Troilus and Cressida
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2012 by Paul W. Collins
Troilus and Cressida
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
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Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of Troilus and Cressida. But Troilus and Cressida, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
From out of the lingering mists of three millennia gone by, a sturdy soldier emerges, his helmet and oaken shield bearing proud emblems of gallantry and glory. But the graybeard, his face leathered by the sun, walks with a limp, and scars bespeak the experience of warfare as men feel it, fighting one against another.
He has memories to relate—small, overheard stories underlying an epic tale bequeathed by conquerors to their nation’s poets. Their songs, with honor ever the theme, proclaim—laud in terms growing stronger with each iteration—as valiant the deeds of noblemen said to be devoted to great causes—and as inviolable the pledges exchanged by high-born lovers to be faithful and true.
However halting his gait, the soldier can well recall what he saw and heard long ago. The man’s gray eyes gaze out, as inwardly he still struggles to accept what time can teach one about life, about war, and about love.
“In Troy,” he begins, as if he can see it yet, “there lies the scene.
“From isles of Greece the proud princes, chafèd in high blood, to the port have sent their ships, fraught with the ministers and instruments of cruel war!
“Sixty and nine who wear their crownets regal, from the Athenians’ bay put forth toward Phrygia—and their vow is made to ransack Troy, within whose strong immures the ravishèd Helen, Menelaus’ queen, with wanton Paris sleeps.” The Trojan prince abducted the lovely lady who is now his lover.
“And that’s the quarrel,” the soldier adds—dryly; ransack is what most stirs sixty and eight of the sovereigns.
“To Tenedos they come, and the deep-drawing barks do there disgorge their warlike fraughtage.
“Now on Dardan plains, the fresh and yet unbruisèd Greeks do pitch their brave pavilions before Priam’s six-gated city. Dardan and Tymbria, Helias, Chetas, Troien and Antenorides, with massive staples, and corresponding bolts fulfilling, secure the sons of Troy.
“Now, expectation spurring skittish spirits on, one and other side, Trojan and Greek, set all at hazard!
“And hither am I come, a Prologue armèd—not as confirmation of poet’s pen or actor’s voice, but suited in like conditions as our argument—to tell you, fair beholder, that our story leaps o’er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils to begin in the middle, starting thence away to what may be condensèd in a tale.
“Like, or find fault—do as your pleasure is.” His smile is cynical. “Now, good or bad, ’tis but ‘the chance of war!’”
Sad eyes belie the disclaimer.
“Call my varlet,” Prince Troilus tells portly Lord Pandarus. “I’ll unarm again. Why should I war without the walls of Troy, who find such cruel battle here within? Each Trojan who is master of his heart, let him to field; Troilus, alas, hath none!”
In the city, soldiers of the many Phrygian forces, combined under the Trojans’ King Priam, head toward the barred main gate in anticipation of today’s round of combat; beyond the high walls bounding Troy, the Greek troops commanded under Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, once again leave their metropolis of tents and prepare to fight.
Among the defenders this morning is the prince, youngest son of Troy’s elderly king and queen, Priam and Hecuba. He stands just inside the gate clad in full armor and grasping bright, sharp weapons of warfare. But the handsome young man’s troubled thoughts are not on the Greek threat.
Pandarus is annoyed by the promising, lovelorn youth’s failure to proceed. “Will this gear ne’er be mended?”
“The Greeks are strong—skilful in their strength, fierce in their skill, and in their fierceness valiant! But I am weaker than a woman’s tear,” moans Troilus, “tamer than sleep, slower than ignorance, less valiant than the virgin in the night, and skilless as unpractised infancy!”
Pandarus has been talking—again—about his beautiful young niece. The old man smoothes his beard. “Well, I have told you enough of this. As for my part, I’ll not meddle, nor make any further. He that will have a cake out of the wheat must needs tarry the grinding.”
“Have I not tarried?”
“Aye, the grinding—but you must tarry the sifting.”
“Have I not tarried?”
“Aye, the sifting—but you must tarry the leavening.”
“Still have I tarried!”
“Aye, to the leavening—but there’s yet, in that word, hereafter: the kneading, the making of the cake, the heating of the oven, and the baking—nay, you must await the cooling, too, or you may chance to burn your lips!”
The yet-beardless prince’s hunger is urgent. “Whatever lesser goddess she be, Patience herself doth blench more at sufferance than I do! At Priam’s royal table do I sup; and when fair Cressid comes into my thoughts—such traitors!” he cries, chastising himself. “When she comes!—when is she thence?”
“Well, yesternight she looked fairer than ever I saw her look, or any woman else!”
“As I was about to tell thee: when my heart, wedgèd with a sigh, would rive in twain lest Hector”—his eldest brother—“or my father should perceive me, I have buried that sigh in the wrinkle of a smile—for when doth a son like scorn?
“But sorrow couched in seeming gladness is like mirth that Fate turns to sudden sadness!”
Pandarus is musing: “If her hair were not somewhat darker than Helen’s…. well, go to, there were no greater comparison between the women.” The blonde Greek lady living with Prince Paris has long been accepted as the epitome of beauty. “For my own part, as Cressid is my kinswoman, I should not, as they term it, praise her. But I would that somebody”—he means Troilus—“had heard her talk yesterday, as I did! I will not dispraise your sister Cassandra’s wit, but—”
“Oh, Pandarus!” Troilus is again stricken. “Pandarus, when I do tell thee where my hopes lie drownèd, reply not in how many fathoms deep they lie endrenched!
“I tell thee I am mad for Cressid’s love; thou answer’st ‘She is fair!’—pour’st into the open ulcer of my heart ‘her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice!’—handiest in thy discourse!” He sighs. “Oh, that, her hand!—in whose comparison all whites are ink, writing their own reproach!—in whose soft caress a cygnet’s down feels harsh!—a sensèd spirit hard as palm of ploughman!
“This thou tell’st me—and true thou tell’st me!—when I say I love her; but, saying thus, instead of oil and balm thou lay’st in every gash that love hath given me the knife that made it!”
“I speak no more than truth….”
“Then do not speak so much of it!”
“’Faith, I’ll not meddle,” claims Pandarus peevishly. “Let her be as she is!—if she be fair, ’tis the better for her; an she be not, she has the mends in her own hands.” He turns to leave.
“Good Pandarus!—how now, Pandarus?”
The old lord is exasperated with the diffident prince. “I have had but my labour as reward for my travail: ill thought of by her and ill thought of by you; having gone between and between, with small thanks!”
“What?—art thou angry, Pandarus? What, with me?”
“Because she’s kin to me, she’s not so fair as Helen,” says Pandarus sourly; he resents the somewhat older Greek lady’s general adoration. “But if she were not kin to me, she would be as fair on Friday as Helen is on Sunday!
“But what care I? I care not if she were a scullery maid; ’tis all one to me!”
“Say I she is not fair?” demands Troilus; he never tires of the topic.
But the old man seems to resist being drawn again into fruitless discussion. “I do not care whether you do or no!
“She’s a fool to stay behind her father! Let her go to the Greeks!—and so I’ll tell her the next time I see her!” Cressida’s father, Lord Calchas, well known as a seer, has forsaken Troy, and now lives among the invaders.
The old nobleman regards the youth. “For my part, I’ll meddle nor make i’ the matter any longer!” he says gruffly.
“Pray you, speak no more to me! I will leave all as I found it, and there an end!” He stalks off, heading back toward the palace, farther within the city walls.
Trumpets blare out a warlike summons from a tower.
“Peace, you ungracious clamours!” mutters Troilus. Peace, rude sounds! he thinks. Fools on both sides, Helen must needs be fair, when with your blood you daily paint her thus! I cannot fight upon this argument; it is too starvèd a subject for my sword!
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.”
“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 Troilus—the 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!”
“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!”
“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!”
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!
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 Hector—Priam 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.”
“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!”
Ajax, in his tent at the Grecian camp, has been waiting to learn the news. “Thersites!” he calls, even as his unsavory servant arrives. Both are drunk.
The threadbare gentleman poses a facetious question: “Agamemnon—what if he had boils?—full, all over—generally”—a play on the king’s military role.
Ajax is impatient. “Thersites—”
“And those boils did run. Say it were so; would not the general run, then?—were not that a botchy score!” He laughs, delighted with the jest.
“Dog!” growls Ajax, blearily.
“Then would come some matter from him! I see none now!”
“Thou bitch-wolf’s son, canst thou not hear?” Ajax knocks off the other’s hat. “Feel, then!”
“The plague of grease upon thee, thou mongrel, beef-witted lord!” cries Thersites, recovering the spotted black felt.
“Speak now, you sinewless heathen, speak! Or I will beat thee into handsomeness!”—a considerable transformation.
Says Thersites, “I shall as easily rail thee into wit and holiness! But I think thy horse will sooner memorize an oration than thou learn a prayer without book!” Thersites rubs his sore head. “Thou canst strike, canst thou? A red murrain o’ thy jade’s tricks!”
“Toadstool, learn me the proclamation!” He wants to know what Agamemnon has just announced.
Thersites pouts. “Dost thou think I have no sense, thou strikest me thus?”
“Thou art proclaimed a fool, I think!”
Ajax raises a warning hand. “Do not, porpentine!—do not! My fingers itch…!”
“I would thou didst itch—from head to foot!—and I had the scratching of thee! I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece! When thou art forth in the incursions, then thou strikest as slow as any other!”—a petulant dig; when the sluggish warrior’s sword does move, it is deadly.
“Ay!—say the proclamation!”
“Thou grumblest and railest every hour about Achilles, and thou art as full of envy for his greatness as Cerberus is for Proserpine’s beauty!” The hideous, canine beast guards the entrance to Hades, where she is a goddess. “Aye, so much that thou barkest at him!”
Ajax is livid. “Mistress Thersites…!”
“Shouldest thou strike him—”
“Cobloaf!”—pile of shit.
“—he would pound thee into shivers with his fist!—as a sailor breaks a biscuit!”
Ajax, incensed by the taunting, stumbles forward, striking out ineffectually. “You whoreson cur!”
“Do, do!” the thin gentleman urges—while ducking away.
“Thou stool of a witch!”
“Aye, do, do, thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbow—an echo may tutor thee! Thou scurrilously valiant ass!—thou art here but to thrash Trojans, and thou art bought and sold among those of any wit like a barbarian slave!”
Thersites dodges the warrior’s heavy fist. “If thou would beat me,” he warns, circling around a big table, “I will begin at thy heel, and tell what thou art by inches,”—at length, “thou thing of no bowels, thou!”
“You scurvy lord!”
Ajax swings at him again. “You cur!”
Cries Thersites, from several feet away, “Mars’s idiot! Do, rudeness! Do, camel!—do, do!”
Noise of the squabble has drawn their massive neighbor and his younger companion, Patroclus. “Why, how now, Ajax?—wherefore do you thus?” demands Achilles, stepping between the tottering belligerents. “How now, Thersites? What’s the matter, man?”
Thersites points. “You see him there, do you?”
“Aye; what’s the matter?”
“Nay, look upon him!”
Achilles looks. “So I do: what’s the matter?”
“Nay, but regard him well!”
“Why, I do so….”
“And yet you look upon him not well!—for whosoever you take him to be, he is Ajax!”
Achilles frowns. “I know that, fool!”
Thersites pretends to hear I know that fool. “Aye,” he says, “but that fool knows not himself!”
Ajax blunders toward him again. “For that I’ll beat thee!”
Thersites backs away unsteadily. “Lo, lo, lo, lo, what modicums of wit he utters! His effusions have ears thus long!”—are brayings, he gibes, motioning about his own ears. “I have tapped on his brain more than he has beat my bones! I can buy nine sparrows for a penny, but his pia mater”—mind—“is not worth the ninth part of one sparrow!
“This lord, Achilles—Ajax, who wears his wit in his belly and his guts in his head—I’ll tell you what I say of him!”
“What?” asks the huge visitor, grinning.
“I say: this Ajax—”
His target moves again to pound him, but Achilles bars the way: “Nay, good Ajax!”
“—has not so much wit—”
Achilles restrains Ajax. “Nay, I must hold you!”
“—as will fill the eye of Helen’s needle,”—a rude analogy, “for which he comes to fight!”
“Peace, fool!” laughs Achilles; he is bigger than Ajax, but controlling him, even when the man is sodden, is difficult.
“I would have peace and quietness, but the fool will not!” shouts Thersites. “He there! That he! Look you there!” he insists, mocking the man who always wants attention.
Ajax is furious. “Oh, thou damnèd cur! I shall—”
Achilles interrupts with a proverbial question: “Will you set your wit to a fool’s?”—and thus both demean his own and dignify the other’s.
Thersites interjects: “No, I warrant you!—for a fool’s will shame it!”
Patroclus is amused. “Good words, Thersites!”
Achilles asks Ajax, “What’s the quarrel?”
“I bade the vile owl go learn for me the tenor of the proclamation—and he rails upon me!”
“I serve thee not!” says Thersites, resigning his post with tipsy dignity.
“Well, go to, go to,” says Ajax, calming a little; he does very little himself—and wants to do no more.
“I served here voluntarily.”
Achilles laughs. “Your last service was sufferance, ’twas not voluntary!—no man is beaten voluntarily! Ajax was here the volunteer, and you one under an impress!”—conscripted into service.
“E’en so,” admits the drunken Thersites. But he looks up churlishly: “A great deal of your wit, too, lies in your sinews, or else there be liars. Hector will have a great catch if he knock out either of your brains!—it were as good as cracking a fusty nut with no kernel!”
Achilles is amazed at the small man’s temerity: “What?—with me too, Thersites?”
The sometime sycophant persists: “There’s Ulysses and old Nestor, whose wit was mouldy ere your grandsires had nails on their toes, who yoke you like draught-oxen, and make you plough up their wars!”
Now Achilles frowns. “What, what?”
“Yes, good sooth!—you too, Achilles! To, Ajax!—go to!”
Ajax glowers. “I shall cut out your tongue!”
“’Tis no matter,” Thersites replies, “I shall speak as much as thou afterwards!”
“No more words,” says Patroclus soothingly. “Thersites, peace!”
Thersites sneers. “I will hold my peace when Achilles’ brach”—bitch—“bids me, shall I?”
Achilles laughs, noting the reward given his friend’s kindly effort. “There’s for you, Patroclus!”
Thersites rages on. “I will see you hanged like clotpolls”—blockheaded string puppets—“ere I come any more to your tents! I will keep where there is wit stirring, and leave the faction of fools!”
Patroclus, hurt, heads back to Achilles’ tent.
“A good riddance,” mutters Thersites; then he leaves as well.
Achilles informs the glumly silent Ajax: “Marry, sir, this is proclaimèd through all our host: that by the fifth hour of the sun tomorrow morning, Hector will, with a trumpet ’twixt our tents and Troy, call to arms some knight who hath a stomach,”—guts, “and is such a one that dare maintain….” He blinks and winces, trying to recall the full challenge. “I know not what—’tis trash.
“Farewell,” says Ajax. But then he asks, “Who shall answer him?”
“I know not; ’tis put to lottery—otherwise he knew his man!” says Achilles proudly, as he leaves.
“Oh, meaning you,” mumbles Ajax.
I will go learn more of it, he decides.
On his throne in the palace at Troy, King Priam solemnly addresses four of his sons. “After so many hours, lives, and speeches spent, thus once again says Nestor from the Greeks: ‘Deliver Helen, and all damages else—honour, loss of time, travail, expense, wounds, friends and what else dear that is consumèd in the hot digestion of this cormorant war—shall be struck off.’”
Even after the fighting had bogged down, years ago, the Attic invaders, once eager for glory and pillage, still demanded, along with the return of Sparta’s queen, reparations and penalties. Now they want to go home.
“Hector, what say you to’t?” the sovereign asks the eldest, strongest and most confident—the Trojans’ champion.
“Insofar as it touches me in particular,” says the prince, “though no man fears the Greeks less than I, yet, dread Priam, there is no lady of softer bowels—more spongy to suck in the reasoning of fear, more ready to cry out, ‘Who knows what follows?’—than Hector is. And modest doubt, called ‘the beacon of the wise,’ is the bandaging gauze that reaches to the bottom of a wound. The worst of peace is surety: safety securèd.
“Let Helen go.”
All are surprised—and Prince Paris’s face is now flushed.
“Ever since the first sword was drawn about this question,” says Hector, “every tithèd soul ’mongst many thousand dead hath been as prizèd as Helen!
“I mean, of ours. If we have lost so many tenths of ours to guard a thing not ours—nor worth to us, had it our name, the value of one in ten!—what merit is in that thinking which denies the yielding of her up?”
“Fie, fie, my brother!” cries Troilus, the youngest prince. “Weigh you the worth in honour of a king so great as our dread father on a scale of common ounces? Will you with counters sum the vast proportion of his infinite?—and buckle-in a waist most fathomless with spans and inches so diminutive as fears and reasons? Fie, for his godly shame!”
Prince Helenus laughs. “No marvel, though, that you bite so sharply at reasons, you are so empty of them! Should not our father bear the great sway of his affairs with reason? Because your speech hath none, that tells him so!”
Troilus scoffs. “You are for dreams and slumbers, brother priest! You fur your gloves with reason!
“Here are your reasons: you know an enemy intends you harm; you know that a sword employèd is perilous—and reason flies from the intent of all harm! Who marvels then, when Helenus beholds a Grecian and his sword, if he do set the very wings of reason onto his heels, and fly like chidden Mercury from Jove?—or like a star disorbèd!”—a comet. “Nay, if we talk of reason, let’s shut our gates and sleep! Manhood and honour would have hare-hearts, if they but larded their thoughts with his crampèd reason! Reason in that respect makes livers pale, and lustihood dejected!”
But Hector seems loath to abandon logic. “Brother, she is not worth what she doth cost for the holding.”
“What is ought but as ’tis valuèd?” counters Troilus; the Greeks apparently treasure her.
“But value dwells not in particular will,” says Hector, “it holds estimate, and dignity as well, when ’tis as precious in itself as in the prizer. ’Tis mad idolatry to make the service greater than the god! And the will dotes that is attentive to what itself infectiously adores without some image of the adorèd’s merit!”
Troilus offers an argument: “Say I take today a wife, and my election is led on in the conduct of my enkindled will by mine eyes and ears—two trusted pilots ’twixt the dangerous shores of will and judgment.
“If my will later distaste what it elected, how may I avoid the wife I chose? There can be no evasion, no blenching from this standing firm by honour!” In his view, Troy is wedded to the war. “We turn not back the silks upon the merchant when we have soiled them, nor the remaining viands we do not throw in unrespective stew because we now are full!”
Helen’s lover is silent—but grinds his teeth, hearing the youth’s inept analogies.
Troilus presses on, citing the past. “It was thought meet that Paris should do some vengeance on the Greeks.” He tells Hector, “Your breath of full consent bellied his sails! The seas and winds, old wranglers, took a truce, and did him service: he touchèd the ports desired. And in reprisal for an old aunt whom the Greeks hold captive”—King Priam’s sister Hesione—“he brought back a Grecian queen, whose youth and freshness wrinkles Apollo’s face, and makes stale the morning!
“Why keep we her?—the Grecians keep our aunt!
“Is she worth keeping? Why, she is a pearl whose price hath launchèd ships above a thousand, and turned crownèd kings into merchants! If you’ll avouch ’twas wisdom that Paris went—as you must needs, for you all cried, ‘Go, go!’—if you’ll confess he brought home a noble prize—as you must needs, for you all clapped your hands and cried, ‘Inestimable!’—why do you now berate the result of your proper wisdoms, and do a deed that Fortune never did?—beggar the estimation of that which you prizèd richer than sea and land!
“Oh, theft most base, that we have stol’n what we do fear to keep!—thieves so unworthy of a thing stolen that, in their company whom we did disgrace, we fear to warrant it in our native place!”
The princes—now defensive as thieves—are musing, when they hear a woman’s shrill, despairing voice coming nearer: “Cry, Trojans, cry!”
The old king is startled. “What noise? What shriek is this?”
“’Tis our mad sister,” says Troilus. “I do know her voice.”
She calls again. “Cry, Trojans!”
“It is Cassandra,” mutters Hector.
She storms into the hall. “Cry, Trojans, cry! Lend me ten thousand eyes, and I will fill them with prophetic tears!”
Hector tries to fend her off. “Peace, sister, peace!”
The lady stares at the warriors, wide-eyed in dismay. “Virgins and boys, mid-age and wrinkled eld!—soft infancy, that nothing canst but cry, add to my clamours!” she pleads. “Let us pay betimes a moiety”—half—“of that mass of moan to come!
“Cry, Trojans, cry! Practice your eyes for shedding tears! Troy must not be, nor goodly Ilion stand!—our firebrand brother Paris burns us all! Cry, Trojans, cry!
“Cry out ‘Helen’ and ‘Ah, woe!’ Cry ‘Troy burns!’—or else let Helen go!”
She has finished this repetition of one of her dire warnings; as always, the noblemen will ignore her exhortation. Tugging at her hair in frustration, she departs, reduced to sobs.
Hector resumes his probing. “Now, youthful Troilus, do not these high strains of divination in our sister work some touches of remorse? Or is your blood so madly hot that no discourse on reason—nor fear of bad outcome in a bad cause—can qualify the same?”
The youngest prince is unyielding. “Why, brother Hector, we may think the justness of each act such and no other than as event doth form it!—and not once reject the courage of our minds because Cassandra’s mad! Her brain-sick raptures cannot distaste the goodness of a quarrel which hath our several honours all engagèd to make it gracious to fight for and maintain!
“As for my private part, I am no more touchèd than all Priam’s sons.” Suddenly aware of the older men’s wry amusement, he blushes. He aims sharp sarcasm at the priest—even Helenus had laughed: “And Jove forbid there should be done amongst us such things as might offend the weakest spleen!”
Paris, too, glares—at Troilus. “Else might the world be convinced of levity in my undertakings as well as your counsels!
“But I attest by the gods: your full consent gave wings to my proposition, and cut off all fears attending on so dire a project! For what, alas, could these my single arms do?—what propagation is in one man’s valour to withstand the push and enmity of those this quarrel would excite?
“Yet, I protest, were I alone to pass upon the difficulties, and had as ample power as I have will, Paris should ne’er retract what he hath done, nor falter in the pursuit!”
Old King Priam finds his bravado irksome. “Paris, you speak like one besotted on your sweet delights! You have the honey still—but these, the gall!—so to be valiant has no praise at all!”
But Paris persists. “Sir, I purpose not merely for myself the pleasures such beauty brings with it, but I would have the soiling in her ‘fair rape’ wiped clean, by honourably keeping her!”
He appeals to the others. “What treason it were to the ransackèd queen—disgrace to your great worths, and shame to me—now to deliver her possession up on terms of base compulsion! Can it be that so degenerate a strain as this should once set footing in your generous bosoms?
“There’s not the meanest spirit in our party without a heart to dare, or sword to draw, where Helen is defended!—nor none so noble whose life were ill bestowed, or death unfamed, when Helen is the subject!
“Then, I say, well may we fight for her whom, we know well, the world’s large spaces cannot parallel!”
Prince Hector has listened to the others’ arguments. “Paris and Troilus, you have both said well, but on the cause and question now in hand have glozed—spoken superficially, not much unlike young men whom Aristotle thought unfit to hear moral philosophy.
“The reasons you allege do more conduce to the hot passion of distempered blood than to making up of free determination ’twixt right and wrong!—for pleasure and revenge have ears more deaf than adders to the voice of any true decision.
“Nature craves that all dues be rendered to their owners; now, what dearer debt in all humanity than wife is to the husband? If this law of Nature be corrupted through emotion, and great minds, in partial indulgence of their benumbèd wills, resist the same, there is law in each well-ordered nation to curb those raging appetites that are most disobedient and refractory.
“If Helen, then, be wife to Sparta’s king—as it is known she is—these moral laws of nature and of nations speak loud to have her back returnèd!
“Thus to persist in doing wrong extenuates not wrong, but makes it much more heavy!
“Hector’s opinion is this, in the way of truth.”
He smiles. “Yet ne’ertheless, my spirited brethren, I do defend that you resolve to keep Helen still!—for ’tis a cause that hath no mean implication upon our joint and several dignities!”
Young Troilus is delighted. “Why, there you touch the life of our design! Were it not glory that we more cared about than the performance of our heaving spleens,”—strong emotions, “I would not wish a drop of Trojan blood spent more in her defence!
“But, worthy Hector, she is a theme of honour and renown, a spur to valiant and magnificent deeds—in whose presence courage may beat down our foes!
“And Fame in time will come to canonize us! For I presume brave Hector would not lose so rich advantage of promised glory as smiles upon the forehead of this action for the wide world’s revenue!”
Hector nods, and smiles at his youngest brother. “I am yours, you valiant offspring of great Priamus!
“I have sent a roistering challenge amongst the dull and factious nobles of the Greeks which will strike amazement in their drowsy spirits!
“I was advisèd their great general slept, whilst dissension in his army crept.
“This, I presume, will wake him!”
Just outside Achilles’ capacious tent in the Greeks’ sprawling encampment, a seedy civilian paces, complaining to himself, his vexation in sobriety aggravated by a headache and queasy stomach. How now, Thersites! What?—lost in the labyrinth of thy fury!
Shall the elephant Ajax carry it thus? He beats me, and I rail at him—oh, worthy satisfaction! Would it were otherwise: that I could beat him whilst he railed at me! ’Sfoot, I’ll learn to conjure and raise devils but I’ll see some issue of my spiteful execrations!
Then there’s Achilles, a rare enginer! If Troy be not taken till those two undermine it, —tunnel beneath the city— the walls will stand till they fall of themselves!
O thou great thunder-darter of Olympus, forget that thou art Jove, the king of gods, and, Mercury, lose all the serpentine craft of thy caduceus, if ye take not that little, little, less-than-little wit from them that they have!—which short-armed Ignorance itself knows is so abundantly scarce in circumvention it will not deliver a fly from a spider without their drawing massive irons and cutting the web!
After that, a vengeance on the whole camp! Or rather, the bone-ache! —syphilis. For that, methinks, is the curse descendent on those that war over a placket!—a crude term for part of a woman.
I have said my prayers—and, devil Envy, say ‘Amen!’
He turns to the tent with determination. “What ho! My Lord Achilles!”
“Who’s there?” The canvas entrance-flap opens, and Patroclus emerges. “Thersites. Good Thersites, come in and rail!” he says—blocking the way.
Says Thersites, “If I could have remembered a gilded counterfeit, thou wouldst not have slipped out of my contemplation. But it is no matter. Thyself upon thyself: may the common curse of mankind, folly in ignorance, be thine in great revenue! May heaven bless thee from a tutor, and discipline come not near thee!
“Let thy blood”—lust—“be thy direction till thy death! Then, if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corpse, I’ll be sworn—swear upon’t!—she never shrouded any but lazars!”—had buried only lepers. He glances up. “Amen!” He glares at the dim knight. “Where’s Achilles?”
Patroclus blinks, not understanding. “What, art thou devout? Wast thou in prayer?”
“Aye—the heavens hear me!” mutters downtrodden Thersites. He can see Achilles in the tent.
“Who’s there?” calls the famous warrior.
“Thersites, my lord,” says Patroclus.
Thersites’ eyes roll as Achilles steps outside, ready to be amused.
“Art thou come?” asks the champion. “Why hast thou not served thyself unto my table for so many meals? Why, my cheese, my digestion!”—pleasant dessert. He thus welcomes Thersites, newly employed to be his jester. He asks, in a merry mood, expecting a droll description, “Come, what’s Agamemnon?”
“Thy commander, Achilles,” Thersites replies. “Then tell me, Patroclus, what’s Achilles?”
“Thy lord, Thersites.” He regards the servant. “Then tell me, I pray thee, what’s thyself?”
“Thy knower, Patroclus. Then tell me, Patroclus, what art thou?”
Says the carefully groomed knight sourly, “Thou mayst tell, that knowest.”
Achilles chuckles in anticipation. “Oh, tell, tell!”
“I’ll decline the whole question”—step through the full argument, says Thersites. “Agamemnon commands Achilles; Achilles is my lord; I am Patroclus’ knower—and Patroclus is a fool.”
“You rascal!” cries Patroclus.
“Peace, fool!—I have not done.”
“He is a privileged man,” Achilles points out; court fools must be allowed unusual license. “Proceed, Thersites.”
The erstwhile gentleman nods. “Agamemnon is a fool; Achilles is a fool; Thersites is a fool, and, as aforesaid, Patroclus is a fool.”
Achilles demands explication: “Derive this; come.”
“Agamemnon is a fool for attempting to command Achilles; Achilles is a fool to be commanded by Agamemnon. Thersites is a fool to serve such a fool—and Patroclus is a fool positive!”—absolute.
Achilles frowns. “Why am I a fool?”
“Make that demand of the prover!”— yourself. “It suffices me thou art.”
Thersites sees that Achilles has not enjoyed the quiddities; he points to a party of tall warriors. “Look you: who comes here?”
Achilles is still dodging duty. “Patroclus, I’ll speak with nobody.” He grins. “Come in with me, Thersites.”
Smarting as he follows him into the tent, Thersites glances back at the arriving commanders. He shares in the lords’ material accommodations, but not in their vainglorious notions of gallantry. Here is such patchery, such juggling, and such knavery! All the argument is a cuckold and a whore!—a fine quarrel to draw envious factions, and bleed to death upon! He pictures Helen. Now the dry ringworm upon the subject! And war and lechery confound all!
King Agamemnon has come through the camp, bringing Nestor, Ulysses and his friend Diomedes, a handsome nobleman whose curly black hair is touched at the temples with silver—and a very piqued Ajax. “Where is Achilles?” demands the Greeks’ general.
Patroclus bows. “Within his tent—but ill-disposèd, my lord.”
Agamemnon is annoyed. “Let it be known to him that we are here. He sent back our messengers!—and we lay by our appertainments,”—forgo due respect, “in visiting him!
“Let him be told so,” he says imperiously, “lest perchance he think we dare not move the question of our place,”—exercise authority, “or know not what we are!”
Patroclus bows again. “I shall say so to him.” He hastens inside.
“We saw him at the opening of this tent,” notes Ulysses. “He is not sick.”
“Yes, lion-sick—sick of proud heart!” cries Ajax angrily. “You may call it melancholy, if you will favour the man; but by my head ’tis pride! But why, why? Let him show us cause!”—justification. “A word, my lord.” He draws Agamemnon aside to complain privately.
Nestor watches the irate man’s protesting gesticulation. “What moves Ajax thus to bay at him?”
“Achilles hath inveigled his fool from him.”
Nestor laughs. “Then will Ajax lack argument, if he have lost his matter!” The jest also plays on pia mater.
Ulysses grins, watching Ajax point at the tent. “No… you see—he is his argument who has his argument: Achilles.”
“All the better,” says the ancient. “Their fraction is more our wish than their faction. But it was no strong composure that could disunite a fool.”
Ulysses nods. “The amity that wisdom knits not, folly may easily untie. Here comes Patroclus.”
“No Achilles with him,” Nestor notes.
Ulysses is not surprised. “The elephant hath joints, but none for courtesy: his legs are legs for necessity, not for flexure!”—kneeling.
Patroclus bows again as he returns to Agamemnon. “Achilles bids me say he is much sorry if anything more than your sport and pleasure did move Your Greatness and this noble state to call upon him. He hopes it is no other but for your health and your digestion’s sake—an after-dinner breath.”
Agamemnon fumes. “Hear you, Patroclus! We are too well acquainted with these answers!
“But his evasion, wingèd thus swiftly with scorn, cannot outfly our apprehending! Much in attribute he hath, and much is the reason that we ascribe it to him; yet all his virtues, not virtuously upheld on his own part, do in our eyes begin to lose their gloss!—yea, like fair fruit in an unwholesome dish, are likely to rot, untasted!
“Go and tell him we come to speak with him! And you shall not sin if you do say we think him over-proud and under-honest—greater in assumption than in the note of judgment!
“And worthier persons than himself here note the savage strangeness he puts on!—despises the holy strengths of their command, and underwrites in an observing kind his own mercurial predominance!—yea, watch his pettish lunes, his ebbs, his flows, as if the passage and whole carriage of this action rode on his tide!
“Go tell him this—and add that if he overhold his price so much, we’ll none of him!—and let him, like an engine not portable, lie under this report: ‘Bring action hither; this cannot go to war!’
“A stirring dwarf we do give allowance before a sleeping giant! Tell him so!”
“I shall,” says Patroclus, his face pale, “and bring his answer immediately.”
“In second voice we’ll not be satisfied! We come to speak with him!” calls Agamemnon as the knight goes. After a moment, he motions, “Ulysses, enter you!” The Ithican king nods and goes into the tall tent.
Frustration is still growing in envious Ajax. He asks the general, “What is he more than another?”
“No more than what he thinks he is!” says Agamemnon, disgusted.
Ajax blinks. “Is he that much?” He ponders. “Do you not think he thinks himself a better man than I am?”
“Will you subscribe his thought, and say he is?”
“No, noble Ajax; you are as strong, as valiant, as wise—no less noble, much more gentle—and altogether more tractable.”
Ajax, thinking himself flattered, shrugs. “Why should a man be proud? How doth pride grow? I know not what pride is,” he brags, with unintended irony.
“Your mind is the clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the fairer,” says Agamemnon—suppressing a smile, given the low scale of comparison. “He that is proud eats up himself! Pride is his own looking glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; but whatever praises itself beyond the deed, devours the deed in the praise.”
Says Ajax, “I do hate a proud man as I hate the engendering of toads!”
Thinks Nestor, Yet he loves himself!—is’t not strange?
Ulysses comes from the tent. “Achilles will not go to the field tomorrow.”
“What’s his excuse?” demands Agamemnon.
“He doth rely on none, but carries on in the stream of his repose—in peculiar will, and in self-permission, without observance or respect for any!”
The king stares. “Why, will he not upon our fair request untent his person, and share the air with us?”
“For respect’s sake he makes important only things small as nothing,” Ulysses reports. “He is possessed with greatness, and speaks not of himself but with a pride that quarrels as it’s breathèd! Imagined worth holds in his blood such swollen and hot discourse that, ’twixt his mental and his active parts’ kingdoms, Achilles in commotion rages—and batters down himself!
“What should I say? He is so plaguy proud that the death-tokens”—warning symptoms—“of it cry ‘No recovery!’”
“Let Ajax go to him,” says Agamemnon. He turns to the huge man. “Dear lord, go you and greet him in his tent. ’Tis said he holds you well, and will be led, at your request, a little from himself.”
Ulysses objects—theatrically: “Oh, Agamemnon, let it not be so! We’ll consecrate the steps that Ajax makes—when they go from Achilles!
“Shall the proud lord that bastes his arrogance in his own steam, and never suffers matters of the world to enter his thoughts—save such as do revolve and ruminate about himself!—shall he be worshipped by one that we hold more an idol than he?
“No!” cries Ulysses. “This thrice-worthy and right valiant lord must not so stale his palm,”—tarnish his military honors, “nobly acquired! Nor, by my will, subjugate his merit—as amply titled as Achilles’ is—by going to Achilles! That were to enlarge his fat-already pride, and add more coals to Cancer when it burns with entertaining great Hyperion!” The northern constellation’s stars dance before the blazing sun at the start of summer.
“This lord go to him? Jupiter forbid!—and say in thunder, ‘Achilles, go to him!’”
- At the side, Nestor quietly tells Diomedes, “Oh, this is well!—he rubs what’s vain in him!”
- Diomedes is watching Ajax. “And how his silence drinks up this applause!”
Says Ajax, “If I go to him, with my armèd fist I’ll pash him across the face!”
“Oh, no, you shall not go,” says Agamemnon, seeming concerned.
Ajax continues dimly: “If he be proud with me, I’ll freeze his pride! Let me go to him!”
Ulysses is adamant. “Not for all the worth that hangs upon our quarrel!” He sees Nestor smile at that irony.
Ajax grumbles, staring at the closed canvas flap of Achilles’ tent, “A paltry, insolent fellow!”
- Nestor tsk-tsks: “How he describes himself!”
Always-truculent Ajax frowns, resenting the champion’s absence. “Can he not be sociable?”
- “The raven chides blackness!” whispers Ulysses, joining his friends.
Ajax scowls. “I’ll let his humour’s blood!”—cure the sickness by bleeding, a common remedy.
- Says Agamemnon, “He would be the physician who should be the patient!”
Ajax’s temper is rising. “If all men were o’ my mind—”
- “Wit would be out of fashion,” says Ulysses.
“—he should not bear it so! He should eat ’s words first! Shall pride carry it?”
- “If it did, you’d carry half,” chuckles Nestor.
- Ulysses amends: “He’d have ten shares!”—all of them.
Ajax cogitates, in his fashion: “I will knead him! I’ll make him supple!”
- Nestor whispers to Agamemnon: “He’s not yet thoroughly warmed; fill him with praises! Pour in, pour in! His ambition is dry!”
Ulysses speaks up, telling Ajax, solicitously, “My lord, you feed too much on this dislike.”
Nestor nods, “Our noble general, do not do so!”
Diomedes tells Agamemnon, mournfully, “You must prepare to fight without Achilles.”
“Why, ’tis this naming of him does him harm!” says Ulysses. He turns and looks admiringly upon Ajax. “Here is a man!—” He pauses. “But ’tis before his face; I will be silent….”
“Wherefore should you do so?” asks Nestor. “He is not emulous, as Achilles is.”
Ulysses nods. “The whole world knows he is as valiant!”
Nearly lost in indignation, Ajax is muttering to himself. “A whoreson dog, that shall palter thus with us! Would he were a Trojan!”
The others comment: “What a vice were it in Ajax now,” says Nestor. “…If he were proud—” says Ulysses. “Or covetous of praise—” says Diomedes. “Aye, or surly borne—” says Ulysses. “Or strange, or self-affected!” adds Diomedes.
Their sarcasm is lost on Ajax, and Ulysses claps him on the back. “Thank the heavens, lord, thou art of sweet composure; praise him that begot thee, she that gave thee suckle! Famèd be thy tutor, and thy parts in nature thrice famed—beyond all erudition!
“And he that disciplined thine arms to fight, let Mars divide eternity in twain and give him half!
“And as for thy vigour, bull-bearing Milo yields his renown to sinewy Ajax!” As Ajax bears this bull, Ulysses continues: “I will not thy wisdom give praise—which, like a bourn, a pale, a shore, confines thy spacious and dilated parts!
“Here’s Nestor, instructed by the antiquary times; he must—he is—he cannot but be wise!
“But, pardon, father Nestor: were your days as green as Ajax’ and your brain so tempered, you should not have the eminence of him, but only be as Achilles!”
Ajax can only blink again in pleased amazement; he looks at Nestor. “Shall I call you Father?”
That nobleman—who, oddly enough, is touched—smiles kindly. “Aye, my good son.”
“Be ruled by him, Lord Ajax,” Diomedes advises.
“There’s no good tarrying here,” Ulysses now tells them, “the hart Achilles keeps to the thicket.
“Please it our great general to call together all his state of war. Fresh kings are come to Troy.” The Trojans’ allies from the south, in Asia Minor, are coming to help fight the Greeks. “Tomorrow we must with all of our main power stand fast!”
He beams at Ajax. “And here’s a lord! Come knights now from east to west, then cull their flowers—Ajax shall cope the best!”
“Go we to council!” says Agamemnon. “Let Achilles sleep! Light boats sail swift, though greater hulls draw deep.”
Ajax, something of a barge, is drawn along.
Pandarus calls, “Friend—you! Pray you, a word; do not you follow the young Lord Paris?”
“Aye, sir—when he goes before me,” replies the stuffy steward, coming into a courtyard of King Priam’s palace. Musicians seated on stone benches by the walls are opening their instrument cases.
“You depend upon him, I mean.”
“Sir, I do depend upon the Lord.”
“You depend upon a noble gentleman; I must needs praise him!”
“The Lord be praised.”
Pandarus smiles. “You know me, do you not?”
“’Faith, sir, superficially.” His tone implies as superficial.
Pandarus smiles warmly. “Friend, know me better; I am the Lord Pandarus!”
The steward is aware of his questionable reputation. “I hope I’ll know your honour better.”
Pandarus has heard know Your Honor better. “I do desire it!”
“Then you are in the state of grace,” says the man sanctimoniously.
“Grace?” Pandarus is puzzled. “Not so, friend—Honour and Lordship”—Your Honor, Your Lordship—“are my titles!” He hears the flutes and stringed instruments beginning to play. “What music is this?”
“I do know it but partly, sir.”—a play on a term; the music is in parts, each written differently for each player.
“Know you the musicians?”
“Wholly, sir.” He thinks their occupation frivolous.
Pandarus nods. “Who play they to?”
“To the hearers, sir.”
“At whose pleasure, friend?”
“At mine, sir,” says the man who issues their orders. “And theirs who love music.”
“Command, I mean, friend.”
“Whom shall I command, sir?”
“Friend, we understand not one another! I am too courtly, and thou art too clever. At whose request do these men play?”
“That’s to’t indeed, sir,” mutters the steward; he suspects several sins. But he sees a frown beginning. “Marry, sir, at the request of Paris, my lord—who’s there in person,” he says, pointing toward a door. “With him is the mortal Venus!—the heart-blood of Beauty, Love’s invincible soul!—”
“Who, my cousin Cressida?”
“No, sir!—Helen! Could you not figure-out that by her attributes?”
“It should seem, fellow, that thou hast not seen the Lady Cressida!
“I come from the Prince Troilus to speak with Paris! I will make a complimental assault upon him, for my business seethes!”
The supercilious servant considers seethe a cooking term: Sodden business! There’s a stewed phrase indeed!
As the two watch, Lord Paris and Lady Helen stroll about the yard, followed by their attendants, listening to the music and enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
Pandarus goes to the royals and bows deeply. “Fair be to you, my lord, and to all this fair company! Fair desires, in all fair measure, fairly guide them! Especially to you, fair queen! Fair thoughts be your fair pillow!”
Helen is amused. “Dear lord, you are full of fair words!”
“You speak your fair pleasure, sweet queen!” Pandarus tells Paris, “Fair prince, here is good ‘broken music’!”—melodies played in parts.
“You have broken it, cousin!” laughs Paris, “and, by my life, you shall make it whole again: you shall piece it out with a piece of your performance!” He tells Helen, “Nell, he is full of harmony!”
Pandarus is known for singing at court occasions; he affects modesty. “Truly, lady, no!”
She smiles. “Oh, sir—”
“Rude, in sooth,” says Pandarus glibly, “in good sooth, very rude!” He means unpolished.
“Well said, my lord!” says Paris, having noted the discourteous interruption. “Well you say so; it fits!”
“I have business to my lord, dear queen,” says Pandarus. “My lord, will you vouchsafe me a word?”
Protests Helen, “Nay, this shall certainly not hedge us out! We’d hear you sing!”
“Well, sweet queen, you are pleasant with me,” says Pandarus, still facing Paris. “But, marry, it is thus, my lord: my dear lord and most esteemèd friend, your brother Troilus—”
“My Lord Pandarus,” says Helen, “honey-sweet lord—”
“Go to, sweet queen, to go,” says the old man with curt politeness. He continues: “—commends himself most affectionately to you—”
Helen is not accustomed to rebuff. “You shall not bob us out of our melody! If you do, our melancholy upon your head!”
Pandarus patronizes: “Sweet queen, sweet queen, there’s a sweet queen, i’ faith—”
She appears to pout. “And to make a sweet lady sad is a sour offence!”
“Nay, that shall not serve your turn, that shall not, in truth, la!” murmurs Pandarus. “Nay, I care not for such words—no, no, no.” He would brush her off with a condescending politeness. “And, my lord, he desires you that, if the king call for him at supper, you will make his excuse.”
Helen persists: “My Lord Pandarus—”
“What says my sweet queen, my very, very sweet queen?” he asks, still not looking at her.
But now Paris is curious about Troilus’s odd request. “What exploit’s in hand? Where sups he tonight?”
“Nay, but, my lord!—” says Helen.
Pandarus tries to stifle her speech. “What says my sweet queen? My cousin will fall out with you….”
Helen warns Paris petulantly, “You must not learn where he sups!”
The prince grins. “I’ll lay my life that my deposer”—the one to take his place at Troilus’s meal, “is Cressida!”
Pandarus prevaricates: “No, no, no such matter!—you are wide! Come now, your ‘deposer’”—Troilus—“is sick!”
Paris agrees to his brother’s request. “Well, I’ll make excuse.”
Pandarus smiles. “Aye, good my lord! Why would you say Cressida?—no, no, your poor deposer’s sick.”
Paris is not put off by the lie. “I spy—”
“You spy! What do you spy?” asks Pandarus lightly, turning to the musicians. “Come, give me an instrument,” he tells the lutenist. “Now, sweet queen,” he says, preparing to play and sing.
Helen softens a bit. “Well, this is kindly done.”
Pandarus—tuning the lute, to the owner’s annoyance—tells her, “My niece is horribly in love with a thing you have, sweet queen….”
Thing can be a term for penis. Says Helen mischievously, “She shall have it, my lord—if it be not my lord Paris’s!”
Pandarus scoffs. “He? No, she’ll none of his; they twain are two.”
“Falling out after falling in may make them three!”—parents and infant.
Old Pandarus is discomfited. “Come, come, I’ll hear no more of this…. I’ll sing you a song now.”
“Aye, aye, prithee now,” says Helen. But she moves closer, and seems to flirt. “By my troth, sweet lord, thou hast a fine forehead!” She flatters a brow extended well into baldness.
The old man blushes, and murmurs, “Aye, you may, you may.” Still, he is pleased.
“Let thy song be of love,” says Helen, touching his cheek. As he flushes again, she thinks, Thus Love will undo us all! O Cupid, Cupid, Cupid!
“Of love? Aye, that it shall, i’ faith!” says Pandarus, eager to please.
Paris takes Helen’s hand. “Aye, good enough! Love, love, nothing but love!”
“In good troth, it begins so!” says Pandarus. Plucking the strings, he sings:
“Love, love, nothing but love evermo’e!
For though Love’s bow shoots buck and doe,
The shaft confounds not what it wounds,
But tickles still the sore!”—aggravates the inflammation.
“These lovers cry,
‘Oh! Oh!’ then die!”—a term for ejaculation.
“‘Yet that which seems the wound to kill,
Doth turn ‘Oh! Oh!’ to ‘Ah!’ and ‘Ah!’
He so dying, Love lives still!
Oh! oh! a while, but then Ah! Ah! Ah!
‘Oh! oh!’ groans out for ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’
Says Helen, “In love, i’ faith, to the very tip of the nose!”
Paris laughs. “He eats nothing but doves, love!—and that breeds hot blood, and hot blood begets hot thoughts, and hot thoughts beget hot deeds—and hot deeds is love!”
Pandarus frowns. Is that the origination of love?—hot blood, hot thoughts, and hot deeds! Why, those are vipers! Is love the generating of vipers?
He returns the lute, which is immediately tuned again—but properly.
Pandarus asks Paris, “Sweet lord, who’s a-field today?”
“Hector, Deiphobus, Helenus, Antenor—and all the gallantry of Troy! I would fain have armed today, but my Nell would not have it so. How chances it my brother Troilus went not?”
Says Helen, “He hangs the lip at something. You know all, Lord Pandarus….”
“Not I, honey-sweet queen.” I long to hear how they sped today! He asks the prince, “You’ll remember to make your brother’s excuse?”
“To a hair,” says Paris dryly; he has not forgotten Troilus’s barb.
Pandarus bows. “Farewell, sweet queen.”
“Commend me to your niece,” says she.
“I will, sweet queen.” They can hear distant horns sounding a retreat. Pandarus leaves, headed to the eastern gate to watch the returning heroes.
“They’ve come from field,” says Paris. “Let us go to Priam’s hall to greet the warriors.”
But she embraces him, warmly, and they kiss.
“Sweet Helen,” he says, with a sly smile, “I must woo you to help unarm our ‘Hector!’”—and she understands which upright battler he means. “His stubborn bucklers,”—round shields, “by these your white, enchanting fingers touchèd, shall more obey than the edge of steel—or force of Greekish sinews!
“You shall do more than all the island kings: bring down great ‘Hector!’”
She smiles, eyes sparkling. “’Twill make me proud to be his servant, Paris!—yea, what he shall receive of us in duty gives us more palm than we have from beauty—yea, overshines ourself!”
The image of her glistening face already has Paris short of breath. He hurries her away. “Sweet, above thought I love thee!” he pants, as they rush toward their bed chamber.
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.
Cupid, grant all tongue-tied maidens here: bed, chamber—and Pandar to provide this gear!
In the Greeks’ camp after supper, King Agamemnon walks with King Menelaus and Lord Nestor. The general is followed by three warriors, Ulysses, his friend Diomedes, and powerful Ajax.
A priest of Apollo, Calchas, approaches the foreign leader and his brother, and bows. “Now, princes, for the service I have done you, the advantage of the time prompts me to call aloud for recompense.
“Appear it to your mind that, through the sight I bear in things to come, I have abandoned Troy, left my possessions, incurred a traitor’s name!—exposed myself from certain and possessèd convenience to doubtful fortune, sequestering from me all that time, acquaintance, custom and condition made tame and most familiar to my nature!—and here, to do you service, am become as new unto the world—strange, unacquainted.
“I do beseech you to give me now, as by way of a taste, a little benefit out of those many registered in promise, which you say live to come in my behalf.”
Agamemnon knows and respects the nobleman, who occupies a tent within Menelaus’s large pavilion. “What wouldst thou of us, Trojan? Make demand.”
“You have a Trojan prisoner called Antenor, yesterday took,” says Calchas. “Troy holds him very dear.
“Oft have you—and often have you had thanks therefore—requested in rightly great exchange my Cressida, whom Troy hath still denied. But this Antenor, I know, is so much addressèd in their affairs that their military moves all must slack, lacking his manage, and they will almost give us a prince of blood, a son of Priam, in exchange for him!
“Let him be sent, great princes, and he shall buy my daughter!—and her presence shall quite strike off all service I have done in most-accepted pain!”
Agamemnon nods approval. “Let Diomedes bear him, and bring us Cressida hither. Calchas shall have what he requests of us.
“Good Diomedes, furnish you fairly for this interchange; withal, take word that Hector will tomorrow be answerèd in his challenge. Ajax is ready!”
“This shall I undertake,” says Diomedes, bowing. He smiles at Ajax. “And ’tis a burden which I am proud to bear!” He and Calchas go to prepare Lord Antenor for his return to Troy.
As the royal party walked here, Ulysses had been peering forward. “Achilles stands i’ the entrance of his tent,” he tells his companions. “Please it our general to pass strangely by him, as if he were forgotten!—and, princes all, lay negligent and loose regard upon him.
“I will come last. ’Tis likely he’ll question me why such unapplausive eyes are bent on him. If so, I have, to use between your strangeness and his pride, derision—medicinable, which his own will shall have desire to drink!
“It may do good, for pride hath no other mirror to show itself but pride! Supple knees feed arrogance, and are the proud man’s fees.”
Agamemnon agrees. “We’ll execute your purpose, and put on a form of strangeness as we pass along. So do each lord—and either greet him not, or else disdainfully, which shall shake him more than if not looked on. I will lead the way.”
As the first two lords pass him, Achilles, standing with his friend Patroclus, addresses them. “What?—comes the general to speak with me? You know my mind: I’ll fight no more ’gainst Troy.”
Agamemnon, not pausing to look, asks Nestor, “What says Achilles? Would he aught with us?”
The old man glances at Achilles, “Would you, my lord, aught with the general?”
“Nothing, my lord,” Nestor tells Agamemnon.
“The better,” says the general, as he and Nestor walk on.
“Good day, good day,” says Achilles blandly as the king goes.
As he ambles past, King Menelaus, eyes on the path ahead, only mumbles, “How do you, how do you?”
Achilles asks Patroclus, “What?—does the cuckold scorn me?”
Then the new champion comes by. He nods. “How now, Patroclus.”
Achilles replies. “Good morrow, Ajax.”
“Eh?” grunts Ajax, trudging along.
“Aye, and good next day, too.” Then Ajax is gone.
The Greeks’ greatest warrior is perturbed. “What mean these fellows? Know they not Achilles?”
“They pass by strangely,” Patroclus admits. “They were used to bend, to send their smiles before them to Achilles—to come as humbly as they use to creep to holy altars!”
“What, am I poor of late?” asks the hero. “’Tis certain: greatness, once fall’n out with Fortune, must fall out with men too. What the decline is he shall as soon read in the eyes of others as feel in his own fall; for men, like butterflies, show not their grainy wings but to the summer.
“Not a man, being simply Man, hath any honour but those honours that are outside him—place, riches, favour—prizes of accident as oft as merit. And when they fall, being slippery standers, the loves that leaned on them slip, too!—do pluck down one another, and together die in the fall.
“But ’tis not so with me!—Fortune and I are friends! I do enjoy at ample point all that I did possess!” He frowns. “Save these men’s looks, which do, methinks, find out in me something not worthy of such rich beholding as they have often given.” He sees another passer-by. “Here is Ulysses; I’ll interpret his reading.
“How now, Ulysses!”
The commander, strolling past, glances up from his book. “’Now, great Thetis’ son!”
“What are you reading?”
Ulysses looks down at the page as if puzzled. “A strange fellow here writes that, ‘A man, however dearly reported, however much in having, either without or in, cannot make boast to have that which he hath, nor feels not what he owns, but by a reflecting—as when his virtue, shining upon others, heats them, and they retort that heat again to the first giver.’”
Achilles takes charge. “This is not strange, Ulysses! The beauty that is borne here in the face the bearer knows not!—it commends itself to others’ eyes. Nor doth the eye, that most pure spirit of sense, behold itself, not going into itself; but, eye to eye opposèd, each salutes the other with the other’s form. For speculation turns not to itself till it hath travelled, and is mirrored there where it may see itself. This is not strange at all.”
Still, Ulysses seems troubled. “I do not strain at the position—it is familiar—but at the author’s drift, which, in his explanation, expressly proves that no man is the lord of anything—though in and of him there be much consisting—till he communicate his parts to others!
“Nor doth he himself know them for aught, till he behold them formèd in the applause where they’re extended, which like an arch reverberates the voice again, or, like a gate of steel fronting the sun, receives and renders back its figure and its heat.
“I was much wrapt in this,” says Ulysses, “when suddenly I perceived the unknown Ajax!—Heavens, what a man is there!—a very horse, in that has he knows not his nature. What things there are most abject in regard, yet valuable in use!”
He shakes his head. “What things, again, most dear in the esteem, but poor in worth.
“And now shall we see, tomorrow—in acts that very chance doth throw upon him—Ajax renownèd!
“O heavens, what some men do, which some men leave to do! How some men creep into skittish Fortune’s hall, while others play the idiot in her eyes! How one man eats into another’s pride while that pride is feasting on its wantonness!
“To see these Grecian lords!—why, even now they clap the lubber Ajax on the shoulder as if his foot were already on brave Hector’s breast, and great Troy shrinking!”
“I do believe it,” grumbles Achilles, “for they passed by me as misers do by beggars!—gave to me neither good word nor look! What?—are my deeds forgot?”
Ulysses shrugs. “Time hath, my lord, a pouch at his back wherein he puts alms for Oblivion—the great-sized monster of ingratitude! Those scraps are good deeds past—which are devoured as fast as they are made, forgotten as soon as done.
“Perseverance, dear my lord, keeps honour bright; to have done is to hang quite out of fashion, like a knight’s rusty mail, in monumental mockery!
“Take the immediate way!”—act now. “For Honour travels in a strait so narrow that only one goes abreast with her. Keep then the path!—for Envy hath a thousand sons, that one by one pursue! If you give way, or hedge aside from the direct sight forth, like an entered tide they’ll all rush by, and leave you hindmost!—or, like a gallant horse fall’n in the first rank, to lie there as pavement for the abject rear!—o’er-run and trampled on!
“Then what they do in present, though less than yours in past, must o’ertop yours! For Time is like a fashionable host that but slightingly shakes a parting guest by his hand, yet with arms outstretchèd grasps-in the comer as if he would flee! ‘Welcome’ ever smiles, and ‘Farewell’ goes out sighing.
“Oh, let not Virtue seek remuneration for the thing it was; for beauty, wit, high birth, vigour of bone, desert in service, love, friendship, charity—all are subject to envious and calumniating Time.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin: that all with one consent praise new-born gauds, though they are made and molded of things past, and give to dust that is a little gilded more laud than gold o’er-dust-ed!
“The present eye praises the object present. Then marvel not, thou great and complete man, that all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax, since things in motion sooner catch the eye than what stirs not.
“The cry went once on thee… and still it might. It may yet again, if thou—whose glorious deeds in these fields but of late made missions ’mongst the emulous gods themselves,”—drew them into the conflict, “and drave great Mars to faction!—wouldst not entomb thyself alive, encase thy reputation in thy tent!”
Achilles is indignant. “For this my privacy I have strong arguments!”
“But the arguments ’gainst your privacy are more potent than heroical. ’Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love with one of Priam’s daughters!”—Lady Polyxena, Cassandra’s sister.
Achilles is surprised. “Huh? Known?”
“Is that such a wonder? The prudence that’s in a watchful state knows almost every grain of Plutus’s gold, finds bottom in the incomprehensible deeps, keeps pace with thought!—and, almost like the gods, does uncover thoughts in their quiet cradles! In the soul of a state there is a mystery, with which reason durst never meddle, which hath an operation more divine than breath or pen can give expression to!
“All the commerce that you have had with Troy is ours as perfectly as yours, my lord—and much better would it fit Achilles to throw down Hector than Polyxena!”
Ulysses now mentions, with seeming sadness, Achilles’ eight-year-old son: “And it must grieve young Pyrrhus, now at home, when Fame shall in our islands sound her trumpet, and all the Greekish girls shall trippingly sing, ‘Great Hector’s sister did Achilles win—but our great Ajax bravely beat down him!’
“Farewell, my lord. I as your friend speak: the fool”—Ajax—“slides o’er the ice that you should break!” Ulysses opens his book, resumes reading, and walks away.
Patroclus touches his patron’s massive arm. “To that effect, Achilles, have I moved you!
“A woman impudent and mannish grown is not more loathèd than an effeminate man in time of action! I stand condemnèd for this!—they think my little stomach for the war, and your great love for me, restrain you thus!
“Sweet, rouse yourself! The weak, wanton Cupid shall from your neck unloose his amorous fold, and, like a dew-drop from the lion’s mane, be shook to air!”
Achilles is deeply vexed. “Shall Ajax fight with Hector?”
“Aye—and perhaps receive much honour by him!”
“I see my reputation is at stake. My fame is sharply gorèd!” He stares at the ground, considering.
“Oh, then beware! Those wounds heal ill that men do give themselves!” warns Patroclus. “Omission to do what is necessary seals a commission to draw from a reserve of dangers!—and then like an ague, danger subtly taints, even when we sit idly in the sun!”
Achilles looks up. “Go call Thersites hither, sweet Patroclus. I’ll send the fool to Ajax, and desire him to invite the Trojan lords to see us here, unarmèd, after the combat.
“I have a woman’s longing—an appetite that I am sick withal, to see great Hector in his garb of peace—to talk with him, and to behold his visage, even to my full view.” The theory Ulysses described troubles him. What will be see there of himself?
Just then Thersites comes to the tent. “A labour saved,” says Patroclus.
The slender gentleman is annoyed. “A wonder!”
“What?” asks Achilles.
“Ajax goes up and down the field, meeting by himself!”
“He must fight singly tomorrow with Hector,” says Thersites, “and is so pathetically proud of an heroical cudgelling that he raves by saying nothing!”
“How can that be?”
“Why, he stalks up and down like a peacock—a stride, then a stand!—ruminates, like a hostess that hath no arithmetic, but uses her brain to set down her reckoning!—bites his lip with a politic regard,”—a determined look, “as if to say, ‘There were wit in this head, if ’twould come out!’ And so there is—but it lies as coldly in him as fire in a flint, which will not show without knocking!”
Thersites laughs. “The man’s undone forever! For if Hector break not his neck i’ the combat, he’ll break it himself in vainglory!
“He knows not me! I said, ‘Good morrow, Ajax,’ and he replied, ‘Thanks, Agamemnon.’ What think you of this man that takes me for the general? He’s grown into a very land-fish!—languageless!—a monster!”
“Thou must be my ambassador to him, Thersites.”
“Who, I? Why, he’ll answer nobody!—he professes not answering! Speaking is for beggars; he wears his tongue in’s arms!” Thersites offers to show them the warrior’s new demeanor. “I will put on his presence: let Patroclus make demands to me; you shall see the pageant of Ajax!”
Achilles grins. “To him, Patroclus! Tell him I humbly desire the valiant Ajax to invite the most valorous Hector to come unarmèd to my tent, and to procure safe-conduct for his person from the magnanimous and most illustrious, six-or-seven-times-honoured captain-general of the Grecian army, Agamemnon… et cetera. Do thus.”
Patroclus begins the skit. “Jove bless great Ajax!”
Thersites’ expression is blank. “Hm.”
“I come from the worthy Achilles—”
“—who most humbly desires you to invite Hector to his tent—”
“—and to procure safe-conduct from Agamemnon.”
“Aye, my lord.”
“What say you to’t?”
Thersites’ Ajax merely blinks. “God b’ wi’ you, with all my heart.”
“Your answer, sir?”
The simulated hero mumbles. “If tomorrow be a fair day, by eleven o’clock it will go one way or other.” He scowls. “Howsoever, he shall pay for me ere he has me!”
“Your answer, sir?”
Thersites’ Ajax turns away. “A plague on opinion—a man may wear it on both sides, like a leather jerkin. Fare you well, with all my heart….”
Achilles laughs. “Why, he is not in this tune, is he?”
“No—he’s but out o’ tune thus!” replies Thersites. “What music will be in him when Hector has knocked out his brains, I know not—but I am sure none, unless the fiddler Apollo takes his sinews to make catlings of!”—to use as his instrument’s gut-strings.
Achilles regards the abrasive agent. “Come, thou shalt bear a letter to him straight.”
“Let me bear another one to his horse, for that’s the more capable creature!”
The big warrior frowns. “My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirrèd; and I see not myself at the bottom of it.” Finding no reflection is a bad omen. He and Patroclus go into the tent.
Thersites considers Achilles’ muddied thinking. Would the fountain of your mind were clear again—so I might water an ass at it!
I had rather be a tick in a sheep than such a valiant ignorance!
Beneath the stars early this morning, two Trojan princes stand in the road just east of the city. By the light of flickering torches held by servants, they have met with a Greek emissary, Diomedes. He has brought a prisoner: Antenor, the Trojans’ chief military counselor.
Paris spots someone else coming from the town gates. “See, ho!—who is that there?”
His brother Deiphobus peers through the darkness. “It is the Lord Aeneas.”
When he and a servant near the others, Aeneas asks, “Is the prince there in person?” He grins. “Had I so good occasion to lie for long as you have, Prince Paris, nothing but heavenly business”—death—“should rob my bed-mate of my company!”
Diomedes laughs, recognizing the newcomer. “That’s my mind too! Good morrow, Lord Aeneas!”
Says Paris, “A valiant Greek, Aeneas!—take his hand! Witness the subject of your speech wherein you told how Diomedes for a whole week did haunt you by day in the field!”
As they clasp hands warmly, Aeneas smiles at his opponent. “Health to you, valiant sir, during any question of the gentle truce; but when I meet you armèd, as black defiance as courage can think, or heart execute!”
The Greek, too, smiles. “The one and other Diomedes embraces! Our bloods are now in calm, and for so long, health! But when contention and occasion meet, by Jove, I’ll play the hunter for thy life with all my policy, pursuit and force!”
“And thou shalt hunt a lion that will fly with his face backward!”—charge forward.
Says Aeneas, “In humane gentleness, welcome to Troy! Now, by Anchises’ life, welcome! Indeed, by Aphrodite’s hand I swear,”—the two are his parents, “no man alive of such sort can love more excellently the thing he means to kill!”
“We are in sympathy!” says Diomedes. “Jove, let Aeneas live a thousand complete courses of the sun!—if to my sword his fate be not the glory! But, for mine emulous honour let him die with every joint a wound!—and that tomorrow!”
“We know each other well,” says Aeneas.
“We do—and long to know each other worse!”
Paris laughs as they release their grips. “This is the most despitefully gentle greeting, the noblest hateful love, that e’er I heard!”
“What business, lord, so early?” asks Aeneas. “I was sent by the king, but why I know not.”
Paris nods toward Diomedes and the Trojan advisor. “His purpose meets you: ’twas to bring this Greek to Calchas’ house, and there to render unto him, for the free-èd Antenor, the fair Cressida!
“Let us have your company. Or, if you please, hasten there before us; I certainly do think—or rather, call my thought a certain knowledge—that my brother Troilus lodges there this night! Rouse him, and give him note of our approach—with the whole quality whereof, I fear, we shall be much unwelcome!”
“Of that I assure you!” says Aeneas, surprised by the trade. “Troilus had rather Troy were borne to Greece than Cressida borne from Troy!”
Silently, Diomedes notes that intelligence well.
“There is no help,” says Paris, in resignation. “The bitter disposition of the time will have it so. On, lord; we’ll follow you….”
“Good morrow, all!” says Aeneas. He and his man turn back to town, headed for Lord Calchas’s house. Antenor goes with them.
Paris regards the Greek amiably. “Then tell me, noble Diomedes—’faith, tell me true, even in the soul of sound good fellowship: who, in your thoughts, merits fair Helen best, myself or Menelaus?”
“Both alike,” Diomedes tells the smug Trojan prince. “He merits well to have her that doth seek her, with such a hell of pain and world of cost, not making any issue of her soiling; and you merit as well, who defend her to keep her, with such a costly loss of wealth and friends, not paling at the taste of her dishonour.”
Paris flushes, but Diomedes, meeting his glare boldly, goes on. “He, like a puling cuckold, would drink up the lees and dregs of a flat, tamèd piece”—an exhausted wine cask, and, by analogy, a worn-out lay. “You, like a lecher, out of whorish loins are pleasèd to breed out your inheritors. Both merits poised, each weighs nor less nor more, but he as he: neither the heavier for the whore!”
Paris contains his anger at the commander’s insults. “You are too bitter toward your countrywoman.”
“She’s bitter to her country! Hear me, Paris: for every false drop in her bawdy veins a Grecian’s life hath sunk! For every particle of her contaminated, carrion weight, a Trojan hath been slain! Since she could speak she hath not given so many good words breath as—for her!—Greeks and Trojans suffered death!”
Paris affects equanimity. “Fair Diomed, you do as traders do—dispraise the thing that you desire to buy. But we in silence hold this virtue well: we’ll only commend what we intend to sell.” The Trojan prince turns and strides away toward the former home of Calchas. “Here lies our way.”
Both lords’ servants hurry ahead, their torches lighting the road through the dark to the fortified city.
Near the center of Troy, Troilus and Cressida meander, yawning, toward the front of Lord Pandarus’s home. She knows the prince now wants to leave for the palace.
“Dear, trouble not yourself,” he tells her, rubbing his arms. “The morn is cold.”
“Then, sweet my lord, I’ll call mine uncle down: he shall unbolt the gates.”
“Trouble him not; to bed.” Sated, he no longer needs the old man’s officiousness. “To bed!—sleep still those pretty eyes, and give as soft detachment to thy senses as an infant’s, empty of all thought.”
Cressida closes her eyes for a moment—then pops them open and smiles. “Good morrow, then!”
He laughs. “I prithee now, to bed.” He walks more briskly.
“Are you a-weary of me?”
“Oh, Cressid, but that the busy day, wakèd by the lark, hath roused the ribald crows,”—gossips, “and dreaming night will hide our joys no longer, I would not from thee.”
“Night hath been too brief!”
“Beshrew the witch! With venomous wights she stays, as tediously as hell, but flies the grasps of lovers with wings more momentary—swifter than thought!” He sees her shiver. “You will catch cold, and curse me!”
“Prithee, tarry—you men will never tarry! O foolish Cressida!—I might still have held off—and then you would have tarried!” She kisses him anyway. They hear sounds in the house. “Hark! There’s one up,” she says dryly.
A voice calls, “What, are all the doors open here?”
“It is your uncle,” says tired Troilus.
“A pestilence on him!” She groans. “Now will he be mocking! I shall have such a life!”
Pandarus comes into the corridor, pretending to be worried. “How now, how now?—how go maidenheads?”—virgins. “Here—you, where’s my maiden niece Cressid?” he asks the blushing lady.
She laughs. “Go hang yourself, you naughty, mocking uncle! You bring me to do, and then you flout me too!”
Pandarus pretends to be puzzled. “To do what? To do what?—let her say what! What have I brought you to do?”
She chides, “Come, come”—only to blush again when he laughs. “Beshrew your heart!—you’ll ne’er be good—nor suffer others to!”
Pandarus laughs. “Alas, poor wretch!” he teases. “Ah, poor capocchia!”—little monkey. “Hast not slept tonight? Would he not, the naughty man, let it sleep? A bugbear take him!”
Cressida shakes her head. “Did not I tell you?” she asks Troilus. “Would he were knocked i’ the head!”
They hear rapping. “Who’s that at door?” she wonders. “Good uncle, go and see.
“My lord, come you again into my chamber,” she tells Troilus; then, seeing his face: “You smile and mock me—as if I meant naughtily!”
“Come, you are deceived! I think of no such thing,” she claims, tugging him to her. They hear more noise from the front. “How earnestly they knock!” She hurries toward the back. “Pray you, come in! I would not for half of Troy have you seen here!”
As they return to a bed chamber, the bachelor wonders if she is mocking his own wish for secrecy.
“Who’s there?” grumbles Pandarus, going to the front. “What’s the matter?
“Will you beat down the door? How now! What’s the matter?” he demands, unbarring and opening the oaken door.
“Good morrow, lord, good morrow!” says the visitor in the dark.
“Who’s there? My Lord Aeneas! By my troth, I knew you not!” He motions for the nobleman to come in. “What news with you so early?”
“Is not Prince Troilus here?” He was not at Lord Calchas’s house.
“Here? What should he do here?”
“Come, he is here, my lord; do not deny him; it doth import him much to speak with me!”
“Is he here, say you? ’Tis more than I know, I’ll be sworn! For my own part, I came in late. What should he do here?”
Aeneas grins. “Whom.” He sees the old man starting to protest. “Nay, then! Come, come, you’ll do him wrong ere you’re aware!—you’ll be so true to him as to be false to him!
“Do not know of him, then,” he says agreeably, to avoid further talk, “but yet go fetch him hither. Go!”
Just then, though, Troilus comes into the corridor. “How now! What’s the matter?”
“My lord, I scarce have leisure to salute you, my matter is so rash!” says Aeneas. “There are at hand Paris and your brother Deiphobus, the Grecian Diomed—and our Antenor, deliverèd to us!
“And for him, forthwith—ere the first sacrifice—within this hour!—we must give up to Diomedes’ hand the Lady Cressida!”
Troilus is stunned. “Is it so concluded?”
“By Priam and the general state of Troy,” says Aeneas nodding. “They are at hand, and ready to effect it.”
“How my achievements mock me!” moans Troilus. “I will go meet them,” he sighs—surprised to find that he is somewhat relieved. “And, my Lord Aeneas,” he adds, “we met by chance; you did not find me here.”
Aeneas agrees. “Good, good, my lord; the secrets of Nature have not more gift in taciturnity.”
Together they go to meet the parties still coming here through the city.
Pandarus stands by the door. Is’t possible? he wonders. No sooner got but lost? The devil take Antenor! The young prince will go mad! A plague upon Antenor! I would they had broken ’s neck!
Cressida, returning, can see that her uncle is very upset. “How now! What’s the matter? Who was here?”
“Why sigh you so profoundly? Where’s my lord?—gone? Tell me, sweet uncle, what’s the matter?”
“Would I were as deep under the earth as I am above!”
“Oh, the gods! What’s the matter?”
“Prithee, get thee in!” he says angrily. “Would thou hadst ne’er been born!” He waves her away. “I knew thou wouldst be his death!” cries Pandarus. “Oh, poor gentleman! A plague upon Antenor!”
“Good uncle, I beseech you, on my knees!” she cries. “Beseech you, what’s the matter?”
“Thou must be gone, wench, thou must be gone; thou art exchangèd for Antenor. Thou must to thy father—and be gone from Troilus!
“’Twill be his death! ’Twill be his bane!—he cannot bear it!”
“O you immortal gods!” She rises and stares, pale. “I will not go!”
“I will not, Uncle! I have forgot my father!—I know no touch of consanguinity!—no kin, no blood, no love, no soul so near me as the sweet Troilus!
“O you gods divine, make Cressida’s name the very crown of falsehood, if ever she leave Troilus!
“Time, Force, and Death, do to this body what extremes you can, but the strong base and building of my love is as the very centre of the earth, drawing all things to it!”
She moans, “I’ll go in and weep,—”
“Do, do,” mumbles Pandarus, going to watch from the door.
“—tear my bright hair and scratch my praisèd cheeks; crack my clear voice with sobs, and break my heart with sounding ‘Troilus!’”
She moves slowly back down the passage, dazed and completely wretched.
I will not go from Troy! she tells herself.
Paris and the others conducting the exchange of prisoners stand outside Lord Calchas’s mansion just after sunrise—on the day which boasts of Prince Hector’s chivalrous bout epitomizing Trojan gallantry.
“It is great morning, and the hour prefixèd for her delivery to this valiant Greek comes fast upon us,” says Paris. “Good my brother Troilus, tell you the lady what she is to do—and hasten her to the purpose.”
“Walk into her house; I’ll bring her to the Grecian presently,” says Troilus. “And think his hand to whom I deliver her an altar!—and thy brother Troilus a priest, there offering to it his own heart!”
Says Paris, “I know what ’tis to love, and wish that I could help as I shall pity.
“Please you walk in, my lords.” They pass into the traitor’s house, as Troilus goes across the way to fetch the conflict’s newest captive.
Inside his own home, Pandarus is upset with the distraught young lady: “Be moderate, be moderate!”
“Why tell you me of moderation?” she wails. “The grief I taste is final, fully perfected!—and violent to the senses, strong as that which causeth it! How can I moderate it? If I could temporize with my affection, or brew it to a weaker and colder palate, the like allayment could I give my grief! My love admits no qualifying dross—no more than my grief, in such a precious loss!”
“Hear!” Pandarus has gone toward the entrance. “Hear! Here he comes!” he says, as Troilus arrives.
At once, Cressida clings to the prince.
Says Pandarus sadly, “Ah, sweet ducks!”
“Oh, Troilus! Troilus!” she sobs into his chest.
“What a pair of spectacles are here,” says Pandarus, mournfully, if ineptly. “Let me embrace too!” His arm stretches to clasp the prince’s shoulders. “‘O heart,’ as the goodly saying was, ‘O heart, heavy heart, why sigh’st thou without breaking?’—where it answers again, ‘Because thou canst not ease my smart, by friendship nor by speaking!’ There was never a truer rhyme! Let us cast away nothing, for we may live to have need of such a verse!—we see it, we see it!
“How now, lambs?”
Troilus pulls away from her. “Cressid, I love thee with so refined a purity that the blessèd gods, jealous of my fancy, more bright in zeal than the devotion which cold lips blow to their deities—take thee from me.”
She can’t help a slight frown. “Have the gods envy?”
“Aye, aye, aye, aye!” cries Pandarus, “’tis all too plainly the case!”
“And is it true that I must go from Troy?”
“A hateful truth,” says Troilus.
“What, and from Troilus too?”
“From Troy and Troilus.”
She is taken aback by his tranquil expression: “Is it possible?”
He nods. “And immediate; imperious Chance pushes back leave-taking, jostles roughly past all time of pause—rudely beguiles our lips of all rejointure, forcibly prevents our lockèd embrasures, strangles our dear vows even in the birth of our own labouring breath!
“We two, that with so many thousand sighs did buy each other, must poorly sell ourselves with the rude brevity and discharge of ‘One.’”
She starts to speak, but he continues: “Injurious Time now with a robber’s haste crams up his rich thievery, he knows not how! As many farewells with distinct breadth and consignèd kisses to them as be stars in heaven, he crushes into a lone ‘Adieu,’ and scants us with a single, famished kiss, broken, distasted with the salt of tears!”
Echoing in her mind are his calm Adieu—and buy and sell.
From the front door, Aeneas asks: “My lord, is the lady ready?”
“Hark, you are called,” says Troilus. He regards her with pity. “Some say that an extra sense thus cries ‘Come’ to him who must immediately die.” He tells Pandarus, “Bid them have patience; she shall come anon.”
Looking at the now-experienced prince, the old man’s feelings are mixed: the beautiful boy’s pain is disturbing, but his new freedom will soon enlarge. Where are my tears?—rain to allay this wind ere my heart be blown up by the root! He ambles down the corridor to the door, thinking.
She look up at Troilus. “I must then to the Grecians?”
“A woeful Cressida ’mongst the merry Greeks! When shall we see again?”
“Hear me, my love. Be thou but true of heart—”
“I true? How now?—what wicked theme is this?”
“Nay, we must use expostulation kindly, for it is parting from us! I speak not ‘Be thou true’ as if doubting thee, for I will throw down my glove to Death himself that there’s no machination in thy heart! But ‘Be thou true’ say I in the fashion of my sequent protestation: ‘Be thou true, and I will see thee.”
“Oh, you would be exposèd, my lord, to dangers as infinite as imminent!” she cries. “But I’ll be true!”
“And I’ll grow friendly with danger!” He hastily unfastens one of the wide, embroidered cuffs that decorate his coat. “Wear this sleeve.” She tucks the memento under the cord at her waist.
“And you this glove!” she says, giving it to him. “When shall I see you?”
“I will corrupt the Grecian sentinels, to give thee nightly visitation. But yet be true!”
“O heavens!—‘be true’ again!”
The prince’s intimate affair will certainly become known; her succumbing to a Greek could subject him to scorn from both sides.
“Hear why I speak it, love! The Grecian youths are full of quality: they’re loving, well composèd with gifts of Nature!—flowing and swelling o’er with arts and exercise! How novelty may beguile imparts to a person, alas, a kind of godly jealousy!—makes me afraid, which, I beseech you call a virtuous sin!”
“O heavens!” Cressida stares at him. “You love me not!”
“Die I a villain, then!” he protests. “In this I do not call your faithfulness into question so mainly as my merit: I cannot sing, nor heel the high lavolt,”—do lively dances, “nor sweeten talk, nor play at subtle games!—fair virtues all, in which the Grecians are most prompt and preparèd.
“And I can tell you that in each grace of these there lurks a devil that with silent discourse tempts most cunningly! But be not tempted!”
“Do you think I will?”
“No, but some things may be done that we do not will. And sometimes we are devils to ourselves, when we will tempt the frailty of our powers, presuming on their changeable potency.”
They can hear Aeneas’s insistent voice: “Nay, good my lord….”
“Come, kiss,” says Troilus, “and let us part!”
But Paris is calling from the door. “Brother Troilus!”
“Good brother, come you hither,” he replies, “and bring Aeneas and the Grecian with you!”
Cressida looks up at Troilus, tears in her eyes. “My lord, will you be true?”
“Who, I? Alas, it is my vice, my fault!” he tells her glibly. “Whiles others fish with craft for great opinion, I with great truth catch mere simplicity; whilst some with cunning gild their copper crowns, with truth and plainness I do wear mine bare. Fear not my truth: the moral of my wit is ‘plain and true’—there’s all the reach of it.”
Paris and Deiphobus come into the room, followed by the Greek emissary and his prisoner.
“Welcome, Sir Diomedes,” says Troilus. “Here is the lady which for Antenor we deliver you. At the city gate, lord, I’ll give her to thy hand, and along the way possess thee what she is.
“Treat her well—and, by my soul, fair Greek, if e’er thou stand at mercy of my sword, name Cressid, and thy life shall be as safe as Priam is in Ilion!”
Irked by the youth’s arrogant presumption, Diomedes begins chafing his pride even sooner than he had intended. He bows deeply—to her. “Fair Lady Cressida, so please you, save the thanks this prince expects!
“The lustre in your eye, heaven in your cheek, plead your fair usage; and to Diomedes you shall be mistress, and command him wholly!” He kisses her hand.
As she is traded, whisked away on mere minutes’ notice, Cressida smiles weakly at the Greek lord, cheered by the unexpected courtesy, relieved at his kindliness.
Troilus’s jealousy, as it turns out, is somewhat less than godly. “Grecian, thou dost not use me courteously!” he cries angrily, “to shame the zeal of my petition to thee by praising her! I tell thee, lord of Greece, she is as far high-soaring o’er thy praises as thou art unworthy to be called her servant!
“I charge thee: use her well at my charge!—for, by the dreadful god of the dead, if thou dost not, though the great bulk Achilles be thy guard, I’ll cut thy throat!”
Says Diomedes calmly, obviously undaunted by the threat, “Oh, be not angered, Prince Troilus. Let me be privileged by my place and message to be a free speaker.” But his smile is fierce. “When I am hence, I’ll answer for my lust.
“And know you, lord,” he says with an iron gaze, “I’ll nothing do on charge. To her own worth she shall be prizèd; but as to what you say ‘Be’t so,’ I’ll speak, in my spirit and honour, ‘No!’”
Troilus starts toward the door. “Come, to the gate. I tell thee, Diomedes, this affront shall oft make thee to hide thy head!
“Lady, give me your hand, and, as we walk, to our own selves will bend our needful talk.”
But as they all reach the entrance, a horn blast can be heard from the field, echoing among the city walls.
“Hark,” cries Paris, alarmed. “Hector’s trumpet!”
“How have we spent this morning?” says Aeneas. “The prince must think me tardy and remiss, who swore to ride before him onto the field!”
“’Tis Troilus’s fault,” says Paris, also eager to witness Hector’s performance. “Come, come!—to the field with him!”
Deiphobus concurs. “Let us make ready straight!”
Aeneas tells Troilus, “Yea, with a bridegroom’s fresh alacrity, let us address attending on Hector’s heels! The glory of our Troy doth this day lie on his fair worth in single chivalry!” The two hurry after the other men.
Diomedes smiles warmly at Cressida. With a gentle, courteous motion, he invites her to proceed; his waiting attendants follow them as they go, arm in arm.
Fully armed and armored, Ajax clumps into the lists, a rectangle of space already cordoned off for the noble contest this bright morning, in a field at the edge of the Greek camp where it faces Troy.
Agamemnon tells him, “Here art thou, in appointment fresh and fair!—anticipating the time with starting courage! Give with thy trumpet a loud note to Troy, thou dreadful Ajax, that the appallèd air may pierce the head of thy great combatant, and hale him hither!”
Ajax hands a leather pouch of coins to his herald. “Thou, trumpet, there’s my purse. Now crack thy lungs, and split thy brazen pipe! Blow, villain, till thy cheeks, spherèd for us, outswell the choler of puffèd Aquilon!”—the angry North Wind. “Come, stretch thy chest, and let thine eyes spout blood!—thou blow’st for Hector!”
The gleaming brass horn hurls forth its summons.
Except for the chirping of a few sparrows, the plain is silent. Notes Ulysses, “No trumpet answers.”
“’Tis but early day,” says Achilles.
Agamemnon sees that a couple has emerged from Troy’s eastern gate. “Is not Diomed yonder, with Calchas’ daughter?”
“’Tis he,” says Ulysses, as the two come along the road. He grins. “I ken the manner of his gait: he rises on the toe; that spirit of his lifts him from the earth in aspiration!” His friend is undertaking this assignment with enthusiasm.
“Is this the Lady Cressida?” asks Agamemnon, when they reach him.
Diomedes bows. “Even she!”
As Cressida was taken from the town, she watched her lover hurrying away eagerly with the other princes; forlorn now, she has been comforted by the charming and attentive nobleman who has offered her aid and protection here among Troy’s enemies.
“Most dearly welcome to the Greeks, sweet lady!” says Agamemnon. She pales, as the king of Mycenae’s lips touch her cheek.
“Our general doth salute you with a kiss!” old Nestor informs her, smiling.
“Yet is the kindness but particular,” Ulysses tells him. “’Twere better she were kissed in general!”
“Very courtly counsel!” laughs the ancient. “I’ll begin,” he adds, leaning to kiss her. “So much for Nestor.”
She is clearly discomfited at being the center of several lords’ attention—and by their manner of introduction. Her eyes widen as a big, muscled mass looms before her.
“I’ll take that winter from your lips, fair lady!” he says, to tease old Nestor. “Achilles bids you welcome!” He bobs down to peck at her cheek.
She is relieved; the scariest meeting is now past.
King Menelaus, next in line, pauses. “I had good argument for kissing, once,” he says mournfully, thinking of his wife—who is now being called Helen of Troy.
“But that’s no argument for kissing slowly,” says Patroclus, brushing past him to buss her lightly on the cheek, “for thus popped in Paris in his hardiment—and thus parted you from your arguement!” he says liltingly. “That first was Menelaus’s kiss; this, mine! Patroclus kisses you!” He does so again.
Menelaus protest, laughing, “Oh, this is trim!”
Thinks Ulysses watching them, Oh, deadly gall, and theme of all our scorn!—for which we lose our heads—to gild his horns!
Patroclus nods toward the cuckolded king. “Paris and I kiss evermore for him!” he tells Cressida, whose color has returned.
“I’ll have my kiss, sir!” insists Menelaus. “Lady, by your leave….”
She regards him, smiling, now. “In kissing, do you render, or receive?”
“Both take and give.”
“I’d make my match to live!” she says pertly. “The kiss you’d take is better than you’d give—therefore no kiss!”
“I’ll give you a premium,” says Menelaus. “I’ll give you three for one!”
“You’re an odd man,” she jests. “Give even, or give none!”
Menelaus only laughs. “An odd man, lady? Every man is odd!”
“No, Paris is not,” she retorts, “for you know ’tis true, that you are odd,”—single, “and he is even with you!”
Menelaus winces as he chuckles, backing away. “You’ll fillip me on the head!”
“No, I’ll be sworn!” says she gaily, unaware of another meaning of head.
Ulysses approaches Cressida. “It were no match, your nails against his horn! May I, sweet lady, beg a kiss of you?”
“I do desire it.”
“Well, beg then.” Her patrician poise has returned.
Says Ulysses, glancing sourly at Menelaus, “Why then for Venus’ sake give me a kiss—when Helen is a maiden again!—and is his!” Venus is the goddess of beauty and sex.
The Trojan lady nods, accepting the specious conditions: “I am your debtor.” But she adds, “Claim it when ’tis due!”
Ulysses’ eyes narrow. “Never’s my day. And then a kiss from you.”
Diomedes now steps forward. “Lady, a word,” he says. “I’ll bring you to your father.” Cressida nods and follows him into the Greeks’ extensive encampment.
“A woman of quick sense!” says Nestor, highly impressed.
“Fie, fie upon her!” says Ulysses peevishly, annoyed by his own arousal—and rebuff. “There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip!—nay, her foot speaks! Her wanton spirit looks out from every joint and motion of her body!
“Oh, these encounterers so glib of tongue!—who yield to an accosting welcome ere it come, and wide unclasp the tablets of their thoughts to every ticklish reader! Set them down for sluttish spoils of opportunity—and daughters of the game!”
Old Nestor must quash a smile; the invaders have been afield—and away from women—for years. He shakes his head; the tough and hardy Ulysses, King of Ithaca, is not accustomed to feeling vulnerable.
And then from across the field they hear the clarion blaring of a Trojan trumpet. “Yonder comes their troop!” announces Agamemnon.
Hector, magnificently accoutered, strides toward them, leading, under the banner of Troy, a colorful party of noblemen, including his brother Prince Troilus and Lord Aeneas, along with many attendants.
“Hail, all you state of Greece!” says Aeneas as they approach that royal court. He comes before Agamemnon to settle terms. “What shall mean ‘done’ for him that Victory commends? Do you propose that, ere a victor shall be known, the knights shall to the edge of all extremity pursue each other, or shall they be divided by some voice or order on the field? Hector bade me ask.”
“Which way would Hector have it?”
“He cares not; he’ll obey conditions.”
An intruding laugh is harsh. “’Tis done like Hector!—done, but securely! A little proudly—and a great deal misprizing the knight opposèd!”
Asks Aeneas, “If not ‘Achilles,’ sir, what is your name?” He knows well enough who the ponderous blusterer must be.
“If not Achilles, nothing!”
The Trojan seems to weigh both. “Therefore Achilles,” he decides. “But whate’er, know this! Valour and pride excel themselves in Hector—in the extremities of great and little: the one almost as infinite as all, the other blank as nothing. Weigh him well, and that which looks like pride is courtesy.
“This Ajax is half made of Hector’s blood,”—they are cousins, “in love whereof, half of Hector stays at home—half heart, half hand. Half Hector comes to seek this blended knight, half Trojan and half Greek.”
Gibes Achilles, “Oh, I perceive you: a battle of maidens then!”
Agamemnon sees a commander returning from Calchas’s tent. “Here is Sir Diomedes.
“Go, gentle knight, and stand by our Ajax. As you and Lord Aeneas consent upon the order of their fight, so be it: either to the uttermost, or else a-breath.
“The combatants’ being kin half stints their strife before their strokes begin,” he tells Diomedes—dryly.
Ajax’s second expects Hector’s ways to be as devious as their own; Diomedes will urge the Greek to expend his utmost effort.
Ajax and Hector approach each other; Aeneas and Diomedes stand nearby.
“They are opposed already!” says Ulysses, watching as the fighters square off.
Agamemnon scans the faces of those who are observing. “What Trojan is that same that looks so troubled?”
“The youngest son of Priam,” Ulysses tells him, “a true knight! Not yet mature, yet matchless. Firm of word, speaking by deeds, and deedless in his tongue; not soon provoked, nor being provokèd soon calmed. His heart and hand, both open and both free: for what he has, he gives; what thinks, he shows—yet gives he not till judgment guide his bounty, nor dignifies an impure thought with breath.
“Manly as Hector, but more dangerous, for Hector in his blaze of wrath subscribes to tender objections,”—admits sympathy, “but he in heat of action is more vindictive than jealous love!
“They call him Troilus—and on him erect a second hope, as fairly built as Hector.
“Thus says Aeneas, one who knows the youth even to his niches, and with private soul did in great Ilion”—in Troy; Ulysses was an ambassador there before the war—“thus translate him to me.”
The trumpet sounds, and the warriors both leap forward, swinging their heavy swords to begin vigorous, clanging combat, punctuated by thuds of sharp steel against wooden shields.
“They are in action!” cries the general.
“Now, Ajax, hold thine own!” urges Nestor.
Troilus calls: “Hector, thou sleep’st!—awake thee!”
“His blows are well-disposèd!” notes Agamemnon. “There, Ajax!”
After much furious slashing and thrusting of blades, at one side Diomedes raises his arms to calls for a respite. “You must no more!” he cries. The Greeks can still use Ajax.
Aeneas, too, tells the combatants, “Princes, enough, so please you!”
The heroes gasp for breath as the referees confer.
Ajax protests. “I am not warm yet,” he claims, dripping sweat. “Let us fight again!”
The Greek second looks to the Trojan champion. “As Hector pleases,” says Diomedes.
Hector responds calmly. “Why, then will I no more.” He addresses Ajax. “Thou art, great lord, my father’s sister’s son—a cousin-german to great Priam’s seed; the obligation of our blood forbids a gory competition ’twixt us twain!
“Were thy co-mixture of Greek and Trojan such that thou couldst say, ‘This hand is Grecian all, and this is Trojan; the sinews of this leg all Greek, and this all Troy; my mother’s blood runs on the dexter cheek, and this left one bounds in my father’s,’ by Jove multipotent, thou shouldst not bear from me a Greekish member wherein my sword had not impressure made in our frank feud!
“But the just gods gainsay that any drop thou borrowedst from thy mother, my sacred aunt, should by my mortal sword be drainèd!
“Let me embrace thee, Ajax! By him that thunders, thou hast lusty arms! Hector would have them fall upon him thus!” He hugs the crestfallen warrior. “Cousin, all honour to thee!”
Ajax can only blink. “I thank thee, Hector,” he mutters. But he protests, dully, “Thou art too gentle and too free a man; I came to kill thee, cousin, and to bear hence a great addition earnèd in thy death.”
Hector laughs—and mentions Achilles’ young son: “Not Pyrrhus’s father—on whose bright crest Fame with her loud’st oyez cries, ‘This is he!’—is so admirable!—could promise to himself a thought of added honour torn from Hector!”
Aeneas is aware of the onlookers. “There is expectance here from both the sides; what further will you do?”
“We’ll answer it: the outcome is embracement!” says Hector, clasping the Greek around the shoulders. “Ajax, farewell!” He turns to go.
Ajax tells him, “If I might in entreaties find success—as seld I have the chance—I would desire my famous cousin to visit our Grecian tents.”
“’Tis Agamemnon’s wish,” adds Diomedes. “And great Achilles doth long to see, unarmèd, the valiant Hector.”
Hector smiles and nods. “Aeneas, call my brother Troilus to me, and, conveying this loving interview to the spectators on our Trojan part, desire them home.
“Give me thy hand, my cousin!” he says, warmly gripping Ajax’s, “I will go eat with thee, and see your nights!”
Ajax sees his general approaching. “Great Agamemnon comes to meet us here.”
Hector turns to Aeneas. “The worthiest of them tell me, name by name—but for Achilles; mine own searching eyes shall find him by his large and portly size.” The Greek hero has gained more than muscle during his dallying.
Agamemnon greets Hector ebulliently: “Worthy of arms, welcome!—as from one who would be rid of such an enemy!” He chides himself: “But that’s no welcome! Understand more clearly: what’s past and what’s to come are strewed with the husks and formless ruin of oblivion; but in this extant moment—i’ faith and troth constrainèd purely, all hollow bias withdrawn—I bid thee, with most divine integrity, from the heart of very heart, great Hector, welcome!”
Hector bows. “I thank thee, most imperial Agamemnon!”
The Greek general nods to Troilus. “My well-famèd lord of Troy, no less to you.”
“Let me confirm my princely brother’s greeting,” says the King of Sparta. “You brace of warlike brothers, welcome hither!”
Hector doesn’t know him: “Whom must we answer?”
Aeneas tells him: “The noble Menelaus.”
“Ah, you, my lord!” Hector bows—too deeply. “By Mars’s gauntlet, Thanks! Mock not that I effect that untraded oath! Your quondam wife still wears Venus’ glove!”—resembles the alluring goddess. “She’s well, but bade me not commend her to you,” he adds dryly.
Menelaus is stone-faced. “Name her not now, sir; she’s a deadly theme.”
“Oh, pardon; I offend,” says Hector—too politely.
The venerable Nestor now comes to Hector, smiling. “I have, thou gallant Trojan, seen thee oft, labouring for Destiny, make cruel way through ranks of Greekish youth.
“And I have seen thee spur thy Phrygian steed, as hot as Perseus disprizing many in forfeits and subduements, when thou hast hung thy advancèd sword i’ the air, not letting it decline on the declinèd!—so that I have said to some, my standers-by, ‘Lo, Jupiter is yonder, dealing life!’
“And I have seen thee pause and take thy breath—when a ring of Greeks have hemmed thee in, as an Olympian wrestling!
“That have I seen; but this thy countenance, ever lockèd in steel,”—always helmeted, “I never saw till now. I knew thy grandsire, and once fought with him; he was a good soldier; but—by great Mars, the captain of us all—I never saw one like thee!
“Let an old man embrace thee!—and, worthy warrior, welcome to our tents!”
- “’Tis old Nestor,” whispers Aeneas.
“Let me embrace thee!” says Hector, “good old chronicle that hast so long walked hand in hand with Time! Most reverend Nestor, I am glad to clasp thee!”
Nestor beams. “I would my arms could match thee in contention as they contend with thee in courtesy!”
“I would they could,” says Hector.
Nestor laughs. “Hah! By this white beard, I’d fight with thee tomorrow! Well, welcome, welcome! I have seen the time,” he murmurs, quite pleased.
Ulysses steps forward. “I wonder how yonder city stands now, when we have here by us her base and pillar!”
Hector grins. “I know your face, Lord Ulysses, well. Ah, sir, there’s many a Greek and Trojan dead since first I saw yourself and Diomedes!—in Ilion, on your Greekish embassy.”
“Sir, I foretold you then what would ensue,” says Ulysses sternly. “My prophecy is but half its journey, yet—for yonder walls that pertly front your town, yond towers whose wanton tops do buss the clouds, must kiss their own feet!”
Hector shrugs. “I must not believe you; there they stand yet!” he says, with a sweeping gesture toward Troy. “And I think, modestly, the fall of every Phrygian stone will cost a drop of Grecian blood!
“The end crowns all; and that old, common arbitrator Time will one day end it.”
“So to him we leave it,” says Ulysses. “Most gentle and most valiant Hector, welcome! After the general, I beseech you next to feast with me, and see me at my tent.”
But Achilles’ bulk intervenes. “I shall forestall thee, Lord Ulysses, even thou!
“Now, Hector, I have fed mine eyes on thee; I have with exact view perused thee, Hector, and noted, limb by limb—”
Hector interrupts: “Is this Achilles?” he asks Aeneas, as if disappointed.
“I am Achilles!”
Hector frowns. “Stand there, I pray thee; let me look on thee.”
“Behold thy fill!”
But Hector turns away. “Nay, I have done already.”
“Thou art too brief!” growls Achilles. “I will look a second time—view thee joint by joint, as if I would buy thee!”—like beef.
Hector raises an eyebrow. “Oh, thou’lt read me o’er like a book of sport? But there’s more in me than thou canst understand.” He seems surprised at the anger. “Why dost thou so oppress me with thine eye?”
Achilles’ red face turns skyward, and he kneels. “Tell me, you heavens: in which part of his body shall I destroy him?” He motions toward the Trojan’s legs, then trunk, then head: “Whether there… or there… or there?—so that I may give the location’s wound a name, and make distinct the very breach whereout Hector’s great spirit flew! Answer me, heavens!”
Hector shakes his head. “It would discredit the blest gods, proud man, to reply to such a question!
“Stand again,” he says—generously, as if the warrior had been kneeling to him. “Think’st thou to catch my life so pleasantly as to prenominate in precise conjecture where thou wilt hit me dead?”
Achilles glowers, and his deep voice booms: “I tell thee, yea!”
Hector chuckles. “Wert thou an oracle telling me so, I’d not believe that!” The smile fades. “Henceforth guard thee well; for I’ll not kill thee there, nor there, nor there, but, by the forge that smithied Mars’s helm, I’ll kill thee everywhere!—yea, o’er and o’er!”
He says, glancing at Nestor, as Achilles fumes, “You wisest Grecian, pardon me this brag. His insolence draws folly from my lips; but I’ll endeavour deeds to match these words,” he vows, “or may I never—”
Ajax steps between the angry champions. “Do not chafe thee, cousin! And you, Achilles, let these threats alone, till purpose—or accident—bring you to’t. You may every day have enough of Hector, if you have the stomach! The general state, I fear, can scarcely entreat you to be at odds with him!”
Still glaring at Achilles, Hector nods. “We have had pelting wars”—mere stone-throwing—“since you refused the Grecians’ cause! I pray you, let us see you in the field!”
“Dost thou entreat me, Hector?” says Achilles, sneering. “Tomorrow do I meet thee!—fell as Death! Tonight, all friends.”
“Thy hand upon that match!”
Brawny arms bulging, they shake hands—each straining against the other’s crushingly powerful grip.
Agamemnon resumes his role as host. “First, all you peers of Greece, go to my tent; there to the full convive we! Afterwards, as Hector’s leisure and your bounties shall concur together, severally greet him!
“Beat loud the tambourines! Let the trumpets blow, that this great soldier may his welcome know!” He leads the champions, calming, for now, toward his pavilion.
As the other leave, Troilus stays behind; and as it happens, a Greek is there, too—waiting for Troy’s second hope. “My lord Ulysses, tell me, I beseech you, in what place of the field doth Calchas keep?”
“At Menelaus’ tent, most princely Troilus.” The wily warrior volunteers, apparently casually, some news: “There doth feast with him tonight Diomedes, who looks upon neither the heavens nor earth, but gives all gaze in bent of amorous view on the fair Cressida.”
Troilus wants to witness her devotion; he needs to see that her suitor is being foiled. “Shall I, sweet lord, be bound to you so much as that, after we part from Agamemnon’s tent, you guide me thither?”
“You shall command me, sir!” He seems curious. “And as kindly, tell me: of what honour was this Cressida in Troy? Had she no lover there who wails her absence?” He knows, of course; Diomedes has told him.
Troilus’s laugh seems careless. He dodges: “Oh, sir, to such as, boasting, ‘show their scars,’ a mock is due! Will you walk on, my lord?”
Thinks the young Trojan prince, She was belovèd; she loved. He insists to himself, She is, and doth!
Still, he frets. But always love is sweet food for Fortune’s tooth….
Trojans in the Greek Camp
“I’ll heat his blood with Greekish wine tonight—and tomorrow I’ll cool it with my sword!” mutters angry Achilles. “Patroclus, let us feast him to the height!” he urges, as the two stand outside his tent after a splendid, crimson sunset. Inside, servants busily prepare for Prince Hector’s imminent entertainment.
Patroclus sees a slender figure moving through the dark. “Here comes Thersites.”
Achilles’ contumelious clown greets the young knight: “How now, thou core of envy! Thou crusty batch of nature,”—pile of old crap, “what’s the news?”
Patroclus gives him the finger.
Thersites turns to Achilles. “Well then, picture of what thou seemest, and idol of idiot-worshippers, here’s a letter for thee.”
Achilles takes the paper. “From whence, fragment?” he asks, unsealing and unfolding it—and finding a ring.
“Why, thou full dish of fool, from Troy.”
Patroclus wonders where their royal Trojan guest may be. “Who keeps the tent now?”
Thersites replies with a jest on tent as bandage: “The surgeon’s box, or the patient’s wound.”
“Well said, adversity,” replies Patroclus, annoyed. “But who needs these tricks?”
“Prithee be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk!—thou art thought to be Achilles’ male varlet.”
“Male varlet!”—a redundancy. “You rogue, what’s that?” demands Patroclus.
Thersites explains: “Why, his masculine whore! Now may the rotting diseases of the mouth—the catarrhs, gut-grippings, eruptions,”—flatulence, “loads o’ gravel i’ the back,”—constipation, “lethargies, cold palsies, raw eyes, dirt-ridden liver, wheezing lungs, bladder full of imposthume,”—pus, “sciatica, limekilns”—burning—“i’ the palms, permanent shriveling of tetter, and the incurable bone-ache,”—syphilis, “—make and make again such preposterous revelation!”—predict and confirm his fatal degeneration.
Patroclus is livid. “Why thou damnable box of envy, thou!—what meanest thou, cursing thus?”
Thersites challenges: “Do I curse thee?”—does it not apply?
“Why no, you ruinous butt!” cries Patroclus, “you whoreson, indistinguishable cur, no!”
“No? Why then art thou exasperate, thou green, idle, immaterial skein of sleeve-silk,”—decoration, “thou sarcenet flap for a sore eye,”—thin slice of cucumber, “thou tassel on a prodigal’s purse, thou?
“Oh, how the poor world is pestered with such waterflies, diminutives of Nature!”
Patroclus shouts, “Out, gall!”
Achilles has been reading. He looks up, alarmed. “My sweet Patroclus, I am thwarted quite from my great purpose for tomorrow’s battle!
“Here is a letter from Queen Hecuba, with a token from her daughter, my fair love!—both of them taxing me, imploring me, to keep an oath that I have sworn!”
Hector taunted him, and publicly. But he paces, rubbing his forehead in frustration; “I will not break it! Fall, Greeks!—fail, fame!—honour, either go or stay!” He fingers the ring. “My major vow lies here; this I’ll obey.” Still, he stares out into the dark, thinking; jaw muscles tighten as he ponders a scheme—one by which he can appear to keep his word.
He nods, having decided. “Come, come, Thersites, help to trim my tent! This night in banqueting must all be spent! Away, Patroclus!”
Thersites watches them go inside. With too much blood and too little brain, those two may run mad; but if too much brain and too little blood will do, I’ll be a curer of madmen!
He can see the Greeks’ leader approaching. Here’s Agamemnon. An honest enough fellow, and one that loves quails; but he has not so much brain as earwax!
And his brother, there, a goodly transformation of Jupiter—a bull, the primitive statue and oblique memorial for cuckolds!—a thrifty showing of horn on a chain, hanging at his brother’s leg!
He wonders how to mock one who is intrinsically ridiculous. To what form but that in which he is should wit larded with malice, and malice forcèd with wit, turn him into?
To an ass were nothing: he is both ass and ox! —a castrated bull. To an ox were nothing: he hath both horn and ass!
I would not mind being a dog, a mule, a cat, a fitchew, a toad, a lizard, an owl, a puttock, or a herring without a hope. But to be Menelaus!—I would conspire against Destiny! Ask me not what I would be if I were not Thersites, for I’d care not were I a louse on a leper, so long as I were not Mene-louse!
He moves back into the shadows, watching the procession of unsteady lords—most are already drunk—approaching by torchlight. Hey-day! Spirits and fires!
Agamemnon and his brother are accompanied by Nestor, Ulysses, Diomedes and Ajax. Earlier, the noblemen dined with Trojan Princes Hector and Troilus; now, following an afternoon of drinking, they are bringing the visitors to sup with Achilles.
Agamemnon peers at the long rows of tents, many scarcely visible beyond the flickering flames. “We go wrong, we go wrong,” he mumbles.
“No, yonder ’tis,” says Ajax, pointing. “There, where we see the lights.”
Says Hector, “I trouble you….”
“No, not a whit!” says Ajax genially.
Ulysses spots their next host at the tent entrance. “Here comes himself to guide you!”
Achilles greets the regal party: “Welcome, brave Hector!—welcome, princes all!” He motions them toward his tent.
“So now, fair prince of Troy,” says Agamemnon to Hector, “I bid you good night! Ajax commands the guard to attend on you.”
“Thanks, and good night to the Greeks’ general!”
“Good night, my lord,” says the Spartan king.
“Good night, sweet lord Menelaus!”
The nobles’ courtesies, slurred by their wine, disgust Thersites. Sweet drink! ‘Sweet’ quoth he! Sweet sink—sweet sewer!
“Good night, and welcome,” cries jovial Achilles, “both at once, to those that go or tarry!”
Agamemnon bows. “Good night!” He and Menelaus depart.
“Old Nestor, tarry,” says Achilles, “and you, too, Diomedes! Keep Hector company an hour or two!”
Says Diomedes, grinning, “I cannot, lord; I have important business, the tide whereof is now! Good night, great Hector!”
“Give me your hand!” laughs the Trojan, in masculine congratulation.
- As the men shake hands, Ulysses whispers to Troilus: “Follow his torch,” he says, nodding toward Diomedes. “He goes to Calchas’ tent! I’ll keep you company.” The trap is being set.
- Troilus replies, gratefully, “Sweet sir, you honour me.”
“And so, good night,” says Hector to Diomedes, who starts away.
“Come, come, enter my tent!” Achilles tells his guests; Hector and the other visitors go inside with him—except for Troilus and Ulysses, who slip away to follow Diomedes.
Thersites moves from the shadows, curious. That same Diomed’s a false-hearted rogue, a most unjust knave! I will no more trust him when he leers than I will a serpent when it hisses! He will open his mouth and promise like Brabbler the hound; but when he performs, astrologers foretell it!—it is portentous! There will come some change!—the sun borrows from the moon when Diomed keeps his word!
I will rather leave off seeing Hector so as to dog him! They say he keeps a Trojan drab, —whore— and uses the traitor Calchas’ tent! I’ll after.
He shakes his head. Nothing but lechery! All incontinent varlets!
In the sultry summer darkness he skulks behind the three men already making their way to Calchas’s small canvas abode in a large Greek pavilion.
Diomedes has reached the quarters of the exile. “What?—are you up here?” he asks, at the closed flaps fronting the tent. “Speak.”
It is late, but from within, a man demands, “Who calls?”
Calchas, I think. Diomedes need not be respectful of the Trojan traitor. “Where’s your daughter?”
After a moment of muffled contention inside, Calchas’s voice replies. “She comes to you.”
Beside a tent not far away, Troilus and Ulysses arrive, hidden by the darkness.
- “Stand where the torch may not discover us,” says Ulysses quietly, moving back.
- Troilus’s voice is hushed but surprised. “Cressid comes forth to him!”
“How now, my charge!” says Diomedes.
“Now, my sweet guardian. Hark, a word with you.” She speaks softly as he moves closer.
- Troilus is disturbed. “Yea, so familiar!”
- “She will sing any man at first sight,” says Ulysses—still stung by the snub.
Behind the two watchers, Thersites lurks now as well, close enough to overhear. And any man may sing her, if he can take her clef! —a crude play on cleft. She’s noted! —another poor jest.
Diomedes asks her, “Will you remember?”
“Remember,” says the Trojan lady, softly and sadly. “Yes.”
“Nay, but do, then—and let your mind be coupled with your words!”
- “What should she remember?” wonders Troilus.
- “Listen,” says Ulysses; Diomedes will speak as he has advised.
Cressida looks up at Diomedes. “Sweet honey Greek, tempt me no more to folly!” she pleads.
- Roguery! thinks cynical Thersites.
“Nay, then—” begins Diomedes.
Cressida interrupts. “I’ll tell you what—”
“Oh, fie! Come, tell a pin!”—cavil, says Diomedes. “You are forsworn!” he cries, seemingly angered.
“In faith, I cannot! What would you have me do?”
- A juggling trick: to be secretly open! thinks Thersites.
Diomedes regards her. “What did you swear you would bestow on me?”
“I prithee, do not hold me to mine oath; bid me do anything but that, sweet Greek!”
Diomedes turns to go. “Good night.”
- Troilus is furious. Hold, patience! He starts to rise.
- Ulysses’ hand on his shoulder restrains him. “How now, Trojan?”
“Diomed—” she says.
“No, no, good night! I’ll be your fool no more.”
- “Thy better must!” mutters Troilus.
Cressida beseeches, “Hark, one word in your ear….”
- “Oh plague and madness!” gasps Troilus, overwhelmed by jealousy.
- “You are angered, prince! Let us depart, I pray you, lest your displeasure should enlarge itself to wrathful terms! This place is dangerous, the time right deadly!” warns Ulysses. “I beseech you, go!”
- Troilus stares at the couple, close together in the torchlight. “Behold, I pray you!”
- “Nay, good my lord, go off! You flow to great distraction! Come, my lord!”
- “I pray thee, stay!”
- “You have not patience; come!” says Ulysses.
- “I pray you, stay!” pleads Troilus. “By hell and all hell’s torments,” he promises, “I will not speak a word!”
Says Diomedes coldly, “And so, good night.”
Cressida appeals to her protector. “Nay, but you part in anger….”
- Troilus fumes. “Doth that grieve thee? O withered ‘true’!”
- Ulysses eyes his distress. “Why, how now, lord?”
- “By Jove, I will be patient!”
“Guardian?” says Cressida scornfully, challenging his honor. “Why, Greek!”—the Trojans’ term, he knows, for assailant.
Diomedes heads away. “Fie, fie! Adieu. You palter.”
“In faith, I do not!” The young woman, abandoned by Troy to the wholly masculine realm of invaders, is loath to make a powerful enemy. “Come hither once again.”
- Ulysses holds the prince back. “You shake, my lord, at something! Will you go? You will break out!”
- Troilus stares as Cressida reaches up to touch Diomedes’ face, hoping to revive his initial tenderness. “She strokes his cheek!”
- “Come, come!” says Ulysses, trying—not very hard—to draw him away.
- “Nay, stay; by Jove, I will not speak a word! There is between my will and all offences a guard of patience! Stay a little while….”
- Watching Diomedes work, Thersites chuckles to himself. How the devil Luxury, with his fat rump and potato-finger, tickles these together! Fry, lechery, fry!
Diomedes asks her bluntly: “But will you, then?”
She looks down for a moment, pondering; she has heard nothing from Troilus. “In faith, I will. Never trust me else.”
“Give me some token for the surety of it.” A visible action, he knows, will clinch the observer’s perception.
She thinks. “I’ll fetch you one,” she murmurs, going into the tent.
- You have sworn patience,” warns Ulysses.
- “Fear me not, sweet lord; I will not be myself, nor have cognition of what I feel: I am all Patience!”—the famous statue.
Cressida returns; tears are in her eyes.
- Thersites rubs his hands together eagerly. Now the pledge! Now, now, now!
Cressida offers her visitor an item made of finely embroidered cloth. “Here, Diomedes, keep this sleeve.”
- Troilus is stunned to see it again. “O beauty!—where is thy faith?”
- “My lord—”
- “I will be patient!—outwardly I will!”
“You look upon that sleeve,” says Cressida, as Diomedes examines the piece of another man’s apparel. “Behold it well. He loved me.”
But then she sobs. “O false wench! —Give’t me again!”
Diomedes returns the sleeve, asking, “Whose was’t?”
“It is no matter. Now I have it again!” Weeping, she looks at him. “I will not meet with you tomorrow night. I prithee, Diomed, visit me no more!”
- Thersites thinks he sees skillful seduction: Now she sharpens! Well said, whetstone!
“I shall have it!” says Diomedes.
She is clasping the sleeve over her heart. “What, this?”
O, all you gods! She moans, looking at the flat, empty token. O pretty, pretty pledge! Thy master now lies in his bed, thinking of thee and me, and sighs; and takes my glove, and gives dainty remembering kisses to it, as I kiss thee! She touches the cloth to her lips, holds it against her cheek.
He reaches for the sleeve.
Cressida backs away. “Nay, do not snatch it from me!” she cries. “He that takes that doth take my heart withal!”
“I had your heart before; this follows it,” he claims.
- Troilus strains forward, but assures the Greek beside him, “I did swear patience….”
“You shall not have it, Diomed!—’faith, you shall not; I’ll give you something else!”
“I will have this,” he says, grabbing the sleeve. “Whose was it?”
“It is no matter.”
“Come, tell me whose it was!” He wants the witness’s humiliation to be thorough—as Ulysses will later confirm it to have been.
“’Twas one’s that loved me better than you will,” says the forsaken lady. “But now that you have it, take it.”
“Whose was it?”
She is angry despite the tears. “By all Diana’s waiting-women yond, and by herself, I will not tell you whose!”
Diomedes holds it in his fist before her face. “Tomorrow will I wear it on my helm—and grieve his spirit who dares not challenge it!”
- “Wert thou the Devil and worest it on thy horn it would be challengèd!” vows Troilus.
Cressida is pale. “Well, well; ’tis past; ’tis done.” She looks up as him. “And yet it is not. I will not keep my word.”
“Why, then, farewell; thou never shalt mock Diomedes again!”
She pleads. “You shall not go! One cannot speak a word but straight it starts you!”
“I do not like this fooling!” growls Diomedes.
- Nor I, by the Devil, thinks Thersites, but what pleases not you pleases me best!
“What?—shall I come?” demands Diomedes. “The hour?”
She wipes her eyes. “Aye, come.” O Jove! “Do come,” she says quietly. She thinks, in despair, I shall be plaguèd!
“Farewell till then!” says Diomedes loudly, as if a time had been set. He strides away among the tents.
“Good night! I prithee, come,” Cressida calls after him—for her father to hear. She stands in the darkness for a moment, dejected and alone. Troilus, farewell! One eye yet looks on thee; but, with my heart, the other eye doth see.
She knows he will never return to her.
Ah, poor our sex! This fault in us I find: the error of our eye directs our mind. What error leads must err! Oh, then conclude—minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude!
She goes into her father’s tent; he will want assurance of their continued good standing with Lord Diomedes.
Thersites is happy; his assessment seems confirmed. A stronger proof she could not publish more, unless she said, ‘My mind is now turnèd whore!’
Ulysses turns to go. “All’s done, my lord.”
Troilus does not move. “It is.”
“Why stay we, then?”
The young man looks at the tent. “To make a recordation to my soul of every syllable that here was spoken.
“But if I tell it how these two did co-act, shall I not lie in publishing a truth?—sith yet there is a credence in my heart—an esperance so obstinately strong that it doth invert the attest of eyes and ears, as if those organs had deceptious functions, created only to calumniate!” He frowns, still amazed. “Was Cressida here?”
“I cannot conjure, Trojan,” says Ulysses, hoping to allay doubt.
“She was not, surely….”
“Most surely she was.”
Troilus shakes his head. “Why, my negation hath no taste of madness….”
“Nor mine, my lord; Cressida was here but now.”
“Let it not be believed!—for the sake of womanhood!” cries Troilus. “Think!—we had mothers! Do not give advantage to stubborn critics who hope to measure the general sex by Cressida’s rule with a theme of degradation! Rather think this not Cressida!”
“What hath she done, prince, that can soil our mothers?”
“Unless this were she, nothing at all!”
Thersites, still hidden, is annoyed: Will he swagger himself out of’s own eyes?
The prince paces, distraught. “This, she? No!—this is Diomed’s Cressid!
“If Beauty have a soul, this is not she! If souls guide vows—if vows be sanctimonies, if sanctimony be the gods’ delight—if there be rule in unity itself,”—as opposed to duplicity—“this is not she!
“Oh, madness of discourse that sets up an argument both with and against itself! Bi-fold authority!—where reason can revolt without perdition, and loss consume all reason without revolt! This is, and is not, Cressida!
“Within my soul there doth conduce a fight of this strange nature: that a thing inseparable divides more wider than the sky and earth!—and yet the breadth of this spacious division admits no orifice for a point as subtle as Ariachne’s broken warp”—a spider’s thread—“to enter!
“Instance: oh, this instance, strong as Hell’s gates!—Cressida is mine, tied with the bonds of heaven!
“Instance: oh, instance strong as heaven itself: the bonds of heaven are slipped, dissolvèd and loosed!—and with another knot, by fingers tied, the fractions of her faith—scraps of her love, the pieces, fragments, bits and greasy relics of her o’er-eaten ‘faith’—are bound to Diomed!”
Ulysses asks, dryly, “Can worthy Troilus be half aggrievèd, by that which here his passion doth express?”
“Aye, Greek!—and that shall be divulgèd well!—in characters red as Mars, his heart inflamed with Venus! Never did young man fancy with so eternal and so fixèd a soul!
“Hark, Greek!—as much as I do Cressida love, by so much weight I hate her Diomed!
“That sleeve is mine that he’ll bear on his helm! Were it a casque”—helmet—“composèd by Vulcan’s skill, my sword should bite into it!
“Not the dreadful spout which shipmen do the hurricano call, constringèd into mass by the almighty sun, shall dizzy with more clamour in descent on Neptune’s ear than shall my prompted sword falling on Diomed!”
Thersites almost laughs. He’ll be tickled by it—for his concupiscence!
Troilus looks toward the tent. “O Cressida! O false Cressida! False, false, false! Let all untruths stand by thy stainèd name, and they’ll seem glorious!”
Ulysses looks around as if uneasy. “Contain yourself!—your passion draws ears hither!” He leads the youth away.
They have just started back toward the general’s pavilion when Aeneas, with a Greek escort, hurries to them. “I have been seeking you this hour, my lord!” he tells the prince. “Hector by now is arming him in Troy! Ajax, your guard, is waiting to conduct you home!”
Troilus is ready to return to the palace—and eager to join Hector for this day’s combat. “Have with you, prince!” Aeneas is of royal descent, as are several others among Troy’s Dardanian allies.
“My courteous lord, adieu,” says Troilus to Ulysses. He looks back, as dawn approaches, toward Calchas’s tent. “Farewell, revolted fair!
“And Diomed, stand fast—and wear a castle on thy head!”
Having successfully provoked Achilles and Ajax, Ulysses now wants Hector and Troilus to face them on the field. “I’ll bring you to the gates.”
Troilus nods. “Accept distracted thanks.”
The four nobles hurry away.
Thersites rises, sore and stiff from crouching in shadow.
Would that I could meet that rogue Diomed! I would croak like a raven!—I would bode, I would bode!
He rubs his hands together happily. Patroclus will give me anything for the intelligence of this whore! A parrot will not do more for an almond than he for a commodious drab! Thersites knows; he has provided him with a few.
Lechery, lechery!—ever wars and lechery; nothing else holds fashion!
The parasitic procurer scowls as he returns to Achilles’ tent. A burning devil take them!
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!—spur them 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.
Thersites creeps warily across the field, glancing around at the pairs of soldiers who grunt and sweat in strenuous fighting. Swords’ sudden flashes cripple some; others stagger away, aghast, after knives have plunged deep during angry embraces. Many lie alone, moaning—or dead.
The gentleman enjoys the spectacle. Now they are clapper-clawing one another! I’ll go look on. He moves to a place nearer a path, and spots a Greek with a familiar shield. He laughs. That dissembling, abominable varlet Diomedes has got that same scurvy, doting, foolish young knave of Troy’s sleeve there on his helm!
I would fain see them meet, so that that same young Trojan ass who loves the whore then might send that Greekish, whore-masterly villain with the sleeve back to the luxurious drab on a sleeveless errand! The visit would be futile for one who is castrated.
On t’other side, the scheming of those crafty, swearing rascals—that stale, dry old mouse-eaten cheese Nestor, and that tame-dog fox Ulysses—has not proved worth a blackberry! They set up, in policy, that mongrel cur Ajax against that dog of as bad a kind, Achilles!
He laughs again, even harder. And now is the cur Ajax prouder than the cursèd Achilles, and will not arm today!—whereupon the Grecians begin to proclaim ‘Barbarism!’—and ‘policy’ grows into an ill opinion!
Soft! Here comes Sleeve, and t’other! He sees Diomedes rush toward an open area on the turf, with Troilus chasing after him.
“Fly not!” cries the prince, “for shouldst thou take to the River Styx, I would swim after!”
Diomedes halts, and turns to face him angrily, steel blade raised and ready. “Thou dost miscall a retire!—I do not fly! Only advantageous care withdrew me from the odds of multitude! Have at thee!”
Thersites savors the spectacle of their fight. Hold thy whore, Grecian! —Now for thy whore, Trojan! That reversal of their respective armies’ aims delights the cynic. Now The Sleeve! Now for thy sleeve!
As the men in armor assail each other, sparring and stabbing with loud-clashing strokes, Prince Hector comes up behind Thersites.
“What art thou, Greek?” he demands; red already runs glistening on his sword. “Art thou for Hector’s match?—art thou of blood and honour?”
“No, no, I am a rascal!” cries the jester, backing away, empty hands raised defensively, “a scurvy, railing knave! A very filthy rogue!”
Hector laughs. “I do believe thee!” He strides away along the field of combat. “Live.”
Thersites watches him, astonished. God of mercy, that thou wilt believe me! But a plague break thy neck for frighting me!
He looks around the field for Diomedes and Troilus. What’s become of the wenching rogues? I think they have swallowed one another! I would laugh at that miracle; but, in a way, lechery does eat itself.
I’ll seek them. He wanders away, carefully avoiding the furious combatants, and stepping over the fallen ones.
Further south on the plain, at the fringe of battle, Diomedes is exulting. He speaks hastily to his page: “Go, go, my servant, take thou Troilus’s horse; present the fair steed to my lady Cressida! Fellow, commend my service to her beauty; tell her I have chastised the amorous Trojan—and am her knight by proof!”
The boy bows and takes the reins. “I go, my lord!” Looking around apprehensively, he leads away the skittish stallion.
“Yea, Troilus? Oh, well fought, my youngest brother!” While combat raged near them, Hector has heard astirring account of the encounter.
Now they separate. The older prince, leading several other warriors, heads back into the area of most-intense fighting. And there the battle-weary Trojan champion faces yet another Greek knight—and is surprised to find that it is his rival. “Now do I see thee!”
“Have at thee, Hector!” cries Achilles. But he does not advance. He has ventured forth hurriedly this afternoon without his own armor, sword and shield, to search for Patroclus; that young knight joined the fray to prove himself. Achilles, recognized here amid the row, does not want to break his vow to a lover.
Hector regards his chief opponent. “Pause, if thou wilt.”
“I do disdain thy courtesy, proud Trojan!” says Achilles. Still, he does not press forward. “Be happy that my arms are out of use! My rest in negligence befriends thee now—but anon thou shalt hear of me again! Till then, go seek thy fortune.” He stamps away.
Hector hurls another taunt: “Fare thee well! I would have been a much fresher man, had I expected thee.” He sees that his companions have again engaged opponents. “How now, my brother?” he asks, as Troilus returns.
“Ajax hath ta’en Aeneas! Shall it be? No, by the flame of yonder glorious heaven, he shall not carry him! I’ll bring him off, or be ta’en too!
“Fate, hear me what I say: I’ll wreak now, though I end my life today!” Troilus storms away, bent on exorcising the demoniac fury that possesses him.
But now a man bearing the distinctive shield of Achilles appears, sword poised for a fight.
“Stand, stand, thou Greek!” cries Hector happily, “thou art a goodly mark!” But the other warrior suddenly turns away. “No? Wilt thou not? I like thine armour well!—I’ll crush it and unlock all the rivets, but I’ll be master of it!
“Beast, wilt thou not abide?” he cries, laughing. “Why, then fly on!—I’ll hunt thee for thy hide!”
He chases the overreacher—poor Patroclus, in his friend’s borrowed armor.
Agamemnon is rallying his officers, and calling for more troops. “Renew, renew!”
The general is alarmed by the Greeks’ losses. “The fierce Polydamas hath beat down Menon! Bastard Margarelon”—one of Priam’s sons—“hath Doreus prisoner, and stands colossus-wise, waving his beam”—club—“over the pashèd corpses of the kings Epistrophus and Cedius!”
He tells Diomedes, “Polyxenes is slain, Amphimachus and Thoas deadly hurt! Patroclus ta’en or slain, and Palamedes sore hurt and bruisèd!
“The dreadful sagittary”—a small Trojan contingent, but on horseback—“appals our numbers!
“Haste we, Diomed, to reinforcement, or we perish all!”
Nestor comes to them. He tells some soldiers, “Go, bear Patroclus’ body to Achilles; and bid the snail-paced Ajax arm for shame!” He hopes to stir those warriors. The troops hurry away to find the corpse.
“There are a thousand Hectors in the field!” Nestor tells Agamemnon, highly alarmed. “Now here he fights on Galathe, his horse, and there lacks work! Anon he’s there afoot, and there they fly or die, like scared sculls”—rowboats—“before the belching whale! Then is he yonder—and there the straw Greeks, ripe for his edge, fall down before him like a mower’s swath!
“Here, there, and every where, he takes and leaves, dexterity so obeying appetite that what he wills he does!—and does so much that impossibility is callèd proof!”
Ulysses rushes to them. “Ah, courage, courage, princes! Great Achilles is arming!—weeping, cursing, vowing vengeance! Patroclus’ wounds have roused his drowsy blood!—together with his mangled Myrmidons,”—unquestioning followers, “who, noseless, handless, hacked and clipped, come to him, crying against Hector!
“Ajax hath lost a friend too, and foams at mouth!—and he is armed and at it, roaring for Troilus!—who today hath done mad and fantastic execution, engaging, then redeeming himself, with such unforcèd care and careless force as if Luck, in very spite of cunning, bade him win all!”
Ajax clumps past them, eyes searching the field. “Troilus! Thou coward, Troilus!”
“Aye!—there, there!” cries Diomedes, pointing, and following after to urge him on.
Nestor spies the Greeks’ chief hero, finally ready to take part. “So, so, we draw swords together!”
Achilles meets them, raging. “Where is this Hector?
“Come, come, thou boy-queller, show thy face!” he bellows to the field. “Know what it is to meet Achilles angry!
“Hector!” he howls, “where’s Hector? I will none but Hector!”
He moves heavily past the lesser combatants, followed closely by four of his own obedient men of Thessaly.
Ajax pauses again to call. “Troilus, thou coward Troilus!—show thy head!”
Diomedes catches up to him, sword in hand. “Troilus, I say! Where’s Troilus?”
“What wouldst thou?”
“I would correct him!”
“Were I the general, thou shouldst have my office ere that correction!” growls Ajax. “Troilus, I say!” he shouts, “What, Troilus!”
That prince himself strides up behind the two Greeks. “O traitor Diomed!” he cries. “Turn thy false face, thou trader—and pay the life thou owest me for my horse!”
Diomedes turns, smiling with satisfaction. “Hah, art thou here?”
Ajax is eager. “I’ll fight with him alone! Stand, Diomed,” he orders.
“He is my prize!” protests Diomedes. “I will not look on!”
“Come both you cogging Greeks!—have at you both!” cries Troilus, in a rage. He rushes forward, viciously swinging his heavy sword.
Achilles addresses the warriors with him. “Come here about me, you my Myrmidons; mark what I say.
“Attend me where I wheel. Strike not a stroke, but keep yourselves in breath. And when I have the bloody Hector found, empale him with your weapons round about!—in fellest manner execute your aims!
“Follow me, sirs, and my proceeding eye! It is decreed: Hector the great must die!” He sets off, with the others close behind, watchful and ready.
Thersites observes with interest—but carefully—as King Menelaus and Prince Paris fight. The cuckold and the cuckold-maker are at it!
“Now, bull! Now, dog!” He calls, as if he were at a public ring for animal baiting: “Halloo, Paris, ’loo! now, my drabble-henned sparrow! ’Loo, Paris, ’loo!
“The bull has the game! Beware horns, ho!”
Lord Margarelon startles him. “Turn, slave, and fight!”
Thersites stares, wide-eyed. “What art thou?”
“A bastard son of Priam’s.”
Thersites falls to his knees and leans back, hands held high, beseeching. “I am a bastard, too! I love bastards! I am a bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour—in everything illegitimate!
“One bear will not bite another!—then wherefore should one bastard?
“Take heed: this quarrel’s most ominous to us: if the son of a whore fights for a whore, he tempts Judgment!”
Margarelon starts forward, but Thersites is already on his feet and running. “Farewell, bastard!” he cries, legs pumping.
Margarelon laughs. “The Devil take thee, coward!”
Hector looks down at the man lying dead at his feet. As is customary, he has claimed the defeated champion’s armor; but while pulling off the helmet, he was annoyed. “Most putrefièd core, so fair without, this goodly armour hath cost thy life!”
He is exhausted. “Now is my day’s work done. I’ll take good breath. Rest, sword; thou hast thy fill of blood and death!” He sits, laying his shield and sword on the turf beside him, next to those Patroclus had carried.
Achilles and the Myrmidons have spotted him; they approach from behind, cautiously, silently.
The Greek hero steps around to stand before him. “Look, Hector, how the sun begins to set, how ugly night comes breathing at his heels!” He says grimly, “Even with the veilèd darkening of the sun to close up the day, Hector’s life is done!”
Hector rises calmly. “I am unarmed; forego this vantage, Greek.”
“Strike, fellows, strike!” cries Achilles, “this is the man I seek!”
He watches as the others’ swords pierce the Trojan, then slash brutally as he lies dying on the bloody ground.
Says Achilles with satisfaction, “Hector falls.” He has not, in his mind, violated his promise to Hector’s sister. “So, Ilion, fall thou next!
“Now, Troy, sink down! Here lie thy heart, thy sinews, and thy bone!
“On, Myrmidons, and cry you all amain, ‘Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain!’”
He hears trumpets sounding a retreat. “Hark!—a retire upon our Grecian part.”
“The Trojan trumpets sound the like, my lord,” a Myrmidon tells him.
Achilles sees that the surviving fighters of both sides are indeed starting to withdraw. “The dragon wing of night o’erspreads the earth, and, stricken alike, the armies separate.
“My half-supped sword, that frankly would have fed, pleasèd with this dainty bait, thus goes to bed.” He sheathes his dry blade.
“Come, tie his body to my horse’s tail; along the field I will the Trojan trail.”
Agamemnon and Menelaus are leading their warriors back into camp when they hear voices calling out in jubilation. “Hark! Hark!—what shout is that?” asks the general.
Nestor calls, to the soldiers pounding a lively cadence, “Peace, drums!”
They can now discern the troops’ words: “Achilles!” “Achilles!” “Hector’s slain—Achilles!”
Nestor, misunderstanding, pales and gasps. Diomedes tells the old man. “The bruit is, Hector’s slain, and by Achilles.”
Ajax is glum. “If it be so, yet bragless let it be; great Hector was a man as good as he.”
Agamemnon motions his troops forward. “March along patiently.
“Let one be sent to pray Achilles see us at our tent. If in this death the gods have us befriended, great Troy is ours, and our sharp wars are ended!”
Tonight the Greeks will eat and drink, in celebration of the Trojan champion’s demise, and in hopes that the war will soon draw to a close.
It will not.
Aeneas, ebullient, given his soldiers’ successes, their minor losses, calls out to the assembling Trojans: “Stand, ho! Yet are we masters of the field! Never go home!—here starve we out the night!”
Troilus comes forward to announce the news. “Hector is slain.”
All around them are cries of anguished disbelief: “Hector? The gods forbid!”
“He’s dead,” says Troilus. “And at the murderer’s horse’s tail, in beastly manner, dragged through the shameful field!
“Frown on, you heavens!—effect your rage with speed! Sit, gods, upon your thrones, and smite at Troy!—at once I say! Let brief plagues be your mercy—and linger not in our sure destruction!”
The commander protests—their men can hear: “My lord, you do discomfort all the host!”
“You understand me not that tell me so!” cries the embittered prince. “I do not speak of flight, of fear, of death, but dare all imminence that gods and men address their dangers in!” He will continue the fight, however hopeless, recklessly, with abandon.
He glares. “Hector is gone. Who shall tell Priam so, or Hecuba?” he demands, his voice cracking. “Let him that would a screech-owl forever be called go into Troy and say there, ‘Hector’s dead!’—there is a word will Priam turn to stone!—make of the maids and wives wells and Niobes eternal”—sources of endless flowing tears, “make cold statues of the youth, and with the word, scare Troy out of itself!
“But march away,” he tells the soldiers. “Hector is dead; there is no more to say.”
His bloody hands hanging beside him, Troilus stares wearily over the plain, toward the thin lines of smoke already rising from the enemy’s cooking fires. “Stay yet,” he suddenly tells Aeneas.
He shouts, his voice raw, toward Achilles’ camp. “You vile, abominable tents, thus proudly pight upon our Phrygian plains, let Titan”—a legendary giant—“rise as early as he dare, I’ll through and through you!
“And, thou great-sized coward, no space on earth shall sunder our two hates!
“I’ll haunt thee like a wicked conscience, that moldeth goblins swift as frenzy’s thoughts!”
He tells Aeneas, “Strike a march to Troy. With comfort go: hope of revenge shall hide our inward woe.”
Aeneas signals the drummers, and the sullen Trojans return to their gated city.
As he enters the palace, Troilus finds Pandarus waiting.
The portly lord approaches. “Only hear you, hear you—”
“Hence, broker-lackey!” cries Troilus. “Ignominy and shame pursue thy life, and live forever with thy name!” He brushes roughly past the old man, and goes to his quarters.
Pandarus is distressed. A goodly medicine for my aching bones!
O world, world, world! Thus is the poor agent despisèd!
O traitors and bawds, how earnestly are you set a-work—and how ill requited!
Why should our assignment be so loved and the performance so loathèd?
What verse for it? What instance for it?
Let me see….
He pictures Troilus.
Full merrily the bumble-bee doth sing—
Till he hath lost his honey and his sting!
And being once subdued in armèd tail,
Sweet honey and sweet notes together fail!
Good traders in the flesh, set that upon your painted cloths! —wall mottos.
He stands watching as shadows rise, slowly, to cool the walls and towers, and the reddening sun sets on Troy.
Now the London actor playing Pandarus faces the ages’ audience.
“As many as be here of panders’ hall,
May your eyes, half-dim, weep dark at Pandar’s fall!
Or if you cannot weep, yet give some groans—
If not for me, then for your aching bones!
“Brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade,
Some two months hence my will shall be made.
It should be now but that my fear is this:
Some gallèd goose of Winchester”—local whore—“would hiss!
“Till then I’ll sweat, and seek about for eases”—relief from syphilis.
“And at that time—bequeathe you my diseases!”