Careful Seductions Lord Pandarus, standing among his garden’s fragrant blooms late this mellow afternoon, is savoring the summer warmth when he spots Troilus’s page arriving. “How now!” he calls. “Where’s thy master? At my cousin Cressid’s?”
Her father, Lord Calchas, has absconded to the Greeks, but she still lives in his house, just across the avenue from her uncle’s stone mansion.
The boy runs over to him. “No, sir; he stays for you to conduct him thither.”
Pandarus sees Troilus at the gate. “Oh, here he comes! How now, how now?” he asks the young prince.
Troilus wants to speak in confidence. “Sirrah, walk off,” he tells the page, who wanders away to find a choice apple in the adjacent orchard.
“Have you seen my niece?” The young people have finally agreed to a tryst—this evening.
“No, Pandarus!” he moans. “I stalk about her door!—like a strange soul upon the Stygian banks staying for waftage! Oh, be thou my Charon, and give me swift transportance to those fields where I may wallow in the lily-beds preparèd for the deservers!” Charon ferries the newly deceased across the River Styx to the blissful fields of Elysium.
The prince longs for progress. “Oh, gentle Pandarus, from Cupid’s shoulder pluck his painted wings, and fly with me to Cressida!”
Pandarus, feeling success nearing, points. “Walk here i’ the orchard!—I’ll bring her straight!” He hastens toward the street.
Troilus paces. I am giddy!—expectation whirls me round! The imagined relish is so sweet that it enchants my senses!—what will it be when the watering palate tastes in deed love’s thrice-repurèd nectar? Death, I fear me!—swooning destruction by some joy too fine, too subtle!—potently tunèd, too sharp in sweetness for the capacity of my ruder powers!
I fear it much!
And I do fear besides that I shall lose distinction in my joys, as doth a battalion when they charge in heaps the flying enemy! The young man worries about clumsiness—and victory’s coming too soon.
Pandarus returns, from the house. “She’s making her ready; she’ll come straight!” He laughs. “You must be witty now!
“She does so blush!—and fetch her breath as if she were frayed by a sprite!”—were being pursued by an imp. He giggles. “I’ll fetch her! She’s the prettiest villain!—her breath is as short as a new-ta’en sparrow’s!” He dashes away again.
Troilus paces. Even such a passion doth embrace my bosom! My heart beats thicker than a feverous pulse, and all my powers do their bestowing lose—like vassalage encountering at unawares the eye of majesty!
Pandarus leads Cressida along the garden path. “Come, come, what need you blush?—shame’s a baby!
“Here she is!” he tells the prince. “Now swear the oaths to her that you have sworn to me!”
Cressida turns away, annoyed that she is to receive repetitions; Troilus sees, and feels rejected.
Pandarus asks him, “What, are you gone again? You must be watched ere you be made tame, must you? Come your ways, come your ways!—if you draw backward, we’ll put you with the fillies!
“Why do you not speak to her?” demands Pandarus. “Come, draw back this curtain, and let us see your picture!” But the young people stand still, bashful and silent, looking down awkwardly. “Alas the day, how loath you are to offend daylight! If ’twere dark, you’d close sooner!”
Troilus takes Cressida by the hand.
“So, so!—rub on!—and kiss thy mistress!” cries Pandarus. Troilus leans to touch her cheek with his lips. “How now?—a kiss in bee form? Build there, carpenter!—the air is sweet!
“Nay, your hearts shall set in flight ere I part you!” says the advocate. “The falcon has the turn-stile for all the ducks i’ the river! Go to, go to!”
Troilus looks at her beautiful face. “You have bereft me of all words, lady!”
Pandarus is impatient. “Words pay no debts—give her deeds! She’ll bereave you o’ the deeds too, if she call your activity in question!” He watches, as they flirt tentatively. “What, billing again?”—as in mating birds’ billing and cooing. He gibes, playing on the term for invoice, “Here’s ‘In witness whereof the parties interchangeably….’
“Come in, come in!” urges Pandarus, heading for the house; servants will prepare a bedchamber’s hearth to warm two lovers, he has decided. “I’ll go get a fire!”
She offers a slight smile, motioning toward the house. “Will you come in, my lord?”
“Oh, Cressid, how often have I wished me thus!”—alone with her.
“Wishèd, my lord? The gods grant—” She blushes, realizing that he might have meant within her. “Oh, my lord!”
“What should they grant?—what makes this pretty abruption?—what too-peculiar dreg espies my sweet lady, in the fountain of our love?”
“More dregs than water, if my fears have eyes!”
“Fears make devils of cherubim; they never see truly.”
“Blind fear which sees that Reason leads finds safer footing than blind Reason stumbling without fear! To fear the worst oft cures the worse.”
Troilus again takes her hand. “Oh, let my lady apprehend no fear! In all Cupid’s pageant there is presented no monster!” The lad has yet to encounter jealousy.
Cressida looks up at the handsome youth. “Nor nothing monstrous, neither?”
The prince’s wry smile is charmingly masculine. “Nothing but our undertakings, when we vow to weep seas, live in fire, eat rocks, tame tigers!—thinking it harder for our mistresses to devise imposition enough than for us to undergo any difficulty imposèd!
“This is the monstrosity in love, lady: that the will is infinite, but the execution confinèd—that the desire is boundless, but the act a slave to limit!”
She looks down at their clasped fingers, considering. “They say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform—vowing more than the perfection of ten, and discharging less than the tenth part of one! They that have the voice of lions and the act of hares, are they not monsters?”
“Are there such?” The prince uses royal pronouns: “Such are not we!Praise us as we are found, allow us as we prove—our head shall go bare till merit crown it. No perfection in prospect shall have a praise in present; we will not name deserving before its birth—and being born, its offspring shall be humble.
“Few words for fair faith: Troilus will be so true to Cressida that his truth shall mock the worst that Envy can say; and what Truth can speak truest be not truer than Troilus!”
Hearing Pandarus returning for them, Cressida pulls her hand away. “Will you walk in, my lord?” she asks Troilus.
“What, blushing still?” complains the graybeard. “Have you not done talking yet?”
Cressida smiles demurely. “Well, Uncle, whatever folly I commit I dedicate to you!”
“Oh, I thank you for that!—if my lord get a boy of you,”—by impregnation, “you’ll give him to me!” laughs Pandarus. He smiles. “Be true to my word,” he tells Troilus. “If he flinch, chide me for it!” he tells Cressida.
Troilus tells her, “You know now your hostages: your uncle’s word, and my firm faith!”
“And I’ll give my word for her too,” says Pandarus. “Our kindred, though they be long ere they are wooed, they are constant, being won! They are burs, I can tell you!—they’ll stick where they are thrown!”
Cressida smiles happily. “Boldness comes to me now, and brings me heart. Prince Troilus, I have loved you night and day for many weary months!”
He is surprised. “Why was my Cressid then so hard to win?”
“Hard to seem won! But I was won, my lord, with the first glance that ever—” She looks down. “Pardon me! If I confess much, you will play the tyrant!
“I love you now; but not till now so much but I might master it.” She blushes again. “In faith, I lie!—my thoughts were like unbridled children, grown too headstrong for their mother! See we fools!” cries the lady. “Why have I blabbed? Who shall be true to us, when we are so unsecret to ourselves?
“But, though I loved you well, I wooed you not; and yet, i’ good faith, I wished myself a man—or that we women had men’s privilege of speaking first!
“Sweet, bid me hold my tongue, for in this rapture I shall surely speak a thing I shall repent!” She points at his grin, teasing. “See, see!—your silence, speechless cunning, from my weakness draws my very soul from counsel! Stop, my mouth!”
“And shall, albeit sweet music issues thence!” says Troilus; he kisses her.
Pandarus is delighted. “Pretty, i’ faith!”
Cressida is abashed. “My lord, I do beseech you, pardon me! ’Twas not my purpose, thus to beg a kiss! I am ashamed. O heavens! What have I done?
“For this time will I take my leave, my lord!”
Troilus is dismayed. “You’d leave, sweet Cressid?”
“Leave?” cries Pandarus, who has great hopes for this long-awaited assignation; he could become the uncle of a princess. “If you’ll take leave—tomorrow morning!”
“Pray you, content you,” she tells them.
Troilus’s eyes search her lovely face. “What offends you, lady?”
“Sir, mine own company.”
“You cannot shun yourself!”
“Let me go and try! I have a kind of self that resides in you—an unkind self, that itself will leave, to be another’s fool!
“I would be gone! Where is my wit?—I know not what I speak!”
Troilus smiles, again taking her hand. “Well know they what they speak, who speak so wisely.”
Her eyes flash. “Perchance, my lord, I show more craft than love—and fell so roundly to a large confession to angle for your thoughts!
“But you are wise—or else you love not! For to be wise and love exceeds Man’s might: that dwells with gods above!”
Troilus takes her other hand as well. “Oh, if only I thought it could be in Woman—as it can, I will presume, in you!—to feel for always her rampant flames of love, and to keep her constancy plighted in youth, outliving beauty’s outward show with a mind that doth renew swifter than desire decays!
“But, alas,I am simpler than the infancy of Truth, and true as Truth’s simplicity. Oh, if persuasion could but thus convince me that my integrity and truth to you might be comforted with the match in weight of such a winnowed purity of love—how were I then uplifted!”
This lady is not to be outdone in demanding fidelity. “In that I’ll war with you!”
He smiles. “Oh, virtuous fight, when right wars with right over who shall be most right!
“True swains in love shall, in the world to come, approve their truths by Troilus!”—claim him as an example. “When their rhymes full of protest, of oath in big compare, and of truths tired from iteration—true as steel, as tide to the moon, as sun to the day, as dove to her mate, as iron to magnet, as earth to its centre!—yea, after all comparisons of truth lack a simile to be cited as Truth’s authentic authority, ‘As true as Troilus!’ shall crown up the verse, and sanctify its numbers!”—lines.
“Prophet may you be!” says she, hopefully. “If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth, when time is old and hath forgot itself, when waterdrops have worn the stones of Troy, and blind oblivion swallowed cities up, when mighty states are grated to dusty nothing, characterless,”—their chronicles lost, “yet let memory among maids in love upbraid my falsehood from false to false!
“When they’ve said ‘as false as air’—as water, wind, or sandy earth, as fox to lamb, as wolf to heifer’s calf, leopard to the hind, or stepdame to her son—yea, let them say, to stab the heart of falsehood, ‘As false as Cressida!’”
Pandarus laughs. “Go to!—a bargain made! Seal it, seal it! I’ll be the witness!” He moves to Troilus. “Here I hold your hand, here my cousin’s. Since I have taken such pains to bring you together, if ever you prove false, one to another, let all pitiful goers-between be called, unto the world’s end, after my name: call them all Pandars!
“Let all inconstant men be Troiluses, all false women Cressidas, and all brokers-between Pandars! Say amen.”
“Amen,” says Troilus, his heart racing.
“Amen,” says Cressida, reassured.
“Amen!” laughs Pandarus. “Whereupon I will show you a chamber with a bed—which bed, because it should not speak of your pretty encounters, press it to death! Away!”
As they all head inside, he turns, briefly, to survey the wide span of fertile earth beneath a glowing array of thin pink clouds at sunset.