Final Warnings Upstairs in King Priam’s palace, Prince Hector’s wife, Andromache, wrings her hands as she watches him, at sunrise, prepare for combat. “When was my lord so much ungently temperèd, so to stop his ears against admonishment? Unarm, unarm, and do not fight today!”
He replies, annoyed, “You press me to offend you! Get you in!” Despite the Greeks’ best efforts, he has come home sober, and the day promises to be of great moment: Achilles took the bait; he vowed to meet Hector’s bold challenge. “By all the everlasting gods, I’ll go!” If he can defeat the Attic champion—when he does so—the disheartened enemy may well decide, finally, to go home.
His wife frets: “My dreams will surely prove ominous to the day!”
“No more, I say!” he insists, and goes to a window from which he can look down toward the Greeks’ camp.
Cassandra comes into the prince’s quarters. “Where is my brother Hector?” she asks.
Cries Andromache, motioning toward him, “Here—armèd, and bloody in intent! Consort with me in loud and dire petition!—pursue we him on knees!—for I have dreamed of a bleeding turbulence, and this whole night hath been nothing but shapes and forms of slaughter!”
“Oh, ’tis true!” cries Cassandra.
Hector, ignoring them, calls to his page. “Ho! Bid my trumpet sound!”
Cassandra pleads: “No notes of sallying, for the heavens’ sake, sweet brother!”
Hector waves the ladies away. “Be gone, I say! The gods have heard me swear!”
“The gods are deaf to hot and peevish vows!” argues Cassandra. “They are polluted offerings, more abhorrèd than spotted livers in a sacrifice!”
“Oh, be persuaded,” his wife implores. “Do not count it holy to be hurt in being just! We want to give much, but is it lawful to use violent thefts, and rob in the behalf of charity?”
Cassandra concurs. “It is the purpose that makes strong the vow—but vows to every purpose must not hold! Unarm, sweet Hector!”
He is adamant. “Be still, I say! Mine honour keeps the whether of my fate! Life every man holds dear; but the brave man holds honour far more precious—dearer than life!”
He turns to see Troilus, now coming into the room; he is clad partly in armor. “How now, young man!” calls Hector. “Mean’st thou to fight today?” he asks, surprised.
The ladies rise. “Cassandra, call thy father to persuade!” urges Andromache; the princess nods, and hurries away to find the king.
“No, ’faith, young Troilus!” protests Hector jovially, “doff thy harness, youth! I am today i’ the vein of chivalry!
“Let grow thy sinews till their knots be strong, and tempt not yet the bruises of war! Unarm thee!—go!—and doubt thou not, brave boy, I’ll stand today!—for thee, and me, and Troy!”
Troilus has not slept, his thoughts roiled by jealous fury. “Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you,” he replies, “which fits a man better than a lion.”
Hector is busy adjusting the straps of his own armor. “What vice is that, good Troilus?” he asks. “Chide me for it.”
“When, many times, the captive Grecians fall, even in the fan and wind of your fair sword you bid them rise and live!”
“Oh, ’tis fair play.”
“Fool’s play, by heaven, Hector!”
His older brother frowns. “How now! How now?”
“For the love of all the gods, let’s leave the hermit Pity with our mothers! And when we have our armours buckled on, let the venomed Vengeance ride upon our swords!—spurthem to rueful work, and rein them from ruth!” he cries fiercely.
“Fie, savage, fie!”
“Hector, then ’tis war!”
Hector regards him gravely. “Troilus, I would not have you fight today.”
“Who should withhold me?” demands the defiant young man. “Not fate nor obedience may retire the hand of Mars, beckoning with fiery truncheon! Not Priamus and Hecuba”—his parents—“on knees, their eyes o’ergallèd with recourse of tears!—nor you, my brother, with your true sword drawn, opposèd to hinder me, should stop my way but by my ruin!”
Before Hector can reply, Cassandra bursts into the room, bringing the white-bearded king. “Lay hold upon him, Priam, hold him fast!” she cries. “He is thy crutch! If thou now lose thy stay, thou on him leaning—and all Troy on thee!—all fall together!”
Priam approaches his son. “Come, Hector, come back! Thy wife hath dreamed; thy mother hath had visions; Cassandra doth foresee! And I myself am like a prophet, suddenly enrapt to tell thee that this day is ominous! Therefore, come back!”
“Aeneas is a-field,” Hector counters, “and I do stand engagèd to meet many Greeks, even in the faith of valour!—to appear this morning to them!”
“Aye, but thou shalt not go!” insists old Priam.
“I must not break my faith!” says Hector earnestly. “You know me dutiful!—therefore, dear sir, let me not shame respect, but give me leave, by your consent and voice, to take that course which you did here forbid me, royal Priam!”
Cassandra sees that her father is wavering; she begs, again on her knees, clutching his frail hand: “Oh, Priam, yield not to him!”
“Do not, dear father!” the warrior’s wife pleads.
“Andromache, I am offended with you,” says Hector. “Upon the love you bear me, get you in!” She curtseys and goes, weeping, into their bed chamber.
Troilus protests to Priam, “This foolish, dreaming, superstitious girl makes all these bodements!”
But Cassandra seems to be elsewhere. She rises and, seized with a new vision, speaks slowly—eyes open wide.
She stares in horror at sights unseen by others. “Oh, farewell, dear Hector…. Look, how thou diest! Look, how thine eye turns pale! Look, how thy wounds do bleed at many vents!”
Her voice rises. “Hark how Troy roars!—how Hecuba cries out!—how poor Andromache shrills her dolours forth! Behold distraction, frenzy and amazement! Like witless, antic ones, each another meets—and all cry, ‘Hector! Hector’s dead! Oh, Hector!’”
Troilus is disgusted. “Away! Away!”
“Farewell!” sobs Cassandra. She stops at the entrance. “Yet, soft.” She gazes at the eager champion. “Hector, take thy leave; thou dost thyself and all our Troy deceive.” She goes to her chambers, to wait.
Prince Hector faces the tremulous old king. “You are amazèd, my liege, at her exclaim.
“Go in and cheer the town!” he urges heartily. “We’ll forth and fight!—do deeds worth praise, and tell you them at night!”
Priam wants to be persuaded. “Fare well! The gods with safety stand about thee!” He means surround and protect, despite the irony that those observers are deathless.
Hector goes down to face Achilles; Priam leaves to rally the city.
Soon the sunny streets below echo with drums’ and trumpets’ bright alarums.
At the window, Troilus can see many opposing soldiers approach each other on the field, their knights in gleaming armor. He can almost hear the troops’ distant cries. They are at it, hark!
Proud Diomed, believe: I come to lose my arms or win my sleeve!
Pandarus finds him. “Do you hear, my lord!” he calls, coming in, “do you hear!”
Troilus turns. “What now?”
Pandarus, wheezing, catches his breath, then pulls a paper from his coat. “Here’s a letter come from yond poor girl!”
“Let me read.” Troilus, still watching the field below, carelessly unseals the missive.
Old Pandarus, worried about his position, craves sympathy; he whines about his consumptive cough, and other ailments. “A whoreson testicle, a whoreson rascally testicle so troubles me!—and the foolish fortune of this girl—what with one thing or another, I shall leave you one o’ these days!
“And I have a rheum in mine eyes, too; and such an ache in my bones that, unless a man were cursèd, I cannot tell what to think on’t!” he groans—unaware of how it would please Thersites to hear that.
Pandarus frowns; the prince is not listening. “What says she there?”
Troilus has merely glanced at the tear-stained pages. “Words, words, mere words—not matter from the heart! The effect doth operate another way.” He tears the letter into pieces. “Go—wind to wind!” he cries angrily, hurling the bits from the window, “there turn and change together!
“My love with words and errors still she feeds—but edifies another with her deeds!”
This angry warrior will be subject to no vice of mercy.