Troilus and Cressida By William Shakespeare Presented by Paul W. Collins All rights reserved



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But Pandarus— O gods, how you do plague me! I cannot come to Cressid but by Pandarus—and he’s as eager to be wooed to woo as she is stubbornly chaste against all suit!

Tell me, Apollo, for thy Daphne’s love, what Cressida is, what Pandarus—and what we?

But the longing youth himself answers: Her bed is India! —thought a source of inestimable wealth. There she lies, a pearl! Between my Ilium and where she resides, let that be called the wild and wandering flood!—ourself a merchant, and this sailing ‘Pandar’ my ship—my conveyance and my doubtful hope!

As the trumpets call again for battle, a Trojan-army commander approaches, coming from the castle and heading toward the gate that faces their Greek enemies. “How now, Prince Troilus! Wherefore not afield?”

“Because not there,” the young man replies petulantly; but he immediately repents. “This woman’s answer sorts, for womanish it is to be from thence. What news, Aeneas, from the field today?”

“That Paris is returnèd home, and hurt!

“By whom, Aeneas?”

“By Menelaus”—Helen’s Greek husband.

Troilus is disgusted with his brother, a Trojan prince who holds another man’s wife. “Let Paris bleed; ’tis but a scar to scorn; Paris is gorèd”—harmed more—“by Menelaus’s horn!”—emblem of the cuckold.

The alarum is now shrill. Aeneas, a skillful warrior who relishes combat, smiles. “Hark, what good sport is out of town today!”

Troilus sighs, longing for other trials. “Better at home, if ‘would I might’ were ‘may.’ But as for the sport abroad, are you bound thither?”

“In all swift haste!”

The prince decides he might do better than mope. His spirits rising, Troilus starts toward the fray. “Come, go we then together!”


Just outside King Priam’s palace, but well within the surrounding stone walls of Troy, Lady Cressida and a servant, a lad of sixteen, again come to watch the warriors go out to fight. He is aroused by the busy day’s happenings—thrilled that the colorful, manly contests are taking place so near.

“Who were those went by?” she asks.

“Queen Hecuba and Helen!

“And whither go they?”

“Up to the eastern tower, whose height commands as subject all the vale, to see the battle!” Young Alexander has some news. “Hector, whose patience is as fixèd as a virtue, today was vexed! He chid Andromache”—his wife, “and struck his armourer! Then; as if there were husbandry in war”—a need to avoid waste, “before the sun rose he was harnessèd tight”—strapped into armor, “and to the field goes he!—where every flower did weep as a prophet for what it foresaw in Hector’s wrath!

Hector is the Trojans’ chief warrior; but the dew is usually gone long before he is seen.

“What was his cause of anger?”

“The noise goes thus: there is among the Greeks a lord of Trojan blood, nephew to Hector; they call him Ajax.”

“Good; and what of him?”

As have many residents of Troy during its years under siege, the boy has come to regard the warring lords of both sides as celebrities. “They say he is very much a man per se, and stands alone!”

“So can all men, unless they are drunk, sick, or have no legs.”

This man, lady, hath robbed many beasts of their particular attributes: he is as valiant as the lion, churlish as the bear, slow as the elephant—a man into whom nature hath so crowded moods that his valour is crushed into folly!—and his folly unsaucèd with discretion!

“There is no man hath a virtue that he hath not a glimpse of, nor any man an attaint but he carries some stain of it. He is melancholy against the air, and merry without cause! He hath the joints of every strong thing, but everything so out of joint that he is a gouty Briareus: many hands and no use!—or a purblind Argus: all eyes and no sight!

Cressida enjoys the description of powerful puerility. “But how should this man, who makes me smile, make Hector angry?

“They say he yesterday copèd Hector in the battle, and struck him down!—the disdain and shame whereof hath ever since kept Hector fasting and waking!”

Cressida, watching traffic toward the city’s open eastern gate, hears someone approaching. “Who comes here?”

“Madam, your uncle, Pandarus.”

She decides to tease the graying courtier. “Hector’s a gallant man!” she tells Alexander warmly.

“As may be in the world, lady!”

“What’s that?” asks Pandarus, reaching them, “what’s that?”

“Good morrow, Uncle.”

“Good morrow, cousin Cressid! What do you talk of? Good morrow, Alexander!” he says, aware of the boy’s sinewy arms, flat belly. “How do you, cousin? When were you at Ilium?”—with the king.

“This morning, Uncle.”

“What were you talking of when I came? Was Hector armed and gone ere ye came to Ilium? Helen was not up, was she?”

“Hector was gone, but Helen was not up.” Palace gossip is often about one or the other.

“Even so. Hector was stirring early…” says Pandarus, inviting comment on the champion’s newest exploits.

“That were we talking of,” says Cressida, “and of his anger.”

Pandarus smiles, pleased. “Was he angry?

“So says he here.”

“True!—he was so!” cries Pandarus happily. “I know the cause, too! He’ll lay about him today, I can tell them that!

“And there’s Troilus, who will not come far behind him! Let them take heed of Troilus!—I can tell them that, too!

Cressida, amused that Pandarus has already managed to mention his favorite, feigns surprise. “What, is he angry, too?

“Who, Troilus? Troilus is the better man of the two.”

She laughs. “Oh, Jupiter!—there’s no comparison!”

What, not between Troilus and Hector? Do you know a man if you see one?”

She replies as if he means recognize. “Aye—if I ever saw him before and knew him.”

“Well, I say Troilus is Troilus!

“Then you say as I say—for I am sure he is not Hector.”

“No, nor is Hector Troilus, in some degrees,” Pandarus counters.

She nods. “’Tis just unto each of them: he is himself.”

Himself? Alas, poor Troilus,” says Pandarus sadly, “I would he were!

Cressida seems puzzled. “So he is.”

Pandarus shakes his head: “As if I had gone barefoot to India!

“He is not Hector….”

Himself!—he’s not himself! Would he were himself!” He frowns; she is not taking the bait. Well, the gods are above; time must friend or end! Troilus, well I would that my heart were in her body! He resumes his first tack. “No, Hector is not a better man than Troilus….”

“Excuse me?” Hector is Troy’s most renowned hero.

“He is but elder.”

Cressida can’t help laughing. “Pardon me, pardon me!”

Pandarus defends the younger prince. “Th’ other’s not yet come to’t!—you shall tell me another tale, when th’ other’s come to’t! Hector shall not have his wit this year!”

“He shall not need it, if he have his own.”

“Nor his qualities.”

“No matter”—insubstantial.

“Nor his beauty.”

“’Twould not become him,” she replies. “His own’s better.”

“You have no judgment, Niece! Helen herself swore th’ other day that Troilus, for his brown complexion—for so ’tis, I must confess—yet not brown neither—” Lightness is seen as elegance.

“No,” says Cressida, “just brown.”

He is picturing Troilus’s rosy cheeks, full lips. “’Faith, to say truth, brown and not-brown….”

She chuckles. “To say the truth as true and not true!”

Pandarus raises an eyebrow significantly. “She praised his complexion as above Paris’s!

“Why, Paris hath colour enough.”

“So he has.”

“Then Troilus must have too much!” laughs Cressida. “If she praised his above Paris’s complexion, ’tis higher than his; he having colour enough, then the other, higher, is too flaming a praise for a good complexion! I had as lief Helen’s golden tongue had commended Troilus for a copper nose!

Pandarus still hopes Helen’s high estimation of Troilus will increase his appeal for Cressida. “I swear to you, I think Helen loves him better than Paris!

“Then he’s a ‘merry Greek’ indeed!” laughs Cressida, as if he’d meant she makes love to both.

But Pandarus is, as usual, engrossed in his own thoughts. “Nay, I am sure she does! She came upon him th’ other day in the compassèd window”—the high, round eastern tower, “and, as you know, he has not past three or four hairs on his chin—”

“Indeed, a tapster’s arithmetic may soon bring his particulars therein to a total!”

“Well, he is very young. And yet, within three pounds, he will lift as much as his brother Hector!

She frowns, pretending to misunderstand. “Is so young a man to lift an older?

“But to prove to you that Helen loves him: she came and put her white hand to his cloven chin—”

“Juno have mercy!” cries Cressida, as if alarmed to hear of an injury. “How came it cloven?

“Why you know ’tis dimpled.” Pandarus sighs. “I think his smiling becomes him better than any man in all Phrygia!”

“Oh, he smiles—valiantly,” says Cressida, with some annoyance.

Pandarus beams. “Does he not?”

“Oh yes, as ’twere a cloud in autumn!”—constant and unwelcome.

“Well go to, then! Now, to prove to you that Helen loves Troilus—”

Cressida grins lasciviously. “Troilus will stand to the proof if you’d prove it so!”

“Troilus?—why, he esteems her no more than I esteem an addled egg!”—a scrambled one.

She laughs again. “If you love an addled egg as well as you love an idle head, you would eat chickens in the shell!

Pandarus persists with his Helen story. “I cannot choose but laugh, to think how she tickled his chin! Indeed, she has a marvellously white hand, I must needs confess—”

“Without the rack?” His confession required no torture.

“—and she takes it upon her to spy a white hair on his chin!”

“Alas, poor chin!—many a wart is richer!”—in hairs.

“And there was such laughing!” says Pandarus. “Queen Hecuba laughed so hard that her eyes ran o’er!”

Cressida mutters, doubtfully, “With millstones”—as in the old saw about the hard-hearted; she has found the aging matriarch to be quite cold.

“Even Cassandra laughed!”

The princess, known for dire prognostication, never so much as smiles. “Ah, there is no temperate fire under the pot of her eyes! Did her eyes run o’er too?

“Then Hector laughed!”

“At what was all this laughing?”

“Marry, at the white hair that Helen spied on Troilus’s chin!”

Tsk! An’t had been a green hair, I should have laughed too.”

“They laughed not so much at the hair as at his pretty answer!

“What was his answer?”

“Quoth she, ‘Here’s but two and fifty hairs on your chin—and one of them is white!’”

That is no question,” Cressida points out.

The old man jests: “That’s true; I make no question of ‘that.’” He warms to his tale. “‘Two and fifty hairs, and one white,’ quoth he. ‘That white hair is my father—and all the rest are his sons!’” Priam is said to have fifty of them.

“‘Jupiter!’ quoth she. ‘Which of these hairs is my husband?’” She meant Prince Paris, not King Menelaus.

“‘The forkèd one!’ quoth he. ‘Pluck ’t out and give it him!’” The gibe includes irony: the husband would be sent the lover who’s cuckolding him.

Cressida is surprised and amused by the young prince’s bold retort.

“But then was such laughing that Helen soon blushèd—and Paris soon chafèd! But all the rest so laughed that it passèd.”

“So let it now, for it has been a while going by.”

Pandarus finishes laughing, still tickled by his recital. “Well, cousin, I told you a thing yesterday; think on’t!”

“So I do.” She resents his pressing, as he did the day before, his case for the smiling but silent admirer. Pandarus had reported again how Troilus longs for her.

“I’ll be sworn ’tis true: for you he will weep April, as ’twere, like a man born of Spring!

“And I’ll ‘spring up’ from his tears—a nettle, as ’twere, against ‘may!’”

From the nearby plain, where armies contest with each other, they can hear that a retreat is being sounded, signaling the end of struggles for today.

Hark! They are coming from the field!” cries Pandarus. “Shall we stand up here and see them as they pass toward Ilium? Good niece, do, sweet niece Cressida!”

“At your pleasure.”

He looks around. “Here, here!—here’s an excellent place; here we may see most bravely!” The three move up the stone steps in front of a tall, city mansion, as gallant captains—shields held before them, faces partly hidden by helmet visors—march past, leading their tired troops to quarters.

Pandarus and the boy are stirred by the parade, an exhibition of manliness. “I’ll tell you them all, by their names, as they pass by—but mark Troilus above the rest!”

“Speak not so loud,” says Cressida, watching as the virile commanders pass by.

Pandarus points. “That’s Aeneas! Is not that a brave man?” He is noting the officer’s appearance as much as his boldness. “He’s one of the flowers of Troy, I can tell you! But mark Troilus!—you shall see anon!”

A middle-aged officer passes before them. “Who’s that?”

“That’s Antenor. He has a shrewd wit, I can tell you.” Lord Antenor is King Priam’s chief advisor on stratagems. “But he’s a man good enough; he’s one o’ the soundest judgments in whatsoever, and a proper man in his person.”

Pandarus peers ahead. “When comes Troilus? I’ll show you Troilus anon! If he see me, you shall see him nod at me!”

“Will he give you the nod?”—look askance, as one might at a fool.

He hasn’t heard. “You shall see!”

“If he do, the rich shall have more,” she gibes.

Pandarus is leaning forward. On his toes, he gazes down the street, looking out over the bobbing rows of soldiers’ tufted helmets. “That’s Hector!—that, that, look you, that! There’s a fellow!

Go thy way, Hector! There’s a brave man, Niece! Oh, brave Hector! Look how he looks! There’s a countenance! Is’t not a brave man?”

Cressida watches the passing prince. “Oh, a brave man.” She has found that warriors, however useful in battle, can be vain, abrupt and stubborn elsewhere.

“Is he not? It does a man’s heart good! Look you what hacks are on his helmet! Look you yonder, do you see? Look you there! There’s no jesting!—there’s laying on! Take’t off who will,’ as they say! There be hacks!

“Be those from swords?” asks Cressida, feigning ignorance; men have been known to dent their own armor, knick blades in private.

“Swords—anything!he cares not!—if the Devil come to him, it’s all one! By God’s ’lid, it does one’s heart good!

“Yonder comes Paris, yonder comes Paris! Look ye yonder, Niece! Is’t not a gallant man, too—is’t not? Why, this is brave now!—who said he came home hurt today? He’s not hurt! Why, this will do Helen’s heart good!

“Would I could see Troilus now! You shall see Troilus anon!”

Another of old Priam’s many sons comes from within the city to meet the troops. Cressida cannot identify all of the princes, despite the bearings and crests emblazoned on their shields, and sewn onto their tabards. “Who’s that?”

Pandarus glances back briefly. “That’s Helenus,” he says, noting the slender man. “I marvel where Troilus is…. That’s Helenus; I think he went not forth today…..” He looks at the warrior’s long legs. “That’s Helenus….”

“Can Helenus fight, Uncle?”

Helenus? No.” He sees her surprise, and shrugs. “Yes, he’ll fight indifferent well….” He frowns. “I marvel where Troilus is! Hark, do you not hear the people cry, ‘Troilus!’?” He watches as the tall nobleman goes by. “Helenus is a priest.”

Cressida glances down the rows. “What sneaking fellow comes yonder?”

“Where? Yonder? That’s Deiphobus”—another of Priam’s sons, one as old as Pandarus.

But now he sees the one she means. “’Tis Troilus! There’s a man, Niece! Him! Brave Troilusthe prince of chivalry!” Other onlookers, along the steps below, look up at him, amused.

Peace! For shame, peace!” Cressida is discomfited by his loud enthusiasm.

Mark him; note him! Oh, brave Troilus! Look well upon him, Niece! Look you how his sword is bloodied, and his helm more hacked than Hector’s—and how he looks, and how he goes! Oh, admirable youth!—he ne’er yet saw three and twenty!

Go thy way, Troilus, go thy way!” he calls, encouragingly, as the prince and his soldiers march by. “Had I a sister who were a-grace, or a daughter a goddess, he should take his choice! Oh, admirable man! Paris?—Paris is dirt compared to him!—and I warrant, to boot, that to exchange, Helen would give an aye!

But Cressida is looking past the prince. “Here come more.”

“Asses, fools, dolts!” mutters Pandarus as the captains march past. “Chaff and bran, chaff and bran! Porridge after meat!

“I could live and die i’ the eyes of Troilus!” he tells his niece, turning to her. “Ne’er look, ne’er look—the eagles are gone! Crows and daws, crows and daws! I had rather be such a man as Troilus than Agamemnon and all of Greece!

“There is, among the Greeks, Achilles—a better man than Troilus….”

Achilles!—a drayman, a porter, a very camel!” cries Pandarus.

As he fulminates, Cressida merely smiles. “Well, well….”

“Well? Well?—why, have you any discernment? Have you any eyes? Do you know what a man is? Are not birth—beauty, good shape, youth—and learning, discourse, gentleness, virtue, such-like—and liberality in manhood the spice and salt that season a man?”

“Aye—a mincèd man!—one to be baked in a pie—with no dates, for by then the man’s date’s out!”—he’s too old.

“You are such an other woman!—one knows not on what ward you’ll rely!”—where she could find support.

“Upon my bark”—clothing, “to defend my belly; upon my wit to defend my wills; upon my secrecy to defend mine honesty,”—good repute, “my mask, to defend my beauty—and you, to defend all of these!

“And at all these wards I lie under a thousand watches!”—would-be suitors’ gazes.

Pandarus—her guardian, since her father’s defection—frowns. “Say one of your watches!” he challenges.

“Nay, I’ll watch you for that!—and that’s one of the chiefest of them, too!” Among her main concerns is his urging her toward what he himself desires. “If I cannot ward off what I would not have hit,”—evade sex, “I can watch you”—rely on him—“for telling me how I took the blow!

Her eyes sparkle with mischief. “Unless it swell past hiding, and then it’s past watching.”

Jesting about pregnancy scandalizes the old man. “You are such an other!

Troilus’s page has spotted them from the street; he trots up the steps. “Sir, my lord would instantly speak with you!”

“Where?”


“At your own house; there he unarms him.”

“Good boy, tell him I come!” He turns to Cressida as the lad runs home, to where Troilus is undressing. “I fear he be hurt! Fare ye well, good niece!”

“Adieu, Uncle.”

“I’ll be with you, Niece, by and by,” he tells her.

She sighs. “To bring, Uncle?”

His smile expands as he nods. “Aye—a token from Troilus!






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