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



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By the same token, you are a bawd! she thinks, as he hurries away. Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love’s full sacrifice he offers—in another’s enterprise!

But I see a thousandfold more in Troilus than may be in the glass of Pandarus’s praise!

Yet hold I off.

Women are ‘angels’ in wooing, but those won are done! Joy’s soul lies in the doing!

A she who is belovèd knows nought that knows not this: men prize a thing ungainèd for more than it is. Never ye was the she who knew love gotten as sweet as when desire did sue!

Therefore this maxim out of love I’d teach: achievèd hears command—ungainèd, beseech!

Though my heart’s content firm love doth bear, nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear!
Chapter Two

Concern—and Challenge
East of Troy one hot afternoon, in the Greeks’ huge encampment—standing long enough now to be a sorry city of faded, mud-spattered canvas—Agamemnon, troubled, has summoned his dejected chief commanders. Beside him is his younger brother, Menelaus, Sparta’s king and Helen’s husband.

“Princes, what grief hath set the jaundice on your cheeks?” asks the general—rhetorically. “The ample proposition that hope makes in all designs begun here on earth below fails in the promised largess!

Restraints grow in the veins of actions highest rearèd, as do knots, by the conflux of meeting, sap a sound pine, and divert its grain, tortive and errant from the course of growth.

“Nor, princes, is it matter new to us that we come so far short of our supposes that, after seven years’ siege, yet Troy walls stand, sith in every action that hath gone before whereof we have recorded, trial did draw bias”—in practice, the bowstring went askew, “and was thwarted, not answering to the aim, nor to that unbodied figure of thought that gave’t surmisèd shape.

Why, then, you princes, do you abashèd behold our works, and call those shame which are indeed nought else but protractive tests by great Jove to find persistive constancy in men?

“The fineness of such mettle”—a play on metal—“is not assayèd in Fortune’s love—for then the bold and coward, the wise and fool, the artist and unread, the hard and soft, all seem affinèd and kin—but in the wind and tempest of her frown!

Disaster, puffing at all with a loud and powerful fan, winnows the light away, and what hath mass or matter by itself lies rich in virtue, and unminglèd!”

His wizened, very old counselor moves forward. “With due observance of thy godlike seat, great Agamemnon, Nestor shall apply thy latest words.

“In the reproof of chance lies the true proof of men.

“The sea being smooth, many shallow, bauble boats dare sail upon her patient breast, making their way with those of nobler bulk. But let the ruffian Boreas”—the North Wind—“once enrage the gentle Thetis,”—a sea nymph, “then anon behold the strong-ribbèd bark through liquid mountains cut, bounding between the two moist elements like Perseus’ horse! Where’s then the saucy boat whose weak, untimbered sides just now did co-rival greatness? Either to harbour fled, or made a snack for Neptune!

“Even so do valour’s show and valour’s worth divide, in the storms of Fortune. For in her ray and brightness, the herd hath more annoyance from the breeze than from the tiger; but when a splitting wind makes flexible the knees of knotted oaks, and flies are fled unto shade, why then the thing of courage—arousèd with rage, with Rage doth sympathize!—and with an accent tunèd in selfsame key—replies to chiding Fortune!”

A strong, weathered nobleman steps forward. “Agamemnon, thou great commander—nerve and bone of Greece; heart of our numbers; soul, and only spirit that should be enclosèd in the tempers and the minds of all—hear what Ulysses speaks.”

He says to the general, “To the applause and approbation, most mighty, for thy place and sway, and for thou, most reverend, for thy stretched-out life,” he tells Nestor, “I give more!

“Both of your speeches were such that hands of Greece should hold up high in brass what Agamemnon tells us, and such again in silver as venerable Nestor hatchèd, which should, with a bond of air strong as the axle-tree on which heaven rides, knit all the Greekish ears to his experienced tongue!

“Yet let it please both of thou, great and wise, to hear Ulysses speak.”

Agamemnon is amused by the ornate preface’s subtle dig at his prolix advisor; white-haired Nestor enjoys relegation of the general’s words to ordinary brass.

The king tells Ulysses, “Speak, prince of Ithaca! And be’t a matter needless, of importless burden,”—empty refrain, “even less respectful than we are confident of when rank Thersites opes his mastic jaws, divide thy lips, and we shall hear music, wit and oracle!

The officers laugh; the cynical Thersites, an impoverished gentleman serving Lord Ajax, is known for harsh rudeness.

Ulysses paces before them, perturbed by their situation. “Troy, yet upon its own basis,”—still standing, “would have been down, and the great Hector’s sword had lacked a master, but for these instances:

“The special equity of rule”—authority’s added weight—“hath been neglected—and look how many Grecian tents do stand empty upon this plain: as many as hollow factions! When the general cause is not like the hive unto which the foragers shall all repair, what honey is expected?

“And degree being masked, the unworthiest shows as fairly as the mask!

“The heavens themselves—the planets, and this centre—all observe degree, priority, and place—insisture, course, proportion, season, form, office and custom, each in line of order! And therefore is the glorious sun in noble eminence enthronèd and sphered amidst the others—its medicinal eye correcting the ill aspects of planets, and posting commandment as a king, sans check, to good and bad alike!

“But when the planets in evil mixture to disorder wander, what plagues and what portents!—what mutiny!—what raging of the sea, shaking of earth, commotion in the winds! Frights, changes, horrors divert and crack, rend and deracinate the unity and marrièd calm of states, quite from their fixture!

“Oh, when degree, which is the ladder to all high designs, is forsaken, then enterprise is sick!

“How could communities—in schools and brotherhoods, in cities’ peaceful commerce from dividable shores, in the primogenitive due of birth, and prerogatives of age, laurels, sceptres, crowns—stand in authentic place but by degree?

“Take degree away, untune that string, and hark what discord follows! Each thing, bare, meets its repugnancy: the bounded waters would lift their bosoms higher than the shores, and make a sop of all this solid globe!—strength would be lord over civility, and the rude son would strike his father dead!

Force would be right!—or rather, right and wrong, between whose endless jarring justice resides, would lose their names!—and so would justice too!

“Then everything endues itself by power—power from will—will from appetite! And appetite, an universal wolf, so doubly seconded by will and power, must take perforce an universal prey!—and at last eat up itself!

“Great Agamemnon, thus chaos follows choking, when degree is suffocated!

“Thus it is that neglection of degree goes backward, pace by pace, from the intention it hath to be climbing! The general is disdained by him one step below, he by the next, that next by him beneath! So at every step, exampled by the first who is slack of his superior, grows an envious fever of pale and bloodless rivalry!

“And ’tis this failure that keeps Troy up, not her own sinews!

“To end a tale of length: Troy by our weakness stands, not by her strength!”

Nestor nods gravely. “Most wisely hath Ulysses here uncovered the fever whereof all our forces are sick.”

Agamemnon regards the veteran commander. “The nature of the sickness found, Ulysses, what is the remedy?

Ulysses speaks to the leaders candidly—and angrily. “The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns as the sinew and the forehead of our army, having his ear full of his airy fame, grows fastidious about his worth—and lies in his tent, mocking our designs!

With him, Patroclus, upon a lazy bed the livelong day, breaks scurrilous jests, and with ridiculous and awkward acting—which he, slanderer, ‘imitation’ calls—he pageants us!

“Sometime, great Agamemnon, thine unexcellèd reputation he puts on! And—like a strutting player, whose ability lies in his hamstring,”—skill at posing, “and who doth think it rich to hear wooden dialogue sound ’twixt his stretchèd footing and the scaffoldage—in such to-be-pitied and o’er-wrested seeming he acts thy greatness!

“And when he speaks, ’tis like unattended chimes,”—wind-blown tower bells, “squaring off with terms which would seem to be hyperboles dropped from the tongue of roaring Typhon!

“At this fustian stuff the large Achilles, on his pressèd bed lolling, from his deep chest laughs out a loud applause—cries, ‘Excellent! ’Tis Agamemnon, just right! Now play me Nestor!um… and stroke thy beard as does he, being addressèd to some oration!’

“That’s done as closely as the extremest ends of parallels!—as alike as Vulcan and his wife! Yet good Achilles still cries, ‘Excellent!—’tis Nestor, all right! Now, Patroclus, play him for me arming to answer in a night alarm!

“And then, forsooth, the feignèd defects of age must be the scene of mirth!coughing and spitting, and with a palsied fumbling at his gorget,”—trying to attach neck armor, “shaking the rivet in and out!

“And at this sport Sir Valour dies—cries, ‘Oh, enough, Patroclus!—or give me ribs of steel!—I shall split, in the pleasure of my spleen!’

“And in that fashion, all of our abilities, gifts, natures, several and general shapes of grace, exact achievements, plots, orders, preventions, excitements to the field or speech for success, truce, or loss—what is or is not serves as stuff for those two to make paradoxes!

And,” notes Nestor, “by the imitations of these twain—whom, as Ulysses says, opinion crowns with an imperial voice—many are infected!

Ajax is grown self-willèd, and bears his head in such a rein!—in as full and proud a place as broad Achilles!—keeps to his tent like him; makes factious feasts,”—feeds his favorites, excludes others, “rails on our state of war, bold as an oracle!—and sets Thersites, a slave whose gall coins slanders like a mint, to match us in comparisons with dirt!—to weaken and discredit our efforts, by whatever rank, and however rounded-in with danger!”

Ulysses continues the complaint: “They tax our policy and call it cowardice; count wisdom as no member of the war; forestall prescience,”—undermine forethought, “and esteem no act but that of hand! The still and mental parts that do contrive how the many hands shall strike, when fitness calls them on, and, by measure of their observant toil, know the enemies’ weight—why, this hath not a finger’s dignity! They call this bed-work, nappery, closet war!

“So the ram that batters down the wall, for the great swing and rudeness of its poise, they place before him whose hand made the engine!—before those who, with the finesse of their souls, by reason guide its execution!”

“Let that be granted,” says Nestor, “and Achilles’ horse equals many Thetis sons!” Thetis is Achilles’ mother.

A tucket is sounded. Says Agamemnon, “What trumpet? Look, Menelaus.”

That king steps away to peer toward the line of sentinels; he sees an emissary, with a herald and attendants, coming through the camp. “From Troy.”

When Lord Aeneas reaches the Greek commanders, their general asks him, haughtily, “What would you ’fore our tent?”

“Is this great Agamemnon’s tent, I pray you?”

“Even this,” says he.

Aeneas pretends not to recognize the enemy general. “May one that is a herald and a prince deliver a fair message to his kingly eyes?”

Agamemnon is annoyed. “With surety stronger than Achilles’ arm!—’fore all the Greekish heads which with one voice call Agamemnon crown and general!

Aeneas, adjusting his gloves, intones, “Fair leave, in large security. How may a stranger to those most imperial looks know them from those of other mortals?”

Agamemnon scowls. “What?

“I ask so that I might waken ‘reverence’—aye, and bid the cheek be ready with a blush, modest as morning when she coldly eyes the youthful Phoebus,” the visitor explains casually. “Which is that god in office, guiding men?—which is the high and mighty Agamemnon?”

The general glares “This Trojan scorns us!—or the men of Troy are unceremonious courtiers!”

Aeneas smiles. “Our courtiers are as free, as debonair—unarmèd—as bending angels!—that’s their fame in peace.” His eyes flash as he faces the officers fearlessly. “But when they would seem soldiers, they have balls!—good arms, strong joints, true swords—and, by Jove’s accord, no one’s so full of heart!

He can hear angry mutters; he tells himself aloud, “But peace, Aeneas!—peace, Trojan!—lay thy finger on thy lips! The worthiness of praise disclaims its worth if the praisèd himself bring the praise forth”—a dig at Agamemnon. “What a repining enemy commends, that breath Fame blows!—that praise alone surely transcends.”

“Sir, you of Troy—call you yourself Aeneas?

“Aye, Greek; that is my name.”

“What’s your affair, I pray you?”

“Sir, pardon; ’tis for Agamemnon’s ears.”

“He hears nought privately that comes from Troy!

“Nor come I from Troy to whisper to him—I bring a trumpet to awake his ear!—to set his senses on the attentive bent!” says Aeneas boldly. “And then to speak.”

“So that thou shalt know, it is not Agamemnon’s sleeping hour,” the general tells him. To avoid further taunts, he says, impatiently, “Trojan, he is awake!—he tells thee so himself. Speak as frankly as the wind.”

Aeneas motions to his attendants. “Trumpet, blow loud!—send thy brass voice through all these lazy tents!—and every Greek of mettle, let him know: what Troy means shall be fairly spoken aloud!

The horn blares out a call, and—to their commanders’ irritation—Greek troops come to hear.

Aeneas begins his message. “We have, great Agamemnon, here in Troy a prince callèd HectorPriam is his father—who in this dull and long-continuèd truce is rusty grown. He bade me take a trumpet, and to this purpose speak:

Kings, princes, lords! If there be one among the fair’st of Greece who holds his honour higher than his ease—who seeks his praise more than he fears his peril—who knows his valour, and shows not his fear—who loves his mistress more in confession”—with a priest—“than with truant vows to her own lips whom he loves, but dares avow her beauty and her worth in arms other than hers

“To him this challenge!

Hector, in view of Trojans and of Greeks, shall make this good,”—verify his claim, “or do his best to do it! He hath a lady wiser, fairer, truer than ever Greek did encompass in his arms!—and will tomorrow, midway between your tents and the walls of Troy, with his trumpet call to rouse the Grecian who is truly in love!

“If any comes, Hector shall honour him; if none, he’ll say, in Troy when he retires, that the Grecian dames are sunburnt, and not worth the splinter of a lance!—not even so much!”

Agamemnon acknowledges the challenge in chivalry. “This shall be told our rovers, Lord Aeneas; if none of them have a soul of such a kind, we left them all at home!

“But we are soldiers!—and if a soldier prove a recreant, it means not that he hath not been or is not now in love!

“If, then, one is, or hath been, or means to be in love, that one meets Hector!

“If none else, I am he!”

The ancient sage comes to Aeneas. “Tell him of Nestor, one that was a man when Hector’s grandsire suckled! He is old now, but if there be not in our Grecian host one noble man that hath one spark of fire to answer for his love, tell him from me I’ll hide my silver beard in a gold visor, and into my vambrace”—armor—“put this withered brawn!—and meeting him, will tell him that my lady was fairer than his grandam, and as chaste as may be in the world!

“His youth is in flood, but this truth I’ll prove—with my three drops of blood!”

Aeneas smiles. “Now may heavens forbid such scarcity of youth!”—vigor among the Greeks.

Amen!” cries Ulysses.

Agamemnon comes to the emissary. “Fair Lord Aeneas, let me touch your hand!” They grip—very firmly—shaking hands. “To our pavilion shall I lead you, sir. Achilles shall have word of this intent!—so shall each lord of Greece, from tent to tent! Yourself shall feast with us before you go, and find the welcome of a noble foe!”

Aeneas nods, and walks with the general toward his pavilion. His top officers follow, all looking forward to a hearty noon meal.

But one commander keeps another noblemen back. “Nestor….”

“What says Ulysses?”

“I have a young conception in my brain; be you my tine to bring it to some shape.”

“What is’t?”

“This: ’tis blunt wedges rive hard knots! The seeded pride that hath to this maturity grown up in rank Achilles must now be cropped—or, shedding, breed a nursery of like evil to overbulk us all!”

Nestor concurs. “Well, but how?”

“This challenge that the gallant Hector sends, however it is spread in general name, relates in purpose only to Achilles.”

Nestor nods. “The purpose is conspicuous, even as is substance whose grossness little characters sum up. And the announcing made it so plain that Achilles, were his brain as barren as banks of Libya—though, Apollo knows, ’tis dry enough!—will with celerity”—he sees Ulysses skeptical look, “aye, with great speed of judgment, find Hector’s purpose pointing to him.”

“And wake him to answer, think you?”

“Yes, ’tis most meet. Whom else may we oppose that can from Hector return with his honour, if not Achilles? Though’t be a sportful combat, yet in the trial much opinion dwells!—for here the Trojans taste our dear’st repute with their finest palate!

“And, trust me, Ulysses, our estimation shall be poisèd greatly in this wild action: for the result, although particular, shall give a scantling of good or bad imputation unto the general army—and in such indexes, although small ticks compared to their subsequent volumes, there is seen the baby figure of the giant mass of things at large to come!

“It is supposèd that he who meets Hector issues from our choice. And choice, being the mutual act of all our souls, makes merit its election, and so doth boil from us, as ’twere, a man distillèd out of all our virtues.

“Who, miscarrying….” He pauses to consider the potential result: a bolstering of their enemies’ confidence. “What heart the conquering part receives from hence, to steel a strong opinion of themselves!—which, entertainèd, is their instrument, no less in working than are swords and bows directed by their limbs!”

“Give pardon to my speech,” says Ulysses. “That is why ’tis meet Achilles not meet Hector!” He leans closer, aware that his stratagem will seem peculiar; the most famous Greek warrior is renowned for his powerful limbs and his great skill at fighting. “Let us, like merchants, show our foulest wares—think perchance they’ll sell; then, if not, the lustre of the better yet to show shall show all the better!

“Do not consent that ever Hector and Achilles meet!—for both our honour and our shame in this are doggèd by two strange followers.”

Nestor is listening—but puzzled. “I see them not with my old eyes; what are they?”

The warrior explains. “Were he not prideful, whatever glory our Achilles might shake from Hector we all could share with him. But he already is too insolent; we were better to parch in Afric sun than in the proud, insulting scorn of his eyes should he ’scape Hector fair!

“And if he were foiled, why then we did crush our strong esteem in the attaint of our best man!

“No, make it a lottery—and, by device in that sorting, let blockish Ajax draw to fight with Hector!

“Among ourselves, give him allowance as the better man—for that will physic the great Myrmidon”—be medicinal to Achilles, “who toils only in loud applause, and make him lower his crest!—not prouder, then, but below Iris’s bands!”—the rainbow.

Adds Ulysses, “If the dull, brainless Ajax come safely off, we’ll dress him up in voices; if he fail, we proceed with our position that we have still-better men.

“But, hit or miss, our project’s shape this one life then assumes: Ajax employèd plucks down Achilles’ plumes!”

Nestor smiles. “Ulysses, now I relish thy advice!—and I will give a taste of it forthwith to Agamemnon! Go we to him straight!

“Two curs shall tame each other! Pride alone must spur the mastiffs on—as if ’twere their bone!




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