David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TROILUS AND CRESSIDA: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 5

— 4.5 —

Ajax, wearing armor, walked over to Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroclus, Menelaus, Ulysses, Nestor, and some others. They were at the place where Ajax would duel Hector. The lists — barriers surrounding the place where the duel would take place — were already set out.

Agamemnon said to Ajax, “Here you are wearing fresh and fair armor, early for the duel, and with abundant courage. Give with your trumpeter a loud note to Troy, you awe-inspiring Ajax, so that the appalled air may pierce the ears of the great combatant Hector and bring him hither.”

“Trumpeter, here’s some money,” Ajax said. “Now crack your lungs, and split your brazen pipe. Blow, villain, until your sphered and swollen cheeks outswell the gassy colic of the puffing Aquilon — the North Wind. Come, stretch your chest and let your eyes spout blood with the effort of blowing. You blow to summon Hector.”

A trumpet sounded.

“No trumpet answers,” Ulysses said.

“It is still early,” Achilles said.

Seeing two people coming toward them, Agamemnon asked, “Isn’t that Diomedes yonder, with Calchas’ daughter?”

“It is Diomedes,” Ulysses said. “I know the manner of his gait. He rises on the toe: His aspiring spirit lifts him from the earth.”

Diomedes led Cressida over to Agamemnon.

“Is this the Lady Cressida?” Agamemnon asked.

“Yes, it is she,” Diomedes replied.

“You are very dearly welcome to the Greeks, sweet lady,” Agamemnon said, kissing her.

“Our general salutes you with a kiss,” Nestor said.

“Yet the kindness is only particular,” Ulysses said. “It would be better if she were kissed in general.”

“That is very courtly counsel,” Nestor, who was an old man, said. “I’ll begin.”

He kissed Cressida and said, “So much for Nestor.”

Referring to Nestor’s old age — he was in the December of his life — Achilles said, “I’ll take that winter from your lips, fair lady.”

He kissed her and said, “Achilles bids you welcome.”

“I had a good argument for kissing once,” Menelaus said.

By “argument,” he meant “cause or reason.” That argument was Helen.

“But that’s no argument for kissing now,” Patroclus said, using “argument” with its usual meaning.

He kissed Cressida and said, “For thus popped Paris in his hardiment, and parted thus you and your argument.”

Patroclus was making fun of Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was sleeping with Paris, Prince of Troy. “Hardiment” is an archaic word meaning “act of valor” and “erect penis.” “Pop in” means to “arrive unexpectedly” and “move in suddenly.” Paris had popped in to visit Menelaus, King of Sparta, and he had popped his erect penis into Helen.

“Oh, this is deadly gall, and the theme of all our scorns!” Ulysses said. “For this we lose our heads to gild his horns.”

Menelaus was a cuckold, a man with an unfaithful wife. Cuckolds were said to have horns. By fighting the Trojan War to get Helen back for Menelaus, the Greeks were fighting to gild his horns — to get back some of the honor that Paris had taken from him.

“The first kiss I gave you was Menelaus’ kiss,” Patroclus said. “This kiss is mine.”

He kissed Cressida and said, “Patroclus kisses you.”

“Oh, this is excellent!” Menelaus said, sarcastically.

Patroclus said, “Paris and I kiss evermore for Menelaus.”

Paris kissed Helen for Menelaus, and now Patroclus was kissing Cressida for Menelaus.

“I’ll have my kiss, sir,” Menelaus said to Patroclus.

He then said to Cressida, “Lady, by your leave.”

Cressida was a young Trojan woman who was surrounded by Greek men in what could very well be a dangerous situation for her.

Silent up to now, Cressida said to Menelaus, “In kissing, do you give or receive?”

Menelaus said, “I both take and give.”

Cressida said, “I’ll bet my life that the kiss you take is better than the kiss you give; therefore, you get no kiss.’

“I’ll give you something in addition,” Menelaus said. “I’ll give you three kisses in return for one kiss.”

“You’re an odd man,” Cressida said. “Give even odds or give none.”

By “odd,” Cressida meant “eccentric or unusual.”

“An odd man, lady!” Menelaus said. “Every man is odd.”

Menelaus was saying that every man is a unique individual.

“No, Paris is not,” Cressida said, “for you know it is true that you are odd, and he is even with you.”

Cressida was saying that Paris was even because he was part of a couple, while Menelaus was odd — a single man who was odd man out and who was at odds with Paris.

Menelaus replied, “You hit me on the head.”

Cressida’s comments were cutting him close to the bone — she was hitting him on his cuckold’s horns.

“No, I’ll be sworn,” Cressida said.

“It is no contest, your fingernail against his horn,” Ulysses said. “His horns are tougher than your fingernails.”

He then asked, “May I, sweet lady, beg a kiss of you?”

“You may,” Cressida replied.

“I do desire a kiss.”

“Why, beg, then.”

Ulysses, who was unwilling to beg in any serious way, said, “Why then for Venus’ sake, give me a kiss when Helen is a maiden — a virgin — again, and when she belongs to Menelaus again.”

Helen would never be a virgin again, and having cuckolded Menelaus, would she ever really be his again?

“I am your debtor,” Cressida said. “Claim your kiss when it is due.”

“Never is my day to claim my kiss, and then I will get a kiss of you,” Ulysses said.

Cressida had managed to use her wits to avoid being kissed by Menelaus and by Ulysses.

Diomedes said to her, “Lady, a word. I’ll bring you to your father.”

Diomedes and Cressida exited.

Nestor said, “She is a woman of quick sense.”

“Sense” could mean “wits” or “sensuality.”

“Damn her!” Ulysses, who had not received a kiss, said. “There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip — you can read her or listen to her. Her foot speaks; her wanton spirits appear in every joint and motion of her body. Oh, these flirts, so glib of tongue, who accost men and give them welcome before they come near, and widely unclasp the tablets of their thoughts to every ticklish, lecherous reader! Set them down for sluttish spoils of opportunity and daughters of the game. Set them down in the records as the whores they are.”

Was Ulysses accurate in thinking that Cressida was a slut? Or was he just angry at not having received a kiss?

A trumpet sounded.

All the Greeks said, “The Trojans’ trumpet.”

Or perhaps they said, in response to Ulysses’ words, “The Trojan strumpet.”

“Yonder comes the Trojans’ troop,” Agamemnon said.

Hector, along with Aeneas, Troilus, and other Trojan soldiers and some attendants, walked over to the Greeks. Hector was wearing armor.

“Hail, all you rulers of Greece!” Aeneas said. “What shall be done to him who commands victory? What shall the victor win? Or do you purpose that a victor shall be known? Do you want the knights to fight to the death, or shall the knights be separated before death occurs by any voice or order of the marshal of the lists? Hector bade me ask you this.”

“Which way would Hector have it?” Agamemnon asked.

“He has no preference,” Aeneas replied. “He’ll obey whatever conditions you set.”

Achilles said, “This is done like Hector; but it is done overconfidently. It is done a little proudly, and a great deal disparaging the knight opposing Hector.”

Aeneas asked, “If not Achilles, sir, what is your name?”

“If not Achilles, my name is nothing,” Achilles replied.

“Therefore your name is Achilles,” Aeneas said, “but, whatever it is, know this: In the extremity of great and little, valor and pride excel themselves in Hector. The one is almost as infinite as all; the other is blank as nothing. He has much courage and is not at all proud. Weigh him well, and you will see that what looks like pride is courtesy. This Ajax is half made of Hector’s blood. Out of love for that half, half of Hector stays at home; half heart, half hand, half Hector comes to seek this blended knight who is half Trojan and half Greek.”

Hector and Ajax were first cousins. Ajax’ mother was Hesione, who was the sister of Priam, Hector’s father.

Achilles said sarcastically, “A maiden battle, then? Not a fight to the death? No bloodshed? Oh, I see.”

Having delivered Cressida to Calchas, her father, Diomedes returned.

“Here is Sir Diomedes,” Agamemnon said. “Go, honorable knight, and stand by our Ajax. As you and Lord Aeneas consent upon the order of their fight, so be it. The fight can be either to the uttermost — to the death — or else it can be exercise. Because the combatants are related by blood, their fight is half restrained before their strokes begin.”

Ajax and Hector entered the lists; they were ready to duel.

“They are opposed already,” Ulysses said.

Seeing Troilus, Agamemnon asked Ulysses, “What Trojan is that one who looks so sorrowful?”

“He is the youngest son of Priam, and he is a true knight. He is not yet fully mature, yet he is matchless and firm of word. He does his speaking with his deeds, and he does not boast about his deeds with his tongue. He is not soon provoked, but once he is provoked he is not soon calmed. His heart and hand are both open and both free and both generous; for what he has he gives, and what he thinks he shows. Yet he does not give until his rational judgment guides his bounty, nor does he dignify an impure thought by saying it out loud. He is as manly as Hector, but more dangerous; for Hector in his blaze of wrath shows mercy to tender objects that arouse his pity, but this man, the youngest son of Priam, in the 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. They think of him as an up-and-coming second Hector. Thus says Aeneas, who knows the youth from top to bottom; from his heart Aeneas thus described Troilus to me when I was an ambassador inside Troy.”

Trumpets sounded, and Hector and Ajax began to duel. The marshals of the duel were Aeneas and Diomedes.

“They are in action,” Agamemnon said.

“Now, Ajax, hold your own!” Nestor shouted.

“Hector, you are asleep!” Troilus shouted. “Wake up!”

“His blows are well placed,” Agamemnon said to Nestor.

Agamemnon shouted, “There, Ajax!”

Diomedes said to Hector and Ajax, “You must fight no more.”

The trumpeters stopped blowing.

“Princes, enough, if it pleases you,” Aeneas said.

“I am not warm yet,” Ajax said. “I haven’t broken a sweat. Let us fight again.”

“Whatever Hector pleases,” Diomedes replied.

“Why, then I fight no more today,” Hector said to Diomedes.

He then said to Ajax, “You are, great lord, my father’s sister’s son, a first cousin to me, the son of great Priam. The obligation of our blood relation forbids a gory rivalry between us two. Were your Greek and Trojan mixture such that you could say, ‘This hand is all Greek, and this hand is all Trojan; the muscles of this leg are all Greek, and the muscles of this leg are all Trojan; my mother’s blood runs here on the right cheek, and my father’s blood runs here on the left cheek,’ then by most powerful Jove, you would not go away from me bearing a Greek limb or other body part in which my sword had not made its mark during our violent duel, but the just gods forbid that any drop of blood you got from your mother, my sacred aunt, should by my mortal sword be drained from your body! Let me embrace you, Ajax. By Jove who thunders, you have strong arms.”

Hector hugged Ajax and said, “Hector would have your strong arms fall upon him like this. Cousin, I give all honor to you!”

“I thank you, Hector,” Ajax said. “You are too gentle, too noble, and too free a man. I came to kill you, cousin, and bear away from here a great addition to my honor — a great addition earned by your death.”

Hector replied, “Not even the admirable Pyrrhus Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son — on whose bright crest Fame loudly cried, ‘Oyez — hear me — this is he,’ could promise to himself a thought of added honor torn from Hector. Not even the admirable Neoptolemus can promise to himself that he will be able to kill me and to take my honor for himself.”

“Soldiers from both sides are expectantly awaiting what you will do,” Aeneas said.

“We’ll let them know,” Hector said. “The conclusion of the duel is a hug.”

He added, “Ajax, farewell.”

Ajax replied, “If I might in my entreaties find success — as I seldom have the chance to ask you this — I would like you, my famous cousin, to visit our Greek tents.”

“It is Agamemnon’s wish,” Diomedes said, “and great Achilles longs to see unarmed the valiant Hector.”

“Aeneas, call my brother Troilus to me,” Hector said, “and report this friendly face-to-face meeting between me and the Greeks to the Trojans who are awaiting news. Request that they return to Troy.”

He then said to Ajax, “Shake hands with me, my cousin. I will go and eat with you and see your knights.”

Agamemnon came forward.

Ajax said, “Great Agamemnon comes to meet us here.”

Hector said to Ajax, “Tell me name by name the worthiest of them except for Achilles because my own searching eyes shall find him by his large and imposing size.”

Hector did not recognize many of the Greeks because on the battlefield, the soldiers wore helmets. Ulysses and Diomedes, however, had been ambassadors to Troy, and so Hector recognized them, and they recognized many of the Trojans.

Agamemnon said to Hector, “You are worthy of arms!”

Agamemnon hugged Hector. Agamemnon’s words had two meanings: 1) Hector was worthy of being hugged. 2) Hector was worthy of his armor and weapons.

Agamemnon added, “You are as welcome as you can be to one who would be rid of such an enemy — but that’s no welcome. Understand more clearly: Both what’s past and what’s to come are strewn with husks and the formless ruin of oblivion, but in this existing moment, my good faith and trustworthiness, strained pure from all insincere crooked-dealing, bid you, with the most divine integrity, from the bottom of my heart, great Hector, welcome.”

“I thank you, most imperial Agamemnon,” Hector said.

Agamemnon said to Troilus, “My well-famed lord of Troy, I give no less welcome to you.”

“Let me confirm my Princely brother’s greeting,” Menelaus said. “You pair of warlike brothers, welcome hither.”

“Who must we answer?” Hector asked Aeneas. Hector did not recognize Menelaus.

Aeneas replied, “He is the noble Menelaus.”

“Oh, you are Menelaus, my lord?” Hector said. “By Mars’ gauntlet, I thank you! Don’t mock me because I use the fancy oath ‘by Mars’ gauntlet,’ which I seldom use. Your former wife swears still by Venus’ glove that she’s well, but she bade me not to commend her to you.”

Hector was subtly mocking the cuckold Menelaus by bringing up Mars, god of war, and Venus, goddess of sexual passion, who had had an affair together, thereby cuckolding Venus’ husband, Vulcan.

“Don’t name her now, sir,” Menelaus said, referring to Helen. “She’s a deadly theme.”

“Pardon me,” Hector said. “I have offended you.”

Nestor said, “I have, you gallant Trojan, seen you often, laboring for fate, make your cruel way through ranks of young Greek soldiers, and I have seen you, as hot as Perseus, who slew the Gorgon Medusa, who had snakes for hair, spur your Trojan steed, despising many soldiers whom you had defeated and who had thereby forfeited their lives, when you have hung your advanced sword in the air and not let it fall on the fallen. Then I have said to some people standing by me, ‘Look, Jupiter is yonder, dealing life to those from whom he could take life!’ And I have seen you pause and take your breath, when a ring of Greeks has hemmed you in, as if they were watching a wrestler in a match at the Olympics. These things I have seen. But this your countenance, which has always been locked in a steel helmet, I never saw till now.

“I knew your grandfather Laomedon, and I once fought with him. He was a good soldier, but by great Mars, the captain of us all, I have never seen a soldier like you. Let an old man embrace you, and, worthy warrior, I bid you welcome to our tents.”

Actually Nestor had fought againstHector’s grandfather, but Nestor used the word with, which was accurate but less likely to cause offense due to ambiguity: To fight “with” could mean to fight “against” or to fight “on the side of.” Nestor addressed Hector in a friendly manner, as did Hector when he replied to Nestor.

“He is the old Nestor,” Aeneas said to Hector.

“Let me embrace you, good old chronicle,” Hector said. “You are a living history book because you have lived so long — you have for so long walked hand in hand with time. Most revered Nestor, I am glad to hug you.”

“I wish my arms could match you in contention — in a battle — as they contend now with you in courtesy and etiquette,” Nestor said.

“I wish they could,” Hector said.

“Ha! By this white beard, I would fight with you tomorrow,” Nestor said. “Well, welcome, welcome! I have seen the time when I was young enough to fight you on the battlefield, but that time is past.”

“I wonder now how yonder city stands when we have here her base and pillar by us,” Ulysses said. “The very foundation of Troy is here in the Greek camp.”

“I know your face, Lord Ulysses, well,” Hector said. “Ah, sir, there’s many a Greek and Trojan dead, since I first saw you and Diomedes in Troy, while you two were on your Greek embassy.”

When the Greeks first arrived at Troy, they conquered Tenedos, an island lying near Troy, and then they sent Ulysses and Diomedes on an embassy to Troy, unsuccessfully hoping to get Helen and reparations.

“Sir, I foretold to you then what would ensue,” Ulysses said. “My prophecy is but half fulfilled yet. In order for my prophecy to be fulfilled, yonder walls, which boldly stand in front of your town, and yonder towers, whose wanton tops kiss the clouds, must kiss their own feet. In order for my prophecy to be fulfilled, Troy’s walls and towers must fall.”

“I must not believe you,” Hector said. “That will never happen. Troy’s walls and towers stand there yet, and modestly, I think, the fall of every Trojan stone will cost a drop of Greek blood. The end of this war will tell all, and that old resolver of all quarrels, Time, will one day end this war.”

“So to Time we leave it,” Ulysses said. “Most noble and most valiant Hector, welcome. After you feast with the general, Agamemnon, I ask that you next feast with me and see me in my tent.”

Achilles interrupted: “I shall forestall thee, Lord Ulysses, thou! Now, Hector, I have fed my eyes on thee. I have with exact view perused thee, Hector, and examined thee joint by joint.”

Achilles was being rude. He was using the familiar “thee” to refer to Ulysses, an older man to whom he ought to show respect, and he was using the familiar “thee” to refer to Hector, an honored guest in the Greek camp. Achilles should have used the formal “you” to refer to both men.

“Is this Achilles?” Hector asked.

“I am Achilles.”

“Stand in full view, I ask thee,” Hector said. “Let me look on thee.”

Hector was irritated by Achilles and so called him “thee.” Previously, Hector and Ulysses had respectfully called each other “you.”

Achilles came forward and said, “Behold thy fill.”

“No, I am done already,” Hector said.

“Thou are too brief,” Achilles said. “I will look at thee a second time, as if I were going to buy thee. I will view thee limb by limb.”

Achilles’ words contained a suggestion of buying and then butchering an animal.

Angry and using the less respectful words “thou” and “thine,” Hector said, “Oh, like a book on sport thou shall read me over. But there’s more in me than you understand. Why do thou so stare at me with thine eye?”

Achilles got on his knees to pray to the gods and said, “Tell me, you Heavens, in which part of Hector’s body shall I destroy him?”

He pointed to various parts of Hector’s body and said, “Whether there, or there, or there? So that I may give the local wound a name and make distinct the very breach from out of which Hector’s great spirit flew, answer me, Heavens!”

“It would discredit the blest gods, proud man, to answer such a question,” Hector said. “Stand up again.”

Achilles stood up.

Hector asked, “Do thou think that thou can catch my life so pleasantly and easily that thou can name in advance and precisely where thou will hit and kill me?”

“I tell thee, yes,” Achilles said.

“Even if thou were an oracle telling me this, I would not believe thee. Henceforth, guard thee well, for I’ll not kill thee there, nor there, nor there,” Hector said, pointing to various parts of Achilles’ body, “but, by the forge that forged Mars’ helmet, I’ll kill thee everywhere, yes, over and over.”

Hector paused, and then he said, “You wisest Greeks, pardon me for making this brag. Achilles’ insolence draws foolish words from my lips, but I’ll work hard to make my deeds to match these words, or may I never —”

Ajax interrupted, “Thou should not allow yourself to be angry, cousin. And you, Achilles, stop making these threats until either chance or purposeful action brings you to face Hector on the battlefield. You may have enough every day of Hector if you have the stomach to face him. The general assembly of Greek leaders, I fear, can scarcely persuade you to be at odds with him on the battlefield.”

Ajax was treating his first cousin Hector correctly by using the familiar and less formal “thou” to refer to him, and he was treating Achilles correctly by using the formal and respectful “you” to refer to him. But he was also correctly pointing out that Achilles was staying in camp and not fighting on the battlefield.

Mollified by Ajax’ words, Hector used the formal and respectful “you” to refer to Achilles: “I ask you to let us see you on the battlefield. We have had petty, paltry battles since you refused to fight for the Greeks.”

Still disrespectful, Achilles replied, “Do thou entreat me, Hector? Tomorrow I will meet thee, and I will be as cruel as death; tonight we shall all be friends.”

“Reach out thy hand, and we will shake on that meeting,” Hector said.

They shook hands.

“First, all you lords of Greece, go to my tent,” Agamemnon said. “There we will feast to the fullest. Afterwards, as Hector’s leisure and your bounties shall concur together, individually entertain and treat him.”

He then ordered, “Beat loud the drums and let the trumpets blow, so that this great soldier may his welcome know.”

Everyone exited except Troilus and Ulysses.

Troilus asked, “My Lord Ulysses, tell me, please, in what place of the Greek camp does Calchas sleep?”

“He sleeps in Menelaus’ tent, most Princely Troilus,” Ulysses replied. “Diomedes feasts with him there tonight; Diomedes looks upon neither the Heavens nor the Earth, but bends all his gazes and amorous views on the fair Cressida.”

“I shall, lord, be bound to you so much, if, after we depart from Agamemnon’s tent, you take me there to Menelaus’ tent.”

“You shall command me, sir,” Ulysses said. “I shall do what you ask. Now kindly tell me the reputation this Cressida had in Troy. Did she have a lover there who bewails her absence?”

“Oh, sir, people who display their scars and boast about them ought to be mocked,” Troilus said. “Will you walk on, my lord? Cressida was loved, and she loved; she is loved, and she does love. But still sweet love is food for fortune’s tooth.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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