David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

— 1.2 —

Cressida and Alexander, one of her servants, spoke together on a street in Troy.

“Who were those people who went by just now?” Cressida asked.

“Queen Hecuba and Helen,” Alexander answered.

“And where are they going?”

“Up to the eastern tower, whose commanding height makes all the low-lying land its subject. They want to see the battle. Hector, whose patience is normally steadfast like all virtues, today was in a bad mood. He rebuked Andromache and struck his armorer, and, just as if there were husbandry in war, before the Sun rose he put on light armor, and he went to the battlefield, where every flower, as if they were prophets, wept with dew at what they foresaw — many deaths of Greeks — in Hector’s wrath.”

“What was the cause of Hector’s anger?” Cressida asked.

“The rumor is that it was this: There is among the Greeks a lord of Trojan blood who is first cousin to Hector. They call him Ajax.”

“I understand, but what of him?”

“They say he is a thoroughgoing man in himself, and stands alone.”

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

“Lady, Ajax has robbed many beasts of their particular distinctions,” Alexander said. “He is as valiant as the lion, as churlish as the bear, and as slow as the elephant. He is a man into whom nature has so crowded moods and dispositions that his valor is crushed into folly and his folly is sauced with discretion: His courage is definitely mixed with folly, and his folly is seasoned with discretion — what is good in him is mixed with what is bad, and what is bad in him has a touch of good. No man has a virtue that Ajax has not a glimpse of, and no man has a flaw that Ajax has not some stain of it: He is melancholy without cause, and he is merry when he ought not to be merry. He has the joints of everything, but everything is out of joint. He has good qualities as well as bad, and everything is so badly put together that he cannot make good use of his good qualities. He is like Briareus, the mythological monster who has a hundred hands, but he is like a Briareus who has the gout — he has a hundred hands but cannot use them. Or he is like an Argus, a mythological monster who has a hundred eyes, but he is like an Argus who is blind — he has a hundred eyes but cannot use them.”

“But how could this man named Ajax, the description of whom makes me smile, make Hector angry?”

“They say that yesterday he fought Hector in the battle and struck him down, the disdain and shame of which has ever since kept Hector fasting and waking. Hector is so angry that he cannot eat or sleep.”

Cressida saw someone approaching and asked, “Who is coming here?”

“Madam, it is your uncle Pandarus,” Alexander replied.

Cressida said, “Hector’s a gallant man.”

“As gallant as may be in the world, lady,” Alexander said.

As Pandarus joined them, he said, “What’s that? What’s that?”

“Good morning, uncle Pandarus,” Cressida said.

“Good morning, niece Cressida. What are you talking about? Good morning, Alexander. How are you, niece? When were you last at Priam’s palace?”

“This morning, uncle,” Cressida replied.

“What were you talking about when I came here just now?” Pandarus asked. “Was Hector armed and gone before you came to Priam’s palace? Helen was not up, was she?”

“Hector was gone, but Helen was not up.”

“I see. Hector was up and stirring early.”

“That is what we were talking about, and about Hector’s anger.”

“Was he angry?” Pandarus asked.

“That is what Alexander here said,” Cressida replied.

“True, Hector was angry,” Pandarus said. “I know the cause, too. He’ll lay about him with his sword today, I can tell them that. He will fight well, and Troilus will not come far behind him. Let the Greeks take heed of Troilus, I can tell them that, too.”

“What, is he angry, too?”

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

Pandarus was praising Troilus in an attempt to persuade Cressida to fall in love with him, but Hector was definitely the best Trojan warrior.

“Oh, Jupiter! There’s no comparison between the two men,” Cressida said.

“What, no comparison between Troilus and Hector? Do you know a man if you see him?”

“Yes, if I ever saw him before and knew him,” Cressida said.

“Well, I say Troilus is Troilus,” Pandarus said.

“Then you say what I say; for, I am sure that he is not Hector.”

“No, he is not, and Hector is not Troilus in some ways.”

“That is just and fitting to each of them; each man is himself.”

“Himself!” Pandarus said. “You think that Troilus is himself? Alas, poor Troilus! I wish that he were himself.”

Pandarus meant that Troilus was not himself because he was suffering from his unrequited love for Cressida.

“So he is,” Cressida said. “He is himself.”

“That statement is as true as the statement that I walked barefoot to India.”

“Troilus is not Hector.”

“But is Troilus himself? No, he’s not himself. I wish that he were himself! Well, the gods are above; time must befriend him or end him. Well, Troilus, well. I wish that my heart were in her body. No, Hector is not a better man than Troilus.”

“Excuse me. I don’t believe you.”

“He is elder.”

In fact, Hector was the eldest son of Priam.

“Pardon me, pardon me,” Cressida said. “If you mean that Troilus is elder than Hector, you are wrong.”

“The other one — Troilus — has not fully come to maturity,” Pandarus said. “You shall tell me another tale about who is the elder and the more mature when the other one — Troilus — has fully come to maturity. Hector shall not have Troilus’ intelligence this year. Troilus will be more intelligent than Hector.”

“Hector shall not need Troilus’ intelligence, if he has his own,” Cressida said.

“Nor will Hector have Troilus’ qualities.”

“No matter.”

“Nor his beauty.”

“Troilus’ beauty would not be becoming for Hector; his own beauty is better.”

“You have no judgment, niece,” Pandarus said. “Helen herself swore the other day, that Troilus, for a brown complexion — for so it is, I must confess — well, no, his complexion is not brown —”

In this culture, fair complexions were valued more highly than black or suntanned or sunburnt complexions.

“No, it is brown,” Cressida said.

“Indeed, to say the truth, his complexion is brown and not brown.”

“To say the truth, what you have said is true and not true.”

“She praised his complexion above the complexion of Paris.”

“Why, Paris has color enough,” Cressida said.

“So he has.”

“Then Troilus has too much color. If Helen praised his complexion above that of Paris, then his complexion is higher than Paris’. If Paris has color enough, and Troilus has a higher color, then Helen made too flaming — too extravagant — praise for a good complexion. I would like just as much that Helen’s golden tongue had praised Troilus for having a copper nose.”

A copper nose can be a suntanned nose, but in this culture people who had lost their nose as a result of venereal disease or fighting sometimes wore a prosthetic nose made of copper.

“I swear to you that I think Helen loves Troilus better than Paris,” Pandarus said.

“Then she’s a merry Greek indeed.”

Helen, of course, was Greek, and in this culture a “merry Greek” was a wanton person.

“I am sure she loves Troilus more than she loves Paris,” Pandarus said. “She came to him the other day by the bay window — and, you know, he has not more than three or four hairs on his chin —”

“Indeed, a tapster’s arithmetic may soon bring his particular hairs to a total,” Cressida said.

A tapster is a bartender or a server in a bar. They use arithmetic to total the tabs in the bar.

“Why, he is very young, and yet he is able to lift as much weight, within three pounds, as his brother Hector.”

“Is he so young a man and so old a lifter?”

Cressida was punning. A “lifter” is a thief, as in shoplifter.

“But I can prove to you that Helen loves Troilus,” Pandarus said. “She came and put her white hand up to his cloven chin —”

Pandarus meant that Troilus had a cleft chin but Cressida pretended that he had said that Troilus’ chin was split in two.

“May Juno, Queen of the gods, have mercy!” Cressida said. “How came his chin to be cloven?”

“Why, you know it is dimpled,” Pandarus said. “I think his smiling becomes him better than any man in all Phrygia.”

“Oh, he smiles valiantly.”

“Doesn’t he?”

“Oh, yes, as if it were a cloud in autumn.”

Cressida was being sarcastic about and critical of Troilus’ smile. A sunny day in autumn is often beautiful; a cloudy day in autumn is often dull and dreary. A valiant smile likened to a cloud in autumn could be a reference to the Sun valiantly attempting to shine through the clouds during the season of autumn.

“Why, bah, then, but to prove to you that Helen loves Troilus —”

“Troilus will stand to the proof, if you’ll prove it so,” Cressida said.

One meaning of what Cressida had said was that Troilus would pass the test if he were tested, but there was a second meaning. She was being bawdy. “To stand” means “to have an erection.” She was saying that Troilus would have an erection if Pandarus could prove that Helen loved Troilus.

“Troilus!” Pandarus said. “Why, he esteems Helen no more than I esteem an addled — a rotten — egg.”

“If you love an addled egg as well as you love an idle and empty head, you would eat chickens in the shell,” Cressida said.

Addled eggs often had an embryonic, but dead, chick inside.

“I cannot choose but laugh, when I think how Helen tickled Troilus’ chin,” Pandarus said. “Indeed, she has a marvelously white hand, I must necessarily confess —”

“That is a confession you have made without first having been tortured on the rack.”

“And Helen spied a white hair on his chin.”

“Alas, poor chin!” Cressida said. “Many a wart is richer because it has more hairs than one.”

“But there was such laughing! Queen Hecuba laughed so much that her eyes ran over.”

“With millstones, but not with tears,” Cressida said. She did not understand how this anecdote could be so funny that it would make anyone cry with laughter.

“And Cassandra laughed,” Pandarus said.

“But there was more temperate fire under the cooking pot of her eyes,” Cressida said. “Did her eyes run over, too?”

Cassandra was not the type of person to laugh much. In mythology, she had the gift of prophecy, but she also had the curse of her prophecies never being believed. And as a prophetess, she knew before other people bad events that would soon occur.

“And Hector laughed.”

“At what was all this laughing?” Cressida asked. “What were they laughing at?”

“Indeed, at the white hair that Helen spied on Troilus’ chin.”

“If it had been a green hair, I would have laughed, too,” Cressida said.

“They laughed not so much at the hair as at his ingenious answer.”

“What was his answer?”

“Helen said, ‘Here’s only two and fifty hairs on your chin, and one of them is white.’”

“This is her observation, not his answer,” Cressida pointed out.

“That’s true; make no question of that,” Pandarus replied. “‘Two and fifty hairs,’ Troilus replied, ‘and one hair is white. That white hair is my father, and all the rest are his sons.’”

Troilus was punning. Most of his hairs were heirs — Priam’s fifty sons.

Pandarus continued, “‘By Jupiter!’ said Helen, ‘which of these hairs is Paris, my husband?’ ‘The forked one,’ said he. ‘Pluck it out, and give it to him.’ But there was such laughing! And Helen so blushed, and Paris so fretted, and all the rest so laughed, that it surpasses description.”

Priam had fifty sons. Troilus had one white hair, and fifty black hairs, but one black hair was forked (had a split end) and so was counted as two, making a total (in the anecdote) of fifty-two hairs.

The forked hair represented Paris, and the fork in the hair represented horns. Paris had made a cuckold of Menelaus and given him horns, and Troilus was joking that Helen had made a cuckold of Paris and given him horns.

“So let your anecdote pass by now; for it has been a while going by,” Cressida said.

“Well, niece,” Pandarus said. “I told you something important yesterday; think about it.”

The “something important” was Troilus’ love for her.

“So I do.”

“I’ll be sworn it is true; he will weep, as if he were a man born in April, the month of showers.”

“And I’ll spring up in his tears, as if I were a nettle anticipating May,” Cressida said.

She had changed the proverb “April showers bring May flowers” so that she could criticize Troilus.

Trumpets sounded retreat. Now the Trojan warriors would return to Troy.

“Listen,” Pandarus said. “The warriors are coming from the battlefield. Shall we stand up here, and see them as they pass toward Troy? Good niece, do, sweet niece Cressida.”

“As you wish.”

“Here, here, here’s an excellent place,” Pandarus said. “Here we may see them very well. I’ll tell you all their names as they pass by; but be sure to pay special attention to Troilus more than the rest.”

“Don’t speak so loudly,” Cressida said, embarrassed lest Pandarus be overheard.

Aeneas walked by them.

“That’s Aeneas,” Pandarus said. “Isn’t he a splendid man? He’s one of the flowers of Troy, I can tell you, but be sure to look at Troilus; you shall see him soon.”

Antenor walked by them.

“Who’s that?” Cressida asked.

“That’s Antenor,” Pandarus replied. “He has a shrewd intelligence, I can tell you, and he’s a good enough man. He’s one of the soundest judges in Troy and has the greatest wisdom, and he is handsome. But when is Troilus coming? I’ll show you Troilus soon. If he sees me, you shall see him nod at me.”

“Will he give you the nod?”

“Give you the nod” was slang for “make a fool out of you.”

“Yes, you will see him nod at me,” Pandarus said.

“If he nods at you, the rich shall have more,” Cressida said.

Cressida was willing to be critical of Pandarus, her uncle, as well as of Troilus. A noddy is a fool. Cressida was referring to Matthew 13:12, part of which states, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance[…].” If Troilus were to nod to Pandarus, he would make Pandarus a noddee, and Pandarus would be more of a fool than he already was.

Hector walked by them.

“That’s Hector, that, that, look, that man,” Pandarus said. “There’s a fellow!”

He yelled, “Way to go, Hector!”

Then he said to Cressida, “There’s a brave man, niece. Oh, brave Hector! Look how he looks! There’s a countenance! Isn’t he a splendid man?”

“Yes, he isa splendid man!”

“Isn’t he, though!” Pandarus said. “Seeing him does a man’s heart good. Look at the dents on his helmet! Look yonder, do you see them? Look there. There’s no jesting; there’s evidence that Hector has been fighting hard in battle and laying blows on the enemy. That’s evidence that no naysayers can deny — there are dents in his helmet!”

“Were those dents made by swords?”

“Swords! Yes, and by other weapons such as spears. Hector does not care what enemy he faces. If the Devil were to come to fight him, it’s all one to Hector — he doesn’t care whether he fights a Greek or the Devil. By God, it does one’s heart good to see Hector. But look. Yonder comes Paris, yonder comes Paris.”

Paris walked by them.

“Look yonder, niece. Isn’t he a gallant man, too, isn’t he? Why, this is splendid now. Who said that Paris was wounded and had returned home today? He’s not wounded. Why, this will do Helen’s heart good now, ha! I wish I could see Troilus now! You shall see Troilus soon.”

Helenus walked by them.

“Who’s that?” Cressida asked.

“That’s Helenus. I wonder where Troilus is. That’s Helenus. I think that Troilus did not go out to fight today. That’s Helenus.”

“Can Helenus fight, uncle?” Cressida asked, aware that Helenus was a priest.

“Helenus? No,” Pandarus said. Quickly, he changed his answer — one ought not to criticize a Prince. “Yes, he’ll fight moderately well. I wonder where Troilus is. Listen! Don’t you hear the people cry ‘Troilus’? Helenus is a priest.”

“What sneaking fellow comes yonder?” Cressida asked. She knew who the “sneaking fellow” was.

Troilus walked by them.

“Where? Yonder? That’s Deiphobus,” Pandarus said. He was wrong, but he quickly recognized his mistake and said, “It is Troilus! There’s a man, niece!”

He called loudly, “Ha! Brave Troilus! The Prince of chivalry!”

“Be quiet!” Cressida said. “You are embarrassing me, and you yourself ought to be embarrassed. Be quiet!”

“Look at him. Look closely at him,” Pandarus said. “Oh, brave Troilus! Look well upon him, niece. Look how his sword is bloodied, and how his helmet is more hacked than Hector’s, and see how he looks, and how he walks! Oh, admirable youth! He is not yet twenty-three years old. Keep it up, Troilus, keep it up! If I had a sister who was one of the goddesses known as the Graces, and if I had a daughter who was also a goddess, I would give Troilus his choice of which of them to marry. Oh, admirable man! Paris? Paris is dirt compared to him; and, I promise you that Helen would give one of her eyes to exchange Paris for Troilus.”

“Here come more soldiers,” Cressida said.

More soldiers walked by them.

“These are asses, fools, dolts!” Pandarus said. “They are chaff and bran, chaff and bran! They are mere porridge after one has eaten meat! We have seen the best men and the best man — Troilus. I could live and die in the eyes of Troilus. Don’t look at them! Don’t look at them! The eagles are gone. What we see now are crows and jackdaws, crows and jackdaws! I would rather be a man such as Troilus than Agamemnon and all the Greek warriors.”

“Among the Greeks is Achilles, who is a better man than Troilus,” Cressida said.

“Achilles!” Pandarus said. “He is a cart-driver, a porter, a camel — he is a stupid beast of burden!”

“Well, well,” Cressida said.

“‘Well, well!’” Pandarus repeated. “Why, don’t you have any ability to distinguish a real man among ‘men’? Haven’t you any eyes? Don’t you know what a man is? Aren’t birth, beauty, good shape, good conversation, manliness, learning, nobleness, virtue, youth, generosity, and other such things the spice and salt that season a man?”

“Yes, a minced man,” Cressida said. “And then they are baked with no date in the pie, for then the man’s date’s out.”

Cressida was criticizing Troilus again. Pandarus had highly praised him and mentioned many good qualities that he claimed that Troilus possessed, but she was questioning his manhood. A date is a phallic-shaped fruit, and she was saying that Troilus’ date was staying out of the vaginal pie. One meaning of “to mince” is “to walk very primly,” and a stereotype of gay men is that they mince. Another meaning of “mince” is “to cut into very small pieces for cooking.” Of course, a man whose date is out is a man who is out of fashion and of lesser value — he is after his sell-by date.

“What a woman you are!” Pandarus said. Aware that she was metaphorically fencing with words against his attempts at persuading her to love Troilus, he said, “One does not know at what ward you lie.”

A ward is a parrying — defensive — movement in fencing.

Cressida said, “I lie upon my back, to defend my belly.”

To lie on her back to defend her belly — say, against a sexual “attack” — seems to be a poor defensive position for such a purpose. But perhaps she meant that she would rely on her back to defend her belly. Or perhaps she was not much interested in defending her belly if it were “attacked” by the right man.

She added, “I rely upon my wit, to defend my wiles; upon my secrecy, to defend my chastity; upon my mask, to defend my beauty; and upon you, to defend all these.”

She could satisfy her wiles — cunningly get her wishes — and then use her wit and intelligence to defend them and keep away from herself any bad consequences. One way for her to defend her reputation for chastity was by keeping silent — not telling anyone about an affair, if she should have one. Like other ladies of the time, she wore a mask when in the Sun to protect her face from being tanned by the Sun. The mask hid her face from the Sun the way her secrecy could hide an affair from being known by other people. She also relied on her uncle to protect her; her father was not present in Troy, and so Pandarus was her male protector in Troy. As her uncle, he had a moral obligation to protect her. However, she may have been sarcastic when she said that she would rely upon him. Events would show that Pandarus was in favor of his niece having an affair with Troilus.

She added, “And at all these wards I lie, at a thousand watches — I will have all these defenses during a thousand sleepless nights.”

Cressida was hinting at bawdiness. A thousand nights would be sleepless because a male lover would keep her awake. Because she would not be legally married to the male lover, she would have to rely on her own intelligence and secrecy — and her uncle — to keep other people from learning about the affair.

“Tell me about one of your watches — one of your sleepless nights,” Pandarus said.

“No, I’ll watch you if I have any sleepless nights, and you are one of the chief things that I will have to carefully watch,” Cressida said. “If I cannot ward — defend — what I would not have hit, I can watch you for telling how I took the blow. In other words, if I cannot ward off and keep a penis from penetrating me, I will carefully watch you to guard against your telling on me. Of course, if I get pregnant and my belly swells up and cannot be hidden, then it’s past watching. I won’t then be able to guard against my sexual activity being known.”

In her answer, Cressida was punning on the words “watch” and “ward,” aka “defend,” which were the duties of a watchman.

“What a woman you are!” Pandarus said.

Troilus’ servant, a boy, walked over to them and said to Pandarus, “Sir, my lord wants to speak with you right away.”

“Where?” Pandarus asked.

“At your own house; he is taking off his armor there.”

“Good boy, tell him I am coming,” Pandarus said.

The boy exited.

“I doubt that Troilus is wounded,” Pandarus said. “Fare you well, good niece.”

Adieu, uncle.”

“I’ll be with you, niece, by and by.”

“To bring me something, uncle?”

“Yes, a token from Troilus.”

As Pandarus exited, Cressida said to herself, “By the same token, you are a bawd, a pimp, a procurer.”

She paused and then added to herself, “Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love’s full sacrifice, he — Pandarus — offers in another’s — Troilus’ — enterprise, but I see a thousand-fold more in Troilus than there is in the mirror of Pandarus’ praise. Yet I hold Troilus off. Women are thought to be Angels while they are being wooed; they are not thought to be worth so much after they are won. Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing. A woman who is beloved knows nothing unless she knows this: Men prize the thing they have not gained more than it is worth. No woman has ever known a man to love her as sweetly after he got her than while he was pursuing her. Therefore I teach this maxim out of love: What is achieved is commanded; what is not yet gained is beseeched. When a man has won a woman, he commands her; while he is still pursuing her, he beseeches her. Therefore, although my heart bears much love for Troilus, nothing of my love for him shall in my eyes appear. I love Troilus, but I will not let him know that.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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