Criseyde and her opaque narrator: lies, love, and auctoritas in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

In Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, the meaning behind Criseyde' s words and silences has been a point of contention among scholars. While some scholars believe that she keeps certain information about her inner self from audiences, forcing them to construct a Criseyde from the limited information given, others believe that audiences participate in the inner-workings of Criseyde' s mind, allowing them to understand exactly Criseyde' s motivations. This paper looks at the text from a different perspective, arguing that the narrator of Troilus and Criseyde, not Criseyde, is the "opaque" character in the text. Throughout the poem, the narrator lies about his sources, alters key moments in the narrative, and allows his own emotional attachment to Criseyde to affect his telling of the story. Using these faulty storytelling methods, the narrator wrongly projects his questionable, opaque desires onto Criseyde. Through close examination of moments that scholars argue are examples of Criseyde' s opaque nature, readers see that the narrator's presentation of those moments-his lies, textual manipulations, and emotional appeals to audiences-reinforces the narrator's opacity-not Criseyde' s. Desiring both to tell Troilus as his auctor told it and to protect Criseyde from scrutiny, the narrator finds himself tangled in lies that obscure his intentions and confuse readers about the poem's plot. In the end, the narrator's faulty storytelling methods prevent him from reconciling his desire to tell the story according to tradition and to protect Criseyde, and the result of his lies and muddled intentions is an often-silenced Criseyde, who is constantly misread and misinterpreted by audiences. By constantly drawing attention to his storytelling technique-both when he lies and tells the truth about that technique-the narrator reminds his audience that this is his personal interpretation of the story. And when he draws attention to his role as a narrator right before Criseyde has a seemingly opaque moment, audiences should not read her as opaque, but instead as silenced by the narrator and his opaque desires and intentions. Consequently, the telling of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde alerts readers to an essential truth about life, especially in Chaucer's own Ricardian London: life is always interpreted and perspective matters.