibilitas. The words "prys" and "purchace," then, suggest the Narrator's growing awareness of the necessary residue of self in language and love and the language of love. Even the translator desires to translate, and with that desire the self imposes on the text, whereupon the question of narcissism in reference inevitably arises, Why bother awakening the old text and its strange usages? What is the "prys" of a translation? Can the story be told by a native of fourteenth- century England without the imposition upon it of his values and perspectives and desires?

If time raises such questions and forces the Narrator thus to realize that he cannot be innocent, so does space (2.38-49):

Ek in som lond were al the game shent,
If that they ferde in love as men don here,
As thus, in opyn doyng or in chere,
In visityng, in forme, or seyde hire sawes;
Forthi men seyn, ecch contree hath his lawes.

Ek scarsly ben ther in this place thre
That have in love seid lik, and don, in al;
For to thi purpos this may liken the,
And the right nought, yet al is seid or schal;
Ek som men grave in tree, some in ston wal,
As it bitit; but syn I have bigonne,
Myn auctour shal I folwen, if I konne.
Mutability is as spatial as it is temporal: "ecch contree hath his lawes" but also "ecch contree hath his lawes." So it is that law and potentially irrational subjectivity sit side by side. "Ek som men grave in tree, some in ston wal," and some, as the Narrator is about to observe, in human hearts (2.1241). Faced with such bewildering variety and relativity, and the consequent doubt, and having already observed Pandarus's disturbingly easy presumption of omniscience and of deific control of his matter, the Narrator concludes his proem on a note of hesitancy and almost fear. Suggesting that the only reason to go on with the story is that he has begun it, the Narrator ends by clearly expressing doubt whether he can translate his original faithfully: "Myn auctour shal I folwen, if I konne." The very assumption of the pose of translator has ended in grave doubt about the possibility of translation--not unpredictably, since to take translation seriously is to be forced to realize that the translator is necessarily a guilty instrument because of time and space. The Narrator knows now, or at least can guess, that the task of purging the Pandarus in him is going to be an arduous one, even as he also knows, and probably with certainty, that a pose is by definition insecure. {127/128}

His awareness so much more sensitive, the Narrator next enters his story on a level with its characters and not as if from a superior, omniscient position. In fact, he has begun to fall a little in love with Criseyde (Donaldson 1972:65-83). But rather than conceal this fact, he exposes it by openly defending her (2.666-79):

Now myghte som envious jangle thus:
"This was a sodeyn love; how myght it be
That she so lightly loved Troilus,
Right for the firste syghte, ye, parde?"
Now whoso seith so, mote he nevere ythe!
For every thyng, a gynnyng hath it nede
Er al be wrought, withowten any drede.

For I sey nought that she so sodeynly
Yaf hym hire love, but that she gan enclyne
To like hym first, and I have told yow whi;
And after that, his manhod and his pyne
Made love withinne hire herte for to myne,
For which, by proces and by good servyse,
He gat hire love, and in no sodeyn wyse.
Given that Diomede is "sodeyn" (5.1024), the threefold repetition and negation of "sodeyn" in these two stanzas (lines 667, 673, 679) suggests that the Narrator is making a concerted effort to remember him and to differentiate Criseyde and Troilus from him. Moreover, and more important, the Narrator comments directly, without subterfuge, openly taking his position ("For I sey nought") while going out of his way to notice that of the opposition ("som envious"). In short, he does not pretend to a translator's or "rymer's" putative objectivity, nor does he shrink from open "sentement." At the same time, he has abandoned the pose of authorial omniscience, knowing it now for a pose and a very insecure one. Instead, recognizing the inner life of his text and its obscure though nonetheless certain demands on his affections, he has entered the text, as much character as Narrator. And this appearance of subjectivity, this extroversion of himself in the text, helps save him from a narcissistic version of the text.

Just how it helps save him we can learn from a consideration of Antigone's lyric (2.827-76) and the role it plays in Criseyde's decision to love. Scholars have recognized the importance of this lyric and the many others which punctuate the poem.4Here, therefore, I will be selective in my emphases. I am most interested in the valorization of "entente" in the lyric and in the remarks which follow it, for it is the problem of intentionality with which the Nar- {128/129} rator is grappling. As we know, "entente" in Troilus and Criseyde is rarely ever "playn," but sometimes it is, and can be, good. And just such an occasion Antigone's lyric illustrates. The opening of the lyric insists on the importance of "entente" in love: "`O Love, to whom I have and shal / Ben humble subgit, trewe in myn entente'" (2.827-28); and the intellectual center of the lyric carries this insistence to its moral and philosophical conclusion (2.851-54):

"This is the righte lif that I am inne,
To flemen alle manere vice and synne;
This dooth me so to vertu for t'entende,
That day by day I in my wille amende."
This is fin'amors at its most "fine," and the rhyme "entende-amende" beautifully captures the ideal to which fin'amors aspired. Before it lapsed into sterile formalism, such as Dante devastatingly censures in Francesca's amorous rhetoric (Inf. 5.100-07; 121-38),5fin'amors inscribed the possibility of human behavior as decorous and as beautiful and as ordered as the form of a lyric. The virtuosity of lyric form and the "vertu" of human behavior approximated each other, interpenetrated each other. But eventually virtuosity consumed virtue. Hence Dante's palinodes to fin'amors lyricism; hence, as I have already argued here and elsewhere, Chaucer's repudiation of this mode too (Shoaf 1981a:179-85).

But if Chaucer repudiates the sterile formalism of fin'amors, he does not categorically reject the possibility of purified intent, the possibility of transcendence. He leaves open the possibility of a fine amors and an amended will. When Antigone finishes singing her lyric, Criseyde asks, obviously in wonder, "`Now nece. . . / Who made this song now with so good entente?'" (2.877-78; emphasis added). Criseyde feels the goodness of the "entente" of the author of this song, and apparently her feeling is wholly justified, for Antigone answers, in three momentous lines (2.880-82; emphasis added):

"Madame, iwys, the goodlieste mayde
Of gret estat in al the town of Troye,
And let hire lif in moste honour and joye."
The maker of this song was a good woman, who led her life in honor and joy: "`Forsothe, so it semeth by hire song,'" exclaims Criseyde. The song, in other words, is evidence of virtuous intent and trustworthy evidence at that--we have no reason to doubt Antigone. Chaucer goes out of his way, then, to insist, within the fiction, that there is here no discrepancy between the intent of the maker and the formal expression of that intent in the made thing. The lyric is not guilty, that is, of any form of falsification: it harbors no covert designs upon {129/130} the life of another. To be sure, neither is the lyric innocent of narcissism: the woman who made it desired to make it and her desires everywhere influence it; but her desires do influence it--that is, they are visible--and therefore the lyric is not a falsification. She, the maker of this lyric, is not, in other words, a Pandarus or a Master Adam. And her lyric is not a lie, either in the rhetorical sense of a "bella menzogna" or in the moral sense of mendacity.

Chaucer has succeeded in representing a true representation. The lyric is a true representation of its maker's character and intent. Hence it cannot be accused of false transcendence or of propagandizing false transcendence. This lyric, in other words, cannot be guilty of falsifying another's life; on the contrary, only those who hear it can be guilty of such misapplication. The audience can fail to perceive the unrepeatability, the distinctive uniqueness, of the lyric's reference. And just such a failure is, Chaucer insists, Criseyde's. She asks Antigone (2.885-96; emphasis added):

"Lord, is ther swych blisse among
Thise loveres, as they konne faire endite?"
"Ye, wis," quod fresshe Antigone the white,
"For alle the folk that han or ben on lyve
Ne konne wel the blisse of love discryve.

"But wene ye that every wrecche woot
The parfite blisse of love? Why, nay, iwys!
They wenen all be love, if oon be hoot.
Do wey, do wey, they woot no thyng of this!
Men mosten axe at seyntes if it is
Aught fair in hevene (why? for they kan telle),
And axen fendes is it foul in helle.
"
In other words, direct personal experience--"`why? for they kan telle'"--is necessary for a true representation, and even then, that representation is an individual, personal version of the truth which may not apply in every case. (cf. LGWP F1-9). But "Criseyde unto that purpos naught answerde" (2.897). Criseyde, because she is already under the mesmerizing, "ad placitum" influence of Pandarus's authority, pays no heed to the warning implicit in Antigone's opinion. Rather (2.899-903; emphasis added):
every word which that she of hire herde,
She gan to prenten in hire herte faste,
And ay gan love hire lasse for t'agaste
Than it dide erst, and synken in hire herte,
That she wex somwhat able to converte.
Criseyde prints in her own heart another's personal version of the truth of {130/131} love; she makes her own heart another's book. She misreads. Even as did Paolo and Francesca.6She has made another the author in and of her heart. But this is not the fault of the lyric or of its author; so much Chaucer has made clear. Language is not the culprit.7Poetry is not guilty (though the disillusioned envy the lucidity of its form). The culprit is, on the one hand, Pandarus, the falsifier, who conceals his narcissism as he designs on his niece's affections and fears. On the other hand, the culprit is Criseyde, partly complicit with her uncle and partly disposed by temperament to the quasi-religious ambience of fin'amors lyricism. The culprits, in other words, are a deceitful author and an impressionable (and for the moment at least) unwary audience.

Chaucer the poet would stand up to and stand up against both. The Narrator is slowly recognizing that he is just such an audience of the poem he is translating as is Criseyde of Antigone's lyric; and as this recognition increases, he struggles against the tendency to "print" the poem in his own heart, finally achieving the distance of the last two books.8At the same time, if he is audience, he is also translator, and, as we have seen, he is already sharply cognizant of the threat of the pandar's poetics. He confronts, then, a twofold peril, of becoming a false author and an irresponsible (literally "ir-responsible") audience. And the way to avoid both sides of the peril is, in fact, to respond, to answer the text back (as Criseyde did not) so that, on the one hand, his instrumentality is always visible, to us as well as to himself, even as, on the other hand, his feelings are inscribed and tested.

But these are, in fact, the same phenomenon. A responsible audience--one that pays heed to what it hears rather than merely "printing" it off--is already an author, visible and true. Such an audience, in other words, by thinking about what it hears, contributes to the meaning of what it hears and thus authors it, in part. Just so, a visible, true author is visible because he is a responsible audience: he is trying to respond to the text, its inner life, in his own terms without at the same time merely imposing those terms on the text. Such is the kind of author- audience Chaucer wishes to be; such is the kind of author-audience he wishes us, his readers, also to be. Hence the strategy, here in the Troilus and supremely in The Canterbury Tales, of provoking the reader, of drawing him into the text and making him part of it (principally by means of the frame in The Canterbury Tales), thus problematizing his response and forcing him, in effect, to become coauthor of the text. This strategy will be my chief concern in the Introduction to Part Three. Here I want to emphasize that in Book 2 of the Troilus we already see Chaucer, in the character of the Narrator and in the (non)response of Criseyde to Antigone's lyric, articulating his theory of mediation. That theory, besides a position on the necessary morality of the author, also includes a position on the necessary {131/132} responsibility of the audience. If the author is not a falsifier, if he and his desires are visible in the construction of his work, as in the case of the maker of Antigone's lyric, then the audience is responsible for its construction of the work. Chaucer, throughout his career in poetry, sought to make himself as visible as possible. Indeed, we see him everywhere--he is no Pandarus with "wordes whyte" (3.1567)--and if his visibility often seems to hide him, that is only because we, the audience, are not doing our part.


The Narrator began in formulaic security from which he could presume omniscient certainty. By Book 2 he has abandoned the security and lost the certainty. Henceforth, he must feel his way. In Book 3, for example, he feels the might of Love and says as much in the Proem (3.8-11). And since he is now feeling his way, he further prays to Love: "Ye in my naked herte sentement / Inhielde, and do me shewe of thy swetnesse" (3.43-44). The Narrator is now completely open or exposed ("naked herte"), attempting no defenses, and he will interfere with his story, but interfere with it openly. His additions and comments will always be as visible as he can make them, for to conceal them or to let them lie hidden would be to falsify the text. Unlike Pandarus, whose words are "whyte" (3.1567), the Narrator will obviously color the text with his opinion: his rhetoric will always display its colors (cf. Serres 1982:160, 194, on the "white domino"). If Venus knows "al thilke covered qualitee / Of thynges" (3.31-32), he, as her "clerk," will attempt to share in, and to share, her knowledge. Since hers is the heaven of rhetoric in Dante's Paradiso-- and Chaucer's word "covered" probably answers dialectically to Dante's insistence on Venus's "chiarezza" and its significance for rhetoric9--he the rhetorician will try to use rhetoric not only to "clarify" the covered but also to expose the covering. Rhetoric, like love (and cloudy Venus), fraught with desire, covers even as it uncovers; like love, also, it makes apparent incompatibles "jo" (3.33)--one thinks immediately of "concordia discors," for example.10 The "clerk" of Venus, then, is in a peculiarly favorable position for exposition and composition of certain fundamental mysteries. But it is very much a position of desire--desire as trivial as curiosity, as vicious as voyeurism, or as profound as the thirst for Being. And because of his desire the Narrator is a Narcissus, but unlike Pandarus he is not narcissistic, because his desires are always visible in and separable from the "gold" of his text. If the Narrator colors the text with his rhetoric, so as to change its appearance of tragedy, the original hues nonetheless shine through, the original character asserts itself--this is not his "comedye." When the time comes, in fact, the Narrator will even expose Criseyde to infamy, much as he has come to love her. In the end, he will let the story tell itself. {132/133}

The most compelling illustrations in Book 3 of the Narrator's openness, vulnerability, and growing pains are his last appearances in the book. The first of these may well be the Archimedean point of Chaucer's theory of mediation (3.1317-36):

O blisful nyght, of hem so longe isought,
How blithe unto hem bothe two thow weere!
Why nad I swich oon with my soule ybought,
Ye, or the leeste joie that was theere?
Awey, thow foule daunger and thow feere,
And lat hem in this hevene blisse dwelle,
That is so heigh that al ne kan I telle!

But soth is, though I kan nat tellen al,
As kan myn auctour, of his excellence,
Yet have I seyd, and God toforn, and shal
In every thyng the grete of his sentence;
And if that ich, at Loves reverence,
Have any word in eched for the beste,
Doth therwithal right as youreselven leste.

For myne wordes, heere and every part,
I speke hem alle under correccioun
Of yow that felyng han in loves art,
And putte it al in youre discrecioun
To encresse or maken dymynucioun
Of my langage, and that I yow biseche.
Note first of all the Narrator's incriminatory exclamation of desire at lines 1319-20; he is completely immersed in the text, seeing himself in it, and his narcissism borders on voyeurism. And yet, the spontaneity and innocence, perhaps naivete, with which he exposes himself deflects cynical sneers and prudish remonstrances alike. He is certainly not trying to falsify or to betray. Quite the contrary, he goes on to confess his inadequacy to his original; and since there can be no more certain way to call attention to his interference with the text than to say that he is interfering with it, the reading of Gamma, which positions the two stanzas here at lines 1324 and 1331 rather than at lines 1401-14 seems to me to be much more likely the correct one (Root 1926:487). These stanzas in this position mark with a sure touch the growing awareness of the Narrator: that his instrumentality is necessarily narcissistic, that his translation is necessarily subjective and biased. He has already learned that he cannot translate faithfully or literally; he cannot recreate the "excellence" of the original and its author. Here and now, further, he openly admits that {133/134} there will always be something omitted (see also 3.491-504). Hence the importance of Beta's reading, or "the grete of" (line 1327) as opposed to "al hooly his" of Gamma: in this reading, the Narrator insists that he expresses at least the essence or the important part of the original, and thus he acknowledges, as in his new awareness he must, his change of the original. His next remark also justifies Beta's reading, since it follows naturally from it. Not only does he do no more than say "the grete of his /the "auctour's"/ sentence," he also "in eches" words. So far from an innocent instrument, then, he is guilty of direct addition to his text. And yet, "at Loves reverence." His addition is not "mondiglia"--he is not a Master Adam--because he openly confesses the addition. He is guilty, then- -what translator is not?--but by putting his words "under correccioun" (line 1332) of his audience, he expiates the guilt, saying in effect: together we bear the burden of making the story and of making it new. Note, also, that Chaucer's words, "to encresse or maken dymynucioun / Of my langage" (lines 1335-36) obviously recall their technical Latin rhetorical counterparts, amplificatio and abbreviatio.11 It is as if Chaucer assumed an audience of rhetoricians--an assumption he probably could, in fact, have made. Be that as it may, the consciousness of "art" here is deep and of sweeping consequence. Moreover, the Narrator is insisting on the public, communal structure of his medium. Language, like money, is public property, and in insisting on as much, the Narrator clears himself of the charge of private, self seeking narcissism. In these stanzas, then, Chaucer involves his audience in his text, inviting them to participate in his authority, in such a way that we can already recognize what will be the mature authority of, say, "turne over the leef and chese another tale" (GP A 3177). Again, we know, the Narrator is no Pandarus or pandar.

But the difference between him and Pandarus is most visible at the end of the "blisful nyght," when he refuses to write what Pandarus, were the pen at that moment in his hand, would expansively indulge (3.1574-82; emphasis added):

With that his arm al sodeynly he thriste
Under hire nekke, and at the laste hire kyste.

I passe al that which chargeth nought to seye.
What! God foryaf his deth, and she al so
Foryaf, and with here uncle gan to pleye,
For other cause was ther noon than so.
But of this thing right to the effect to go,
Whan tyme was, hom to here hous she wente,
And Pandarus hath fully his entente.
{134/135}
We do not know what the original, the "auctour's" text, said; the Narrator does not translate it. But we can guess, and, guessing, we know why he does not translate it. The Narrator does not translate here--he passes over, instead--because he chooses not to report Pandarus's and Criseyde's behavior. He does not suppress it--"And Pandarus hath fully his entente"--let us make no mistake about that. He communicates what happened, but he does not report or describe or detail what happened. He interferes consciously and purposefully with his original; so far from "whyte" (3.1567), his words are obviously colored. We know what he feels-- something like a combination of reluctant love for Criseyde and open distaste for Pandarus--and we accept that feeling because the Narrator neither whitewashes nor indulges in lurid colors. Quite the contrary, he lets the story tell itself, even though it has most likely already begun to hurt him.
But this honesty--perhaps I can venture to say, authenticity--is costing him increasing amounts of pain. In the last two books of the poem the Narrator has gradually and to some extent tearingly to let go of his affection for Criseyde, even as he has to let go of the story. His affection for Criseyde is narcissistic: he desires so to exonerate her time and again because he desires to love her. But he cannot finally bring himself to falsify the text and the story which it tells. Hence his passionate hope that that story is the truth (4.13-21; emphasis added):
And now my penne, allas! with which I write,
Quaketh for drede of that I moste endite.

For how Criseyde Troilus forsook,
Or at the leeste, how that she was unkynde,
Moot hennesforth ben matere of my book,
As writen folk thorugh which it is in mynde.
Allas! that they sholde evere cause fynde
To speke hire harm, and if they on hire lye,
Iwis,
hemself sholde han the vilanye.
As important as the Narrator's narcissistic (but hardly unself-conscious) reservation--"or at the leeste, how that she was unkynde"--is his awareness that auctoritas is also on trial. It is a crucial measure of his growth and inchoate conversion that he will now challenge his "auctours." He is still following them--the challenge would make little sense were he not--but now he is a much more conscious instrument and no mere "rymer." Now he recognizes the possibilities of error and even of falsehood in his sources--"if they on hire {135/136} lye"--and now, as he feels his way through the story, he is also sensitive to how easily he too could lapse into falsification.

The risk of such a lapse is very great midway through Book 4 when he attempts to convey Criseyde's sorrowful complaint (4.799-805; emphasis added):

How myghte it evere yred ben or ysonge,
The pleynte that she made in hire destresse?
I not; but, as for me, my litel tonge,
If I discryven wolde hire hevynesse,
It sholde make hire sorwe seme lesse
Than that it was, and childisshly deface
Hire heigh compleynte, and therefore ich it pace.
It would be too much to claim that the Narrator anticipates Edgar's Law--"The worst is not / So long as we can say, 'This is the worst'" (King Lear 4.1.28-29)--but, at the same time, these lines must embarrass the theory of a stumble-footed Narrator. If he could describe her "hevynesse" it would not be her "hevynesse"; if he could utter it, he would obviously miss it. In fact, his description would "deface" her complaint. The connotation of falsification in "deface" attracts the Dantesque understanding of narcissism to the Narrator's speech; the Narrator's anxiety is the anxiety of one who desires to tell the truth. But the truth at this moment is slippery indeed, so slippery, in fact, that falsification or defacement--change of any sort for his own selfish ends--is an ominous threat for the Narrator. He can read, as well as we, the incriminatory duplicities in Criseyde's long complaint (4.757-98). "`How sholde a plaunte or lyves creature / Lyve withouten his kynde noriture'" (4.767-68)--but a plant or living creature can find food almost any where. "`Thanne shal no mete or drynke come in me / Til I my soule out of my breste unshethe'" (4.775-76)--and what kind of soul is a sword? Similar objections and/or questions could be raised of Criseyde's likening Troilus and herself to Orpheus and Erudice (4.789-91). But the most disturbing element of her complaint is the recourse to the language of religion (4.778-84; emphasis added):
"And, Troilus, my clothes everychon
Shul blake ben in tokenyng, herte swete,
That I am as out of this world agon,
That wont was yow to setten in quiete;
And of myn ordre, ay til deth me mete,
The observaunce evere, in youre absence,
Shal sorwe ben, compleynt, and abstinence."
{136/137}
It is a little, if just a little, too facile. She lapses back into the self-image of a nun or an anchoress with the kind of ease that suggests posturing or, at least, a rather superficial consideration of the implications of her words. And the Narrator as well as we can hear the potential for self-deception; he as well as we can see the potential for histrionics. Hence the rigor of his refusal to "discryven" her "hevynesse." If he described it, he would in fact "childisshly deface" it since he would almost certainly fall into excusing such excess with adolescent fervor.12 He must be on guard, he knows, against his inclination to exonerate Criseyde--she is, after all, we know, very attractive, very dear. Therefore, he reports her complaint, complete with its incriminatory duplicities, acknowledges his own predicament, and in such a way as to involve us, his readers, in it and Criseyde's self-betrayal alike. Thus he manages to resist the narcissistic impulse, without pretending to pseudo-objectivity, by resisting falsification of his text--he manages, in short, to be objective by being thoroughly subjective. "Ars adeo latet arte sua" (Met. 10.252): just as art is hidden under art, concealed by its very appearance, so the Narrator's subjectivity is concealed by so obviously being subjectivity; and thus he achieves objectivity. We do see Criseyde for who and what she is.

After he has heard Criseyde's boast about how easily she will "converte" her father (4.1412), the Narrator's auctoritas-- which is, of course, what we are experiencing--continues to increase (4.1415-21):

And treweliche, as writen wel I fynde,
That al this thyng was seyd of good entente;
And that hire herte trewe was and kynde
Towardes hym, and spak right as she mente,
And that she starf for wo neigh, whan she wente,
And was in purpos evere to be trewe:
Thus writen they that of hire werkes knewe.
From the by now problematic "entente" to the crucial "thus writen they that of hire werkes knewe," this passage suggests the Narrator's increasing powers of interpretation and independent decision. He sees, and sees more than his own desires in the text. He sees Criseyde's fears (4.1363), her presumptuousness (4.1395), her doubts, her calculation (4.1373-79: like father, like daughter?), her love for Troilus (4.1414), her purpose (4.1420), which nevertheless proves little more than a pose; and seeing all this, showing it to us, he begins to let go, to decide where he stands, to take his position. He knows that otherwise he cannot finish the story. He is undeceived.

The undeceived, let us hasten to note, are not necessarily cynics, even if irony is the usual slant on the world in Chaucer's texts. In proof of which is the Narrator's conclusion of Book 4 (4.1695-1701): {137/138}

For mannes hed ymagynen ne kan,
N'entendement considere, ne tonge telle
The cruele peynes of this sorwful man,
That passen every torment down in helle.
For whan he saugh that she ne myghte dwelle,
Which that his soule out of his herte rente,
Withouten more, out of the chaumbre he wente.
The allusion to Saint Paul--"Quod oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascendit, quae praeparavit Deus iis qui diligunt illum" (1 Cor. 2 9)--seems clearly audible. To my knowledge, it is the first overt quotation by the Narrator of a Christian authority in the poem.13 As such, it signals the Narrator's assertion of his identity as a Christian poet who is translating a pagan text. He has almost broken now his narcissistic fascination with Criseyde and with the love between her and Troilus. He has clearly seen that, if they love each other very much, they also contain each within himself and herself the potential for tragedy--Troilus in the extremity of his idealism, Criseyde in the opaque complexity of her fear. He knows that, because of this tragic dimension to the story, he can no longer affirm the romance which Pandarus has written. Hence he chooses to speak with purposeful irony.

And his choice, his purpose, is as important as his irony. He has so taken his position as to make a choice. He chooses to invite us, thereupon, to look with him from his position, that of the Christian translator-poet, "over" or "behind" Troilus to the larger paradigm of Troilus's experience where we see the painful and indeed tragic discrepancy between experience and paradigm. The paradigm of Troilus's experience of love is something like the martyr's self-immolation in and for the love of God or the Good.14 Troilus loves Criseyde, the Narrator's allusion to Saint Paul implies, as a person ought to love God. Henc e-- and this is very important--the Narrator's irony is as laudatory as it is vituperative. This typically complex Chaucerian irony suggests that, if the Narrator has taken his stand or position on the story, it is not one of facile or reductive moralism. Troilus's love may be directed to the wrong object, but it is still an extraordinary, a beautiful, and a meaningful love. If his love could be directed toward God (of course, it cannot be) it would be such as Saint Paul says is rewarded with things which exceed human comprehension. But directed toward Criseyde, Troilus's martyr-like love is rewarded with "peynes" which exceed human comprehension.15 The irony points the discrepancy between the objects of love. At the same time, however, the allusion to Paul affirms the grandeur, the wholeness and martyrlike intensity of Troilus's love. The Narrator is no puritan scoffer at this world's love. {138/139} Unlike the puritan, he does not secretly love the world so much that he must vilify it. On the contrary, if he cannot affirm the romance which Pandarus has written, he can celebrate the love of Troilus for Criseyde; if he cannot excuse Criseyde, he can imagine salvation for Troilus. As he asserts his identity with his irony, as he takes the story into his own hands, the Narrator begins to find his meaning in it, but only because he has let the story tell itself, thus to discover in it, sometimes painfully, its independent meaningfulness. The story possesses a surplus of meaning which the Narrator knows now he can never circumscribe; he can only take his position.


This he does, without further reservation, throughout Book 5. A very good example is his "effictio" of Criseyde (5.813-26; emphasis added):16
And, save hire browes joyneden yfere,
Ther nas no lak, in aught I kan espien.
But for to speken of hire eyen cleere,
Lo, trewely, they writen that hire syen,
That Paradis stood formed in hire yën.
And with hire riche beaute evere more
Strof love in hire ay, which of hem was more.

She sobre was, ek symple, and wys withal,
The best ynorisshed ek that myghte be,
And goodly of hire speche in general,
Charitable, estatlich, lusty, and fre;
Ne nevere mo ne lakked hire pite;
Tendre-herted, slydynge of corage;
But trewely, I kan nat telle hire age.
These justly famous lines are very important to understanding the whole poem. My only concern, a narrow one, is to point out how visible the Narrator is. Several passages in these two stanzas demonstrate that he has a position which he does not hesitate to take. There is, from his position, one "lak" in Criseyde's beauty anyway; it is a matter worth noting, from his position, that he (and we) do not know Criseyde's age; from his position, it is important to cite the authorities who saw Criseyde's paradisal eyes. Whatever the Narrator's precise position is, the effect of his taking it is that he becomes the measure by which or beside which we see Criseyde's beauty. Structurally, then, the effect is like that which Dante achieves in Paradiso: there he is the measure by which we see, and knowing that, we discount his measure in order to imagine the immeasurableness of Heaven. Now, Chaucer's Narrator is not trying, of course, to describe Heaven, but he is inviting us to discount {139/140} his measure--to allow for the narcissism of his instrumentality--for only by doing so will we reach, each of us, his or her own position on Criseyde's beauty. Rather than provide an illusory verisimilitude, according to which we could assume "this is Criseyde," the Narrator positions the "effictio" relative to himself, insisting on his own eye, and thus he compels us to judge what is important to us, over against him, about Criseyde--eyebrows or "corage" or sobriety or what have you. In this way Criseyde remains a self always exceeding characterization--she remains, that is, irreducibly linguistic17--and her meaningfulness comes to derive from our position on the language of the story. Because we see the Narrator take his position, we know we must take ours. And we feel Criseyde to be a living self because we have taken each of us his or her position.18 Criseyde is not the echo of any reader.

Unless, of course, his or her position is an imposition. In that case, Criseyde can do no more than echo what that reader says she is. As distinct from such a narcissistic reader, the Narrator has become someone who tries to interpret, to understand, to fathom Criseyde--all of which implies his willingness to treat her as more than his echo, as instead a living being. Extraordinary evidence of this willingness is found in his interpretation of why she decided to stay with Diomede (5.1021-29; emphasis added):

Criseyde unto hire bedde wente
Inwith hire fadres faire brighte tente,

Retornyng in hire soule ay up and down
The wordes of this sodeyn Diomede,
His grete estat, and perel of the town,
And that she was allone and hadde nede
Of frendes help; and thus bygan to brede
The cause whi, the sothe for to telle,
That she took fully purpos for to dwelle.
If all this elaborate explaining incriminates Criseyde (as, I take it, Donaldson would argue),19 note that it also posits every extenuating circumstance imaginable. The essential point is that the "cause whi" is complex, obscure, and in need of interpretation. Although the Narrator feels that he is telling the truth--"the sothe for to telle"--he could have it all wrong. He even leaves himself a margin of error in the verb "to brede": if the cause began to "spring" or to "bloom," then necessarily it had more growing and thus more changing to undergo, and this later growth and change may have complicated the cause beyond what the Narrator knows or can know. The cause, in fact, implies a human self which another human self must interpret. The Narrator has so far {140/141} transcended his earlier narcissism that he no longer approaches Criseyde as an enshrined object of desire but as a human being who, like other human beings, is mysterious, obscure, mutable. On the one hand, this is to say that he is disillusioned, that he has suffered a loss; on the other hand, it is to say that he has matured, that he has come to a fuller measure of understanding about being human as well as human being.

Both the disillusionment and the maturity, the loss and the understanding, mark the Narrator's subsequent interpretations of Criseyde's behavior. Out of his experience he has come to know himself; and, I suppose, in a sense, like Narcissus, he has died. Certainly, he has changed--converted, I would say, from "unliklynesse" (1.16) to understanding of his "unliklynesse." Secure now in his knowledge of himself-- with a security wholly different from that of the formulas with which he began the translation--he looks on Criseyde without deception of himself or of others. On the one hand, now he chastises her behavior when it is repugnant to him: "And ek a broche--and that was litel nede-- / That Troilus was, she yaf this Diomede" (5.1040-41; emphasis added).20 On the other hand, where it is possible, however remotely, to give her the benefit of the doubt, he does not hesitate to do so: "Men seyn--I not--that she yaf hym hire herte" (5.1050). The phrase "I not" is bittersweet: it is the most the Narrator can say or do--very little, in fact, but he does it anyway. Disillusioned and yet sympathetic, adult and yet concerned, he goes on finally to declare: (5.1093-99):

Ne me ne list this sely womman chyde
Forther than the storye wol devyse.
Hire name, allas! is punysshed so wide,
That for hire gilt it oughte ynough suffise.
And if I myghte excuse hire any wise,
For she so sory was for hire untrouthe,
Iwis, I wolde excuse hire yet for routhe.
The maturity of the Narrator--how "likly" he is for understanding and for sympathy--is evident here. The full measure of his maturity can be taken by the delicate ambiguity of "sely": she is pitiable and unfortunate, yes, but just possibly, at some inscrutable level where we are not authorized to judge, she is innocent.21 We will never know.

All we know for certain is that Criseyde betrayed Troilus: she "falsed" him (5.1053, 1056). "Thus goth the world. God shilde us fro meschaunce, / And every wight that meneth trouthe avaunce!" (5.1434-35). The Narrator's prayer is much to the point. God alone can advance the truth-keeper, for God alone sees the human heart (1 Kings 16.7). The crux is "meneth." The word has surfaced a number of times in Book 5, and first in a couplet which almost {141/142} summarizes the way of falsification in Troilus and Criseyde, the perversion of instrumentality, the introversion of Narcissus: "`I shal fynde a meene, / That she naught wite as yet shal what I mene'" (5.104-105). Diomede's words revel in the fact that means hide meaning, that words conceal even as they reveal, that language is the presence of an absence. When later we hear Criseyde tell him, "`I mene wel'" (5.1004), we can hardly avoid feeling crestfallen and dismayed at the ominous reverberation. And when, finally, she writes to Troilus, "`Th'entente is al, and nat the lettres space'" (5.1630), we see, in all its ugly pettiness, the radical appropriation of instrument to self, such that the instrument no longer has any meaning apart from the self, empty of all communal value, perverted to a private intent--counterfeit: she is hardly Troilus's "frend" (5.1624). To mean not to mean is, the character of Diomede suggests, wicked; to mean well, the character of Criseyde suggests, is simply not enough; to mean the romance between two people, with all its rhetoric and metaphoricity, is, the character of Pandarus suggests, a dangerous presumption of superhuman authority; to mean truth, the character of Troilus suggests, is alone to be fully human--what one means as important as how one means. But, at the same time, to be fully human, the character of the Narrator suggests, is no guarantee of happiness, no warrant for peace, no deed for a home in this world.


Hence the cruel irony, from the Narrator's position, in Troilus's fate. Troilus is a pagan, whose highest god is an inadequate god, the god of philosophy and of philosophers. Consequently, as painful for the Narrator as his disillusionment with Criseyde is his regret for Troilus. Although Troilus apparently enjoys the "pleyn felicite / That is in hevene above" (5.1818-19), he does so at a cost of contempt for this world ("contemptus mundi") so exaggerated as to argue a failure of love from a Christian position.22 And the Narrator's at this moment is a Christian position. The notorious difficulties with the end of the poem which all readers experience can in many, certainly not all, cases be re solved by first recognizing that, at least in the fiction of the poem, a Christian translator is concluding a pagan and philosophical poem whose pagan and philosophical limits are all too clearly visible to him.23 If the story which the Narrator translates is in the end a "tragedye" (5.1786), it is so because its pagan and philosophical vocabulary never transcends feigning (5.1848) to reach the truth of fiction.

Any one sentence explanation of Troilus and Criseyde's genre, such as I have just entered, is bound to distort the poem. But often we must distort, for a moment anyway, so as to see something which, under ordinary conditions, is invisible. The rest of what I have to say assumes that the ending of {142/143} the Troilus is a case of such necessity.

The last six stanzas of the poem, I think we must assume, are a unit apart. They serve, I suggest, to articulate the Narrator's final position on the poem: he finishes his translation of the "Book of Lollius" at line 1827-- Ther as Mercurye sorted him to dwelle"--and proceeds to speak in his own voice his own opinion. At this point the Christian translator assumes more importance than the Christian translator. His position, it is clear, is not an imposition on the story: he has so obviously separated these stanzas from the story that he is inviting us to take his position or leave it or, as some do, psychoanalyze it. Whatever we do, we know that we are now in the fourteenth century, where Gower and Strode are available for criticism of the work; that we are in the presence of a Christian, who to all appearances is a faithful one free of Pharisaism; and that, finally, we are listening to a personal voice unashamed of its own anxieties. These are the data with which to recover the theory of mediation which informs the Narrator's position. That theory, in turn, exposes the inadequacy of Troilus's philosophy and pagan aspirations since they lack precisely a theory of mediation--in particular, a theory which justifies the body as well as the spirit.

The terms of the theory are those Dantesque ones which we have already met in Book 4 (5.1835-48; emphasis added):

O yonge, fresshe folkes, he or she,
In which that love up groweth with youre age,
Repeyreth hom fro worldly vanyte,
And of youre herte up casteth the visage
To thilke God that after his ymage
Yow made, and thynketh al nys but a faire
This world, that passeth soone as floures faire.

And loveth hym, the which that right for love
Upon a crois, oure soules for to beye,
First starf, and roos, and sit in hevene above;
For he nyl falsen no wight, dar I seye,
That wol his herte al holly on hym leye.
And syn he best to love is, and most meke,
What nedeth feynede loves for to seke?
Here the Narrator, remembering the brief emergency of human love, repudiates the pandar's poetics of imposition and falsification. He calls the "yonge, fresshe folkes" away from the narcissism of the love which Pandarus "invents." Rather than see their reflections in such love, they should cast the faces of their hearts up toward the Image of God in which they are made. {143/144} They will then see their reflections, yes, but in a Mirror whose truth excludes all possibility of falsification. Hence, as in the case of Dante, so in theirs: it is Narcissus who looks and must look into the Mirror, but it is not Narcissus who sees himself. That the "yonge, fresshe folkes" can, in fact, realize such reflection Chaucer further confirms by inflecting his exhortation with a Dantesque emphasis on maturity: "In which that love up groweth with youre age." As love grows with the age of the young, it will change, the text intimates, toward a greater maturity; and that maturity will consist partly in the recognition that, while each of us is a Narcissus, none of us ought or needs to be a narcissist: the Narcissus in each of us seeks his image, but he is not necessarily condemned to find his own image. On the contrary, if he casts up the "visage" of his heart--and note well that Chaucer stresses the face, "visage"--he will see his image but see that it is Other; and the auctoritas of that Other certifies that the image is not a "vanyte"-- not an emptiness as was that of Narcissus (Met. 3.435, for example)--but rather "hom," the true and abiding place of the heart. This it does because it is the auctoritas of the greatest love there is, that of self-sacrifice, the opposite of narcissism. The love of the Crucified Image does not "falsen" the image of any individual human because He, Christ, already owns that image and, indeed, suffered crucifixion to "beye" back or redeem it from the Devil.24 Here emerges the crucial importance of "faire" (5.1840) which, as Siegfried Wenzel amply demonstrates (1976:150-51 nn. 42-46), must, in its primary sense, mean "marketplace"--"and thynketh al nys but a marketplace / This world." The young people should realize that in the marketplace of this world, where everything is as evanescent as a flower, the negotiations of humankind inevitably involve falsification; and if they would spare themselves the pains of this falsification, they must turn themselves to the One Merchant and the One Moneyer who "nyl falsen no wight" because every "wight" is His. Why should he falsify what He already owns?

Hence the logic of the exclamation, "What nedeth feynede loves for to seke?" If one loves the Image of God first and foremost, one resigns oneself up to Him. Owned by Him, one is free to be one's own authority in everything else. "Love God and be your own authority" might be a fair paraphrase of Chaucer's meaning. Become one's own authority, the love and the life one then makes may be a fiction, but they need not be feigned. They need not, in other words, be invented by some other authority--a Pandarus, for example--nor need they be invented from any prior code or set of rules, such as fin'amors. Rather they may be made, in this event, after one's own image, the Image of God, than which there is no greater Love (John 3.16). Then, unlike the "tragedye" of the "feynede love" of Troilus and Criseyde, the fiction of {144/145} this love and this life can be a "comedye." Precisely where the Crucified and Resurrected Image is the source of Love, there can be no "tragedye," as Dante profoundly understood and as Chaucer with equal profundity but different style also understood. "Comedye," as The Canterbury Tales amply demonstrate, is the highest fiction because it embodies the highest truth of fiction, or Life, even life after death.

We see now that Chaucer's theory of mediation, which informs the Narrator's position on the book which he has just translated, assumes that there is only one Means which is also Its own End. This assumption Chaucer shares with Dante. This medium, the Verbum, will falsify no one because He is Alpha and Omega, Origin and Closure--the one Means that cannot be consumed by or for the End. Without Him the Narcissus in each person can only degenerate into narcissism, or the frantic and doomed search for the image of the self in mortalia and visibilia. But Troilus and Criseyde are precisely without Him. Instead of His mediation, they have only Pandarus--"`swich a meene / As maken wommen unto men to comen'" (3.254-55). To be sure, once he has brought them together, they find in between them a meaning which exceeds his auctoritas so far that he cannot understand it. But that meaning is immanent, condemned to presence, inseparable from the body and from the body's relentless metaphoricity (substitution), so much so that when Criseyde's body is translated from Trojan into Greek her "`name of trouthe / Is now fordon'" (5.1686-87), and she and Troilus lose the meaning which was between them. Everything is lost in translation. Without a Mediator and a theory of mediation that can redeem mutability and change--the body, in short--Troilus and Criseyde can invest their meaning only in what is bound to fail them--the body; without a permanent Image and an Image of Permanence, they impress their images upon impermanence with the inevitable results of loss and death. The Narrator does not condemn Troilus and Criseyde--he is far less damning than Troilus, in fact (see 5 1823)--he condemns rather "feynede loves," founded on and invented from the void and uncertainty. The Narrator finally pities Troilus and Criseyde: they looked to the human for what the human cannot give. Moreover, they had nowhere else to look.

Troilus fell in love--with a passion perhaps better reserved for God if also undeniably rooted in the flesh. He fell in love with an extraordinary and a beautiful woman and in effect proceeded to forget that she was a woman, stamping upon her the image of his deity, or love. But Criseyde cannot be the sign or the coin, the medium, for Troilus's idealizing passion because she is only Alpha and not also Omega: "But natheles, / Right as oure firste lettre is now an A, / In beaute first so stood she, makeles" (1.170-72). Criseyde is {145/146} only Alpha and not also Omega because she is mortal and mutable--note well that Chaucer impressively insists on mutability with the temporal emphasis "Right as oure first lettre is now an A"--and she is therefore unable to bear such an imprint, unable to be so engraved and live. At most, she could be the image which "renders the promise whole"; but rather than spend her for the Good, Troilus enjoys her as the Good; and with that "mondiglia" of as, that addition of personal desire with no respect to that to which it was added, he falsifies Criseyde--feigns her as something she is not, renders her "irreferent"--with the all too predictable result that she "falses" him, betrays him when Diomede's touch restores her original character of fear and "slydynge corage." Falsifying Criseyde as the Good, Troilus condemns himself to being left with only the goods. And like all other goods, when Criseyde changes hands, she changes (compare 5.1634: "kalendes of chaunge" and 5.1683: "`that ye, Criseyde, koude han chaunged so'"). No visibilia, no "fiore" (flower or coin) is exempt from change; thus it can be trusted only to mediate the Good, never to be the Good. If someone trusts it to be the Good, his fate will be that of Troilus. When Criseyde changes, although he still loves her (5.1696-1701), Troilus has so far lost the "newe qualite," that he can only cry, "`From hennesforth, as ferforth as I may, / Myn owen deth in armes wol I seche'" (5.1717-18). Unable to exchange Criseyde for the "newe qualite," unable to own it through her, and this because he has no faith in such transactions, bound as he is in the immanence of the body, when he loses her, he loses it. Instead of spending, Troilus hoarded; and hoarded wealth, as the medieval horror of it suggests, is tainted with death (Roman de la Rose 195-234).


Troilus's error--almost it is not an error, but only almost--is the more comprehensible beside the Narrator's recognition and avoidance of it in the stanzas in which he sends his "litel bok" off. Troilus hoards Criseyde: having imposed his meaning on her, he cannot imagine letting her go; she is his money. And since she will not run away with him, he necessarily must risk her running away from him. It is proper to money to circulate, and if Troilus treats Criseyde as if she were money, he must expect her to behave as if she were money. Either she can be the End-- a fin'amors goddess to be worshiped from afar--or she can be a means--a woman to satisfy Troilus's sexual yearnings; but, the human condition what it is, she cannot be both. "`Love has pitched his mansion / In the place of excrement / For nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent'."25 Marriage, which usually heals the rent, never really was a possibility for Troilus and Criseyde, and Troilus only deceives himself when he expects Criseyde to behave as if she were a wife.26 If they had entered public space as husband and wife, the very publicity of their vow {146/147} would have taken Criseyde out of circulation. But Priam's will as well as fin'amors precluded this possibility; then, too, Criseyde simply did not want to run away with Troilus and live as his wife; and so, necessarily, she remains in circulation-- potentially money for someone else to spend.27 Moreover, Troilus, we know, treats Criseyde not only as if she were a coin but also as if she were a sign. And it is as proper to a sign to circulate as it is to a coin--indeed, even more so, since signs cannot communicate if they are not shared in common.28 Hence the Narrator, worker in signs, under at least equal compulsion, confronts the same problem that Troilus confronts. His relation to his text is analogous to that of Troilus to Criseyde: if he hoards it, he will falsify it; and so he lets it go (5.1779-98; emphasis added):

N'y sey nat this al oonly for thise men,
But moost for wommen that bitraised be
Thorugh false folk; God yeve hem sorwe, amen!
That with hire grete wit and subtilte
Bytraise yow! And this commeveth me
To speke, and in effect yow alle I preye,
Beth war of men, and herkneth what I seye!--

Go, litel bok, go,
litel myn tragedye,
Ther God thi makere yet, er that he dye,
So sende myght to make in som comedye!
But litel book, no makyng thow n'envie,
But subgit be to alle poesye;
And kis the steppes, where as thow seest pace
Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan, and Stace.

And for ther is so gret diversite
In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge,
So prey I God that non myswrite the,
Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge.

And red wherso thow be, or elles songe,
That thow be understonde, God I biseche!
The logic of the first two of these three stanzas is subtle but powerful. The Narrator sends the book off at just that moment in the text when he can intimate a similarity between women and books, that they are both subject to betrayal by "false folk" and "hire grete wit and subtilte." This intimation confirms what and how much the Narrator has learned about mediation from the story which he has translated. "Grete wit and subtilte" can falsify any and all media and will do so most assuredly when they preclude circulation of media by the imposition of their radically private will on them. "False folk" are folk {147/148} who seek each his own private meaning to the exclusion of all other meanings: while the false coin is circulating, they are rubbing their hands over the gold in their coffers. In this sense Troilus, although he is almost innocent compared to Pandarus or Diomede, is nonetheless a falsifier because he sought his meaning in Criseyde to the exclusion of her very humanity: he did not know that she was "slydynge of corage" precisely because he did not know her very well at all; or, and this would be worse, if he did know this, or suspect it, then he ignored it, thus ignoring her, in favor of his own ideal figment of her.

And in just the same way as Troilus falsified Criseyde, the Narrator could falsify his book, betray it, by rendering it "irreferent," or falsely identical with its original. Just as Troilus, assuming that the fin'amors ideal fixed in his mind is her original, reduces Criseyde to identity with that "original," so the Narrator could assume that his conception of the Book of Lollius is the original and so reduce his translation to identity with it. He could claim that his translation is the version (already an oxymoron) and not just a version (however authoritative). He could add his desire for originality to the original--it would then be "mondiglia"-- and thus falsify the original. The Narrator has already recognized this desire and its cruel consequences in Troilus's hapless realization that he has, in brute fact, become an original authority: "`O blisful lord Cupide, / Whan I the proces have in my memorie, / How thow me hast wereyed on every syde, / Men myght a book make of it, lik a storie'" (5.582-85; emphasis added). Troilus's desire for an ideal love, his desire that his be the "original" of loves, has realized itself in the only space possible, that of a book. The ideal can be spoken or written; it cannot be lived, as Troilus learns to his sorrow. Troilus has reduced his life to the contours and the limits of a fiction, a fiction which is regrettably feigned. And little wonder he rides out to kill or be killed: the meaning in his life is gone, the meaning of his life is finished-- the book is written, and there is no more to say. The Narrator, on the other hand, can see the limits of fiction, and especially of fiction that is feigned, and opts for life instead. Rather than demand that the Book of Lollius cede its priority to his translation, he delivers up his translation to the original. Rather than hoard the original in the form of his book, he sends his book off, lets it go, and lets it go as his. The way to be original is not to be the original; be instead a version. Every version of the Image of God--every person, that is--is absolutely original; and the one creature who desired to be original by being the original succeeded, of course, only in damning himself (Lucifer). If you are going to be your own authority, love your original; proclaim that you are (O felix paradoxa!) a unique copy.

This the Narrator does when he sends the book off. Scholarship has long recognized that the "Go, litel bok" stanza fairly rocks with ambiguities. "Ther {148/149} God thi makere" is perhaps the most arresting one (Middleton 1980:55-56, especially n. 27). The "bank shot" (Kaske 1963:179), though, by which the Narrator suggests that his work belongs in the company of the great epic poets runs a close second (Donaldson 1972:95-96). The point of the ambiguities, however, is that they are part of the Narrator's personal signature. Like the adjective "litel," like the label "myn tragedye," like the desire for "myght to make in som comedye," these ambiguities serve to insist on the Narrator, his presence, and the hand of his instrumentality. But his signature is not an imposition, not a "mondiglia," not a metallic additive, not anything that hides or is to be hidden. Quite the contrary, a signature is a public testimony of responsibility, a public avowal of authorship. A signature is personal and manifestly personal in and to the public. The "Go, litel book" stanza, which serves in its position to suggest that books can suffer the same fate as women, also serves as the Narrator's acceptance of responsibility for his translation; and it does so first and foremost by insisting that the translation is his. This is not the original--it is not Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan, or Stace--it is rather a copy, though a copy worthy, perhaps, to join their company.

If this stanza is the Narrator's signature, a mark of his personal relation to his book, the stanza that follows, in its first part, is a prayer that his signature not be effaced. This is not the original; this is the Narrator's version of the original; if it is to be judged, good or bad, then it must be judged as his version. Scribal error, then, would be catastrophic. Scribal error would be an addition of the personal to the book-- an addition of the scribe's dialect, his personal accent--which would be immediately hidden: if the scribe writes "him" instead of "hem," then, in the absence (all too likely) of a holograph, "him" ("him") it remains forever (instead of "them"); and the text is falsified, though inadvertently and unintentionally.29 The scribe, unlike the Narrator, does not expose his personal additions to the text because they are mistakes, errors, oversights. The Narrator does expose his additions in order that they not be mistakes. All the more reason, then, to see exactly what he wrote. If the text is not pure, then the Narrator's book cannot be judged. The graph must be fixed in order for the sign to be free (cf. Derrida 1976:34-37).

If the graph is fixed and the sign free, then the second petition of the Narrator's prayer can be realized: "And red wherso thow be, or elles songe, / That thow be understonde, God I biseche!" (5.1797-98). Liberated by the Narrator and, if not falsified by the scribe(s), whole and legible, the book can be read or sung--that is, entered into public space where its contents, the story which the Narrator has translated plus his position on that story, can be open to the process of understanding. That process, as the Narrator (and {149/150} we) have learned from his experience in translating, is arbitrary, random, fortuitous, selfish, and difficult. Understanding is rarely a once-and-for-all conclusion; it is much more frequently a groping toward a position which itself, given the contingency and brevity of mortalia, must be resignable on short notice. The Narrator's own position, in fact, is subject to circumscription by a more inclusive one-- indeed, an all-inclusive One, that of the "Uncircumscript" (5.1865). The Narrator's prayer, therefore, arises from his anxiety about the very process of understanding; if he could assume that understanding would come naturally to all readers, he would feel the less compelled to pray for it. Knowing that it will not, he intercedes with God for his book. He also knows, even as he makes this intercession, that, if and when the book is understood, what will be understood, in part, is the process of understanding itself, or the increasingly self-conscious assumption of a position always resignable because contingent upon mutable signs--signs fraught with temporality.


Troilus, however--this, his tragedy--imagined that he could escape time (and for a while, as he perceived it, perhaps he did) even as he was becoming more and more bound in and by it (cf. Barney 1972: 445-58). He imagined an absolute and unchanging love invented, however, by a very changeable authority from equally changeable matter. He referred Criseyde to this imagined ideal, presuming that he had in that action found and founded truth (both verity and loyalty).30 He did not, nor probably could he, appreciate that to refer is also to defer and that the very act of reference is thus grounded in time (cf. Derrida 1967:302; trans. Bass 1978:203). TO extend and modify the coinage imagery: he invested everything in Criseyde's currency, unfortunately innocent of the fact that currency "runs"--it changes.31 Having made this investment and in such innocence, Troilus would not exchange Criseyde for any truth-- he would not resign her in light of reality--rather he clung to her body, the visible and receptive matter of his stamp. He could not imagine any such exchange between visibilia and invisibilia, nor could he imagine any such resignation of visibilia to invisibilia. He could not imagine such exchange or resignation because he had no faith in such transactions. He had no faith in such transactions because he had no faith. Troilus had no viable posture toward the invisible. Troilus had only fin'amors and philosophy. And, to be sure, while the constructs of reason are superior to a pseudo-religion, neither in fact is adequate to human happiness which thirsts for, cries out for, truth. Neither fin'amors nor philosophy can transcend feigning to reach the truth which fiction knows because they have no adequate theory of mediation--such a theory as the Narrator posits when he takes his position on the poem at the end.

Vance (1979:293-337) has written persuasively of the in- {150/151} adequacy of fin'amors to the happiness of Troilus and Criseyde. I would like to complement his remarks by discussing the last appearance of pagan philosophy in the poem, in the three stanzas narrating Troilus's translation to Heaven (5.1807-27). Outstanding about these stanzas is the fact that no idea, sentiment, or statement in them is necessarily Christian. Everything in them could be found in some pagan source or florilegia of pagan sources.32 To be sure, Chaucer used Christian sources--Dante, for one obvious example (Par. 22.151 at 5.1815)--but, even so, he writes nothing in these three stanzas that must be read as Christian. And this fact is crucial. These stanzas conclude the pagan original which the Narrator is translating, and they represent the highest or sublimest vision which pagan auctoritas can reach. That vision is indeed sublime, but note how much it depends on despising and on condemnation: "and fully gan despise / This wrecched world," for example (5.1816-17). In contrast, the Narrator urges the "yonge, fresshe folkes" to think that "al nys but a faire / This world, that passeth soone as floures faire" (5.1840-41). This sentiment, though obviously contemptuous of the world, is a good deal softer and calmer than Troilus's--he "dampned al oure werk that foloweth so / The blynde lust" (5.1823-24). Note also that where Troilus "lough" (5.1821) Dante only smiles (Par. 22.135).33 Finally, all the claims of Troilus's felicity and bliss are slightly, if only slightly, embarrassed by the silence about where "Mercurye sorted hym to dwelle" (5.1827). In short, Troilus's Heaven, though Heaven, is not necessarily the happiest of all possible heavens. The Narrator (and we) have good reason to doubt the value of this sublime, even as we recognize that it is a sublime.

And just such doubt goads the Narrator in stanzas 1 and 4 of his conclusion to the story. In these stanzas, because of his doubt, the Narrator does contemn and he does reject, but he does not reject love or life or even this world (flowers, after all, are fair); rather, he rejects a false sublimity and a severely restricted form of speech ("the forme of olde clerkis speche / In poetrie"; 5.1854-55). The former, false sublimity, he never bothers with again; the latter, of course, he transcends in The Canterbury Tales. In short, these stanzas tell us why Chaucer turned to the "comedye" which proved to be the major work of his life.

The first five lines of the first stanza express the Narrator's dismay at the "fyn" of the original text (5.1828-32):

Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for love!
Swich fyn hath al his grete worthynesse!
Swich fyn hath his estat real above,
Swich fyn his lust, swich fyn hath his noblesse!
Swich fyn hath false worldes brotelnesse!
{151/152}
Most significant about these lines is their reduction of "love," "worthynesse," "estat real," "lust," "noblesse," and "false worldes brotelnesse" to the one "fyn." "Love" and "worthynesse," etc., all come to the same "fyn" as "false worldes brotelnesse," and this suggests not that "love" and "worthynesse," etc., are wicked or disgusting but that and only that they are equal to or bound within the "brotelnesse" of the false world. The "brotelnesse" of the false world is under attack--it has the culminating line--and not the other qualities or experiences. The Narrator does not reject anything here; he laments that in the pagan sublime such qualities and experiences are so radically world-bound. The pagan sublime, which includes fin'amors and philosophy and epic grandeur (in Chaucer's conception), cannot imagine transcendence of the false world and its "brotelnesse." If the world is false, its falsity is its "frangibility" ("brotelnesse"; Davis 1979:19)-- its mutability and insecurity. Nothing remains true to its name (5.1686); everything is "slydynge of corage." Philosophy can imagine the enduring identity of the name (Platonism), but it cannot redeem or forgive or recover the flesh and the things of the world that necessarily change under the name. Only a theory of mediation that finds meaning in decay, decline, and death can transcend the falsity of the world because, in addition to imagining the enduring identity of the name, it also imagines the perfection and glorification of the body through change--decay, decline, and death. When Chaucer translates Paradiso 14. 28-30, in the very last stanza of the poem, as the opening to his prayer to the Trinity (5.1863-65), he is also quoting that section of the Paradiso in which Solomon explains to Dante how the bodies of the blessed will return to them in the day of judgment (Par. 14.37-60). Thus he supplies what the pagan sublime lacks: a sense of the body's change as part of the Good, not inimical to the Good. Philosophy's posture is to revile the body; fin amors', to idealize it; the epic's, to politicize it (especially in Virgil). Chaucer's Christian, comic poetics, on the other hand, imagines the body as one more good of God's plenty--to be referred, therefore, to Him, and if referred to Him, then to be enjoyed in the fiction of one's life and love. Without this reference, however, the world will prove false because the body cannot endure its "brotelnesse": the body will break. Without this reference men and women will impose upon the body or add to it what it cannot bear--be it desire or "Daunger" or a "newe qualite" or what have you. But a theory of mediation, such as that embraced by Chaucer's Christian, comic poetics, which does refer the body to God, will always detect and expose any attempt to impose on the body a meaning it cannot bear. Such a theory is intolerant of falsification and feigning: in its view--in a work, that is, obeying such a poetics--the coining of Criseyde would (and does) appear as the coining of "Alisoun fra biside Bath" {152/153} where no fin'amors idealism obscures the basic narcissism and commercialism of the coiners--namely, men in general and her husbands in particular. Without such a theory, the pagan sublime sees the body as both a necessity for and an impediment to the expression of meaning--a necessity because without it there is no communication of any sort; an impediment because its changeableness is unpredictable and threatening. The Stoic, for example, must have the body to practice his heroism, but he practices his heroism against the body's weakness. The pagan sublime, as a consequence of its blurred understanding of the body, imposes on the body meanings which can only exacerbate its already frangible "brotelnesse." Human beings were not meant to be Stoics (or Epicureans, for that matter). Unable to refer the body beyond the world, the pagan sublime, which can refer only the soul beyond the world,34 submits the body to the world, with the result that all the goods of the body--love, worthiness, royal estate, lust, pleasure, and nobility, for examples--have the same "fyn" as "false worldes brotelnesse." The pagan sublime cannot transcend falsity because it cannot imagine a Permanent Image or an Image of Permanence which circumscribes and protects the body from falsification.

If Troilus and Criseyde, with Pandarus's complicity, look to the human for what the human cannot give, it is because they cannot imagine the transhuman. The Love which Troilus hymns in 3.1254-74 has no transhuman body (the Resurrected Christ), and consequently its images reduce to violence--for example: "`And if that Love aught lete his bridel go, / Al that now loveth asondre sholde lepe, / And lost were al that Love halt now to hepe'" (3.1762-64). Little matter that the same idea is found in Boethius or Dante (De cons. 2, m. 8; Par. 33.85-87). Of greater moment by far is the fact that they, unlike Troilus, also know this Love as a personal God, Jesus the Christ. For Troilus this Love is only gravity--worship it and receive silence in reply; defy it and die. This Love does not transhumanize; it does not redeem the time.

The concluding couplet, "And thus bigan his lovyng of Criseyde, / As I have told, and in this wise he deyde" (5.1833-34), follows naturally, without disjunction, upon the preceding five lines. It emphasizes the limits of the story, beginning and end, which the Narrator has translated. If "swich" is the "fyn" of Troilus's love, it began thus as the Narrator has told and he died in this wise. "In this wise he deyde" is by far the most important part of the couplet: in this and no other wise Troilus died. There are, that is to say, other ways to die and, by implication, other ways to love. If the Narrator is sad, and I believe he is, it is because there are other, better ways which, lamentably, Troilus and Criseyde did not know. And thus he proceeds, {153/154} naturally and compellingly, in the following stanzas addressed to the "yonge, fresshe folkes," to name the origin of these better ways--God. The coherence of the first three stanzas of the Narrator's conclusion is palpable and inspiring.

As much can be said for the coherence of the last three stanzas of his conclusion, though here the issues are even more complex than in the first three. Stanza 4 itself presents the severest problems (5.1849-55):

Lo here, of payens corsed olde rites,
Lo here, what alle hire goddes may availle;
Lo here, thise wrecched worldes appetites;
Lo here, the fyn and guerdoun for travaille
Of Jove, Appollo, of Mars, of swich rascaille!
Lo here, the forme of olde clerkis speche
In poetrie, if ye hire bokes seche.
More than one critic has come to grief over these lines, I know, and I have no special formula against a similar fate; but I do think I can contribute some helpful observations on some of the problems involved. And, first of all, note that four of the seven lines (the first two and the fourth and the fifth) directly attack paganism and especially the pagan gods. While the pagan gods and pagan rites have certainly played a role in the story, that role does not seem so important, upon reflection, as to merit such a formidable attack. If we want to make sense of the stanza, then, I feel we must account for the apparent imbalance which it expresses.

This we can do by first interpreting the concluding couplet, certainly the most vexed part of the stanza. Most arresting in the couplet is the mention of two orders of discourse, "speche" and "poetrie." "Speche" and "poetrie" are discontinuous: the one must be cast in the other; the one is a stylization of the other. Although many distinctions among kinds can be made within the broad category of "poetrie," I think that the distinction between speech and poetry is sufficiently basic as to arouse no quarrel. Because "speche" and "poetrie" are discontinuous, there are at least two ways of reading "Lo here, the forme of olde clerkis speche / In poetrie": either "this is how old clerks spoke in poetry when they were speaking in poetry"; or "here is the speech of old clerks cast in poetry." The former reading would refer the phrase to the whole poem with the consequence that the phrase would contemn the whole poem. The latter reading, on the other hand, would suggest that somewhere is a piece of speech which has just been cast in poetry. In either reading, "forme" retains the meaning of "substance" or ''informing principle": the matter of {154/155} olde clerkis speche"--the original version, that is--necessarily cannot be "here" because here the matter is Englished, converted into the Narrator's own mother tongue.35

Now the latter reading would conveniently eliminate the problem of contempt of the whole poem, and do so without asserting that the couplet means the opposite of what it says. However, the question remains: What is the "forme of olde clerkis speche" just cast "in poetrie"? The answer, I think, is not far to seek. It is the pagan and philosophical sublime which translates Troilus to Heaven; and thus, the piece of speech, of which this sublime is the "forme" or substance, consists in the three stanzas which narrate that translation. The text then says, I am suggesting, "Lo, here, cast into modern (i.e., fourteenth-century) English poetry, is the substance of the way old clerks, such as Cicero or Seneca or Macrobius, spoke about the reward in heaven for pious pagan souls." In this reading, and to its credit, "olde clerkis" has a specific referent; "Lo here" points in a specific direction and to a recent utterance; "speche" and "poetrie" remain separate orders of discourse, as in fact they are; and, finally, the phrase "if ye hire bokes seche," which has about it already the scholar's punctiliousness, follows naturally from what precedes it--if you go to the pagan philosophers on this subject, such is the form of speech you will find.

This reading of the couplet possesses an attractive economy. In addition to eliminating the problem of contempt of the whole poem, it also goes far toward accounting for those four lines in contempt of paganism and the pagan gods. In this reading of the concluding couplet, those lines would suggest, with understandable sarcasm, that Troilus's translation to Heaven is the most the righteous pagan receives for his piety toward the gods: "Lo here, the fyn and guerdoun for travaille / Of Jove, Appollo, of Mars, of swich rascaille" (emphasis added). The Narrator's contempt, then, would be contempt only for paganism and the pagan gods--understandable, in the case of one who is a confessed Christian (5.1845; and note the "dar I seye").

This reading, of course, has so far omitted the third line of the stanza: "Lo here, thise wrecched worldes appetites." This line is obviously more sweeping in its reference; it obviously points with a gesture of anger as well as contempt. But two observations can and should be made. First, the "appetites" are "wrecched" and not the world itself; since it would be folly to reduce the world to one of its contents (however awfully powerful that one might be), the phrase does leave open the possibility that there is something in the world not "wrecched." Second, and to my mind more important, is the word "wrecched" itself: we should not, I feel, forget that in addition to "despicable" it also means "pitiable" (Davis 1979:176). {155/156}

The last two stanzas of the conclusion form a unit to themselves (5. 1856-70):

O moral Gower, this book I directe
To the and to the, philosophical Strode,
To vouchen sauf, there nede is, to correcte,
Of youre benignites and zeles goode.
And to that sothefast Crist, that starf on rode,
With al myn herte of mercy evere I preye,
And to the Lord right thus I speke and seye:

Thow oon, and two, and thre, eterne on lyve,
That regnest ay in thre, and two, and oon,
Uncircumscript, and al maist circumscrive,
Us from visible and invisible foon
Defende, and to thy mercy, everichon,
So make us, Jesus, for thi mercy digne,
For love of mayde and moder thyn benigne Amen.
Once again the Narrator invites correction of his book, this time, however, from a different audience. As a result of confronting and purging the narcissist in himself, the Narrator has discovered the moral and philosophical implications of his "tragedye"; and he turns to the audiences who can best judge of those implications.36 Gower and Strode he invites to consent where there is need to correct: "vouchen sauf" is a curious locution since it implies consultation and agreement but also a taking responsibility for (Davis 1979:165). If they consult together or with the Narrator or both, they also vouch with him for the corrections which they enter and for the text which they thus produce. Hence the Narrator affirms and even underscores the communal and perhaps covenantal nature of understanding and textual production and of understanding as textual production. Understanding is not singular, nor is it final; rather, it is plural (political, in the profoundest sense of the word), positional, and ideally seminal.37 Beyond understanding, however, is mercy; and the Narrator finally leaves behind morality and philosophy to seek that mercy.

He turns to Christ, the Image of God, and specifically to Jesus the man, born of Mary the maiden. He turns to the divine but--and here Donaldson is profoundly right (1972:100-101)--only in such a way as to affirm the human. The Mother of God was a human woman also, like Criseyde, and in Mary all {156/157} women are redeemed. Moreover, no one comes to the Father except by the Son (John 6.35-59). In addition, the Narrator prays for protection from visible and invisible foes. The relevance of this petition at first seems obscure until we recognize, with Dante's help, that Troilus had no viable posture toward the invisible-- he had no faith. Without faith Troilus had no defense against the invisible foes of pride and idolatry and--formidable foe, indeed--the vanity of idealism. The Christian, however, does have faith and faith in precisely protection from such foes--against which no person, as such, is proof.

Finally, the Narrator begins his prayer with an address to the supreme paradox of Christianity, or the Trinity--an address which is a translation from Dante (Par. 14.28-30). This translation at this moment affirms, every bit as much as the petition to Jesus the man, the Narrator's and our humanity. For, to address the divine Authority, the Narrator goes to and through another human authority, or Dante, who is neither more nor less fallible than he is himself; and thus he historicizes and humanizes his own authority--inserts it into the seminality of history, the ongoing interpretative labor which inscribes the human in time and the world, which marks the human as human. Even in a moment of prayer and "sincerity," the Narrator's authority and the position it assumes are derivative, belated, secondary--very human, in short--but wholly free of anxiety. The Narrator's position is itself in part a version of someone else and of someone else's. Hence the absence of anxiety--in the very assumption and display of the human condition of derivativeness (creatureliness) . Roles remain . Humans have only roles--faith being the ultimate and most difficult role to play. And playing that role, the Narrator is content with the role of translator, even here in his personal prayer. That role, his faith has helped him see, is the role which most becomes the human author since it is farthest from usurping the Authority of God. God is "uncircumscript and al maist circumscrive"; a translator, however, is "circumscript"--by his original--and his only hope is to break the circle of writing and thus break out of the circle of writing to a position, not the only position, from which to see the point which encircles all the circles. And so Chaucer did, with Dante's help, in the Troilus. {157}