Troilus and Cressida ends in as deflating a manner as it begins, adding to the prologue’s impact and significance. Rather than a heroic ending, we are given an epilogue wherein Pandarus speaks about prostitution. No glorious exit is this; instead of ending his account of the famed Trojan War with an inspirational speech made by one of the play’s ‘courageous’ warriors, Shakespeare chooses to have the dishonorable Pandarus give a speech about prostitution to conclude the play. The epilogue closely ties the play’s events with gross bodily functions. Pandarus alludes to a world overrun with panderers, prostitutes, and venereal disease, leaving the audience with no hope for the arbitrary world Shakespeare has created within Troilus and Cressida. The vacancy and flatness of the prologue become clear in the epilogue: there is no moral high ground left in this world; all is base and physical, the antithesis of the ideal world of the heroic. Pandarus’ focus on venereal disease suggests to us, just as Montaigne does, that the transparent heroic values of the European world are false and diseased. Both the world Shakespeare creates and the European world as Montaigne perceives it are in serious trouble.
In the epilogue, Pandarus describes the hypocrisy of men in their enjoyment of the sexual favors of prostitutes while they condemn prostitution as a whole. The inconsistency he relays in the epilogue is just one of the many instances of caprice that we see within the play. Similarly, in Montaigne’s essay, men are inconsistent and hypocritical. All this is designed to show us the absurdity of our assumption that we can possess absolute knowledge. Both Montaigne and Shakespeare were concerned with our tendency to consider our personal perspective as absolute. In framing his account of the Trojan War with an uncharacteristically taciturn, middle-style prologue and an entirely ignoble epilogue—giving it those ‘problems’ of stagnancy, of a focus on interpretation over action, of debasing a heroic tale, and of a lack of single genre—Shakespeare shows his viewers, in a highly Montaignian style, the severity of their misperceptions.
III. Ajax, Troilus, and Cressida: Montaigne’s Characterization Put to Work
The parallels between Montaigne’s Essais and Troilus and Cressida continue in Shakespeare’s characterization of Ajax, Troilus, and Cressida. In his “On the inconstancy of our actions,” Montaigne essentially makes an argument about characterization itself, examining the fickleness of both human action and human intent and providing us with suggestions about evaluating the actions and motivations of others.
Montaigne begins the essay by identifying the problem of inconstancy: “vacillation seems to me to be the most common and blatant defect of our nature” (Screech 124). He finds the problem’s root in our failure to have a constant purpose or intention in our actions. He tells us that “anyone who has not groomed his life in general towards some definite end cannot possibly arrange his individual actions properly. It is impossible to put the pieces together if you do not have in your head the idea of the whole” (Screech 130). We, Montaigne argues, have inconsistent actions because we have no consistent purpose. Our intentions are based solely on circumstance, with no appeal to any higher reason. He writes:
That man you saw yesterday so ready to take risks: do not think it odd if you find him craven tomorrow. What had put heart into his belly was anger, or need, or his fellows, or wine, or the sound of a trumpet. His heart had not been fashioned by reasoned argument: it was those factors which stiffened it; no wonder then if he has been made quite different by other and contrary factors (Screech 128).
Our intentions are not fashioned by reason, but rather by circumstance; we act completely contingently, without any appeal to a judgment higher than the feeling of the moment.
As he explicates the problem of our inconsistent actions, however, Montaigne also provides us with a way to resolve it. He notes that “‘nothing can be called constant which does not arise out of a fixed principle’” (Screech 129). What we must do to remain constant in our actions, then, is to have a “fixed principle” to which we appeal before acting. This will allow us to remain consistent in the face of the many and varied circumstances in which we find ourselves, including those examples he gives when describing the man who is brave one day and craven the next. Within that same description, cited above, Montaigne provides us with the very “fixed principle” to which we should refer: “reasoned argument.” He insinuates that, had that craven man’s heart been fashioned by “reasoned argument” instead of “other and contrary factors,” his actions would not have been a result of mere circumstance, and, thus, inconsistent. Our task, therefore, is to not allow ourselves to act upon momentary feelings derived purely from a given situation, but rather to appeal to the higher faculty of reason, which will allow us to maintain a constant purpose in our actions, thus giving them coherence.
Montaigne also addresses the issue of how to judge each other’s actions in the face of all this inconsistency, creating a mode through which we can interpret one another even in our mutability. To properly evaluate another’s actions, we must always take into account the context of the actions, examining each deed as self-contained and not necessarily definitive in showing a person’s true intent or character. Montaigne explains this: “In our cases on the contrary [as opposed to those of the Ancients] every one of our actions requires to be judged on its own: the surest way in my opinion would be to refer each of them to its context, without looking farther and without drawing any firm inference from it” (Screech 126). Since our actions are so contingent, we must consider the circumstances informing each action. We cannot judge all of our actions as a whole, as there can be no cohesiveness in something so completely based in situation. He writes that “it is not the act of a settled judgement to judge us simply by our outward deeds: we must probe right down inside and find out what principles make things move” (Screech 131). The manifestation of our true intentions may belie them; we must consider the source of one another’s actions to truly understand them. Thus, the mode of interpretation Montaigne endorses is based upon qualification. He compels us to qualify others’ actions as they are subject to situation. Just as we can move toward knowledge outside ourselves in recognizing our reliance upon our own partial perspectives, so we can move toward understanding others’ actions in recognizing their reliance upon circumstance. Essentially, Montaigne continues developing the mode of qualification he introduces in his discussion of knowledge in “On the Cannibals,” expanding it to include an account of our actions, an external manifestation of our minds.
In this way, Montaigne’s take on our actions is an argument about the nature of characterization itself. As he writes, “it seems reasonable enough to base our judgement of a man on the more usual features of his life: but given the natural inconstancy of our behaviour and our opinions it has often occurred to me that even sound authors are wrong in stubbornly trying to weave us into one invariable and solid fabric” (Screech 124). In other words, although it would seem logical to judge one another based upon our habitual actions alone, without any qualification or accounting for circumstance, the intrinsic caprice of our actions makes such a standard for judgment illogical. Thus, authors should not try to “weave us into one invariable and solid fabric,” but rather acknowledge our situationally-driven mutability.
Shakespeare typifies this mutability of action and intention in the character of Ajax. Alexander describes him to Cressida at the beginning of Act I, Scene 2:
This man, lady, hath robbed many beasts of
their particular additions: he is as valiant as the lion,
churlish as the bear, slow as the elephant; a man into
crushed into folly, his folly sauced 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 without cause and merry
against the hair. He hath the joints of everything, but
everything so out of joint that he is a gouty Briareus,
many hands and no use, or purblind Argus, all eyes and
no sight (I.ii.19-30).
This first description we receive of Ajax paints him as a man characterized primarily by inconsistency. He is like the “craven man” Montaigne describes; Ajax is empty of any constant intention as he has no “fixed principle” to which he appeals, leaving him completely open to the forces that surround him. Thus, he takes on every comportment he encounters, ultimately rendering him an amalgamation of all human traits. Ajax comes to epitomize inconstancy in his behavior, as his overabundance of characteristics makes him inappropriate. Since he possesses so many different features, they become deformed and inconsistent with each other. As we are told, Ajax’s valor turns into folly, which is then tempered by discretion. His traits emerge as self-contradictory and constantly vying for supremacy, as evidenced by the active language Shakespeare employs in this description. Ajax is so “crowded” that his humors are “crushed into” and “sauced with” one another, leaving him in a state of constant flux. He is defined by an unchanging process of change; he epitomizes Montaigne’s self-description in “On the inconstancy of our actions”: “The most universal article of my own Logic is Distinguo” (Screech 128). Ajax’s instability, a result of his failure to appeal to “reasoned argument,” renders his actions incoherent, as “he is melancholy without cause and merry against the hair.” Not only are his actions always shifting, but they are always inappropriate as well, moving beyond the capricious into the nonsensical—Montaigne’s argument taken to the extreme.
This mass of contradictions renders the character Ajax almost impossible to categorize, exemplifying Montaigne’s argument that we cannot gather a cohesive image of someone because we are so capricious. The disconnect we see between Ajax’s claims to greatness and his discordant actions demonstrate his inconstancy and his failure to stick to a single purpose. Ajax is a central figure in the internal conflict wreaking havoc on the Greek camp; he ultimately claims superiority over Achilles, declaring for himself an illustriousness that is not manifest in his antithetical actions. The discrepancy between his word and deed is apparent in his conversation with the Greeks in Act II, Scene 3:
[Ajax] A paltry, insolent fellow!
[Nestor] [Aside] How he describes himself!
[Ajax] Can he not be sociable?
[Ulysses] [Aside] The raven chides blackness.
[Ajax] I’ll let his humorous blood.
[Agamemnon] [Aside] He will be the physician that
should be the patient.
[Ajax] An all men were of my mind –
[Ulysses] [Aside] Wit would be out of fashion.
[Ajax] – a should not bear it so, a should eat swords first.
Shall pride carry it?
[Nestor] [Aside] An ’twould, you’d carry half.
[Ulysses] [Aside] A would have ten shares (II.iii.206-218).
Although Ajax criticizes Achilles in this exchange, the other Greeks make it clear that Ajax is himself guilty of the very things for which he chides Achilles. In this moment, Ajax acts out a righteousness that is in direct contradiction to his own prior actions, yet he has no qualms about doing so. In fact, he does not even appear to realize that this incongruity exists; he is so completely contradictory that this constant “becoming” is his norm. In this way, Ajax is very like the Essais and Troilus and Cressida themselves. He becomes a satire unto himself, a sort of miniature version of the genre-less play and essays. The broad range Ajax’s characteristics, in addition to his endless changeability, leaves us unable to clearly define him, just as we cannot clearly assign a single genre to the often-contradictory Essais and the multifarious Troilus and Cressida.
The character Troilus also exemplifies Montaigne’s argument about inconsistent action in his response to Cressida’s actions throughout the play. Cressida is able to do exactly what Montaigne recommends; that is, she is able to maintain a consistent purpose, which allows us to understand her seemingly inconstant actions. Her primary goal is to survive in a society where women have no power. Left with no protector figure save her uncle, Pandarus—who is essentially trying to pander her to Troilus in order to gain more power for himself—Cressida must carefully reason each of her actions to ensure her own well-being. From the beginning, she clearly states this as her intention:
Upon my back, to defend my belly; upon my
wit, to defend my wiles; upon my secrecy, to defend
mine honesty; my mask, to defend my beauty; and you [Pandarus],
to defend all these; and at all these wards I lie, at a
thousand watches (I.ii.254-258).
Cressida always has to be on her guard, making sure that her actions do not put her in a position of vulnerability. Her initial pretense of disinterest in Troilus is an example of such an attempt to protect herself; she explains to the audience that:
But more in Troilus thousandfold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar’s praise may be.
Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing;
Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing.
That she beloved knows nought that knows not this:
Men price the thing ungained more than it is;
That she was never yet, that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:
Achievement is command; ungained, beseech.
Then, though my heart’s content firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear (I.ii.277-288).
Cressida must pretend an aloofness toward Troilus to prevent him from losing his interest in her. As long as she can keep him chasing her, she is in a relatively secure position; her actions convey a disregard for his affections in order to achieve her purpose of self-preservation.
Cressida’s behavior when she arrives at the Greek camp, although seemingly in contradiction with her promises of fidelity to Troilus, is actually an illustration of how she maintains her Montaignian consistency of purpose. She has been taken, against her will, out of Troy and placed in an entirely new situation wherein she no longer has any stability. Thus, in order to maintain her safety, she must find a new protector figure. Her flirtation with the various Greek generals and her willingness to submit to Diomedes come as a result of that search for establishment and security within her new circumstance. She reiterates her purpose after her encounter with Diomedes:
Troilus, farewell. One eye yet looks on thee,
But with my heart the other eye doth see.
Ah, poor our sex! This fault in us I find,
The error of our eye directs our mind.
What error leads must err. O, then conclude
Minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude (V.ii.109-114).
Cressida, in true Montaigne fashion, actually acts against her feelings for Troilus—against the eye that “yet looks on thee”—in order to stay true to her primary intention, finding security in her situation. In this short soliloquy, she explicitly states the point Montaigne makes in his essay: that error results from allowing “the error of our eye,” our immediate and unreasoned response to a situation, to direct our mind and, thus, our action. Cressida recognizes this fault, which allows her to maintain a “fixed principle” in her actions, giving them coherence.
Troilus, on the other hand, neither has such a singular purpose, nor can he understand Cressida’s. He begins the play completely enamored with her, absolutely lost in his love. Immediately following the Prologue, he has a conversation with Pandarus wherein he describes the extent of his adoration:
[Troilus] Call here my varlet; I’ll unarm again.
Why should I war without the walls of Troy
That find such cruel battle here within?
Each Trojan that is master of his heart,
Let him to field; Troilus, alas, hath none.
[Pandarus] Will this gear ne’er be mended?
[Troilus] The Greeks are strong, and skillful to their strength,
Fierce to their skill, and to their fierceness valiant;
But I am weaker than a woman’s tear,
Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance,
Less valiant than the virgin in the night,
And skilless as unpracticed infancy (I.i.1-12).
In this exchange, Troilus demonstrates how completely he has surrendered himself to the feelings of the moment; he is entirely destroyed by his ostensibly unrequited love for Cressida. Later, when she does finally admit that she loves him in return, Troilus is ecstatic and immediately swears his constancy to her: “But, alas, / I am as true as truth’s simplicity, / And simpler than the infancy of truth” (III.ii.163-165). Again, his response is based solely on his reaction to the moment that he is in, without any basis in greater reason or judgment. Thus, his devotion to and love for Cressida remain constant only up until the point when she is taken to the Greek camp and elects to go with Diomedes. Ultimately, Troilus chooses to despise all women because of what he perceives as Cressida’s betrayal of him. This is a whimsical decision rooted in nothing more than his feeling at a particular moment in time; he exemplifies Montaigne’s “craven man,” who makes a complete about-face when he is confronted with a different circumstance. His all-consuming love for Cressida is washed away instantly, becoming instead an exaggerated hatred of womankind that is as subject to occasion as was his love.
Troilus, who is without a “fixed principle” to which he can appeal, is completely incapable of understanding Cressida’s behavior. He does not, as Montaigne advises, look beyond her actions to see their underlying purpose; instead, he looks at her actions alone, giving him a false picture of Cressida’s character. He is absolutely confounded by her decision to submit to Diomedes, as he does not comprehend the idea of having a consistent purpose for one’s actions:
This is and is not Cressid.
Within my soul there doth conduce a fight
Of this strange nature that a thing inseparate
Divides more wider than the sky and earth;
And yet the spacious breadth of this division
Admits no orifice for a point as subtle
As Ariachne’s broken woof to enter.
Instance, O instance, strong as Pluto’s gates,
Cressid is mine, tied with the bonds of heaven.
Instance, O instance, strong as heaven itself,
The bonds of heaven are slipped, dissolved, and loosed...(V.ii.149-159)
Since Cressida’s actions appear inconsistent when examined without taking her singular motivation into account, Troilus interprets them as such, making her seem the epitome of inconstancy when it is Troilus, in fact, whose actions are inconstant. For him, her actions are so contradictory that he cannot reconcile them to have even come from the same person; for him, “this is and is not Cressid.” In failing to recognize Cressida’s true nature, Troilus exemplifies the importance of the mode of qualification—that is, the need to account for the motivation at the root of each action—that Montaigne develops in “On the inconstancy of our actions.”
IV. Drunkenness of the Soul: Egoism and Solipsism in the Greek Camp
The Greek camp’s stagnancy and inefficacy in Troilus and Cressida can be explained by way of Montaigne’s “On Drunkenness.” In his “On Drunkenness,” Montaigne calls attention to the problems of egoism, the belief of the self as greater than all else, and solipsism, the assumption of an accordance between the mind and the world. He begins by giving his opinion of drunkenness itself:
Now drunkenness, considered among other vices, has always seemed to me gross and brutish. In others our minds play a larger part; and there are some vices which have something or other magnanimous about them, if that is the right word. There are some which are intermingled with learning, diligence, valour, prudence, skill and finesse: drunkenness is all body and earthy...Other vices harm our intellect: this one overthrows it and it stuns the body...
The worst state for a man is when he loses all consciousness and control of himself (Screech 133).
For Montaigne, drunkenness is the worst sort of vice because it has no “something or other magnanimous” to justify it. There is no benefit to balance out the offense; drunkenness completely ruins us, stunning our bodies and not only harming our intellect, but overthrowing it entirely. As he writes, “The worst state for a man is when he loses all consciousness and control of himself.” As we have seen in his arguments in “On the Cannibals” and “On the inconstancy of our actions,” Montaigne ardently desires our self-awareness of our capabilities, our limits, our actions, our reason, and so on. For him, there is nothing worse than a vice which forces us to lose sight of ourselves as we truly are, which is exactly what drunkenness does. When we lose consciousness of ourselves, we lose our reason, which contains the fixed principle that is supposed to govern our actions. Thus, a loss of consciousness also entails a loss of control because without that fixed principle, our actions are completely inconsistent.
The same danger Montaigne finds in bodily drunkenness, he also finds in a sort of metaphysical drunkenness—that is, the overwhelming passions of the soul. He writes:
To what inanities are we driven by that good opinion we men have of ourselves! The best governed soul in the world has quite enough to do to stay on her feet and to keep herself from falling to the ground from her own weakness. Not one in a thousand can stand up calm and straight for one instant in her life; it can even be doubted, given her natural condition, whether she ever can. But if you add constancy as well, then that is her highest perfection: I mean if nothing could shake it, something which hundreds of events can do (Screech 139).
He speaks here of a problem, or “drunkenness,” of the soul. The “soul” to which Montaigne refers is an unprincipled and deceptive entity in “her natural condition.” For Montaigne, the soul is in conflict with reason; it leads us to have a good self-opinion that is in opposition to our souls’ actual states: involved in a constant struggle to “keep from falling to the ground from her own weakness.” Our souls are egotistical and solipsistic, making us believe ourselves far greater than we actually are and making us unable to see beyond that conclusion, which exists only in our minds. Incapable of standing up “calm and straight for one instant in her life,” the soul deludes us into an egoistic sense of self-worth that far exceeds our actual value, which solipsism renders us incapable of recognizing. Montaigne’s final comment in this paragraph refers back to his argument in “On the inconstancy of our actions” and our need to maintain a fixed principle to which all of our actions appeal. If the soul was capable of maintaining a constant purpose, “that is her highest perfection...if nothing could shake it,” but our “good opinion” of ourselves disallows us from having such an unshakeable purpose. There are “hundreds of events” that undermine our purpose, and a soul that has lapsed into egoism and solipsism is incapable of maintaining its fixed principle in the face of such events.
The problem with this soul, then, and the resulting egoism and solipsism, is that it overrules reason. The “inanities” to which the soul drives us are irrational behavior; that is, we attempt things beyond our capacity because of our soul-derived egoism. This egoism builds us up to a world view wherein we do not recognize our limits, which, for Montaigne, means that we lose our ability to act rationally, as rationality for him is defined by a recognition of our limits. When we act in such a state, we attempt to go beyond our innate limitations, trying to make our necessarily restricted minds—that is, our knowledge, reason, etc.—limitless. To act thusly is, for Montaigne, irrational behavior’s very definition. As he writes of such behavior, “He [Aristotle] is right to call folly any leap—however praiseworthy it might be—which goes beyond our reason and our discourse. All the more so in that wisdom is a controlled handling of our soul, carried out, on our Soul’s responsibility, with measure and proportion” (Screech 141). Thus, wisdom, which we can also call a correct application of reason, is to work against the soul’s drunkenness. As we are incapable of completely suppressing its egoistic and solipsistic inclinations, Montaigne instead suggests that the soul must be governed by reason in order for us to act rationally. He writes that “it suffices that a man should rein in his affections and moderate them, for it is not in his power to suppress them” (Screech 140). In order to allow ourselves to act reasonably, we have to moderate our souls’ egoistic tendencies. Rather than calling us to rid ourselves of our passion, Montaigne instead suggests that we first submit our passions to reason, just as our actions should first submit to a fixed principle. Doing so will allow us to moderate our souls’ unprincipled nature without our trying to completely suppress them. Attempting to suppress our souls would render us just as irrational as if we employed no moderation whatsoever, as we would be trying once again to move beyond our necessarily limited capacities. Similarly, if we are not successful in moderating our souls, we become completely solipsistic, losing our reason and turning our actions to “folly.”
The lack of successful governance over the egotistical and irrational urges of the soul is played out to the extreme in Troilus and Cressida in the factioning that occurs within the Greek camp. The internal problems of the Greek camp exemplify the danger—namely, irrational action—that Montaigne associates with a failure to govern the soul’s egoistic impulses. We first encounter the Greeks in the play’s third scene, where we discover that several of the generals are downcast by their failure to win the war with Troy—or to even progress in it—after seven years of fighting. Ulysses explains that the root of this failure lies in the internal factioning of the camp, which results from a lack of recognition of proper place:
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this center
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order...
...O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder of all high designs,
The enterprise is sick. How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, scepters, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows...
...so every step,
Exampled by the first pace that is sick
Of his superior, grows to an envious fever
Of pale and bloodless emulation:
And ’tis this fever that keeps Troy on foot,
Not her own sinews. To end a tale of length,
Troy in our weakness stands, not in her strength (I.iii.75-88, 101-110, 131-137)
This soliloquy essentially blames the Greek inability to finish the war with Troy on the “weakness” of the Greek camp, a weakness characterized by “an envious fever / Of pale and bloodless emulation.” This envy and emulation result from a lack of respect for “degree” and proper place; that is, certain members of the Greek camp have forgotten their proper place within the society and have allowed their egoistic urges to move them to try to be greater than they actually are. The egoism inherent in such an attempt has rendered the Greeks incapable of doing anything productive, evidenced by their inability to win or to progress in the war with Troy. Just as Montaigne lays out in his essay, the Greeks’ actions become irrational, full of “folly,” because their emulation is a “leap...which goes beyond [their] reason and [their] discourse” in that it fails to respect the natural hierarchy (Screech 140).
The problem of emulation in the Greek camp centers around Achilles, whose refusal to fight is the primary reason the war is at a standstill. Ulysses once again lays out the situation:
The great Achilles, whom opinion crowns
The sinew and the forehand of our host,
Having his ear full of his airy fame,
Grows dainty of his worth, and in his tent
Lies mocking our designs. With him Patroclus
Upon a lazy bed the livelong day
Breaks scurril jests,
And with ridiculous and silly action
(Which, slanderer, he imitation calls)
He pageants us (I.iii.142-151).
Achilles has become “dainty of his worth” because popular opinion crowns him “the sinew and the forehand of our host”; that is, Achilles has given in to the egoistic urges of his soul because of his good reputation. He has begun to take such pride in his own reputation that he is moving down the road toward solipsism, believing in the congruence of his reputation and his true self while allowing his egoism to build up his self-image further still. He has failed to moderate these urges of his soul, instead choosing to take his reputation to the extreme and to attempt to move beyond his limits by emulating Agamemnon. Achilles and Patroclus enact this emulation quite literally in their “ridiculous and silly” mimicry of the other Greek generals, a representation of what Achilles is doing in the greater context of the war. Having stalled the war by his refusal to fight, Achilles has also created a trivial, empty representation of the reality of war by beginning an unspoken competition with Agamemnon. This competition of imitation and emulation is the irrational and folly-filled action that results from Achilles’ attempts to move beyond his limits, which, as Montaigne argues, will never actually accomplish anything. As Ulysses later suggests to Agamemnon, the only way for something productive to happen—that is, the continuation and end of the war with Troy—is for Achilles to moderate his egoism and to stop emulating Agamemnon, something Ulysses tries to effect by making Achilles believe he is losing his reputation. Although Ulysses’ plan is ultimately preempted by other events, it is Montaignian in its recognition of the problem and its suggestion of a solution, just as Achilles’ behavior serves to illustrate the soul’s drunkenness that Montaigne describes.
V. Learning from Experience: Ulysses’ Ineffectuality
Ulysses’ ultimate ineffectuality is puzzling in light of his apparent role as the voice of reason throughout Troilus and Cressida and considering his greatness in the general realm of the Trojan tale. Montaigne’s “On Experience,” however, offers us a way to interpret his behavior in which his ineffectiveness makes perfect sense. Montaigne begins this, his final essay, as follows:
No desire is more natural than the desire for knowledge. We assay all the means that can lead us to it. When reason fails us we make use of experience—