Chaucer’s Use of “Tender” in Troilus and Criseyde

May 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

Chaucer is known for his talent at pushing his readers to step outside their preconceived notions regarding genre, characters, and themes. In addition to this, Chaucer uses words with double meanings to create ambiguity and depth throughout his works. Troilus and Criseyde is no different in this respect. Throughout Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer uses the word “tendre” several times, using its various meanings to make the reader question the intentions of the characters. According to the Middle English Dictionary, the adjective form of “tendre” has seven different meanings in medieval texts. Chaucer employs all but two of those meanings in Troilus and Criseyde. The meanings that Chaucer employs are as follows: “Immature, young; unsophisticated, innocent, naïve; also unblemished, spotless”; “Physically sensitive, esp. to pain; susceptible to injury, vulnerable;…easily injured, fragile”; “Of a plant, part of a plant: fresh, new-grown; not hardy, delicate”; “Physically weak; debilitated, enfeebled, morally week, unable to resist temptation; also impressionable”; “Sorrowful, heartfelt; piteous, painful, touching; (b) easily moved; of the heart: compassionate, sympathetic” (207-209). Chaucer uses the adjective form of “tendre” five times in Troilus and Criseyde, and employs its various meanings throughout the text. Pandarus is the first to use the word in Book II: his stream of thought during a discussion with Criseyde includes the word. He thinks, “If I my tale endite/Aught harde, or make a proces any whyle,/ She shal no savour have therin but lite,/ And trowe I wolde hire in my wil bigyle;/For tender wittes wenen al be wyle/ Theras thei kan nought pleynly understonde; Forthi hire wit to serven wol I fonde” (267-273). Here, it seems that Chaucer wants the reader to see the word “tendre” as meaning “naïve,” since Pandarus’s quote seems to indicate that she is too simple-minded to understand some things. However, this quote is one instance in the text where Chaucer relies on the multiple meanings of the word to create depth. It is important to remember that tender can also mean “impressionable,” as seen in the fourth definition (above). Because it is Pandarus, who continually pressures Criseyde into action towards Troilus, who uses the word, it seems likely that Chaucer intends the term to be taken both ways. Additional ambiguity surrounding this particular use of the word is that “tender” in the sense of “naivete” also indicates youth and innocence (as seen in the first definition listed above). Chaucer wants the reader to consider Criseyde in relation to both of these terms. She is a widow, but is she is also young. She is the woman who cheats on Troilus and breaks his heart, but she is also innocent. Chaucer uses an ambiguous term to make the reader examine Criseyde’s character more closely. Pandarus also uses the word in Book III, during a discussion with Criseyde. Criseyde wants him to give Troilus a ring on her behalf, to which Pandarus replies, “This [man] is so gentil and so tendre of herte/ That with his doeth he wol his sorwes wreke” (904-905). The reader can interpret this word according to both the second and fifth meanings listed above. Describing Troilus as tenderhearted suggests that he is “vulnerable,” “sorrowful,” or “painful” (207-209). However, because it is Pandarus (who also pressures Troilus into action throughout the text) who speaks the phrase, Chaucer intends the reader to see the double meaning of the word and think of Troilus as impressionable, as well. The next two uses of the word “tender” are fairly straightforward, and do not rely on multiple meanings. Criseyde uses the term when she cries to herself upon realizing that she will be exchanged for Antenor. She asks, “How shal youre tendre herte this sustene?” (795). Here, the word is interpreted as meaning “vulnerable.” The fourth use of the word occurs in the opening of Book V: the narrator uses it in relation to a plant, saying, “and Zepherus as ofte/ Ibrought ayeyn the tendre leves grene” (10-11). The fifth and final use of the word occurs in Book V, during the narrator’s description of Crisyede: “Tendre-hearted, slydynge of corage;/ But trewely, I kan nat telle hire age” (825-826). Here, Chaucer again plays off the various meanings of “tendre,” using it to signify both naïvete and compassion. However, because he follows the phrase with a reference to her age, he wants the reader to note that the term can also indicate youth. Chaucer uses the multiple meanings of the word “tendre” throughout Troilus and Criseyde to add depth to the characters. Though sometimes he intends the word to be interpreted in a straightforward fashion, in at least three instances he urges the reader to take into account the varying meanings of the word. The medieval definitions of the terms as “naïve,” “young,” “sensitive,” “fresh in relation to plants,” and “sorrowful” offer insight into Chaucer’s style and intentions.

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