David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 2

 

— 3.2 —

In his garden, Pandarus spoke to Troilus’ servant, a young boy.

“Hello!” Pandarus said to the servant. “Where’s your master? At my niece Cressida’s?”

“No, sir; he is waiting for you to lead him there.”

Pandarus said, “Oh, here he comes.”

Troilus entered the garden.

Pandarus said, “Hello. How are you now?”

He said to Troilus’ servant, “You may leave.”

The servant exited.

Pandarus asked Troilus, “Have you seen my niece?”

“No, Pandarus. I stalk about her door, like a soul who has newly arrived at the banks of the River Styx and who is waiting for waftage — transport by boat across the river — by Charon, the ferryman to the Land of the Dead. Oh, be my Charon, and give me swift transport to those Elysian Fields, the abode of the good souls in Hades. In the Elysian Fields, I may wallow in the lily-beds that are promised for the good souls. Oh, gentle Pandarus, from Cupid’s shoulder pluck his colorful wings and use them to fly with me to Cressida! Help me to cross the threshold of your niece’s door!”

“Walk here in the garden,” Pandarus said. “I’ll bring her to you quickly.”

He exited.

Alone, Troilus said to himself, “I am giddy and dizzy; anticipation whirls me round. The imaginary relish is so sweet that it enchants my sense. What will the reality be when the salivating palate tastes for real love’s thrice purified nectar? I am afraid that the result will be death, swooning destruction, or some joy too fine, too subtle-potent and powerfully refined and tuned too sharp in sweetness, for the capacity of my ruder powers. I very much fear this; and I also fear that I shall lose distinction in my joys, as does an army when the soldiers charge in mass to pursue and kill the fleeing enemy.”

“Distinction” means “the ability to differentiate.” If Troilus and Cressida were to have sex, two would become one. When they orgasmed, they would “die.” An army pursuing fleeing enemies can kill indiscriminately — kill quickly and without discriminating soldiers of high rank from soldiers of low rank.

Pandarus returned and said, “She’s getting ready; she’ll come here soon. You must keep your wits about you. She blushes very much, and she breathes quickly and shallowly, as if a ghost had frightened her. I’ll bring her to you. She is the prettiest villain. She breathes as quickly and shallowly as a newly taken sparrow.”

Newly captured birds are very frightened, and because of their fright they breathe quickly and shallowly.

Pandarus exited.

Alone, Troilus said to himself, “Exactly such a passion embraces my bosom. My heart beats faster than a feverish pulse, and I am losing the use of all my senses, as if I were a lowly born person unexpectedly seeing his King looking at him.”

Pandarus returned, leading Cressida.

Pandarus said to her, “Come, come, what need do you have to blush? Shame’s a baby.”

Pandarus meant that shame was something little; however, in this culture a child of shame was a baby born out of wedlock.

He said to Troilus, “Here she is now. Now swear the oaths to her that you have sworn to me.”

Cressida moved as if she were going to leave the garden. Pandarus grabbed her arm and said, “What, are you gone again? You must be watched before you are made tame, must you? Come on, come on; if you draw backward, we’ll put you in harness.”

When Pandarus referred to Cressida, he used terms that likened her to a bird or other animal. He had already likened her to a newly caught sparrow. When he mentioned watching her until she be made tame, he was referring to a method of taming a hawk: breaking its will by not allowing it to sleep. And he referred to her as a skittish horse that needed to be harnessed to a cart.

Pandarus said to Troilus, “Why don’t you speak to her?”

Pandarus then said to Cressida, who was wearing a veil, “Come, draw this curtain, and let’s see your picture.”

In this culture, a curtain was hung before a painting. To see the painting, one had to draw the curtain. To see Cressida’s face, her veil had to be removed.

Pandarus removed Cressida’s veil and said, “Pity the day; how loath you are to offend daylight! If it were dark, you would close sooner.”

Night had not yet fallen. Pandarus was saying that he felt sorry for the daylight, in the presence of which Cressida was unwilling to offend — to stumble morally. But if it were dark, she would close the distance between herself and Troilus and they would offend together.

Troilus moved to Cressida, and they kissed.

Pandarus said to Troilus, “Good, good. Rub on, and kiss the mistress.”

Pandarus’ language referred to the game of bowls, in which “to rub” is “to negotiate an obstacle” and “to kiss the mistress” is “to gently touch the little ball aimed at in the game of bowling.” Of course, Pandarus used the phrase “to rub” to mean “to create sexual friction by rubbing against Cressida” and “to kiss the mistress” to mean “to kiss Cressida.”

Pandarus said, “Great! A kiss in fee-farm!”

He was referring to a long kiss. “Fee-farm” meant “in perpetuity.” It is a legal term referring to land granted in perpetuity with a permanently fixed rent.

Pandarus said to Troilus, “Build there, carpenter; the air is sweet.”

Where the air is sweet is a good place to build a structure. In this case, Pandarus wanted Troilus to build a six-inch structure.

Pandarus said to both Troilus and Cressida, “You shall fight your hearts out before I part you. The falcon as the tercel, for all the ducks in the river. Go to it. Go to it.”

The kind of “fight” that Pandarus referred to involved a kind of wrestling in bed. A falcon is a female hawk; a tercel is a male hawk. Pandarus was saying that when it comes to the act of sex, males and females are alike — ready and eager to get down to it. He would bet everything — all the ducks in the river — that this is true.

Troilus said to Cressida, “You have bereft me of all words, lady.”

Pandarus said to Troilus, “Words pay no debts, give her deeds, but she’ll bereave — deprive — you of the deeds, too, if she calls your activity into question.”

The “deeds” Pandarus referred to were sexual deeds, or acts, but “deeds” also means “legal documents.” In this culture, “to pay one’s debts” was slang for “to have sex.” Sex is something a wife owes a husband, and it is something a husband owes a wife. “Activity” means “vigorous action,” or “virility.” If Cressida were to call into question — doubt — Troilus’ virility, or ability to have sex with her, she would deprive him of the opportunity to have sex with her. However, if calling his virality into question involved testing his virality, she would leave him sexually exhausted and unable to perform any longer.

Troilus and Cressida kissed again.

Pandarus added, “What, billing again? Here’s ‘In witness whereof the parties interchangeably.’”

“Billing” meant both “kissing” and “drawing up a legal document.”

Legal contracts used language such as “In witness whereof the parties interchangeably” in which “interchangeably” meant “reciprocally.” One kind of legal contract is a marriage. In this culture, the man and woman could hold hands in front of witnesses and pledge themselves to each other in a prelude to a legal marriage.

Pandarus said, “Come in, come in. I’ll go get a fire.”

He left to start a fire in the bedroom where he hoped Troilus and Cressida would spend the night together.

“Will you walk into my house, my lord?” Cressida said to Troilus.

In this culture, wives called their husband “lord.”

“Oh, Cressida, how often have I wished to do that!”

“Wished, my lord! May the gods grant — oh, my lord!”

“What should the gods grant?” Troilus asked. “What is the reason for this pretty interruption? What too-curious — hidden — dreg does my sweet lady see in the fountain of our love?”

“I see more dregs than water, if my fears have eyes,” Cressida replied.

“Fears make Devils of the high order of Angels known as the Cherubim,” Troilus replied. “Fears never see truly.”

“Blind fear that is led by seeing reason finds safer footing than blind reason that stumbles without fear,” Cressida said. “Seeing reason leads to prudence, while blind reason leads to sin. Fearing the worst often cures the worse. If we fear, we can often avoid the worst.”

“Oh, let my lady apprehend no fear,” Troilus said. “In all Cupid’s pageant, no monster appears.”

In this culture, one meaning of “pageant” is “a performance intended to trick.” Another meaning is “a theatrical play.” Troilus wanted to take Cressida to bed, and so he was minimizing the monsters that can participate in plays featuring Cupid, aka love. Romantic love has its pleasures, but it can also have its pains. Infidelity can greatly hurt one who loves.

“Nor nothing monstrous either?” Cressida asked.

“Nothing, but our undertakings — the things we promise to do,” Troilus replied. “When we vow to weep seas, live in fire, eat rocks, tame tigers, we think it harder for our female loved one to devise difficult enough tasks than for us to undergo any difficulty imposed. The monstruosity in love, lady, is that the will is infinite and the execution is confined, and that the desire is boundless and the act is a slave to limit.”

This is true in more ways than one. The desire to have sex is boundless, but the act of sex lasts only a short time. A lover can promise to be faithful — and mean it — but not live up to the promise.

Knowing this, Cressida said, “They say all lovers swear more performance than they are capable of and continue to keep in reserve an ability that they never perform, vowing more than the perfection of ten and discharging less than the tenth part of one. Lovers who have the voice of lions and the act of hares, are they not monsters?”

“Do such lovers exist?” Troilus asked. Using the royal plural, he said, “We are not like them. Praise us according to how we act when put to the test, acknowledge us as we show ourself to be; our head shall go bare until merit crown it. No perfection expected to be possessed in the future shall have any praise in the present. We will not name desert before its birth, and, being born, its title of honor shall be humble. Judge me by my actions.

“You know the proverb ‘Where many words are, the truth goes by,’ so let me say a few words about my fair faith. Troilus shall act in such a way to Cressida as to make the worst that envy and malice can say about him is to mock him for his faithfulness to you. The truest speech of truth itself shall not be truer than the speech of Troilus.”

“Will you walk into my house, my lord?” Cressida asked Troilus.

Pandarus returned.

“What, blushing still?” he said. “Haven’t you two finished talking yet?”

“Well, uncle,” Cressida said, “whatever folly I commit, I dedicate to you.”

“I thank you for that,” Pandarus said. “If Troilus gets you pregnant with a boy, you’ll give him to me.”

Pandarus was giving Troilus credit for masculinity: If Troilus were to get Cressida pregnant, it would be with a boy.

Pandarus continued, “Be true to Troilus; if he flinches and sneaks away, rebuke me for it.”

Of course, Pandarus knew that Troilus would not flinch and sneak away.

“You know now your hostages: your uncle’s word and my firm faith,” Troilus said.

Hostages were guarantees of good conduct. In war, an important person might enter an enemy camp to parley. Before the important person entered the camp, an important enemy would be sent to the important person’s camp to be a hostage. If anything happened to the important person, the important hostage would be killed.

“I’ll give my word for her, too, as well as for you,” Pandarus said. “Our kindred, although they have to be wooed for a long time, are faithful once they are won. They are burs, I can tell you; they’ll stick where they are thrown.”

“Boldness comes to me now, and brings me courage,” Cressida said. “Prince Troilus, I have loved you night and day for many weary months.”

“Why was my Cressida then so hard to win?” Troilus asked.

“I seemed hard to win,” she replied, “but I was won, my lord, with the first glance that ever — pardon me — if I confess much, you will play the tyrant and lord it over me. I love you now, but I did not love you, until now, so much but I could master it. Actually, I lie. My thoughts were like unbridled, uncontrolled children, grown too headstrong for their mother to manage. See, my thoughts and I are fools! Why have I blabbed? Who shall be true to us and keep our secrets, when we cannot keep our own secrets? But, although I very much loved you, I did not woo you. And yet, truly, I wished that I had a man, or that we women had men’s privilege of speaking and confessing our love first. Sweetheart, tell me to hold my tongue because in this rapture of emotion I shall surely say something that I shall repent saying. I see that your silence, which is cunning in its lack of speech, from my weakness draws the heart of speech! Stop me from speaking!”

“I shall, albeit sweet music comes from your mouth,” Troilus said, kissing her.

“This is indeed a pretty sight,” Pandarus said.

“My lord, I ask you to pardon me,” Cressida said to Troilus. “I did not intend to beg for a kiss. I am ashamed. Oh, Heavens! What have I done? For this time I will take my leave, my lord.”

“You are leaving, sweet Cressida!” Troilus said.

“Leave!” Pandarus said. “If you take leave until tomorrow morning —”

“Please,” Cressida said. “Don’t talk about that.”

“What offends you, lady?” Troilus asked.

“Sir, my own company.”

“You cannot shun yourself.”

“Let me go and try,” Cressida replied. “I have a kind of self that stays with you, but it is an unnatural self that will leave itself in order to be another’s fool. I want to leave. Where is my good sense? I don’t know what I am saying.”

“People who speak so wisely know well what they are speaking,” Troilus said.

The part of Cressida’s speech that Troilus thought was wise was the part about the self that stayed with him.

Cressida replied, “Perhaps, my lord, I am showing more cunning than love, and fell so outspokenly into a frank confession in order to fish for your thoughts, but you are too wise to reveal your thoughts, or in other words you do not love, for to be wise and to love exceeds the power of man; only the gods above can be both wise and in love.”

“Oh, I wish that I thought it could be in a woman — as, if it can, I will presume that it could be in you — to feed forever her lamp and the flames of love, to keep her faithfulness in as fit and youthful a condition as it was when it was plighted with the result that it will outlive outward beauty, with a mind that renews love swifter than passion decays! I also wish that I could be persuaded that my integrity and faithfulness to you might be equaled by your own integrity and faithfulness to me. Let us both have an equal amount of pure love winnowed from the chaff. How elated would I then be! But unfortunately I am as true as the simplicity of truth and I am more innocent than the infancy of truth. I am more innocent than infants, and I am more innocent than Adam before the fall.”

“When it comes to faithfulness, I’ll war — compete — with you,” Cressida said.

“Oh, this is a virtuous fight, when right wars with right over who shall be most right!” Troilus said. “Faithful lovers shall in the world of the future confirm their faithfulness by comparing it with that of Troilus. When their rhyming love poems, full of declarations of love, of oaths and big comparisons, lack similes, when faithfulness is described with tired comparisons — as faithful as steel, as faithful as plants are to the Moon, as faithful as the Sun is to the day, as faithful as the turtledove is to her mate, as faithful as iron is attracted to a magnet, as faithful as the Earth is to its center — after all these comparisons of faithfulness are made, then faithfulness’ authentic author shall be cited. ‘As faithful as Troilus’ shall crown the verse, and sanctify the verses.”

“May you prove to be a prophet!” Cressida said. “If I am unfaithful to you, or swerve a hair from being true to you, then when time is old and has forgotten itself, when drops of rain have worn down the stones of Troy, and blind oblivion has swallowed entire cities up, and mighty states are worn away by time into dusty nothing and leave no trace of themselves, yet let memory, from unfaithfulness to unfaithfulness, among unfaithful maidens in love, upbraid my unfaithfulness! When they’ve said ‘as false as air, as false as water, wind, or sandy earth, as false as fox to lamb, as false as wolf to heifer’s calf, as false as panther to the deer, or as false as evil stepmother to her stepson,’ then let them say to stick the heart of unfaithfulness, ‘as unfaithful as Cressida.’”

How can air, water, wind, and sandy earth be false, aka unfaithful? The ancient Roman poet Catullus once wrote, “Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti / in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.” Translated into English: “But the words a woman says to a passionate lover / ought to be written on wind and running water.” If the words were to be written on air or sandy earth, they would not last long.

Pandarus said, “All right, this is a bargain you two have made. Seal it, seal it. I’ll be the witness. In this hand I hold Troilus’ hand, and in this hand I hold my niece’s hand. If ever you prove false — unfaithful — one to the other, since I have taken such pains to bring you together, let all pitiful goers-between be called until the world’s end after my name — call them all panders. Let all faithful men be Troiluses, all unfaithful women Cressidas, and all brokers-between panders! Say, ‘Amen.’”

Troilus said, “Amen.”

Cressida said, “Amen.”

Pandarus said, “Amen. Now I will take you to a chamber with a bed; because the bed shall not speak of your pretty encounters, press it to death. Go into the bedroom now!”

In the act of lovemaking, Troilus’ weight would be on Cressida, and the weight of both would press on the bed. In this culture, “to die” meant “to have an orgasm” and so Pandarus wanted Troilus and Cressida to press the bed until they both had orgasms. But Pandarus’ words also referred to an act of torture or capital punishment. A prisoner could be pressed to death. More and more weight would be piled on his chest until his torturers heard the words they wanted the prisoner to say, or until the prisoner’s chest was crushed and he died.

Pressing was done when a prisoner would refuse to stand trial for an offense. Sometimes, a prisoner would refuse to plead guilty or not guilty in a trial because if they were found guilty their property would be forfeited to the state, which often meant that the prisoners’ loved ones would be destitute. Rather than risking being found guilty, sentenced to death, and having his property forfeited to the state, thereby making his loved ones destitute, the prisoner would choose to die by being pressed to death. This is what Giles Corey chose in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Troilus and Cressida went inside the house and into the bedroom, and Pandarus said to you, the readers of this book, “And may Cupid grant all tongue-tied virgins — male or female — reading this a bed, a bedchamber, and a pander to provide all this gear!”

In all the conversation among Troilus, Cressida, and Pandarus, no one mentioned legal marriage.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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